35. A Vale of Blood Part One
Oropher turned once, to look at his son talking jocosely with his warriors. Proud, handsome, dutiful, Thranduil was everything anyone could wish for in a son. He sighed, as his son’s eyes sought his own, and held them for a long moment before breaking the glance to turn his attention to his comrades. Oropher prayed to the Valar to watch over his son.
Erestor watched the rider disappear swiftly, a smoke of dust the only trace of his passing. He sighed and walked back to the tent he shared with Elrond.
Elrond was already standing outside the tent, arrayed in armour. There was a grim set to his jaw as he hailed Erestor and joined him.
“You leave?” Erestor asked quietly.
“With Glorfindel and Círdan,” Elrond said hollowly, “I pray that we are not too late. We have betrayed them enough.”
Erestor led him to where Gil-Galad was inspecting the armies, saying firmly, “You will not be late. And you shall not fail, Elrond,” he took Elrond’s hands in his own in an uncharacteristic display of affection before whispering, “The prince is no weakling, he is a proven warrior. Yet,” he hesitated, “I shall wait for you, for all of you,” his eyes lingered on Glorfindel, his mentor and friend and Círdan, his foster father. He felt fear and anxiety as a bitter wind blew from the east.
Elrond mounted his horse and said in a tightly controlled voice that he hoped betrayed none of his fears, “Bid me farewell.” It took him all of his restraint to not fall to pieces before Erestor’s bittersweet smile. They had both lost too much to not understand that this was the precursor of many more losses.
Elrond held the High-King’s banner in his clammy hands as he turned once to see Erestor and Gil-Galad stand together, their left hands clasped together and their right hands raised in farewell. He raised his own hand to acknowledge their gesture.
“Is it true that we will all fall?” a young archer asked Thranduil, they had progressed swiftly, and were now crossing into the very courtyard of Mordor, the Morgul Vale.
Thranduil was rather in low spirits, he had jested with his warriors, exhorted them as a good leader should, even if he did not have the belief that they would prevail. And now he was being asked to speculate on their chances of survival.
Biting his cheek to prevent a nasty retort, he smiled at the young archer and asked, “Is the result of any game known before you play it?”
“But this is no game, this is war,” the archer whispered, “My very first one.”
“Then let us hope that this is the last one you have to fight ,” Thranduil said easily, “Now I see that you have a reason to win, for if you win, then certainly, you need not leave home and hearth and wife anymore.”
“Are you not scared, my prince?” the archer asked hesitantly, “Do you ride willingly?”
Thranduil frowned, this was a question he had never asked himself. He stared at Celeborn and Oropher talking grimly before them, their faces shadowed by the darkness cast by the clouds. The hot wind had stopped, leaving behind only an eerie silence. The horses were tossing their heads nervously.
“What is your name, my friend?” Thranduil asked quietly.
“Menor,” the archer replied softly, “My father was Haor, who died defending your retreat during the war of Eregion.”
Thranduil clasped the archer’s forearm firmly before saying, “I am glad to meet valiant Haor’s son. There is a debt to your father that I am honour bound to pay, Menor. I cannot say if we will all return, but I promise that I will strive to ensure that you return safely.”
Elrond watched Glorfindel close his eyes and cast his mind out to the surround. Whatever he sensed made him frown.
“What is it?” Elrond asked quietly, passing the banner of the Noldor to his second.
“Wraiths,” the Balrog Slayer muttered, “but they seem going northwards, towards the vale. Our scouts say that the armies of Oropher and Amdir have already entered the foul valley. They will be in trouble if the wraiths attack from one side and the goblins from the other.”
“What are we waiting for?” Elrond said curtly, as he signalled the warriors to move faster, “We have to stop the wraiths.”
Glorfindel paced his horse beside Elrond’s and asked incredulously, “How would you propose to do that?”
Elrond said emotionlessly, “I do not know, yet we must atleast draw them away.”
Thranduil felt a cold dread rise in his heart as the last of the warriors entered the valley. Before them stood the black gates of Mordor. He broke away from the lines of warriors and made his way to the front.
Amroth, Durin, Celeborn, Orophin and Amdir were discussing the plans. They looked up as he rode quickly, a grim expression on his handsome features.
“What is it?” Oropher asked quietly.
“Wraiths,” Thranduil said flatly, “They will cut us off into the valley, we are trapped. When the gates open, there shall be no escape out of this cursed vale.”
Durin said coolly, “Yes, young prince. Then it is made imperative that we go on into Mordor. Battling orcs is easier than battling wraiths.”
“I agree,” Amdir said quietly, “We ride on.”
“And the wraiths?” Thranduil demanded as he scanned the dark skies, “I am more worried about the effect they will have on our warriors.”
“Two of us must stay at the rear,” Oropher said calmly, “To hold the warriors together. I would go.”
“Nay, cousin,” Celeborn said quietly, an unspoken fear in his eyes, “You and I are required to lead the armies. As are Amdir and Durin.”
“My son is too young!” Amdir spluttered, “as is the prince!”
“”I will go,” Thranduil said wearily, “Celeborn is right, the leaders cannot be spared. You are needed to lead the warriors. The fighting will be intensive and long at the frontlines.”
Oropher said softly, “I am glad, then, for I will not have you step in Mordor, better this accursed vale than the Dark Lord’s land.”
Amdir was about to protest but Durin said firmly, “So be it, then, young prince.”
Gil-Galad watched Erestor study the maps, his brows crinkled in concentration. The dark black obsidian mane was tied back into a loose braid. The brown tunic that the chief counsellor wore today fluttered gently about his frame.
“You are becoming thinner,” the King commented as he hugged Erestor from behind, “The war rations do not agree with you, my love. Come, let us see to our repast now, the messengers will not be here before dusk.”
Erestor leant back against Gil-Galad’s broader, stronger frame and closed his eyes saying wearily, “I am worried.”
“As am I,” the King sighed, “Yet I cannot unburden myself like you do, I am forced to take decisions which I don’t necessarily like....I wished to ride with our army today, yet if I do, who will manage the alliances?”
“Is Kingship a burden?” Erestor arched his neck and lifted his arms to twine them around the King’s neck.
“It is lonely. I was lonely,” Gil-Galad said softly, “When my uncle fell, I had to take up the crown. I was unprepared and too young. The expectations, the decisions to be made by me, the criticisms it was more than enough to push me over the brink of sanity. If not for Círdan, I would never have lasted. The kinslayings, the fall of Doriath, of Nargothrond, the retreat to Ered Lindon, it was terrible to live through. I wished more than once that I had kin, kin to whom I could just tell my fears.”
Erestor sighed, they had all lived through turbulent times, and now it was being repeated again, he said quietly, “You have kin, Gil. Is Galadriel not your aunt? Is Elrond not of your blood? Why, even Isildur carries Fingolfin’s blood!”
“You forget something,” Gil-Galad nuzzled the long, slender neck thrown across his shoulder, “You and I are kin.”
“That is true,” Erestor said unwillingly, “but my house is dispossessed. It is no longer tied to the house of Finwë.”
“Nonsense. Ties of the blood are thicker than those of mere political machinations; we have lived long enough to realize that. Love does not take an easy path for us of the house of Finwë.”
“Yet we love, and we are happy,” Erestor smiled, trying to dispel the gloomy tone of the conversation, “At least I can say that I am happy.”
“I can never read your thoughts, my love,” Gil-Galad mused as he kissed the slender circlet on Erestor’s head, “I admit that I had never expected you to agree to my proposal. I thought that my soul would jump out of my body when you said ‘yes’.”
“Gil!,” Erestor complained, “Who would refuse the King?”
“Is that why?” Gil-Galad cupped Erestor’s face and searched those eyes for a glimpse of the truth, “Was that why you agreed?”
Erestor raised an eyebrow before muttering darkly, “You are lucky that only I hear these unreasonable words! The next thing, you will say that I do not love you!,” he dragged the King to the bed, “I am beset by desire right now. I think we should postpone this conversation for later!”
Gil-Galad laughed as Erestor pushed him down onto the mattress before straddling him and prying his robes loose. He asked breathlessly, “You are so passionate, I am still surprised as I had been all those years ago on the night of our bonding. How did you manage the separation?”
“All those blasted centuries,” Erestor said rolling his eyes, “I had a hard time, Gil. I would escape to the river every night to find relief. But infinitely worse was the journey here, I wanted you so much, yet we were not even on speaking terms.”
“You should never have cared,” Gil-Galad said hoarsely as Erestor ran his fingers down the smooth plane of the king’s chest, “you are my bonded-mate. I have a duty to you. The next time, just drag me to bed. Eru knows, you are quite adept at it!”
“I would never force you to bed,” Erestor said solemnly as he kissed the King’s fingers one by one, “I love you too much to do that.”
“Enough conversation,” Gil-Galad whined as Erestor teasingly smirked, all the while gently kneading Gil-Galad’s chest, “Get on with it before I have to take charge.”
“No,” Erestor said firmly, “You rest, let me do the work. Let me take you to a place where there are no burdens, no worries, no fears, just plain joy and ecstasy.”
“Valar,” Gil-Galad said with a mock furiousness, as he recognized the teasing notes of Erestor’s voice, “You will make me beg, won’t you! The next time I get my hands on that perverted princeling who has taught you these techniques, I will ask him to teach me!”
Elrond cursed as a shadow blotted out the sun, next to him Glorfindel was shouting, “Archers! Wraiths, take the mounts down!”
Orcs streamed down the sides of the mountains. Elrond raised his sword and shouted, “For the King! CHARGE!”
Glorfindel and Círdan took up his warcry and they charged up the slopes to meet the enemies head on. The Balrog Slayer stayed close to Elrond, his eyes alternately scanning the skies and the slopes of the mountains. For now the wraiths seemed to be avoid the hosts of the Noldor making further to the east towards the mouth of the valley. Glorfindel cursed as they met the first line of the orcs, his eyes still on the wraiths, which were disappearing swiftly.
Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment as shrieks of the wraiths rent the silence. As if on cue, the black gates opened and the hosts of Sauron poured out. The army was closed in between the enemy.
He heard the clarion calls of the heralds dimly resounding over the shrieks, the battle had begun at the frontlines. A gigantic shadow loomed over him before the wraith landed with a thud behind the warriors.
Thranduil signalled his second to sound the horn, then he unsheathed his sword and shouted, “DEATH TO THE FALLEN! FOR ELBERETH!”
Yet another wraith landed before him as he charged forth, his hair streaming behind him like rippled silk. A part of his brain observed that he was alone, the warriors had fallen silent, their fear pervading the air.
He promised harshly, “I will come back to you, Ada, I will, even if I have to defy Mandos a second time.”
“An ill-begotten get of the elven king dares to challenge us?” a powerful high voice asked with malicious joy as the two wraiths circled his nervous stallion, “Are you not scared, young fool?”
Thranduil narrowed his eyes and said in Quenya, “There is no fear in a heart that knows no darkness.”
“You will suffer long and hard, princeling, and you shall pray for death. You shall know fear and darkness both,” the wraith said ominously before swinging its mace downwards, colliding with the elven armour on Thranduil’s stallion’s flanks. The horse buckled down, but still refused to collapse, it held its head high and proud. At the next swing of the mace, Thranduil parried with his sword, Galadriel’s green gem set in the metal glimmering brightly.
“You have spirit indeed, let us how long it stays with you, princeling,” the wraith sneered as it swung its mace again. Thranduil easily parried it, though his sword trembled in his hands at the force of the mace. He sensed movement behind him, the second wraith was moving in. The flurry of arrows in the air reduced as his warriors seemed scared of striking their prince. And none of them were ready to join him. Well, Thranduil mused darkly as he swung around to keep both the creatures in his sight, Wraiths are wraiths, and nobody would willingly fight them unless they are stupid, over-loving sons like me.
A moment later the wraith to his right swung its sword at him, he leapt away to just have his breastplate crushed in by the wraith before him. He fell backward, but still managed to somersault once and land on his feet to face them again, his breaths unsteady as he tried to overcome the pain in his chest.
“Tired of the play already, princeling? We thought you had Vanyarin blood in your rotten veins, is this all you can give?” the voice taunted as the wraiths moved closer, their black clad forms towering above him.
Thranduil grit his teeth and moved backwards trying to regain his bearings. But he knew when the wraiths swung their blades smoothly, at the same time, that he could not prevail. He shivered once before swinging his own blade. Metal crashed against metal and he fell backwards, this time he landed on his back on the rocky ground. His sword flew from his hand to land nearly six feet away. The wraiths advanced, their swords held loosely as they surveyed the vanquished prince. Thranduil tried to lift his head defiantly though his entire body throbbed painfully from the impact of the fall.
“ELBERETH!” a voice he could recognize anywhere shouted. Thranduil saw a black stallion charge in, shielding him from the wraiths. The battle lust in the rider’s eyes was matched only by that of Glorfindel.
Two of the warriors hurried to help the prince up. He shot them a glower before shaking his head to clear his fogged senses and picking up his fallen sword quickly. He rapidly mounted a mare that had been led to him and turned to face the wraiths, which were fighting fiercely with his saviour.
Thranduil added his own warcry as he joined the rider and they fought together, their movements synchronized by centuries of practicing together. The wraiths were now on the defensive, unable to claim an advantage over the two elves fighting so fiercely.
The clarion call sounded again, two short notes, followed by a longer note, the gates were breached. The warriors cheered lustily and pressed on, the wraiths inched away slowly till they could discard their cloaked shapes and travel formlessly. Thranduil buried his face in his mare’s soft mane, thanking the Valar with all the strength he could find.
A hand gently gripped his shoulder and he arose saying with a wry smile, “What would I do without you?”
“You would try more foolishness like this, two wraiths at a time! Who do you think you are, a balrog slayer?” Erestor shook his head in horror, “I nearly fainted outright when I saw you duelling them.”
“Why are you here?” Thranduil asked wearily as they turned to follow the rest of the decimated army through the path littered by corpses of orcs, men, dwarves and elves, “Has Gil-Galad joined us?”
“No,” Erestor sighed, “The humans of Gondor are giving him a hard time. We received a message from Elrond that their army was hemmed in at the marshes by an orc host. They said they would not able to meet your host. So Gildor and I led what remained of the army of Imladris here, through the pass across the mountains. And I abandoned the host when I saw you having the best fight of your life here. Poor Gildor must be cursing me.”
Thranduil nodded and asked concernedly, “Is Elrond safe for now?”
“Glor will keep them alive,” Erestor said confidently, “All it needs is one fool to save the rest as you proved so eloquently,” he looked over the prince’s form critically, “You should see to those wounds before you fight again.”
“I fear not,” Thranduil sighed, “We are riding into Mordor, in case you did not notice, we are not likely to have time to heal scratches and bruises.”
“We ride together, my prince,” Erestor whispered, “Is it not well that we struggle against this evil so that your children can grow in a safer world?”
Thranduil shook his head darkly, “Evil is not so easily vanquished, yet I am glad that you are by my side in this battle. I would have asked for no other.”
“We fight well together,” Erestor smiled, “That is what Gil said when he bade me farewell. Apparently he saw us duelling.”
“You are incredible to look upon when you fight,” Thranduil said sincerely, “You must have scared them away by your stance alone!”
“Whatever, promise me you won’t try that again any time soon,” Erestor demanded, “I did promise Anoriel that I would direct a rivulet to your secret glade in Imladris so that you can bath after certain strenuous activities. It would be a terrible waste of my time if you are not planning to return.”
“You smell of certain pleasant bodily fluids,” Thranduil sniffed Erestor’s body appreciatively.
“I rode to your aid right from our marriage bed,” Erestor said blushing, as a few of the surrounding warriors watched the prince sniff at the chief counsellor, “We had been, you know, just completing.”
The clarion calls for battle sounded again, their faces changed from the relaxed expressions to that of warriors, on their alert.
“We must reach the frontlines,” Erestor pointed out, “the attack is the most severe there. They will need us.”
“Who said a few minutes ago that I am eager to make myself a martyred fool? You know, ‘Restor, you act unimaginably stupid for a royal consort!” Thranduil shouted as he followed Erestor’s lead to the frontlines.
The dark hair flowed down Erestor’s back as he turned once to spare the prince a withering look before nudging his horse into a canter again. Thranduil sighed, he was grateful for Erestor’s presence by his side.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.