11. Chapter 10
- Chapter 10 -
Lindir landed on his feet, muscles flexing to soften the impact. He crouched at once, listening raptly for any signs that his intrusion had been spotted; but no cry came from above, no soldier turned around to investigate the origin of a strange noise. Once again he and Glorfindel had been proven lucky: the cliff stood directly across the weapon storage area. No guards patrolled this part of the camp as most of the weapons had been taken by the small army; but Lindir had closely evaded a stand that sprouted several rusty halberds and spears.
He grinned at his luck, somewhat lightheaded as the rush of excitement coursed through his veins in a way it had not for a long time. This was a dangerous adventure, which made it all the more thrilling. He unwrapped the belts from his wrists and tied them together into a tight bundle, taking care to enclose the buckles into the heart of the knot so that they would not jingle.
"Catch," Lindir murmured through the space between the beams. "Beware of the spears upon landing - aim to the left." Then, just as the sentries turned their backs on one another, he stood and, with one wide movement of his arm, tossed the bundle across the parapet - a soft "click" on the other side informed him that Glorfindel had received the belts into his hands.
It was a matter of minutes before the warrior was crouching beside him in the darkness beneath the wall. They backed down into the protective shadow cast by the overhanging catwalk and surveyed the camp from this new perspective.
The few remaining soldiers had regrouped around the largest fire in the camp, sharing the remnants of a roasted pig, drinking and talking quietly. In the absence of the leader Lindir would have expected drunkenness, but noted that the men were drawing wine from a small barrel on the ground and watering it down from another. The established discipline still held; or perhaps it was the forest itself, and the stories that could be told about it, that kept the soldiers wary and keen on remaining alert.
This meant that it would be no easy stride into the leader's tent for the two of them; they would have to dash across stripes of shadows cast by the barrels, past tents and the men themselves if they chose the shortest way; or, as Glorfindel pointed out, they could skirt around the wall to reach the tent from the side – this would take longer, but was a safer plan.
The tent itself was firmly staked to the ground with iron nails set closely to each other and, now that he was facing it, Lindir raked his mind for a way of getting to the other side of the heavy fabric that once would have been a glorious red and golden colour and that now smelled of stale cloth left humid for too long. Just as he was about to suggest pulling several of the stakes out and crawling beneath the tent, Glorfindel reached into his boot, pulling out a long hunting knife.
"Hold it down," he nodded towards the hem of the tent.
Lindir's ready reply along the lines of "Oh yes - this tent seems downright rebellious, it may struggle," died on his lips.
Glorfindel's eyes had hardened as soon as the handle had found its place against his palm and, Lindir was brutally reminded of how differently they had served their lord in their time. Tent and camp vanished for an instant in favour of a darker scene. Suddenly the blade in Glorfindel's hand was meant for an enemy, his determined face a mask of death he put on without thinking. The warrior was the very icon of a hero - dashing, daring and deadly, but his tragic past reeked too strongly of blood to be envied; an armed Glorfindel, for all his peaceful intentions, made Lindir's spine fire up advice about tiptoeing his way around him. He did not like feeling like a mouse.
He complied, pulling the dirty fabric to the ground. "I will write you into a ballad, someday, you know," he said.
Glorfindel's lips twisted into a grimace. "Please don't."
The blade penetrated the fabric without a sound, slicing it as though it were butter... or tender flesh, Lindir thought briefly, watching the contrast of the worn crimson stripe and the shining steel. He shook himself, his mask of cool competence and carefree wit back in place against the unwelcome image, and followed Glorfindel through the opening.
It was dark inside, with only the dim flickering of the fire on the other side of the tent to light up the sparse furnishings: a soldier's bed in a corner, an old cloak covering the thin straw mattress, the corner of a small chest visible from under its folds; a makeshift table made from trestles and boards. Glorfindel stopped at the table, leaning over it to decipher the maps strewn across its surface. His fingers ghosted over leather and parchment, the soft rustling an almost inaudible protest against his hand.
"The Shaws," Glorfindel whispered to Lindir, "and Hollin, Bree-land, the High Pass..." His eyes widened as he pulled on a corner, revealing an old leather map. "Lindir, come and take a look," he murmured. "This is Gondor - its old borders. It bears the seal of the Kings."
"However did a commoner's son come into its possession?" Lindir said. He took the map from Glorfindel's hands, bringing it into the halo of light by the wall. "This comes from the Royal Library of Minas Tirith," he declared, "and should be the rightful possession of the heir to the throne."
From his place next to the table, Glorfindel raised a quizzical eyebrow and followed Lindir's gaze to the chest under the bed. They both stilled as someone spoke, from the fireside beyond the tent.
"Damn. Time for the patrol, boys, save me some more meat for when I'm done."
The declaration triggered a chorus of groans. "Patrol can wait," someone argued, "finish your tale first!" "Yeah, what happened to pretty Peggy?"
"Later," the soldier replied with a smirk in his voice. "That'll keep you up until I'm back."
Lindir could hear him turn on his heels, gravels crunching beneath his boots. A soft metallic sound told him that the man had probably picked up his weapon, and then his heavy footsteps shuffled away towards the wall, in the direction he and Glorfindel had come from.
There was no time to waste. The man would notice the slit on his way past the tent. Lindir dropped the map back onto the table and, striding purposefully towards the bed, pulled a set of lock picks from one of his pockets. He tugged the chest into the light, ignoring Glorfindel's surprised expression.
"Now is the time for spilled secrets," Lindir declared with a dramatic pause before kneeling down and choosing the best pick to start working on the lock. He slid the tool off the metallic ring he carried the picks on, then removed a torque wrench from his collection in the same manner.
Glorfindel did not comment at his newly revealed talent or his mannerisms. Lindir could tell that his friend's mind was elsewhere, his unease showing in the way he kept moving on his feet, shuffling in the darkness, as if preparing to react upon a shout on the other side of the tent wall.
Lindir worked on the lock, probing the plug for the movement of the pins; he had stuck the unused picks into his mouth so they would be handy when he needed them. He adjusted the wrench to imprint the correct amount of torsion. The minutes stretched on with only the clicking of the picks inside the lock and the increasing numbness in his legs to mark the time, and he smiled around the picks as he finally felt the lock start to surrender.
A yell on the other side of the tent almost made him drop them all.
"Hey, hurry up," hollered one of the men by the fire. "Camp's fucking empty, what's taking so long?"
"Yeah, yeah…" The guard's voice seemed distracted, and Lindir's heart lurched at the thought that it might be their footprints he was puzzling over.
Glorfindel seemed to think the same thing, as he growled from behind him: "Hurry up!"
"I… am," Lindir hissed as he spit out a hook pick into his palm.
He cursed as he forced on the picks, grinding them against the pins, conscious that it was a crude, mostly ineffective method of lock picking, but also fully aware of the precariousness of their situation. They had to get lucky again, they had to get lucky now…
"Yes!" he all but yelled out as the pins shifted and the torsion imprinted by the wrench turned the plug inside the lock. The small chest swung open and, hastily pocketing the picks, Lindir dug inside the contents and tossed them onto the ground.
Old parchments rustled against each other as the small heap of documents spilled into the dim light, heavy wax seals weighing them down and crumbling from years of similar mistreatment. Worn-out golden letters shone dully as if tired of claiming an ancient, dilapidated heritage; faded ink scratched the dusty pages.
"This is a detailed ancestry of the leader," Lindir muttered as he perused them. "Proofs of noble lineage, family tree…" He tugged at the corner of a document at the bottom of the pile and pulled it out. "Gaervaed son of Garadorn. Here is a coat of arms…" He gaped at the symbols etched into the parchment, sliding it silently towards Glorfindel for him to see; they shared a horrified look of understanding.
"Hey, Tanner, come over here!" called the guard from the other side of the camp. And, as the grumbling and shuffling of feet indicated that the man in question complied: "These yours?"
Lindir pressed his eyes shut in a silent curse. Their footprints had just betrayed their presence.
"We must go." Glorfindel's voice was as tight as his face was pale, even in the twilight beneath the tent; but Lindir knew it was not the fear of being found. "We must go now. It may be not too late yet."
The soldiers devised quietly, but Lindir could not hear their words. They soon called out to more of their comrades, innocently, some bawdy joke serving as an excuse, as though they were still unaware of the intruders in their midst. Heavy footsteps echoed across the camp as the men started the search. Lindir heard the soft metallic whispers of drawn weapons.
Glorfindel stepped towards the opening, glancing back in irritation as Lindir bent down to pick up the documents. The footsteps neared their tent, feet stepping cautiously, heel biting the ground first in a wet crunch.
"Lindir!" Glorfindel hissed.
"Hey! Over here!"
Glorfindel lunged towards the opening, pushing the fabric aside. It ripped, shattering the tense silence of the camp. A strangled cry on the other side told Lindir that the soldier had been caught by surprise.
"Lindir! We leave now!"
"Intruders! Intruders in Gaer's tent!"
Lindir leaped to his feet, racing to the gaping hole in the tent. He dug his heels into the ground, throwing his arms open in order to keep his balance as a soldier came falling towards him, a bewildered expression on his face. Sidestepping the man as he landed into the gravelly ground, he spun on his left foot and kicked him in the stomach. Then he jumped outside, just in time to seize an arm aiming a weapon at Glorfindel's back. He pulled the arm down; the man, surprised at having been intercepted, reacted by resisting and pushing back up. Lindir tugged on his wrist, using this momentum to twist the soldier's arm, exposing the elbow. The man screamed in pain as he slammed his left palm against the joint; bones crunched as the arm gave in under the impact.
The man looked at him in horror, clutching the now useless arm to his side; his eyes widened but he did not scream again as Lindir booted him in the chest, throwing him backwards into the feet of the soldiers that were closing in on them. To his left, Glorfindel smashed the heel of his palm into a soldier's face. Bone ground against bone, and blood spurted from the mangled nose. A short, powerful kick ended in a wet crunch, and another man howled in agony as he fell onto his broken knee.
All around them, soldiers were lying in the dirt, unconscious or fighting for breath, blood from their hand-inflicted wounds drenching the cold, sandy ground, and Lindir was suddenly glad that they had been forced to leave their swords behind. This was a sorry mess, a sloppy mission if he ever saw one. He ran a shaking hand through his hair, trying to block out the laboured breathing and the quiet moans of pain.
A scream erupted to his right, contrasting with the muted suffering of the defeated - Lindir spun around, backhanding his charging opponent into the tent and realizing too late that the man - only a boy - carried a torch as a weapon. The fabric, long-soaked in fumes of torch oil, went ablaze in a heartbeat, flames roaring as they started devouring the tent. The boy's eyes widened in terror.
Lindir reacted instinctively, plunging his arm amidst the flames and hoisting the youth out of the inferno by the tunic, shoving him away once he was standing again. He did not know what had triggered this desperate and foolish display of bravery. Perhaps a father, a loved uncle or mentor lay nearby, appearing dead to untrained, impressionable eyes but, to Lindir's knowledge, still very much alive – he had been careful not to kill, and hoped that Glorfindel had shown the same restraint. He saw the boy stagger to his feet, emotions displaying on his face: relief, resentment at his saviour as well as himself for feeling grateful towards a man who had apparently killed those he loved. And awe, terror-struck and fascinated, as the boy's eyes flickered to his ears and finally took in his appearance.
Lindir saw the boy hesitate; he imagined the internal battle between honour and fear.
"Get away!" he hissed in Sindarin, punctuating his words with a pointing gesture towards the forest. "Go home!"
The first arrow whistled past Lindir's ear; it embedded itself in the ground by his feet.
"Go home! Leave!" he repeated, this time in Common.
His plan worked. The youth's eyes widened in terror and he turned on his heels, the soles of his boots scattering the sandy earth as he dashed across the camp towards the gates.
Lindir raised a hand to his temple, switching his attention to the fire. The tent was burning bright; the pikes supporting the structure had given way in the heat, and the heavy fabric had collapsed on itself. The documents, the proof, were inside, if not yet gone then certainly smouldering. A disaster. And arrows were starting to rain all around him.
He made a staggering step towards the blaze.
He turned around to see Glorfindel looking at him through the smoke that whirled around him; the warrior's angry face was distorted further by the shimmering air, and Lindir understood how intimidating and alien they must have appeared to the soldiers.
Glorfindel took a step towards him, ducking as arrows fell around them. "To the wall, we leave now!"
"These documents are priceless!" he yelled in return as he bent in two to avoid the smoke.
They are not worth your life!"
Lindir cast a last glance at the blazing remains of the tent, swearing under his breath as he raced after Glorfindel towards the wooden ladder that led to the catwalk. He climbed the rungs two by two, ducking at Glorfindel's yell of warning to avoid the guard that the warrior threw over the railing. They jumped over the wall, landing in the middle of bushes and scratching their faces and hands, barely stopped to pick up their weapons, fingers digging into dirt in their hurry to grab the swords on their way.
"Now run," he breathed out as he sped up to match Glorfindel's pace, "and pray we are not too late."
Aeve could not sleep. She kept tossing and turning, bitter guilt burning her throat. She had cried until her tears had been spent, finding no rest or comfort beneath the covers that usually soothed her troubles in the thought that nothing, no sorrow or care, had a hold on her while she was there. This time, there was no pushing the unpleasant thoughts aside in accordance to the wise saying that morning would bring her advice, for there was simply no advice to be found.
Aeve curled up on herself, trying to imagine Sveyn marching away in the night beside the other men, a heavy weapon strapped to his side, shackled and beaten, waiting to be released onto a battlefield he had not chosen. The fact that the men walking beside him would not be unfamiliar faces was of little comfort – those were his father and hers, maybe her brother, if the soldiers had managed to catch him too. Those were his and his father's friends.
And she could send him no comfort, for she was the cause of him being there at all. She was the one responsible for his fate, and the fact that she had caused all of it unwittingly did not deliver her from guilt. A stupid mistake did not absolve her from responsibility – this was something she came to realize as she had listened to her mother's soothing, senseless words. Things had gone horribly wrong by her fault, and there was nothing she could do to set them right, to restore what once was and get rid of the burden weighing on her conscience.
Her mother's look had been one of pity, one she usually reserved for beings so wretched that they were beyond redemption or even understanding of their condition. She had held Aeve in her arms, smoothed out her hair and listened to her confession, and peppered absent-minded kisses on her forehead; but the tears she had cried, Aeve knew, had not been for her daughter's timely saving.
And Aeve had found it hard to look her mother in the eye as she had gone to sleep that night. She, too, was ashamed of what she had done.
If only she could turn back time, undo what had been done – it would be all she'd ever ask of life, the only thing she'd ever desire.
A single wish.
Under the covers, in the deepened darkness they cast over her, Aeve opened her eyes. She remembered Sveyn's tales, those same stories she had dismissed as drivel intended to scare the gullible. There was but one way for undoing her mistake would undoubtedly require powers she did not possess – but she was determined to seek them out.
Her mother was sleeping soundly as she tiptoed across the kitchen and towards the door; wrapped into her father's cloak, her nose buried in the fabric, her face tired in the light of a dying candle. Aeve swallowed the urge to enter and wake her, to seek in her arms a selfish comfort she could not deny. Instead she slid open the door of the house just enough to fit through the opening. The night was cold and silent; there were no songs coming from the tavern, no husband-and-wife fights echoing from a house nearby. There was no-one left to sing and fight with.
Aeve closed the door, listening to the final 'click' as it closed behind her. The forest loomed before her, black hole in the landscape that seemed to swallow all moonlight. There she would find what she needed, in exchange for a price. Her fate and that of her descendants would be tied to it.
She would strike a deal with the elves.
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.