14. Chapter 13
- Chapter 13 -
Elrohir's voice was hoarse with effort as he counted out loud the rhythm that kept them all alive. Elladan had denied himself the reassurance of seeking out his twin in the melee for a while now, relying on the increasing strain in his voice to monitor him instead. His own breath was starting to come out ragged.
"I see him!"
Elrohir's sudden shout pierced the dull roar of the battle, clear and full of hope. Elladan's head shot up, eyes scanning the iron-clad crowd at once for a shorter, thinner silhouette. Three, four, he finished in his head as he executed the last moves of the combination, swinging and stabbing along with the count. Elrohir had not finished the cycle, but the synchronicity of the group did not falter. However, the fighters around them kept moving chaotically, shifting, like shadows of leaves on a windy day; the ever-restless sea of metal would soon swallow their hope again. One, two… He was beginning to despair when he finally saw the boy. Sveyn stood motionless, thin shoulders hunched beneath an oversized leather and mail armour, sword wavering in his hands like a surrender flag.
"I see him!" he echoed Elrohir's cry, letting some of his own tentative joy into his voice. All around them, the others responded and he found himself counting the voices. Had they lost anyone yet?
Three, four. Discarding that line of thought, he concentrated on his movements, watching the shadow play of fighter figures that took place between him and the boy; he saw an opening. "I am going, cover me!" he yelled and broke the formation. He lunged forward, holding his breath for the impacts to come, ready to barrel through on sheer speed. The battle threw him back as suddenly as it had parted, and he retreated until he felt his brother's back press against his own. Elrohir tensed for a second before recognizing his presence.
He shifted just a little, giving him more space at the expense of his own as a meager comfort against his failure. Suddenly Elladan felt a tug at his back as his brother slipped; he bent his knees and reached out with his left hand to catch him, supporting his weight for a long second. He realized how tired, how vulnerable they all were. Gritting his teeth in frustration, he caught up with the others' strikes and forced yet another confused soldier back. The man staggered away, dazed by a resounding blow to his helmet, but even this brief encounter was a waste of time. Every second that passed now was one second too many, every delay unnerved him, but Elladan could not leave his place for fear of leaving his brother's back unprotected.
"Elladan, you must go!"
"No!" He shook his head even though Elrohir could not see it. "No, I will not leave you here!" He shifted his grip on the handle. "Keep counting!" There had to be another way, and a better idea would certainly cross his mind one moment or another.
His brother shoved him lightly as he landed a blow with more force than previously, or perhaps in retaliation for Elladan's stubbornness. "He needs you more than I do!"
There was no point in arguing; Elladan knew very well that there was nothing to wait for, that no reinforcements would arrive. They had thrown all their forces into the fray, hoping that the initial shock would confuse the armies and cause a retreat. Instead, the men had turned on each other, forcing their men to regroup and fight at close range, with little space for movement. The ground beneath their feet had been worn out by the shuffling of their feet as they struggled to watch each-other's backs, and sucked their boots into its depths.
It was what Glorfindel would have called a tactical disaster, and a grievous mistake to make. Elladan spared a fond thought for their master-of-arms, hoping that his mission would see him back safe, no matter how useful another sword would have been – and that they would have a chance not to hear the end of it from him. The combination was one of the lessons he had taught them, and that, on retrospective, he must have hoped they would never need. It is the last resort of the cornered, Elladan remembered bitterly.
"One, two…" He rebelled further as he took up the counting instead.
Swords rose and fell in unison, an implacable rhythm that masked the aching muscles and the fear within.
"Go, brother," Elrohir urged him, "the end is near – the end of our waiting. One of us has to go." He glanced behind his shoulder, flashing Elladan a tired smile. "For us!"
"You will be here when I return," Elladan growled warningly, hoping to keep the fear from his voice. "You better. Urúvion!" he called out and waited until the younger warrior joined them. "Take my place."
The warriors shifted places with care, rearranging their formation to compensate for the loss of one of them and, with one last look at his brother, Elladan lunged into the thick of the battle once again.
It was not even that far, he thought dimly as he carved out a way for himself. He could see Sveyn clearly now, planted in the middle of the battlefield as though confused about how he had gotten there. He was so out of his element that his survival instincts had not taken control. The boy was lucky not to have found himself in someone's way yet – and just as he thought that, Elladan saw the danger. The man seemed as desperate as he was, all cornered fury and fear, swinging his blade to keep the diminishing number of his allies at his side. Their entrance had foiled his plan, his rebellion now unwittingly crushed by the mad army. Now he was about to take out their own hope, albeit unknowingly; Sveyn watched the blade rise with the unblinking eyes of an animal at slaughter.
A flash of steel caught Elladan's eye, drawing it away from the scene against his will. There stood Lindir, and he wondered briefly at his presence here before taking in Lindir's bloodstained hands and ashen face. Though the reason of his friend's appearance suddenly seemed clear, Elladan prayed against reason that the blood was not his or Glorfindel's. Remembering his own motivations, he quickly calculated their chances. He was too far, exhausted and therefore too slow to get to the boy in time. Lindir's chances seemed greater, although he looked even closer to death than Sveyn was.
He watched his friend sway on his feet, his own heart sinking in dread at both the thoughts that he was badly wounded, and that he may not save Sveyn. But Lindir looked up, meeting his gaze, and Elladan willed what was left of his own strength into him, if only to keep him alive. But they had to try.
"Lindir! The boy, save the boy! He is the heir!" he screamed out, pouring his desperation and his hope into the words while still trying to push through. Lindir did not know what they knew, was not aware of the mistake they had made years ago in overlooking the boy in favor of Aeve.
Elladan stumbled as a man fell in his path; he took out his frustration on the soldier, swearing as he hit him and breaking eye contact for a heartbeat before he found Lindir and Sveyn again. He almost sagged beside the fallen man in relief when he saw Glorfindel emerge from the fray in all his golden glory and drive his blade through the leader's chest.
A frown of surprise marred the man's features as he took in his killer's face, but Elladan discarded it from his mind. He had seen the blade rise and the boy cower before it, his own sword a useless weight in his hand. It could have been another death amongst the many happening this day, another nameless body for the crows to fight over; except that his blood was too precious to be allowed to simply seep into the already quenched earth. Sveyn was safe and, what was more, Glorfindel was alive.
He willed himself to relax his grip on his sword and vaulted over a pile of bodies with what energy he still possessed to snatch the youth by the back of his oversized armour. The boy yelped in fright, struggling to break free despite his exhaustion, and Elladan shook him, aware that he was being less than gentle.
"Stop fighting me," he growled with another shake, "I mean you no harm. Look at me." He spun the boy around, leaning down to meet his eyes. "Look at me!"
Strikingly familiar grey eyes bore into his. The boy's jaw went slack as he froze, staring at what he probably thought was an illusion – if illusions could shake one out of their daze.
"I will get you out of here," Elladan said, never relinquishing his hold on the battered armour. He glanced over to where he had seen Lindir and Glorfindel last; they were crouching by the rebel leader, who had unwittingly almost taken a life worth so much more than his own. Still, it was one dead too many. "Come." He pulled the boy along as he strode towards the pair, watching out for more enemy swords.
The battle was growing quieter around them as dead bodies piled up and the survivors staggered towards their camp's banners; but he heard it rage still in his back, where he had come from. His heart ached briefly when he thought of Elrohir in the midst of the chaos, but reassured himself with the thought that if his brother was dead, he would have felt it. How could he not?
"He is dead," Glorfindel announced as he let go of the leader's armour and wiped his bloody hand on his thigh. He scanned the battlefield around them. "Where is Elrohir?"
"Left behind." Elladan grit out the words, detesting the meaning they seemed to convey and the very fact that he had been forced to abandon his brother. "He lives," he added defiantly at Glorfindel's questioning stare, letting pass the raised eyebrow that followed without a reply. "Lindir?"
The voice that replied was so weak that Elladan had almost missed it. Deathly pale, Lindir wavered even in his crouching position by the body, and Glorfindel extended an arm to steady him as he made it to rise.
"He is badly wounded, we must get him out of here," the warrior said severely. "Now." He eyed the boy by Elladan's side and, as he did not comment, Elladan deduced that his pragmatic nature must have found him lacking interest. "Let us find the others."
Lindir only barely made it to his feet, even with Glorfindel's help, and the wound in his side gaped mockingly at Elladan when he moved, stirring the dormant guilt at bringing his friends so far into danger. Though informed, they were not necessarily prepared for it and now, from the looks of it, Lindir was facing the same road Maenhíl had taken. Was Glorfindel's unspoken question true, was it all worth the price they paid?
They trudged through the ruts dug by their own weapons and boots, Glorfindel supporting Lindir and following Elladan who dragged Sveyn along like a careless child its doll. Truth was, he was starting to become worried about the fate of the ones he had left behind. The battle had subsided, the field cleared of men still standing or fighting, but there was no sign of Elrohir and their warriors save for the wounds that marked the dead.
He spun around, hackles raised in advance. "We must find Elrohir!" he growled, anticipating Glorfindel's words. "I am not leaving without him."
"He is not here!" Glorfindel growled back, dragging Lindir's nearly-dead weight and scowling at the blood that still seeped into his tunic. "Elladan, Lindir is dying, we must get back before they reorganize their assault!"
His urgency, the nameless something that flashed warningly in his eyes, made Elladan falter. This was important, he realized, Lindir was important – not only for himself, and not only because he was a friend and a comrade-in-arms. His death, or rather his life, meant something for Glorfindel. Suddenly there was a limit to his loyalty, an edge that he would topple over if pushed too far into a choice he did not want to make. Elladan stood, speechless, lowering the hand that had gripped the handle of his sword in an unconscious readiness to carve out his way to Elrohir.
"Is Elrohir alive?" Glorfindel asked, "can you sense him? Would you not know…?" he pushed, and Elladan searched his heart for the answer. Yes, deep down inside he was certain his twin yet lived, but the worry dictated by reason threatened to overwhelm that instinct. "Yes," he ground out. "He lives."
"Then we leave. Let them meet us in Imladris, where we are safe and our wounded are cared for. Your heir needs rest as well."
Elladan hesitated; everything he thought he knew seemed to threaten him with unexpected change, ever since the heir was not the heir and his own twin sent him away. It was confusing, and he wished he had his brother's council; but Elrohir was not here. He turned his back to the battlefield and the crows that circled the scarred land to follow Glorfindel and Lindir, his heart heavy with doubt and worry.
From the light that filtered through his eyelids, Lindir could feel that he was drifting awake; but the effort of opening his eyes seemed just beyond his strength. He reasoned that there was no urgency in doing that just yet, and decided he would be content in remaining half-asleep for a little while longer.
"Do not even try to pretend that you are still unconscious," said a familiar, stern voice from a few feet away. "Your breathing has changed." Lindir winced as he imagined Glorfindel's glare. "I am not going anywhere, so you might as well open your eyes. Our talk is long overdue."
"Glorfindel." His own voice sounded raspy and weak, and Lindir found out as he spoke that his throat was parched. He cracked an eye open, waiting for it to adjust to the light in the room, then opened the other. Just as he had expected, Glorfindel was lounging in a seat by the bed, his arms crossed on his chest in what Lindir knew to be the no-nonsense posture.
"Wonderful, you remember me." The warrior tilted his head in mock curiosity. "I wonder, what else do you recall? The battle, mayhap? Or even the second Aragorn's heir – the one you asked me to kill?"
He watched with narrowed eyes as Lindir motioned for the pitcher that stood on the bedtable, but seemed to have decided not to deny him the water before getting his answer. Lindir downed the cool liquid in careful gulps, suddenly mindful of the bandages that criss-crossed on his chest under the covers. Looking up, he met Glorfindel's stare.
"I will not bother telling you not to touch them," the warrior commented with a nod to Lindir's chest. "Go ahead…"
Lindir set the goblet down and gingerly touched those strips of fabric – they seemed clean, and he felt no pain.
"Careful." Glorfindel's voice dropped a tone lower, stopping him from lifting one of the bandages in sheer morbid curiosity. "The wound is – was - serious. Elladan worked on you for hours before he could declare you out of danger."
He seemed almost anxious as he recalled the events Lindir had missed, which prompted for more questions than he was owed answers to. Lindir shifted his weight with great care, pulling himself into a half-sitting position. The wound did give a jolt of pain as he lowered himself back onto the pillow, and he decided not to push his luck any further.
"I remember…" he began, "Gaervaed's final words. Have you heard them?"
Glorfindel nodded, leaning deeper into the seat.
"All these years… We thought we were the last ones to remain!" Lindir had to remind himself of his wound so that he would not fidget at the recollection of the events and the shock that the dying man's words had caused. "Maglor, of all people... Elrond's foster-father." He shook his head in disbelief.
"Gaervaed was another of his protégés, it seems," Glorfindel nodded, "and also a descendant of the line of Eärendil, which," he pointed out, unwilling to change the subject, "does not explain your actions."
Nor does it yours. Lindir watched the warrior in return, meeting his eyes as steadily as he could. Here, far from the chaos of the battlefield and in the clarity of the morning, his decision seemed desperate at best; but no matter how he racked his brain for a more logical solution, he could find none, which made him momentarily proud of the rapidity of his thinking in such a situation.
"He did not know," he said eventually, tearing his gaze from Glorfindel and travelling back to that fateful moment. "Elladan – he did not know what we knew, that Gaervaed was another heir to Aragorn's bloodline. He only saw him as a threat to the hope he and Elrohir had cherished for so long." He shrugged weakly, cautious not to work any of the muscles too close to the wound. "We could not have saved both of them."
"We could have tried. I could have…"
"No!" Lindir sat up, ignoring the sudden burn beneath the bandages and the quickening of his pulse. "No. We have paid in lives enough already. We – you - could only save one, and I chose the lesser evil."
"For whom?" Glorfindel drawled from his seat. He was getting impatient, Lindir could tell, but he had never been one to listen to reason rather than his heart in the first place.
"For Elladan and Elrohir. What do you think would have happened, had we allowed the boy to be slain before their eyes? Do you not know them well enough to understand the guilt that would have weighed them down, tied them to these shores forever, and this even if another heir had survived the battle? It was always all or nothing with them, from the beginning." Lindir shook his head. "No, let them believe their task is done, their oath fulfilled. Let them be free at last, and the rest of us along with them."
He was expecting anger, disappointment maybe, but certainly not the bitter laugh that spilled from Glorfindel's lips.
The warrior rose suddenly, pushing himself out of his chair, and only then did Lindir notice the armor he still wore – bloodstained, scraped, clashing with the peaceful setting of the room. "Not us, Lindir. Not anymore. There can be no peace. The brothers have been separated, Elrohir is missing – and we are heading out to search for him; but even if we were to return successful…" He shook his golden mane. "You have tied me to the fate of this boy and Elbereth help me, I will see it done. Until the prophesy is accomplished, I will remain, and if I stay, so do you. Of this you can be certain."
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.