The Two Swords Go South
|Rating/Warnings:||Rated R. No warnings for this chapter, but there will be adult sexual situations in the following ones.|
|Disclaimer:||This is a not for profit work of amateur fanfiction and no copyright infringement on any of Tolkien's or New Line's works was intended.|
|Genre and timeline:||LOTR, specifically The Fellowship of the Ring. A mix of both movie and book canon but the character of Conner is definitely AU.|
|Summary:||The further adventures of Conner, squire to Boromir, amongst the elven folk of Imladris, Mirkwood and Lorien.|
"I understand your inclination to return home, now when you believe that the clouds of doom each day roll nearer to the White City and you are far from her walls, but I cannot spare any of my people to escort you to Gondor." The Imladris Elflord's words unnerved Conner for a moment. It was as if he were hearing his innermost thoughts spoken aloud. Was his mind being read? But he drew himself together.
"Kind lord, your highness, I have no need of an escort to find my own way home alone."
"To travel along well worn paths, perhaps, you would have no need of guide or assistance," said the elf, "however, I dare not allow you at this time to go home by any direct route. All paths will be watched and with more careful eyes than you can hope to evade." As he spoke, Elrond looked away to the south, as if he could see over the valley walls and past the wild lands beyond them. "If you were caught on your own and subjected to questioning, it would not go well for you or the world
"But, my lord, I have no knowledge of anything," Conner protested, quite sure that he would never be caught and, if caught, never reveal secrets, if he knew any. "What could I possibly tell anyone? I know nothing of the doings of the great and wise."
"You know more than you suspect, young squire." The Elflord rose to a stand and Conner leapt to his feet as well. "And the less traffic of any kind between Imladris and the south, the better for…" Again he turned his head and gazed in that direction, as if tracking the course of Boromir and the others.
"My captain," finished Conner. He still held out hope that his frightened imagination had led him down the wrong path about the company of travelers being sent to Mordor, and that Boromir was merely on his way to Gondor with an escort of strangers. For what reason, purpose, or end, their travel must be kept secret was still a mystery.
"And him," replied Elrond, with a nod. "Let us go inside, I think I might have a solution." Conner's heart lightened as he obediently tagged along behind the elf through the terraced gardens and into the Last Homely House.
They ended up in a room in the Elflord's private chambers that was obviously meant for the study of geography. There were maps and charts of all sizes and natures around them, either unrolled and spread in layers on the tables, or tightly scrolled and tucked into cubbyholes nearby. This room was in the upper stories of the Homely House, and the last of the afternoon's sun made swirling dust motes near the ceiling beams glow like bits of gold before disappearing into dusk.
"I can spare some scouts to guide you along this road and over the High Pass." The Elflord pointed out a dotted line indicating a road, which traveled in an East-West direction across a map spread out on the table before them. Conner saw strange names, written in both Sindarin and Westron, for the areas and towns further west along the route, like Bree and Buckland and The Shire. That is where the hobbits came from.
"This will lead you down to the Anduin," Elrond's long finger had climbed the indicated hill shaped ridges drawn on the map to their other side following a curly line that must have been a mountain road. "And I am sure you will find human habitations there and boatmen willing to take you to the land of the Rohirrim. I will send messengers out tonight to signal your coming, and to have guides from the Mirkwood realm waiting for you on the other side of the Misty Mountains."
The Elflord was good at his word and within days Conner was ready to travel over the nearby mountain range with a pair of Imladris elves for guides. He had been given a thick cloak and plenty of dried foods for his journey. And the ellith twins were in the courtyard to wish him good-speed at his departure. They both gave him chaste sisterly kisses on his cheek, but their knowing smiles warmed him more than a dozen fur-lined mantles could have done.
It was evening and the instant he climbed out of the enchanted valley, Conner felt a tug of regret to be leaving. Up above the peace filled hidden realm, the world seemed a dangerous, dreary, and hostile place. Down below there would be singing in the Great Hall and savory foods served at the dinner tables. Only the memory of his own home, with his father waiting, made his regret fade into determination to go forward into the night.
He and the elf guides were battered by squalls of hard-pounding rains that eased off by the time they reached the base of the mountains, which loomed above them in the scattered moonlight as forbidding and imposing as a necromancer's tower.
The elven cloak proved surprisingly water and wind proof, and the attached hood had even kept most of the rain out of his face. As the storm clouds cleared, Conner felt gratitude for his good fortune at being in the company of these magical people for the first time since he had left Imladris. The elves could see in the dark, it appeared, and they smiled up at the stars as if the glittering sparks were old friends.
Although Conner could not put his finger on the exact moment he began to feel uneasy again, it was not long after the elves led him up the unfriendly looking mountain's side on a well-worn but unusually narrow path. Looking up, he could see that it wound for miles around the edges of sheer cliff-sides above in a dizzying fashion. He felt vulnerable and watched, and in some ways he felt as hunted as a person being pursued by a pack of slathering hounds from Mordor.
He tried not to think of that dark land at night but seemed unable to stop himself.
"Who made this path?" he asked, hoping to have his mind taken off his fears.
"Dwarves," was the answer, and for a little while Conner was distracted as he learned how to tell a dwarf-made road from any other, not that there were many others, as it turned out that the stunted folk had made most of the roads. He was shown the way the rocks were cut into in some places or the way the curb was banked in others, even the still visible tell-tale marks made by the edges of the pick-axes.
"There are other roads and hidden ways beneath the mountains, but made by the yrch," he was further informed, even though he had not asked and would rather not have known, "who you men folk refer to as goblins."
"They traveled mostly in tunnels below the ground," added another elf, "right under our feet in most places, but they could emerge from hidden exits and ambush the unwary traveler."
Vaguely, Conner recalled the old hobbit named Bilbo, who resided in Rivendell, telling outlandish stories about a goblin king with an army beneath the mountains. At the time, he had thought the fat little halfling was a bit mad, and was spoiled by the other hobbits, who hung on every crazy word the old fool said. Now he wished he had listened more carefully. And in Gondor they had always referred to them as orcs but he did not correct his guides on that point.
For the next few hours, Conner could almost feel the poisoned spear-tips of a roaming party of goblins poking up through the carved rock beneath his booted feet. He imagined he could hear the tramping feet of their armies above the constant whistling wind. When dawn began to rise they were more than halfway across the mountains but had to halt. Elrond had forbidden them to travel by day.
The elves knew of a place to rest, and led Conner off of the rock-hewn path and over some boulders and through some narrow passages to a cave. The entrance was hidden behind brush, which covered an enormous flat boulder that slid easily out of the way. Once inside, Conner felt immediately safer and simultaneously in more danger as he peered into the darkness at the back of the cave. What if a goblin was hiding in those shadows? He put his hand on his sword, just in case.
Soon lanterns were produced that cast a soft yellow glow, which dispelled all but the darkest shadows. Outside Conner could just barely hear the wind and that made him feel even more comforted to be safely out of the weather. It was enough for him and, after eating a cold meal of dried meat, bread, and cheese, with his guides, he unrolled his blanket, covered himself with his cloak, and fell asleep.
When Conner awoke, he heard unfamiliar voices. More elves, but these were not like his guides. They were smaller and darker, their clothes were the type of dull natural colors that would make excellent camouflage in a forest, and they each had a small bow slung over their backs. These must be the Wood-elves that Elrond told him about; they had a wild feline air about them as their glances his way made their bright eyes glitter in the lamplight.
And more interestingly, they used the common tongue when speaking with the Imladris elves.
"It is no hardship to visit these mountains and breathe the sparkling air and see the stars unimpeded by the branches of trees, but the mortals of Gondor must learn to fend for themselves ere too long." Conner bristled a little to hear it but he had to admit to himself that without his elf guides he would be cold and miserable, if not lost. These mountains' passes were tricky.
When the sun went down, the Imladris elves headed for their home and Conner and his new guides set off for the Anduin.
After they were halfway down the other side of the mountains, Conner overheard the Mirkwood elves saying that the Imladris elves that live in houses and sleep in feather beds had grown soft and forgetful of their woodcraft. He did not agree with their assessment, but neither could he say that his new guides were not entitled to make it.
One of them was an elleth, although she was more unlike the ellith of Imladris than the male elves were unlike each other. She wore leggings instead of a skirt and if it were not for the tell-tale curves in her tunic, he would not have easily guessed her sex. Standing at nearly the same height as the other Wood-elves, she was still not as tall as Conner.
Her name was Rusciel, he learned, and she had a small foxy face, with large grey eyes, and, like her Mirkwood companions, she rarely smiled or spoke sweetly. She ignored Conner. He fell instantly and madly in love with her.
There was some comfort in his unrequited feelings; at least he could keep them to himself, as long as none of the elves asked him about her directly. Conner feared that the elleth might somehow sense his interest in her but he could not stop himself from studying her whenever he had the chance. He especially enjoyed following her on the path and watching her from behind. It was a mesmerizing sight when she climbed up over a ledge and her tunic lifted just enough to show off her thighs, as long as the moon or bright starlight was not blocked by shadows.
It took some time for Conner to notice that these woodland elves did not seem to have the same faint luminescence about them, when in the darkness, as the elves of the Last Homely House. It would have helped.
Despite his soldier's training, he gave in to letting his mind wander while he imagined what she looked like beneath her clothes. How much alike, or unalike, was she to the ellith twins? He completely forgot about the goblins beneath his feet. That was, until one of the elves behind him said, clearly and distinctly, a word he had only learned the day before.
Conner stopped dead still and turned to the elf to make sure.
"Does that mean goblins? Orcs?"
"Run!" answered the elf, who underscored his advice with a shove at Conner's back. It was just before dawn and below them he could see the distinct line of a mist-covered river and a dark forest silhouette on the banks beyond it. That must be Mirkwood, he thought as he half ran and half slid down the steep mountain path, and that, he reminded himself, is where the spiders live.
One did not need to believe a fat old hobbit's wild boasting about battling spiders with his sword 'Sting' to know that such evil creatures were not the stuff of legend. The great gloomy forest of the Wood-elves was not a myth and it was one place that Conner had no desire to visit. But he would have gladly plunged right into deepest darkest part of it if it would save him now.
As they drew nearer the bottom of the mountain, he saw other elves standing at the shore, with boats. They waved in greeting but did not seem alarmed. He took the chance at casting a glance over his shoulder, convinced he would see an army of hideous misshapen brutes following closely, and almost stumbled in surprise.
With the help of the sun's rays that had just topped the trees, bathing the mountains with clear light, he could see for at least a mile or so upwards. There was nothing following behind them on the path, but that was to be expected for he knew that whether they were called orc or goblin, the foul beasts could not tolerate daylight.
He ran on anyway, now was no time to stop and question his guides. As soon as they got into the boats, and pushed away from the shore, he would ask. Maybe he would be in the same boat as Rusciel, who he could not help but notice was navigating the steep decline ahead of him with the grace of a slender doe, and he could use it as an excuse to speak to her.
Finally, they reached the rocky shore of the Anduin and came to a halt. Conner leaned over and panted for a few moments before feeling conspicuous. He stood up straight and pretended to be back to normal, but it was hard to stop his chest from spontaneously heaving as his angry lungs demanded air.
As they had run from nothing, Conner was prepared for the elves to start grinning at him, he hoped they would not laugh, for being the butt of their joke. Instead, however, of making fun of him, the elf guides spoke swiftly and with a great amount of concern in their voices to the waiting boat-elves, who reacted with equal concern and began casting dark glances up at the mountain road.
They no longer spoke the common tongue and, even though the young squire had learned a pretty fair amount of Sindarin words and terms, their speech was a blur to him. It seemed to his untrained ear that they pronounced some of the words that he did recognize in a different way, or their inflections were different, and they used some words that he did not think were Sindarin at all.
One of the elf guides beckoned at Conner to enter one of the two boats that were being made ready to set off, but he pretended not to notice. With an air as casual as he could carry out, while his knees were still wobbly from the fear and distress of being chased by imaginary enemies, he leapt from the shore and into the same boat with Rusciel in a single bound. He had not once taken an eye off of the elleth.
After he sat down, Conner stared off into the distance as if he did not see her. He was ridiculously happy that he had not fallen into the water and made a fool of himself. The slender oars of the boatmen moved quickly, but they cut cleanly into the water without a sound, when they set off into the mist-covered waters. But the elves did not head downstream; instead they headed directly across for the other shore.
"Where are we going?" he asked the elleth, surprised that anything came out of his mouth even after he got up the courage to speak to her. "Lord Elrond said that I should be going further south…"
"Aran Thranduil will have an audience with you, now," she replied without expression. She did, however, look into his eyes as she spoke to him, as he had wished, hoped, and prayed she would, so it was a moment before her words sank in. In the meantime he nodded eagerly, as if he had understood exactly what she had said. Finally he realized he still did not know where he was being taken.
"What or who is Aran Thranduil, please?" Sadly for Conner, she looked into his eyes again when she answered and this time he did not even hear her voice, the roaring in his ears drowned all of it out. He noticed that she had small, even teeth, like a row of shiny pearls, and he was enchanted by her chin, too. It was so nice to be able to stare right at her face.
They reached the shore and Conner was no wiser but much happier. Rusciel did not seek to escape his company once the boats were pulled up on the shore, and even allowed him to assist her out of the boat. He wanted to say something else to make her look into his eyes before she left him and he went along on his way south.
"My scouts tell me that goblins were spotted on the eastern wall," Conner heard an unusually melodic and compelling voice say from behind him. He turned to face an elf that was at least a head taller than the other Wood-elves, all of whom now stood at attention before him "It is not usual," the commanding elf continued, "for them to travel this far north; something must have disturbed them…"
He lifted his chin and looked down at Conner sideways, as if waiting on a reply. Surely this was no ordinary elf; he had a shimmer about him that the Wood-elves did not, and a crown of leaves on his golden-haired head.
"Forgive me, sir; I saw nothing, ah… I… they," Conner stammered trying to explain.
"Never mind," said the lordly elf, waving his hand to dismiss the topic. Instead, his fierce expression softened and he said, "I have been led to believe that you have made the acquaintance of a particular subject of this realm, one named Legolas, while you dwelt in Imladris?"
"Yes, highness, lord, sir," answered Conner, for a moment bewildered by the keenness in the gaze of the Elflord, for he must be an Elflord, as he studied the young squire's face intently. "Legolas was a pleasant enough fellow, but he did not often visit with my captain."
"No, he would not, indeed," answered the elf, in agreement. "We will go into my forest where we can speak unhindered and feast unseen, come." And with that final command, the tall elf turned on his boot heel and strode off toward the dark tangled trees. All Conner understood was that he would not have to part with Rusciel as soon as he had thought he would. He gladly followed.
Conner was told about the Elvenking of the Mirkwood realm, the father of Legolas, by Elrond in preparation for his journey, as he was able to recall now that he had stopped staring at Rusciel's foxy chin and perfect teeth. This elf with the formidable bearing must be him, the Aran Thranduil that she had referred to earlier, and the ruler of these Wood-elves. No one had prepared him for a meeting with such an important figure.
Once inside the dim forest, Conner felt stifled, as if the air here was older and dustier than that just outside the trees. For what felt like many leagues, they followed an odd tunnel-shaped path, which grew darker and darker the farther they traveled. At the point where he felt likely to pass out from a lack of air, the elves plunged off of the path and through some shrubs into a patch of trees that grew less densely together. The sun's rays reached the forest floor like fingers of dust-filled light.
And then, almost like magic, they were walking out into a sunlit meadow, where other Wood-elves were waiting. In the center of the clearing was a long trestle table made from split logs, with stumps on either side of it for seats, laden with foods and jugs of wine. From the trees nearest to them could be heard the voices of other elves, possibly guarding the area from the spiders of the forest. There was more feasting than talking for a time.
Now that Conner had spoken with their king, or perhaps because he had been invited to their table, the other elves were suddenly friendlier to him, even Rusciel. To his delight, after the platters and trays of food were sufficiently demolished, a few asked him questions, mostly about Legolas and his other companions, but they were careful not to mention the mysterious quest.
No matter how many times the young squire explained that he had not spent a lot of time with the Mirkwood elf, the questioners never seemed to tire of hearing even the most uninteresting, to him, details about their king's son.
They were also particularly interested in the hobbits and Gandalf. Some of them mentioned remembering old Bilbo's visit although few of them had ever seen him, which struck Conner as odd, and asked for a description. None of them pursued their initial polite questions about his home in Gondor. They were of mixed feelings about the dwarf.
"These are desperate times when Lord Elrond feels compelled to send one of the stunted folk up against the foes of our people," said one of the elves, but he hung his head after Aran Thranduil turned his head toward him and frowned.
"Hush," said the Elvenking, "even our own forest of late has had more enemy spies afoot than is usual, despite our unceasing efforts to find and imprison them." He paused and a ghost of a smile crossed his noble face before he added, "And manage to keep them imprisoned, or did you forget the particular prey that we hunt?"
A wave of silence swept over the assembled elves. The Elvenking seemed to be making some kind of point that escaped Conner. A few of the other elves looked guilty. None spoke or moved. Finally, the elf who first mentioned the stunted folk spoke up.
"Forgive me, Aran nin," he said. "I spoke rashly."
"Perhaps," continued their king, the tone of his voice abruptly switching from stern to conversational, "whoever, or whatever, it was that woke the wretched yrch from their slumber under yon mountains would have been a creature with knowledge of their deepest holes?"
Faces around the table lifted, interested, and a few cocked their heads as if the thought had not occurred to them until that moment. A few nodded uncertainly.
"The two that I saw," said the very elf that had shoved Conner down the path earlier, "were unlike the filthy beasts that we encountered all those years ago at the Lonely Mountain. These were not much taller, but they wore uniforms." The others at the table stirred and cast glances at each other.
"That is true, these wore a mark on their helms," another of the elf guides continued. "It bore a likeness to a red eye." He pointed to his forehead and then added, "A perfect target. I used it to sight on with my bow."
As the elves quietly, but excitedly, conversed about the orcs that had been seen, Conner understood why he never heard anyone chasing them. The foul creatures had been killed immediately. After much discussion, it was decided that they must have been scouts sent from the Enemy himself, but their king did not seem disturbed to learn it, any more than disturbed, that is, than he had been when they had first sat down.
"Their foul feet will never enter our forest," he vowed and quick bright smiles lighted the elves' faces as they all happily agreed.
Conner would have agreed to anything as long he could see Rusciel smile the way she was doing right then and he nodded along with the rest of them. The mood grew less grim, despite the reminders of nearby dangers, and soon wine bowls were refilled as the Wood-elves bragged of how many yrch they could kill with a single arrow if they would line up properly to be shot at.
"Give me a sturdy spear to pin them with," another voice said. Some of them were veterans of a battle in the past, as Conner learned by picking up threads of their conversations, and it stirred his soldier's blood to hear them talk.
It was a real war, as the elves that had fought there put it, with fire in their already bright eyes as they remembered aloud. Thranduil's army of spear-bearing elves had allied with an army of men and, they seemed loathe to admitting, dwarves. They all had a common enemy in the orcs and trolls from the mountains, but this war had happened decades ago in a far off land by a lonely mountain and a long lake.
"By spear or by arrow," said the Elvenking, having the last word in the discussion, "our enemies' blood will flow just as freely, if it comes to doing such battle again." He turned to Conner, as if he had finally gotten around to noticing him there for the first time, and smiled.
"You will be personally escorted by my boatmen to Lórien," he stated. "I do not trust the local humans, whom you have been advised to seek along the Anduin, to provide you safe transportation south. The local population's fears are too easily used against them."
Conner was not unhappy to hear of this change to his original plans. It was welcome news to him for he trusted these wild-looking people with his life. The land of Lórien was supposed to be inhabited by a powerful elf-witch but he wondered only if he would get a chance to meet her. Among these wise and magical folk, he felt more like a helpless youngster among trustworthy elders than he had ever felt with his authority figures in Gondor. Except for, maybe, his father. If Aran Thranduil thought it safer for him to be in the company of elves, then it must be true.
Foolishly, Conner hoped that Rusciel would be sent along with him to Lórien, although he knew the idea was ludicrous. As the Elvenking led them back to the riverside, he imagined defending her from marauding bands of orcs, and wondered what could possibly win the heart of an elf maiden. If only all of them were as bold as the twin ellith had been in Imladris.
The brief time that Conner had spent alone with those two beautiful creatures, and their mother, was now a pleasantly sweet memory to him, instead of the embarrassing mistake that he supposed the episode probably should be seen as. He was not likely to meet any other like them again.
To be continued in Chapter 3
Posted: January 25, 2006
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"