The Two Swords Go South, Chapter 3
|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.|
The Mirkwood elves would only travel the Anduin at night and not at all during the hours when the moon was shining directly down on the river. Conner was impressed with their skill as they moved silently and swiftly in the dark. The current was fast, but they were faster.
The guides spoke rarely and when they spoke to each other they often used their own tongue. Conner knew Sindarin but he did not recognize much of it the way these elves spoke it. They seemed to have their own dialect and vocabulary at times, although he could catch a word now and then.
The young squire did not ask any questions about his final destination during that first night, as he was too afraid of drawing attention to the boat. After they pulled up to the eastern bank before dawn to find a place to camp, he was too exhausted from staring into the dark, and bracing for an orc arrow, to do more than wish for food and sleep.
The approaching day was turning everything a misty gray, and the birds awoke around them, as the boat was pulled up onto the beach and then into the trees where they covered it with branches pulled from nearby bushes. Conner followed the elves closely and feared losing track of them in the gloomy shade, even though the trees along this stretch of the Anduin had been logged by men and were not as densely packed as the rest of Mirkwood.
His guides seemed a part of the forest itself and were able to move through the undergrowth without making a sound. They soon found a hollowed out thicket of bracken, perhaps used as a den in the past by some forest creature, to hide within. The interior was dry and large enough within for the three of them to move about comfortably.
Silently the elves shared a cold meal with Conner and the only noises heard were the twittering and chirping sounds of the morning birds. He could also hear the river, a soft rushing liquid sound in the distance, and it seemed like a lullaby. As he drifted off afterwards, with his bedroll spread on the soft mossy floor of their hideout, he recalled his meeting with the Elvenking and his departure from the Mirkwood delegation the night before.
It had tugged at his heart a little to leave the valley of Imladris, but he could not wait to get away from the river, and this forest, with their individual dangers. But he still wished he could have spent more time with Rusciel.
When Conner had settled into the boat to depart, back by the old ford where he had met the Elflord and his escort, she had smiled at him and lifted her hand to gesture 'farewell'. He nearly dove into the water to return to her side, but, instead, he smiled and waved back as nonchalantly as possible, knowing that his guides were watching him. Her face had stayed in his mind for many hours.
He awoke long before the sun went down and noticed that one of the guides was missing. It sent a thrill of anxiety through him until he noticed that the other elf did not seem disturbed. Before he could get up the nerve to ask, there was a rustle of leaves as if a breeze was tickling them, although he felt no difference in the still air, and the other elf returned into the thicket. His arms were laden with a skin filled with fresh water, which he passed to both of them in turn, and a small sack.
"The forest is quiet," the elf said, his voice no louder than the lapping water of the river. "Even the spiders are drowsy. No sign of any intruders." As he spoke, he spread the sack out and revealed mushrooms, purple berries, and some white, rounded, hairy roots that looked strange to Conner. Everything appeared to have been freshly washed. Whatever the odd tuberous vegetation was, it tasted delicious when he finally got up the nerve to eat the proffered slices.
When dusk began to purple the tiny patches of bright blue sky that could be seen through their woodsy roof, they all ventured back out to where they had hidden the boat, but stayed within the trees waiting for darkness. There, they were joined by a small party of Mirkwood elves.
After Conner was introduced to these newcomers, the elves spoke the common tongue and he thought they did so maybe for his benefit. From their conversation he learned that these were scouts of the Elvenking who were returning to their woodland home after being away from the caves for many weeks. They were happy to hear that was all was well to the north on their side of the Anduin, but displeased to hear about the enemy being sighted on the Misty Mountain road.
They reported detecting no signs of 'yrch' on either side of the river for many leagues south, as they had traveled nearly all the way to Amon Lanc and back. They would speak no more about that terrible place, with its evil tower, and Conner was glad.
He and his guides set out again when the first stars began to pinprick the sky. The elves were more relaxed and even sang quietly now. Conner at last began to ask questions and learned that it would be another day's camping before they would reach the last leg of their journey. They would turn him over to the Galadhrim, as Thranduil had directed them to do, when they reached the outskirts of the Golden Wood.
Now Conner was eager to learn as much as he could about the legendary hidden realm of the powerful elf witch, but it turned out that these Mirkwood elves knew as much as he did about them. They explained that they mostly traveled in the northern parts of the forest and very rarely came very far south on the river. They had encounters with the normally reclusive Galadhrim, sometimes a small party would venture north on the Anduin, but not very often.
"It is not likely that you will ever see their city or their lords," said one of his guides. "The wardens do not usually allow strangers beyond their outer borders. You will be taken quickly to the land of the horse people and safety."
Although Conner was not so sure that the grassy plains of the Rohirrim were any safer than the rest of the world, he did look forward to being with humans again, and now that he knew where he was going he could enjoy the journey. From Rohan he could easily find his way home and perhaps purchase a good horse to reach Gondor with all the sooner.
It was still hours until dawn, the next night, when the boatmen pulled up to the western side of the river for the first time since they had left their northern encampment. The moon shone brightly now but his guides did not seem to be bothered any more by its telltale light. Like Conner, they were staring about them silently in awe of the silvery-barked trees whose glittering leaves sighed so musically around them.
"It is normally forbidden to land here," said one of his guides. "But, by doing so, we will not have to go further into the forest to find an escort for you. Very soon now, we should have several Galadhrim for company if only to investigate our presence." He paused and lifted his eyes to the branches overhead as if expecting to see someone there. "When they come, leave the talking to me. Aran Thranduil has sent messengers ahead of us to announce our arrival."
Conner nodded eagerly in agreement but no one came as the stars turned slowly overhead and the moon finally sank. His guides did not seem to notice that they were not being investigated as quickly as they had said they were going to be. He wondered if they were too quiet, too well camouflaged, and too good at blending into their dimly lit surroundings, as if they were all three of them a part of the forest, to arouse suspicion. It made him feel proud to be as adept at remaining still as his companions.
"Maybe we should start a signal fire?" he asked, half-jokingly, but whirled around when he heard a voice speaking from behind him.
"Suilad. Man le carel sí?" The speaker was hidden from view, still, to Conner anyway, but he could tell that it was an elleth who spoke. His guides lifted their hands to show their intentions were harmless and explained, in Sindarin, to the trees, how they had been sent to the forest of the Galadhrim by their aran Thranduil.
"We have come in peace," said one of Conner's guides with a friendly smile at nothing, "to find an escort for this excellent and most worthy Ranger from Gondor who has gone astray." The 'ranger' in question was glad that the morning's light had not come yet when he felt himself blushing from the flowery and misleading introduction.
"Gone astray?" asked another elleth's voice, derisive and skeptical, and coming from a different direction than the first. "How could a Ranger of any estimation go so far astray that he finds himself wandering about in your murky woodland?" There was the sound of tinkling laughter from every direction. Conner had an eerie feeling, as if he was surrounded by giddy ghosts, and he wished that the elves would show themselves.
When they finally did, however, Conner was more stunned than relieved to see the invisible wraiths made flesh. A handful of ellith stepped out from the trees as if they had been standing there, right in front of him and in plain sight, the entire time. He knew they had not been, even his elf guides seemed to change their posture when the small party of Galadhrim stepped forward, but it was hard to shake the feeling that their bodies had materialized out of the bark.
They were all women, as he was sure from their voices, but taller than any ellith he had met previously. It may just have been a trick of mist and tree shade in the pre-dawn grayness, but it seemed to Conner that they were cloaked in shadows. Like the Mirkwood elves, their skin did not have any noticeable glow to it, and yet their fair-skinned faces seemed to hover in thin air while all about them a diffused dimness hid their forms. They did not look happy.
"To enter our woodland during times of peace is forbidden," said the one nearest to Conner and her careful pronunciation of the common tongue indicated to him that she rarely spoke the language. "To enter now, however…" she began in a foreboding tone.
"Din!" hissed another elleth, who had stepped in between the first one and Conner. Her unsmiling face made his heart sink more than her command for silence. There was an uneasy pause and then one of the Mirkwood guides spoke.
"Where are your wardens?" he asked her, "We did not expect to be met by ellith, or to have the pleasure of being introduced to any of the fairer citizens of the Golden Wood, let alone be challenged by you." Daylight finally lit the trees as the sun rose above the mist and trees and shone down on them. It had a warming effect on more than just the air. "Aran Thranduil sent messengers to your Lady."
Momentarily disarmed, the elleth's face softened as she spoke to the Mirkwood elves, ignoring Conner as if he were not there, but still with an attitude of defensiveness as she explained, cautiously, why they were patrolling the forest this day.
The elves that would normally be guarding this stretch of the forest along the Anduin had been called away, suddenly, to the northern borders. Rumors of Yrch from Moria encroaching along the borders of Lórien near the Nimrodel had reached them just the day before.
"My brothers are among the wardens who defend our Lady's borders," she added. "We live in telain not many leagues to the west and before they departed they sent us here today to keep an eye on the river. Tending to lost rangers was not mentioned."
While she spoke, the elleth cast more than a few suspicious glances over at Conner. After a while, he tried to act as if he was not interested in what he was forced to overhear and gazed up into the trees so that he would not accidentally make eye contact with anyone. He wished he knew how to be invisible. When she finished with her remark about lost rangers, he felt put on the spot to make a personal defense of his existence.
"Forgive me, fair elleth," he spoke boldly, without further thought to any consequences, but with as much courtliness as he knew how, "and pardon me for interrupting you. I am not a Ranger and I am not lost." There, he said it, and instantly felt more sure of himself. "I am a soldier of Minas Tirith in Gondor, and the personal squire to the Captain of the city, Boromir, son of Denethor."
"Continue," said the formidable elleth, but with less scorn in her voice than before. Now that he could see her, and the others, in daylight, the shadows that had wrapped them had formed into cloaks made from a silvery gray fabric. Their dark hair was plaited away from their faces beneath their hoods. In the warm sun, they threw open their mantles and flung them back to drape over their shoulders to reveal that they were otherwise unarmed, from what he could tell.
"I was sent over the Misty Mountains by Lord Elrond Halfelven in order to find my way home, after being a visitor to Imladris." Conner gestured now and then toward the Mirkwood elves, as if they represented everything that had happened to him for the past few days, while he talked. "And I was not instructed to enter into the forest of your people. Lord Elrond told me to find portage from the human boatmen on the Anduin, but the Elvenking of my guides here forbade that."
"The enemies in league with the evil one wear many fair disguises," the stern elleth replied evenly, staring right into his eyes. "Your fate does not lie in my hands, soldier, lost or not, visitor of the Peredhel or not. The Lady and the Lord of Lórien will make that final determination." She turned away from Conner and he instantly felt as if he had been taken off of a hook, so stern and piercing had her gaze been while she spoke to him.
"Leave him in our care," she said to the Mirkwood elves. "He will be taken to the city and questioned by those who are wiser than we. Have no fear for his well-being; if his heart is pure, and without deceit, then he will be welcomed as an honored guest and assisted home."
With nods and short bows, Conner's guides wished him well and melted into the trees. He was alone with the Galadhrim ellith. But he was not afraid. The frowning elleth ordered one of the others to run ahead to the city and ask for advice while they prepared to depart in that direction. She finished by saying something that made him bristle slightly.
"We will," she said, with a nod of her head in Conner's direction, "of necessity be hampered in our progress and will be delayed by our circumstances." The young squire could not wait to prove her wrong. He was sure that he could keep up with them in the forest; it was not nearly as tangled and dense as Mirkwood had been.
If he had been pressed to express an opinion, Conner would have admitted to being very happy to have this fortunate turn of unexpected events take place. It was difficult to accept, let alone imagine, that he was about to be escorted into the heart of the forbidden elf realm, and by some of the most beautiful ellith on earth, and introduced to the legendary elves who ruled within. He would not have had the nerve to request such a tour, even if he had known whom to ask.
"Bind him," said the elleth who had sent his guides away as she nodded to one of the other ellith standing nearby. "Blindfold him." She nodded to another as she made her command. "Be still," she ordered Conner. He had jumped back when he saw the thin grey ropes being thrust toward him. Strong hands gripped onto his shoulders from behind and he froze.
Not for an instant did Conner feel physically threatened by these elves, who were women after all, but he was not foolish. The soldierly survival training he had been given stopped him still. He was sure that he could break free from the hands on his shoulders, and be able to dart off into the forest, but where would he go?
"It is our law, squire," said the elleth, but kindly now. "Even our friends must be led this way through our secret paths, and we can not take chances with a stranger to us." The blindfold was slipped over his eyes and Conner remained calm. He believed her, and realized the need for secrecy. Masking visitors was a method practiced in parts of Ithilien, too, or so he had heard tell. The soldier within him felt a stronger bond with these guardians of their realm for their cautionary steps. They were following orders.
"You do not have to bind my hands," he said, surprised at how level his voice was. "I will not harm you."
"Most certainly, you will not." The elleth sounded amused now. "But there are no exceptions to our rules." The slender rope was surprisingly soft against his wrists and, even though he could tell that he was bound too well to free himself, he was not in pain from the tight wrapping.
As Conner's mind worked on the puzzle of whether or not he should attempt to escape, or just meekly allow himself to remain bound, he remained silent as he was led forward into the deeper forest. The sunlight was filtered more and more now until it became an occasional flash of warm brilliance through his blindfold and against his face. How many leagues, he wondered, would they have to walk before they reached the center of the realm? It might take days.
Incomprehensibly, the deeper into the woods that they traveled; the warmer and more spring-like the air felt and smelled. Even in the deepest shade there was no trace of the bitter chill of the season. All around him, the fragrance of green things growing, and of fresh flowers blooming, reminded him of Imladris. The typical autumn weather outside of the Golden Wood soon seemed like a fading dream and he wished that he was not cloaked.
Except for a few times when the party of travelers was forced to move single-file through some narrow passage, Conner was assisted by an elleth who kept one hand on his shoulder to guide him along in his enforced blindness. At first, he was too busy working at his bindings, slowly, diligently, and ultimately in vain, and considering his situation, to pay much attention to his personal escort, but as time wore on he grew more interested.
The pressure of her hand was delicate but comforting as she pressed him forward, steered him around an obstacle, or made him halt completely. Every once in a while a slight breeze would blow fragrant silken strands of her hair across his face. At one point, he did stumble slightly over an uneven patch in the path, and bumped up against her. Because her arm was lifted to his shoulder, he fell against her torso and was pleasantly surprised to find her body softer and more yielding than he had expected.
"Is it… am I allowed to speak to you?" He asked humbly. The elleth did not reply, which he felt was an answer. "May I ask you what your name is?"
"She does not speak your tongue," said another elleth from in front of him. He could recognize the stern voice as the frowning leader who had not been impressed with his story. Undeterred, he repeated his question to the elleth beside him in his best school-learned Sindarin.
"Fileg," she answered quietly and offered no more information. It was enough. Her voice was light and pleasant and he was enchanted by the vision of a tiny, soft bird perched on his shoulder.
"What do they call your name in Gondor?" Another elleth asked from a few paces behind him. He recognized her voice; too, she was the one who pronounced the common tongue as carefully and uncomfortably as he imagined he must sound when he spoke Sindarin.
"I am called Conner," he answered. "May I ask your name now?"
"My name is Ivreniel." Her answer came from right behind him now, she had moved closer.
"You speak Westron very well," he said over his shoulder, wishing he could see through his blindfold. "Have you ever been to Gondor?"
"Nay," she answered; her voice was deeper than Fileg's, but no less lovely to hear. "My cousin Haldir has taught me to speak the tongue of the edain to amuse himself, and me. He travels often beyond our borders to do our Lord and Lady's bidding."
"Your cousin?" Conner remembered what he had learned earlier. "Is he one of the wardens who usually guard the forest here? One of the elves who was called away?"
"Yes, he is," Ivreniel replied. If he recollected right, then that meant the frowning elleth, who was somewhere in front of him, might be her cousin, too, he thought. Did she not mention something about the wardens being her brothers? He could think of no way to ask and he let the idea drop for the moment.
"How long will it take," he asked carefully in Sindarin, as if he was only speaking to Fileg at his side, although he now wished he was being escorted by Ivreniel and spoke loudly enough for her to hear, "before we reach the city of elves?"
"We have not decided yet," answered the voice of the frowning elleth up ahead of him, again. "It depends on which path we choose. And what word we receive back from our Lord and Lady."
"Is she your cousin, too?" Conner asked over his shoulder to Ivreniel, using the common tongue so that it would not be mistaken to which elleth he was addressing his question. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he added, "The bossy one who is walking in front of us?" He pulled his mouth down in a frown to illustrate.
Ivreniel laughed, low and throaty, before she replied.
"Brethil always goes first because she is the tallest," she answered in a conspiratorial whisper, clearly enjoying herself. "And, yes, she is my cousin. How did you guess this?"
Before Conner could explain, he was stopped short by a firm hand on his chest, which caused the closely following Ivreniel to collide gently against his back before she pulled away, but not as quickly as she probably could have. Fileg's touch was no longer on his shoulder.
"You ask too many questions, squire." It was Brethil who had halted him. "There is no reason for you to learn either the names or the duties of our wardens." Even blinded, Conner could tell that she was rebuking her cousin.
"Please pardon me, er, lady elf," Conner began, only at the last second stopping himself before he had called her 'sir'. "There is not much to entertain myself with while wearing a blindfold, and with my hands bound, besides some friendly conversation."
"You will walk with me now." Instead of putting a hand on his shoulder, Brethil grabbed his upper arm to lead him and then hesitated. He could feel her fingers attempt to reach around his large bicep, unsuccessfully, and for a moment he thought she was going to say something to him, from the sound of indrawn breath she made. She settled instead on moving her hand further down his arm, until she could get a better grip, and then they set off again.
They walked in silence for what felt like hours before they reached a clearing, Conner could feel bright sunlight on his face and hands where they halted. He figured that it must be midday by the way his stomach growled with hunger. His pack was removed from his back and he was guided to sit on the ground.
"Do not move from this spot," he was told. "Or we will have to tie you to a tree."
"A tree with some shade would be nice. Would it be possible to have some water to drink?" Conner could feel sweat trickling down his face and back. In the direct sun, after the long march, he was too warm under all the layers of clothes he wore. "And may I, or could one of you help me to, remove my cloak?" He felt hands at the fastenings around his neck and the heavy mantle was removed. "Thank you," he said, hoping that he was at least looking in the right direction, and was about to ask the name of which elleth it was that helped him when he felt the tip of a water skin at his lips.
At first the outflow of cool water came in a trickle that he could keep up with, but the flow quickly became a stream and then a torrent that he could not swallow fast enough. After it splattered out of his mouth and down the front of his clothes, he heard a small cry of alarm from whatever elleth it was that bore the water skin. Ineffectually, she attempted to brush away the water drops from around his neck and upper chest.
"It feels fine," he said. Her attempts to remove the spill had only helped make the wetness saturate in more quickly. "Leave it there, it helps."
"I am sorry," whispered Ivreniel.
"Do not be," he whispered back. "Will you pour some on my hair, now?" He bowed his head slightly and again he was treated to her fascinating laugh. Instead of having his request granted, he felt a fingertip beneath his chin that lifted his face, and a moistened cloth passed over his cheeks, chin and forehead.
Being blindfolded gave him a new level of awareness about his surroundings and he could somehow sense that they had been joined by another elleth, behind him. Whether it was a sigh, or a whisper of fabric, or the scent of her hair, he could not say, but he knew there was an elleth close to him. Hesitatingly, a hand lifted his hair from his neck and the hot, damp skin there was wiped, too.
"He feels overly warm to me," said Ivreniel to their unseen companion. Fileg replied in her own tongue.
"Are all mortal men possessed of such a burning blood?" She was still holding his hair up from his nape, and when she spoke it sent a strange thrill through him, knowing it was her. "Heat radiates from his flesh as if he has just been pulled from an oven."
"It is not the fault of my mortal blood, fair elleth, as much as the sun overhead," said Conner; his Sindarin vocabulary was being stretched to its limits now. "Tell Fileg," he spoke the common tongue in what he assumed was Ivreniel's direction, "that I am dressed in warmer clothing to cope with the near-winter winds that blew over the Anduin at night during my journey here."
For a breathless moment, after his words were translated, he felt their hands moving swiftly over his chest, back, and arms, pressing and plucking at his leather tunic, or shirt's sleeves, and then a curious finger pulled at his collar. Ivreniel spoke again, softly, in his ear.
"Brethil has returned." Conner had not been aware of the elleth's absence, of course, although he had wondered when she was going to bark an order at someone. "He is wearing far too many unnecessary layers of clothing," Ivreniel announced briskly, in a normal tone, although her voice sounded charged with concern. "They have overheated him and are making him feverish, I fear."
"Are all men dependent on this many garments, Brethil?" asked Fileg, "To guard them from the elements?"
Conner, who indeed felt warm, and even a bit feverish, but no longer because of the sun, could tell that the third elleth was either crouching or kneeling beside him as well. Her cool hand touched his face. She uttered a noise that was either one of shock or dismay.
"I fear I might shame myself and faint," said Conner, weakly, as if he was in distress.
"Move him to shade," Brethil ordered, all of her former poise replaced by alarm. "Unbind his hands, undress him, but keep a close eye on him, and I will fetch more water."
As soon as Fileg and Ivreniel had moved him within the tree shade, they untied his wrists and guided him to sit again. Now that his hands were free, Conner no longer minded his blindfold so much and he happily acted the part of the ailing patient, by groaning now and then, and remained as passive as an infant as they tended to his overheated state.
He did not even attempt to help them remove his tunic, sword, and the rest, and had to work at not smiling when they commented to each other about the width of his chest, the hair that grew on it, and the girth of his arms. By the time they had stripped him of everything but his breeches and boots, he felt twice as much overheated as he had been in the sun.
"Should we remove… the rest?" Ivreniel asked aloud, addressing Fileg in Sindarin. "Or wait for Brethil?" Not wanting to wait, Conner moaned to encourage them and fell over on his side as if he could no longer sit up without help. The ground was soft, grass-covered, and surprisingly cool against his chest and arms.
"I am here, now," said Brethil from someplace close by. "How are you faring, soldier?" Conner felt the same firm hand again on his face. He remained silent, as if he was too weak to answer, while Brethil moved her fingers from his cheek to his forehead. As if she could not stop herself, she touched one of his arms in the same place she had tried to grasp earlier. He noticed.
"Hot," he finally breathed out. "Too hot." He figured his face must be flushed, from the way it felt, and was sure it added to the overall picture.
"Remove his boots!" Brethil commanded while she worked at the fastenings of his pants. Conner's hot, sweat-covered toes rejoiced when they were uncovered but he did not have much time to enjoy the sensation. He had never faced a more difficult task than he had to while the three ellith worked at removing his breeches while he remained a dead weight.
In their struggle to wrestle his pants off of him, he had somehow ended up on his stomach. It was so hard not to try to help them, and not to laugh at them, that he pretended a coughing fit, covering his mouth with his hands, which made them work faster. When they finally had him naked, he pretended not to hear them when they asked him to turn over, which made them turn him over that much more quickly.
"Oh," said Ivreniel.
"Ah," sighed Fileg.
"It must be a symptom of his overheated state," Brethil explained. "How curious."
Conner just stayed still. And waited. They called his name and someone patted his face, but he stayed silent. His overheated loins ached and his throbbing manhood was not content to be merely exposed to the breeze, but was greedy for more attention.
"He must be unconscious," murmured Ivreniel, her hand stroked his hair. "Poor thing." The others were crouched near him again, too, he could tell. He heard water being poured and then moist cloths were wiping him from head to toe. It did not help his condition, if anything, it encouraged the situation. Ivreniel added, "I would never have guessed that a mortal would be so… generously gifted."
"Do you think it is safe to leave it in this state?" She touched him there.
Conner moaned again, painfully, and this time it was not faked. Immediately, all of the ellith withdrew from his side and he wished that he could see what they were doing, but he stayed still. From a distance he could hear them talking together and then they were back.
"Tie his hands again, just to be sure," said Brethil. "It is imperative that if he awakens, we not let him know…" She paused and then, after taking a deep breath and sighing it back out, as if she could not believe what she was about to say, concluded with, "which one of us is treating his symptom. So we must all three have a turn."
As dramatically as possible, Conner moaned again, and wished that they would hurry.
To be continued in Chapter 4
Posted: March 4, 2006
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"