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The Two Swords Go South, Chapter 6

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinorne
Pairing: OMC/OFCs
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 conclusion of the adventures of Conner, squire to Boromir, amongst the elven folk of Mirkwood and Lórien.
A/N: At the end of this chapter I have briefly, but deliberately, mixed the book and movie versions about the sword Anduril. I know the history of the 'sword that was broken' as Tolkien wrote it, but I needed to bring a certain elf back into the story.

"Let me talk to Brethil." Ivreniel was crouched next to Conner, whispering, and her face was so close that he could detect the fresh clean scent of her hair and skin. She smelled like the breezy forest and clear cold water. It reminded him of how long it had been since he had a proper bath with hot water and soap. This reminded of him of who shared that particular bath with him. The only naked ellith he had ever seen, back in Imladris, and their mother.

He wished he could see Ivreniel naked right now. When he was blindfolded, he could only imagine what she looked like when she climbed up on him to relieve his overheated distress. All three of his Lórien caretakers had shared some very intimate moments with him that must have been spectacular to view, and yet he had not seen any part of them while it was happening.

The fact hit him like a delayed reaction to a joke and he laughed aloud.

"You must listen to me, Conner," the elleth hissed, not understanding his mirth. "I am serious. I vow that I will bring up the subject of your unusual offer to join the Galadhrim, but we must prepare Brethil for the idea..." She paused, turned her head, and sat up and away from him abruptly, her attention possibly diverted by a noise that he could not hear, and held a finger up to him for silence, or patience, or maybe both. Did she hear the other ellith?

During his conversation with Ivreniel about volunteering his services to help guard the borders of the Golden Wood, Conner had wondered where the other ellith were. He assumed Fileg was nearby, he could smell meat being cooked, and that Brethil was still up in a tree being a good scout, but were they actually closer by and listening to them? Elves were silent in their ways, even when they had no need to be. He was in awe of them, but was learning to anticipate the unexpected while he was with them.

Ivreniel grinned at him and gestured to him to come over to the far edge of the flet. They both slowly peered over the edge, he following her cautious motions, and below them by the brook's edge was a small red fox with a bushy golden tail. It had hesitated in its approach to the water, a paw raised and its nose high, and as they watched it dipped its head to drink.

"Do you often travel to Mirkwood?" Conner asked quietly, the fox reminded him of Rusciel.

"No, Conner." Ivreniel smiled as she answered. "I have not been further than the southernmost edge of that gloom-filled and smelly old forest, and that was only for a short foray." She tossed her hair in a self satisfied way as she breathed in the air with an audible sniff of pride in her surroundings. "We do not often cross the great river, and leave the protection of our Lady's grace, for that would be foolish."

"But aren't the elves that live over there kin to you?" Conner waved his hand in the direction he believed the great murky woodland lay, for he was not sure anymore exactly where he was in relation to the Anduin. He did not recall that it smelled that bad, either.

"I suppose they are kin to us," replied the elleth slowly, although she did not sound very convinced. "But no more than the men of Rohan are kin to your men folk of Gondor." Now she lifted her chin a bit, as if daring him to challenge her as she continued. "The Elvenking's subjects in his great forest are wilder in their woodcraft and freer in their ways with the outside world, and so they are less cautious than the Galadhrim."

Conner was struck by her reference to the Rohirrim. Even though he did not want to admit it out loud, he did think of the fair-haired horsemen as being very different from the more civilized men of Gondor. Wilder and freer, yes, but yet not in any manner that he personally envied. They were less educated and more savage.

Then he thought about the smaller, darker elves of Mirkwood. They were quicker in their ways and merrier in their speech than the Lórien ellith, as far as he could see, but he did not think of them as any less cautious. The great high-born Elvenking, aran Thranduil as Rusciel had called him, was unlike any of them, here or there, with a fiercely keen-eyed majesty and he wondered if the Lady and Lord of this Golden Wood were like him.

Below them, the fox slipped out of view into the tall grasses that grew on the other side of the brook. Its proud tail waved like a furry flag before it disappeared. Conner had seen many foxes but this time he felt sad to see it leave and wished that he could have touched that tail and he even wondered if it felt silky or wiry.

What an odd thing to wonder, he realized, and to cover his inner confusion he decided to ask another question.

"Do the ellith from Mirkwood visit here at all?" For the first time since he had seen her without his blindfold, Ivreniel frowned at Conner as she regarded him, her eyes suddenly cool. He tried to change his question, with his most winning smile included, by saying, "I mean, do any of the elves from Mirkwood, do they ever visit here?" But she did not smile back.

"Why do you ask so much about them?" She asked, more disgusted than suspicious. "Did you not have your fill of them previous to your arrival here?"

Ivreniel seemed to grow larger before him while she asked, her eyes were sharp and penetrating. "Do you desire to return there so soon?"

"I... we..." Conner began and then stopped himself as he floundered about for a way to escape the wrong turn he had taken in their conversation. "They weren't all that bad, at least not to me, although not nearly as nice as you have been," he settled on, although he could not help but wonder for a moment if the Mirkwood king would hire a soldier from Gondor to help guard his forest.

His answer made Ivreniel smile, the sun came out again in his heart, and he put any thought of leaving her side from his mind. Conner added, shyly, "I prefer being right here, for now." He was about to lean forward and steal a kiss from her except that a familiar voice interrupted his forward momentum.

"We will not be staying here much longer." Brethil's head appeared out of the hole in the platform after her statement had made them both turn in that direction. She did not seem very concerned about what she had overheard for she gave them no time to respond before she asked, "Are you ready for breakfast? We will leave as soon as we have eaten."

There were tiny roasted quail with a nut and fruit garnish and Conner tried to eat his portion slowly, in order to savor the taste, with limited success. Fileg sat with her hands clasped just watching him eat, as if nothing gave her greater pleasure, and did not start her breakfast until he was finished with his.

Although Ivreniel had promised to bring up his offer to stay in Lórien as a border guard, he found himself impatient to talk about it after his quail was gone, the bones sucked clean, and he had nothing else to occupy himself with and give her time to work it into the conversation.

The problem was Brethil, and all that she had seen from her climb into one of the tallest mellyrn, which she related to them. She spoke the common tongue for Conner's sake and translated for Fileg. In between taking bites of her quail.

Mostly, as far as he could tell from her report, there was nothing much to discuss. The birds, she said, were flying in predictable patterns, the butterflies too, and the clouds above were floating by in their normal paths. There was the usual fog of impenetrable fumes that floated above the far mountainous horizon in the southeast, where Mordor lay, although she did not name the place. The other ellith, however, were fascinated with every detail.

A more curious event, at least to Conner, was happening to the north of them, in the Misty Mountains whose peaks were visible even from the forest floor. There was a smoke-filled steam that appeared to be coming out of the mountains from the direction of the old front gate to Moria, and that was very disconcerting to the ellith. They speculated long over the meaning of the vaporous outpouring and even longer over whether or not dwarves could be involved in some new treachery there.

To Conner, the ellith were like cats in their eating habits. They took small delicate bites and never spoke while they chewed. It made for slow conversations when a meal was involved. Their mention of the 'stunted folk', as they termed them, he found interesting at first. It reminded him that one of the only dwarves he had ever met was traveling with his Captain on their mysterious mission.

He knew about Moria, every child in Gondor was aware of the evil orc-filled city beneath the snow-topped mountains to their north, but that ancient dwelling had always seemed too far away and its history too obscure to trouble him much. Now he had to wonder if the disturbance Brethil reported involved that strange fellowship sent south by Lord Elrond from his hidden home in Imladris.

Conner, however, was confident that his Captain would retrace the same route back that they had taken to travel to the northern Elven realm, and therefore easily avoid the mountains, and he was very sure that his Captain was leading the group and making all of the decisions. Even if they did not continue on to Minas Tirith, there was still no reason not to come through the land of Rohan instead of trying to climb up and over the snow-covered paths of the Misty Mountains, or go through them.

It was not possible, Conner decided, for Boromir to blindly lead the assortment of men, hobbits, dwarf, and elf over the high passes of the foreign mountains, or through the orc-filled tunnels, when the clearer and easier route around them made more sense. He dismissed the idea immediately.

"I will go wash up," he announced during a brief pause in Brethil's reporting and lifted his wooden platter. "Shall I toss the bones and rinds into the brook?"

"Never mind that," said Ivreniel, motioning for him to leave the platter. "We will bury the bones." None of them tried to stop him from going anywhere, and perhaps if he was gone then the subject of his offer could more easily be brought up, so he took his leave without waiting for any type of formal permission. His hands were greasy from breakfast and he was eager to clean them.

After splashing water over his face, Conner drank from the brook, using his hand for a cup, and its water tasted better this way than it did from the shared water skin. When he stood up again, he noticed another platform in an oak tree that grew further downstream from where he was. After a glance over his shoulder at the ellith, still talking and not paying attention to him, he decided to explore a little.

This other flet was higher up its oak tree than the one he had slept in and the climb would have been nearly impossible if he was blindfolded, so he was glad the ellith did not try to put him up in it. Once inside, he was not surprised to find the assortment of hunting bows, cooking utensils, and game-cleaning knives stored there, but he was astonished at how clean everything was. There was none of the gore and filth that he would have expected in a typical human hunter's lair.

For a time Conner was happily occupied in exploring the small area, lifting bows, testing arrows, and hefting knives, until there was nothing more to see, and he figured enough time had passed for Ivreniel to have mentioned his offer. He made a brief stop at the flet where his sword and pack were stored, and strapped on his sword.

He returned just in time to hear Brethil's saying, "As I recall, the Lady said to take him directly to the river and let him leave…" until she noticed him and stopped.

Fileg's eyes were shining up at Conner with affection but Ivreniel winked and glanced sideways at Brethil before she greeted him.

"Welcome back, soldier," she said, smiling brightly. "I was just asking Brethil and Fileg what they thought about us maybe asking you to stay in Lórien for a little while longer, and assist us in our guardian duties." Ivreniel made it seem like this idea should be a surprise to him, but she continued on before he could speak. "Or stay at least until Haldir has returned from the north and makes sure that you are fully recovered from your... seizure yesterday. What do you think about that?"

"Well," Conner said and then paused. He was not prepared to pretend that he did not know about staying, but he instantly understood how it would be better if this did not appear to be his idea. After taking a deep breath, he turned to Brethil and spoke to her alone, "I suppose that would be up to you, ma'am, seeing as how you are the senior in command. It does sound like a fine way for me to repay the hospitality you have shown to me."

"Everything might look calm to the east, to your eyes," Ivreniel added, as if she had just thought of it, for Brethil had included that fact in her scouting report. "But it can never hurt to have an extra pair of eyes, and ears, on our side of the river."

"And a sword," said Conner. He gripped the hilt of the one strapped at his hip and nodded to Brethil before saying, "But I figure that you are the highest ranking elf here, lady elf, so you make the law out on the trail and I will defer to your authority." He almost added a courtly bow but did not want to seem too eager.

"Do you think that you can climb a mallorn while wearing that sword, Gondorian?"

"There is only one way to find out," he replied and turned to let his arm sweep over the surrounding forest. "Pick one." Brethil stood, brushed non-existent crumbs from her tunic, and then silently gestured at him to follow her as she strode off into the forest. He was right behind her.

"He will need help at first, naturally," protested Ivreniel as she hurried to catch up with them. "It would not be fair to pick a tree that even you can not climb." Fileg was left behind to clear up after their breakfast and Conner almost wished that he had no other witnesses to this first attempt at proving himself worthy to be a Galadhrim stand-in.

It took a few leaps to reach the lowest branch of the mallorn Brethil chose for his test, but once he had a firm grasp on the leathery surface of the tree's bark, he found it easy enough to pull himself up to throw a leg over and straddle it, sword and all. He smiled down at them triumphantly.

"Higher, soldier," said Brethil, pointing up into the tree, but she seemed not displeased with his initial achievement.

"Try not to look down, Conner," cautioned Ivreniel but he did not pay much heed to her as he measured his progress. The mallorn was not hard to climb, after all, and any unease that the ellith expected him to feel in the upper reaches did not manifest. He did not necessarily feel at home when up so high above the world that the little brook below him seemed like a thin silver ribbon, and the stand of oaks appeared to be small round bushes, but he could see the strategic benefits in such a lofty perch.

"Is this high enough?" he shouted to the tiny ellith beneath him; they had backed away from the mallorn to keep track of his progress. They waved at him, nodding and motioning for him to return, and he wondered if an elf ever raised its voice for any reason. The view was spectacular and he lingered some moments more in awe of the beautiful mellyrn that surrounded him. He was not high enough to see over them to the horizon, but it was enough excitement for him to see the entire clearing below.

Climbing back down was not as easy as going up had been. By sheer strength of muscle and will he clung to the branches and went hand over hand when he needed to, if his feet could not find a safe purchase. When he was close enough, he dropped the rest of way to the soft forest floor and landed standing up.

"How did I do?" Brethil and Ivreniel seemed more amused with him than impressed. "Do I pass the test?"

"You frightened every single bird out of that mallorn," said Brethil, but at least she was not frowning. "We could hear you every inch of the way."

"I thought you did a fine job for your first try," added Ivreniel. "You did not fall." She turned to Brethil. "He did not fall and he climbed quite high very quickly."

"It takes more than climbing a mallorn to guard the Golden Wood," said Brethil. "We will see how he does on our way back to the Anduin, now that he will be unbound and able to see then perhaps he will move more quietly than he could before."

Her words were clearly a challenge and Conner worked hard at moving noiselessly for the rest of the day. They returned to the oak trees only long enough to collect his pack and Fileg before heading off. At a quicker pace than they had used to bring him this far into the forest, the three ellith plunged into the shadows and he followed them as quietly as he could manage.

They paused at midday by the edge of a tiny stream, just deep and wide enough for Conner to cup his large hands in to drink from after rinsing off his face. He had not worn all of his soldierly layers, leaving off his chain mail and leather jerkin, and was not nearly as warm as he had been the first day. He removed his boots to bathe his feet while the ellith gathered berries and made a meal of them with the usual bits of bread and cheese that every elf he had met seemed to carry in their pockets.

"We gave our last batch of lembas to Haldir to take with him to the northern borders," Ivreniel explained to Conner, although he did not know what she was talking about. She described what sounded to his soldier's ears like the type of tasteless flatbread he often was required to carry in his pack on long marches and he was not very sorry that they had none.

"How am I doing?" he asked Brethil. "Am I being quiet enough?" He already knew that she could not complain about how quickly he was able to move in such unfamiliar surroundings for he had kept up easily with them so far.

"There are more tests to come, soldier," was all she would tell him. They moved even more swiftly after lunch, perhaps because they were now moving within their own personal boundary line, which seemed to begin at the tiny stream's edge where they had eaten. They chatted more, too, and began to point out landmarks to him that they thought he should find interesting.

"There is the mallorn I fell out of after I had too much wine at the First Moon ceremony," Ivreniel pointed out. "And that is the first talan I ever lived in." He peered up into the branches where she indicated but could see nothing; her flet was too well hidden from his mortal eyes.

Fileg wanted to show him where the best blackberries grew along the trail and they found a bed of fresh mushrooms that had to be gathered on the spot, for dinner later. With a start, Conner realized that other ellith had joined them, silently, and were watching him with soft, curious glances as they continued to the river.

They were getting close, daylight was fading, he could hear the rushing sound of water now, and the mellyrn were thinning out. Still no final decision had been made about his leaving now or lingering, which made him feel anxious. Could they force him to leave? He hoped not.

"My brother told me more than once," Brethil said, after they had reached the Anduin and stood on the bank to stare at its swift dark water, "that mortal men can become enchanted by the beauty of our Lord and Lady's realm and are changed by it. He never mentioned any one of them serving here as a Galadhrim guard." She said nothing further and no one else spoke. If she was coming to a decision now, then Conner did not want to do anything to irritate her and he tried not to breathe.

"We should eat dinner, a proper meal, and then sleep on it," said Ivreniel. She was standing nearest to Conner and had kept close to him ever since the rest of the ellith who lived in this part of Lórien had joined them. "We can not let Conner leave in the dark."

"Yes, that is what I intend to do," replied Brethil.

They moved back into the forest, away from the Anduin and down well worn paths to another clearing. Here was their base camp, Conner could tell, with a stone fire pit circled by benches made of fallen logs worn smooth and flat. The bulging massive roots of the living trees formed small cave-like areas where he could see various items stored, like hunting bows in one and wooden barrels in another. Lamps lit the upper branches of the surrounding mellyrn.

Over the open fire there was some meat being cooked on a rotating spit and the aroma made the young squire nearly so weak with hunger that he had to sit. Fileg was at his side instantly and handed him a cup of fresh water. He sipped it gratefully while she prepared his meal. For the first time that day, he wondered where he would be sleeping that night. Ivreniel had disappeared somewhere, but he thought he could hear her laughter now and then.

Taking advantage of her missing sister, Fileg stayed close to Conner as the night drew down on the forest and more ellith gathered around the fire. She did her best to introduce them all to him and they giggled at his attempts to repeat their names back to them. Ivreniel returned, a wine skin was passed around, and some of them started singing, but then Brethil appeared, frowning and stern again, and silence fell over the clearing.

"You will sleep in Haldir's flet," she announced. "I will show you, come with me now." Reluctantly, Conner said farewell to Fileg, Ivreniel, and the rest of the ellith he was just beginning to feel comfortable with, and followed Brethil to a mallorn with a rope ladder. His pack was already up in the tidy flet, lamps were lit, and his bedroll had been spread out on top of several layers of soft fur pelts.

"Thank you," he said, knowing that Brethil had to be responsible for taking care of his belongings. "I am sure I will be very comfortable here tonight." This talan was much larger than the hunting flets were although not much more luxurious with its spare furnishings. He politely waited for her to leave before he undressed.

"I told you that you had more tests," she answered, drawing nearer to him instead of slipping away silently, which he expected her to do. "Are you ready for your final one?" She was not frowning, but neither was she smiling, if anything she had a predatory look in her eyes, as if she was hungry, very hungry, and he was dinner. He began to feel a little nervous.

"What do you want me to do?"

"You have some unfinished business to attend to," she replied and drew even closer. Conner searched his mind for clues to her mysterious statement, what had he not done? In the following silence, he could hear some of the Lórien ellith singing, distantly, and the sound soothed him. Not knowing how else to respond, he fell back on his courtly manners, and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, the star shaped cross guard glimmered in the lamplight, and held the pommel as if ready to draw it.

"My sword and I are ever at your service, lady elf. Your wish is my command."

"That is not the sword I am interested in, soldier," she whispered, now so close to him that he tingled all over from her nearness, as if her body emitted a kind of radiance that was felt rather than seen. "Take it off." If she looked hungry before, she appeared to be on the verge of starvation now, and he was riveted by her gaze.

Without thinking, Conner immediately let loose the belt buckle, and the sword and scabbard fell. He kicked them aside.

"Now remove your shirt," Brethil said and she licked her lower lip as he did so, which mesmerized him, and her eyes grew darker. He wondered if he could ask her to remove her own top, but decided against it. At last she smiled, admiring him, and she moved around him to study him from all sides. The tingling he had felt grew stronger now, as if he could feel her eyes stroking the skin of his arms, chest, and finally his back. He swallowed hard before speaking.

"What next?" He could feel her breath on his back and then heard a slight rustling noise. When she pressed herself against him, he could tell she had removed her tunic, even though he did not dare turn to look at her. The tips of her naked breasts seemed to burn against his skin, making him draw his breath in. "What do you want me to do?"

"Do not speak." Her hands were on him now, at first feather light and raising goose-bumps. They traveled over his shoulders, down his forearms; he could see her fingers now as they moved over the rippling muscled surface. Beneath his leggings, his other sword was making a valiant effort to release itself from its restraining quarters, and he dared not assist it.

Now Brethil moved again, and stood before him, her nudity a whiteness that seemed to follow her and curve into him like a cold flame. She lifted her hands to his hair and wound her fingers in it and gave a slow tug. Her hands trailed down over his cheeks, her fingers lingered on his lips, and he was unable to think at all, or decide how to react.

"I think you know what to do, soldier," she said and then pulled his head toward her own uplifted and ready-parted lips. He clamped her to him then, his mouth struck hers, and he wrapped his arms around her suddenly yielding softness while kissing her. Without waiting for further instructions, or breaking the kiss, he half dragged, half carried her to the bed of animal pelts, threw her down on it and himself upon her.

She was helpful now as he struggled out of his trousers and boots, and she even giggled a little when he grew frustrated and kicked one boot off so hard that it flew out of the flet and into the branches. His gallant manly member stood proudly at attention and Brethil did not have to remind him again about the unfinished business.

Their coupling was wildly frantic at first, as each struggled and tussled to dominate the situation, both determined to battle the other to submission. At last Conner prevailed, slamming Brethil down beneath him and pinning her in place with his 'sword'. With triumphant strokes, he delivered his coup de grâce. Her cries of pleasure were by far the loudest sound he had ever heard uttered by an elf and he felt victorious.

He fell away from her and panted, and she lay apart from him and gasped. Then he gathered her tenderly and naked into his arms, held her to his chest, and stroked his hand over her hair and back. She was like a tamed wildcat, quiet now but still full of unreleased ferocity that could be unleashed if he did or said the wrong thing. He tipped her chin up so he could look into her eyes, and ended up kissing her instead.

They made love again, but gently this time, savoring each other and giving more than taking. Brethil's nudity was a marvel to him; he found that her body was full of delightful curves and soft places to examine that had been hidden beneath her tunic and attitude. Her own hands on him were gently eager as she explored and delighted him in return.

"I never would have guessed that you could be like this," he said to her afterwards, after pulling the edge of his bedroll over them, his words slurred with sleepiness. "Soft, sweet." Brethil was relaxed now, almost purring, and she snuggled against his chest in reply. He did not believe he would ever fall asleep with her next to him, and in this strange new place, but promptly did so anyway.

The birds woke him before dawn and Brethil was gone, but he did not feel lonely. He stretched, turned over and fell back to sleep, luxuriating in the soft bed with its thick mattress. He was quite confident that he had passed her test and gave no further thought to it.

Fileg woke him later, the sun was high but it was not quite noon, with a late breakfast or early lunch. There was fresh water in a bucket for him to wash with, and she set his meal on a natural table formed by a low curving branch in the mallorn. Sawn log rounds served as chairs.

Ivreniel joined them with a sly grin on her pretty face. She bore a bundle, something long and bulky wrapped in a shimmering gray-green cloth, which she placed on the bed before sitting next to him. Before he could ask, Brethil appeared, and today she was smiling.

"Stand up, soldier," she ordered. "Face me," she added while gesturing to the other ellith. He sensed them moving to his bed and handling the mysterious bundle but he did not take his eyes from Brethil's face. Hands were at his neck from behind and something soft was covering his shoulders. He looked down to see that he was wearing a cloak, the same kind that the ellith wore, and it was long enough to fall to his knees.

"Congratulations, Conner," said Ivreniel as she handed him a bow, only this was not a hunting bow, it was longer, and it bore marvelous carvings and runes. Instinctively, he knew that this was a warrior's bow and his fingers itched to pull the string and test himself against it.

"This is only a loan, Gondorian," Brethil said. "For you are still but a visitor here, with limited duties as a temporary guardian of the Golden Wood, and we are not allowed to give a bow like this to anyone without our Lady's permission."

"Does this mean that I have to give up my sword?" Only Fileg did not laugh at his question.

"No Conner, never that," choked Ivreniel.

"You might say," said Brethil, her eyes twinkling, "that your sword is the price of your admission to our ranks."

"And we will all do our best to keep it well polished," added Ivreniel. They translated for Fileg, and she agreed.

"You will stay until Haldir and the others return." Brethil turned to leave and then paused, turned back, and said, all business again, "Welcome to our ranks, Conner of the Galadhrim, be down for guard duty in ten more minutes." And then she disappeared.

Conner strapped on his sword, Ivreniel had to help, and adjusted his cloak, Fileg had to help, and kissed both ellith good and hard before climbing down to take upon the honorable duty of guarding Lórien and its citizens, for as long as he was able to stay.

Days melted into weeks, and still Haldir and the others did not return. A messenger was sent to Caras Galadhon, but the reply was cryptic. Conner's presence was noted, and approved of, but no information was forthcoming about the usual border guards delay in returning.

For himself, Conner had never enjoyed sentry duty this much when in service to Gondor. The observation flets, these were located in the highest branches of the mellyrn, swayed in the branches and felt like sailing ships. He grew used to the sensation and learned the woodcraft of the elves, and how to imitate the calls of birds and beasts to communicate with them. It was more like being on a vacation than work, for each night he would share his talan with a different elleth.

He had no idea how they were chosen, only that they were eager to be serviced with his dutiful sword, which never seemed to tire of being polished. Thus his nights were sweet and plentiful and his days were a never-ending adventure. What more could he want?

More than two full moons had passed when a call came from the trees nearest the river signaling visitors approaching, by boat, from the South. Conner immediately thought of Rusciel, and his heart beat a little faster. If he ever saw her again, he had promised himself, he would be bolder in declaring his affection for her.

But it was not the foxy elleth, or any elf from Mirkwood, who arrived in a small flotilla. Conner's beating heart stood still for a moment and then sank when the cloaked figures threw back their hoods after their boats had touched the shore.

There, big as life, was the Half-elven Lord of Imladris, and then he was out of the boat and standing right before Conner, with a grim look on his face. He was joined by two other elves, cloaked and hooded, who revealed themselves to be twins.

While visiting the Last Homely House, Conner had heard of the Peredhil sons of Elrond, but had never met them. Unlike their dour-faced father, they grinned and nodded at him, and at the ellith, with flashing eyes and teeth. There was an untamed ferocity about them that was not elvish, but they were unlike any mortal men at the same time. And there were other men here with Elrond and his sons. A trio of long-legged Rangers who reminded Conner of Aragorn, the forsaken heir of Isildur, accompanied the Elflords.

"Do my eyes deceive me?" Elrond asked aloud, but while staring at Conner, after the usual polite round of greetings had been exchanged. "Is this not the young Gondorian soldier eager to return to his city that I sent home some months previous? How does he come to be here, dressed as one of the Galadhrim?" He turned to Brethil. "Where are your brothers?"

"They have been long delayed in the city, my lord, serving the Lady," she replied. "In their stead, this Gondorian has offered his sword to help us defend the Golden Wood." There were a few muffled titters from the surrounding ellith at the word 'sword', but otherwise there was murmured assent and words of praise over Conner's efforts.

Over their mid-day meal, all, well almost all, was explained to the interested Elflord and his amused sons. A few details, such as Conner's explosive heat-induced seizure or his nightly duties, were not mentioned. Elrond had many questions about the described sun stroke and declared that the ellith had done a fine job with the mortal's recovery. Only Brethil was able to thank him with a straight face.

"Your sword," said Elrond, after being brought completely up to date with Conner's adventures thus far, "would be put to better use in my service now." The merry mood grew quiet as the Elflord explained that he and the group he brought with him were on a mission that would take them to Rohan. "I have a delivery to make," he explained cryptically. "Indeed, it is another sword, and one whose rightful owner has longed to wield in battle. We will bring you as far as the White Mountains from where you can travel on to Minas Tirith afterwards."

It was not a request for Conner's company, it was a clear command. They would leave immediately, for their time was running short and they must make haste. The group of Lórien ellith who had sat to eat with them moaned and a few even wept. He wished he had the time, and privacy, to kiss them all farewell.

A tearful Fileg stuffed his pack with lembas cake and strips of dried meat for his journey and Ivreniel helped him into his mail shirt and leather jacket. He instantly felt uncomfortably overdressed. Brethil approached, her chin high but her eyes sorrowful, bearing a rare gift in her hands.

A decision was made to allow him to keep the Galadhrim bow, after all, even if it might mean risking their Lord and Lady's displeasure, and she handed it to him solemnly. The cloak was his to keep, too, and he promised to wear it from that day forward, until he returned home. For a fleeting moment, he regretted never taking the time to visit Mirkwood again; the fading memory of Rusciel's face stabbed him like a bothersome thorn.

"I will come back," he said. "When the darkness recedes and my city is safe."

"Do come back," said Brethil. "And do not forget to bring your sword." He smiled and bowed to her and the other ellith around her before turning to join Elrond at the river's edge. On to Rohan, the land of the horse-lords.

He wondered what the horse-ladies were like.

The End

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Posted: July 13, 2006

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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"