Sparks of yellow sunlight streamed through the branches of Imladris.
A brisk wind sent the leaves skittering and whirling through the treetops, for it was fall here, auburn and tinges of orange splashed through every trunk in a wet carpet of fallen leaves. A fresh, cool smell hung in the air though, like moist earth and dry, cold air meeting, the sunlight warm and distant between.
A white mount spattered in flecks of gray kicked up a shallow slope, following an old, barely worn trail that wound with serpentine grace in and through the trees near the valley Rivendell resided. The elf glanced to the sun, noting its position in the sky. The burning sphere hung low, just over the hills until it shot pale, yellow rays of light in dusty, streaming banners. It wouldn’t be long now, mid-day tomorrow perhaps, before the company reached the gates of Imladris.
These woods bode well with the elf though, and with his company. There was life and light in these trees. He could feel it, fresh and invigorating. They sang in the wind the way the trees of his Homewood did before the darkness came, before the spiders wove their filthy spell over his beloved lands… He breathed it in, slitting his eyes closed and relishing the feel of the breeze flagging through his hair, whistling through the branches and -
Suddenly, the voice of his captain, Faenor, rode up beside and dragged him from his reverie.
“My lord,” he looked up, “We will rest the horses tonight?” Faenor glanced to the small party they led behind.
His companions felt the tedious weeks of travel as much as he did, but it was really the mounts who needed to save strength. He nodded slightly, looking onward, “Come nightfall.”
A few minutes passed, riding at an easy pace and watching the spreading shadows of lean trunks pass along the path with the waning sunlight. They passed over his face like great giants, trunks of all shapes and sizes growing into a single cloak of leaves weaving and fluttering in the wind.
“What troubles you, Faenor?” The elf asked finally. The captain’s eyes were dark like his ebony hair, a strange thing for a Mirkwood elf, but they mirrored his own: unrest.
Something was stirring, something dark, something that overshadowed the fringe edges of thought. Yet beyond that, he couldn’t quite place it. It was much the same feeling that thickened the air when the spiders fought at his people’s borders, yet it shouldn’t be here. The Dark One had no power here, or at least it shouldn’t, so why did he feel it?
“I know not, my lord,” Faenor sighed finally, and though the fairer elf was used to it by this time, he couldn’t help wishing the captain could dispense with the formalities.
My lord…It was grating every time. None of their group would mind, he was sure of that. Besides, they’d travelled together many times, including patrolling the borders of his father’s lands. Did he never lose vigilance?
Instead of commenting on it, he glanced out through the woods. “I will be glad to reach our destination, in any case.” When Mithrech strayed a little, he nudged the mare back with a heel. “They say the lord of Imladris has succeeded in fending the darkness from his borders, so far.”
Faenor followed his gaze, nodding slowly. A few quiet moments passed then, and when he was sure the proper time had elapsed for the topic to close… Faenor spoke up again.
His jaw clenched, but he glanced over, an azure blue shaded under dark lashes. The title may be annoying, but there was concern embedded in his second-command’s eyes.
“How think you? Will the Lord Elrond take our news well?” he asked quietly, apparently oblivious.
The path ahead widened a little, and he waited until they rode side by side to answer. “I… have met him in years past; wisdom and understanding are his. I am loathe to tell of it, but he will know the misfortune was unavoidable.”
“One may hope, my lord.”
He couldn’t stand it any longer, and he sighed out, “Faenor…”
It took a minute, but on the receiving end of a vaguely disparaging look, the captain nodded once, “Very well…” he smirked, “…my lord.”
My lord couldn’t stop the smile from twitching free.
So the sun passed overhead until it rested as just a distant glow. He was trained as a warrior, a sixth sense always alert and ready, but he found himself relaxing into the moderate pace, swaying gently with the horse’s stride.
It didn’t bother him, not particularly, but he really was unused to riding like this… It was the first time in decades. Usually, if there was anywhere to be gone, he made it on the pathways woven through the trees, or those on the ground. Still, it was a faster mode of travel and the Valar knew any time saved was a gift.
A brisk wind shivered through the treetops overhead, but he didn’t feel the chill. It was cool, invigorating. They climbed a steep rise and Mithrech slipped once, so he gave her the lead, focusing on the rough earth before…
Suddenly, he whipped his head up and grabbed at the reins for control.
In the ravine just beneath, resting face down and sprawled in a matted bed of leaves… was a woman. Or at least he thought it was. What in Valar’s name?
The horse stumbled and nearly trampled her, and he wrenched her head around, throwing a hand into the air. His company, not a step behind followed suit.
Dirt spat up in her hooves and he grimaced, taking control. After skidding through the leaves and snorting though, she slowed and pivoted around the still body in the earth. What in sweet Eru’s name was an elleth doing on the borders? He grimaced. These woods were still dangerous! Orc raids were a frequent occurrence a day’s ride from here. What was she doing? She was dressed… he whipped his head around, getting a better look… ridiculously!
But, the instant of confusion was snapped short. Even as their mounts stamped and circled under silent command…he realized she was moving. Well, perhaps groaning would be the better word.
She pushed up onto one arm, tangled hair lifting out of the dirt, only to peer blankly through the blur of horse legs. Her gaze was a blend of blue and green, looking sick and confused, before it lifted…widened… and she screamed.
The shrill sound sent his horse leaping forward in a panic and his companions staring at her in wide-eyed horror. She scrambled backward, and if her choked off shouts were anything to go by…terrified. Wasn’t this mission enough? Wasn’t the fact that he was responsible for every ellon in his group enough?
He frowned…Obviously not. Well, what had the great spirits cursed him with now?