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Chapter Three - Mirkwood
Early morning saw
Erestor on his way to the stables, bag slung over his shoulder, and
running through a mental checklist of work that should have been
completed or delegated before leaving. Lanterns still burned at the
outer doors and there was no one about in the main part of the house
although he knew the kitchens would already be busy. The sky was
cloud-heavy and a sombre wind tugged at his clothing and braided
hair. It looked like rain.
He hurried down the steps and took the hedge-lined path that led
through a shrubbery and out near the bridge. This in turn would take
him to the opposite side of the gorge and the trail up to the
stables. He had just entered the shadow of the shrubbery when he
heard light footsteps coming up behind him. A glance showed a trim,
female figure and then she was beside him, grey robed with a shawl
over her hair. It was only her height that gave her away; she was
tall, like her mother.
The silver lady of Imladris gave a business-like nod. “I am, yes.
When you turn off for the bridge, I’ll pay the kitchen a visit. I
haven’t surprised them in a while. I wanted to see you before you
left. I thought to speak to Elladan, but for this you seemed the
“There’s something I can do for you?” He had known Celebrían for
years, far longer than he had Elrond, and over time knowing had
become something close to friendship.
She passed something to him, rolled in cloth. “Take this with you.
You might have use for it. Two drops of the black potion and three
of the green, in wine or honey – something sweetish. It’ll
counteract the effects of the dye should you need it. There’s only
enough for three doses, so be careful with it, very careful. And
hide it well.”
“Antidote to the…” Erestor stared at her blankly while his hand went
about the business of taking the string-tied roll, slinging his bag
to the front and tucking it neatly into a corner.
“The dye,” Celebrían said impatiently. “I have no idea what might be
going on in Mirkwood, Erestor, but something certainly is. My mother
is very – concerned. Closed societies are always a worry. Tell me –
were the seeds Gildor found in any way connected to the rather
pretty plant Elrond had in the parlour? The one Elladan managed to
knock over and then somehow stand on?”
“Subtle, that,” Erestor said dryly. “Explains why I never heard the
details before. He’ll make a wonderful diplomat. Still, he’s not an
alarmist and he’s convinced they’re the same…” He was in two minds
to tell her about the beds in the forest, but the story was
complicated and there wasn’t enough time for suitable editing; they
were nearing the end of the shelter of the shrubbery.
“My son the diplomat, yes.” She sounded exactly like her mother
there. “Those flowers are not good, Erestor. You seem to realise
this. If you see one, you need to destroy it quickly. Watch out for
that in Mirkwood, and be suspicious of anything else you don’t
understand. Keep the antidote close, too.”
“The dye…” They were running out of time. “What does it do? To elves
She stopped, her hand on his arm. “A miniscule dose makes the mind
malleable, amenable to instructions. It takes away any concept of
right or wrong, destroys free will, choice. Larger doses are not so
subtle: a spoonful can kill. Keep the antidote safe. And guard my
Erestor nodded grimly. “I will, my lady. You have my word on it.”
“I know that, Erestor. Just – bring Gildor back safely with you. And
whatever you do while you’re over the mountain – trust no one.”
They reached the end of the shrubbery and Celebrían drew her shawl
forward to shield her face. Not looking back, she slipped like a
shadow towards the house, ready to start the day with an impromptu
tour of the kitchens. Her mother’s daughter, she moved like mist, no
one not watching carefully would even notice her. Erestor took a
deep breath, settled the bag more securely over his shoulder, and
made for the bridge.
Gildor had no idea
how long he had been in the little room off the garden, it was hard
to keep track of time in the dark. Whenever the door opened, the
light that flooded his cell was always the same, harshly yellow and
unnatural. He never saw its source. Once a day someone brought him
food, at which time he had to turn around with his back to the door
and his hands on the wall in front of him, otherwise they took it
away again. He saw no point in adding hunger to his other
discomforts, so he obeyed.
They sluiced the room out and changed the pot every few days. He had
to stay facing the wall while this was being done too and grimy
water sloshed around his ankles. The first time it happened he had
tried to turn round with the idea of making a break for it, and for
his trouble had been well and truly beaten.
He heard things though, sitting in the dark. Snatches of
conversation, some of it formal and professional, some of it gossip,
and together they gave him enough pieces of the puzzle to put
together a vista of startling horror. Most of what he heard came
from the young girls who were the tenders of the secret garden,
girls like the one he had charmed into letting him take just a peek
at where she worked. He was good with girls when he was sober, and
he had been sober entirely too long now.
He managed to run into her down near the river after days of keeping
watch for a likely target, walked with her, talked with her,
arranged to meet her again. Noldor royalty was in short supply in
Mirkwood, she came back, they kissed under the trees -- well, maybe
there was a bit more than kissing involved - and at the end when she
had to go back, he asked if he could take a peek at the secret
garden she was so careful not to talk about.
'Just a peek' had taken too long, there was too much to see, he had
been enthralled in a horrified kind of way. It was one thing to
believe rumours and half-glimpsed nightmares, another entirely to
see them clear and solid under bright light. This was how they
caught him. His famous timing had finally let him down and they
descended on him, silent and determined. He managed to run but only
a short distance. Then there had been a net and a violent contact
with the ground, and being picked up and carried, struggling and
kicking, and finally thrown into the dark cell.
He had lain where he fell for a long time, listening for sounds in
the darkness. Only when he was certain he was alone did he sit up
and go about disentangling himself.
than the person who brought his food and kept his cell clean, he
only had one visitor. He came after Gildor had been there long
enough for the ache from his bruises to start fading and his stomach
no longer turn at the swill they served him at his one meal of the
day. The door opened, the light spilled in, and he was dragged to
his feet, his arms held in an iron grip by two burly warrior-types.
A familiar figure sauntered in and stood looking him up and down,
whip in hand.
"I knew there was something not right about you. Typical Noldor.
Spying, poking your nose into things that are none of your concern."
"I have no idea what this is about, but I demand you let me loose at
once." Gildor put every ounce of birth and breeding into it, but
there was no threat to underline the words and they sounded hollow
in his ears. He fought to keep any hint of desperation out of his
voice, which at least salvaged a little of his pride. He used to spy
very adequately for Ereinion: this failure was embarrassing as well
"You lie." The whip whistled through the air and sliced across his
chest. Unprepared, Gildor cried out and tried to pull back but was
held in place.
"Not lying. Just came to pay my respects to your family --- old
The whip sang again, but this time he was waiting and gritted his
teeth, making no sound. "You lie," the voice hissed. "My family has
no friends amongst your kind. We how our people were left to advance
and die during the war, we know how cheap our lives are to you
Noldor. Who sent you?!"
It went on, question, answer and punishment. At some stage he was
turned round, his tunic slashed open down the back, and the whip
rained freely onto his bared skin. Time stopped, the room whirled
and whirled again, but pain was a funny thing, if you let it run its
course without fighting it was easier to bare. He had learned that
lesson a long time ago, crossing the Ice from there to here...
There was a pause in the cycle at last and he heard talking, then an
accented voice rose slightly. "She said he must remain alive while
she decides what is to be done. He is not like the others." He
recognised the accent, and knew it would be death to let anyone know
The response was taut and angry. "Someone sent him. Someone knows
something. Either that or it's his own damn curiosity. Either way,
he has to be silenced once we know for sure..."
"She says no." The words were like a whip's lash in their own right.
"Feed him, keep the cell clean, leave him. She will decide in her
"This is our kingdom, I will not be dictated to by anyone, even
A chill silence fell, so chill that Gildor came right back from the
half-sleep he had been clinging to, aware of the hands on his arms,
the dirt under his feet, and outside the sounds of water and bees
buzzing. "This is her project, my lord. She merely uses the
resources that have been made available to her. It would be - best -
not to seek conflict with her."
The silence resumed, and then at some unseen signal the
warrior-types released him so abruptly that he staggered and half
fell. No one paid any heed. Footsteps marched to the door and
through it, and before he could turn around or cry out, the door
closed, cutting off the light, and his world of solitary darkness
resumed its course once again.
journey to Mirkwood was uneventful, although they were alert going
over the High Pass where recent rock falls coupled with a day and a
half of thick mist called for extreme caution. Erestor had to
quietly remind Elladan more than once to allow the captain of their
escort to deploy scouts and have the trail cleared without getting
involved. An escort team, he suggested, should be allowed to escort.
They were picked up at the river by Thranduil’s forward watch who
recognised the banners of Rivendell and offered no more than a
perfunctory challenge. The leader sent a messenger on ahead with
word of their arrival and then left two of his men to guide them
before the patrol moved off down the road in their ceaseless watch.
There were no giant spiders. Erestor thought Elladan was
disappointed, though he was too polite to say anything around their
guides. He did ask rather a lot of questions about them though,
expanding what little information he’d had from Prince Legolas with
more extensive knowledge, he explained. Legolas had been loathe to
discuss the enemy that prowled the forests of his home. All in all
it was a quiet but seemingly unending journey, with Dan so close and
yet completely untouchable and an average of eight hours a day in
the saddle, something that had not been a part of Erestor’s life for
a very long time. When he had travelled with Gildor’s people in the
past, walking had been the norm, not riding. Not since the Last
caverns Thranduil had transformed into a palace were vast and
impressive, with intricate carvings and artwork, bright hangings,
and the occasional sound of water falling. Erestor had been born in
Nargothrond a long time ago, his memories had faded, but he thought
this might be more impressive. He wondered how it would have
compared to Menegroth, upon which it was said to have been based.
He and Elladan were guided to separate suites across a temptingly
small hallway from one another. The rooms chosen for Erestor were
comfortable without being spacious. The bedroom had a wide bed with
elaborate hangings, a chest for clothes, an overstuffed chair and a
small washstand behind a screen. The living room was an adventure,
complete with heating stones on glowing coals, pretty lanterns and
more of the brightly coloured hangings they had seen on the way in.
There was only one thing that bothered him about the otherwise cosy
“There’s no windows. I remember living in a cave in my childhood and
I know there’s more than enough air, but I still feel – breathless.”
“Nothing wrong with breathless,” Elladan told him straight-faced,
“I’ve seen you breathless before. I think it suits you.”
“You just get funnier and funnier, yes.”
They were being led through labyrinthine passageways and vast,
well-lit halls by two young elves who in another place and time
Erestor would have identified as pages. He was less sure here.
“I have a window,” Elladan volunteered. “In the sitting room. It
looks out on a little courtyard open to the sky, There’s some bushes
and a few flowers. Very engaging. I don’t think you can get out
there, but it makes the room feel bigger and airier.”
“I didn’t rate that high, seems. Flowers?”
“Well, you’re just my father’s seneschal and senior advisor. I’m his
heir,” Elladan pointed out with a charming smile, the one that had
always made Erestor want to shake him hard, the smile that had in
fact been instrumental in getting them into bed together. Well, not
into bed, not that time at least. Up against the storeroom wall
followed by on the floor, yes. No bed in sight.
The memory was banished as they reached a boldly carved set of doors
which were opened at their approach. A crowded hall beckoned,
brightly lit, the floor of polished grey marble, patterned in swirls
of black. In the centre was a mosaic of fighting dragons picked out
in red, blue and green with accents of gold. As they drew closer
Erestor saw it was made of precious stones and the gold was real.
More notable than the dragon, and no doubt meant to be more
impressive, was the dais at the far end of the hall. Four broad
red-carpeted steps let up to a platform upon which were set three
thrones, a central one with arms and a high back and two more modest
seats. Two of these seats were occupied and all eyes had turned that
King Thranduil leaned back, supremely at ease, watching their
approach. Erestor had met him before of course, during the famous
State Visit to Rivendell (an event Elrond swore would never be
repeated this side of the Final Battle). He wore his pale hair
loose, polished like a fall of yellow moonlight. It contrasted
strongly against the russet of his robes and the heavy emerald and
gold crown that sat uncompromisingly on his head. He had his legs
crossed, an elbow on the arm of his throne. Erestor noticed his
fingers were heavy with rings.
The occupant of the lesser throne sat very straight, his face severe
and autocratic. He had darker hair than the king, closer to honey,
and was dressed in impeccable trousers and tunic, his hair neat
under a plain green circlet. Erestor had hoped to meet Legolas
again; the prince had been pleasant and approachable during his
several stays in Rivendell. He had even struck up a bit of a
friendship with Elrohir, whose interests in the healing arts had
been sufficiently out of the ordinary to hold some fascination for
the visitor. There was a faint family resemblance, which implied to
Erestor that this was perhaps a sibling, but little hint of that
prince’s warmth and good humour.
They stopped before the dais and Elladan held out a hand without
looking round. Erestor placed the letter of introduction into it and
stepped back one pace. They had already discussed how to handle
this, knowing Thranduil liked rank and protocol. Elladan held out
the letter and the monarch took it, had a good look at the seal and
then broke it open and read. When he had done he favoured them with
an almost pleased look.
“Welcome to my halls, Lord Elladan, Councillor Erestor. This is a
most courteous idea of your lord’s, certainly.” He passed the letter
to his companion as he spoke. “I hope your rooms are comfortable?
Matters to do with trade are not our personal concern, of course,
but our son here will be glad to assist once you have rested and had
time to order your thoughts. Is that not so, Laegon?”
‘Eldest son,’ Erestor thought. ‘Thranduil’s heir.’
Elladan was saying, “We would be honoured to have His Highness’s
guidance in these matters, Majesty. At his convenience, of course.
So long as there is time to send items over the mountain for our end
of season faire, I’m sure all will be well. That is the only
deadline my lord father impressed upon me.”
While he was talking, he flicked a quick glance at Erestor, who
caught it effortlessly and nodded. “Lord Elrond thought if there was
an interest in the faire, you could select traders to journey back
with us, saving time that way. But all that can be decided in our
talks with His Highness, of course.”
“I will send for them when I am ready,” Prince Laegon told his
father, his voice barely audible, his head turned to avoid looking
directly at them. Erestor saw a concerned look flicker across
Thranduil’s face and then vanish. Kings knew how to school their
expressions, or at least the ones he had known were masters of the
“You will both dine with us tonight, if you are not too tired after
your journey,” Thranduil said, raising his voice slightly.
“Discussion with my son and a few representatives of our craftsmen
will begin tomorrow. Is there anything else that would make your
stay with us more pleasing? If not…”
“There is one small thing,” Elladan said smoothly. “I believe my
cousin Gildor is paying your halls a visit. Perhaps someone could
tell him we’re here? I haven’t seen him in months.” The smile again,
brimming with confidence.
Thranduil looked around vaguely then said, “Oh. Oh yes, of course.
He did travel some distance with messengers I had sent to Mithlond,
but never reached here. We assumed he changed his mind and returned
to Imladris. Your paths may perhaps have mis-coincided?”
It took Erestor a moment to mentally translate from Mirkwood’s
Nandor-heavy Sindarin to the common form, after which he glanced at
Elladan with a frown. “Surely there has been some mistake, Your
Majesty? We were explicitly told His Highness had been heading this
way and certainly he never reached Rivendell. Would it be possible
to speak with his travelling companions? Perhaps he said something…”
“The King has told you he is not here,” Prince Laegon cut in. “There
is nothing more to be said. I can certainly question the messengers
for you, but they were quite clear. Were there some Noldor lord in
our realm, we would certainly know.”
“Prince,” Elladan, corrected blandly. “He’s a prince. Son of Finwë
of Aman. And thank you, I would appreciate an investigation. Someone
will call us for dinner, Your Majesty? We both need to change and
“I will send one of my squires. I doubt you need concern yourself
over Gildor – he has a taste for wandering, they say. I doubt he
would have mistaken his course and got lost.”
Father and son both laughed, then Laegon leaned closer to his
father, speaking softly. Erestor bowed and stepped back, waiting
while Elladan did the same. The audience was clearly over.
have to look at one more example of quaint beadwork or folk carving,
I swear I’ll run screaming home and leave you to sort this out on
“I’m looking at bows they’d sneer at in Lórien, those throwing balls
attached to strings that they use for fighting spiders – they’re
interesting – and ornamental daggers.”
“Prince Laegon has been helpful, but I don’t think trade is quite
his speciality. I suppose councillors don’t understand weapons and
warrior princes would know nothing about beadwork?”
“Well, they’re right about that – it’s pretty or it’s not. My
grandmother has beaded whatnots from Khand – the colours tell
different stories and send messages and if you wear the wrong one,
you can get into a heap of trouble.”
“And a whatnot is…?”
“Sort of a loincloth thing? Apron? It fastens around your waist and
covers your bits. Too long is frowned on, it implies you think a bit
too well of your - endowments, so it has to be kept in proportion to
“Galadriel told you that?” Erestor glanced up sharply from the list
he was writing.
Elladan smiled back. “Of course she did. This is my grandmother
we’re talking about. Said it exactly like that and watched to see if
I’d blush. I was a lot younger then, of course.”
“Yes. I can scarcely imagine what it’d take to make you blush now.”
“Well one of the little pages showed me so much leg last night…”
“You need to restrain your curiosity. If you even look too hard,
he’ll be wailing rape.”
Elladan looked serious. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Ery. I might not
have your years but I’ve been around long enough to know how the
They were sitting in Thranduil’s excellent library, a cavern, or
series of caverns, brightly lit and furnished with desks, tables and
chairs. They had chosen one of the tables and while Erestor wrote up
notes on his meetings of the morning and added a rough transcript of
Elladan’s own notes, Elladan lounged in the chair opposite him,
elbows on the table in such a way that he was leaning forward close
enough to speak softly without it being obvious.
They had shared casual and totally innocuous observations about
Mirkwood and the opportunities for trade in Elladan’s sitting room,
but somehow neither of them felt quite secure there. It was Erestor
who had chosen the library, he had years of court experience in
Lindon and knew the best way to have a private conversation was to
conduct it right out in the open.
“Still nothing about Gildor?” he asked now, eyes on his work.
Elladan shook his head, passing another page of notes to him. “Not a
word. I didn’t expect to learn anything from the messengers who
allegedly travelled with him, but I ran into a few of the warriors
who were in Rivendell with Legolas and asked some casual questions -
and nothing. Laegon’s heard nothing either. I did wish Legolas was
here though – I’d have felt more comfortable dealing with him.”
Erestor sighed and nodded. “They’re lying, you know. If he hadn’t
come here, he’d have made for Rivendell instead.”
“You don’t think he had an accident along the road?”
“Gildor?” He stared disbelievingly at Elladan.
“Probably not, no. he’s not the accident type. So --- someone knows
something, but they’re not telling us.”
“Unless he’s still in Mithlond,” Erestor suggested, putting his pen
down for a moment and flexing his fingers. Back at home he had an
assistant to do this kind of thing.
Elladan gave him a bleak look. “If he is then something really bad
must have happened and I just can’t see anyone harming Gildor right
under Círdan’s nose, you know? No, too many people knew he’d left
for Mirkwood for it to have been staged.”
“I suppose, yes. So – something happened on the way here? Do we have
any way of finding out if he arrived or if we should be turning over
rocks all the way between here and Bree?”
“I’m doing my best, Ery,” Elladan said simply. “I’m fond of the old
bugger, used to tell us the most amazing stories when we were small
– when he was sober, that is. Mother wouldn’t let him loose on us
when he’d been drinking after he told the one about the old house
and the owl and Wen had nightmares for three straight nights.”
“Did he use to drink as much back then? I know he didn’t on the
road, but I was never in Rivendell at the same time, so… why’s that
girl staring at you? Do you know her?”
“I am that good looking, yes,” Elladan said cheerfully, glancing
round behind him as he spoke. The girl was standing at the desk near
the door where borrowed books were checked out by means of a
complicated-seeming filing system. She looked quite young and was
dressed simply in a plain, autumn-brown robe, her dark hair in a
neat bun at the base of her neck.
Elladan smiled and nodded briefly and received an uncertain look in
answer before he turned back. “Oh – she’s from Lórien. I don’t
remember her name but I met her there a couple of times. She married
someone from Mirkwood, someone on the king’s staff I think. No, in
answer to your question, Gildor liked a drink but didn’t use to
overdo it any worse than Glorfindel. That’s a recent thing, past
hundred years at most.”
“I wondered. All right, let’s write down what we do know – looking
at what we don’t know will keep us here all night.”
“Well, we know Gildor left Mithlond in the company of some
messengers who no one denies were there…”
Erestor made obscure notes as they talked, forming a short and
unhelpful list. He used a piece of graphite so he would be able to
erase it later and kept to abbreviations and initials in a loose
form of Quenya. While they talked, he saw the girl who had been
watching Elladan go and sit at one of the tables and start paging
through her book. She never looked their way that he could see and
presently he and Elladan got into a disagreement, too mild to be
termed an argument, as to the chances of Dan having simply missed
Gildor on the Great East Road and the girl was forgotten. When he
recalled her a while later, she had already left.