Dinîf en Qualen
Unexpectedly, the sound of hooves and a joyous whinny echoed through the air. Erestor’s head snapped up, and looking to his right appeared the most welcome scene he had ever seen; Amdir. The white mare was galloping toward him, and a moment later a warm noose was pressed against his shoulder, nudging him. “Be careful, my friend.” Although the pain had numbed, the blood continued to seep through his fingers.
Amdir had her head up, ears forward, somehow sensing that the Elf was in pain.
Erestor reached for the bag, which he had attached to his saddle when they had left Lothlorien, thankful that it was still there. Opening the bag, he checked its content. There were two wafers of lembas, water, a knife and a handful of dried herbs which he sometimes used when he couldn’t sleep. He kept the knife and placed the other items back in the bag.
“Amdir… stay here. I will need you later.” The horse snorted, showing she had understood.
Erestor returned to the cave, and, using his knife, he cut the branches to their desired length. He had selected long, narrow leaves to bind the branches with and during the next hour he was busy constructing the litter. When he was ready he tested its strength, and hoped it would hold Glorfindel throughout their long journey back to Imladris.
Wanting to rise to his feet, he found that the pain had returned. For the last hour he had been unable to press tightly against the wound, and his tunic was now drenched with blood. Pulling his cloak tighter, he walked over to Glorfindel. “You have to wake up.”
Glorfindel stirred at the sound of Erestor’s voice and locked eyes with the dark-haired Elf, who looked utterly exhausted. He felt slightly guilty for being unable to help, knowing Erestor had to feel lost, even if the other didn’t admit it. His eyes drifted through the cave and came to rest on the litter. It looked fragile and he was tempted to laugh at Erestor’s effort, but bit down his laughter. Erestor had constructed this litter for him and he should be thankful that the other Elf was trying to get them back to Imladris.
Erestor correctly interpret Glorfindel’s look. “It does not look like much, but it is stronger than you think… It will hold.” He had expected taunting laughter, but the blond remained quiet. “And Amdir returned.”
Glorfindel smiled, bemused. Hope seemed an appropriate name for the mare after all. “We should… not waste… any time.” Glorfindel tried to push himself to his feet, but collapsed in pain. Erestor would have to carry him to the litter. Glorfindel hated being helpless.
Erestor knew Glorfindel would never ask for help so he walked over to the blond, gritted his teeth, and hauled the Elda onto his shoulder.
Glorfindel’s eyes widened in shock as a horrible pain sliced through his legs. It overwhelmed him and he fainted, and was now a limp weight draped over Erestor’s shoulder.
Erestor felt Glorfindel go limp and quickly carried him to the litter, gently laying him down. Once the weight was off his shoulder, he pressed his hand against his abdomen in a vague attempt to lessen the bleeding. How much blood had he already lost? How much more could he afford to lose?
“Amdir?” Calling the mare, he waited for her to step into the cave. Using his last strength, he raised the litter and attached it to the two long branches that made up the horse’s harness. After securing it with his belt across her chest, he led Amdir out of the cave. He had planned to ride the horse, but now realized there was no way he would make it onto her back. Even if he did, he would never get down again. He was doomed to walk back to Imladris.
When Glorfindel woke next, the sun blinded him and he had to shield his eyes. The motion of the litter sent waves of pain through his legs, but he refused to show the agony he was in. Cocking his head, he caught sight of Erestor walking next to the litter, eyes fixed on the ground. Occasionally the dark haired Elf stumbled and groaned pitifully. Annoyed, Glorfindel frowned. Erestor thought walking was tiresome? He should try having two broken legs instead! Then he would be entitled to groan!
“Would you like some water?”
Erestor’s soft voice made him feel guilty for his previous thoughts; maybe he was being too hard on Erestor. “Do you… have some?”
“Aye.” Erestor opened the bag again and removed the water flask. After handing it to Glorfindel, he returned to staring at the ground. Every step he took caused more agony in his abdomen, but he couldn’t stop walking now. If he did, he would never be able to start again.
“Why don’t you… ride the horse?” suggested Glorfindel, sipping his water.
“I prefer to walk,” whispered Erestor darkly.
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow, recognizing that tone; Erestor wasn’t interested in carrying on a conversation. It was growing dark; they would have to stop shortly and seek shelter. “Maybe they will realize… we are late… and send a search party.”
“We are not expected back for another two days.” Erestor secretly exchanged one corner of his tunic for the other, pressing dry cloth against the wound. He was growing increasingly light-headed and worried how much longer he would remain conscious.
“We should stop for the night,” said Glorfindel, puzzled by Erestor’s behavior. The Noldorin Elf was extremely quiet, ignored him and was constantly staring at the ground. Recalling his former worries, he tried to figure out what was wrong with Erestor, but failed.
“We won’t stop... We cannot afford to rest.” Erestor rested one hand on Amdir’s back, slightly leaning against the warm body. “If we keep up this pace, we will reach Imladris the day after tomorrow.”
“Do we have enough food… and water?” Erestor’s determination surprised him. He had expected Erestor to panic, not to assume control like this.
“I will ration the little we have.” Erestor wished Glorfindel would stop ask questions. It was taking all of his concentration to continue walking.
Glorfindel’s unease was still growing. Something about Erestor’s behavior set off his alarms and he wished he had the courage to bring it up. But Erestor would probably laugh at his worry. It was best to remain quiet.
Arien set and Ithil rose, illuminating the dark sky. Glorfindel dozed off eventually, trusting Erestor to watch out for them.
Once he was sure Glorfindel was asleep, Erestor told Amdir to stop and he heavily leaned against the mare. “I cannot… do… this any more.” The bleeding had finally stopped, but he felt like he didn’t have a single drop of blood left in his body. Fatigue nearly overwhelmed him and recognizing the danger, he started walking again. If he lay down to rest now he might never wake up again.
During the night he swayed several times and Amdir stopped each time, letting the Elf catch up with him. Endless hours passed by until the sun finally rose again. Erestor stared bleary eyed at Arien’s rays, no longer able of coherent thought. He depended on Amdir to guide him; the horse knew their destination. He paid no attention to Glorfindel, who was waking up again.
Glorfindel felt disorientated. At first he wondered why he was lying on a litter, but then his memories quickly returned. Looking to his right, he saw that Erestor was still at his side. Amdir was walking faster than Erestor, who was falling back and Glorfindel got his first chance to extensively study the raven-haired Elf.
Long, black tresses framed a deathly pale face, and his large eyes seemed dull and lifeless. Erestor’s expression was distant, and he was panting softly, as if in pain. Glorfindel, suddenly alarmed, propped himself up on his elbows. “Erestor…?” When the Elf didn’t react, Glorfindel grew truly worried. “Erestor?”
Erestor finally heard his name and raised his head. Glorfindel looked upset, but he had no idea what troubled the blond. “We are… making good time. Hopefully we will reach… Imladris… in the morning.”
“Erestor, you look dreadful.” Glorfindel studied Erestor, vexed that he couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“Well, thank you… You surely are back to your charming self,” sneered Erestor absentmindedly. Reacting like that had become second nature.
For the first time since knowing Erestor, Glorfindel refused to be emotionally pushed away. “I am serious... You look exhausted.”
Erestor sighed dejectedly. “I am fine… Do not… worry about me.” No one ever worried about him; why should Glorfindel be any different? “I will manage.”
Glorfindel shook his head at Erestor’s stubbornness. “Why do you always have to fight me? Why not give in to reason and rest?”
Erestor ignored Glorfindel’s questions. “Would you like to eat… and drink something? We should manage… with the water and lembas that we have left.”
Frustrated, Glorfindel glared at Erestor, but he couldn’t deny being hungry and thirsty. “Only if you do the same.” Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Erestor eat or drink since the flood.
Erestor nodded slowly and opened the bag again, taking out a wafer of lembas and their drinking water. He handed the lembas to Glorfindel.
Glorfindel’s eyes grew big; Erestor’s hand was covered in blood! “What?” Alarmed, he grabbed Erestor’s wrist and examined the limb, searching for an injury that would explain the blood, but he didn’t find a thing. “Where does the blood come from?”
Erestor realized his mistake and stared numbly at Glorfindel. “The wound has… already healed. As I said earlier… do not trouble yourself.” He wasn’t sure what to make of the expression in Glorfindel’s eyes, but he refused to reveal his weakness. “I suggest you eat.” He pulled back his wrist, but flinched, as the motion vibrated through his body, causing another wave of pain in his stomach.
“Erestor, tell me what happened!” Glorfindel tried to push himself to his feet, but had to abandon the effort. He lacked the strength and his legs wouldn’t support him anyway.
“I cut my arm… when I dived in after you. It bled,” he lied in an emotionless tone. “Then the wound… closed.”
Glorfindel shook his head. “I do not believe you.” Erestor’s pallor indicated the Elf had lost a considerable amount of blood. But Erestor pretended to have not heard him and led Amdir down the path. “Erestor… I am trying to help you!”
“I do not need your help,” said Erestor calmly. “I can take care of myself. I always did.”
Glorfindel wondered why Erestor added that last part, but let it go, knowing he wouldn’t elaborate. “Erestor, I am worried.” Studying Erestor’s slow and stiff movements, he realized the Elf was hiding a serious injury. “I can help.”
Erestor remained silent, marching determinedly. Glorfindel’s tone was pleading, but he refused to listen.
Glorfindel didn’t know how to reach Erestor. He tried to grab Erestor’s robes, but the Elf was out of reach. /Why did he remain silent? Why did he not tell me he was wounded as well? I know I am practically useless with two broken legs, but I… What? Could have comforted him? Would I have offered him any sympathy? Does he even want it?/
Erestor sagged against Amdir, folding one arm around the mare’s neck. He hated admitting it, but he needed to rest.
“You know I am right, Erestor. Tell Amdir to stop and let me examine your wound.” Erestor had taken care of him, had bandaged his legs, and he wanted to do the same for the dark-haired Elf, if Erestor let him. Erestor halted, and he was finally able to take hold of the other’s wrist. He was holding the in blood covered hand in his and waited for Erestor to look at him.
Erestor resignedly met Glorfindel’s eyes. Why was the blond pretending to care? He knew only too well that Glorfindel disliked him.
Glorfindel pointed out an overhanging cliff to Erestor. “We can spend the night there… We should not be traveling at night when we cannot defend ourselves.”
“You are… the experienced… warrior, so I will… follow your advice.”
Erestor’s tone made Glorfindel cringe. “I did not mean it like that. I am just concerned about our safety.”
Listlessly, Erestor guided Amdir to the location Glorfindel had pointed out to him and slowly went down on his knees, realizing he couldn’t hide his weakness any longer. Hanging his head, he tried to not inhale too deeply for it would only wake the pain that lay dormant in his body.
Glorfindel shifted on the litter, but the agony coursing through his legs told him to stay put. “Erestor, come over here. I need to check your wound.” He wasn’t prepared for the expression in those dark eyes when the Noldorin Elf looked at him. How had Erestor managed to hide his pain for so long? It stared back at him from the depths of the other’s dark eyes. “Please?”
Erestor considered dismissing Glorfindel, but knew the blond well enough to know that the Elda would continue to nag. Slowly, on all fours, he crawled over to Glorfindel, and came to a stop next to the litter.
“Show me your injury.” Glorfindel raised his hands to probe whatever wound Erestor was hiding, but they dropped back, seeing the bloodstained tunic when the injured Elf finally lifted his cloak. “By Elbereth… you have lost so much blood! How did you manage thus far?” And all this time Erestor had walked next to him, never letting him see his pain!
Reaching for the tunic, he unbuttoned it and pushed it aside. Blood still dripped from the gaping wound, which had turned black. Infections were raging inside the damaged flesh, which had weakened Erestor even farther. “Why did you not tell me?”
“There was… nothing you could do.” Erestor involuntarily pulled away from Glorfindel’s touch when the blond’ fingers tried to probe the wound. “Do not touch me.” He quickly covered himself up and pulled the cloak closer to his frame.
“Erestor…” Glorfindel’s voice trailed off. Erestor’s expression was indifferent, but he thought he saw a lot of hurt hiding beneath it. /Who hurt you so badly that you keep everyone at a distance?/ For the first time in centuries he wondered if Erestor wasn’t constantly pretending to be someone he was not. But why would the Elf do such a thing?
“We will leave… at the first rays of dawn,” decided Erestor, slowly sitting down on the ground.
Glorfindel nodded in understanding. “Amdir is very loyal to you.” He was determined to engage Erestor in some sort of conversation, worried that the Elf had lost so much blood that he could lose consciousness during the night. He wanted to make sure Erestor remained awake and coherent.
“Aye, she is,” sighed Erestor, fatigued. Now that he was sitting down he was beginning to feel sleepy.
“Why did you name her hope? I always wondered about that.” Glorfindel saw the changing expression in Erestor’s eyes and knew he had asked something too personal. Erestor wouldn’t answer him. “Fine, remain quiet then.”
Erestor closed his eyes momentarily. “I named her hope because…” His voice faded, searching for the right words and still uncertain if he wanted to confide in Glorfindel, which would be a first. “I need to hope… there is still some good left in Arda.”
Glorfindel’s expression saddened, hearing the lost faith in Erestor’s tone. Treading carefully, he said, “Did you encounter much evil then in your life?” He carefully observed Erestor, seeing shivers course through his body. /You did./
“Evil?” Erestor shrugged carefully. “I suppose… I did.”
“Will you tell me?” Glorfindel involuntarily held his breath, waiting for Erestor to make up his mind.
“I do not think… it will interest you.” He felt like he had already given away too much. Maybe he shouldn’t have named the horse Amdir, but no one had ever asked why he had chosen that name, until now. “Do you really want to stay here… until morning? If we get moving now… we will reach Imladris earlier.”
After studying Erestor, Glorfindel nodded once. “You cannot walk much farther. Maybe you will feel stronger after you slept.”
“I cannot… sleep,” said Erestor in a neutral tone. “Someone must stand guard… and you cannot defend yourself.”
“And you can?” Glorfindel raised an eyebrow at seeing Erestor uncover a knife. His hand went to his side to hand Erestor his sword, but was startled to find it gone. The flood must have taken it. “That knife is our only weapon?”
/I still have my sharp tongue,/ thought Erestor, embittered, but he didn’t speak the words aloud. “I know how to use a knife.”
Glorfindel recalled he had never seen Erestor wield a sword and was surprised to hear he could defend himself using a knife. Usually the Noldorin Elf stayed clear of all weapons. “You won’t rest then?” Erestor finally met his stare and the dark expression made him shiver. Erestor possessed a look that could kill and he had been its target more than once. Only now was he beginning to understand it was a defense mechanism. /Why are you hiding? Why keep me at a distance during all these centuries?/
“I would prefer for us to move on. We should travel as quickly as possible.” Glorfindel’s questions tired him. He opened the bag, took out the water and lembas and handed Glorfindel the Elf’s share. Looking at Glorfindel he wondered if the blond was in much pain. Hopefully the bandages had steadied the broken bones and took away some of his pain.
Pain… Burying himself in his robes, he tried to forget about the pain that was once more sliding through his stomach. “Why are you… looking at me like that?”
“I just realized that I do not know you at all.”
Glorfindel’s remark froze the blood in his veins and he quickly averted his eyes, pretending he hadn’t heard.
The shock on Erestor’s face was easily read and Glorfindel wondered why the other Elf was letting him see his distress in the first place. Normally Erestor would never show any of his feelings. /But he is wounded, physically and mentally drained./
An uncomfortable silence settled on them, both trying to figure out the other. Most of the night passed like that, with stolen glances, and muttered questions which were seldom answered. When the morning finally broke, Glorfindel realized it was time to leave their shelter and move on.
“Erestor?” He hated having to wake the raven-haired Elf, who had struggled to stay awake during the night and had only fallen asleep an hour ago. “It is time to leave.”
Erestor slowly left his dreams to return to bitter reality where pain assaulted him. Glorfindel seemed to speak to him through a tunnel from a great distance. His head lolled, uncontrolled. “Time… to… leave,” stuttered Erestor, trying to push himself to his feet.
Glorfindel’s heart went out to the other Elf, who was struggling to get back to his feet. “Let me see your wound first.” He had to know if the bleeding had stopped or not.
“That won’t… be necessary.” Erestor clumsily rose to his feet, and smiled when Amdir nudged him softly. “To Imladris… my friend.”
Glorfindel watched the scene unfold with growing disbelief. Erestor had actually smiled. Well, at a horse, but he had smiled! He couldn’t remember ever seeing Erestor smile! A lot of emotions were hiding beneath the cool exterior and Glorfindel was determined to find out more about the real Erestor.
Their water was almost gone. There was just enough left for one person and Erestor handed it to Glorfindel, without saying a word about it. He looked away and licked his dry lips, hearing Glorfindel drink.
Glorfindel frowned, realizing he had emptied the flask. Why hadn’t Erestor told him that they were running out of water? “You did drink earlier, did you not?” Erestor nodded, but refused to meet his stare, telling Glorfindel all he needed to know. “You did not. Erestor, why did you let me drink our remaining water?”
Erestor didn’t have the energy to reply. For the last hour he had moved instinctively, no longer able to stop walking. His sight had diminished and the sounds around him had dampened.
Glorfindel, afraid that Erestor had gone into some sort of shock, grabbed the Elf’s hand and saw the fresh blood on it. The wound must have reopened. “Erestor, stop walking!”
Erestor shook his head. “No… must take you…back to Imladris.”
Glorfindel growled in frustration, wondering how to stop Erestor. “Listen to me. You are exhausting yourself.” Erestor’s empty stare alarmed him. “Erestor? Talk to me!”
Glorfindel’s upset tone finally got through to Erestor and he blinked once, slowly returning to reality from whatever state he had been in. The blood loss had finally gotten to him.
“Erestor, you have to stop. You cannot go on like this!”
Erestor no longer had the energy to talk to Glorfindel and moved mechanically. His eyes stared at the distance, no longer taking in the sky, clouds or trees. In the end, he collapsed onto his knees, his head slumped and he tumbled forward into a limp heap.
Glorfindel released a shocked yelp and automatically reached for the unconscious Elf, but found Erestor was out of his reach. “No, Erestor!” Cursing his inability to help the Noldorin Elf, he frantically looked about and then screamed for help.
Elrohir and Elladan stared at each other, hearing a howl echo through the valley.
“Someone needs help,” said Elrohir, looking about. “It came from over there, behind those hills.”
Driving their heels into the flanks of their horses, the twins made speed and quickly reached the hills. A growl, full of frustration, showed them the way and they froze, happening upon Glorfindel and Erestor.
“By Elbereth,” whispered Elrohir, shocked at finding them in this state.
“Quickly, help Erestor!” Glorfindel silently thanked the Valar for sending the twins their way. “He has lost too much blood!”
“Blood?” Elladan jumped from his horse and advanced on the fallen counselor.
“We got caught up in a storm. He has a stomach wound.” Glorfindel sighed, relieved that Elladan had reached Erestor and was now turning him onto his back.
The oldest twin gasped, horrified at the amount of blood that had drenched Erestor’s shirt. But the thing that worried him most was the fact that Erestor’s eyes had closed. “We need to take him to Ada!” Elladan made eye contact with his twin, who had reached Glorfindel. “Now!”
“Why do you not take Erestor with you? You can reach Elrond faster without me. The litter will slow you down.” Glorfindel didn’t want to part from Erestor, but knew it was the sensible thing to do. “Elrohir and I will follow.”
The twins exchanged another look and Elrohir nodded. “Do it. I will look after Glorfindel.” He had caught a glimpse of Erestor’s wound as well and realized they had little time left.
Elladan pushed his hands beneath Erestor’s back and knees, and gently lifted his former mentor in his arms. “How did he manage to injure himself like that?”
“It must have happened when the flood surprised us. Something pierced his stomach.” Glorfindel watched anxiously as Elladan placed Erestor in front of him. “Hurry, for I fear we might lose him otherwise.” Elrohir’s hand settled on his arm, making sure he didn’t move about too much. “Now go!”
Elladan nodded determinedly, and while holding tightly onto Erestor, he urged his horse into motion. It would take him one hour to reach the Last Homely House. “Hold out a little longer, Erestor. Ada will take care of you. Do not give up now.”
Glorfindel’s hands became fists, watching Elladan speed away. /You have better not give up now, Erestor, for I am determined to find out why you have been hiding behind a mask for so many centuries./
Beta read by Ilye, thank you!
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