“I am ready.”
Eruviel nodded curtly as she nocked an arrow. Looking ahead to the rise she stepped forward, Eirikr moving with her. “Retrieve as many of your own arrows as you can,” she said quietly as they took advantage of the cover afforded them by the boulders and darkness of night. “It will not do to return the sentinels their arrows and leave our own behind.” She did not want to admit she felt a little bitter at them being initially denied access to Lothlorien. They have their reasons, and we would have had to fight the orcs anyways, she told herself. A dry smile curved up her mouth as her eyes pierced into the shadowed distance. Only ten arrows.
Ducking behind a small growth of trees Eirikr peered around the trunk at the nearest lumbering orc. Exchanging looks with her he slid out into the open, loosing his arrow to drop the dumb monster as he ran forward. Eruviel followed close behind him, sinking an arrow into the second guard to give Eirikr the second he needed to draw on the third. Running by their fallen quarry both human and elf retrieved their now black, blood-stained arrows. They are going down too easily, she mused.
The fourth orc caught Eirikr’s arrow in the mouth as it opened it’s filthy maw to raise the alarm, and Eruviel raced up behind the fifth, throwing it off its feet and using its own crude weapon to sever it’s head. She stepped to follow after Eirikr when a quick movement caught the corner of her eye. Eruviel had only a second to draw her dagger when a taller, more slender orc rushed her. Caught in the foul beast’s grapple Eruviel and the orc tumbled across the rocky path. The orc landed on top and a filthy, gnarled hand wrapped around her neck when a golden-fletched arrow pierced through it’s throat. Flipping them over Eruviel ripped out the projectile and stabbed her knife onetwothreefour times into the enraged orcs face. Not bothering to waste time on catching her breath she leapt up to run after Eirikr.
“You forgot this,” Eruviel whispered as they slowed to survey the road ahead of them, handing the elven arrow back to the man. She could hear the caravan begin to advance slowly a ways behind them.
“So that’s where it went,” he muttered with a hint of sarcasm. “But where are we going to find ten of these?”
“Over there,” she said quietly, pointing to the base of the hill from where the black plume of smoke rose.
“Yeah . . . I just see more orc guards.”
Eruviel rolled her eyes. Palming the top of his head she turned him to look ten degrees to the left. “Right where I am pointing, gwador.” Beyond the enemy sentries a festering pile of dead orcs could be made out, arrows jutting from their corpses. She could feel his glare hitting her though the darkness.
“Well, we won’t get there any faster by sitting here,” he grumbled with a smile as they moved out from their hiding place.
* * *
The vast canopy of mallorn trees took on a shimmering glow as the sun crested the tree line. A tall, elven guardian of the woods stood waiting for them on the road as Eruviel and Eirikr walked under the first of the golden trees of Nimrodel, the caravan close behind them. Two masked sentries flanked the ancient Eldar and Eruviel amused herself with the pride she felt at successfully keeping back a sarcastic smirk. The humans really were wearing off on her. Before the caravan could pull to a stop the Eldar trio turned with an expectant air.
Eirikr shot Eruviel an irritated look as they and the wagon train followed the elves and she put her hand lightly on his arm, shaking her head with a warning. “If we want to continue on in haste it would be best not to offend our hosts.”
Her companion shifted his jaw around before nodding curtly, calming his facial expression just as they rounded the path to a camp set up between the western arm of the Celebrant and headwaters of the Nimrodel.
The elf lord who had led the group glanced over at Eirikr before looking to Eruviel. Bowing slightly he gestured to a maiden standing at the back of the camp. “Celeguien is expecting you,” he said with a self-important air. Returning the bow Eruviel led the way. Eirikr carried the bundle of retrieved arrows and she sensed him stiffen when the tall elf lord and the two sentries followed.
“Suilad, mellyn,” chimed Celeguien merely giving the elves behind the duo a curt nod before offering her hand out in greeting. “I hear you have retrieved some of our arrows for us?”
Eruviel clasped her hand, speaking before Eirikr could. “We have. I did not realize the threat that lingered at the doors of the Golden Wood.”
“The danger has indeed grown more pressing in the past years,” Celeguien replied, the gleam in her eye betrayed her calm, soothing demeanor. She might hate orcs more than I do, Eruviel mused. Looking from Eruviel to Eirikr the elf maiden arched a brow. “But that is not why you are here. I presume you gathered your collective twenty arrows to earn passage through our land?”
A smug smirk curling across his face, Eirikr set the bundle down and untied the leather wrapping, revealing nearly three dozen arrows. “We each got our ten, but it felt so wasteful, passing the dead orcs littering the last mile or so,” he said with a feigned thoughtfulness.
Celeguien’s mouth twitched as she kept back a smile. Peering over Eirikr’s shoulder the elf lord did not seem to share the maiden’s amusement. “You do yourselves credit,” he said mildly. “This is indeed a boon to our efforts.”
“Oh, you don’t get all of them,” said Eirikr. Stooping over he picked out three elvish arrows, sticking one in his quiver and two in Eruviel’s. “These are to replace the ones we lost.”
Celeguien quickly jumped in as both Eruviel and the elf lord opened their mouths to speak. “That is of course, expected. By the black blood on both of you I can see the replacements are well earned. You are free, then, to travel through. The arrows will serve as witness that you have the right to be among us.” Shooting the elf lord a neutral glance of warning she bowed first to Eirikr then to Eruviel. Loborwen will have horses for you. May your paths be green and golden.”
Bidding Norlin a fond farewell and Eruviel making sure to wave back to the merchant Tannith, she and Eirikr quickly gathered their few things and headed off on the horses that had been saddled and waiting for them. Walking the horses till they crossed back over the Celebrant, they then took off at a modest canter down the road through the Lady’s Rest. Simply being in the Golden Wood itself revived Eruviel after the long road through Moria. The crisp air washed the dank from her lungs and her face soaked in the golden glow of morning sunlight.
They rode on, silent. There was nothing to say. Both Eirikr and Eruviel rode tall, relishing the lush scenery that they had been immersed into. The occasional elf they’d pass would regard them then go about their own business, very few visibly showing their distrust of the visitors. After a time the companions reigned in their horses at one end of a bridge that led across the little river towards Caras Galadhon.
“I remember walking though those gates once before,” she said in a hushed, reverent tone. Even if it was so long ago, she could still remember touching the gleaming arches and tasting the sweet waters that coursed through the city. From long forgotten memories she could recall the thrill of the first time she climbed one of the many soaring ladders, and the harmonious sound of a hundred elvish voices.
Eirikr stared openly at the golden city set in the ancient trees. Flowing bridges spanned one high platform to another and the faint gleam of blue, crystal lights lingered behind curving trellises and on the delicate cords of lights that blended in with the natural curve the grand haven. “We will see it on the way back,” he said with a slow nod, as if to talk himself out of staying longer.
“Yes, we will,” said Eruviel, forcing herself out of the cusp between waking and sleeping.
“It might be wisest to make the crossing under the cover of night,” said Eirikr as he turned his horse to the east, giving the city of trees one last longing glance.
Eruviel nodded, humming in agreement as she spurred her horse after him. “We can eat and rest at the Vineyards for the day.” Giving him a thoughtful look she then gazed ahead down the road, her thoughts still lingering on the golden city they’d left behind and not the long way they still had to go. “Are you glad to be taking the lead once we cross the Anduin?”
A moment passed before Eirikr rolled his shoulders. “I will be glad to be one step closer to Esgaroth.”