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Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road

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Nilgaerien's face was a mask of resentment and coldness. She was the guide! Only the guide it seemed. Aragorn met her eyes. She stared back into them for a moment then allowed a cynic grin to form her lips. "As you wish, noble one." She gave him a mocking bow then made her way into the forest, trying not to run from Amarie's pain-filled face and emotions. Nilgaerien felt oddly uncomfortable walking past the stranger's steed, feeling his eyes on her all the way. She shook her ehad. It wa sno different than Roth watching her....except Roth's hate gave her hate strength. She wasn't sure what to do with this man's gaze for he didn't know what turmoil lay in her mind and therefore did not seem to pass judgment every time he looked at her.

Nilgaerien breathed easier once out of sight of the group but immediately tensed when she felt Roth somewhere nearby. Maybe she could work her way around him. Besides, she was minding her own business - trying to get to her stash of horses and food was not bothering him. She thought she caught a glimpse of someone but let that thought slip away as she came to the caves. A whinny greeted her from the entrance as a nose poked out of the bushes. Grinning, she ran the rest of the way and was smacked in the chest by the nose, belonging to a regal black stallion. His warm brown eyes saw no flaw in her, his love was not measured by her past wrongs and most of all, she could not feel his thoughts. This was her best friend, a gift from Galadriel once she had seen that Nilgaerien would never settle down. She let her forehead rest on his strong neck, enjoying being close to a living thing. He suddenly nudged her side, causing her to fall back. Not caring who heard, Nilgaerien let loose a very rare giggle that grew into a laugh. It didn't last long, however, before her broken mind and family came back to her and she burst into tears.
AmariŽ felt a rush of guilt as Nilgaerien took off into the woods. Aragorn had been their leader since Valedhelgwath left, and he still was. Nilgaerien was too emotionally unstable. They needed someone who was reliable in all situations. Neither could they reveal to this stranger how important she was to the groupe and the quest. The chance that he was a spy was enormous!

AmariŽ suddenly sat up. She heard something from a far. Arkentos sat beside her keeping one eye on her and one on his King and the stranger. She grabbed hold of his arm. "Horses!" she wispered. "Riders are comming this way." She sent the warning to Aragorn. Arkentos walked casually over to the dwarves to warn them too.

Lord Aelrics watched them with caution, he knew they were suspicious of him. Something seemed to be happening. But Aragorn was calm and revieled nothing.
Nilgaerien swung her lithe body onto her stallion's sleek back, disappointed at finding all her supplies looted. Burying her fingers in the thick mane, she whispered for him to take her back to the group and off he ran. Suddenly, out of the trees stepped Roth.
"Stop, Gondolin!" The stallion, proudly named after that glorious fallen city, obeyed immediately.
"Do you hear?" Roth asked. She listened closely and heard, far away, hooves, moving towards their comrades. She nodded tersely and started to urge Gondolin forward then looked at Roth. He was a fast runner but....
She sighed heavily and extended a hand. "Come. It would be best if all of us were together for what is coming."
He didn't hesitate long before grabbing her hand and swinging himself up behind her. Her mind screamed for a moment but he did not hold on long enough to make much difference. Even up beside her, he carefully maintained a small distance from her. Gondolin again shot through the treees.

Amarie heard a closer set of hooves. Aragorn raised his bow but she called out: "No! It's Nilgaerien!" He lowered it as a mighty black horse burst through the trees, with not one, but two riders on his back. Nilgaerien was as close as possible to the horse's neck, stiff and eyes slightly red-rimmed. Roth was already sliding off before the stallion had even stopped. Amarie was amazed that they had hadn't killed each other before reaching them.
"I allow my horse to run until I need him. He smelled my distress even from afar," Nil said in answer to Aragorn's questioning look towards the stallion. "We heard hooves, as I'm sure you already did." Her sudden calm was proof that her battle sense was already kicking in again.
Their emotions wouldn't hurt her for awhile, Amarie decided. She ran to Nil while there was still time. Once beside her steed, though, she couldn't bring herself to say anything of importance so instead asked, "What is his name?" Up close, she could see that the redness around Nil's eyes was from tears, though she had obviously tried to hide it.
"Gondolin." Something in Nil's eyes sharpened and Amarie understood. The name was Nil's past. She could have become so much but one incident had destroyed her. Nil's head then shot up and the hooves were heard just beyond the clearing.
... a smile played upon the black-clad stranger, Aelric's lips. He seemed to be expecting this company and made no secret of this revelation in front of the others. Delighting in their anxiety he motioned his steed toward Aragorn, "If i may speak with you," again a pause, "my lord" a tight expression was full wrought upon his proud features as he expelled these simple words. Aragorn gave him a measured look and narrowed his eyes, "Speak freely stranger, but be quick else we despatch the company that comes hence."
Aelric unmoved by the threat airily gestured toward the sound of oncoming horses, "those are my men, my escort if you will, and before you I am to declare a truce between us - You seek something out do you not? A Gem!"
Aragorn gasped; how could this man, his mortal enemy for nigh on three decades, know of the gem? Thinking quickly he resolved to question him further and not be too hasty in assuming his intent, afterall he had come freely and without open blade set against him. Although intrigued, he must take care to guard against his treacherous, black heart. "You have leave to speak Lord Aelric, though i recall you used a different name whenst last we met."
"Indeed I did, but speak now, I will not... I would prefer to keep my counsel for the moment" for all this time Aragorn and the stranger Aelric seemed engaged in a subtle battle of wills, it was plain for all to see that neither was going to back down, until the oncoming thunder of hooves broke through into the clearing, breaking the intense concentration of both men.
The sound of hooves lessened. Both men looked towards where they expected a group of horseman to emerge. One horse stood there, one rider, black cloak and hood shadowing his face. Without a word to King Ellesar, Lord Aelric stode across to the newcomer. "You"!, he muttered, looking up at the stranger. "I would rather have my men. You should have stayed in safety for both our sakes".

"My Lord" the woman's voice, for such she was although garbed in men's black travelling gear, was low and breathless "It is good to see you too.". She looked at the straggled group, "The company of elves, now, is it My Lord? Amongst others, I see." "Forgive my deception" she added, "I was unclear as to whether these were your companions", she paused then added "Or your captors."
Nilgaerien smirked. "Captors? And just which one of us would be capable of such action?" Amarie started out of the corner of her eye and Aragorn's emotions suddenly swirled but this only urged her on. "Perhaps Roland? He'd probably trip on his way over to Lord Aelric. Or maybe Dorin? He couldn't reach high enough!" The woman cocked her head.
The dwarves growled just in hearing range and Roland stiffened.
Roth stepped up beside her. "What is wrong with you?" he hissed. "Stop it - now!"
Nil only grinned an evil grin. "Can't stand the truth Roth? Can't stand that maybe I'm right for once?" Her eyes blazed with a crazed look.
"You're not right - not anywhere, especially in your mind!"
This stopped Nil in her tracks. Her eyes glazed over with ice. "Don't...you...say...anything...about...that."
"Why not?" he asked, his eyes glinting. He wouldn't allow her to talk about the others this way, in front of those they still did not know were strangers or not.
"Roth!" Aragorn called in warning but now they were in their own world, eyes locked, bodies tense. Aelric watched all this and looked curiously at Aragorn. But Aragorn wasn't paying attention to Aelric. He was striding over to the two combatants and laying a firm hand on Roth's arm. Roth turned.
"Do not do this now. We cannot afford her mind falling apart while the twins are yet in danger," Aragorn said in a low tone. Nil's eyes widened in surprise of his defense and a very small portion of the ice fell away. Roth nodded, giving her an evil look before walking off.
Aragorn turned back to Nil and her defense went right back up. "No," she said holding up one hand while pushing the other to her forehead. "Just...don't." She walked over to a grassy spot away from the others and sat down, curling her legs up to her chest, the craziness slowly retreating into the gloom that always seemed to lay behind her blue eyes.
Dorin was foaming with anger, and Mori was no less insulted over the beeing short remark. "She was the one stupid enough to almost get killed by the troll!!" Aragorn gave them a stirn look, and Roland put a hand gently on Dorins shoulder. "Calm down my friend, you know she didn't mean it." The dwarves grumbled a bit but calmed down. The woman stared after Nilgaerien with a pussled look on her face. "That girl needs help!"

Suddenly all eyes were at her and she knew she shouldn't have said it like that. "Do not judge her." AmariŽ stepped towards her. "You don't know her." They had seemed like a devided groupe, but the loyalty was strong. She suddenly realized that the elf women carried swords, though it wasn't uncommon for her people she knew this was not common for the elves. And the way AmariŽ heldt her hand on the hilt showed that she might know how to use it too. This seemed to be a much more interesting bunch than she first had thought! "I apologize, you are right, I do not know her." Then she noticed AmariŽ studying her dragon pendant. It was simular to the dragon on the horse blanket, but if you looked closer you would see the differance. But noone had noticed befor. She casually hid it under her shirt. "Now what will it be? Captives or companions?"
"It would seem that sarcasm is beyong the wit of elves." Vaeltira dismissed the elf from her thoughts, mad or not she was still an elf and Vaeltira wanted as little to do with elves as possible. "My Lord", her words were for Lord Aelric alone, "Surely you do not intend taking up with this group? The dwarves I can stomach, but elves? " "Aelric", she lowered her voice, "Are you intent on following this course.? Despite the counsel given?" He did not reply, merely held her gaze in those unfathomable eyes. She already knew the answer. She sighed, "No matter, my Lord, where you go I will follow, no matter what. You have my loyalty. But elves...." She shuddered. Dismounting gracefully she tended her horse, leaving him to crop grass on the edge of the clearing. She could still hear the hysterical rantings of the elf. She smiled at the thought of any of them overpowering Lord Aelric. She had seen him fight - singleminded, unyielding and seemingly indestructable. The smile faded; for her own sake she hoped that he was indestructable.

The other elf had seen her pendant. She ran her fingers over the exquisitely fine detail, her link to the past. No matter, to the elf it was probably just a trinket. She turned her attention back to Aelric.
"So you have dismissed my escort, how foolish," Aelric wore a look of resignation. Turning slowly to face her, he scowled balefully and growled,"You know how much you risk by travelling without protection, well you have decided my hand Vaeltira, if you seek adventure and further risk then i would rather you were close by, afterall like you said, there are many dangerous elements abroad some closer than others." glancing toward the elves in the group he smirked privately.
Aragorn seemed guarded and ill at ease with these new arrivals, he mused at the prospect of a confrontation, where he could at last put this final ghost to rest. But their was the small matter of Aelric's knowledge of the quest, and he may yet prove useful. Besides, even though Aelric was outnumbered seven to one, Aragorn knew all too well that he was more than capable of doing significant harm to their fortunes with dark art or simple blade. "You said that you knew something of our quest, what is it you want from us Lord Aelric?"
The black knight turned in his saddle and looked down at the tormented elf maid,"As I understand things, you have an idea on how to locate this gem, I on the otherhand can provide you with the means and the safe passage necessary to make this attempt possible, you are not yet lord of ALL Middle Earth."
"But why Aelric, what is in it for you? I know you too well to believe you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart, and we are not fools to follow blindly into a trap, who's to say that you didnt send that filthy orcband to waylay us."
Aelric spat a curse angrily in his native tongue, "If you know me so well Elessar, then you will be aware that I do not casually make requests for audience, and I do not dishonour either my kin or my ancestor's name, so you should be convinced that any treachery you fear is without foundation - as my word is my bond."
Slowly shaking his head Aragorn calmly replied in Adunaic, "Well if I am to place faith in your word I require more in the way of proof, what say you Lord of Umbar?"

After a long protracted pause, that was only punctuated by the occasional snorts of the impatient pair of restless, wary dwarves Aelric at last conceded, "I have a ship... it is moored not far from hear and will take you quickly to my realm in Umbar. There my flagship, the 'Meneltauros' can make the journey through the Southern Oceans toward the Isle where dwells the gem you seek. Unless of course you no longer wish to save the sons of Elrond?" He laughed bitterly, as if remembering again the hurts done to his army by the Deadmen & the Rangers of Arnor.

Vaeltira looked at the elf, snivelling alone on the grass, her eyes darting from one man to the next, her fingers tearing at the cloth of her dress. Every so often she flinched. She flinched as the one called Roth walked too close, she flinched when the other elf maid moved towards her. What madness gripped this elf?

For a time Vaeltira concentrated on the discussion between Aragorn and Aelric. What fool's errand was Aelric taking her on now? She turned from them, intending to check her provisions and saddlebags but the mad elf was now watching her intently. Well, they had no reason to trust either her or Aelric. She watched the elf flinch again as the others moved to watch the two men. Again the elf turned her staring gaze to Vaeltira. This was not right. A prickling sensation within her head puzzled her - faint but irritating like a midge's bite. "Of course", the thought came to her, "She mindwalks, the filthy elf. She takes from our minds and our dreams and uses it against us." Angry at this Vaeltira held the elf's tormented eyes with her own and thought "Then take this, elfmaid, if you want it" the words screamed in her head "Take the pain of Mordor, the stench, the vileness, the grief! Do you know what it is like to live there? Do you, elf maid? Do you want to share my guilt, my despair, my loss. my hate?" The anger took her and she moved as though towards the elf the hatred bubbling into her throat. Then she saw the elf cowering on the ground, scratching her face with her fingers. Vaeltira stopped; this was not a good thing to do. She took a deep, calming breath. Aelric felt they needed these people and an elf driven out her mind by whatever devilry she had within her was a danger to them all. Turning abruptly she moved back towards the horse. The elf maid was rocking herself, sobbing. Vaeltira had heard that sound before. It was the sound that had echoed in the pits of Mordor for many ages.

She would go where Aelric directed. She would suffer the company. She would eat, sleep and fight with them if Aelric ordered it. But she would not, under any circumstances, (she told herself sharply) feel pity for an elf.
Amarie ran to Nilgaeriens side, and kneeled down befor her. She blocked her mind the best way she could. Nilgearien was till rocking back and forth. Curse that Vaeltira woman, what pleasure was there is torumenting people? And she had probably stolen that pendant. Then she focused on Nilgearien. She didn't know if she could do both these things at one time, the mind block demanded at lot of her, but she was getting better at it. She had to try. She closed her eyes, drew her breath and sang like only a healer can sing. Gentle tones softly caressed Nilgaeriens fragile mind, it was the embrace AmariŽ couldn't give her with her with her arms.

Vaeltira snickered to herself as she watched the two. Stupid elves. Sure, sing a song! That will fix things!

Slowly Nil stopped rocking, the awful images Vaeltira had given her faded and things to became clear. She blinked and looked at AmariŽ with surprice. Her lips still moved with song. How could she block her own mind and touch hers this way at the same time? She had not felt like this in so long! It was too much. Nilgaerien felt she was close to crying, she gasped out a silent "thank you", and ran away. But AmariŽ heard. She leaned back on the soft grass, let her mind free and listened to the birds sing. Then she turned her head and pinned Vaeltira with her eyes. Vaeltira frowed and blocked her mind immeditatly. AmariŽ squinted her eyes a little. "Let us see if I can't return the favour and stir up her mind a bit too. The pendant could be stolen, but her blue eyes could not.. Let's see if there is a heart in there somewhere." And she began to sing again. A beautiful song. Soft and gentle. Vaeltira snickered again as she heard it. "Again with the singing.." But her grin faded as the song snuck past her defences. It brought back memories, so long ago.. A gentle touch.. Mom?

Vaeltira turned away in fury. How could she? How dared she? AmariŽ stopped singing, that was enough. She had stired something, then maybe.. She got up, passed Vaeltira on a safe distance and walked towards the others. She would keep this for herself.
Nilgaerien ran, her chest heaving with renewed sobs. But these were not from the horrible images - images she had recognized - from Vaeltira's mind. These were sobs coming from her wounded heart that Amarie was somehow bringing back to life. How could she? Why was she trying? Nil didn't want her heart back - her pure heart had caused the trouble in the first place, had damaged it to smoldering black. But beyond her will, it was warming, mending, healing itself. And if Nilgaerien had stopped long enough to admit it, she was enjoying the feeling of her own emotions again - no matter how much they hurt.
She finally stopped, gasping for breath as the sobs subsided. A whinny behind her; Gondolin had loyally followed her flight. She reached behind and stroked the horse's soft nose thoughtfully. Even when she had tried to embarrass her companions in front of strangers - spies they could even be, to spot the company's weaknesses - they had protected her, fought for her in words and thoughts. Amarie had been fighting for her even when Nil would have liked nothing better than to kill her just to get her emotions out of her head. Suddenly, a determination hit her, a determination she had not felt in ages. Could she do any less for them? Her chin rose in defiance of the curse she held within - it may destroy her but she refused to allow it to destroy anyone else. She swung onto Gondolin's back and raced back to camp.

Amarie watched as Nil galloped back through the trees, a strange light in her eyes. Swinging down, she walked straight to Aragorn, where he was still conversing with Lord Aelric. Then Nilgaerien did an extraordinary thing: she knelt on one knee in front of Aragorn, no sarcasm in any of her movements.
"King Elessar...if you will continue to accept my services, I will accept you as leader...and my lord." The entire company was gaping at the elf. She had never shown such deference to anyone! Then she lifted ehr head as if hearing something and looked at Amarie. Amarie felt like jumping up and down in joy. There in Nil's eyes lay a calm, an eager warmth that outshone the craziness...but therein was the catch - she may now be determined to make things right but Amarie could foresee that craziness eating away even now at Nil's defenses and would only get worse. Amarie looked at Roth, who was also gaping at Nil. If only she could work a healing between them. Then maybe the disease - not of body but of mind - would be banished from both of them.

She had seen the way the elf maid, the one not mad, had glared at her, judging her as her people had been judged by elves for as long as anyone could remember. Well let them judge. They had no idea what it had been like for her and her people.

Walking towards her horse she whispered gently to him. "They should not intrude into our minds" she said softly to him. "Why can't they be more like you, why must they judge?"

She let the horse nuzzle her hand for a few moments then walked round him to the edge of the forest. Sitting against a tree for a moment she let her mind wander.... light and dark blurred, she listened to the world breathing. Peace...

She touched the pendant; hot fire burned for a moment and she started out of her dreaming. Orcs! Not too close yet but close enough. She stood quickly, and ran to where Aelric stood by Aragorn. "My Lord," she touched his arm "Orcs. Getting closer." She pointed in the direction she had 'felt' when she touched the dragon. Lord Aelric glanced at the pendant and then at her. She nodded. "My Lord?" she queried, "Your command?"
Aragorn had smiled at her! Not the forced one but a warm one that reached his eyes! Nilgaerien thought she would burst if she wasn't careful - first Amarie, now Aragorn. Was this what she had been missing all these years? He had helped her up from her kneeling postion and accepted her services then his attention was again focused on Aelric.
Nil had then cautiously walked over to the dwarves. "Um, I..."
"Not a word, lass!" Mori said, holding up her hand. Dorin nodded gruffly. "Yes, not a word. You know we're grudge-keepers." But she could see the tiny twinkle in their eyes so she let them be.
Picking up her bag, she pulled the water can out of it and looked at Amarie, The healer gave her a smile, warm and accepting. Nil gave a short nod. She may be experiencing emotions but they had been long buried and she was not used to them....she also suspected that maybe she had forgotten how to smile.
Suddenly something caught her mind's attention. Vaeltira was running to Aleric, whispering urgently. Nil's eyes narrowed and her mind automatically picked up the woman's thoughts...well, some. She had a mind like the dwarves and it took effort to pull things out that did not come naturally. Thinking that brought Nil's thoughts back around to her headache. Her mind was getting used to being around people again but that did not make their emotions away nor did it lessen the pain. She shook it aside and concentrated...there...orcs...Vaeltira flipped her head around and gave her a dark look. Nil's eyes went wide as she relaized that the woman was going to try her former stunt again. Then Amarie was beside her, her mind protecting Nil's. But all Nil could think of was that pendant shown in Vaeltira's thoughts...
Valetira shuddered. The elf was again invading her mind, she could feel that tingling in her head. Of course they didn't trust her or Aelric. Why should they? But this intrusion was frustrating. She had no wish to repeat what happened earlier. It seemed that powerful emotions pained the elf and if the madness returned they would have that to deal with as well as the orcs. Both the elves were watching her, suspicious and fearful. She concentrated on what was at hand, blotting out the anger and the urge to defend her mind's privacy. They had nothing to fear from her while Aelric needed them. Her thoughts now were of nothing but the coming orcs. Did these people not realise that her and Aelric had as much to fear from the orcs as they did and she, at least, as much reason to hate them.? She doubted it, but no matter. She made a silent plea that the healer would keep the elf's madness under control. At least until we have dealt with the orcs. Wretched elves!
"Amarie, stop!" Nilgaerien whispered furiously. Surprised, Amarie did as she was told, not even realizing she had obeyed. "She's not trying to hurt me! At least, I don't think she is." The healer frowned and Nil sighed. Ah yes, and here would start the downfall because of her madness - no one would ever be completely sure whether it was her or the darkness inside her speaking.
She went back to gathering her things, sensing that as soon as Aragorn and Aelric could stop arguing, they would be on their way. And Nil knew which way that would have to be but she shuddered at the thought of crossing over dark lands. She glanced at Vaeltira then got it. The pendant! Of course - no wonder it had looked familiar! A family heirloom she had seen in her childhood, among those that often passed through her people's lands. More interested now, she studied Vaeltira. Could she have met her somewhere before? No matter - all was fog from childhood...the Gem had insured that much.
AmariŽ could hear the others discussing back and forth, though she didn't hear what they said. She leanded her back towards a tree and glansed up between the branches and leaves, well aware that Vaeltira was keeping an eye on her. She had sensed good in the woman. Nilgaerien seemed very sure that she ment no harm. But Vaeltira had to think that Nilgaerien entered her mind on purpose and AmariŽ really had enterd her mind on purpose. AmariŽ was tired, she couldn't keep playing these mindgames, she would have no energy left.

AmariŽ went over to Vaeltira and reached out her hand. "We need to start over. Greetings, my name is AmariŽ of Rivendell, I am a healer, loyal to the House of Elrond and to the King of Gondor."
Vaeltira looked at the proffered hand. "My apologies, Amarie of Rivendell, and I thank you for making this trust but where I come from it is death to touch an elf and habits beaten into us do not die easy." She saw the surprise in Amarie's eyes. "I have seen a husband ordered to execute his wife for daring to give an elf water," she continued "and those things stay deep."

"I am Vaeltira, loyal until death to my Lord Aelric. While he commands it I will be loyal to this company. Should you have doubts then the oncoming orcs may well decide for you. Are your fighting skills as good as your healing?"

Vaeltira smiled suddenly, her face lighting up, years and sorrow diminished, "Come Amarie of Rivendell, let us fight with our Lords and together. What say you?"
AmariŽ smiled. "It has been said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And as long as our lords and fate permits it, we will fight side by side." They had an understanding. With a polite bow the two left eachother.

AmariŽ felt like a tonn of bricks had been lifted of her shoulders, but other things weighed equaly heavy on her heart. She had already gotten a cold glare from Roth, he didn't need to say anything, she knew what he felt. He had been one of the slaves Vaeltira had spoken about. Neither would she ever forget that it was a black Numenorean who had sendt her father to the halls of Mandos.

Then another thought accured. Aelric had saved Nilgaerien, lifted her up and carried her to AmariŽs side. If giving elves water was considered such a crime, what would not saving an elfs life mean? He could never go back to his old life if this was known to his people. He obviously had not told Vaeltira that. How would Vaeltira react if she found out?
Roth watched the bickering of Aragorn and Aelric. "this is what leads us" he muttered to himself
"a fool leading a fools errand." He then noticed Amarie talking with the one called Vaeltira. And the anger grew within him and he felt the rage upon him once again....and all he wanted was to squeeze the life out of the Black Numenorean...
He walked from the trees and held his axe in his hand.....
"First the mind witch and now....." his hand went white as he gripped his axe and all his rage came upon him and his eyes shone red..." and then you allow this murderin'......" he raised his axe and roared as it smashed into the ground..." he lifted his axe from the broken ground and strided over to Vaeltira....
"I'll see you dead when this is over...." as he stood face to face with Vaeltira his eyes only full of hate.
Nilgaerien's brow raised at Roth's outburst. Amarie cast her a pleading look but Nil wanted nothing to do with him...if he wanted to terrorize Vaeltira, so be it, it was none of her business...then she remembered her vow.
But it didn't pertain to Roth! she told herself but that did not stop the niggling at the back of ehr mind...with a sigh of contempt and weariness, she marched over, sliding her body between the gap the two were keeping.
"As you've also promised me, Roth?" she asked. His gaze was suddenly on her and for the first time, she was not afraid to lock eyes with him...well, not very afraid. Emotions were swirling again and she had to blink a few times to keep the dizziness away. As they stared at each other, Nil felt Vaeltira move away, which had been her purpose. Now to find a way to extricate herself from Roth's anger - she wasn't a peacemaker, had never been, and suddenly finding herself in that postition unnerved her. Just a few feet away, Amarie was gently breaking up Aragorn and Aelric with Arkentos' help.
She could feel Roth's breath, panting with the exertion of keeping so much hate and anger under control. His words were laboured, "You... curse you.... curse you all" His knuckles showed white as his strong hands clasped the axe handle. For a moment Nilgaerien thought he would swing it against her; she stepped back allowing herself some measure of relief from his incessant emotions. With a roar Roth wrenched the axe from the ground and swung it above his head. Nilgaerien staggered back, fear evident on her face. Looking at her, Roth swung the axe round and flung it towards the trees. The first orc died with a look of surprise on its contorted face, the axe blade buried in its chest. Roth ran to retrieve his axe. He growled at the group of orcs now leaderless and looking more than a little afraid of this howling elf with an axe. One more fell before they turned and ran, scattering through the trees.

Roth rested on his axe handle, breathing hard. The anger was still there, the hatred for these people but he was in control. As for Nilgaerien.... he could not believe she would protect one of them. He felt the rage again...... saw the dead orcs lying bloody on the ground..... and for a moment he thought that could have been Nilgaerien lying there. He clasped the axe handle tighter. He must learn to understand what it is about her that has such power over him. What he can understand he can control. But so far he had failed to understand anything about her. He looked over at where Vaeltira stood, her fighting knives drawn ready. Would she have fought the orcs or fought with the orcs? At least he now had someone else to focus his hate on.
...Aelric rose out of his saddle in time to see the axe leave Roth's hands and plunge into the chest of the first orc, whirling his mount about and plucking a great obsidian lance from his side he spurred Zhukanaic toward the fleeing band. Aware now that Roth and Vaeltira were squaring up with one another he set his path between them, using the warhorse's great bulk to roughly brush the slight form of the elf aside. With one eye on pursuit and the other on defense of Vaeltira he bellowed behind him,"Call this one off Elessar unless you desire to have one less blade to defend us, these orcs are but a scout party and are merely testing our strength, the worst is yet to come - WE MUST GO NOW!". Gesturing to Vaeltira to mount up, he gave the elf a cold, withering stare and hissed, "Threaten my wife again and I will leave your corpse to rot here amidst the foul orc dead." The lance never wavered in its inexorable intent to spit the cursing Roth should he wish to defy the Numenorean's challenge.
Roth held his axe in one hand the blood dripping from the blade he looked to Aelric.....
"I'll be waitin' for you Aelric....." but before more could be said Aragorn rushed in.....
"This is not the time, soon the main orc party will arrive, me must make haste. I know of a better defensive postion not too far from here. And that is where we go.
And with great haste they gathered their belongings and set out. But already the roars of the orcs could be heard behind them.
"So where it is you take us Aragorn?"asked Arkentos
"We go to a refuge once used by myself and other Rangers. It will be sancutary for a short time."
"Hopefully that is all we need"


Vaeltira smiled at Aelric's words to Roth. Sheathing her knives she mounted her horse. Not for the first time she wondered if they would ever find peace in this world. The others had as much hate for her as she had for them. It seemed some even had hate for their own kind. No matter, it was something to deal with later. Whatever Aelric had got her involved in was a mystery to her but no doubt he would explain it to her later when the danger from the orcs had passed. She watched the others gather their belongings and make ready to move. Already Aragorn was directing the dwarfs, gathering the company. Amarie of Rivendell was helping Nilgaeren who was still trembling. The elf had made a gesture of peace to her earlier. Did the path to peace lie in that direction? Vaeltira determined that she would talk to Amarie, later. She wished she had Aelric's detachment but although they had shared many experiences they also had their own demons within to fight and hers came from a different place, from the pits of Mordor where she had been for many years as a servant and pawn of the Dark Lord.

Casting those thoughts aside she made ready to follow the company.
...Still fixing his piercing gaze upon the raging elf, Aelric heeded Aragorn's request lowering the lance, "I suggest two outriders cover our withdrawal to this sanctuary of yours Elessar, there may be warg-riders at the head of the orc column, we can at least cover our flanks affording those on foot some time and protection. Vaeltira you go with them" Without waiting for his decision Aelric urged Zhukanaic hastily forward toward the sound of the oncoming horde that would soon reach the ridge no less than half a league behind them.
Aragorn, it seemed, took this to be a challenge to his valour, making after the Black Numenorean he readied his bow knocking an arrow comfortably whist in the saddle. So far his bullheaded nemesis had behaved quite nobly and restrained himself to mere threats, maybe there was a chance afterall to redeem the traitor.

Aelric had guessed correctly, already there could be heard the wild growls and grunting of wargs not far ahead. With Aragorn on the faster, lighter horse he quickly raced to within yards of Aelric's mount and seeing the first goblin-rider emerge over the crest, he let loose his arrow finding the mark between shoulder and neck. The orc protested in agony and crashed to the ground - dead. However, the warg was still charging hungrily toward the barded Zhukanaic, but it was skillfully dealt with in one blow, Aelric thrusting the lance deep into the warg's right flank finding its heart. The beast rolled right across the path of the two riders forcing them to adjust, but this was only the first of many.
Aragorn finding another arrow, shouted a warning, but the great helm and thunder of hooves made it impossible for Aelric to take heed. As immediately to his left another warg-rider had checked its charge toward the main group and veered in behind the outriders. Unsighted and intent upon those enemies that were ahead of him, Aelric was ignorant of any threat. In spite of his better judgement Aragorn drove his horse to ram and unbalance the warg, dropping his bow as they collided. He found Anduril quick enough to unhorse the rider and in the same movement brought the heavy blade down upon the warg's unprotected neck slicing effortlessly though flesh and tissue. The momentum of his horse slowed, Aragorn was only a helpless spectator for what was to transpire ahead of him.
Lord Aelric's charger was at full speed now, and dauntlessly steamed into the frey. Orc, beast, horse and man exploded upon the ridge, the irresistable force of heavy warhorse versus the lighter wargs proved no contest, melting away in fear or else dispatched ruthlessly by baleful strikes of the lance. In moments that seemd like hours Aragorn caught up to his side in time to join battle and assist in the slaughter. However, this first success was undone when they realised that no less than half dozen riders had escaped they're onslaught and now headed south toward the rest of the questing band.
Dropping his lance and drawing a black bladed falchion, Aelric cried aloud in despair "Vaeltira!",and Aragorn in response grimaced in dismay.
"You have the faster steed Elessar you must do all that you can to deflect them from their quarry, Zhukanaic and I will do what we can to slow down any others in pursuit."
Without futher ado, Aragorn sped away south only to glance behind hearing the ancient war-cry of the Men of Westernesse...
"So much for 'em" laughed Roth as he hurried along with the others. The shouting of the orcs was only a few yards behind them....
"Go faster ye fools" roared Roth as he withdrew his axe and slid to a halt...."What are you doing Roth?" shouted Amarie as she turned back.."You may run from a fight..but there's no way I will."
"But Roth there's far too many your a fool if you do this" as she tried to get Rolands attention.
And then the orcs burst through the treeline and a smile appeared on the face of Roth.

Vaeltira wheeled her horse round to face the oncoming orcs. The dragon burned at her throat. Touching it she trained the energy as she had been taught onto the ground before their enemies. It wasn't much but it would serve. The ground misted before two of the charging wargs, they lost footings and fell, knocking into each other, their riders thrown, one despatched by the hooves of other wargs. The other fell near to where the dwarfs stood, axes ready. Vaeltira drew her sword and sliced into the neck of the nearest warg. She could see Roth, his great axe swinging at the riders as they sped past him. Amarie of Rivendell, her sword raised had already slain the warg that was heading for Nilgaerien. The orc rider fell heavily, rolled and lept to its feet, crude sword in its hand. Vaeltira rode between orc and elf and swiftly sliced deep into its shoulder.She saw Aragorn charge from the trees, his sword shimmering as he wielded it around the neck of the last remaining orc. Between them, the three races, they had held off the onslaught. But what of Aelric...?
Gondolin reared but Nilgaerien coaxed him down into a full gallop. She was supposed to be in line with the others but she needed battle, needed to see blood, needed to breathe in cold fear. Already she had decapitated ten or more orcs and was coming back around. Suddenly emotions flared through her battle sense - the company! Aelric and Aragorn were not there! She pulled her steed's head around and raced back the way she had come. Gondolin leapt over a hedge and landed in the middle of a band of orcs, several immediately dying form the horse's weight. Her bow was out and singing before any others had a chance to react.
Looking up, she saw Amarie glance back once in grateful relief then continue to herd the others on. Vaeltira was slashing at another orc that got in their way. Roth...where had Roth gotten to? Nil heard something and looked down to see him standing only a few feet away, axe dripping blood, spitting and cursing at her.
"Stop it right now." she commanded. Surprised, he only stopped for a moment before launching into another set of curses. "I just saved you and them. You're so battle crazy, they wouldn't have a chance before your fool appetite got you all killed."
He only glared and raised the axe.
"Careful," she warned as Gondolin began to prance. "He's not too fond of adversaries." Off in the woods, another set of hooves was heard, along with a mournful battle cry.
...Aragorn frantically gathered all together and led them up a steep channel at the foot of a scree-topped hill, here cover could be sought from arrow or dart, and it would be easy to fend off any potential assault from below. He knew the path that would eventually lead to an abandoned quarry and there he hoped to find the mineshaft which could provide a temporary shelter.
Upon reaching the summit of the hill, the far off cries of the dead and the dying issued from below, feeling a twinge of guilt at abandoning the Lord of Umbar to his fate, he turned to scan the base of the hill, in hope rather than expectation. A brace of dark oppressive cloud gathered above the valley, lending greater strength to the belief that Aelric had indeed perished. This man he considered a perilous and implacable foe, had given his life to save his ward, Vaeltira, remembering this he resolved to at least attempt to reclaim the body before the orcs had opportunity to defile it. "Roth, Arkentos, Roland, come with me - you too Amarie, we may have need of your herblore & healing hands. You dwarves, make and secure a perimeter, anything that resembles Orc, slay it! Nilgaerien and Vaeltira provide support with whatever you can." Nilgaerien with a grim determined look, readied her bow once more. Vaeltira seemed bewildered and afraid, but gradually brought herself to draw her keen knives.
They began to descend the hill cautiously, every now and again an arrow would glide over their heads, bouncing harmlessly off the rocks about them. They had moved little more than thirty yards when, there was a shrill cry, and below a large tall figure garbed in black battle plate and wielding a great dark blade stumbled out from behind a rocky outcrop, clutching his thigh. Aelric it was, and wounded by many fell arrows, a great Uruk lay at his feet spasming in its death throes. But, there was no mistaking the origin of the cry of agony. Again it was heard, but this time it was apparent that Aelric was the instigator. Ploughing his blade into another dying Uruk, a hiss and scream was spent from the body and its lifesblood drained sickeningly into the slick, glossy blade in Aelric's hand. The Numenorean Knight shook at the effort, but nowv seemed to stumble forward less awkwardly toward the base of the hill...

From their vantage point on the hill Vaeltira and Nilgaerien watched. Nilgaerien's sight was far superior to Vaeltira's but she did not offer her any information as to what was happening below. Vaeltira shuddered, her mouth dry. She cursed her weakness as she did whenever Aelric's life was threatened. She knew he was alive even without Nilgaerien's keen sight. If he were dead..... She could not finish the thought. If he were injured it meant his life could be in the hands of the healer. Did she trust Amarie of Rivendell to heal him? She didn't know. Would Aelric allow an elf to heal him? He may well have no choice. Brushing these thoughts aside she stood beside Nilgaerien, knives ready.
Nilgaerien, her lips a thin line, cast her gaze to the side. Vaeltira was intently studying those on the ground, her eyes mere slits...she could not see every detail as Nil could and for that, Nil wanted to tell ehr to be grateful. But that would only worry her more, so the elf kept silent.
The bowstring was stretched taut, her knuckles white as she carefully studied the activities of her companions. Just as Aragorn reached Aelric, Nil loosed the long arrow held back by the string. A small gasp from Vaeltira as it soared just past Aelric's ear and hit a large Uruk in the left eye. Aragorn turned and gave her a short nod of acknowledgement while Aelric gave his own nod of gratefulness and Vaeltira's emotions showed the same...but Nil frowned. She had aimed for the space between the eyes. It did not matter that it had killed the creature regardless - with Nil, it was all or nothing.
Another arrow was put to her string and stretched back. This time she would not miss that specific mark. What she did not know - could not see - was a cold, cruel glint in her eyes not unlike the one in Roth's during his battle rage.
Vaeltira watched Aelric stagger. She clasped her knives tighter, fighting the nausea that rose in her stomach as she felt some of his pain. The fool! That man was as stubborn as a dwarf and that stubborness would get them both killed. She glanced at the elf beside her. Nilgaerien's face was contorted in hate. Vaeltira moved away from her, checking that no orc had made its way past the others. The way was clear.

The dragon warmed her skin, she could feel dark power trickling into it. Most likely some of the orc weapons were cast with that power woven into them in which case Aelric would most certainly require the aid of a skilled healer to draw that filth out of the wounds. The pain surged again and she fell to her knees vomiting. Drawing breath she rested before taking the water bottle at her side and rinsing her mouth. The pain was still there but with her stomach emptied she felt steadier. Rising slowly to her feet she turned to see the elf watching her. "Damn you" she thought. Nilgaerien stared icily at her then turned her attention back to the people below. "And damn you Aelric, and damn everyone who has brought me to this place".
"He tells me what ta do!!!!! I'll rip him ta pieces" Roth patrolled the outer im of the hilltop keepin watch for any orc who tried to venture into their paths.
"I remember her face.....Vaeltira I remember her from somewhere.....but that Aelric he needs ta be kicked off his horse."
He watched as there shadows flickered in the small fire they had lit.
He watched as the orcs darted between the trees....."they're comin' and there not ready."
"I wasn't ready" he thought to himself......."when they came....." and he remembered...he remembered like it was yesterday. How his father..his father who had iron runnin' through his veins stood against him and fell and how he never cried again.
How they ripped his body to shreds and then he felt it...slowly within him burning. Burning like the fires of hell itself.
The orcs moved ever nearer while Roth was lost remembering....."my father.....my father they killed him."
He sat on the rock lost in his own memory while the goblins slowly surrounded him....."and they shall pay"
And suddenly awaking hesaw their eyes and teeth and reached for his axe. But when he reached for it he found it was gone......"Damn..this is gonna be harder than I thought."
And with that he poked the first goblin in the eyes and then headbutted the next in the stomach. The first one grabbed him from behind, Roth then elbowed him in the gut and ripped off his his head.....
"YOU LOT" he roared
"A BIT OF HELP"
Vaeltira and Nil made their way down the hill to the others. As the dark woman moved to Aelric, Nil's quick eyes caught a glint of metal. Reaching beneath the hedge Gondolin had jumped, she drew out a large, strong axe, blood hardened on its blade.
"Oh no...Roth," she whispered, not knowing why concern filled her. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and relased what fragile, tiny hold she had managed ove rher mind the last few years. And with that release, her mind reached and swept through the others like a wild fire...darkness....Mordor...the healers of Rivendell...ascension the ttrone of Gondor...death and resurrection...over and over while it reached farther and farther. And suddenly Nil knew she wouldn't be able to stop it again. Her release was the last - it would never be shut. Still, she made no resistance as her mind burned through the forest, through a mind dark and scattered and....Roth! With sudden clarity, she saw the scene fold out from him, the way his death would affect the quest, the affect tthat would carry all the way to the twins...Nil's eyes snapped open and, mind still blaring uncontrollably, ran to Gondolin.
She didn't know her strides were crazily tilted, did not hear the shouts of her companions, did not feel the arm trying to stop her, could not feel herself brushing it off. All she knew was the doom lying before Roth and her part to turn it aside, even for now.
A blur of hooves and shouts and death cries as, unknowingly, she slayed those orcs still lurking. Then she was there, watching with her physical as well as mental eyes, Roth battling for his life, shouting, crying out in pain. Then she hersefl was yelling, he was looking up, the axe was sailing through the air, followed by her body. She and the axe landed in the same moment and both became a blur of death blows as death filled her mind and feelings.
Suddenly, no more orcs filled her mind and her consciousness returned enough to grasp that she and Roth had turned to each other, his axe to her throat, her long dagger to his chest. His eyes were wild, his emotions seething...but not, for the first time, against her...against memories, pain long past. And her mind was battling the urge to destory him. The same thing that compelled her to sink the blade into the flesh before her also pulled her back. Suddenly she knew...she knw what would remove that wildness in his eyes.
She put every inch of herself into her emotions, which her blaring into his mind...and revealed who she was - for now, an ally who had saved his life and kept his doom from him a little longer.
Aragorn swung of his horse and gave it to Amarie, as the men kept the evil horde away for while, Amarie grabbed hold of the wounded Aelric. With the strenght fear brings you when arrows sings past your head Amarie got Aleric on the horse, got up behind him and urged the horse to run like he had never run before. The bloodloss was severe, he was pale and dissy and starting to slip away. Holding on to Aerlic left her no hands for either bow or sword. A darkfeatherd arrow struck her in the arm, but she barly noticed, she saw the safety of the mine ahead and two proud dwarves with bloody axes and pile of dead orcs. But she felt Aerlic slip away into darkness. "Vaeltira!" she cried. "Vaeltira!"
"Vaeltira!" Amarie cried again, pulling her horse round to where the darves were. Vaeltira ran to them, the sickness welling up again. He was so close to death, the idiot. Did he think he was immortal? Amarie directed the dwarves to carry Aelric to a safe place within the opening of the mine. The sturdy dwarves set themselves as guards at the entrance. There was no time to find torches or kindling. She concentrated and a dim light slowly grew from the darkness in front of her. It would suffice. She could see Aelric, eyes glittering, his sword grasped in bloodied hands. He grinned at her. The damn fool had not only risked both their lives in his heroic attack on the orcs but he had used that sword. One day it would betray him but not today.

"Amarie of Rivendell, spare him your pity, he will not die today." She glanced at Amarie who was already seeking the best way to begin healing him. Aelric laughed, startling both women. "If I were you" she said to Amarie, "I would leave him be. In a few hours the wounds will have healed enough. Let him alone for now, he deserves the pain although he might be begging for some relief from the poison soon." She saw Aelric's face wince at the though of an elf healing him. "However, we need to be away from here quickly so full strength would be better. For the good of the company I would ask that you heal him as best you can regardless of his squealing."

Aelric flinched. "Vaeltira, there is no need...." She cut him off "There is every need, My Lord, should you wish to accomplish whatever it is you intend."

"My Lady, no!" But it was too late, Amarie was ready and Lord Aelric had no choice but to submit. Vaeltira watched, feeling within herself his strength returning. The nausea faded replaced by overwhelming relief. She knelt by Aelric's side and took his hand. "My apologies, my Lord," she whispered, "I felt it was needed and I wanted to pain you in some way. You take too many risks with our lives, even with the sword." She leant forward and taking his head in her arms cradled him in her lap while Amarie continued probing and healing. She rocked gently, soothing as if it were a child she held.

Amarie sat back. "I have done enough. He will live to fight again." She looked tired, the healing process drained her and she had an arrow wound of her own to deal with.

Vaeltira helped Aelric to his feet, he was a little unsteady still but taking up his sword he nodded towards Amarie, touched Vaeltira lightly on the shoulder and turned to make his way back out. Vaeltira held her hand out to the elf. "Amarie of Rivendell, thank you." Their hands touched briefly, it was an effort but an important gesture. She left Amarie sitting there and followed Aelric back out into the light.
Roth staggered into the mine. His axe dragged along beside leaving a trail in the dirt....
"Ya sure took yer time there....." as he fell back against the wall and rested. His clothes were in tatters but even now the wounds had begun to heal themselves leavin nothing more than scars which joined the others of fights long forgotten.
Amarie watched as entered and approached him...."Let me ease your pain Roth." but before she could Roth stopped her. "Others need it more than me, go ta them" and with that Amarie visited the two dwarves.
He lay there half sleeping but was ever watchful of Vaeltira and Aelric especially Vaeltira. She reminded him of someone but for the moment it was lost to him.
"This place will not protect us Aragorn!" "This I know Nil and as soon as the others can move we make for Ethring. I know of some there who may know of the gem this is our destination."
"If you would ready the others we must make haste." asked Aragorn.
Nil went to tell the others when suddenly her mind screamed. The pain was intense but she gathered her thoughts before she was overwhelmed...."So much pain..." she looked round and noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
But then she noticed Roth at first she thought he was asleep....but then she knew he was watching Vaeltira her every move he watched. "So there is someone he hates as much as me" Roth then awoke and he stared at Nil his eyes bored through her, she shuddered and left him be.
...At the entrance to the mine-shaft, Aelric paced awkwardly, the poison from the orc arrows was beginning to take a grip on his system. That and the black life-essence of the Uruks was making the pain of the wounds he sustained seem like a distant memory, now he must brace himself for the nausea and the agony of expulsion of the venom. Not wishing any to witness his discomfort he put some distance between himself and the others, especially Vaeltira, he could not abide allowing her to see his weakness, his hurt. Overhearing some of the conversation as he shambled behind a rock, he mused at how long it would be before these fools realised the very real peril they were in. A grim smile played upon his lips, then all of a sudden the contents of his stomach emptied and a black bile issued on the floor at his feet. Spasms wracked his tall frame, as again every fibre of his being urged the rejection of this corrupt force yet at the same time his mind thrived on it. He knew he was damned, he knew that he ought to have perished at Pelagir along with his army, but for some unfathomable reason, he had endured. This was the mystery that confronted and tormented him. Vaeltira was bound up in his fate, and his with hers, the legacy of a cursed line of Kings, Blasphemers, Corrupters, & Conquerors.

Now the name Ethring, in his own tongue the Isle of Ae-khran, well he had the means and they the guide. That mad yet comely elf maiden, he shuddered that he may have allowed himself to feel pity for her, not unlike the pity he had once felt for dear Vaeltira. No time for such dissemblings, he must harden his mind to the ultimate task, an Elven Gem once the property of his forefather's,but lost to them when Numenor was sundered by the will of the Valar. He would claim it for... the thought froze in his mind, had he uttered something aloud? He noticed now that a shadow had crossed his own from behind. Swiftly he rounded to face, Vaeltira? A puzzled expression on her pale, beautiful face softened the edge in his. "Are you... alright to make the journey to the river my Lord?
He smiled, "Of course, a knight is always ready. But my horse, I'll need Zhukanaic we got separated, Where is he?"
Vaeltira turned to go, not wanting to embarrass Lord Aelric further in his weak moment. He watched her go, remembering how she had cradled him earlier and the desire rose again. But not now! he told himself sharply. There were other matters to take care of rather than pleasure.

She walked to where the remainder of the horses stood, uneasy at the smells of blood around, their heads rearing, hooves pawing the ground. There was no sign of Aelric's horse. Quickly she mounted her own horse, Pathniel ,and trotted down into the scrub and trees around the hill. Already crows and other carrion feeders had found the orc corpses. She guided Pathniel through the trees, listening. Within a few hundred yards she found Aelric's horse, sweating and snorting, his huge head tossing at the bridle and reins caught in a thicket of twisted branches. Dismounting her own horse she walked towards Zhukanaic talking softly. When he calmed enough she untangled the reins and led him back towards Pathniel. She heard movement, faint but enough to tell her that someone or something was between her and the others. Either someone had followed her or she was now in danger. Mounting swiftly, she drew one of her knives and turned in the direction of the movement.
"Whoa!" Nilgaerien said, holding up both hands, palms outward. "I may look an enemy but that desire is not in my heart." Vaeltira, eyes wide in surprise, lowered her knives. They stared at each other for a moment or two then, "I thank you for saving my Lord Aelric."
Nil's eyes shuttered, closing out any emotion to the outside world, though her head swirled in the agony of experiencing unfettered emotions not her own. "Comrades - they do so for one another until such time as it is no longer needed. He will be all right, I assume?" Vaeltira nodded then broached one more question: "And what are you doding out here?"
Nil stared silently then her eyelids drooped. "Watching."


"Watching?" Vaeltira queried. Nilgaerien moved further away, fingers rubbing her temple. The Numenorean's underlying emotions whirled in her head. She needed distance from the woman.

"Yes, but not you." She nodded towards a dark figure on the other side of Vaeltira. Roth stood there in the shadows, his axe raised to shoulder height, balanced in his hands. Moving towards Vaeltira he spat the words "Mordor Witch" at her before turning swiftly back towards where the others were gathering.

Nilgaerien watched him go. Her head throbbed but the danger was over - for the time being.
"Get back to the others. There is more safety there than on your own. I will not always be watching him."

With that, Nilgaerien melted back into the shadows leaving Vaeltira to lead Aelric's horse back.

Nil carefully tracked Vaeltira's movements with her eyes until she was safely back with the others. Releasing a sigh, Nil went back to watching. Naturally, Vaeltira had assumed she was watching for Roth, which in a way was true...but she was really watching the woods. Something deep inside was unsetttled, nervous - or perhaps that was just all the others' nerves wearing on her.
There! Was that movement? No...her senses didn't blare danger. She rubbed her eyes. She desperately needed rest before tomorrow - she and Aragorn had agreed on leaving on the morn. Though they had wounded, they would heal just as well on a horse's back as sitting around doing nothing.
A shape moved in front of her, a soft whinny accompanying it. "Gondolin," she whispered. "How did you loose yourself from your tethers?" She was glad of the company, though...and for the protection he would afford. He settled his large body to the ground and Nilgaerien followed suit, carefully lowering herself until her back was leaning againt his side. Her left foot ached...pained her really.
Curious, she pulled the boot on that foot off and was astonished to feel a wetness. A long slash down the side of her foot was seeping blood. Turning her boot over, she saw the slash repeated. An orc must have gotten her in her mad rush. The inside of her boot was completely wet...she had lost a lot of blood. No wonder she was dizzier than usual. Again, she must not have felt it in the emotions flooding her brain.
Nilgaerien unwrapped a band of cloth wrapped around her wrist - Amarie had insisted putting it there after finding a raw burn after the battle. She wrapped it tightly around her foot and ankle. Blood immediately began to soak the cloth but, with the pressure of the band, soon slowed. The slash in her boot she could close with needle and thread once back at camp, as long as no one saw her.
She would not - couldn't - allow Amarie to help her with this. It would require the healer touching her and Nil didn't want to think of what would happen with her freshly opened mind. No, it would be fine. And Nil had suffered blood loss before - she wouldn't suffer much.
A few minutes more then she slid onto Gondolin's back, coaxing him to his feet. Silently, she moved back into the mine shaft and nodded the all-clear sign to Aragorn. Then, finding a quiet corner, she quickly sewed the boot back together with thread and needle swiped form Amarie's pack.
...That night Aragorn and Aelric awkwardly delegated among themselves as to whom should go on watch. There could be heard raised voices between the two, but ultimately it ended in some sort of uneasy compromise that suited both parties. It was apparent that neither was trusting in the other in spite of all that had happened. So Aragorn elected to go on the first watch with Vaeltira & Roland, the darkest watch was to be Aelric's with Amarie and Roth, the last watch Nilgaerien, Moori and Arkentos.
The horses were stabled as best they could be in the recesses of the dilapidated mine, Aelric watched the elves carefully as they busied themselves with making a spartan camp and fire. He felt on edge in these quiet times, and knew only too well that in the deep of night in company such as this, his dark desires and innate paranoia may cost him dear. He had to keep his focus, and knew that to do so would mean that sleep was not a viable option. However, he could not stop thinking about the brief moment of tenderness Vaeltira had shown him, it was the first time she had admitted any true concern for him. Afterall, she had hitherto displayed only fear and contempt, ultimately blaming him for the tragedies that had befallen her. Watching her, the once broken and pitiful outcast of a dead noble house - now she seemed proud, serenely confident, a peerless lady of Westernesse.
Aelric chastised himself for such trivial thoughts, "remember she is the chain that binds you to this fool's errand, awake from childish musings and harden your heart." he thought. Looking in the direction of Roth, Aelric was glad he could at least observe this strange afflicted elf, there was something altogether wrong about him. He seemed uncharacteristically maniacal and possibly even tainted by the Great Dark, if this was so, then maybe this elf could prove useful in future days.
The first watch was cold and uneventful. The need for silence deterred Vaeltira from asking Aragorn questions about this quest. Roland looked asleep but he was, at least, quiet. She knew Aelric would not be asleep; he would be watching and plotting for his own ends. No doubt he would confide in her when and if he required her. She knew that among his plans was one to break the curse that bound them - but then what? She knew how cold hearted he was about those who did not fit with his plans but what of her? He felt responsibility for her and her safety, she knew that, but he also knew that his life depended on hers, as did hers on his. If the curse were broken would he still feel attachment to her. Their marriage would still stand, curse or not and he would find her politically desirable if nothing else. After all, The Dark Lord's purpose in forcing their union had been politically based and Aelric would use that to his own ends. As Lady to the great Lord Aelric she had been deemed suitable as Mordor's representative to Isengard and Saruman the Traitor. She grimaced at the memory of Isengard and its master. The one who betrayed those he was to protect. A weakling, to be despised.

She shivered. The cold seeped around her but the watch was nearly at an end and with Roth occupied on the next watch she would be able to sleep.

She smiled suddenly, remembering some of the better times in Umbar - some shared with Aelric before she was forced back to Mordor and used to ensure Aelric's total obedience. The smile faded. She was, she reflected, a product of that past and would live with it for the rest of her life.

Aelric approached, ready to take his place. They looked at each other, acceptance rather than understanding in their eyes. Whatever it takes, she thought, touching hands briefly with the man she would live and die for. She moved back into the shelter of the mine. She needed sleep. Dreamless sleep, if only that were possible.
"Nil!"
Nilgaerien cracked one closed eye to the hushed whisper. "I'm trying to rest, Roland," she grumbled.
"But you elves don't sleep! I need to ask a question."
"You've come to wrong person. Remember the last time you got too close? You spun my mind in circles." She half-groaned and tried to scoot to the side without really disturbing her body. "And you're too close now."
Roland went on as if she hadn't said a word. "Have you noticed Vaeltira and Lord Aelric? They seem...close..."
Nilgaerien turned her head, both eyes now closed again, to rest her cheek on the cool stone behind her. "I've noticed - your point?" Suddenly, both eyes came open and she sat up, looking him in the eye, her ehad swirling with his emotions. "Don't even think - "
"They could be!"
"They aren't."
"But -"
"No Roland."
He looked about to argue some more but then his shoulders slumped and he went back to his spot. Nil waited until he was asleep, his thoughts calming to a slow crawl. She studied the dark shape of the woman at the entrance to mine. "They aren't spies, Roland. I can feel it." Nil's eyes glinted i nthe firelight. "They're too messed up to be spies. Like me in a warped way."
Nilgaerien watched while the others slept, her mind embracing the silence around her. Occasionally she would feel a sharpness as her mind skimmed someone's nightmares, she knew them to be Vaeltira's by the fear and despair within. Suddenly Vaeltira awoke, sitting bolt upright and looking at Nilgaerien.

"No, Vaeltira, I wasn't." She anticipated the woman's suspicions. "Your dreams are violent" she added, Vaeltira nodded. "I hoped they would stop once I left.. " she hesitated over using the name..." Once I left." She sighed. "They will never stop, never leave me." Nilgaerien forced herself to shut out the images. "Why do you follow Lord Aelric?" For a moment Vaeltira was silent. She could choose not to answer, or she could take a step towards peace with this elf maid.

"He is my husband." she said simply. "Do you love him as a husband?", Nilgaeren asked softly. "Love is dangerous. It is always best not to love anyone. So no, I don't love him but he has my respect, my loyalty and... " she looked at Nilgaerien "...and my fear". "For a long time I could only hate him but circumstances change and the lives of men are short."

Softly Nilgaeren continued probing. "Why your fear, lady?" Vaeltira looked up sharply. "There are some things I cannot tell you but the fear is between us." She could not allow anyone here to know the curse they shared. It would make them both too vulnerable.

"Why did you hate him?"

"Why? Because the Dark Lord had chosen Lord Aelric for greatness and I was a pawn. Because I suspect Lord Aelric was instrumental in the death of my first husband and loss of my children although he has always denied the latter. Because he is a man to be feared even by his closest allies." She paused, "Enough now, elf maid. I am tired and tomorrow we travel." She turned away.
But Nilgaerien continued to stare at Vaeltira's turned head. Her watch wasn't for another two hours and Nil had gotten all the rest she needed anyway.

Love. Why had she asked about love? Why couldn't she just let it alone? Perhaps it was her newly re-opened mind...it was still much too foggy to see clearly but she remembered her love...remembered the times they had before the destruction...Nilgaerien shivered. "You are not the only ones cursed, my lady," she said softly. Vaeltira suddenly turned and Nil started. From her quiet emotions, she had thought the dark woman asleep. In her eyes was a question and a careful pondering. Nilgaerien quickly stood and backed to another corner of the mine before Vael could ask. She felt Aelric turn and watch them but she ignored him as she sank to a sitting position against one wall.

Love...she had no more chance left for love. Her mind was broken, her heart destroyed. No, there would not be another chance...

Nilgaerien rarely slept but she must have this night for soon a hand was on her shoulder and emotions were jolting her to her feet. It was Roth. "Your watch," he said simply and turned to go.
"Roth," she said. He turned back. She opened her mouth then thought better of it when she saw the darkness lingering in his eyes. Her frown deepened and she turned to the entrance. What did she think she could accomplish? Amarie was wrong - there could be no healing between them.

Mori was already staring off into the night when Nilgaerien found a perching spot on a large stone. Arkentos soon joined them. "Did you sleep?" he asked them. Mori gave a short shake of her head and Nilgaerien simply stared, her eyes giving her "no." He sighed. "Neither did I...this night is...dark..."
Nilgaerien turned to look out across the trees - the mine was on a slight rise - and saw mist creeping in. "Night is always dark, Arkentos...especially when it is held inside one's mind."
A hesitation, then, "Is that how it is for you?" he asked.
She nodded, her eyes on the forest before them. Why was she doing this? Why was she allowing herself to get close to these people? It would only destroy her in the end. She met Arkentos' gaze. That was why. The fellowship, the care - hesitant thought it was and why not after their rough start? - lingering there awoke something in her that had not been there for many years. And with it, she coulld feel another piece of her mind slipping away.
"Yes, Arkentos. And it will always be a part of my mind."
Aelric sat beside Vaeltira, leaning against the rock wall. She heard him grunt as he shifted position. It was a while since he had slept and she saw the darkened shadows in his face. "I have slept, Aelric", she whispered, "I will watch while you sleep." She glanced at the dark recesses of the mine where Roth had gone. Aelric touched her shoulder and smiled, "I can always trust you, My Lady," His breathing slowed, for the first time in days he welcomed sleep, even with the demons it brought. Vaeltira watched the shadows. Roth was there somewhere, feeding his anger. Anger at what? And at whom? At her?

Roth moved forward, still in the shadows but closer to the entrance, his stare fixed on the two he hated most at present. The man was dangerous and presented a difficult challenge but the woman.... he seethed as he thought how it would be to squeeze her neck until she choked or to feel his axe at her throat. The strength of his hatred for her was beyond reason, he knew this and for that he would find out who she was what her involvement was with him before he ended her life. He smiled in the dark. Out of hatred would come satisfaction and revenge. He would make sure of that.

Amarie stood in front of him her eyes steady as she glared at him, no fear showing. "Roth" she said calmly but with authority, "You will not endanger this quest. Be sure you know where we stand on this." With that she moved away to where Aragorn slept. Dawn was approaching and it would soon be time to make ready to move on.
"It is time to move." It was the first words Nilgarien had spoken since she and Arkentos' conversation some hours before and the first time her eyes had moved from the trees below.
Arkentos turned and looked at her and saw she would have no argument so sighed and moved back into the cave to help wake the others with Moori. Nil could not physically touch anyone so gathered her bag and waited by the entrance while everyone was wakened. Breakfast was a literally a hurried bite and quick gulp of water as all seemed to feel the same urgency Nil had at first.
Gondolin had again pulled loose from his tethers but only to be close to his mistress, whinnying softly in the cool air of early dawn. Other horses that Nil had found in the cave with Gondolin were assigned to each member of the quest, Moori behind Amarie and Dori behind Arkentos.
Nil pulled herself onto her steed's back and tried not to wince. Her foot was nothing but pain this morning and she could feel something wet inside her boot again.
"Move out!" Araogrn called.
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