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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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World Within Worlds
Submitter: Date: 2011/4/24 Views: 212 Rate: 0.00/1
5.

Less than one day of hard travel brought them to Trestlebridge, a village at the northern end of the Bree-fields that hugged the side of a vast ravine. Across this natural barrier was a wooden bridge, its sides panelled and roofed to form a protective corridor. From a hillock Arthur could see that, out of about twenty stone cottages, a third had been damaged by fire and as the riders neared the village the acrid smell of burnt wood and food assailed their nostrils.

Arthur thought back to that morning. The silence from Merlin had made his insides ache with pain. Myfanwy had decided that the youth would stay with her while she tried out some remedies on his shoulder. The accusing look that Merlin gave Arthur produced a small worm of doubt to form in the blonde’s heart. Would his lover ever forgive him? Arthur shook such doubts from his mind. He had Brewers to lead and look after, one of them was his own sister. He concentrated on what was before him.

Two elves stood at the village’s border to greet them. One was the black haired Celimdol, his swords sheathed and a longbow in his hand, his quiver empty. The other elf was slightly taller and broader, fair haired and armoured in a dark green metal. He also sported two swords at his hips, but these looked heavier than those his fellow elf carried. Streaks of blood marred the armour, but none of it came from the elf.

The stranger bowed as the riders dismounted. “Mae govannen, Brewers fresh from Bree. You are a welcome sight to tired eyes.” He nodded in Arthur’s direction. “My lord, Celimdol here has told me of what has happened before and I welcome an officer of our company to Trestlebridge. You are much needed here. I am named Gilladrin Half-elf, twin to Myfanwy and a champion of fair Lothlorien. Come, refresh yourself with your companions at a tavern nearby and we will talk of dark deeds done this day. Decisions have to be made, but I would have you learn all before you make them.”

“Er, well met Gilladrin.” Arthur bowed his head and worried about whether he was doing the right thing. “I hope I live up to Lady Myfanwy’s trust in me.”

Gilladrin smiled and clapped a hand on his mailed shoulder. “My sister is considered wise in the ranks of the Buckland Brewers, for all her short years. I am sure she has chosen well, Arthur.”

They led their horses into the village and Arthur noticed a line of half a dozen bodies covered by white cloth. Some of them were children and he felt a great anger well up in his heart. The horses were stabled and they entered an unnamed tavern which was really two cottages made into one. It sported a rough counter with barrels behind it. The tavern keeper was nowhere to be found and Arthur reasoned that the man or woman was one of the bodies that made the line up outside. They sat and mugs of ale and simple food was put before them by Celimdol.

“Know this, Prince Arthur. You have come at a dark time and with not your full strength, for Myfanwy and Merlin follow you at a slower pace and may not reach us in time. We have just fought off an attack by orcs with fire arrows. They retreated to a camp two hundred yards from the bridge and are even now regrouping. Perhaps they wait for others, but we do not know. I can only surmise that they have run out of missiles and are deciding what to do next. Two of the village’s scouts have not returned.”

Celimdol shifted in his seat and was about to speak, but the older elf put up his hand. “Nay my Lord Celimdol, you are not a hunter like your brother or any of the others the Brewers are honoured to have in their ranks. I would not endanger one so young.”

Celimdol turned to Arthur, a pleading look in his eyes. The blonde did not like how the elf looked at Merlin but he still felt protective towards the young warrior. “No Celimdol, I won’t risk losing you.”

“And I doubt we’ve got any time for you to find out anything useful,” said Gwen. She looked to Arthur and smiled encouragingly. His sister also smiled and gave a small nod. Lance put a comforting hand on the crestfallen elf’s shoulder.

“How many are there?” asked Arthur as if his father would address a board meeting, or so he imagined.

“Thirty-three are left my lord, thanks to Celimdol’s aim.”

“I’m assuming they don’t have horses?” With a nod from Gilladrin Arthur pondered on this and came to a decision. He gulped once, his throat suddenly dry. “You look handy with those swords and Lance and I have proved we can fight. We ride out and surprise these orcs, leading any in this village who can still fight.”

“I’m coming too,” started Morgana and Gwen was about to agree.

“No. I want you to organise the women and children into a group and get them travelling south. Any who are too injured will have to make camp just south of the village and you will stay with them.” Morgana was about to argue further but he turned back to Celimdol. “I want you to find as many arrows and cover us as best as you can, at a safe distance.”

“I can fight, Arthur. Let me prove it to you. I have done so already when Merlin was on this world last. He would let me fight.”

“This is no time for heroics.”

“But my lord, I would be of more use at your side!”

“At a safe distance, I said.” Celimdol bowed his head in defeat and Arthur saw Gilladrin let out a silent breath of relief.

“Sadly, you cannot rest from your journey for time is against us,” said the older elf and stood. The others followed him. “Two wardens from Bree and a handful of farmers I can muster. Too many of the womenfolk and children have died today, Arthur, and I think you have chosen wisely. The defences of this village will not hold another attack. It will be a pleasure to fight at your side.”

“Me to,” said Lance, Arthur gave him a grateful glance.

As they prepared their mounts and brought together those willing to fight, Arthur took Gwen to one side. “I…tell Merlin…oh fuck! Just tell him. I think I’ve blown my chances, but just tell him.”

“He loves you very much Arthur. Never forget that,” said Gwen and placed a comforting hand on his arm. “He just feels useless and also very passionate about this land. I know how he feels, I think. About the useless thing that is. And I’m getting to love the people here like Merlin. He didn’t mean to say those things. Men can be so stupid sometimes. Not that I think you are stupid. I didn’t mean that. I_”

“Gwen_”

“I would never call you stupid, Arthur, I really wouldn’t. Well, not to your face anyway and_”

Arthur laughed. “Gwen, I know what you meant. Just tell him I love him.”

Gwen smiled shyly and then her face became serious. “I will. And Arthur? Look after Lance for me, he’s all I have.” Before he could answer she walked away to see to getting the wounded out of the village.

As Gwen left, Gilladrin came up to him and bowed slightly. “We are ready my lord.”

Arthur sighed. “I’m not a noble, Gilladrin, nor a fighter. I feel like a fraud.”

To the blonde’s surprise Gilladrin laughed heartily and punched him in the shoulder. “Some elves have the gift to see into men hearts and I am one such. I see a noble one. I have not the sight that my sister possesses, but my senses tell me that, one day, you will be known as a prince among men in your own world.” The elf’s face grew serious then. “Do not fear, I will be at your side, even though my mount was taken from underneath me some hours ago. Also, do not doubt yourself, for today you are a leader of men. Come.” He said the last words as he helped Arthur onto his horse. “Morrowdim will serve you well. An elf mount from the eaves of Mirkwood. He will not let you fall in battle.” Gilladrin spoke softly into the horse’s ear and it snorted once.

Arthur smiled his thanks and then looked about him at the dozen fighters. Something stirred in him, a sense of worth, a sense of command, and he spoke. “Men of Trestlebridge, you do not know me and I am a stranger to your land, but know this; I despair at what has brought you to this. I grow angry that you face this foe. You should be battling the seasons so that you may harvest and survive, not repel a despicable foe who would only work ruin.” His voice grew softer and they strained to listen. “Know this, I will not have another child die today. I don’t care if it’s not one of my own.”

Lance brought his horse up to Arthur’s and he grinned. “I am with you Arthur. I feel a fire in my heart and I want to avenge these deaths. I feel…I don’t really know.”

“Same here.” Arthur turned back to the small crowd. “Are you ready, men of Bree-land? Are you ready to give back what you have taken this day? Are you ready to defend your livelihoods, your homes, your families? Are you ready?”

They cheered long and hard and Arthur turned Morrowdim to face the bridge. “Gilladrin, best you start now if you want to keep up.”

The elf laughed and Arthur was glad for the sound. “I will keep up my lord.” The elf started running, drawing his swords.

“Come then my friends, fear no darkness. We teach these orcs what Bree-landers can do!”

The three horsemen cantered across the bridge, the farmers and village folk running up behind. The two wardens, armed with spears and armoured in leather, led them with words of encouragement. They turned right after crossing the ravine and Arthur picked up the pace. He was determined that no more villagers would die that day. Gilladrin sprang up and seated himself behind him. “I would not run all the way, my lord,” the elf laughed and he laughed with him.

“Now Celimdol,” shouted Arthur as they neared the orc encampment and the elf jumped from his mount to scamper up a tree, whistling low so that his horse stopped where it was.

With his sword drawn in one hand and his shield in another, Arthur instinctively guided Morrowdim towards the first surprised foe. The orc was squat and muscular, with grey mottled skin and sharp tusks. With one swipe he took its head off and moved onto the next. Gilladrin jumped from his saddle and landed on two orcs, his swords dealing out death wherever they landed. From the corner of his eye Arthur saw Lance being dragged from his mount, but he was soon standing; he smashed his shield into an orc’s face while he lopped off the arm of another. Orcs left and right of Arthur would suddenly drop, their necks or an eye pierced by an arrow and Arthur was grateful for his own judgement.

“Come on then you yellow haired maggot,” shouted a large orc wielding a two handed spiked club.

“Rather be a maggot than maggot-shit, which is what you’ll be soon, ugly.” Arthur slid down from his saddle and Morrowdim retreated a few steps to give him some room.

The first vicious swipe Arthur easily ducked and he gave a nick to the orc’s shoulder in return. In a cry of rage the creature came forward with a series of heavy blows that numbed Arthur’s shield arm and he was pushed back step by step. He suddenly stumbled over a dead orc and landed on his back, the wind knocked from him. With a triumphant grin, the orc made to deliver an over hand blow that Arthur knew his shield would be useless against. As the club came down he lunged upwards and pierced the creature’s gut with his sword and twisted it savagely.

A surprised look came over the orc’s face, but still the club smashed down and thudded into Arthur’s shoulder. One of the spikes pierced his chain mail and he cried out in pain. With a satisfied grunt the orc collapsed on top of him and died.

“Bastard!” Arthur muttered and struggled to get the corpse off. He was helped by a blood spattered Lance.

Arthur looked around him and saw that the villagers and wardens had mopped up what was left of the enemy and he felt relieved that nobody had died. Gilladrin came to him and nodded his head once, a proud grin on his face.

“We better get back to Trestlebridge and wash this blood off and tend to your shoulder,” said Lance, but they were stopped in their tracks by a cry from Celimdol up in the tree.

“More orcs are coming, my lords. Fifty and with straight backs bearing black armour of metal. I have not seen the like.”

“Uruk-hai, an abomination of orc crossed with men. We cannot prevail against this new threat.” Gilladrin looked at the two men with a calm expression and waited.

Arthur only hesitated for a second. “Get everyone back at the bridge. Start building a barricade. Celimdol, how long have we got?”

The young elf scampered down and jogged over to them. “An hour, my lord. They march and do not run. There could be more.”

“Good that we have some time.” Arthur led them back to the village and started to order the defences. As the sun set, he wished Merlin was with him. He wished he could say “I love you” one last time.

* * *

They rode the cart north along the Greenway, as Myfanwy had called it, but Merlin could only see a fairly straight road covered in grass. He had lain in bed most of the morning with a fever that the elf maid had successfully brought down. She could not cure his infected wound but she had tried dried athelas that Celimdol still had in his satchel from Merlin’s previous time in Middle Earth. She said that the tendrils of black veins should stop their spread towards his heart.

“Perhaps people on your own world will know of a cure, for this infection is not of Arda. Of this I am certain.” Despite his protests, she had insisted that he rested until luncheon and only then did they start their journey north saying a brief farewell to Bobdin and Aldrhod.

The hobbit had looked downhearted, but Merlin had knelt in front of him, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Hey there, you are to look after Aldrhod and be in charge until Anharadeth gets home. Can you do that?”

“What me? In charge again?” The halfling face lit up and his eyes shined with self importance. “It would be an honour so it would. I’ll make you proud and the Lady Myfanwy as well, so I will. You’ll see.”

The lore master looked at Merlin with so much admiration that he knew he blushed. They took the cart and started their journey from Bree after a hearty meal.

The two companions made camp well before evening just off the road and ate a quiet meal of way bread washed down with watered wine. As they stared into the flames of their large campfire, Myfanwy started singing, her voice a mournful chant that brought tears to Merlin’s eyes and he unashamedly wiped them away with his sleeve.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!

She sang again, to translate for him and he still found it beautiful, yet sad.

O Elbereth Starkindler,
white-glittering, slanting down sparkling like a jewel,
the glory of the starry host!
Having gazed far away
from the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth,
to thee, Everwhite, I will sing,
on this side of the Sea, here on this side of the Ocean!

“A hymn sung by my people as they journey to the Grey Havens and onto the Uttermost West. Elbereth is our most favoured star. One day I too will make such a trek, even though I have not seen the land of the Valar, for my years in Arda have been short. Only a few hundred years or so. Our history is such that most elf maidens make the journey without their loved one. O, how dark these times are! The shadow of death hangs over me! Will I see my beloved again?”

She closed her eyelids to hold back tears and Merlin put his arm around her shoulder. “We will see Cynan again, I promise. I haven’t come all this way, through all this crap, to fail.”

Myfanwy opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Comfort is the name of a friend called Merlin. Sleep now, if you can in this setting sun, for we journey at first light.”

He did as he was told and used his cloak as a blanket, his new satchel, that Celimdol had given him, a pillow. Merlin closed his eyes and drifted off as Myfanwy continued singly softly into the twilight.


He dreams…

Anharadeth slows her black mount to a halt and the other two riders do the same. One of them on a pony is a dwarf that the dreamer recognises as Bjala. He has his axe holstered and he wearing a heavy chain mail and a horned helmet. The other rider is armoured in black metal that seems to be moulded to his body; his open faced helm showing an elven one and he has long fair hair. His large grey steed carries a thick shield and a two handed sword. The warrior also has a sword at his hip, sheathed. He looks similar to Myfanwy, but is grim of face and the dreamer doubts that the elf smiles much. It is he that speaks first.

“Be careful here. Tharbad is no more a great town of Cardolan, but full of scavengers and worse. We should find stabling and an inn, if the messages were true.”

“Do not doubt my sources, Lord Aneirin. Doves arrived but weeks ago from Brewers stationed at this place. Our quest will start here. Come, the river is low and we may cross the Gwathlo.”

Before them lies a large town, bigger than Bree and ruins for the most part. The three cross the sluggish river, the dwarf protesting that his thighs were getting wet. On coming out onto dry land they are met by several warriors dressed in leathers and furs, all carrying short bows.

“Dunlendings,” Bjalar mutters, loosening his axe in its holder.

“Who dares block the Great South Road to innocent travellers?” Anharadeth dismounts and plants her staff on the ground before her.

“Innocent? Ha!” Answers one of the men. “I doubt a lore master of Gondor is innocent.” At the questioning look from the woman he sneers. “My master said you would come, though his warnings were over rated I warrant. You seek fellows from your kinship? A female and two halflings gave us much sport before they died. Kill them.”

At his command arrows were let lose, but the lore master simply waved her staff and a great gust of wind made sure they all lost their mark.

Bjalar and Aneirin dismount, the former looking happy at the break in the boredom; the latter silently hefting his great shield before him and unsheathing his sword.

“Come then scavenging dogs, meet nature’s wrath.” Anharadeth says her look cold and determined.

The men charge and the battle is bloody. It is over in a few minutes. The dreamer, as always, feels sick to the stomach.

“Speak truthfully and I’ll ease your passing,” says the dwarf over the dying leader.

The man laughs. “A fool on a fool’s errand. All Brewers south of Tharbad are dead or did not exist at all. You are easily swayed by simple messages, bitch of Gondor.” His death rattle makes the dreamer feel even worse.

“I do not like his words, but I must agree with them,” says Aneirin, wiping blood from his blade. “As I have said before, I think this quest futile.”

“I fear you speak truly, my lord, and I am the fool here. Our strength this side of the Misty Mountains is divided enough. I will not trek for months only to find rumour or worse. Apologies, lord elf and master dwarf, but we will go back to Bree and find what we will find. A fool indeed I have been.”

Aneirin looks concerned and goes to touch the lore master, but thinks better of it and leaps into his saddle instead. Anharadeth has not seen the conflicting emotions in his face, but the dreamer has. “Come then. I would like to see my sister back in Bree and learn of this Merlin.” His manner is gruff.

“Good,” says Bjalar, “I miss Butterbur’s ale.” He runs and jumps up upon his pony, but misses the first time. “I am unhurt. No need for assistance.” Bjalar tries a second time and succeeds. The dreamer laughs.

He dreams…

The hunter looks down from a crag that overlooks a road. Before him there is a wide lake, easily four miles across and twice as long. To the south is a once great city half drowned and below him is a small island, connected to the land by a stone, three arched bridge. Here can be seen smoke rising from amongst the trees, but not from campfires.

The dreamer looks closely at the hunter and sees that he is thin and tired looking. His hair is matted with mud and blood. “Too late, too late is the little lore master.” The elf looks at his ring, gold fashioned in the shape of oak leaves, and talks to it. “Yes, I am nearly there and he…he…no, I will not betray a friend.” The hunter stiffens as if in pain. “Yes, he watches me now even as we speak, master.”

With an effort the elf cried out in anguish. “Flee, Merlin, flee. Do not take the bait!”

The dreamer flees and the sound of a cry of torturous pain rings in his ears.

He dreams…

He stands before a large inn and beyond it is a walled city. Two doors are before him. One is labelled “Lounge” and the other “Pub”. He takes the first one.

On entering he sees a polished bar dominating one side of the carpeted room and a tall, good looking man with green skin is polishing a pewter mug. He nods in the dreamer’s direction then nods towards a corner of the large room.

Two old men play chess while sitting in comfortable looking arm chairs before a large fire. They both smoke pipes. Their staves are resting against the wall.

“Strong indeed to disregard the defences you created for him and he thinks himself no great mage. Ha!” The green robed man moves a piece and says with glee “check mate, again!”

The other man scowls but then looks up at the dreamer. “Ah, Merlin. Powerful indeed, though I doubt you know it yet. You will grow into your power with instruction and time, I am sure.”

“Er, hello? I’m…er…not on Draconis Terra this time am I?”

Tarrion laughs kindly and gestures for him to pull us a wooden chair. When Merlin has seated himself he answers. “No, this inn of mine is on another world. Gallantine is safe for the time being and I like to rest here. You come for a purpose. Is there something you wish to discuss with me?”

Oakhaven huffs in impatience. “Do not play games, you old lizard. Tell him what is happening on his own world or I shall do it myself.”

Tarrion scowls at the other man a second time but then turns his attention back to the youth, his face looks concerned. “My old friend here tells me that a trap was set for you on this Grey Hill. You are drawing the attention of powerful foes young mage, for an ancient creature was in wait for you.”

Merlin gulped and was about to stand but Oakhaven placed a kind but strong grip on his arm. “Who knew that you would be there? You may have a traitor in your midst.”

“Morgana suggested we go there. Fuck, I can’t believe she’d betray me. I’ve been such an idiot.”

Tarrion sank back in his chair, deep in thought. His chess opponent lets go of Merlin as if touched by a shock. “Boy, I see a wound in your shoulder that has been skilfully tended, but not cured. You got this while you were travelling the Deep Umbra?”

Merlin nods, still thinking of Morgana and her betrayal.

“The bite is infected by a shadow creature and will consume you in time. Do not spend too much time on this Arda or you will be beyond my help. Meet me at what you lot laughingly call the Harold Stones. Here, take this.” The druid hands over a simple silver bracelet.

“What is it?” the youth asks as he puts it on the arm attached to his wounded shoulder.

“Ah, the trust and innocence of youth! It could be a charm to capture your soul. No, no, do not take it off. I only jest. It will strengthen your dreamself and you will be guarded against this Witchking while you travel in that state. I will also be able to keep tabs on you, though you are beyond my help when you are on Middle Earth. Do take it off, though, when you have rampant sex with that blond. I’m too old to witness that sort of thing.”

Merlin knows he blushes furiously and the old man’s chuckles still irritate him. “We’re not lovers anymore. We…argued and I said terrible things. I wouldn’t blame him if he never wants to speak to me again.”

The druid rolls his eyes. “Spare me the dramatics, please.”

Tarrion stirs from his thoughts and looks at the youth intently. “The bracelet will give you the power to stay longer, young mage. Next time stay a few months, time has little meaning here. I will teach you some of your craft. Go now, for I must leave and would not have you travel the rooms of this inn unaided.”

“Okay. And thank you both, I think.”

Oakhaven laughs and uses his staff to get out of his chair. “Good luck on your travels and remember your dreams, for such knowledge will arm you well. The bracelet will make sure they do not fade, though you may not thank me for it.”

Merlin nods and lets out a breath. “Good bye.”

The inn’s lounge and the two men fade from his vision.

He wakes…

“Merlin, stir from your slumber. The cart is ready. We must depart.”

Merlin opened his eyes and saw that it was still dark. He felt for the bracelet on his wrist and found it. He was comforted to know that Oakhaven was watching over him.

“A group of refuges passed us while you slept. Trestlebridge has been attacked by orcs and I fear for our fellow Brewers.”

Merlin jumped up and cleared his bedroll away. “What about Arthur?”

Myfanwy smiled sweetly. “He still lives. I will send a friend of mine to aid him, if he should need it.” The lore master looked up into the starry sky and whispered “Gwaleth, old friend. Come to me.”

Merlin heard a whooshing sound and an eagle half the size of the elf landed on a branch of an oak not far away from the now dead camp fire.

“Go north my battle companion. Seek out the Brewers and be swift of wing. Do what must be done.”

The great bird screeched once and flew off into the night, the stars and moon illuminating his way.

Merlin thought of Morgana and he felt sick to the stomach. “We gotta hurry. There’s things I need to know and do.”

Myfanwy furrowed her brow for but a moment and went to the cart. “We must hurry indeed, for travelling by night will slow us down. We are still a few hours from Trestlebridge.”

The youth hoped he would still find Arthur alive when they reached the village.

* * *

Arthur peered into the gloom from behind the barricade of barrels filled with rocks at the line of orcs several yards away. He was glad for the starry night and full moon. Gilladrin had said that he could not see any archers amongst the creatures and Celimdol had only a handful of arrows left, so he was resigned to a bloody hand to hand fight for what was going to happen.

The blonde had considered burning the bridge down, but the older elf had said that Anharadeth had treated the wood the last time the Brewers had fought a battle here, against an army of undead. He now wished that the lore master or any of them were with him now. His thoughts turned to Merlin, but he savagely squashed those thoughts; he could not get distracted.

The bridge could hold three men fighting abreast which gave the blonde some measure of hope. He had seen the film 300 (he especially liked the abs, though he would never admit that to his sister), where the might of the Persian Empire were funnelled into a narrow strip of land and held back by a relatively few warriors.

“What are they waiting for?” asked Lance, nervously.

“Easy,” whispered Arthur and nudged his friend with his shield. Lance gave a short laugh and nudged him back with his shoulder. Arthur kept in the hiss of pain. Gwen had patched him up but it was still a bit sore.

“I see movement.” Gilladrin was on his left and the elf drew out his swords. The two young men did the same with their own weapons. “They have a tree trunk!”

“Shit!” said Arthur and shouted, “Celimdol, take them down". An arrow whistled passed his ear and an orc fell. In quick succession another four followed the first.

“That is all I have,” Celimdol half shouted and Arthur heard him jump down from a barrel in the second barricade.

“Stay back,” shouted the blonde and then he saw other orcs replace the ones that had died and the tree trunk came forward at a quick pace. “Brace yourselves my Brewers.”

The battering ram smashed into one of the barrels and it toppled over. Arthur cut down an orc in front of him. His mind went into auto like it did when he first crossed swords with Celimdol outside the Brewers’ Mansion and he parried and slashed for what seemed like hours but were only long minutes. The adrenalin, for now, kept the fatigue at bay.

He saw Lance do much the same, occasionally using his shield to swipe at a throat or arm and Arthur started to copy the technique when he found an opening. Gilladrin’s blades were a blur as the elf seem to predict what his enemy would do. A few times a blade that was aiming for Arthur’s head was parried by a heavy blade and the young blonde was grateful for the skill of elven warriors.

Suddenly Lance was down and hands dragged him back towards the village. His place was taken by Celimdol, his blades as fast as his fellow elf.

“Back, servants of the Shadow,” the new arrival shouted. “You will not prevail this day. For the Brewers, for Mirkwood, for Merlin!”

Arthur gritted his teeth but would not let his jealousy take hold. He would deal with that another time, if he survived. He noticed that Celimdol’s thin blades had only a small success against the armoured uruk-hai and he came to a decision. “Fall back to the second barrier. Fall back.”

The three retreated step by step; fighting all the way until half way across the bridge where he gave a powerful shove with his shield. In the small respite he turned and ran. The elves easily kept pace and helped him over the second line of defence. Arthur turned just in time to parry a blow with his shield and return the strike with deadly force.

Now Arthur began to tire and it was all he could do to parry blows with his shield. More could attack the orcs this side of the bridge and he saw Morgana, dressed in men’s clothes join the fight. She used a sword (Lance’s he assumed) with some skill.

“What do you think you are doing?”

“Afraid I’ll show you up, little brother?”

“That’ll never happen.” He laughed at the absurdity of their conversation and she joined in, piercing an orc in the neck.

“Lance?”

“Stunned and shedding some blood. He’s with Gwen. He’ll live.”

A cry of an eagle sounded overhead and the orc in front of him had his face shredded in an instant before a huge eagle flew up into the gloom.

“Mae govannen Gwaleth,” shouted out Gilladrin in joy. “My sister and Lord Merlin will not be long behind him.”

Again the great bird struck and Arthur was glad for the help. Still, the orcs came on and he wondered if Celimdol was wrong when he had said that there was only fifty. He fought on, not giving any of the uruk-hai a chance to climb over the barrier, but some of their own dead made a convenient step for their comrades and the fighting got more difficult.

“Stand away, my kin,” a female voice commanded and they did without question. Arthur then saw Myfanwy with her arms wide as if in a welcome, the emerald in her staff was glowing. Merlin was a few steps behind her. His heart leapt at the sight of the scrawny youth. He was alive and looked healthier. He turned his attention back to the orcs, who seemed perplexed at this latest development.

“What? The infamous dogs of Angmar fear a helpless elf maid of Lothlorien? I was told that you uruk-hai have no fear. Come then and learn a new lesson.”

They charged and Myfanwy raised her foot to stamp on the hard ground. An image of a giant tree man was for a second superimposed over her form and stamped also, crushing the handful of the creatures before her. The next wave was met with lightning like sparks coming from her staff as she struck the earth before her. They also died. Still, they came.

Merlin shot fist sized balls of flame from both his hands while Myfanwy parried a blow and then struck her staff in the face of her foe and crushed its skull. “Brewers to me!” she shouted.

Arthur and the others joined the fight, their vigour renewed at the show of strength from the newcomers. Within minutes, what was left of the enemy started to run back over their dead and the bridge. The Brewers and villagers went to follow.

“Hold!” commanded Myfanwy. “Let them slink back to Angmar and spread their fear. Trestlebridge is not to be attacked.” She turned to a surviving warden. “Run to Bree, good fellow. Tell the mayor that he is to send wardens and some of the watch here, for if Trestlebridge falls, then Bree will be next. Also tell him that if he does not do as I command it will not go easy with him. He would wish the Lady Anharadeth herself was breathing down his neck!”

The warden gulped, nodded once and ran south.

Arthur looked to Merlin and his lover looked away, towards Morgana. “I’d have a few words with you,” the dark haired youth said grimly.

“What’s wrong?” asked his sister.

“Someone set a trap for me at Grey Hill. You suggested that place.”

Arthur grew angry at the accusation. “Merlin, she’s your friend, my sister.”

“Stay out of this Arthur.”

Gilladrin went to speak, but Myfanwy raised her hand. “Nay my brother, let them play this out.”

Arthur was struck by the look of hurt and anger in his lover’s face, but he continued speaking. “No Merlin, you’re wrong.”

“I said stay out of it!” He snapped and his eyes started to glow with a golden light.

Arthur tightened his jaw and squared his shoulders. He was about to step towards the man he had fallen in love with but Morgana came between them.

“Stop it, both of you. Merlin, I didn’t suggest Grey Hill, it was someone in my dream group. We attend sessions with a Professor Gaius. Her name is Kara.”

A look of uncertainty came across Merlin’s face and his eyes turned back to their deep blue. “But I was told that I might have a traitor in my midst.”

“Might have, Merlin. I would never betray you. Never.”

Merlin looked ashamed. “I’m so sorry. I thought…well, I didn’t think.”

“Men!” Morgana rolled her eyes, dropped her sword and pulled him into a hug. “Don’t ever doubt me again, stupid boy.”

Merlin smiled shyly and hugged her back.

His sister turned to Arthur and raised an eyebrow. The blonde swallowed a lump in his throat and hoarsely said “I’ve got to see to Morrowdim and wash this blood off,” and he walked to the stables.

Minutes later he was joined by a battered but alive Lance. “We’re leaving the cart behind but taking the mule and we start at first light to head north. Merlin says that is where Cynan went.”

Arthur turned on him. “He was about to use magic on me. Just goes to show how much he fucking loves me. I’ll never forgive him for that.”

“Jesus, I thought straight relationships were bad enough. He was angry and he’s an idiot. You’re an idiot.”

“Piss off.”

Lance shook his head and left the stables. Arthur turned to the horse. “At least you won’t turn on me.”

The horse snorted.

The next day the group rode in silence; Arthur leading the way and Merlin at the back.
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