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7
Where’s that Yellow Brick Road when you really need it Dorothy?

“The most dangerous thing in a combat zone is an officer with a map!”
- Murphy’s Military Laws

Year 553, The First Age, The forest of Nan-Tathren, West Beleriand

The SA80A2 had become an object of fascination, fear and trepidation. Ereinion Gil-galad sat on a tree stump in his campsite and gazed in turn at the other members of this council of war.

Erestor looked long-suffering, as he always did, Gildor was lounging half propped on his side chewing on a piece of long grass, Lord Celeborn was seated cross-legged across from Ereinion, his silver-grey eyes riveted to the objection under discussion and Cirdan was seated on a fallen tree trunk looking as imperturbable and inscrutable as he always did. The only sign Ereinion could find that the situation worried Cirdan was the fact that he was stroking his close-cut silver bearded chin.

Glorfindel alone appeared to be remarkably calm about their find. The ill feeling in the wood and the warning in the trees themselves that danger was nigh was worrying him much more than their strange discovery and he had told Ereinion so in direct terms when they had reported back from their scouting mission. Ereinion was hugely inclined to agree with him because that threat was closer at hand, but the object could not be ignored. If it was some device or weapon of the enemy then they needed to find out its nature and how it might be overcome. The very outcome of a battle and indeed the war might depend on it.

One other was present at the council, Celebrimbor Curufinion, the only Feanorian with Ereinion’s force. Grandson of the notorious Feanor of Silmarils fame, he was tainted by the oath sworn by his blood relatives even though he was not present at its swearing. It had continued to taint his life even despite his repudiation of his father’s deeds. Being who he was, he was tolerated at best by most in the group, but Ereinion, ever the diplomat and kind-hearted person he was, had banned any direct acts of prejudice against him and given him his favour.

Besides which, he was the was one of the great Elven artificers and therefore was of great use to Ereinion.

Tall, slim and dark haired with luminous, almost charcoal grey eyes, Celebrimbor had some of the fire of his grandsire, although a trifle muted, and even some of Feanor’s desires, including being desiring of the attention of Finarfin’s daughter and Celeborn of Doriath’s wife, Artanis, or Galadriel as Celeborn had named her. His slender form belied the whipcord strength and sheer physical power of one who spent his days in the forge heaving metal around amongst other more delicate tasks.

Many folk who had been acquainted with his grandsire looked into the eyes of Telperinquar(1), the ‘Silver Fist’, and saw the passion of Feanor lurking in their depths, but so far he had avoided any of the dire trouble that followed his uncles Maglor and Maedhros around. Instead he clung to the outskirts of the somewhat stifling Noldorin exiles’ society gaining a token acceptance even whilst he dreamt of greater and better things.

Currently that slender form was lounging up against a leaning conifer, his eyes gleaming bright with interest at this unexpected bounty laid before him. He had none of the fear or trepidation that had clutched the others around their hearts, instead his callused hands itched to touch the thing.

Like Erestor he sensed no danger from it, not as an entity in its own right, but that it could be dangerous, he would have readily believed. The cold functionality of it, the business-like sound it made when Glorfindel had cautiously pulled that fascinating trigger mechanism had gripped him with a fever that he could not abate. It was all he could do to lounge nonchalantly and not grab it like some opportunist thief and run away with it to a hideaway to discover its wonderful secrets. It was this avid curiosity to learn about new things that would ultimately destroy him hundreds of years later.

However, he now waited patiently, his expression non-committal and even laconic, a casualness that only the light in his eyes betrayed.

Ereinion’s piercing gaze finally rested on the Elven smith. He gave a wry smile as he saw the eagerness in Celebrimbor's eyes and sighed. “Lord Celebrimbor you have been quiet, what say you? Is Glorfindel correct, is it a weapon of some kind? And if so, is this the work of Morgoth?” He laid his strong, square capable hands on the metal of the object. “I sense nothing evil from it, but can evil be done with it? My heart tells me this is so. What say you?”

The smith levered himself from his lounging position and squatted beside the object, which was still lying in the folds of Erestor’s cloak. He reached out and picked it up, but was aware of the collective held breaths of all present. It had a solid feel to it, but was surprisingly light. He noted the thin wide gap where, any modern soldier could have told him, a magazine would have fitted snugly, snapping into place with the same unmistakable, but lethal sound that all modern weaponry seems to have.

He reached for the cocking mechanism, a small bolt, and drew it back with a short snick, noting that if he drew it all the way back it would lock in place.

Cocked, locked and ready to rock. The phrase popped into his head from out of the blue and startled him slightly. Where had that come from? The first frisson of unease shivered down the back of his neck but was soon overtaken by his insatiable curiosity with this thing.

The collective breath exhaled at the same time.

“What did you do?” Ereinion asked in fascination.

“I believe that there are a series of mechanisms within this object that allow certain things to happen sequentially.” He pressed the trigger and the moving parts inside were released with a dull thunking noise. Everyone drew back in unease and mild shock, but he ignored them. “What those things might be I cannot tell without stripping it down into its component parts.” Celebrimbor did not look at the King while he answered, he was too busy peering into the innards and down the barrel. “You need to let me look at it properly.”

Ereinion looked thoughtful. “I am happy to let you do that, but in truth we have no time to wait while you do. I fear Lord Glorfindel is right. There is a great shadow over these woods and it is growing all the while we sit here in debate. I wish to reach the rearguard of the Army of the West without delay and they are far ahead of us, therefore we must press on.” He glanced around at the others who were looking at him with a mixture of consternation and doubt on their faces, especially Celeborn who didn’t trust Celebrimbor as far as he could throw him. “Take it with you. Do what you can with it and then give me a full report.”

Celebrimbor beamed in pleasure and was unable to prevent himself giving Celeborn a look of mild triumph.

Celeborn managed to turn a slightly disgusted snort into a cough at the last minute. He stood up and flexed his legs. “I take it we will make a start as dawn breaks.” He said shortly. “I will get at least a couple of hours of rest.”

“Good idea.” Cirdan said. “I believe I will do likewise, and so should you Ereinion.” He gave his former charge a stern look and jerked his head towards where his and the King’s bedrolls were.

Ereinion sighed inwardly. His decision would never have been accepted by all no matter what that decision was, but neither Celeborn nor Cirdan had the knowledge to do what Celebrimbor would do so thoroughly. He hated the divisions between the various Elven groups on Arda. He hated the quiet insidious comments that often followed the smith around and tried his best to offset them by showing how much he liked and respected Celebrimbor. And in fact it was no mere show of respect and liking, Ereinion genuinely liked the quietly passionate Elf and wished him well.

He stood up and gave Cirdan a winsome smile. “You are right Cirdan, as ever.” He turned to Glorfindel who was Captain of the Watch. “We move as dawn breaks, see to it that all are told and set the watch.”

Glorfindel bowed gracefully, hand over his heart. “It shall be done my Lord King.” He disappeared between the trees to take up his appointed duties and everyone else dispersed.

Ereinion rolled himself in his blankets, fashioned a pillow for himself with his blue cloak and Cirdan followed suit. They had been quiet only a few minutes and Ereinion had begun to fall into the reverie of Elven sleep when the Shipwright’s gruff voice interrupted it.

“I hope you know what you’re doing lad.”

Ereinion rolled over to face him. “Do you mistrust Celebrimbor?” His eyebrows were arched in surprise and not a little curiosity. The dour, dry-tongued Shipwright seldom spoke sourly of others.

“Celebrimbor?” Cirdan sounded just as surprised. “No of course not. What gave you that idea? I meant that thing. Perhaps we would do better to either melt it down or break it into a thousand pieces. It may not feel evil, but as you said earlier I sense evil can be achieved with it. If we keep it amongst us there will be tears before suppertime.”

Ereinion huffed another sigh. Sometimes he felt that if there was a high honour and a prize for sighing he should have won it years ago, it was all he ever seemed to do. Just once he would have liked to have gone somewhere and done something without the myriad of complications that kept springing up beneath his feet. Not the least of which were ancient Elf Lords like Celeborn who by their very presence and demeanour constantly reminded him that many considered him to be nothing but a young Noldo upstart. “Perhaps you are right, but think on this. If this is some device of Morgoth and it is dangerous and there are more of them, do you not think we should be aware and at least make Lord Eonwe aware of it? We cannot achieve that without making an in depth examination of it.”

“I didn’t say you’d made the wrong decision Ereinion. When I said that I hoped you knew what you were doing, I just meant that I hoped you knew what the ramifications of that decision might be.” Cirdan replied dryly. “Let Celebrimbor look at it, he is by far the best person for the job and I suppose it can do no harm. In any case it will be easier to destroy when it is in little pieces, will it not?”

He finished with a flash of humour that made Ereinion chuckle. “Tears before suppertime.” He mused. “You haven’t said that to me in a long while. Not since I was an elfling.”

Cirdan turned over and punched his bunched cloak to try and make it more comfortable. “Ah well. The die is cast now is it not? And you are an elfling no longer.” If you ever were in the first place. He thought but did not say out loud. “You must make your presence and authority felt by all Ereinion. You are the High King now, by right of succession. Others may be older and far wiser, but they are not the King. ”

“I suppose so.” Ereinion settled back and tried to ignore the soft warning whisperings of the trees above them.

oOo

For a moment Gary and Kim clung onto each other as though their lives depended on it. A further arrow whizzed through the air and sank into the dirt beside Gary’s ear. He swore softly and scrambled to his feet lifting Kim up with him, whilst looking around wildly for cover. Grabbing Kim by the arm, he unceremoniously dragged her behind an oak tree with a very thick girth then he pushed her down flat and covered her body with his.

In the meantime the Chief and Jim had realised that they were under fire.

“Get down, get down, get down!” Knowles howled in the loudest voice he could muster which, of course, only drew the attention of their attackers from Gary and Kim to them. Seeing no real cover nearby all the Chief and Jim could do was make the smallest target out of themselves that they could by lying flat in the fairly long bracken. Even so, Gary could see from where he and Kim were lying that there was a bright fluorescent yellow hump in the grass.

So could their attackers.

A further two arrows spun through the air and spat into the bracken, one harmlessly fell a foot away from Jim but the other one pierced the corner of the sleeve of the yellow jacket and firmly pinned it to the earth.

The fact that all of this took place in a rather eerie silence seemed utterly incongruous to the Chief. The only other thing that broke it, apart from the sound of the arrows winging their way in their direction, was the panic-stricken heavy, ragged breathing of the young policeman.

Knowles ventured to raise his head slightly and saw Jim frantically trying to free himself. “Leave it!” He hissed. “Can you try to get out of the jacket and roll over towards me?”

Jim’s head bobbed up and down in agitation as he tried to comply and Chief could see that his eyes were wide with terror. As well they might be considering that all someone had to do was to paint a huge red ring on him and the bow-men across the fissure would probably get a bullseye.

The Chief let out a spurt of laughter when he saw Jim manage to get the jacket halfway down his arms, but couldn’t free his hands without moving them and attracting more arrows. The jacket was now around his waist and hips. He tried to move surreptitiously so he could wiggle the jacket off his hands and fling it to one side, but that movement raised him up slightly so that all that anyone could see was a yellow hump sticking out of the grass. Knowles couldn’t control his giggles which erupted causing the bracken to shake suspiciously. He knew it was partly nervous reaction to being under fire and partly because he found the idea of being pinned down and watching a bright yellow bobbing arse getting shot at truly hilarious.

Gary watched the pantomime from behind the tree with Kim and let out a soft groan of exasperation. “What the fuck does he think he’s doing? Lie still Jim.” He called over. “Lie as flat as you possibly can and stop struggling, you’re making more of a target of yourself by jiggling about.”

Kim was much more fascinated by the scene across the fissure than she was the antics of Jim Moore.

“It’s them.” She breathed. “It’s that thing and more of them. They’re going to kill us. We’re like sitting ducks.”

Gary immediately turned to her and put one finger against her lips. “Shut up Sergeant. I don’t want to hear that kind of talk from you. They are not going to kill us. For one thing, the arrows aren’t long enough to get through the tree trunk. We just need to stay put for the moment, so I can think.”

Her eyes swivelled in the direction of Jim, who was now lying flat. The sound of him panting from his exertions was loud in the silence. Gary followed her look and pursed his lips. “Well at least the only part of him they can shoot now is his bum. I think we can manage to take a couple of arrows out of that, once I’ve figured a way out of this.”

She tried to keep the giggles in, she really did, but they kept coming out in spurts until she was breathless. Gary thought she might be hysterical and considered slapping her face to bring her out of it, but then he saw the funny side and started to laugh as well. This in turn triggered the Chief off again.

“Oh great.” Jim’s affronted and plaintive voice floated over from the yellow hump. “That’s right, bloody have a good laugh at someone else’s misfortunes. It’s all right for you lot, you’re all dressed in fucking camouflage. I look like a huge fucking canary.”

Whoops of laughter greeted this litany of complaints and the more they tried to stop, the harder they laughed.

oOo

The activity across the fissure stopped abruptly. At the sound of the laughter, the large creature that had decapitated Bob Irwin put his hand up and stopped one of his comrades from notching another arrow into his bow. He stood staring across the fissure as the hysterical whoops of laughter cut through the air.

“Why do they laugh?” Snarled one of the creatures in anger. “Truly these man-creatures are mad. Do they not know that we will kill them soon? We should go and capture them alive now. Torture them slowly after they have watched us pleasure the woman and kill her.” He licked his thin lips in anticipation.

The large creature looked at him coldly. “And how shall we do this Grodok?” He looked contemptuously at the other’s short bow legs. “Are your legs long enough to jump across that?” He pointed at the crack that had split the ground open.

Grodok gave him a surly look and walked over to the fissure, which was at least twelve foot across at its narrowest point. “You are tallest Thagak.” His short leprous-skinned index finger stabbed out at his companion. “We have rope. You must try to jump across and we will follow.”

The rest of the creatures nodded and grunted their agreement.

Thadak’s face suffused with fury. He drew his sword instantly and held it against Grodok’s scrawny throat, pressing the point home until it pricked the skin and caused dark blood to trickle out. “You would like that wouldn’t you Grodok? For me to die jumping the hole and you become leader? You steaming little pile of warg dung.” He snarled. “I haven’t forgotten that you were the maggot who lost sight of the woman in the first place when we were stalking the others.”

Some of the others took up the complaint. “Aye. She was promised to us by the Other. He who came from the Great One in Thangorodrim. She was to be our prize when we captured the Elf and those things the man-creatures carried which shoot fire and you lost her.” They advanced upon Grodok who started to back away in terror when he saw the anger and ever-present desire for revenge in their eyes.

“There is always the Elf. He would be as much fun to fuck as the woman.” He said in a placating voice, desperately trying to take the attention off himself and his failure.

They all turned to look at the bound figure who was the silent witness to all of this. Not even the dirt streaking his face and in his hair nor the blood crusting his bruised and grazed cheek where he had been struck could hide his beauty. He in turn regarded his captors calmly through the tendrils of gold hair that framed his face and considered his fate. Not for the first time in the past few hours it had to be said.

The truth was that if Grodok was to succeed in ousting Thadak as leader, Melannen knew his chances of reaching anywhere alive or remaining alive were few. Grodok was a follower, a dumb foot soldier with not an original or innovative thought in his body. He had three needs, food, fight and rape and he wasn’t particular which gender he did the latter to. He was too stupid to understand that with a hostage like Melannen he had a bargaining chip for both sides.

Thadak on the other hand had a certain animal like intelligence in his black eyes. He was astute enough to work out that if he did the bidding of his masters, he would advance himself. With him as leader Melannen knew that he had a fighting chance of staying alive long enough to escape or be rescued. He didn’t care which it was; whichever opportunity offered itself first.

With his colleagues’ attention on the Elf, Grodok decided to make his bid for freedom. He scuttled sideways, edging his way to the high thorn thicket that had originally been on the opposite side of the fissure and which, ironically, had been Kim’s temporary refuge two days earlier. Unfortunately he didn’t get very far when a hoarse cry from one of the creatures alerted them all to the fact that Grodok was making a run for it.

Thadak turned and advanced on him, sword still drawn and smeared with Grodok’s blood. Grodok stopped short when he realised that he couldn’t get past the thicket and instead he started to back away. Thadak’s thin lips bared over his awful teeth in a triumphant smile. He lunged and Grodok scuttled backwards, straight over the edge of the fissure.

Melannen didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when all of the Orcs went to the edge and watched with interest as their former colleague disappeared down the hole in the ground and into its black depths. His cries of terror echoed and bounced off the walls of the fissure then dwindled to a distant scream which was cut off abruptly presumably as he reached the bottom.

“Do you think he is dead?” One of the Orcs asked.

Thadak burst into hoarse laughter. “I do not know Ugougoth, do you want to go down and see? I will help you do that.”

Ugougoth backed away with a look of terror on his face. They all broke into raucous laughter and Thadak cuffed the disgruntled and embarrassed Ugougoth around the back of his head hard enough to make his head rock and his eyes water. He pointed at the bound Elf. “Bring him. We waste no more time or arrows on them. They will not survive anyway. If we do not kill them, some others will. Without their spitting fire-sticks they have nothing to defend themselves with, and we have those.”

Ugougoth picked up the other end of the noose and pulled on it hard. Melannen was pulled from a sitting position and landed flat on his face. Ugougoth bent down and whispered in Melannen’s delicately pointed ear in his brutal version of the common tongue. The Vanyar’s nostrils wrinkled in disgust at the foetid stench from his breath. “You’s going to have to get up and walk pretty little Elfie boy, unless you wants me to drag you all the way to Thangorodrim.”

Melannen didn’t understand all the words that Ugougoth spoke, but he got the drift very quickly and staggered to his feet. Ugougoth gave a hard contemptuous jerk on the rope and turned away after the other Orcs dragging Melannen after him.

oOo

The sound of the altercation on the other side and the cessation of hostilities against them at least, managed to put a stop on the hysterical giggles from Gary and the others. The hoarse scream as Grodok was virtually forced over the edge of the chasm in the ground definitely brought them back to reality.

“They’ve gone.” Kim said softly. “And they have that blond man with them.” She pointed at the tall, slim, slightly glowing figure that one of the creatures was dragging behind him.

Gary stood up and helped her up. They both watched as their attackers stomped off through the undergrowth. Gary walked to the edge of the fissure and as he looked, the captive turned and gave him a faint smile. Gary bent his head and bit his lip. It was becoming very obvious that they had to do something about freeing him.

The why was obvious. They simply couldn’t leave that beautiful creature with those monstrosities from hell. The how was going to be a big problem and one they all needed to discuss. Before that, they needed to discuss their current dilemma of being trapped between two gaping cracks in the earth.

oOo

Note: (1)Telperinquar – Quenya for Celebrimbor, meaning Silver Fist.

~~~

I would like to warmly thank my reviewer for a thoughtful review. Ideas, suggestions and the like are always welcome and taken on board. In answer to your questions about rank:

Kim is a Sergeant in the British Army which is a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer rank or SNCO. She is three ranks higher than a basic Private Soldier.

Chief Knowles is a Warrant Officer 2nd Class, which is a rank held by what they call 'Royal Warrant'. Although the term Royal Warrant is now obsolete it is still kept as part of the Senior Non-Commissioned ranks. There are two steps in this rank WO 2nd class and WO 1st class. The first is generally known as a Company Sergeant Major and is referred to by all lower ranks as 'Sir'. The second is also known as a Sergeant Major, but, depending on the branch of army they are serving in they may be known as any of the following: Battery Sergeant Major (BSM), Gunnery Sergeant Major (GSM), Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM), Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) or Staff Sergeant Major (SSM). The RSM usually heads up security, the Regimental Police and generally is in charge of all soldiers. Chief Knowles is two ranks above Kim. It goes: Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, WO2 then WO1.

Gary is a Commissioned Officer. He holds the Queen's Commission which is inherent in the cap badge. When a lower rank salutes (paying compliments to officers) it is the badge they salute and not the person who wears it. The badge represents HM The Queen. He is a Major and strangely enough his rank is roughly equivalent to a Warrant Officer 1st Class.

There is a massive gap, both socially and hierarchically between the two SNCOs and Gary.


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