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15
Rescues, Secrets and Revelations

"The object of war is not to die for your country,but to make the other bastard die for his."- General George Patton (1885-1945)

The Halls of the Valar, Oiolosse, Taniquetl

Lord Manwe Sulimo stood beside one of the archways in the marble audience chamber and gazed far out towards the east and the Hither Lands. He could see much of the happenings in that place and his attention was concentrated on his Herald as he led the armies of the Valar in the battles leading up to the final war against Morgoth.

Even from this long distance Manwe could sense the uncertainty and concern in Eonwe over the matter of the mortals from another time and grieved over it. To command the host was a difficult enough task; to do it when personal concerns got in the way increased the difficulties threefold.

Eru had made it plain that there were aspects of the mortals’ existence in Middle-earth that could not be revealed to the Herald. Intellectually he understood that events in the other world could be directly and adversely affected by decisions made in the here and now of the First Age. Yet what was he to tell Eonwe when he sought counsel? Eru had impressed upon Manwe that it was imperative that Eonwe made absolutely no decisions regarding the mortal who wore his face. He and Gary Matthews were to be kept apart at all costs; at least for the moment.

It was also imperative that the modern weapons were retrieved and the mortals were the best people to do this. Eru did not want something so deadly from another time interfering and bringing down utter disaster on them all. Their mere presence in the First Age contaminated the natural progression of Middle-earth. Morgoth knew this and all of his efforts would be bent on getting his minion, the orc Thadak, to Thangorodrim with those weapons. He had now apparently penetrated the veil using means unknown and the path to the north was now clear for Thadak. The only advantage Manwe had was the fact that the path was now also clear for the mortals and they knew how to use the weapons to good effect.

A desperate race had begun with the main War of Wrath as the backdrop, yet as much depended on this race as on the war itself. Eru had now decreed that the mortals must now remain until they obtained the weapons, but to do this it was clear that they needed assistance.

It was then that Manwe spoke to Eru of Eonwe’s decision to ask the High King of the Noldor in exile, Ereinion Gil-galad, son of Fingon, to investigate the situation and this action was approved. However Manwe was to keep the other information regarding the mortal Gary Matthews to himself. Not even the rest of the Valar were to be privy to this. The only exceptions to this ruling were Tulcas and of course Varda.

So what was there left to tell Eonwe to set his mind at rest? ‘Don’t worry my Herald, I am sorry I cannot tell you any more, but all is in hand and all will be well’ didn’t seem to quite have the reassuring sound it ought to have. Manwe ground his teeth in frustration.

“You are deeply troubled my beloved.”

Manwe never tired of seeing his wife clothe herself in fleshly form. She seemed to manufacture it from gathered starlight as she walked down the marble hall towards him and her beauty defied description in mere words. She was utterly incomparable.

She bent over and touched her cool lips to his. He in turn restrained himself from gathering her into his arms. Instead he returned the kiss and captured her hands instead.

“Sometimes I cannot believe that you are mine.” He whispered.

She laughed. “Do not try to distract me with charming phrases of devotion Manwe. What news from Eru Iluvator?”

He had never been able to pull the wool over her eyes. Manwe sighed deeply and told her of his counsel with the One.

When he had finished speaking, Varda stood at the archway gazing out over the mountains and across to the east just as her husband had earlier. “Poor Eonwe.” She said finally. “We are to tell him nothing then? He will not be happy or satisfied with that. What do we know of the man who bears his face, or indeed any of his companions?”

“Very little, other than the fact that three of them are warriors from that world. The other one I know not.”

Varda arched an elegant eyebrow. “Even the woman?”

“Even the woman.” Manwe admitted. “Do you find that strange? Women are taught the art of fighting among the Eldar and many of them take up arms in the Hither Lands to defend themselves and their children most efficiently.”

“Yes, and they do so with great expertise, but they are not usually counted among the warriors who go to war. It is oftimes more a case of necessity than choice.”

Manwe laughed softly. “Most male warriors only go to war from necessity. If there were choices among the Eldar they would rather not fight at all. Yet mortal man is very different. Ever they fight for territory and for property. They even consider their females and children to be property to a certain degree and think nothing of depriving another of life. It just seems to me that in this other world things have not changed all that much.”

Varda looked at him speculatively. “Do you think we are being given a chance to look into a future world my love? Perhaps the world that Middle-earth will become once the time of mortal men is at hand?”

Manwe shuddered. “I hope not, but if so, then it is my fervent hope that some of the good in the race of men survives to that time. However if these weapons Morgoth seeks are what Eru says they are, that hope is small indeed, and I shudder for Middle-earth and our armies if they fall into his hands.”

“Then we must make sure they do not.” Varda said lightly. She traced a finger lightly along Manwe’s brow. “Try not to frown so my love, it causes furrows.”

Manwe chuckled. “I could just re-clothe myself in flesh without the furrows.” He sighed. “We cannot interfere any more than we are doing, beloved. All we can do is offer support. It is frustrating to sit and wait while events unfold and not be able to help.”

She smiled at him and raised her eyebrows invitingly. “We could just go somewhere and be more private and perhaps think of ways to help without seeming to do so.”

He glanced around the empty hall. “Somewhere more private than this?” He exclaimed. “There is no one here. What were you thinking of doing in this private area?” His voice was teasing.

Her silvery laughter echoed around the hall. She caught at his hand and dragged him along with her. “If I have to spell it out for you then we have been married far too long.”

He allowed himself to be led away, but his mind was still on his Herald.

The Valar did not have children and all of the Maiar were much beloved by them, however there were favourites without a doubt. Manwe and Varda loved Eonwe and his sister Ilmare as though they were indeed their children.

Eonwe and Ilmare were not brother and sister in the strict blood relative sense of the term. They had both sprung from the music at the same time and bonded as siblings with each other almost immediately. Neither had chosen a mate and both had pledged themselves in service to Manwe and his wife, although Eonwe had at one time pursued the maiden Arien with a view to bonding with her. Events had dictated otherwise, however, and their paths grew steadily apart over time. Arien’s duty was to pilot the sun and Eonwe had his duties as the Herald.

It occurred to Manwe that he had never spoken of this matter with Eonwe and likewise Eonwe had never brought it up. He saw her during the times when Tilion took the moon on its path through the heavens and Arien was permitted to rest awhile, but Manwe had no idea whether a bond had been pledged between them. Somehow he thought not, since Tilion now openly pursued her and she was apparently not averse to his attentions. It was a shame, for Manwe loved Eonwe and wished him to be happy. Did his Herald watch Arien and feel the pain of rejection?

Manwe suddenly felt deeply ashamed that he had never asked Eonwe what had happened. Perhaps he could have offered some comfort. Instead he hadjust unthinkingly glossed over Eonwe’s seemingly stoical acceptance of that rejection.

Tulcas Astaldo also had a great affection for Eonwe. Both were strong forthright characters and Tulcas had taken the Maia under his wing when it came to strength of arms. The Herald had undoubtedly benefited from that attention, he had become the greatest in might and arms amongst all the Maiar and Tulcas was immensely proud of his protégé.

Manwe could only hope that by taking him into his confidence over the mortals, Tulcas would be able to advise and reassure Eonwe at least to the extent where the matter faded into the back of his mind.

That was the cunning plan, for now at least.

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On the banks of the Sirion, Nan Tathren willow wood, Beleriand

“What are they doing now?”

Jim cautiously peered through the reeds and long grass. “I’m not sure. Just sitting there under cover arguing by the sounds of it.”

“Well we can’t just all sit around here forever.” Kim’s voice rose in frustration and Gary immediately looked over at her.

“Keep it down Sergeant. They have pretty sharp hearing and it wouldn’t take them long to pinpoint us by the sound of our voices.” He whispered. Kim flushed and looked down and he immediately regretted the admonition when he saw the mutinous expression and embarrassment on her face. He looked over at the Chief. “How are you at sniping Chief?”

The Chief looked affronted but his tone of voice was wry. “Now what makes you think that I have any expertise in that area sir?”

Gary rolled onto his side and grinned at the other man. His dark blue eyes were twinkling and deep dimples peeped out on either side of his mouth. “Oh come on Chief, it doesn’t take that much intelligence to work out that you’ve re-badged at some stage. What were you? Royal Marines or SAS?”

Chief chuckled. “Ah now sir, if I tell you that I’d have to kill you.” He grimaced and groped behind him. His furtive searching came up with a rock the size of a fist. “I’ve been lying on that for bloody hours. This roughie-toughie stuff is no good for old geezers like me you know. I’ve had my day. Marines as it happens.”

“Huh?” Gary had been focussing on their adversaries across the river and lost track of the conversation.

“Marines. Royal Marine Commando.” Chief answered patiently as if he were talking to a small child. “My old outfit.”

“Really?” Gary slid the assault rifle over towards him through the thick tussocks of grass. “Then you’re probably a sharpshooter. Reckon you could pick any of them off if you had a higher vantage point? Like perhaps from the branches of that real old tree where we were standing guard?”

Chief sighed and checked the weapon, then he nodded. He leopard-crawled through the grass until he reached the tree line, then he stood up and slipped into the cool green places under the veils of willow leaves. The tree Gary had mentioned was almost obscenely ancient. Although it still produced a profuse amount of foliage the wood of the branches and trunk was hard, grey and gnarled. Chief gently laid his hand on the bark and slid it along in a caress.

“Now listen old lady.” He said quietly. “I need to climb up and use your branches as a platform, but I’ll be careful not to hurt you too much.” He glanced around quickly to make sure that no one was there to witness his foolishness at talking to the tree. What a silly old sod I am. He thought to himself. I could get put away for doing daft things like that. My missus would think I’d lost the plot.

But you are not at home and your missus is not here. The whispered words were tinged with a dry amusement. The voice sounded for all the world like brittle parchment crumbling away. Climb the tree young one; it will bear your weight with pleasure.

The Chief drew back in slight shock. It was as though someone or something had spoken to him, but where the words had come from was a mystery. He immediately took the safety off and cocked the weapon as smoothly and quietly as he could. The distinctive snicking sound of a weapon being cocked sliced through the silence that had settled on the woods.

Gary and the others heard it from the bank and turned to look in that direction.

“Chief? Are you okay?” Gary whispered as loud as he dared. But there was no answer.

The Chief glanced up at the tree. After a quick look around, he decided that he didn’t have the time to worry about who might be talking to him or whether he was finally losing his marbles. He needed to do the business so they could move before they all starved to death.

About five feet up the branches spread out and criss-crossed each other. They looked to be strong enough to support the weight of a fully-grown man as long as he positioned himself near the trunk. Any further on and the branches started to thin and dip elegantly downwardsin the usual willow fashion. He released the cocking mechanism and discharged the weapon into the soft earth at the base of the tree, then he put the safety catch on and took the magazine off and slid it into his pocket.

The round that had fallen out of the breach was lying by his feet. He picked it up and put it into his pocket then he took his stable belt off, fashioned it in a rough sling for the weapon which he slung on his back and proceeded to climb the tree.

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Thadak sat quite far back from the others, but not so far away that they felt comfortable about making a break for it without him catching them. A few yards away, having regained consciousness during the impasse, sat Melannen, the golden elf that the Lord Morgoth had commanded be brought to him. His once golden hair was now almost completely dulled with sweat and blood, his shoulders drooped with exhaustion. He was all but spent.

Personally Thadak thought that dragging the elf around with them was a pointless exercise. After all, what was so special about this particular elf? As far as Thadak could see there were plenty more just like him. They should slit his throat and ditch him. He would only slow them down, especially now with his injuries.

The strange spitting fire-sticks were a different matter altogether. Thadak had been impressed with the way that the human had killed his two orcs efficiently and swiftly. Although his small brain could not encompass the method used, he did definitely understand the importance of such powerful weaponry in the upcoming battle with the gods of the West.

In that moment Thadak made a decision. He decided that he would leave the others and the captive elf and take the weapons to Thangorodrim alone. It would be faster not having to worry about others making noise, demanding to eat and generally making such a nuisance of themselves they were bound to be killed. If the evil One was so set on a golden-haired elf, then Thadak was sure he could find one for him further on up the road.

He would leave the elf for the others. Once his influence and restraining hand was taken away, the rest would fall on him, take their pleasure and then devour the sweet elf-flesh they had lusted for from the beginning. It would give him time to make his escape.

Thadak began to make his surreptitious move away from the others, but as he turned his gaze away from the river bank his eyes met those of the elf. For a moment the expression of pity and forgiveness in those beautiful blue eyes stopped him dead in his tracks. He gave a snarl and disappeared through the greenery and the trees.

For his part, Melannen knew that the game was up and his life now hung by a thread. He could see Thadak’s intention clearly in his face. He was going on alone with the strange weapons. There would be but a short time before the others realised that Thadak had deserted them and then they would turn on him to wreak revenge. All Melannen could do was hope that the end would be swift, but somehow he doubted it.

The only slender hope of escape he had now lay with the strange mortals who wielded the metal object that dealt death loudlyin seconds.

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Even as Thadak began his silent withdrawal from his colleagues, Chief Knowles was settling himself on a couple of crossed branches that were much more slender than felt comfortable or safe.

He sat with his back to the bole of the tree and the assault rifle propped up on one bent knee. This was the best support he could come up with. He checked the magazine and then fitted it to the weapon. It slotted home with a gentle click. He then took the safety catch off, set it to single shot and settled the weapon so that the stock fitted comfortably into his shoulder and the barrel rested lightly on his right knee. This was no sniper’s rifle with a nice tripod stand and there was no convenient window sill or wall to rest it on. When the rifle jumped back after the shot, it would bruise him, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t had that happen before. It was no big deal.

He cocked the weapon and squinted through the sight. Given the higher vantage point, he discovered that he had a birds-eye view of the other bank and could plainly see where the remaining four orcs were holed up. Chief knew that he had only a short time to squeeze off four shots. The first one would alert them and he had to be fast with the next three.

As he moved the weapon slightly to sight the target he could see the blond man and was relieved to see that he was now conscious and resting with his back against a moss covered rock. A few feet further over were the remaining creatures. He slowly adjusted the aim so that he caught one of them in the cross hairs of the sight. Chief sighed. The back of the disgusting thing’s head was a better target than nothing, but he would have preferred to get him straight through the forehead. That way, the bullet would hit the brain and that would be all she wrote.

The creature turned slightly and the Chief’s breath hissed inwardly. His finger tightened on the trigger. “Come to papa.” He crooned softly as the creature turned his head the rest of the way and looked into the sight full on.

Chief squeezed the trigger and the shot rang out. The creature slumped to the ground without a sound. The other creatures and the elf all looked in the direction of the heap in the grass and for a split second everything froze.

Everything except the Chief who calmly targeted the next creature and another shot rang out. He also fell to the ground in a boneless heap. The two remaining creatures looked at each other, then over to where Thadak had been only moments before and the penny dropped. Thadak had deserted them and left them to die at the hands of the humans.

They completely ignored Melannen, who had curled himself in the smallest ball he could against the rock; instead they turned tail and fled. The one in the lead managed to reach the first dense group of trees before Chief shot him in the back. He threw his arms out dramatically and then tumbled over.

The last surviving creature gave an unearthly shriek of terror which was cut off abruptly to a squawk as the next shot hit him in the upper back, but it didn’t stop him. His gait was erratic, but he plunged on between the trees, making his desperate bid for safety. The Chief cursed and re-targeted him. This time he aimed for the largest part of the body and the creature fell to the ground.

As the orcs fell one by one the blond man staggered to his feet and went to the river bank passing the dead orcs and not even sparing them so much as a brief glance. Even as he did so Gary, Kim and Jim jumped up. They all stood staring at each other across the river and Melannen got his first close look at Gary’s features.

An almost comical look of surprise passed over his face. He had seen those features many, many times on Aman. The question was, what was the Herald of Manwe doing with these mortals and why was he dressed like them?

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Thadak heard the shots ring out. He knew that the rest of his troop were now lying dead and he also knew that unless he increased his speed and managed to get out of these accursed woods, the humans would pursue him. It was not that he was afraid that they would kill him, but getting the fire-sticks to Morgoth far outweighed any desire he might have had to stop and deal with the humans.

With the assault rifles strapped to his back, he pounded along at a steady speed and as he ran, the veil surrounding Nan Tathren began to tear and slip apart.

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