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The trip to Esgaroth would be an arduous one for young Galadwen, unaccustomed as she was to travel. Her being granted the position of handmaiden to the Lady Arawel had been her father's doing, a chance for his daughter to garner favor with a powerful family of Lorien, but she had leapt at the opportunity to see the world beyond her forest. At 87, she was still not viewed by her people as an adult, and her mother had kept her sheltered and protected within the trees, worried she would lose her as she had lost her only other child. Galadwen's brother, Eloren, had been killed fighting men half a millennium before her birth. He went to the West and never returned.

However, with the fall of the great wyrm Smaug, and the dwarves reclaiming the Lonely Mountain three years before, Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel had deemed it important that The Galadhrim re-establish ties of trade and diplomacy with both the new King Under The Mountain, and the lake men that controlled the trade flowing from Erebor. And so, shortly after the spring floods ebbed, she left Lorien at the side of her mistress.

Lady Arawel traveled with her husband, Leindir, two handmaidens, and a guard of fifty skilled warriors. Riding north along the east bank of the Anduin, the pace was measured, slow perhaps, if one were mounted. But for the warriors on foot, Galadwen thought the pace must be wearying. Still, her backside throbbed after each day's ride, and she wished she had taken her physical education more seriously.

Still, the world she gazed upon was new, and excitement overcame most of her aches. To the west across the river, the Misty Mountains towered, their heights still wrapped in a cloud of winter frost. To the east, at the edge of her view, the green line marking the start of the great Mirkwood could just be seen. She had heard stories of an evil that had corrupted that forest, and dreaded the trip they would have to make across it. But for now it lay serenely at a distance, and instead she marveled at the endless fields of multicolored spring flowers that stretched out around her.

Her role as handmaiden, it turned out, was mostly ceremonial. Lady Arawel could care for herself, and other than helping with the daily packing and unpacking of the camp, Galadwen had much of her time to herself. She had brought ink and parchment, and made notes and small drawings of the flora and fauna that interested her. She gossiped about some of the more attractive armsmen with the other handmaiden, a girl from a family with social aspirations like Galadwen's, but somewhat older than herself. Neither of them were committed, and they garnered more than a few interested looks from the younger, unpaired males of the guard.

Galadwen was widely considered one of the more comely maidens of her years. It was an opinion about which she was well aware, and which she sought to foster as best she could by brushing her long, golden hair nightly for an hour, and spending more than the usual time needed on skin care. The other handmaiden also spent evenings preening herself, but the few other females of the company, mostly guards, seemed more concerned with their duties, and the looks they threw the two young girls showed clearly their disdain.

On the seventh day the scream of a horse assaulted Galadwen's ears from somewhere to the rear of the caravan, followed immediately by the bellowed orders of sergeants. Lady Arawel and her husband rode off to the rear, leaving their entourage to try and control their jittery mounts. Galadwen looked towards the sounds of warriors yelling and the terrified screams of horses, but could see little more than a cloud of dust rising from behind low bushes. Then, in a burst of motion, a huge, lupine form bounded into sight over the low rise. It was a warg, she was told later, a giant wolf many times larger than the largest dog she had ever seen, and as it stretched out into a run, her horse panicked and she was thrown unceremoniously to the grass. Certain she was about to be eaten, she wrapped her arms over her head and curled into as small a target as she could manage, but as she did the snap of bowstrings rang out followed by yelps of pain. Peaking out from under her arms, she saw the beast had been brought down. It was thrashing and snarling weakly some twenty paces away, a froth of blood spraying from its jaws. Half a dozen white, feathered arrows were buried deeply in its side and throat. One of the guards walked over, and with a sickening sound, pushed a spear deep between the ribs of the crippled wolf, which whimpered pathetically one final time, and lay still.

Six of the beasts had attacked the pack horses at the rear of the column. The wargs seemed underfed, and had been looking for horse flesh after a long, hungry winter. They had been killed or driven off, but one guard had fallen. That evening he had been placed on a pyre as Arawel sang a song of mourning. Elves consider themselves immortal, and this was the first dead of her kind Galadwen had ever beheld. Decades later she would look back upon this day as the moment she had learned the truth of her kind: They did not age, at least not in ways a mortal could discern, but when an elf had his throat ripped out by a starving wolf, he was as mortal as any human in Middle Earth.

In the morning the guardsman gently moved the remains of the pyre to the Anduin, knowing its current would carry at least some of the ashes back to Lothlorien, then they broke camp and moved north east away from the river. As the sun peaked a scout came to Lady Arawel reporting a large bear pacing the column some distance to the north. She nodded and ordered that they make no attempt to harm or chase off the creature. When the scout gave her a puzzled look, she added, "That is no ordinary bear", but offered nothing else.

Rising in her saddle, Galadwen peered intently to her left. She had light, sharp eyes and could see well, even for an Elf, and after some time she thought she could make out a shape some miles off on a low rise. If it was a bear, it was a truly enormous creature. It seemed to be moving slowly along, matching the pace of the elves. Perhaps it's head was turned ever so slightly towards them. Could it be keeping an eye on them?

"That's silly", she thought to herself, and returned to her saddle as the beast passed from sight in some trees.

That evening Leindir continued onward with a small group of guards, returning mid morning the next day as the group continued towards the now prominent line of trees that dominated the eastern skyline.

"Our cousins have offered us their protection as we move through their realm," Leindir said to his wife as he guided his horse alongside hers.

She smiled, looking towards the approaching forest. "Protection. Of course. Were we given other options?"


She did not seem surprised and replied, "then we shall gratefully accept."

They camped that evening just paces from the edge of Mirkwood, setting out the next morning along an overgrown and poorly kept path that ran arrow straight eastward through the trees. At one point it had been a wide road, perhaps fifty paces across, with broad cobbles making travel easy and safe. Those days were long passed, the cobbles pried up as often as not leaving ruts and potholes that risked injuring the mounts, and heavy growth crowding in from both sides. In many places the trees had all but grown over the path shutting out much of the sun.

Galadwen had lived her entire life among trees and had never feared them, but here the trees seemed angered by the presence of the intruders. Beyond the road lay a gloom that even her eyes had difficulty penetrating, and she felt as if she were watched.

And perhaps she was. The protection they had been promised could now occasionally be seen moving swiftly through the tangled growth on each side of them. They were certainly elves, but, from what little she saw of them, they were slighter than the Galadhrim and dressed in simple clothes and skins. They moved with amazing quickness considering the tangle of branches and roots that surrounded them, and seemed to be paying more attention to the party on the road than to anything in the forest they might be protecting their guests from.

They spent nine days in the stuffy, dark confines of Mirkwood, camping each night in the middle of the road, and not meeting any travelers going in either direction. By noon on the ninth day she noted the trees beginning to thin and the feeling of gloom began to recede. As they camped that night, the forest lay a quarter league behind them and Galadwen's relief at being out from under the branches of Mirkwood was obviously shared by all of her companions.

The Wood Elves never fully left the trees. She watched as Leindir spoke with one of their strange cousins under the last boughs, each giving the other a quick salute with a raised right hand, before turning to go their separate ways. She could hear water running some distance off and was told it was the River Celduin which flowed south from the Long Lake. In the morning they would strike north along its shores, arriving at the newly rebuilt city of Esgaroth in five days.

Keeping the Celduin on their right, they moved north for two days, passing through a hilly land covered with copses of dense trees, fingers stretching out from Mirkwood which still lay less than a league to the west. Galadwen was now eager to see the city of Esgaroth, having had it described by her mistress as an elegant city built almost a mile from the shores of the Long Lake in deep waters. Accessed only by a bridge, it had been constructed, with the help of the wood elves, on sturdy wooden piers driven into the lake bed. Graceful arches and polished wooden surfaces adorned the buildings, a city of men with the soul of a woodland elf. Of course this was all second hand, as none of them had visited this new jewel of the Long Lake. Galadwen noted, with some surprise, a look of curiosity and excitement in the eyes of Arawel as she too looked forward to seeing what the determination of man and the art of elves had together constructed.

Galadwen's musings on this were interrupted by a commotion fifty paces to the front. A scout had ridden up hastily and dismounted. Punctuating his remarks with dramatic gestures, he had reported in to the sergeant of the vanguard. The sergeant in turn had grabbed the scout by the arm, and pulling him quickly along, approached Arawel and bowed his head in salute.

"Tell our Lady what you just told me," he said sharply to the scout.

"Yes Sir." He looked young to Galadwen, or at least inexperienced, as age was not often measured by the elves. There was a slightly wild look in his eyes and he seemed flustered. "Orcs, my Lady perhaps as many as 150." He stopped and looked back to the sergeant as if asking what else he should say.

"Details scout," barked the sergeant. "Everything you told me."

"Ummmm. Yes Sir. Sorry Sir." He turned back to Arawel. "They have taken up positions in some rocks a league ahead along our route. They are well concealed and armed with bows. It appears as if they plan to ambush those passing along this road."

Arawel considered the news calmly. "Can we bypass them to the west, perhaps travel through the outskirts of Mirkwood?"

The scout shook his head. "I was told to report that others have spotted orc pickets to the west. They have eyes from the Celduin to the edge of the forest."

As Arawel considered the situation, Leindir rode up from the rear of the column.

"It appears I am not the only one with news," he commented looking at his wife's face and noting the nearby scout.

Arawel looked to her husband and grimaced. "Your arrival with news from the south does not bode well after what I have just heard."

"A band of orcs to our rear. We are unsure of the numbers but they were trying to follow without being noticed. Our rearguard surprised several of their scouts and we inflicted loses. To the best of our knowledge, the main force has begun to approach rapidly, now that they know they've been spotted."

Arawel took a deep breath. "How long do we have?"

"At our current pace, perhaps an hour. But we can outrun them."

Arawel shook her head. "There is a blocking force to our front, well placed in cover".

Leindir pursed his lips. "I can buy you some time to prepare, but a delaying action will cost lives".

"Mirkwood?" Arawel pondered.

Her husband looked west thoughtfully. "Perhaps. We are faster and have the speed to cross the open lands to the tree line. Once there however I cannot vouch for our safety. We would have to abandon our mounts in the dense undergrowth, and if the Orcs followed we would be fighting them on even footing, unless we plunged deep into the forest." Leindir paused before adding, "I have been strongly advised by our cousins against that."

"Arawel turned her head east. "To the river then. Lighten our packs and the horses can swim across."

Again Leindir replied. "The Celduin passes through the hills here in a rush. The current is very strong and the banks steep. Of those mounted, most would make the crossing, but those on foot would drown, perhaps to the last of them."

Arawel sagged in her saddle slightly. Galadwen could see the calculation passing through the mind of her mistress. Even using the pack horses and mounting two per animal, the river would cost at least half the expedition. More than thirty would never see Lothlorien again.

"My Lady?" It was the young scout speaking.

Arawel turned to look at him, raising her eyebrows slightly but not responding. After a brief hesitation, he assumed that this was permission to speak and continued.

"I as returned to give the report, I saw a hillock to the north east along the river." He indicated somewhat indistinctly in that direction. "It's sides were steep, but had a broad gentle top. One side had washed away in a flood, and it backs onto the river, so we would only have two sides to defend. We could…"

Leindir waved his hand vigorously. "Lady Arawel can see what we could do scout. You have good eyes and you've given us some hope, but we can't hold out for long outnumbered four to one."

Lady Arawel looked to the sergeant. "My husband has determined the ground upon which we will fight, but we will need aid if we Are to prevail. which one of your the scouts is the best horseman?"

Galadwen smiled slightly as the young scout nervously raised his hand. The sergeant smiled too and nodded a confirmation.

Arawel looked the scout up and down as if re-assessing him. Galadwen also thought there wasn't much to him. Skinny and a bit long of limb, he seemed nervous and ungainly. Almost as if the proportions weren't right.

"You think you can out-ride anyone here?" Arawel asked incredulously.

For the first time it seemed the nervous look in the young elf's eyes burned away, and he seemed to draw himself up a little.

"My Lady. Truth be told I am mediocre with a sword, and my bow skills are not what I would want." He took a breath before continuing. "But on a horse, my Lady, I would ride one of the Valar into the ground."

Elves were often seen as haughty, but this was pure arrogance, and on a grand scale. Galadwen didn't know whether to laugh or be offended by this young elf declaring his horsemanship greater than that of the gods, but Arawel broke into a broad smile.

"What is your name young one?" She asked

"Bellamdir, my Lady."

Arawel nodded. "Your mother had the gift of foresight, naming you great hope." Galadwen's mistress swung a leg over her saddle and dropped to the ground. Handing the reigns to Bellamdir, she instructed him.

"Cross the Celduin. This mount is strong and fast and will not falter in the current. Ride north with all the speed you can muster and find help from the Lake Men. Bade them to come with all haste as a high servant of Lady Galadriel is beset by orcs and will not survive long unaided. If needed, promise them what you must to bring them to our side."

The scout mounted looking to Arawel for one last message. She said, "Bellamdir, you are truly our great hope, and I fear our only hope. May the light of Elendil go with you."

Bellamdir nodded and turned his mount towards the river, and then pausing, looked back. "I welcome the light of our fairest star, but if it wishes to guide my way, it had best be able to keep up." He spurred his mount hard, and was away at a gallop.

Arawel shook her head in astonishment and turned to her husband. "I believe I misread that one when I first looked at him," she said quietly.

Leindir nodded and turned his horse away towards the troops forming some paces off. "Let us hope we both did."