The Choice of Elros

Chapter 52

Chapter 52

"We all know that it is me you wish to kill," Elros growled stepping from Hathel's side as an icy chill knifed across his skin, "let Andreth go." He swallowed. "Let her return safely with my comrade to Mithlond. I will stay, and you can do what you will with me."


Clutched in Lang's grasp, Andreth's fair face grew pale as ivory, her green eyes, gleaming like jewels, pled with his. No, her lips mouthed. Hathel drew in a growling breath of frustration mixed with pain. His feet stirred in the leaves beneath him as Hathel, despite the pain that radiated through his body from the arrow buried deep in his shoulder, staggered to his feet. He took a few stumbling steps toward Elros. Even with his gaze fixed upon Andreth and her pleading eyes, Hathel could see Derk's hand slowly rising toward his quiver once again.

Was the arrow Derk was reaching for meant for himself, or Elros? Or Andreth?

Despite the raging pain that shot through him, Hathel took another step toward Andreth's husband, determined to stay between the elven lord and Derk's arrows. Fleetingly, Talia's face flashed before his eyes. Her eyes were soft, like a doe's eyes. And her brown hair long, and thick. Hathel wondered if it was as soft to touch as it looked.

"Let her go," Elros repeated, moving several steps away increasing the distance between himself and Hathel, though he could no longer see Derk in the corner of his vision. "She isn't the one you want."

"Throw down your sword, elf," Lang spat, his voice low and dangerous. He twisted the arrowhead against Andreth's pale throat, and the spot of blood turned into a long trail of crimson, snaking down over the head of the arrow. Hathel's stomach churned with fury at the sight.

With a snarl, Elros tossed the blade away. It landed in a whisper of leaves, but he did not turn to look. Elros upraised his hands.

"Let her go, Lang!" he grated through his teeth.

The twang of a bowstring barely found his ears before an arrow struck Elros' thigh, causing the elf to stagger, a muffled grunt of pain escaping his lips.

"No!" Andreth shrieked as Elros stumbled to his knees upon the forest floor. Hathel turned his head, seeing Derk reaching for his last arrow, and fitting it to the string, a snarl like a bloodthirsty beast, curling up his lips in a demonic smile.

Andreth shrieked and jerked at Lang's grip, though his iron hold would not let her go. Faintly, Hathel was glad, for she would fly to her husband if she could escape, and-

The arrow drew to Derk's cheek.

His fingers released, and the arrow sped from the string.

With a half strangled yell, Hathel threw himself forward, his body exploding with pain as he lunged for the flying missile. A sharp crack filled the air, and the sound of shattering, splintering wood, before the staff in his hands struck the ground, Derk's last arrow cracked and broken beneath it.

A roar of fury burst from Derk's lips at this, his blazing eyes turning now to Hathel.

"You interfering wretch!" he shouted, flinging his bow down, and jerking a short, obsidian bladed dagger from beneath his tunic. "You take Talia, that worthless whore away from me, and now-"

Derk lunged toward Hathel, his knife upraised.

His heart bursting into his throat, Hathel stumbled back, dropping to his knees, the leaves crackling around him as he fell. Derk's lips drew back from his teeth as Hathel's hands fell into the leaves. Derk's eyes blazed in victory.

But then Hathel straightened again, Elros' sword in his hand.

Derk's sneer of victory twisted into a mask of despair and horror as Hathel lunged upward, teeth clenched against the white hot pain pulsing through his body, thrusting Elros' sword forward, impaling Derk upon the point of it.

Derk wavered and fell. Hathel jerked the sword free, his soul screaming in a small corner of his mind at what he had just done, though he would not let his thoughts dwell upon it as he turned toward Lang, and held out the blade, not wanting to focus upon the newly bloodied tip.

"You heard my lord," Hathel snarled. "Let her go. Or die."

Lang's eyes that had been widened briefly in horror at the sight of his kinsmen's fall, now narrowed in rage. With a snarl, his arm snaked about Andreth's waist, and he whipped her off her feet, flinging her over his shoulder like a felled deer as he turned and lunged back into the shadows of the forest.

"Hathel, my sword!" Elros shouted, and without thought, Hathel tossed the blade through the air as the elven lord had bidden him.

Elros caught it deftly, and without another moment, turned and dashed after Lang into the trees, swift, despite the arrow in his thigh, and vanished.

Alone now, Hathel turned back to the man he had impaled, his stomach twisting at the blood seeping now from Derk's mouth.

The man looked up at him, his eyes fathomless pools of hate as half garbled curses escaped his lips, his chest jerking in spasms.

"Talia," Hathel said, his throat thickening, "is not a whore."

Derk did not speak but his eyes widened in wild horror as at some terrifying sight only he could see before his chest stopped moving, and the hate in his eyes glazed, and faded, a spark going out.

Hathel turned away from the body, the first man he had ever killed, and staggered, despite his pain, toward the bow Derk had dropped.

If Elros could run with an arrow in his thigh, Hathel could do the same with an arrow in his shoulder.

He picked up the bow, faltering a moment. There were no good arrows left, to-

No. There was one arrow left he could use.

He touched a hand to the shaft of the arrow buried in his shoulder. The stone arrowhead was hooked. It would be agony to pull it out, tearing muscle and sinew along the way. But he would, if he had to.

Turning in the direction Elros had run, Hathel gripped the bow, and started to run, ignoring the pain that raced through his body with every strike of his foot against the ground.

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