~There is Always Hope~
Bubbling of excited wrens, grumbling of a hungry stomach, the jarring clang of a working smithy and a thousand other voices throbbed in her ears as with trembling fingers she fiddled with the chest’s latching. Too many voices demanding too many things.
It was impossible to heed any one or all. She could simply obey the clearest order.
“I come or you.”
The smell of freshly oiled leather was sweet and the softness of her armour warmed her as she pulled it on, piece by piece- but she felt no respite.
“I must go,” she muttered in a daze back to the voices, “I must. There is no choice for me…”
She belted on her dagger and axe, and slung the hand-carved bow over her shoulder. Not even bothering to give a parting glance, she pulled her hood out from under her quiver, over her head and slipped out of her room.
Nothing else mattered. He couldn’t come here.
Her footsteps made no sound on the cold, stone floor of the Halls, and the torches along the walls were unlit. Her shadowy figure moved with feline grace towards the main courtyard beneath the mountain. From there the postern door, and then the main gate… It wasn’t the first time she’d snuck out from the town before, but it would be the most difficult with the watch doubled. But her flighty thoughts moved no further ahead than the first step: the door.
”Go! Go! Go!” the voices screamed and her feet picked up speed along with her heart beat. The stone echoed the slight patter of her footsteps as if chastening her haste to leave it.
“Farewell,” mouthed her lips.
On rounding a corner, she could see, down the corridor and across the vast room, the door to outside. Almost there. Her legs moved with a numbness, their pace determined and never slackening.
But just as she came within fifteen paces of the stairs, a short, broad silhouette stepped casually out from the wall, where it had reclined in the shadows, and blocked her path. Bristling arms folded under a full chest, a pointed voice said, “And where, in Durin’s name, are you going?”
Vaenomar froze in her tracks, her heart leaping madly into her throat. Words stuck, and wild thoughts raced through her mind: the voices and their countless demands and warnings.
Bridi sighed and drooped her shoulders a little in relaxation. “Vaenomar,” she tapped her metal boot on the stone, “I thought we talked about this? Eh? It seemed to me like we actually accomplished something…for once,” she added.
A misty curtain seemed to slowly fade from the younger woman’s face and little glistening droplets formed on her lashes. She bit her lip, still unable to speak, and her trembling fingers, after a moment of hesitation, fumbled with a pack on her belt.
Slowly she came forward, blinking back tears, her form tense with anticipation and doubt, and placed a tiny roll of parchment in Bridi’s hand.
Unrolling it, the Dwarf took a quick, blank look and shook her head, “What’s it say?”
Vaenomar gulped and her voice quivered as she pronounced the words slowly, “I come…or you…”
Bridi’s cynical stare remained unchanged and she shrugged, “And? That doesn’t even make sense.”
Vaenomar hung her head and took in a breath so deep it racked her entire being. “Bridi,” she sighed, exasperated, “If I do not go to him, he will attack us all…here.”
Bridi nodded, yet unmoved, “And so you’re going to give yourself to him…?”
Her stoic, stony Dwarven manner made the ordeal seem so different. So much…less desperate.
Vaenomar’s head bobbed side to side, as if to say, ‘You don’t understand’, “I must face him. He’s after me. I want to face him.”
Nonchalantly, Bridi cast her eyes about the dark corridor and appeared to take a thoughtful stance on the girl’s desperate case.
“Well, now,” she said at last, “How sensible. You wish to engage in battle an ancient monster- that even your trainer could not defeat, and has slain too many others. You wish to enjoin a battle you cannot win. Hm… Obviously a very well thought out plan. Undoubtedly.”
Bridi might as well had slapped her with a cold fish called Sense.
Softly Vaenomar ventured, “We don’t always have time to plan, Bridi…”
“Well, now that we do, why don’t we take advantage…and plan, eh?”
A flood of emotion washed the spell that ensnared the girl and it was swept away like a leaf on a waterfall. Her back thudded against the stone wall and she slid down to her feet, burying her tearful face into her hands.
Never before, not even when facing death in the Deeps, had she felt to utterly alone and lost, groping about in the pitch black mire of uncertainty. Waiting in dread for the enemy to come. Come for her. Praying with bated breath that the man she loved would be safe from the vengeful curse that pursued her. Hoping, somehow, to be given the power to rid the world of this evil. And yet, none of this seemed possible. All had turned bad too quickly to go back; to turn around.
‘No happy ending for you…’ the voices had taunted. But she didn’t care. All she wanted now was to give back.
Thorin, Branbur, Kjar…Bridi…they all had taken her in, in their own ways, and made her something different, powerful, a force to be reckoned with.
The least she could do would be to try and save them from a fate she herself had brought upon their heads. And just by being who- or what- she was:
Of the line of the Fallen Númenóreans. Worshippers of Melkor and Kin- Betrayers. Blessed with the wisdom and power of the Children of Ilúvatar, and cursed with the bad blood and power-lust of their faithless betrayal.
Why else had she understood Tharkûn all those months ago, when he had addressed her in Adûnaic? Whatever parent had abandoned her in Taurëmith must have taught their child the tongue of her ancestors. In ancient days, the Firstborn had taught her people to speak to animals and to feel nature as part of them. The Black Númenóreans had corrupted that power, forcing it to bend to their wills.
Queen Beruthiel…and her cats… Perhaps the story was true. Had the Elves never wondered about their little protege’s name?
Or did they know all along…
What about Grimsvodn? Who was he, really?
Too many doubts. Too many questions.
She wondered at what her life would be like had she never been taken by Thorin…
“As worthless and pathetic as it is now,” she muttered with a sob, forgetting she was not alone.
Steel boots shifted and a figure seated themselves heavily beside her along the wall.
”Heroes are not something of everyday lore, you know, Vaenomar…” said Bridi, her harsh tone now warm and quiet. “Especially not among Dwarves. We only have a handful that make it into the great tales, and most of those are kings.” She paused a moment, thoughtfully, and loosened her finger joints. “But among us- in our settlement, our- family, if I may- we’ve gotten lucky. Old Branbur… he was a hero. Made it out of Dale the day it burned. Trained the king’s sons. He died fighting…
“Lord Thorin- well, he’s our greatest hero…and still breathing. But you know what, Vaen…we’ve got one unlike any other. Our own-” she sniffed, searching her memory, “Beren…almost. You remember Beren’s tale, right? Well, you know who ours is?”
Vaenomar tugged on her braid, but said nothing.
”A woman. Quite young, by any standards. Pretty enough- even if she is too thin. And she’s got the longest damned legs any Dwarf has seen- or tried to keep up with.”
Vaenomar shifted and gulped down tears.
“Came to the rescue of an entire Dwarven patrol. Alerted them to an impending ambush, and saved their thick hides to boot, even when it meant blatantly disobeying her parole and risking her young, inexperienced neck. Strong as a Dwarf, quick as an Elf- she even uses old magic…”
A stifled choke mixed with a sniffle was all that came from the blushing listener.
“But on top of it all…she’s done what no other has done before. Got a guess as to what that might be?”
The girl’s heart swelled to bursting, and warm tears coursed down her cheeks and drenched her knees. She shook her head with another loud gulp.
“She broke a stone. Shattered it. She thawed an iceberg that had been frozen solid for over a hundred long years. And without any magic, too- or at least that I know of. She climbed the mighty Oak…and holds a gem more precious than the Arkenstone. Do you know what that is?”
Vaenomar’s form shuddered and she hugged her knees tighter, but her bowed head nodded ever so slightly.
Bridi’s firm hand thumped on her back, “So…you see at least one reason why you cannot leave? We need our hero. And he needs his woman…”
”…And when it comes to hero-worship- ha!- grown men are the worst! Children- they can’t help it, but,” he chuckled, “…I’m heavily guilty…”
Gormna cast a confused glance at the tall, lanky man, “Worship?”
Rúan shrugged, sniffing between every word from the eager, nipping air. “What my sisters call it. You know…being in total awe of someone- a hero, perse- and, well, as a child, wanting to be like them when you grow up…”
It was Gormna’s turn for merriment, “Oh and you never grew out of that?”
The Northman paused thoughtfully and blew hot breath into his gloves, “No, I suppose I didn’t,” and he grinned mischievously with a nod towards the stolid, majestic figure that led them, “You Dwarves, though…”
The muttered conversation of the nearest two of the company, Ljofir and Sakka, suddenly halted and, with ember-bearing glares, they waited for the outsider to go on, almost daring him to misstep.
But Rúan’s lip twisted higher and he pretended not to notice, “You Dwarves…have far more folks to call heroes than we do. Old militia leaders, all grey and sleepy-eyed now. My father…old Silver Bearclaw… Most have passed on, leaving nothing but soft children raising urchins of their own.” Between wet sniffles, Rúan finished, wrapping his woolen scarf another time around his neck, “It’s always been in my night and day dreams to change that tradition… To become something more. To do something…different.”
Gormna nodded, deep in thought. He’d heard plenty of similar speeches from hot-blooded, rebellious youngsters, just like this long-legged, spindly lad. But perhaps it was the fact that he had left the comforts of home, that Gormna felt inclined to consider Rúan’s words as something more than wishful thinking.
”Hmmm,” mused the ageing Dwarf aloud, as he watched his younger brother fall into line next to Thorin. “What will you do, lad, to alter your future? Not marry? And have rusty-haired, scrawny pups like you?”
Rúan laughed softly, “Oh I don’t know. Not yet, at least. I’d make a terrible father…too used to being mothered by my many sisters.”
”Then what?” Something in those crafty, opal eyes made Gormna pry further, feeling sure of some buried treasure.
Rúan’s smile turned a shade hesitant and he shrugged, “Well…I-” his voice fell low in pitch and tone, “Not going to stay in Old Estenna, that’s for sure…”
With raised brow, Gormna awaited a confession.
”Alright,” chuckled the man, throwing up his hands and immediately burying them beneath his armpits again. “I want to…go somewhere. Anywhere. That’s just exactly why I asked to join your party. If I know anything about Dwarves, it’s that adventure finds them.”
The wild, tangled locks of the Dwarf king up ahead swayed slightly as he shook his head.
He heard every word.
”You mean,” asked Gormna, amazement piqued, “It is your wish to- stay with us?”
Rúan’s cheeks flushed even more than their cherry-red chappedness could, “I would. I would like to help.”
Gormna, in shock, opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by a gruff, “No,” from up ahead.
Thorin finally turned, briefly, and glared at Gormna. “We will part ways at Old Estenna, as planned.”
The Northman’s jaw snapped shut and he swallowed down a wave of hurt pride and disappointment.
Not sure how or what to follow with, Gormna hung his head a little, and for a good long while naught but the soft tramp of boots over a thin layer of fresh snow was heard.
”I’m sure your folks would wonder what happened to you, anyways, lad,” said Gormna softly, after quite some time of contemplation, “One can’t just disappear off into Durin-knows-where without at least dropping a subtle hint.”
Rúan shot a wary glance at Thorin’s back from deep-set eyes. “I gave more than a hint, Master Gormna,” he muttered, “Dána knows my plan. In fact…she suggested it.”
”Plan?” thought Gormna. The boy definitely had more going on in that pale head of his than he let reveal. “Plan… not, say, intent?” queried the counselor, unsuspiciously as possible.
With a shrug, Rúan’s lowered spirits tried to throw off their heavy mantle, “Eh, whatever you want to call it. You’re the one with the fancy words. I…only wish I was broad and strong enough to tote one of those man-weight bear-skins around on my back all day. I’d sure be warmer!”
Gormna just snorted; time for a subject change apparently.
And the miles stretched on, many sets of short legs and a pair of long ones moved, stiff with continual motion and the bite of Winter’s fangs. They were nearing half way.
“Oh lady, beloved of golden sunlight…” ”Dearest Lady, enchantress of souls…” “Blessed one of the Forest’s aura…”
“My Lady Tairiel,
I, your most humble and doting servant, dare to write to you, only to confess in deepest reverence the pain the absence of your fairest presence has inflicted upon my pathetic being.
One cannot put any amount of blame on a soul so pure and radiant as yours, and so shall I not, as one who admires even your slightest syllable. But the throb of my severed heart as it reflects on your departure and absence, ever draws its owner, its living seat, earthwards in prostate grief.
Lady Tairiel, I lo-”
With a clenched, frustrated sigh, Silfdas crumpled the elegantly inked parchment and tossed it across the room, so that it ricocheted off a post and rolled into the recesses beneath a dresser.
No matter how many different adjectives for beautiful he conjured, or how painfully he recalled the day of her departure- his mind ever returned to another. Tall and graceful, as well, with locks just as purely golden that flowed like to a banner of honey behind her. One whose age was far greater in wisdom, but never touched her physical form.
On arriving back from the Glade Keeper’s camp, cold, sore and head full of foreign thoughts and notions, Silfdas had come straight to his own abode and collapsed in exhaustion into an even more fitful slumber. There was too much; too much to contemplate, to consider. Eärón’s strange state, and…Alcarín. And that was exactly why he avoided his lady- his true lady- in mind and body.
What would he tell her? How? For he could only put if off so long.
He stood up, leaning on the desk covered in crumpled pieces of paper, and sipped the carved wooden goblet of water. He hadn’t eaten since early this morning and that was many, many hours ago.
Leaving his modest, quiet study and bedroom, he came into the main space of his small abode. Just as he crossed the threshold into the kitchen, a knock sounded on the entrance post. He turned quickly to see a dark silhouette hovering just outside.
The figure pulled aside the door-curtain so that the firelight from inside illumined their features.
Relieved, Silfdas sighed: it was only Lord Arendial’s servant.
“Aiya, Silfdas,” he greeted him quickly, “My lord, Arendial, requests your presence. I came earlier, but you did not answer.”
“I was not here,” Silfdas broke in, “Tell my lord I will come immediately.”
So much for a meal. Silfdas turned around to redress himself in the heavy cloak, now a bit soiled on the hem.
”Of course, I had thought Túro Lenwë would prefer the latter, but I see it is not so. What we must consider is…”
The deep, musical hum of Lord Arendial’s voice floated like fog above a field at dawn in Silfdas’ subconscience. He nodded and looked hard at the floor, seeming to absorb every word spoken, while in truth, his thoughts were in quite a different realm.
”I am not sure I have your interest, my friend,” Arendial’s softened tone startled his daydreaming companion, “Other matters hang heavily upon you, I can see it.”
“No, no, my lord, forgive me-” Silfdas endeavoured to cover himself, but the lord shook his head, “Worry not. Return to me on the morrow, at your leisure. And rest yourself. You look very tired.”
In truth, he was very tired and Arendial had not seemed to mind postponing their chat- about what, he had no inkling.
There still had been no news of Tairiel, but somehow he was not surprised. The elevated track and stairways that rose many feet off the ground wound about the thick trunks of mallyrn, shimmering all over with a brocade of frost and cool, still blue in the dark of evening.
He followed the flet-path that made its way behind Lord Arendial’s home and eventually descended to the lower level dwellings where he resided.
Straight above him now, masked from below by an intricate web of branches and hardy leaves, was the house of Belrien.
The realization caused him to halt his steps at a cross-section, where a long flight of twisting stairs ascended to the heights and one delved lower into the city.
Many times he had taken the caring, and perhaps a little blinded, responsibility of warning the young Tairiel of the unsavoury character of her associations. Done, of course, in a very roundabout way, and trying very hard not to step on her lovely toes- figuratively speaking, he still had stuck out his neck for her, and with no immediate reward in mind. Why? Because he cared for her.
But who had done much for him, had treated him politely, tenderly, almost- as an equal…? And would he not do the same for her as he would Tairiel?
He arranged the spacious, velvet hood over his head and determinedly took the high route.
His stomach turned a few circles and stayed upside-down and shivers shot up and down his arms. The flickering bluish flame in the lantern on the elegant front porch cast his shadow upon the heavy curtain, much larger and broader than its owner. More like…the smith’s son. That illegitimate half-elf creature. It felt strange not to have that age old anger and jealousy burning at the thought of the man. All he felt now was a black, creeping worry that slowly began to gnaw at his soul.
The same worry forced his sweaty hand to knock.
Inside he could hear the shuffle of footsteps aroused by his soft tap on the wood. Then a smooth, stern male voice, issued from a distance within the house, “Don’t bother yourself, Ilurë. I’ll answer.”
Silfdas jerked in terror, “Belegren!” He hadn’t counted on that possibility!
A second meeting? At their house?! If anything might arouse suspicion, that would.
But before his nerve completely failed him and he had time to flee, the heavy drape was pulled aside and the powerful, stately Captain of the Guard stood before him.
“The stars greet you, my friend.” His tone was only less cool than before- Eärendil’s light! Was that really just this morning?
Silfdas bowed, thoughts chasing each other wildly through his brain, trying to spill out in the havoc. “Blessings, sir,” he finally managed.
The imposing Elf folded his arms across his chest with an expectant smile. But it bore no warmth. He knew what brought the visitor to his doorstep, but it was evident this wasn’t going to be easy.
There was no getting around it. “My lord, I know the hour is late and I am intruding on your hospitality a second time, but I have a delivery for your sister, Lady Belrien. I believe she would wish to have it as soon as possible.” As he spoke, he prayed to every Vala that ever loved Elf, to not let Belegren offer to take it himself. He didn’t know what excuse he would make.
The proud warrior shifted his weight and nodded, as if trying to bring two mental threads together. Silfdas waited on shards of glass for his answer.
“Unfortunately, she is not here.”
All at once the little Elf’s heart rose and dropped. Not here?! It was nearly ten and she was always home for the night around eight.
He must have seen or sensed more than mere disappointment in Silfdas’ eyes, for Belegren relaxed a little and offered, “It is late, and I know not for sure where she is…but…” he hesitated and his sigh revealed a discontent, “But you may inquire on the city’s ground. I try to stay out of her affairs, but people will talk…”
Silfdas understood completely, having gleaned much from such talk over the years.
“Hantanyel, my lord Belegren, for your aid,” Silfdas bowed again and made to rid the captain of his presence.
“Tell her-” Belegren began and shook his head, “Never mind. Goodnight, Silfdas,” he said, in a much tamed manner.
He didn’t know what madness took him, but the nagging dark at his mind’s edge broke loose upon his tongue, “Captain…sir,” he blurted out, “I’ve been to the camp of the Glade-Keepers…of Captain Alcarín…”
Intrigued, Belegren immediately turned back.
“I’m not entirely sure why I am saying this- but- if I were- no,” he breathed deeply, “It’s just- there is something not quite right there.” He gulped and shook his head, “I don’t know what it is…but you-”
”Indeed. Thank you for alerting me,” interrupted the Captain with gravity and pondered his words. “You seem a trustworthy fellow,” he said, more hopeful than convinced. “I shall look to it straight away. Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“The captain…” was all that came out and even that was difficult.
Belegren nodded and his wisened face took on a deep searching expression. Turning slowly to the door, he added over his shoulder, “I wish you well in finding her.”
As always, the descent down the ten or so flights of stairs was far more tiring than the going-up. Despite the anticipation in his mind, though, Silfdas’ feet followed each other rapidly to step after step, nearly missing one and sliding the rest of one stairway.
Belegren’s mood had been unsettling, as the same unsurety and aloofness rife in Silfdas’ thoughts seemed to pervade his own. Especially concerning Lady Belrien.
But he couldn’t know what Silfdas knew. Not unless he read his thoughts…
’…On the city’s ground…’ He couldn’t imagine what Lady Belrien would be doing down there this long after moonrise. If the tree-heights were complicated to travel around, with their many stairways, flet-bridges and different level, the ground level was vast. Almost endless places to look- or to hide, were that the desire. The twisting walls integrated seamlessly with the surrounding forest life and brooks and gullies, trees and brush, houses, shops, market stalls and the Palace grounds and gardens. Taurëmith may have been a village compared to the subterranean caverns and massive forest realm of the Greenwood, but it was large enough to lose someone in.
Where to start…
He paused to catch his breath at the last stair, watching the puff of steam form whispy clouds, blue in the soft oil-lights, that dissipated slowly in the night air. Across the way and up the hill a little warm glow illumined a narrow window of the now quiet training barracks.
Vilenas! That ancient sage-warrior saw all and knew all. Nothing that happened in this city escaped his knowledge. Silfdas started a reinvigorated step towards the great arched structure, but hesitated a moment after.
He might ask about Eärón… What with all the intrigue, meeting and reflection- Silfdas was quite to the brim with ‘Mûmak’ on his mind. Anyways, such a conversation would be incredibly uncomfortable… Perhaps, the old master wasn’t there; it was very late.
But as he stealthily approached the open doorway, ‘should I, should I not’ running through his mind, a noise inside arrested him. He peeked around the corner and, seeing no one, stepped inside, listening intently. A light grunt issued from an alcove to his far left and down the wide hall, lined, on either side, by practice mannequins.
The things that kept him busy over the years had never involved the use of a weapon- his tongue and wit were the sharpest tool he needed. Or had needed. The hall was unfamiliar to him and the corner from whence the movement came was dim and out of his sight.
With silent steps he neared the T intersect and prepared a profound greeting for the Master. But all words were torn from his lips on rounding the corner.
Assuming her full height and towering nearly a head over the hunched Silfdas, the Lady Belrien held outstretched towards him, as if he was expected, a heavy leather cuirass, feminine in build and wrought all over in scrolling, organic motifs and raised ridges that outlined bodily curves.
“Help me, Silfdas,” her demeanour was stern, like her brother’s, yet calming, with an intensity that took his heart with groping, cold fingers.
Slowly he took the offered armour, helplessly gazing at her arms outstretched and waiting, body clothed in close-fitting wools and fur, and torrents of morning sun rolling down her back, gathered high behind her head by a silver clasp.
It was a feat that he was able to place the pieces of armour at all, so enthralled was he, but, tongue-tied and awestruck, his thin fingers tenderly laced up her side, her elbow-length vambraces with silver-inlay and a hidden knife, and the steel-spined leather shin-plates.
She didn’t heed his fumbling, or the fervent adoration that gushed from his eyes, but stared on ahead, steadily breathing in and out, with enchanted calm.
Wonder and questions swarmed him like a hot wind, amid the many other sensations that burned within him. His fingers tingled as they brushed the satin skin of her hand. He could feel her pulse as he pulled a heavy velvet cape over her shoulders and pinned it with her white jeweled brooch about her throat.
Stepping back with a bow upon finishing, he eyed longingly the impressive, stunning beauty.
The muscles of her jaw rippled tightly and a subtle flare of her nostrils betrayed her inward unrest, though try as she might to conceal it with determination.
As he looked on with short, shallow breaths, from a nearby table she took up a long, sheathed hand-and-a-half sword, with a deadly curved blade and strapped a full quiver over her breast. Onto the opposite shoulder she slung her famous longbow, its own name, Naltirno, being the origin of the Glade-Keeper’s, the smooth mallorn of its shaft etched and inlaid with riverlets of gold.
Belrien stretched out her hand and the velvet tips of her fingers touched his cheek, “My silent and ever-faithful friend.”A certain distress hovered just behind the outward calm of her eyes.
By her look and that single precious touch a newfound and altogether different type of loyalty sprung to life in his being. It burned like a newly lit forge, coaxed on by the wind of bellows, hot and dangerous- but willing to go anywhere; risk anything.
”My lady,” his voice trembled uncontrollably, trying to come to grips with just what was happening. “Where are you going?”
This simple question, though not at all what he had planned to say, called forth a shift across the lovely visage. She didn’t hesitate, but turned and took up a satchel from the ground.
“I must go. He has called for my aid.”
As if nothing had happened, no farewells were needed and it wasn’t remotely strange that she was departing, Belrien emotionlessly turned and, with long strides, made for the door.
Silfdas started out of the waking dream and hurried after her, chiding the madly throbbing heart within him. He took the pack from her shoulder with a simple, “Let me,” and endeavoured to keep up.
She marched straight ahead, not even glancing behind with a strong determined drive.
“He??” Silfdas gasped in an attempted whisper.
“Alcarín,” she answered bluntly as they neared the gate.
The guard didn’t question, but threw open the gate for the Lady before she arrived.
“My lady!” Silfdas panted, now jogging, “Please, hear me out for a moment. I- I have news about- him. He is- there are things you might like to know. No- you would definitely want to know!”
“Another time, Silfdas,” she said bluntly and nodded to the gate-guard, “Tell my brother, I will return in a few days… I hope.”
Again unsurety! Lady Belrien was never anything but teeming with well-earned, settling confidence. Once again, he felt the same jealous wrath boil his blood. Alcarín…
In a last desperate measure, Silfdas threw his narrow, crooked form in her path and blocked the gate’s opening.
“My lady! There is a fell spirit in the Captain Alcarín and you must hear me!” he pronounced clearly and aloud, his voice suddenly finding its strength, “I do not know what he wishes by bringing you to him, but- please-”
The kiss of death.
A finger alighted on his lips and froze them with uncanny power, no magic needed. His heart stopped for a moment while her body touched his and as she passed he melted like heated silver.
The crunch of leaves under her light footsteps could still be heard by the time the Elf-man recovered, and moon-beams shone bright on her golden head as she wore no hood.
His feet ached and body pleaded for sleep, but the beating life’s blood through his veins, the heavy thumping in his chest, the warning toll in his mind- all demanded otherwise.
”Meldonya?” called down the wondering gateguard. Silfdas sucked in a hasty breath for confidence and his feet pattered away quickly, while the black of his own billowing cloak blended with the encompassing night.
No, no, No!! It was not supposed to happen like this!
He was not supposed to find out- it needed to be her idea! Her plan, at just the right time. Now- now it was over. He had run. That look, on his already wounded face, so utterly handsome, so unlike any other man she had set eyes one. But no more. And it was her own fault.
What did she expect? Shunning him like a harmful wasp, waving him away without another thought. Oh, but there were other thoughts. But those, too, had she run from; put away. Right until he disappeared. Thinking she had interest in the Prince of the Greenwood. Ha! As if his father would ever consent to such a betrothal. And she would rather wander the wilds to the end of her days than make a ‘good match’, as her father would say, and ‘reap the benefits’.
The little time she had spent as a man among the Glade-Keepers had re-honed any softened points in her scout training. If they only knew…
The puny, slinking Nurtalië, always hiding- as his name implied- was good for no more than binding up minor wounds, fetching light things, and tagging along, bothering his betters.
The pride of Taurëmith’s young warriors, daughter of a lord, now a worthless nobody.
But it had all been worth it. To be near him, hear his voice- a dark breath of midnight- to watch him move: those hills of muscle rippling just below cloth and skin. She blushed to think how she was reduced to such a shadowy onlooker. But such things one of her status would never experience without scandal.
If only they knew? But he did know.
Disturbed, she was sure. Regretful? Hurt? But how could he not be? And what was he thinking? And why, why did he clasp his side so painfully!
The hot tears that streamed silently down the Elf-maid’s cheeks quickly turned to tiny, delicate icicles and the cold breeze nipped at her skin. Hunched over, burying her face in her lap, Tairiel wept.
She loved him. And he was gone, and would not understand. Without having to speak, to explain, she wanted him just to know. But she herself was so terribly confused and lost- how could she even hope…
He was in trouble, and her helplessness drove like a barbed arrow through her.
And he would never know.
Without breaking the frigid air it floated through, the ethereal shards of a snowflake alit on the trembling form. One after another the chink of tiny crystals filled the air and covered the ground and solitary figure in a soft wintry dusting. The salty drops formed patterns like shattered glass on her woolen pants, and were joined by the graceful, white gift from above.
The delicate points of her ears grew numb as they peeked out from her dyed-brown locks, and turned a bright pink along with her nose, thin shoulders sending tremours of cold and sadness through her body.
All good creatures were hidden away, warm in their dens and nests, snuggling close with their loved ones. Even the falling snow had endless beautiful companions. The silence of the wintering forest took the lone figure and wrapped in it its peaceful, utter loneliness.
All the things she wished she had done began to haunt her with a chill breeze. Her mistakes became as numerous as the falling snow, blackened against its purity, and all hope became as empty and lost as these cold, silent woods, in which nothing stirred.
Beruthiel…she would have known what to do. But she was gone. Dead, most likely.
And now Eärón.
She didn’t even move when the fallen log that she sat on shifted under the weight of another body, much larger. She didn’t deserve false comfort, she told herself. To suffer unrelenting cold for all that she’d done: that was her just fate.
But when the unfamiliar sensation of two solid and thoroughly warm pillars of strength encircled her shivering form and clasped her to the comforting mass of body beside her, the illusion of despair became doused in light and she forced open her eyes.
Wisps of shining black hair stood out like raven’s wings against the white sky. High chiseled cheekbones outlined two deep, onyx eyes that pored into her soul like a soothing balm. With two trembling fingers she reached out to touch the bent nose, so wonderfully close to her, to be sure it was…not real.
It couldn’t be real, she told herself, and rested her face on the chest that so long she had yearned to touch.
“I wish you were here…” her lips muttered, almost soundlessly.
The very real illusion whispered back after a silent pause, “Is there any way Lady Tairiel could forgive the blind, foolish cruelty of a simple smith?”
Hearing the well of sincerity in that velvet tone, Tairiel choked a little, burying her face so that she felt the illusion’s beating heart. “Don’t torment me! I…love you.”
The heart seemed to speed up and she heard a gulp, “How? A-after all I did…?”
Body pressed tightly to his, still warm in his embrace, she turned and took his face in both her hands. “You. You have done nothing. But I…” the strength in her tone trailed off, “If you were here…Eärón.”
She felt his hands press into the small of her back, and an intense hopefulness kindled fire in his eyes, “If I were here?”
On hearing a less rhythmic and rather unfamiliar sound in between the crunch of his boots on the crisp ground, Tethrin stopped, held his breath and listened.
His sharp ears told him whatever it was- it was wet. And breathed loudly. A lot.
He took a few more steps in the direction he’d been headed and glanced around the calm, whitening woods.
Suddenly between two twisted dragon-scale beech, he spotted it. Jogging forward nimbly, he hid himself behind the trees. Peeping around the trunk, the closer look revealed much more than he thought he’d seen.
Two dark-haired Elves, one brawnily muscled, the other small and fair, were entwined in each other’s arms, their lips gently biting at the other’s, slow and full of long-pent passion.
A wide grin spread across Tethrin’s features, and he sat on his heels with a sigh.
“Finally,” he muttered and peeked for another look. It wasn’t something he saw every day.
He was just glad none of the other Keepers were along, as they would surely not understand.
Amid the capricious snow-crystals that floated about, never landing quite where you thought they would, the lovers were lost, far gone, in the numbing, yet enlivening tingle of their passion. Ever timid and easily ignited, Eärón’s work-worn hands stroked Tairiel’s supple back, as she knelt on his knees, grasping handfuls of his ebony locks as kiss after scorching kiss branded both mouths and rendered them breathless.
At the rate they were at, it could go on forever, thought Tethrin. But then again- it might be their last time. His heart sank and he glanced back the way he had come. It was time.
With an obvious ‘ahem’, Tethrin stepped out from behind the tree and peered up to the sentry rock where the lovebirds were perched. “Is this part of your job, watchman?” he said with laughter in his tone.
Both started as if from a feverish dream, Tairiel, gasping, covered her mouth in horror, followed by her whole face. Eärón’s already pale hue tried to blend with the snow, and, after half-catching his breath, he stuttered and stumbled, “I-it’s not what you- th-think, Teth- Listen-”
The gleaming smile on Tethrin’s face battled fiercely with the dread in his heart, and he chuckled knowingly, “It’s exactly what I think.” He sniffed and shrugged at the same time, “I’m only surprised I’m the only one who noticed. My sister always told me I was the most inobservant of types.” With that, he bowed to the woman, “I doubt your true name is Nurtalië, my lady. But I am still Tethrin, at your service.”
Tairiel’s shock still would not allow her to speak, and only a squeak-like-breath came as a reply.
He then turned to Eärón and a blanket of grey seriousness changed his manner.
“I really am loath to spoil such a lovely…encounter, but” he shook his head gravely, “He’s lost it. You saw how he paced back and forth for hours, and practically tore you apart- alright maybe you didn’t see. But I’ll tell you: He’s ordered the entire camp to empty in search of the ‘intruder’. The one…you found. No one is to return until ‘she is cast to her wicked knees before him’! His own words. I was sent to round up all of our sentries,” he nodded towards Tairiel, “And to relay his orders. And Eärón,” he paused for a breath, “He wants you back at camp. There is something very fell in his words. I can’t place it, but it disturbs my soul. You cannot go.”
Paler than death, Eärón slid off the rock and approached his friend, stormy black eyes fitful with alarm. “What do you mean,” he asked, voice low and dangerous.
Tethrin swallowed hard and looked into the other’s eyes, “Just don’t.”
He drew in a steady, resolved breath and patted the towering Elf on the shoulder. “It’s alright, Mûmak. I’ve got a good plan.” He glanced at Tairiel, who had joined them, standing close behind Eärón, and knew what must be done. “Take her. Go into the woods. Find the woman. If she’s innocent like you say- warn her. But whatever you do- do not return to him. I will tell him you’ve disappeared into the forest… It should give you time to get a head-start.”
Eärón took Tethrin by the shoulders, making him face straight on, “But you can’t- And how-?”
Tethrin closed his eyes resolutely, “Just do it. It’s a feeling- in here,” he patted his middle. “Atto always said to trust it.”
His friend’s manner was so sure, so unafraid, that Eärón could not question him further, despite how little he understood what was going on. He stared at the ground as if searching for a map to this whirlwind.
”And Taurëmith… If Alcarín has…run amok, then the Captain of the Guard should know,” the smaller lieutenant thought aloud. “Someone must tell Lord Belegren.”
It seemed like an age had passed since that morning. Since the one Elf he had once disliked more than Alcarín, had come sniveling and slinking into the camp. He was still an Elf, though.
“Likely he already knows,” Eärón said, “Silfdas.”
Perhaps gossip-mongers could be of use after all.
Elven minds read into each other far deeper than other folks could ever dream of. Tethrin and Eärón took another’s forearms in farewell. “May the Valar keep you safe, my friend,” Eärón said, though the gravity of their plight was truly unknown.
“Oromë’s swift wind and Yavanna’s love on the both of you. Go. And don’t worry about me. I’ll see you in Taurëmith.” A familiar smile, though a little forced, spread Tethrin’s smooth features again as he waved and trotted off.
The full force and depth of Tethrin’s words sunk in slowly, like a rain on a damp Spring earth, and Eärón tried to awaken himself from the two-tiered, spell-like daze he’d fallen into. One second he was wrapped in a fierce embrace, kissing his love for the first time. The next, he felt the throbbing, cracked rib scream with anger at the mention of Alcarín. And he was told to flee. From what?
Him. Why? Because of her.
A surge of heat shot through his entire being, as a caress, softer than a butterfly’s wings, touched his arm.
“Eärón…who is she?” the energy in her quiet voice trembled.
He took the hand in his own and turned to her.
Meldonya: my friend
Hantanyel: thank you.
Eärón Lorámie washes his wounds.