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Butterfly-Cocoon

Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen

by Rous

This chapter is for ghettoelleth for your unceasing enthusiasm. Thank you. And Luthien for just noticing.




****

Chapter Fourteen
****

Loneldon, in command of the northern marches, studied the reports before him. As Rúmil’s second, he had taken over the warden station. It had been a quiet few weeks and he was thankful for that. Celedien, the captain of the eastern marches had sent word that the refugees heading south on the Plains of Rhovanion had trickled down to near nothing. They shared a mutual dislike of men but also the sorrow at people forced to abandon their homes. He finished signing the reports and placing them in the bag for Caras Galadhon. He glanced up when the sentry entered the clearing.

“Riders coming in,” reported the sentry to Loneldon. He knew it was too soon for Rúmil’s return, yet no others were expected. Saddling his horse, he rode back up to the fences with the sentry to wait. He could just make out a moving smudge on the horizon to the north. A half-hour later, he saluted the riders crossing the wards.

“Welcome back, Rúmil. You made excellent time. Any trouble?” The condition of both horses and riders spoke of hard days in the saddle. Loneldon did note that although dirty and covered with a fine sheen of sweat, the animals were not winded. Trust Rúmil to make sure of that.

“None since we left Imladris. How are things here?”

“Quiet. As a matter of fact, it has been extremely boring.” Loneldon looked quite at ease with the situation. There had been far too much activity in the recent past, what with the flight south of those living north of the Plains of Rhovanian.

“Well, I want it spread down the line to keep watch for any men approaching. Send word immediately.” Rúmil glanced around and then back the way they had come.

Loneldon nodded. The riders waited for Loneldon to swing up on his horse, then made for the encampment. The weary travellers gratefully dismounted and walked off the stiffness that four days in the saddle created. Quickly walking down their horses and turning them out into the paddock, Ela and Meliel wasted no time in taking advantage of the deep pool behind the corral.

“I have never felt so dirty in my life,” commented Meliel, coming back to the clearing.

“What about that time we all had the mud fight?” Ela gave her a sideways glance. What had begun as an afternoon jaunt to the river had turned into a mud flinging battle that had seen the four of them covered in mud before they were through.

“Well, aside from that. It will be wonderful to get back to the city and a nice clean bed.” Meliel disdainfully pulled a burr from the leg of her riding pants, then folded them and put them in her bag.

Ela laughed. “I am so tired I do not care if it is clean or not. Do we ride on, or stay the night?” she asked, looking to Rúmil. He glanced up at the sun.

“It is too late to make Caras Galadhon tonight. We leave in the morning.” Finished with a cursory tour of the station, he had settled on a log to massage knotted leg muscles. Ela moved behind him and started on his shoulders.

“Good. I do not want to see another saddle for a long while.” Leaving off Rúmil's shoulders for a moment, she clasped her hands on her lower back and arched backwards. There was a grimace of pain and audible pops as vertebrae settled back where they belonged.

“Me neither,” chipped in Meliel. “If leaving Lórien means riding like that, I will stay here.”

“I agree. It is not worth the saddle sores I am sure I will have for months.” She went back to massaging Rúmil’s shoulders. His look of discomfort slowly changed to one of relaxation. They both glanced up at the sound of a spoon hitting the side of a pot. Suddenly, empty bellies replaced tired muscles.

“At least get something in you before you turn in,” called Loneldon. He motioned at a large pot to the side of the fire. “It is only stew, but we just made it. It will not measure up to the fare I am sure you had in Imladris, but it will surpass what you had coming in.” He grinned, knowing that they were probably glad to return to simple fare.

They followed Londil and Relim’s lead and went to get their bowls. Meliel had noted with satisfaction that as soon as they had cleared the wards of Imladris, Ela had slipped back into the friend she knew. She had discovered the reasons for most of Ela’s quirks. She thought she now had a better understanding of what made Ela the way she was.

Supper was eaten quietly and quickly. One of the trainees gathered the bowls and utensils, taking them to the large pot of water now hanging over the fire, and washed them. He placed them on a low table to dry.

Finished eating, the girls went back into the tree line to find an empty talan. They finally found one that was not high enough to make Ela too uncomfortable. Rolling out their cloaks and blankets, they were asleep almost as soon as their heads hit the beds.

Rúmil and Loneldon spent an hour going over what had occurred the last two weeks. Satisfied that all was handled, Rúmil finally turned in himself.


----


The rising sun missed the small glen that served as headquarters for the northern marches. It would not make itself felt until closer to noon. Yet, it was enough to rouse those used to rising early. Loneldon came out from his talan to find that Ela had already bathed and was dressed. He shook his head. Among the circles most of the city guards and wardens moved, it was well known her proclivity to rise early. Most even knew of the running battle to get Lord Glordinel out early. She had lost that one major battle.

“Good morning, lady.” He gave her a slight nod and sat down near her.

“Good morning, warden. All is quiet?” Ela chose to ignore the honorific that had begun to creep slowly into the vocabulary of those around her.

“For the present. Is there a reason we watch for men?” Loneldon did not hesitate to ask such a question of her. While he was carefully respectful of her title, they shared a casual comradeship that allowed such familiarity.

“An exceptionally odious male who does not understand the meaning of the word ‘no’.” The distaste in her voice overshadowed the quiet words. Something obviously had happened during her visit to Imladris.

“That would cover a lot of them.” He grinned.

“Yes, it would,” she laughed, her quiet voice fairly tinkling. After a moment, her face sobered. “This one in particular has decided that he would wed an elf, despite his loathing of the race as a whole.”

“You, lady?” He was incredulous. He knew that she shared most of the elves opinions of the race of Men. She even seemed a bit more unreceptive towards them than most. He suspected it had to do with her mother’s people, although he had never asked her outright concerning the matter.

“It seems I have something he wants, and it is not me. According to him, I can gain him leadership of his people. Personally, I believe all I can gain him is a knife to the gut. And I will gladly do it, if ever given the chance.” The casualness of her tone made the comment even more chilling than the words did.

Loneldon thought on that. Rumours had trickled down the ranks of her knifing a man in Imladris when only fifteen. He had accepted the explanation that it had been more unintentional than otherwise: more a reflex from fear. However, there were those who steered clear of her. He dismissed their foolishness. Any who really knew her, knew she would never harm anyone without gross provocation. Her only real enemy seemed to be Haldir, with his refusal to allow her to train for the marches. Their public conversations had become more heated of late, with Ela pushing for more training, and Haldir denying it. And, Loneldon knew of the rumours circulating concerning her and Rúmil: rumours that they would wed when she became of age; rumours he knew had no foundation, yet were refuted by neither of them.

Well, he preferred not to dwell on it. The affairs of others were none of his business, anyway. He did his job and let it go at that. He had problems enough of his own.

“I am going to make some tea. Would you like some, warden?” She drew his attention from his thoughts.

“That would depend. Where did you get it?” he asked, suspicious.

“Imladris’ finest. Best brew a Dwarf can distil.” Her grin bespoke no good to come.

“If you can drink it, I can,” he said, not wholly convinced.

“Very well.” She went to the fire to get the pan of hot water. Dumping the leaves in it, she let it set for several minutes while she went to get a bottle from her bag. Within minutes, she brought two mugs of steaming tea over to him.

“Bottoms up,” she said. She had drained her mug while he sputtered over his. Finally reaching the bottom, he looked at her grin.

“How can you do that so easily?”

“Years of practice. It also numbs the taste buds in your mouth after a while. Makes eating unappetizing for a time. Yes, it is one of the less refined practices in Imladris, and one in which Lord Erestor despaired my joining. It seems it was beneath him. I think a lot more of the fact that Lord Celeborn would actually drink the stuff. It says more of his character.”

“How in Arda did you ever get him to drink it?”

“Curiosity, on his part. I seemed an enigma to him. However, I did not introduce him to it. It appears a long deceased Dwarf beat me to it. Somewhere back in the annals of his youth. I only amused him with my penchant for the stuff.”

“How can you drink that so early in the morning?” Rúmil dropped down beside them.

“Why do you think I am up so early?” she laughed. “No, it is not bad. It does get your body going.”

“Yes, but going where? Did anyone think to make just tea?”

“It is in the other pan. I know how you loathe the good tea.” She got up to get him a cup. Not for the first time, it occurred to Loneldon that she did not fit the mould of the ellith at court. They expected a certain amount of due. She usually was the first up to serve someone. She did not dress the part, unless required to. She was polite and deferred to authority at all times, but was never rude to those others felt beneath them. Ela had always made people feel comfortable. And, she was not above admitting that she did not know everything.

By the time Rúmil had finished his tea, Meliel was up and dressed to go. It was decided that Londil and Relim would ride part way with them, and then head west to spend a few days with their families. Rúmil would ride down with Loneldon’s reports and his own from the journey. After a quick breakfast, the party headed out. They started out leisurely enough, but the closer they got to the main road intersecting the Woods east to west, the faster the pace became.

The two western wardens bid farewell at the crossroads, Londil promising to meet with Rúmil in Caras Galadhon later in the week. In another three hours, the city gates were in view. With sighs of relief, the three of them rode through them. They made their way to the stables maintained within the city for the guard. Dismounting, they unsaddled the horses and brushed them down, turning them out when finished.

“I want a bath,” said Ela. “I cannot face anyone until then.”

“Go, get it. I will make my report to Lord Celeborn.”

“Thank you. Please ask the Lady if I may see her, at her convenience.”

“I will.”

She grabbed her bag and headed home. Reaching the house, she found it empty. Going back to her room, she looked around. It seemed so tiny compared to her room in Imladris, but it was more to her taste and preferences. She put her things away, placing her soiled clothes in the basket beside the door. Grabbing a clean dress and her bathing kit, she headed for the bathhouses. Anticipating the luxury of a hot bath, she was not paying attention to her surroundings and met Elldar.

“I see you have returned. Welcome home. Does my mother know, yet?”

“No. We only just arrived. Is everything all right?”

“Everything is fine. She has fretted ever since you left.”

“Well, I am back and not inclined to leave again anytime soon. I would just as well have skipped this jaunt.” Her voice was laced with irritability. Elldar glanced down at her.

“The visit did not go well?”

She held up a hand. “I am sorry. Forgive my irritability. The visit went well enough. I saw Ada and the Elf, and Dorga. And Lord Erestor, who by the way is to become a father. I saw the snake. I met my mother’s kin and received a marriage proposal. I found I have a grandmother and that my grandfather was well placed. And, I discovered that I do not like travelling by horseback. How are things here?”

“You received a what?” he exclaimed, shocked.

“Is that all you heard?” she asked, grinning. “It was nothing. I did not even seriously consider it.”

“But, from whom?”

“You need not act so surprised. It could happen. Someone could come and sweep me off my feet and rescue me from this mundane life.”

“The only thing mundane around here was the time spent without you and Meliel. Del has been unbearable. If you ever do that to me again, I think I will have to mete out an appropriate retribution. Do you realize that you cut the population our age in half?”

“Well, it has doubled again. Now, I am off to the baths. Did you need something more?” She paused at the look on his face.

“No.” He hesitated.

“You did not miss me?” she teased.

“Well, it is quieter at dinner. There was a small absence.” His teasing grin was met with the irritation reserved for siblings.

“I was only gone two weeks. Surely you and Del found something to entertain yourselves?”

“Go get your bath. You are in need of it!” He turned abruptly and walked away.

Ela smiled as she continued on her way.


****


“Welcome back!” Gariel came into Ela’s room. Giving the girl a hug, she stepped back to look at her. “You do not look any different.”

Ela rolled her eyes. “It was two weeks, Gariel. How much was I to change?”

“It feels like two months. Lindelen has your dress finished. Everything is ready. Would you like something to eat before you go?”

“No, thank you. I am too wound up to eat. I am to see the Lady, as soon as Rúmil returns.”

“So, did your visit go well?” Gariel's concern was evident. She knew the girl well enough to sense her unease.

“It was not as I expected it to be. Lord Elrond managed to find me a grandmother. She is in Imladris now awaiting permission to visit Lórien. I met some of my mother’s kinsmen. That did not go as well. The Elf was there. He brought me the most beautiful oil. Here, smell.” She opened the bottle and held it for Gariel.

“Oh! What is that? It is so strong.”

“The Elf said it was Oil of Gardenia. It grows in the extreme southeast, in the warm climes. I am supposed to mix it with an odourless oil. It will be interesting to see the reaction of others.”

“It will cause a stir.” Gariel turned towards the hall. “I hear Rúmil now. Do not tarry; I have planned a nice dinner for you and Meliel.”

“I will not.” They went out to the large common room.

Rúmil noticed with satisfaction that she was wearing a grey dress; anything but that bright blue of which she seemed so fond. Her smile tugged at his heart.

“The Lady says you may come anytime.” He noted the light left her eyes.

“Thank you. Are you coming to dinner?” she asked softly.

“I think an invitation was proffered.”

“Good. I will see you then.” She left him standing in the middle of the room.

“What was that about?” asked Gariel.

“I think she is disturbed. There was an offer for her, but she did not take it well.”

“An offer? What does that mean?”

“It actually was more of a demand. Her kinsmen from the White Mountains have deemed her necessary for their future. Unfortunately, they made it clear that she was a necessary evil to be suffered. They would manage to overlook her Elven blood.”

“Well, she did not mention that.” Gariel looked after Ela's form, now at the gate.

“And maybe I should not have. She has avoided the subject for almost a week now.” Rúmil followed her gaze.

“She will not go?” Gariel felt a sudden fear.

“No. There was an attempt made to explain this to her kinsmen, but I do not believe they were listening.”

“I hope this does not cause her any great distress.”

“I think after she sees the Lady, she will be fine.”

“Good. I want her to enjoy the next few weeks before her birthday celebration. I would not like to see this ruin the party for her.”



****



Ela walked east, towards the center of the city. Lost in her thoughts, she did not realize she had gone to the library, until she stood at the door. Shaking her head, she turned to leave, when she heard a voice. She turned back and went through the doors.

“Well, the traveller returns home.” The voice from the far end of the dark hall beckoned her.

“Good afternoon, Lord Glordinel. I was planning to see you tomorrow. Today will suit, if you have time.”

“I am free now. What did you need?”

“I need more training. I want to continue with you.” She said it as if half afraid he would decline.

“That is fine. Come by tomorrow and we will start. Did your visit go well?”

“I am glad to be home.” Glancing about the library, she took in the vast amount of books: not nearly as many as Imladris, but substantial, nonetheless. Glordinel was not sure if home was Lórien, or the library.

“I am glad that you are, also. Tomorrow, then.” He nodded to her.

“Thank you,” she said, bowing slightly, and leaving.



****



The mallorn in the center of the city did not look any smaller, now that she was older. It still intimidated her. Taking a deep breath, Ela started up the stairs that led to the home of the Lord and Lady. She did hug closer to the trunk. An affinity for the heights in the trees, one quality she did not inherit from her elven side. She loved the trees, just from the safety of the ground. Reaching the top, she was shaking slightly, but not from exertion. She paused to compose herself and then went to the doorway.

Del was doing a turn as page and smiled when he saw her. It was easy duty, and they had all done it. It was part of the training.

“Welcome back. I saw Rúmil earlier. Did Meliel enjoy herself?”

“She did. It was good for her. Gave her a taste of how easy life is here.”

“I can hardly wait to see her.”

“So I have been told. Will you join us for supper tonight?”

“An invitation? From you?” he teased. “I would not miss it. Are you to see the Lady?”

“Yes, please. She is expecting me.”

“Follow me, then. You may wait in the smaller chamber.”

He led her across the large floor and into the small room she had last been in before she left. Entering as he held the door for her, she gave a curtsy to Galadriel. Her slight fear of the Lady coloured every interaction between them. Ela had never gotten over the fear of Galadriel invading her mind. She was afraid someone would find the secrets she knew were hidden in her being.

“Thank you, Delinfel,” the Lady said, dismissing him. He nodded and closed the door. Galadriel motioned to the chair across from her.

“You look well, but troubled.”

“I am not comfortable coming to you, but there is need. The headaches and nausea have returned. Once again I am feeling overwhelmed by the feelings of others. I think it time I learned to deal with them. Avoidance is not the answer.”

“It never is, child. I can help you learn, but it will mean you will have no secrets from me. It is the price you will pay.”

“While I may not be willing to pay it, it seems necessary. It started in Imladris. It is still sporadic and not unbearable, but I remember before, and I do not want to experience that again.”

“I remember. It is not pleasant. What are your plans for now?”

“I spoke to Lord Glordinel earlier and asked to continue my training with him. And, I still intend to change the March Warden’s mind. Unless you have a reason I should not.”

“No, I do not. You must find your own way. No one can do it for you. I would say that up to this point, you have prepared yourself for the future as best you could. There are none can fault you on that. Go, now. I know that Gariel has missed you terribly. She has planned the evening for you and Meliel. We will speak later.”

“Thank you, Lady. Please convey my disappointment at not seeing him to your husband.”

“I will. Welcome home.”

Ela rose and left the small antechamber. She crossed the reception area and approached the doorway.

“I will see you tonight,” she said to Del, smiling.

“Tell Meliel to wear a dress.”

“You hope too hard. I barely got her in one for the dinner in Imladris. I fear you will not see one for quite a while.” She laughed at the look on his face. Waving, she started back down the stairway.


****

“Good morning, Ela. It is still Ela, is it not?” His manner made her smile.

“Good mid-morning, Lord Glordinel. And yes it is still Ela.”

“How was your dinner last evening?”

“It was pleasant. It is good to be home.” She glanced around his small office.

“Aye, I always feel that way. Are you ready to begin?”

“I am. Did Haldir tell what happened before I left? I was able to close the knife wound in his side. It surprised me almost as much as it did him.”

“He did. I was impressed that you were able to do so well. Now, where to start? There is not much to do for now, so I will put you to reading these books on herbs and poisons. It should keep you busy for several days, so I expect you will be done by tomorrow.”

“Am I that predictable?” She gave him a small smile.

“I am afraid so, sell. You must learn to alter your behaviour occasionally. It will throw others off your trail.”

“How unlike you to use hunting metaphors.” She paused. “I went to see the Lady yesterday. She is going to teach me to control this maddening ability to read the emotions of those around me.”

“You realize that your “ability” will help you as a healer. I hope you do not intend to bury it too deeply.”

“I am not interested in burying it at all. I just need to control the nausea that threatens every time I am around too many others. It seems the only relief from it is sleep. And I cannot spend my life sleeping.”

“No, I suppose you cannot. When is your turn on the fences?” He picked up some papers and added them to the pile of books on her bag.

“I am due next week. Will that inconvenience you?”

“No, you will only be to the east. I find occasionally that I need to walk and the eight miles is not too great a distance. You can take your books, and I will check up on you. Now, any questions?”

“None for the present.”

“Good. I have some herbs that need sorting and cataloguing. That should take up enough of your time, until you leave for the fields.”

“Yes, Lord Glordinel.” She placed the books he had given her in her bag and went back into the room where he stored his medicines. She then spent the next two hours sorting and bottling the dried herbs. Her writing was tiny and precise, just as Lord Erestor had demanded, and suited for the small bottles and jars. When next she looked up, the shadows had become complete in the small room. Gariel would be waiting lunch for her.

“I am leaving now,” she called to Glordinel as she was cleaning up. “I have finished all you had ready. I also washed up the bottles for the next batch. I will see you tomorrow.”

He waved absently to her as she walked past the open door to his study. She paused in the door, gazing at him, if it was possible, with a maternal look.

“When was the last time you ate?” she asked.

“This morning, I think,” he said absently.

“You cannot do that. If you do not eat, you will waste away. That will do me no good. I will be back.”

She walked up the road that led the short distance from Glordinel's to home. Going through the house to put her things away, she stopped in the kitchen.

“Do you have lunch for Elldar ready?” she asked Gariel.

“Not quite. You are early.”

“I finished sooner than I thought I would. Would you mind fixing extra? It seems the good healer does not know enough about eating. He has not eaten all day.”

“Well, it would not do for him to expire before you were finished with him.” Gariel laughed. “I will take him something.”

“Thank you. What is it about ellyn? In Imladris, all we ever did was eat. Here, you have to track them down and force them to eat. It is maddening.”

“That is their nature. It is all or nothing.”

“Well, I do not see that they are always worth the effort.” A look in her eyes belied the disdainful tone of her words.

“You will. One day you will wake up and realize that part of you is empty, and only they can fill it,” Gariel said softly remembering the day.

“It will be a day far into the future.” Ela picked up the pouch containing lunch for her and Elldar.

Gariel laughed at her. “I will remind you of that when the time comes.”

“I have to go. I am late now. I will see you later.” Shifting the pouch on her shoulder, Ela picked up her bow and quiver and left for the fields.



****



“Meliel! Are you packed yet?” Lindelen’s voice carried her frustration. “Del will be here and you know he does not like waiting.”

“Let him wait. He takes our relationship too much for granted. He needs to learn to appreciate me more.”

“You would do well to not push him. Your choices are limited.”

“Are you saying that we are settling for each other? I do not need him. I like him, but there are others. Mirkwood is full of unattached males. And there are plenty of elves and men in Imladris. Do not think to push us together, Mother. We choose each other.”

“Yes, Meliel. I am sorry. I did not mean to imply that you have no choices. Just go and have fun.”

“Mother,” Meliel rolled her eyes, “we are going for training. Do not make it sound like an overnight slumber party.”

“Can you not still have fun? Go. I see Del coming up the stairs now.”

“Goodbye.” Meliel gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek, then ran down the stairs.

“Valar. Do you believe mothers? ‘Have fun’! You would think this is a picnic.”

“It comes from not having a father on the marches. My mother is the same way. I am sure that Elldar’s mother is more accepting. However, he did tell me that Gariel was not pleased that Ela was going.”

“She dotes on the girl. What will she do when Ela moves out?” Meliel shifted her pack to her other shoulder.

“Deal with it. It does not help that she has two about the same age. She will lose them both eventually. At least our parents have only to deal with it once.”

“I do not think it will be that easy. Once, twice, no one will be happy.”

“No, I suppose not. We need to go. Elldar and Ela are waiting at the eastern gate.” They walked at a faster pace.

-----

“Here they come.” said Ela, laughing. “I will wager that she was not ready. That irks Del so.”

“You have been known to dally when dressing.”

She grinned. “A calculated effort to remind others that ellith are worth the wait.”

“I will have to ask my uncle of that. I am sure he has a differing opinion.” Elldar's attitude was that of one who had never had to wait on another.

“You just leave your uncle out of it. It is different for us.” She ducked and picked up a clod of dirt, throwing it at him. She ducked again when he caught it and returned the throw.

“How so?” he asked.

“That is none of your concern.” She turned to Meliel and Del, smiling.

“It is about time. You know it will do none of us any good to be late.”

“Then we should hurry. I do not want to test Celedien’s patience.” Elldar pushed Delinfel ahead and pulled Ela along.

“Are you tired of washing bottles, yet?” Del asked Ela.

“No more so than you are of fletching arrows. At least if I make a mistake, I have only to clean up a mess. Yours could cause serious harm.”

“That is not a very mature way to look at it. Even the smallest job is important.”

“I will remember that next time you need a splinter from one of the arrows removed. And, what of you, Elldar? I hear you and Meliel spent a cosy afternoon yesterday. Mucking stalls! I will take my chances with the bottles.”

“At least we got outside. You realize all that squinting in the dark will make you blind?”

“But I still have my nose. I suppose no one got off easy.”

“That is the truth,” said Meliel. “Come on, I feel like a run. Last one to the giant oak has to fix lunch.” She took off. It did not take the boys long to pass her. Only Ela was left behind, but she was laughing as much as the others when she caught them.

“Are you sure you want to taste my cooking?” she gasped.

“Do not fear. Mother anticipated this and made lunch. You will just need to put it together.” He tossed a bag to her.

“You are wicked, Elldar," she replied, sticking her tongue out at him.

“And you are hopeless. When are you going to learn to cook?”

“Why do I need to when there is always someone else to do it?” She pretended indignant at his suggestion.

“You do not need to learn. There will always be someone to cook for you. Your parentage guarantees that,” Del said.

“What do you mean?” asked Ela. “Who do you suppose will want to cook for me?”

Del caught the quiet tone of her voice. Too late, he saw Meliel and Elldar both shaking their heads violently.

“Well,” he fumbled, “there have been some rumours floating around.”

“Rumours? Concerning what?” He had her full attention, now.

“Ela,” said Meliel, “just let it lie. Del does not know what he is talking about.”

“He may not know what he is talking about, but he was about to say something. I would like to hear it.” She looked at Del, expectantly.

“Can we discuss this later? It is not something to bring up now,” Meliel begged.

“Very well,” she said, putting on a smile. Only Del was fooled into thinking that the subject had been dropped. “We should get going, anyway. If we are to arrive mid-way between lunch and dinner, we had best pick up the pace.” She turned and started briskly back down the road.

“You had best watch your back,” Meliel warned Del. “She will not forget. How could you be so stupid? You knew she was not to know about the rumours.”

“I forgot. Besides, she let it drop.”

“Del,” said Elldar, “I hope you wed a smart elleth. You will need it. She did not drop it. You would do well not be alone for a while.”

“She said she would wait. Are you telling me she lied?”

“Ela never lies. She has a maddening habit of extreme patience and stretching the boundaries. And she will pick the time and place to deal with it.” Elldar shook his head. Del may be the eldest of them, but when it came to females, he knew nothing. Elldar supposed it came of being an only child. At least he had had the benefit of having Ela around. Add to that the fact that these two particular ellith did not always think like the rest, and you had the potential for a very unhappy Del.

“Wait up,” called Meliel, running after her.

Ela turned. “What am I not supposed to know?”

“It is nothing. Someone got wind of some rumours and they are asking around. Discretely, of course.”

“What rumours?”

“I am not sure. I have not paid them much attention,” Meliel hedged.

“You do not lie very well. We are usually the first to hear gossip floating around the barracks. I was pent up with Lord Glordinel all week. You do not have that excuse. You were right there in the middle of the guards. And yet, you know nothing? Extraordinary. Tell Del to watch himself.”

“Ela, let him be. He is not the brightest, but he is a friend.”

“To Elldar!" Ela snapped. "To me he has been a necessity to even out the group. What is he to you?”

Meliel blushed. Ela laughed.

“I have never seen you do that before." Her voice had softened. "It is very becoming.” She glanced back at the boys. They were furiously discussing something. Ela thought she could guess what. “Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes. I only have seven more years until we can wed. Del has five.”

“What does your mother say?”

“‘Do not muck this up’. She is worried that his parents will say no.”

“What of your father? He does not mind you wedding an elf?”

“He did it. Why should he mind?” Meliel sounded surprised that Ela would ask such a question.

“If you say that, you do not know fathers and their daughters. What a father will allow his son to do differs greatly from what he will suffer his daughter to do. You will see. He will eventually say yes because they cannot say no, but you will not have it easy.”

“What of you? Will Lord Elrond allow you to wed any of your choosing?”

“As long as it is not an Indrel. We share a curious dislike for them. He does not care for their underhanded way of dealing. My reasons are personal. It would be difficult to live among the people responsible for the deaths of my parents. Not to mention the lack of what conveniences are available even here in Lórien.”

“Have you your eye on anyone in particular?” Meliel asked slyly. It had been a game between them for fifteen years. Meliel knew she would not get the answer until Ela was ready, but that did not stop her from trying.

“Yes,” she sighed, theatrically, “but he is not ready. Meanwhile, I will dally around with this one or that. It keeps life from getting dull. Besides, I am quite content with what I have right now. He is pleasant company and makes no demands. In fact, he would make a good husband. At least I will not drive the object of my intentions into the arms of another.”

“As far as I can tell, you are not driving anyone anywhere. Just a hint?”

“Not until I am sure he returns the interest. Do you think I need more rumours? I have enough trouble living up to the ones circulating now.”

“How do you know he will wait another twenty years?” Meliel looked back at Del.

“He has waited this long.”

“At least tell me where he is. Here, or Imladris?”

“Yes,” was all she would say. “Now, we really need to get going.”

Meliel glanced back at Elldar and Del. They were still arguing, but had started walking faster.



****
The eastern borders had been uneasy for months. The people fleeing the areas north of Mordor had slowed down, but they continued to move southward. Although none came close, the guards did not relax their vigilance.

Celedien was awaiting replacements for those returning for reassignment. He had been thankful that things had been as quiet as they had. He did not care for men, but he also did not think he would enjoy leaving the Golden Woods. These people had had to give up everything they knew. He prayed they would not turn to Lórien for refuge. He did not want to have to persuade them to keep going south, and it was hard to do so; there were so many children.

The inner watch sent word that runners approached. Celedien went back to the main camp to welcome them. He was very surprised to see Orophin, his, second waiting.

“I thought you had a leave due, Orophin. What drags you back out here?”

“These recruits may prove a handful. They are to receive full training. Haldir was most emphatic about that. I have instructions for them and you.” Celedien looked back towards the road. He could just make out the four figures moving their direction. He glanced back to Orophin.

“I am not sure I entirely like this idea. Would they not be better up north?” The whole assignment did not sit well with him.

“This is where Haldir wants them. And it is only two weeks.”

“Your son is bad enough, but I do not like having the girls out here. There is much that could go wrong.”

“They are all well trained. This is not to be a picnic. They are here because it is required. Do not look at who they are. Just treat them as you did us when we had to do our turn.” Orophin did not state his unease with the situation. Celedien may be his immediate superior, but Haldir was over both of them. His was the final word.

“You will be here, right?” The sigh of resignation was very audible.

“Do not worry so,” laughed Orophin. “I will be here.” They waited together for the four younglings to approach.

They came forward and bowed their heads to Celedien. He looked them over. What he saw was a study in contrasts. Elldar, Orophin’s son, had reached a height of almost six foot, as tall as his father, yet he was as heavy as was his uncle. His eyes took in everything around him, and looked back with an attitude that at times resembled Haldir’s. In fact, his physical shape made him resemble his uncle more than his father. Delinfel almost mirrored Elldar. Slightly taller, but not as heavy. He had the dark hair and grey eyes that marked him a wood-elf. They were the ideal elven warriors: tall, beautiful, deadly. Meliel showed little of her human blood. She was tall, just shy of Elldar’s height. Her dark hair was not a shade seen often in Lórien. She kept it pulled back and plaited in one long braid, unusual, but not unheard of. Her eyes were a greenish-grey that she inherited from her father.

On the other hand, fifteen years had not changed Elrénia’s appearance very much. She appeared only eighteen or so. Her full height was still six inches short of normal for an Elf. Her gold hair carried wide bands of blond streaking from the sun. It was worn in six braids across the crown of her head, then gathered in a braid and wrapped around her head. It was not a style any elf wore. There were bright red ribbons woven through the braids. Her skin still carried the freckles that had been hers from childhood. In appearance, she looked human, until you saw her ears. There was enough of a point to indicate there was elven blood. She wore gold earrings. She carried a bow and knife, but Celedien noticed she did not have a sword. He could see she would never handle a full-sized blade, so why bother. She was not anyone’s ideal anything, but she was just as deadly as were the others.

“You will do. You can take talain back in the woods, or stake out a patch of ground.”

“By your leave, we would take talain tonight,” Elldar spoke for all of them.

“You have it. Delcor, show them the empty talain.” The aide who came running up nodded. He led them back further into the forest. As they followed, they took the opportunity to look around. Elldar had been out here many times with his father, and Ela had come out a few occasions. This was Del's first time outside the city. Meliel had been too tired when she had arrived in Lórien to notice much.

After he had seen them settled in, Orophin took Elldar and Ela aside.

“Celedien is your captain. You will obey him in all things. Do not cause shame for your family.” He smiled to take the sting out of his words. They were not children any longer. He knew they would take this duty seriously. “I must go and give Celedien letters and instructions. Sleep well tonight. Make me proud.”

“We will, Adar. There will be no mistakes. We want this too badly.” Elldar looked his father in the eyes.

“Goodnight, then.”

He left the talan, but paused outside the door.

“At last!” Elldar exclaimed. “No more ‘guard the city’ silliness.”

“I have dreamed all my life of this. This is where an ellon can really breathe. This is where we will make our marks,” said Del.

“It is a job,” Elrénia said.

“How can you say that?” Elldar threw his cloak at her. They laughed until it hurt.

Ela sobered and looked at him. He did not like that look in her eyes.

“We may be here, but we have not earned the right to stay. This is just a training stint. We are not yet wardens. Besides, this is what I want, but it is not where I will make my mark.”

“I wish you would not talk that way. I, for one, do not intend to return until forced.”

“No matter how much I want this, I will miss my clean bed,” exclaimed Meliel.

“You always miss your bed,” complained Del.

“I do not like the inconvenience of roughing it,” she retorted.

“I am going to sleep,” said Ela. She laid out her cloak and settled down.

Elldar lay awake for quite a while. Ela’s comment about making her mark bothered him. He had heard her say some strange things in the past, things about which he had told neither his parents nor his uncles. He had noticed that sometimes Ela said things that later proved true, but as she was not consistent, he had hesitated to say anything about it.


Orophin was also disturbed. He hoped Celeborn knew what he was doing. He went to Celedien’s talan. The captain had laid out a meal for them. Orophin had eaten, but took the offered wine.

“Any special instructions? I must tell you, it makes me uncomfortable having the girl out here. There is so much to go wrong. If anything happened to her, I would not like to answer to your brother, Rúmil. All know how he feels about her.”

“Haldir said she is to get the same training as the others. Lord Celeborn has backed him up. That means she has to do the turns on the marches. I do not relish the thought of her being out here either. Gariel has given me much grief over the decision. Her appeals to the Lady have gone unheeded. They are to be here a fortnight. Galadriel thinks by then she will grow weary of soldiering and want to stay in the city. I think the Lady is mistaken.”

Celedien laughed. “She will not. The girl likes this life. I have seen her in action. She has never been subtle about her desire to be a warden. She would have made a fine son.”

“I agree." He paused and shifted the conversation. "Tell the men not to get too rowdy with her. Do not allow any to show her deference. She will not take that. Other than that, she is the same as the rest. Try not to separate her and Meliel too much. They are used to doing everything together: eating, sleeping, hunting. They work well as a team. Do not let anyone challenge her with a knife. She will not start anything, but she will surely finish it.”

“I will bear that in mind. I will warn the others, although, they will have to take their chances.” He smiled.

“I leave with the first light, so I will say farewell now. Try not to dwell on who or what she is. Just treat her like the rest.”

“I will. Goodnight.”

Orophin got his bedroll and found an empty talan. It was going to be a long two weeks.


****

Elrénia was very tired by the time the two weeks were nearly up. The sentry duty itself was boring. They would stand for hours at a time. She did not mind it; it was not quite what Elldar and Del had imagined. The rest of their time was spent hunting, gathering firewood, fetching water and clearing brush. She did all of this, just as everyone else did. Most of the wardens knew her from their hunting trips and other guard duties. She gained the respect of the rest by never pulling rank. She also did not shirk her share of the work because she was not a male. The only thing she was not required to do was cook. After one taste of her cooking, they all decided she could skip that chore. Only Elldar did not go to bed hungry that night. When asked about it, he just laughed and replied that he had been subjected to Elrénia’s culinary skills before, so he had eaten earlier.

Celedien breathed a sigh, as her turn was almost up. She had done as well as any he had seen. She was conscientious about her duties and meticulous with her weapons. He could find no fault. Nevertheless, it had worried him greatly that something could go wrong.

Delinfel and Elldar were sent to patrol with Holelian and Dorelmin, two older scouts. Celedien had sent scouts out the day before, so he knew there was little danger. They had yet to have someone approach the fences closer that a half-day’s march. Four of them would have no trouble. Holelian told them to wait in the open while he and Dorelmin checked a copse of trees out from the forest. Ela and Meliel were told to stay in the tree line and observe. They were aware of the wardens to the north and south of them.

The boys waited patiently for ten minutes. What were they doing, relieving themselves? They could have done that out here. They waited another five minutes.

“Come on. We might as well see what is so interesting.” Elldar started for the trees.

Del shrugged and started to follow.

“No!” said Ela to Meliel. “Something does not feel right. Go get Orophin. He is just to the south.” Meliel turned and ran without questioning.

There was a shout from the east as Holelian came running towards the tree line. Del and Elldar turned and started for the forest. Ela watched horrified as arrows chased them across the open glen. The three elves turned back and started firing arrows in return. Ela knew her bow did not have the reach that a full-sized bow had. She watched, frustrated, as several more wardens joined in the fray. The attackers finally came into view. Men! Attacking Lórien? What were they thinking? It was now seven against several dozen.

Ela and Meliel had been told to remain in the trees; and she had intended to do so, until she saw one of the elves fall. Without thought, she ran out to him. By now, the men were engaging in close fighting. The bows were abandoned for knives and swords. Ela dodged one couple and avoided another to reach the one she had seen fall. Skidding to a stop over him, she dropped her bow and knelt down. The arrows that had entered his body had done their damage. The one to his gut would be the worse.

Opening his eyes, he gasped. “What are you doing out here? You were told to stay put!” The effort of yelling at her almost drove him to unconsciousness.

“Shut up, Del!” she cried. “You are in no position to tell me what to do. Stop talking.” She pulled his tunic up and tore the shirt underneath. Valar, it was bad! One arrow had narrowly missed the artery in his thigh; the other had torn through his abdomen.

Reaching for her small bag, her attention was drawn by the man making his way towards her. She had just enough time to grab her knife before he attacked. Swinging her knife around, she tossed it to her left hand. It was enough to throw the man off for the seconds she needed. Crouching down, she ran in under his right hand and slashed up. It would never have worked with someone she knew, but against a stranger, it could be deadly. She backed up as the surprised man toppled over, his insides now gracing his outside.

“Ela!” Too late, she heard Del yell. Spinning, she came face to face with another man.

“Demon-spawn!” he cursed, before clouting her along side her temple. Ela dropped just inches from Del. Disoriented, she turned and crawled to him. She had just reached him enough to touch him, when the man fell over the both of them, dropped by three arrows. The body missed the arrow in Del’s stomach, but gouged the arrow in his leg, tearing more muscle. Somehow, her hand found the arrow in his gut.

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Chapter name
Chapter Fourteen
Created
10 Feb 2005
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10 Feb 2005
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