A Lady's Tale - Part Thirty
Nori found her there. She had slipped away from the tents where Firnciliath was trying to get things back to normal by saying that she would get some fresh snow to boil for water. But instead, she had leapt onto her horse, Sunbeam, and ridden for all she was worth after her friend. She hadn't been with Firndil and Analsiel when the warg had appeared, so it took a good hour to find the clearing. But when she did, she had to bite her tongue very hard to keep back her nausea.
The snow was reddish brown, and the hacked remains of the warg lay in it. It was curled into a grotesque phase of rigormortis, and was missing an ear and its tail. Nori gagged when she saw both missing pieces lying in the snow near it. But then she saw Analsiel, and all revulsion at the warg was gone.
Her friend lay in the bloody snow just as her opponent did. Carandae lay next her, her lips foaming white, and her sides soaked in sweat, even in the cold. But when Nori approached, the horse jerked her head up and stared around dazedly. When he saw Nori, he relaxed and stood gently. Analsiel didn't stir at the loss of her support, only slumped to the ground. Nori took a minute to stroke Carandae's nose and to lead him to where Sunbeam waited before she went to her friend.
She was unconscious. Her lips were blue and her fingers were a mottled shade of the same color. Frostbite would have set in soon. Her black locks were encrusted with blood and snow. Nori realized with a start that the blood had dripped down from her scalp and was still flowing sluggishly from her head. With that start, she noticed all the other cuts and scrapes that adorned her friend's body. Again Nori bit back revulsion.
But there was no time for such worry. She hoisted Analsiel's limp body onto Sunbeam, who let out a nervous whicker, but quieted on seeing whose dead weight was being put onto her back. Nori took her reins in one hand, then went to Carandae and took his in the other hand. She walked slowly back along the trail she had followed, her feet and the horses' hooves leaving hard prints in the snow.
It was close to dusk when she came back. Tonight was to have been the first night of celebration, but everyone had been worried about Analsiel and the possibility of more wargs hiding in the trees. So the party had been postponed and sentries had been stationed all around the tents. The atmosphere was worried and tense when Nori and the two horses entered to enormous clearing.
Almost immediately, Firnciliath came rushing out of her tent, Firndil close at her heels. But when she saw Analsiel slung over Sunbeam's back, the Elf maiden stopped dead in her tracks. Her brother, being an Elf, swerved out of the way in time to avoid crashing into her and did not stop running until he reached Nori. Then he stood, panting for breath, gasping in the cold night air. He looked up into her face and his eyes begged her for the answer to his unspoken question. Nori smiled at him briefly.
"She lives," she said softly. "Barely."
An incredible amount of fear and tension drained out of his face. He reached up and slid Analsiel off the white horse into his arms. She slumped against him, still unconscious. Firnciliath was moving quickly by now, and she was followed by several others who had noticed Analsiel's return. Astianen was white as the snow she stood on and Quelleanon was just as pale.
Firnciliath reached them and put her hand to Analsiel's forehead.
"Get a healer!" she screamed. Her fingers had come off wet with blood and cold from the temperature of the girl's skin.
Quelleanon turned right around and ran back to the tent where an Elven healer lay. She grabbed the old woman up from her bed and scooped up her healer's bag.
"Hurry, woman. The lady Analsiel had returned and Lady Firnciliath will need all the help she get! UP!"
Meranyn stood paralyzed in the front of her tent. Analsiel was back, thank the Valar, but she was wounded. What had happened, and why did she suddenly feel so bad for this foster sister she so hated? Well, that last was easy. One could not hate anyone who had survived a battle with a starving warg and 3 hours alone in the snow. But what had happened? She was a great warrior and Meranyn knew that the sight of a little blood wouldn't knock her out. Curious, but terrified she stayed frozen where she was.
Analsiel spent the next two days asleep in her tent. Her injuries were all small, but there were many of them. Besides the cuts on her head, she had cuts raked where the warg had reached her when Carandae hadn't leapt away in time. Her arm muscles were overstrained from fighting so long and hard in such bitter cold. And her whole body was blue and numb.
But being wrapped in warm blankets and soothed with hot cloths and broths brought her around in a day or two. Someone had sat with her always through the day and night to make sure nothing happened, and now when she opened her eyes, she saw a blurred form of Firndil.
He was looking into the distance, but he was holding her hand. His gray-green eyes were bright with unshed tears. His long brown hair was combed back and held in place by braids like the Elves of Mirkwood wore. His face was pale, but hopeful. He looked very handsome, even to Analsiel's half-conscious eyes. But then she realized that it didn't really matter what he looked like. She loved him. She thought for a minute and thought maybe she had for a long time. Then she closed her eyes again and returned to sleep with that blissful knowledge on her mind.
When she awoke again, it was dark in the tent and candles burned in all four corners. She could hear a bonfire crackling. She opened her eyes wide this time and looked around. Firnciliath knelt in one corner, drawing out a bottle of herbs from a box on the ground. Analsiel tried to prop herself up to see better, but the muscles in her arms screamed in protest. With a yelp, she dropped back into bed. Firnciliath whirled around and walked quickly to the bed.
"Ana," she said happily. "You're awake!"
Analsiel grimaced, partly at the pet name she so disliked. "Am I? I guess I'm in too much pain to be dead!"
Firnciliath laughed. "Yes, you're much better. I'll go get some broth for you."
"And bring me something to wear!" Analsiel called after her friend's retreating back.
Then she sank to the pillows and went back to sleep, to be awakened when Firnciliath returned.
On Midwinter's Eve, the healer deemed her ready get out of bed and walk, but forbade to wear the dress she had had made for the occasion.
"You have to rest your body and wearing all heavy silks and velvets won't do you any good. Stay by the bonfire and don't too much solid food. And absolutely no wine. Begging you're pardon, milady," she said sternly.
So Analsiel wore plain clothes and was astounded at how heavy they felt. Her white dress was loose on the arms, tapering to flowing cuffs and accented with a cowl neck and a black belt at the waist. She didn't wear jewelry, wary of how heavy that might feel, but she did put her new cloak on. Nianel had done a brilliant job with it, and the black satin was as smooth as a summer sky, the grey fur on the hood and at the arm holes luxurious. After putting her black hair into a simple plait and swinging the cloak over her shoulders, she stepped out into the night air, relishing the feel of standing on her own two feet.
The celebration was wonderful. Analsiel didn't really have to worry about what the healer had said because she didn't have much of an appetite. So she drank cider and ate some bread and meat, but mostly, she sat and talked and laughed and listened.
The gift-giving went well also. Nori put her cloak on immediately and looked quite fetching in the white snow. Firnciliath was astounded at the beauty of her cloak pin, Lhunidil traded her old hat for the new white fur one with a look of desperate gratitude, and even Meranyn made a show of being grateful.
Analsiel was just as pleased with the gifts she was given. Among them were a few pieces of jewelry and a new scabbard for Ruthruin. But her favorite gift by far was from Nori. It was a new harp. It was smaller than the one she had at home, the ebony one that had been Quelleanon's, but still very beautiful. It was of a light golden wood, and there was inlay of blue and purple stones. It had a sweet sound that would be comforting on winter nights, but unfortunately, it was completely out of tune, and Analsiel spent a good half hour of the celebration remedying that.
But after two or three hours, her arms began to ache, and it caught her all of a sudden that she hadn't seen Firndil, or given him his gift. So she made a quick exit by slipping through a loose flap in the tent and stood in the silence of the clearing.
She saw a figure move in the trees, soundlessly and knew that it was Firndil. So she stepped slowly across the snow and leaned next to him on the tree where she found him.
"I didn't give you you're gift," she murmured.
He turned around and looked at her and Analsiel saw something in his eyes that warmed her to her toes and knew that it was love and that the same light reflected from her eyes.
"And did not give you yours," he said even more softly.
"Well, then it's a fair trade. Here," she said, putting the cloak pin into his palm.
"And this for you," Firndil replied, placing a long wooden box into her hands. She opened it.
Inside was a necklace of ice stones, clear gems that sparkled like ice when the sun hits them, or water kissed by moonlight. In the faint glow that emanated from the snow around them, they were silver.
"For the Lady of the Silver Light," he whispered. Then Analsiel looked up at him and he drew her to him.
"I love you, Firndil," she said softly.
He chuckled. "I hope those sentiments were not brought on the gift."
She smiled into his cloak. "No. No, they weren't. I don't know why it took me so long to realize, but I love you."
He drew back from her for an instant and looked into her eyes. Then he spoke.
"I'm glad. I love you too."
Then Analsiel closed her eyes and tilted up her face and they kissed.