A Lady's Tale - Part Twenty-One

Part Twenty One
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"Not another one!"
Analsiel almost screamed in frustration. Ever since Midsummer, a solid month ago, she had been receiving at least three gifts a day from her suitors. She had vases, rings, combs, scabbards, jewels, dresses, and flowers more than she could count. Most were beautiful, delicate, completely useless trinkets that were beginning to crowd her large room. Now she saw that a pile of six had been laid outside her door. Nori laughed as she brought in the bundles with a bewildered and angry expression on her face.
"Oh, look," she said grinning maliciously, "Two each from Elladan and Elrohir. They must be competing for your favors."
Analsiel winced, and started to open the first one from Elrohir. It contained a bow and quiver of arrows. Nori burst out laughing while Analsiel scowled. The lady's skill with a bow and arrow, or rather the lack of it, was notorious throughout the whole court. The next one held a small gold diadem with a tiny red stone in the center. Analsiel sighed as she tucked away in the chest she had bought to hold such useless pieces of jewelry. From Elladan, came her fifth scabbard this week. She looked at Nori who was desperately trying to hold back her laughter. "Yes, it seems men these days don't know what else to buy a warrior maiden!" she said, and the two of them laughed. In the other package from him, came an enormous ring set with at least ten stones that was much too big for even her middle finger. Analsiel didn't put it in her chest, but instead threw it out her window.
Nori stared. "What did you do that for?"
Analsiel shrugged. "I had to let out some anger. Sorry. Let's open the other two."
Opening the paper, Analsiel noticed a small slip of paper fall out. She picked it up, and began to read out loud.

"My pretty girl,
Your face is a pearl

Your blue, blue eyes
Are pretty eyes

Your long black hair
Is very rare

So are you
Oh, I love you!"

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I don't believe it! I'm getting LOVE POEMS!!!" Analsiel was close to hysterics and Nori had fallen of the bed from laughing so hard. Analsiel hit her, and Nori hit back. The love note was ripped in half through their antics.
"Oh, now look what you've done," said Nori in mock horror. "You've ripped the passionate expressions of your dear admirer! Ungrateful wench!"
Analsiel grinned and hit her friend again.
*
Analsiel opened the last package after Nori had left. It contained a packet of Elven healing herbs that Analsiel had never seen before, and it included a sheet of all their uses. It was from Firndil. Analsiel flung herself down on her bed. What should she do about Firndil? Who was he? How should she deal with him? She felt differently about him then all the others, but did she love him? She didn't know, but it had started to bother her that she didn't know how to act around him. They had been friends before, and that kiss in Mirkwood...It was all so confusing. And the other thing Analsiel knew was that she was tired of staying at court and being pampered. As she thought about it, she hadn't really been in combat more than once, and in that she had been wounded in the first few minutes. Yet she was renowned for her fighting skills. She wanted to make a name for herself on what she really deserved.
*
"So," he said. "You want to join the army?"
Analsiel looked him square in the eyes. "Yes," she said steadily. "I want to be in the cavalry. I have my own horse."
"Mm-hm." The captain looked dubious. "And how long would you be staying with us?"
"Until I am no longer needed. Understand, I am still a lady to Queen Arwen, but she has given her consent if I can still be at her service when and if she needs me." Analsiel still felt as if this was one of the stupidest things she had ever done in her life, but she had signed up, and now she had to face up to it. She had wanted action, and now she had it.
The commander stood. "You have your own horse, you have had previous battle experience, you can heal, and you can fight on horseback. But you have never been in a regular army before," he said, thinking out loud. `I think you will be a regular soldier. Once you leave, find Mena, and she will show to the women's bunk and give you your schedule. Then get your horse and bring him to our stable. Go now."
Analsiel thanked him, and left. As soon as she was outside, she sagged against the wall with...what? Relief, gladness? Oh well. She had to find Mena.
Mena was easily found, as everyone at the barracks knew who she was. She was a tall Elf, with blond hair, who looked as if she would have been in her late forties if she had been mortal. She had obviously been beautiful once, but years of hard work had creased her face with unnecessary lines. She grimaced when Analsiel walked up.
"Oh, just what I need is some pampered noble! Thank you, dear, but why don't you go to your eight or eleven suitors or however many there are. We really can't use you hear." Her voice was nasal, and sharp.
Analsiel stiffened. "Why don't you take that up with your captain? He is after all the one who interviewed me and let me in as a common horse rider. If that is too uppity for you, well, you'll just have to deal with it, because I'm not leaving!"
Mena's face suddenly broke into a grin. "You've got spirit, princess, and I admire spirit in anyone. So if you can really keep up and do your share without complaint, then you're as welcome here as anyone else. Come, I'll show you your bunk."
Analsiel walked in her wake, feeling as if she had won a greater victory than any general on the battlefield.
*
"YOU DID WHAT?????" Firnciliath and Nori grinned quickly at each other then went back to staring openmouthed at their friend. Analsiel just shrugged.
"I was getting bored."
"By the Valar," said Firnciliath softly. The elf was close to hysterics. "You couldn't think of anything better to do, so you joined the Army!" Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Don't get so upset, it's not that important!" Analsiel was losing patience with her friends. They acted as if she had signed her own death warrant. "I just needed something to do!"

***************************************

It was before dawn when Analsiel rolled out of her bunk. She slept in her bunk every night now, since she had gotten tired of the other soldiers mocking her about being a soft noble. It had been over two months since she had joined the army, and in her bleak moments, she wondered why she ever had. The hours were close to unbearable. She had to get up at dawn and normally wasn't in bed until after midnight. True, she put herself through two hours of extra practice just to stay fit, but it was still torture. Still, it was hard to complain when so much was happening. One of her suitors had abandoned the conquest when she joined the army, claiming that "she wasn't lady-like enough." Analsiel had been glad of his loss. But the others were still as adamant, and came down to the practice courts as often as they could to watch her. She was used to it by now, and had learned how to ignore them.
Her horse and skill with a blade, as well as Ruthruin herself, had at first been the envy of every other soldier, but when she had revealed her weak points, and let each fighter try out her sword, she was accepted more readily and had a few companions, even if she didn't really have friends.

She stood and groaned. Her body ached from the rigorous exercise of the day before, in which she had hiked ten miles without rest and then fought in a melee, a mock battle. The idea was that all soldiers had to be trained to fight after hard running or walking. The effect was that the melee was a pitiful excuse for a battle, and that none of the soldiers were awake at their usual hour. None except her, that is.
She reached out to wake the girl in the bunk next to her, and then thought again. Of course. She remembered now. Today was a festival day, and everyone in the army was to be given three or four days off. Cursing her inability to sleep in, she pulled on a robe, and staggered up the path to the palace.

Her room had been kept clean by the servants for the last two months, and she realized now how much she had missed it. The gold and silver twinkled merrily at her, as if to welcome her back. She was glad to have a day off. She had hardly seen all her dear friends since she had joined the army, and only did she relized she had actually missed them. They had always been only ten minutes walk away, but she had never been able to see them. Maybe the army is not such a good thing, she thought glumly.
The first thing she did was to climb into the marble bathtub. It had been so long since she'd had a luxurious bath, and she really wanted one. The water was hot, and she still had all the scented soaps in a cupboard she could reach while still in the tub. It was wonderful to wash in the hot steam that seemed like a luxury now.

Eventually, she crawled out and went to her wardrobe. She hadn't worn nice clothes for weeks, and wanted something really pretty. She winced at that thought. She was starting to think like Meranyn.
Meranyn. Her foster-sister. When the girl had arrived, she had made it her business to tell everyone that she was Analsiel's foster sister. It was exhausting at first to have to act friendly towards her, but after Meranyn realized that Analsiel wanted nothing to do with her, she shunned her altogether. She had become quite close with Lhunidil, and the two were often seen walking and giggling together through the palace.
Analsiel shook off unkind thoughts and pulled open her wardrobe. All her court ball gowns had been removed and Nori was keeping them safe for her. All that she found was an immeasurable amount of light white undergowns, sashes, skirts, bodices, and hair things. It was a simple wardrobe, and Analsiel began to wonder if her room had been given to someone else. But no, it was only available as a guest room. These clothes were meant for guests. Comforted, she picked out a white dress, light blue skirt, dark blue bodice, a black belt, and put her hair in a plait that reached several inches past her waist. She looked around the room and found the chest where she kept all the silly presents her suitors gave her. She took out a few gold and sapphire hairpins, added a pair of gold earrings and turned to go.

But something caught her eye.

A small box was sitting in the corner. She walked towards it and picked it up. It was heavy and solid. She pried it open.
It held a gold ring set with an enormous sapphire. The stone sparkled and shone in the light of the dawn, and the gold positively glowed. She admired it, wondering who it was from. Then she saw a tiny wax mark on the box. It was a leaf, pressed into green wax. Legolas.
She dropped the gift as if she had burned. What was he thinking? Why was he sending her gifts? He was supposed to be courting Lhunidil! Oh help, this was the one thing she did not need to complicate her life! She had to return it before Lhunidil saw it and before it seemed like she had thought about keeping it. She would leave outside his door with a note. No, without a note! Oh, what was she going to do!

Frantically, Analsiel ran down the corridors of the palace to Legolas' room. When she reached it, she heard voices inside and found the door slightly ajar.
"-absolutely not appropriate, your Highness!" came the loud voice that Analsiel recognized as King Thranduil's chief minister. He had arrived at court three weeks ago for unknown reasons. "Your parents won't hear of it!"
Then Legolas' voice, in a low, swift, dangerous tone. "I do not care what my parents think! I do not care for this Elf they set for me! She is a fool, and anyway, I will have none but ANALSIEL!"

The words rocketed around Analsiel's mind and heart as she let a sound that was very close to a scream. None but...her? When Legolas came to the door, she thrust the gift into his hands and ran as fast as she could away from the door.

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