A Middle Earth Reunion - Chapter 11; Preparation and Departure
Note: This is the longest chapter of the entire story; just giving you fair warning if you don't have much time to read!
Elanor woke in the peaceful morning alone, and covered with a blanket. Beside her on the table was a note. It read;
My dearest Elanor, my light, my joy, I've gone to the armory to find something decent that fits. Might take some time. Don't expect me before two or three o' clock. I'll miss you.
Smiling sadly, she set down the parchment and rose, stoking the dying embers in the hearth. Elanor attempted to spend the day in leisure, but found that the idleness disinterested her. Slowly, her thoughts turned to her home, and of the clear days and warm nights of the Shire. A strange longing came on her to breathe the free air as she realized that she had not seen the sun, or anything green and growing in nearly four months. She decided to find Anna, and get outside, if just for a moment, if she could.
Changing into one of the gowns provided to her by the Gondorian court, she slipped into the empty corridor. It was the midday hour, and nearly every being in the great underground catacomb was breaking their daily fast. As she walked past the Great Hall, she heard two voices, and realized that the immense, ornately carved door had been left open the tiniest of cracks. She would have paid it no heed had she not heard the usually constrained voice of the Lady Éowyn, now raised in anger. Elanor paused, and stood in the shadows, listening as a child, thought to be asleep long before, that hears words not meant for his ears.
"My lord, there are women in the city, hale and strong, that would fight for the honor of your majesty and the realm! They can fight, if only you would let them."
Elessar's voice answered her. "Lady, as a sister you are to me, and I tell you that I would not lead more of my people to despair. Do you wish for more bloodshed?"
"I only wish that if we must fall, we should make such an end as will be sung in afterdays of our people!"
"Aye, if there are any left to sing. I would give my people a chance, and the women and young children have a chance at life in the saftey of Minas Tirith that they would lose if they fought beside our men."
Éowyn's voice was quiet and rough. "They would not lose it, my lord, they would sacrifice it to see their kind and their king withstand the torrent!"
The king's voice grew dangerous and angry, a desperate heat in his words. "I would not have it as such! This is my command. Do not challenge me!"
"Then I would have you know, lord, that you will not stem the will of those desperate to protect you with their love, and the sword, if they must." Footsteps hastened towards the doorway, and Elanor sank deeper into the shadows. Éowyn pushed open the door and strode past, head held high and a glimmer of passing rage in her wise eyes.
Saddened at what she had heard, Elanor continued on, feeling unworthy and desperate. She found Anna in the seamstress's quarters, working swiftly on some garment of use to men in war. When Elanor voiced her wish to find a breath of fresh air, Anna spoke that she knew nearly the next best thing. Taking leave of the seamstress, an exceptionally large woman with a quick temper and a soft heart, Anna took Elanor by the hand and led her through many turnings.
Finally, turning into an indoor courtyard of the impossible labyrinth, Elanor beheld the glory of the white tree of Gondor for only the second time in her life. Tall and magnificent, it held the grace of a towering Mallorn with the wisdom of an ancient redwood, and the youthful flexibility of a swaying beech. Though it was planted in good soil, well watered and tended by the loving hands of master gardeners, and still emanated its unearthly glory, it was clearly dying. It's delicate leaves were limp, and many had fallen; it's silver bark was spotted and soft, and it bore no blossoms.
"I come 'ere when I miss the trees an' the grass... or m' parents," Anna said quietly, bowing her head respectfully at the noble symbol of Gondorian liberty.
"Thank you, Anna," Elanor said softly, a great heaviness on her heart.
After standing a few moments longer, Anna spoke. "I'd best be gettin' back to the seamstress, Mistress Elanor. You'll be able t' find yer way back to yer chambers?"
Elanor waved her away, and after the last echoes of Anna's light footsteps had faded, she approached the mighty tree.
She felt the bark, and, being a gardener's daughter, saw that the sickness plaguing the tree was just a lack of sunlight and air, forcing it into agonizing starvation. She leaned her head against it as a single leaf twirled despondently down to the stony earth. Turning away, she furiously brushed aside the tears that had so treacherously welled in her eyes and hurried back the way she had come. So it was that she did not see Faramir, standing by the opposite door and clutching a small bundle, watching her silent sorrow with a saddened heart.
* * *
"All right, parry, thrust, spin, no, clockwise, that way leaves your sword arm unprotected!" Elanor's sword fell to the stones with a clang as Éowyn forced her arm down with the hilt of her blade. Elanor sank, panting, into a waiting chair, defeated for the seventh time in a single night. Éowyn sheathed her long elegant dagger and reached for a goblet of water, not a droplet of sweat to be seen.
"You're getting better already," she commented approvingly. "You're just thinking about the motions instead of doing them. You need to let your instincts take command, not your mind. Let's try it again." Elanor groaned.
"Close your eyes. You're on a field of battle, fighting a true army, not an elderly matron of Rohan. If you don't make wise decisions, your life is forfeit. Now fight me with your body, not with your mind."
Elanor's heart quickened as she pictured her danger. To her surprise, her thoughts calmed and dissipated, fading into the background as her arm steadied and stance straightened. She opened her eyes, seeing no longer with her eyes the Lady Éowyn before her, but a grim soldier fierce and armored.
Elanor moved as a bitter wind, a deer in flight, the wild wolf hunting its panicked quarry. Her blade was a continuation of her soul, striking in unison with her simplest thought. Suddenly, another reverberating crash returned her to reality. She blinked.
Éowyn's sword lay on the ground at her feet, her own blade centered on Éowyn's heart, poised for a final thrust. She drew it back quickly.
"Excellent!" the Lady cried. "Think, how did you know I was going to strike to the left when I've been favoring your right all night?"
Elanor shook her head, amazed that she knew. "Y-you shifted your weight to your right foot, and you tensed your shoulder so I knew you were going to thrust. How did I know that?"
"You have the makings of a true shield maiden. You'll be the best sword arm in the realm by end of the fortnight!" Elanor beamed shyly. "Even so, I believe that's enough for your first night." Elanor handed back the sword that the Lady had loaned her, as she would not be able to use her own long knife in true battle.
"By the by," Éowyn asked conversationally. "What did you tell the other, Faramir, that you were doing tonight? Is he not suspicious?"
"I told him that I was helping Anna, overloaded as she is. Said I'd be helping her for a month."
"Good, that will hold. Take some water before you leave, you're looking too flushed to have been sewing all this time." After Éowyn looked her over, Elanor found her way back to her rooms and a late supper of mushroom stew. With all the moisture in the overburdened earth, the fungi were the only vegetation that prospered. She would never have thought that she would tire of mushrooms, but now she longed for a good meal at the Dragon, or even the gray cabbage loaf of a week ago.
The two weeks before departing passed quickly, far too quickly for many. Elanor returned to Éowyn every night, learning and growing in her new found talent, becoming more swift and stronger with each passing skirmish. Though she was absorbed in her own complex plots, she noticed a definite change in Faramir's demeanor. He rarely ate more than a few spoonfuls of broth, and was growing thin and pale. He would sit for an hour or more, staring at an open book that his eyes did not see. She never saw him weep, but often found him with eyes sunken and red, dark crescents stretched beneath them.
Too soon, the last night of certain safety was upon them with the full court in attendance at the parting feast, which could hardly be called such, with wives and children weeping muffled tears and barely enough food to go around. There was no music, and any conversation was quiet and subdued. Elves and men, dwarves and ents, and, of course, two small hobbits alone in the wide hall, all sat together in the near silence for a last time of fellowship. Finally, the king rose from his gilded seat beside the fair queen.
"My friends, it is on the morrow that many of us gathered here will go to war. This is our last grasp at freedom, our only hope for valor, even in defeat. I do not grudge those that will stay, and I honor those that must be left behind." He glanced quickly at the Lady Éowyn, whose eyes bore no forgiveness. "For those who stay, do not hope for our safe return. For those who will fight, do not abandon all hope, for even in despair may victory be snatched from the claws of defeat. Our fate is between the light and the shadow, and none can see whether the flame will rise, or the darkness will consume us. But this I know; only through your strength, your valor, your courage, can we survive. Go to rest, and come to me in the gray morning. We go to war!" The voice of the king, Estel, hope of his people, echoed on the flagstones and died in the cavernous hall.
Slowly, one by one, the company stood, drained their goblets to the health of the king and the line of Elendil, and filtered away. They marched through the long halls with only the sound of the falling of many feet, a ponderous procession treading the heavy path of some unforetold death. Once back in their chamber, Faramir walked to the great hearth and stoked the dying ashes, throwing the last slender faggot onto its bitter heat as Elanor stood by the door in silence. Her hardest trial was come.
"Oh, Elanor," Faramir cried, sinking to his knees. "I'm so afraid. What if the king is wrong? What if we cannot find our way to the west, and die alone at sea? What if we meet the Valar only to be crushed like an insolent beetle beneath an iron-shod foot? How can I go on knowing that I'll never see you again?"
Elanor knelt by his side. "We must trust to hope," she choked, unwept tears springing to her eyes.
"There was never any real hope, Elanor. Only a fool's hope."
"Then we must be as fools, and find hope where there is none."
"Oh, Elanor," Faramir whispered as he wrapped his arms around her. "My sweetest Elanor. I love you so. And I always will, to the ends of the earth and back."
"To there and back again," said Elanor even as he kissed her, letting his familiar warmth envelop her. After a few minutes she pulled away, stumbling to her feet even as he reached out to her.
"Faramir, I must leave you," she gasped, tears streaming down her face as her heart wrenched in two. "I-I could not bear to have you leave me, I would die for grief. I must go..."
Faramir's eyes welled with the tears he had hidden for so long. "No, Elanor, you mustn't abandon me. You cannot leave me here alone with my sorrow, and my fear! I beg of you, stay with me!"
"I cannot. Do not ask me, Faramir, my heart is breaking!"
"My deep love, my wild woe, my frantic prayer; are they nothing to you?"
"They are everything to me, my world, my sun, my stars. But I must go!"
Kissing him for the last time, feeling his arms so tightly around her, Elanor longed to stay with him, comfort him in his agony, but she ripped herself away and fled, the enormous door shutting with the same finality as death.
Faramir again cast himself before the fire, his face in his hands as he wept unashamed. "Oh, Elanor! My hope -- my love -- my life!"
* * *
Anna leaned over a tunic in the lightest corner of the dark seamstress' quarters, her eyes straining at the tiny stitches. She had to finish ere the morning came and she left, perhaps forever, or the seamstress would be loaded with unfinished work. Her tired fingers slipped on the tiny bone needle, causing a knot to form in the delicate thread once again. From behind her, the seamstress' strong voice boomed.
"Put that down, girl, a'fore you do more 'arm than I can mend." Anna turned, and was surprised to see her guardian clutching a well-oiled wooden box. "This is fer you," the matron muttered clumsily. Taking the box with trembling hands, Anna opened its copper-hinged lid and gasped.
Inside were spools of the most beautiful thread she had ever seen, along with a set of polished silver needles, so different from the blunt bone skewers she was used too, and a new pair of shining shears, sharp and just perfect for cutting any fabric. Anna ran her fingers over these unimagined wonders, her eyes brimming with tears of wonder and gratitude. She threw her arms around the elderly matron, who patted her with strong arms, muscled from years of work.
"That's enough of that," she mumbled, beaming. "Put it with the rest o' the cloth and such yer takin' with yeh, and get some rest. Yeh'll not want tah miss yer boat in the mornin'."
* * *
In his private chambers, the King called his only son and heir to his side. Eldarion, only eleven years of age, stood before his father with eyes brave but sorrowful, trying to show his quality for the man he had only ever called 'sire.'
"My son," Elessar began. "I am leaving in the morn. Will you look after your mother, and your kingdom, while I am away?"
"Yes, sire," the young boy said, his voice small compared with his father's deep, powerful baritone.
"The people will need you. You must be brave. Can you do that, for your father and your country?"
Going to a huge oaken chest, Estel removed a long narrow box from its depths. The wood was simply stained, dark, with a single elf rune E carved into its surface in sure flowing script.
"This is for you, Eldarion."
The boy opened the box to reveal a sword, well-used but sharp, and ready for battle. On its scabbard was etched a vine, curling around its base to form the strong branches of a silver tree, the sign of Gondor and the heirs of Elendil, and of Númenor.
"This was my blade as a child," the lord spoke, drawing the sword with the musical shing of well-honed metal. "The kingsword must come with me, but this I give to you in memory, and in hope, of greater things and of better days. Guard it well, and hope for my return."
The young prince dashed away the treacherous tears that would betray his fear, his weakness, as he saw it, and finally choked, "Yes, father."
* * *
Samwise paced anxiously by the banks of the Lake of Lorellin. In a clearing not far away, in the gardens of Lorien, elvish voices, so often lifted in song, were raised in anger. Lying under a tree in the calm darkness, beneath the cover of uncounted stars, Frodo listened intently to the discussion echoing through the trees in the fair Elvish tongue. His pipe glowed softly as he gazed into the distance, sometimes nodding his head when he heard a particularly convincing argument, or clicking his tongue.
"I can't stand it, Frodo!" Sam said finally, sitting beside his former master. "I wish I could understand what they were saying!"
"No, you really don't, Sam. It could go either way, I can't be sure what they'll decide."
"What? How could they decide not to fight the Valar? Begging your pardon, but it'd just be stupid to let 'em murder all the big folk, even Strider and all!"
"Oh, Sam, hush, I just missed something important. Anyway, they'll decide soon enough. Just be patient."
The sandy-haired hobbit rose, muttering about being patient and began to pace again. Finally, some uncounted time later, a musical phrase came louder than any the hobbits had yet heard, followed by a great cheer of fair voices.
"They've decided!" Frodo said, jumping to his feet.
"What? What have they decided?" Sam gasped, clutching his friend's arm.
"You'll see in just a moment," the other responded, sapphire eyes shining in the starlight. "They're coming this way."
Emerging from the darkened wood, a great number of elves gathered by the flowing stream. One, a Lady tall and fair, stepped forward and spoke.
"Well, Frodo, Master Samwise, we have made a decision. A hundred score of us are willing to fight the Valar. The others will not fight against us, nor will they aid us, but it is quite a number that will."
"Two thousand?" Frodo gasped. "That's wonderful!"
Sam leaned back against the tree, closing his eyes and clutching his heart. "There you are, Elly," he murmured. "It's the best I can do."
* * *
Elanor could not say how she found herself in the nearly empty Main Gallery. She had only memories of a deep and unquenchable sorrow, and then finding herself again, in Éowyn's embrace. Gently, after her sobbing had subsided, the Lady wiped her tears away and guided Elanor to a low-backed chair, and began combing the hobbit's golden hair straight. After a time, Éowyn asked quietly if she was ready for her to cut off the locks Elanor had not been parted with her entire life.
Composed at last, Elanor looked at herself in the mirror Éowyn had placed before her. Eyes red and swollen looked back at her, but deep in their depths she saw a fire kindled by unimagined loss. Courage rose in her then, and she met Éowyn's eyes easily.
"Cut it off. I won't be needing it."
Éowyn patted her shoulder, approval shining in her face, and reached for a pair of sharpest silver shears. Elanor shut her eyes tightly and cringed.
Elanor gasped as the weight fell from her, and looked quickly to the floor, astounded to see nearly two feet of shimmering sunny locks scattered about her. Looking up to the mirror, she uttered another gasp. Her beautiful hair now came only just below her shoulders, as Éowyn made the last few straightening cuts. She pulled it back, and skillfully tied it into a confined bun at the base of Elanor's neck, securing it with a small metal rod.
"Good!" Éowyn said, sounding pleased. "That certainly changes your appearance; even the shape of your face seems different. I could not have hoped for better. Once we let your hair out, I believe it shall hide your ears, as well. Now... This is rather odd. We must disguise your feet."
"Well," Elanor said curiously, "Won't I be wearing shoes?"
"Yes, of course, but you must take them off to sleep, and we don't want anyone to see your... how would one phrase this delicately- pelted appendages. Do you wish me to cut it, or will you?"
Elanor wordlessly took a short razor from the table and knelt on the stone floor, feeling very odd indeed. She cut every hair from her delicate feet without incident or pain, and stood, looking down at her naked extremities.
Éowyn smiled. "There. How do you feel about that?"
"Cold." Elanor wiggled her toes. "Very cold." The Lady laughed.
"This part is the most unpleasant," Éowyn said remorsefully. To truly disguise that you are both a hobbit and a woman, we must bind your chest. Remove all your clothing but for your barest undergarment, for this cloth is quite rough, and you will not want it rubbing your skin, as I am afraid I know from unfortunate experience."
Standing in her thin, silken under robe, Elanor shivered in the cold stone hall as Éowyn wrapped a thick belt of fabric around her bosom from behind.
"I know it may be a bit tight right now, but it will-" Elanor cut her off.
"I can't breathe!" she choked hoarsely, panting shallowly.
"That's too tight!" Éowyn cried, swiftly undoing the knot she had tied. Elanor gasped, clutching her chest. "I'm so sorry, Elanor!" The Lady said.
"It's all right, I don't think it's killed me," the hobbit said, smiling weakly. "Shall we try it again?"
Tying the rough fabric much more gently, Elanor still felt an unpleasant pressure on her lungs, but felt that she would, eventually, get used to the discomfort.
Éowyn went to the table, holding up a set of young boy's clothing. Included were a pair of brown breeches, a leather tunic, a short, well-made mail coat and a warm, gray cloak of wool. Also, there was a pair of stocking feet and soft brown boots of leather.
"Put them on, I wish to see if I have succeeded," she said softly.
A few moments later, she stood fully clothed, mail shirt, boots, and all. The Lady Éowyn took the rod out of her hair and pulled it down, sending it to hang loosely about Elanor's shoulders. Éowyn stood back and smiled.
"This is splendid. It wasn't so convincing when I was in disguise! Go to the mirror, see this masterpiece."
Elanor walked slowly to the great, gilded looking glass and gasped. The elegant young hobbit of the past was not to be seen, but a boy of Gondor, not yet fourteen years of age stood under the misty surface of the silvery glass. The only hints of her true self were her lips, a little too feminine for a boy, her voice, bell-like in its tone, and her eyes, deep wells of warm emotion.
"Lady, I cannot thank you with words for this service, but, I must ask-- what is my name?"
"I have given thought to this, Elanor, and you shall be called Leofa, of the second king of the second line of the house of Eorl. You were brought forth from Rohan by your mother, to seek family in Gondor, but she was slain by rebel hillmen ere you reached the city. You were found by a patrolling scout, and brought to the city. Here you have lived from the age of seven, and you go to war as a sign of the love you bear for the city that kept you after you were orphaned. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," she lied. "Is there anything else I must do?"
The Lady thought. "You do not speak as a child of Rohan or Gondor. Can you mimic those you have heard? If you cannot, then you must play the role of a mute, as well."
Elanor grinned. It had been a useful talent of hers when she was young, to copy those members of authority she knew. She had used it only for mischief, but she hoped it would serve her now for more noble purposes.
"Aye, milady, sure as the whi'e tree grows, I can talk like the res' o' the 'oodlums 'round 'ere. I jus' need tah call ever'one 'sir' an' 'lord' an' I'll be righ' as rain."
Éowyn laughed. "That's quite good! You even changed the tone of your voice, it sounds deeper as well. Now, there is nothing left to do. You are as much a man of Gondor as I can make you. If you can, I would tell you to rest, for the night is short, and you shall depart early as the sun rises. Sleep now, and I will call you in the dark morning."
* * *
Though Faramir slept not at all, weariness never found him as her sat alone, watchful and sorrowing in the darkness. Towards the end of his silent vigil, he took pen to paper, quickly brushing away the tears that fell, so as not to smudge the fresh ink. Finally, he rose, and as he donned his mail and buckled his small but faithful sword 'bout his waist, he examined his work. It went as thus;
When the cold sea wind comes blowing o'er the shore As the raven flies upon the gusting breeze Though in death's cold haze my bones may surely lie When at last, my heart, I come back to you
When those light of heart dim ever more
I'll come back to you, for my heart yearns to see
The night warmed by your love of me
As the lone wolf howls amongst the trees
I'll come back to you, for my spirit yearns to run
Beneath the stars, under the sun
Though the spark of life has finally died
I'll come back to you, for my soul yearns for rest
My lingering hope, my final test
You shall know again that I was true
As I sing my glad praise for ever and anon
As the gladsome bird whose cage has gone
As the raven flies upon the gusting breeze
Though in death's cold haze my bones may surely lie
When at last, my heart, I come back to you
Faramir brought the delicate parchment to his lips ere he laid it on the table by the hearth. He gathered his things, cast a last, forlorn look at the room that had been his home for four months, and closed the heavy wooden door for the last time. As the last echo of the stifled thud faded away, the draft that had been allowed to enter found the hearth. The parchment fluttered, shifted towards the edge of the small surface, and, after teetering on the brink for a moment, fell to its end among the last dying coals in a cold and darkened room, with no one to witness its final resting place among the cold and graying ashes of a war-scarred love.
* * *
Elanor woke after only a few hours that seemed like minutes, with Éowyn's hand on her shoulder.
"Awaken, Elanor. It is time."
The hobbit sat up, shivering in the cold darkness. Éowyn left the clothes on the cot and went to the table, bustling over something on its surface.
"I don't think I fancy shoes at all," Elanor called as she laced up the soft brown boots. "Too tight on my toes."
"You may get used to them," Éowyn replied. "If you are dressed, come and break your fast with me."
Elanor found the most splendid meal she had seen in months waiting for her when she rose. A crisp bread made of potatoes, a cooked egg, and a single, coveted piece of bacon. The hobbit did not question this gift from the gods, but ate slowly, as if to remember it in the dark days to come.
"I've given you my old sword, may it serve you well, as well as a few changes of clothing and a blanket. Is there anything else that you would have?"
Elanor sighed, sitting back from the table. "Perhaps, milady, a book? It's a long journey..."
Éowyn smiled, and took a volume from Elanor's pack. "I already thought of that. Forgive me, but all I could find is a history of the line of Eorl; it's dry, but it's something... Is there anything else you would have me do?"
Elanor smiled sadly. "No, milady. What I do wish, you cannot give me."
The Lady embraced her, speaking as she did so. "Then it is time. I cannot go with you to the havens, for the king might suspect some plot, but I will see you off, though you will not see me. Farewell, my little Leofa. I believe you'll find Anna waiting for you just outside the door. May grace protect you both."
Elanor slung a new pack on to her shoulder, grasped Lady Éowyn's hand, and left the Great Hall, entering it not again in that life.
Anna was waiting for her outside, but she had fallen asleep sitting at the base of the richly gilded door.
I should leave her sleeping, Elanor thought, looking at the face so deep in peaceful slumber. One so young should not find the despair of war thrown at her feet. But, as she stood there, Anna stirred and opened her eyes, bleary with sleep. She jumped to her feet with a start.
"Oi, yeh!" she cried. "What's the time? 'ave the ships left yet?" Elanor could not help but laugh.
"No, Anna, they have not, and I'd have thought you'd recognize your dear 'Mistress Elanor.'"
Anna gasped. "Bless me, Mistress, is 'at you? I don' believe it!"
"Well, it is me, but I'm not Mistress Elanor any longer. Call me Leofa, no more and no less."
"Yes Mistr- I mean, Elan- I mean, Leofa."
Elanor grabbed Anna's hand and led the confused girl towards the tunnel leading out from the catacombs and into the open, rather sodden, air. They joined a great multitude of men and soldiers, talking quietly if they spoke at all, flocking towards the exit of their voluntary prison. As the host drew closer to freedom, they heard cries of dismay echoing back from the opening of the labyrinth. Anna clutched her friend's hand, and Elanor realized that the girl was afraid.
What devilry awaits us to make grown men cry out in fear, or in sorrow? she thought, a flutter of subdued panic quickening in her heart.
Finally, after an eternity in a cage of unwanted security, Elanor felt the cold rain of a bitter winter without the hope of spring on her face. Looking around through the veil of water, she found the source of the men's despair.
Minas Tirith, the beloved city of men, capital of most of the ancient world, had fallen into ruin. The grand halls had sunk into the sodden ground, more of a bog than a promenade of beautiful gardens. The glimmering tower of Ecthellion, still beautiful amidst the barren wreckage, tilted woozily, the foundations that had stood for a life-age of the earth crumbling into the moiling sea of effluvia.
Elanor herself was crushed, but her sadness was small indeed compared with Anna's grief. The girl fell to her knees, the frigid rain mingling with her warm tears. Elanor pulled at her arm, murmuring that all would be well.
"My 'ome!" Anna cried. "My world! 'Tis all gone!"
"Hush, Anna, come now," Elanor whispered. "We must go on to the docks, we mustn't draw attention to ourselves!"
With a great amount of effort, Anna stifled the sobs that wracked her body and rose shakily to her feet, plodding on with Elanor's arm firmly about her shoulders.
This is her home, her whole life. It's as if I went back to the Shire and found it blackened and burned, my family dead and gone. She shuddered, and drew Anna closer, comforting the child without words.
After what seemed years of trudging forth in the biting cold, over the drumming of the pounding rain and the shrieking of the wind, those assembled in the war party heard the swift running of the swollen Anduin as it rushed down to sea. Looming into view, much alike to Elanor's vision of the tower of the white city so long ago, were many great ships, dreadful in their monumental beauty. Beside her, a voice gasped breathlessly.
"Great Arda and all the realms of over-heaven!" Elanor turned, and her breath caught in her throat. Why had cruel fate been so hateful as to place her by her lost love?!
"What is it, milord?" a young boy asked, and Elanor recognized him as Taron, the healer's apprentice.
Faramir was drawn slowly out of his reverie, but continued to look at the towering vessels. "What? Oh, it's nothing. I... just have a little fear of water, that's all."
"T'is a long voyage, milord. If yeh'd like, I could fix yeh a draft that might 'elp, beggin' yer pardon."
"We'll see if it's needed, Taron, we'll see," Faramir replied, a weak smile gracing his colorless face.
The procession was grim as the men were sorted into the various ships. Soon enough, a one-eyed captain came down the line and pointed with both hands well in front of Elanor in the line and well behind her.
"'Ere through 'ere, ye'r on the Estel, ''ope,' in the common tongue. Lucky lot, yeh, the King's on yer ship. T'is the third one from the left, she is."
Elanor cringed. Oh Arda, he and the King are on the same boat as me! She glanced at Faramir, who met her eye and smiled encouragingly. She looked quickly back to the soldier's shoulder in front of her, and hid her eyes from view. It would not do to have Faramir recognizing her even before the ships left their harbor.
Slowly, the men reached the plank leading up onto the Estel and began the long walk up it's wooden length. The walkway rose to a hypnotic height, high above the deepest part of the river. Elanor viewed the tossing waters from far in towards the center of the narrow causeway, but Faramir was strangely entranced. For reasons unbeknownst to all, he leaned far over the railingless side, stood for a moment on the precarious edge, and, in true hobbit form, lost his balance.
Just as it seemed he would be lost, his spirit claimed by the torrential river, Elanor snatched the back of his collar and dragged him the rest of the way up the wooden plank.
Faramir clutched his heart, panting. "Thank you!" he cried. "I owe you my life! What is your name?"
Elanor's mind knew what was wanted of her, knew even what the proper reply was, but somehow, this did not find her mouth, which remained mute. Faramir waited for a moment, then looked at her strangely, raising an eyebrow.
"'is name's Leofa, sir," Anna said, taking control of the dangerous situation. "Sorry, milord, 'e's just a bit slow, no need to worry. Come 'long now, Leofa, let's find our cabin."
Elanor whispered to Anna as the girl dragged her to the opposite side of the mighty ship. "Thank you, Anna, I don't know what came-" Anna silenced her with a nudge to the ribs and kneeled respectfully as the King strode by, pulling Elanor down with her. Elessar acknowledged the two with a nod and continued on his way.
"The Lord can' 'ear yeh talkin' like 'at, 'e'll know 'o yeh are!" she hissed, rising.
"Well, 'at's no trouble. I can talk jus' like the res' o' yeh, when 'tis what I want." Anna giggled, the first merriment either had felt for some time.
Having the attention span of an ent was not one of Anna's qualities, so she soon grew tired of watching people she had known her whole life gather on the deck, and slowly looked over the side of the mighty ship.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "We're very 'igh, an' the water's so deep!"
"Don' be scared," Elanor replied, falling into the habit of using the unfamiliar accent. "Yeh won' see it much once we're movin'."
Anna scoffed. "Scared? T'is wonderful! I've never been on such a ship a'fore!"
Chuckling quietly at the young girl's delight, Elanor turned to a man towards the center of the deck, who had called attention from the assembled crew. His features seemed vaguely familiar, though she could not place them.
"Men, your attention," the tall figure called, elegance and nobility strongly visible in his stature. "I am Boromir II, Captain of the Guard, and I am serving in the place of my father, the steward of the kingdom, Lord Faramir, for he is needed in the city. For those who have not as yet found themselves on a sea-bound journey, the sleeping quarters are below deck, as well as the galley, and storage for the food and extra weapons. Also, there will be some elves on this particular ship, as I have been asked numerous times, but they have requested to remain above deck at all times." The opinion of the assembled host was mixed; a few cheers went up, along with mutters of, "blasted 'igh an' mighty star-gazers, they're more on the gods' side than ours," and groans of disappointment. Clearly, there was some animosity for the elves from the men, which Elanor did not understand. The captain continued speaking as if he had not heard them.
"You shall be called above deck only when you are needed, and shall otherwise remain below. I suggest you find something to entertain yourselves. It is a long voyage under the best of circumstances. You are dismissed." The men migrated slowly down the ladders leading into the belly of the ship.
Before Elanor could depart, she felt a firm hand on her shoulder. "Boy," a voice began, "Are you called Leofa?" She turned, and found the captain standing behind her.
"Aye, milord," she replied, nervous. How did this man know her alias? She had told no one but Faramir... A fearful thought struck her; had he recognized her, sending someone to get her off the ship? Boromir's voice broke her thoughts.
"That is well, for my mother had told me to watch out for you ere I departed this morn, and I had feared that I should not find you."
Elanor was even more bewildered. Who was this strange woman who had told her son to look out for "Leofa" by name? Could it be that she had meant another?
"Beggin' yer pardon, milord, but, 'o is yer mother 'at yeh spoke of?" The captain looked at her quizzically.
"The Lady Éowyn of the Mark, of course. Did you not know that she is the wife of the steward?"
Elanor sighed inwardly with relief. Her identity was still safe!
"Aye, milord, I knew it. Jus' a li'l nervous, makes me 'ead dull. Eh, sir, did she tell yeh why yeh was teh look after me?"
"No," the kind, yet strong captain said, curiously. "I thought it strange, but I thought better than to ask. Now, down to the quarters, Leofa, you shall want to find yourself a suitable cot ere the men claim them all!" Elanor smiled, and hurried down the ladder with difficulty, as it had been built for men with slightly longer legs.
From the moment she reached the bottom of the ladder, Elanor knew that this journey was to be much different than her first sea voyage. The great under-belly of the vessel was very dark, already thin streams of smoke rising into the thick air from unnumbered pipes. Each seaman, warrior, apprentice (and two hobbits, one not known as such) received barely enough space to set down their belongings, and possessed either a lumpy cot, a wildly swinging hammock, or a particularly uncomfortable patch of straw on the wooden floor. The huge compartment stretching the length of the ship was quite loud with even just a few men talking, with the acoustics of a metal box.
She found Anna in a small area, blocked off from the other voyagers by a partition of thick gray cloth. The girl was the only apprentice of seamstress craft, and was also the only woman that was openly known. She had already managed to organize her small trunk and her supplies on the table she had been provided with, and had placed a single, slightly rotten rag doll on the small cot. The sight made tears well in Elanor's eyes, but she bit them back, asked Anna if she needed anything, and went to find herself a place to sleep.
Elanor looked, crestfallen, around the cavernous hold, seeing only occupied cots, hammocks, and floor. Turning slowly, her sharp eyes found a darker shade against the gloomy shadows in a nearby corner, and, hoping against hope, went to see if it would suit her.
It was a hammock, swinging precariously from the low rafters, only a foot off from the ground and perfect for Elanor's height. It had not been claimed, for there were no supplies near it, and it was also quite private in the darkness, so that she could not be seen by any but the keenest eyes. Though the hobbit was certain that her identity had not been discovered, she felt surer of herself if no one could analyze her in the close quarters.
Setting up her meager goods by her side, Elanor sat unsteadily on her new sleeping arrangement and surveyed those around her, trying to understand what would be required of her. Apparently, for the greatest part of her time, nothing. Many of the more experienced men had already begun playing wagers and games of chance, and skill. For lack of much else to do, Elanor studied those around her.
There were many seamen aboard, though there were some roughened soldiers, distinguished by their unique armor, and the crest of the white tree on their breastplates, laid in easy reach of their owners. She saw several younger boys, perhaps fifteen, so soon gathering together in ill-tempered packs, scanning the ship with scared, fool-hardy expressions. Then there was the multitudinous population of regular men, who had barely lifted sword, bow, or spear in their lifetimes. A scarred veteran had cleared a circle in the midst of the disarranged accouterments, and was training those inexperienced ones who came.
After a time, Elanor's eyes found Faramir, who had likewise chosen a hammock not far away, perhaps only ten feet from her own, but no thrill of fear came into her heart, for she felt strangely safe in her secluded corner. He was clutching a pillar with one white-knuckled hand as he attempted to settle himself in the hammock, though without much success. He had once found himself safely within its confines, only to be so overcome with shock that he tipped out again.
Suddenly, the great ship gave a mighty lurch as her huge sails caught the sodden breeze, and was finally sent down the river towards the great wide expanse of the endless sea. The men gave a resounding cheer, while Faramir was once more knocked to the floor. All those upon that great voyage had left the shores of their well-loved home, perhaps never to return.
Note: I shamelessly plagerized two lines of a non-Tolkien work; extra brownie-points for whoever figures it out first!