A Middle Earth Reunion - Chapter 12; Boredom, Discovery, and Meneltarma
Truly, life on the great voyage was exceptionally dull. Of course, there was the underlying feeling of subdued doubt that pervaded the close atmosphere, but one cannot spend one's time in fear when one is so overcome with mind-numbing boredom that picking at a dark spot on the floor is considered entertainment. Elanor indeed found this relatively amusing in her stupor. She had finished the rather uninteresting history of the house of Eorl in three dark days, and was completely at a loss for what to do.
Elanor spent many hours in Anna's company behind the partition, but had discovered that they had surprisingly little in common, and while the girl was decent company, the extent of her knowledge in the subjects that Elanor found interesting was shallow indeed. She did spend much of her time sewing and mending, but even this was tedious work, and she would have to exit hastily if a warrior came to the apprentice with some tunic or boot that needed patching.
One endless day, Elanor did not go to Anna's chamber, and had not for nearly a week. She felt ill-tempered and confined, and chafed at her long idleness. Memorizing the pattern of beams above her once again, she was pulled back by a presence at her side.
"What is it, Anna?" she asked, feeling strangely as she had when her siblings begged for her attention, and the time that she did not have to spare.
"N-Nothing, mis- Leofa, I jus'..."
Anna appeared crestfallen, hurt deeply beyond the frown that creased her brow. "Nothin'. I'll not bother yeh..." The girl departed, and left Elanor with a feeling of guilt that would not leave her. But she did not return to Anna the next day, nor did the girl seek her out again.
There were some light spots in the monotony of the endless days, for every day the captain of the guard would descend into the hold and choose perhaps ten men to perform the day's menial tasks. It was not much, but it did allow each soldier at least one day above deck every three weeks or so.
But Faramir, it seemed, had fared even worse than Elanor. Though he was a continual source of interest for those around him, none would speak to him openly, and he was very much alone. Also, since his near-drowning, it seemed that his phobia had progressed to such a degree that he could barely sleep, and Elanor woke numerous times over the many nights to see him sitting wearily against a pillar, eyes glinting in the darkness.
Elanor was above deck the day that Faramir had gone to Taron to cure his ailment, and so was there when he clambered up from the hold and was profusely ill over the rail. The apologetic apprentice had followed him.
"I'm so sorry, milord, I added the dried turnip root a'fore the gaurbane, an' it came out all wrong! If yeh'd like, I could make yeh another batch, try again..."
"No!" Faramir choked, as he heaved once more over the side. Elanor shook her head and went back to scrubbing the sea salted deck, secretly glad that she did not have to endure such trials.
So it was, day after day after day. Some three months into the voyage, when most everyone had lost all sense of sanity and found emptying the ship's numerous chamber pots an enjoyable break from the repetition, Elanor felt that she could not bear one more endless night without the stars, or the free air, and crept quietly up the ladder and onto the deck, filled with fair elvish forms, sleeping in their own way while gazing at the sky, completely across the ship from the nightwatchman, scanning the horizon continuously for some hint of land.
The sweet sound of some elvish song floating to her from across the deck, the night breeze fresh on her face, the uncounted stars flying free above her, the glittering black sea stretching without end before her, Elanor felt the stirring in her heart that drove men from the safety of the well-known shore into the free and boundless stretches of the earth. War and death were no price for this, for this was life and freedom as she had never dreamed.
Her longing satiated, and her limbs grown stiff from the chill, Elanor climbed back down into the shocking darkness. As the reached the bottom rung, she felt a firm hand on her arm and was pulled roughly to the floor.
"What're yeh doin', yeh li'le weaklin'? Star gazin' with yer elf frien's?" a rough voice asked. Squinting in the gloom, Elanor made out the shapes of four boys, not far from manhood, their eyes visible from the light of the smallest crescent moon leaking down from the sky.
"I jus' wan'ed some fresh air, I been below fer two weeks now," Elanor said, adopting the tone of an innocent child. The fear in her voice was not feigned; if these boys decided that she was a threat, there would be no one to see what they would do to her.
The leader of the group pushed her roughly, sending her backwards towards the wall. The boys gathered around her, forcing her back still more until she was pressed against a barrel. "Yeh'll be below for a bit longer if me an' me boys 'ave anythin' to do with it. Yeh'll not be goin' anywhere." He advanced slowly, the look of a trapped animal in his face. Though it did not help her situation, Elanor realized that this unseasoned child was afraid, and the only thing he could do was to establish himself as the top of his league.
"I never done anythin' to yeh!" she panted, looking in vain for a way to escape, heart pounding in her chest. She was unarmed and cornered. There was nothing she could do but take her beating with what dignity she had left. No, she would not cower before these overgrown children. Let them come!
"Leave him alone!" said a voice, quite nearby. Faramir, his sleeplessness finally useful, had approached the group.
Elanor was torn between relief and fear. Two were better than one, but Faramir could not fight, and they would still be outnumbered by two. "No, milord, please, go back to yer bed, it's me they want."
"You saved my life once, and I wont let them hurt you," he replied, taking a place by her side.
The boy growled and moved forward, hitting Faramir squarely in the stomach and forcing the air out of his lungs. Elanor leaped on top of the boy, bringing him to the ground with a dull thunk, and began pummeling him, rage taking the place of her uncertainty and fear. Two of the other boys tried to pry her off their fallen leader while the third squared off against Faramir. She bit the hand of one, actually managing to draw blood, and shook off the other as she continued to beat the one who had dared to hurt her love. Vaguely, she heard Faramir groan, and then a thump, and the third boy joined the fight against her. Three were too many, and together they managed to throw her off the boy, who was clutching what seemed to be a badly broken nose. As she fell, her head hit the great barrel, blood clouded her eyes, and the world went dark.
* * *
When Elanor awoke, her first conscious thought was pain. A great deal of pain. Her head and side throbbed unmercifully, and a bandage was tied around her aching skull. She looked around, and realized that she was not in her own hammock, but a cot, screened off by a partition, much like Anna's. But she was not so fortunate to find herself in Anna's quarter, for there were several other cots lined up against the wall, all of them empty, and there was a chest of herbs and potions in the corner.
Elanor found herself cold, and looked down for a blanket, only to find another surprise. She was clothed only in her under robe, and the cloth that had bound her chest had been removed. Oh, no no no no no. This isn't happening, I'll wake up in a few minutes and I'll still be Leofa, safe and sound. But she did not awaken, and cold, grim reality slowly struck her; she had been discovered, and would no doubt be punished most severely.
Taron entered, saw that Elanor had awakened, and went to her.
"'Ow are yeh feelin', milady?" he asked meekly, diverting his eyes from her sheer under robe. Elanor pulled the blanket over her head.
"Kill me now," she said bitterly, "Before I'm hanged for treason." Elanor had attended a hanging for a man who had committed treason, once, during her stay in Gondor. After the man died, she had run from the square, and hid in her room. Her father had taken her aside later on, and explained that yes, it was horrible, but it had to be done, or evil people would take over the kingdom, and Aragorn would hold no power in his own realm. Elanor had already resigned herself to this unpleasant fate.
"Milady, I'm sorry we 'ad to take off yer clothes, but yeh 'ad a bruised rib, an' it would be 'urtin' much worse if I 'adn't done nothin'. But yeh should've seen the other lad they dragged in! I 'ad to sew 'is lip back together, an' I set 'is nose, but it'll always be crooked. Yeh did a right good job on 'im." She pulled the blanket down, and found Taron looking at her with a fierce respect in his eyes.
The apprentice's cheerful disposition was infectious, and Elanor smiled weakly. "It must have given you quite a shock to find out who I was."
"It did, milady, but not so much as master Faramir. I 'ad to fix 'im me special calmin' tea, but, I added the kingsfoil too early an' ended up-"
Elanor's heart had fallen a few feet below the level of the floor, and she interrupted the chattering Taron. "Wait, Faramir was here, too? He saw me? He knows who I am?"
The boy cocked his head. "Aye, 'e was 'ere. 'E 'ad a black eye an' a great blue bruise on 'is belly, but 'e was fine, I jus' wan'ed to look 'im over. 'E recognized yeh the second we knew yeh was a girl."
Elanor groaned. "How could this possibly get worse? Wait; who else knows, Taron?"
Taron thought. "Well, the other lad was in too bad shape to notice, so, me, an' master Faramir, an'... oh, an' the King."
She cradled her face in her hands. "I am going to die," she muttered bitterly. "No way I can get out of this."
"That reminds me, milady, the King wan'ed to see yeh when yeh woke. Yer clothes are righ' there, I'll leave yeh get dressed." He left the room, leaving Elanor feeling dead already.
Some semblance of hope left in her was not ready to let all the men know that she was a woman, so she retied her breast band, (which, pressing on her bruised rib, caused the most excruciating sensation she had ever felt) and redressed in her boy's clothes. Pulling her hair down over her pointed ears and replacing her shoes, she felt some confidence swelling in her, and that if she must die, she would with dignity and honor, with no remorse. She stood with a grimace for the piercing pain in her side, and called for Taron.
"I am ready," she said quietly when the boy returned. "Take me to the king."
Walking painfully to the ladder, she was forced to lean heavily on Taron's shoulder in order keep herself from more injury. But, the worst blow that came to her was not of her wound, but to her heart. Making the mistake of looking around as she neared the ladder, she found Faramir, his attention already locked on her, and such betrayal was in his eye, (the other nearly swollen shut,) that she nearly cried out with the cut it made to her soul. She had not meant to hurt him, but to save him. How was it that he did not understand?
Elanor was not allowed to dwell on such thoughts, and climbed up to the deck closely followed by the loyal Taron. The apprentice led her across the deck, bathed in the last light before sunset, to the bow of the ship, and, to her surprise, pointed her towards another ladder leading into a separate compartment of the hold.
"I'll not go with yeh, milady," he whispered. "The king told me to make sure yeh came alone, an' I'll not cross 'is orders. Good fate follow yeh."
Elanor went to the page standing at attention by the entrance hole.
"Name an' business," he asked briskly, his lips barely moving.
"Er, Gamgee, milord sent for me." The young soldier went swiftly down the ladder, Elanor heard a few murmured words, and he came up again.
"Milord says yer to go down straight away."
Elanor gathered what little courage was left to her, steeled herself for whatever was to come, and resolutely climbed down into the lantern-lit gloom.
Elanor turned slowly once she reached the floor, and found the King sitting at a great writing desk. His silver circlet lay quietly on the surface, and in his hand was an unlit pipe, which he was tapping absent-mindedly on the palm of his hand. She kneeled respectfully, and he motioned vaguely for her to stand before him. He looked at her for a moment, no emotion spreading onto his face, but such sorrow was in his eyes that she felt that she must already be condemned. Finally breaking the somber silence, the king spoke.
"Why? Why have you come? That you disguised yourself shows that you knew it to be wrong, yet here you are before me. What would you say for yourself?"
Elanor closed her eyes. "Only that there are some that I would not be parted from, even by death, milord."
Elessar rose, and walked to a map of Arda hung on the wall behind the desk. "Then, the other hobbit, Faramir, Peregrin's son; he is more to you than a companion?"
Remembering the pain from her love's heart, Elanor sighed softly. "He was."
"But why must you fight, Elanor? When there are so many other things you could have done, why did you choose to fight?"
The hobbit bit her lip, wondering if the king should think her mad. "I have seen things, milord. Things that convinced me of what I must do. As the Lady Varda spoke through me at the council, so I believe that she has shown me my path."
Elessar looked at her from the reflection in the glass on the great map. "Tell me of the things you have seen, these visions."
So Elanor spoke of seeing the face of the Lady in her fevered dreams, hearing the voice compelling her to fight for her land and her love, and her vision of the world plunged into darkness, and lit anew by the golden blossom of her name.
"If all that you have said is true, then I would marvel that we have lived to see such days. Yet I must believe that it is so, for your sight of the Lady of Starlight fits all that I have even known. There is no part of the law of my kingdom that would know of this." The king turned, and approached Elanor, kneeling so as to be at her height. "Fairest Elanor, you have committed treason, and for this the penalty is death. Yet if I was to condemn the kin of a friend, one I held closer than a brother, than I fear that my own soul would be forfeit as well."
Elanor bowed her head. "What must be done, must be done, milord."
Aragorn embraced her softly and spoke. "There is but one way that the sentence should be withheld. If the crime is committed for the country, for the bettering of its people, then all sentencing would be void. But, my dearest hobbit, you must fight in this god-cursed war, or there will be nothing that I might do. So, although I am against it with all my heart, you shall fight, and so earn the pardon I should give you."
"Milord!" Elanor gasped, kneeling once more at Aragorn's feet.
"Go, Elanor, and rest while you can with an easy heart. Speak to no one of your identity who does not already know, and even then with the utmost secrecy. If you were discovered by an officer, or the captain, then there would be nothing I could do."
Elanor clasped his hand tightly, tears of gratitude in her eyes, and climbed up the ladder. She would not be killed, or caged, but she would be allowed, commanded to fight by one she loved. She could think of no punishment more kin to a reward.
Elanor returned once more to the mighty underbelly of the ship, her heart filled with a new hope for life and honor, but she again found Faramir, and all her joy vanished. He came to her, and, grasping her arm, led her to the dark corner where she had spent so many hours. Sitting on the floor, he wearily pressed his palms into his eyes while Elanor sat close by, and waited for him to speak.
"How could you?" he asked quietly, his voice rough with restrained emotion. "How did you find this way to both break my hope and doom yourself?"
Elanor's heart wrenched in two at the sorrow, the betrayal in his words. "Oh, Faramir, all I have ever done was to help you, save you, I gave no thought for myself!" she said, quite as softly.
"Don't you see?" he replied, his words a whisper. "With you safe, I had some hope left. Knowing I went to fight for your safety gave me purpose, gave me courage. Now, you'll be left on this horrible ship, while we throw our lives away, and there will be no way for you to return. Both our lives are to be forfeit."
"That is not so. I will fight by your side, until I draw my last breath. The King says it must be."
Faramir drew a deep breath and held his head in his hands. "This cannot be," he murmured quietly. "None of this has happened. She's not here, and she's not going to die because of me."
Elanor placed a hand on Faramir's shoulder, and he bowed his head in sorrow. "Love, I must fight, or I will die at the hands of the court. I have committed treason against the realm and the King, and the penalty is death. If I do not redeem myself through valor, then that will be my fate. I would rather die at your side than in a public square."
Suddenly, a great cry went up from the deck. "Dor, dor!" Elvish voices cried. "Meneltarma!" The strong voice of the front watchman resounded, "Land! An island, an island!" For a moment, there was silence in the hold, and then, all manner of chaos broke loose. Grown men scrabbled over the young and old alike to reach the open air, but Elanor and Faramir, though not understanding the significance at the time, had chosen a resting place that was closest to the knobbly ladder. The pair clambered up swiftly as they could for Elanor's aching side, as men shouted for them to get out of the way, and so were some of the first to behold the sacred mountain of Meneltarma.
It did not rise high above the level of the sea, perhaps only a hundred and fifty feet, but crowning its once noble height were the ancient ruins of a magnificent temple. Most of the stones had been washed away over the millennia of the earth, but many still stood in an outspreading ring of stones, balanced on and against each other. In the long afterdays, when all the elves of the world had vanished into the West, and the great kingdoms of men were lost, and the earth was reshaped once more, though the land under the sacred stones changed, they remained through all the endings of the earth.
The king emerged from his quarters, and over his shoulder one could see the rest of the great fleet, sailing just as eagerly towards the long sought after land.
"Bear as close to the mountain as you may, but take care not to dash us against it!" he called to the captain, who had taken the wheel himself.
"Aye, milord," the man cried. "Bu', jus' in case, yeh migh' wan' teh 'old on teh somethin' nailed down."
The crew collectively held its breath as they drew closer to the mountain, which seemed to tower over them ominously. Looking around carefully for prying eyes, Elanor grasped Faramir's hand, and, to her relief, he did not shrug her off.
The ship drew closer, the first of the fleet to reach the cliffed island, so close that all were sure that they would be crushed against the massive stones. Elanor closed her eyes tightly and bowed her head, hiding her eyes from what could only be imminent death. There was a horrid grinding sound, as all but the elves and the King were tossed to the ground, a loud splash, and then, nothing but the quiet lapping of the sea against the treacherous mountain.
The men rose, brushing themselves off and looking astounded that they were alive.
"Sorry, milord!" the captain shouted. "We nicked a bit of rock off the side, but we 'aven't taken any ill from it. The side of the ship jus' says 'tel,' now, the 'Es' got scraped off."
Elessar looked ahead, and a triumphant smile crossed his lips. "Look before you, men, and see the world as it truly is!" Most gasped, and some rubbed their eyes as small children waking unto a reality stranger than their dreams.
The familiar sight of the sea curving down past the horizon had disappeared, replaced by a straight and seamless plain of calm water, stretching past the realms of sight into the rim of the sun, sinking down as if into a cavern of the underworld, but stranger than this was that more of the sea could be seen behind it. It seemed to all that they had never seen such a blending of night and day as glowing orb vanished, and the silver stars came slowly into view as though only a fog had hidden them from sight.
A gasp came up from the many elves, as they pointed to the sky at the light that fell on their upturned faces. "Ele! Vingilot! Earendil!" The king murmured softly, awe in his voice.
"Behold. Vingilot, the ship of Earendil, set to sail the skies 'til the ending of days." Slowly, almost fearful of what she was to see, Elanor raised her eyes to the twilit sky, and all breath left her. Above her was a star unlike any she had ever seen, though in truth it was not a star at all. Its light was greater than the moon, pale beside it, and its glory was not clouded from all the ages of this earth. It bore the light of a Silmaril, wrested from the iron crown and brought out of Angband by Beren and Luthien in the first age of men. Most of those upon the ship fell to their knees, men, elves, and both hobbits alike, for the power of the Silmarils could not be seen without some stirring in every heart.
"We draw close," the King said loudly, breaking the hush that had fallen upon the vessel. "Turn again to the horizon, and see the glory of Valinor undiminished, the haven of our enemies." There in the west, not visible only moments before over the glowing fire of the sun, was a silver eminence, shining out over the water. It shone with wisdom, and beauty, and with a power that could not be destroyed. Even as their eyes rejoiced in the sight, the hearts of men failed, and fear took them, for how could they challenge the might of the gods, who had not fallen since the days of the first darkness, and the great evil.
"Rest, men, when you have seen your fill. You shall need your greatest strength in the days to come. If ill does not fall on us, we shall reach the Blessed Realm in not more than five days. Keep up your hearts. We have not yet been condemned to doom." Slowly, those gathered on the deck began to recede back into the warmth and safety of the familiar hold, but Elanor would not be so soon called away. As the elves gathered around a fair singer, her voice rising into the night in a song of joy, and light, and hope, so Elanor went to the rail and looked towards the unwaning light of the Undying Lands, as Earendil swiftly crossed the skies and vanished over the land of the west, plunging the ship into an inky, moonless night. Faramir stood by her side.
After a time, she turned to speak to him, only to see the cold glitter of tears, reflecting the light from the Blessed Realm. Swiftly scanning the deck for prying eyes, Elanor gently brushed them away as they spilled silently from his closed lids onto his cheeks. She lightly stroked the bruised skin under his eye, her hand trailing softly down the side of his face, and he put his hand over hers as he wept without a sound under the cover of the starry darkness.
"Oh, Elanor," he whispered, holding her hand to his lips. "I cannot lose you. If we were to be separated, I think that I might die for loss."
"Nothing could separate us, love. Not even death could take me from you." Faramir smiled, even as the tears fell, and held her hand as tightly as he could. A few moments later, Elanor guided him down the ladder into the great chamber, where the lanterns swinging overhead had already gone out, and had plunged them all into an impenetrable blackness. Taking him over to her little corner, Elanor seated herself upon the floor, Faramir once more by her side, where he held her as though afraid to let go.
Elanor woke sometime in the night, and found Faramir to be deeply asleep for the first time since they had left Gondor. Not wanting to disturb his well-deserved slumber, but being herself quite stiff after sleeping on the floor for some hours, she gently lifted herself from his embrace, kissed him ever so lightly, and clambered rather gracelessly into her comfortable hammock, falling almost immediately back into a dreamless slumber.