For Love of a Lady - Chapter 2 - Courting Danger
"You are late," his father observed quietly when Elladan entered, "you were told noon and it is now some time after."
"I am sorry father," Elladan said, "I was...detained." He could not think of a better excuse for simply forgetting and did not think Elrond would be too pleased if he told him the truth. Elrohir narrowed his eyes and Elladan avoided his gaze.
"Have you yet decided?" he asked.
"No," Arciryas said, he looked terrible. The worry was clearly weighing on him and he rested his head in his hands. Írissë was fidgeting ceaselessly, nobody seemed to be listening to her and amid the clamour that was raging between one of Vanimeldë's many friends and her father, Falastur, it was difficult to hear anybody else. Elrond was rubbing his temples with his forefingers having given up on trying to control what was going on and Elladan did not blame him. Vanimeldë's friend, Calimmacil, was shouting for all he was worth across the room,
"How long are you planning to wait before going after her?!" he cried, "It has been hours since she has gone and still we do nothing!" Falastur stood up and slammed his fist against the table. Írissë winced at the noise and Elladan jumped.
"What can we do?" Falastur asked, "Have you any idea where she might be?" Írissë stood up suddenly,
"I think..." she said quietly before she was drowned by Calimmacil.
"No but if instead of arguing we could decide what we were going to do then much time could be saved and he would not be able to make such a start on us." he cried. He and Falastur were standing facing each other over the mahogany table. The room echoed with their voices and Elladan found himself wondering which of the two was going to overlie the other.
"We do not know where they have gone," Falastur said wearily, "surely that should be the first thing we should ascertain,"
"And how do you plan to discover that if we do not look?" Calimmacil sat down triumphantly.
"I have no idea where that evil Gáialá may live and until we know that we have nowhere to start!"
"You were acquainted with this man for many years!"
"That has nothing to do with this." Falastur growled, "It was partly for him that Vanimeldë wished to move on!"
"Father," Írissë tried again. No-one was hearkening to her apart from Elrond and Elladan, all the others were completely absorbed in the dispute that was raging over their heads.
"All I know is he left Mithlond soon after we did, I believed he had departed into the West. How I wish that had been so." her father mused. Elrond suddenly stood up, his air commanded such respect that Falastur and Calimmacil stopped talking and the room fell silent. Írissë was glad for a little peace and leaned her head against her arm.
"Falastur I am afraid that is not so and you must endeavour to contend with what is happening at the present," Elrond said and Falastur looked thoughtful. Írissë looked as if she was to speak again but Elladan saw Falastur opening his mouth to row with Calimmacil again,
"Lady?" he said quickly.
"Thank you." she said gratefully, "Father if you would but listen."
"What is it?" Falastur snapped. Elladan was taken aback but Írissë looked as if she was accustomed to it.
"Gáialá, he lived once at Mithlond, where he resides now I cannot guess but surely the Grey Havens would be the place to start looking." her courage failed her under her father's acute gaze.
"Írissë," he said sharply, "You know not if Vanimeldë will be there and what if she is not?"
"If she is not then we must think again but we know no other places he might go." she replied, "Well what else would you suggest?"
"Lord," Falastur turned to Elrond, "we would hear your counsel."
Without a second`s hesitation he said, "I say take that of the lady's."
"But we have no definite way of knowing if they will be there." Falastur exclaimed.
"Nor have you any way of obtaining that definition." Elrond said calmly, "Take your daughter's advice, Falastur, you would do much better to have an idea than to spend hours guessing. If there is no sign of them in Mithlond then return and we will seek wiser guidance."
Falastur looked uncertainly at Írissë, "Very well, my lord." he said as if it was against his better judgement.
"You do have yet to make a decision as to who should undertake this task." Elrond continued, "Take those who are skilled in the arts of sword and bow for you will doubtless find conflict if you are to recover that which has been lost. Take any of my household you should choose, I am certain all will be willing to aid you in any way they can." Falastur nodded,
"I am going." Calimmacil said flatly, "Nobody shall stop me." Elladan thought for a moment,
"I offer you my services, sir." he said and laid his silver knife on the table. Írissë shot a searching look at him and smiled,
"And I." Elrohir said, grinning, "I am not about to be outdone by my brother."
"Your assistance is most gratefully received." Several other offers were made including Arciryas who had been silent to this point.
"Then I should say your company is complete." said Elrond, "Do not send more than you need for if you do it will prove to your own defeat."
"Thank you, Lord, for your time." replied Falastur, bowing.
"You are welcome, I hope only that you find Lady Vanimeldë in time."
"We should make ready to leave soon." Arciryas said before sweeping out the room, his troubles clearly playing across his face. Elrond said to the remaining elves,
"Assemble at the West gates within two hours, there you shall be provided with horses and you can decide on the route."
As everyone was leaving the room Írissë touched her father's arm,
"Father, I should like to accompany them. I feel culpable for what has happened and I should like to help amend it." she said sincerely.
"Do not talk folly, Írissë, what use could you be?" Falastur's condescending tone hurt Írissë but she did not give in.
"Why do you say that? You know full well that I am more than competent with any weapon you care to name and I can ride with the swiftest of Imladris."
"No, Írissë," Falastur said severely,
"No! I have spoken!" With that he frowned and left her alone. She brushed past Elladan as she ran down the corridor and he was not blind to her distress, no matter how hard she tried to hide it.
Little time was left to the brethren to prepare for their departure. Elladan wondered how long they would be gone but thought little of it and decided to travel light. He was ready long before his brother and sought solitude high above the lands of Imladris. He trod the cliff-side path until he came to the precipice that overlooked the valley. As he looked down he was struck by a sense of belonging, of peace and serenity. He knew it could not last though. He would soon be gone and he would have left everything behind.
All his life he had walked abroad in Middle Earth but now he knew he would give gold to remain in Imladris a little longer. The age of the elves was over and his time was ending. When he boarded his ship he would leave part of his heart here for so much of himself was bound to this place and could never be lifted. He hoped in time he might find tranquillity, he had never seen the Blessed Lands but guessed that they might content him in the years that were to come. Elladan suddenly wished he had made more of his long life, he had performed thousands of good deeds against the causes of darkness but they all seemed trivial compared to the things some men were able to accomplish in their lives. He was thinking of Aragorn, King of Gondor. Aragorn had managed to raise his people from the shadows where they had lain hidden and restore to them their birthright as the last remnants of the folk of Númenor. He had also found himself a wife, led the Fellowship of the Ring and proved to all that even if a man has nothing he can still rise to the highest pinnacle.
Elladan had long loved Aragorn as a brother. The king had been raised from childhood in Imladris and given the name `Estel' he had then gone on to fight with Elladan and Elrohir against the dark forces of Sauron which had so threatened the world. He had also won the love of Arwen, Elladan's sister. Needless to say he was not best pleased when he realised that his beloved sister was renouncing her immortality for a man and that by the reckoning of the elves her time on earth would be short. It still brought tears to Elladan's eyes as he thought that his sister, his Arwen was going to die. He knew Aragorn was worthy of her, he had proved himself time and time again but it would never assuage the pain he would carry until the end of his days. Elladan vowed to visit Arwen before the year was out and tell her for the first time in long years just how much he loved her and would miss her. He shook his head. Thinking of Arwen was clouding his mind and he could not focus on the task ahead if his heart was full of that which would all too soon be lost to him.
Two ravens swept through the air, abreast of the wind, their wings catching the breeze and lifting them high above the earth. They passed through the sunlight and dived to the ground again. Elladan watched them thoughtfully. The afternoon held perfect conditions for embarking on their journey. All rain seemed to have been cast, for a while, northwards and the ground underfoot was hard, an anomaly for this time of year. The scent of fragrant heather and pines hanging in the air was rich and Elladan breathed deeply. He was brought sharply back to reality when he heard his brother's voice, faint and distant, calling to him.
"Elladan!" he cried and Elladan himself jerked forward in surprise.
"What is it?" he called back, scattering birds from their roosts as his voice echoed around the valley walls.
"You are needed! Come down!" Elrohir's face vanished from where he had stood at the foot a few minutes ago and Elladan sighed. It was time for them to leave.
He darted down the rocks as lithely as if they were a staircase and soon came to the bottom. Elrohir was waiting for him,
"How can you go up there?" he asked, looking up at the dizzying heights and feeling faintly nauseous.
"It helps me think," Elladan replied, "and it enables me to escape from you seeing as you refuse to go up." Elrohir shrugged,
"I value my neck," he said and smiled, "we must be off if we are to obtain a good days riding. Let us go." He clapped his arm about his brother's shoulders and they moved towards the stables. The stable hands led out two fine horses, Elladan's was a bay stallion with a dark mane and tail streaming out behind her. Elrohir's horse was smaller yet more skittish and he enjoyed the trial of keeping her under control. They were without rein or saddle and both brothers mounted without aid. They were then greeted by the sight of Írissë, clad as a man riding towards them. Elladan's mouth dropped open in surprise. Írissë was clothed like Elladan and Elrohir in supple leather breeches, a dark green tunic and a shimmering corslet. A long bow and quiver of arrows were on her back and a shining silver sword hung at her waist, her grey cloak was flung backwards and a black handled knife was concealed within the folds. Her long golden hair was swept up atop her head and clasped back and her horse was a tall grey mare, restive and proud. The horse suited her well and Elladan had to admit to himself how well her clothes became her. She smiled at their surprise,
"You could not honestly think I would remain here?" she said and Elladan realised he was staring.
"Of course not," he spluttered inarticulately, "but does your father know you are coming?" the sudden tightening of Írissë's lips answered the negative but her pleading expression swayed both brothers.
"I can outride many a man in Imladris," she said, "and I can wield blade. I am proficient in the same skills as you are if my father would but realise it. Do not think I will be a hindrance to you, sons of Elrond, for I will prove my worth."
"Very well," Elrohir said happily, "it would be an honour to ride by your side."
"I told you once," Elladan said wryly, "I feared I was mistaken when I called you a lady, it would seem I was right." Írissë grinned again and the three headed towards the gate. As they reached it Elladan noticed Falastur standing with Elrond, he turned to warn Írissë but found she had vanished.
"What the?" but there was no time for wonder before Elrond called to him.
"Calimmacil has been detailed as to your route," he said and Elladan dismounted. As he did so he caught sight of Írissë slipping through the gates over Elrond's shoulder, she fixed his gaze and held a sly finger to her lips. Elladan struggled to pay attention to what his father was saying,
"Very well." he said, hoping fervently that was the answer that was expected.
"Were you listening to me son?" he asked, "Or were you watching Lady Írissë escape by the gate?" Elladan looked up startled, "You supposed I knew not?" Elrond went on in a hushed voice, "Luckily her father has not yet noticed and that is the way it must stay. Falastur does not regard her with the same eyes he does Vanimeldë and sorely underestimates the use Írissë will be to you. A maiden of the sword though she is I would be obliged if you would watch over her, I admire her strength of mind in this matter and she has a part to play in what is to come. Something very close to both of us. Remember, son, there is always a way. Even when all seems to have been lost, walk in the darkness to seek the life which fades, it will not be too late. Hearken to me, it will not be too late, take the shadowed path."
Elladan looked slightly alarmed, he was used to his father spouting cryptic riddles that he could only guess were for his own benefit yet he never got fully accustomed to them. He wished Elrond would tell him more about what was to come but he knew that it would be in vain to ask. Elrond did not reveal any more than he should when he knew something of another's fate. `The world is full of choices' he would say, `but to influence somebody into making a choice that will alter the course of the path laid before their feet is not as Ilúvatar would have planned and is not for me to do.' It seemed as if Elrond would say this now when he saw Elladan's inquisitive look but he did not. Elladan speculated as to what Írissë might have to do with him. He knew he would have to look after her, even when she scorned his aid for she would need a friend before the journey was done and Elladan could lay aside his mixture of feelings towards her until then. Elrond touched his son's head briefly and Elladan nodded silently, feeling very much like a little boy. He should have known his father was aware of Írissë's actions and he heeded what he had said. Elrond was gifted in foresight and Elladan wondered what it was he had seen. The lord smiled knowingly at his son and left them.
The party consisted of eleven able men and Írissë of course. After a few brief words to Calimmacil Elladan mounted and the small company cantered out of the gate. Írissë's presence was accepted immediately by all and there was an unspoken agreement that her attendance should not be challenged. Elladan wondered if she had already demanded to Calimmacil that she was going to ride with them and that no man was going to stop her. She dreaded the wrath that she would have incurred by disobeying her father but it had to be done, she had to try to help save her sister. Elrohir rode close to his brother, he thought it was extremely amusing that the two should be thrown together like this but before he could comment on it his horse decided to skip sideways and Elrohir had more pressing matters to deal with. Írissë rode at the front with Arciryas, she liked the gentle man who had fallen for Vanimeldë. He had been very subdued in the past few hours and she knew it had affected him deeply. Just as all hopes would have seemed to have been satisfied the prize he had so desired was snatched from him.
The prize itself was clinging tightly to he that she had previously been loath to touch. They were riding at breakneck speed across a grassy plain atop a black horse. The stallion was evil tempered and enormous, it foamed at the mouth as it ran and its hooves, though massive as they were, scarcely dented the grass, some contrivance of Gáialá's so they would be difficult to follow Vanimeldë supposed. Her eyes were firmly shut against the landscape which sped past. At least she had the benefit of a saddle. The horse was harnessed with curious tack, the bridle was thick and black with a heavily embroidered brow-band and a sharp bit. Hanging from the reins was an assortment of baubles, bells and other unnecessary decorations. The picture was completed by a long saddle, worn smooth but heavy and the cantle rose relatively high at the back so Vanimeldë was sure she could not fall backwards even if she wished to.
For the past few miles she had considered leaping from the horse and trying to escape but every time she had almost plucked up the courage to do so the horse would suddenly expedite and Vanimeldë would feel her valour fading. She reproached herself for her weakness of will and inadequate bravery but there was nothing she could do about it and worrying would do no good. But still, her mind was filled with questions and fears and there was little to pass the time with. Vanimeldë wondered if she should be more afraid, there was a sharp pain in her skull where Gáialá had struck her and yet she was not as fearful of what was to come as she might have been. He had apologised profusely for hitting her and Vanimeldë had almost found herself forgiving him. This thought made her heart burn, how could she forgive the man who had captured her from her family and friends? She should hate Gáialá and she found that part of her did hate him, the arrogance of it! To assume she should wish to return to a life with him when she was betrothed to another and perfectly happy in Imladris. Gáialá had been her bane since she had first laid eyes on him. Vanimeldë had found his complete disregard for anyone other than her to be attractive and they had been sweethearts after a fashion. It had spelled her downfall though. Gáialá was persistent and jealous, he had followed her all the way to Imladris and even after all these years he was bent on winning her back. She hated him even more now. The bonds he had tied around her wrists were cutting into her skin and Vanimeldë could see the beginnings of angry red welts appearing on her pale hands.
The small group rode to the peak of a low ridge. The lands surrounding Imladris was spread out before them. There were lush green pastures, the tangled head of the woodlands and the gentle rise and fall of countless hills. They were not jagged, as the line the silhouettes of the Misty Mountains cut through the sky but soft, a series of gentle mounds, weathered naturally smooth by the winds of thousands of years. They had stood there since that part of the world was shaped and would do so until the land itself changed dimension. The low cloud hung in the air, lit by shafts of sunlight and eerily blurring the scene behind it. The Trollshaws lay in the distance, some twenty miles away and past them the East-West road ran all the way to Bree.
"The land north of Bree is our mark gentlemen," Calimmacil said thoughtfully, "and lady." he added good-naturedly, "it lies less than seventy leagues hence but that is still a few days hard riding unless it be agreed that we ride in the blind night. From there our course must be decided for it has been decreed that we may not enter the land of the Halflings and must find our own way past the Shire."
"Who decrees such?" Arciryas asked.
"The King of Gondor," Elrohir said, "these are the lands of his realm, the lost realm of Arnor and we must obey his words."
"Time would be saved if we could go straight through it." Arciryas said angrily, "Why do we abide by these laws, we are elves and not bound to the laws of men!" Elrohir sighed restlessly but Calimmacil jumped right in,
"No, Arciryas," he said sternly, "Men abide by our laws when they tread our hallowed ground, we must extend the same courtesy, it is not our place to defy them." He rested a friendly hand on Arciryas' shoulder but he brushed it off impatiently, "It is no more than a few hours out of our way but if we tarry here much longer it will all be in vain."
Calimmacil sprang away down the hill and the others followed. The horses leapt forward with a fresh spurt as the delight of the race was filling them. The men vied with each other and the company crossed much ground in the few hours it had left before the sun dropped behind the distant peaks of Ered Luin. They had reached the Trollshaws, the stretch of wood lying East of Imladris. The road ran straight past it and was swathed in the shadow of the trees. Knotted claw and leafy bough reached out almost to the roadside and the whispering of the trees formed murmured words on the ears of the elves. They were carried on the breeze and the horses grew agitated as the sighing voices entwined round them and filled the company with a gentle susurration. There was no menace in it but if listened to closely the trees, like the rumour of the earth, could spread tidings and they did so to those wise enough to take notice.
Elrohir dismounted and leaned his head against a gnarled trunk, his brother did similar and a few minutes later they emerged from the wood with clear confusion.
"What is it?" Calimmacil asked immediately. The brothers looked at each other,
"There is evil stirring." Elladan said, "Dim are the words we were sent to hear but loud is the message that is conveyed."
"The ground speaks of hated feet," Elrohir continued, "of a dark energy that is massing in the West and will find us, its target."
"A parting shot from Gáialá?" Írissë asked, "He is a sorcerer of a certain nature. He has power enough to command the fell dregs of the earth and use them to his own gain."
"You mean evil creatures?" Arciryas asked and Írissë nodded,
"I have seen him do it." she said, "He can conjure spirits at will or force the minds of the more common evil beings."
"Orcs." Elladan said in disgust. "They have been here, it is that which makes the very ground they walk upon shudder."
"Do you know where they are?" Calimmacil inquired, "How long do we have before we find ourselves the prey?"
"Not long," Elrohir shook his head, "they have been here before and they will come again. In the forest there are tracks made by the heavy print of iron shoes and the unwarranted slashing of any living thing within their reach. If you would but come a little deeper you would see it. They would not have taken the road, the risks of being spied are too great but a great track runs through the middle of the Trollshaws where they have been."
"Could you tell how many?"
"The host is not a large one, they cannot be more than thrice our number but three to each man is still a formidable enemy."
Calimmacil looked troubled.
"We know not when they are to return," he said, "how old are the tracks?"
"Days," said Elladan," they have been here recently which leads me to think it is not yet time for them to return."
"You think they have been given the area they are to search?"
"Yes, they will comb it and if they find nothing they will begin again. We must try to pass the Shire without the orcs catching wind of us for if we manage that then we may be free of them." said Elrohir. He and his brother were the most experienced warriors among the men and their counsel was always taken.
"What do you propose we do?" Arciryas asked, "Should we wait here or keep riding?"
"I think we should make camp," said Írissë, "if only for the sake of the horses. What good will they be tomorrow if we need to sprint from an orc host and they are exhausted?"
"So shall it be." said Calimmacil dismounting. "But we must set watch fires around the camp and keep a sentry posted at all times." There was a murmur of assent and as the final rays of the sun flickered and died, the fires were kindled and canvas tents were picketed to the ground.
The moon was wreathed in cloud but the stars were free to roam the sky as they wished. The riders had braved the darkness of the forest and were camping in a clearing under the trees. The ground was uneven and hard, every so often one of them would stumble over a rock, almost invisible in the night air. Their elf-senses were curiously muffled, keen eyes were of little use in the Trollshaws and a thick air of expectation hung so heavy it almost made the wind throb. All were uneasy, there was no peace or jesting among them, even Elrohir had gone quiet. Írissë scanned the heavens for Menelvagor, the swordsman of the sky. She saw his three starred belt but the rest was hidden from her through the leaves, still, it brought her comfort.
The night passed quickly. They all ate little, the only provisions being those of the precious lembas which needed to be saved for the more arduous stretches of the journey. The lembas of Imladris were different to those of Lórien. Similar though they were in taste and virtue the ones baked in Imladris were smaller and lighter to carry, being of a rounder shape and wrapped in white cloth bindings, not mallorn leaves. Írissë knew they had made good time that afternoon having travelled many miles in little over four hours but tomorrow they would need to ride faster, the need was pressing and they could not afford to lose any time.
The next morning Írissë was ready as soon as the dawn rose but then so was everybody else. They set off with few words and welcomed the restoration of the forest back to its harmless self. The distortions of the night had proved real enough to weary mind and has added to the anxiety that weighed so heavily on mind and body. Every thought Írissë had seemed to slip invariably to her sister, she could not bear to think of her in pain or fear, there was no knowing what Gáialá might do. His skill as a mage was great and he possessed powers Írissë did not know of. Her horse, Linta, was eager for the thrill of the open plains and for a brief moment all Írissë's troubles were lost as she galloped freely with the men by her side. They had crossed the Last Bridge early that day and met few travellers along the road. Those they had seen had stopped and stared at this small company of elves riding hell for leather on such fine steeds. The track beside the road was of flattened turf, worn that way by the countless feet that had trod that path. Calimmacil suggested they ride off the stony track to save the horses' feet.
A single strand of Írissë's golden hair escaped its clasp and streamed out behind her. She could not be bothered to tidy it and thought it would be easier to let the rest tumble loose. It was not as long as her sister's and did not become a difficulty for her. She caught the eyes of Calimmacil, he looked tenderly at her and rode beside her.
"Unfortunately your hair unearths your guise," he said, "as beautiful as it is." Írissë smiled. She was very fond of Calimmacil, he was passionate but sensible and quick witted. He had thought it an excellent idea that Írissë should accompany them and did not mind defying her father at all, whom he could not stand.
"Thank you," she said, "but it would have come out anyway." Elladan noticed this affectionate moment and felt a new sensation stirring in his breast. He clenched his jaw against it but said nothing, his eyes would not leave the pair.
The horses were stumbling with weariness by the time the evening drew near. They had stopped only a few times during the day for sustenance and now even the hardiest of the steeds were daubed with sweat and panting hard. Elladan, who was leading, suddenly wheeled his around and signalled they should all stop. It was not an ideal place, the Midgewater marshes were very close but it was clear the horses could go not further. Írissë led Linta to the edge of a wide green pool bordered by large overhanging trees. The horse drank gratefully and lay beneath the shadow of a rocky mound. The fragrance of late blooming flowers hung sweetly on the air and Írissë noticed flashed of colour sprouting in various nooks and crannies around the banks. She sat peacefully there for a moment watching, idly, the way a willow branch cast ripples further and further out across the surface. Something has to start the ripples. She thought, what might become of our actions? She sat long with her musings, long enough to watch the sun dip and the stars unfold themselves across the indigo velvet of the sky. Calimmacil and some of the others had come to check on her several times during the late afternoon but she had graciously declined any offer of food and had wanted only to be alone with her thoughts. Everyone around the campfire had retreated into silence broken only by occasional murmurs. Írissë could clearly see the outlines of the sleeping horses but no-one else was anywhere around and she stepped to the edge of the water. It was pleasantly cool and clear, rippling into wide circles as her bare feet touched the surface. Shedding her dirty clothes save her long white shirt she immersed herself in the green silk and let it wash around her, cleansing the dust of the journey and bringing life to her weary heart. Her wet hair clung around her pale form and she sang softly to herself in the sweet tongue of her fair kindred, the Falathrim elves.
It was in this way that Elladan came upon her. He had sought solitude from the camp to think and had followed the sound of a melodious song which had led him to this leafy pool. When he saw who it was bathing peacefully before him he stopped dead in his tracks, utterly astonished. Courtesy bid him turn away, to grant her some discretion, and he did so but not before Írissë's beauty had struck a deep chord in him, casting aside all other thoughts. He could not imagine Luthien herself possessing any greater loveliness. It was a shame he was ever at odds with her in Imladris.
Elladan forced himself away and he melted deep into the shadows of the surrounding trees. Her voice lulled him amid the turmoil of his mind and he wandered along the path a little way from edge and waited for Írissë to come out. She was unaware of his presence and it was several minutes before she donned her breeches and tunic and got out of the water. Her song did not falter once as she moved and she climbed the tall jutting rock under which the horses were sheltering. It rose higher than the tree tops and from it she could see the land of the Shire in the distance and the weather hills to the north. She suddenly felt soothed, the cool night breeze whipped through her and her hair fluttered slightly. Her heart had been lifted but Írissë did not allow herself to think of Vanimeldë, it brought too much sorrow for her to bear. Elladan climbed the other side of the rock stealthily. Írissë did not hear him, her voice was floating on the breeze and casting into the air, covering any sound he made.
"Lady?" he said as he crept up behind her. Írissë started so suddenly that he thought she was going to fall off the rock. Her song halted abruptly and she held her hand to her chest, trying to calm her pounding heart.
"Elladan!" she said breathlessly, "you gave me a fright." he grinned wickedly.
"I am sorry," he said, "but I could not help following the dulcet sound of your voice."
"How long have you been here?" she asked warily.
"Not long." was all the response she received. He thought better of saying anything more considering the sheathed knife at her waist. She eyed him doubtfully as if trying to detect a lie but to Elladan's relief she merely nodded.
"Why are you here?" she asked, Elladan drew his knees up to his chin.
"I was just thinking," he said, "about Lady Vanimeldë."
"What about her," Írissë said guardedly.
"I hope we find her in time, that is all." Elladan looked despondent, he cared for Vanimeldë as a friend if nothing else. The mention of her name had opened a raw wound in Írissë's heart. Tears welled in her eyes and Elladan saw them before she could dash them away.
"What is it?" he asked kindly. Írissë heaved a sigh and looked towards the twinkling lights of Menelvagor.
"If we cannot find her then I will never forgive myself. This is my doing." her voice was very heavy.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Our last words were spoken in anger," Írissë said, "she entered the forest to look for me to make peace and walked into the arms of Gáialá. If I had not spoken the way I did to her then all this might be different." she broke down into tears and her whole body shook silently. It was an unnatural sight in one who was as sharp as a steel blade and could be as cold as the frost bitten rose. Elladan did not know what he should do, biting his lip uncertainly was helping nobody so he took Írissë's hand in his own. Her fingers were frozen but he warmed them and they stayed that way until her weeping subsided.
"I could not bear it," she went on, "if my last words to her in this world were that I no longer cared about her,"
"Shh," Elladan said, "do not think that way. Vanimeldë knows it is not true and you will see her again, I promise. Trust to hope for there is still much left."
"And what if he has taken her over the sea?" Írissë asked, "How then do you think we shall track her."
"That problem has yet to come. Ask for news at Mithlond, if they have taken the ship into the West then you must face such a quandary but until then just pray that they haven't." His words were comforting and spoken in sympathy.
"We should go." Írissë said, "If you do not wish your brother to speculate about our whereabouts."
"Oh let him." Elladan said, "Unless, do you wish to return?"
"No," said Írissë.
"Do you wish me to leave you?" he asked and it was a second before she answered,
"No." she said, "Stay with me, just a little longer." Elladan did as he was bid,
"You are wonderful company when you are troubled," he said contentedly, "you are not nearly so argumentative."
Írissë laughed for the first time in days and brushed her hand across her eyes,
"I know," she said, "it is dull, is it not?"
"A little," Elladan replied, "you are a much more interesting companion when you are happy,"
"You refer to the times we spend fighting?"
Elladan felt his protective nature waking, "Are you sure you should have strayed away from the camp like this?"
"What do you mean like this?" she asked quickly.
"I mean alone," he said, "who knows what creatures lurk out here."
"Like you." she smiled, "You were lurking very secretively. Anyway, what safety do I find at the camp where none even pay attention to me?"
"That is not true," Elladan said.
"Yes it is, you see it as well, I know you do," she hung her head, "you, Calimmacil, Arciryas and your brother are very good to me but the others, they see me as a hindrance to this party."
"Nay, it is true." she said matter of factly, "They think I am a mere woman, I must be kept at home to mind the house while wholly unconnected folk ride off in search of my sister. It is only you four that listen to anything I have to say." For almost the first time Elladan really looked at her. Beyond the aloof exterior was a wealth of sadness and a yearning for freedom. Buried under these was a great aptitude for earnest, unselfish love he had never seen before and Elladan realised he did not know Írissë at all. He felt like a fool for living so many years in silent judgement. She was a caring person whose feelings had been sorely hurt by those sitting at the fireside who scorned her aid.
"I am sorry to trouble you with all this," she said regretfully and touched his hand lightly.
"It is no trouble," he replied, "I had no idea you felt this way." Elladan made a silent vow to chastise the men who had succumbed to such prejudice, he was angry on Írissë's behalf but he did not let her see it. It was as if she was a flower that had opened for the briefest of moments before him and he savoured every second of this vulnerability, for she was at her truest and the gentler aspects of her character were shining through.
Elladan knew, however, that it could not last.