For Love of a Lady - Chapter 5 - A Storm on the Horizon

Írissë sighed, her senses flooded by an unexpected rush of nostalgia. She had not returned to Mithlond since she had left her home many long years ago and she could not wait to see how the years had treated the quiet shipping town. It came into view as a bright jewel in the otherwise dull landscape. A single ray of sun, the only one having broken through the dense cloud, shone a gold light on the town and illuminated it from afar. The cloud was indeed very heavy, a swirling mass of grey deepening to black which rolled across the sky. It was full of rain and it was heading for Mithlond even though the weather had been fine for the past few days. There were few chinks in it for the sun to fight through and it shadowed the land in darkness. The aforesaid darkness was increased by the fact it was the onset of the evening and the sunlight was the last failing beams before the glowing orb fell to rest behind the mountains, only to rise once the reign of the night had waned.

Had they been able to pierce the cloud they would have seen the very first faint stars twinkling into life. The wide glittering ocean spread out before them and it was gloriously fair as the waves broke upon the sands and white horses of foam rode the curling waters until they hit the beach and cliff faces. The thin sunlight sparkled on the surface of the sea and it stretched out far into the distance beyond the sight of the keenest eyes. There was an assortment of jumbled houses in a picturesque cluster next to a low lying expanse of meadow. The houses at the sea front were large and imposing, their walls were white and they shone like pearls in the late sunlight. They sat a little way from the water's edge, at the side of a wide flagstoned boulevard. There was a long pier leading out into the estuary made of slatted wood and lined with boats moored in the harbour. Their sails reached tall into the sky and they were clustered together like large, graceful swans in the quayside. Beside the pebbly beach stretched a length of cliff with a rough, uneven surface which had large caves nestled into the rock face. At the top of the cliff stood a lofty, tapering lighthouse which shone a beam of silver light out into the sea to guide boats around the perilous rocks that hid beneath the waves. Clouds of spray sparkled as they caught the sun and cast fleeting rainbows until they fell back to the water. It was a fair picture to gaze upon after so much heartache and every member of the company were relieved for an instant until they remembered the nature of their errand. Írissë itched to discover whether or not Vanimeldë was indeed here, it was possible their hunt was over and that they could return home if they could defeat Gáialá.

He had been preying on her mind like a loathsome creature, trapping her in an everlasting nightmare, fraught with possibilities. She hoped ardently that she would find her sister but she knew full well that it was feasible that Gáialá had killed Vanimeldë and was waiting for them to do the same. Írissë shook her head, trying to free herself from such morbid contemplations.
"We should ask for news of Vanimeldë," Calimmacil said absent-mindedly, "Arciryas and Salmar go to the western road, Elrohir, Voronwë and myself should go to the hilltop where Lord Círdan dwells and the others ask at the nearby houses." Everybody nodded, glad someone other than them was taking charge than them. Írissë felt an irrational panic rising in her breast though she knew not why, no-one else was looking around frantically for any sign of evil, it seemed as if only she was sensing this impending danger. Calmed but little by the seeming unsuspecting attitudes of the others she said nothing even though she was pulsing with fear.
"Írissë?" Elladan's voice revived her for a minute, he laid his hand on her arm, "The others go to discover what they can," he said, "but if you are ailing then I shall stay with you."
"I am not ailing," Írissë replied, "I am not sure what..." she stopped seeing Elladan's look, "Let us go as well," she said, "I wish to be of some use and not simply an encumbrance to you all." Elladan said nothing, he could see the unrest passing in her mind but concluded that it was just worry. There was no sign of Vanimeldë anywhere but he supposed that if they were here then Gáialá would keep her firmly out of sight.
"Do you know where Gáialá once dwelt?" Elladan asked hesitantly, "Perhaps we should look there."
"No," Írissë replied, "it burned to the ground some years back and that was when he left. I knew not whither he would go." Elladan nodded, the other elves were making their ways to various buildings, spreading out to seek tidings. Elladan had sent the ones remaining with them elsewhere so he might take care of Írissë alone, nobody could say how difficult this was for her and there was a definite change in her countenance. Írissë started walking, not knowing quite where, just knowing that she had to keep moving or the suspense would kill her. She fought to stop tears blurring her eyes and Elladan caught up with her and she took his arm,
"There is an inn not far from here," she said indistinctly, "Any tidings of them would
have reached the ears of the owner."
"Then that is where we shall go," Elladan said and the two walked slowly along, "where did you once live?" he asked, trying to take her mind from their unpleasant duty.
"Over there," she motioned to a group of large, fair houses which stood at the foot of the cliffs, "Vanimeldë was glad to leave, though. I would have spent my life here."
"In my living memory I have visited this place but a few times." Elladan said with a thoughtful look, "One such time in particular stands out vividly." he darkened and Írissë looked at him quizzically. Her searching eyes swept across his face, willing him to speak should he wish to. He did wish to, "I confess I have little love for the Havens, they are but a reminder of the sundering of the paths of my mother and I."
Írissë let out a sigh of comprehension,
"Celebrían." she said unhappily, "She dwells across the Sea." She spoke of Elladan's mother, wife to Elrond and Daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel. She had spent a cruel time in the dens of the orcs when she had been waylaid on one of her many journeys to Lórien. Healed though she was in body by her husband, her heart was never free from that day and she had gone gladly to the ocean, leaving behind her family to taste the bliss and peace of Aman, where she might be free form all worldly pains. A great anger imbued the brethren Elrohir and Elladan. They roamed the lands in search of every dark creature they could find and avenged the loss of their mother passionately, never released from their duty.
"It was from this very place she departed and never will I be free from the pain." Elladan continued, "I feel as if there was something I should have done."
Írissë looked at him, "I can offer no consolation." she said softly, taking his hand, "Except to say that you cannot dwell upon it, what was meant to be shall be. Your mother sought the ships to the West for a purpose and that purpose was ordained by a higher form. You could have done nothing to prevent it and torturing yourself with what might have been will do you no good."
"You speak so wisely." Elladan said,
"I know." Írissë smiled, then fixed her eyes upon his once more, "Though your paths are sundered for a short time you and your mother will meet again and then all grievance will be gone from your heart,"
"How I await that day." her companion said, "The Sea stirs the yearning I have long harboured."
"It is always the way. Dwelling here brings an easier peace for the Sea is always close but now the hearts of all begin to grow weary and soon its waters will welcome us." They paused for the briefest of moments outside the row of houses which bordered the sea and Elladan looked as if he would say something more but his attention was taken by the building they were to go into.

They entered the inn, The Mariner's Song, and hanging over the oak doorframe was a faded sign swinging in the wind. Depicted upon it was the flaking image of a proud ship sailing beneath the guiding beam of the silmaril, set upon its mast. It was an ancient image and one which was well known among the many mariners and tradesmen that lived within the sea's arms and frequented the ports and harbours of Middle Earth. The great jewel had been lifted into the sky and, steered by Eärendil of old, it would remain there until all the world was changed and the three jewels were reunited from their long homes, shining as only the two trees of Valinor had ever done. It was not an entirely hopeful picture but it lent comfort to Írissë, daughter of the Sea. The inn itself was dark and dusty, a long wooden bar ran the length of the room and leaning over it were about eight men and one shameless woman of sallow complexion, swarthy features and dubious morals. One was blowing broken rings of a foul smelling purple smoke and the others sat talking to the barman, a short jolly man with puce cheeks and a bristly moustache which moved as he talked. They looked up as Írissë and Elladan walked in, allowing their eyes to adjust to the sudden gloom of the building. The men were immediately wary, elves were not unknown to them of course but it was rare for them to be seen in the inns or near the houses of men.
"Lady and gentleman, how may I be of service to you?" the barman asked in a gruff voice, wiping his greasy hands on an equally filthy apron. Elladan strode forwards, impressing upon them all that the power was his and instilling them with a keener sense of respect.
"We come from Imladris," Elladan said with an authoritative tone, "I am Lord Elladan son of Lord Elrond and I would ask you of news of two of our kindred whom we have reason to believe have journeyed through Mithlond." The man smiled a beery faced smile and beckoned them forward. Írissë and Elladan perched themselves somewhat reluctantly on two tall stools and glanced at the other people who were watching them silently. The barman offered them a drink but both declined, not quite trusting the ale that dripped forth from the mouldy barrel in a steady stream to the grimy floor.
"Our errand is a pressing one," Elladan said with distaste of this establishment, his patience wearing thin, Írissë was surprised at the sudden change of his manner. He was daunting and invoked the deference in all those who heard him. She felt a twinge of pride, he cut a truly elegant profile until he turned and winked at her, scattering the image.
"Of course!" The barman, lost in his own obsequiousness, was very eager to impress and seemed quite at a loss as to what to do with himself.
"Those of whom I speak would have been here a few days ere we ourselves arrived," Elladan went on, "one was a very fair maiden with long dark hair and the other.." he stopped, realising he did not know what Gáialá looked like.
"The other is a man," Írissë said, "or man he would appear to you even though he was one of our race. He is very finely dressed with cropped hair unlike the manner of our folk. He is dark and he is evil, spreading naught but sorrow to those who step across his path," Her voice dropped to a low growl and evoked pure hatred, "He would kill any who inadvertently crossed his path and he is skilled in the forgotten arts of magic, with that he can conjure evil and bend the will to his own purpose." Her eyes bored into the wood yet she saw none of it for her eyes roamed far away. The barman looked thoughtful for a moment,
"Now I have heard of some strange goings on recently," he said, puffing up his chest self-importantly, "strange folk in these parts, you understand." Írissë raised her eyebrows and leaned her chin on her elbow,
"Not that I was meaning anything by that, m'dear," he said hastily, "I am sure none of your fair kindred could be described as strange but that is just what has reached my ears."
"Of course," Elladan replied graciously, "yet we would be most grateful if you could be more concise than just saying you have heard strange things, such is of little help to us."
"Begging your pardon sir," the barman said, "all I have heard is of a young man and woman arriving but taking no lodging. From what I've heard they were peculiar, out of the ordinary you see."
Elladan sighed, the appearance of elves as eternally youthful often induced the lesser races to believe them so.
"They are not young, my good man," he said with a thinning degree of tolerance, "they are more ancient beings than you could possibly imagine. You say they were acting peculiarly, how so?"
The man looked slightly abashed,
"Well it has been said they were up to odd doings but as to what those might be I have no idea." the man said, eager to please and to share the snippets of information that passed his ears when sailors and fishermen had had too much to drink.
"I saw `em." A greyed man sitting at the end of the bar over an ale mug looked up and spoke, "I saw both of `em. They stood at the side of the crag and worked the darkness, the woman you speak of tried to escape but failed and the man struck her." Írissë breathed hard through anger at Gáialá and joy to know that their chase had not been in vain,
"They are still here then?" she asked excitedly but as Sarnor opened his mouth to speak the barman gave a little cough and spoke in a lowered voice as if privy to some secret tidings.
"I would not trust all that Sarnor speaks of," he said in quite a loud enough voice for Sarnor to hear them, "he is a little too fond of my fine ale and has been known to spin yarns and such like, you see." Sarnor's face fell and Írissë's heart went out to him,
"But if he saw them," Írissë said,
"Well like as not he probably just heard you talking and thought he would put his oar in." said the barman picking up a dirty glass and wiping it with a cloth that he kept over his shoulder. On hearing that, Sarnor the sailor threw his metal mug to the ground with a clatter and stormed out angrily. Írissë almost followed him, she was still inclined to believe the sailor and did not wish him to leave before she had questioned him further. She stayed with Elladan, though who was talking to the man,
"Would anyone else have seen anything," he said desperately, "it is of the utmost importance that we discover where these two might be."
"Well now I don't know." the man said, "You could ask Miss Mioreth, she was the last one here in the past few nights." he motioned to the immodest woman who was laughing loudly with the other customers. She noticed them talking of her and stood beside the barman, bending suggestively over the bar. She must have been very pretty under the obscene amounts of rouge and paint that adorned her face. Her eyebrows were pencilled unnaturally long and dark for her colouring and one of her side teeth was gold. Her hair was a ghastly shade of orange and stuck in forced curls from her head. She was clad in a tattered dress which was dirty and unabashedly low cut. She was gazing at Elladan with a slight smile and Írissë was very wary of her until he put his hand in hers on top of the bar, leaving Mioreth in no doubt that her efforts were fruitless.
"What can I do for you?" she asked with a jaunty, thick accent.
"They want to know if you saw any unusual happenings when you closed up the other night," the barman said, "two of their kin are missing." Mioreth shook her head,
"There was no-one around," she said, "just the constabulary cleaning up the dead body."
"Dead body?" Írissë's heart sank lower than ever.
"Oh yes!" Mioreth looked excited, "It was a hideous creature, neither man or elf and there was such a lot of blood." Elladan mused this new riddle, it might have nothing to do with them or their task but somehow he did not think so.
"Where was it found?" he asked, Mioreth looked spirited by his interest and chose to ignore his apparent attachment to Írissë. She moved closer to Elladan, as if trying to block Írissë from their conversation.
"Outside beside the cliff base." she said with a sultry air, "it was gruesomely deformed, one of them creatures from the dark years." Írissë's eyes flicked up reluctantly, she could not hide her aversion for the woman but needed the information she contained.
"Creatures? Do you mean an orc?" she asked. Mioreth looked her up and down, taking in Írissë's dirty breeches, shirt and disdainfully raised eyebrows.
"Yes," she said with undisguised dislike, "an orc or suchlike." she turned flirtatiously back to Elladan who looked slightly alarmed.
"Did you see anyone else around?" Írissë asked, trying to divert Mioreth's attention from Elladan. Mioreth looked decidedly put out,
"No I did not," she spat and then giggled coquettishly in Elladan's direction. It was evident she had set herself at him and her finger traced suggestive circles on his hand. Írissë saw this and rolled her eyes, aware there was no real danger of him succumbing to her failing charms.
"Is there no greater help you could give us?" Elladan asked and blushed furiously as Mioreth whispered something highly brazen in his ear that he had no wish for her to repeat.
"Mioreth!" The barman's stern voice called her away but it was not without a impish grin and a wink that she left Elladan.
"What did she say to you?" Írissë asked with a smile.
"Something which is not fit to be said in front of a lady, let alone to come from the lips of one."
"I would not call her a lady," Írissë said quietly, looking at Mioreth who was now sitting on the lap of an inebriated sailor. It was not until Elladan saw the barman shooting him furtive glances that he felt a sudden urge to seek that sailor which had left so abruptly.
"We will go now," he said and stood up, "thank you for everything."
"Well I am sorry I could not be of more help," said the man with great regret, "but I can offer you accommodation in the last room we have left if you and your, er, lady friend wished to stay a little longer." Írissë bit her lip in barely contained annoyance, it was not this man's place to assume she and Elladan were illicit lovers and it was mortifying above anything when she herself was not even sure of the state of their relationship. Elladan looked away with a slight blush but failed to stifle a grin when he saw Írissë's immediate reaction. The man sensed at once that he had overstepped a boundary and looked horrified,
"I meant no disrespect my lady!" he exclaimed immediately, "I am sorry if what I said was construed in such a way but," he did not finish before Elladan cut him off, deciding to save this man from digging any deeper holes around himself, amusing though it was to watch.
"It is of no matter," he said kindly, "though you will forgive us for not taking you up in your most generous offer of housing in this, ahem, very comfortable inn. I bid you good day." With that he and Írissë left, breathing the fresh air of the outdoors gratefully after so much inhalation of smoke. Neither said a word for a moment, it was clear what was flitting through both their minds and neither wished particularly to broach the subject. Evening had now come and it was very dark but a hunched figure sat on a rock, waiting it would seem for them to come out. When they did it hurried towards them with a limping gait but going with great speed for all that.
"Sir! Lady!" it was the same sailor who had left some minutes ago. Írissë noticed the first few spots of rain falling on her face but thought nothing of it.
"What is it?" Elladan asked, "What do you know?"
"They were here." he said, "I saw `em, I did. I heard `em too, the man told the lady where he was taking her next and I heard every word," he looked proud of himself,
"They aren't here any more," he went on, "they left to go to Har-lind-on," he pronounced the word carefully as if he had memorised this with diligence.
"Harlindon?" Írissë said animatedly, "You are sure?"
"Yes, lady. He said he had a house in the great forest. He stood right here and said that." the sailor pointed to the ground they trod.
"Was there anything else?" Elladan asked, "Did he mention anything else?"
"There was some sort of commotion," Sarnor said with an evident effort to remember, "over there." Írissë and Elladan immediately hurried to where the sailor gestured and he followed close behind, hobbling on his bad leg. The rain was coming faster now and the breeze had picked up, edged with a cold chill.
"This is where the body was found," he said, not long ago and it was here that I saw them. A large, dark patch stained the ground and Elladan bent to it.
"Orc blood!" he said triumphantly, "You were right and at last the riddle is clear! One of the orcs who attacked us must have found its way here. Unfortunately it means Gáialá knows we are alive and will not stop until we are dead,"
"Oh Elladan what are we to do?" Írissë asked, "The forest of Harlindon is very large and there is no doubt that Gáialá's strength of will and malice can only increase when he crosses his own ground."
"I know," he said, "it will be difficult but take heart," he cupped her chin, "we know our search, though far from over, is not for nothing. Vanimeldë has gone to Harlindon, she is alive and judging by her escape attempt, she has her wits about her. There is a very good chance we will be able to get her back and if not," he paused, "then I will die trying." Írissë looked puzzled,
"You would risk so much for her?" she asked,
"No, for you." Elladan was sincere, "I know you hold Vanimeldë dearer than your own parents and I would do anything to see you happy." Írissë threw her arms about his neck, taking comfort from his strength.
"I wish the part I had to play in this was not so trivial," she said softly, "you and the others do all the work whilst I merely come with you for the ride."
"That is not so," Elladan said, "you have been invaluable to us. Indeed you have saved my life." What she had said, the words she had used, they were familiar.

`She has a part to play in what is to come, something very close to both of us.'

His father had said that before they had left but Elladan had not thought to ask anything of it. He knew Elrond was gifted in foresight and this latest realisation only proved the point more earnestly. Had Elrond seen that Elladan would find himself falling for Írissë? His deep, fathomless mind was full of intricate workings and it would take the years of a life age of the earth for him to decipher them all. Elladan knew that even though Írissë felt herself to be nothing of any use to the party, to him she had been of the greatest worth and wondered what the fates had yet in store for them both. He did not dwell on the latter part of Elrond's message to him,

`Even when all seems to have been lost, walk in the darkness to seek the life which fades, it will not be too late.'

It did not seem very hopeful. Elladan wondered if he should share such with Írissë but did not think burdening her and more would do any good and kept his mouth shut. She did not notice his uneasy mind and was examining the ground intently, scanning the patch of blood and the drag marks leading away from it. Sarnor the sailor was looking out to the ocean, he looked very troubled and his face was extremely grave.
"What is it?" Írissë asked suddenly, unhooking herself from Elladan and turning to face the fisherman.
"There is a storm coming," he said in his gruff, uncouth voice, "a very great one, it is probable many of the ships will not survive. I suggest you take cover here for the night for no horse will outride it." Elladan looked thoughtfully at the thundering sky. Fat drops of rain had started to fall, some minutes earlier, to the ground but now they began to be mingled with them were the sharp resonations of hailstones as they flung themselves from the skies. It would not be long before they were engulfed in a torrent of water. The wind had suddenly picked up and having blown for many miles across the sea it was cold and wet, throwing a spray of brine into their faces from the water. A bright flash of lightning forked through the sky alarmingly close and was soon followed by the deafening crash of thunder.
"We must take cover!" Elladan cried and looked towards the houses some distance away. Sarnor jumped surprisingly athletically from where he stood and sheltered under the rocks which made up the main causeway. Írissë pulled Elladan towards the nearby cliff face where it was sheltered from the wind and there was a dark but dry cave they could take refuge in.
"Must we wait here all night?" Elladan asked, listening the fast increase in wind noise which was getting louder every second.
"This is no natural storm," Írissë said, "I saw no warning of this until it was right upon us and that in itself is not natural."
"I know what you mean," Elladan replied, "there is a fell voice on the wind, hear how he laughs at us." he was right. There was a certain tone to the gale that sounded very similar to a cackling laugh, sadistic and cruel. Írissë stopped her ears, trying to drown it from her mind but gave up when the voice would not be silenced. Night was now fully upon them and even the deep cave they had chosen offered seemingly great comfort. It had steadily been growing darker with the onset of the night and the enveloping shadows that stretched past the cave mouth made it appear pitch black, for no light could contrive to enter. Elladan struck a piece of flint against the stony wall and used it to kindle a dry sheaf of bark he had picked up and pocketed for later use. It did not set aflame but with a little coaxing gave a failing glow but it was just enough to see by.

The cave they had chosen in their mad dash for shelter was a large one. It sat in the hollow at the base of the cliff with its back to the sea-front and with relative protection from the blinding spray which flew up whenever a wave broke upon the shore. It was tall with a smooth floor and rough walls which arched above them. The wind whipped past the mouth of the cave and Írissë and Elladan huddled together at the back, away from the biting cold. The roaring of the wind had reached fever pitch and it howled with a thousand voices as it coursed through the air and hit whatever lay in its path. Írissë could the shattering of boat timber upon the ground and could only guess at the destruction that was being caused outside their scant cover.
"Do you think that the others will be alright?" she asked in a scared voice, "Do you think they will have found shelter of their own?"
"I am sure of it," Elladan pulled her to him, "they will be fine."
She shivered, the air was cold and damp and what with the howling of the storm and the fear and sorrow she had endured, Írissë was miserable. She was cold to the very bone and her heart was heavier than it had ever been.
"I want her back, Elladan," she said quietly.
"I know." he felt her hands, "You are so cold!" he cried, wondering how he had failed to notice that before. He slid his arms tighter around her and she curled up against his chest, listening to his heartbeat and the rise and fall of his breathing. She wondered where Vanimeldë and Gáialá were, whether he had correctly calculated his workings so that at least she was safe from all this. For more minutes than they cared to remember they sat in a peaceful silence only broken by the occasional shivering as the temperature dropped icily low. There could be little chance of sleep with the din that thundered outside and Írissë's breath froze into a cold mist before her face. The cold reached them and there was very little they could do to prevent it from touching their hearts. Elladan had a few dry twigs in his cloak but they would barely light and they gave off but a little heat.
"The storm is not yet over," he said musingly as he endeavoured to persuade the sticks into lighting, "how it rages through the Havens." Írissë uncurled herself felinely from her comfortable position and walked warily towards the opening of the cave. A howling burst of spray blew fast and furiously past the cave mouth as Írissë looked round the edge of the cliff wall. Her hair was torn immediately from its clasp and flew wildly in the wind across her eyes. Through it she could see the desolation being wrought on Mithlond and it was a terrible scene to look out upon. It would seem as if all the colours of the world had been stripped away. The wind stole from them the crimsons, greens and aquamarines and left nothing but a uniform grey and an ugly bruise of violet and black where the sky had formerly hung. She gasped in shock, broken shards of wood littered the beach and there were the shreds of torn sails fluttering in the relentless wind. Boats were capsized and dashed against the jagged rocks which looked like silhouetted teeth in the unforgiving waves. The waves themselves were high and rose terrifyingly tall into the air. Írissë had never seen a storm so terrible as this and wondered at the ever increasing power of Gáialá as they moved westward, what would he plan next. She was worried for the others but then consoled herself by supposing they were dining in high honour at the house of Círdan while she and Elladan froze in the caves. Írissë tried to deafen herself to the cries of the wind and the rolling thunder which swept through the heavens. The cold chill was deathly penetrating and she was beyond shivering. Hours they passed in their meagre shelter, silently praying for deliverance from it.

Dawn broke red and clear, a heavy silence lingered after the noise of the night before. The storm was over and they had survived it, she breathed a sigh of relief. Elladan was standing at the mouth of the cave but returned to her when he saw her stirring.
"What hour is this?" she asked groggily.
"It is yet early," Elladan said with a smile, "the storm ceased but an hour ago." Írissë rubbed her eyes and sat up.
"The others," she said, "are they alright?"
"I do not know," Elladan sighed, "I have not yet sought them. We should go as soon as we can, though, the sun is risen and her light reveals the true devastation Gáialá has caused." Írissë went to the edge of the cave and stepped out into the light. Mithlond was a dreadful sight. The beach was strewn with wreckage from the beautiful boats, their ruined hulls floated out to sea and their ragged sails lay on the surface of the water like drifting ghosts as they washed backwards and forwards with the tide. In the distance Írissë could see a building with the roof blown off and there was smashed roof tiles and fallen chimneys everywhere. The broken body of a colt lay still in its field, blood covering his young body and his mother nudging him in desperation. It was dismal to gaze upon but everywhere they looked all they could see were signs of the storm's destruction of the Havens.
"He destroys beauty and replaces it with pain, thriving on the misery of others." Írissë said with a sigh, Gáialá's powers had evidently grown more potent in the time their paths had been sundered from him. Once, Írissë would never have believed him capable of wreaking such devastation but now it lay before her eyes she took it in and felt only a great fear where the fire of her anger had been. Elladan was surveying the scene before him with a grave expression, as they crossed the beach he picked up random pieces of driftwood, sifting through everything that had been washed up on the sands. Írissë noticed the faded sign of the inn half buried on the beach, blown from its hinges and lying among splintered shards of wood. They made their way to the village square, Írissë kept her eyes firmly on her feet and did not raise her head lest she set her eyes upon any more destruction which she still felt so culpable for. There they found Elrohir, Voronwë and Calimmacil awaiting any that might think to go there after the storm. There was no sign of the others.
"Elladan!" Elrohir's face was creased with worry, "You are both safe." He embraced his brother and Írissë and let them sit down in the sun. Both their clothes were wet through and they welcomed the warm sunlight as it peeked from behind the fleeting white clouds. The three men had their horses with them, having been comfortably stabled during the night, but both those of Elladan and Írissë had long fled.
"May we assume this storm was of no natural causes?" Calimmacil asked and Elladan nodded unhappily,
"We believe it is the work of Gáialá, we have spoken with a sailor who claims to have seen both he and Vanimeldë and knows where they may be headed."
"Where are the others?" Írissë demanded and Elrohir's face fell.
"We do not know, lady." Voronwë said, "There has been no sign of them,
"Where did you spend the night?" Elladan asked,
"In one of the houses over there, the owner of which was very hospitable," he motioned casually, "what of you?" he picked distastefully at Elladan's damp raiment, "You were outside in the storm."
"Not exactly."
"The caves of Mithlond offer very limited luxury." Írissë said, "Although I am sure you passed the night in the greatest comfort."
"You stayed in a cave?" Calimmacil asked concernedly and Írissë nodded,
"We did not even have a fire to ease the chill." she said and Elladan rolled his eyes,
"I tried my hardest," he said, "but what can I say? It was not good enough for you."
"I can hardly believe the ruin of this fair town," Voronwë said.
"When I think how easily all this could have been avoided," Írissë said with her hand to her head, "these people have suffered needlessly, I cannot help but feel guilty."
"You could do nothing to stop this." Elrohir said firmly, putting his hand on her shoulder to comfort her, "None of us could."
"I want to leave," she said, "staying here will achieve nothing and I cannot bear to watch the pain we have caused these people." She would not be solaced and naught anyone said appeased her. No more than an hour did they wait before venturing back to the quayside in search of the missing members of their party. All were feeling the beginnings of anxiety for the welfare of their fellows when so long had passed and still there was no sign but as soon as they mounted to the dock they saw, with great relief, that Arciryas and the others were awaiting them. They heard that Elladan and Írissë had spent by far the most uncomfortable night, the others having found lodgings at the dowdy inn and having at least a warm fire by which to pass the hours. Írissë continued to silently blame herself and looked at nobody as they trudged disconsolately back along the narrow, cobbled streets. She related to them everything that had been said by Sarnor the sailor and with a measure of doubt of his credibility they all agreed to go south. Elladan watched with increasing irritation as the more sceptical members of their company professed their mistrust of what Írissë had said. After seeing her defy her father as she had done Elladan expected her to retaliate but she kept her eyes to the floor, every spark of her hope faded away. He bit his lip and could not help but defend her and silence those who questioned her. Their number of horses was seriously diminished and their steeds could bear them no further anyway for the next part of their journey would have to be across the river. It was with a heavy heart that Arciryas set them loose, trusting to the wisdom of the clever beasts to guide them swiftly and safely back to the stables of Imladris. Elrohir only hoped the folk of Rivendell would not take the sudden appearance of the horses to mean the rest of the company had been slain.

Everyone was quiet as they walked the short distance through the burning sunshine to the estuary. Passing remarks went for the most part unanswered and it was not until they reached the moorings that any of them spoke. Calimmacil ordered one of the sailors to ferry them across the river in one of the least damaged boats. Calimmacil was in no mood to pander to the surly man's complaints and parted with some silver pieces to ensure he would not tip them into the water and let them drift out to sea. As they crossed the water, gently bobbing abreast of the low waves, Elladan's eyes were drawn to the endless expanse of blue ocean which led far out into the distance. What lay beyond it was a mystery to him, having never stepped foot over the lands of the West, but at that moment he would have been willing to forsake everything to turn their boat westward and cease all weariness of that world by the light of the Blessed Realm.

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