Lily of Gondolin - Chapter Twenty: Travelling and Trouble
Chapter Twenty: Traveling and Trouble
Ev'ry so often we long to steal
To the land of What-might-have-been,
But that doesn't soften the ache we feel
When reality sets back in.
When I reached the southern border of Doriath I expected to be stopped. But I saw no one; perhaps the wardens had been told who I was and that I might pass. Melian's Girdle did not affect me as it had before, when I entered the land. Maybe the Queen had let me through, or maybe it was simply meant to dismay only those going in, not coming out.
It was very early in laire, summer, when I finally left the dense beeches of Region. While I had traveled through, the leaves changed from light, delicate green, growing larger and sturdier and a deeper, brighter color. The woods were beautiful and calming, but all the same I had very little desire to stay.
It was not sea-longing that was on me, but the hope of what I might find beside the Sea. I tried not to hope for too much. I knew, after all, what it is to have your dreaming fall in wreakage all around you. But sometimes, on still, clear nights, when the breezes were soft in the darkness and I was gazing up at the stars with Emeryk nestled at my side, it was hard not to make my dream and hope and cloud-built castles too high.
So I would pull myself back to earth, and carefully deconstruct my fancies. Perhaps none of my family or close friends had survived. Or perhaps, even if they had, they would not recognize or know or welcome me. Perhaps, perhaps; there were too many possibilities, and one of them I did not want to think about.
Perhaps Melian had meant something else, something completely different. Something that had nothing to do with family or home. And so my daydreams varied, from returning to my loved ones to falling to my knees and weeping on a windswept beach.
There were fens very close to Doriath, the Fens of Sirion. I entered them shortly after I left Region, and very soon wished that I had not. The river split into several main channels, but besides those there were hundreds of small ones, and all the ground was marshy.
Emeryk did not seem to be bothered. But then, he was not beng attached by insects, having to wade through water that would better be left undisturbed, and he always had a dry shoulder to perch on.
It was not long before I picked my way back to the edge of the fens, deciding to skirt them. Althouth they were fairly pleasant as marshes go, do not enjoy being soaked to the knee with muddy water.
By the time I reacher firm ground the Sun had almost disappeared. I gathered what dry wood I could and lit a small fire. I remembered Taurion's warning about raiders, of course, but reasoned that there would be none so close to the border of Doriath. I would probably be safe for another day's travel, but after that I'd have to be wary.
The next morning I continued along the edge of the Fens. Of that there is not much to tell. I travelled by day, from the moment when light was clear, before dawn, to when it was all but gone in the evening.
The days grew slightly warmer as I reached the end of the marshes, and the nights were not as cold. I was glad, since I could not light a fire. The waybread was suprisingly filling; I'd had no need to hunt, for which I was grateful. It would be time-comsuming and inconvenient, besides the fact that I had never liked it.
Emeryk sometimes disappeared - I believe he was tired of an unvarying diet of waybread - and came back looking rather pleased with himself. I did not think too closely about the meals he scavenged.
It was none too soon, somedays later, when I reached the end of the marshes. They narrowed, and tha arms of the Sirion rejoined, to that is was little more than a broad river with a strip of marshland on either side.
It was a relief; there were far fewer insects, for one thing. Not all of them had bitten, but clouds of midges were still inconvenient and irritating, particularly in the rising heat. I had twisted my hair into one long long plait, but wisps of it still escaped and clung to my skin in the damp.
As I continued to trudge along the edge of the wetlands I heard, very faintly, a roaring sound. It took me an instant to realize that it came, no doubt, from the Falls of Sirion. When I reached them I would be about halfway to my destination.
That thought was enought to make me walk faster, thought in rhythm with my steps. Half...way...half...way...half- I was cut off as the Falls came at last into sight.
"Valar," I breathed. It was amazing - a vast torrent of water plummeting, falling, crashing down for hundreds of feet, and then straight underground. A cloud of fine, rainbow-glittering spray was thrown up from the rock, and the roaring was so loud that even if the Ainur had been singing I couldn't have heard anything else.
I walked the last distance to the Falls slowly, savoring the sight, its simplicity and grandeur, the beauty of stone and a falling river. It was massive and unchanging; awe-inspiring and ancient. I stood at the steep edge of the river, the spray collecting on my hair and clothing, but I did not care.
Emeryk swooped down to land on my shoulder, probably with a disapproving squawk for my damp state, and shook small beads of water from his wingfeathers. I ducked, brought out of my reverie. He tugged at my ear, and I reluctantly retreated from the Falls. "All right, Emeryk," I said, when I could hear. "I need to fill the water-bottle, anyway."
I retraced my steps and, a short distance away from the waterfall climbed down, rather precariously, to replentish my supply of water. The Sirion would flow on under the ground for several leagues, and though, in all probability, it would be easy enough to find a spring or stream before it surfaced, it would be best to be prepared.
The Andram, which ran roughly east to west across Beleriand, were not quite mountains, but certainly not mere hills. They were tall, though nowhere near as lofty as the Echoriath that had surrounded Gondolin.
I reached the top of one mountain-hill, and looked out. The land to the south and west was lower. It was green and hazy; in the far distance the Sirion resurfaced. Beyond that, barely discernable, was the slightly darker smudge of Nan-Tathren, the willow forest that the faint river line wound through, And yet beyond that, so far away that I was almost sure it was my imagination, was the faintest, farthest blue-white glitter.
I looked back north. the fens spread, blue and green and brown, and beyond them were the massed trees of Doriath. I realized that I missed Taurion rather badly. I turned back, and set out down toward the river, and beyond that to the Sea.
Once again, there is little to tell. I travelled on and rejoined the river, following it as it flowed south, curving here and there but holding a steady course. The land was deserted - I did not see another Elf, or Orc or Mortal, only animals. It was peaceful.
That was to be shattered.
Nan-Tathren was beautiful. The willows were ancient, sweeping and august, their bows trailing gracefully down. And when I came to where the river Narog met the Sirion, I knew that I really did not have far to go.
Though that thought filled me with hope and hesitant elation, a small voice of apprehension refused to be quelled. What if...I pushed those thoughts away, as I had many times before. There were so many possiblities; I would deal with them when I had to. Don't give up your hope, both Melian and Alatariel had told me.
I was thinking about this, walking a few score yards from the bank of the Sirion, when I heard a sound on my left, slightly behind. I paused for an instant.
It was not the sound of the river on my right. It was not a tree groaning in the late-summer heat. It was something moving in the underbrush, a sound unlikely to be made by any light-footed forest creature. Someone was following me.
I automatically began to walk faster. Whoever it was had to be at least fairly wood-wise; I heard only very, very soft rustlings. I felt like a stalked deer.
As I said, I have never liked hunting.
It was now well past noon, drawing on to evening. Although the days were long it would only be a short time until twilight. I heard the noise again as I kept walking. Instinctively, I angled my path away from them; closer to the river.
The shadows were lengthening; I realized that there was more than one person keeping pace with me. One slightly ahead, another behind. And possibly - I strained my ears - more even with me.
I did not know the land; my only choice was to keep walking and hope. And Valar help me, I had no idea of what I ought to to. Perhaps I would be able to pass peacefully if I just went on and ignored the fact that I was being followed. I wished, ridiculously, that my tunic were green rather than black.
I reached up, and under the pretense of shifting Emeryk on my shoulder loosened my sword in its sheath. Emeryk had sensed my fear and worry; he nibbled on my hand reassuringly. I smiled faintly, but was not really comforted.
The sun was halfway down beyond the horizon when I heard my pursuers closing in. By that time I was only a few yards from the edge of the river. And two Men appeared in front of me.
I stopped, and they came toward me, cutting off escape that way. I glanced over my shoulder, and saw another on the bank behind me. And then two more emerged from the trees. I was very neatly boxed in wth the river on my right.
And so I made the oldest, largest, most idiotic mistake that can be made in an opponents territory. I ran.
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