Menrial of Mirkwood: Chapter 11 - Caught

Menrial woke, quite incomprehensibly, to the smell of eggs and cooked rabbit. She felt dizzy, and exhausted, and if she wasn't warm, she could at least feel the blood flowing through her veins again, and that was good enough reason for going back to sleep.

But her stomach dissented, violently. The delicious smells floating through the air brought back the gnawing pain in her belly, and she remembered all of a sudden that she had not eaten for a long time. How long she wasn't sure, but too long.

Am I dead? she wondered, as the memories came trickling back - battling the river, holding onto the bank, the awful cold, the raven, the blurred face peering over the edge, and then blackness. No, I can't be, because I wouldn't still be hungry...But those are elvish voices, aren't they, somewhere to the left of me? I suppose there's only one way to tell...

She opened her eyes.

She had been right about the elves. There were two of them, pale-haired and graceful, sitting nearby. One was busy flipping eggs about in a frying pan, while the other was expertly carving a cooked rabbit. There were many curious things about both, not the least of which being that they were here at all. The first elf was holding his pan over a glowing red stone, which appeared to be doing just as good a job with the eggs as a regular fire. And the other was female, dressed in scouting garb identical to that of her companion. Menrial did not recognize either one, but she knew from the quality of their gear and uniforms that they far outranked her.

Oh, curses., she thought dizzily. This is worse than being rescued by Nenthel...

"Halen! She's awake!" The female elf, glancing up from the rabbit, had noticed her opened eyes. The male elf put down the eggs and the next thing Menrial knew she was surrounded, one sitting on either side of her.

"Welcome back!", said the female elf. "We didn't think you'd be awake for some time now."

"Yes, ", agreed her companion, gravely. "You were quite ill. You don't have to talk if you don't feel like it just yet."

Menrial would have liked to keep her silence, but seeing as they had probably saved her life it seemed churlish. "Thank you.", she said, trying her utmost to be polite. "I wasn't sure I was going to survive before you came." And then, remembering her manners, "My name is Menrial."

"Glad to meet you, Menrial Istaril.", the female elf said. She smiled at Menrial's look of surprise, and added, "I like to keep track of the new elleth recruits. There's so few of us, you know. I'm Taurewen Nanir, and this is Halen Thorol. We're scouting for his majesty's army."

"Yes,", agreed Halen, again. "Though we had not known there were others assigned to this area."

They both looked at her expectantly. Menrial flinched, and several utterly mad ideas as how to escape answering the unspoken question whirled through her mind. She could throw off the blankets they'd wrapped her in, and run off, or pretend to faint...But it was a mad idea that had got her into this situation in the first place, and she doubted one would get her out of it. Besides, they'd probably already guessed.

"I'm not exactly assigned here, you see, ", she said. "I just....came."

Halen frowned, and Taurewen bit her lip. They exchanged glances. Menrial shut her eyes and hunched down into the blankets, her face burning. They had decided she was a reckless irresponsible fool who didn't deserve to be a scout. They were going to take her home and court martial her. For centuries to come, young scouts would be warned to behave themselves, lest they end up expelled and shamed like that Menrial Istaril...Well, she thought, At least Alduin will be happy.

"Well,", she heard Taurewen say finally, after a great deal of whispering. "You were supposed to stay behind. To leave despite the King's decree qualifies as neglect of duty and law breaking. But - if you'll come out of that blanket - we can offer you a bargain."

Menrial, opening her eyes, realized she'd pulled her blanket up over her head in her embarrassment. Face turning even redder, she hastily dropped it and met Taurewen's eyes, which held not steely disapproval, but rather silent laughter.

"That is, ", Taurewen continued, "If you will help us scout out the area around here, and not be a nuisance, Halen and I will put in a good word for you when we report back to the King."

"You mean you're not going to send me home?", Menrial asked tremulously, hardly daring to believe her ears.

"We don't have the time, or the authority.", said Halen shortly. "Besides, one of us would have to go with you, and that's far too much trouble."

"So, do you agree?", asked Taurewen.

Menrial didn't hesitate - the whole thing seemed too good to be true. "Yes."

"Good. Now that's settled, would you like some breakfast? Halen isn't quite finished with the eggs yet, but I've some nice portions of rabbit ready. You must be hungry, after all you've been through."

"Ravenous.", said Menrial. "Yes, please."

The rabbit was rather stringy, and Halen had somewhat overdone the eggs, but all in all the three elves had a very satisfactory breakfast, over which the full tale of Menrial's rescue was recounted and discussed.

"We never would have found you, if it weren't for the raven.", explained Taurewen. "We heard it calling, and came over to investigate. I'm not too good with bird tongues, but I can catch "help" and "come quickly" well enough."

"But it bit me.", said Menrial, and then immediately felt ashamed of the petulance in her voice as she surveyed the marks on her fingers.

"Well, it also saved your life.", said Halen. "When we heard you yelp, we truly made haste. The ravens are of a higher blood than the crebain, despite their dealings with dwarves."

That reminded Menrial of something. "Dwarves? Have you seen - "

"The main gate?" Taurewen asked. "Of course. It's things like that which we're supposed to report. The King thought there might be trouble. That's why he's bringing such numbers with him."

"But who are they? How did they get here so fast after the dragon died?"

Halen shrugged. "Dwarves are opportunists. Greed makes even their booted footsteps lighter."

"Now, that's not entirely fair.", Taurewen interjected, frowning. "They could have some right to it. The Kings under the Mountain were all dwarves, you know. None of the treasure was elven to begin with. In fact, in a certain light, we're being more opportunistic than they are."

"Nonsense.", growled Halen. "Dwarves are simply being dwarves, that's all. Besides, even if they are descendants of Thror, they didn't kill the dragon. That was Bard's doing."

"Exactly.", said Taurewen drily. "The Men kill the dragon, the dwarves have a birthright, and our only claim to the treasure of Smaug is that we're the Firstborn, and thus naturally superior."

A heated debate followed, during which Menrial could only watch and listen. It was quite impossible to get a word in edgewise. Halen and Taurewen seemed very practiced at arguments - she sensed that they had been over this turf many times before. Remarkably, they managed to reach a draw within half an hour, without any sore feelings on either side.

As they cleaned up, Menrial wondered briefly if it might be have been better to disagree openly with Alduin when he was obstinate, rather than always being the sensible even-headed one. In retrospect, she realized her manner must have seemed very patronizing.

But after breakfast, there wasn't any time for regrets. She had promised to help Taurewen and Halen with their work, and that work had to be done right away. So together, the three elves left their rocky campsite, and set off to inspect the eastern side of the river.

Two days later, the elven host was almost ready to leave for the Lonely Mountain. Bard and many able men of Laketown would travel with them, and only a few elves stayed behind, to help with the rebuilding.

Alduin had expected to be among those few, and had not been pleased about it. His old dreams of valor died hard - there was still a very stubborn part of him that kept saying "I can still be a mighty warrior, if I only have the chance." Thus, when Rothgar informed him that he was to leave with the army, a part of him was pleased.

But this did not make saying goodbye to Cala easier. Alduin left the healer's tent for the final time feeling very glum, a button from the dress of her rag doll tucked into his pocket, which Cala had pressed tearfully into his hand by way of a farewell token.

Down by the shore, he was quickly accosted by an elf called Belen, who explained rather distraughtly that he needed his help, because if everything wasn't loaded in time Captain Feanil would kill him.

Alduin could not contest the potency of this argument, although he had some doubts about the reasoning behind it until he actually caught a glimpse of this so-called Feanil. He was striding about, taller even than Vanyar, with a glower on his face that could have made the Necromancer himself take a step or two backwards.

"And all over an elleth, too!", Belen whispered conspiratorially. "The sneaky little chipmunk ran off and he hasn't been the same since."

Alduin gave him an incredulous look, wondering if the elf's nerves had truly been shot by working under this figure of a Captain, and had half a mind to just walk away from the chaos. But then he took pity on Belen, and thanking the Valar he hadn't decided to sneak into the supply train, went down to help.

A few hours later, everyone and everything was on the boats, and the fleet of men and elves set sail for the mountain.

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