Mist & Shadow - Chapter 4 - Assassin
Amarth lounged carelessly by the fire. "I'll pay you for whatever new you can give me. Relevant news."
"Oh, I assure you; it's relevant. In fact, i think it's worth more than the usual price," Thalion stood before the Moriquendi, not at all disturbed by the fact that he was surrounded by Amarth's men. Amarth would not harm his only contact within Imladris.
"How much more do you want?" Amarth wasn't at all surprised Thalion was was asking for more money.
"80 gold pieces," Thalion said without hesitation. "That's too much," Amarth looked at him like he'd grown an extra set of ears, "whatever information you have cannot possibly be worth that much. I will pay you 40."
"Seventy," Thalion gave in a little. He hadn't expected Amarth to pay the 80, but the higher he started, the more he would get.
"Fifty," Amarth countered.
"Sixty," The two elves gazes locked for a moment.
"Fine," Amarth motioned for one of his companions to count out the agreed amount, "But this information had better be worth it Thalion, or I warn you..."
"Don't worry," Thalion assured him, "It's worth it."
Amarth motioned to one of his men to give him the money. "60 is a lot. So tell me what you know. If I'm not satisfied, you get the regular amount."
Thalion nodded in agreement, a cocky grin plastered on his face. "Does the name 'Mornië' mean anything to you?" Amarth looked unimpressed. "Ah, I guessed not. But what about... Dûriel?" He saw Amarth's interest immediately, and laughed. "As I thought."
"What about Dûriel?" Amarth was very careful. His facial expression became blank.
"A she-elf has come to Imladris. She was pulled from the river by a friend of mine," Thalion considered his words carefully.
"And?" Amarth was growing impatient.
"She claims she has amnesia, but the woman fits the description you gave me of this 'Dûriel' of your's. She's going by the name 'Mornië', or so I've heard. It is my personal belief that she if faking amnesia in order to gain the protection of the elves of Imladris."
He smirked. "That's sounds like Dûriel. She's a very good actress."
"So," Thalion looked at the purse of gold suggestively, "My gold?"
Amarth weighed the gold in his hand thoughtfully. After a moment, a sly grin crept across his face. "I'll tell you what Thalion," He said reaching into his own purse and pulling out some gold coins, "I will give you 90 gold pieces instead of 60.... if you can kill Dûriel." Thalion looked doubtful. "Simply make it look like an accident." Amarth shrugged nonchalantly. "It shouldn't be very difficult."
"If I am found out Amarth, I will lead them back to you," he warned him.
Amarth smiled coldly, "Then you're better not get caught, eh?"
* * * * *
Athrun paced uncomfortably up and down the hall near Mornië's room. He couldn't believe he let Ariel do this to him. She of anyone should know about... "No," Athrun broke off his train of thought. He didn't want to think about it.
Ariel closed the door of Mornië's room with a smug smile. It had taken her an hour almost to get the girl in to a dress, but she had succeeded in the end. Her hair had taken another hour. Shaking her head as she turned, she almost bumped into the pacing Athrun.
"Well, I'm surprised to see you're actually here." Ariel looked him up and down. "At least you look decent."
"Yeah... right... thanks," Athrun barely glanced at her, but stopped pacing.
"Don't look so brooding. It's your own fault." Ariel couldn't resist thinking that he looked like a sulking child. "I'll leave you two alone now," Ariel started to leave, "Please at least try to act like a gentleman Athrun."
Athrun paced for several more minutes after Ariel left. "Women," he muttered before tapping lightly on the door.
"I'm not coming out!!" Mornië's voice sounded rather flustered.
"Well I'm not going to wait out here all night," he growled.
The door popped open angrily. "No one asked you to!"
Athrun was speechless for several moments, while Mornië just stood there, blushing furiously and glaring at him.
"What?!" she practically challenged him to say something witty or mean. "It's... err... you're... I mean..." Athrun stumbled over his words. Had Athrun not known better, he would have never recognized the beautiful creature that stood before him as the tough, pant wearing woman from earlier.
Mornië swore in a very un-lady like manner. She should never have let Ariel convince her to wear this. Her gown wasn't one colour. It slowly changed form emerald green at the shoulders and bodice to midnight blue in the skirt. The sleeves had the same colour change and draped to the floor. From what she had seen of her hair, it was a glorious weave of braids and ribbons. "Stop staring." Mornië looked down at the floor.
Athrun broke his gaze and coughed to cover the slip in his emotions. He mentally cursed himself for getting in this situation. As much as he hated to admit it, she was beautiful; she looked just like... "Stop! That's a road that doesn't need to be gone down." He looked back up at Mornië, his face unreadable again. "Ready?" He offered her his arm politely.
"Yes," this time, she did accept his arm. "Why do you do that?" she asked as he led her down the hall, toward the lights and music of the feast.
"Do what?" he asked, a bit confused.
"Mask yourself like that." She really didn't know why she was asking. "It's an almost tangible wall."
The tensing of his arm under hers told her that she had just crossed a line that would have been better left uncrossed. There was an uncomfortable silence for several moments until Athrun's voice broke the silence again, his voice hard and icy. "That, is none of your business."
Mornië mentally winced. "I'm sorry." Her tone went flat. "I shouldn't have asked." They walked in uncomfortable silence for several moments, the only sound the distant music from the banquet and the sound of the heels of Mornië's slippers on the stone floor.
The banquet hall was a buzz of activity. Everywhere that Mornië looked she saw something new and intriguing. She quickly spotted the four Hobbits from yesterday making themselves at home and helping themselves to as much food and drink as they could get their hands on. She also spotted one or two other familiar faces, but for the most part she felt a bit out of place. For a change she was thankful for Athrun's presence by her side. He somewhat served as a shield to prevent people from bumping into her still sore and only partially healed ribs, and also kept her from having to talk to anyone.
Merry and Pippin appeared out of nowhere and bowed most courteously to Mornië. "Milady, we were hoping we could have the honour of the first dances." Merry grinned at her charmingly.
"I'd be delighted gentlemen," Mornië laughed, "However I doubt that I can dance with you both at once."
"Then I'll dance with you first!" Pippin jumped up, stepping on Merry's foot.
"You will not!" Merry pushed him back and took his place, "I'm first!"
Athrun couldn't help but notice the look of desperation Mornië threw him as she was dragged off by the two hyperactive and arguing Haflings.
"All right, who's the youngest of the two of you." She held up both hands to silence them. Pippin shot a smug and triumphant grin at Merry in answer. "Very well, then, I'll dance with Merry first."
"Hey!" Pippin was indignant, "You can't do that!"
"Oh yes I can!" Mornië had taken command of the situation, "And that's the way it will be, or neither of you will be dancing with me!" The Hobbits finally agreed, and pippin sat back impatiently and watched as merry tried to dance with the considerably taller elf, which proved to be a bit awkward on her part.
She lost count after about 4 dances. As she passed him once again, she threw Athrun a glance that clearly said 'Get me out of here!'
Athrun fought back a smirk and pretended not to notice her plea. Instead, he simply waved to her, as if to say "having fun?" He didn't know why he found it necessary to irritate this woman, but every time he was near her he was compelled to goad her on.
He waited another 3 dances before finally rising from where he sat and going out to rescue her. "Excuse me sir," he tapped Pippin on the shoulder, "I am afraid I must steal this lovely lady away for a few moments." Pippin looked disappointed, but allowed Athrun to lead a now panting Mornië away. "Water?" he offered her a glass.
"Thank you!" She accepted the glass and drank it down quickly. "Remind me never to make that bargain with them again."
Athrun laughed dryly, "I should have warned you about that."
Mornië glared at him, but then ducked behind him as she spotted Merry approaching again. "No, no, no!"
Athrun would have laughed had she not been so desperate. "Care to take a walk with me in the garden milady?" he quickly offered her his arm as he always did, and Mornië was quick to accept this time.
"I don't care where you go as long as it's away form the Hobbits." She didn't feel guilty in the slightest and only wished that the two didn't find another she-elf to victimize.
Athrun and Mornië walked slowly, leaving the noise of the banquet hall behind as they wove their way down the paved paths of the garden. The night was dark, barely illuminated by a crescent moon shining faintly through the leaves above. Occasionally a torch lit the small path, but otherwise, it was all dark.
"Thank you for rescuing me," Mornië smiled remembering the Hobbits. "I don't think my feet could stand being stepped on again."
"Don't mention it," Athrun brushed off the comment, "Nobody deserves that much torture for an hour and a half straight."
She laughed, light and bell-like. "It felt like it had been longer."
Athrun surprised her by smiling; it wasn't much, but she knew she had seen it. The two walked in silence for a few moments, both lost in their own thoughts.
"Ariel told me today that it was you who pulled me from the river." She said it very carefully so she could gauge his reaction. She didn't know if he would react as he had earlier. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"I didn't think it mattered," Athrun didn't look at her.
"It does to me." She sighed. She had been afraid he would say that very thing. "I could've at least have thanked you."
"Would it have changed anything?" he didn't like where this was going, "Besides, You have nothing to thank me for. I was doing my duty."
"Men," she muttered under her breath. She knew he had heard and she didn't care. "Why can't you ever accept gratitude for something? Especially for saving someone's life!"
"What does that have to do with the price of weed in the shire?!" Athrun could believe what he was hearing. Talk about women and mood swings! One minute she was thanking him, and the next she was insulting him!
"It's almost selfish of you to be that way." Mornië moved a few paces away, wrapping her arms around herself not to keep out the cold, but because she was fuming inside.
Athrun threw his hands up. "I just can't win with you! What is it you want to hear?!"
"I don't know any more." her voice was almost inaudible.
"Well when you figure it out, you be sure to let me know!" Athrun said sarcastically, turning on his heel and leaving her there.
Mornië could tell by the sound of his footsteps that he was dangerously angry. Why couldn't they have a conversation without arguing. She didn't care any more. She turned to go back into the hall but found herself lost in the midst of a garden. She and Athrun had wandered farther than she had realized.
"I'd better head for one of the lights," she thought out loud, partially because it helped her think clearly, and partly because it made her feel less aware that she was entirely alone in the garden. She started down the path quickly, her nerves on edge. Athrun could get under her skin without even trying, and it drove her crazy.
Suddenly she was pitched forward onto the ground, her foot caught on a loose stone. "Stupid..." she cursed under her breath and struggled to her feet, pulling the long flowing skirt up a bit. She knew she had probably ripped the material, but it didn't matter at the moment.
Looking around, she suddenly found that she had completely lost her bearing. Hadn't there been a light over there just a moment ago? There was no sound anywhere except her own breathing and the beating of her heart. The light she had seen only moments ago had all gone out, were extinguished, or maybe they were just figments of her imagination. "Get it together, Mornië." She heard a slight rusting behind her and whirled. Her first came up as a reflex. "Who's there." she thanked whoever was listening that her voice didn't tremble.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled as a scent wafted past her on the air... That was smoke! The torches... The realization that they must have been extinguished purposely struck her like a ton of bricks. Her heart raced, and she could feel her legs shaking slightly. Slowly, hoping that if she was quiet she would go unnoticed, Mornië slipped her feet out of the awkward slippers she had been wearing and left them where she stood. If she had to run, she wasn't going to do it in those things.
"Hello?" her voice sounded small in the silence. Her hand shook as she searched for the small knife she had hidden beneath her skirt, but she couldn't find it in the folds to save her life. She stiffened and screamed as two hands descended from behind and grabbed her arms. One arm wrapped around her middle, pinning her hands to her side while the other reached for a dagger. She struggled violently, stepping on toes and kicking shins as best she could from her inconvenient position.
Not knowing what else to do, she threw her head back and it connected with something. She heard a crunch followed by a curse. The arm around her middle loosened enough for her to break free. She took to her heels immediately, dashing toward the trees as quickly as she could.
* * * * *
Athrun was frozen in his tracks by a scream. That sounded like... Mornië! His breath caught in his throat and for a moment he couldn't move. It was happening again... "No... Snap out of it!" Athrun took off full tilt into the garden, searching for the she-elf. He could hear something crashing through the bushes, but then he could also
hear another, heavier, form somewhere off to the left. Making a split second decision, he took off after the second person. Go for the source of the problem. A moment later, he crashed into another person, knocking them flat. One thing he knew for sure: it wasn't Mornië. He barely had time to recover when a fist connected with his jaw, stunning him for a moment.
He recovered and countered with a solid blow to the man's stomach. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Athrun grabbed him with both hands and slammed him against a tree, revealing his face in the moonlight.
"Thalion!" He let go of him in shock.
"Athrun! Thank the Valar! I thought you were someone else!" He stood, clutching his stomach. "Where is she?! I heard a scream."
Athrun snapped out of his daze and pointed in the direction he had last heard Mornië. He could still hear Mornië crashing through the garden. He ran toward the sounds followed closely by Thalion. He was glad his friend was there with him to help if they found whoever had attacked the she-elf. By the sound of her footsteps, Athrun knew she was running blindly and that she was terrified.
"Mornië!" He called out her name to try and get her attention. The sounds of her flight ceased, and there was silence for a moment.
"Athrun?" her voice sounded small and scared.
Athrun could have hit himself for being so stupid. He shouldn't have left her alone. But who would have thought there would be any danger to her here?! "I'm coming," He finally managed to say, "Stay where you are."
Mornië had stopped running, but she was prepared to take off again if she had to. She didn't know how care she had run or where she was. Everything was still pitch black. She brushed up against a tree trunk and sank down with her back against it. Wrapping, her arms around her knees she waited. Her breath came in huge gasps; she fought to bring herself under control. Her mind tried to get a handle on what had happened. She could still feel her initial terror. Even in an elven paradise, she wasn't safe, and she didn't know why.
"Are you alright?" She jumped when Athrun came through the bushes, followed by another person she couldn't quite make out in the dark. "Are you hurt?" She shook her head mutely in response to his urgent questioning. Athrun knelt down in front of her. "What happened?"
She put her forehead on her knees. "I'd rather not think about it right now."
"Come on," Athrun place an arm around her supportively, and helped her to her feet, "Let's get you out of here." He looked back at Thalion, who hadn't moved. "Thank you Thalion," he said quietly, "It looks like you managed to scare off whoever attacked Mornië." Thalion nodded, and faded into the night.
Mornië winced and put on hand to her right side. She thought that maybe her attacker had re-broken one of her ribs.
"What's wrong?" Athrun hadn't missed any of her actions.
"My side hurts." He looked down to where her hand pressed against her side. In the same glance, he noticed that she was barefooted. "Where are you shoes?" His puzzled glance made her start laughing.
"I took them off so I could run. Ow!" Her laughter sounded unnatural as it was born from relief and fear. "I don't know where they are."
"Can you walk?"
"You are not carrying me."
Athrun never thought he would be relieved to see that glare. "Wouldn't dream of it," he brushed off her accusation, "I was just wondering whether or not I'd have to leave you here." "Well, she's back to normal."
The fear that leapt in to Mornië's eyes sent a sliver of guilt running through Athrun. "I'll walk."
The two walked back to Mornië's chambers slowly, Athrun taking extra precautions for her sore ribs and bare feet. He could practically feel Mornië jumping at little shadows, though she hid her nervousness well. "Well," Athrun stood uncertainly with the she-elf outside her chambers. He didn't want to leave her after what had just happened in the garden. If that guy decided to come after her again.... he couldn't take another death that he could have knowingly prevented.
"Why?" Mornië's voice made him look up. She looked mournful... confused... and angry.
"Why me? Why would someone want to kill me?" she picked at a splinter in her palm with vengeance.
"I'm not sure," Athrun confessed, "Maybe..."
She looked up at him. "Maybe...?"
"Maybe it's because you're a Moriquendi," He shrugged, inwardly hoping that it wasn't the reason.
"Will you please just explain to me what these blasted Moriquendi are?!!" Mornië sounded completely and utterly frustrated as she went back to trying to extract the splinter.
Athrun took pulled her hand away and examined the reddened spot where the splinter had taken root. "The Moriquendi," he explained, "are elves who never went to Valinor, and many of them became evil. It's also believed that a few made a compact with Morgoth and Sauron."
"Ouch!" Mornië jerked her hand back as Athrun managed to pull out the offending sliver of wood. "So that's what this is all about? Because someone thinks I'm some kind of evil elven being?" She attempted to laugh, but knew that she had sorely failed.
Athrun's face was dark. "It's serious Mornië; if someone wants to kill you, we need to find out who and why."
"Well, when you find out, you let me know," She sounded miffed again at the reminder of her missing memories, and she turned to go into her room.
She stopped and turned, a shadow of reoccurring fear in her eyes. There was a strained silence for a moment, until Athrun finally spoke. "What is it?"
"What if he... you know... comes back?" She hurried on so he wouldn't get the wrong impression. "I'm not afraid of the dark, but I don't exactly have anything to defend myself with."
Athrun said nothing for several seconds. She was, in a way, asking him for help. Something he really hadn't expected.
Mornië hesitated before taking it from him. "The guy was pretty big," she added doubtfully.
Athrun took back the dagger and stuck it in his boot. "Moving up in the world, eh?" He drew his sword and looked at it. "Somehow I doubt that you can even wield this thing," he said with what might have been a smirk. He sheathed the sword again. "Tell you what, give me an extra blanket, and I'll sleep here by the door tonight so that no big bad scary men come get you," he teased.
Mornië punched him in the shoulder and blushed. "I'm not scared," she muttered, but tossed him a blanket anyway. "Goodnight," she mumbled, burrowing down in the large soft bed. "'Nite," Athrun said softly from where he sat against the door. Moonlight drifted across the floor, and hours later, the first golden rays of the sun edged their way into the sky.