Mist & Shadow - Chapter 6 - Beginnings
Athrun watched with interest as she poured through the books with rapt attention. He found it curious that she remembered some things, like how to read and write, but not others, such as her own name.
She expressed even more interest in the maps. "Where was it you found me?" she asked, staring at one very large map of the entirety of Middle-earth.
Athrun leaned over her shoulder, examining the map. "Right..." His finger roamed over the map, "Here." he tapped his finger on the paper.
She looked confused. "But, there's nothing near there except Imladris, and everyone knows I didn't come from here."
"We know nothing more about it than you," Athrun told her, knowing she was right, "Perhaps you floated downstream for a long ways, or were travelling." he shrugged.
"I want answers, Athrun." Mornië sighed. "I want to know why I'm here; where I come from. Who I was."
Athrun didn't say anything for a few moments. "You know what, this is depressing." He closed the book. "Let's go do something else. Thinking about your problem won't fix it, so we might as well make better use of our time," he reasoned, knowing his logic was warped.
"What 'better use' are you thinking about?" Mornië was somewhat relieved to have her attention diverted.
Well, let's see.." he thought for a moment, "What about the archery range? I could use some practice, and it would be interesting to see how you do with a bow."
"Can't hurt. Where is it?" She smiled half-heartedly. This was the first time she had expressed any of the tumultuous thoughts that plagued her. Until now, she had hid her doubts and fears very well. She didn't know what had made her speak them aloud.
"Why are we heading for the stables?" Mornië asked a few minutes later.
Athrun laughed. "I see your starting to learn your way around," he commented, "The archery range is quite a ways away, so we'll have to ride there. If you'll wait here, fair lady, I shall return with our horse." He stopped at the door leading into the stables. Before turning, he paused. "If anyone tries to run off with you just scream and beat the bloody pulp out of him."
Mornië cast him a withering glare. "Wait just a minute! Did you just say our horse? Do I not warrant my own horse?!"
Athrun rolled his eyes. "We don't even know if you know how to ride yet. Until then you will just have to ride with me."
"You get hurt and Lord Elrond would have my head." Mornië glared at him sullenly.
"Pity," she mumbled, but Athrun heard it and just grinned.
Athrun soon had his horse, Huisuume, saddled with the swiftness of practice. He then de-strung two bows and lashed them to the saddle. "You better be on your best behaviour today." He grabbed the horses bridle and looked him in the eye. "You won't be throwing just me if you don't." The animal snorted and glared at it's master. "I mean it!" Athrun muttered as he led Huisuume out of his stall and toward the door. He could see Mornië silhouetted against the light but couldn't read the expression on her face. He instantly wondered if she had heard him talking to his horse.
Mornië stared at the large black horse for several moments.
"What? Don't tell me you don't remember what a horse looks like?" he asked jokingly.
She hit him in the arm. "Of course I remember. Now help me up," she demanded.
Athrun rubbed his arm, a look of mock hurt on his face. "Ow! See if I offer to take you to the archery fields again."
The she-elf snorted in a very un-ladylike manner. "Please." Moving past him, she placed one foot in a stirrup and pulled herself up on the tall animal. To Athrun's surprise, Huisuume didn't react. Mornië reached down and patted Huisuume on his neck. "Are you just going to stand there?"
Athrun quickly swung himself up onto the horse in front of Mornië and took the reins. "He's usually not this docile. I'd watch out. He's probably planning something."
"Like master, like horse," she muttered looking for something to hold onto. With a little yelp as the animal started moving, she grabbed for the closest thing. Which happened to be Athrun's tunic. Not particularly caring how it looked or what he thought, she grabbed two handfuls of the cloth and hung on for all she was worth.
The ride didn't last nearly as long as it felt. Mornië began to wonder if she had ever been on a horse. She knew her thighs were going to kill her the next day, and, as soon as Athrun pulled the horse to a stop, she jumped off.
"We're going to have to work on that." Athrun smirked slightly as he tied Huisuume to convenient post anchored in the ground. After making sure the animal had enough room to move about and get to the grass, he pulled two bows from the saddle. "Here," he offered the smaller one to Mornië, "This one should be about your size." She took it, turning it over in her hands, feeling the smooth curve of the wood. It seemed so familiar...
"Ready to give it a try?" Athrun asked, looking at her curiously.
"Yeah," Mornië nodded, still examining the bow. It was like something she had seen in a dream, yet had no memory of. It tugged at the back of her mind like a nagging fly.
"Hey!" Athrun waved a hand in front of her eyes, "Snap out of it."
She shook her head, bringing her mind out of the fog it had descended into. "Sorry. I don't know what it was, but I felt like I was close to remembering..."
Athrun studied her for a moment. "Don't try to push it. It'll come on its own," he reassured her. With a start, he realized that he really believed her claim of amnesia.
"Doesn't matter." She ran her hand down the length of the bow. "It's gone now."
* * * * *
Athrun watched Mornië put another arrow to the string and take aim. Her stance was perfect. She had an eye for distance that would make even a seasoned veteran green with envy. The initial surprise that had come when she had placed her first arrow directly next to his on the target still lingered in the back of his mind.
"How am I doing?" Mornië turned to him.
"Eh... good," was all he could manage. He was certain her earlier feeling of familiarity with the bow wasn't coincidence. He was relatively sure she must have been experienced with the weapon prior to her memory loss. The callouses on her hands were also testimony to that fact.
"I have a proposal to make." Athrun motioned for her to set the bow down.
"No," Mornië laid the bow carefully out of the way, "I won't marry you."
"What a shame," Athrun smirked, "besides, that wasn't what I was going to say."
"What then?" she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
"I was going propose a challenge." Athrun pulled two daggers out of sheaths on Huisuume's saddle and offered them to her.
"What kind of challenge?" Mornië accepted the daggers warily, weighing them in her palm, subconsciously feeling for their balance.
"A friendly duel," Athrun gauged her actions, noticing that she didn't seem to even be aware she was doing them, "No blood, no injuries; whoever surrenders first loses." He gave her a moment to consider. "Shall we?"
"Don't see why not." She shrugged. "I just hope I know what I'm doing."
"I don't think you'll have a problem." Athrun produced two more daggers for himself.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Athrun shrugged. "You seem pretty confident with those things already; the way you've been handling them."
Athrun took her by surprise as he turned and attacked suddenly. "Go easy on her," Athrun reminded himself. Mornië surprised him by fending off his attack with seeming ease. Apparently it surprised her as well.
Mornië dropped one hand down from her block and swung her dagger at his middle to distract him while one foot hooked around his ankle in an attempt to pull him off balance.
Athrun quickly recovered from his shock just in time to avoid her attack. "Okay, so maybe I don't need to go so easy." He twisted nimbly under her arm and swung his dagger up towards her neck, stopping just millimetres short of its target. "You're dead," he whispered in her ear.
"Really?!" Mornië twisted her foot behind his knee and pulled him to the ground. "I don't think so. I don't think so." She twisted so she landed sitting on his chest and placed her own dagger to his throat. "As far as I can tell, I'm still kicking.
Athrun grinned wickedly, flipping her over his head, he quickly turning the tables. She was doing better than he has expected.
He pinned both of her arms to the ground with his own. "Get out of this one if you can." Neither of the two realized that they had drawn quite an audience with their commotion, and they were now surrounded by a ring of curious and amused elves.
She thought for a moment. "You're in a very vulnerable position, you know."
The grin quickly disappeared from Athrun's face at the wicked spark in Mornië's eye, accompanied by a demonic grin. Taking advantage of his surprise, Mornië freed one of her arms from his grip and hit him in the chest with surprising force; enough to make him roll away in order for her to escape. However, he hadn't loosened his iron grip on her left hand,
Mornië reached for a dagger with her free hand. She knew Athrun wouldn't let her get away with her little distraction that easily, but she had to at least try. Athrun shifted his grip, twisting her wrist at the same time.
"You cheated," he smirked. He kicked the dagger out of her grasp and reached for one in his boot.
"I didn't cheat!" Mornië made no effort to move or to get up, and Athrun still had hold of her wrist. She had almost visibly winced when he had twisted it.
"Give up?" Athrun challenged. He could practically feel the eyes of the elves around them burning into the back of his head. If he admitted defeat to a she-elf, there would be no end to it. But then if he completely annihilated her, it also wouldn't look very good, especially seeing as he was supposed to be her body guard.
She let her breath out in a whoosh. "No, I don't give up. I'm just out of breath, and I don't feel like moving at the moment. I'll kick your butt later."
"You're still injured. We can call it a draw, and then neither of us need be humiliated before all these people," he nodded his head slightly towards the crowd that had gathered to watch.
Mornië groaned. "We had an audience?" After a second, she laughed. "That's just great."
"What, don't tell me you didn't notice," Athrun asked jokingly, "We're a hit!"
"I'll hit you if you don't help me up."
Athrun grinned and stood back up, holding out a hand to a still suspicious Mornië.
* * * * *
Mornië watched with a mix of relief and sadness as the Hobbit began putting the final preparations on their gear. She had been told the day before, right after getting back from the archery fields with Athrun, that her four admirers were leaving the next morning.
She wasn't going to missing their mischievous pranks or having her toes stepped on, but she was going to miss the cheer they brought with them. "Where are they going?" she asked Athrun, who stood beside her, quietly.
"No one has said. But Lord Elrond looked worried yesterday when I went to give him my daily report." The two watched the Hobbits, as well as Prince Legolas, a ranger, a dwarf, and another man, in silence for a few minutes before Lord Elrond spoke.
"The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On you who travel with him no oath nor bond is laid, to go further than you will." The Elf-lord paused for a moment. "Farewell. Hold to your purpose. May the blessings of Elves and Men and all free folk go with you."
Mornië listened with a growing sense of dread. She wondered if Lord Elrond felt that he was sending the young Hobbit, Frodo, to his death. He had explained to her, as best he could, what it was he was supposed to do and why the evening before. Now that she understood the magnitude of what he had willingly volunteered to do, it pained her that he should have to carry the Ring. She had the distinct feeling that the care-free Hobbit she had come to know wouldn't be the same when he returned. If he returned at all.
"The Fellowship awaits the Ringbearer." Gandalf, the wizened and kindly wizard, motioned with his arm to the path leading through a carven, stone arch. His presence on this journey, was one of the only rays of hope Mornië saw in the bleakness of the quest. The brief encounter she had had with the wizard was enough to give her that hope.
She watched Frodo turn slowly to face the gateway to the outer world. The gateway that would lead him possibly to his death. He took the first tentative steps before a mantle of stalwart resignation settled over his shoulders
He straightened his back and walked through without a backward glance. There were two roads to choose from and the Hobbit paused trying to decide which way to go. "Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?"
* * * * *
"You worthless piece of..." Amarth trailed off into a long string of curses, his boot finding it's target. Thalion gritted his teeth and attempted to rise to his feet. "It wasn't my fault! How was I to know she practically had a body guard?!" He was careful not to mention Athrun's name to Amarth.
Amarth growled. "You weren't supposed to just rush at her from nowhere." He cursed some more. Dûriel should be dead by now and out of his way. "I warned you about her skills. If I had sent one of my own men, I'd have her head on a pole."
"True though that may be," Thalion nursed his bloody lip and glared at Amarth, "None of your men can get into Imladris!"
Amarth swore under his breath. He knew Thalion was right. Even if one of his men were able to get into the city, they would not be able to go unnoticed long enough to get rid of Dûriel. He was going to have to count on Thalion. "Don't fail me again!" he warned, making it clear that he was the one in charge, "If she tells anyone in that city about what she knows, we're all as good as dead!" Thalion nodded, still glaring at the larger elf. "Get rid of Dûriel, but do NOT arouse suspicion! Obviously you've never heard of something called tact."
Thalion snorted. "If what you say about your men is so true, she never would have gotten near Imladris in the first place."
Amarth barely restrained himself from hitting Thalion again. "She's one of the best. I'm surprised she didn't kill you when she had the chance."
* * * * *
Mornië stared down into the water below her as she leaned on the railing of a bridge spanning a small tributary of the river. "I wonder how Frodo is doing?" She was thinking out loud and didn't realize it. Several weeks had passed since the company had departed, and no one had heard any news of them in that time.
"I'm sure he's fine," Athrun replied absently, leaning backwards over the rail precariously as he looked up into the trees. She didn't say anything but mentally wished the entire company well, watching her reflection waver and ripple on the surface of the water. She snorted and dropped her forehead to her hands.
"What?" Athrun looked over at her curiously, pausing his study of the clouds.
"I'm going to make Ariel pay." she muttered not looking up.
"What for?" Athrun wasn't following her line of thought, but he looked concerned for Ariel's safety.
Mornië laughed as she raised her head and looked at him. "She took all trousers and shirts out of my room last night while I was asleep. Leaving me with nothing but this," she motioned to the ankle length dress she was wearing, "to wear. That's why."
Athrun laughed. "Well I think you look very nice," he commented casually.
Mornië coloured slightly, not sure how to respond. "He's changed so much over the past few weeks," she noted mentally. The relaxed boyish character that was now hanging haphazardly off of the bridge would hardly be recognized now as the cold brooding and distant elf she had met only weeks before. It could just be the fact that Lord Elrond had commanded him to protect her, but she almost got the feeling that he enjoyed being around her constantly. "Is he like this with everyone once he gets to know them?" she thought curiously, studying him casually.
As she studied him, she noticed just how far he was leaning out over the river. "You look hot Athrun," she suddenly stepped forward and gave him a shove.
"Whoa!" Athrun tipped over the side, but latched onto her at the same time, sending them both toppling into the shallow water below.
Mornië came up sputtering and fuming, pulling her soaking hair out of her eyes. "You'll pay for that! Just wait till I..." she stopped, spotting Athrun's limp form floating a few feet away face down. "Athrun!" She splashed through the water towards him, gathering up her heavy wet skirt around her knees.
She dropped to her knees in the water and grabbed him around the shoulders, trying to turn his body over in the water. Before she knew what had happened, she found herself floundering under the cold water again, only to rise to the surface again almost immediately to be met by a highly amused Athrun. He laughed, falling back in the water, enjoying his revenge.
"You...!" Mornië splashed him. "I thought you were actually hurt! See if I ever try to save your life again." she splashed him again.
"Ah, so you were concerned about me!" he laughed triumphantly.
"I never said that! For all you know I was just checking to make sure you were dead!" Mornië countered.
"Well now I'm just hurt. Does that mean I should leave?"
Mornië shrugged as if she didn't care. "Do what you want."
Athrun reached up and grabbed her chin, forcing her head up. Without thinking, he laid quick, soft kiss on her lips. For what seemed like an eternity, neither of them moved, just standing there staring at each other; both trying to understand what had just happened.
Mornië was the first to break the silence, hooking her foot around his ankle and sending him crashing back down under the water. "
What?!" Athrun cried defensively, coming back up from the water almost immediately, "You told me to do what I wanted!"
"You know that's not what I meant!" Despite her best efforts to look angry, Mornië didn't quite succeed. She pushed him back under. While he was still recovering, she stalked out of the water. "I'm going to go change and have a chat with Ariel about my clothing."
Athrun grinned like a little boy and shook his head, falling back into the water and returning to his study of the clouds, feeling strangely happy.