Paths Revisited - A Quest

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Chapter III
"A Turn for the Worst"

In the darkest of nights,
For tonight is truly dark,
And our woe is truly deep,
The most earnest of prayers flood the heart.
Ai! Eru,
Ai! Iluvatar,
Spare us, this night
From the shadow of death.

The night breeze tickled Uleerniel's face, as she chanted these words in elvish. She could not sleep. Hesitantly she turned and stepped back inside the cave. Eriathiel was still hunched over Merry's motionless form. Kneeling behind her sister, Uleerniel ventured to ask,
"How is he doing?"
There was a long pause before Eriathiel answered.

"I'm afraid he has taken a turn for the worst. I doubt he will live through the night. I am not sure what to do. I dare not take him back to Bree."
"To Rivendell then? I can think of no other place."
Eriathiel sighed, "It is a long journey from here."
"Then we will leave at day break,"

"He may not live until day break," said Eriathiel in a raised tone. Then she lowered her voice and whispered,
"I must leave now."

"Very well. I will wake the others."

"No," objected Eriathiel. "I will ride faster alone. You and the others must take your rest for tonight. But first help me prepare for the journey."

"Eriathiel, take my horse, Nienuil. I do believe he is the fastest of the four stallions."
After the girls had fastened Merry to the horse, Eriathiel climbed on behind him and looked at her sister.
"Uleerniel, please tell Dunethien that I appreciate all he has done, and that I pray I shall see him again soon. Ai! I shall miss him! Farewell, sister."

With that, Eriathiel loosed the reigns. Uleerniel watched as the horse, the hobbit, and the elf-maiden rode off into the darkness. There was nothing to do now but to try to sleep. As she lay down in her bed, Uleerniel tried to imagine what Pippin's response would be when he learned that his friend had been carried away to Rivendell.

Uleerniel's thoughts eventually turned to the events of the past days: the secret summons, the ambush, the injury,
"And now, here we are at the cave. I hope we have made wise decisions."
Uleerniel's last thought before sleep found her was,
"I too shall miss Dunethien."
A cold hand reached down, shaking her arm. Uleerniel jumped and swiftly drew her sword, more from instinct than fear. No one. No one in sight. An anxious whimper sounded from below. She looked down and re-sheathed her sword. Pippin, of course.
"It's Merry! They've got him! I knew I should have-"
"Quiet, Master Took, the others are resting. Eriathiel took Merry to Rivendell. He's very ill."
"He's dying then."

"There is still hope."

"I should have gone with him."

"No. There was nothing more you could have done. Now you sit down and rest. I will see to the packing."
Pippin sat down tears filling his eyes. I may never see Merry again. He watched sullenly as Uleerniel and just-risen Theogwyn and Dunethien started to load the horses. Sorrow gripped his heart as he reached to wipe his face. The memories flooded back.

"Merry! You're such a sow's ear! First you pull off the stem, then eat the mushroom."
"I suppose you would know." Merry laughed mockingly as Pippin playfully reached to slap his cheek.
"I would. Be reminded, I attended this year's-"
"-how to pick and eat mushrooms class," Merry finished, leaning toward Pippin, "the shire's best excuse to gobble down free mushroom's and ale - as I recall!"
"Well, you recall wrong!" He enunciated the last word, "It was clearly a very informative demon-"[I/]

He stood. Enough of that, Pip! If you are ever going to get over Merry, this is not the way! In one quick effort, he shoved Merry out of his mind. No more of him until he received some more news. He walked toward the others, who were loading the last of the supplies.
"Are you ready?" Dunethien queried.


"Well we better be setting off," Theogwyn said. But Pippin's attention was only on the chest-high stirrup in front of him. His eyes moved slowly up to the saddle horn almost four feet above him. Why had I not brought some Ent-draught home with me? After leaping with all his might, his hands gripped their destination. It felt good to wrestle with something.
"Need any help there, young hobbit?" Uleerniel offered a hand.
"No I've got it," Pippin's feet searched for the stirrup. Where is it? With a cry he landed on his back. The three were quickly over him.
"Are you sure you do not need any help?"

"Now, yes. But one day I will get on that horse."
After hearty laughter they were soon on their way.
As Theogwyn led the way out of the cavern, Dunethien cantered up beside her.
"Theogwyn, I have come this far, but in truth, I have need now to leave the company. I have tasks of my own, and I can no longer continue to journey with you." Theogwyn turned and nodded to Dunethien.
"I understand. Perchance we shall meet again, Dunethien. May the leaves of your life never turn brown." With that, she lifted her hand in a gesture of farewell, and watched as he departed with stunning swiftness.

For two hours the company continued on until, checking her horse, Theogwyn suddenly held up her hand to signal quiet. Uleerniel rode up silently beside her.
"What is wrong?"

"I 'm not sure. It feels as if someone were watching us. There is something inside that warns caution, though I am not sure what. It would be wise for us to keep as quiet as possible." Uleerniel rode back to whisper the warning to Pippin. By dark the company had reached a small stand of oaks, maples, and pines.

The air was soft with the sound of a small brook that flowed to one side. The pines were sighing in the gentle breeze that wandered about the sky. The smell of wildflowers was heavy in the air. Theogwyn took a deep breath and, for a moment, relaxed, in the wonder of nature.
"We should camp here tonight." Dismounting her horse, Windrunner, she began to set up a small campsite.

After they were finished eating, Theogwyn suggested that they turn in early.
"I will take the first watch, Pippin the second, and Uleerniel the third.
Losto mae, mellons nin." Loosening her sword in its scabbard, Theogwyn slipped away into the twilight to patrol the perimeter.
About two hours into the night, she heard a small sound like the rustle of dried leaves from the camp and then felt a small hand on her arm. Whirling around, she drew her dagger and pinned the small figure to her in one fluid motion. Eyes wide, ready to defend herself, she realized it was the hobbit. Letting him go, she whispered a quiet reprimand, "Sneaking about like that can get you killed, Master Took." Seeing his relief at being unharmed, she asked him what he was doing up.

"Well," he said, " Seein' as how it's almost time for my watch, I thought I'd just get up and walk around a bit." Since we're both up, would you mind me asking a few questions?"
"Ask away."

"First, I'd like to know where you grew up."
"I was raised in Lothlorien." And with that she began spinning and weaving tales of her childhood, the pain of losing her mother, growing up and training with the Rangers, and how she met Eriathiel. Before either one knew it, it was time for Uleerniel to take over the watch. Looking up, Theogwyn spotted Uleerniel walking towards them. Smiling, Theogwyn then went to her bedroll, and drifted off on the soft sigh of the breeze.

As Eriathiel urged her horse to speed, she recalled the vision of her sister standing at the mouth of the caves, whispering wordless prayers for safety. She remembered the cover of trees that had hid Uleerniel from her eyes. Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel I Valar tielyanna nu vilya, May the Valar protect you on your path under the sky! In her heart grew the foreboding that it would be long days before her eyes rested again on the graceful form of her sister.

Suddenly, a sense of urgency was upon her. She whispered words of swiftness to her horse. Sensing the rider's great need, the horse galloped on, putting forth such a great burst of speed that no man or beast would have been able to match. Trees whipped past. Keeping a swift beat as they rose and fell, the hooves of Nienuil thudded on the dirt packed path.

The night air seemed to revive Merry. He stirred and let out a small moan. Eriathiel looked down at the small Hobbit fastened on the horse in front of her.
"You must hold on, Merry." Eriathiel tried to encourage the motionless form. "You must fight for the strength," Her words trailed off. Worry flashed across her face. She knew from the start that little chance lay in his recovery if she proved unable to bring him to aid. The scenes from the past evening flashed before her eyes.

They had arrived at the caves. As Eriathiel dismounted, her arm brushed against Merry's. It was a chilling touch. Furrowing her brow, she watched with concern as Dunethien lifted the small Hobbit out of the makeshift saddle. He gently laid the motionless form onto a small bed of soft blankets. Eriathiel knelt next to Merry. Placing her hand upon his forehead, she was shocked to feel his wet clammy skin. Her hands worked with a quick deftness and within seconds she had removed his shirt and jacket. As she touched the outer bandage, she was shocked at what she felt. A fiery heat met her fingers. Taking off in the inner dressing, she laid her hands against his skin. A searing fever caused her to let out a cry. That was when she knew something was dreadfully wrong.
Asking Theogwyn for some cool wet rags, she took to cleaning and cooling Merry's wound. Almost the very moment that she placed a cool rag upon his wound, it would be warmed through. This process lasted nigh an hour, till the wound no longer burned with fire.
Eriathiel got up and cleansed her hands. Then, returning to the side of the small Hobbit, she tenderly began her inspection of his wound. Searching the depth of the gashes, her eyes went wide with panic. The wound stretched on, even beyond her greatest fear. It was a miracle that breath was still within him. As the sun slowly sank, so began the longest night of her life. Merry's body began to shake with chills. A cold sweat soaked the blankets that they laid upon his form. A deep racking cough shook his entire frame. The violent motion reopened the wound.
Eriathiel packed the gash with clean gauze, hoping to stop the bleeding. Before wrapping on the outer bandages, she once more placed aethelas on the wound. Eriathiel spent long hours of the night tending to the Hobbit, yet there was little she could do. All her knowledge of herblore and healing were now useless. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She felt so helpless and weary. She was exhausted. Feeling a tap on her shoulder, she looked up. It was Uleerniel.

Nienuil began to even out his strides and steady his pace.
As they sped on into the night, Eriathiel again prayed for the young Hobbit. She felt somehow responsible for his injuries. If only I wouldn't have summoned him. In part, that is why she alone took care of the Hobbit. Though the others had offered, she refused. In the stillness of the night, she went over and over in her mind the events leading up to his wounding, wondering whether anything else could have been done. Finally, she dismissed these things and cleared her mind. That is in the past, my task lay at hand. I shall not fail you, Merry! Again she urged her horse to greater speed.

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