Second Star to the Right - Chapter Eight; A Fireside Tale

Disclaimer: *shelters from swooping lawyers under make shift tent, swatting them occasionally with a newspaper* Comprende? ,_,

A/N - Well, chappie eight!!! Dear Lord, I don't believe we're actually here. These bits are the chapters that you dream about writing when you start a fic, you know? The juicy bits, that are more than introductions of characters... Mwah ha ha... Well, you'll all be happy to know that there is no character torture here!!! Woohoo!!! Lol, no one gets its this time... But I have no idea what the next chapter with entail, so this peace may not last long! Of course, I say peace... *slaps hand* Stop it!!! Anyways, thanks to Elfet, beyondalltowers and everyone else who commented on the last chapter - you're all brilliant, and very encouraging!

Anyways, enough rambles, savvy? Enjoy!!! ,_,

~*~


Chapter Eight - A Fireside Tale


Maybe if I keep it so that no one else can see;
Maybe if I hold it tight
And never let it see the light,
They won't know that it's me.

And if no one ever tells what really happened there
It will lie unspoken;
Lonely and long broken;
A long forgotten token
Of a burden none could bear.


-- Estel

~*~*~*~*~


Night was closing in, and all about the sixty or so riders the silver lit hills loomed with hypnotic, swaying grasses. All their horses were drenched with sweat and flecked with foam, but none yet yielded to the weariness that threatened to take them; they had come this far, they would not let their riders down now. Elros rose at the head of the group, staring about himself bewildered and confused. True to her word, Nesial had uncovered the tracks that had lain in secret for days, and they had been easy to follow, for they were neither cryptic nor misleading. Least ways, not until they had entered these confounded hills... All tracks had stopped, and the grassy, beaten tracks revealed to clues as to where they should go. Elros had taken a chance and ridden a straight road so far, with few turns, always the feeling of unease and sense of disorientation growing on him; now he had lost all clear idea of where they were, or even in which direction they were facing.


"Elros?" he father asked gently, coming up beside him. The young man couldn't look him in the eye; if he failed now, he let them all down; his father, his mother - his brother... Any mistake on his part now could prove fatal to Elrond, but there was nothing he could do.


"Ada - I don't know," he replied in a small voice, fumbling with his reins slightly. His bay steed shifted its legs a little.


"My son," said Eärendil quietly, "Do not blame yourself for this. You have led us far, and we must be close now. This is not your fault. Do you understand?"


Elros nodded, but still would not look at his father.


"Elros, please," Eärendil cupped his hand around his youngest's chin, tilting his head upwards. Elros unwillingly met his father's gaze. "I have nearly lost one son; I will not lose you both," he breathed.


"I know, Ada."


Eärendil sighed, and pulled his hand away. He couldn't begin to imagine what this was doing to the child; he had lost a son, but Elros had lost a part of his soul. The twins were closer than any brothers he had ever known, and they always seemed to know what the other was thinking; indeed, he believed they could hold silent conversations, with never a word being spoken.


"Come - perhaps we should take the east road," he called to the men, nudging his own chestnut stallion forwards - then dropping his tone so only Elros could hear, he whispered, "Least ways, I think its east..."


Elros grinned at his father, and followed him down the track. Still, he couldn't shake the eerie feeling the place was giving him; and though there was no light from the shrouded sky, he swore that at times he could make out statues and carven rocks upon the hill tops.


Several things then happened all at once; the horses, each and every one, froze stock still in the path, ears pricked forward, nostrils quivering, the whites of their eyes rolling as they peered into the murky night. The men all felt a cold, icy shiver creep from the tip of his toes up their spines, making them start - and on the road ahead, the air seemed to grow darker and thicker, and soon a thick mist was swirling around their knees, pouring out on them from some unseen origin.


"What evil is this?" murmured Eärendil, more to himself than anything, but Elros caught his words.


"Ada?"


Eärendil glanced at him worriedly. The horses began to snort and shift uncomfortably, tossing their heads, refusing their owners commands.


"All of you; stay together!" ordered Eärendil. "Form a circle, don't lose sight of anyone!"


Even as the men hurriedly followed the instructions, the mists grew thicker and thicker, encasing them in a shadowy grey. Horses whinnied frantically for one another, as the men cried out and shouted. Then something snapped; the horses were weary and worn, and could take no more. With wild, fey neighs, they reared and tossed their riders from the saddle. Elros felt himself sliding down his horse's shoulder and land heavily on the ground as it galloped madly away; all around him he could hear the sounds of the men in similar situations, and the air was filled with the sound of thundering hooves and terrified cries. Then the hoof beats died away, and all that was left was the men, calling for one another, making sure all were present and uninjured.


Elros stifled a moan as he rose to his feet, rubbing his shoulder where he had landed, but it was nothing more than bruising he knew. In an instant, he found his father by his side.


"Elros, are you alright?" he asked urgently, casting swift looks all over his son to check for injuries.


"I'm fine Ada, honestly," he assured him. Eärendil nodded and squeezed his arm.


"I want you to stay in the middle of the group; don't you dare wander off, do you understand?"


"Ada," Elros began indignantly, "I'm not a child, I -"


"Then don't argue with me! Go, I have enough to worry about without wondering where you are."


Grumbling, Elros began to obey his father's wish as he turned away to organise the men - but at that moment, something caught his eye, and his stopped, gazing at it. He frowned, squinting into the gloomy fog. Around him, he could hear the men frantically following orders from his father, rushing to and fro, forming a tight group.


Suddenly, it seemed to his eyes that one patch of fog hovering before him began to deepen. A shadow flitted closer, growing larger by the minute, yet still and uncertain haze. Elros felt a strong hand on his shoulder try to pull him back, but he could not be afraid of this thing that approached; it was almost as though there was a familiar air to it that Elros couldn't lay his hands on.


The shadow stopped. It was close enough now that Elros could plainly see it was a horseman, though the beast remained motionless where it stood. All about the men now fell silent, and the swirling misty air grew as tense as a taut bow string.


"Who are you?" called Eärendil at Elros' shoulder, his other hand upon his sword hilt and his voice commanding. "What devilry is this with which you are disguised? Show yourself!"


The horse stepped forward, nudged by a gentle squeeze from its rider. It seemed that the fog retreated slightly, but only to form a thick ring around them. They and the horseman stood in the centre, hidden from the rest of the world.


Elros' frown deepened, and he bit his lip.


"Who are you?" Eärendil repeated, loosening his sword in its sheath. His emotions were rising high, despite his attempts to stay calm; they were running out of time, and his son's life hung in the balance. He was not about to accept the petty games of vagabonds and fake magicians!


"Am I not known here?" came the reply. Elros stiffened - a motion that did not go unnoticed by his father.


"Go," Eärendil whispered, "I told you to get behind the line."


"No," Elros murmured, shaking his head, though his gaze never left the figure.


"I'm not -"


"Master Elros," it greeted, dipping its head a little.


Eärendil started sharply.


"How do you know my son?" he demanded angrily.


"Your son?" questioned the stranger, clearly taken by surprise; "Well, that explains a few things I suppose..."


"Elros, who is this? How do you know this - this -"


"Careful now," warned the new comer derisively.


"Do not mock me, conjuror," growled Eärendil, and would have stepped forwards if Elros hadn't stopped him.


"No, Ada - no," he almost pleaded, his eyes poring into his father's, begging him to believe him. "She is right. I do know her."


"Her?" questioned Eärendil, startled.


"Do you not think that a woman travelling alone in these barren lands would make for a suspicious wanderer?" came a curt voice, its male façade thrown aside to reveal the biting tongue of a strong woman.


"Any traveller through these lands would make for a suspicious wanderer; but female traveller or no, you would do well to mind your tongue," advised Eärendil.


"So I've been told..." answered the woman in an off-hand manner.


"Nesial," said Elros hastily, stepping between them and the impending argument. "Please, come and speak with us - this is my father, Eärendil. You said I could lead them through the hills but..." He sighed, waving a careless hand to the pearlescent mists around them. "I am at as a loss as to where to go."


Nesial, thought Eärendil; this is the one he spoke to?


Nesial nodded, leaping off the horse's back. "Off course, I had planned to just give you the route," she explained, standing in front of him and casting back her hood. The men gasped in shock as her distinctly feminine features were revealed, save for Elros and Eärendil alone.


"Why didn't you?" Elros asked confusedly.


"Ah... Well..." Nesial stammered apprehensively, and carefully avoided the eye contact of father and son. "Circumstances are always changing; you know that... I can just do more - good here, than with Elrond now..."


"What do you mean?" inquired Eärendil sharply at the sound of his lost son's name.


"I mean... There's nothing more I can do for him - not now - don't you start!" she protested, as she saw Eärendil fit to burst into a torrent of rage; "I said there's nothing I can do. He's retreated into his own mind, Eärendil, he's too far beyond my reach - and it's not my place to go there. The only people who can save him now are you."


There was a heavy silence as the full implications of Nesial's words sunk in.


"Then you'd best take us to him," said Elros hoarsely, afraid and prepared for the worst, but determined to fight it.


"My thoughts exactly, Master Elros," nodded Nesial, and turned to remount her steed, which had not moved from its spot.


"Excuse me," coughed Eärendil, "But I think you'll find, that we no longer have any horses." He stressed the syllables accusingly.


Nesial blinked at him. "Oh... Well, we'll stay at a walking pace."


"Wait," called Eärendil. Nesial paused and cocked her head to one side, watching him.


"We need to wait?" she asked incredulously.


"My son may claim to know you," he ground out, trying to keep him temper in check, "But I have never seen you before in my life. Give me one good reason why I should place any trust in you?"


Nesial stepped back towards him as he gently but firmly pushed Elros aside.


"I'm sorry, I'm not sure I have this quite right; you want to waste time by bombarding me with useless questions while your son's life hangs in the balance?" she mocked a little spitefully' this was the last straw for the mariner. A cold flame erupted in his eyes, and his voice grew more dangerous that any there had ever before heard it.


"And whose fault is that?" he growled, "How dare you - you know nothing of what I feel - now who are you?!" he demanded fiercely, grabbing Nesial's arm, "Where is my son?!"


"Kindly take your hands off me," chided the woman coldly, shoving him off her with a bite in her voice. "Your son is where he is."


"Do not play games with me," threatened Eärendil, his grip tightening on his sword hilt.


"Father," warned Elros, stepping up behind him.


"Stay out of this Elros." It was a command, not a request.


"You would do well to heed him," hissed Nesial, and as their eyes met, sea-grey foam clashed with living night, and it seemed as though a great and spectacular war were raging in the air between them; two great forces, struggling for dominance, bone-chilling and awe inspiring all at once, as a flash of lighting from a clear sky.


Suddenly, Nesial seemed to shrink and recoil beneath Eärendil's gaze, and within a matter of seconds, she looked not the youthful woman she was, but old and worn and tired.


Elros' kind heart was concerned at once, and side-stepping his father, he laid a hand on her shoulder.


"Nesial?"


She uttered a soft sigh and turned away from them, her head in her hands. Perhaps she had known it all along, that it would always come to this; but a small part of her had hoped, had believed... But then hoping was fools; isn't that what she'd always been told? Yet as she looked upon Eärendil and Elros and all the men behind them, the solid, resolute strength and hope in their eyes was overwhelming. Could it really be true that such a forceful driving emotion was inevitably needless folly?


"Have you got somewhere we can sit?" she said at length, her voice stretched and thin. "This may take a while, for it is no short tale - and it is a sorrowful one."


Even the slowest of wits could have seen the complete change in her voice and pose now, and Eärendil had a clear eye; he could see she did not lie. His hand left his word hilt and came to rest on his belt.


"Come - we will make camp here tonight, though we had hoped to reach yours."


"It would be better for you to do thus," said Nesial gravely, her skin verging on grey in the half light of the mists around them. "There are some things that even the greatest of warriors cannot face in the shadow of night."


Eärendil did not press her further on this matter yet, though he knew the time was drawing nigh when she would tell them all.


At the word of their Lord, the men hastily began to build the first make shift camp they had set up in days - the first since they had left the Vales of Sirion in fact, for they had ridden straight for a day and a night, and this night again, and they were more worn than they were wont to admit - and they feared they would sorely miss their horses before long.


"Your horses..." murmured Nesial, casting her eyes at the whispered fears of the men. "Yes, this will not do... Hythel, come here." At her bidding, her horse nickered softly and walked over to her, the mare's mud stained coat still showing its strawberry roan colour. "Go after them, Hythel; tell them they have naught to fear, and bid them return. Their masters will need them with the dawn." At this, the mare lowered the head slightly, breathing heavily into Nesial's neck - then with a flick of her tail, she span and galloped off into the gloom after the escaped beasts.


Soon, hidden by the thick impenetrable mists Nesial kept to conceal them they warmed themselves around a small fire. The little orange flames flickered feebly against the grey backdrop, and seemed pathetic out in the vast wilderness; but they did not extinguish.


Eärendil remained on his feet, gazing across the blaze at Nesial, who had seated herself on a large boulder opposite him. A blanket was draped around her shoulders, and Elros was preparing a weak tea to keep them all warm. For a short while none of them spoke, and though Elros and Nesial sipped gingerly at the watery substance, Eärendil had declined the offer, and his foamy eyes, alight in the fire, never once left the red headed woman.


"You are not what you appear, I deem," he stated quietly, breaking the lonely silence. Elros glanced between the two, but Nesial stared deep into the glowing embers of the fire.


"You are also older than you seem, are you not?" Again, no answer. Elros frowned and fiddled with his cup.


"Will you speak at all?" Eärendil did not doubt that that knowledge she held could unlock the mystery of his son's kidnap - and his rescue. But he knew they couldn't afford to wait for her conscience to finish its internal battle. Elrond's life hung upon an ever weakening thread.


"At least begin with how you came to be involved," pleaded Elros. Nesial's eyes did not leave the fire, though her inky depths did not reflect the dancing light.


"Involved? With my Master - with Káno? He is the one who has taken your son. But that is a long tale in itself," she half-smiled, "And only half of one at that. I will start at the beginning; then, perhaps, you will forgive me."


"Forgive you?" questioned Eärendil suspiciously, "Forgive you for what?"


When she replied, her voice was barely above a whisper.


"For wanting to survive."


Outwardly, Eärendil made no sign that her words had any impact; inwardly, his mind froze and his heart seemed almost to stop beating. For waiting to survive... But at what expense?


"Continue," was all he said. Nesial shifted herself again slightly, and began her tale.


"My people," she said, "Were once not as you see me now. Once, long ago we were - how would you say it? I suppose in your terms we were spirits, essences, entities. Although that description is vague, that is the best I can describe it in your tongue. Least ways we did not have flesh, or a solid being; we existed, though not in your sense of the word. Therethal we called ourselves; created with the world when the stars were still being kindled. I remember that time so well," she paused, smiling. "It was a peaceful age, before the coming of the First Born."


Elros stared at her in shock.


"You - you remember?" he stammered, "But then that would make you - you must be -"


"Immortal?" she finished for him. Quickly closing his gaping jaw and nodding, she pondered for a moment on the comment. "I suppose... As an entity, yes I am immortal," she tried to explain, though she still looked rather confused herself. "We cannot die as you would say, just as we do not really exist. But these cages of flesh and blood and bone can be destroyed. They are merely containers, nothing more."


"How did this come to pass then?" asked Eärendil, her eyes poring into her. "That you were trapped within these bonds, for so I would guess."


"And you would guess well," she half laughed, but there was no mirth in the sound. "The Therethal were not the only spirits to wonder the world before time began; nor were they like us. Another race there was, and they were everything we were not; where we rejoiced in the starlight, they hid in the shadows; where we flew and danced on the winds, they scorned they elements; where we rejected utterly the shadow of Melkor, so they received him, and gladly, seeking ever their own power.


"We understand now that it was by Melkor that they were created, and us by Varda; but we did not know that then, for we were young, innocent and ignorant. We tried to teach them the joy and peace that we felt, but they refused to see. Then the Dark Lord revealed himself to us, and to both races he offered the gift if power, wit the promise of greatness and dominion over others. The Therethal shunned him, and refused his proposal; but the others, the Dakah, hungry with greed flocked to him, and swore allegiance to the dark powers. And his first `gift' as he called it, was of shape, of body; and he wrought for them a shell like to man, yet they were not so, for they could still see and feel the plane of existence in which we dwelt. Then a great and terrible power he gave to them; to claim us, to imprison us and take us as their slaves." She sighed before going on. "We fled, but it was useless. We were outnumbered and overpowered, and finally all our people were trapped within the dungeons of the Dark Lord. For countless years we were his slaves; forced to work on and on for him, driven to the ground, begging for it to end and yet unable to die. I - I thought there would never be an end to it," she stuttered emotionally, "I feared I would slave for him until the breaking of the world."


"Yet it was not so?" asked Eärendil.


Nesial blinked away the tears in her eyes and shook her head.


"By some ironic, mocking twist of fate, it was the Dakah who saved us; unintentionally of course. The promises Melkor had given them had never been fulfilled, and they grew restless, stirred into rebellion.


"So Morgoth, as he had now been named, bestowed upon them a terrible curse; the Dakah should have power and release from their mortal bonds - and we should join them. For Morgoth then cursed us, even as he had cursed our enemies, and we were trapped within the flesh and blood of these frail bodies. And we each, both races wish to be free of this wicked spell, but only with each other's aid can we do it. That was Morgoth's fault, I think," she frowned suddenly. "The Dakah are not an altogether evil being; rather they seek power, and look only to their own needs. Morgoth never truly had them, I don't think. He reckoned their pride would never allow them to let us help. But he was wrong!" she snorted suddenly, her voice laced with contempt. "He was so wrong."


For a moment more there was silence. Eärendil and Elros were finding this new influx of information near over whelming; though Eärendil was far better at hiding it than his son, who sat gaping at Nesial and hung off her every word.


"How then," said Eärendil, starting the question Nesial had been dreading, "Does this fit in with my son?"


Nesial let her head fall into her hands and rocked slightly, but she did not answer, and Eärendil did not push.


"It was a final indignity," she sighed, raising her head again but always careful to stare into the fire and avoid the mariner's searching eyes, "An indignity that we should suffer to be free. Perhaps it has made me how I am now... You heard the description of my people. We knew no wrong, peace was all we were. Yet that is not something you would find fitting for me now, is it?" she scoffed.


Eärendil quirked an eyebrow in response, but moved no more. She was evading the subject, and his heart bode ill of it.


"Yes... well, a cruel world will make a cruel people after all, you know -"


"Woman," interrupted Eärendil, beginning to grow impatient.


"Ah... yes... of course..." Nesial felt herself slipping back into old habits. "My people loved life, in all forms. So - so Morgoth's revenge, his final curse - would be - was - is - for us to be free, an innocent must be sacrificed."


Deadly silence fell. Even the men who were not meant to be listening forgot their pretence and felt a cold shiver run up their spines.


"What do you mean?" demanded Eärendil, his voice commanding once more.


"I mean - I mean, for a Dakah and a Therethal to re-enter the existence of the entities - the blood of an innocent must be spilt, to open the barriers - and free us."


Eärendil felt his blood boiling. "And my son," he ground out, "My son! You would kill him, so that you may return to your own, perfect world. How dare you! What gave you right to chose that your life should be valued over his?!" As the leader's hands came to his sword hilt, so all the surrounding men stepped forward menacingly.


"No - no! Not any more!" Nesial cried desperately, her voice unusually high. She had to make him understand! "No! Don't you see? That's why I've told you, why I'm here now! So I - so you can stop it!"


"How do I even know I can trust you?"


"Because by aiding you, I have lost all chance of ever returning to my own people!" she blurted out. Her breathing became hitched and tears stung the corners of her eyes. "The souls of a Dakah and a Therethal cannot just combine; we each have a match, and Káno is mine. Only with him, at this time can it be done, and with your son... So by bringing you here, I have sacrificed myself! Does that give you reason enough to trust me?!"


Eärendil froze, speechless. Part of him didn't want to believe her... But in his heart, he began to understand just what was at stake, and that this was much more than a kidnapping. Forces were at work here that he had not reckoned with, Nesial was one of them, and he feared where their titanic clash would lead.


"I - I am sorry, Nesial," he said thickly, his mind still buzzing and whirling. "Please, take some rest - you shall show us the way at dawn.


Nesial nodded, but still couldn't meet his eye. Oslarn stepped up from just outside the firelight, and lead her away to where a bed had been prepared for her.


Elros watched her go with pained eyes, his mind just as jumbled as his father's.


"A - Ada?" he stammered, "How? Can we ever do this?"


As Eärendil looked upon his son, Elros saw for the first time not as a strong, unbeatable father, who could overcome anything - the mighty and renown mariner, who sailed all the coasts from north to south; but as a simple man, worn and tired and unsure, weighed down by the world. He moved over to his son, and placed a comforting arm around his shoulder's.


"I don't know, my son," he sighed heavily, "I don't know anything any more."


~

Loadsa love, Estel xxx

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