Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 23
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien's wonderful work and making no money . I do claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn, though.
The lazy late-summer afternoon made for a day unfit for archery practice as Aurelin had found out when she had decided to polish up on her skills - she was currently walking back to the House, quiver on her back and bow in her hand. She sighed. I should have known better!, she mused. Even birds were smarter than her and were doubtless dozing somewhere for only the occasional cricket sounded from the grass.
The truth was that she was missing Gilgaer Laswing who had been by now in Lindon almost two seasons. Seasons filled with ever-growing anxiety for Aurelin. It was not as if all her activities and life was tied to him, rendering her useless when he was gone, but their love was still a relatively new one and that meant the patience of waiting for the one you love was lacking still.
Times were getting worse and worse. It did not bode well when there came word of evil at work from so many parts of Ennor. Most probably that was the reason Laswing was detained for so long in Lindon and Aurelin berated herself for putting her interests ahead of what could even have been lives lost or gained. Being deep in thoughts, she took notice of the rustle of leaves and crunch of bark at the last minute and stopped in her tracks just in time avoid collision with a young boy of six years old that had just hurtled to view.
"Mae govannen, Aurelin!"
Aurelin was facing a grinning grey-eyed and dark-haired boy hanging upside-down from the old and gnarled elm. She had almost fallen to his old tricks once more.
"Mae, Estel!" She tried her best to cast a stern gaze at him, though laughed inside with amusement. "Wait, I'll get you down."
Estel had been lurking near the end of the wooded part of the path from the archery range to Elrond's House, waiting for someone to pass, and when he had heard Aurelin's approach he had scrambled up the elm whose lower branches arched over the track. Holding onto one of the branches with the backs of his knees he was dangling upside down, face level with Aurelin's. She raised her arms to grasp his waist to get him down safely (of course he was bold enough to vault down by himself but Aurelin would have none of it).
Oh, yes, Estel! Or Aragorn, but that name was not spoken. Aurelin remembered well how Gilraen had come to Imladris with the then two-year old child to assure that he was safe until he came of age. Amongst others, Elrond had confided in Aurelin about the child, deeming her kin close enough for that, and she had been grateful for the trust. Gilgaer Laswing as her betrothed knew as well. How she had delighted by the fact that there was someone else of her family, even if distantly related, in Imladris, but she could never let the child know that, of course. They had become friends not long after Estel had started to toddle around the House, Aurelin as one of the youngest Elves around feeling double kinship with this young soul. So she tended to search for more contact with the child and he had nothing against it, though sometimes the way Aurelin kept coddling him made him angry. But Aurelin could not help but to be always on the look-out for him - aside from who he was to the Edain, he was another link to her mother and her older sister, Nimloth.
"Can I carry your bow?" he asked eagerly as the two walked up the hill back to the House, out in the bright sunlight once more, but to Aurelin's relief the stretch of path that ran between the copse surrounding the archery range and the trees around the House was not long.
Aurelin nodded with a wry twist to her lips. He was gracious but she guessed this offer was made more with the wish to get his hands on her weapon on his mind.
And it was - at first timidly, then more openly, his fingers started to inch toward the bowstring. He threw a glance at Aurelin to see if she noticed what he was intending and found her emerald eyes looking straight at him and his hand.
"You could hurt your fingers," she admonished him but made no move to take the bow away.
"I am not that clumsy!" Indignation shone on his face and showed in his stance. "I "am advancing fairly quickly" as Elladan told me two days ago. But the bow I use is a children's one and I want to try a proper bow!"
Boys! Aurelin felt like rolling her eyes.
"Now, now. Let us pledge this pact - when you are able to bend my bow, I will have an "of age" one made for you!" She ruffled his black hair and winked.
"Promise?" Estel's eyes were bright with happiness. He would start to try Aurelin's bow now every day, or as often as he could.
The boy started to whistle and Aurelin could not help but chuckle - children were so easy to please! It was most probable that even without her promise he would always have a bow fitting to his strength and skills, for Elrond's twins would make sure of that. Elladan for sure. About Elrohir Aurelin was not so certain - quite reckless with anything and anybody else, Elrohir was extremely protective of Estel and would perhaps try to "mother him" (that is what Estel usually called that kind of behaviour) to use a bow that did not require that much strength. The wiry and lean but strong boy induced great love in everyone who met him and of course the sons of Elrond regarded him as a younger brother. His father had been slain while riding with them and therefore they were doubly careful with Arathorn's son.
"Are you going to put away your bow?" the boy asked, for Aurelin had been silent for a while. After finding out that it was so, Estel started up a chat about his pony as they climbed the steps that led right to the balcony surrounding the House and Aurelin acknowledged the few Elves, braving the hot day and around at that hour, with nods and smiles.
When they were at her door, Aurelin pushed it open and invited the child in. Estel flopped onto her bed, still fingering her bow when something else caught his eyes. From the washstand and the mirror hung on the wall Aurelin saw his look while she was washing away the smudges that had gotten there during the bow practice.
"Help yourself!" she called to him, "those are honey-cakes and just delicious."
Estel was quick to do her bidding and carefully laid her bow on a chair before lifting the bowl beside him onto the bed. "Thank you! I know that they are. My stash of them in the corner of my wardrobe ran out."
"Stash?" Aurelin asked incredulously as she poured a goblet of berry juice for both.
"Um, yes. It was that I saw a little gold-ribboned box of them in the library one day and supposed that if they were just laying there, no one wanted them."
"Very interesting reasoning!" Aurelin handed him the goblet, grinning.
"Well, I did not flaunt my findings and put them into the wardrobe." His tone was most reasonable.
"And the thought that it might have been something that Elrohir wanted to take as a gift to one of the ladies that he is charming did not enter your mind?"
Estel's mouth was full, so he only shook his head innocently.
With her back to him, Aurelin murmured. "Of course, I thought so!" She was stowing away her quiver and bow when a little thump came from behind her.
"Oh, I am sorry, I must have knocked it from the table!" Estel apologised as he picked up the book that had lain on the little bedside table. "The stories of Beleriand?"
Aurelin came over to sit beside him on the edge of the bed. "They are."
The little head was bend over the pages and his hair had fallen before his face. Aurelin pushed it behind his ears gently.
"This is the story of Lúthien and Beren. I like Beren." The light in his eyes spoke of a young boys' everpresent search and in this case finding of a hero. "Could you read this to me?" his finger was indicating a passage at the bottom of the page.
"You can read it yourself. Oh, right, I forgot! You are still not as well-versed in the mode of Beleriand, am I right?" She extended her hand to take the book, but then a thought occurred to her. "Are you even supposed to be here? I mean, if you have to have lessons right now and instead I have you here, Lord Elrond and your lady mother will not be happy with either of us!"
"No, no, today I am not having lessons."
"Alright then." Aurelin started to read: ""The song of Lúthien before Mandos was the song most fair that ever in words was woven, and the song most sorrowful that ever the world shall hear..." Estel, you have heard this story a hundred times and more! Partly because I love it so and I must have told you it at least fifty times over the years."
He had not really listened to her when he unfurrowed his brow to declare: "If I had been Lúthien, I would not have chosen mortality!"
Aurelin made big eyes at that and let the book fall shut. "It is not wise to say such things for they do tend to be blown like dust back into your face!"
"But would you have?" the child-eyes bored into hers.
"I..." This boy had the way of always asking the right questions. "You mean what would I have done if Laswing had been mortal?"
"Yes. You love him and so does he. You are like two courting swans."
"What?" Aurelin exclaimed, resisting the urge to jump to her feet.
"Well the way you are together and...everyone speaks that!" he drew himself up defensively. "Elrohir said that swans..."
"Oh, Elrohir! Suddenly I am glad that you ate his cakes!" She knew her face must be red as a maple leaf. "Anyway, we are not talking of that now! You asked me another question. And you are right, I do love him. Hmm, if he was everything he is now but mortal...Of course he would not have all those years behind him and therefore not be what the years have made him, but if essentially he was the same, I think I would seriously consider choosing mortality (if the chance was given me) and though I could never say for sure now, I probably would choose to relinquish everything I have for him. I do not love him for what he is, but for who he is."
Seriously Estel nodded and Aurelin felt like laughing at how old and wise he could look for someone as young as him.
"But there is the story of Idril and Tuor, the Eldar have gained, as songs tell, one who is proud and valiant, though we lost Thingol's daughter. Do not forget that it is said he is numbered among the elder race and that his fate is sundered from the fate of Man!" she told Estel as she leafed through the book to show him a drawing of Eärrámë. While he was studying the picture, Aurelin got an idea and presented it to him with a mischievous grin.
"Now, young Estel, what say you to you and me taking a little ride with Alagos. Would you like that?"
The beaming face and jumping up Aurelin took as a "yes".
"I think it best if I take my bow with us, though I think I have nothing to fear with someone as valiant as you with me!" Aurelin's praise was received with a big smile and after she had retrieved the bow and arrows she had just stowed away, she strapped the quiver on and holding her bow with the left hand and Estel's hand in the right, they ran down to the stables. Before they reached their destination Aurelin had almost collided with Erestor and received an incredulous look at her behaviour and Estel had startled a maiden going to do laundry, so that the basket of clothes flew from her hands and shirts and dresses and tablecloths were spread in a radius of three yeards.
Alagos gave a neigh as he saw Aurelin racing Estel on who reached the doors first. The stablehands looked startled at Aurelin who only waved away their questions of whether something was wrong. However she informed them of her plans in case they were missed.
"If someone needs us, you can tell them we will be back soon. I am taking Alagos and Estel here for a little ride."
The boy had already gone to greet his pony and give him the stub of a carrot that he had had in his pocket from the morning-meal. By the time Aurelin finished talking with the stable-workers, he was already at the stall of her black.
"Be careful!" she warned him as the stallion was quite bad-tempered but he seemed to like Estel rubbing his nose.
"All right, Alagos, let's get some breeze in our hair!" Aurelin patted the shoulder of the horse as she led him out. She climbed on him (using a convenient wooden box - she could vault on him when she really needed without but when she was not in a dire need, she preferred to use help for getting upon her very tall horse). Leaning down to him, she helped Estel up to sit before her and spoke to Alagos to trot down the path to the east.
"I would like to ride him once without you." Estel was drumming his fingers against Aurelin's arm around his waist.
They had had that conversation before. But Aurelin would not have it not for all the pleadings and jokes and whatnot they young boy managed to conjure up. Alagos was too big and mean for Estel to ride: he was quite as good as any Elfling riding bareback but not enough for Aurelin's calm of heart to ride alone on her horse.
"No, you would not! I know no one beside me who does!" she tried to smooth the refusal with a jest. "Now, do you want to see how he got his name? Hold onto his neck as strong as you can!"
She whispered to Alagos and he took off as a wind-storm. Well, to tell the truth, she was not urging him to his fastest and kept the speed at check but for Estel it was fast enough so that Aurelin knew he must be grinning against the wind.
They had not ridden far in the folded and rocky foothills of the Misty Mountains but in the race with the wind Alagos had chosen his path and brought them to a place where the for now almost non-existent track was winding between rocky walls on either side.
Aurelin was determined to call for a halt and turn around at the next bend for it was time to get back, but when they cleared the fold in the rock-strewn ground, they came face to face with a big wolf five yards from Alagos. The horse had thrown up his head before he saw the wolf but Aurelin had mistakenly thought he was just up to his tricks. Estel's indrawn breath and her eyes were proof that Alagos had been more observant than they. Aurelin eyed the creature. It looked old and grizzled but big. Probably it had been cast out by a younger one but even now it looked menacing enough.
"Lie low!" Aurelin sharply commanded Estel as she unstrapped her bow from her back and fitted an arrow onto the string. The wolf was crouching as if to jump at them any moment with its teeth bared in a low growl. Aurelin drew back her left arm and let the arrow loose but the wolf had side-stepped suddenly at Alagos' wrathful snort and instead of slaying the beast, the arrow thudded into its shoulder. A loud growly yelp and a snap brought the wolf closer and more to their left. Aurelin hissed a curse. A clean kill would have ended the matter but instead now the situation was more perilous. She let Alagos dance a little to the left also, away from the creature and took another arrow. The wolf was eyeing the three with malice, growling more loudly and inching towards the horse, limping but intent now to take its revenge. Aurelin pushed Estel down, as the boy had half raised himself up to see, nocked the second arrow and let the bow sing again.
By the whiskers of Tevildo! It was as if the wolf was possessed by something with far more wisdom than animals have. At the last instant it had drawn away its head. Now Aurelin was very worried as the wolf started to approach slowly, forcing them a bit to the left again. There was nothing for it! If she wanted to shoot another arrow, the beast might push them further left and that meant forcing them against the end of the cul-de-sac and she was not going to risk that, especially since she was not alone but with Estel.
Before the boy could protest, Aurelin slid down from Alagos' back and told him sternly.
"Estel, I am trusting you now. Ride as fast as you can back to Imladris to get help!"
"Ride as the wind!" she commanded Alagos and slapped his flank, turning then to daunt the wolf so that it would not go after the horse. "You, claw of Ancalagon, look here! I am the one who hurt you!"
The thunder of hoof-beats went back to the west as she bravely faced the beast. Laswing will kill me if I manage to let this one slay me! It crouched on its flanks, ready to bound at her, anticipating that Aurelin threw away her bow and drew from under her wristguards two of her short knives. And not to soon, as the wolf was upon her in the next instant. She jumped to the right and rolled away from it's snapping teeth, back on her legs, she whirled to encounter the next attack. Slowly the wolf paced before her and then sprang again. This time Aurelin was intent on ending it right then and there. She stood on its path and before the teeth reached her face, her crossed knives (she had thanked the Valar by now twice, that Laswing had insisted she learn not only to thrown them but fight with them as well) were on its throat and she drew those apart and ducked, throwing herself to the side. Blood flew everywhere from the cut throat while she stumbled and almost with it's last bloody breath, the wolf made its last attempt at her. Aurelin desperately threw her unbalanced self against its shoulder and rammed her knife into its eye. And then the weight of the slain beast leant against her, forcing her to fall on her back with the wolf ontop of her.
She was trying to decide how to push it away from her when a familiar voice called out anxiously.
"Aurelin, are you all right?"
She saw hooves come to a stand still beside her head and then boots - on little feet - before Estel knelt by her.
She managed a noise indicating that she was, while anger flooded her. Estel lent his weight to push the wolf away and with Aurelin helping as much as she could from underneath, they got the beast off her. Estel smiled at her but Aurelin felt nothing like smiling. She stood up slowly and stumbling, blood-covered and dishevelled, to confront the boy furiously.
"What are you doing here?! You were supposed to ride for help!"
"But you were in danger and I could not just escape, leaving you to who knows what," he spluttered taken aback by her fire.
Aurelin groaned as she brushed angrily a few blood-spattered locks away from her dirty face. "Escape! There is nothing wrong about running when there is need and when it is the wisest course. You, you are a fool. Be you Heir ..." she almost said of Isildur but came to her senses luckily and changed it to "in foolishness to Fëanor, you should not have come back!"
"I am not a fool!" He was getting indignant and with his ruthless wit he countered: "And what of you? Why did you not come with me and flee if there is nothing shameful in that?"
"I was thinking that leaving a wounded wolf somewhere close to Imladris might pose a greater threat to any unsuspecting travellers and I expected that once you got help we could dispose of the corpse before its old comrades come to eat."
She threw up her hands in frustration. "And who said I was not a fool! Seven of eight hundred years of life are no proof against that! I was a mooncalf to bring you here into the hills, where anything might prey. They would all have had my hide if I had let something happen to their hope... I mean, your mother would have killed me!" She had got to get her temper in check or she would spurt the truth of his ancestry out right there. Aurelin forced her mouth shut and drew a breath, taking time to study the boy's face. There was shame and a look of knowing he had disobeyed her but there was also stubbornness, pride and a look that spelled that he thought he had done the right thing.
"Come here!" Aurelin motioned for him to approach. "You should not have done that!" she said with a voice forced calm. "You are young and I was responsible for you, to keep you safe. If something had happened to you, it would also have meant that I failed and I do not want that. Not when your safety is at stake, dear child! Are you well at least?"
He nodded and asked the same of her.
"As fine as I can be. With you frightening me half to death!"
She had to give to the boy that he was very brave and without his help she might have had a hard time getting from underneath that stinking wolf. Aurelin feared it might brush from his mind the fact that he had not acted as he should have but she could not have leave him unthanked. She knelt down and put her grimy hands on his shoulders.
"But I thank you for helping me and worrying about me enough to come back!" She bestowed a kiss on his forehead, while he beamed at the praise, and had to wipe away the blood from the white skin for she must have bit her lip when she had fallen and now had smeared Estel's brow. "Never ever do that again!" she murmured into his ear before standing up and whistling Alagos to her. She had bruised her right elbow when she had thrown herself to the ground to roll away from the wolf's fangs and pain lanced up her arm as she helped Estel onto the horse's back. Drawing on all the remaining strength she had, Aurelin scrambled up behind him and nudged Alagos to start moving back towards Imladris.
"I could not just leave you to the wolf when you said that you had nothing to fear when you were with me. Had you been with Gilgaer Laswing, Elladan or Elrohir or Glorfindel, they would not have left you!"
Aurelin could not but laugh. "What a gracious lord you are, Estel nîn! But they are a lot bigger and stronger than you as well. Um, speaking of bigger - how did you get Alagos to listen to you and turn around?"
Estel craned his neck to look at her over his shoulder and grinned. "Well, that is between me and him!"
"Oh, you!" Aurelin rolled her eyes and ruffled his hair. "Tell him then to get back fast now - if we are not back before nightfall, no matter that you are safe and sound when I deliver you home, I would have to face a very angry Lord Elrond!"