Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 24
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 lines of the song in this chapter are of course by the brilliant JRRT from The Hobbit.
Thyme, lavender, heather, sage. Those delightfully smelling herbs and half a dozen more were spreading their heady scent in a cloud around Aurelin, originating from the basket that lay by her left hand. It was a warm summer night, a little more than two weeks from midsummer's day, Bruinen was bubbling along happily and the first stars of the darkening sky were mirrored flickeringly in the waters. The very lazy breeze whispered of tidings and less ephemeral entities as well - a word was spreading among the Elves making merry on both banks of the river that a group of travellers was approaching.
"You have been quiet," Laswing interrupted Aurelin's erratic thoughts. It seemed the ability to think clearly was not for this drowsy evening. The two were on the western bank of Bruinen by the foot of the bridge - Aurelin sitting on the green and this year especially abundant grass half way between the line of trees and river bank, while Gilgaer was going through his sword-fighting routine a few feet from her.
At the sound of Laswing's voice, Aurelin looked up to where he was cutting short a downward-sweeping slash performed in slow motion and directed the blade to turn and move up.
"So you noticed?" she joked and continued the deft movements of tying strings around the bundles of the different herbs in her lap.
The reason for her immobility (irking her endlessly) was that she had sprained her ankle a few days ago when she, very un-elven like, had fallen from a beech while trying to retrieve a gauze shawl that the wind had torn from her shoulders. Though she had managed to get herself with Elanor's aid to the healers and they had treated her ankle, it was still somewhat sore and it was best if she did not walk or move around much. And so the plans she and Laswing had had needed to be changed and instead of bettering her fighting skills, she was sorting the bounty of the trees and soil that had been half-dried on tables in the little herb-room built behind the House and tying them into bundles to hang them to dry fully. Why was she sorting them? Because rather flippantly she had been in a hurry to get the herbs and go down to the river, so she had brushed somewhat of everything into the basket and now had to pay the price for her rashness.
Laswing performed a tricky sweep of the sword that would make the opponent think the blade would be aimed at its head while in truth, by a quick flick of wrist, it instead was meant to force the weapon out of the hand. Aurelin had been very much impressed by Laswing's ability to exercise the needed concentration for the sword-sweeps and at the same time hold a conversation with her. She would have managed to get her blade knocked out of her hand almost immediately if she tried that, but then again she had to remind herself that Laswing had wielded a blade before her mother was born (it was very hard for her to remember him being as old as he was, for he acted nothing as you would expect thousands of years to affect someone).
"Of course I did." An intricate pattern for sidestepping followed his words. "You have been thoughtful for some time now, Aurelin." The steps came to an end by her side and she yelped a fraction before Laswing stopped and swept a dozen bundles of lavender with a flick of her hand onto her skirt for Gilgaer had almost put his foot down on them. She cast him a tiny frown.
"I would not have stepped on those, my love!" he smirked.
"Of course!" Aurelin retorted and blew the camomile blossoms that were in her palm into Laswing's face hovering over her as he stooped to kiss her brow. "You know me too well, Eriant, I think. I have rather felt thoughtful, but for no certain reason that I know of. Something is stirring itself in my mind but so far it is shapeless."
Giving up on removing all the dried little blossoms from his hair, Gilgaer nodded. "Then let those seeds of thoughts take root and push up their first leaves. There is no rush."
Aurelin gave a little laugh. "Coming from someone who has had centuries to think of any thing and make up his mind, I rather believe you are right!"
A gust of breeze came suddenly down from the mountains in the east and descended to play in the valley. Aurelin's hair stirred and a lone strand rose from her shoulder to a floating life of its own. She looked at the long coppery filaments and from the corner of her eye saw the mischievous glint in Laswing's eyes. He had again raised his blade from where he had rested the tip lightly on the ground.
Some, but not long, time ago he had been once more practicing with his sword and Aurelin had been mending one of his cloaks, sitting cross-legged on the ground, the scene resembling the current one. It had been autumn and the wind had been stronger and was swaying a lone feather grass back and forth, from left to right. Gilgaer had started to move his blade around the stalk, darting along with the plant, but never touching and cutting it. Aurelin had told him not to play with the poor feather grass and instead Laswing had in jest suggested that he could use one of the strands of her hair instead. Aurelin had dared him to do that and he in turn dared her to stay still enough for that and so in no time, Laswing was flicking his blade in tact with her hair.
And it had evolved into an amusing pastime between them, now with the tempting breeze aiding, the play started up once more and the sword blade glinted in the little of remaining light, sometimes only a hand or less from her cheek. It had all bared down to trust in Aurelin's mind - she did not think she would have dared to let anyone else but Laswing wave a sword inches from her face, but love meant trusting and she did not feel more threatened than when walking side by side under the moon. Or perhaps a bit more!
However soon the light faded altogether and it was too dark for Laswing to continue, he sheathed the sword and settled beside Aurelin, lounging on his elbow and delighting in watching her face that was set in concentration on her work. A song suddenly started up. Of course both had known there was many an Elf about and close by, but when they were together, they did not really take notice of that. But the song captured the attention because it was uncommonly jesting for Elves. It seemed the peak of summer lightened everyone's mood.
O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?...
"It seems the travellers have arrived," Laswing stated and looked past Aurelin to the road. So far nothing was seen of the ones at whom the song was directed but they would come.
O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?...
Though the song was quite silly, Aurelin could not but start humming softly after stating reproachfully: "We must present a rather flippant image of Elves to Master Baggins and Thorin of the shield of oak!"
"It would be nothing new in Thorin's case!" Gilgaer retorted. "I know him for years, from their mines in the Ered Luin - no matter if you should bring a host of Noldor in their gleaming armour and blades behind their door to fight a Balrog, he would still insist that Elves are foolish, silly and very much annoying."
The sound of hooves drew closer and soon the first figure was clearly visible through the sparse trees that lay between the confluence of the river and the road.
And Balin and Dwalin
down into the valley
More voices took up the song as the travellers neared the bridge and suddenly Aurelin felt a rush of temptation to give in to the call to slightly childish behaviour. When the last verse started, she joined the others in their final verse.
O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying?
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dieing!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
to our tune
At the tune's end, she resisted falling into a fit of giggles. She glanced at Laswing. Come to think of it, didn't he sing too just a moment ago? It must have been all the herbs and pines that got to everyone this night.
"Shall we?" Gilgaer was looking at the House and Aurelin could not agree more. She had only heard of the Periannath, but never seen them, therefore she was expecting the next days to be very interesting. Laswing assisted her in gently piling all the bundles she had managed to finish into the basket, took it in the crook of his right arm when he rose from the grass and extended both hands down to help Aurelin up and gave his left arm for her to lean her weight on when she walked (or more hobbled) with the injured ankle.
And indeed the guests brought a more spirited merry-making for the following days. Though some jokes about the long beards of the Dwarves were offered, these were good-natured and overall received with only a few grunts of disapproval. Bilbo was also intriguing. He seemed to be really fascinated with the Elves and to like them a lot, but he was also somewhat afraid to approach them. But when the trouble is biggest, the aiding hand is the nearest. Vary of the tall Elves, the Hobbit felt comfortable around the child Estel and he in turn drew Bilbo into conversations with the Elves whom the Perian gazed at with bright eyes. The Hobbit delighted in tales, that became soon clear and he showed affinity towards Sindarin, for in a few days he had managed to pick up quite a few words and expressions, doubtless with ready help from Estel.
Aurelin had spoken with the shy and blushing Bilbo on the morning that followed their arrival. Estel had practically dragged him to her to introduce to Aurelin his new friend. And when Bilbo seemed to brighten up even more (it was hard to tell with the glow on his face) at Aurelin's casual reference to the Mereth Aderthad, she had told him somewhat of it and he had forgotten his awkwardness with her by the time he started asking the questions that had arisen in his mind. Really bright was this fellow, contrary to what Aurelin had read of their kind. Well, not contrary, but diverting from the book. It was said there that the Periannath had a lot of common sense and wisdom of growing things, but they were no scholars. But Master Baggins seemed to be a proof of quite the opposite.
A week had passed unnoticed. Laswing had gone to hunt and Aurelin was replanting a few errant dandelions that had taken root under a willow with drooping limbs in the downcast afternoon. She was backing out from under the little dome on her knees when her hair snagged on one of the branches and she felt a slight pressure on the left side of her head and then sudden release that came with a snapping sound. That did not bode well. She laid down the dandelion and reached into her hair. And what she had feared had happened - the fillet of the moonstone she always wore on her forehead had also been caught by the branch and broken to come rippling loose into her hand.
Unaware of the dirt on her leggings and split skirt, she rose and walked as if lead had been dropped into her boots to the bench that was on the other side of the willow, between it and a little stone-bordered walkway. Aurelin sank down onto the grey blue veined carved stone, holding the fillet and moonstone with both hands, bending over them, as if to ward off further ill.
This was quite unreasonable. She was not the kind to value trinkets to feel such grief over them, but this was no simple adornment but a link to her father and mother and unreasonably a stab of fear had pierced her heart, as if something would happen or had befallen them and their gift was broke as a sign. That could not be since they were in Valinor, where evil did not walk.
Unbeknownst to her, a few tears had fallen from her eyes and lay like little sparkling diamonds on her cheeks. A voice inquired gently:
"What happened to you, lady?"
Surprised to see someone else in this part of the garden Aurelin looked up from the mournful content of her hands and saw a compassionate rugged and bearded face level with hers. It was one of the thirteen Dwarves, Fíli, she remembered his name.
Aurelin caught his black eyes on her cheeks and brushed away the few tears that lay there with the back of her hand. She gave a sad smile.
"It is nothing! I am all right."
The young Dwarf frowned under his bushy brows, clearly not believing her. And then he noticed the silver fillet.
Aurelin involuntarily closed her fingers, hiding the stone and silvery glint of the chain. "You must think me as foolish as your uncle...? Yes, your uncle Thorin believes us, Eldar, to be!"
Seriously Fíli shook his head. "Let me see it, please!" he offered.
Aurelin hesitated for a moment but then surrendered her precious handful to the strong calloused hands of the Dwarf. He raised it to the light and studying the damage sat on the bench where Aurelin slid sideways to make him room.
"'Tis no serious damage!" he stated with a smile and was rewarded with a sunny one from Aurelin. From somewhere in his overcoat he produced pliers and a spiky tool and deftly began to work. Aurelin studied him with quirked head and was amazed at how those big hands could work on such a delicate thing and not fail. "I recognise the craft of our kin," he spoke while doing something with the fastening.
"Do you?" Aurelin had not known that. But it would be expected, come to think of it, that Thingol would have had quite many Dwarf-made weapons, jewellery and other examples of the Dwarf-folk's craft. "It is beautifully made," she complemented the workmanship. She felt she needed to explain her tears. "My sadness must have seemed strange. You see, Master Fíli, it is something that was handed down to me by my parents and I would fain not lose it. I did lose them."
Intent on his task, Fíli only nodded. After a few minutes' worth of bending and plying, he laid the fillet in Aurelin's lap, where the moonstone caught the rays of the Sun that gave the mountain-tops a fiery crown. "It should be the same as it was," he explained with pride of his skills glimmering in the tone of his voice. "I managed to retain its length."
He stood and waited until Aurelin had fastened it again in her hair and turned her head this way and that to show the kind Dwarf that indeed it fitted as perfectly as it had and there was no sign of it being repaired.
"Gen hannon," she murmured and impulsively kneeled to give Fíli a hug. He blushed like a second sunset after that, for it was not every day that Elves thanked him, and especially in this way.
Still red in the face he suddenly "remembered" that he was needed in the Hall of Fire and hurried away. Aurelin called once more her gratitude after him before he was lost to the bend and the thick bole of a magnificent elm. Touching the cool stone to reassure herself that it was there, she went back to her task of planting the dandelions and adjusted her opinion of the Nogothrim. A child of Sindar of Doriath and growing up in Mirkwood, she had had her prejudices against the Dwarves and even in Imladris, when some of the kindred had happened to pass through, she had kept out of their way, remembering the tales of the sack of Doriath and slaying of Thingol. None of these Dwarves had done those deeds and most were not even the kin of the inhabitants of the old Dwarf-city of Nogrod, but still wariness of the whole kind was in her marrow and blood. But this gesture of goodwill and compassion towards another person had cracked the surface of that image of the Gonnhirrim. She told herself that she would not forget to add to the pack of Fíli that was to be replenished anyway, a box of honey-cakes and perhaps put a warm lining into his cloak.
The Dwarves, Mithrandir and Bilbo Baggins departed on midsummer's morning with good wishes, newly filled packs and mended clothes. All the advice on the pass to take and dangers to look out for must have been filling the travellers' heads to overbrimming.
It was a nice day for travel with the sun shining brightly overhead and air fresh from the drizzle that had come down the previous night.
Aurelin had turned again to the aiding of the healers.
A word must be said of her reasons concerning healing and wielding weapons.
It had been recognised a long time ago, that healing was tied with abstinence from slaying living beings. Therefore the reason why more nissi than neri were healers was resulted only in them being warriors or hunters in lesser numbers. So it was generally agreed that the power to heal was potentially in anyone and it depended on the person whether it became used or not. But in Aurelin's case it seemed the rule did not work - for she apparently lacked any inclination towards healing, there was no spark. For long she had kept away from weapons (and that was why his father never had time to teach her, for she came to it so late) but nothing helped. It had been worrying, for her, that it should be so at first. Aurelin had wondered whether something was wrong with her but slowly had yielded to the reassuring words from those around her and accepted it. Therefore she had turned to using weapons and would ride out for hunting or scouting (if only Gilgaer Laswing had let her!). But helping healers with the herbs did not need the power of healing, it just required work and care for the growing, collecting and preparing of them, and Aurelin was glad to still be able to have a small part in the works of the healers.
And the noon of the midsummer's day found her with Laswing in the herb-room built at the back of the House, roofed but constructed so that air came freely through the walls but stopped moisture. Two long trestle tables were in the middle of the little "house" and shelves ran around the walls, bundles of herbs were hanging from the poles set under the roof and the rafters themselves.
Baskets full of freshly gathered mint, clover, rosemary, sage, thyme, sorrel and half a dozen more herbs were by the door and Aurelin was laying them by kinds on the parchments that covered the table. Gilgaer handed her the next basket when she needed one and stacked the empty ones between hanging the little bunches of herbs that had been prepared high up (because of Aurelin's short stature she would have had to stand on a chair to do that and with an ankle sprained just a few weeks ago, Gilgaer would have none of it).
"I have been thinking about the errand of the Dwarves and Master Baggins." Aurelin craned her neck under the roof where Laswing was tying lemongrass bunches.
"You do not mean that you would have wished to accompany them?" came magnified by the open space under the roof down to her.
Aurelin slid her hand over the lavender stalks, delighting in the scent that wafted up as she spread them out in one layer on the surface of the table. "Not that. Not exactly. Firstly because they would have not accepted me."
Laswing looked down from the heights of the room wondering what went on in her head. "And secondly?"
Aurelin shrugged. "It is just that it seems that the trouble with the Dragon is not only the cause of the Dwarves. The Men of the North have been affected also - Dale has been destroyed."
"But Smaug only came down from the Grey Mountains because of the lure of the gold and treasures of the Naugrim. Were it not for their love of gold and silver, the Dragon would not have come." Laswing's voice was very much emotionless.
Aurelin felt like she had to counter. "But were it not because of the Eldar that Morgoth created the Dragons?"
Gilgaer climbed down from the chair and took the empty wicker basket from Aurelin. He spoke looking at her over his shoulder when he took it to the dozens of other baskets of all shapes and sizes beside the door. "Doubtless he would have made them without the threatening swords of the Noldor or the bows of the Sindar. Somewhat later perhaps, but still. Morgoth Bauglir had only destruction in his black mind."
"However we have to accept the way all unfolded. Should we not feel that it is something that touches us as well and that we have to act, not just sit here and warn of dangers, but help in truth?" The emotion in Aurelin's voice intensified. How could Laswing be so cold to the woes of the Dwarves and Men?
He on the other hand could not comprehend her fire. "My love, we fought the Enemy, and then the other. We held the evil at bay, admittedly with the help of the Edain and Nogothrim, half of the First Age. The Eldar taught their wisdom and skills and language to Men and Dwarves. Dearest Aurelin, you are young and did not see those days. For you it might feel as if you have done nothing much to defend or help the other kindreds, but others before you have. Do you not see that the time for us in Ennor is slowly drawing to a close? We cannot be always here to render aid whenever trouble brews, we will not be. Dwarves, and more importantly, Men will have to learn to deal with these things themselves. Our time for action is ending, our responsibility is drawing to a close."
Bristling Aurelin drew herself up. "You need not remind me how young I am, how young compared to you!"
Laswing laid his hand on her arm, reproach in the warm brown eyes.
"Celebrendhae, I meant no disesteem towards you! It could never diminish you in my eyes - that the tree of my life is bearing so many more leaves of years than yours is."
Aurelin bit her lip and gave a sharp nod. "What of the Bane of Isildur?" she caught Gilgaer unawares, darting from accepting an apology to strengthening her argument.
"Do not mention it here!" All the woes and lament of the Second Age came back to Laswing like a stab to the heart. Leaning against the back of the chair he took both Aurelin's hands in his and stroked the pale and almost transparent skin of their backs with his thumbs. "Perhaps it is lost for ever, I ask Aulë often to make it so. We cannot afford now another confrontation with Sauron or his armies. So many Elves perished in the years of the War of the Rings and the Battle of Dagorlad and Siege of Barad-dûr. Many have sailed since. And the responsibility we had was made to naught by Isildur! It was his heart that failed the peoples of Ennor, for he did not hearken to the words of the Shipwright or Elrond the Half-Elven. Our debt, if ever the Sindar had any, to the Men and Dwarves and other kindreds because of the ring-making craft Sauron learned as Annatar is no more."
Shaking her head still slightly and uncertainly Aurelin listened to Laswing's words and understood that all he said was true. She stilled her head and gave a very slight nod, lowering her lips to kiss Gilgaer's hand that lay over hers. But in the deep of her heart she was not fully convinced.