Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 28
Here's the previous chapter: Chapter 27
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien's wonderful work and making no money. I do however claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn.
As efficient as ever, the stable-hands of Imladris were waiting for her in front of the building to lead her horse inside. Aurelin slid from Alagos' back and told him to behave with an indulgent smile. Jerking his head out of the reach of the youngest of the stable-hands who had tried to lay his hand on his nose was typical of the black horse. The second try succeeded for the horse knew that "behaving himself" meant that he could get away with a little bit of fun but there it also had to end.
"Please take good care of him!" Aurelin told a dark-haired Elf whom she did not recognise but who seemed to be in command of the other two. "We have ridden long and hard". The Elf nodded after a quick glance at her, making Aurelin realise how bedraggled she herself must look - a lot worse than Alagos for sure. There was no need for explanations of a long ride for the signs told the tale on her clothes and face.
It was sad to see so few people about as she made her way to the house to find out who was in charge after the departure of Elrohir and Elladan. Rivendell was only a shadow of what it had once been and the spark seemed to have gone out as the sons of Lord Elrond had taken the ship after their sister had died. Aurelin could not blame them, these shores must have held memories so bitter that they could not remain. And there had been the matter of Elrohir's spouse wishes to give birth to their firstborn in Valinor. Aurelin had received the tidings of their departure too late accompany them on their ride to the Grey Havens and send them on their way and the whole affair was still too raw for her to talk extensively about.
Even stranger from the lack of numbers was that no one paid her any mind as she searched out the council room - about half of the faces were ones she had not seen before, therefore they had to be from Lindon and the ones she did know were intent on their own errands and only nodded to her absently.
It seemed that the only chance of getting an overjoyed welcome was if Gilgaer was there, but she had not caught sight of him so far despite having craned her head left and right so it made cracking noises as turned her gaze ahead. Maybe the something that felt different in this Imladris was that Laswing was not beside her to make it her old and loved home for with Elrond and his children gone he was her remaining link to the place.
The Hall of Fire beckoned with warm orange light spilling from the double doors but Aurelin had not time to stop and walk in to breathe in the countless memories, stories, songs and people the Hall had seen. This was truly the heart of Rivendell - when the fires would die and be lit no more, that would mark the end of Imladris. But they burned now with a cheerful light and occasional louder crackles could be heard from outside - Aurelin took heart from the familiarity and walked on, discovering that the warm glow of the light from the Hall had spread from her heart where it had taken hold from the top of her head and down to her toes. As the fire burned on and on, so would she to fulfil this task.
Upon reaching the council room, she saw light coming from under the door and after knocking, Aurelin pushed it open and undid her cloak as she stepped inside.
Three Elves she was relieved to see she did know from old sat around the large table that had been Elrond's when he was Lord, all with heads turned to see who sought to enter. Aurelin and the three exchanged greetings and swiftly she was offered the fourth chair by the table for her eyes were tired to those to see who knew her, the usual sparkle and over-brimming liveliness replaced by a determined expression of a stubbornly glowing ember that refused to die.
"Lady Aurelin, what brings you here in this hour?" the dark-haired Gondnaur asked.
"I come with tidings. There is need for the Elves of Middle-earth to muster once more, for an evil power has risen that needs to be pulled down. Sadly - again!" she explained, looking from one of the Elf to the other, seeing a resigned determination alighting on their faces and not surprise as she had expected. No wonder, truly - too many times the Eldar had heard those words and had had to respond by staking their lives against overwhelming odds. However, it still chilled her to think of how cynic they were all becoming and truth to tell, she was not clear of the taint either for she had not been that stunned by the tidings of Ennorís as well. The circle would not break and evil rising up at one time or the other was the only certain thing on Middle-earth. How would it be in Valinor, where there is none of that? Aurelin silently wondered, unable to really imagine such a place.
"We are less numerous than we have ever been," Mithgeleb spoke up. He was one of those who had come to live in Imladris from Lothlórien with Celeborn."There are no great numbers to aid Eryn Lasgalen here."
Aurelin nodded her understanding. "I knew it before I set out and I saw it this night with my own eyes. But it is not a question of numbers really, more of knowledge and experience. Greenwood lacks Sindar and Noldor who have fought many wars with this kind of enemy. Even a dozen would be of much help."
So far Finmallen had been quiet, but Aurelin knew he was the oldest and the leader here. His blue eyes had been distant but now he brought his attention to Aurelin with the same eagle-like gaze she had seen him face down a young, brash and overly sure of themselves guard-apprentices.
"A score - that is how many I think are fit for what you ask of us."
"I can say that the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen will be very grateful to you," Aurelin's reply was grave and she made the customary gesture for giving thanks of a hand over her heart.
"Not all might be willing to go." Mithgeleb's tone that might have been interpreted as delivering a mere observance, but to Aurelin it seemed that there was a deeper current to it. He did not like the business of the Elves of Imladris putting their lives in danger. Aurelin could not blame him but nevertheless her face was a rigid mask as she fixed her gaze on him.
"Of course. Do you think I wish people to be forced into it?" It was not as if Aurelin relished in being the bringer of bad tidings and asking Elves to leave their home to fight one other evil.
Mithgeleb glared back at her snapped question but he was the one who looked away first. Gondnaur and Finmallen were eying the two, taking no sides and letting the discord eat itself out.
"I never meant that you did," Mithgeleb finally muttered and glanced up to see Aurelin give him a small nod of acknowledgement.
Finmallen dispelled the awkward air with a clearing of his throat and a question. "Who shall lead the score?" And he directed his blue gaze at Aurelin. She frowned, puzzled of the meaning of the look.
"I thought one of you would. What are your trying to say?"
The sky blue went to sparkling sapphire in amusement at Aurelin's slow grasp.
"Lady, you are kin to Lord Elrond and have ridden amongst the outriders and scouts of Imladris under Gilgaer Laswing's lead. It was you who came to us asking for help, it would only be fitting for you to lead the people you request."
Aurelin was not sure whether to laugh or cry for the offer was ridiculous and tempting at the same time. She - leading an army! Well, not an army, but twenty warriors was fifteen more than she had ever commanded. But it was a mad enough scheme to make sense. Besides that twenty would most probably be able to make do with no need for leading at all, she might just as well play the figurehead and draw the fire on her. Not that she enjoyed being a target but at least then she could quell somewhat her worries of guilt at being the one who had called a person to war should he or she fall.
"I gather that your silence means that you accept," Finmallen smiled.
The indrawn breath and a stiff nod clearly said so.
"I will be riding to Lord Círdan to take the tidings and plea for aid to the Lindon Elves. It seems the best course if the ones who will come with me, assemble and make ready here, so that when I return we could depart swiftly." The first try to sound efficiently leader-like was not too unbelievable but still Aurelin was glad to see that all three, even Mithgeleb, the most sceptical of her, expressed their agreement to her plan.
"You might catch the other messenger even." Gondnaur suddenly said, as if just remembering.
Mithgeleb shuffled through the parchments on the table and handed Aurelin a thin scrap that she recognised was the kind the Elves of the Forest used.
"We gather that it was sent just after the troubles began, for there are no actual words to describe the evildoers or what exactly is the matter, but it seemed the wisest to alert Círdan of this nonetheless," Mithgeleb explained to the confused Aurelin. She had gotten a strange feeling when the messenger was mentioned, its meaning hovering just out of her grasp behind the butterflies batting their wings against her heart.
"Who went to take it?"
Aurelin let out an unexpected trill of laughter for the answer had came to her just a moment before Gondnaur had uttered the name. "Is he? I should have guessed!"
Her relationship with him was of course known to all three, so the smile that lit her face at the mention of his name and chased away all the tiredness came as no surprise.
Finmallen took note of the position of the moon and observed neutrally. "He left about four hours ago."
"I have to leave immediately." Aurelin's eyes were laughing and she was slightly fidgeting in the seat. Suddenly everything seemed brighter and even the air that came from the window sweeter with the smell of the pines accentuated by the scent of the last autumn flowers. "I will try to catch up with Laswing."
Finmallen laid a hand on her wrist in a fatherly gesture. "You should be able to. I think he said that he would stop for a night somewhere."
"In that case, I most certainly will. I take my leave right now." Out of her chair, Aurelin was pinning her mud-spattered cloak on with deft fingers.
"But my lady, wouldn't you want to rest after your long journey?" Mithgeleb prompted.
"No, I did spend last night resting and this place has filled me with happy emotions and banished all tiredness. There is time for resting in Mithlond while Lindon's forces are gathered."
"As you will, Lady Aurelin. A promise of even the softest bed or most delicious meal will not make you stay, I know." As Aurelin headed to the door, she looked back at Gondnaur whose words rang with his utter belief in them - clearly the Elf who so far was largely uninterested in courtship, had fallen in love with an elleth. Aurelin gave him a knowing smile and was rewarded with the widening of his grey eyes. If he intended to hide his feelings as yet, then he was not at all successful!
"Farewell for now! May the stars shine upon our venture!" She bowed first to the three who had risen to stand in a half-circle to send her on her way.
"Farewell, lady! May Elbereth protect you and help you!"
She nodded her head at them, whirled around and opened the door. Quick to run to the stables, intent on catching up with Laswing and take her message to Círdan, she wasted no time to claim Alagos and ride into the star-studded moonless autumn night. The pines whispered her a fragrant farewell as she took to the East-West Road.
Aurelin had been riding for four hours of those darkest that come before dawn. She reckoned that she should catch up with Gilgaer soon because she had been on the East-West Road for the same amount of time as he had and in addition to that she had spent not more than an hour in Imladris. Supposing he had indeed stopped for the night, he should have made camp at about the time she had ridden into Imladris.
She kept glancing to her right where the trees of the Trollshaws cast long shadows. A light of a camp-fire built not too far from the road should be visible. Just as she began to worry whether she might have ridden past him, a gleam of light reached its webbing fingers from between thick boughs. She spurred her horse towards it and entered the dark shadows under the trees. Before her she could see a little clearing opening in the middle of which a merry fire was flickering. She saw Gilgaer's horse Elthoron near the edge of firelight. Aurelin was puzzled - Where was its rider?. There was no one in the clearing nor on the further side of the open space by the horse. Just as she thought of calling his name, she heard a bow drawn and a voice saying softly from her left,
"Do not move! I will shoot before you can draw any weapon! Who are you, stranger?"
Aurelin chuckled under the forward-hanging hood. "I thought we would be wedded before I annoyed you enough to use your bow on me!"
She turned her head to the left, smirking.
"Aurelin! You? Here?"
Gilgaer stepped out from the shadows between two high bushes and looked at her incredulously, bow dangling forgotten from his hand on his side.
"Yes, it's me, your very own shooting target."
He pushed the branches of the elders aside to reach Alagos' side and help Aurelin down from the tall horse. She slid into his arms with a happy sigh and they kissed until Alagos stamped its hoof impatiently.
"What brings you here, my love?" Laswing caressed the cheek of her beaming face and arms around each other they went to the camp fire. Alagos came behind them and joined Elthoron under the tall beeches, the two horses greeting each other with soft neighs.
Aurelin unwrapped her arms from around Gilgaer's waist to take off her cloak while he spread his for them to sit on and handed her a flask of berry wine and some food after she had lowered herself onto the softly woollen weave with a grateful sigh. Strange, Aurelin mused how during the time she had lived in Imladris she had never really understood how much the Hithaeglir and the Sea had to do with the warmth of the autumns and winters. Laswing and she had her cloak over their shoulders but there was not that dire a need for it, she realised. With the years in Eryn Lasgalen, she had become used to the more crisp climate and cold nights.
Since Aurelin wished to get explanations out of the way, she plunged right in them. First she told of the invasion of the strange creatures to Eryn Lasgalen and then the revelations that there was a dark power who had once more taken the destruction of Elves as her aim. Laswing nodded his head occasionally for the tidings that had come from the Forest started to make sense from the vague hints of the missive. Who could have thought that there would be one more higher spirit of evil intent lurking about? Everyone had assumed that after Sauron, all evil that would arise would be the doing of Men.
No wonder Aurelin had come to search for aid - the Nandor would sorely need it.
Her account of the trials of the Pass of Caradhras astonished Laswing and he said as much to Aurelin who herself had began realising during her ride to Imladris that it had been a miracle that the mountain had let her pass and that she didn't lie in an icy barrow of snow up there.
"The Elves of Imladris who can be spared and wish to come to Eryn Lasgalen will be awaiting me in Rivendell. When I heard that you had set out to take messages to Círdan, I rushed after you." She concluded her report like an apprentice to a master story-teller.
"And why is that, Celebrendhae?"
"Hmm, well, I was going to ride there anyway and two is company." Aurelin put forth an innocent expression of wide eyes and slightly opened lips.
"Is that really all?" Aurelin, head resting on Gilgaer's collar-bone, could feel his barely suppressed mirth at the duel of words. He always had had the gift for words that Aurelin envied.
"I wanted to be nearly shot to death in some bushes. No? I missed you and I couldn't think of a better companion to have on the road. Do you like that as the reason?"
Gilgaer lay his hand of her cheek and turned her head so that he could kiss her forehead and whispered,
"I do. I have missed you awfully from the moment I last saw you in Imladris. I worried whether you were all right after the missive came from Eryn Lasgalen. There was no mention of course if any of Thranduil's folk had gotten hurt, but nonetheless I made up the worst stories in my head."
Aurelin shifted her body a little so that she could look into his eyes without having to sprain her neck and took the face she loved so much between her small pale hands.
"You worry too much about me!" she spoke softly and a tear of happiness trickled down her right cheek - it felt so good to be worried about. A breeze came and dried that tear, bringing with it a few floating beech-leaves that settled around and on the two without them noticing the poetical beauty of the red gold rain.
Gilgaer's fingers were drawing scrolling fiery patterns up and down her spine and Aurelin sank back against him with a sigh. "It would be the death of me if you went away and left me here, it would have been, had you departed to Mandos when you got that scar of yours on your left shoulder."
"Then? You were too much of a fool to see you loved me then." She retorted against his neck, the breath of the words a tantalising caress.
"But I did. And speaking of fools, who was the one who did not tell me what she felt?"
Aurelin grinned when she gave the little nod. "All right, I get your point."
"You, admitting I am right? That is a first!" Laswing's dark eyebrows drew high in mock surprise.
"Me? No, there have been several occasions when I agreed that you were right!"
Gilgaer tried to catch her eyes but those were shaded by her lashes as she fingered his tunic-collar. "When?"
"There was the time when...or when...anyway it has happened."
"As you will, my love." He kissed her fingers and worked his way up her arm to her collarbone and neck, its arching creating the chance to reach her lips and this was a deep one that began to get too overwhelming for Aurelin to avoid starting to melt in his arms. And although it would be a wonderful sensation with no room for thoughts of impending threats and possible battles, Aurelin drew away from him because otherwise she'd never be able to concentrate.
"What were your plans for the journey?"
"I meant to ride straight to Mithlond, through the Shire, and take the tidings of the strange goings-on to Círdan. But there is much you can tell him that I did not know and the summons for the Elves of Lindon to go to war besides. I agree with you," he fell silent for a moment for Aurelin smirked like a cat by a mouse-nest, "it is best for us to hurry to Círdan, and then there will be some time for you to rest from the long race while Lindon's armies are being gathered."
"Shall we set out right now?" Aurelin was ready to scramble up but Laswing stayed her by tightening of his hold on her.
"No, there is still time. You are tired, whatever you might say. Rest a few hours and then we will ride!"
Aurelin dreamt in Gilgaer's arms those hours of dawn and early morning while he sat with back against an ash bole, admiring the golden dappled world that unfolded about them as the light of the sun fell on the yellow tree-leaves. He had spread her cloak over her and sang softly while she slept peacefully with a smile on her lips and feeling that her dream of the soft bed while being watched-over had become true in essence, if not exactly in the way she had seen it.