Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 30
The previous chapter: Chapter 29 dwells there,
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.
Aurelin woke. Light was filtering through the loosely-weaved wool fabric on her right and the dapple-pattern covered half of the bed, including her out-flung arm. She looked at the ceiling carved in birds and waves over her and frowned. Where was she?
Where ever it was, the place had a decent bed, pillows soft enough to inspire a poem of clouds and the wonders of sleeping on them and a velvety blanket. It had been some time since she had slept in a real bed, that she remembered. Aurelin glanced from right to left but didn't see anyone, only furniture such as a big wardrobe just opposite the foot of the bed, some chairs and one round nest-like chair. Over the bed's beechen footboard of gulls and swans in flight a green dress with silver embroidery was neatly spread.
Aurelin sat up and leaned forward to examine the dress more closely while she tried to remember how she got to this place. Oh, yes, the journey, although the last thing she recalled were a stable and some stairs not a nice room.
"Mithlond", Aurelin muttered, "that must be it."
She slipped the dress on and the matching slippers that were waiting for her on bright carpet the floor. To reach the tiny pearl buttons and furthermore, close them in her back did take some straining but after suffering two cramps, Aurelin managed to finish dressing. Curious as to where she was exactly, she decided to acquaint herself to the room, weaving her way between the low table and chairs, fingering the candlesticks and books, admiring the carpets and tapestries. It was a very refined room that had just as many items in it as necessary and no more while the furnishings were utterly elegant in their simplicity. The tapestries were what caught Aurelin's attention especially (but that happened always wherever she was) scenes from the First Age of Brithombar and Eglarest and Finrod's watch-tower had for company a tableau of a proud gathering of lords and ladies with Gil-galad (recognisable from his beautiful standard that was embroidered on his robe) splendid amongst them. The layers of history even felt more pronounced here, for Mithlond was much older than Imladris and Aurelin revelled in the sense for it made her feel more connected to the lives of her kin.
Remembering the curtain near the bed and having completed her short tour of the room, Aurelin pulled it to one side to find out what was behind it. Bright sunlight flooded in and showered her from head to toe. It was not a window but a door to a balcony. And the view!
Aurelin had seen the Bay of Belfalas but she had never been in the Grey Havens. The sea looked as if itwas made of molten gold that had turquoise mixed in it generously. It was afternoon and the sun was over Belegaer, spraying its rays on the Gulf of Lhûn. Beside the beauty of the waters, the buildings were a marvel matching the sea. It was the first Elven haven she saw and the houses and halls on the edge of the bay looked nothing like she had seen, incorporating the surroundings of water and boats as easily as Imladris formed one whole with the trees and the falls.
She was standing there, gripping the railing of the balcony in awe, when Gilgaer found her. It had alarmed him for a moment when he saw the bed empty and Aurelin nowhere in the room but he understood where she was when he saw the sunlight pouring in. Outlined in the gold of the sun, she looked like one of the Valar with her hair glinting like a more fiery version of the light of Laurelin. He took the sight in and it remained with him always how she had looked at that moment when ever he thought of her beauty. It took a bit until she finally sensed she was not alone and turned around - upon seeing him her eyes lit up and a blissful smile appeared on her lovely face. A man could die happy and consider his life as lived to a full when a woman looked upon him like that. Gilgaer's heart was making efforts of breaking free and fluttering away and he wasted no more time to join her on the balcony.
"It is so beautiful!" she breathed as she took his hand in hers and let her eyes roam from one side of the bay to the other.
"And so are you!"
She lifted her face up to him and rose on tiptoe for the "greeting" kiss.
With visible effort not to go beyond the point from where there could be no stopping, Gilgaer drew away finally and spoke raggedly, forcing the words into a coherent sentence. "My love, could we go inside? I get the feeling you will not be listening to me if you are admiring the view."
Aurelin was blushing like a rowan in autumn at hers and his "enthusiasm" and meekly allowed herself be led back inside the room.
"Eriant, you never said it was so magnificent here." She sat down on the edge of the bed after drawing the covers she had left crumpled straighter.
Laswing smiled apologetically as he settled by her side, one foot under him, the other beside her tiny slipper that peeped out from under the velvet skirts to glitter in the sunlight.
"How are you feeling? Not tired anymore?" he asked her, searching for signs of fatigue.
"No. How long was I asleep?"
"We arrived four days ago."
"I was out for so long! We can't afford to loose that much time!" Aurelin was ready to bounce out of the door but Gilgaer restrained her.
"Dearest, you needed it. After all it was not I who collapsed on the entry hall of Lord Círdan's house, was I?" He grinned, unknowingly transforming his face to the expression Aurelin loved the most.
"I didn't!" Two spots of red bloomed on Aurelin's pale cheeks. "In the hall?"
Gilgaer knew how Aurelin hated that kind of moments when she felt she had embarrassed herself immensely, while to him the majority of those moments seemed nothing but endearingly sweet. To tease her was the only way he could express his feelings on the matter though, for she always started protesting loudly at outright suggestions of "it was nothing". "Oh yes, and I was not the only audience as well."
Aurelin groaned. "Now the first thing everyone remembers here about me is how I fainted upon arrival. Smart, Aurelin, giving the best impression to the kin of your spouse to be!"
Gilgaer burst out laughing - so that was it! "It was not that bad!" he managed. "It was a graceful fall if you want to know."
"You don't have to be so devastated by it! It amuses you that I ..."
He only winked and Aurelin couldn't stay mad at him at the sight of his mischievous expression.
"But what about the time lost?" she tried to turn the talk back to serious matters. Which was hard with him looking at her with those eyes that seemed to draw her in to melt in the depths.
"Not as much was lost as you fear," Laswing assured her.
"While you were here resting I spoke to Círdan. I relayed the essence of the message you were bearing. Nothing certain has been decided, we were waiting for you to recover but he did send out riders telling the Lindon Elves to be ready to go to war. They are preparing as we speak and will not take long to come here when the summons goes out."
"There have come no news from Eryn Lasgalen?" Aurelin's concern rang in her voice and she saw no need to hide it.
"Nothing. But it does not mean that anything has happened." The worried frown between Aurelin's eyebrows smoothed when Gilgaer leant forward to put his arm around her.
Somewhat comforted, Aurelin drew herself up again. "So what do we do now?"
"First, you should come and bring your message officially to the Shipwright. Then we can start planning further."
"Then I must get a dress!" Aurelin exclaimed with the exact tone of women of all kindreds when faced with some social occasion.
"Pardon me, but do you not have one on?" Laswing looked her up and down, in a mock-examination of whether to believe his eyes or not. Aurelin felt like rolling her eyes and sighing.
"Men!... Elves, whatever! As lovely as this dress is, it is too informal. Where did you get it anyway? I suppose you have a closet full of dresses just in case some girl comes along who doesn't have one on?" She smirked, revelling in the efforts of making Gilgaer uncomfortable.
Warily he explain, knowing her quick-silver temper and jealousy. "Very amusing, Gwingloth! Actually I got it from some ladies yesterday when I asked it specially for you."
"Ah, of course!" Aurelin winked. "Anyway, I can't appear in this for a formal message-bringing to your lord."
"And his opinion of you is so important? I'm beginning to doubt your intentions towards him, fair lady!"
I love when he fights back with the same weapons, Aurelin grinned inside a smile worthy of a Balrog.
"About time! No, seriously, I wish him to have judge me suitable to you. Eriant, you owe you allegiance to him after all and he is your friend."
"He would like you no matter what you wore. And you are more than worthy of me, I do not deserve the luck of claiming to hold your love. But to satisfy you, I can get you another dress. More elaborate if that is your wish. Oh, and there will be handmaidens to help you bathe and dress. I anticipated you there." Gilgaer unclasped his hands reluctantly from the slender fingers of his betrothed and rose to walk to the door.
"Thank you!" Aurelin blew him a kiss. "You are my Daybringer, Eriant."
"You just stay here and make yourself comfortable, my love." Gilgaer's half-bow was the formal one that he had been taught when young. In these times and to someone as close to him as Aurelin was, it perhaps was too formal but you cannot fight your upbringing, Gilgaer told himself.
She had risen as well and was looking at the room with a new gaze, as if to take everything in and fix it as one more piece of knowledge that went into the Laswing-image in her heart. "These are your rooms, aren't these? But I cannot come barging in and force you out of your own room. There must be some guestquarters in this place."
"Do not worry! What is mine, is yours! I do not need to sleep while I can watch over you."
"You didn't?" Aurelin bit her lip in guilt.
"What?" The swirls of her thoughts always caught him off-guard Laswing thought exasperatedly. He had at first thought it was because she was so young but then he had understood it must just be her never-still temper.
"You didn't sit by the bedside all these nights?" From the look in his eyes she knew the truth. "Oh my heart, you shouldn't have!"
"But I have had practice in it a lot and I am good at it." Gilgaer's smile was a touch sad and he could not hold back the soft but blazing look that spelled his wish to hold her in his embrace for ever to keep her safe. "I will have to go now to get the requested dress and to send the handmaidens here."
Aurelin felt awestricken by the gaze with which Gilgaer had held her even after he had left the room, then she sighed and went smiling back to the balcony to watch the sun set.
Aurelin turned from the balcony at the calling and saw two Elf maidens as old as she in the doorway of the bedroom.
"The bath is ready!" They beckoned her towards them.
Aurelin nodded and while they led her to the bathroom (they had to - she had no idea where it was) she asked after their names. The silver-haired one was Alphlos and the one with the raven hair - Lothluin. Alphlos filled the tub while Lothluin showed Aurelin the dress Laswing had found for her and given the two handmaidens.
It was an amazing gown - leaf-green again but this time of silk velvet with blooming vines of wisteria worked in beads on the bodice and skirt. Around the hem was a large band of mithril-embroidered birds flying and the same birds were depicted on the long heavy sleeves. With the dress went matching slippers and even a little net of jewels was there for her hair.
Lothluin took the dress away from the steaming bath when Alphlos reappeared and helped Aurelin undress. She slipped into the soothing water, let her mind wander and the little aches she had gotten from the fall on Weathertop melt away. When at last she got out from the by now lukewarm water she felt more refreshed than ever after a bath, probably because of the sea-salt that she never had used before. The two maidens sat her down on a windowsill in a light robe and started to dry her hair with towels.
When the last rays had disappeared and the bay turned from gold to dark silver, the last adjustments were made to her hair and she was ready to go. The net of pearls, emeralds and sapphires on silver was on the back of her head, taming her hair. On the forehead shone the moonstone she always wore, catching the light reflecting from the other jewels.
With the train of the green dress flowing wide behind her, she walked out of the set of rooms with the handmaidens in tow and was met in the anteroom by Gilgaer who found himself totally stunned for the second time the same day.
"Aurelin you make it hard for a fellow to be able to breathe around you!"
"Thank you!" she beamed a smile and took his extended hand. While he walked her to the council chambers Aurelin teased him about what abilities and experience you had to have to be able to find a dress that fit so well, when there have been no prior fittings. "Well, it took some time as most of the ladies here are taller than you" was his humble answer but they both knew that the dress looked as though made for her.
"And leaf-green again? What is it you are trying to tell me?" Aurelin giggled.
They came to an ornate door with pearl gilt and she didn't find out why the dress was of that colour again for Laswing brought then to a standstill.
"We are here."
Aurelin's face went serious in a split-second and she wiped the smile from her lips and stilled the laughter. She assumed a reserved look and nodded her head, telling Laswing she was ready to go in in a very subdued voice.
Gilgaer knocked and after a pleasantly deep and strong voice said "Enter!", he pushed the door open.
Círdan was standing beside a round table in the middle of the room and had his back to the door. The room appealed to Aurelin from the first glance for it reminded her both of Elrond's old council-room, with the sturdy table and book-cases, as well as her father's study because of the same colours of sea and sky, of sunrise and sunset and the water-related ornaments, carvings and bits and pieces.
Gilgaer walked five steps inside and then announced,
"The messenger from Eryn Lasgalen!"
The Shipwright turned to give his welcome and looked expectantly at the shadows in the doorway. Aurelin walked in.
"The Lady Aurelin Gwingloth of Imladris and Eryn Lasgalen" Laswing introduced her as Aurelin curtsied to the Lord of the Grey Havens who took her hand and asked her to rise.
"You have your mother's eyes, Gwingloth. Foamflower, your father named you so, did he not?"
Aurelin smiled a little melancholy smile and nodded.
"Gilgaer Laswing, you have chosen well!" the Shipwright turned to Laswing, who silently come to stand beside Aurelin and took her hand in his. "I have heard about the lady and a lot of it from you, but now that I see her with my own eyes, I can see that all you said was true."
Aurelin looked in surprise at Gilgaer and questioned him with her eyes. Had he really spoken of her to his lord? A lot? She got only a smile as an answer as Círdan spoke on,
"Lady, I knew your father from when he was a child in the Falas and I met your mother when..."
"When she almost died. My father told me many times how your ships from the Isle of Balar saved her life." The gesture of her head bowed in thanks could never express how grateful her family and she was to Círdan. But he seemed to understand the depth of her feelings nonetheless.
"And you are a worthy child to such parents. You two have my blessing. But now to the message!"
Aurelin took her hand from Laswing's and gave Círdan another small bow, this time to assume the proper procedures of fulfilling her duty. With a formal tone she spoke,
"My Lord, the people of the Woodland Realm, request your help. Every Elf who can be spared and is willing to come to the aid of Eryn Lasgalen is none too many. A dark power had risen in the north and she has taken it as her aim to make an end to the Realm and perhaps all Elven dwelling-places after that. Her hate of the Elves is mindless."
Círdan motioned Aurelin and Gilgaer to the table and bade them sit. Aurelin took the chair opposite the Lord while Laswing declined the offer and settled to stand behind her chair.
"It is dire news indeed to hear that not all of the evils of the First Age we remembered and took to count. As for the creatures you describe - no word of it came to the ears of the Sindar. Perhaps the Noldor knew of these harpies but not necessarily. She has her abode in the north?"
Aurelin nodded, feeling all the more anxious for Eryn Lasgalen from the concerned frown that was creasing the Shipwright's face. "Yes, in the Grey Mountains."
"I see the urgency of the message. Gilgaer spoke of what you had told him and I sent word for the Elves of Lindon to prepare. But if the Ennorís should prove to be too powerful for the waning numbers of the Elves. Why should we amass a force of our people then to let her smash them with one blow?"
"My Lord!" Aurelin exclaimed and nearly jumped from her seat. "You cannot say that you will not come to the aid of the Forest!"
"No, I did not say that. I was just asking you. Your hope in the success of your friends is reassuring though could be too optimistic. But my help has been asked and I will not leave in unanswered. For good or ill, the warriors of Lindon will come to Eryn Lasgalen and go beyond!"
Aurelin thanked him gravely and breathed more easily - for a moment she had thought that Círdan wouldn't let his people march to war with the Dark Lady.
"Our forces will be gathered in six days. On the seventh, you can ride." That seemed to conclude the audience from the Shipwright's part, however Aurelin showed no sign of understanding that.
"Ride?" she queried and Laswing saw a spark light up her emerald eyes, instantly knowing that she was going to do something now that she maybe should not but unable to stop her without appearing rude.
"May I ask something of you, my lord?"
Gilgaer shook his head slightly (though what was the use when she had her back to him he reprimanded himself) but Aurelin did not even wait for the answer to her question. "Could your ships take the army up the Lune? From there we can ride but it would shorten out journey by many days."
"No," Círdan replied sternly.
"But my lord, we need ships and you are the only one who can give them to us! The ships of Lindon have gone to war before, why not now? You have to give us the ships!"
"Aurelin!" Laswing could not let her speak longer, no matter how she would rant later about being treated as an unruly child. He started to apologise to his lord for her words and tone while he lay his hand on Aurelin's shoulder, the grip that was not there nonetheless perceivable.
Círdan shook his head and said with a small, almost exasperated smile,
"Lady, you should not be so hasty. I say, rumours of your temper underestimated you, my dear. And they said your mother had too much of a temper for a Sinda and your father was a worthy match for her! You should have let me finish. I will not give leave to use the ships because there are none to give at the moment. More and more Elves are leaving and right now there are a few being built but none are ready to be sailed. And even if they were, these ships are not for wars, these are built for another purpose."
Aurelin had regretted the commanding words as soon as they left her mouth. She cursed herself for not thinking before acting and her cast-down eyes and very red cheeks spoke of her embarrassment and mortification at herself with such intensity that Círdan had to ask her to look at him so that she could recover under his kind gaze. Gilgaer rushed to the "rescue" and started to ask Círdan about the supplies and the gathering centres for the Elves of Lindon to dispel the awkwardness of Aurelin. All through the night the three discussed plans and only when the first rays of light came in through a window, did they retire.
Aurelin squinted against the sun and straightened the wreath of niphredil flowers on her head. She was with Laswing in a little boat out in the Gulf of Lhûn. They were not far from the harbour but Aurelin had wanted to know what it felt like to be on the sea in a boat, something she had never done before.
The four days had been long. Mostly they had been discussing and overseeing the gathering of Lindon's warriors and it had taken most of the hours of the days. Círdan had insisted that the two rest from the councils and their journey, which had lead to Gilgaer suggesting boating. Aurelin had been as excited and at the same time frightened of it as he had guessed. Aside from the usual worrying and revelling in a new experience, she also felt the burden of having a father and a betrothed from sea-faring people. After the initial need to get used to the gentle swaying, she had fallen in love with the waters in a way she had not been before. Show the Sea to a Sinda, or better yet - put them on it and they will not be parted from it again for long! The Sea-yearning had not awoken in Aurelin yet, though to which Laswing was immensely grateful. Perhaps she had not even thought of what coming to the Havens would mean but in a corner of his mind, Gilgaer had feared she would hear its call. It was not that he would not have wished to leave if it came to that, in fact he had had to suppress the urge for ages just like all the Elves in Lindon, but he knew how the Sea-yearning could imperceptibly start to work on you and eat away little by little the ability of seeing the joys of Ennorath, and he wished that Aurelin would be spared of it for some time yet.
Unknowing of the worry that had flared and been subdued in Gilgaer, Aurelin was just enjoying herself and did her best to drive all thoughts of the impending future out of her mind. She was in a beautiful place and spending time with her love, that had to be enough.
Mithlond was exquisite and the Sea!; she became to understand better why Laswing kept coming and going between here and Imladris so much. To have seen both meant that you wouldn't be able not to miss either.
The people of Grey Havens had welcomed her as one of their own on account of both Gilgaer and because quite many had known her parents. She had sat in the great eating hall of Círdan's house and told stories of Rivendell and Eryn Lasgalen. From the looks she and her betrothed received, it was clear Gilgaer's people found that they were a lovely couple. He had managed to squeeze in between a council session and a tour of the stables and the horses available, a walk to the craftsmen who had made her Silvershadow necklace and they told her how he had described her for them to make the piece of jewellery. "My Lady, you are just like me said you were," one of them told her with a merry light in his eye and the others were quick to agree with the same amused expression.
"Aurelin, I think we must go to shore," Laswing spoke to her looking over his shoulder where on a quay an Elf is light blue was standing expectantly with arm raised.
She drew herself up from the lounging position and smiled regretfully. "Duty calls!"
Very carefully Aurelin half-stood, half-crawled to sit beside Gilgaer and demanded one of the feather shaped oars to his surprise, not letting herself be put off. In the end he gave up with a dramatic sigh and though wobbly at first, the boat started to move towards the waiting Elf.
Aurelin was on her way to her quarters. Well, what she had learned to call hers after Gilgaer had told her this a hundred times. It was dusk and soon the night would fall on the Grey Havens. The next morning they would set out.
Once inside the bedroom, she re-packed the few things with what she had come here, ready to be taken with her in the first light of the morning. She had put all the lovely dresses the ladies had gifted her away in the closet (accompanied by Laswing's mocking commentaries about his clothes being pushed to one little corner to make room for her dresses). Her travelling clothes had been stored neatly in the same closet and Aurelin put these ready now, to slip in in the morning.
She looked around the room, scrutinizing everything around her and finally going to the terrace, satisfied that all the necessary preparations had been made and wishing to greet the new day and stars that grew brighter and brighter in the darkening sky.
Gilgaer entered the room after Aurelin had gotten the fire burning in the fireplace. "You have already finished readying everything?"
She answered from the cosy chair she had curled herself up in by the fire and closed the book giving the account of an explorer who had ventured into Taur-im-Duinath and spent a decade in discovering it. "There was not a lot to pack. But yes, I'm ready to leave."
"You must be anxious to get back." It was not hard to guess why Aurelin had had an air of uneasiness about her for days. She was worried since there were no news from Greenwood the Great. Gilgaer had done his best to reassure her that the absence of tidings could mean good but she had not been convinced.
"I am," she smiled, eyes lighting up.
"Círdan assigned the leader of Lindon's fighters today," he went on as he drew up a chair to face hers and stretched his left hand towards the fire to let the warmth that he did not really need but loved the feel of, climb up his arm and shoulder.
"Oh, he did! Who is it?"
Laswing grinned. "Yours truly!".
"You sound surprised. You did not think I would let you leave and stay here, did you?" Briefly Gilgaer wagged a fire-lit finger before her nose.
"No, but I thought that..."
"What? That Lord Círdan would give the leadership to some Noldo. You must remember that I have been with him since the days of Eglarest and Brithombar. But I think that this high post was not the result of my years, wisdom, experience or something else he may think I possess. I guess the Shipwright figured that to put you together to lead a force with some hot-headed Noldo would lead to a catastrophe. He thought that someone who knew you would be best to lead Lindon's warriors. I do not know though if he thinks that we must be able to work things out between ourselves or does he just assume that you can bully your way through in all the arguments with me."
"Do I do that?" Aurelin asked in the tones of honey with innocent eyes.
Gilgaer burst out laughing. "I said that is what he thinks. I rather foresee you charming your way through everything. My love, but now you need to rest for there is a long journey ahead."
"You need it too. More than me because of the silly way you watched over me when I had just arrived," Aurelin admonished Laswing who took her hand laying on the table between them and drew her up from the chair. With merry deep brown eyes he twirled her around and asked,
"Has my most beautiful joint-leader of the host decided on the road we will take to Eryn Lasgalen?"
Aurelin began to talk as he put together his supplies for the journey.
It was bright morning when Aurelin atop Alagos rode out from the gates of Mithlond with Gilgaer on Elthoron beside her. The forces of Lindon had gathered before the sunrise on the open lands before the city and were now in ordered lines, waiting to set out. There were banners flying of all the houses represented in the gathered host and the armour of the warriors was glinting in the sunlight. For Aurelin it was her first sight of an Elven army ready to go to war, even if it was one of only two hundred heads. Her heart swelled with pride, but there was also regret that evil had arisen again and Elves were once more in war-gear to stop it.
She rode to the front of the long column and settled Alagos with some effort (for he had caught the feel of the air) and the double column took off to south-east in a spectacular show of spurred horses taking off one after the other and leaving a silver flecked dust to hang in the air as a good-bye. In the early hours she and Laswing had explained to the captains of the Elves their plans for the army's march. They were going to go south-east to Sarn Ford and from there along the road until it met the repaired North-South Road and ride to Bree, taking then the East-West Road to Rivendell.