The Ageless Rose - Chapter Six

Since its been quite a while since the last chapter, I would just like to say that it is the day after the charming Midsummer Festival in Imladris...

Merilwen rose early the next morning and breakfasted with her mother, something she had wanted to do for a long time. They gossiped about the events of the previous night, talking of everything from Elladan's most recent maiden conquest to her dances with every elf lord from Galdor of the Havens to Prince Legolas.

"Who would have thought that such a maiden could have so many dance partners!" Gilraen exclaimed as she sipped her tea, watching her daughter with humored brown eyes. "You weren't expecting it, certainly?"

"Not in the slightest," Merilwen replied dismissively, in between bites of her fruit pastry. She wiped a crumb from the corner of her mouth. "I don't know why they all seemed so keen on speaking to me," she smirked. "It was if I was someone special!"

"You are very special, in your own way, my daughter." Merilwen noticed her mother seemed to be choosing her words carefully, as if not by chance say something more than was inappropriate or untimely. "Perhaps when you are older, you will know."

"Will I?" Merilwen asked suspiciously.

"But never mind that," Gilraen said, waving the question away as if she had not heard it. "Did you not enjoy yourself at the feast, then, because you spent most of it dancing with handsome Elf-lords you had never met?" she asked with a smile.

Merilwen laughed. "Of course I enjoyed myself! Who would not? I had a wonderful time."

- - - - - - -

After breakfast, Merilwen walked to Estel's room, in another wing of the House. He had not yet awoken,and she was slightly unnerved. He usually rose before dawn, a warrior's habit he had gained over the years. She stood before his door, straightening her pale blue gown before knocking lightly on the doorframe with her knuckles.

"Estel?" she called. No answer. Unruffled, she knocked again, louder. "Estel?" she half-shouted, growing impatient and wondering why he wasn't answering her. A low moan came through the door. She let herself in, worried.

"Merilwen? Is that you?" His hoarse voice came to her from the darkness. As her eyes adjusted to the dim, she saw that all the curtains were drawn closed, and Estel was sitting on his bed, squinting at her. His hair was flattened on one side, and he was still wearing his nightshirt and sleeping breeches.

"Of course it is. Still asleep at this hour?" Merilwen queried, biting back laughter as she opened the drapes, allowing the bright light to spill into the room.

"Don't talk so loud," Estel complained, falling back upon the pillows with a hand to his head.

Estel was not himself, to say the least. "What's wrong?" she asked, sitting on the edge of his bed. "Are you sick? Should I go and find Mother--"

"No!" He said suddenly, sitting up and grabbing her shoulders. He swayed, and she steadied him, peering into his bleary eyes. Their normal sparkling grey was misty, uncharacteristically tired. Suddenly her gaze hardened, and she gave him a reproachful glare.

"How much did you drink last night?" she asked coldly, cupping his face in her hand. " How much, Estel? "

"Don't say you told me so," he muttered, brushing her hand away and rubbing his eyes. "You won't tell Mother?"

For a moment Merilwen thought that she should tell her mother; Estel would deserve it. But no, she was not cruel, especially to her twin.

"I won't." She said. "But you cannot stay asleep all day; we have lunch with the delegations this afternoon."

"I know." He said with a sigh.

"You stay here. I'll go and find something to help you." She stood and began to rummage in his clothes press. She found breeches and a clean shirt, and threw them at him unceremoniously. "I'll be back." She swept from the room, leaving Estel sitting on the bed with a pair of breeches obscuring his face as she shook her head at her brother's serious lack of judgment.

- - - - - - -

Merilwen returned, as promised, this time with a large cup of tea laden with lemon, sugar and other herbs. She saw that Estel was dressed, and doing the buttons on his shirt as she came into the room, though he had missed a few of them.

"Here." She thrust the tea under his nose. Estel sipped gingerly, as Merilwen re-did the buttons he had overlooked. "Better?" she asked, as he set the cup down and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Yes," he sighed. "I must say, I am surprised you didn't tell me that I deserved to incur Father's wrath or something. I'm glad I can trust you."

"You can always trust me," she said, shoving his arm lightly. "You should know that. And besides, you never told on me when Elladan caught us in the sword-room. And that was years ago. I'd have to say we are even, now." Suddenly Merilwen found herself caught in a very strong embrace.

"I don't know what I would do without you," Estel said quietly to his sister's ear.

Merilwen returned his hug. "You are my brother; better yet you're my twin. You are a part of me, Estel. I don't know what I would do without you ."

He laughed gently and released her. "I love you." He said, tweaking her nose. "My sister. My mellonamin. "

- - - - - - - - -

"Estel, please."

"I don't know..."

"But it has been days, we'll both be getting out of practice, and you have fully recovered from your dr--"

"Yes, yes." There was an expectant pause. "Very well. I'll meet you there."

Merilwen threw the door to her room open in a flurry to change clothes. After nearly a week, she would at last be able to use a sword again, much to her delight. She exchanged her cream colored gown for a long but sturdy grey practice tunic, breeches, and dark boots. She took a moment to tie her hair back before racing out of her room, mercifully avoiding any of the emissaries. She was not sure if they would approve of her sword lessons.

Estel was waiting at the armory, as promised, sitting casually on the thick wooden fence that separated it from the surrounding woodland. Together they entered the large, intricately made timber building under the finely carved doorframe covered in innumerable green vines with glossy leaves and subtle white blossoms. Ironic, Merilwen thought, that such life should grow in the place that housed such weaponry that could destroy it.

"How long are the envoys here?" she inquired casually, looking over the swords she might use as she paced along the rows and rows of shelves and hooks bearing all manner of armaments the fighters of Imladris had in their keeping.

"Mother said another five weeks at least." Estel had selected his blade already; a long double-edged broadsword with a wrapped hilt. "Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering, if that is alright with you," Merilwen replied tartly, still looking for a sword. She found one, hidden beneath another blade on a hook. She lifted the belt down, and wiped a bit of dust from the plain black sheath. "Aren't you beautiful," she said to it, admiring the leaf pattern on the crimson hilt.

"Yes, lovely," Estel said sarcastically. "If we may?" Merilwen glared and followed him out of the armory.

Outside, Merilwen belted the sheath to her side and drew the blade. It was shaped like a long slender leaf-shoot, similar and yet smaller than most of the other Elf-made swords she had used in her life, the gold and red hilt more suited to her feminine hands. A few runes were etched at the base of the blade, some of which she could read, though they were in an ancient script. Hadhafang.

"How shall we start?" She asked Estel, tearing her eyes from the writing as she stretched her arms.

He was grinning, casually flicking a bit of dust from the edge of his sword. "I think we should start with a match. I would love to see my dear sister's skill at this un-maidenly craft."

"Are you sure?" She asked, fighting to keep her voice light and carefree, thought she had to admit to herself, she was a bit nervous. Estel was an excellent swordsman and already was acquiring the build of a muscular warrior. She had only come for practice, after all.

"Of course," he replied, moving to guard position across from her in the dirt clearing, his sword held out, waiting for her to do the same. "I do hope I win, or I do not know how I shall put up with your infamous teasing."

His twin smirked slightly. "We shall see," Merilwen said, swinging her sword up to his with a ringing crash as metal hit metal. She gritted her teeth and swung again, the jarring impact of her blade against his driving into her arms.

"Come on Merilwen," Estel laughed, trying a few passes of his own against her, which she parried with apparent ease. "Show me what you can do! Surely you know more than this!"

Their sword hilts locked together for a moment, and Merilwen brought her face bare inches from his as they strained, each trying to throw the other off balance.

"I would watch your words, if I were you," she whispered with a grin, and broke away with lightning speed. She switched to a two handed attack, raining blows upon his sword, her own weapon a silver blur as it sliced through the air. Estel blocked hastily and with less precision each time she struck; she was trying to drive him backwards into the fence. Seizing a chance, he attacked in earnest, slightly dismayed as she parried and skipped away.

The drill went on, both opponents sharing blocks and blows; neither gaining the advantage. Estel struck once so fiercely that their blades met and sparks danced in the air. She returned by attacking him low, forcing the tip of his sword to the dirt more than once. Finally Merilwen threw off Estel's powerful backhand-cut, and in the split second it took him to recover, she dashed in and leveled her blade at the base of his throat. Yet as she did so, she also became aware of the cold breath of steel against her neck. They stood still, breathing heavily in a confused silence.

"I'd call it a draw," a voice said quietly from over by the fence.

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