The Edge of the Water - Part Three
Part Two http://www.theonering.com/docs/12391.html
"Have you ever seen the sea?" Relian asked her one day. They were strolling about the grounds. The end of the summer was nearing--the days were shortening, the air cooling, the fields turning to gold.
"Once, when I was very young," she replied. "My family was visiting Gondor--where my mother was from. We went further south, down to the shore. I don't recall anything of it." She closed her eyes for a moment, as if trying to summon the memory back to her. "Maybe I'll go back, someday."
"I'd like to see it, too."
"It must be like the plains, except blue instead of green."
"But you know where you'll end, if you ride to the edge of the plains. With the sea--no end in sight. All that water...just imagine how much it could swallow up."
"Imagine," Aliana murmured. Relian could read whole stories, now, she thought. He would run his finger in a line below the words, mouthing them to himself. He liked the tales of far-off places. "They say that's where the elves are going," she added. "Out, over the sea. Out of Middle-earth."
He stared fixedly into the distance, as if he were scanning the horizon for the departing gray ships, himself.
"It must be hard, leaving," he said.
"For some of them it must be very hard. And perhaps others are quite happy to go." She thought of separation, and of the presence of her own small family in the summers: her father, working alongside her, and Trewyn, taking care of things. Ceorth was busy with his training, and Auren and Deomar were at home in between assignments. And there would be a new one, coming soon... "Where is your family now, Relian?" she asked.
"With the herds, I suppose. Which could mean just about anywhere." In the space of his ensuing silence, she could hear the voice of the wind on the open terrain, faint yet persistent. He cleared his throat. "We've never really talked about elves, have we?" he said, his voice a shade lighter.
"No. I wish I knew more about them." She watched him carefully, as she had the first day she'd laid eyes on him. His loose, easy stride, the hollows of his cheekbones, the curve of his chin in profile.
"Can you do any elvish writing?"
"I can't...perhaps once the Archive gets bigger, I could try to teach myself. I can say a few words."
"Like `namàrië.' That's `farewell.'"
"Na-ma-ri-ae." He sounded it out slowly, as if testing its weight on his lips. "I like that," he nodded.
"Me, too." She felt very much at ease around him, she realized. Even before she knew his name, when he tapped her on the shoulder to turn her around, she had been at ease.
They stopped at the junction in the path. She was expected in the Archive room, and he in the armory, with his company. And they would both talk to whomever there was to talk to, and later sit and eat, and later lie down to dream.
"Namàrië, Aliana," Relian smiled. "Tomorrow, then?"
She nodded and smiled back.
"Tomorrow. Namàrië, Relian." He started up his own fork in the path, but she kept still, watching as he walked away.
* * *
That summer ended very quickly. Aliana's father told her and Ceorth that they could stay at Edoras into the winter, if they liked. Ceorth returned to their village (as much as he enjoyed his training, Aliana was fairly certain that some girl back home had caught his eye), but she remained with Auren and Trewyn.
By the time Relian could write line after line in a neat, spare hand, he and Aliana were engaged.
She sent a message to her father asking his permission to be wed. He returned a long and enthusiastic response. "Nothing would give me more joy than to see my only daughter as a bride," his letter went in part. Èothren had met Relian, of course, duly curious about the young man his child was passing so many hours with. Aliana could now recall clearly her father's wary, patient smile as he had shown the soldier through a new portion of the Archive, answering a few of the questions which had been beyond Aliana's knowledge to reply to. And then the hint of the scholarly gleam which grew in the scribe's eyes as he became more and more impressed with Relian's quickness and curiosity.
"Perhaps you chose the wrong profession," Èothren had grinned, placing a light hand on the boy's shoulder and eyeing his Rider's garb. "We could make a scribe out of you, yet."
Relian had given a sheepish smile in return, casting his eyes to the floor. Seeing his awkwardness, some kind of nervous, pleasant wingspan had fluttered open inside Aliana's chest. That was when she knew.
Now it almost made her laugh, seeing those quick, jumpy downstrokes and cross-marks in her father's usually reserved handwriting. She could almost picture him penning the words in a great thrilled rush. With her mother's death, it seemed as though he had been broken apart, but over all these years he was coming back to himself, piece by piece. The Archive had helped.
"I'm happy he's consented," Aliana told Auren when her older brother was home again. "I always thought that Father would want me to marry another scribe."
"First of all," Auren said, "in case neither of you had noticed, there aren't a great many scribes to choose from in this country. And I know he wanted his two sons to be scribes, but he knows that Riders aren't all bad, either. Trewyn and Deomar and Ceorth and I all know Rel, and we like him." Auren folded his arms and clicked his tongue in mock disbelief. "That's two of us now, Ali. Married. I can't get my mind about it."
"What about you?" she laughed, giving her brother a playful shove. "You're going to be a father."
"Can't quite get my head about that one, either," he smiled. Trewyn had told Auren as soon as he came back from patrol. He had been walking around in an ecstatic haze ever since.
The wedding would take place in less than a year's time, at the tail-end of the next summer. Aliana returned with Auren to their family's village for a few weeks, where all the girls she knew grabbed her hands and hugged her and wished her well. Then they went back to Edoras, where girls she barely knew did just the same.
It still seemed a strange notion to her, that she could actually be getting married, but she was sure she would warm to the idea in time. And she loved Relian; she was sure of it, now. She had read a great many poets' words on love, and to them it always seemed to be a stormy feeling, full of fits and starts and tears and ecstasy. It was good that they were wrong, she thought. Whenever she was with Rel, a warm kind of peace would spread slowly through her. It was something good--something upon which to anchor oneself against the wind and the rain.
* * *
Aliana clutched her cloak more tightly around herself in the bitter winter air. She watched puff after puff of her own breath dissipate before her. When she was a child, someone had once told her that every white exhalation was a small piece of soul escaping the body. She knew now that this was a flagrant falsehood--were it true, everyone who had lived through just one winter's day would be nothing more than an empty wraith.
Aliana, Trewyn, Auren and a cluster of others were at the edge of the village around Edoras, saying goodbye to the unit of forty men which was departing for a monthlong patrol assignment. Auren, though not in this company, was among the soldiers, helping to balance a spear, tightening the strap of a saddle, delivering a cheerful word and a pat on the back. Aliana and Trewyn stayed to the side with the other women and the children.
"There they are," Trewyn said, as Relian and Deomar headed in their direction. Suited up in helmets and mail, most of the men looked strikingly similar. Aliana saw that Auren was holding both of their horses for them.
"I'll see you soon, my little sister," Deomar grinned, placing his hands on her shoulders. Now that she was getting married, he probably thought her too old to have her hair ruffled. "As long as this ruffian doesn't beat me to death with the flat of his sword," he added with a sidelong glance at Relian, who only laughed in reply.
"Mind you don't get distracted, Deomar," she replied with a grin of her own.
As Deomar turned to say goodbye to Trewyn, Relian took hold of Aliana's hands. It was the first time she had seen him in full battle gear. It made him look older, imposing, even dangerous. He came from a family of herders, she reminded herself--he would be almost at home, out there in the open.
"I'll miss the lessons," he said softly. "And my teacher," he added with a smile. The rings of his mail shirt clinked ever so slightly as he shifted his weight from one foot to another. "I envy you, here by a warm hearth in this cold."
"And I envy you, riding out free on the plains," she smiled back. "Perhaps we should change places."
"Excellent. Next time, I'll stay and you'll go out riding." He took off his helmet, cradling it in one arm, and kissed her forehead.
"Take care, Relian," she said, kissing his cheek. "Namàrië."
He bade goodbye to Trewyn, who was now visibly pregnant. Then he put his helmet back on, and he and Deomar walked back into the group of men and mounted their horses. Aliana could see Auren saying a few last words as he relinquished the reins, then backed out of the crowd so that the men could get underway.
All around Aliana and Auren, similar farewell scenes had been taking place. She gave her good wishes to each Rider who strode past her, calling nearly every one by name. Some of the men she had known from her girlhood, when she had played at being soldiers with her brothers. Most were her Edoras neighbors--brothers or husbands or fathers of women-friends.
Some shouted words from the captain, a chorused reply from the men, the click of metal and horses' whinnies, and they were off. Aliana heard and felt the rush and rhythm of the forward hoofbeats, the movement of so much weight over a short stretch of earth, and then they were a rapidly disappearing mass on the plains. Some of the women dabbed at the corners of their eyes with their handkerchiefs, though their faces stayed impassive, or wore calm smiles for their children.
A Rider's wife, Aliana thought as she watched them go.
"Auren's got some more business to attend to with his company," Trewyn said, taking her by the arm, "but he can join us for super."
The two women started back up the path to the house, walking in silence for a few minutes.
"What will you name your child?" Aliana suddenly asked her sister-in-law. She didn't know why she hadn't asked sooner.
Trewyn smiled and placed a hand over her belly.
"Mìrien, I think. For yours and Auren's and Ceorth's mother."
"And if it's a boy?"
"It's a girl. I can tell."
"I just know." They were home. Trewyn opened the door, lifting her eyebrows in that familiar light way which told Aliana that it was no use pursuing the subject any further.
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