The Hands of a Healer - The Last of the Lennir - Part 13
Thialfir walked silently between the trees, watchful of every twig, and every leaf. He would stop once in a while by a tree, tap its side, shake his head, then move on. Lauren, perplexed, followed closely.
Finally, he came to a tree that appeared to meet his expectations. His countenance brightened, and he reached under the hollow of the tree.
Lauren couldn't contain her curiosity any longer and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Getting supplies," Thialfir answered. And indeed, he drew two cloaks and two packs from the tree. He threw one of each to Lauren, who caught them and checked the pack's contents, her face burning in humiliation at how unprepared she truly was. The pack contained five cakes of lembas, two full water flasks, a packet of herbs, a piece of dried meat, half a loaf of bread, a hunting knife and blankets as well as a spare clothes.
She silently shrugged the pack on and waited for Thialfir to finish with his. As she glanced about the forest, a tree to her left caught her eye. From a slightly different angle, it was the same as all the other trees; silver bark with leaves showing a hint of orange, a sign of the waning presence of the elves. Yet, from Lauren's view, a strange growth became visible in a slightly lighter shade than the surrounding bark. She stepped closer, and the growth took on the familiar shape of a sword. Not believing her eyes, she blinked and took another step closer, but the shape did not falter. Her fingers twitched, and she gave into her instinct, running her finger along the edge of the growth. Once her finger had completely outlined the sword-shaped growth, the bark began to glow. A strange ripping noise ensued from the tree, and the bark slowly melted away to reveal a beautiful sheathed elven blade. Lauren reached out a hand and clasped the hilt, the sword now glowing fiery red. The hilt felt cold, but as the glow faded, it warmed to her touch, as though welcoming its new owner. Lauren stared at the sword in her hand, amazed, then back at the now growth-free tree.
"Now that, is a useful talent," remarked Thialfir, coming up behind her, eyes alight with astonishment.
For once, Lauren was speechless. Curiosity overcame her and she drew the sword. It sang as metal struck metal and came free from its cage. The blade contained the slightest hint of red, not that of rust nor blood, but as though it had not completely cooled from forging and an inscription wound its way from hilt to point.
"What does it say?" she asked Thialfir, handing him the sword.
Thialfir frowned, making out the letters. "It's in the High Elven Tongue. I have not read it for an age." After another moment of scrutinizing the words, he continued , "In the common tongue it reads, `Through fire, metal and ash, to the destruction or redemption of the worlds, I am made for the one who will decide this fate. The last of the Lennir wields me.'" He handed it back to her, "We must be going if we want to be away from here by first light."
Lauren nodded and buckled on the sword. She followed him silently, the sword's inscription ringing in her ears. She swallowed, trying to drown all of her fears of this responsibility she took upon herself. They walked in silence for an hour. Then Thialfir turned to her, an indistinguishable look upon his face.
"Why are we leaving and to where?" His tone implied more than his words. Why was she deserting her friends, why was she forsaking those who cared for her?
"We are going to the mountains of shadow, and... you wouldn't believe the rest." She answered, not meeting his eyes and trying to brush past him to keep going. He caught her arm, and held it firmly, not hard enough to hurt her, but with enough force to halt her.
"I believed you when you told me you were from another world. What makes you think I wouldn't believe you now?" he asked, his tone letting some of his hurt show at her mistrust.
"Because I barely believe it myself," she cried, then continued in a slightly more contained tone, " All I know is that I am supposedly the last of a race that has the ability to travel between the worlds and some messed up task to fight against an unknown evil or else all the worlds will end. We're going to the mountains because there is supposedly a stone tablet there that can tell me more," she answered, giving in, not in a mood to argue with him.
He let go of her arm, eyes searching her. Lauren sighed, telling herself how useless her outburst was, she had no hope at all of being believed.
Then he spoke, as though reading her thoughts, "If you say it is so, then it is so."
With that, he stepped in front of her to lead the way through the last patch of woods and out onto a small plain, marking the end of Lothlorien. She followed him, overjoyed that she no longer had to cope with this alone.
By first light, the pair reached the Anduin. The massive ribbon of clear grey water shimmered before them, a beacon of true wilderness. Lauren strode to the bank, filled her cupped hand with water and drank deeply. Never had she tasted such sweet water, nor had she seen a river so clean. With a sad smile she remembered the rivers in our world, full of discarded objects, discoloured from pollution and undrinkable without filtration.
A sudden warm breeze blew from the south, carrying with it the smell of the far-off sea. She heard a sigh from Thialfir, and turned to see his face fill with yearning.
"You feel the call of the sea," she stated.
He nodded, "For many hundreds of years have I lived and never before have I heard the call of the sea. It's something so indescribable, a slight tug of the soul, a vision of the endless ocean, I can picture it clearly and I have never seen it. It's as though an unseen jester plays a cruel joke, taunting me with what I cannot have."
Lauren cocked her head, shooting him a questioning glance, "And why can't you have it?"
A slow, sad smile crept to Thialfir's lips, "That, my friend, is best left unanswered. Shall we move on?"
Lauren nodded and was about to try and pry an answer from Thialfir when she felt an all too familiar coldness grab a hold of her. Yet this time she could fight it, it was not the unbearable wrenching sensation. She cast her gaze to the west, and stood motionless, mouth gaping. There, just above the horizon, stood an army. Not an army of men, but an army of black spirits sporting disfigured faces and glowing white eyes. With a sudden jolt, the black mass moved forward, picking up speed as it went.
"Thialfir!" called Lauren, panic welling in her.
The elf turned, his eyes grew wide as he beheld the mist.
"Run!" he yelled and took off sprinting towards the nearest patch of forest. Lauren did not need to be told twice, and with speed lent to her by fear, she was running by his side within seconds. Thialfir pointed to two large, ancient, statues against a hill up ahead, noting the small alcove between them. Lauren understood what he meant, and dared a glance back to the banks of the Anduin as inhuman screeches filled her ears. The black mist took on the shape of soldiers once again, soldiers that floated across the land with impossible speed. The army paused for a fraction of a second, then continued on its path across the river. Lauren's heart beat even faster, the elf and human drew on their reserves of energy and ran for all their worth. The first ranks of the army entered the forest, and all fell silent. Lauren darted between the statues with Thialfir on her heels, both coming to an abrupt halt.
Thialfir tore off his elven cloak and flung it over both their heads. There was just enough room in this alcove for them to sit side by side. Lauren trembled as the shrieks grew louder, her soul growing colder. Thialfir felt her shake, and carefully draped his arm around her, not daring to speak for risk of being discovered. A chorus of shrieks announced the arrival of the host. The pair drew closer under the cloak, praying for its concealing magic to work. A pair of black, translucent feet approached the alcove. A bloodstained sword hung carelessly from a ghostly arm. Behind it, many hundreds more drew their swords, preparing for a slaughter. This lead spirit peered in, but saw only rock and carved stone. Greatly disappointed, it sheathed its sword, and with an ear-splinting bellow, moved on. With the word from their leader, the rest growled in contempt and continued on as though the wind itself bore them on its back. Yet the cold plaguing Lauren did not depart, only intensify. She felt as though a gaze swept the land, searching for her, beginning the tearing as it came closer.
Thialfir could not sense this and refastened his cloak, relieved that they'd survived this encounter with the supernatural. As he moved to stand, he bumped into her and felt her grow colder and her breath become more laboured. He pulled her closer, checking her forehead and her pulse all the while panic welled in him. Not now, he thought desperately, not yet, she can't be fading yet. The gaze tearing at Lauren shifted to the north, releasing its grip on her. Her breathing returned to normal. She looked up into Thialfir's face, less than an inch away from her own. His deep eyes bore into hers, searching her for any signs of injury. He drew closer until his forehead rested against hers, relieved that she seemed back to normal. She didn't pull away from him, even though all her instincts screamed at her to do just that.
At that moment, a large acorn fell into the alcove. It was the perfect example of an acorn with a circular cap and a long oval body, and a knack for inopportune moments. It fell straight through the space between the two statues, its decent halted only by a collision with Thialfir's head. He looked up, just in time to see a squirrel with the intent of repeating the acorn's fall. Unfortunately gravity prevailed and the squirrel also came to rest atop his head. Sighing, he stood and walked out from the alcove, all the while the squirrel chattered ceaselessly on his head. Once out in the open, he carefully pried the squirrel from his hair and gave it its acorn. The squirrel, after running two circles around Thialfir in both directions and a farewell squeak, bounded away.
Lauren followed him outside and grinned, "And I thought we were getting another travelling companion."
Thialfir made a face, sending her into a small spasm of giggles. Before meeting him she had thought the elves incapable of that particular feat. After she calmed down, she remembered the ghost-like beings they had only narrowly avoided and asked, "What were those things?"
Thialfir gathered his things while replying, "I have never seen anything like it, only heard of it. Long ago, when the Witch-King ruled in the far north, he called all evil spirits to him. When they answered his call, they joined together in an army, forming a black mist with a blood lust. Never has such a thing been seen since. They destroyed all living within their path, turning the weak willed into one of them. Some evil must be stirring and summoned them again."
"In other words, a bad sign."
"A very bad sign," he agreed, "We'd best start moving again."
Lauren nodded and they set out again, continuing on their original route down the Anduin, but with greater caution.