The Hands of Healer - Part 12
Lauren took one last look around her room, her gaze trailing over the wooden cabinet and to the small desk where a letter lay. She had read it over and over, trying to find any defects, in hopes that when it was found, the reasons for her sudden secret departure would be understood. With a few final words of reassurance to herself, she turned and closed the door as silently as she could. She glanced over to the illuminated flet some distance away. The grand feast that she had excused herself from was still taking place. Even from afar she could hear the soft notes of music amid bouts of merry laughter. She heaved a heavy sigh, cursing her situation for the thousandth time and continued on her way out of Lothlorien. It was a clear early spring night with the presence of winter only beginning to fade. The ground outside of Caras Galadhon still contained small patches of partially melted snow. As she trod on, her mind drifted back to her last evening in these enchanted woods.
The feast had been in her and her companions' honour. It was not often that three princes aside from the sons of Elrond graced Lorien with their presence. As was expected, she dressed in the garbs of an elven maiden for the second time in her life. Of course, this did not prevent her from discomfort. To complete her look, she let her chestnut brown hair fall over her shoulders, never being one to put too much effort into appearance. As she was about to make her way to the feast, she caught her reflection in the mirror, unwilling to believe that the person staring back at her was indeed herself. She took a step closer and examined her image. Her face had become fuller, more lifelike than the thin pale reflection she was accustomed to. Her body had also changed. Though she had never been fat, her stomach was strengthened and where soft flesh had been, there was now a layer of muscle, giving more definition to her figure. She noted that her eyes were deeper and that her hair actually obeyed her for once. Though she was still no beauty compared to the elves, she felt for the first time in her life that she just might pass for above average among women. With renewed confidence she attended the feast.
The feast took place atop one of the largest trees in Caras Galadhon. The flet stretched across almost all of its branches with a delicately woven roof and carved marble pillars. Railing encircled the floor and tables lined each side of the flet to clear a space in the middle for dancing. There were a few elves already there by the time she arrived, and after pushing down her nervousness, she slipped onto the floor and was immediately embraced in conversation by the nearest elf.
In the large group of people she soon found Dorminel, who greeted Lauren with a hug and immediately rushed her off to introduce her to all of the elves she knew, which turned out to be almost all of the elves present. After the initial before party mingle, everyone sat down to feast. With Galadriel's command, servers appeared carrying meats, puddings, salads, cakes, and everything one could imagine. Lauren suddenly remembered how hungry she was. She watched Dorminel and the other elves carefully to see how they ate each particular food so she wouldn't seem too out of place. The feast tasted as good as it looked. She ate many generous portions, knowing that this would probably be her last good meal for some time.
When the plates were cleared, two elves stepped forward. One carried a rich mahogany lute and the other a pale gold flute. As one they started to play, their music sweeping through the flet. The first song was slow and the most beautiful Lauren had ever heard. She thought she could see a story behind the music, the pictures ever blurred and in motion. Then the elves' playing became enlivened and she noticed couples gather and head to the middle of the floor, dancing in perfect time to the music. When she looked around her, she found her table vacant save for herself. She searched the dance floor, hoping to find one of her friends. After a few moments, she spotted Carasel dancing with Haldir and noticed the slight tint of a blush colouring her face. Lauren smiled to herself, and watched as the moving shapes of colour fluttered across the room. A sudden panic welled in her as she realized that she might become obliged to dance. Though she wasn't the worst dancer alone, her last memory of this dancing in pairs involved stepping on her partner's toes and losing her footing. Not something she was keen to relive.
She then noticed Elphir from the corner of her eye, moving deliberately toward her through the throng of people. Just as she was about to stand to try to avoid him, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to sight of Thialfir, bowing to her.
"May I have the honour of a dance my lady?" he asked, eyes alight with merriment.
She almost laughed at his official manner, but decided quickly that she'd probably have a better chance of keeping her dignity if she danced with Thialfir rather than Elphir.
"If my lord wishes it,"she answered, "But I should warn you that I am one of the clumsiest dancers ever to walk this earth."
"From what I've seen of you in battle, that cannot be so," he countered as he took her hand in his, pulling her to the dance floor.
"In battle lives are at stack, in dance, only dignity," she replied, teasing slightly.
"Perhaps we should have started with dancing lessons as opposed to swordplay?"he returned, smiling.
"If we had, then we wouldn't be here right now," she pointed out.
"True,"he said, considering her thought, then added more seriously, "Do not worry, we will start slow."
He draped one arm around her waist and held her hand in the other. Then he started to move slowly to the music, making sure that she was able to stay with him, keeping his eyes locked on hers. He felt as though he could gaze into them forever and not miss any of the sights of his world. The music quickened, and with it, his steps. Despite Lauren's previous worries, she was not lagging behind, and was actually beginning to enjoy herself as he twirled her from one side to the other, her dress billowing out like a flower in its prime. She had never felt as graceful before in her life. They moved, now with more confidence, around the dance floor, trying increasingly difficult steps as she mastered the previous ones. How like this was to their lessons, she thought and realized that it was indeed a lesson, but perhaps one taught only for amusement.
Then the music slowed, meant for a break for the dancers and a chance to come to know one's partner better. Thialfir drew her closer until their noses almost touched, and they moved as one to the now sleepy rhythm. Lauren felt as though she was under spell, unable to move if Thialfir did not guide her. Yet, she was content, feeling as though nothing mattered as long as she was able to stay right where she was, safe. For the first time since she arrived in Middle Earth she felt at peace, her mind refreshingly blank and her heart filled with emotion. Then a hand taped Thialfir's shoulder, breaking the pair's moment of contentment.
Lauren stopped herself, not wanting to remember the rest of the night, for it was less than pleasant. Elphir interfered and asked to dance with her. Thialfir permitted it, though reluctantly, with the softness draining form his eyes. He eyed Elphir with a cold hard stare for as long as the new pair's dance lasted. After their dance, Elphir asked Lauren to accompany him for a walk, and Lauren, not wanting to be rude, accepted his invitation. Elphir changed then, his eyes glowing red like that of a demon and would most likely have torn Lauren limb from limb were it not for Thialfir, who followed a pace behind them. A slight skirmish ensued between the elf and man until the red drained from Elphir's eyes. He remembered nothing of what happened, his rage and inhuman strength leaving him as fast as they had come. Then, after a heartfelt apology, Elphir retired. Following some unsuccessful persuasion from Thialfir, Lauren also retired to her room.
Lauren, now walking swiftly down a path, froze, having the odd sensation that she was being followed. She tightened her grip on her short hunting knife, a gift from Elrond. She had not wanted to inconvenience anyone with a request for a sword, thus this was her only weapon. She scanned the bushes but her eyes, having not the night vision of the elves, could see nothing. She continued on, now about a mile from Caras Galadhon and surrounded by the silver trees. The trees, reaching ever upward and rustling slightly with the gentle wind, appeared to be bidding her a fond farewell. The thought brought a smile to her otherwise sombre expression.
Then, she thought she felt light footfalls tapping the ground behind her and turned again, almost certain that the bush behind her let the faintest rustle slip. Deciding to take no chances, she drew her hunting knife out again and hid behind the nearest tree.
Whatever followed her apparently thought she moved down the path and so, emerged from the bushes. As soon as it did, Lauren walked silently behind it, and laid her knife under its chin, causing it to stop immediately.
"Who are you? Why are you following me?" she asked quickly, unsure of how long her nerve would las her.
"And good evening to you too" replied the familiar voice.
"Thialfir!" she exclaimed as she sheathed her knife, "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question," he answered.
"My business is my own,"she retorted.
"Tell me, since when does one from another world have business in Middle Earth?"
"Since she has learned of what she is," she answered quietly, as he reminded her again of her uncertain future. Before he had a chance to say anymore, she continued, "Go back Thialfir, leave me to my fate, I cannot endanger your life on my account."
"No. I am coming with you, whether it endangers my life or not."
"You do not know where I am going, nor of the perils along the way."
"No, but I do know that you will need a guide and more than just a hunting knife to protect yourself. Not all shadows are friends. You are about as ill-prepared for a journey as a stray horse."
"Great, now I'm a stray horse,"she said, her anger rising, "Listen Thialfir, I'm not going to have you end up captured and tortured like last time-"
"Is that why you wish me away so eagerly? You blame yourself for the antics of a few orcs?"
Lauren said nothing, and started walking again. To her annoyance Thialfir followed, obviously waiting for an answer. "Yes," she answered finally, "And as I recall, there were more than just a few orcs. Go-"
Thialfir cut her off again, "Lauren, listen to me, I am not going back. I am coming with you because you need me, even though you do not want to admit it and even more importantly because I am your friend and I care for you." And I love you, he added silently.
Lauren sighed, realizing that she did indeed need him, and wouldn't at all mind his company. "Very well, your funeral."
"My what?" he asked at the strange expression.
"By the way, I'm presuming you wish to go unnoticed, and there are rangers posted along the next bit of this trail. So if you'd follow me."
"If I did then I would come to know that tree in front of your nose very well," she remarked, her mood lightening
Thialfir sidestepped the tree he had not noticed and indeed, almost collided with. Without another word he started into the forest. Lauren smiled to herself in triumph at his silence, and followed him through the trees.