The Undying Lands - (chapter 46)

As darkness drew near, the army began making fires. Beleg was very efficient at this, so he and Dînhith began while Nárfin asked Ariengil to help look for wood. They set off towards the forest and chatted as they worked.
`So much has happened,' Nárfin told Ariengil happily. `For instance, Thaliondil and I... well, as you see, we are `together'. He is so kind to me and I love him so much. But what about you and Nimtheryn?' she asked, eager to hear Ariengil's tale.
`Oh, that isn't really serious,' replied Ariengil wistfully. `I still love Harma more than anything but Nimtheryn won't give up until I am his,' she giggled. `He is kind and considerate, but I just don't know what I want.'
`Poor Arri, but don't worry, I'm sure everything will be all right soon. Tonight we'll all share our stories and we'll have a great time. Is that a good idea?'
`It is a great idea. Thank you for being there for me, Nárfin.' Ariengil hugged her friend and they went back to collecting firewood with smiles on their faces. When they went back, Dînhith welcomed Ariengil with another hug and asked her friend to sit by her for the evening. Ariengil obliged, pleased that she could see her dearest friend again.
Mereth began the stories that evening: `We left the large group on horses and travelled towards Gondor, part way there we met a group of Gondorian men.' He told his tale up to the point where Tarma came into the story. He gave a sideways glance at Ariengil, worried about how she would react to the rest of his tale, but she nodded and he continued. Ariengil sobbed at the part where Harma died, but Nimtheryn wrapped his arms around her and she stifled her sobs and let Nimtheryn hold her while she calmed down. Mereth stopped for a while after the small group had split in his story- when Ariengil and Nieninque had been taken.
`We had a memorial service for Harma where he died, and the set off towards Gondor. At one point Nimtheryn left his horse and stole away in the night. We knew not where he had gone, but we had no time to spare, so we cantered on, taking Nimtheryn's horse with us.
`Our estimate of ten days to reach Gondor was incorrect. It actually took us five days at the most. There I met King Eldarion and related my story to him too. He listened carefully and answered me wisely and with confidence.
`Now I have never met the King's father, but I have heard accounts of his wisdom, strength and great ruling, and the King Eldarion is very much like this. He is kind, considerate, strong and wise and it was a pleasure to meet him.
`He sent out a message to all of the neighbouring lands- Rohan, Lothlórien, Rivendell and everywhere else- and we spent a while going through the armoury, the towns, and the food stocks to check everything was correct and good for the war. It was all fine.
`I was treated as an honoured guest, and it was lovely. I was in the court everyday, discussing everything with the King, and it was a great pleasure. My mind was constantly on the war, and the safety of all of you so I was always worried and wanted to set out soon though. The King complied with my requests and gave me a troop of riders- about ten- and we set out to find all of you. After a day or two, we found you,' he nodded to Beleg, Dînhith, Thaliondil, Nárfin, Tiuka and her friend, `and we reported the King's message- he said to stop at the first equipped town to receive weapons and food, then they would gather at the Gap of Rohan with all other armies to go to war.
`Once I had delivered this message and found out you were all safe, there was nothing more I could do except for return. Once I had, the King wished for me to become a captain in his armies but I declined, for I am not one to live as men- I disliked not having the freedom of trees. Yet he asked me to stay for a while. I obliged, then we left to the Gap of Rohan and I found my friends again. Well, I found most of them- you,' he nodded to Ariengil, Nimtheryn and Nieninque, `had not appeared and I was worried.
`And that is my tale. Now, who wishes to tell theirs?' asked Mereth happily.
Dînhith related the tale for her, Beleg, Thaliondil, Nárfin and Tiuka: `After you all left us, we travelled along peaceably, towards Gondor. We travelled at a steady rate, not too quickly, but not slowly either. At one point we met a band of orcs, but they were roughly half our number. We still lost five of our men, but all the orcs were killed and their carcasses were piled high and burnt. They gave off such a vile stench,' she laughed.
`We travelled for about seven or more days until we met Mereth again. We were worried that he and his riders were enemies though, so we shot a few arrows and injured one of the party. That was rather embarrassing, but it was forgiven quickly.
`Mereth told his story and stayed for a little while before travelling back to Gondor. We travelled faster now, as we needed to get to the nearest town to be equipped with weapons. We did this in two days, at a guess, and were given weapons and armour. No sooner than we had arrived, we had to leave and marched to the Gap of Rohan where more and more were arriving from all directions.
`We were not told where we were going to march to, but Mereth found us and told us we were marching towards the River Gilrain where the enemy was last sighted.' Ariengil cringed at the thought of that river, for that was where Harma was murdered. `We did not need to go the whole way because we found you today and now you can tell us where exactly we do need to go.' With her story finished, Dînhith turned to Ariengil and Nieninque.
Nieninque nodded to Ariengil and Ariengil began. She related her story, while Nieninque added in bits that she had forgotten or just didn't know. Together they retold their journey, their time at the maze and their escape. Nimtheryn added parts too. Lastly, Nimtheryn told his story.
`I left Mereth and their company in the night, so they would not question me about where I was going- anyone would have thought it an idiotic idea, but I was sure it would work.
`Earlier on in the day before I left, I saw a single orc following us. I didn't mention it to anyone because I needed this orc for my plan to work. In the night I watched him creeping up to us and I grabbed him and made him give me information. He told me roughly where the maze was and I killed him. I know it was harsh, but this orc was going to kill my friends in their sleep. I threw the body into a bush nearby and left, without my horse.
`I made my way towards the Gap of Rohan, where the orc had mentioned. I was captured before I reached there and was taken, blindfolded, to the maze. I was thrown brutally into the dungeons and was tortured.
`You will never know how hard it is to lie when you are being tortured, but I lied so that I betrayed no one. It felt to me that I had betrayed all of my friends though, because everything I said was said in a way that seemed as though I deserted all of you to serve Tarma.
`Tarma himself came to see me and he believed everything I said- I said I wanted to serve him faithfully and help him in his dark deeds. He accepted me into his service, but part of the discipline that we were given was a lash of the whip morning and night. I was in such pain, but what kept me going was that Ariengil was in the same building as me and I could find her soon.' He smiled at Ariengil and she grasped his hand lovingly as he continued.
`After a while, Tarma was convinced that I was his most loyal elf- ironic, isn't it? That I was actually his least loyal. Soon I saw Ariengil and all my hope was restored. We escaped, with Nieninque, and travelled here.' He fell silent and none of the company made a sound as they gazed in awe at Nimtheryn, for the sacrifices he made to save the two girls.
After a while Nimtheryn stood and left quietly, after announcing his need for a drink. Mereth followed silently, in the shadows and went after Nimtheryn until he stopped. Drawing up alongside Nimtheryn, Mereth turned to face him.
`Mereth,' exclaimed Nimtheryn. He looked around and realised they were alone. `Listen Mereth, I am sorry, I didn't mean for you to be left with those men, alone. It just happened like that. It would not have worked if you had come with me.' Nimtheryn stammered, worried that Mereth was annoyed with him.
`You did leave me,' replied Mereth in a deep voice. He raised his hand and Nimtheryn flinched slightly from the older elf, but Mereth had no intention of hitting Nimtheryn and pulled him into a great hug instead, thanking Nimtheryn profoundly for saving Nieninque.
Nimtheryn was shocked and just patted Mereth on the back, smiling and sighing in relief. It was then that he realised how much Mereth loved Nieninque- he loved her as much as Nimtheryn loved Ariengil. In that moment, Nimtheryn felt a bond between the two of them, for some reason, and the two walked back in silence, at ease and comfortable together.
That night the army slept in peace, not worrying about their impeding war the next day, but only caring for one another. Ariengil's group of friends slept closely, each one arm-in-arm with another.
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