To Overcome the Shadow - Chapter 6
Recap: Tanie, Ninque, Elladan, Elrohir, and Legolas are in trouble for their latest prank. Elladan and Elrohir are to accompany Legolas back to Mirkwood because of orc sightings in the Misty Mountains. Ninque and Tanie plead with Elrond to be allowed to train for battle. Elrond denies their wishes. The twins and Legolas want to cheer them up and ensure Legolas' safety from further pranks. They agree to teach the girls how to use weapons.
The five conspirators made their way as nonchalantly as possible to the weapons training room. Elladan took his place on one side of the double doors.
"If I begin to whistle, danger is approaching." He told the rest.
Legolas entered the spacious dirt floored room and joined Elrohir at the weapon's cabinet. Tanie and Ninque deposited their dresses on a nearby table. He mused and debated over the various weapons before selecting two long knives. They were old and blunt, with a hint of rust on the handles, but well used and balanced in the hand.
"Perfect for the unskilled." Legolas thought with satisfaction. He was especially happy with the bluntness of the blades, which greatly diminished his chances of losing a limb. Legolas rejoined Tanie in the middle or the room and handed her the knives.
"We will work in that far corner," he motioned. "Away from the hacking and hewing master and apprentice."
Tanie's mouth lifted into a smile.
Elrohir, hearing Legolas' last comment, rolled his eyes and handed Ninque the sword of his choice. It had a long curved blade inscribed with Elvish runes, and a dark mahogany handle, rubbed smooth from years of use. It also, was severely blunted.
Ninque grasped the handle of the sword Elrohir offered her and swung it lightly around in circles. Though she had never used a blade, even for fun, Ninque often watched other training matches. She was not ignorant of the basics of swordsmanship.
Elrohir had trouble keeping a grin of his face at Ninque's eagerness. He scanned her from head to toe. "Might as well begin," he thought. "Lessons are better learned by doing rather than explaining. Besides, if I wait any longer the tips of my ears might be hacked off by an impatient she-elf."
Without warning, Elrohir swung his blade at Ninque's middle. Caught off-guard, she brought her sword up just in time to awkwardly block his blow. "Lesson number one," said Elrohir sternly. "Never lose focus on an opponent."
Ninque nodded silently, a determined look growing in her eyes.
This went on for about twenty minutes. A "Clang! Scrape! Clash!" followed by a word of advice, then another "Clash! Scrape! Thud!" Elrohir noticed, that while her form and footwork was good, she was not being very aggressive nor was she using much force. Even controlling himself, he had sent her sword flying and brought her down on one knee several times. This puzzled him greatly, for he had never known her to be timid whatsoever. "Daro*!" called Elrohir. "Ninque, small thought you may be, you are as tough and strong as a steel blade. Use that strength. Fight back. Do not just rely on your agility to move out of my way."
Ninque stared back at him uncertainly.
Elrohir sighed. He was going to have to resort to more drastic measures. Suddenly, he gripped his sword and whacked Ninque hard on the backside with the flat of the blade.
Ninque glared at him and raised her sword, blue eyes beginning to smolder.
"Or perhaps," said Elrohir with his most charming grin, "I should call Elladan in here to teach you. Maybe you would be livelier with him around. He does have that effect on people, especially she-elves."
That did it. Ninque flew at him, eyes ignited in blue flames. "I do not like what you are implying, my lord," she said through gritted teeth. Though she was attacking harder, Elrohir was still much more skilled. Once again, she found Elrohir towering above her, trying to force her to her knees. "Not this time," thought Ninque. With that, she kneed Elrohir. Hard.
Elladan's thoughts were interrupted by a loud mental scream.
"ELLADAN! You... are needed... here... NOW!"
Elladan jumped up, burst through the doors of the training room, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his brother on the floor.
"Now," Legolas began, "you use two knives like two separate weapons, always doing two separate things. One is usually for defense and the other offense." He drew out his own knives and demonstrated the starting position. His body faced Tanie sideways with arm closest Tanie holding the knife handle to his stomach, blade pointing outwards, and the other knife behind his back, parallel to the floor. Tanie gracefully followed suit.
"For example, if I were to attack like this." Legolas swung the knife from behind his back in an arc and revolved his hips, stopping two inches from Tanie's throat. She did not flinch. "My other knife would act as a defense if you were to block my swing and retaliate." His other knife raised and shot out forcefully, blade now pointing towards the floor.
"Like this?" Tanie questioned, bringing her opposite arm in an arc to meet Legolas' defensive knife and raising her other to block his offensive.
"Perfect. Now, come stand beside me and I will take you through some drills."
Tanie took her place beside Legolas and watched attentively as he demonstrated three different attack and defensive maneuvers in sequence.
"When you get as skilled as I am, you will not always need a defensive mark. Both knives can be used for offense, if you are sure you will not miss." He said with a grin.
Tanie only rolled her eyes and began to copy the prince's fluid movements. After she had practiced for a few minutes, Legolas moved to opposite her again. "As I call out a number, do that maneuver, with the first one I showed you being number one, the second number two, and so on."
Tanie nodded and assumed the start position. She barely got situated when Legolas yelled "Three!" and jumped at her, knives flashing. The she-elf threw herself into the practices, focusing entirely on Legolas' voice and hoping her reflexes were fast enough. Ten minutes later, Legolas lowered his knives and backed away, signaling to stop. Tanie dropped her arms, breathing hard. Sweat was pouring down her face and soaking her clothes. Legolas looked as fresh as ever.
"Very good! Your reflexes are surprisingly accurate. But perhaps we should stop for today." Legolas said, a worried expression on his face. "I do not want you to overexert and hurt yourself."
Tanie shook her head, still drawing in deep gasps of air. "My block on number two still seems weak. I want to get it right."
Legolas sighed and rolled his eyes. "I had to get the perfectionist." He muttered. "Well," he continued, resuming the start position once again. "Shall we add a new maneuver to make it a little more interesting?" Tanie assented. Legolas started out slow, giving Tanie time to adjust to the new maneuver, then slowly increased his speed. Tanie's limbs were beginning to feel like lead, but she doggedly kept on. Her muscles protested.
Suddenly, she heard Elrohir cry out behind her. Her concentration broken, she missed a block, sending Legolas' knife slashing across her hand.
"Ai!" she yelped, dropping her knife and bringing her injured hand to her mouth.
"Ha ha!" Legolas cried, flourishing his knives. "First blood! That will teach you to break concentration!"
Tanie glared at him. "That was not my fault!" she declared, removing her hand and inspecting it. Trainer and trainee both turned when they heard a muffled groan coming from the opposite corner. They stared unbelievingly at the sight of Elrohir, sword forgotten, curled up on the floor in obvious pain. Elladan burst through the door and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his brother on the floor. He rushed over and knelt beside Elrohir, looking up questioningly at Ninque.
Ninque was not sure what to do, so she stood there, speechless. She had not meant to... well, at least not that hard.
"I...I..." she stuttered. "I did not mean..." her voice trailed off into silence.
"She...will...make a...good... fighter...muindor*." Elrohir gasped. "She...uses...unfair advantage...very well!"
Elladan looked from Elrohir to Ninque to Legolas and Tanie, who had rushed over as well, back to his brother. His mouth quivered, then slowly spread into a smile. He began to chuckle softly, then burst into laughter. Elrohir tried to glare at his brother but failed due to his discomfort. Ninque nervously smiled, then joined in with Elladan along with Legolas and Tanie.
Suddenly, Legolas threw up his hand for silence. He crept to the door and stuck his head out. Just as quickly, he pulled it back in and hurried to the group. "Estel and Lord Elrond!" he whispered urgently. He and Elladan bent down and practically carried Elrohir to a seat. The she-elves quickly dispensed of their weapons and threw light dresses over their sweat-soaked clothes. Legolas tossed a sword to Elladan and whipped out his knives. Ninque and Tanie had just sat down when they heard the murmur of voices. Legolas and Elladan began sparring half-heartedly, hoping that the voices would continue on past the training room and pay no attention to the clash of weapons. They heard one set of feet continue, but the other paused and entered the room. It was Estel. He apparently had something important to say to all of them, but he seemingly forgot the purpose of his visit when he noticed the pale face of Elrohir and the sweat-soaked appearances of the she-elves.
"Elrohir, you look like you just saw a Balrog of Morgoth. Are you well?"
Elrohir forced a smile across his face. "Why certainly, gwador*." He leaned back, a little stiffly, Estel noticed, and crossed his arms over his chest.
"What are you all doing in here?" he asked suspiciously.
Tanie and Ninque glanced at each other. Tanie felt something crawling on her hand. She looked down. Blood was running from her cut and dripping on the floor. She quickly thrust her hands behind her, pressing hard on the wound.
"Nothing, Estel," she answered nonchalantly. "Just watching Elladan and Legolas spar before they depart." Estel shifted nervously.
"Speaking of departing, I have come to bid farewell. I am leaving early in the morning."
Ninque and Tanie jumped to their feet. "But you only just arrived, Estel!" Ninque exclaimed. "Do you so easily give up your reprieve after nearly 30 years* of wandering?"
Tanie looked closely at the mortal. His face was wrought with weariness and doubt, as if he had been engaged in a long mental struggle. Yet there was a vibrance, an almost Elvish vitality that she had noticed before. Behind his doubt there was a hope and joy that filled him with an unearthly light. She noticed his ring was missing. She searched his eyes. Estel returned her gaze questioningly. A knowing look came into her eyes. Tanie walked up to him and laid her hand on his cheek. "It is a long and toilsome road set before you, mellon nin." She spoke softly for his ears alone. Estel glanced at her. "But the reward far outweighs the struggles, does it not, Aragorn?" Estel's eyes widened.
Ninque's mind strayed into memories that seemed like only yesterday. Aragorn. How rarely she called him by that name. She had always preferred to call him by his childhood name. What a little gentleman he was, she smiled. Always a favorite with the elf maidens. I remember finding him, alone, when he was about twenty, still a child in my eyes. He was sitting by a pool with his back towards me, boots off and dangling his feet in the water. Something was different, though. He had lost something. Or was it that he had gained something? It was so hard to tell with mortals. I sat down next to him quietly. For several minutes he said nothing, only fiddled with a small object in his hands.
Suddenly, Estel laughed and turned to me with piercing blue-grey eyes, eyes that looked older, but had a newfound light in them. "Who would have guessed?" said Estel with an ironic hint to his voice. "It is what every man should dream of being." He held up the small object , and I gasped at what I beheld glinting in the dappled sunlight. The ring of Barahir.
"You... are..." I said slowly.
"Aragorn son of Arathorn. Captain of the Dunedain and Heir of Isildur," he said boldly. "And it is my task to fight this ever-growing Shadow." He finished with quiet resolve, but once more looked like a troubled little boy.
"All of us have lost something because of the Shadow, Estel. But in you we have hope that it will be overcome."
He looked at me strangely.
"Yes," I smiled, "to me, you will always be Estel. For you have brought hope not only to men but to the elves as well in these dark times."
"How is it you know of this?" Estel questioned Tanie in an excited whisper, a sharp light swiftly sparking in his eyes.
Tanie laughed. "I was not born yesterday, mortal one! I know and see much!"
Estel placed his hand on his chest and bowed his head. "My apologies," he said with a smile.
"I am glad you have found love." Tanie added, a strange look coming into her eyes, as if she envied something Estel had, yet was afraid of possessing it at the same time. She drew his head down and kissed him on the forehead.
"May the grace of the Valar go with you." She spoke for all to hear.
Ninque approached the mortal. "I remember the day you were told of your true heritage. Do you remember what I told you?"
"You told me I was the hope of men. That my path would lead me to the regaining of the power and glory of Númenor." Aragorn's face took on a troubled look. "If only my path is as certain as it was those long years ago."
Ninque smiled inwardly, for to her the time Aragorn had been gone was like a few leaves in a vast forest of years.
"Just remember where you came from, Aragorn son of Arathorn, High King of Westernesse and Numenor." Ninque said comfortingly, laying a hand on his shoulder. "And your path shall lay itself before your feet. It is up to you, however, to follow it." Estel bowed respectfully to the she-elves and, after embracing each of the twins, walked steadily out. His footsteps echoed down the hall and were lost.
The training room was quiet. Elladan turned slowly to face the others. "I think the lessons should be postponed for now. Considering..." he gestured towards his brother, who was gingerly trying to get to his feet. Tanie and Ninque nodded wearily in agreement and left the room together.
"Come, muindor," Elrohir spoke, turning to his brother. "We must go receive the details of the trip."
Elladan grinned at his brother. "Are you sure you are able to walk?"
Elrohir glared and stalked regally out of the room.
Tanie groaned and plopped down on her bed. "I have never been so tired in my entire immortal life!" she complained to Ninque, who had stretched herself out on a rug on the floor.
"Just wait until tomorrow," she said. "You will feel like you have never felt so sore in your entire immortal life!"
Tanie moaned and drew her pillow over her face. Ninque rolled over onto her side. "What's this?" she asked, drawing out the knapsack that could be seen under her bed.
"What's what?" Tanie muffled through the pillow.
"Why is your knapsack packed as if you were leaving? And why is your father's knife in here?" she asked incredulously. "Tanie! What are you planning?"
Tanie pulled the pillow off her face and looked at Ninque. She sighed. "Why do you have to be so nosy? I was going to tell you in good time, not have you find out that I'm sneaking away with Legolas' escort. Ninque bolted up and stood over her friend, hands on her hips.
"Tanie! You cannot mean that! Deceive Lord Elrond after all he has done for us?"
Tanie pushed herself up on one elbow. "I am not deceiving, I am proving a point. I want to fight, Ninque. I have tried to suppress my desire, but to no avail. It is like the sound of the Sea that calls so many Elves into the West. I cannot fight it! It is part of me! And Elrond has to understand that!" She finished fiercely, looking with pleading into her friend's eyes.
"I desire to fight also, Tanie. But think of the heartbreak it would cause if we were hurt! What if we died and no one knew who we were until the hoods were drawn back? What would that do to Lord Elrond, Estel, the twins? They see us as part of their family."
Tanie shook her head. "I would rather die than stay locked up here, with nothing to do, with no deeds to test my worth against."
Ninque seemed lost in thought. Her face suddenly grew hard. "Then I shall go as well."
Tanie leapt up and grabbed her friend's forearms. "I was hoping you would." She said, hope shining in her eyes. "Because I need your help. Any ideas how we could disguise ourselves? It will not be easy, especially since the twins are going; they will know everyone in the company."
Ninque sat quietly on some cushions in a corner of the hall of fire. She was not paying much attention to the singing or poetry. Pulling a long chain out of her dress bodice, Ninque's fingers closed around a heavy gold ring. Tengwar runes wrought of mithril encircled the band and in the center was a mithril hawk with sapphire eyes. As she traced the designs with her fingers, thoughts of her father and mother strayed into her mind.
Always, before he left to hunt, scout, or fight Orcs, Manveru had placed this ring in her mother's hands. "In case I do not return," he would whisper. And every time, Poicelle would answer, "You will return, my lord. As always."
But then one day, it was with Ninque that her father entrusted his ring. She was sick with worry for her mother and trying desperately to keep a brave face for her father.
Manveru strode over to his daughter, fiery chestnut steed in one hand and bow in the other. "Namarie, little one," he said with a sad smile. "Keep this safe for me, in case I do not return." Kissing her on the forehead, Manveru pressed the ring into her small hand, then vaulted onto his horse.
Ninque struggled for words, but they would not come. her throat felt dry as ashes and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. As her father turned away she managed a "Namarie, Ada." Her eyes began to mist over. "You will return. You must," she whispered. Not wanting her father to see her tears, she turned quickly away, only to collide with a warm, solid object. It was Elladan, come to say goodbye. Ninque clung tightly to him and pressed her forehead into his soft leather tunic. "Let me come," she pleaded softly, her whole body tense as a bowstring. "Let me fight."
"Nay, little friend. I would not have you marred by the horrors of battle." Ninque looked up into silver eyes full of worry. She felt guilty for adding to his burdens when he must be so anxious about his mother. Pulling away, she fled into the house.
A giggle broke her reveries and Ninque hastily slipped the ring back into her dress. She almost groaned aloud as three she-elves sat down next to her with knowing smiles on their faces.
"Why hello, Ninque! You don't mind if we sit here?" said Tûrwaithiel, eyes dancing.
"Go right ahead," replied Ninque as pleasantly as she could manage. She really did try to be nice to them, but it was so hard. They could be rather cruel sometimes and they... well, they just didn't understand. "How I wish Tanie were here!" she thought. But she wasn't. Tanie had retired early, tired from all that had gone on that day. Even the twins and Legolas were all the way across the room, discussing their eminent departure with their friends. Ninque was alone. "Oh well," thought Ninque bravely, "I can handle them. I will just ignore them; pretend I'm listening to the music. Nothing they say can hurt me."
This worked for a little while, until Síredol leaned over and whispered casually, "Tell us, Ninque. Is Legolas' embrace as thrilling as I've imagined? After all, you are the only one with first hand experience."
Ninque bit her tongue. "How on earth did they hear about that?" she wondered.
"Yes," Túriel added. "You seem to be falling into the arms of many men lately. What does Elladan think of your little escapade with our honoured guest?"
Elrohir let his gaze wander over the room. His eyes came to rest on Ninque, who looked extremely uncomfortable, and several she-elves who were laughing, seemingly at Ninque's expense. he frowned and nudged his brother, nodding in Ninque's direction. Elladan's fair face looked surprised, and only Elrohir noticed the angry glint in his brother's eyes.
At that moment, Ninque rose and fled. Elladan followed her outside. She ran for several minutes, through the gardens and to the edge of the forest, before coming to a halt and leaning back against a tree. Elladan felt his heart thud strangely as he watched her chest rising and falling heavily while she gulped in air. He tore his eyes away and was about to make his presence known, when she reached into her dress and pulled out the long chain that hung around her neck. He watched in growing wonder as she pulled a ring off the end of the chain, slipped it on her finger, and began to speak softly to herself. Suddenly, gone was the little golden-haired maiden in a low, creamy-white dress. Before him stood...Legolas? Stunned, he watched as several seconds, Elrohir stood where Legolas had just been. Slowly, Elrohir faded, and there was Ninque again.
Elladan snapped out of his trance-like state and ran back a little ways. He began to sing as he slowly headed back towards Ninque, not wanting her to know he had seen.
Ninque fingered the ring once more before slipping it back in her bodice. She was relieved that she had been able to correctly remember the spell her father had taught her in childhood. Yet a small thought kept nagging at the back of her mind. Her father had strongly emphasized to her that this ring was not a child's plaything.
"I myself have never used it. It is only for the direst need. For if it should be discovered by the enemy, if He should learn that the ring of Finrod Felagund* has survived, He would do great harm to many in order to gain this potential weapon."
Ninque's young eyes had grown big at these premonitions of an Evil she was only beginning to comprehend.
"People have died horrible deaths for rings less valuable than the one I possess." He had added.
Ninque had nodded soberly.
Singing broke into her thoughts. She quickly looked around. Night had completely fallen. The Moon was full and the starts bright, giving enough light for Ninque's elf-eyes to pick out the figure or Elladan strolling her way. His face was tilted towards the sky as he sang in a clear voice. Ninque threw her hand up to her throat to make sure her ring was completely hidden. Elladan glanced down and stopped, seemingly surprised at her presence.
"Suilad*, Ninque." He greeted warmly.
"Suilad," she answered suspiciously. Had he seen anything?
"The stars are beautiful tonight, are they not?" he asked, inviting Ninque to join him on the path.
The two elves sauntered side by side, eyes fixed on the brilliance of the heavens. Ninque waited tensely. Any moment now, he would tell her he had seen, and their cover would be blown. Surely he would make the connection between the she-elves' desire to accompany the twins and a mysterious ring with the power of disguise. They walked in silence until they had made full circle around the garden. The Hall of Fire came back into view ahead of them.
"Well," Elladan spoke.
Ninque stared straight ahead, tense as a bowstring, waiting for the fatal question.
"Good night." (well, that fixed it didn't it?) He said with a slight bow and a grin. Then he turned and made his way down the hallway towards his room.
As soon as he was out of sight, Ninque relaxed and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Her knees felt weak and her hands were jittery. She looked down at her shaking hands and laughed out loud. How silly she had been! Their plan was secure and not even Elladan, the master of subterfuge, could stop them now.
*daro -- halt
*muindor -- brother
*gwador -- sworn brother, associate
*This story is happening in the late spring/ early summer of the year 2981. Aragorn is about 50. He has been wandering for 30 years and has just returned from Lothlorien where he and Arwen plighted their troth. Aragorn gave Arwen the ring of Barahir.
*The ring of Finrod Felagund -- In The Silmarillion, Finrod uses a spell to disguise himself, Beren, and some other elves. They are captured by Sauron and the disguise is broken. (Read yourself to find out how! ) It never actually says anything about a ring though. We made that part up.
*Suilad -- greetings