To Overcome the Shadow - There and Back Again -- Chapter Nine
Chapter 9 -- There and Back Again
The next day dawned cool and silent, everyone preoccupied with their own thoughts. Elrohir spent the better half of the morning summoning up enough courage to follow his own advice and start casual conversation with Tanie. This usually would not have been difficult; after all they had been friends for some 500 years, except for their argument over standing watch last night. Somehow, the very thought that Tanie had gotten the better of him made him cringe and draw away every time he drew close enough to speak.
Elladan, sensing his discomfort, suggested a solution, "Apology is always a good place to start, muindor*."
"For what?" he answered gruffly. Elladan rolled his eyes. "You know perfectly well 'for what'. You were rather beastly yesterday."
"No, I was not beastly. I was right."
He heard his brother chuckle. "Muindor, sometimes we must humor ellith* in order to get what we want."
Tanie breathed deeply of the crisp mountain air. It seemed, cleaner, more brilliant than down in the valley; like she was the first being to capture it in her lungs.
"Beautiful, is it not?" A voice broke into her thoughts.
"Yes," she replied, glancing at Elrohir. "Much different from Imladris."
"And so will be the plains beside the Anduin," he explained, "Even now we are slowly descending down to the mountain's feet. We should reach the plains by late afternoon, and then we may gallop without fear of holes or breaks in the ground to the gates of Mirkwood. Tonight," he added with an anticipating smile, "you shall see a wood like none you have known."
"And does the captain of this company give leave for the ellith to gallop? Can we be trusted to 'safely' control our steeds?" Tanie asked impertinently. She really had forgotten their argument, as he had lost, but the mere suggestion of recklessness brought to her mind somewhat evil thoughts.
Elrohir stifled a tart answer with a cough, remembering his brother's words. "Goheno nín* for what I said last night, Tanie? I do not wish to remain your enemy, or have our friendship marred by words misspoken."
Tanie laughed. "Elrohir, mellon nín*, it would take more than one argument between us to void our long-lasting friendship! I only spoke in jest!"
"Ah, good! Then you understand my displeasure last night," he stated.
Tanie stared at him in disbelief. When would he understand? "No, I do not. I only decided to forgive you for your rash words."
Elrohir stared back at her. When would she understand? "Surely you do not sincerely think that it would not have been dangerous to let untrained, inexperienced ellith stand watch in a dangerous pass over the mountains?" he asked incredulously, too perturbed to curb his tongue.
"Then teach us, Elrohir!" Tanie retorted, her green eyes flashing. "Train us! All you see is the worst, what could happen, with no thought of how to prevent it! Especially when you have not gotten your will in the first place! Well, m'lord, I did not stowaway to benefit or disbenefit you in the least! I did this because I have wanted to fight for as long as I can remember! And not even a spoiled, hard-headed, hard-hearted prince of Imladris can turn my resolve!" She turned her horse and pushed it into a fast walk towards the back of the company.
"Tanie! Where are you going?" Elrohir asked, too flustered to give an answer quite yet.
"I am going to request if Legolas would give me knife lessons once we are in Mirkwood," she answered with hardly a turn of her head.
"We are not finished discussing this, Tanie. Come back now!" Elrohir noticed the looks he was beginning to receive and managed one more menacing hiss of "Tanie!" before spinning his own steed around and trotting towards the front of the company.
True to his word, the company reached the Anduin within a few hours, and as the Sun westered in the sky, they passed through the archway of trees into Mirkwood.
After a short rest beneath the very eaves of the forest, Legolas led them on a track straight towards King Thranduil's halls. They traveled well through the night. Ninque and Tanie stared around in rapt wonder at the strange, twisted shapes of the trees, with their long, dark-green leaves, and ivy trailing to the ground. It was quite different from the gay, lively trees of Rivendell. As soon as they had entered into Mirkwood, lanterns had been lit and propped up on forked sticks, casting circles of light in the heavy gloom. Tanie began to wonder how any Elf could live in such wretched stuffiness all the time. The forest was quiet and no wild creatures disturbed them by day or night. Occasionally, a pair of yellow eyes would peer at them as they sang and ate around the fire, but quickly vanished, as if it knew that elves were not worth the trouble of disturbing. A small guard still had to be kept though, as the spiders had begun to multiply and grow more confident. Just prior to Legolas' departure for Imladris, a small hunting party had been attacked and an elf bitten.
"I would have stayed to help tend her," Legolas told the she-elves during their watch, "but my father's message was of greater importance, and I am no great healer."
"She?" Ninque asked, "Has Mirkwood broken elven tradition and allowed she-elves to join the hunting parties? Tanie, methinks we were born into the wrong culture."
Legolas smiled and shook his head. "Nay, only a princess may demand the right to train as a warrior. So has my sister, Tólaes, done. You three should get along very well. She shares your fiery spirits."
Both girls' mouths dropped. "Tólaes is your sister?" Ninque gasped.
Legolas looked at her strangely. "Surely you have heard of me speak of her over the some 2,000 years we have known each other?"
"Well, yes, but..." she stuttered.
Tanie broke in, "We just always assumed that you and her were not related...yet. I mean..."
Legolas' eyes widened in sudden understanding and his face broke out into a huge grin. "Say no more! You two thought we have been...betrothed all these years? Tólaes will think this very amusing!" he chuckled.
Tanie and Ninque looked at each other and giggled. "Well, what else were we supposed to think? We have never met her. Does she not ever desire to visit Imladris with you? If she is like us, as you say, we have sorely missed her fellowship," Tanie asked.
Legolas laid down on his side with a sigh and stared into the fire, absentmindedly fiddling with his vambrace buckle. "She has never had a desire to leave home. She loves Mirkwood, perhaps more than I. She lives for the hunts to protect the borders and provide meat for the table. I only hope she has recovered from the spider bite," a worried expression crossed his face.
"How serious is a bite from an ungol*?" Tanie asked.
Legolas looked up and quickly hid his troubled expression. "Not very serious at all. She will just be stiff and weak for a few days. With any Mortal, the venom would have sent them into an instantaneous sleep that can last for hours or even days, but elves are not near as effected and we have found a sufficient antidote to lessen the effects. There have been complications before, but I would have felt if her health were declining."
"You are very close, then?" Ninque asked softly.
"Telepathically, we are almost as close as Elladan and Elrohir. Physically, it is a wonder everyone does not think we are not related, even in the remotest way," he answered with a grin.
"She must have inherited all the intelligence, I presume, while you got the good looks?" Tanie teased.
"You shall judge for yourself who is the fairer and the wiser," he retorted. "But as for her beauty, I spend more time worrying about her fending off persistent suitors than spiders."
"Perhaps we could give her some tips, Ninque?"
"What tips? We have never been noticed, much less hounded, by any eligible bachelors before. We are not...well, feminine enough."
Legolas remained silent. "If only they knew..." he thought.
It took nearly two days to reach the Enchanted River, and another three to reach the halls of King Thranduil after that. Finally, the great gates to Thranduil's cavernous realm came into view. As the company neared the bridge over the Forest River, shouts rose up to meet them.
"Tiro*! Prince Legolas has returned!" Hidden guards sprang from their places beside large beech trees gracing the banks of the river and threw back the stone gates. "Mae govannen*!" they cried, bowing respectfully to the Prince and the lords of Imladris. They nodded in acknowledgement and rode through the cavern's mouth. Tanie quickly decided that living in Mirkwood could not be that untasteful as she beheld the vast underground kingdom spread out before her. Elrohir laughed at her expression of wonder.
"You did not think a cave could be so beautiful, did you?"
She shook her head dumbly. Legolas rode straight to the stables and dismounted lightly, handing his steed to a ready stablehand. "Mas muinthel nín?*" He questioned. Before the stablehand could answer, Legolas heard his name called. Turning, he smiled as Tólaes flew out of a nearby passage and into his arms.
"Na vedui!*" she said, standing back and regarding her brother critically. "Ai! Mas athradannech? Nostad lín sui orch!*"
Legolas laughed. "Glad to see you, too, dear sister!"
"Ah! You had better clean up before you see Father," she turned and approached Elrohir and Elladan. "M'lords!" she said with a slight curtsy, which looked rather comical as she was clothed in breeches and a tunic. "It has been a while since our last meeting. Baren bar lin. Le hannon a tholel.*" She lightly laid her hands on each of their shoulders and kissed them lightly on both cheeks. Glancing behind Elladan, she finally noticed Tanie and Ninque, still mounted and appearing rather uncomfortable. "My dear kinsman from afar!" she exclaimed with a laugh. "Who are these ellith* mounted as warriors? Surely Lord Elrond has not changed his strict policy on female warriors? Or have they become members of the royal household?" She grinned coyly and raised an eyebrow. Elrohir's face reddened and Elladan stood speechless. Tanie and Ninque both dismounted with much rolling of the eyes and grimaces. Legolas watched their reactions with amusement.
"Nay, muinthel*. These ellith are indeed new recruits to the hunting party."
"Ah," Tólaes replied, looking keenly at her brother. A hidden signal seemed to pass between them and she nodded slightly, turning her attention back to the she-elves. "Suilad*, then! Hand over your steeds and I will take you to your rooms. You both must be weary."
Tólaes' voice never lost its joyful quality which seemed to bubble up from inside her. Her infectious laugh and care-free nature soon had Ninque and Tanie relaxed and gaily smiling. Tólaes brought them to two adjacent doors.
"There should be fresh clothes in the wardrobes for you to change into while your travelling clothes are washed. Are you hungry?"
Both girls nodded their heads wearily. Tólaes laughed a clear, ringing laugh that seemed to rejuvenate the soul. "That is well! For there will be a Feast tonight in honour of my brother's safe return."
The ellith thanked the princess profusely before entering their rooms and closing the doors. Tanie threw down her gear and collapsed on the plush bed, clothes and all, falling into an instantaneous sleep. Ninque changed into a comfortable, light dress she found in the wardrobe before crawling beneath the covers.
Tólaes sought out Legolas, who was in his room, clad in more appropriate attire and washing the grime of travel from his face. She knocked on the partially open door.
"Enter!" he called, drying his face with a towel and turning towards the door. A smile lit up his face as she entered. "Ah! Just who I wanted to see!"
"Oh? And why is that, muindor laes*?"
Legolas held out some ties and a brush. "You are much more skilled at braiding than I," he said, pleading with his eyes. Tólaes laughed and took them from him.
"Havo dad*. No matter how skilled of a warrior and fighter you may become, to me you will always be my muindor laes, still needing help braiding his hair!"
She swiftly rebraided her brother's three braids, one down the back and one along each side, curving down and around his ears. "There!" she said, securing the last tie. "Now, explain to me the mystery of these two ellith."
Legolas briefly recounted the tale of them disguising themselves as male elves using Ninque's ring, Elrohir's suspicions and his eventual revealing of their subterfuge halfway through the journey, and Ninque's recent confession to him and the twins of the origin of the ring. "Seeing what a delicate position we were in, we decided to keep the matter of their deceit a secret, as it would only raise questions better left unasked. The fewer who know of the ring the better."
"Finrod Felagund," Tólaes breathed, lost in thought. "Might as well come out and tell Father. He knows Lord Elrond too well to think that he would have allowed Ninquetolliel and Erutánië to accompany your escort."
"Yes, I was just about to meet with him before the Feast tonight, and deliver my personal letter from Lord Elrond," he said with a sigh. She glanced at him. "What personal letter?" At his look of shameful embarrassment, she placed her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Legolas Thranduilion! Did you get in trouble at Imladris again!?"
"It wasn't my fault this time!!" he protested. "They made me do it! You know how forceful they can be!"
Tólaes frowned, obviously not happy with just the vague details. "Do tell all, muindor laes," she said, emphasizing the last word.
Legolas dropped his head and muttered something about forcing his way into a she-elf's personal quarters. When she kept staring at him, he reluctantly continued. "I was trying to push her out of her room as the twins had...accessorized her hair. She kicked me and Lord Elrond chose to come in at the very moment both of us landed on the floor. I am afraid it did not present a pretty sight..." he started to add something else, but suddenly stopped and shut his mouth.
Just then, Elrohir poked his head in the room. "I just delivered my father's message to King Thranduil and he said he would like to see you now, if it was convenient."
Legolas cried "Wait!" as Elrohir disappeared. "Will you not accompany me for moral support? They are your she-elves after all!"
Elrohir continued walking, yelling over his shoulder, "Being their closest relative, I already explained the girls' presence. Now, sleep in a real bed calls me and I do not wish to be anywhere near your Father when he reads your message!"
Legolas stuck his tongue out at Elrohir's back and looked pleadingly at his sister. "Nay, Legolas!" she said, raising her hands. "This is your battle. But I will give you one piece of advice. Think of a better excuse than the sons of Lord Elrond forcefully over powered you and made you break into an elleth's quarters."
Legolas' face fell and he trudged out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
He paused ouside the door to his father's study and took a long deep breath. The letter crackled in his breast pocket as he reached up and turned the handle, entering the room. His father was sitting behind his desk, busy perusing some old parchments. Hearing the door open, he raised his head.
"Legolas!" he rose and came around to him, enveloping him in a loving embrace. "How was your journey?" He led his son to two chairs and sat down. He never talked to his children from behind his desk, even if they were being punished. "I am never a King to my children, but a loving Father. I am King for my people," he had always said.
"Usual, nothing out of the ordinary. Though we saw signs that orcs had been there recently."
Thranduil nodded his head in achnowledgement. "We should thank Lord Elrond profusely for the use of his elves to escort you over the pass. I will send a message home with the twins."
Legolas knew the time had come. "Speaking of messages, Father, Lord Elrond asked me to personally deliver a message to you."
Legolas slowly drew the sealed parchment out of his jerkin and handed it over to his father. Thranduil, seeing the reluctant manner in which his son acted, took the letter with a raised eyebrow. Legolas kept his eyes on the ground as he listened to his father break the seal and unfold the parchment.
The silence was stifling. He squirmed in his seat, wishing his father would say something.
Legolas started as his father finally broke the stillness.
"Tell me one thing," he spoke softly and with great control. "Did you ever intend to end up on the floor with this she-elf in such a compromising situation?"
Legolas threw his head up. "No. Never, father. I swear it."
Thranduil nodded his head. "Is this not the second letter I have received from Lord Elrond concerning your behaviour?"
Legolas hung his head.
"What was the first one about?"
"Ummmmm...the twins and I cut a she-elf's hair." Legolas couldn't help letting out a snort at the memory, but quickly sobered at the look he received.
"Ah, yes. Almost two feet of it, I believe?"
Thranduil returned his attention to the letter. "I do agree with Lord Elrond that you may not have meant to end up on the floor with a maiden, but there is still the matter of forcing your way into an elleth's private chambers and locking the door. This does not create a very appealing image of the Prince of Mirkwood."
He looked at his son from beneath his eyebrows. "He finishes by saying he leaves the form of punishment to me."
Legolas tensed in horrific expectation.
"Write a letter expressing your deepest regret to Lord Elrond and the elleth, meaning Ninquetolliel, and assure Lord Elrond you are being punished accordingly."
"And what is to be my punishment, father?" he asked depressingly. He hated writing letters. Especially when he had to express his deepest regrets or deeply apologize or something equally as demeaning.
Thranduil looked at his son severely. "I just outlined your punishment. Have you not been listening? I would only caution you against these kinds of pranks, or else learn to not get caught so easily. You must think before things like this happen!"
Legolas stared at his father. Was he serious? Was he not to be punished at all? He became even more confused when his father started laughing at his expression. "Son, I understand what it is like to be caught in a situation you had no intention of initiating!"
"Oh, yes. And I am afraid it was much more serious than your predicament."
Here he stopped and turned his attention back to the letter. Legolas shifted impatiently.
"Well? What happened?"
Thranduil glanced up. "What? Oh! Do you really want to hear it?"
Legolas nodded his head excitedly. Thranduil sighed.
"Very well. One of my childhood friends had challenged me to a race one day. Being the arrogant little prince I was, I accepted. Another friend, yelled "go!", and off we went. Running through the trees, I suddenly burst upon a hidden pool that I had never seen before. My friend was no where to be seen. There was a maiden bathing in the water. I froze. She saw me. She screamed. And I was promptly hauled before my father by the girl's father, accusing me of intentionally following her to watch her bathe. It was preposterous, of course, and my father knew it. I had had no idea that there was a hidden pool for the maiden's sole use for bathing, but my friends obviously did."
"What did he do?" Legolas asked eagerly. To hear any stories of his father's blunders was a rare occasion indeed.
"My father told me the exact location of the pool so I would not accidentally stumble upon it again, and made me swear to never visit there again, of which I needed no convincing. Needless to say, I ended up marrying that very same maiden and she became your and Tólaes' mother."
"Mother?" Legolas asked incredulously.
"Yes, mother. And I will not deny that her beauty is what made me seek her out for years after that," Thranduil winked and laughed.
"Now, as long as you can assure me you are not intending on pursuing Ninquetolliel, I see no reason to punish you."
Legolas shook his head in relief. "Nay, Father. She is to me only a dear friend, and a worthy opponent."
Thranduil laughed and rose, slapping his son on the shoulder. "Let us go see how the food for the Feast is coming along. You must be longing for home-cooked meals."
Tanie awoke to a light knocking on her door. Stumbling to her feet, she sleepily walked to the door and opened it, still rubbing her eyes. She heard a snort, then a deep laugh. Cracking open her eyelids, she saw Elrohir standing there.
"Gurth a chyth-in-edhil!*" Tanie exclaimed, slamming the door. She looked like a mess! She glanced down at her rumpled clothes and reached up to feel her pillow hair. "You had better have a good reason for disturbing my sleep!"
"Open the door and I shall tell you," he answered, still chuckling.
"No! You can yell through the door! You can be loud enough when you want to be."
"Am I to gather that you will not obey the order of your captain in arms?" Elrohir's voice took on a strange tone.
"You may gather whatever you like from that, I am still not opening this door." Tanie answered indignantly.
"Shall I force the door? I do not care what you look like."
"Yes. I can discern that from your subdued mirth," she said dryly. She reached out and turned the lock. "Go ahead and break the door down. Then you can explain to King Thranduil why you broke down one of his doors to get into my room. It would at least prove where Legolas obtained his uncouth manners! Now, the message?"
Silence. Then Tanie heard a key slide into the lock and begin to turn. She vainly tried to hold it locked, but seeing as he had more leverage, the lock snapped open. The door swung open and Elrohir pushed his way in, displaying the key with a grim smile.
Suddenly, he grabbed Tanie's wrist and pushed her towards a chair. "Sit!" he commanded. Tanie, surprised at his sudden change in demeanor, sat.
"You need to understand something, Tanie! You have a real problem with authority. With my father, me, my brother, Legolas, everyone! And if by some miracle my Father allows you to continue to ride with us, you will need to learn to obey my orders! What if Orcs or Spiders had invaded Thranduil's Halls and I needed to come in or die?" Tanie sat silently, eyes wide as she observed an Elrohir she had never seen before. "Now, until my Father passes judgement, you are still under my command, unless, obviously, King Thranduil or one of the royal family instruct you otherwise, understand?"
Tanie nodded dumbly, then glanced down and brought her forefinger to her mouth. It was only then that Elrohir noticed blood on her pant leg, where her hand had been resting. His demeanor immediately changed to that of concern.
"Tanie, what happened? Are you alright?" He came and knelt in front of her, taking her hand gently in his.
"Oh, it is nothing," she replied, a small catch in her voice. "When you...forced the lock, it caught my finger..." She made to rise. "I will go wash it with warm water. I will be fine."
Elrohir firmly pushed her back down. "No. As your captain, I command you to stay put..." here he put in a stern glance, "...or else."
Tanie sighed in resignation and watched with slight amusement as he got up and disappeared into the closest, thumping around for the medical supplies. She heard a crash and started to her feet. Elrohir stuck his head out the door and glared menacingly. Tanie sat. He appeared after a few more thumps with a small rag and a bottle filled with clear liquid. He got back down on his knees and moistened the rag, dabbing her cut. Tanie gasped and tried to pull her hand away as the stinging medicine came in contact with her open wound. Elrohir gently but firmly held her hand still and softly blew on it. He glanced up at her and smiled. Tanie avoided his gaze, tears springing to her eyes. Elrohir ducked his head. I should not have been so rough with her, he thought regretfully.
"Tanie, goheno nín*. I...lost my head. I am so used to being in control, any of my company, be they male or female, challenging my authority...is a whole new experience for me, though I should have expected as much from you," he gave a forced laugh, "Whatever the case, I reacted wrongly."
The room was silent. Tanie kept her gaze averted. Elrohir put down the rag and capped the bottle of medicine, still holding her hand, and began to rise. He stopped and sank back down when she began to speak softly, almost to herself.
"My mother always said I had a mind of my own."
Elrohir kept his attention on her hand, trying to mask his surprise at Tanie's mention of her mother. She had always made it clear that the topic of either of her parents was untouchable, until now. She continued in a musing tone, "I remember, she would always tell Father to come deal with `his daughter' whenever I was being unruly or disagreeable. It was always an inside joke in our family, as my father was the most peaceful elf you would ever meet."
Elrohir nodded. He had known Turmanarmo very well. His level-headedness and easy-going nature had made him one of the best and most-loved teachers of battle tactics and warfare in Imladris. He had taught him and his brother all they knew about warfare, teaching them to be always watchful, never impetuous or rash, to anticipate the enemy's every move, never taking anything for granted...
"You remind me of him sometimes." He was surprised to hear himself speak. He immediately regretted it as her reminiscence vanished. Pulling her hand free, she inspected her finger. Why were memories of her parents resurfacing now of all times? Tanie chided herself for letting some of her feelings be known to the son of Lord Elrond. Emotions always clouded the intellect, and Tanie hated feeling out of control. She rarely dug up the past, and then only to Ninque. Too much pain. Too much sorrow. And why would he care? He had more important things to discuss than the personality traits of her father. Tanie stood up and addressed Elrohir before her thoughts dwelt any longer on a subject she had, until recently, successfully kept buried for years.
"Thank you, m'lord," she said, giving a small bow and a smile. "May I now respectfully request the reason for your visit to my quarters?"
"Ah, yes," Elrohir quickly put the rag and bottle back in the closet. He had seen her reminiscent look. For one fleeting second, he had glimpsed a crack in the doors she kept so tightly shut against any intrusion. He wondered if even now she indeed had begun to trust him. His heart leapt at the thought. "I was sent to inform you that the Feast is to begin shortly and I am to escort your there forthwith."
"Then, my captain, I would ask you to leave my quarters immediately."
When Elrohir appeared confused, she added, "I doubt even a captain may obtain the right to watch one of his warriors dress."
Elrohir's face reddened in embarrassment and he hurriedly left, mumbling an apology. Tanie smiled with a shake of her head and began to hurriedly wash from the basin of water standing nearby. Donning the green dress she found hung over a chair, she fingered the fabric curiously. It was not silk, but heavier, yet it flowed smoothly over the figure and cascaded gracefully to the floor. A sleeveless mantle accompanied it. It was a shade darker green and had small silver strands woven throughout, giving the appearance of glittering stars shining through a forest of green whenever she moved. She reached up and tried to untangle her hair.
`Ugh' she thought, as her brush met yet another impossible knot. Finally, she threw down her brush and exited the room, not bothering to braid it. Elrohir could not help but stare at the sudden change. Gone was the weary, travel-stained warrior. The green dress set off her eyes, making them shine as bright and clear as flawless emeralds, while the silver entertwined in the mantle created an auro of shimmering light around her. Her blonde hair, released from their restrictive braids, framed her face and cascaded down over her shoulders and upper arms. Misinterpreting his look, Tanie brushed her hair behind her ear and placed her hands on her slender hips, looked at him with slight annoyance.
"I realize I look ghastly, but if you do not think it formal enough, you can braid my hair!"
He was half prepared to take her up on her offer, when they both heard a hunting horn raise up outside, calling everyone to the place prepared for the Feast.
"You look beautiful," he assured her, offering his arm. Tanie took it and let him escort her through the halls, not noticing his swift glances of rapt wonder at her graceful form.
Tólaes quietly opened the door to Ninque's room and slipped softly inside. Her eyes darted quickly to the bed, and she smiled at the mass of golden hair peeking from beneath the covers. Gracefully and silently she stole over to the wardrobe, removed a dress, and draped it over a nearby chair. The rusty brown and vibrant blue would look stunning on Ninque. She and Tanie as well, would no doubt turn several heads at the feast tonight. Tólaes stifled a laugh as she thought of Elladan and Elrohir. Clearly the twins were smitten with these girls. One only had to have seen the looks on the twins' faces when she had mistakenly guessed they had married. But it seemed Ninque and Tanie were, as of yet, ignorant of this fact. Fingering the scar of her most recent spider bite, Tólaes wondered what drove these girls to fight, especially when they each had a noble lord wrapped around their little fingers. Yes, she could understand the desire to protect one's home. But there was something more, something desperate. Sighing, she turned to wake Ninque.
"Ninque!" she called, shaking the younger elleth. "'Tis time to wake up. You must prepare for the feast. Your escort will arrive soon."
Content that Ninque was awake, Tólaes turned to leave the room. Elladan would be here soon to escort her to the feast. A smile flitted across Tólaes' face. She had cunningly arranged for the twins to escort Tanie and Ninque to the feast.
"I have a feeling I'm going to like these two. Any elleth who is brave enough to face off with my brother and the twins and not fall head over heels for any of them in the process has my highest respects indeed."
As Tólaes shut the door behind her, Ninque groaned and sat up, pushing her hair back out of her face and blinking her eyes. She was loathe to get out of the soft feather bed, the first she had slept on in nearly two weeks.
"Might as well grow accustomed it," she grumbled to herself. "How can you even say you want to be a warrior when all you think of is sleeping in a soft bed?"
Ninque swung her legs out of the bed and padded across the room to the dress draped over a chair, continually berating herself as she went.
"Not that we will get a chance to be warriors now. I cannot believe I let our disguises slip! To lose a mental battle with Elrohir of all elves! You are weak, Ninque. You failed, again."
Muttering, she slipped the white cotton nightdress over her head and tossed it onto the chair. Picking up the sleeveless brown under-dress, she pulled the light silky material on. Several loud thumps and shouting came from Tanie's room next door.
"What in all of Arda could she be doing?" wondered Ninque.
The blue over-dress was made of a slightly heavier, but still graceful, fabric. It split all the way up the front to the waist and had a matching belt embroidered with swirling designs. A long loose panel of fabric hung from each shoulder in place of sleeves. Rummaging through the wardrobe, she found a soft pair of brown leather slippers. Turning to the small mirror behind the dresser and picking up a nearby brush, she began the arduous process of untangling her long golden tresses. After about ten minutes of struggling, wrestling with, and growling at her rebellious locks, Ninque gave up braiding her hair. Instead, she took two pieces of hair, twisted them back behind her head, and tied them with a small piece of leather, tucking several blue flowers from the vase on the dresser in her hair as well. Sighing, she looked behind herself in the mirror and jumped as she beheld the grinning, very amused face of Elladan staring back at her.
"What are you doing here?" she cried, whirling around to glare at the twin.
"I am your escort, fair lady," returned Elladan cheekily.
"You?! Did it never occur to you to knock, O Wise One?" glared Ninque.
"Oh, but I did, m'lady. Only, you were too busy, um, growling at your hair to hear. So I just let myself in. Shall we go?" he asked, offering his arm gallantly.
"Oh certainly, m'lord!" returned Ninque sarcastically, as she grudgingly took his arm.
A mere week later, too short a time it seemed for the ellith, the company minus Prince Legolas and his kinsman, departed for Imladris. Tólaes bid Tanie and Ninque farewell, claiming them to be always welcome in the halls of Thranduil. The company rode fast and hard over the plains of the Anduin, ready to return to home and family, and it was on the fourth morning that they began their ascent into the Hithaeglir pass.
Tanie and her horse, both impatient from lack of excitement, both pranced up beside Ninque.
"I am weary of plodding along, Ninque. Let us ride up over the crest," she volunteered impulsively.
Ninque, broken from her reverie, grinned and spurred her horse forward. The ellith trotted past Elladan, heedless of his warning to stay with the company, and headed towards the peak of the pass about a half mile ahead. Reaching the top, Tanie and Ninque halted and drank in the breath-taking view before them, then disappeared over the ridge.
As soon as the ellith were well out of earshot of the company, Elladan looked over at his brother with an irrepressible grin.
"They both seemed to have recovered rather well, muindor, don't you think?"
Elrohir grimaced and sighed, giving a weary shake of his head. "When Ada finds out...not only did they bludgeon Falchion and Arnel and sneak off with the company, then they proceeded to get drunk in front of the whole of Thranduil's Hall!"
"Don't worry so much, gwanunig*!" Elladan crowed. "You're secret is safe with me!" He snorted at Elrohir's look of confusion.
"What are you talking about?"
"I heard that ruckuss going on in Tanie's room before the Feast. Professing your undying love to her, were you? I knew your patient spirit would not last."
The look on his face is priceless, Elladan thought, as Elrohir paled, then turned bright red. Elladan went in for the kill. "No wonder Tanie seemed so drawn to the goblet. She was trying to drown out thoughts of you!"
"You have no concept of what you are talking about and I suggest you silence your over-active imagination before it gets you into trouble," Elrohir answered menacingly.
Elladan only raised an eyebrow and shrugged, a grin irreducibly plastered on his face.
Before them rose a small rise in the ground. From the summit one could descry the hilly wilds of Eriador. Elrohir could not wait for this whole ordeal to be over with and done for. He would sleep for a week, and raid the kitchens whenever he so desired, and perhaps help his brother play a prank or two on those troublesome ellith. A small smile escaped his lips at the thoughts of sweet revenge.
Just as they were coming up over the ridge, the company was all startled to hear a feminine yell of warning come from the other side. Elrohir and Elladan glanced at each other in alarm before sweeping their swords from their sheaths and charging over the top of the hill, followed by the rest of the elves. As they took in the scene laid out before them, several things happened at once. Tanie, who had given the cry, felt a hard blow to her head as the Orc who had been holding her hostage slammed his pommel on top of her skull. When Ninque saw her friend crumple, she elbowed her captor in the ribs and ran for Tanie's molestor. She tackled him full force and, managing to wrest his sword from him, stabbed him through the gut.
Meanwhile, the rest of the company had fallen on the Orc band with elven agility and fierceness. Ninque, adrenaline still flowing, stood over Tanie, orc scimitar raised and ready to chop off the first that came into her sights.
"Tanie!" she yelled to the still form. "Tanie!"
Abrubtly, the sounds of the battle ceased in her ears. Ninque's roving eyes continued to search around her for hidden foes, but the only beings moving were now elves. She spun around as she heard her name.
Elladan and Elrohir both ran up. "Are you injured?" Elladan asked, gently taking the upraised scimitar from her hands and throwing it away. She shook her head, suddenly feeling sick.
She began to relate the story while Elrohir tended to Tanie. They had ridden over the ridge out of the sight of the company, when a mass of Orcs had sprung out of the very rocks it seemed. They had dragged the ellith off their horses and taken their weapons before they knew what had happened. She had heard them say that they meant to take them back to their cave, but then Tanie had yelled.
"Easy now," Tanie heard Elrohir murmur as she opened her eyes to searing pain in her skull. She groaned and sat up, gingerly holding her hand to her head. Looking around in bewilderment, she let out an exasperated sigh and muttered, "I need a drink."
Elrohir could not help himself. He burst out laughing, while Elladan and Ninque looked on in confusion. Tanie glared as fiercely as possible though her headache, murmuring through clenched teeth, "'Twould not be so amusing, m'lord, if you had been the one bludgeoned."
"Nay, m'lady, 'twould seem that Falchion and Arnel have accosted their revenge through a marauding band of Orcs!" Elrohir replied. Still chuckling, he uncapped his canteen and proffered it to her. "I am afraid, m'lady, that wine is rather scarce here in these parts of the wild, but I beg you to accept his rather plain, tasteless water."
Tanie gratefully took a sip, then poured some onto her head and bathed her brow. Egladhon rode up and reported that there were no signs of the ellith's horses or packs, save eight pairs of hoof prints descending rapidly down the western path.
"They are most likely half-way home by now," Elrohir said with a sigh. "Very well, Tanie shall ride with me, and Ninque with Elladan. Let's go home."
*Muindor - brother
*Ellith - She-elves
*Gohenio nin - forgive me
*Ungol -- spider
*Tiro! - Look!
*Mae Govannen - Well met
*Mas muinthel nín? - Where is my sister?
*Na vedui! - At last!
*Mas athradannech? - Where did you travel?
*Nostad lín sui orch! - Your smell is like an orc!
*Baren bar lin. Le hannon a tholel. - My home is your home. Thank you for coming.
*Muinthel - Sister
*Suilad - Greetings
*Muindor laes - Baby brother
*Havo dad! - Sit down!
*Gurth a chyth-in-edhil - Death to the foes of the elves!
*Gwanunig - twin brother