Note/Recap: To those who haven’t read Chapters 8 & 9, they might be worth it to search out and read so you can really follow what is going on in this chapter and the next few. For those who want the Coles Notes version and save time…..
Cistailé has mysteriously found herself back in the past, no longer inside Gondolin, but marching with Gondolin’s army just before The Nirneath. No one is taking any notice of her, like she isn’t even ‘there’. However, to her favor, one warrior is able to see Cistailé: Midaehros a friend of her father, Felinor. After discussing how she has gotten to the past, the suggestion has been made that Cistailé is living a dream. Only the dream interfers with the reality of the past; or is it the future interfering with the present?
The two elves silently wove their way back into the maze of elves, all preparing themselves, as they say fit, for what lay ahead. Many were still awake, and the quiet whispers of their flowing voices was near soothing but for the tightness in knowing judgment was not so far away. Far off a sad ballad wafted through the air, setting the already damp atmosphere even danker. Midaehros began to explain to Cistailé the rules for the encounter with Felinor, though he talked almost to himself, for someone was bound to question if he were speaking any louder- to naught but the air. Cistailé was following Midaehros back towards the middle of the camp though it was hard to pinpoint where exactly, they actually were. In every direction were the same small fires and slender shadowed figures, on the ground or sitting up; the shadows of the night which had no face but for a glimmering morsel the fire let slip here and there. These were the ordinary soldier men of the streets. Everyone of them had a mother who was worrying for their return, a sibling trying to forget they were gone, maybe even a pet dog laying depressed on the floor. So many….Cistailé shook her mind and trained her focus away. Midaehros seemed to know his way well enough. The only thing keeping Cistailé orientated was how near or far the king’s fire was from her, for the stars were blotted out by a constant dark haze of smoke. Currently, the fire was growing closer.
Up in the near distance, just off to the side of the king, there lay a brightly burning fire, and a sole body was outlined by the flickering lights against the dark sky. All his friends had lay down on their cloaks leaving him to ponder his thoughts alone. It was towards this lone figure that Midaehros was leading Cistailé towards, a mere arrow shot away from the king and his captains. Cistailé sped up her pace, now recognizing her father’s outline and the familiar way he moved his hands. He was sharpening Elentuluva, his sword, a thing he often did to keep his mind occupied. An arm caught her shoulder and held her back, keeping her at the same wandering stride as before. She was about to shrug the arm off, then thought better of it, and slowed down, tucking back in just behind Midaehros.
“Aaye Felinor!” called out Midaehros just loud enough to catch Felinor’s attention as they continued their approach. Felinor looked up from his task, his dark eyes reflecting the fire’s flame, his spirit indifferent to the dull surroundings. His glance rose up a great ache in Cistailé’s heart, for now she knew how much she had truly longed for him. His approving glance, his guidance even his straight lined discipline. His drilling of technique into her sword gripped hands. Oh Varda…..
Midaehros came to a stop in front of Felinor’s fire and Cistailé stepped out just in front of Midaedhros in plain view and illumination.
“Quel undome amin mellon.” Felinor greeted him. “I thought you had laid to rest already, otherwise I would have invited you to join me here.”
“I had, but rest did not come easy.” Biting her tongue, Cistailé fought down the desire to spout out some word to her father, anything to tell him she was here before him! He had looked right through her just now, and no recognition appeared on his face; like she did not exist. Midaehros and his annoying cautions. It was those hastily laid rules, and the respect which Midaehros was able to hold that kept her put and silent.
Felinor nodded knowingly to Midaehros, and he went back to the precise sharpening of Elentuluva. It was a perfected art for him and no one else was allowed to sharpen his sword but him. He said it was so he had full confidence in the quality of his sword, Cistailé thought it was more of a quirk then anything.
“So I came,” Midaehros continued, “to see if you could help me with a slight care.”
“Speak, though swiftly. I am supposed to be a mild sentry for a few hours.” Felinor nodded his dark blond head towards the center of the camp where now only three Elves sat up discussing matters of most importance. A half grin cracked over Midaehros’ face.
“That duty, I am relieved of for this night. Rather, it has been many years since I have marched with this same demanding pace for such a distance as what we have for the last few days. Would you happen to have any salve? I donated mine already to an un-blooded first timer.” Felinor gave a teasing, chiding smirk then reached behind him to retrieve that which Midaehros had asked for. He frowned slightly in concentration and seemed to be struggling with something on the ground. A rustle like that of dry leaves. Felinor leaned off to one side and victoriously snatched up that which he was struggling with into his hand. An ironic looked passed over his face as he yanked a spitting snake up by the head. Cistailé gasped in surprise having expected a trick Felinor was playing or even a mouse, not this bereaved looking reptile. It was long and black almost invisible against the already pitch sky. It bore beady, glowing, red eyes, its scaling body twisting around with vengeance. It was licking the air with its tongue and showed off it’s dripping fangs to its captors. And this creature was inside her father’s hand. Both he and Midaehros seemed not to notice the death which oozed out of this evil creature, coiling itself in the air, then uncoiling trying to slide it’s head free. Suddenly it stopped moving for a moment, falling limp, putting it’s energy into looking. Those red eyes flipping back and forth, searching. Finally it’s eyes rested on those of Cistailé, piercing deep into her very being with its desired destruction of life.
“Do not worry. ” Midaehros mumbled to her easily. She only nodded, transfixed by the actions of the snake and horrified by it’s relentless eyes. It gave a screaming hiss in her direction, then once again turned, breaking the stare and attempted to sink it’s fangs into Felinor’s hand. From the corner of her eye, she could see Turgon turn his head towards them in response to the snake’s noise.
“Ah, the king knows of your existence vile, cursed thing. Die remembering who held you captive at last; snaga of Morgoth.” With a disgusted toss, Felinor flung the black snake to the ground and broke it’s head with his thick soled boot, a thick crunch resulting from the crushed skull. “These creatures are almost as abundant as the orcs and need their own extermination. Waste our time keeping them at bay.”
Midaehros nodded in agreement as Felinor reached back behind himself again and tossed Midaehdros a small bottle, the snake already forgotten.
“Another un-blooded soldier was bit a few hours ago. I think he is one of Galarian’s friends.” Felinor added. “It was a small one, so he might pull through. The House of the Tree are an enduring group of fighters.” Wrenching her eyes from the dead slithery form, Cistailé was drawn again to the familiar face and movements of her father. Had he not seen her even after the cursed snake did?
“They are that. What is his name?”
“I know his grandfather. He will pull through if he is anything like his grand sire. Well, thank you Felinor.” Midaehros closed the conversation and waited for Cistailé to come away with him, as agreed. But agreement or no, she couldn’t leave. To the sea with what was planned to happen, Midaehros never lost a parent, not like this! Here was her father, alive, talking-
“Was there something else?” Felinor asked after Midaehros had not left as he seemed he wanted to do.
“No. No there wasn’t.” As he turned to leave, Midaehros clipped the back of Cistailé’s leg, jarring her, forcing, dragging her into the movement of leaving.
It was worse then condemning someone to death, to turn her back on her father, leave him behind for fate to wreck its ruin, and follow Midaehros away with her ache of longing never squelched; knowing that to Felinor, she simply was not. She knew not to where Midaehros led her, just that with every step Felinor faded further and further away.
When Midaehros finally stopped, it was in a vacant area just enough to be out of ear shot of anyone who had ears to hear. There was no fire, no light, just what was given for the eyes to adjust to, and it was quiet. Never had Cistailé heard such eerie stillness, for in Gondolin there was always some creature making joyful noises under the moon, and Elves rejoicing under the stars.
At once Midaehros turned to face Cistailé, but his sympathy was unable to be voiced before she took hold of the conversation shaking with emotion.
“I could have stayed there with him, and done no harm! Sit under and his shadow and remember the sound of his deep breath, shuffle of his feet! And yet you insisted that the doom of the world will be changed for the worse if I did stayed with him, and whatever else you want to throw in your wisdom bag of dreams-“
“Cistailé! I am sorry that he did not see you there. If I had known that it would hurt you this much to see him only, I would never have taken you to him. But you are looking on the present as your past, how am I to know what seed of knowledge you have could turn the tide either way?”
“You said you heard of these dreams before. That makes you more knowledgeable then I already. What makes you think that what you know, or do not yet know about these may alter the way this dream is supposed to happen? What if I was supposed to stay beside father?” She shot accusingly.
“What if you weren’t?” he asked her simply back. “If someone was to come to you in Gondolin out of no where, and tell you that the horse you were about to ride was to buck you off and kill you, would you listen to that person?”
“If I had reason to. I’m his daughter!”
“A maiden in the midst of battle, leagues from her city, and did not walk here on her own. He would think he was dreaming as much as you.”
“If I could talk to him he would believe me! But I can’t. And neither can he to me! If this same person came to Gondolin, and I never saw them, yet as I rode out they came with me, and caught me when I fell, the same thing would have been accomplished as if they had told me directly and I believed, correct?”
“And in the process altered everything which was to come afterwards. One person can change the lives of many, very quickly. Whether in life or death. Fëanor made the silmarils ironically to preserve a beauty for ages to come. Learn from your family Cistailé. It is because of the works of Fëanor that we are here, and not in Valinor in sorrowless bliss, entertaining with the Valar. where none die.”
“Then I guess mistakes and weakness runs in the line. I am here for a reason, you said so yourself.”
“If I am unable to dissuade him, then I can save him. I can see no other reason why I am here.”
“You are not going into battle.”
“This is a dream! You are the only one to have seen me, and I could SAVE him!”
“Not if you are dead. You saw the way that snake looked at you, it had your blood in it’s eyes. It hissed at you. Not me, not Felinor, you. It saw you just as much as it saw me. It probably slithered it’s way from the caverns in Angband, making it a sure enemy to the Elves. Any other enemy is just as likely to see you just as much as that snake. I refuse to flirt with the very notion of you taking up arms for this war.”
“Well Lorien seems to disagree with you. Do you see any difference in the way in which I am clothed compared to you, or anyone else here? I wear no dress, no flowers in my hair. The armor on my body, the sword at my side and the helmet which I carry do not leave tidings of one who is to be left behind Midaehros. I know how to fight.”
“You know how to spar. What you talk of is not a ring with one, maybe two opponents and a call to halt every time someone draws point. No blood spilt so it runs like water, making the mud turn to the soup beneath your feet. Be one of the few Eldar in Arda to uphold the natural flow of life. What we are doing now goes against everything we were born to do. Preserve life; not take it! Do not subject yourself to the horrors of something you can do nothing in. Even if you saved him in this dream, it may not come true in your reality.”
“And if it did come true, I would never forgive myself for giving up the chance. Besides, I cannot die if this is only a replication. There is nothing to lose!”
“Just your innocence. A thing which you can never gain back nor repair. Everything looks so real to you. It is real. Show to me that you cannot die by spilt blood in this dream of yours.” Midaehros reached to his belt and ripped out a curved dagger unsheathing it, long and elegant with runes along the blade and gold in laced ivory for a handle. A heirloom he held close to him, he now handed to Cistailé. She looked at him confused for moment, studying his wisdom driven eyes, faltering under her precept. She reached up and confidently took a hold of the light handle and slid the blade from his open hand and raised it up to her face.
“When nothing happens, will you change your mind?” Cistailé asked past the blade.
“If, would be a better question.” Midaehros said no more as he watched on. Raising her free hand, Cistailé slid her thumb along the side of the blade, feeling it’s sharpness. A prick, and she jerked her hand away with reflexes. Stepping closer, Midaehros extended his arm and gently took Cistailé’s pierced hand in his own. There on her thumb, a cut ran the length of where it touched the blade, sparkling a dark red as blood began to trickle down towards her palm. Bringing the dagger beside her hand, the residue of her blood showed along the edge.
“You are never exempt from all the rules Cistailé.” Midaehros quietly told her as he rubbed his thumb along hers, smearing the blood and causing her to flinch as his touch passed over the cut. “It hurts a bit does it not? Like it always does when the blade pierces.” Cistailé lifted her eyes from the blade and hand in his, and met his eyes full of care. “You are dreaming this, but it is still real, with small exceptions. Like who you can interact with. So maybe our enemies will take no notice of you but a few, but still their weapons will smite and show no favor to whom they cut down.
`Here. Allow me to treat this for you.” Letting go of her hand, Midaehros took a piece of cloth from a hidden pocket, and the jar of slave that Felinor gave him, and tipped the narrow neck of the jar upwards onto the cloth. As soon as he separated the bottle from the cloth a soothing, beautiful scent drenched the air around them bringing memories of sweeter times wafting through her head.
“Athelas? It is the base ingredient, but not everything in here. It is a common smell in the camps after a battle.” Once again he took her hand in his, lightly as though she would break, and began to wash away her blood and cleanse the cut.
“I thought this salve was for you.”
“It is, but it serves more then one purpose.” He released her hand and took his dagger back, wiping it off on a rare patch of half dead weeds, then sheathed it again. The complete silence returned when neither spoke again for a while, the truth of what just happened sinking in. The glow from the camp was dying with time, the sounds became more vacant and far away.
“You were right, again.” Cistailé finally ventured. Though her voice was almost a whisper, it shattered the void. “I am not invincible, even in my own thoughts.”
“I should not think that these are your very own thoughts Cistailé. For how would you know what had happened, anymore then I know what will? The lord who told me his tale, never said he changed the way events happened. He was simply a witness.”
“To witness something. Then that is why I am here?”
“Perhaps. There seems to be very little control over the way things are unfolding for you. If you are to be in this battle, who am I to stop the will of Lorien?” Midaehros turned away and rested his lordly blond head in his hands as he began to wander slowly away. “There have been too many questions tonight, and not enough answers.” Not wanting to be left alone, Cistailé began to follow after him.
However, the more steps to took, the lighter her surroundings became. The darkness ebbed away into white, and everything became a fuzzy disorientation. The ground grew soft and subtle to her feet, the stray, strangled bushes bloomed again, then burst in a flash of light and ceased to exist. Midaehros kept walking forward, not noticing the deconstruction of the land, the replacement of dark for light. First the camp of thousands simply disappeared before her. A brilliant white foreground took the place of her kin.
Another foot forward, and the darkness was finally chased completely away. The whiteness in front of her began stretching in every direction, wiping out everything, turning it to the same white as all else. It was incasing her in a nothingness, but surprisingly she was not afraid. Her other foot fell, and the transformation was complete, with Midaehros still walking in front. Another step forward, and he too disappeared. Now, all around was endless white, a bright light shining all over from somewhere. Yet she did not stop walking, as if she was edged on from behind. Taking a few more steps and the whiteness began to retract.
Starting from behind Cistailé, the whole process was reversed. The brilliance began to die away to the normal color of day, and the place where her feet tread turned back to the hard dirt ground. Elves clad in their war gear appeared as soon as the white drew back to reveal them. They were milling about a camp, and still she walked forward. A root jutting from the earth made Cistailé stumble. As soon as she gained her feet again, the shift was again done. No light, nothing white, just the same dreary land she was in moments ago. Only it was lighter now, the early morning, and no longer was she outside the camp but in it. No one took notice of her. Enamored and confused as she was, she did not see another root which snagged her foot, sending her scuttling forward, only to be caught by a strong set of arms.
“Midaehros! How it seems I am always falling into or over you.” A few near by Elves shot Midaehros wondering looks, seeing that he stumbled into nothing but air, and seemed to be holding the same in his arms. Shaking his head at them, he let Cistailé stand up on her own and cocked his head for her to follow him as he continued on his way.
“Where did you go last night?”
“Is it only the next day? I was following you, everything disappeared and but seconds later I trip over a root and find myself falling like a child.”
“Tis only after the sun has begun it’s ascent. Time passes too slowly for you I see.” Midaehros walked quickly, and talked at the same pace, sliding in and around other Elves doing much the same as him. Cistailé had a hard time keeping up with him.
“What is happening here? Everyone is milling about with purpose, yet you do not move out.”
“A messenger rider from our allies entered our camp no more then an hour ago. The fighting has begun already, with the evilness only Morgoth could contrive.” He spit the name out like it pained him to even think the name. “Fingon, the high king as you know, has the enemy blocked in. Angband behind the enemy, Maedhros, the son of Fëanor to the east, the mountains to the west, and us to the south. But Morgoth has used all his treachery and has prematurely drawn out some of our forces.” Slipping past a small group of warriors transporting dozens of long spears, Midaehros continued. “But Maehros with his army has not yet come to the battle field, somehow being delayed. Fingon was unable to hold back his force, and commands us to stay here for a time before we join him in attempt to rectify the lost planned attack. I go to Turgon now, to await his direct orders of command for those under me.”
“And so it begins.”
“So it does.” Pivoting on one foot, he stood and waited for Cistailé to get through a line of hurried elves making their way somewhere. As soon as they passed, she headed forth again. First one foot and the early morning sky became bright day, the next step, and everything in her sight became fuzzy. The surprise on Midaehros’ face was almost comical, for she disappeared before her eyes, as he did before hers.
“We were well met Midaehros. Until next time, when hopefully I shall not shame my balance!” Another step, Midaehros was gone and once again Cistailé was walking through the white envelope of eternity which was so welcoming in it’s stark whiteness. The thought crossed her mind to stop here, and never leave, but that was quickly refuted, when a gentle push from behind encouraged her to keep moving. Three, four, five steps, and the world began to come back into focus. The white and brightness washed away like spilt water running down a hill, the softness under foot became hard pebbles and mud.