20th February, 3019
The old man bent over the sleeping form of Coralie before turning aside to speak to the servant who waited upon his command.
“Where are her things?” he asked curtly as the old woman hurriedly responded.
“Her dress cannot be repaired, but her undergarments were mostly intact,” she said holding them up for his inspection. With increasing curiosity he eyed Coralie’s tank-top, shorts, and bikini as the servant showed them to him one by one.
“Tell me Brandgaine, have you ever seen the like of these before? Is this some new fashion that the women of Middle Earth have adopted?”
Brandgaine concealed her smile as she replied. She had never seen her master at a loss before, but then she had never seen such strange garments either.
“No M’Lord. These are new to me. I know not where she could have obtained such strange clothing,” she answered compliantly.
“Well I have my suspicions, but until she awakens I cannot confirm them. Make sure you have them thoroughly cleaned, and find some dresses for her to wear as well. There are many fine things about this place that I’m sure a lady such as herself would find more than suitable. I have managed to obtain quite a collection over the years.” The old man held up the small golden phial attached to its mithril chain which sparkled faintly in the candlelight.
“And this too is a mystery.”
Taking out the stopper, he gently sniffed at the contents. His eyes glittered for a moment as he inhaled the scent.
“Ah! briar rose,” he nodded in recognition.
“Don’t we have some wild roses growing upon the stone walls here?”
Again the servant answered with a simple `yes’.
“Tell me Brandgaine. What is the local folklore about the scent of briar rose as told in your parts?”
“M’Lord, it is said that if you make a draught from the petals of the rose and drink it before going to bed, that it will give you sweet dreams of your true love. Many maidens sweeten their pillows with it, so they may dream of the one they are destined to marry,” answered the servant.
“Yes it is a sedative, Brandgaine. But I can think of better uses for it.” The old man placed the small phial and chain upon the clothing that the servant still held.
“It is a few hours before dawn yet. Let me know as soon as she awakens.” Turning on his heel, the old man strode out of the room, as the servant paid him a courtesy in response to his last order.
Coralie’s eyelashes brushed against the silk pillowcase her head rested upon. In spite of the call of early morning light, which filtered through the high window above, her eyes felt heavy and languid. She had been reluctant to wake, for her dreams had held the distant promise of a hopeful spring.
It was only the thin, grey light which now began to illuminate the stone walls of her chamber and called so insistently to Coralie. Absent was the familiar, melodious birdsong falling as silver amongst golden leaves, which would brush against one another with soft rapturous sighs. There had only been the faint light, which had deliberately pushed away the warm embrace of sleep.
“Where am I?” The almost forgotten question prodded her to awakening. She turned her head way from the featureless, grey stone walls that had held her waking gaze, and gasped as sharp pain brought a sudden halt to her movements.
“Careful Lass. Your wounds are yet to heal. Better to lie still.” An elderly female voice broke the stillness of that small chamber. Gingerly turning her head to search out the source of the voice, Coralie’s gaze fell upon the thin, hawkish features of an old woman who sat at the foot of her bed.
“Where am I?” came Coralie’s formerly unspoken question.
The old woman looked keenly at her as she rose stiffly from her chair.
“Where be ye?” she responded, echoing Coralie’s question. “Why, ye be in me master’s house. That’s where ye be. He has done thee a great kindness for he came to thy rescue in the woods. Saved ye from a band of wicked Uruk-hai that he did. Ye have much to be grateful for Lass.”
Carefully, Coralie looked up at the old woman who had now come to stand at the side of her bed. Her lips were curled into a thin smile as she looked down at her patient with dull blue eyes; her grey hair pulled back severely from her face. She wore a plain, grey apron about the waist of her somber black dress, and Coralie’s eyes were drawn to the dark threads that were interwoven in her bodice. For a moment, Coralie closed her eyes as the memory of even blacker images began to take shape in her mind at the woman’s words.
“There, there Dearie.” Coralie’s eyes fluttered open again in response to the cool, comforting touch of the elderly woman’s hand upon her own, as it rested on the pillowcase beside her face. “Now don’t be movin’ none,” she gently admonished. “The master wanted me to call him as soon as ye had awoken.”
From her bed, Coralie watched the retreating figure of the woman’s hunched shoulders as she shuffled across the floor and closed the door behind her with a click. For a brief instant, she wondered if the door were locked, but then just as quickly dismissed the thought, for her present condition did not encourage movement of any sort.
Without raising her head from the pillow, Coralie looked about at the austere, yet elegant furnishings of her room. Along the wall near her bed, stood a wooden bureau. Examining the inlaid silver filigree and ornate carvings, which graced its curves, Coralie decided that it was a match to the chair which the old woman had sat upon. As she cast her eyes downward, she caught a glimpse of the finely woven silk coverlet with golden thread, atop the creamy silken sheets she rested under. A soft glow flickered from the fireplace on the opposite wall of her chamber.
As she rested there, Coralie finally came to realise that much to her chagrin, all of her clothing had been removed. She wondered at this, until she tried to get more comfortable and was again constricted by the sharp pain that assaulted her senses. Gently draped across her shoulders, the cool silken sheets brought her some measure of comfort as she eased herself back into the pillow.
Presently, she heard the click in the door and watched the old woman tentatively cross the threshold. After quickly ascertaining that her charge was still covered by the sheets, she stepped aside as a man in long white robes swept past her into the chamber.
“Ah, my dear girl, it is good to see you finally awake. How are you feeling?”
Coralie looked up at the old man as he stood over her. His long white hair hung unhindered almost to his waist. From under grey bushy eyebrows, he looked kindly down at her with keen brown eyes.
“I am a bit sore,” she answered hoarsely. Thank you for saving me Sir. Was it yesterday?”
The old man smiled in response.
“You may call me Ôlchir my dear. Indeed it was yesterday that I found you. We had received reports that a band of Uruk-hai had made incursions into the forest nearby. Naturally, I went to defend my lands from these invaders. I had no idea that they had taken a maiden captive. It was indeed fortunate that our party came across you when we did, for who knows what may have befallen you otherwise.” He held Coralie’s gaze with his own eyes as his voice, smooth and silken as the sheets that covered her, bathed her with assurance.
“As to your hurt, it will be a little while until your wounds have completely healed. I, myself have prepared a special salve for you.”
Responding to the quick gesture of the old man, a servant girl hurriedly entered the room and placed a silver tray upon the bureau with a clatter. He turned briefly and gave her a sharp look before continuing, “and some food has been brought for you from the kitchens. Thankfully, your wounds are not overly serious, though I’m sure they are painful, nevertheless. In a few days, you will be as good as new. In the meantime, I am sure you are hungry. My servants will tend to your needs. I will visit you again tomorrow. Peace, rest and nourishment will aid your recovery. Good day.”
With a brief nod to Coralie, he turned and strode out of the room, his white robes swirling in his wake as the two female servants paid him a courtesy. The younger of the two came over to where Coralie lay, and pulled back the sheets carefully as the elder reached for the salve. The latter clicked her tongue as she surveyed Coralie’s back.
“Well Lass, `tis a good thing the master found ye and we are able to dress thy wounds with this salve he has prepared for ye. I’ve seen it work wonders before. There will be no scarring, I can assure ye of that.”
Coralie gasped as the cool salve was soothed along the cuts upon her body. The old woman’s hands were gentle as she ministered to her needs. The younger came round and offered Coralie some water after seeing that her companion servant had now moved down to soothe the ointment into her legs. Eagerly Coralie sipped at the glass that she held for her.
“Me name is Drysi, Miss, and hers is Brandgaine,” she said nodding towards the older woman.
“Talkative ain’t we,” snapped Brandgaine at the younger.
“Don’t mind her, Miss. Her bark is worse than her bite.”
As the older woman finished, she came up to Coralie, brushing the younger aside.
“Now Miss. My master was right about having some food. Drysi has brought in some nice chicken broth for thee. Would ye like some?” Seeing the eager look in Coralie’s eyes, she immediately reached for the bowl of broth that had been placed upon the bureau. The younger servant brought the chair up for the elder to sit in as she ladled the soup into Coralie’s mouth.
“Now, Lass don’t worry about making a bit of a mess. We’re going to change the sheets on your bed and pillowcase anyway.” Coralie merely nodded as she sipped at the soup. She felt suddenly hungry as the pain of her wounds faded away.
“Drysi, go fetch that nightgown from the robe over there,” said Brandgaine to the younger before turning her attention to Coralie again. “I know it hurts, Lass…but that salve should begin to help thee feel better soon, and it won’t do to have thee lying around without nothing on for much longer. Besides, ye will feel more comfortable dressed I think, now that ye be awake and all.”
After Coralie finished the soup, the elder placed the empty bowl on the dresser as Drysi brought over a nightgown for her to wear.
26th February, 3019
“Found something that interests you my Dear?” Coralie turned her head to see the figure of the old man standing within the doorway of the chamber which held the library. In her hands was a large tome entitled “The Ban of the Valar; Tales of the Kings of Westernesse.”
The old man stepped up to Coralie with a pale gleam in his eye as he caught sight of the title. “Ah! Such an interesting book. This tells the history of the Númenoreans, and how the Valar placed a ban upon the race of men from sailing west beyond the sight of their own shores, or to attempting to set foot upon the Undying Lands, for they must remain mortal. You will find much information concerning the history of your own race between these pages my dear.”
“Ôlchir, this is history I know nothing of,” responded Coralie with a frown. She looked up into the indulgent eyes of her host, “and besides, I would actually classify this as myth or legend rather than history. I think the idea is ridiculous to say the least. In fact this is probably the source of all those inane stories that frightened ancient sailors into believing that if they sailed west they would fall over the edge of the world!” snorted Coralie with disgust.
The old man inclined his head as he waited for her to continue.
“How could you not possibly sail to the west? Ask Columbus and Magellan that one! I didn’t come down in the last rain shower you know!”
The old man threw back his head and laughed. “Truly, Lady Coralie! You are the most interesting woman I have ever met. Your speech is not only strange to my ears, but the actual content is quite intriguing. Unusual for a woman to say the least.” Then just as eagerly he regained his composure as he held her fast with his eyes. “Such a pretty head that contains so many intriguing ideas.”
Returning his gaze, Coralie felt herself being drawn into the chromatic brown eyes that had fastened her own with his. For a moment the room in which they stood seemed to darken around her, as the focus of her entire thought and sight fell into those profound brown pools that gleamed with expectant confidence.
A sharp knock at the door suddenly brought her to her senses as the weighty volume slipped out of her fingers and landed with a dull thud on the floor.
“Lunch is served M’Lord,” called the young voice of Drysi. The old man whirled upon the servant girl like a snake coiled to spring, but then just as suddenly adopted a relaxed pose as Coralie’s beseeching voice came to his ears.
“Oh I’m sorry Ôlchir! I don’t know what came over me.” She hurriedly bent down to retrieve the book that had fallen.
“Do not trouble yourself, Lady.” Coralie staggered a little as she rose with book in hand. The old man reached out a hand to steady her. “Clearly, you have not fully recovered from your ordeal. It is a mere six days since you were rescued, my dear. Come! Let us partake of what meager refreshment has been prepared for us, you can read the book later.”
His smooth voice oiled away the fear that she had somehow damaged her host’s belongings as Ôlchir held out his arm for her and led her to the dining room.
Coralie sat beside her host who graced the head of the long wooden table. It had been three days since she had left the confines of her bed and she had grown accustomed to having her meals with her elderly host. He could be most charming and affable at times, delighting in entertaining her with various tales of the regions around about his home.
She was still a little unsure of herself with him though. There was something about him she did not entirely trust, but she could not quite put her finger on what it was exactly. True he could be very persuasive at times, and had almost convinced her of his goodwill. There was even something of the nature of Gandalf about him. He had even informed her that they were friends, but still she felt a small still voice from deep within her being, warn her not to disclose too much.
Many times he had pressed her about her origins, and how she came to keep company with Gandalf. Coralie wondered how he knew that, but as to her origins and the whys and wherefores of Gandalf and the others in the Company, she had feigned a loss of memory, attributing it to her recent ordeal. Not entirely a lie, she had consoled herself, as she had indeed lost her memory concerning events in Middle Earth. This was one time though that she desperately wished for it to return. To be forewarned is to be forearmed she had told herself, and now she was neither and that made her all the more uncomfortable about her present situation. Deciding to err on the side of caution, she had deliberately kept mum in the face of his persistent questioning.
“I trust that my servants have tended well to all of your needs Lady, including those that are particular to the special needs of women?” Coralie felt the flush rise to her cheeks as she nodded her response. Did he somehow guess that she had her period, or did the servants inform him. She looked beyond him to Drysi, who dropped her eyes at Coralie’s questioning look.
“Good,” he continued. “And I also trust that you have found the clothing I have provided to be suitable to your tastes?” The old man poured a goblet of wine for both himself and Coralie, handing one to her first.
“Yes, thank you. They are more than suitable Ôlchir, they are beautiful.” Coralie glanced briefly down at the elegantly embroidered bodice of the emerald green gown she now wore.
Ôlchir raised his goblet toward her in salute. “May I say my dear, that I have never seen them look quite as beautiful as they do now. Far better for you to wear them, than to have them remain in my dusty cupboards one day longer.”
“Thank you Ôlchir,” she replied taking a sip from her goblet. The old man appeared to do likewise, and placed his goblet with the untouched contents down upon the table as Drysi brought out two steaming bowls of soup. Brandgaine followed with a loaf of rye bread, already sliced into thick crusty chunks with a small bowl of fresh butter.
“Chicken and vegetable soup. I am afraid my dear that I am an old man, and find simple food more suitable to my palate and digestion lately.” His eyes twinkled as he blew gently upon the surface of his soup in an effort to cool it down.
For a moment he did not seem that old to Coralie as he looked into her eyes. She blinked and turned her attention to her soup.
“Now I know my dear that you feel quite confined within the stone walls of my home, and that you long to go outside and breathe some fresh air, and feel the sun upon your shoulders once again. But I’m afraid that it is still unsafe to go out, and I would have you remain here with me until the threat of the Uruk’s have been banished from my borders.”
She longed to protest in some small way at this announcement. He was right about her confinement, and Coralie had been rather hoping to venture outside and see the lay of the land round about. At first glance it would appear that she had complete freedom within her host’s walls, but every time she had tried to venture down some remote passageway or corridor, that she had hoped would lead to the outside, her way had been barred by one of Ôlchir’s armed men. They had always treated her with courtesy at such times, but they were also most insistent, that for her own safety she was allowed to go no farther and must return to her quarters. Looking up once more into the bright pools of his eyes, Coralie found herself agreeing with him, in spite of her silent desires to the contrary.
Suddenly a sharp pain in her stomach made her wince and she grasped the edge of the table.
“What is it my dear?” asked Ôlchir.
“I um…I have a pain in my stomach,” she replied as she gripped the edge of the table again making her knuckles white until the spasm passed.
“A pain in your stomach? I hope it wasn’t the soup. Will you be alright do you think?”
Coralie winced as another spasm gripped her stomach. She merely shook her head unable to reply. Her elderly host rose quickly from his seat and came round to where she sat now clutching her stomach and patted her on the shoulder.
“Oh dear. Let me get something to help you. Drysi take care of the lady in my absence,” he said as he strode quickly out of the room. With a nod the serving girl went over to aid Coralie as best she could.
Ôlchir met Brandgaine in the kitchen. Various other servants of both sexes stirred nervously about in an effort to look busy. It was a rare thing for the master to enter the kitchens.
“Have you prepared the draught according to my instructions?”
“Yes master,” replied the old woman.
“Good!” said Ôlchir in turn as he sniffed at the warm contents of the mug she held in her gnarled hands.
Suddenly he put his hands around the old woman’s and closed his eyes as he muttered some words under his breath. Opening them again, he glanced at the roses that lay strewn atop one of the workbenches and picked up one and held it up to his nose with delight.
“To think these came from my own garden. Nothing could be simpler!” his eyes gleamed as he inhaled the fragrance. “Ah so sweet, so subtle, so simple!” Turning his attention to Brandgaine again, he dipped the stem of the flower into the mug and twirled it slowly around. Again he closed his eyes while he muttered words too low for Brandgaine’s old ears. Opening his eyes again, he glanced sharply at his old servant.
“Now go and give this to the woman, and send Drysi in here.” As Brandgaine turned to follow her master’s instructions, he grabbed her arm. “Make sure she drinks all of it,” he said deliberately.
Coralie followed Brandgaine’s instructions and drank all of the draught obediently. She had been assured that it would ease her cramping, and indeed the sharp edge of the spasms were beginning to dull. It had not been unpleasant to drink as it tasted mildly of sweet roses and spice. She looked up and stifled a yawn as Ôlchir returned to the room with Drysi following not far behind.
“Are you feeling better my Dear? It is indeed unfortunate the pains that a woman must suffer in her youth in order to bear children.” He looked at the crimson flush that stole over her cheeks as she responded with a nod. “Ah, and now I see that I have made you uncomfortable with my hasty remark. Perhaps Drysi can help to make you feel better. Since you are unable to go outside at the moment, my servant girl has thought to bring the outside to you,” he turned his head to the servant who waited a little anxiously behind. “Come, Drysi. You may take your present to the lady.”
Drysi crept out from behind the shadow of her master and walked carefully towards Coralie. In her hands she held aloft a tender pink rose.
“Here Miss. I stole down to the garden and picked this for thee. I thought it may help to make ye feel better,” she said with a smile.
“But I thought it was too dangerous to go outside?” questioned Coralie as the girl stepped carefully toward her.
Drysi smiled in return. “Now Miss, I am but a poor, humble servant, and no one would miss me if anything were to happen to me anyway. This be for ye,” she said as she pressed the rose firmly into Coralie’s hand.
“Ow!” exclaimed Coralie as she examined her thumb where the rose had pricked her.
“You silly girl!” came Ôlchir’s reprimand from some remote place to Coralie’s ears. Her head began to swim and she could barely focus on the uneaten portion of her soup as her head began to dip lower.
Strong arms suddenly embraced her and she could hear the dim echoes of Ôlchir’s voice as she was borne along.
“Now she shall sleep and dream according to my will. She has resisted me long enough. But no moooooooooore. I shall learn what she has been keeping secreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.”
Ôlchir placed Coralie on the bed and looked down at her as Drysi pulled up a chair for him. As he sat down he carefully took Coralie’s hand in his own as he looked down at her sleeping features.
“There, there sweet beauty. Rest and sleep. Sleep and dream. Sleep. Sleep.” His voice carried across the warm, dark syrup of the languid pool of torpor that now flooded her being with lazy, seductive caresses.
“Sleep,” she muttered.
“Yes, sleep for me my pretty. Sleep and dream. Dream. Dream,” he soothed into her ear as he caressed her brow.
“Dream,” she barely whispered.
A wicked smile crossed the old man’s features as she echoed his words.
“Yes dream, dream.”
He watched her for a while, until at last satisfied by the steady rhythm of her quiet breathing that she had fallen fast asleep. He then turned to the two servant women.
“You do not know the power of a name. You mortals have no understanding what a rich gift or curse, you bestow upon your offspring when you name them. A name means far more than you realise.”
The two women shuffled a little nervously at his strange words.
“You Brandgaine…do you know the origin of your name?” The old woman shook her head in answer.
“Brandgaine was a servant who bound her mistress with a love potion to a knight in the service of his king. It was a tragic love affair, full of lies, deception, lost hope. It ended tragically with the death of the lovers. It was by your hand that the potion was concocted and administered.”
Brandgaine schooled her blank expression with care, having had many years of practice in the servant of her master. He looked over at Drysi who fidgeted nervously beside the old woman.
“Drysi means `thorn’. It was your hand that drove the thorn into the Lady Coralie’s thumb.”
The servant girl’s eyes gleamed with acknowledgement.
“The two of you together have unwittingly provided me with the means to ensure that the potion shall not fail. This is ancient magic. More deeper and ancient than the bones of the earth itself.” He looked sharply up at Brandgaine. “Whenever she awakens you will administer more of that potion you made, and you Drysi shall prick her with the roses that have been dipped in Brandgaine’s draught.”
A thin smile curled around Drysi’s lips at her master’s words.
“And her name, if I may be so bold Master. What does it mean?” asked the younger.
“Coralie? Not that a servant girl such as yourself will understand my words, but to put it simply, her name could be translated as a type of pearl of the sea. But to be more accurate coral is a semi precious stone, valued for its beauty. However when it is removed from its natural environment, great care must be taken to preserve it or it will become brittle and snap if you exert too much pressure. It is composed mostly of calcite, a mineral not known for its hardness. In spiritual terms calcite represents the interconnection and interaction of parallel planes of reality. ”
He looked up at the two women with a smirk. “Ah! I can see that this is beyond you both. We cannot escape who we are. Who we were meant to be. Your names have just as much significance as hers. I have observed her carefully these past few days. Yes, she is a beauty of sorts, but there is a hidden fragility inside which I shall use to my advantage. For her part, she is drawn to the sea. She makes unconscious choices in this regard, that have given me many clues to just who she is and where she may come from. Even the book she selected from my library to read today was directly related to the sea, though there was no mention of it in its title. She cannot help herself. The call of the sea to her is almost as strong as it is to the Elves. Curious, for I see nothing Elvish in her features. Yet there is a power within her that has enabled her to resist me when none other has ever been able. Perhaps in one sense she is the embodiment of the sea. But if her parents had truly wanted her to be strong, they should have chosen a name of strength, not beauty. This I can use to my advantage. For now she sleeps. And I have plunged her into the realm of my own sea; the sea of dreams. A sea from which she cannot surface, unless I draw her out. She is in my power now, and I will find out all that she has sought to hide from me these past few days. Her subconscious thoughts will rise to the surface, and I will be there to gather them in my net. And if she still does not tell me what I want to know, then I shall take great delight in breaking her.” The old man gave a wicked laugh to himself as he rose from the chair.
“See to it that her needs are met. Bathe her and feed her when necessary. Do not let her fully awaken. The potion must be administered along with the thorn. We shall let her sleep and float amongst her dreams for a while. The more potion and thorn pricks we give her, the deeper she will sleep.” He looked down at her and swept the stray lock of hair that had fallen across her forehead with a tender gesture that belied the real malice within. “Her consciousness will blend with the essence of briar rose. In fact I shall give her a new name. Merildru. My own Briar Rose she shall be, for she sleeps at my command!”
26th February 3019 (afternoon)
Aragorn knelt beside the fallen form of Boromir. The fallen man’s sword was broken at the hilt. The great horn of Gondor lay cloven in two at his side. Opening his eyes, Boromir resolved to speak, though his words came with halting effort.
“They took the little ones!” he gasped.
“Stay still,” said Aragorn.
“Frodo! Where is Frodo?”
“I let Frodo go.”
“Then you did what I could not.” Boromir coughed with the effort. “I tried to take the ring from him.”
“The Ring is beyond our reach now,” replied Aragorn.
“Forgive me, I did not see. I have failed you all.”
“No Boromir, you fought bravely. You have kept your honour.”
“My honour? No Aragorn. There is something I must tell you….It is a matter of honour….The LadyCor……” Boromir coughed suddenly in urgent response.
“Do not speak. Save your strength.” Aragorn reached forward to try and remove one of the arrows.
“Leave it. It is over. The world of men will fall and all will come to darkness, and my city to ruin.”
“I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I swear to you I will not let the White City fall. Or our people fail.”
“Our people….our people….”
A slow trickle of blood emerged from the corner of Boromir’s mouth as Aragorn handed him his sword and grasped his arm. The dying man looked up at him.
“I would have followed you my brother….My Captain…my King.”
The light fled from Boromir’s eyes and he did not speak again.
“Be at peace, son of Gondor.” Aragorn knelt forward and kissed his brow in farewell.