Disclaimer: see chapter one
Names/Pronunciations will come at the end of each chapter.
`*’ signals a footnote
“text” signals dialogue
`text’ signals thoughts
Chapter 9.) Realizations
And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand miles.
– Robert Burns
Aug 21, 12 Fourth Age (seven days since the last chapter)
“You are awake early.” Oloriel’s voice was heavy with sleep as she slowly rolled over and nestled as best she could against her husband’s side.
Elladan smiled, turning away from the dim horizon outside and bringing his hand up to stroke Oloriel’s unruly hair. The feel of her greatly distended belly pressing against him caused the smile to grow even wider as he leaned in to place a soft kiss on her lips. Oloriel was such a comfort; he sighed into the pillow and let some of his anxiety drift away.
“What is wrong, my husband?” Oloriel questioned as she reached out to gently rub his shoulder with her left hand. She chuckled at Elladan’s soft murmur of pleasure and instructed him to roll over onto his stomach. He readily obliged. When she had pushed herself into a somewhat upright position, she leaned over his back and began working her hands over his tense muscles.
“I ask again – what is wrong?”
When Elladan finally responded pillows muffled his voice. “Remember when I told you that I had washed my hands of Elrohir’s personal affairs? I lied.”
Oloriel’s face took on a more somber aspect. “It is an unfortunate business, of course you are worried for him.”
Elladan groaned into the pillows. “I cannot help but wish that he had consulted me first. I would have warned him against the scheme.”
“I don’t know,” said Oloriel as she slid her hands under Elladan’s light sleeping tunic and pushed it up his back. “I can see why he did it. …Could you take off your tunic, please?”
Sitting up, Elladan pulled the tunic over his head and then lay back down. Oloriel began to massage his back once more.
“You should have heard Nessúlë speak about it,” Oloriel continued. “So aflutter. I never thought I should see her like that. If Elrohir had approached her as himself I don’t think she would have heard. Her heart needed to be drawn out first.”
“Well now it is drawn back in again,” Elladan said flatly, “-Could you rub lower?”
Oloriel’s hands moved down to Elladan’s lower back. His muscles tensed for a moment at the contact of her cool fingers but soon relaxed.
“It is done now, for better or for worse,” Oloriel commented philosophically, “I only wish that Nessúlë had told us where she was going.”
Elladan mumbled his agreement. The gentle rays of sunrise began to spill through the open balcony doorway and edge across their bedroom floor. For a moment Oloriel thought that her husband had fallen back asleep, but then he spoke.
“Do the men in my family simply have a pension for misunderstandings with women?”
Oloriel quitted her ministrations and lay gratefully back down on the bed. “Hmm? What makes you say that?”
Elladan lifted himself up onto his elbows and regarded his wife. “Have you never heard the tale of my father and mother? Adar fell in love with naneth centuries before he actually asked for her hand in marriage. He thought it was never the right time or that she wouldn’t be willing or some such nonsense, when of course she had been hoping he would ask for quite some time.”
Oloriel smirked and trailed her hand down Elladan’s right arm. Flipping onto his back, Elladan captured her hand and placed a kiss on it before continuing.
“Then there is our story. Not nearly so drawn out, but frustrating enough at the time. I was so bewildered when I thought you didn’t want to have anything more to do with me.”
“Those were muddled days for me as well,” Oloriel agreed.
Elladan placed a light, reassuring kiss beneath Oloriel’s ear and then nuzzled his face into her neck. “And now… now Elrohir is nursing his wounds because he tried to use subtlety to win a very straightforward maiden.”
“But you forget something,” Oloriel replied brightly.
“And what is that, my lady?”
“Both you and your father won the fair maiden despite all the trouble. Why should this be the end of your brother’s hope?”
Elladan chuckled. His breath tickled against Oloriel’s skin and she playfully shoved him away. Refusing to be shoved, he took Oloriel’s arms and pinned them against the pillows.
“And what a wise wife I have won,” he murmured, placing a tender and possessive kiss on her lips. “However did I manager it?”
Elrohir watched dully as a gaggle of females bustled by with bundles of freshly washed linen. An eerie shadow of a smile flitted momentarily across his face as he remembered the day when he found Nessúlë among the billowing waves of drying laundry, scrubbing merrily away at a… was it a blouse? No, it was…
Elrohir shook his head. It didn’t matter now. An elleth in the passing company called out to him, no doubt saying something witty or cunning to induce a retort, but Elrohir’s mind couldn’t wrap around the words and so he responded with a forced, congenial smile and let the ladies pass. However, his stupor was soon interrupted by a voice which could not be so easily ignored.
“If you felt free to act in any manner, would you still be sitting here, sulking on a fine afternoon?”
Celeborn swept his outer robe aside and sat fluidly down onto the bench next to Elrohir. The younger Elf cast a sidelong glance in his direction as if to say “I knew you couldn’t remain silent for long”.
“Well?” Celeborn prodded after a few moments of complete silence.
“You are counted wisest among the Elves yet remaining in Middle Earth – do you not know what I wish for?”
“Nay, I do not,” Celeborn replied bluntly, “The secrets of another’s heart remain ever uncharted, especially to those who yearn for wisdom. Mayhap you would wish to throw yourself from the ravine wall were it not for your sense of duty. Perhaps you would wish to turn back the hands of time if you had the power to do so. Of course, there are more temporary impulses. The thought of embracing Nessúlë against her will surely crossed your mind at some point. It is always tempting to believe that, if permitted just one more kiss, the object of our affection would melt and cease resisting.”
Elrohir shook his head slowly. “You are wrong on all counts.”
Celeborn lifted his hands in a signal of defeat. “What did I tell you?”
An incorrigible smile stole across Elrohir’s face despite how diligently he tried to suppress it. Somehow it seemed wrong to smile.
“If I could do anything,” Elrohir spoke after some moments of silence, “I would choose to be near her all the time, so that one day, after she had gotten quite used to my presence, she would simply forget to be angry with me any more. Then I would speak with her – make her understand… But it’s too late now. She won’t let me come near and she won’t listen.”
“What makes you say that?” Celeborn inquired cryptically.
“I know you have enough wisdom to muddle that out,” Elrohir retorted.
“Nay, on this point I am also ignorant. As I have heard it Nessúlë was so startled and upset by your admission that she felt you must have been deceiving her. Is this not so?”
Elrohir nodded morosely and Celeborn continued.
“Certainly you did deceive her when she spoke to you before about her secret admirer, but I do not think that is what angered her most. She has only known you as a friend and was not prepared in mind to have your love revealed in such a dramatic way. The only way she could reconcile the circumstances, then, was to assume that you had made sport of her. But again, I do not think that this is the main offense. Why should she be so angered by your mischief making?”
Celeborn turned to his grandson with an expectant gaze. Elrohir stared back blankly.
“Because,” the silver lord spoke firmly, “she was quite ready, whether she admitted it to herself or not, to fall in love with this stranger. She was affected by the words and tokens of love and felt a stirring in her own heart. That is why it stung her to have the whole business revealed as a ruse. She didn’t arrive that night to scorn, yet she found that she herself was being scorned and was angered by it.
“But did not the words and tokens, though yours, still move her? And does she not know, in the calmer, more rational depths of her mind that you would never play false with her or dishonor any lady in this way?”
Celeborn placed a comforting hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “I cannot read the heart, but if my intuition is correct then Nessúlë will soon find her heart and mind clouded with thoughts of you. Now, whether her pride will lead her to return and at least reconcile with you, or whether it will keep her away I cannot tell. But do not lose hope – her anger will be short-lived.”
“Ai!” Nessúlë leapt back and brought her finger to her mouth. Her brows furrowed with determination. Slowly, she reached her hand in once more, weaving carefully through the sharp thorns to retrieve what she had carelessly thrown aside. Bainsúl fluttered onto a nearby branch and started preening his feathers.
“I don’t know what you’re so cheerful about,” Nessúlë muttered sourly, “You don’t think I’m going to share my dinner with you after your behavior? I always thought I would be free from interference when it came to my animal friends. You must think quite highly of yourself to be so demanding.”
Bainsúl cocked his head and then went back to arranging his plumage. Nessúlë blew a lock of errant hair out of her eyes and drew the desired object from the brambles with a brittle sense of satisfaction.
“There, are you happy now?” Nessúlë called to the hawk. From her hands dangled a small gold pendant in the shape of a sand dollar; one of Elrohir’s gifts.
The chain had caught on her hair a minute or two before and in a fit of petty annoyance she had cast it into the thorny brush. Upon doing so the action was secretly regretted, but she had felt a little too proud to scramble after the bauble. After all, why should she care for it any more? However, as she had begun to walk away, Bainsúl made such a racket that she would have gone deaf before two miles of journeying had passed. There didn’t seem to be any choice but to retrieve it.
Now that the necklace was safely back in her keeping Nessúlë didn’t know what to do with it. Surely she shouldn’t put it back on, should she? No, of course not. Nessúlë shook her head violently and straightened, slipping the jewelry into a small leather pouch at her waist. Bainsúl seemed content with this arrangement, as he soon flew off above the trees and out of sight. With a wry grin Nessúlë mounted Hithui and set off in the westward direction.
As she had once intimated in a letter to Elrohir, Nessúlë longed for some inexplicable reason to see the rebuilding of the ancient ruins at Annúminas*. Aragorn had commissioned the work to begin earlier that year and there seemed to be much promise in the endeavor. Secretly, Nessúlë hoped to see some resemblance to the architecture of Mithlond, her homeland. But she also looked forward to surveying what remained of the great works of Númenor. And perhaps, as an added pleasure, should would pass with the Rangers’ permission through the land of the Hobbits and visit old acquaintances there.
Something in the back of Nessúlë’s mind whispered that these would all be rather shallow, lonely pleasures, but she was determined to see them through. The Hobbits would not doubt cheer her up, and the solitude and grandeur of the wilderness would give her room to breathe and to think clearly.
Nessúlë knelt beside a little shady brook and splashed her face with the water. It was cool and clear and inviting, but did not bring any calm to her spirit. When she had desired time to think clearly, she hadn’t intended for her thoughts to drift in such a disconcerting direction. Exhausted, she flopped back onto the mossy banks of the stream.
Elrohir. The infuriating Elf seemed to be the only thing her mind could focus on. During the first days of her journeying she had been too angry and saddened to think any distinct thoughts, but lately strange ideas and feelings had been creeping up on her. The most disturbing was this: Could Elrohir have been telling the truth?
Part of her wanted to say yes, but another part was most opposed to this. If yes, then Elrohir truly loved her. She was not quite prepared to deal with this fact. Her emotions were in such a muddle that she couldn’t sift through them and she didn’t even want to try. On the other hand, if the answer was no, there was an equally disturbing outcome – Elrohir had deliberately and cruelly toyed with her for his own amusement. Reluctantly, Nessúlë had to admit that the first option was at least more palatable. Surely love was a lesser offense than deception.
`Is love an offense?’ her mind questioned. Nessúlë bit her lip and started breaking little twigs into pieces. The soft laughter of the nearby brook seemed to be directed at her.
“Oh, why must everything be so complicated?” Nessúlë cried as she tossed the broken sticks into the streams current. A few of them floated away out of sight, but several got caught on the muddy bank. Nessúlë sighed.
Without thought she reached into the pouch at her waist and drew out a packet of folded papers. They were the letters.
`Love letters, I suppose you could call them,’ Nessúlë thought, as she leafed through them.
Somehow, despite her better judgement, she hadn’t been able to throw them away, any more than she could throw the necklace away or the dagger. At least in the case of the dagger there was some practical motivation. Her hand wandered down to her boot, where the intricate weapon was strapped, and she thought momentarily of the other gifts she had received over the several days of mystery. Those she had left behind.
Slipping the letters back into her pouch Nessúlë moved to get up. However, she paused when she heard the crackling of leaves and brush. Only then did she realize that several creatures were near and that she had been too careless and absorbed in her thoughts to realize it. In agony, she also realized that her sword was laid, with her pack, some several yards away, around a bend in the path. Cautiously and carefully she began to walk in that direction. But it was too late.
From around the bend in the path came three large wolf-like creatures. They did not look large enough to be Wargs, but they carried the same menacing presence. Nessúlë wondered if they were simply young and had not yet fully grown or if they could possibly be a half-breed. But she did not have long to wonder anything. The creatures may not have been full-grown, but they had all the speed and ferocity of an adult.
Nessúlë barely had time to pull the dagger from her boot before two of the beasts were upon her. She struck out at the closest one, slashing across its nose and halting its advance, but the other one caught her full force in the stomach knocking her to the ground. Thankfully, Nessúlë kept the dagger well in hand and had plunged it into the wolf’s belly before its claws could do much damage. With unnatural and frenzied strength Nessúlë shoved the carcass off of her and leapt to her feet just as the other wolf, joined now by the third companion, began advancing again.
This time the beast came on more slowly, herding her toward a waist high bolder nearby. Nessúlë was aware of her predicament and sent a fervent prayer to Ilúvatar for protection. There were no large trees within convenient distance and the wolves stood between her and her sword.
`The sword Elrohir gave me.’
The thought flitted through Nessúlë’s mind and she almost laughed at the irony of it all.
“Yes, the sword Elrohir gave me,” she spoke aloud. The wolves paused for a moment in confusion before pressing in further, their cold eyes following the steel of her blade.
“If I had my sword you would both be drawn upon it, know that.”
Nessúlë didn’t understand why she felt the need to speak. Perhaps it was calming.
One of the wolves made a lunge at her. She slashed her dagger through the air, catching its paw. It fell back a few feet, its hair bristling. Nessúlë knew intuitively that there would be no more dallying. The two wolves started to move toward either side of her. They were ready for the kill.
“But if not his sword, you shall feel his dagger” Nessúlë mocked, her voice hard. “One of you will, I swear it. And if he were here, you would burn beneath his very gaze.” Nessúlë’s voice was becoming rather manic, but she just kept rambling, her muscles taut and ready for the plunge. “When he finds out what has happened to me he’ll hunt you down like the dogs you are… He loves me.”
It was at that very moment that the wolves lunged. One went straight for her leg and sunk its teeth into her thigh. The other dove for her neck but it was foiled in mid-air as, with a great cry, Nessúlë opened up his own throat with her dagger.
It was at that very moment that Nessúlë finally believed. As the remaining wolf backed away, exulting in its bloody maw and watching triumphantly as she sank to the ground, all Nessúlë could really see was the look in Elrohir’s eyes as he told her that it was all real. And she believed him. He loved her. She was loved.
“Oh, Elrohir, I’m so sorry.”
The wolf paced in front of her, licking her own blood from its lips. She forced herself not to look at the mangled ruin of her thigh, but instead met the wolf’s gaze directly. The dagger still rested in her hand and the wolf knew this. But it was just a matter of time. Her hands were shaking.
For those few moments Nessúlë truly believed that she would die. And all she could think of was that it had all been for nothing.
“I wish,” she whispered to the air, “I just wish that I could have said good-bye.”
The wolf gathered on its haunches and prepared to pounce. Nessúlë lifted her dagger to point straight out from her body. When the beast came on it ducked its head to the side and swiped the offending weapon out of its way, thrusting its prey to the ground and tearing her left shoulder with its claws. Nessúlë tried to hold the creatures snapping jaws away from her face, but her strength was quickly growing thin.
And then her salvation came.
With a clear shriek Bainsúl, small though brave, descended on the wolf and clawed at its eyes. It was not much, but it was enough to cause the wolf to back away and rub at its face. With as much speed as she could manage, Nessúlë grasped the dagger in her hand and threw it at the wolf while its guard was down. The blade flew true, embedding itself just behind the left foreleg of the beast, into its heart.
All was quiet. Even the babbling stream nearby seemed to have calmed itself. Nessúlë bothered to notice that there were warm tears streaming down her cheeks before she collapsed onto the hard ground.
Elrohir’s head snapped around and he leapt from his seat, upsetting the ornately carved chair and spilling half of the soup in his bowl. Everyone in the feasting hall looked toward him, anxiety and curiosity written across their features. Oloriel, who sat next to Elrohir, laid a calming hand on his arm. He jerked away.
“I have to go – now. Nessúlë, she’s… I have to go.”
Before another word could be said Elrohir strode from the chamber and began running down the halls to his room. There, under his bed, he kept a pack made ready for emergencies. Retrieving this, along with his bow, quiver, and sword he jumped straight from his balcony railing into the garden below and dashed toward the courtyard where the stables were. Taking his brother’s horse, which was more seasoned than his own, he mounted and rode from Imladris, making for the East-West road.
1. Annúminas – Original capitol of Arnor, founded by Elendil in the Second Age.
Thing to Know:
Nessúlë: “young spirit”
Elrohir: “Elf knight”
Bainsúl: “fair wind”