Disclaimer: see chapter one
Names/Pronunciations will come at the end of each chapter.
`*’ signals a footnote
“text” signals dialogue
‘text’ signals thoughts
Chapter 12.) Slow Fall
The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Aug 27, 12 Fourth Age
The first thought that registered in Nessúlë’s mind when she awoke was that she was dry and warm. For a few moments this thought was enough. She smiled contentedly and snuggled into whatever she was lying against. A soft murmur sounded from somewhere near her head and suddenly the elleth was aware of the arms that were still wrapped around her. Significantly more awake, Nessúlë lifted her head up slowly and took in her current position.
Elrohir, still asleep, was sitting on a pile of blankets and leaning up against the wall of a crudely built wooden structure. His cloak fell around them both. Nessúlë assumed that she had been lying with her face against his chest since she fell asleep. Judging by the light outside it was late afternoon and they had been lying there for several hours.
Nessúlë’s mouth felt dry and sticky, even more so when she caught the sound of flowing water nearby. However, she didn’t want to risk disturbing Elrohir’s slumber. He looked so calm and unguarded that it seemed cruel to wake him. And cruel was one thing that she never wanted to be.
A slight frown creased Nessúlë’s forehead as she continued to trace Elrohir’s features with her eyes. Certainly she hadn’t been deliberately cruel. Indeed, she had been convinced for a time that Elrohir was guilty of cruelty. But that was something of an injustice in itself. She should have known better – should have known that he cared for her too much to be so devious.
Nessúlë blew a lock of hair from before her eyes. `To say that he `cares’ might be an understatement,’ she thought wryly. `How did I miss it?’
Her sober thoughts were interrupted when Elrohir shifted his head and wrinkled his nose as though something was tickling him in sleep. Nessúlë smiled at him and bit her lip to keep from laughing. She wasn’t entirely successful.
Since there was nowhere else to put it, Nessúlë lay her head back down on Elrohir’s chest and drew in a deep, slow breath. What was she going to do? After several minutes of scouring her mind Nessúlë rallied her thoughts and, in an attempt to get everything out into the free air, began whispering off all of the various pieces of information that she knew to be true.
“One: Elrohir loves me. Yes, that’s a very important fact. Two: Elrohir is a good Elf. Three: whether I was acting childishly or not, it is true that I was more than willing to receive the suite of my admirer before I knew he was Elrohir. Four: Now that I know he was – is – Elrohir I am horribly confused.” Nessúlë sighed. “And five: I do care very much about Elrohir, but six… my mouth is horribly parched and I should probably stop whispering to myself.”
Nessúlë huffed another few hairs out of her face and started restlessly tracing the design on Elrohir’s cloak with her fingers. She almost jumped out of her skin when a warm, callused hand folded over her fingers and gently stilled their nervous wanderings.
“Sorry,” Elrohir whispered solemnly.
Nessúlë’s head flew up and her breath caught for a moment. She blinked several times and then released the air in her lungs while her thoughts flew frantically: `When did he wake up? Did he hear everything? Would it be bad if he heard everything? In what terrible ways could he interpret everything I just? What should I say now?’
In the end all she could come up with was “Why are you sorry?”
Nessúlë was sure that she didn’t look brilliant at the moment, but she wasn’t brilliant, so why pretend? If she ever wanted answers she would simply have to ask questions.
Elrohir let a small smile grace his lips. “For startling you, milady. And for confusing you. And for sleeping so long and leaving you unattended. I shall remedy the latter as soon as I may – I believe you are thirsty, yes?”
Nessúlë nodded numbly and before she could gather her senses to do anything else Elrohir had somehow maneuvered from between herself and the wall, let her gently down onto the blankets, and left the rickety building to go fetch her a drink of water.
A pitiful groan escaped Nessúlë as she turned her face into the blankets. Life was so complicated.
`It wasn’t always this way,’ a little voice whispered inside her head.
But when did things go wrong? When did one go from being a carefree Elfling who cried over bee-stings, but laughed over seashells, to being a lady? A lady older than men dared to dream, whose memories were full of death and life and war and celebration, and who was accosted from all directions with strange, fathomless, and powerful emotions which, despite her experience, she did not know how to bring to resolution.
Nessúlë laughed into the blankets. `And I always thought I was so capable,’ she thought. `Oh well, I suppose I should relish these little bumps in life. They’ll grow fewer and fewer as I swagger on into eternity.’
When Elrohir came back from the brook he found Nessúlë scooted up against the wall with a crooked smile planted on her face.
“You shouldn’t have moved,” he chided softly.
Nessúlë shrugged. “It’s not so very bad.”
Elrohir wordlessly handed her a large sycamore leaf filled with water. Nessúlë lapped the water up eagerly and then watched as Elrohir unwrapped the bandage on her thigh. She winced at the sight.
“Perhaps it is so very bad.”
As he pulled a length of cloth from his sack Elrohir looked up at her and cocked his eyebrow. Nessúlë smirked and rolled her eyes.
“I was never the best patient, I suppose,” she murmured.
Both Elves paused and then looked at each other. Nessúlë started chuckling first and then Elrohir followed.
“You were so angry with me then,” Elrohir shook his head in wonder, “I thought I was in for sore revenge. But you never took it.”
Nessúlë bowed her head slightly. “Yes, well, enough damage had been done already, I suppose, for me to add to the grievances. …But don’t worry, I won’t bite your head off this time. Your aid is most appreciated.”
Both Elves fell silent. Each felt the unreality of the moment. At the same time there was so much distance of confusion between them and yet so little. They were dancing awkwardly around a new sort of relationship while walking rather comfortably in the old. Elrohir finished re-dressing her leg and turned to face her directly.
“How did you come so quickly?” Nessúlë finally took the first plunge.
Elrohir’s brow rose and he quirked his lips slightly. “That is an interesting tale,” he began. “I was sitting in the feast hall six days ago when I felt… I simply felt that you were in danger and that I had to go. So I went. I rode along the East-West road with some tantalizing hope of finding you. But all I found were dead ends.”
Elrohir’s mind drifted toward the image of Hithui’s torn carcass in the wood, wondering whether or not he should tell Nessúlë.
“What is it?” Nessúlë questioned. “Why this shadow? I am not greatly harmed, you have found me.”
An irrepressible smile dawned on Elrohir’s face despite his melancholy. Nessúlë was somewhat taken aback by it.
“Yes,” Elrohir replied, “And praise be to all the good powers that Bainsúl crossed paths with me. I was sick with worry.”
Nessúlë felt the urge to turn away form Elrohir’s intense gaze. What she saw in his eyes was so foreign, so different from what she had always thought to find there.
“You love me,” she stated softly.
Elrohir took her hand and caressed her fingers. Nessúlë let him.
Elrohir was staring at her hand in his, but she didn’t need to see his eyes to hear the joy in his voice. How could he be uplifted when she had already treated him so roughly? Did he have some hope of her returning his affections? Was that hope justified?
Nessúlë twined her fingers with Elrohir’s and silently drew his eyes to hers.
“I don’t know what my heart is ready to give you, Elrohir; I am so amazed and disoriented. But I want you to know that I regret leaving Imladris. Things have been changing between us since I arrived – I can see that now. I don’t know where they will lead, but… I’m willing to find out… and… and…” Nessúlë couldn’t help smiling a little at the jubilant fire in Elrohir’s eyes, “…and that is the end of my eloquence.”
Without further ado Elrohir leaned in and kissed Nessúlë’s cheek. “Enough said, love,” he whispered into her ear, “And more than enough.”
Nessúlë felt a tinge of color rise up her face. She spoke with a mixture of anxiety and amusement in her voice: “You grow rather bold after such an uncertain declaration.”
Elrohir smirked. “Nessúlë, that was as good as an invitation for me to woo you. And woo you I shall.”
Aug 31, 12 Fourth Age
Elrohir did not do anything by halves. As much as he had studiously hid his affection from Nessúlë before, he now showered it on her without shame. Nessúlë found it a little overwhelming at times. But Elrohir was understanding and, at the slightest hesitation on her part, would slip blithely into the role of friend and comrade, not by changing his manner but by allowing her a little distance or changing the subject or making her laugh. The laughter was the best.
Somewhere along the way, during the second day of their ride back toward Imladris, old friendly scores had been dug up and little tricks had been played back and forth until the evening, when Nessúlë had put a few prickly sprigs of gorse on Elrohir’s empty seat. When the Elf had sat down he merely winced and then shook his head solemnly at Nessúlë who innocently examined the crackling fire before her. When she woke the next morning her toes discovered gorse in her boots.
Nessúlë chuckled, remembering how she had hopped about on her good leg in an exaggerated manner until she had fallen, albeit slowly and carefully, with a dramatic flare at Elrohir’s feet. Of course, he had then proceeded, by way of helping her to her feet, to swing her up into his arms, spin her around, and pin her with another one of those eloquent looks. But Nessúlë was by that time becoming more accustomed to such behavior.
“What are you snickering about?” Elrohir inquired over her shoulder. He sat behind her on his horse, having informed Nessúlë when they set out four days before of her own steed’s fate.
Smirking, Nessúlë did not reply. Instead she called out to the horse, who was slowly being won over to her side, and urged him to go faster. Without hesitation the stallion sprang forward, eagerly ready to romp across miles of wilderness without faltering. Nessúlë laughed outright as the wind washed over her face and hands, and her joy was multiplied as she heard Elrohir’s laugh mingle with hers on the wind and vibrate against her back where she leaned against him.
They did not stop to rest until shortly before noon when they came to the bridge over the Hoarwell*. Letting the horse out to graze, Elrohir and Nessúlë both sat on the edge of the bridge, Elrohir with both his feet dangling and Nessúlë with her back propped up against his shoulder, her injured leg on the bridge, and her other leg hanging over the water.
Nessúlë, who put great stock in being direct, took a bite of her dried fruit and turned her head as far as she might toward Elrohir.
“I think we may have to draw up some new rules for our horseplay, Elrohir. The field is no longer even.”
Elrohir set down his water skin and turned his head to meet her sidelong glance. “How so?”
“Well, if you’re sure you love me-“
“Which I am,” Elrohir put in.
“Yes, which you are,” Nessúlë took another philosophical bight of dried apple, staring off into the distance. “Doesn’t that mean that you couldn’t bring yourself to do so many underhanded things? If I were to do something horribly devilish, you would be left without a satisfactory means of recourse. I hold you at a disadvantage.”
Elrohir chuckled. “That merely gives me more incentive – the sooner I win your heart the sooner I shall be safe.”
Nessúlë fumbled desperately with her water skin and then watched morosely as it plopped into the tumbling water of the Hoarwell.
“Hmm, yes. But that… aspiration… doesn’t address the problem of the here and now, does it,” she finally replied.
“Don’t worry, love” Elrohir murmured, “I won’t be defenseless. Do you remember that time, eleven years ago, when we crossed paths in Lórien?”
The elleth’s eyes widened. “You mean, you loved me then and you did that!” Nessúlë huffed before the thought truly sank in. “Wait. You were in love with me eleven years ago?”
Elrohir smiled but Nessúlë did not see it, her back still being turned to him. “And for a time before that.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“What don’t you believe?” Elrohir asked a little defensively.
“I don’t believe that you would do such a thing if you had loved me back then. Aren’t lovesick Elves supposed to write sonnets or dream dreams or something of the sort.”
Elrohir shrugged. “I tried that as well.”
Nessúlë slouched against Elrohir’s shoulder, deflated. “All that time…”
“Not very long for an Elf,” Elrohir qualified.
Nessúlë turned so that she could face Elrohir with her back to the water. “Nay, a very long time for an Elf, if his love remains secret and unrequited. You should have said something.”
“What should I have said?”
A sad smile crept across Nessúlë’s face. “You’re right… how odd that would have been. It was not the time.”
“Is now the time, then?” Elrohir questioned, lifting his hand up to touch her cheek.
Nessúlë unconsciously tilted her head into his caress. “I have already told you all I know, old friend.”
“Now you are the one lying.” Elrohir cupped her face with both his hands. “Even now you are changing – you cannot be unaware of it.”
A slight tremor skimmed up Nessúlë’s spine as Elrohir buried his hands in her hair and gently drew her closer. She could have pulled away, but something inside her was arguing that she didn’t really want to after all.
“Do not be afraid to change, lovely one,” Elrohir whispered. “As long as it is what your heart desires and what your judgement cannot censure then there is nothing to fear. I used to think that you could not change for me, that you were perfect as you were. But I was wrong. Everything changes and can become more beautiful as it grows.”
Elrohir drew his left hand from her hair and tilted her chin up, smiling reassuringly. “And so I will wait for you.”
As Nessúlë held his gaze Elrohir leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead and temple. He then stood and gathered her up in his arms. Calling his horse over, he lifted Nessúlë gently onto its back and mounted after. For some time the two rode in silence as Nessúlë absorbed his words.
Sept 2, 12 Fourth Age
Nessúlë was annoyed at herself for being annoyed. Ever since she and Elrohir had met up with a group of three border guards, who had been some of the group come out to search for them, she had been irked by their presence. They were not rowdy by any human standards, but they would converse and sing and crowd about so that Nessúlë wished she were back in the wilderness… perhaps with Elrohir along for company. Elrohir always knew when to speak and when to be silent. Or perhaps it was that when Elrohir wanted to speak, Nessúlë simply wanted to listen to him. But it might also be that these Elves were just not as pleasant as Elrohir, or not as interesting. She didn’t know and found it horribly uncomfortable not knowing.
Thankfully, the journey was almost over. They had stopped several minutes before to allow for Nessúlë’s loosening bandage to be replaced, but when they mounted back up it would be only a few hours before Nessúlë would be able to hide in her room and calm herself. She would no longer have to be annoyed at the other Elves for breaking the peacefulness between her and Elrohir; annoyed at Elrohir for making her dissatisfied with everyone else; and annoyed with herself for letting Elrohir so easily ruffle and bewitch her.
And bewitched is what she was. Even she was not so stubborn as to deny it. And who would not be? She had been fond of Elrohir since the day she met him, but she had never been so long with him as to grow sisterly in her affection toward him. Indeed, she had once told Elrohir to his face that she did not need another brother worrying over her.
From the beginning Elrohir’s declaration of love had been more unexpected and uncomfortable than distasteful, and he had thus far been so gentle, playful, natural, and even romantic in his pursuit of her that the idea was becoming less and less uncomfortable by the minute. The only thing that distressed Nessúlë was the principle of it. Should she be so easily won, in a matter of days? Could such a hasty courtship be honestly crowned in love?
`You weren’t so practical before you knew it was Elrohir,’ an impertinent little voice whispered in the back of her mind.
Nessúlë tried her best to ignore it.
`And just think about your behavior since you arrived here,’ the voice continued. `Weren’t you rather hoping it would turn out to be Elrohir all along?’
“Oh shush,” Nessúlë retorted.
Elrohir sat down next to her on the log, his thigh brushing against hers. Nessúlë sighed morosely and gave him an ambiguous stare. It was so hard to think clearly when he was near. Elrohir frowned, concern in his eyes, and then tentatively got up, apparently devising that she wanted some time alone. Nessúlë’s heart sank a little as he walked to the nearby stream to fill his water skin. She hadn’t exactly wanted him to leave.
`You are a paradox,’ she grumbled at herself.
She sat quietly a few moments until she couldn’t keep herself from doing it: “Elrohir.”
The Elf turned from where he stood by the horse and lifted his eyebrows in question. The knot in Nessúlë’s stomach relaxed and she smiled apologetically. A few moments later Elrohir led the horse over and lifted her up onto its back. Nessúlë didn’t argue when he settled himself behind her and wrapped both his arms snugly around her waist. He didn’t let go of her until they arrived in Imladris, and even then he did so only long enough to dismount.
Nessúlë was not quite sure how he accomplished the feat, but within moments of their arriving in the courtyard Elrohir had lifted her from the horse, slipped daringly through the company of curious and inquiring citizens, traversed a hallway wet with mop water, and brought Nessúlë safely to the entrance of her room. The elleth smiled dreamily at the sight of her warm, soft bed. Unfortunately for her, she would have to wait to get there, as Elladan appeared from a tapestried doorway further down the hallway and came toward them.
“I heard your return from the balcony.” Elladan walked up to the pair, smiling. “My lady, I am glad to see that you are safe. Oloriel would greet you as well, but she is sleeping.”
Nessúlë was grateful that he did not touch upon her hasty departure. “Thank you, Elladan.”
She did not feel up to any more conversation, and neither it seems did anyone else. After a few earnest words passed between the two brothers, Elladan returned to his wife’s side. When he left Elrohir stepped into Nessúlë’s room and carried her over to the bed.
“When will you stop hoisting me everywhere?” Nessúlë teased.
“Until you grow too stubborn to let me, I imagine,” Elrohir quipped lightly. “I should call one of the healers to tend to your leg, by the way,” he continued, before pausing as he saw a look of discontent pass across Nessúlë’s face. Smiling knowingly he leaned down over her and placed a kiss on her forehead. “But not for a while yet. You should rest. Shall I leave you now.”
There was a vague look of hope in his eyes which Nessúlë found little defense against.
“You don’t have to go.”
Elrohir smiled softly, sitting down cross-legged on the end of her bed, with his back to one of the bedposts. A contented sigh escaped him as he watched Nessúlë.
Trying to ignore his obvious infatuation, Nessúlë shifted to her side and started tracing the pattern of the quilt beneath her. When he continued to watch her she chuckled and threw a small pillow at him.
“You’re pitiful,” she laughed.
Elrohir shrugged. “And you’re beautiful.”
There didn’t seem to be any way to respond to that, so Nessúlë didn’t try. Elrohir scooted up the bed and lay down next to her. Somehow their hands met between them and twined in each other’s. A few moments past before Elrohir spoke again.
“We’ve had ourselves quite an adventure, have we not?”
Nessúlë smiled sleepily. “Yes. I am quite done with them for a while.”
A breeze blew through the open window as Nessúlë’s eyes drifted closed. She was about to pass into sleep when a knock sounded on the frame of her doorway
“I know I shouldn’t disturb you,” Oloriel said, walking as best she could toward the bed, “but you’ll have to make allowances for the pregnant lady. Have you called the healer, Elrohir?”
Elrohir rose from the bed to lend his arm to his sister-in-law when Oloriel froze and gasped out loud, laying a startled hand on her abdomen.
“Are you alright?” Elrohir inquired hastily as he caught Oloriel’s elbow in his hand.
Oloriel’s eyes were wide and her breathing was labored. “Elrohir, I think the baby is coming.”
1. Hoarwell – River west of Imladris and Trollshaw.
Things to Know:
Nessúlë: “young spirit”
Elrohir: “Elf knight”
Bainsúl: “fair wind”
elleth: “Elf (female)”