Disclaimer: see chapter one
Names/Pronunciations will come at the end of each chapter.
“text” signals dialogue
`text’ signals thoughts
Chapter 5.) Spontaneous Maneuvers
I was born to catch dragons in their dens
And pick flowers
To tell tales and laugh away the morning
To drift and dream like a lazy stream
And walk barefoot across sunshine days.
– James Kavanaugh
Aug 1, 12 Fourth Age
Nessúlë laughed joyfully as she twirled across the wet grass. The rain had finally stopped the night before, leaving the world in a frenzy of brilliant colors and sparkling raindrops. Elrohir watched silently from behind a copse of yews as his ladylove danced gracefully in the sunshine.
Not knowing that she was observed, Nessúlë flopped carelessly down onto the soggy ground and closed her eyes, taking in the fresh, rain-washed scents of the earth as her breathing calmed. It was such a joy to be in the open air. This was one aspect of Imladris that she truly preferred above her home in East Lorien. Having been born in Mithlond, and not even being descended from the Silvan Elves, Nessúlë would always prefer a clear view of the sky to the largely unbroken shade of the forest.
“You dance beautifully.”
A voice drifted down from above Nessúlë and she opened her eyes, squinting slightly in the bright morning sunshine. She scrunched her face up in embarrassment.
“Don’t you know that it is impolite to watch a lady when she is unaware of you, sir? …I was being rather silly.”
Elrohir chuckled and set down cross-legged next to where she lay. “Nay, you were quite enchanting. It reminded me of that day in Minas Tirith when you danced with Oloriel: so joyful and graceful.
A slight blush crept across Nessúlë’s face and she shifted uneasily. It didn’t sit well with her to be praised so blatantly. Elrohir, sensing her discomfort, changed the subject.
“I had hoped to show you the upper end of the valley after luncheon. There is a marvelous view there if you are up for a climb.”
Elrohir let his words hang, silently questioning her. Nessúlë smiled and sat up, the back of her gown now wet through from the damp earth.
“That sounds lovely. When shall we depart?”
Before answering, Elrohir got up from the ground and held out a hand for Nessúlë. She grasped it, and he pulled her to a standing position.
“Well,” he finally began, looking at the sky in a thoughtful way. “I believe that Oloriel is feeling very large and immobile this morning and would enjoy some of your company, since Elladan and I both have a few matters of business to attend to. Why don’t we part ways until lunch and then start out afterward?”
“Your plan is quite sensible.” Nessúlë nodded then shook out her damp skirts. “Shall I find Oloriel in her chambers or in the breakfast room?”
“I believe in the breakfast room. She was reading by the fire there when last I saw her.”
With another nod, Nessúlë walked off toward the halls, humming aimlessly to herself. As Elrohir watched her go an incredulous smile crept across his face. Over the past few days he had grown relatively comfortable in Nessúlë’s presence, but he certainly hadn’t intended to approach her now, and when he found himself standing over her he hadn’t know in the slightest what he would say. But apparently things had come out quite well.
`I suppose that nature is somehow taking her course,’ he thought absently as he began to walk toward his study, which opened into a garden close by. `I wonder where it shall lead me.’
“You seem very quiet,” Nessúlë commented as she and Elrohir moved silently through the forest. She could see a light up ahead and knew that they would soon come out into a clearing where a steep rise led up to the rim of the valley. They had walked some distance to reach the place and during that time Nessúlë’s companion had spoken little, and generally only to point out some noteworthy sight or to make some idle, though pleasant, remark.
Elladan sighed. This excursion was certainly not playing out the way he had anticipated. He felt clumsy and uncertain and had been dancing around any real conversation since they left. His confidence of the morning had deserted him with the realization that he would be alone with Nessúlë for the entire afternoon, walking tenuously on the safe side of like and love. So many things he could not say – so many things he wished he would say. When he and Nessúlë were among other people, avoiding dangerous waters seemed so much easier. When he was alone with her like this, walking quietly through the woods, all he could think of was how much more pleasant it would be if she were holding his hand.
“Forgive me, lady, for making you feel uncomfortable. But… have you never felt as though there is simply nothing worth saying?”
Nessúlë turned her head to look at him. “Yes, sometimes… but only when I am ill at ease. Are you ill at ease?”
Elrohir had the intense urge to roll his eyes. `Why must she always be so direct?’ he griped to himself.
“No, I…” He tried to come up with a believable explanation, but failed utterly. “Yes… yes I am,” he finally murmured, his shoulders slumping as he stepped out into the light.
Nessúlë stopped and commanded him to look at her. “Why?”
“Do you truly want to know?” Elrohir inquired, holding her gaze. “What if it was unpleasant, or shocking, or distasteful to you?”
A compassionate smile lit up Nessúlë’s face as she laid a hand on his shoulder. “Of course I want to know, that’s why I asked you. What are friends for but to bring each other comfort? I do hope that I have not caused you any pain. Have I?”
Looking away from her, Elrohir eyed a small flower that grew at the base of one of the nearby trees. She always hit exactly where it hurt the most.
“Nay, it is not your fault.”
Elrohir motioned her to follow him up the steep trail. To Nessúlë’s relief there was enough room for them to walk side-by-side. This gave her more opportunity to press her cause.
“But you have yet to tell me what troubles you, mellon.”
Elrohir chuckled. As he did so a weight seemed to fly from his chest. Why was he so uneasy? The world was beautiful, Nessúlë was beautiful, and one way or another he would eventually reveal his heart to her. And she, being the strong lady that she was, would turn him away with gentle firmness and continue to care for him just as she did now. There was a certain peace in knowing the future.
“I cannot tell you now,” he finally replied, “but I promise you that I will someday.”
Nessúlë would have persisted had she not seen the calm look that settled on Elrohir’s features. Apparently the cloud had passed.
She shrugged and ended the conversation with, “Well, I respect your honesty… But be warned, I will hold you to your promise.”
Adjusting the small pack of provisions that he carried on his shoulders, Elrohir flashed Nessúlë a pleasant grin. “Yes, I know.”
The two Elves fell into easy, meandering conversation as they ascended from the valley.
“Elrohir, stop it! I can’t- I can’t breath-” Nessúlë broke off as another wave of laughter consumed her.
To better enjoy the grand view, the pair had climbed a stout tree that leant over the ravine and Nessúlë was beginning to feel that she would loose her balance and fall from her perch if the mirth continued. She couldn’t even remember what they were laughing about, exactly. Elrohir had been recounting a story of his outrageous childhood and they had both started laughing over it and then teasing each other and throwing bits of bark in each other’s hair. Then Elrohir tickled her ribs with a stick, and it was as if they were children once more and laughter took control of every moment, turning the whole world into a source of merriment.
Heedless of her warning, Elrohir jumped lightly down onto a branch beneath where she sat and began to pass a leaf lightly across the sole of her bare foot. With what was to Elrohir’s mind a delightful squeal, Nessúlë pulled that foot up and out of his reach. When he attacked her other foot in the same fashion she yanked that up as well, only this time it truly did put her balance in jeopardy. With both legs pulled up and her arms wrapped around them she had nothing to act as a counterbalance for her, and even as she laughed she could feel herself slipping sideways.
Strangely enough she made no noise when she lost her seat, merely grabbed frantically at another branch as her body slipped over. Her hand pressed against wood for a brief moment, but then slipped off, the thick branch providing nothing to truly grasp. In a moment of terror Nessúlë truly thought that she would fall to the very narrow strip of ground beneath her and slither over the cliff’s edge. Her fears were soon laid to rest, however, as she felt a strong arm wrap around her waist. Unfortunately, her fears were revived once more as she realized that plucking a full-grown Elf from mid-air as they are plummeting downward it not the easiest thing to do.
Elrohir, having had no time to prepare, was himself pulled off balance. With one arm around her waist, he desperately tipped, jumped, swung, and eventually toppled his way to the ground, thankfully at a safe distance from the cliff edge. And, being the gentleman that he was, he had even found a way to land beneath Nessúlë, absorbing most of the jarring impact. For several moments the Elves lay there, frozen in shock.
Elrohir was dizzy, winded by the fall, and trying to recover from one of the worst scares of his life. It was therefore something of a miracle when he finally managed to croak out, “What kind of Elf are you?”
Nessúlë shivered and tightened her grip on Elrohir’s shirt. “N-n-not a Silvan one.”
A ridiculous, strangled sort of laugh flew out of Elrohir’s mouth, but neither Elf was fooled by it. Without reservation Elrohir brought his free arm up around Nessúlë and held her tightly to him. Nessúlë, numbed to thoughts of propriety, willingly let him do it, her eyes scrunched closed and her head buried in his tunic.
Neither Elf could tell afterward how long they lay there. All they knew was that the moment fell apart when a crow descended onto the tree above them and let out a sharp cry. In that instant, Elrohir and Nessúlë both became fully aware of their position. On instinct, Elrohir was about to withdraw his arms, but then he decided to wait, to see what Nessúlë will do.
Truth be told, he did not in the least expect what came next. He had imagined she might simply push off him, or ask him to let her go. Instead, she opened her eyes and looked curiously at the hand that clenched his tunic, as though she were deciding whether or not it was her own. Then, very slowly she lifted her head enough to catch a glimpse of his face and paused, looking up at a rather awkward angle into his eyes.
Several seconds slipped away. Nessúlë mentally chided herself, `Get up! Get up quickly you silly girl!’ But for some reason she couldn’t do it. This puzzled her, but the mystery was soon uncovered as another side of her whispered very matter-of-factly, `Why should I get up? I don’t want to. I am quite comfortable here.’ It was this thought that propelled her into motion.
Rolling unceremoniously off of Elrohir, Nessúlë got to her knees and looked around in a bewildered fashion. Her own thoughts were quite disconcerting, and she did her best to stuff them away into a very deep, very dark place. It didn’t work. She kept looking nervously back at Elrohir, who remained lying on the ground, and arguing with herself about whether or not she had been comfortable there, and if she had, what it might mean.
Elrohir’s mind was in a similar state of discord, though his thoughts tended in a different direction. For the first time in fourteen years a new idea had come to disrupt his settled understanding of who this elleth was. He was not at all sure that he could interpret Nessúlë’s expression correctly, but he knew this much – it had been anything but indifferent. For a few precious moments Nessúlë had looked at him in a decidedly different way, and Elrohir determined then to discover what it all meant.
“Thank you, Elrohir.”
A timid voice pierced Elrohir’s contemplation. He turned his head to look at Nessúlë. Her eyes were bright and wide, still looking somewhat dazed. He sat up slowly, still rather stiff from the fall, and tried to reach for her hand, but a subtle shift in her stance made him hesitate and withdraw.
“You are most welcome, lady. But I must beg your pardon for my own foolish antics.”
Nessúlë shook her head. “Nay, it was not your fault.”
An uncertain silence hung between them for a moment.
“Did you…?” Nessúlë looked directly into Elrohir’s eyes but then turned away, leaving her words unfinished.
“What were you going to say?” Elrohir asked gently.
Nessúlë shook her head. “I cannot tell you.” An almost merry light illuminated her eyes as she continued, “But I promise that I will… someday.”
Elrohir smiled then shook his head in amazement. “We are incredibly fortunate, you and I.”
Running a hand through her disheveled hair Nessúlë softly replied, “Yes, in more ways than one.”
Elrohir did not inquire as to her meaning. Instead, he noted both of their mussed and dusty appearances and suggested that he show her someplace where they could calm down as well as clean off. And thankfully, no trees would be involved. Nessúlë agreed quite willingly. And so, when she had put her shoes back on, Elrohir picked up his satchel and began leading the way back down into the ravine, trying not to appear shaken by the recent events.
By the time Nessúlë and Elrohir had traversed the steep trail once again their moods were much improved. Nessúlë’s because she was thankful to be alive and quick to learn the art of explaining away her previously trouble emotions. And Elrohir’s because he was growing more and more intrigued by the possibility that his grandfather was right: that Nessúlë wasn’t as simple as he had made her out to be – that perhaps the future was not set in stone.
Of course, this added a whole new layer of complexity to his situation, but it also added a spark of hope. He could not yet bring himself to imagine that there would be a happy ending for him, but there could certainly be an unexpected one.
And so, with many laughs and smiles that neither Elf attempted to interpret, they drew close to Elrohir’s suggested destination: the Anorlín, or Sun Pool in the Common Tongue. The pool was so named for two reasons. The first was that the course of the wide stream entering and leaving the pool created a gap in the trees which mirrored the course of the summer sun, allowing light to fall on the pool from morning till night, despite the forest around it. The second reason was that the floor of the pool was embedded with clusters of fool’s gold, which glittered and sparkled through the clear water.
When they reached the pool both Elrohir and Nessúlë were ready for a dip. Between traipsing through the forest, climbing ravine walls, and tumbling out of trees, the two Elves were dirty, weary, and warm.
With childlike glee Nessúlë sat down on the pool’s edge and took her soft boots off, letting her feet dangle in the water. She closed her eyes and swished around a bit, reveling in the feel of the cool liquid against her toes. Elrohir smiled at her contentment and sat down beside her, beginning to unlace his own boots.
“Are you hungry?” Elrohir asked after the first boot came off. He gestured toward his bag, which held some bread and cheese. “There’s a small grove of apple trees nearby if you would like that better.”
Nessúlë shook her head as she unlaced her outer tunic and slipped it over her head. “I am not hungry, really. Perhaps in a little while.”
Without further ado she slid into the pool, thankful that she had worn her brown under tunic, which would not reveal too much when wet. Elrohir took off his other boot and was about to join her when he inquired whether she minded if he took off his under tunic.
Nessúlë laughed cheerfully. “I am part of the guard now, Elrohir, I have seen many shirtless ellons.”
Elrohir was not sure if he liked the idea of her seeing “many” shirtless males, but decided that it would be best not to comment.
There is some delightful property of water that makes everyone act a little less dignified than they are wont to. Elrohir and Nessúlë were no exception. They had always had a bantering, playful relationship, which had already floated to the surface once that day while they were in the tree, and the water only amplified this potential.
Elrohir started it when, sneaking up behind Nessúlë as she struggled to undo her long braid, he dunked her unmercifully into the pool. However, Nessúlë was no fainting maiden. She was almost as strong as he was, and had a tenacity to rival any males. Not many minutes had passed before Elrohir slid laughing onto a rock shelf, submerged beneath the water, and leant back on the pool’s bank, admitting defeat.
“Do you always win, lady?” he inquired, tossing a leaf into the water and watching as it swirled in the gentle currents of the pool.
Nessúlë smirked, her face held just above the water. “Whenever possible, yes.”
A very dangerous thought crept into Elrohir’s mind and he acted on it before his better judgement could interfere. “Then… I suppose you will never marry.” The Elf tried to keep a light bantering tone in his voice.
Nessúlë furrowed her brows. “What makes you say that?”
Elrohir let his hands trail in the water. “Well, I suppose because I have always heard it said that marriage is made of compromise – giving yourself over to another. You couldn’t win in such a situation, at least not all the time.”
Nessúlë smiled slowly, seeming to accept the idea that Elrohir was playing at a game of wit.
“Ah, but isn’t it also said that marriage makes two hearts into one? We would thus be able to share victory.”
Chuckling softly, Elrohir vacated his seat and swam closer to Nessúlë, trying to ignore the nervous exhilaration that was pooling in his stomach. “Then you are not opposed to marriage?” He sighed dramatically. “I’m afraid I shall be forced to repaint your character then.”
Nessúlë looked a little ruffled. “Do you mean to say… that you could not see me as a wife?” There was a certain vulnerability in her look which Elrohir was at a lost to understand. But to an onlooker it might have been simple: Here was a lady who, though she had lived an unorthodox life, had grown up on the same fairy tales as other young girls. To her marriage may have seemed like a nebulous, far off ideal, but it was still an ideal. And to be told that she didn’t fit into that vague dream was a little disconcerting.
Elrohir knew that he had made some sort of blunder, but wasn’t certain how to fix it. He tried to explain as best he could.
“It’s not that I… I mean… Binding yourself to someone is… Well, it’s like finding your missing piece. And you,” Elrohir examined Nessúlë’s expression as he scoured his mind, “You don’t seem to be missing anything. You’re so strong.” His eyes dropped to the water as he finished. `And so perfect,’ he added to himself.
Nessúlë did not reply for some time, but when she did her tone was light. “Elrohir, what silly thoughts you have. You think because I am a… well, a shield maiden of sorts, that I do not need anything? What of your own grandmother – she is many times stronger than I am, and yet she needed Lord Celeborn, as he needed her. There are many kinds of need, and many kinds of strength. An oak tree is strong, but it bends in the wind and gains a new beauty and dignity that it did not have before. You know as well as I that the trees revel in the wind, even though they do not control the dance. That is like love, I imagine.”
Elrohir’s heart thrummed loudly in his ears. “Then you… yearn for a mate?”
A long, clear laugh filled the air. “I did not say that, now did I? In this you shall not have to repaint my character. I am no pining maiden, if that is what you mean. I am content to wait for the right time. Though I will say this: when it comes I will not be displeased.”
Soon Nessúlë got out of the pool and began twining some nearby wildflowers into her hair. When Elrohir joined her, lying down to dry, she playfully stuck a daisy behind his ear but he pulled it off and tossed it at her. Seriousness had passed.
When the two Elves began the return journey their clothes were still hopelessly wet and they continued to drip water all the way back to the Halls. But not even wet breeches could dampen Elrohir’s spirits. For that afternoon he had uncovered a precious gift in the woods: hope.
Things to Know:
Nessúlë [ness-OO-ley]: “young spirit”
Anorlín [ahn-OR-leen]: “sun pool”
ellon: “elf (male)”
elleth: “elf (female)”