Aingael blinked her eyes blearily. Her head ached dully and even the perpetual darkness that was her sight seemed to throb and pulse. Groaning, she mad an attempt to sit up. The smell of burning wood and ash assailed her nostrils. Wherever she was, there was a camp fire nearby.
Her hands were bound behind her back tightly with rough twisted rope. It wasn’t elven. Odd, that wracked by pain, this would be the first clear thought to enter her mind. Jagged splinters of stone cut into her side cruelly as she tried to sit up. There was no earth beneath her, only smooth hard stone. She could hear something moving nearby. “Who’s there?”
“So the blind runt has awoken at last.” The derisive voice made a slander of the graceful Sindarin language. “How does it feel my lady to know that you’re now the slave of your Father’s worst enemy?”
Aingael scoffed to hide the fear his words sent through her. “My parents? They don’t have enemies.”
“So they’ve never told you,” He laughed coldly. The sound of his voice set Aingeal on edge, uneasy and distrustful, but at the same time she wanted to know what he meant.
“Never told me what?” He didn’t speak, but she could hear him moving again, this time coming closer to her. A thin bony hand gripped her arm as she tried to pull away. She knew that hand, somehow… in the back of her mind, refusing to resurface. Still it sent a shiver of unexplained fear through her. “Don’t touch me!” She tried to pull out of his grasp uselessly.
“Oh, are you going to make me you little brat?!”
The sound of a knife being pulled from a leather sheath made Aingeal freeze for several seconds, but she came back to herself quickly. Screaming, she lunged away from her captor despite the effect her movements had on her head. In spite of her efforts, the cold steel blade was pressed to forearm and cut deeply into the skin.
“You’re going to suffer as I have suffered all these years.” A searing liquid was poured over the fresh, bleeding cut. Her arm felt like it was on fire. The pain was so intense that she fainted.
“Now, now, we can’t have that.” Reaching for something in his pouch, he produced a smelling salt and held it to Aingeal’s nose. The she-elf’s nose wrinkled and she began to wake for the second time in a short period of time. He poured more of the liquid onto dirty strips of cloth and bound them around the cut while she was still recovering from her grogginess.
When she was finally able to sit up again, she glared at her attacker. “Why are you doing this? What did I or my parents ever do to you?”
She could almost sense his glare upon her. “Your father murdered my brother, Thalion.” Aingeal refused to believe him.
“My father would not do such a thing,” despite her dislike of her father, she disliked this man even more.
“No? Your mother watched him die. In fact, she bears a scar give her by your so-called ‘father.’ You might have seen it. Its just below the hairline on her forehead. It would be very faint now, but when you were little you had to have seen it.”
“Who are you?” Aingeal did not acknowledge that she had indeed seen the scar he spoke of.
“Your mother never mentioned me? Funny, since she seemed to be so close to my brother.”
Aingeal fought off a wave of dizziness, wondering what he had poured into the cut on her arm. “What are you talking about?”
“I am Amarth, once a friend of your mother’s before she betrayed me. Your are the pitiful result of her treachery.” He laughed softly, the sound making Aingeal uneasy. “I supposed that would make me your uncle.”
“What do you mean?” Aingeal asked slowly.
Amarth cleared his throat. “Well, let’s see.” He spoke to her as if she were a very small child. According to the laws of family relationships, for me to be your uncle your father would have to be my brother. My brother was Thalion.”
“Thalion was our dog.” Aingeal grated out through her clenched teeth.
“True, but your dog was named after your father. Consider it adding insult to injury.” Amarth slapped her across the face. “That’s for your insolence.”
Aingeal turned her face to the ground as he walked a few feet away. “Athrun is my father. You are a deranged madman.”
“Nay, do not fool yourself.” Amarth began adding fuel to his dieing fire. The sun would begin to set soon and the nights were cold in the forest. “Your mother had a rather, how shall I say… illicit relationship behind your father’s back while he was away defending Imladris that once was. You are the product of her deceit. It’s because of you that Athrun killed my brother.”
Judging by the long silence from the room above, Athrun found it safe to assume that Aingeal had calmed down somewhat. He knew his wife was right about her, as much as he might want to argue. She usually was.
“I’m going to go talk to her,” He told Mornië as he stood, heading for the door.
“Be nice,” Mornië smiled at him.
Athrun ignored her comment good naturedly, as he knocked lightly on the door. “Aingeal?” he knocked again when there was no answer. “Can I come in?” Still no answer. Slowly, he opened the door just enough to see in. The room was empty. He sighed and pushed the door open a little more. Large chunks of broken class and ceramics littered the floor. The wooden had been broken, apparently from the inside. Athrun shook his head. He had to admire her stubbornness, and he knew she came by it honestly.
He made his way back down the stairs to fetch and broom and a bucket. “She’s gone.” He said simply when Mornië looked at him questioningly.
“Are you going to go find her?” The delicately posed question made him pause.
“No,” he finally shook his head. “She’ll come home when she’s ready.”
Mornië smiled. She knew that this wasn’t coming easy for him. His first nature was to chase after her, protect her. Ever since the attack that caused her blindness so many years before, Athrun had become even more protective of his daughter than before. He could hardly stand to let her out of his sight, fearful that she might be hurt again. It had hurt him terribly when Aingeal lost her sight. She knew he blamed himself.
She looked out the window to the gardens beyond. Dusk was slowly starting to fall as the sun descended in the sky. She couldn’t help but hope Aingeal had the sense to come back before dark.
Eavan glanced back at his ‘shadow’. “Do you have a name?” he asked finally.
“No.” The boy shrugged. “Never needed one.”
“Right,” Eavan smirked and shook his head. “All right, Oh Nameless One. I need you to do me a favour.”
“What is it?” the boy looked at him suspiciously.
“I need a horse. Not some farm nag, but a good riding horse.”
The scamp thought for a minute. “I think I know where I can get one. Do you want me to steal it?”
Eavan shook his head but grinned. “No, I’ll pay.” He pulled a pouch filled with coins from his pack. “Take this, buy the horse, and meet me at the small grove of trees outside the village.” Eavan did not really expect to see the boy again, but this was his way of helping him out of a rough spot.
Eavan made his way unhurriedly to the grove anyway. He didn’t intend to ever have to steal again. He had plenty of gold to last him the rest of his days. Still, he was young, and he couldn’t help but hope that more adventures awaited him. Settling in the grass at the base of a tree in the sheltering grove, he stared up at the sky, idly watching the wisps of cloud float past high above.
After nearly an hour, he stiffened slightly at the sound of someone approaching, looking up sharply to see the boy standing there holding the reins of a dark horse.
“That was fast,” Eavan was very careful to keep his surprise from showing on his face.
“I have my ways. It’s a gelding,” the boy just grinned.
Eavan stood and began examining the horse. The animal had fine lines and carried his head well. There were no obvious cuts or bruising. “You did good.” Eavan nodded approvingly. “Was there any money left?” “
Yes,” the scamp replied while shaking the pouch.
Eavan took the reins from his young friend. “Keep it and use it to take care of yourself.” After mounting, he looked down at the now beaming youth. “And try not to cross any more tavern wenches.”
Athrun leaned heavily against a pillar, staring out at the starlit sky. The bright stars hung like tiny crystals cast out upon the dark blanket of the sky. They told him a story. In their depths they held thousands of years of history, gazing down upon the changing world, themselves unchanged. It made one feel very small to look at them. He was broken from his reverie by a hand on his shoulder.
“Lord Athrun,” it was Ilterendi. He looked troubled.
“What is it?” Athrun was instantly concerned.
“Aingeal, she is still missing.”
“She’s no where to be found in the city Milord.”
Athrun took a moment to calm himself. “Are you sure?”
Ilterendi nodded emphatically. “I checked everywhere. I even went to the cliff where we found her a few days ago.” The elf was clearly distraught. “She’s disappeared.”
Without another word, Athrun strode past Ilterendi and back into his flet. Mornië was sitting on the floor with their young son, Eihm cradled in her lap, reading to him from a book. It had become a nightly tradition for the two before he was put to bed. “She’s gone. Ilterendi can’t find her anywhere.” Athrun paced like a caged animal.
“Are you sure?” Mornië understood and shared her husbands concern. It was one thing for Aingeal to go missing during the day. It was an entirely different matter for her to be alone outside the city at night. The surrounding land was home to all sort of creatures. The wolf packs nightly could be heard outside the city walls. Mornië placed Eihm in his cradle and crossed the room to a large wood cabinet where the family weapons were stored. “We must search for her. Can Ilterendi get some of the others to help?”
“I’ll ask.” Athrun turned to see Ilterendi standing in the doorway.
“I’ll gather all I can.” The elf strode out the door purposefully.
Mornië nodded to him as he passed, then handed Athrun his bow and quiver. After retrieving her own weapons, which included the knives Athrun had gifted her in Imladris, she met Athrun’s eyes. “I’ll have Ariel watch Eihm until we return.”
Aingeal lay curled in a ball against the cold stone, attempting to ward off the chill night air. She could hear the crackling of the fire nearby, but was not near enough to feel its warmth. Despite the pleasant aroma of food wafting from the fire, she felt queasy and sick. She felt as if she were burning up inside, despite the cold. She found herself wondering what Amarth had put in the cut on her arm.
She and her captor had not spoken since many hours before, and Aingeal had no wish to break the silence. She found his words playing through her mind. Was he telling the truth? As much as she didn’t want to believe it, the thought remained.