The dying summer sun drenched the emerald meadows with a golden glow as it sunk deeper behind the clouds, staining them a bloody red. The long grasses rustled softly in the gentle breeze and swayed with a soft whispering noise that could be heard clearly through the still air. Far above the land a flock of birds wheeled through the azure sky, calling joyfully to each other and moving in perfect unison together. They flew in and out of the shadows of the Misty Mountains, the peaks of which rose to dizzying heights and were tipped with glimmering snow on their precipices of jet. The rushing river Bruinen ran through this lush paradise its clear water bouncing over the rocky banks. All was well in this land. The shadow of the Dark Years had been lifted and the elven dwelling of Imladris was free from any ghost of the evil that had so threatened it before.
The land of Imladris was ruled by Lord Elrond Halfelven who had protected it from Sauron’s influence by the elf ring he wielded but now that ring was failing and the power he had exerted was diminishing. The elves could not stay there for many years longer, they were a sad folk whose true land lay beyond the great ocean. They would fade from their fair form were they to stay in Middle Earth without the Great Ring Vilya’s power to preserve and heal them and their land. Elves had been leaving Imladris ever since Sauron’s downfall and going to Mithlond to depart across the sea and even the folk there were slowly dwindling. The Lord Elrond and his sons were destined to remain until all others had gone, and it would be a sad day when they themselves left the shores of Middle Earth, never to return. His sons were sitting together now in their gardens, lazing beneath the shade of the trees and enjoying the last rays of the sun. They were the renowned warriors Elladan and Elrohir, who lived with their father and wandered the Wilds of the world seeking adventure and labouring against the dark forces. They were as close as brothers could be, and there were few outside their friends who could tell them apart. Both were tall in stature, dark haired and fair of face and both were highly skilled with a bow and arrow. The differences between them were few, Elrohir’s eyes were of a darker grey colour than his brother’s which were grey-blue. Elladan also had a tiny link of three freckles beneath his chin but these could only be seen if he raised his head, and far from lessening his beauty were found by most to be rather endearing. Neither were concerned with the weighty issues concerning their departure at the moment though. They were content to enjoy the final sunshine of the summer with a comfortable sense of lethargy.
“Tonight is the feast to celebrate the betrothal of Master Arciryas and Lady Vanimeldë,” Elrohir said wearily, “do you think you will attend?”
Elladan groaned unhappily at the prospect and rolled over to face his brother,
“I have no choice,” he said, “father wishes us both to make an appearance though we both know it will give little pleasure to either,”
“Oh I don’t know, but I know will take more pleasure in it than you considering you were once so enamoured with the lady whose marriage we are to celebrate.” Elrohir narrowed his eyes teasingly, knowing full well that he would incite his brother’s irritation by such a remark and hoping that he would do so.
“Never was that so!” Elladan exclaimed with vehemence,
Elladan frowned, “Elrohir, my dear misguided brother, when once have I declared that I desired Lady Vanimeldë as wife?”
Elrohir was forced to admit as such, “Well, perhaps you did not, but you did profess your admiration for her in no uncertain terms.”
“So did you.” Elladan retorted, his brow furrowed. Both brothers had been rather taken aback when first beholding the lady, but Elrohir had hoped Elladan had forgotten that minor point.
“Yes but I did not mope around for days after hearing that she was to wed.” he said.
“Nor did I!” Elladan cried then realised that they were within earshot of many, Elrohir grinned as his brother suddenly lowered his voice, “I did not mope around for days as you should well be able to remember. I do not deny that I find her beauty and manner to be somewhat appealing yet she is too mindful of her own pretensions to be anything other than a fleeting desire.”
Lady Vanimeldë was of the house of Baránda, Falathrim folk they had travelled to Imladris from the Havens many hundred years ago and had dwelt there ever since. Lady Vanimeldë had caused much of a stir among the menfolk by revealing herself as in possession of a great loveliness. She was tall and elegant, her hair fell in a river of jet to her waist and her eyes were dark and beautiful. It was rather an unhappy consequence of being a man and therefore susceptible to finding himself speechless when faced with such a lady. Elrohir had not been unmoved by her but was more skilled at hiding his penchant for her than his brother. He would never let Elladan forget his former sentiments no matter how hard the latter begged. Yet, as he would console himself, the taunts he received from Elrohir were merely that of a brother and after bearing the like for thousands of years it could not hurt to carry on doing so for a little longer.
“She is very affected.” Elrohir agreed, suddenly serious. It had been this complete lack of any real substance that had led him to turn his affections from Vanimeldë as it had to several others who valued the finer things in life, “And she is marrying for honour of house alone it is plain, of that I never thought her capable.”
“You expected her to marry for love when there are plenty of men with wealth enough who are blinded by her beauty?”
“That is a cruel truth though truth it be.” Elrohir laughed, “What of her sister? Írissë seems less inclined to take such airs, I marvel how they are so different in manner.”
“In manner perhaps and somewhat in looks yet Írissë always walks in her sister’s shadow.” said Elladan thoughtfully, thinking of Vanimeldë’s youngest sibling. She had a brother and a sister. Her brother was away from Imladris, travelling around the lands of Middle Earth. His company was valued by the sons of Elrond and they looked forward eagerly to his return. Aranwë, as he was called, was fully sensible to the follies of his eldest sister, possessing very few of them himself. He had long tried to reform Vanimeldë and imbue her with the sort of qualities it would be favourable to see in a sister but his efforts had proved fruitless and he had thrown up his hands in despair of her on many occasions.
“Not out of choice I can imagine.”
“She has more of a wit than Vanimeldë even though her tongue could cut iron.” Elladan said, thinking of how she could curse better than any he knew.
“Why do you dislike her?” Elrohir asked suddenly, “She is pleasant enough but you appear to be more averse to her than anyone.”
His brother replied quickly, too quickly. “I do not dislike her as such, have you ever heard me say so?”
“No but you have never given me any reason to think otherwise and you spend as little time as possible in her company. Do you much prefer that of her sister’s?” Elrohir answered. Elladan idly flicked a piece of grass at him,
“Will you give me no peace as to Vanimeldë? I hope Írissë retains sense enough not to become like her. I confess, dear brother, that I find lady Írissë to be too defiant for my liking.”
“What you mean is that she is the first, of hopefully many, ladies that have challenged you and do you not enjoy such a trial to your superiority?” The infuriating smile that played over Elrohir’s face almost induced Elladan to strike him good-naturedly.
“I do not,” he said, “Especially if I know in my heart that to win the friendship of Írissë is beyond my arts to please.”
“Well you will have chance aplenty to exercise your arts at dinner this eve for I have seen the arrangements at the table and you are placed beside her.” Elrohir’s smile widened and he could not hide the obvious delight he harboured at his brother’s reaction.
“May I conclude that by your hand is this done?” Elladan asked, resigned to his brother’s tricks.
“Elladan how could you believe me capable of such a thing?” he said innocently, “But it may be for the best, you know I have ever the hopes of a match between you two.”
“And I had ever the hopes of a match between yourself and Vanimeldë, yet she has chosen more wisely and you must bestow what is left of your failing wit and charm elsewhere.” It was Elladan’s turn to laugh as Elrohir quickly tried to cover his initial reaction of annoyance with a mock outrage. Before their conversation could reach new heights of congeniality Elladan rose to his feet and strode off. His brother watched the brilliant, fiery disc sink slowly behind the mountains and pierce the many-hued sky with its golden streaks of light. He sighed, content for the moment, far in the distance a cluster of clouds heralded the brewing of a storm and Elrohir knew it was going to be a long night.
Elladan surveyed his reflection sullenly. He was arrayed in princely finery that became him very well yet he loathed wearing it. The looking glass revealed a long dark mantle, over raiment of midnight blue. He disliked the call of social gatherings because it meant, as son of the Lord Elrond, he was expected to mingle with the guests and make idle discourse with many that he spent his days endeavouring to avoid. He was also not relishing the thought of his brother teasing him endlessly about his supposed attachment to Lady Vanimeldë. He was sick of justifying his feelings for her as nothing more than a passing attraction, though his brother never tired of the subject. It was with a measure of apprehension that Elladan made his way to the banquet hall and found Elrohir and his father talking together amid the revelry. The dining chamber was large and high-ceilinged lit by burning torches flickering in their wrought iron brackets. They cast flickering shadows which danced merrily up the walls and they illuminated the fluted marble columns as they rose to the roof. The roof itself was painted to represent the myriad stars of the heavens. It was a fine room and dominated at one side by a long, mahogany table covered in velvet. The rest of the flagstone floor was bare for dancers or entertainers. Elladan took his place next to Írissë, two seats away from his father. She smiled at him and he could not help thinking how different she and her sister were. As Vanimeldë’s hair was dark and straight, Írissë’s was gently waved and kissed with a golden glow that set it apart from the rest of the Falathrim elves at Imladris. They both had the same expressive features though, and warm brown eyes which were truly captivating.
Vanimeldë swept into the hall, Master Arciryas following behind her. She was clad in a breathtaking gown of the richest indigo, shot with silver. Silver embroidery adorned the throat and hem and she had on a silver belt of flowers clasped around her waist. The silk flowed around her perfectly and at her neck she wore a delicate silver necklace with diamonds and amethysts linked together, a wedding gift from Írissë. Her hair was flowing loose and did not finish before her waist, entwined in it were strings of gems that caught the light and sparkled like the living stars in the sky. She milled around the guests, greeting them and graciously accepting their congratulations. She came behind Elladan and her sister, Elladan rose and kissed her hand.
“I am very happy for you my lady,” he said and Vanimeldë thanked him. For one uncomfortable moment it seemed as if she would stay to talk to Írissë yet Írissë did not even turn her head and Vanimeldë walked away, her face troubled.
“That was noble of you.” Írissë said sarcastically, sipping a glass of wine. Írissë’s raiment was far more modest than her sister’s. It consisted of a simple gown of leaf green and an entwined gold torque around her pale throat.
Elladan concluded that he may as well be civil towards her considering her evident displeasure with her sister, “Thank you my lady, it is a trait I pride myself on.” he said with a bow and Írissë turned to him, a smile on her lips,
“I would not have thought you would be so compliant on this merry occasion when, according to some, it is merry it for all save you.” she said and Elladan comprehended immediately what she meant.
“You have spoken with Elrohir.” he said and leaned his head on his hand. Írissë grinned playfully,
“A little, he speaks most eagerly of you and my sister when he finds a willing ear and I confess I found the subject of his discourse too intriguing to overlook.” Elladan felt like strangling his brother who was laughing and talking at the other end of the room, completely oblivious to the irritation he was causing from afar.
“Then he is labouring under a great misapprehension for my only wishes for Lady Vanimeldë are for her domestic felicity with whomever she should choose.” he said then wondered if he sounded rude, “I mean…” he continued then gave up, “And what of you? You seemed cold with her a moment ago.”
Írissë looked surprised but her smile faded, “You would ask a question of such frankness?” she asked.
“You have asked worse of me many a time and you cannot blame me for my curiosity.”
“I can’t, though that does not mean I am inclined to indulge you.” she looked at him for a moment before sighing unhappily, “I was cold with her for reasons that have been much talked of and no doubt you could guess. She is marrying for purposes other than she should.”
“For repute other than love?” Elladan replied, nodding, “Can you say nothing to her?” Írissë knew it would be to no avail, “What? She listens not to any counsel I should care to give.”
“But she is your sister.”
Írissë was silent, it was clear she did not relish such topic of conversation. Elladan’s mind was drawn to the many pretensions displayed by Vanimeldë’s distant person. Far be it from him to ever sit in judgement of another and endeavour to find faults about their person, he had a great abhorrence for all forms of vanity and never had he met a person in which this attribute was so strongly exhibited. It was with a happy confidence, and the assuredness that many pairs of eyes were fixed upon her that Vanimeldë pulled a strand of her dark hair back from her face and smoothed it behind her ear. She cast a beautiful picture in the room, dazzling any from sight that dared to stand by her side. It was a pity that ever there was the distinct impression that beyond her magnificent shell was very little wisdom or astuteness that would make her a decidedly more agreeable companion. Elladan noticed and observed all this, thought for a moment before saying, to himself rather than to Írissë, “She has become far too attentive to her own pride.”
“I beg your pardon?” she exclaimed suddenly.
“You would disagree?” Elladan asked, convinced that his opinion was shared yet not certain whether he should have broached such a subject, he was more than a little wary of Írissë’s tongue.
“Of course I would! How could you say that?” Írissë looked outraged at Elladan’s calm straightforwardness.
Elladan sat back hurriedly, “You said yourself that she weds for a wrong motive.” he said but Írissë was not appeased,
“And you thought it correct to slight her disposition and find faults with her, do you look only at a woman to see her imperfections?” her voice was cold.
“No! All I meant was that in my opinion she has airs and pretences which she would be better without.” Elladan wondered how he had worked himself into this corner and dearly wished he could find a way out.
“I do not wish to fight with you lord,” Írissë murmured, deciding that Elladan was not worth arguing with on this occasion, “so I would be grateful if you would refrain from being so discourteous.”
Elladan breathed a sigh of relief then quickly changed tack before anything more could be said of Vanimeldë.
“Why do you insist on calling me lord?” he asked in as friendly a tone as he could muster.
Why do you insist on calling me lady?” she retorted.
“Because I believe, perhaps mistakenly, that concealed within your daunting exterior a true lady waits to emerge.”
Elladan was rewarded with a dirty look from Írissë. She turned away from him and raised her glass to her lips again. Elladan knew she would regret her actions the next morning but was in no mood to care.
Elrohir came up to them, a maiden on his arm, as usual, and sat opposite. Elladan had always borne some measure of jealousy for his brother’s talent to make women fall at his feet, even though the twins were almost identical, in some ways, they were very different. Elladan sighed wearily,
“Cheer up brother,” Elrohir said happily, “would you and your beautiful friend oblige us by dancing?” The look that Elladan threw Elrohir spoke volumes.
“That is a very gracious thought Master Elrohir,” Írissë said sweetly, “but as you can see it would appear that Master Elladan is not inclined to do so.”
“Oh I am sure that is not true,” Elrohir said warningly to his brother, “is it Elladan?”
Elladan turned to Írissë in surprise, “After all you just said?”
“I was justified.” she said innocently.
“Come on friends,” Elrohir stood and motioned that his brother should do the same. Elladan offered Írissë his arm and together they walked into the centre of the room. She did not speak and Elladan suddenly felt guilty about insulting her sister a few minutes ago. The music began and the harpists and flutists of Imladris excelled themselves with the beauty of their pieces. Elladan put one hand round Írissë’s waist and held her hand in his other, she did not look at his face as they moved gracefully across the floor.
“I am sorry,” Elladan suddenly blurted out, “for being so unkind before. It was uncalled for.” Írissë nodded, her throat tight.
“It is alright,” she said, “unfortunately you spoke the truth.” it hurt her to say this but she had noticed Vanimeldë growing increasingly vain as she realised the full effect she was having on the menfolk of Imladris.
“But I was inexcusably rude and I am sorry.”
“You have already said that once.” Írissë looked up at him, a sparkle in her eye.
“Then it should prove how much I mean it.” Elladan said with a smile, glad they were finally talking without arguing.
For a minute they danced together in silence, the tense air lifted and both feeling more content now their quarrel was over. Elrohir and his partner danced closer to them, moving a lot faster and more exuberantly than the other couples.
“Is not this nice?” he asked and Elladan rolled his eyes,
“Yes thank you brother,” he said tautly and Elrohir winked at him, much to Elladan’s relief and Írissë’s amusement.
“He enjoys watching you discomfited.” she observed,
“Yes I know,” he replied resignedly, “but what kind of brother would he be if he did not?”
“An ideal one.”
Elladan laughed, “Besides,” he mused secretively with a twinkling eye “I settle the scores in my own way,” Írissë raised her eyebrows,
“I will not ask.” she said in surprise but the heavy air of tension was beginning to lift and Elladan allowed himself to relax a little in her company.
After a while of listening idly to the unsurpassable skill of the minstrels Elladan became conscious of the fact that he was enjoying Írissë’s companionship where usually he would be dying to escape. He did not often spend a lot of time with her and when he did so he usually left with the manifest impression that it was better to avoid her. He supposed he was used to getting his own way and, as the son of Lord Elrond, he was accustomed to people not questioning him. But Írissë cared not about currying favour with him and delighted in getting his hackles up; he wondered if he seemed arrogant to her, then hoped he did not in the same thought. They danced together for some time, out of the corner of his eye Elladan could see Vanimeldë seated with Arciryas, and for a brief moment he thought he might be mistaken as to her true feelings for him until he caught sight of his eyes. It was plain that he was besotted with her but the sentiments were not quite mutual. Vanimeldë was obviously very fond of him, she had a great capacity for fondness, but whether or not she was actually in love with him remained to be seen. Elladan would have felt sorry for Arciryas if he had not reminded himself that it was of his own making, and that Arciryas had only his own folly to blame.
He noticed that Írissë was making a point of not looking at her sister and he squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“You are angry with her?” he asked,
“Disappointed.” she sighed, “I have looked up to her for so many years, but I would never wish a life she has chosen for myself.”
“Nor I.” Elladan said thoughtfully, looking at the betrothed couple, “Matrimony should be founded by love.”
“Men speak often of love when it suits them.” Írissë said looking at Elladan who began to feel uncomfortable,
“I think I should do better not to answer that.” he said.
“You are very wise sir.”
“Lady, you have known me for many years, please call me Elladan.” he pleaded,
“Only if you agree to call me Írissë.” she replied.
“Very well my lady.” he grinned and the couple their way back to their seats.
The serving maids had spread platters of food on the tables and a horde of entertainers suddenly appeared in the centre of the room. There were musicians, dancers and a fair songstress which delighted the company for much time with the gentle lilt of her voice. The feast was not as tedious as Elladan had feared. He had soon forgotten what they were celebrating and immersed himself in conversation with those around him. Írissë was quiet for the most part and only ventured a sentence or two when it was required of her. Elladan wondered what was wrong, she was very subdued and it disturbed him to see her this way, such a far cry from her usual happy self.
“What is the matter?” he whispered,
“Nothing,” she said then the unmistakable laugh of Vanimeldë pealed through the hall and Írissë threw down her fork.
“I am leaving,” she said, “this feast holds no pleasure for me and I doubt very much my presence will be missed.” Elladan opened his mouth to contradict that but the words did not come. Írissë made for the door and he wondered if he should go after her, he did not like seeing anyone upset, whatever his feelings towards her. He noticed Elrohir looking at him questioningly and thought better of it. Besides, Vanimeldë had noticed her sister try and leave unobtrusively and rose to follow her. She caught up with her as Írissë went outside,
“Where are you going at so early an hour?” she asked curiously, “The feast is far from over yet.” Írissë looked at her coldly,
“I am aware, sister, yet I need to clear my head and fresh air would be a greater aid than the chatter of everybody in there,” she motioned to the hall which was filled with noise and laughter. Vanimeldë sensed something was wrong and took her hand,
“What is it, Írissë?” she asked, “Why truly do you wish to leave?”
Írissë softened a little,
“Because I don’t like seeing you this way,” she said mutedly.
Vanimeldë’s voice hardened, “What are you talking about?” she asked,
“I do not like seeing how you act around Arciryas,” Írissë said, looking her straight in the eye, “Oh Vanimeldë it is clear he loves you and that is wonderful but I know that you do not love him and are wedding for purposes other than you should.” Vanimeldë let go of her hand as if it might have been a hot stone,
“How do you know I do not love him?” she asked icily, “You know nothing of my feelings.”
“Sister, I have seen you in love,” Írissë argued, “I have seen you willing to die for those who had stolen your heart and you are very different now.” she lowered her voice but the unhappy words were still very audible, “You have changed.” she said.
“I will wed whomever I choose,” Vanimeldë said, “it is not for you nor anybody else to tell me that I should not.”
“I am not trying to do so!” Írissë exclaimed, “It is just I would hate to see you unhappy!” Vanimeldë had turned her back but now she whirled round to face her sister.
“What makes you think I will be?” She cried, “I love Arciryas, he is the man I wish to spend my life with, why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“You do not love him.” Írissë said openly, “You are marrying for the honour such a match will bring to you.”
“How dare you?” Vanimeldë cried out, “You have no right to speak to me this way.”
Írissë replied, “No, I have every right because you are my sister and I would not see you hurt!”
“None of this is any of your concern!”
“On the contrary!” she said, “It is every bit my concern but if you do not wish me to care I will not.”
“Good, for that is so.” Vanimeldë looked furious, “I do not wish to listen to you any more, it is jealousy that fires this.”
“Jealousy?” Írissë cried, “You think me jealous of you?”
“Why not? It explains why you protest so vehemently.” came the cold response,
“Vanimeldë, I am not jealous.”
“I do not believe you.”
Írissë could not accept as true that her sister honestly thought she was jealous of her. Nothing could be further from the truth but it would seem as if Vanimeldë was not going to admit that. It hurt Írissë to talk like this to a beloved sister but what else could she do?
“Then I am through,” she said sorrowfully, “I have reasoned with you, begged you, there is nothing more I can do to dissuade you. Act however you see fit, I no longer care how you choose to spend your life.” she strode away from her and faded into the darkness. Vanimeldë called after her,
But Írissë did not reply and angrily brushed away the tear that rolled down her cheek. Elladan had heard a little of their discourse from their raised voices but he doubted whether anyone else had. He was sitting near the door and he, unlike the others, was not heeding the passing conversation at all. He saw Írissë flounce off into the night and he saw Vanimeldë return into the hall and take her seat again, looking completely unmarked by was had just passed. Elladan felt sorry for Írissë, she did not deserve to be treated like that, as if she did not even play a part in Vanimeldë’s world.
Írissë sang softly to herself as she walked back from the dining chamber towards her home. She recalled the songs that had been sung by the entertainer that evening and imitated them in her own beautiful voice. She never sung unless she knew she was alone, she had a great self-consciousness and was reluctant to perform before anyone unlike her sister. The sky was inky black and the stars sparkled like diamonds set around the glowing crescent moon. She loved the night and did not hurry back. Her satin-clad feet padded gently over the wooden bridge and she listened to the water running fast below. Írissë always felt strangely liberated when it was night-time and savoured every minute of being alone and away from the throng of people in the palace that she found so crowding. She was thinking about Vanimeldë and wondered if she should have left like that. She knew she should not have spoilt her sister’s betrothal feast by leaving on such an unhappy note yet she had been angry and upset and that pleaded her excuse. Írissë had no desire to go home, the house would be dark and lonely, she much preferred to walk among the trees until she was joined by Vanimeldë and she could apologise. She certainly did not wish to go back to the feast and climbed the steep path that led to the top of the rocky outcrop she was aiming for. Tiny red flowers amassed in a sea of green were sprawled across the rock and Írissë knelt beside them, gazing at the stars.
It was a long time before the feast broke for the night. When all the merrymaking was complete the elves left the dining chamber and went their separate ways. Vanimeldë set about searching for her sister. She did not follow her parents home yet struck a path she knew Írissë was wont to take when she needed to think. She had little hope of finding her, her sister knew every path that led through the woods of Imladris and Vanimeldë few but she had to try. Írissë loved everything about the forest but her sister now shrank back from the trees before steeling herself to enter. The welcoming arms of the trees looked tangled in the rays of pallid moonlight that penetrated the canopy. The stars could be seen faintly twinkling through the leaves creating shadows across the ground. The dry leaves and twigs cracked beneath Vanimeldë’s tread and the furtive rustlings of wild beasts could be heard through the dense foliage. Every so often a bird would take flight from the trees with a flutter of wings and a hooting call which pierced the still air. Vanimeldë called her sister’s name over and over but she received no answer, Írissë could not hear her and Vanimeldë was alone. She spent half an hour wandering the twisting paths of Írissë’s favourite haunts but to no avail. Vanimeldë began to be afraid, she could not find her way in the blind darkness and her feet were unsteady on the uneven ground. She threw up her hands in frustration when after many minutes she still had not found Írissë and she concluded her sister must have returned home after all. As she stepped over the mossy carcass of a fallen tree her foot slipped and she reached out for a branch to balance herself.
“Careful.” a forbidding voice from behind her said and Vanimeldë spun round at once. She could see no-one behind her and her heart skipped a beat with fright. She leapt over the log and ran down the path as fast as she could but someone caught her by the arm and threw her to the ground. A shadowy figure stood over her and Vanimeldë was frozen in horror.
“You will come with me.” The voice belonged to a man and he reached down and pulled Vanimeldë to her feet by her wrist.
“Who are you?” she whispered but was greeted with a cold laughter.
“You do not remember me then?” he said and lifted the hood of his dark mantle, Vanimeldë gasped as a face she knew surfaced, lit by a ghostly radiance. It belonged to a tall elf with cropped black hair and eyes like wells of shadow. He was certainly very fair, but his countenance was pale as death and contrasted starkly with the onyx black colour of his eyes.
“Gáiala,” she said weakly, “what do you want with me?” The man grinned at Vanimeldë,
“You left Mithlond without even saying goodbye,” his voice was now silky smooth and he touched Vanimeldë’s face with his long finger. She shivered uncontrollably and felt the trembling clutches of fear clawing at her heart.
“Please,” she said, “please, go away.”
If Gáiala heard her he did not show it, “Why did you not tell me you were leaving?” he asked with a hurt expression. Vanimeldë locked her gaze with his,
“Because I knew you would follow me.” she said and stepped back from him. Gáiala moved closer to her and slid both hands round his waist.
“You knew I would find you anyway my love.” he said and pressed his lips against hers.
“I am not yours,” Vanimeldë began to weep when they parted, “I was never yours.”
“Oh but you are.” Gáiala said and laughed, “I know you still have love for me, Vanimeldë, and it was a cruel trick for you to leave so suddenly.”
“Gáiala,” Vanimeldë pleaded, “listen to me, I am betrothed and I will never come with you.”
“You would wed another?” he asked, “When your heart lies in my keeping?”
“I loved you once but now I am destined for another. Our paths must not meet again,”
Vanimeldë’s voice was firm and she wrenched her arm from his grasp. She shot down the path but Gáiala was following her and he grabbed her again.
“Go back to Mithlond!” she exclaimed, “What is there for you here?”
“I will go to Mithlond,” he said, “if you will come with me.”
“No! I will not!” Vanimeldë tried to run again but she had not gone far before Gáiala pulled her back. They had almost reached the edge of the forest, if she could just get out she would be able to call for help.
“Yes you will,” she saw it was coming as he lifted his hand and she screamed. The cry split the air and echoed loudly around the valley. She tried with all her might to wrench herself free and she fought Gáiala as hard as she could. Her hands gripped his mantle and she tried to pull him off her but his hand closed around her neck and she began to choke.
“Do not do that,” Gáiala was breathing hard and his cloak was pulled from him to the ground. He let her fall and she gasped for air. As her head was bowed Gáiala took the opportunity of completing his task and he struck her hard with a wooden staff. Vanimeldë tumbled forward and surrendered to the darkness that washed over her mind. Blood seeped from her open wound and dyed the ground it soaked into. Gáiala bent, kissed her sweaty brow and hoisted her on his shoulders. She was scarcely a burden and he managed to gather up his cloak before carrying Vanimeldë out of the forest to his horse which waited for him beyond the borders of Imladris. She did not stir but a rivulet of blood ran down her neck. Gáiala smiled, he had her at last.
Vanimeldë’s scream had reached the ears of many and chilled their hearts. It was not the cry of beast or bird and it spread disquiet amongst all those who heard it. At the time she had been taken Vanimeldë’s parents were laughing and talking with Lord Elrond, Elrohir and Master Arciryas. They knew nothing of her capture, they did not even hear her shout. Írissë, however, did. She was sitting on a rock and when Vanimeldë cried her sister heard her and felt her own heart stop beneath her breast. She recognised the voice of course and ran as fast as she could in the direction it issued from. It occurred to her as she went that Vanimeldë might have been looking for her and would have looked for Írissë where Írissë would most often be found.
It took her hardly any time to reach the outskirts and she entered where Vanimeldë had so nearly come out. The rocks on the ground were stained with blood which, when Írissë touched it, was still wet and warm. Her stomach dropped like a cold weight of iron when she caught sight of something glinting, half buried in the dirt. It was a silver necklace worn around her sister’s neck and now it lay in Írissë’s hand. Something else also caught the wan moonlight. Írissë bent to pick it up and yelped when the pin of a brooch dug into her finger and blood dropped to the ground. The emblem on the brooch was a black star licked by flames. It was dark and sinister, the device of the house of Heculo. Írissë knew much of her sister’s former lover and why he was no longer part of her life. She had to admit he did not give up easily and now it would seem even after all these years he would follow her and he had taken her. Írissë was too furious to weep, instead she clutched the two trinkets and raced from the forest, leaving the whispering trees and murmuring shadows behind her.
Nobody was at home. She could not believe it. Her parents abode was empty for they were elsewhere and Írissë had just made a wasted journey. She flung the doors shut again and ran out. She did not know where they would be and she knew that every minute wasted meant that Gáiala was a minute further ahead. She was in the grip of fear and had no idea what she should do. She came to the bridge she had crossed earlier, Elladan now stood where she once had and looked into the eddies of the water below.
“Elladan!” she cried, “Thank Valar you are here.”
“That is the best greeting I have had all day,” he said then caught sight of her face, “Írissë, what is it?” She held up the necklace and brooch, knowing tears were going to spill any minute.
“My sister,” she said breathlessly, “has been snatched.” she bent over and struggled for breath. “I have to find my father,” she said. Elladan wasted no time,
“They are with my father and brother at the dwelling of Arciryas,” he said, “come.” he led her gently to a fine house clouded with overhanging trees, Írissë could hear the dim sounds of merrymaking coming from inside. A joyful scene greeted her but it all stopped when Írissë came in. Her mother and father were there along with Lord Elrond, Elrohir and Master Arciryas. Írissë held out the necklace and the brooch.
“Gáiala has her.” was all she said and it was enough.