A wide expanse of water divided one side of the estuary from the other. The river Lhûn ran here to the Sea from the great Ered Luin and from the northernmost points of Eriador. It widened as it passed the Grey Havens and became the Gulf of Lhûn, broadening out before the narrow neck of land between Harlond and Forlond, the two most westerly lands of Arnor. Few leagues it was from the Gulf to the forest of Harlindon but on foot it took many hours and the company were weary indeed when they reached the forest itself. The crossing of the estuary had been, for the most part, simple. Sunlight sparkled innocuously on the calm waters, and the gentle sounds of the waves lapping against the boat were enough to lull anyone into a drifting slumber. No-one had spoken much as they had been borne over the estuary. The entire situation had seemed insufferably anti-climactic, after all that had happened and Írissë had felt a dire need to get away from the destruction their small party had inadvertently caused to the mariners of Mithlond.
To Harlindon she was eager to go, having never before seen these lands and hoping beyond hope that their trust in Sarnor the sailor might not be proved vain. The forest of Harlindon lay nestled against the Blue Mountains, in the morning it was shadowed by the great peaks but as the sun climbed to noon and then sank behind the Sea it was lit with the golden glow of sunlight. It was lit that way now, the outermost trees shone with a radiance so bright it might have been an embodiment of the great jewels of the Elder Days. Inside the forest and away from the bight rays of the sun it was a very different story and shadows of a forgotten world loomed dark and threatening at them, making even the most stout heart quail slightly.
Gáiala smiled a twisted grin of triumph, they were nearing his ancient manor and very soon he would have all he desired and his task would be complete. Vanimeldë had been suitably subdued by an innumerable number of spells and sat placidly on the back of his horse as they took paths unknown deep into the tangled web of the forest. Gáiala was blind to Vanimeldë consciously fighting the power he had exerted over her, and blind to the fact that her wits were steadily returning and she was learning to mask herself with the pretence of submission. The past few days had shrunk into a tunnel of misery for her. She had lost count of the number of times she had felt Gáiala will all thoughts from her mind and turn her into a walking shell of herself, with no feelings and no thoughts of her own, as if she had been formed merely to do his bidding upon this earth. He knew that the last of his spells was currently wearing off and he knew also that the time was nearing when he would have to do it again. For the moment, though, he was content just to ride and concentrate on the paths ahead for he never dreamed Vanimeldë would have the strength enough to try to escape. He could hear her stirring behind him as if she had just recently awoken from her trance but little did he know that she had had her wits about her for some time and was gaining them quicker and quicker.
“How do you feel my sweet?” he asked maliciously. Vanimeldë did not reply but made some small noise of weariness. “It will not be much further.” he went on, “Once we have reached there, there will be nobody who can break us apart, nobody.”
“Why do you say that?” Vanimeldë asked, careful to keep her voice dull, “How do you know that someone is not currently on our trail?”
“You speak of that marauding rabble with the audacity to follow us?” he spat, “Nay. They are long dead. The thunderstorm I cast about Mithlond should have finished them even if the orcs did not, for were they crossing the river when it struck then they certainly would not have lived to see the morn.” Vanimeldë could feel her heart sinking. Írissë, her beloved Írissë. Their last words were spoken in anger, never would she forgive herself for the trouble she had caused them all.
“And what if they are still alive?” she said in a voice faintly more than a whisper.
“Alive?” The thought was new to Gáiala and he twisted his mouth unpleasantly. “Little chance is there of that.”
“Small though the chance be it is there and it is what I choose to believe in.”
Vanimeldë said resolutely, evidence of the return of her wits made clear by her voice. She realised her mistake but Gáiala seemed oblivious for the moment. He stopped the horse abruptly and turned to face her.
“Tell me then,” he said coldly, touching her face with his claw-like fingernail, “if they are alive how will they know where to find you? Nobody would ever find you here.” Gáiala laughed nastily as they rode on but Vanimeldë was not disheartened further by what he had said. She remembered the sailor whom had heard where they were headed and knew all about Gáiala’s home in Harlindon. He, if nobody else, knew where Vanimeldë was and she could only hope that Írissë would have had the sense to listen to him and not dismiss him as one that speaks the folly of age.
The rushing noise of the water grew louder and louder as they neared the base of Ered Luin where Gáiala’s home was. Vanimeldë looked up and gasped as they came upon it for she had had little idea of how intense the sense of solidity would be. It was very tall. Taller than the canopy of the trees and the highest turrets broke through the treetops to gaze out upon the lands. It was made of some dark grey stone and crafted with such skill as to make it seem not the work of hands but of some unseen power which shaped the world at will and had the prowess to fashion something so unconquerably durable. A great wall ran around it, from the mountain side around the building to touch the mountains again and set into that were a pair of black gates wrought high and thick so that they might withstand any assault.
The house itself consisted of a large tower which rose from the ground in a straight line and on the summit of which were affixed three turrets with battlements and pointed roofs. Arched windows with brightly coloured panes of glass were etched into the walls. It was surrounded by a wide, fast flowing river which eddied and swirled beneath a slender looking bridge and flowed away into the forest, providing yet another defence against any intruders. Once it had been a beautiful place, for it was not wholly of the craft of Gáiala but he had come across this place and added to it, making it his own and filling it with the power that was bestowed upon him. No longer was it a fair place inhabited by men who would ponder life’s mysteries or stand gazing at the heavens from its lofty pinnacle, now it was a place of dread, utterly indomitable. Here he had dwelt for many years and here it was that his mind had been consumed with the desire to take Vanimeldë and make her his own for here was a place she would never escape from no matter how hard she tried. Not only was it a dwelling place for Gáiala.
Deep in the hidden caverns in the mountains could be found a host of dark orc-like goblins, slaves to his will and readied by him to carry out his every command. Years he had spent breeding and increasing their numbers so that now he had a company with which to loose upon any who dared come to the house of Heculo. Vanimeldë saw all of this and was sorely afraid. Her heart told her that her companions lived still even though Gáiala had convinced himself they were all dead she had a spark of hope flickering yet within her and her spirit refused to become imprisoned in the Tower of the West.
She had to escape, she had to. She had seen the house as they approached from some distance and felt a wild panic clawing at her. Was she to enter through those hard iron gates she knew in her heart that she would never be able to be free. They were just too strong and no arts of enchantment would be able to break through them. How she would do it she knew not yet. She had tried over and over again to flee but Gáiala had ever been to quick for her and what made her think she would succeed now that they were so close to his house?
“I am sorry.” he said without warning and without any flicker of regret.
“Why?” she asked warily and flinched as Gáiala brought his hand close to her face again.
“I cannot risk it,” he said, “now that we are so close.”
“No,” Vanimeldë said pitifully, “please not again.”
She gritted her teeth as the familiar feeling of ease came to her and the fog of her mind thickened until it clouded all thoughts of her own. As skilled as she was at fighting this particular enchantment it still took her some minutes to be fully free from it and she could not afford to waste any time now that they were so close and she still had no idea how she was to escape. Fighting with every fibre of her being Vanimeldë worked as hard as she could to free herself from the bindings that were set about her mind. They were tight and wrought with expertise but ever at the back of her thoughts she had the great need to break whatever hex Gáiala had laid upon her for were she to break away from him then she would need every ounce of quick wits she had. Gradually and painstakingly slowly the mist before her eyes began to lift and even though it was yet to wholly clear she could make out blurry shapes and guess what they were. She could see them coming to the bridge that ran across the river which flowed past Gáiala’s house, shutting it off from the rest of the world. They were here and yet she was still under his spell. Finally with a tremendous effort she threw from herself the final bonds he had put her under and at last her mind was clear once more and just in the nick of time.
The sudden flash of inspiration she had was welcome and Vanimeldë had an idea which she prayed would work and would do so if only Gáiala opened the gates before bringing her across the bridge. Gáiala still believed her to be under the spell he had worked upon her and that was the way it must stay. It would not do for him to know how much power she had of her own. She had gained clarity of mind and her wits were free but she was practiced at retaining the dullness of manner of one bent to another’s will by force. Gáiala had dismounted, leaving her upon the black horse as he made his way across the bridge to the gates. Had she truly been under his spell then she would have barely been able to move so it would have been quite safe to leave her where she was and trust that nothing untoward would happen. He walked swiftly to the black gates and, taking a great key from his pocket, unlocked them before turning back to fetch Vanimeldë and the horse. Timing her movements with the utmost care Vanimeldë slipped forward into the saddle, reached and grabbed Gáiala’s knife from where it was sheathed at the side and cut the ropes holding the bridge to the posts. He screamed with rage as he fell into the river and was borne away, uselessly fighting the current which proved much too strong for him. The horse reared but Vanimeldë was a competent rider and she turned it around and spurred it forwards into the gloom of the forest and away from the accursed house she had been led to, her heart pounding and her spirit soaring with the sense of elation at her own daring.
She turned to see Gáiala’s face, drawn with anger as it floated frighteningly quickly down to river as he struggled to stay above the surface. The current was dragging him down and Vanimeldë felt a great wish for him to drown and never trouble the lands of Arda again.
The eaves of the forest loomed dark and fearsome before them. The forest of Harlindon had long been a fair place full of wildlife and plants of such rarity that they were found no other place in Middle Earth. Now, however, it emerged towards their vision like a dark cloud on the horizon, threatening and teeming with malice. The air throbbed with an impending doom and tension swathed the boughs so thick it could almost be tasted in the air. All were unwilling to enter and as soon as they came within reach of the glossy dark green leaves they would all have happily turned and retreated as fast as they could. Something lurked beyond the gnarled, hoary trees. There were tangled into knots above their heads and the glowing eyes of dark birds could be seen as they hooted and twittered coldly in their nests, sensing the approach of the strangers and heralding their arrival loudly into the silent trees. They were not the only creatures which inhabited the forest although the only reason they had life still was their power of flight for every other animal there had been hunted as prey by a beast as fell as any orc.
It was as old as the dawn and the trees beneath which it walked, soundless and vile in it’s desperate search for food. It was the Morërauco, the darkest creature this part of the world had seen for many years and were like to see again. Racked by an incessant famine it would wander at will beneath the boughs, never venturing under the light of the sun and never leaving the abode of the forest which it had made its own. It was a dark creature and evil, it’s heart blackened by the shunning of the light and the need to feed on meat in a place where all the smaller animals had been sucked dry. It had long taken the form of a great wolf-like beast with glinting red eyes and snarling yellow fangs. The rest of it’s body was completely black and around it hung ever a haze that obscured the vision and lent it aid in attacking. Ancient it was and had dwelt once in the forgotten north, far from people and in it’s youth it had woven the body it had chosen and began to lust for the taste of flesh as it ever would, without any cease. Its kind had been bred by the first dark lord, Morgoth, in the caverns of Angband long ago, in an attempt to produce a race capable of doing his bidding and aiding him in his quest to destroy all Middle Earth. They were much diminished from their former glory and this one was but a sad memory of the might and power of the darkness. Lucky it was for the journeying party that it was so for had they faced the beasts of old none would have survived and the fate of the elves would have been quite different. The forest of Harlindon had offered it a haven from the northern cold and it had taken a liking to the abundance of prey there but now all the prey was gone and bones littered the ground. Each elf was aware of it, the feeling of darkness which lay just beyond their sight and lay heavily on their consciousness like a great sense of foreboding.
“Something comes.” Voronwë voiced that which they were all thinking but none answered him. Everybody was reluctant to enter and none wished to be the first. Írissë, then, took a deep breath and walked slowly and determinedly into the trees. The sudden darkness overwhelmed her, the sun shone brightly above the canopy of trees but not one single ray got through the impenetrable thicket of leaves.
“Írissë!” Elladan called as he darted soon after her, “Beware.” The others followed, each looking nervously around and Elrohir decidedly uncomfortable about being the last of the party. Dark veined and dense were the leaves so that the overgrown path ahead was almost obscured by the knotted foliage. Poison ivy groped from the trunks of gnarled trees and whispers seemed to follow the company as they trudged steadily forward. Írissë had little idea where she was leading them. All she knew was that if Gáiala had indeed a hidden fortress in this forest then it was likely to be deep in the centre where all light was deflected and where his most evil works could be completed without interruption. The slow, heavy footfalls of her companions behind her told her they were following and occasionally she would hear Elrohir mutter an obscenity as he tripped over some unseen root that lay before his feet. For more minutes than they cared to remember they went forward in this fashion until, after a while, Calimmacil came forward and halted Írissë,
“I tire of walking like a blind man in the darkness,” he said in frustration.
“What would you have me do?” she replied and in a few moments Calimmacil had struck a flint from his pocket, ripped a dry branch from a nearby tree and set it alight so that they might have a torch.
“Aha!” he said triumphantly and bowed low, “What genius I was blessed with.” His open humour in the face of so morose companions was heartening and the desperate nature of the errand was forgotten for a moment.
“Look!” Elrohir exclaimed, turning his face upwards, “The trees shun the flames! Fire is our friend here if little else is.” He was right. The lowest boughs of the tall trees around them were swaying irritably as if they themselves had power of movement. Their leaves recoiled from the flickering brand and the stuffy air of the wood was lifted. With lightened heart Calimmacil led them forward, pausing every now and again to relight a new torch when his own burnt out. Írissë dropped back to walk beside Elladan, dropping her hand into his beneath his cloak. The light from the torch did not reach them and everyone ahead was far too preoccupied with the path their feet were taking to pay any attention to what Írissë and Elladan were doing. After a while the path widened considerably so as to fit four men abreast and led into a large clearing. The floor was earthen and free from any of the crawling leech plants that had so plagued the paths southward. Instead it was covered with white simbelmynë which blossomed like a field of tiny stars. How they grew in such poor light was a mystery for even though the light here was certainly increased and the surrounding trees thinned it could not be enough for such fair plants to flourish.
“No evil comes here.” said Voronwë, “Unless my eyes would play tricks it is the dwelling place of the elf-folk of old when once they walked these lands and these flowers cover their graves.”
“Your eyes play not tricks, Voronwë,” Elladan said, “this is indeed where once the Eldar dwelt but they are here no longer and though much misfortune must befall this place before it forgets them their grace is waning and soon this wholesome air we enjoy will be swallowed by the shadow we all feel.”
“But that shadow is lessened,” replied Voronwë, “do you feel it not in your heart? Strange though to us the elves who lived here were, their power keeps still what malice there might be here at bay. I can no longer sense that which I believed was coming.”
“Nor I,” said Elladan, “but whether that will prove for good or for ill I cannot tell.” The sweet smelling carpet of flowers were tempting and everyone felt the need to stay where once their own kind had lived but they all knew also that they must move on.
“We cannot linger here,” Calimmacil sighed, “as much as I wish to. The longer we prolong our task then the harder it will become to complete, we must leave, tarrying will not aid us.” With many wistful glances it was that they finally moved on. The change in this part of the forest from just beyond the eaves was astonishing, it was much lighter and more welcoming than Írissë had ever thought it would be but she knew it would not last and where the land of the ancient Noldor had ended Gáiala’s power would resume and choke all living things as it was endeavouring to do. For two or more miles they enjoyed the fragrant flowers and the abundance of life but all too soon they returned to what had greeted them when they passed beneath the very first trees. Darkness was coming again and with it they felt the onset of foreboding, the heavy hand of doom, hanging over them.
At the very centre of the forest they came upon a great forgotten statue. Since the elves of Beleriand had fled Eastward from the invading sea it had stood there, it’s great arms raised in a gesture of denial to the wrath of the waters. It was of the form of the elven king Turgon, tall and fair and crowned, ever to stand in the lands of the West even though he himself had long been borne to the Houses of Lamentation and he dwelt not within Middle Earth. The statue must once have been very fine, it was crafted with the greatest skill of the Noldor, most gifted of the elves and it towered many feet above them, looking out beyond the sea. Now it’s beauty was hardly diminished but the years had told on it and here and there the hard cold stone had been chipped and scored but still it stood and would ever stand until the all the world was changed. The elves stood before it, wonder struck into each heart and a strange sense of the Elder days seemed to swamp them.
Elrohir stopped suddenly and glanced at the ground. The faint imprint of horseshoes could be seen in the dirt.
“A large horse has been here,” he said, “little more than two days ago.” he darted forward a little and found more signs, “I think these may be the first hints we have of the good sailor’s trustworthiness. These are likely to be the hooves of the horse of Gáiala for this wood is otherwise deserted though for what reason I could not say.” He then straightened up as quickly as he had bent and his clear grey eyes scanned the trees about them nervously. They all felt his fear and as one they drew their swords. It was coming for them. Darkness spun like webs enshrouded them and the ever growing presence of evil drew nearer and nearer. Without warning, as the others were watching Elrohir, a great shape manifested itself behind him and swatted him aside with a flick of one massive paw. Írissë cried out in horror and ran to him but she herself was knocked backwards into the ridge and fell, crumpled to the floor. A terrifying noise was emitted from its mouth, it was like a cold shriek that rang into the air and pierced it as if with blade. Elladan, his eyes drawn always to the two fallen, could do nothing but help the others slay the foul creature. The Morërauco gave another cry and bounded forward towards the son of Elrond. He stood firm and thrust his long sword into it, dark blood ran down his arm and he shuddered but was held fast. The red eyes glinted malevolently and were the snarling jaws were contorted in pain. It snapped at Elladan and caught his arm in its teeth before throwing him down, his sword cast away from him. The sharp taste of blood was in his mouth and through his blurred vision he could just make out the other eight elves of the party standing before the creature, their swords raised valiantly. Voronwë dealt it a blow to it’s hind leg, crippling the beast and loosing another desperate shriek from it’s tongue.
One would think, when faced with foes such as the elves, with their bright helms and sharp swords that the Morërauco would fly from them and seek not to conquer. But hunger caved it’s belly and the desire to feast upon was strong enough to outweigh any sense of danger. Only two strokes had it been given and blood ran fast and thick from its side and leg but still it advanced. Elladan crawled towards his sword where it lay, his head thudded and he was winded from where he had fallen but other than that he was unhurt. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Írissë stirring, she was well and she began to make her way to Elrohir who lay unconscious and did not move. The Morërauco bounded towards the remaining ones who surrounded it and pierced it many times with their swords. The great yellow teeth were bared and the forest rang with the cries and the echoes of the cries of it. It’s fetid breath, created by thousands of years of feasting upon dead things reeked and Voronwë coughed, disgusted. Írissë reached Elrohir while the fighting continued, she was alright and only a slight dizziness told of her fall. Elrohir was completely knocked out, a cut was on his brow and blood oozed down his cheek. There was nothing Írissë could do to aid him without help and supplies. She fervently hoped he would be alright, he was a strong man and had withstood much worse.
She turned her eyes to the scene unfolding, the Morërauco was growling ferociously but Írissë could see that it was sorely wounded. Feeble yelps came from it’s mouth yet whilst the overpowering scent of meat was in its nostrils it would not back down. Alltaron, companion to Calimmacil, slid swiftly beneath the creature’s belly and whilst it was occupied with the piercing strokes of his fellows the elf gashed a long cut along the Morërauco’s underside, drenching himself in the foul blood and casting it down from where it stood, teeth poised to lock around Voronwë’s neck. One, final screech pealed through the air. Birds took flight and Írissë winced to hear the dreadful sound. Alltaron, seeing his peril, rolled away just in time as the Morërauco staggered and fell at the likeness of Turgon’s feet. All was still.
Blood flecked the grey statue and the stern eyes of the king watched them.
“What in the name of Elbereth was that?” Alltaron looked very shaky, Calimmacil shook his head,
“Only in legend have I heard of such a beast and even then did I think it a creature of fable, not one that walks the green earth. It is my belief it is an animal bred by the dark Lord in an attempt to amass an army of creatures to do his bidding. This must be one of the last, no idea had I that one dwelt here or I should have exercised and advised much more caution. Of old they were much greater and glad am I that we faced but a poor descendant of what must once have been a formidable foe.” Alltaron nodded, satisfied and an anti-climactic silence followed as everybody struggled to get their breath back. Írissë beckoned to Elladan who hurried to his brother’s side.
Elladan examined him carefully but finding no life-threatening damage he said,
“He will recover but he must rest. We can go no further.” Calimmacil’s eyes flicked uncertainly to the massive carcass of the Morërauco which was slumped unpleasantly against the statue. The red eyes were closed and the insatiable lust had been devoured by its death. Never more would it terrorise the lands of the West for it had been the only of its kind, all others had been slain and fleeing North had this one avoided certain death. Now, though, death had found it, at the feet of the king who cast it once from his lands, never supposing it would return.
“I like it no more than you!” Elladan exclaimed, fraught with worry for his brother and seeing Calimmacil’s distaste, “But there is nothing to be done, he needs rest and I will go no further until he can.” Írissë smiled, despite all Elladan’s complaining that Elrohir gave him no peace she knew how deeply the brethren loved each other.
“Very well,” Calimmacil sighed and handed Elladan back his dented helm. Together they made Elrohir as comfortable as possible and saw no need to pitch any shelter for it seemed as if the leaves would prevent any rain from falling to the dusty forest floor. Nobody was wholly comfortable about staying within sight of the foul Morërauco and Elladan led them behind a nearby ridge where they laid Elrohir and each partook of some lembas to give them heart. The former then went in search of a stream or brook where he might wash from him the dark blood. Calimmacil and Írissë volunteered to watch Elrohir whilst all the others went for it was not safe for one to go alone.
The horse Vanimeldë had `stolen’ from Gáiala was proving more trouble than it was worth. It was a large black brute with a foul temper and a certain knack for throwing her to the ground and staring at her warningly, daring her to try to mount again. Mount she did for she needed all the haste she could contrive were she to escape from the forest before Gáiala came looking for her. She did not delude herself that he had been stopped by the river. As fast-flowing and deadly as it might seem she somehow knew that it would not kill him, he was too strong for that and had too much power to be smote down by something he had used so often to his own purposes.
“Argh!” Vanimeldë gave a cry of pain and frustration as for the third time she found herself lying flat on her back gazing up at the leafy ceiling above. Her head swam for a brief moment before she stood up again and slapped the horse fiercely with the palm of her hand. It reared again and she moved just in time to avoid its flailing hooves.
“You fiend!” she yelled angrily and tugged hard on its tether until it returned all four feet to the ground and stood still. It snorted at her and Vanimeldë, taking little notice, heaved herself again onto its back, bracing herself for the expected bucking motion it was sure to make. As she had predicted it tried its hardest to throw her to the floor again but she held firm and pulled at the bit which cut into its mouth and it neighed in irritation.
“Do as you are bid!” she commanded, “For the love of Aman, move!” grudgingly and with a great deal of reluctance the horse ambled forward but when it was not Gáiala at the reins ambling seemed to be its fastest gait and it was unwilling to go any faster to oblige Vanimeldë. At long last with much cajoling and yelling she coaxed it into a slow trot and the nasty animal plodded heavily through the trees and Vanimeldë breathed a sigh of relief. She had little idea where she was heading, having left the path soon after her first fall. The wood was becoming more and more overgrown in the direction she was going but she thought it would take too much effort to get the horse to change direction so if they continued the way they were going they were likely to come to the edge of the forest sooner or later. Briars and brambles scratched at her skin and she could feel the warm trickle of blood go down her cheek but she cared not and rode on anyway. A great change had come over in the past few days.
In the absence of a looking glass or any clean clothes she had grown quite indifferent to her appearance and even though she supposed she looked like she had just come out of Utumno for once she did not care. Running through Vanimeldë’s mind was the ever present hope that she would see her sister and her friends again. If they were dead as Gáiala believed then she would depart at once for Aman and there hope to find healing for the great losses she had suffered in Middle Earth and there also would she hope to find those she had lost or if not she would await them from the Halls of Mandos until they walked with her again.
Calimmacil watched Írissë try in vain to build a fire, the wood was tinder dry but had little luck with the flint and soon gave up.
“Allow me,” he said to her and with little effort managed to kindled one of the twigs and set the rest alight. Soon they had a blazing fire by which to sit and to warm them for the lack of sunlight made the forest very cold.
“Oh stop showing off,” she teased. Night had fallen now, even without being able to see the sky she could tell the changing of the hours.
“Are you hurt?” Calimmacil asked her, “You were knocked hard to the ground.” Írissë touched her forehead gingerly,
“I am well.” she said, “Be not worried, it is he who is in need of our anxiety.” She looked down at Elrohir who might have been merely sleeping but for the wound in his scalp made by the clawed paw of the Morërauco.
“Unhappy will he be when he learns he fell first of all of us.” Calimmacil grinned, “You know how he is.” Írissë took what little water they and dabbed a white cloth with it. Carefully she cleaned Elrohir’s wound, uncomfortably aware of Calimmacil watching her work.
“I hope Vanimeldë is unhurt.” she said, trying to divert his attention, “You do not think…” she began, “You do not think Gáiala would injure her in any way?”
Calimmacil shook his head vehemently,
“No, do not worry on that account, he believes himself in love with her.”
“So does everyone,” she said unhappily, “that is the way it has always been.”
“Not so,” Calimmacil said comfortingly.
“Did you ever love Vanimeldë?” she asked playfully, seeing the glint in Calimmacil’s eyes. He said nothing, though and looked at the floor, and she wondered if she had offended him, “Calimmacil? What is wrong?” she asked concernedly, “If I have offended you then I am sorry, my teasing was kindly meant.”
“No I never loved Vanimeldë,” Calimmacil said wearily and then with the air of a man who has kept something harboured close to his heart for a long time he said, “I love you, Írissë. As I have always done, Vanimeldë has ever been naught but my friend.”
Írissë stared at him completely shocked and her jaw dropped.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, speculating as to whether she had heard him correctly.
“I love you,” Calimmacil continued steadfastly, “more than anyone,”
The next few moments passed like an agonizing life age of the earth. Every tiny sound was painfully loud and Írissë could not look in Calimmacil’s eyes.
“Calimmacil,” She began cautiously in a soft voice, “I cannot return such affection.”
“Why not?” he pleaded, “Do you feel nothing for me? I know of no attachment you have.”
Írissë thought how very wrong he was,
“Of course I do,” she said, “but…”
Calimmacil did not let her speak but pressed his lips quickly against hers and kissed her, heeding nothing else and not letting her speak another word.
“Over here!” Elladan called gleefully and was soon followed by the seven other elves accompanying him. They had followed the distant sounds of water for several minutes and now they came across a babbling brook, newly sprung from the mountains and rushing to where they knew not. For one whose arms were caked in the dried blood of a foul creature it was the sweetest sight in the world and Elladan rejoiced to find the water for he was parched also. It looked clean enough and tasted pure enough so none of them hesitated before cleansing themselves thoroughly of the entrails of the Morërauco. Worst off was Alltaron who was completely covered in all manner of unpleasantness, his clothes were sodden with blood and the pulpy, gangrenous mess of its wounds. He immersed himself in water and did all he could to clean himself of it.
“You look the worse for wear.” Elladan joked.
“Ah the lady Vanimeldë is worth thrice such,” Alltaron replied with a smile, “but anyone would think she is merely testing our resolve by subjecting us to this.”
“Be not unjust,” Elladan said, “it is not her fault that all this has happened.”
“And never did I say it was,” Alltaron replied, “a poor jest in light of recent events I admit but I stand by what I said, I would do it again for so fair a lady.” Elladan rolled his eyes, he was used to seeing his friend ruled by his heart rather than his head for Alltaron was prone to sudden infatuations and it was Elladan’s wish that one day he would find himself a wife as passionate as he.
When at last he had rinsed most of the blood from him he began to wonder whether his brother had woken and started to make his way back from the stream. He left his friends who were taking full advantage of the fresh water and were refilling their flasks, and followed the path back to the clearing. A strange sight met him and he stopped dead in his tracks.
His Lissë in the arms of another.
Elladan had never felt such a mixture of rage and despair and thought that he would burst with such a torrent of emotion. His eyes were held fast but he could prolong his pain no more. Fighting the urge to rip them apart, he turned from this sight and walked composedly away. Anger and sickening misery were coursing through his veins and breaking his heart.