The next morning, people moved about slowly, a little groggy from the previous night’s activities. Men rubbed their foreheads lazily and most everyone had a tell-tale, glazed over expression in their eyes. Fires were started and breakfast was heated as soft voices spoke, occasionally chuckling at the events of the previous night. At one of these pits sat Legolas, Gimli, Elboron and a few other soldiers.
Legolas noticed that Elboron seemed to be particularly bitter. His replies were angry retorts and the dark circles under his eyes stood out from his unusually pale complexion.
As they ate, Legolas asked him, “Elboron, what time did you go to bed?”
Elboron didn’t look up from his meal, mumbling as he pushed the food around aimlessly, “I don’t remember.”
Gimli nearly choked on his drink as he burst out laughing, “My goodness boy, you are your father’s son! Oh, he’ll be so proud!”
Elboron remained impassive, his expression blank.
Late last night, Legolas had seen Elboron talking to Morelen, but he left them alone because he believed that the two needed time to reconnect. He wondered if the boy’s sullen look had anything to do with their discussion the night before. He also noticed that Morelen was not yet awake, or perhaps he had just missed her.
Of course not, he thought, she would have come here for breakfast if she was awake.
Nonchalantly he expelled the thought from his mind and drank deeply from the water pouch, closing his eyes with the sweetness of it.
Elboron struggled with himself, deciding whether or not to say something about Morelen, like a jittery child with a secret. He knew that if he did tell, they would instantly want to know the direction she was traveling and why he did not tell them sooner, so he would say nothing at all. He also realized that he was standing between Aragorn and his child, against direct orders, but it didn’t seem right to him to chase the girl if she didn’t want to be chased. Still, he thought he must be crazy, letting her get away like this.
She’s like a wild bird. If she doesn’t want to stay in her cage, she won’t. She needs to come back on her own, because no one can force her. Plus, she is a grown woman and I will treat her as such. She is free to make her own choices, for good or ill.
Elboron noticed that he felt a twinge of regret as he reflected on her abrupt departure, and he wished that he had asked her to stay in a more appropriate fashion. Perhaps he would have been more successful if he had simply asked her to stay.
What will Legolas and Gimli think, when they finally get suspicious enough to check her tent and realize she is no longer here…
He did not dwell on it, for he knew that if he did it would drive him insane.
Still brooding over the meat and water-pouch, he was startled by the loud voice of Gimli, “Why good morning, Morelen! How’d you sleep?”
Elboron’s gaze lifted instantly as he heard her name, incredulous, knowing that Gimli must be playing some cruel trick on him. But he wasn’t! She stood right there in front of them, dressed once again in her grimy riding clothes, her wild hair pulled back into an untidy braid that trailed down her back.
“I had some trouble getting to sleep, but I am well, thank you.” She answered casually in her warm, rich voice, her gaze lowered to Elboron’s feet. His cheeks burned and his insides churned anxiously.
She must have followed me back to the tents and in my own anger, I did not notice her! What made her decide to stay, I wonder.
He longed to be able to ask her, but he was afraid he might betray himself, so he kept silent. Relief washed over him as he realized he wouldn’t have to deal with the panic of when she was found missing, for there she was. She looked up and stared at him briefly, her expressive eyes relaying thousands of emotions, though he could not decipher any of them.
He bowed his head, suppressing a youthful grin that fought to reveal him.
“Im boe an pedo na le.” (I need to speak with you.) She murmured, her glance moving from Elboron, to Legolas, to Gimli. “Saes.” (Please)
She added, hoping that her use of Elvish would indicate to them that she did not wish to speak of it openly, and that the need must be dire. It was enough.
Legolas looked grave yet curious as he replied, Ephedo nîn.”(Follow me) He stood and headed back to his tent with a trudging Gimli behind him, for the elf’s tent was not very far from the fire pit.
Morelen and Elboron slowed behind them and Elboron whispered, trying to keep pace with Morelen, who was nearly jogging, “What made you stay?”
She flashed him a glance of annoyance but whispered back, “Because I figured I might be able to get to Harad easier with the three of you than if I went alone. I am going to Harad no matter what, but I thought perhaps you would like to accompany me.”
Elboron grinned. She wouldn’t be running off any time soon, unless Legolas and Gimli found some objection to her plan, which of course they wouldn’t.
“I thought you had left for good.”
She nodded and said, “And yet you said nothing. I assumed that you would at least let Legolas know.”
She looked at him, her dark, twinkling eyes searching his for something.
He felt utterly vulnerable beneath her penetrating gaze and answered, “I knew you wouldn’t leave.” He bluffed, hoping that she fell for his act of self-assurance.
She scoffed, seeing through him as though he were glass.
“Sure you did.”
She snorted then covered her mouth in shock, a mischievous glint in her eyes. It was very unladylike to snort, but she couldn’t help it. Elboron laughed, his shoulders shaking with carefree, uncontrolled mirth.
“I forgot you used to do that.” He said, his laughter slowly petering away.
“You did? You used to tease me for it terribly. I’ll never forget that one time you made me cry and Aragorn had to scold you!”
Elboron’s cheeks turned red as he remembered calling her a pig and bringing forth tears from those dark brown eyes.
“We were children.” He shrugged his shoulders; after all, he had been just a little boy, always sneering at annoying girls, because they were…well, girls! He didn’t tend to think that way now that he was older, especially when in the company of this particular young woman.
“I know.” She replied quieter, her cheeks slightly blushing.
“In here,” Legolas motioned with a wave of his hand for the two of them to enter through the flap.
Once inside, Legolas asked Morelen, his face dark with worry, “What is it, Morelen?” He used her name rather than her title, for he noticed that every time he did use it she winced, although slight enough so that even he had trouble seeing it.
“I have a proposition for you, Legolas. The three of you.” She answered, her stoic expression fully returned to her dark face.
The elf remained silent, waiting patiently for her to continue.
“I propose that…you, Gimli, Elboron and I travel alone to Harad so that I may once and for all discover who I am.”
Her voice wavered at first, but she gained confidence as she went on and her black eyes were pleading yet strong.
Gimli’s beady eyes shifted from the girl to his comrade, Legolas, then to the man standing tall beside him.
Without the soldiers… he mused. I’m sure it would make Morelen much happier if it were just the four of us, but what would Aragorn think when he saw his troops back in the city without his daughter? I don’t know about this…it may not work…
“I don’t know, lady.” Gimli admitted, “What do we tell the king when his soldiers return without you? Will he not be angry?”
She hesitated for a moment, but her determination was unwavering and she replied, “I think not. Simply tell the company’s captain to inform the King of our destination. He will understand my reasoning. At least he will have some news of me, that I am alive and well. Oh wait, I have it!”
She slipped off a silver circle from around her ring finger. It was a simple piece, with a plain band and a single jewel. The gem sparkled radiantly, as though it was forged with light rather than stone. In the darkness of the tarp it was colorless, like the waters of the Nimrodel, but in the sunlight it shone with all the hues of the rainbow.
“I shall give this ring to the commander and he will show it to the king, as a sign that I live.”
Gimli still looked skeptical but Legolas’ face showed no emotion.
His bright eyes twinkled and he murmured, after a few moments of silence, “I think the princess is right. To Harad we must go. We will travel much faster with only four and I’m sure Aragorn will understand his daughter’s need. He always has.”
Elboron, from the beginning, completely supported the idea but tried to hide any signs in his face that might indicate it. Morelen looked to him for support, her gaze silently demanding, but he would give her none until the Dwarf agreed to the plan.
Finally, Gimli sighed, “Aye. The lass is right. If the young man here is willing, then we will leave on the morrow.”
Elboron silently nodded his head in assent and the dwarf continued, “Legolas and I shall speak to them tonight, then.” He lowered his eyes and strode out of the tent, Legolas following closely behind.
“To Harad.” Elboron murmured as he watched them leave.
Morelen gazed at him and gave him a mysterious smile, sending an extraordinarily warm sensation through his body.