The afternoon sun shone brightly upon the trees, passing through their glistening boughs and trickling down to warm the grassy earth. A gentle wind rustled the leaves and the excess water from the storm fell and landed on the girl who lay unconscious by their bases. A particularly large pool of droplets landed straight on her face, splashing her into reality. She sat up with a jolt and immediately regretted it, rubbing her head with her hands, wincing in pain.
She inspected her fingers and muttered, “No blood; thank the Valar.”
She looked up to the horse and said angrily, “Some mighty steed you are – it was just a thunderstorm! It wasn’t going to kill you!”
She proceeded to hiss a slew of colorful curses a lady should not know. (especially considering this one mostly grew up around nobles and courtiers)
She checked herself for any damage and found nothing, only a splitting headache.
She gave Sûlroch a contemptuous look and grumbled, “If this is what happens after a long night of drinking, then I’ll be sure to stay far away from the vile stuff!”
Suddenly her thoughts were stilled as she heard a slight rustle and what she thought to be the march of horses, several of them. Her heartbeat quickened in her chest and she attempted to hide Sûlroch behind a bunch of close, thick trees.
She tethered him to one of the limbs and hissed, “Stay still!”
She ran back and hid behind another. Deciding this was somewhat pathetic cover, she resolved to climb the tree so she could look down upon the riders. Holding her breath and remaining as calm as she possibly could, she called upon all of the knowledge Aragorn had given her about staying hidden in the wild.
It could just be somebody passing by, she tried to assure herself.
or troops, or bandits.
The thought could not escape her, and she held on to the tree even tighter.
She heard soft voices and thought, They sound like male voices. Goodness, there are so many of them! Hopefully they don’t notice Sûlroch! He is such a blundering idiot! She flashed the horse a look of pure evil, wishing that her glare would shush the animal.
The voices loomed closer, but when she thought she might be able to approximate how many there were, (or at least how many were speaking) they abruptly died down, ceasing completely. She listened intently but she heard no more words spoken, only Sûlroch’s impatient snort.
Ai, that STUPID HORSE!
Deftly and soundlessly she drew her bow and knocked it with one of the few arrows that had not been snapped in her fall the previous night. Her bow strung, she lay against one of the giant limbs and waited. She heard nothing.
Where could they have gone? I would have heard their horses ride away…
* * * * * * *
“Do not speak,” Legolas silenced them, his arm raised to stop the troops.
His voice was barely above a whisper as he said to Elboron, “Stay hidden here with them, for I hear something from afar. Wait for me; I am going alone.”
Elboron nodded and held the reins of Legolas’ mount as he nimbly leapt off, stroking it’s mane to try and soothe it. The soldiers were absolutely silent, for they were battle trained and they trusted the elf. Some of them had fought with Legolas and Gimli during the war of the ring, and they followed his orders without question.
Legolas went ahead without them, for his Elvish feet were inaudible on the soft earth and whoever it was out there would not be able to detect him. Unless of course they were an elf as well. Silently he drew his bow and prepared to fire.
Suddenly from beside him he heard a horse stomp its hooves into the ground and whinny. He turned and saw the animal, tossing its black mane with impatience.
The rider must be right here somewhere, He thought to himself, bending his knees with caution, like a wary cat.
Remaining completely still, he fought to keep back a gasp. He recognized this horse. Its saddle had been given to the rider about nine years ago, and it had the Tree of pure white embroidered on its side beneath six stars. He lowered the weapon and closed his eyes, listening intently, straining to pick up her movements with his keen senses.
Suddenly his eyes shot open and a wide grin spread across his face.
A wise choice, Adaneth. Estel would have been able to keep this up, but you have not his experience.
He turned and stared straight at her as she sat in the tree, a thunderstruck look on her face.
“Morelen,” he breathed.
* * * * * * * *
“What is going on? I can’t see a thing!” Muttered Gimli, struggling to see the elf through the trees, but he blended in with his surroundings as though he were a part of them.
“Silence, Gimli. Do you not know its meaning?” Whispered Elboron, annoyed, also fighting to see his friend. When he did, the elf was staring up into a tree, a wide grin spread across his fair face. His bow was lowered to the ground and it looked as though he was conversing with the giant tree.
What in the blue blazes? This is no time to chat with plants!
The elf turned his head and smiled at them, beckoning them to approach.
Elboron led his and Legolas’ horses and said to Gimli, “Follow me, Gimli. The rest of you stay here. Wait for our signal.”
The dwarf grumbled something but Elboron didn’t listen. He galloped through the trees until he had reached the elf and he followed Legolas’ gaze into the boughs of the tree.
“Elbereth,” He murmured, not quite believing what he saw.
His heart lurched at the sight before him and it nearly left him breathless, as though he had been struck in the stomach. But there she was, sitting comfortably on a large branch with her bow in hand. Her long, dark hair was in a lustrous tangle and her face had dirt worked into it, so one couldn’t discern between mud, shadow or skin. Her riding outfit was part green from the cloth, part brown from the mud. She seemed to blend in completely with her environment and he was glad for Legolas’ sharp senses, for he would have missed her completely. Her eyes were wild and frightened, like those of a wild animal trapped by hunters. This looked nothing like the girl he had known so many years ago. She was a woman, but her eyes betrayed a hint of youth that he instantly recognized.
He held her piercing gaze for as long as possible, but was saved by the voice of Gimli, who distracted him, “Morelen, this cannot be. Are you well, child?”
She did not reply immediately, but instead nimbly climbed down the tree, realizing the futility of an escape attempt. She put her hands on her hips and circled them; her scrutinizing eyes making Elboron feel strangely uncomfortable. She looked terribly angry as she spat,
“So, they finally sent you after me. I wondered if you would ever find me. I am sorry; you must have been traveling for some time. But you, do I know you sir?”
She motioned to Elboron, “You must be one of the guards of the royal court.” She scoffed, her gaze and tone derisive and indifferent. Any form of appropriate behavior she had once modeled as a princess was completely tossed aside now for a more savage, unruly air, much closer to that of a woman who had never seen a royal court
Elboron was captured by her voice, low and drawling. Most of the women he had come across in his lifetime were slender creatures with soft, high-pitched voices and vacant eyes. Morelen possessed none of these traits, for even though she was raised in Gondor among the dainty ladies of court, she was one of the Haradrim, doughty and rugged. He remembered now, as though it was some long-forgotten dream that Morelen had a deep, resonating accent, a gut-wrenching sound. It made her seem powerful and commanding, and he reveled in its thrilling intensity.
He was brought back to reality when he suddenly realized what she was saying; she didn’t remember him! He stared at her, surprised, and prepared to answer but Legolas spoke for him.
“Do you not know him, Morelen? Your last meeting was nine years ago.”
She looked confused and utterly uninterested, saying, “I was eight, eh? He’s some guard I met when I was eight?” But eventually comprehension flooded her features and her hand flew to her mouth.
She gasped, murmuring through her fingers, “I was eight…by the Valar, Eldarion’s birthday!”
Their eyes remained locked as she finished, her voice barely audible, “Elboron…” She blinked several times, as if to confirm to herself that he was not a mirage brought on by lack of food or water, but a real human. A grown man, by the looks of him.
The surprise was immediately shadowed from her eyes and she looked at the others, saying, “And what will you do if I do not agree to come back with you?”
Her hands were on her hips, as she used to do when she was a little girl, defying someone. Usually her nana.
“We will not leave without you, princess.” Legolas murmured, his gaze lowered to the earth beneath his feet.
“I do not intend to return, so I suppose you will just have to follow me or go back.” She said wryly, hoping her stubbornness would outlast theirs.
“Where are you headed?” Gimli queried, his arms folded across his chest.
Ai, she thought, I have to beat even your tenacity, dwarf.
She remained quiet for a moment then said, determined, “You know exactly where I am going. I am going to Harad.”