They rode on in silence beneath the blazing sun, headed in a direction, they hoped, that would lead them out of the desert yet away from the city they had previously escaped. They had been traveling almost nonstop, and were feeling the effects in their wearied souls and bodies. Legolas and Gimli led the way as Elboron and Morelen followed in silence, their shoulders slumped in exhaustion. Their days in Gondor had certainly not prepared them for this treacherous heat. They spoke softly, usually one asking a simple question and the other giving one word answers.
“How’d you do it?” Elboron’s rough voice queried, his look hopeful. He had been dying to ask her this since they had reached the desert, but the looks she had sent his way stopped him. Here, however, he plucked up the courage.
She sighed, her shoulders sagging and the sweat glistening on her forehead. Her eyes were screaming and their lids threatened to close on her.
“In all honesty,” She finally murmured, her voice coarse, “I know not how I managed it. I am still at a loss…”
He said nothing, waiting for her to continue.
“He brought me out of the cellar, and carried me blindfolded to a dark room.” Here she paused, remembering the events of the previous day. “He bade me wear these,” she touched a hand to the soft garments covering her legs, feeling its silky texture beneath her fingertips.
“He left me to don them, and after I had done so, I tried to find a way out of the building, a way for all of us to escape.”
As she spoke, he had taken a second look at her garments, which showed more of her than any of those little Gondorian gowns had done, and he decided that perhaps he could get used to living in this country. That is, if all the women looked like her. Morelen had always been a modest tomboy, and if circumstances hadn’t been what they were, he would have suggested that she get more outfits like this one for her wardrobe. He was brought back to reality when she continued her story.
“In the room was a chest, with other garments and two bottles of liquid. I took the second container, having recognized its scent from somewhere, and tried to find Haydar. Instead, I ran into an older woman, some old hag working for him, I suppose.”
Elboron’s dark brow was arched in curiosity.
Answering his unspoken question, Morelen continued softly, “I still do not know who she was, only that she was a dear friend of my mother’s.”
Compassion colored Elboron’s features now, and he looked ahead, noticing that the elf and dwarf were both intently listening to her speak.
“How did the hag know your mother?”
She turned to him, her dark eyes sparkling with unshed tears, and she replied, “I know not.”
She let her head drop down as she tried to cover her tears from him, but her efforts were futile. He saw her sadness, and gently lifted her chin.
“Keep your head up, mellon nín.” (My friend)
Her lips trembled, her sorrow springing from extreme exhaustion, food deprivation and a series of very traumatic experiences that would forever leave her a changed woman.
Attempting to make her forget for a moment her parents, he asked her, “Morelen, what did the old woman say to you?”
Wiping her nose on her sleeve, she replied, “She saw the bulge in my pocket, the one that contained the liquid, and she told me that it was Musafer. It was a poison, apparently, and she told me its effects and how to best use it against Haydar. She also told me where the hidden door was, and how to get to it from where I was.”
“At that point, she was all I had; I had to trust her. What she had told me was all I could go on, so I left her and went back to Haydar.”
Elboron’s grip on the reins of the camel instinctively tightened at the mention of the man’s name, and his jaw tightened without his knowledge.
“Eventually I poured him a glass of wine, with the poison sitting in the bottom of the chalice, and he drank it. I managed to hide his body and let the rest of you out of the cellar.” Her voice trailed off, for the rest he knew, and it seemed as though telling her story had left her breathless, devoid of energy, like her spirit had been ripped out through her mouth.
Her face paled at the memory of Haydar’s body lying inert on the ground, reliving once again the pure terror she had felt and the adrenaline that had surged through her veins.
“He is dead now,” Murmured Legolas comfortingly, and yet with a hint of steel in his cool voice, “You need not fear him anymore, tithen pen.” (Little one)
She sniffed loudly and nodded her head, trying to toughen up, to let it slide off her back. She scolded herself; she was the one who got herself in this situation, and she had no one else to blame but herself.
Gimli squinted his beady eyes as he said, “We camp there, eh?” He pointed a thick finger towards the little oasis, which seemed to be completely unoccupied at the moment. Morelen’s story had inadvertently provided them with the distraction they needed to keep their mind off the journey. The less they thought about it, the faster their animals moved, or so it seemed, and they were coming up fast on the little green area, the trees swaying in the evening breeze.
The promise of water and of shade taunted them and sang an alluring melody in their ears, so they sped up and headed towards the green. Quickly they dismounted, for the ride that day seemed to last forever. The sky was clear and the temperature dropped with the setting sun, the sweat on their skin cooling and making them shiver.
“When will we be rid of this blasted desert?” Gimli barked in annoyance, rubbing his hands on his arms to keep himself warm. “Make up your mind, whether it be cold or warm! Bloody hell, I am sick of this!” He shouted to the sky, as if he could control the weather by mere willpower.
Legolas murmured, “Come, we have traveled far, and this place will at least will provide us with a momentary peace.”
Gimli heaved a sigh, his stubby chest rising, and he said, “Sleep, the three of you. `Tis my turn, I suppose, to take first watch.” And with that he plopped down in the sand and let the fine substance sift through his fingers.
“We need a fire.” Elboron added softly.
“Aye, we do indeed. I shall help you.” Morelen nodded in agreement, following him into the brush to see what wood there was to be had that night.
Elboron startled Morelen when he spoke, for she had not anticipated him. He turned to her and those smoky grey eyes were fixed upon her, filled with compassion, sorrow, weariness, and something else she could not quite put her finger on. His appearance was windswept, dusty, and the dirt on his hands spoke of a thousand restless nights spent in a country made of sand.
“Morelen, I ask you to forgive me for having you relive the events of that night. It was an unneces–“
“No, Elboron, you need not apologize.” Sighing, she continued, “I needed to tell someone of it, and I feel as if a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. There is nothing to forgive, Mellon nín.” (My friend)
Giving her the first genuine smile she had seen in a long time, she felt compelled to return the gesture.
They returned and started a fire, trying to find some way to get comfortable in the sand. Gimli sat silently by the flames while the other three lay next to each other, at least attempting to get some sleep. Morelen shivered unconsciously, her entire being cold to the core. How could it be that she shivered during the night and sweat during the day? What sort of ridiculous land was this? A fickle and treacherous one, she decided, and one she would not trust.
She heard Elboron’s steady breathing to her left, though her eyes did not stray to his quiet form. The unearthly glow of the desert stars filled her eyes and for a moment she realized just how small she was, in this entire space. There were millions of them in the sky, a larger number than she could possibly comprehend, and it was a humbling vision, to be sure. This whole trip has completely stripped me of the pride I once held, she thought bitterly to herself.
Her shivering increased as a cool breeze rustled by and she clamped her teeth together to stop the chattering.
Elboron heard the girl’s teeth clattering together with the strength of her cold, and he decided to brave getting rejected in order to, perhaps, quiet her.
“Morelen,” his voice was husky, “come here.”
Turning to him with a suspicious look on her face, he beckoned her come near. She did so, gradually. He rubbed her arms with his hands, the friction warming her a little.
“I am not cold.” She said stubbornly.
He chuckled softly, “I never said that you were.”
He wrapped his arms around her and bade her lie next to him, for warmth. “I just assumed it went without saying; your teeth clanging together might have given it away, though.”
“Elboron, I will not–“
“Grow up a little, Morelen. I only mean to keep both of us warm; would you rather sleep in the cold?” His voice held a hint of exasperation and warning to it.
“Fine.” She knew he was right; why was she being so stubborn and immature, anyway?
Her body rigid, she let him hold her near him, feeling the heat radiate from his body.
Ai, he is so warm…I’d care not if he was an orc right now, so long as he keeps me from shivering like this!
As she gently drifted off her body relaxed and she let herself get closer to him, allowing their heat to mingle. He held that distinctive, musky scent that she would only admit to herself she liked, and he provided a warmer blanket than she’d ever had before. The observation of how comfortable he was flitted through her mind just before she drifted off into a warm, dreamless sleep.
Elboron nodded off just as she did, his lids slowly closing, but on his face was the slight trace of a smirk…