I do apologize for the long wait. I have a hard time writing during the summer. (If some of you will remember, last year the same thing happened.) Hopefully my muse will cooperate and things will go smoothly from here on.
Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone – Chapter 10 – Chearra
A dull red flush stained both Elves cheeks as they stalked out of the trees, their clothes dripping wet. Jaessa looked at them wide eyed, the baby sleeping in her arms. Gimli stood next to her, holding the horse that they had found wandering, his mouth was agape in astonishment.
“What happened to you?” Jaessa exclaimed, laughter threatening to spill out, though she tried to hold it in. Gimli had no such compunction.
“You look like drowned Hobbits!” he burst out, great guffaws following his outburst. Jaessa tried to repress the smile that quirked her lips.
“Have you ever tried to catch a goat?” Legolas asked sweetly. That proved too much for Jaessa’s composure, and pealing laughter rang forth, waking the baby. Immediately she turned her attention to the tiny bundle in her arms, softening her laughter to chuckles.
“Now look what you made me do!” she said, “Chearra was sleeping so peacefully!”
“Chearra?” Haldir asked, raising one eyebrow and smiling.
Jaessa lifted her chin, “Yes, Gimli named her since we don’t know her real name.”
Gimli shifted his feet as the two Elves turned their astonished gazes to him. “Well,” he said defensively, “The little lass needed a name. It was my mothers name!” he protested at last.
“And a charming name it is!” Jaessa said, throwing a dazzling smile at the uncomfortable Dwarf. “I think I shall call her Cherry for short.” At this point Chearra began to protest vociferously.
“I don’t think she cares for the name,” Legolas said solicitously, though Jaessa could see that he was joking.
“She’s hungry,” she said, “You caught the goat, now we need the milk.”
Legolas looked at her blankly while Haldir and Gimli burst into raucous laughter.
“Well?” Jaessa said, smiling sweetly, “I’ll go see if I can find a jar or something to use as a bottle. You gentlemen see about milking the goat.” With that she walked away, rocking little Chearra gently as Haldir and Gimli’s laughter abruptly cut off.
“So,” Legolas said, “Anyone ever milked a goat?”
Gimli and the two Elves came out of the village, and walked swiftly to where she sat in the shade of a tree, the goat grazing not far away, and the sound of the bubbling stream soothing both the orphaned child, and the scarred lady.
“What have you discovered?” she said quietly as they drew near. She dipped the cloth again in the bowl of milk, and returned it to Chearra’s questing mouth.
“The Orcs came from the North, as we thought,” Haldir said shortly, “Then they returned back the way they came.”
Jaessa looked curiously from one grim face to the others, “Is that unusual behavior?”
“No, except that they had been driven back for so long that the village must have been caught nearly unaware.” Legolas said, “It is horrible to think that things have gotten so bad yet again.”
“At least since they headed North again we need not fear to encounter them as we head to Rivendell,” Jaessa offered.
“There is that,” Legolas said, but he sounded hesitant. “Jaessa what are we going to do with Cherry?”
Jaessa smiled at the use of the nickname, then frowned in thought, “Can we not take her to Rivendell with us? Surely there is someone in Rivendell who could care for her.”
“We don’t know if there is anyone in Rivendell at all,” Haldir said, “much less someone who could care for a baby.”
“Where else could we take her?” she said, “We have no choice but to take her with us.” She did not voice the fact that she could not leave Chearra behind, that her heart was already very attached to the little girl. Cherry seemed to her to be a sign of the returning hope that she had lost in the sights that she had seen.
“Very well,” Legolas said, “but I hope you know what you’re doing to her. We still have a mission, and you’ll be subjecting her to many dangers. She will limit your ability to protect yourself. We could take her to Bree and see if there is anyone there who will take her.”
Jaessa pulled Chearra closer, looking down into her now slumbering face, so peaceful and innocent. Could she justify taking the child with her? Could she stand to leave her behind?
Something of her distress must have shown on her face, for Haldir spoke up quickly.
“I am certain that if there is anyone in Imladris that they will take her in, and keep her for you until you can return,” he assured her, “and if not, well, you said that you can’t fight anyway, so Chearra won’t be that much of a liability. We cannot be sure that anyone in Bree would be willing to take her anyway. We are much more likely to find a caring person in Imladris.”
Jaessa looked up at him gratefully.
“In any case,” Gimli said gruffly, “the little lass won’t find anyone as cares about her as much as you do.”
“Well then,” Legolas said, “If that is decided, lets determine travel arrangements. We’ve found the one horse, which I think Jaessa should ride.”
“No,” Jaessa interrupted, “It will be faster if I change form, and everyone rides. Haldir can carry Cherry, and Legolas and Gimli can ride the other horse.”
“And what of the goat?” Legolas asked with misgiving.
“Well if we are taking Cherry we can’t very well leave her behind,” Jaessa retorted, “Tie her to the saddle of the horse.”
“I don’t use saddles,” Legolas protested, “Elves ride better bareback.”
“Well, you’ll just have to figure out someway to urge her along. It’ll be slower than going without her, but faster than walking. Do you have a better idea?”
“Why doesn’t Gimli carry Cherry on the other horse, and Legolas and I can ride with you,” Haldir interjected.
Jaessa looked hopefully at Gimli, he seemed to value Cherry more than the two Elves did, but the horror on his face put paid to that idea immediately. Jaessa was sad, she could have sworn that Gimli liked Cherry, after all, he had named her.
“Ride a horse, . . . on my own, . . .” he said nervously.
Jaessa smiled, if that was all, then she could solve that. “What if I wear the saddle, and carry you and Cherry? Would that suit?”
Gimli appeared thoughtful for a moment, “I guess I could manage that.”
“It’s settled then. Here Haldir, take Cherry,” gently she eased the baby into the Elf’s outstretched arms. He appeared nervous, and unsure of where to put his arms. Jaessa laughed gently and showed him how best to hold Chearra comfortably.
“Don’t worry too much about hurting her, babies are remarkably resilient. Just hold her close to your body, and she’ll be safe.” She felt a brief twinge of anxiety at letting Cherry out of her grasp, but she firmly suppressed it. Cherry would be safer if she were carried atop a horse that could outrun any Orcs that would come. Swiftly she shifted form, and allowed Legolas to move the saddle from the sturdy gelding to her own back.
Legolas then helped Gimli to mount. Jaessa snorted at the Dwarf’s awkward seat. No wonder he shied at riding on his own, he had no seat whatsoever. She watched Haldir carefully as he handed Chearra to the waiting arms of the Dwarf, and marveled at the confidence the Dwarf had while holding the tiny package. Most men turned craven at the mere thought of holding a baby, and here the sturdy Dwarf held the baby as naturally as if he had been holding babies his whole life.
As soon as the goat was tied to the saddle, and the Elves mounted they set off. Jaessa went to special efforts to take her smoothest gait, so as to lull Cherry to sleep.
When they stopped for the night, Jaessa milked the goat, and fed Chearra, tenderly rocking her when she finished. She thought back to the lullabies her own mother had sung, to find something to sing Chearra to sleep. Softly she started to hum just soft notes, with no melody.
Her mind became lost in the feelings of the music. She did not usually sing, prefering the violin, but music was full of the power of Dae, so it brought her peace as little else did these days.
She was startled from her reverie by a touch on her shoulder. It was Haldir.
“You need a break,” he explained, reaching out for Cherry. She eased the sleeping infant into his arms, and stood, only to find Legolas standing in front of her, holding out one of his white handled knives.
“Wha-” she began.
“I thought that perhaps I would teach you how to fight,” he said in explanation, though there was a troubled expression in his eyes.
“No,” she shied away from the outstretched knife, and attempted to go around him, but he doggedly refused to let her pass. “I cannot fight.”
“It does not make sense for you to go into danger without the least notion how to defend yourself. At least think of Chearra. If we encounter a band of Orcs, there is no saying that Haldir, Gimli and I will be enough to protect you if you’re hampered with the baby. You should at least have the rudimentary knowledge of how to fight.”
Jaessa felt the all too familiar coldness fill her, banishing the Peace of Dae which came from her song. “You wish to teach me how to fight,” she said, her voice icy. “Very well.” She took the knife from him gingerly, the very picture of the clumsy handed nobleman’s daughter.
“Good.” Legolas said, drawing the other knife. “Now, stand with your feet apart, yes just like that. No, a little farther, now . . . no, that’s not a pen it’s a knife. Hold it loosely between . . . yes that’s right, now, . . .”
With a smooth movement Jaessa whirled, her foot flying up to kick the knife from his hand. It flew up into the air as Jaessa reversed directions and shot her other leg low along the ground to cut Legolas’s legs from beneath him. She caught the knife she had kicked from his grasp as it fell, and landed, one knife pointed to his chest, and the other pressed lightly against his throat.
“I said that I can’t fight, I did not say that I did not know how,” she said shortly.
Suddenly Legolas found himself lying flat on his back, his hand stinging, and his head ringing from the unexpected fall. He began to get up, but found the point of his own knife pressed to his throat. It took a moment for Jaessa’s words to register, “I did not say that I did not know how.”
“What?” he said incredulously, “You know how to fight but you can’t? What is that supposed to mean? It doesn’t make sense.”
She stood, whirling about, and let the knife fly from her hand and through the air. It caught a leaf as it flew and stuck, with a dull thud, in the trunk of the tree. A moment later the second knife stuck a bare inch below the first. Both knives speared the leaf.
She turned back, looking down at Legolas, her eyes inscrutable.
“I don’t care to go into it,” she said quietly, “Perhaps it would be better to say that I don’t fight, or won’t fight, but to me can’t is more accurate.” She turned again, and stalked into the trees.
Legolas propped himself on his elbows, and watched as she disappeared into the trees. Then he looked at Haldir and Gimli, relieved to note that they appeared just as bewildered as he was. He sat up.
“Did that make any sense to either of you?” he asked aloud. His reward was four eyes glaring at him accusingly. Haldir stood, and thrust the baby into Legolas’s arms, much to his dismay.
“Here take Chearra, I’ll go find Jaessa,” the Lothlorien Elf said.
Legolas looked at Haldir as though he were mad. The other Elf made no notice, but walked swiftly in the direction Jaessa had taken. Legolas looked at Gimli in appeal, but the Dwarf merely huffed.
“It’s about time you took a turn holding Cherry,” he said.