The healer’s brow knit in concentration as she worked. Ernil looked on in silence, soothingly stroking the black tresses of the tall, slender maiden enfolded in his arms. She clung to his shirt, now damp with tears. The air was tense, broken only by the occasional muffled sob.
Bronwe’s hands ran carefully over the body, feeling for anything amiss. They paused momentarily over the ribcage, where two bones were broken. When she had finished her assessment, the healer disappeared into another room, emerging shortly with a small jar, and a bundle of bandages. As she opened the jar, a pungent odor diffused into the air. She spread the ointment over the wound on Faelor’s temple, and under his nose (perhaps hoping that the smell would bring him back to consciousness).
The dark-haired maid pressed her face against Ernil’s chest.
She turned her face towards his.
he said, brushing a teardrop from her smooth cheek,
She started to push away from him, and he let her go.
She looked down at Faelor’s limp body, and then to Bronwe. The healer’s face was grave; eyes squeezed shut, brow moist with perspiration. One hand lay across Faelor’s chest, the other rested on his forehead. She was speaking softly, under her breath; the words were undecipherable.
The maid shifted her gaze back to Faelor…
His eye was swollen and purple, and his face was ashen. Bloodstains browned the neck of his shirt, which had once been pale yellow. She felt so helpless… watching, pleading… She could do nothing for him.
~*The sky above was bejeweled with stars,
and a sweet breeze stirred the leaves of the encircling trees.
It caught up her glistening hair,
black as midnight, and tossed it about playfully.
He took her by the waist and twirled her round in great circles,
until they both collapsed on the grass, laughing.
They lay there for a while, fingers entwined, gazing at the stars.
Then, she slid her fingers across his cheek,
brushing a stray strand of flaxen hair from his face.
She looked at him, puzzled, for a moment.
He reached up, placing his hand behind her head, and drew her lips to his.*~
the voice seemed small and far away.
She rushed over to him, kneeling by his side, and placed a tender kiss upon his forehead.
* * *
The room seemed to be some sort of storage area…
It was filled with boxes and chests, and it smelled similarly to the pantry at home.
“No… not home. Not anymore.”
She tried to pry off the top of one crate, but found that it was firmly secured shut. The next one, however, came away easily. The box was filled with candles. She took one of them, and held onto it tightly. After a few minutes, she had discovered that nearly all of the containers were locked, or nailed shut. One chest remained. It was immense; almost longer than Istanneniel was tall, and so close in height and width to the doorway that she wondered how it had entered the room. She heaved up the massive lid, and peered inside. …Empty.
But, when she began to lower it, something caught her eye. She brushed aside the torn material that partly concealed it.
In the center of the lid, a coin was embedded in the wood. It was about half the length of her little finger in diameter, and engraved on it was a beautiful scroll pattern. White and rose gold danced in intricate swirls on a yellow background. Istanneniel reached out, trying to extract it from the wood. With a suddenness that made her jerk, the bottom of the chest collapsed. She scrambled backwards, letting go of the lid, which fell closed with a crash that caused the room to tremble.
Slowly, she raised the lid again.
The descending stairway was cold, and the air felt old and stale. There must have been a draft in the passage, for the flame of her precious candle suddenly flickered and extinguished. The darkness seemed all too familiar. Terror gripped her heart, but she could not go back… not now. An immense cobweb dangling from the low ceiling hit her in the face as she passed. She reached a place where the floor leveled off abruptly, and knew she had entered a room. The only illumination was the trickle of gray light seeping through a gap between two of the boards that barred the window.
A thick layer of dust coated the walls and furniture; it made her throat tighten. From all indications, the room had gone unused for a long while. At one time, it must have been a library, or a study, for the towering shelves were piled high with scrolls. She took a step towards the oval table in the center of the room. As she tentatively moved forward, the band of light fell upon a white patch amid the dust. There was another, and another… Footprints.
The room seemed at first to have been long forgotten. Now, she saw that someone had been here, and recently. On the table was a square piece of bare wood where something had rested a short time ago; the dust had not yet resettled. A scroll was laid out on the table, beside the bare spot. The old paper crackled in her fingers as she lifted it. In an attempt to see what was written upon the parchment, she took it into the sparse light. On it were letters of a strange, curving script, both lovely and mysterious. Beneath the words was a drawing. It seemed to be a jewel of some sort… a pendant. The stone was a rich amethyst color, in a setting of gold; even though it was only paper, it seemed to radiate vivid light.
Suddenly, a brilliant, blue flame burst up on the paper. Istanneniel shrieked, dropping the scroll, which was soon no more than a smoldering pile on the floor. She stood for a moment, numb to all sensations save for utter amazement. Then, something touched her shoulder, and she instinctively wheeled about.
She recognized him instantly: the man she met in Mirkwood.
The crystal pendant around his neck glowed softly. It was much dimmer, she thought, than it had been in the woods. At first, she had wondered whether she had not actually imagined him. Perhaps he had never existed. But, if that were the truth, could she ever have gotten out… alive? Now, there was no room in her mind for doubt. Those eyes could not be mistaken for any other’s.
“I- I…” she stammered, glancing down at the incinerated parchment (slightly surprised that she’d actually been able to detach her gaze), then back to his face.
“Do not concern yourself with that,” he said. “I’ve already read it a thousand times, at least.”
Istanneniel had the disturbing feeling that he meant this quite literally.
She also realized, with awe and horror, that his lips were not moving when he spoke. He was speaking into her mind.
“Do not be afraid.” He reached out a hand towards her. She shrank back until her body was against the table.
“I am not going to hurt you, my lady.” He took one of her hands in his own, and drew her closer to him.
“You’re an Elf?” she did not know why she had asked that, of all things.
“Yes,” he replied.
“What about-” she started.
“He will live,” he answered her question before she could finish.
Elves were known to be wise and very knowledgeable, but she had certainly not thought that they could read minds.
“Come. Why don’t we go somewhere more comfortable?”
Istanneniel pulled back.
“Wait,” she said, suddenly aware of just how frightened she was. “Where are you taking me?”
“You will like it, I assure you.”
She did not know why she was so afraid. He had given her no reason to fear.
“Let go of me!” The jeweled dagger flashed, tearing a jagged strip from his sleeve.
“Shh…” he soothed. “There is no need to struggle.”
Istanneniel suddenly felt like a marionette, and the strings that were holding her up had been cut.
The dagger slipped from her fingers, and fell to the floor.