A/N: I will apologize, once again, for being late. But this is a long chapter – over 3000 words – and this is my friend/guinea pig Laurelin’s favorite chapter. You shall see why. Mwahaha. And as ever, I have no claim to the world of the Professor. I wish I did…
Chapter Twenty-nine: Almost Cloudless
For me, I touched a thought, I know,
Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go.
–Robert Browning, Two in the Campagna
“We’ll be back before the summer festival,” Linedhel said cheerfully. He was just putting the last items in his pack; the band was setting out at noon, and it was already late morning.
“That gives you three weeks.” I handed him a comb from where I was perched on the end of his bed. “You’d best not go over that, brother, or the consequences will be dire.”
Linedhel grinned. “Oh?”
“Yes,” I said severely. “I’d take over the cooking, and then we’d both live on dubiously made stews.”
“Oh, have mercy!” he exclaimed, most dramatically.
“It gets worse. That way, you’d have to do any mending that came up, and as you still cannot tell one end of a needle from the other – “
“I can,” he objected.
I laughed. “Never mind. Just get back safe, and in a timely manner.”
“I will; don’t worry.” He tucked the comb into a pocket of the pack, and lifted it from the bed. “Coming to see us off?”
There was a small gathering outside green, composed of the Elves who were setting out, and all their friends and family bidding them farewell. They’d travel in a wide arc around the havens.
I scanned the group for Taurion’s family; Mothwen was a little ways away, talking to Sandaquare, so Linedhel and I joined her brother and mother at the edge of the group. We passed a few minutes in quiet conversation – Mothwen had joined us – and then it was time for them to depart. I embraced my brother, and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you as well.” He smiled.
Taurion had been properly hugged by his mother and sister, so I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek also. “Look after yourselves.”
“Do.” Eleniel looked affectionately at her son, then gave him a light push. “It’s time you were off.”
It was really a quite uneventful three weeks. I mended the occasional scrape with Tasare, or spent time with the twins. They could be rather exhausting; I couldn’t help but wish that Taurion were there – they knew each and every one of my stories, and a new one kept them interested for at least a little while. They were dear young ones, though, and made me remember what it was like to be waist-high and curious about everything.
The house, despite its rather small size, seemed very quiet with Linedhel gone. I spent most of my evenings with Mothwen and Eleniel, or other amiable acquaintances. I did miss Linedhel quite a lot, though, and was very glad when the time for him to be coming back arrived. When I was outside I’d give an extra glance off in the distance. And by the day before the festival, a small but joyful celebration of the coming of summer, I was growing impatient and slightly worried.
That evening I was making my way home from Tasare’s. The stars were out. I had, all in all, given up on seeing Linedhel before tomorrow, and was a bit disappointed. And if he were not back by then, the situation delaying him had better be quite dire.
I opened the door of the house, not really bothering to look at the familiar, evening-dimmed surroundings. The fire was banked, as I had left it.
With a muttered complaint against the tardiness of brothers, I stepped forward and closed the door. The next moment I yelped as I was swept into a tight hug and then spun around in the air.
Once I was set down, my suspicions were confirmed by my brother’s face beatifically beaming down at me. “Don’t I get a `Welcome back,’ Indil?”
“You know,” I said, “there was a time when I’d have severely injured anyone who crept up on me like that. And anyway, how did you know I was coming in? I do hope you haven’t been lurking all evening in hopes of catching me unawares.” By the end of that speech it was very difficult to keep up my mock-annoyance.
“No, I just got back, and heard you coming.” He laughed, still unrepentantly grinning. “As to the other, I’m just lucky to be intact, I suppose.”
Abandoning the façade, I threw my arms around him. “I’m glad you’re back, Linedhel.”
“There now.” He hugged me back, planted a kiss on my hair, and gently disengaged himself. “I’m glad to be back, too. I missed you.”
I smiled. “I missed you as well. Quite desperately.”
He laughed again, gave me another hug, quick and one-armed, then moved over to stir the fire.
I followed, now, as the embers flares, noticing his pack dropped on a chair, and his cloak hung up on a peg. I grinned. My brother was back, and all was right with the world. Or at least as near as it can get.
Early the next evening, I dropped onto a bench by the window, rubbing my temples, and let out a long breath. I was utterly exhausted.
Linedhel ducked through the doorway of his room, raising his eyebrows when he saw my pose. “What has you so dejected?”
I looked up, leaning against the wall. “I’m not dejected. I am just very, very tired. Earendil is leaving on a voyage soon, and he and Elwing have all sorts of things to clear up before then, so I was looking after the twins. All day.”
“Come now,” Linedhel said. “Surely a pair of Elf-children haven’t vanquished my most formidable little sister?”
I glared up at him through my hands. “Yes, they have. You try keeping track of them from dawn on. Right now I am going to bed.” I stood up, but he blocked the way to my room.
“You can’t go to sleep now, Indil! It’s the festival tonight, and you missing it to go to bed would be atrocious!”
I tried unsuccessfully to duck past him. “Linedhel, there have been other festivals, and there will be yet others. So – “
“Are you sure?” An odd expression, almost one of pain, flickered across his face. Though it was gone in an instant, it left me worried and disconcerted, something at the back of my mind tugging at me in concern. “Linedhel -“
“After all,” he continued, abruptly lightening his tone, “If you don’t come, what will all the poor besotted Elves do?” He smiled again, but the worry didn’t leave me.
“There are no poor besotted Elves, and even if there were, then they could flirt with Mothwen,” I said, though I’d already given in.
“Right then.” He grinned, and steered me into my room. “Go get dressed.”
I smacked him lightly on the arm, and went.
Inside my room I stood still for a minute, thinking over the odd moment. I hoped it was nothing, but knew it wasn’t. Linedhel had never had any particular gift of foresight, but we were all, sometimes, sensitive to what was to come. But there was nothing to be done about it, so I turned to dig through my clothes chest.
Near the bottom was a soft, dark blue dress with flowers embroidered at the hem. I put it on, combed my hair, and splashed my face with water. I felt a little more awake.
“Are you ready, Indil?” Linedhel called as I dried my face.
“Almost!” I tied my hair back out of the way, and came out.
“You know,” Linedhel remarked suddenly as we went out the door, “that wouldn’t quite work.”
“What?” I asked, quite surprised.
“What you said about the poor besotted Elves flirting with Mothwen. A few of them are related to her. Taurion, for instance.”
“Ah,” I said.
Anar was disappearing on the western horizon, her light still lingering in the sky, golden and rose. But in the East it was dark, and the stars could be seen as they emerged. The green was lit with lantern hanging in the boughs of the trees scattered about and around it on the edge of a wood.
Linedhel towed me over to a group of friends. After a few minutes of talk and laughter I carefully detached myself, evading my brother’s notice, and slipped to the side of the green to sit under a tree, leaning back against its trunk. I could see the sky between its leaves, the spaces dark and beautiful and scattered with the distant stars.
Looking down from the heavens I noticed that Mothwen had joined the group I’d just – Linedhel would definitely say – unsociably deserted. I surveyed the faces of the merry, laughing throng, and found that her brother was on the other side of the clearing. I stood up and waved – I had not seen him in quite some time. He saw me and began to make his way over, a rare full-grown smile lighting his face.
“Welcome back!” I gave him a quick hug when we met halfway. “How are you?”
“I’m well. It’s good to be home. You?”
“Fine. Did all go smoothly? I’ve not had too much of a chance to talk to Linedhel about it yet.”
We’d made our way over to the tree again; I sat down in the same place. Taurion sat beside me, his hands clasped around his knee. “It was all right. Nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. Trees, sky, a few Men who avoided us. The Darkness has not spread this far, thank Eru. The greatest event was meeting one of the Onodrim, on the edge of Nan-Tathran.”
I straightened. “Really?” Everyone had heard of the Tree-folk, but it was an unusual honor to meet one of Yavanna’s children.
He nodded. “Yes. He was standing on the riverbank, in the shadow of the willows – almost one himself, really, seeming to drink in the rain and sky. He was gray, like bark, and very tall…And very hard to describe.” He smiled.
“The Tree-herder?” Linedhel unexpectedly sat down on my other side. “He was.”
I turned towards him. “So it would seem. Why didn’t you tell me about it, though?”
“There hasn’t been much time, has there?”
“What about last night? It’s something of an event!“
“All right, sister dear, will be believe me if I tell you that I forgot?” Linedhel looked greatly offended, and then grinned. “But to return to the purpose of my coming over here, not that I ever reached it before: Indil, I have come to haul you off into the dancing.”
I glanced over to where two lines of Elves were formed, moving in time to the music of a few instruments. “No. Oh, no. I agreed to come, Linedhel. That is all.”
“Ah, but it was implied.” He caught my hand and pulled me, protesting, to my feet. “Come. It’ll be good for you.”
“Linedhel,” I said irritably, “I really am tired. I don’t think – “
“The exercise will wake you up,” he interrupted cheerfully, and giving Taurion a merry grin towed me over. The song was ending as we reached the clear space, and the dancers dispersed, some of them to take a rest, other merely pausing before the next set. We took our places when the music began again; Linedhel made an elaborate bow, and I dropped a short curtsey.
It was a simple dance, one old as the hills that everyone knew. We took hands and turned, changing places, slipped outside the line, up, then back in and down, then turned once more.
My irritation did, in fact, wear away as the dance went on. It was soothing; rhythmic and unthinking with the quiet swish of skirts as they flared out and the quiet remarks passed between partners. It didn’t seem long before it drew to a close.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Linedhel asked.
I laughed. “Loath though I am do admit it, you were right.”
He gave me an exceedingly pompous glance, obviously holding back laughter, and bowed most condescendingly. “But of course, sister dear. I am always right, after all.” Then reverting to his natural manner he looked around thoughtfully. “Go find another partner, Indil. Wouldn’t it be disgraceful to dance with your brother twice in a row?”
“You, dear, are obviously not aware of some of the nicer social niceties.”
“Oh, really?” I was about to mention that near-dragging one’s sister to a festival is not said to be polite in most lists of etiquette when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I started slightly. “Ah – hello, Taurion.” He had apparently had heard the last part of the conversation, and seemed to be trying not to laugh.
“Your reputation is saved,“my brother told me, and quite abruptly disappeared.
“Saved?” Taurion asked.
I shook my head. “Just Linedhel being Linedhel.”
“I see.” He surveyed the retreating Elf in question, and then looked back at me. “Would you like to dance, Indil? They’re about to start.”
“Certainly.” I smiled and gave him my hand, and we moved over to where the circle of dancers was forming. We all spread out a bit, and the music began. I caught glimpses of both Linedhel and Mothwen elsewhere, but then it was time to start, taking hands and turning. It was a very lively dance, an almost-blur of whirling and weaving through the circle and catching hands with Taurion again. I was breathless when it finished.
We wound our way back to the edge of the green. I gave Taurion a quick grin, and then looked out at the gathering of Elves again. I waved to Tasare, and saw that the Lord and Lady had arrived, and were holding a cheerful conversation with a few of their councilors. And that would mean…I scanned the crowd again. The twins, looking extremely innocent and overwhelmingly energetic, were making a straight line towards where we were standing. “Oh no,” I murmured.
“What is it?” Taurion asked. Instead of replying, I caught his hand and pulled him towards the woods; we weren’t far from the edge. Once we were behind the trunk of a large oak I looked up apologetically. “Sorry. The Elflings are after us. I was looking after them all day, and I don’t think I can take much more of their…exuberance.”
He laughed softly, and stole a glance around the tree trunk. “We’d best find a better hiding place, then. They’re almost here.”
“Quick!” I pulled him along again, darting slightly deeper into the woods. Not too far in, though, as the twins were almost bound to follow us, and it would not do for them to get lost.
I heard Elrond say something to Elros a few yards behind, and looked ahead. We were going parallel to the edge of the wood now, and though it was just a game of hide-and-seek I did want them to miss us.
“Wait a moment.” Taurion stopped beneath a large tree. There were a number of small, leafy branches low down on its trunk, but the first solid one was a little more than two yards from the ground.
He grasped the limb, and pulled himself up onto it. “Come on.”
Elrond and Elros were very close behind us. “Taurion -” I whispered, gesturing at my dress, which was not exactly ideal for climbing trees, “I can’t -“
He nodded, leaned down, got his arm around me, and quite impossibly caught me up onto the branch. I’d just barely gotten steady when the twins appeared. We were a very few feet away; I had to press a hand to my mouth, and behind me Taurion was shaking slightly with suppressed laughter.
Elrond looked about. “See them anywhere?”
Elros yawned. “No. Let’s go find Naneth and Ada. There’s always another day, you know.”
Elrond contemplated. “I suppose you’re right.” He gave one final glance to the surrounding foliage, and then they retreated.
We waited a minute after they disappeared, and then Taurion helped me down. My skirt was nearly torn, and I landed with slightly more of a thump than one would expect an Elf to. He smiled and steadied me. “All right?”
I nodded. “Quite.”
“Dare we go back, then?”
I blinked, considering. “I think I’ll go home, actually. I’m rather tired. You ought to stay, though, Taurion. It’ll be going for some time yet. And you’ve a greater chance of evading the twins.”
Taurion chuckled, and took my hand, tucking it into the crook of his elbow. “Very well; I shall. I’ll see you home first, though.”
I blinked again. “There’s no need to do that. It’s not far, and I’m not likely to be accosted, Taurion. Don’t bother yourself.”
“It isn’t a bother,” he said, and I did not object further.
“You know,” I said suddenly, a few minutes later, after we’d stealthily made our way around the green, “it was very different the last time we were sneaking about together in the dark.”
He went still for a moment. “Tol-en-Gaurhoth.”
“Yes.” I was quiet for a moment. “I never expected to be here. Like this. It was such a long time ago.”
“Not really,” he said. “Not when you live forever. It just seems like it when you’ve changed.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I answered, and thought of Elrond. “But when things are the same it seems even longer.”
“Perhaps. They always do change, though”
We were clear of the lights from the festival by then, and the night sky was clear. There was a breeze. “Sometimes,” I said softly, “I wish that they wouldn’t. Now – right now things are beautiful. But I don’t think it will last. Not forever.”
“I don’t understand why some are given foresight,” I went on, staring up at the stars. “We’ll always see what happens – we can’t help it – but why would anyone want to know before?”
“Indil.” Taurion turned to face me. “What is it?”
“Linedhel. Something’s going to happen. Soon. It was just a flicker – but he knew. And I wish,” I finished softly, “that it wouldn’t.”
“Oh…But, Indil…there’s nothing to be done.”
“I know,” I said. “We can only…only take the time that’s left, and love it. It’s what he’s doing now.”
“Linedhel,” Taurion answered, “is not nearly as foolish as he pretends to be.”
“No. He isn’t.”
We started walking again, and very soon reached the house. I stopped at the door. “Thank you, Taurion. For the dance, tree, walk, and letting me pour out my woes.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“You ought to go,” I said. “It’s starting to get late.”
“True.” He looked as if he was going to say something more, then paused, took my hands in his, and kissed me softly on the cheek. “Good night, Indil.”
“Good night,” I managed to say, and stood in the doorway looking after him for several moments until I remembered to go inside.
This was for you, fluff lovers…the fact that I had a nearly obscene amount of fun writing it is quite immaterial, I assure you. Please do review!