A/N: I AM SO SORRY! I know this chapter took forever. I was disgustingly unproductive for a while, and then the computer broke down, so I couldn’t work on it at all. So I’ve been hurrying to get it done – please forgive any resulting typos. Think of it as a pracrastinator’s Christmas present to y’all. And by the way, the story gets pretty happy for a while. All you angst-lovers out there need not worry, though; the fluff does not last forever.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Explanations and Fish Stew
I am certain now that I am
I am selfish, I am wrong
I am right, I swear I’m right
Swear I knew it all along
And I am flawed
But I am cleaning up so well
I am seeing in me now
The things you swore you saw yourself…
—Dashboard Confessional, Vindicated
After waking I slept for what Linedhel told me was nearly a solid day. I think I drifted awake a few times, but registered little except that I was safe, my brother was near – as was Emeryk – and I was happier than I had been in many years. I’d already let my family go, knowing that I would not see then again on this side of the Sea. So Linedhel’s confirmation of their passing had not really hurt me more – though I wished that I had known Nyeren. But finding my brother, who I’d also thought dead, was really more than I had hoped for.
When I finally woke all the way, it was around noon. Emeryk was perched on the windowsill, watching me, and somehow looking as if he’d been doing so for some time.
I sat up – I felt quite rested, and a bit restless. Emeryk hopped down from the window, and landed on my left shoulder. I winced. “Ow, Emeryk, not there…” I shifted him to my other shoulder, where he settled with an apologetic tug to my ear.
I stood, a bit shakily, and rolled up the sleeves of the large tunic I was wearing, presumably a spare one of Linedhel’s. I didn’t want to stay in bed, and leaning on the walls and furniture I was able to take the few paces to the doorway without incident.
Holding onto the doorjamb I studied the room it led into. There were several windows, letting in a cheerful amount of light, and a ceiling only slightly higher than that of the bedroom. This chamber too had a stone floor, with several dyed-rush mats. A fireplace was set in the wall dividing the rooms, so it could warm them both, and there was another hearth, this one lit, at the other end of the room. Linedhel was bent over it, peering intently at something in a pot. He turned as I took a careful step foreward. “Indil, you’re up. That’s good, as I would have had to wake you up – the stew is almost ready.”
“Stew?” I asked, after making my way across the room and sitting down at the table. “It smells…interesting.”
He grinned. “It’s fish, that’s the difference. It’s a bit of a shock, and and takes some getting used to. I’ve grown quite fold of it myself, though.”
“I see. But I’m hungry enough that it probably won’t matter much.”
“Hmmm.” Linedhel stirred. “You only got partway through your tale yesterday – could you tell the rest now? How did you escape Tol-en-Gaurhoth?”
A thought occurred to me. “So you believe that I escaped, then? Not – not set free, as some are when they’re subject to Morgoth’s will?”
Linedhel blinked. “Of course not. It’s obvious.”
I looked up at him and frowned. “Oh? How?”
“Wait a moment.” He went to the bedroom, and returning with a small mirror he handed it to me. “Look.”
I gazed into the silvered glass, studying myself. It was odd; in some ways I had changed very little from the young Elf-maid of Gondolin. My features were a bit sharper, more defined, and of course there was the faint scar across my cheekbone, but that was all. My eyes were the same, just the smallest bit more shadowed.
I was still just as confused, and gave the mirror back to Linedhel. “What?”
“What?” I repeated.
“Quite simply,” he said, “you are yourself. And you are my little sister, so it’s easy enough to tell.”
I settled back on the chair, feeling a bit bemused. “Oh. I see.”
“Good.” Linedhel went back to stirring. “So now that that’s cleared up, how did you get out of Minas Tirith?”
Of course, it took some time to explain how I met Taurion, picking the lock, the spell, and my collapsing at that unfortunate moment just after clearing the bridge. By then the meal was ready, and Linedhel asked me to wait for a moment. He took spoons and bowls down from a shelf, ladled in some stew, and set them on the table. “Or maybe we should wait till we’re finished eating. That might be easier.”
I nodded, accepting a bowl and picking up my spoon. “It would. Thanks, Linedhel.”
“Not at all.” He surveyed me with faint amusement as I took my first cautious mouthful. “Well?”
I chewed slowly, taking in the flavor. It took me only a moment to discover that it was not only interesting, but also decidedly…fishy. Which was to be expected, of course. I swallowed hard. “You were right when you said it would take getting used to.”
Linedhel grinned. “Of course. I’m always right, after all.” He sat back and watched with a hint of unholy glee as I continued to steadily – it a bit forcedly – downed my stew. Despite what I’d said about being hungry I wasn’t sure how much of it I could handle.
After we’d been eating for a minute or two Linedhel finally had mercy on me. He got up, took a loaf of bread from the shelf, tore off a piece, and handed it to me, saying seriously, “You know, little sister, it might not be a good idea for you to eat too much of an unfamiliar food while you’re still in the middle of recovering.”
I made a face at him, but took the bread. “Thanks ever so, brother.”
He laughed, and when we had finished, asked, “What happened after the spell failed?”
I eyed my bowl ruminatively; I’d been able to almost finish the stew. “I blacked out from the strain, that along with my various injuries. As for the rest, Taurion would be able to answer better, since I didn’t come to until noon the next day. All he told me was was that he managed to keep ahead of the Orcs, get off the road, and lose them in the dark. He was carrying me, too, though he didn’t mention it till I asked.” I scraped my spoon around the inside of the bowl pensively. “He’s an odd Elf, Taurion.”
“Hmmm.” Linedhel absently twirled his spoon. “Odd coming from you is quite something.”
I mock-scowled at him. “What are you implying, brother dear?”
He raised his eyebrows, endeavoring to appear innocent. “Nothing, nothing whatsoever.”
I laughed. “Very well. Let us just say that I am odd, as are you and Taurion, but I am very fond of you both. Is that quite acceptable?”
Linedhel grinned. “It is indeed. Pray continue.”
I grinned back. “All right. I woke up, as I said, around noon, in a small ravine a few furlongs away from the Isle.” I paused for a moment, sobering, remembering that place. “I was so relieved, Linedhel…I could see the sky.”
Linedhel had stood up to collect our bowls; now he bent and gave me a brief, tight hug. I rested my face against his tunic for a moment, and then went on. “So Taurion told me what I told you, about getting away from the Isle. When it was dark we we set off, and somehow we had the luck or Valar had a whim, and we made it out of Gorthaur’s territory. There isn’t much to tell of that; it all runs together, rather. There wasn’t really time to think – I was still exhausted from the spell.
“And, Linedhel – ” I took a deep breath, ” -then I could see the Echoriath, knowing exactly which peaks I could see from my bedroom window at home. But I thought – I believed – that I could never return. I couldn’t bear to.”
“Indil,” he said softly, “you-“
“Wait,” I interrupted quietly. “I couldn’t bear it, you see, to return as I was, a bloodstained shadow of the sister you’d known. And I was, at least partly. I carried so much guilt…when I first left Tol-en-Gaurhoth I was so bitter and so broken; you would not have known me then, Linedhel.” He looked as if he was about to protest, but I shook my head. “No. It’s true. But slowly, as we travelled, some of the darkness faded, though I still blamed myself. And I couldn’t see how I could ever go home.”
“But you said you found the ruins…”
“Yes.” I swallowed. “We were nearing Brethil, and Taurion asked if I had a destination. I told him no, and he asked why, and I ended up telling him the whole story. It was a relief, really. Though we, well, had something of an argument afterwards. But eventually he convinced me to believe that I ought to go home. He said that you – you and Amme and Ada, all of you – you deserved to know that I was alive. And just hiding in the darkness, as I was, would do nothing. And he was right, you know. But more than anything, I wanted to go home.”
“And so you did, to find it fallen,” Linedhel finished quietly.
I nodded. “I can’t describe it, just standing there, and looking out…I caouldn’t believe it, not at first, and then it slowly sank in. I cried, Linedhel, for the first time in to long, and somehow that helped to wash it all away. And just looking up at the stars, I knew that there was peace, somewhere. All my doubts and fears diminished, because everything was gone, and somehow that helped me let go.”
I was crying as I finished, blinking back tears while the story flowed out. Linedhel embraced me again, not saying anything, just holding me close. After so many years of fierce and solitary struggle for survival it was strange to have my dear, protective brother watching over me again. Neither of us cared, though. Both of us had found something; we were part of a family again.
I continued after a moment, my voice muffled in his shoulder. “The next morning I found Emeryk. He’d tried to fly though a broken window, and had hurt his wing. I set it, and after I’d fed him a bit he started to trust me…how was Emeryk?”
Linedhel smiled and wiped his eyes. He’d never been one to let sorrow overtake him for long. “He behaved himself quite well. Usually stayed perched quite close to you, and tryed not to get underfoot too much. He did peck Sandaquare quite hard, though, when he came close to stepping on his tailfeathers.”
I chuckled. “I hope he didn’t do any real damage.”
“No. Sandaquare will just have to be a bit careful where he puts his feet, now. But anyway, what happened after you found him?”
With a great number of pauses and much sidetracking, I finally told of going to Doriath, seeing Taurion again, Melian’s Girdle, Menegroth, the King and Queen, Alatariel, saying goodbye, and finally reached the part of the story where Linedhel entered it. “-And you’d be the better one to tell that part.”
“True,” he said. “You weren’t precisely in a state to be making note of things.”
“So, what are the details?”
“Hmmm.” Linedhel leaned back in his chair. “I and eight others were about two days out from the Havens, when Emeryk appeared on the edge of our camp. He just sat there, refusing to be moved, until Ehtelinde – he’s Sandaquare’s brother – sat down in front of him and asked him what he wanted. Emeryk looked as if he was considering, and then tugged on the edge of Sandaquare’s sleeve and flew to a branch a few feet away. It was obvious he wanted us to follow him. Some of the others weren’t sure, but he had the air of a Elf-bred creature, and so, in the end, we followed. He led us to the edge of Nan-Tathran, and then flew up, seeming to get his bearings, and came back down, waiting to be followed again. It’d been nearly half a day by then, and we almost turned back.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t,” I commented.
Linedhel frowned. “Yes. I don’t like to think of how close that was. We almost left you.”
“You didn’t know, brother,” I pointed out. “There’s no way you could have. But you did keep going, so all this is a bit pointless.”
He smiled wryly. “True enough, Indil. We did keep going, thank the Valar, and when Sandaquare spotted you all of us agreed that we had to do something. You were obviously not there by choice.”
I almost laughed. “No.”
“Of course not. And though we were a bit outnumbered, there weren’t enough bandits to make it…well…significantly dangerous.”
I snorted. “Significantly? Linedhel, those Men may have been unpleasant and maybe not too bright, but they did know how to fight. You were risking you lives.”
“I know. But nobody died; there were just a few cuts and knocks, nothing too bad. We had suprise on our side. And besides – ” he added, grinning, “- there’s nothing like rescuing a maiden to motivate an Elf.”
I laughed, outright this time, made a face at him, then asked, “Even when she’s you sister?”
He considered. “Well…Even more so, then.” I raised my eyebrows, and he continued. “Not that I would have minded if it were Sinyecua, of course.” Neither of us were quite able to keep from laughing again. Sinyecua had been a friend of mine when I was young, and at one point she had been completely smitten with Linedhel. He’d gone to rather extreme lengths to avoid her attentions.
I pulled my thoughts back to the present. “So with the ever-helpful element of suprise, you were able to overcome the bandits, with no one being severely injured. What then?”
Linedhel looked down, growing serious once again. “Then Ehtelinde called me over, and I saw you there, your tunic covered with dried blood and you looking as pale as ash and all I could think was Oh Eru, how could this have happened to my little sister…and were you really, truly you and would you survive…The others were puzzled for a moment, but then Voronwe realized and got us moving. I was too shocked at first to be much help. But we cleaned and wrapped your shoulder as quickly as could be done, and then set out, taking turns carrying you. Emeryk wouldn’t go more than a few yards from you then.”
“So you took me back to the healer, I was unconscious, then I got better, and since then I’ve been sleeping,” I finished. Linedhel smiled.
“Correct, as a summary. And now, as some water’s been heating, I thought you might want to wash.”
I stood up, and gave Linedhel a hug. “Thank you very, very much,” I said. “That would be bliss.”
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