Maedd stood outside his sister’s room. He could hear his mother weeping softly within, and felt his own heart breaking. Zeamma rose and left the room without a word. Maedd stayed there for a moment, then went in. He kneeled by the bed and looked up at Rhwyna’s pale face. The dim candlelight reflected off of the cold beads of sweat on her forehead. Her black hair hung limp and stringy around her white face. Maedd hated seeing his sister like this. Rhwyna had always been the one to look up to- the strong one. Now that she was ill, maybe about to die, the family was falling apart. A tear ran down Maedd’s cheek and on to Rhwyna’s hand.
The boy turned around to see his father standing in the doorway, grim features melted into concern.
“Get some rest.”
Maedd nodded and slowly stood up. He took one last glance at his sister. She lay so still it was hard to tell she was breathing. Bending down to blow out the candle, Maedd felt Rhwyna’s forehead. It was as cold as ice. He gently covered her with another blanket, then left the room.
* * *
That night as he lay in bed, Maedd woke to the sound of raised voices coming from downstairs.
“Then what should we do? I’ve tried every remedy I could find. She never changes!”
“Did you ask Lothiri?”
“Yes, yes. She did not know what to do. Who would?”
Gwuryn paused a moment before answering his wife.
“What did you say?”
“The healer in the North. Some call the place Rivendell.”
“You would trust our daughter’s life to an elf?” Zeamma spat the last word with disgust and fear. Meadd, listening to every word, was surprised with the suggestion and agreed with his mother. He had heard many stories about the Elves and their mysterious powers but figured it was best to stay out of such matters. Gwuryn, however, heard differently.
“He could heal Rhwyna, if he wanted to.”
“She is dying, Zeamma! Will you do nothing but stand by and watch?”
With that, Zeamma burst into tears. Instantly regretting what he said, Maedd’s father tried to comfort his wife with kinder words.
“What do we have to lose?”
Zeamma sniffed back the tears and nodded slowly. She felt so hopeless, so powerless, and so desperate.
“Who would go?” she asked in a whisper.
Gwuryn sighed. “I cannot afford to leave the farm, with the harvest being just days away, and you are not fit for such a journey. That leaves…”
“I am already losing one child, I can’t bear to lose another!”
Maedd’s heart froze at the sound of his name, and the thought of going, alone. To Rivendell! Anything could happen to him. He didn’t know the way. His father was supposed to teach him archery. Rhwyna was going to tutor some of the village children. Maedd was lucky enough to have a family that he loved, and loved him back! Why should he be forced to leave all that he held dear in order to save it?
But you can’t save it! You are only 11! You cannot fight, hunt or provide for yourself. You have never spent a night alone, in the wild…
A tear rolled off the end of his nose. Then another, and another. He stuffed his face into his pillow, so no one would hear him. His parents couldn’t do this to him! This wasn’t the adventure every boy dreamed of. This meant leaving everything and everyone he loved to find some strange elf and ask him to heal his sister. He probably would just throw him out! Maedd couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation. He just stared moonlit shadows dancing on the wall and eventually drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Maedd woke to the feel of warm sunlight on his face, and smiled. Birds could be heard chirping outside, and the world seemed a perfect place, for a moment. As he changed into fresh clothes, the smile fell from his lips. He remembered where he was going today, and felt ashamed of the way he reacted that night. His sister was dying, and all he could think of was being scared of the dark? With a heavy heart, Maedd made his way downstairs, determined to put on a brave face, for Rhwyna. It’s what she would have done.
He was greeted by both of his parents at the kitchen table. It was unusual for Maedd’s father to be inside at this hour but of course, today would be rather different.
“Sit down, Maedd.” Zeamma quietly said. “As you know, Rhwyna is very sick. There is someone who can help her.” She stopped and looked at her husband to continue.
“There is a great healer in the North. His name is Elrond.” Gwuryn hesitated. “You must go and find him.”
Maedd’s eyes were focused on the table in front of him, so his parents would not see the tears forming in his eyes. He nodded.
“We know this will be difficult, but you are strong. You must do this for your sister.”
Zeamma sniffed. Maedd looked up and saw that his father’s eyes were moist as well.
“When do I leave?” he managed to ask, his voice barely above a whisper.
“You will leave as soon as you are ready. Dunar is saddled and your mother has packed you some food, a knife, some clothes, and a blanket.”
Maedd’s large chestnut eyes shot wide open in fear. “But I can’t ride Dunar! He’s much too big.”
“Dunar will bear you. And I think it might take too long to walk.” Gwuryn smiled. “You can do this. And remember, we love you!”
* * *
Maedd turned around for one last look at his home. His parents were now small specks against a dark brown background. He missed the quiet life he had before. Before Rhwyna got sick, before his parents decided to send him away. Was it all really only a few days ago? It seemed like a month, with all the worrying the family had done. The vague map he had received had given him little comfort. He had memorized the directions his father told him: always keep the Misty Mountains to your right, and keep going until you reach a bridge. Turn east, and follow the road to Rivendell. He sighed and urged Dunar to a gallop.
The wind rushed around Maedd and Dunar as they raced ahead- a gray blur against tall brown grass. Soon they entered a sparse forest. Maedd soon forgot his fear about horses and actually began to enjoy his ride. As long as he kept going fast, he didn’t have to think about anything else.
Night came quicker than Maedd expected. After a few hours of riding, the sun was already sitting on the horizon. Maedd realized that he had only given Dunar one short break, and the poor horse must be hungry. They stopped by a small stream and both took a drink. Maedd looked in his pack and found more than enough food to last a week’s journey. He thought it best to set up camp when there was still enough light to see, so got right to it.
An hour later, Maedd sat nibbling on a piece of bread, looking up at the stars. The wind was blowing hard and making eerie noises. Something wasn’t right. Maedd shivered. The noises got louder until Maedd realized that it wasn’t the wind, it was howling. Dunar was sweating and kicking the ground with a hoof. Maedd spoke soothing words in an attempt to calm the horse as well as himself. The fire was nothing more than a few hot ashes, so he poked it with a stick and added some more dry twigs. Reaching into his pack his hand grasped the knife his mother had packed, but he didn’t know what he was up against. The howling got louder and closer and Maedd panicked. Then he saw the eyes. Great yellow eyes, twice the size of a man’s, peering through the black spaces in the trees. He heard Dunar scream, or was it himself? In a heartbeat the immense wolf was out in the open, staring hungrily at Maedd and the horse. The sudden silence of the howling allowed Maedd to hear the steady thumping of his heart. The unearthly creature was getting ready for a leap towards Dunar but Maedd was quicker. He cut the rope that was holding the horse back, and as soon as he did, Dunar bolted. The wolf landed a foot in front of Maedd, who then did the bravest thing he had ever done before. He plunged the knife down the great beast’s throat, causing it one last cry of pain. The wolf closed its jaws around the boy’s wrist. Maedd let go of the knife, and pulled his hand from the dead wolf’s mouth. Seeing it was a mess of blood and torn skin, he nearly fainted. Yellow eyes were surrounded him. In a split second Maedd decided to run after Dunar as fast as his legs would carry him. Cries rose up again all around him, which made him run the faster, through the trees and over rocks. Blindly he ran, feeling only fear and the burning pain of his damaged hand, he didn’t see a large tree root up ahead.
* * *
Maedd’s head throbbed so hard that he believed he was going die. The bright sunshine didn’t help either. After a few minutes, the pain subsided somewhat and Maedd slowly sat up. He gently touched his head and winced at the pain. He didn’t know what hurt more- his head, hand or heart. After carefully making his way to a nearby stream, he dangled his hand in the cool water, than bandaged it with a strip of his shirt. Maedd ripped some more and tied it round his aching head- a mess of matted black hair and blood.
How did I survive? He asked himself. Why didn’t the wolves get me?
Fear seized him once again, as he realized he was in the middle of nowhere with no food, no horse, and no map!
Father will be so angry that I lost Dunar! How can I even go on? I will surely die. Maedd buried his head in his hands and cried for what felt like an hour. So many things went wrong… he had failed Rhwyna.