“How could you let her do such a thing?!”, Captain Feanil demanded. His blue eyes glittered in fury. “I told you to take care of her!”
“With all due respect, sir, how was I anticipate such an action?!”, protested the unfortunate Belen. “No properly brought-up maiden – “
“That will be quite enough.”, snapped Feanil. “Don’t be a fool. You’ve done enough wrong as it is without adding slander to the list. Now get out. I’ve had enough of your excuses.”
Belen left the Captain’s tent, scowling. Feanil angrily yanked down the canvas door flap after him, muffling the mingled clamor of men and elves that came from outside. Then he sat stiffly down onto a wooden chair and put his head in his hands. Everything was going wrong today, and Menrial’s escape was the last straw.
Explaining it to the King’s general was going to be a nightmare. He didn’t know what where in Arda she was, what family she came from, or why she’d slipped off in the first place – only that she was one hundred-ninety-five, in the possession of a disturbingly familiar rowboat, and far too independent for her own good.
He realized now that he’d seriously underestimated the girl. She hadn’t looked like much when he first met her: only small and meek, like a young child with her air of pensive self-absorption. Not at all like one who would disobey a direct order from a superior to run off, alone, without a second thought.
Manoth had looked like that.
The thought came unbidden, and caught him by surprise. Before he could stop it, the dusty gates in the back of his mind opened and the memories came rushing to the surface…
First there had been wind, a fierce wind screaming through the trees. Manoth was unusually silent, and he had a haunted look in his eyes. Feanil, his closest friend, did not understand why, and neither did the Men in the service of Girion, Lord of Dale, with whom they shared the late night watch.
Then came the smell of burning, and cries from the mountain, and even before they saw the dreadful shadow against the moon, they knew.
“He will come for the town next.”, called Manoth, turning to them, as the alarm rang out through Dale and pale, fearful faces turned up towards the Mountain. “Ready yourselves!”
The Men, who had been frozen in horror, drew their bows and hurried to find defensive positions on the ramparts. Feanil did the same, a thousand questions running through his mind, as Manoth’s voice rang out over the fearful cries of women and children with cool order after cool order.
Far off in the blackness fire lit the Mountain and the dragon’s roars echoed through the night. Then it subsided. The pines creaked and burned in the wind still, but no new flames were lit and the dragon’s wrath dwindled into echoes.
Then they heard the distant thump of a mighty wing-beat, coming closer and closer in the dark.
“He is coming.”, Manoth said.
Every bowstring stretched taut, every eye strained to make out the swiftly approaching doom. But he was catlike, and malicious, and now stayed clear of the moon.
And then, when Feanil thought he could stand it no longer, fresh fire lit the night once more and Smaug the Terrible was upon them.
He towered over them, scarlet in the light of his own breath, his great wings blocking out all the stars in the sky. Their arrows bounced off his hide like children’s toys; his terrible triumphant laughter filled their ears, blocking out even the screams from below as he set the town afire.
“Fire again!”, Feanil heard Manoth cry desperately to the Men. “Fire again!”
The dragon’s breath scorched the wall in answer. It barely missed Feanil, and Manoth with his quick reflexes managed to leap aside, but it killed many of the Men instantly, and those that lived were frozen with fear.
The dragon laughed again, seeing them the only ones left standing.
With an inarticulate cry, Feanil let loose arrow after arrow in futile succession, mad with grief. Those Men had been noble. They had been his friends. But Smaug did not even spare him a glance. All his attention was rooted on Manoth.
The elf was gazing up at the dragon, a fey expression in his grey eyes. His bow fell to the stones with a clatter.
“Forgive me, Aris.”, Feanil saw him mouth silently. “May we meet again in Mandos’s Halls.”
Steel rang as he drew his sword and ran towards the dragon, crying out:
“For Elberath Star-Kindler and the ruin of darkness!”
Feanil was surprised to find that the memory still brought tears to his eyes. He thought he’d come a long way since then. He’d thought he’d gotten over it.
But I suppose I never really did.he thought. I ended up here, after all.
He glanced at the surface of his makeshift desk, cluttered with paperwork and hastily scrawled calculations. They’d offered him command of a full infantry company when he returned home from the ruins of Dale, but he’d turned it down in favor of a post in the supply train. He had no love for logistics, but the horror of that night long ago had left him with a lasting distaste for combat.
His father had not understood, and had called him a coward. Only Nenthel, the king’s scoutmaster, had any sympathy.
Feanil had known that Manoth had earned himself quite a reputation as a scout before he came to Dale, but he had never learned much else. Manoth had always gone very quiet when it came to talking about his life back home, as though it pained him.
It was Nenthel who told him of Manoth’s many accomplishments, and his wife, Aris, and that their parting had been less than gentle on her. “There’s a child too..”, he’d said. “A girl child…the name was -“
Feanil sat bolt upright in his chair. Menrial. That had been the name, he was sure of it.
Nenthel had mentioned a boat, too, now that he thought of it. A boat Manoth had carved before he left, that he had sailed to Dale in – a boat that had been sent belatedly back on the river after his death.
An otter-prowed boat. The same one that he’d asked Menrial to haul supplies in.
Everything made sense now, when it was too late. It was bad enough that a lone elfmaid was stranded in the midst of the wilderness – but when that elfmaid was Manoth’s daughter…
I’m going to ask the King himself for permission to send out a party to find her., Feanil thought savagely. And if he refuses, I’ll go out there and find her myself!