NOTE: Sorry this one was so long in coming…A big thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to read and/or review!
For previous chapters, just search the site for “Menrial”.
“Ha! Dead again, elfling!”
Alduin flung his spear to the ground in profound frustration.”Fine! I get the idea already.”, he snapped, knocking Vanyar’s spear point away from his chest.. “How many times do you have to kill me before your vanity’s satisfied, anyway?”
“Only once or twice more.” Vanyar replied with a humorous grin..
A chorus of mirth rose from the small group of watching elves. Infuriated by their laughter, Alduin whirled about, snatched up his spear again, and charged at Vanyar. But the older elf skillfully parried his every clumsy attack, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
“Settle down, elfling.”, he cried. And then, with concern, so that only Alduin could hear: “Please. You’re only making a fool of yourself.”
“I – don’t – CARE!”, growled Alduin through gritted teeth, continuing his attack. He was sick of being beaten, sick of being laughed at. And he thought it was awfully rich of Vanyar to be commenting on the situation when he was the one who’d provoked it, made the others laugh.
“Yes you do.”, said Vanyar, blocking another blow. “You care far too much. Winning isn’t everything, you know. Someone has to put a merciful end to this madness. And if you won’t, I will.”
With that, he whacked Alduin’s weapon forcefully to the ground, and stood back, to the approval of the crowd.
“You need to work on your grip, elfling!”, someone called laughingly.
Alduin’s face burned. He bit his lip, hard, and for that moment he hated Vanyar more than anyone else in the world, even though he knew that it was his own hot temper that had gotten him into the mess. Elfling, they called him, and it was in chiding tones. An elf kept his cool at all times. Only children let it get the better of them.
But Alduin found, standing there in shame, that he was more angry with himself than he was with any of the others. I never should have come., he thought. I’m only a junior scout, and a poor one at that. Not a soldier. Not any kind of hero.
He walked as fast as he could away from them, intending vaguely to turn himself in, or something like that. He didn’t deserve to be here. And he didn’t want to.
“Alduin!” He recognized Vanyar’s voice, and quickened his pace without responding.
“Look, I’m sorry. Everyone loses once and a while, it’s nothing to fret about.”
“I’m not fretting.”, snapped Alduin.
“Sulking, then.”, Vanyar suggested helpfully. “Brooding. Stewing. Whatever you call it, it’s not good for you.”
“Will you please leave me alone?”
“If I were you,”, Vanyar continued, unfazed., “I would hurry up and get inside right away.” He gestured vaguely at the surrounding tents.
“What in Arda are you talking about?!”
“Trust me.”, said Vanyar. “It’s in your best interest, if you want to sidestep the company of our dear Captain.”
Alduin glanced over Vanyar’s shoulder, and saw the figure of Captain Earel emerging from an officer’s tent. So his friend had guessed the truth after all.
“Oh.”, he said, abashed. “So you -“, he was going to say ‘know I’m not really supposed to be here’, but something decided him against it. Vanyar was working in subtleties for a reason. Instead, he gave his friend a heartfelt “Thanks. That’s a good idea.” and followed his advice.
Vanyar placed a deliberate hand over his own eyes as Alduin ducked into a large healer’s tent. A moment later, he removed the hand and went to face his superior.
“Soldier, have you seen Alduin Tevmir?”, Captain Earel demanded as soon he was in speaking range.
“Yes, I spoke to him only a few moments ago.”
“Where is he now?”
“I have absolutely no idea…”
The healer’s tent seemed smaller than it had appeared on the outside, lined on either side with ailing humans. Alduin stood by the side of the doorway, trying to look invisible. After a moment he peered out and saw Vanyar talking to Earel, who stalked off after a few minutes of useless questioning. Perhaps I ought to wait a bit, until I’m sure he’s gone…
“Suilad*! You must be the helper Lenar promised me yesterday!”
Alduin started guiltily, and turned to see an old elf wearing the badge of a master healer.”Well, actually…”
But the elf had already pressed several vials and packets into his hands and was leading him towards the nearest pallet. “I am Rothgar, King’s chief healer. And you are?”
“Alduin Tevmir.”, Alduin replied, inwardly cursing his luck. Of all the tents how had he managed to stumble into this one, which contained one of the most important and learned elves in all of Mirkwood? What would happen if the one who was supposed to be here turned up?
But Rothgar had such presence and authority that Alduin felt that it was simply impossible to contradict anything he said. If he wanted Alduin to help him with the healing, Alduin had no choice in the matter. So he remained silent, and followed the older elf’s lead.
Rothgar knelt beside a human child, indicating for Alduin to do the same. He obeyed.
“Now.”, he said. “I need you to hold her upright while I give her the medicine.”
Alduin gazed reluctantly down at the human. She was very skinny and pale. Her hair was matted and unwashed, and her face was flushed with fever. He swallowed hard, and debated telling Rothgar the truth regardless of the consequences. Anything was better than touching that pitiable thing.
Rothgar noted his hesitation. “Her name is Cala.”, he said. “She’s five years old. Her father drowned the night of the attack, and her younger brother died of this same chill a few hours before we arrived. Does that help?”
Alduin looked up, and met Rothgar’s grey eyes. He could see sadness in them – and disappointment. For the second time that day, the young elf felt his face begin to burn.
Gingerly, he pulled the little girl upright. She whimpered a little, without opening her eyes. Rothgar administered the medicine, and they put her back to sleep.
Alduin spent the rest of the afternoon in the healing tent. After the third or fourth patient had been tended to, all thought of leaving had left his mind. Elvish medicine could save most of the afflicted, but only if administered quickly enough. As unsettling as many of the humans were, he found a quiet kind of satisfaction in tending to them, like splinting the wing of a wounded bird.
“You’ve been a very good helper.”, Rothgar told him, when dark came. “Thank you. Will you be back tomorrow?”
“Yes.” The word was out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. But when Alduin did figure it out, as he strode back through the cool night to the company campfire, he was not dismayed with what he had said.
Feanil was furious, an unusual condition for an elf of his years. Not only had the King and all his advisors been busy in council, planning out the new town that was being built on the northern shore, but the doorkeeper had pompously refused to even admit him, and then ushered in another moments later – Ranil, Captain of the 7th Company. True, Ranil was quite a character, the leader of an experienced company, and very well respected. But by the Valar, Feanil thought, he worked harder and had far more worries, taking care of supplies for an army of over two thousand. Just because he didn’t care to take up the sword didn’t mean he should be treated like a second-class citizen…
What Feanil didn’t know was that Ranil had a specific appointment – he only saw an elf several hundred years his junior being let in when he had been ever so politely refused, and it infuriated him. To make matters worse he was horribly conscious of time slipping away – every moment Menrial rowed further away from the camp, and further into danger. She was probably halfway across the lake by now. Visions of her lost and drowned haunted him – Manoth’s new life, his second death.
When dark fell, and the council still was not over, Feanil finally lost all patience. He strode angrily down to the shore, determined that if he could not get a rescue attempt authorized, he would launch an unauthorized one.
He was in such a temper that he didn’t notice the figure in the dark until he ran right into it.
“Apologies.”, he said gruffly, regaining his balance. Dignity was somewhat harder, in the face of those ancient eyes. All he could manage was a rather sheepish nod of the head. “Master Rothgar.”
“That’s all right.”, said Rothgar. “But do tell me – where were you going in such a hurry?”
If it had been anyone else Feanil would have found it simple to brush aside the question, but with Master Rothgar it was very different. The elf had cured him of an almost fatal spider bite when he was younger – his childhood memories of the healer were filled with awe. It was hard to overcome them.
“Down to the shore,”, he confessed..
“I see. What for?” There wasn’t anything accusing in the question, only simple curiosity.
“A…friend of mine is lost…” And everything came tumbling out after that.
“I knew Manoth.”, said Rothgar, when he had finished. “He was more than capable of taking care of himself. I suspect his daughter is, too. If she were traveling by foot, there might be cause for worry, but the river is friend to those who know it. And if she does not know it, Manoth’s boat will.”
Feanil frowned in the darkness. It appeared that he had taken the entire event too personally. It had awoken many old regrets and dissatisfactions, and they perhaps were the cause of his unhappiness, not Menrial’s safety, which as Rothgar said had probably never been at risk.
“Thank you.”, he said quietly, though he was not quite sure what in the world there was to be grateful for. “I suppose I should get back to my duties now.”
And he walked back up the hill. There would be a desk and a chair and a quill waiting for him, the comfort of ritual to stifle his woes once more. He would not let them break out again.
Rothgar watched him go, his eyes once more sad and disappointed. But Feanil did not turn around, did not try to rethink anything.
The old healer pulled up the hood of his dark cloak and slipped, shadow-like, into the night.
*Suilad = Greetings (Sindarin)