“All right, Novarwen, this is the end of the line.” Legolas stood before her, holding Brethil’s reins. “Theryn says you’re well enough to walk, and we need Brethil to carry packs, so you’ll have to walk.” He grinned at her, but the tone of his voice told Novarwen that her brother meant business. She sighed and slipped off her horse’s back. Brethil neighed nervously now that she was off, but he submitted meekly to having the packs of two of the Arfaroth and Theryn strapped onto him.
Novarwen tested her legs, hoping that she would make it across the Hithaeglir. Legolas was right, of course – Theryn and the two Arfaroth couldn’t very well keep carrying their packs while she rode, the only one to do so, and only because of her legs. They ached slightly when she put her weight on them, but that was all.
“Will you be all right?” asked Theryn’s voice behind her. Novarwen jumped.
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” she replied, more snappishly than she’d meant to. Theryn moved away, and Novarwen set about berating herself for being so harsh. He was only asking if you’d make it, you idiot, and you had to go and snap at him! She rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. She had always been more snappish than she meant to be where Theryn was concerned. Even when they were children and played together, a remark that would have been a joke if she’d said it to anyone else had turned into a snap or a reproach when she said it to him.
And it’s not like I hate him, Novarwen thought. I like Theryn. A lot. She glanced over at him as he tied his pack down securely. Brethil, recognizing Theryn’s smell from the old days, neighed happily at having a familiar friend near him. Theryn stroked Brethil’s white flank, then somehow produced an apple and fed it to the horse. As Brethil happily chowed down, Theryn caught Novarwen’s eye and winked at her. Novarwen realized, somewhat chagrined, that she had been staring at Theryn, and looked away.
“How long do these wretched Valar-cursed mountains go on?” Novarwen asked desperately after a week of walking up horrifyingly steep slopes only to climb down inclines even steeper. She caught her foot in a hole and stumbled. She had always been more awkward than most Elves. It was even more of a curse in the mountains than in Mirkwood.
“We still have quite a distance to go, my lady,” said the messenger, who had survived the battle with the spiders. “At least another week and a half before we can enter Imladris, and then we must wait for the other races to arrive before the Council can begin.”
“Tell me about this Council, sir,” Novarwen requested. “After all, since I’m climbing these mountains to get to it, I might as well know what I’m doing it for.”
The messenger’s face darkened. “I cannot say what it is about, my lady. I do not know myself. I only have a suspicion, and that suspicion is too dark to put into words. Especially here, where one’s words carry on the wind and all can hear them.” He walked a little faster, away from her.
Novarwen scowled. “Well, that was certainly polite!” she muttered to herself. Then her mind scolded, That’s not fair, Novarwen, you could see plain as day he was scared. But of what? What can be so terrifying that he won’t speak of it?
“The Arfaroth heard about the Council too.” Theryn’s voice unexpectedly behind her made Novarwen jump. “We had our own ideas of what it might be about, but the more I hear of the rest of the world, the more I am worried.”
“Worried about what?” Novarwen spoke carefully. Theryn had not often shared his inmost thoughts with her, even when they were the best of friends. She had loved it when he did open his mind to her.
“Worried about the purpose of this Council. I have some idea as well as that messenger, and I think they may be the same idea.”
“Could you…tell me? I have absolutely no idea what it could be about.”
Theryn looked oddly at her, then laughed. “So you just went off because it seemed like fun! I was right, you haven’t changed.”
Novarwen rolled her eyes. “That’s beside the point, as Legolas said a week ago. Please tell me?”
The amusement vanished from of Theryn’s face as cleanly as if she’d wiped his face with a wet cloth. “Have you heard of the One Ring?”
He didn’t need to say any more – Novarwen shuddered. Tales had abounded about it for centuries in Mirkwood, especially after the death of Isildur, so Thranduil had said. Stories about its horrifying power, its allure, its cruel betrayal of the unwise Isildur and its subsequent disappearance at the Gladden Fields had crossed and crisscrossed what was then Greenwood, until all knew about the evil Ring. Chills raced up and down Novarwen’s spine at the mere mention of the Ring. No wonder the messenger had not wanted to speak of it! “I have heard of it,” she whispered.
“That’s what I think this is all about,” Theryn whispered back, his voice cautious and low. “I think the Ring has been found.”
Novarwen reached out and grabbed Theryn’s hand, holding it for comfort.
A week later, they reached Rivendell.