Ulma hung upside down in a tree, swinging gently in the breeze, watching a black squirrel scurry on the forest floor under her. From a nearby home lofted high in the trees, a rope ladder fell and uncurled. It fluttered and waved as it steadied its pendulum to the ground. A buckskin booted foot appeared on the top rung, the creak of the rope only minimally objectionable as Eradan descended to the North
Mirkwood floor, equipped for travel.
Ulma smiled softly. “Eradan, must I ask again?”
He jumped from the fifth rung above the ground, landing full to a crouch and quickly standing to see who was near. He exhaled when he saw her. “No, Ulma, you need not ask again, for it would avail you no different reply.” He paused, a look of remorse sliding across his face. “I shall return in a fortnight, two at the most. Help the King, and do what he says. I know you have guard duty this moon.”
Ulma sighed softly, as if a great weight lay upon her. “You will not return, Eradan. Please…let me come. ‘Tis better to have your permission. I don’t wish to have to stalk you.”
The Mirkwood elf shouldered a pack against the length of his quiver and unstrung bow. At her words, Eradan looked at her, puzzled. “What do you mean I will not return? Raindrop, if you know something I do not, I would appreciate the warning.”
Ulma shrugged, setting her jaw. “Let me come with you, otherwise I will not tell you what I know. And trust me, I suggest you let me come.” She flipped out of the tree and stood in front of him, her green eyes flashing.
“Ulma.” Now his voice became firm, almost as if to challenge her, though gently. To challenge Ulma fully could result in disaster. “The only thing I can imagine that would keep me from Mirkwood would be my death. If you know of something that would cause my demise, how could you keep if from me?”
Ulma bit her lip, looking down. “I just wish to go with you. I want to have a purpose in the world I have traveled in. I want to gain respectability in the outside world. Only then can I be welcome in Mirkwood, and no longer be a Neithan. Your death I cannot see, but there are other things that may keep you from returning. I can help. Please.” Her voice pleaded with him, dejection and hurt flowing from her words.
Eradan viciously rubbed the bridge of his nose and furrowed his brow. “Ulma, this is highly unusual. If you believe I will be in such danger, how can I subject you to the same? ARe you not needed here?”
Ulma scoffed bitterly. “No, I am not needed here.” She muttered. “You know how they look at me.” She tilted her head, looking him in the eye. “Besides, I believe you are in danger, yes, but I owe you for standing up for me when no one else did. Also, the danger is not as perilous when there are two. And yes, this is unusual, but I am by my nature not of the normal.”
“Raindrop, please…” Eradan dropped his pack and sat down, hoping she would take his cue and do likewise. “Please tell me why you believe I am in danger? Crossing the Misty Mountains are perilous, to be sure, but not so much so that I could not make swift work of the deep snow.”
Ulma sat, crossing her legs. “I suppose I cannot keep you ignorant. As you know, when I sing, sometimes there are answers. I…feel that your journey will begin, not end in Lothlorien. Great danger abounds. Even if you do return to Mirkwood, it will be a long, hard road. Many years at least.”
Eradan had no idea he would never see his home again. As far as he believed, the journey would take him a forthnight or two. His brow, which he’d only recently smoothed, furrowed again. “Years?
Ulma nodded. “Yes.” She sighed and looked down. “That is why I wish to come with you…as an elf who has traveled Middle Earth and can help.”
“No, no…” Eradan shook his head, considering. “I cannot afford to be away for years. I must be back as quickly as possible. Gladriel would help me see to it, I am certain.”
She leaned back. “Ah, then you are as I thought you were.” She looked into his eyes. “Have I ever lied to you? If you need to be back, let me go with you as to go in your place if it comes to that.”
He exhaled. There was logic in that. IF he was doomed not to return, someone would have to bring word in his place.
Ulma smiled softly, running a hand through her bright red hair. “I will ask one last time, can I join you? I assure you, that if I come, you will return safely at some point in time.”
Eradan smiled in return, bravely. Neither elf could know that her words would not come to pass. He nodded, resigned. “All right, on one condition.”
She smiled triumphantly. “And what is that condition?”
“That if something should delay me, or, end me, that you will immediately bring word to my father by my own hand and seal, which I shall compose on reaching Lothlorien.”
Ulma nodded. “All right.” She closed her eyes and sung an ancient sea chanty. “You have never been across the sea…the ocean that calls between the worlds. All the elves that have come and gone…have passed along its shores.” She shook her head and blinked. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Eradan’s face, wrought in a combination of confusion and longing and at a complete loss for words. Ulma was startled. “Eradan, I am sorry. I…I am not sure what I just did there. The gift got away from me again in my emotion. I learned that song when I was across the sea, but the feeling evoked was strange and new to me.” She looked down once again. “Forgive me, for I know naught what I do.”
Eradan shook his head, raising up her chin with his fingers, his voice soft. “Nothing to forgive. It was a beautiful song, and your gift adds to it.”
Ulma smiled gently. “Eradan, you will be amazed at how beautiful the world is…even the parts touched by evil are still beautiful at times.”
Wryly he smiled, nodding. “Yes…even in its state of taint, I still believe Mirkwood to be wonderous.”
She nodded in agreement. “Aye, and that is why I enjoy spending time with you. We think alike on many levels.” She stood and offered him her hand.
The elf chuckled at the reversal of their typical gender roles, then accepted her hand and stood, relying very little upon her hand to do so. “Thank you.”
Ulma smirked, loving his soft chuckle, something she hadn’t heard in many a year. “Tis nothing, lonely walker. What now?”
Eradan shouldered his pack. “I suppose now we journey west.”
“Aye…give me but a moment.” With the swiftness of a seer, Ulma ran and pulled herself into her tree, grabbing her prepared pack, along with her bow and arrows. Jumping down, she landed softly and returned to Eradan’s side. “Ready.” She smiled. “I knew you would allow me to join you. I am too stubborn to be swayed. Tis the way of the Morquendi.”
He gave a world-weary sigh through a grin. “Well, how could I refuse when you are the only one who would be able to bring news to the King and Prince of my demise or disposition.” IT was meant as a joke, though only partly.
Ulma sighed. “If you only knew, Eradan. But…do not allow what I have said to cloud your thoughts. Let us try and enjoy ourselves. I know many songs, and I think you will enjoy the beauty you see….”
“I look forward to it…but not this day…”