Neither Mothlin nor Elenanar said a word as they left Dol Guldur. Elenanar silently led them to where she’d tied Tari up. Mothlin stood still for a moment, then turned to her and broke the silence. “I can’t ride,” he said. His voice sounded odd in the otherwise still air.
“Why?” Elenanar asked. “We have to get out of here fast.”
“Cilyawen,” Mothlin said simply. “We can’t jostle her around between us.”
“Well, you can’t carry her all the way back to Rivendell!” Elenanar pointed out.
Mothlin looked at Tari, then at Cilyawen, then at Elenanar. “We’ll have to strap her on Tari, then, and keep ourselves to a walk.”
Elenanar thought of the Orc guards at Dol Guldur and was about to mention their existence to Mothlin, but then she looked at Cilyawen and decided to keep silent. Instead she searched through the packs attached to Tari for some long leather strips. Mothlin ended up slicing a few inches off his bedraggled tunic as well, but eventually they had enough bindings to tie Cilyawen securely onto the horse.
“Elenanar,” Mothlin said, lowering his foster-mother to the ground gently, “pass me my pack. Please.” She did, and Mothlin rummaged through it until he found a long thin needle and a piece of string. He turned to Elenanar. “Can you sew?” he asked.
Mothlin handed her the needle and thread. “That – wound – needs to be closed,” he said with an effort, swallowing hard, “and I can’t sew.”
Elenanar knelt down and took the thread and needle from him. “I can’t sew it shut until it’s clean,” she said. “Otherwise the dirt inside it will fester and infect her.”
“I’ll heat some water, then.” Mothlin emptied his pack unceremoniously. “I’ll be back,” he promised, and slipped quietly off into the forest.
He found a stream close by and knelt to scoop up water from it in his empty pack. The water was clod and clear, far better than he’d have expected so close to Dol Guldur. Dol Guldur… Thinking of the Enemy’s ruined stronghold brought back the image of Cilyawen’s torn crimson flesh, and Mothlin closed his eyes tightly, swallowing down the lump that rose in his throat.
I did that to her. Me. My own hands, my own blade – sweet Valar, I did it with the dagger she gave me! Mothlin hauled the pack out of the stream and set it on the grass, freeing his hands to cover his face. They were wet, and drops of water trickled down his cheeks like tears – but his eyes were dry and his heart was numb. What kind of monster am I, that I couldn’t stop myself?
All my fine plans to get there and save her, he thought bitterly. Some rescue. It took Elenanar to save both of us – oh, Valar, Elenanar! I sent her away, I thought I could keep her out of danger – I thought I could save Cilyawen on my own…I didn’t think I needed any help… What a benighted fool I am. He clenched his hands into fists and slammed them both into the unresisting stream. The water lashed up out of its bed and splashed him in the face. Tracks of water, stained red with Cilyawen’s and Sauron’s blood, ran down his face again. And this is the only way I can weep, he thought dully, and got up from the bank with the filled pack in his hands.
He stoked up a fire and strung the pack over it on a few propped-up sticks to heat it. Elenanar kept Cilyawen warm, holding the bloody wound shut with her hands and packing what blankets they had around her body. Mothlin watched the water in silence. “It’s boiling,” he reported at last.
“Good,” was all Elenanar said.
Mothlin poured some of it over Elenanar’s bloodstained hands to clean them before he handed over the rest of the hot water. She cut a strip of cloth from the part of her skirt that was not worn ragged and soaked it in the water. Then she wiped the wound clean. Cilyawen jerked and moaned as the boiling water touched her inner flesh, and Mothlin darted to her head. He took her face between his hands and soothed her, brushing her hair off her forehead, wiping the sweat from her face, singing lullabies softly under his breath. Slowly she calmed, and Elenanar was able to clean the wound thoroughly.
“Hold her still,” she whispered at last, laying aside the cloth and picking up the threaded needle. Mothlin kept making soothing sounds as Elenanar pulled the torn edges of skin together, took a deep breath, and pushed the sharp needle through.
Cilyawen cried out hoarsely, a horrible no-voice sound that almost made Elenanar drop the needle. Mothlin’s hands tightened on Cilyawen’s face, but he kept singing, his voice low. He caught her hands in one of his and held them still. But he could not hold all of her, and it was horrible to see her legs jerk every time Elenanar inserted the needle.
At last it was done, and Mothlin released her. She had fainted at some point, which did not surprise him at all – with all the blood she’d lost, he would have expected her to pass out long before. Elenanar sat back, her face deathly pale and beaded with sweat, the red-stained needle in her hand. She rinsed it in the hot water, dried it on her dress, and put it away. Mothlin saw her hands shake as she stowed it, balled up the remaining thread, and suddenly hurled it far from her. “Elenanar,” he said softly, just to say her name.
She looked up, startled, and flushed. She looked positively unhealthy now, with her cheeks bright red and the rest of her face white with strain and fear. Her eyes were dark and haunted, and it was not only her hands that trembled. Mothlin thought that as long as he lived, she would rarely seem more beautiful to him than at that moment, stretched almost to the limit with her bravery and her fear for him.
She read that in his eyes and looked away. “I thought,” she whispered hoarsely, “that that wasn’t going to happen.”
Mothlin got to his feet, walked over to her, and helped her to stand beside him. “So did I,” he said. “As the Valar witness it, Elenanar, I thought that I could will it not to happen, and that it wouldn’t. And I was so unbelievably wrong that I can’t begin to tell you how stupid it makes me feel.” He did not let go of her hands, although she tried half-heartedly to free them. “I wouldn’t have gotten out of Dol Guldur without you, and nor would Cilyawen, and don’t think I don’t know it. I probably wouldn’t have even made it to Dol Guldur without you, and I don’t even want to imagine living without you.” She looked down, lips trembling, and he took her face between his hands and lifted it back up to look into his. “I made the worst mistake of my life when I sent you away,” he said, “and I never want to make that mistake again, because…” It was blissfully, wonderfully easy to say. “…because I love you, Elenanar.”
He felt the shiver run through her entire body. She covered his hands with hers. Her eyes were less haunted now, and Mothlin felt hope rising in him. “I have to be sure,” Elenanar said, very quietly and deliberately. “Are you sure of it, Mothlin? You have to be sure – I have to be sure, or it’ll fall apart in time…”
Mothlin smiled gently. “I swear to you, I’ve never been so sure of anything in my entire life.”
Then Elenanar smiled, a shaky, frightened smile, but a smile that spoke of relief, and joy, and love that mirrored the singing of his own beating heart. Mothlin had not imagined that such love could exist.
Very softly, very carefully, he leaned down and kissed Elenanar, and felt her arms come hesitantly around his neck, and there was nothing more to be said that could not be expressed in that kiss.
Author’s Note: Short chapter, I know, but I just liked it ending here. They’ve been sad long enough – I wanted this one to end on a happy note!