No one who had not been in Rivendell for the three insane months that followed the discovery of the boy would have guessed that the young and very handsome Elf on the training grounds who nocked his arrow so precisely and aimed with such perfection had once been lying delirious in the bed of one of Lord Elrond’s sons, while that son and his wife fought day and night for his life. But the Elf showed no signs of that peril he had once been in as he let fly his arrow and watched, satisfied, as it thudded dully into the center of his target. He turned to face his friends with a triumphant smile on his face. “Teach you to wager I couldn’t make a shot!” he laughed, accepting a dipper of water from Fingil, the one closest to him.
“That it did!” admitted Dinroth. “Remind me what the wager was.”
“The first dance at tonight’s feast with either Lady Arwen or Lady Laureloth.” Fingil’s grin was wide as he jostled Dinroth. The loser was quite graceful about it, considering that Arwen was, after all, Arwen, and Laureloth was generally considered the loveliest elf in Rivendell after her. Dinroth sighed dramatically and bowed his head in acquiescence.
“Look, Lady Cilyawen’s coming out here!” Fingil’s tone was almost worshipful – the lady’s skill with daggers was rivaled by none in Rivendell, and few outside it, and she had taught all the young Elves clustered in the practice grounds quite a few tricks. Instantly, all of them turned to give her some kind of obeisance.
They had known that she would not accept their hero-worship of her – it made them adore her all the more. “None of that, my lads!” she laughed, swatting them aside and halting only when she stood before the winner, the Elf boy she and Elrohir had saved ten years past. “Well, Mothlin?” she asked, tilting her head to one side. “Did you make your shot?”
“I did!” Mothlin straightened under Cilyawen’s eyes and grinned proudly. “Look!” He pointed out to where the target had been set up, a full eighty paces beyond where he stood.
Cilyawen measured the distance, and looked back at Mothlin with admiration. “Well done,” she approved. Then, turning to the other boys, she asked, “Might I be permitted to know the wager?”
They would have gladly told their hero anything. “The first dance at the feast tonight,” Fingil volunteered, “with Lady Arwen or Lady Laureloth.”
A knowing smile crossed Cilyawen’s face as the two names passed Fingil’s lips. “Ah,” she grinned. “Well, all of you, whenever you’re ready to abandon the bow and learn the daggers, I will be waiting. But don’t make me wait too long!”
“Or else?” Mothlin called as she turned and began to walk away.
Her smile was the perfect mirror of her mischievous husband’s. “Or else I won’t even try to let you win!” A chorus of good-natured laughter followed her as she walked to the practice room she always used for her dagger lessons.
“Come on, let’s go,” Mothlin sighed, carefully slipping the string from his bow. The boys around him dispersed, some following Cilyawen, some going with Mothlin as he hung up his practice bow and quiver in the storage room for archery, and wrapped the string in an oiled cloth to keep it limber. He thought absently of Cilyawen as he removed the arrows from the quiver and returned them to the heap of arrows that was kept in a large corner of the bow room. His memories of his past life were still not coming back to him easily, but Cilyawen was to thank for the few that had returned – she and Elrohir. Mothlin was under no illusions about how much he owed his second parents. If not for them, he would be most assuredly dead.
One memory that he always wished he could trade for a happier one was the tortures that the Orcs had inflicted on him. They had strapped him to a wood frame while they pushed his wrist back until he was scream-crying with the pain, until its bones had snapped. Even now his left wrist was still weak. They had set upon him, ten at once, with steel-pointed whips, and flayed his bare flesh until not an inch of him was free of blood, until he had fainted in pain. They had…but he cut the memory off. It might be there, but he could still choose to ignore it.
He remembered, too, the night he had been found. Of the journey from his home, he remembered nothing. It had not been far from Rivendell, but he had been nearly dead when he started. It was a miracle he had survived at all. He remembered the moonlit pond, remembered being held close to Elrohir’s beating heart, remembered Cilyawen cooing softly and holding his hand in hers. And finally, some memories of the rest of his life had come back to him, memories of his first Naneth, his first Adar, of his first home. He liked, when too many things were happening all at once and he felt ready to burst open, to lie on his bed and revisit the few golden memories of his childhood. Mothlin had no idea if the rest of the good memories would return, but he hoped they would, in time.
He had gone past the door of Cilyawen’s practice room, lost in his musings. Shaking his head at himself, Mothlin turned back and pushed open the door. Cilyawen, her back to him, was quickly going through her warm-ups. “I’m here,” he said.
She turned around and smiled. “Come on in,” she said. “Get warmed up. Then we’ll start. Any of the others coming?”
“Maybe,” Mothlin answered, kicking off his boots to stretch. “I don’t know.”
“Well, we’ll see if they turn up. Go on, then. Breathe in, and slowly lower your torso to your legs…”
Mothlin looked carefully across the hall at the two ladies he could dance with. Fingil, who had had a bit too much wine, was swaying beside him as he whispered reasons in favor of both ladies, which helped not at all. “Well, Lady Arwen is the most beautiful Elf since Luthien, enough said -” Mothlin held out an arm for his friend to steady himself on, out of sheer force of habit. He liked Fingil, but part of being Fingil’s best friend was that you had to be on hand when he had too much to drink. Mothlin had gotten used to it. “But Laureloth is…” He whistled. “She is. And I think she likes the look of you very much.”
Mothlin nodded and nabbed Fingil’s goblet, setting it on a table out of reach. “It seems you haven’t yet made up your mind about who is the most beautiful Elf since Luthien,” he teased. “But I think I choose Laureloth.” He set his own goblet on the table and walked quickly toward Laureloth as couples began to draw together for dancing. “My lady,” Mothlin said, bowing extravagantly, “would you do me the extreme honor of being my partner for this dance?”
Laureloth giggled and smiled. “Gladly,” she replied, giving him her delicate hand.
It was very nice to be receiving so many envious glances because of the lovely, graceful girl at his side. Mothlin went easily through the dance, happily conscious of the admiring looks that Laureloth herself sent his way. Perhaps Fingil was right, he thought, bowing as the dance finished and delivering her to Dinroth, who was almost jumping up and down in his eagerness to dance with her. Well satisfied, Mothlin headed back to his wine goblet.
It was getting very hot in here, he noticed. Why not open the door? asked a voice in his mind. Excellent thought, he told it, and made for the door in question. He unlatched it and pushed it open. The cool nighttime breeze rushed through, into the room, and he sighed happily to feel it on his face. Mothlin stepped back into the room, blending with the nondancers and retrieved his goblet. Maybe he was a little more nervous about having danced with Laureloth than he had admitted to himself – why else would his face feel so hot?
Come to think of it, why had he opened the door? It wasn’t all that hot in here. He wondered why he had made such a fuss about it. I should go close the door, Mothlin sighed to himself, and took a step towards it.
Then the door, cracked slightly ajar, was blown open by the horde of Orcs rushing into the hall. Mothlin gripped a table to steady himself and bellowed, “Orcs!” The music stopped mid-note as the foul beasts poured into the hall. Mothlin cast a glance at Cilyawen and Elrohir – her face was utterly white with terror, and he had both his arms protectively around her.
It was then that a thought broke through the scared haze of Mothlin’s mind – all those Orcs were rushing straight at Cilyawen.
He dropped his goblet – it shattered on the floor, spilling fine wine on his shoes – and shoved his way through the mass of terrified Elves clinging to one another. “Move!” he snarled, pushing them aside. They parted before him like ants running from some danger. But the Orcs had used the frozen terror of the Elves well. As the Elves recovered and clambered for any kind of weapon (some using dishes and tableware), the Orcs were barreling their way toward Cilyawen and Elrohir, slashing with abandon at the Elves who barred their way. If only Mothlin could get a little closer – if only the people in front of him would just move…
The Orc in front lashed his sword at Elrohir, opening a red line on his cheek. The Elf yelled in pain, but seized two knives and held them like daggers. But they were too short, and Mothlin watched in horror as Elrohir fell, a cut across his collarbone – So close to his throat! Oh, please, Valar, no! Mothlin thought – and the Orc in front shot out his hand and grabbed Cilyawen by the arm.
The touch made her come back to herself. She caught up one of the knives Elrohir had been using and tried to defend herself. Mothlin fumbled for his own knives – he always kept them in leg sheaths; where were they? – and as he came up with both glittering in his hands, a second Orc wrenched Cilyawen’s wrist back. The table knife clattered to the floor. “Cilyawen!” Mothlin cried, and hurled one of his knives across the space between them. She threw her hand up for it – and missed.
The Orcs made their getaway quickly. They had their prize – they would not stay to be killed. They even left Mothlin’s knife lying where it had fallen. They took nothing but Cilyawen.
And now, irony of ironies, Mothlin reached the spot where his foster-parents had stood and fought, and he screamed his anger in a swift cry. He snatched up his knife and, with a quick, vicious movement, jammed it back into its sheath. He had been too late…too late! And it was he who was to blame for Cilyawen’s capture, it was he who had opened the door.
At his feet, Elrohir stirred. “Take – care of yourself – Mothlin,” he gasped. “You’re going to – hurt yourself – if you don’t sheath that thing – properly.”
Mothlin fell to his knees beside Elrohir. He scanned the wound across his collarbone hastily, hope threatening to choke him. It was not fatal, but Elrohir would need care and rest. “Someone carry him!” Mothlin cried, standing. “He can’t walk, but he’s not dead – someone carry him to his room!”
Elrond pushed his way through the crowd and, without a word, bent and lifted his son. “Lead the way, Mothlin,” he said quietly, and Mothlin led him quickly out of the hall, up some stairs, and into Elrohir’s room. Elrond laid his son down on his bed, but he did not leave. He turned to Mothlin and put a hand on his shoulder. Mothlin looked up at his foster-grandfather, a catch in his voice as he said quietly, “It shouldn’t have happened.”
Elrond’s hand squeezed his shoulder gently. “No, it shouldn’t have,” he answered in a taut voice. “But it did, and we make what we can from it. Tend him, Mothlin, and do not think it was your fault.”
“But it was,” Mothlin whispered.
“All think that when they lose someone dear to them.” Elrond choked on his tears, and took a moment to gather his voice again. “But you are not to blame. I shall send out searchers for Cilyawen immediately. Do not worry about her – we will find her.”
Mothlin sighed heavily, staring at the pale face of his foster-father. “Thank you, my lord,” he whispered. Elrond looked once more at Elrohir’s face, and then turned quickly and left.
“But it was my fault,” Mothlin murmured to himself, once Elrond was out of earshot. “It was.”