As she was accustomed to do, Snaga rose with the sun and tiptoed out of her room and onto the balcony that overlooked the waterfall. She leaned her elbows on the railing and looked sleepily out at the dawn, coloring the entire valley pink and gold. She sighed with the beauty of it, and then turned the sigh into a yawn as she realized she was tired.
When the sun had fully risen, Snaga stayed, leaning half-asleep, on the balcony for a while, but finally turned to go back into her room. She pulled on the first dress her hands found and settled down to improve her sewing. She had lugged her attempt at a dress from Lothlorien to Rivendell, and it had, true, improved with Arwen helping her, but it still resembled a sack of fabric more than a dress. Sighing, Snaga found the needle that she had stuck into the cloth the last time she’d worked on it, propped up the picture that she was modeling the dress on, and set to work, gritting her teeth when she pricked a finger.
There was a knock on her door. “Come in,” Snaga called. She then pricked her finger and swore in vivid Black Speech as the door opened and Elrohir entered.
“Gentle cousin!” he cried in mock outrage.
Snaga looked up and went red. “Oh,” she said. Flustered, she dropped the would-be dress onto the floor and jumped to her feet. It was then that she realized that she was wearing absolutely nothing but her extremely flimsy borrowed nightgown. She grabbed for the dress again, blushing even redder than she had before. Elrohir thought her flushed face made her look quite beautiful, but he wisely said nothing. “Um – one moment,” Snaga stammered, “and then I’ll be fit to see you.” She fled behind her dressing screen, thanking her lucky stars that there was one in her room.
Completely embarrassed – she had known the nightgown was too sheer, she’d just known it! – she exchanged it for a pale blue gown with fluttery sleeves. She heard a faint chuckle on the other side of the screen and flushed again. Probably the most embarrassing moment of my life so far, she thought as she emerged. The worst ones were all in Mordor. “All right,” she said, coughing nervously as she came out. “Let’s try that again. Good morning, Elrohir.” She tried on an embarrassed smile, trying not to notice how she stumbled over saying his name.
Elrohir grinned. “Good morning, Lady Aglarfin.”
No. She would not blush again! “Is that what happens to Arwen?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Elrohir agreed.
“No wonder she hates etiquette,” Snaga muttered. “My name is horrible, but use it, please.” She didn’t mention that she didn’t feel quite right with an Elvish name yet, even an honorific.
“All right.” Elrohir smiled. “Good morning, then, Snaga.” For some reason, her name wasn’t as bad when he said it. “Breakfast is ready, if you would care to grace the table with your lovely presence.” He made a sweeping, over-elaborate bow, and Snaga laughed in spite of herself.
“As I am ravenously hungry and could eat an Orc, I will come at once,” she agreed, lightly placing her fingertips on his extended wrist. He grinned at her, and Snaga smothered another laugh before they left.
Breakfast, thankfully, was a private family affair. Elrond, Arwen, and Elladan were the only other people at the table. Snaga sat down next to Arwen, a little nervous. She could smell an interrogation coming.
Elrond was wise enough to not let her stew in her nerves. He asked her his questions as he handed a plate of food to Elladan. “Are you here to stay, then, Snaga?” he asked, his voice gentle on her harsh name.
She bit her lip. At least he hadn’t made her wait and become a nervous wreck. “If you will let me, yes.”
He smiled. “You are my niece. If you wish to remain here, I will not turn you away.”
“Thank you,” Snaga whispered, taking the plate, scooping some food onto her plate, and passing it to Arwen.
“One more question. Arwen has told me what happened in Mordor,” Elrond said. “She told me that you held off an Orc until she and Gandalf were ready to fight, and that you killed him in their defense.” Snaga braced herself for the scolding to come for having saved everyone’s lives. “It seems,” Elrond went on, “that you are quite skilled with a dagger. Would you, perhaps, like to be trained in the use of one, and maybe learn to fight with two?”
Snaga stared. This was so far from what she had been expecting that she couldn’t believe she had heard her uncle right. “I – did you just say what I think you said?” she gasped.
She wasted no time coming to her decision. “Then I would love to be trained to fight!” she cried.
Elrond raised an eyebrow, his mouth twisted in an attempt not to smile; Snaga had the grace to blush at her outburst. “I shall see to it at once, then,” was all that her uncle said, however, although his voice was shaking with suppressed laughter. “Please pass the milk.”
The next day, Arwen woke her a little after dawn. “Wake up, lazy,” she teased. “Your daggers instructor is waiting for you in the courtyard.” She laughed to see how quickly Snaga bolted out of bed and into breeches and a tunic. “Come on, I’ll take you down.” She led Snaga down from the house and into the stables and training grounds. “Right in there,” Arwen said, pointing at a plain wooden door. “Your lesson is only an hour and a half, so don’t let him torture you past then.” She gave her cousin a quick hug and a smile.
Snaga pushed open the door and slipped nervously into the room. It was very large and well lit, with huge windows on all sides letting the light stream in. She carefully closed the door.
“Father thought it would be best if it was someone you already knew,” came a familiar voice from behind her. She turned in surprise and found herself looking into Elrohir’s laughing gray eyes. “No need to look so stricken,” he assured her. “Take out your dagger.”
She obeyed, thinking that, wise as Lord Elrond was, he could have picked someone other than the one Elf who had seen her just the day before in her see-through nightgown. She clasped her hands behind her back as Elrohir took her dagger and nearly dropped it in shock. “This is of Elvish make!” he cried.
“It was in a heap of Elvish weapons,” Snaga told him quickly. “The Orcs liked to destroy any they could gather. I got a sword from the pile, too, but I always used the dagger.” She spared a sigh for the beautiful sword that she had hidden under her mattress in Dol Guldur, the sword that was doubtlessly destroyed by now. “I got the dagger back when my mother dropped it by accident.”
Elrohir recovered from his surprise quickly enough to examine it for signs of wear. “You’ve used this thing,” he remarked, and Snaga smiled proudly. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a typical Elven dagger, so you won’t have to learn to work with a different style of weapon. Now, if you would please hold it in guard position…?”
Snaga complied, gripping the dagger in her right hand and leaning forward.
“All right,” Elrohir said musingly. He pulled a dagger of his own out of a belt sheath and took a position opposite her. “Just an experimental fight,” he assured Snaga. “I have to see how you actually move.”
Snaga took the offensive quickly, leaning in to deliver a slash at Elrohir’s arm. He blocked it with a speed that astonished her, and barely gave her time to stumble back before he pressed the advantage that her shock had given him. His every movement spoke of deadly grace and skill. Snaga retreated, beating back his dagger but losing ground.
Come on! she yelled at herself. You’re not doing yourself any favors by retreating – he’s not going to kill you! She blocked his latest jab, then quickly ducked under his arm and raced around to his unprotected back. He spun to engage her, but she had begun a swing as he pivoted. Snaga threw herself forward to catch his dagger on hers and hook it out of his hand. It was Elrohir’s turn to stumble back, ducking to avoid her blade –
And then he grabbed her by the knees and upended her onto the floor, smoothly removing the dagger from her hand as she fell, so she wouldn’t impale herself on it by accident. As it was, Snaga barely remembered to hit the ground with her hands, not her head and back, and her palms screamed in pain as they caught her fall. She gasped and bit her lip to stop herself from whimpering.
Elrohir was beside her, offering his hand to help her up. She took it and pulled herself into an upright position. Her cousin was beaming. “That was good!” he said approvingly. “That was very good!”
“But I lost,” she pointed out with a wry grin.
He flashed her a brilliant smile. “That part is what I take care of. Now, your position is effective, but not as effective as it could be.” He demonstrated her first attack position, his torso leaning forward. “It gives the sense of aggression, but puts you way off balance. Take that position -” Snaga took it a bit nervously. “Now, suppose you straighten your upper body…” Elrohir took her shoulder with one hand and pressed his other against her back. Snaga’s eyes widened in surprise, and she found herself staring quite pointedly at the floor to avoid looking at Elrohir.
He pushed her torso into line with her legs. “There. Put about the width of your shoulders between your feet, and bend your knees slightly.” Snaga did as he asked, still looking at the floor. “Look up.” She obeyed. “Now that,” Elrohir said approvingly, “is a good guard position. You’re balanced, and – look into my eyes. Pretend I’m a foul Orc from the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and you want to kill me; there! – and steady eye contact will let your opponent know you’re not to be messed with.” He smiled. “Now, I want you to try a short fight in that position, just so you get used to it. Your grip is fine, by the way.” He fell into an identical guard position opposite her.
Snaga suddenly realized just how much her muscles were hurting from the fight they had just had…
By the end of the hour and a half, Snaga was aching and smarting all over. She was sure that she had gotten bruises in places where no one else had ever had bruises before. Her entire right arm was limp and weak. “Are you sure you didn’t break my arm?” Snaga asked Elrohir, shaking out the arm in question – in their last fight, he had grabbed it and twisted it in front of her while effectively disarming her.
“Let me see it,” he replied, sheathing his dagger and holding out his hand.
Snaga grinned, slid her own dagger back into its sheath, and gave him her arm. Elrohir laid it across his palm and carefully probed it with his other hand. Snaga felt oddly self-conscious. The room was too quiet all of a sudden, and Elrohir’s eyes and fingers were much too gentle as he checked her arm for injuries. She fidgeted and coughed quietly, wishing both that he would stop holding her arm and that he would never let go of it.
Finally he removed it from its position across his hand. “No breaks,” he assured her, “only a few very large and probably colorful bruises.”
Snaga tried a smile. “And who is to blame for those bruises?” she asked.
Elrohir’s grin was completely disarming. “Alas, I am to blame if you cannot wear sheer sleeves until the bruises fade.” He laughed quietly, and Snaga giggled too. “Let’s go to breakfast, cousin mine.” He slung an arm over her shoulders – why did it feel so wonderfully unsettling to be so near to him? – and led her out of the practice hall.