*~*~*~DISCLAIMER: I Do Not Own Middle-earth and/or Valinor. Thanks to all my Reviewers. And, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.~*~*~*
Though it was still early morning, a sizable number of people were already making their way around the marketplace. This number was obviously nothing compared to what it would be like later in the day; nonetheless, there were enough elves present to elicit a groan from Sauron. “I never can just have it simple, can I?” he muttered under his breath as he and Ilmariel came out into the larger street.
Rather than reply to him, however, Ilmariel simply went on walking out into the lane, trying to take in all the sights and sounds and smells already bombarding her senses. After surveying the situation for a moment, she decided that it would be better to get right to the point. One mere glance at the places there were here for her to explore told her that, if she were to simply start looking at whatever caught her fancy while Sauron searched for the items he wanted, she would be wandering about this place all day. There were so many strange and intriguing things to see, and she itched to see them closer… but she restrained herself.
As she made her way, Ilmariel had to pause for a moment to allow Sauron to catch up to her, as he was moving slower than she was, trying to avoid any physical contact with any of the other persons present.
“Try to make this quick,” she said, “or I’ll be drawn into all this, and you’ll have no hope of getting me out till evening.”
“Won’t need to warn me twice,” Sauron replied, frowning slightly as he looked around. “I can’t believe that you could stay here that long…”
“Well, I would, whether you believe it or not, so stop dawdling!”
“Fine,” said Sauron, “just help me find the blasted places, and I’ll get about this business.”
“I doubt that I can tell where they’d be any better than you can,” Ilmariel replied. “You’re tall enough to look over the head of every person here.”
“True, but you know more about how things would be set up.”
Ilmariel snorted. “In Lothlórien, yes; but here…” She trailed off, frowning thoughtfully. Though she felt that a marketplace really should not be all that different here than it would have been around her old home… it had been a very long time since she’d been in such a place; she really had only a vague idea of where to begin searching. “I suppose we’ll both just have to look,” she said at last. “Two eyes are better than one, after all.”
Sauron cast her a sideways glance. For a moment, Ilmariel did not understand the reason behind it …and then, it came to her. “Or, ah—” she began, though she had to pause briefly to clear her throat, covering a laugh, “four eyes are better than two, rather. Two heads are better than—“
“Shut up,” Sauron groused.
“Yeah,” Ilmariel replied, stifling another laugh.
Together, they made their way through the wide lane, scanning the sides for any sign of the seemingly elusive clothing shops. At first, it seemed that this would take longer than they had anticipated. After a few minutes more, however, Ilmariel spotted just what they were seeking.
They crossed to the far side of the street, where the shop was located, and Ilmariel waved towards the door, smiling. “After you,” she said to Sauron, who simply shook his head at her and stepped inside.
Though the place was comparatively small, what little space it did have was absolutely packed with clothes. At the back of the room sat a fair-haired elleth, who glanced up briefly from the book she was reading as Sauron and Ilmariel entered, offering the pair a friendly smile before returning to her book.
As Ilmariel had earlier surmised, nearly all of the clothes were of various pale shades. She heard Sauron sigh in such a way as to suggest that he was no more surprised by this fact than she was herself.
As she continued her search, sometimes having to take things off of racks just to see what was there (though she doubted that any of it was quite what she hoped to see), Ilmariel worked her way around to the back of the shop, while Sauron stayed closer to the front. Consequently, Ilmariel moved steadily closer to the Elf that she had earlier taken to be the shopkeeper.
“Excuse me, madam,” the shopkeeper said, addressing Ilmariel, when she had finally reached the back wall of the shop, very near to where she herself sat.
Ilmariel looked up at her, slightly startled, a few articles of clothing hung over her right arm. “Yes?”
“Are you newly come to Valmar?” the shopkeeper asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”
“I am, in fact,” Ilmariel replied. “I arrived yesterday.”
The shopkeeper smiled, nodding. “Welcome, then. We are glad to have you.”
“Thank you,” said Ilmariel, smiling in return. “I’m glad to be here.” She then turned away from the fair-haired elleth, casting her gaze across the room, where Sauron was still rummaging through stacks of cheerfully light-colored clothing with marked displeasure.
“…Is that your husband?” the shopkeeper asked.
The question took a moment to register in Ilmariel’s brain. The instant it did, however, she promptly gasped, chocking slightly on her own saliva, and then coughed out an emphatic, “No!”
The other elleth’s brow furrowed, probably in wondering at the force of Ilmariel’s response. Ilmariel quickly cleared her throat, saying, “He’s, ah… my brother.” The moment the words had left her mouth, she wanted to slap herself. Nonetheless, they achieved a satisfactory result.
“Oh,” the shopkeeper replied with a little laugh, “I see. Sorry about… that…”
“Forget it,” Ilmariel shot in, waving her hand dismissively. Sensing that neither she nor Sauron would find anything at this store that he would like well enough to buy, she wanted to finish up and move on to the next place. “I don’t think we’ll be purchasing anything here today,” she added. “May I just leave these…?” Ilmariel trailed off, looking for another chair she had seen earlier, where she might leave the few garments that had somehow accumulated on her arm.
“Oh, I’ll take those for you,” the shopkeeper replied.
Thanking the elleth, Ilmariel turned and made her way back to the front of the shop. Once there, she asked Sauron whether he had found anything (which she doubted), and, when it was official that the shop contained not a single article of clothing that was dark enough for Sauron’s taste, they left.
…It was the beginning of what turned out to be a very long search.
There was little talk between them, which suited both fine, as, over the course of the next few hours, they made their way up the lane to the end of the market, and then headed back down the other side. All their efforts thus far had been fruitless, and both were becoming irritated with the situation. By the fourth hour or so of their search, even Ilmariel, who was still interested in the array of strange, new things that was present, wanted to be done with it.
Just before noon, Ilmariel called for a break, as her stomach had started to complain. She got some food from one of the nearby stands, and proceeded to eat it all by herself, since Sauron had, once again, insisted that he was not hungry. “You know,” she’d said as she started her meal, “I’m sure you are going to get hungry sometime in the near future; you might as well have something to eat.”
“I wouldn’t let myself starve,” Sauron replied. “If I’m hungry, I’ll eat.”
Ilmariel considered him over the top of her food. By now, she was beginning to seriously think that Sauron was not capable of sensing when his body wanted food …which would explain why he was so freakishly thin.
Once Ilmariel had finished, she and Sauron started off again, heading first for a shop that was near the place they had stopped. When, again, they found nothing, Ilmariel decided that it was time to say something. “You know…” she began while scanning to see if there were any other clothing shops left, “you might not find exactly what you’re looking for.”
Sauron did not immediately reply. Finally, he said, “I know.”
“So you might have to settle for something that is not dark.”
There was an even longer pause. “…I know.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Ilmariel. “I’m starting to get pretty annoyed with this.” When Sauron made no response, she continued, “So… how about we give it three more shops. If you don’t find anything in those, then we’ll just pick something up in the last one.” She looked at Sauron, who was staring dismally at the ground a few feet in front of his feet. “…Okay?”
“Fine,” Sauron answered her at last, sighing morosely. At this, Ilmariel smirked. All over clothes… Good heavens…
It was no surprise to either Ilmariel or her charge that the next shop they checked held only further disappointment. Then, they came to the next-to-last one…
They followed the same method of searching they had been using all day, Ilmariel scanning one half of the shop, while Sauron checked things along the other side. By this time, Ilmariel had gotten a system to how she looked, and, by using this… she found nothing. She was rummaging half-heartedly through the last shelf on her side of the store, when she heard something that made her stop.
…It sounded like a squeal.