A low thud echoed through the courtyard, and even though the heavy fog of early morning obscured distant vision, Arwen knew what had happened. Wincing in sympathy, she wove her way through the crowd of horses and Elves, approaching Faye. As Arwen had thought, Faye was on the ground, scowling deeply at Endis. The young gelding was in a sitting position, snorting angrily as Faye rose to her feet with a dignified shake of her head. Arwen bit back a laugh, hiding her smile behind her hand.
“Are you alright, Faye?” she asked.
“I am fine,” Faye replied, her voice echoing the annoyed look on her face. “But if Endis does not cooperate soon, he won’t be.”
Endis snorted again, tossing his head and grinding his teeth against the bit. Of all the horses ever bred and born in Rivendell, Endis was the most difficult to manage. Arwen understood the challenge Faye faced with him. He was strong and stubborn, not afraid to face down the wild beasts that sometimes wandered into the Valley. That did not mean, however, that Endis had a good temperament. He was notoriously vicious, and because of that he had almost been destroyed. However, at the last possible moment, he had proven himself to be the only horse that would tolerate Faye’s presence. Faye had saved his life by accepting him as her mount.
The greatest obstacle to learning how to ride–for Faye–had not been her skill, but the horses themselves. Even after two thousand years, most of the horses in Rivendell still refused to bear her, going into fits of bucking and shrieking should she attempt to mount them. As Elrond had eventually figured out and explained, the horses could sense she was a vampire.
“It is a horse’s natural instinct to run from a predator,” he had said, after witnessing Faye’s approximately fourteenth trip to the ground from horseback. “Very few can be trained to ignore that instinct.”
A millennia and a quarter years later, that horse had been found. However, that didn’t mean either Faye or the horse was thrilled about it.
“Endis will behave,” Faye vowed threateningly, casting an icy glance at Endis, “unless he’d rather take the journey to Lorién with his head in a bearing rein.”
Endis snorted a third time, but lifted himself to his feet when Faye grabbed his reins. Arwen patted the gelding’s neck.
“We’ll be fine, my child,” Faye said reassuringly, placing her hand over Arwen’s. “If what occurs between Endis and me becomes the worst part of the journey, I will be very pleased.”
Arwen smiled and turned away, hearing Faye lift herself into the saddle and turn Endis to follow her to where Rokka was standing. Although the fog made navigation through the crowd gathered in the courtyard rather slow, nobody seemed rushed or worried. The horses were slowly being laden with things that would be needed for the journey to Lorién, the members of the escort chatting softly amongst themselves. Rokka was standing near Celebrían and her mare, being held by one of her keepers. When Arwen approached, the keeper bowed and disappeared into the fog. Celebrían turned and smiled at her.
“Are you ready to leave?” she asked, glancing at Faye.
“As soon as you are, Naneth,” Arwen replied.
Elrond and Glorfindel were standing nearby, and Arwen looked at them. Glorfindel nodded, and Elrond approached.
“I want you both to be careful,” he said softly. “I am still uneasy.”
“We’ll be fine,” Celebrían replied, giving Elrond a soft kiss. “We shall only be gone a month.”
“Even a moment without you by my side is too long,” Elrond replied, boosting Celebrían onto her waiting horse. “And you, my Evenstar, I bid farewell. May the journey be swift and safe for all.”
“I will watch over them, Lord Elrond,” Faye said. “They will be safe with me.”
“My hope rests on that.” Elrond stepped back, and Arwen lifted herself into the saddle.
It was only a few minutes more before the escort was ready to leave. Faye rode ahead of the group, leading the way out of Rivendell. Celebrían and Arwen rode behind her, closely flanked and followed by the Elf soldiers riding in the escort. They were the best in Rivendell, chosen by Glorfindel and Elrond to accompany them. Despite the morning weather, the mood was calm as the journey began. A soft, cool breeze blew down from the mountains, billowing cloaks and manes. Arwen glanced at her mother.
“Ada and Naneth await us,” Celebrían said. “It will be nice to walk in my homeland again.”
Arwen nodded in agreement, tightening the cowl of her cloak and shifting her gaze to the dim glow of the rising sun. Soon, the fog would dissipate, and nothing more was expected to hinder their road to the Redhorn Pass.
* * * * *
For many days and nights the party traveled, keeping the Misty Mountains to their left as they rode along the once well-traveled path. Save for a few rainstorms, the journey remained uninterrupted. Even Endis had settled down. Since viewing the landscape had quickly grown old, Arwen spent most of her time ahead of the pack, riding alongside Faye. She knew why Endis tolerated Faye, but she couldn’t figure out why Rokka didn’t seem to mind her. As the sun slowly disappeared behind a rapidly darkening sky, Arwen voiced this observation to Faye.
“Rokka knows you like me, and she trusts you enough to accept your judgment,” Faye replied almost instantly. She then glanced up at the blue-black clouds. “We’d better find shelter before the storm hits.”
And hit it did, with a fury, but luckily they had managed to find shelter in a small empty cave. Lightning flashed brilliantly, and thunder echoed loudly in the cave, but all were relatively warm and dry. There was even room enough for the horses.
As the storm raged on, Arwen rested back against the smooth earthen wall, looking out into the pounding rain. Faye and Celebrían soon joined her, and Arwen privately smiled as they sat down next to her. It was a common belief in Rivendell that Arwen had been raised by two mothers, one that had taught her to be a proper lady, and one that had taught her everything else. It was not a belief Arwen tried in the least to deny, for she herself saw both Celebrían and Faye as a mother. Celebrían had basically accepted Faye’s role in Arwen’s life, for Faye was wise enough to know when to disappear into the shadows for a while. When things became too tense between them, Faye would be the first to back away, journeying even to Mirkwood on a few occasions to stay with Maida–Arwen’s best friend since childhood–until peace was restored.
Celebrían’s periods of defensiveness of her role as Arwen’s mother had slowly dwindled in amount and intensity as Arwen reached adulthood. Now, they were practically nonexistent. It was often said that the only friendship that matched that of Arwen and Faye was that of Celebrían and Faye.
However, Faye’s time spent in Arwen’s life had not been all bliss. As Faye became more adapted to life in Rivendell, the shadow of a fierce temper had developed. Although it had become much harder to spark as time passed, when Faye’s temper flared, not even Arwen and Celebrían were safe from her. When those situations arose, Faye would disappear, her absence lasting anywhere from a day to several months. Her appearance upon returning varied just as much as the amount of time. Sometimes she returned clean and healthy, her skin coppery and her hair rich and full. Other times, she returned no less than a wraith. Arwen never knew what Faye did when she was gone during these times, or where she went, but after a week or so, life would return to normal.
A clap of thunder startled Arwen out of her reverie, and she glanced up when she heard Faye chuckle.
“I remember how afraid you were of storms when you were a child,” Faye said. “At the slightest hint of thunder, you would come running to one of us.”
“I have outgrown my fear,” Arwen said proudly, though she could not hide a wince when a particularly loud crash of thunder sounded.
“We are safe here,” Faye said, patting Arwen’s shoulder before standing. “We had best stay the night here. Tomorrow we will begin the trek up the mountain. You will need a good rest.”
“What about you, Faye?” Celebrían asked.
“I will stand watch,” Faye replied with a nod. “Good night.”
With that, Faye wandered off, leaving Celebrían and Arwen alone. Arwen felt her mother slip an arm around her waist, and she smiled as she rested her head on Celebrían’s shoulder.
“My Evenstar,” Celebrían whispered softly. “Where has all the time gone?”
“I think time is the least of our worries, Naneth,” Arwen replied.
Celebrían sighed, and Arwen lifted her head. After a moment, Celebrían smiled.
“Of course, Arwen,” she said. “We do have all the time we could ever want. And we can thank the Valar for that.”
“Among other things,” Arwen said, turning to look at Faye, who was standing motionless at the mouth of the cave.
“Yes,” Celebrían agreed. “We are very blessed.”
* * * * *
“Well, this is interesting.”
Arwen looked doubtfully at the path ahead. The road, which in the distance wove up the mountainside towards the snowy gap that was the Redhorn Pass, had been reduced to a river of watery, sticky mud all the way to the steep, narrow incline that marked the beginning of the most difficult part of the trail. Nobody wanted to cross the mud, but there was no other way.
“I’ll go first,” Faye volunteered.
A few soldiers chuckled, and Arwen glared back at them, though she knew why they laughed. With Faye’s record, there was almost no doubt that she would end up taking an unwanted bath.
“Is there no other way?” Celebrían asked, clearly thinking the same thing.
“We’ll have to double back four days to reach it,” one of the soldiers–Arwen believed his name was Azulir–replied.
“We can make it,” Faye said firmly. “The mud cannot be too deep, and if we get dirty, we’ll find a mountain stream to wash off in.”
There was a look of complete confidence on Faye’s face as she bade Endis to walk on. Sure enough, the instant one of his hooves sank into the mud, Endis stopped dead. He snorted angrily, backing out of the mud, rearing slightly when Faye checked him.
“Walk on, beast,” Faye said firmly. “You either deal with the mud or deal with me.”
Once again, there was soft laughter among the soldiers, and Arwen scowled again. The leader of the group, a strong experienced warrior named Celedon, arched his eyebrow.
“Why don’t you step down and walk him across, Lady Faye?” he asked, a humored tone in his voice. “It’ll save you much trouble.”
Faye looked back at Celedon, an icy look in her eyes. She then turned back and drove her heels into Endis’s flanks, causing the horse to jump forward. He landed in the mud with a thick splash. To Arwen’s relief, the mud only reached halfway to Endis’s knees. Faye looked back at them, smirking, then started across.
To Arwen’s relief, and everyone else’s amazement, Faye made it across safely and cleanly. Once Endis had scrambled up the steep incline, Faye dismounted and started back down. At the edge of the mud, she beckoned to Arwen.
“Come on, Arwen,” she said. “Take it slow.”
Arwen took a deep breath, then started across. Rokka did not fuss, and save for a short moment where one of her hind feet got stuck, she too passed safely. Upon reaching the other side, Faye grasped Rokka’s reins and guided the horse up the incline.
“You see?” Faye said, patting Rokka’s nose. “Rokka is very loyal to you. She trusts those you trust, and she will never let you fall.”
Arwen smiled, then turned to watch Celebrían, who was already halfway across the mud. Her horse, being almost pure white, was noticeably dirty by the time she joined them. She looked down at her horse’s dark brown legs and chuckled.
“Even if none of us falls, we will still need to wash our horses,” she said.
The mud pool, as it turned out in the end, was not the considerable obstacle it was first thought to be. Most of the horses passed through it without incident. Celedon was the last to pass through the mud, and Faye had not forgotten his teasing. As Arwen watched, Faye climbed down the incline and waited for him at the edge of the mud, her arms crossed over her chest. Its way blocked, the horse stopped and looked at her. Celedon frowned.
“Lady Faye?” he said. “Lady Faye, what are you doing?”
Faye smirked evilly, looked straight at the horse, and drew back her lips to reveal her fangs. The horse snorted and took a small step back. Celedon tried to check the beast, but it was no longer paying attention to him. Faye smiled widely, and Celedon gave her a pleading look.
“I apologize for teasing you, Lady Faye,” he said, the tone of his voice drawing low chuckles from the others. “Now please, let us pass in peace.”
Faye chuckled, and Arwen feigned a cough to avoid laughing out loud. Celebrian was smiling, though she was trying her best not to show it.
“Let him come, Faye,” she called.
Faye looked back at them, and her fangs quickly disappeared. She nodded and turned away. Celedon quickly appeared, clearly relieved. He nodded to Celebrían.
“Thank you, Milady,” he said.
“Make sure you check your tongue next time,” Celebrían replied sternly. “Faye had every right to send you into the mud just now.”
The next task for the group was to find a stream. It took a considerable amount of time for a stream to be located, and for the horses’ legs to be washed off. It was well after noon before they were ready to continue on.
“We can probably make another four or five miles before dark,” Azulir reported. “But we have to go slow. The path ahead isn’t very well maintained.”
With that said, they started off again, Faye and Arwen leading the way, with Celebrían close behind. Once Arwen was sure the others had turned their concentration elsewhere, she leaned over to Faye.
“I’m surprised at you,” she whispered. “I was positive Celedon was going to get it. What held you back?”
“Lady Celebrían told me not to,” Faye replied.
Arwen arched an eyebrow. She knew perfectly well that Faye was lying.
“That never stopped you before,” Arwen said.
Faye turned and smiled softly, patting Endis’s neck.
“I will seek revenge on Celedon soon enough, my child,” she said. “There are better things in which to toss an unwary Elf.”
Arwen thought about Faye’s comment for a moment, then bit back a giggle. Faye smiled again.
“Lorién is only a few days away,” she said. “Tell me what you remember about Caras Galadhon.”
Arwen laughed and started rattling off tales of golden leaves and the warm, gentle touches of loving grandparents. So long was she in the restatement of her memories that it was well into the night before conversation between them ceased.