The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum


Visit The *EVEN NEWER* Barrow-Downs Photo Page

Go Back   The Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum > Fan Fiction > The Red Book
User Name
Password
Register FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 11-17-2020, 08:52 AM   #1
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,043
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
The Fairy Wife by Mark12_30

The Fairy Wife

by Mark12_30
________________________________________
I owe the inspiration for this story to Sharon, Child of the Seventh Age. She mentioned during a debate on the Barrow Downs forum, that the Fallohide tendency towards adventure and seafaring and most especially Frodo and Bilbo's being drawn to the elves, could indicate that the "fairy wife" mentioned in The Hobbit could have been a silvan elf. This raised numerous issues, some serious and some perhaps trivial: social barriers, parental approval, disparity in height, etc. It seemed impossible, and yet, could it have been?

For me personally, the worst barrier was actually Tolkien's statement that elf-mortal unions were rare. Somewhere he mentions that there were only three: Aragorn and Arwen, Luthien and Beren, Tuor and Idril. So if there had been an elf-hobbit marriage, it would have had to have been kept a secret even from The Historian Himself, and thus, from the elves or the elven community at large. Determining why such a marriage would have been kept secret from the elven community at large was, to me, the greatest challenge of writing the story. But there were other challenges; overcoming, or circumnavigating, cultural barriers not the least.

Sharon provided numerous suggestions and recommendations, which proved very helpful. I asked Lindil to proof the story for any possible abuses of osanwe; he also made several other suggestions, as did Nar. Those suggestions yeilded several needed revisions and clarifications.

If the story is successful, I remain in their debt.

Footnotes follow for those interested in such details; otherwise, feel free to proceed to Chapter One.

FOOTNOTES

Of The Fairy Wife: In the introduction to "The Hobbit", Tolkien casually mentions:

"It was often said (in other families) that long ago, one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but still, there was something not quite hobbit-like about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures."

Of the Elves and Osanwe (from Many Partings):

"Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they would sit together under the stars, recalling the ages that were gone and all their joys and labors in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands. For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro."

Of Galadriel and Osanwe (From The Mirror Of Galadriel):

"And with that word she held them with her eyes, and in silence looked searchingly at each of them in turn. None save Legolas and Aragorn could long endure her glance. Sam quickly blushed and hung his head."

This is the story of the migration of an early Fallohide family across the Misty Mountains, fleeing from the advancing darkness circa Third Age 1150.

The Fairy Wife

Chapter 1: The Hunt

The Northeastern Foothills of the Misty Mountains, circa 1150 Third Age
Doldo stalked noiselessly forward, completely silent and invisible, arrow on the string, bow bent. The antlers moved gently as the buck browsed, and as Doldo inched forward, the rest of the buck came into view. He stilled himself, brought his arrow-point into focus on the ribs just behind the shoulder, and then spared a quick glance to his left.

Young Sindo was not in place yet, but he was close. Doldo watched him stepping, gently, gently, and then Sindo likewise halted, focusing, finishing his aim.

A quick glance to the right showed Noldo already in position. Doldo breathed in slowly, and let out a single sound, a chirp like a small bird. The buck's head came up with a snort, and he tensed, ready to spring.

Doldo loosed his arrow, followed by Sindo, and Noldo loosed his last. The buck dropped in mid-leap, and landed dead. Sindo's arrow had pierced his throat, Doldo and Noldo's arrows were lodged in his heart. The three tall hobbits, father and two sons, exchanged glances and went forward, proud and satisfied, to inspect the buck.

Doldo was pleased with the day's hunt. "Noldo, fetch the ponies, " he said. "Sindo, help me dress him." They got to work.

Noldo ran back through the woods, elated with the day. The autumn was golden, the leaves turned but not yet fallen, the air crisp despite last night's rain, and the hunt had been good. This buck would keep the family in meat for a week. He leaped with joy as he ran.

He was still running as he entered the glade where they had left the four ponies, and they snorted mildly in surprise, but they were used to Noldo's exuberance. He untethered them, strung them together, leapt onto his own pony, and led them cantering back towards the dead buck.

The pack pony bringing up the rear was strangely restless, and steadily the other three ponies caught his fear. It wasn't long before Noldo could smell what they smelled. Burning. He wrinkled his nose and worried. Another goblin-raid? Trolls? Or had a dragon come down from the grey mountains again? He urged the ponies faster, suddenly worried about his brother and father, still on foot, gutting the buck, probably unaware of any danger. And then another fear struck him. Mother, alone at home. His heart came into his mouth.

He arrived and slithered to a halt, and quickly told his father what he had smelled. Doldo looked grim, and young Sindo looked very scared. Quickly, they heaved the bloody buck onto the pack pony, lashed him in place, mounted and headed home.

"By the wind, the burning is coming from the east, not the south, " Doldo said when they were halfway home. "I want to get to the lookout, and see where the fires are burning." They swung east, down the foothills, towards a promontory that gave a good view of the Langwell River where it joined the Anduin. The smell grew stronger and stronger, and with it, Noldo could smell burning flesh. His stomach turned.

The eastern edge of the forest was burning. There was a mild prevailing wind out of the forest and down the hill, but the fire at the edge of the forest had created an updraft there, a new wind rushing up the hillside from the river; and the edge of the wood was now a firestorm. Despite the rain that had fallen yesterday, the day had been crisp and dry; if the prevailing wind changed, the forest would not last long.

Suddenly, still within the woods, they saw it. "Stop!" Doldo shouted, and their ponies slithered to a halt. Doldo turned to young Sindo and shouted, "Turn your head!" But too late. Sindo's face showed his shock already. "Go back! Take the buck and go home! Find Mother!" Doldo shouted. Sindo obeyed, still shocked at first, but then fleeing, sobbing, recklessly lashing his pony for more speed. The pack pony labored to keep up.

Noldo and Doldo pressed their frightened ponies forward, sick with dread but hoping to find survivors. At the edge of the burned and blackened glade, Noldo halted again. Through the roiling smoke that now drifted, swirling, and now eddied eastward, he saw what he had feared. Fair, tall and graceful those bodies had been, noble and proud, but they were blackened now, and uneven eddies in the wind brought the stench of their burning to fill his nostrils. Sobbing and retching, he looked sickly this way and that, hoping to find survivors, but the bodies were all black and still. Doldo, tight-lipped with anger, counted about thirty dead. Noldo met Doldo's eyes, from across the smoke and stench, and in silent rage and sickened sorrow, they wept together.

"What do we do?" sobbed Noldo.

"We find Mother, " said Doldo grimly. Still silently weeping, he turned to face the dead elves. "You deserve mourning and burial, but we cannot give it to you. Not now. We must go and find the living. I am sorry to leave you thus. Rest in peace, if elves can find peace in death." He turned his pony homeward, but then he saw movement, and stopped and turned. Noldo followed his gaze.

A wild-eyed blond figure dropped down out of a tree, and fled. It was only a little smaller than the hobbits, and slender. There was no time to argue with it. Doldo urged his pony forward, and as he caught up with the small elf, jumped off his pony and all but tackled it. The elf collapsed shrieking and scratching. Noldo pulled up beside his father, who simply handed the slender elf, back-first, to him. Noldo clamped an arm around the tiny waist as it kicked and fought. "Ride home!" Doldo shouted, running to catch his pony. But Doldo's pony bolted in terror.

Noldo gave chase with the still shrieking elf clamped in his arm. "Hush!" he shouted, and to his astonishment, the elf did, now going almost limp in his arms. He took the reins in that hand, caught his father's pony, and fighting the tangle of reins and elf, turned back. Doldo was now shaking, glancing fearfully down toward the river, angry at his son for his disobedience but suddenly realizing that the lad had, in all likelihood, saved his life. Noldo heard what Doldo had been hearing, and his blood ran cold. There was an approaching tumult on the edge of the forest. Whoever they were, they were coming back.

Doldo wordlessly swung aboard his pony, and they fled homeward. Now they were racing the marauders for Sindo, Mother, and their home.
-------
On the Edge of the Forest

Doldo and Noldo pulled their ponies to a halt at the edge of the woods. Down by the river, the whole valley was burning. Black smoke billowed skyward from uncounted homes and barns. The noises of terror and chaos now assaulted their ears. Much closer to the edge of the forest, perhaps a thousand feet away, was the hole Doldo had shoveled into the high hillside, and the shed and barn he had built with his sons' help. Doldo scanned frantically for his wife and son. His pounding heart almost stopped. Numerous dark, large, misshapen figures roamed through his shed and barn, burning his little gardens, and breaking down the door and windows of his hobbit-hole. Thick new plumes of black smoke poured from the shed and the barn.

He drew his hunting knife and gathered his reins, his face twitching with rage, and urged his terrified and snorting pony forward. The pony refused. Doldo spun the reins and lashed him savagely, and he reared, gagging and swerving as Doldo wrenched at his mouth and hammered at him with his heels.

Feeling as frightened as his father's pony, Noldo tried to gather his own courage, thinking of Mother and Sindo. Choking back his tears, and wondering what to do with the almost-forgotten elf still in his arms, he drew his own knife and gathered his reins. The elf's eyes grew wide, and Noldo wondered again what to do with it, but he couldn't ask his maddened father.

"Dad! Stop! STOP!"

Sindo galloped out to meet them from within the woods. "Mother is with me! She's with me!!"

Doldo spun the pony ruthlessly. "Where??" he roared, fury now mingling with wonder and relief.

Sindo turned, and they galloped back into the forest several hundred feet. There they found four ponies, and Mother sitting elegant, tall, and calm on one of them, bravely smiling and brushing away tears. Doldo raced up to her, half spooking her pony, and reached a shaking hand towards her.

"Mallie!! Mallie, are you all right?"

"Yes, Doldo, I'm fine, " she said, settling her pony and laughing nervously. "You didn't expect me to invite them to tea, did you? I could see that the valley was burning." And she burst into tears, but gathered herself immediately, and smiled bravely again. Reaching, they held hands for a brief second, and Doldo drank from her glistening eyes.

He had Mallie and both his boys. Let the homestead burn.

Doldo snapped out orders. "Let's get going. Up the trail toward the mountain pass." The family, loosely herding the pack ponies, urged their ponies up the slope. Smoke plumes began blowing past them, stinging their eyes. The ponies, only too glad to be leaving the fire and smoke behind, began breaking into a brisk trot. The hobbits did not hold them back.

Doldo considered the three pack ponies, one still carrying the buck, but the other two packed heavily, blankets covering their loads. The implication sank in, and he turned to his wife. "You packed, when you saw the valley burning," he praised her, his heart swelling with love and pride.

She nodded. "Food for several weeks, I hope. One blanket apiece, and water bottles, and our winter cloaks. I assume we're crossing the mountains. I couldn't fit the books of family trees, " she said sadly.

He shrugged. "What we can't remember, we won't need, " he said. And then he smiled, for a single split second completely overwhelmed, by her brave smile, by her resourcefulness and strength, by relief at finding her alive and well. "Mallie, Mallie, my lovely Mallorn blossom, you are a queen among hobbits."

He turned to his sons. "Noldo, you lead us up the mountain pass, " he ordered. "Take the pack pony with the buck. Mallie, you follow Noldo, and lead the other two ponies. Sindo, you and I will bring up the rear."

Mallie suddenly focused on Noldo, observed for the first time what he carried, and then said simply, "Give me the child."

Noldo obeyed, weaving toward his Mother still at a quick trot; passing the elf to his Mother after whispering "You'll be all right" and brushing its hair with a quick kiss, and then trotting forward to catch his pack pony. The tall child gazed wide-eyed at Mallie, and then nestled in her arms.

"Mallie, if you're carrying the elf-child, then Sindo can lead the two ponies. I'll bring up the rear. We'll give the ponies a rest when I say so. Let's ride!"

Noldo glanced back at Sindo, and saw that he now had the string of two pack ponies. Comforted by his father's stern tone, and needing no further urging as the smoke penetrated the forest, Noldo set both his heels to his pony's ribs, and in moments the whole family was strung out at a flat gallop, churning up the mountain towards the pass.

*********

Chapter 2: The Tree Line

The Misty Mountains

Doldo called them to a walk long before he wanted to. It would do them no good to run the ponies to death, but he feared pursuit. He had been much too loud at the wood's edge over his homestead, and he knew it, and berated himself silently as they rode. He was worried, too, about going above the tree-line and being visible, vulnerable. Unsafe ahead, unsafe behind.

But the ponies could run no more. They were totally lathered, and one of the pack ponies had a slight limp. Sindo checked its foot and removed a stone wedged into the soft frog, but the pony still limped after he removed it.

"Can't be helped, " Doldo said grimly. "If we dally, he'll be goblin-meat."

While they were halted, Noldo fetched an apple each out of one of the packs, and they munched as they walked the ponies upward. The elf devoured the apple and looked for more. "Not just yet, " Mallie told her, but gave the elf the rest of her own apple. Noldo, watching, dallied, and offered the rest of his as well. It was accepted with a shy smile.

"I think she likes you, " Mallie smiled.

"She?" Noldo asked.

"Yes, it's a girl-child."

"I can hardly tell. I've never seen such a young elf. And they are all so beautiful."

"This is a lovely little lady, " Mallie purred.

"Little!" Noldo said. Like his tall father he stood four-foot-nine. Sindo was four-eight. But the willow-thin maiden was almost as tall as Noldo.

"Oh, I don't know how old she is. They develop slowly."

"They do?"

"Well, gently is perhaps a better word. They are under no pressure to grow, so they take their time."

"Can't she talk?"

"Well, she's frightened."

"Of course..."

"But I don't know. I wonder what your name is, and where you are from." Mallie looked into the girl's eyes. "Can you tell me your name?"

The deep blue eyes searched Mallie's brown eyes, but no answer came.

"Where did you grow up?"

No answer.

"Do you want another apple?"

That brought a smile.

"So you do understand me!"

Laughter, but no speech.

"I think she wants another apple," Noldo chuckled. "Perhaps we can buy an answer with one."

As the only untangled member of the party, Doldo took the hint, urged his weary pony forward next to the pack pony, and leaning over, got out another apple.
He held it up, several feet away, and the young elf clearly wanted it.

"What's your name?"

The silent, blue-eyed stare continued.

"Where are you from?"

The stare turned into a pleading.

Doldo made as if to put the apple into his pocket, and the elf frowned, hesitated, struggled, and replied carefully, "Lorien."

Doldo smiled. "You're from Lorien? Oh. What's your name?"

"Lorien, " the elf repeated.

"Is that your name or where you are from?"

The elf looked away.

"Doldo, she'll cry, " scolded Mallie, and indeed the tall girl looked ready to. Doldo produced the apple instantly, and Mallie, softening as quickly, passed it to the elf-maiden and smiled at Doldo. The elf recovered, and received the apple, now trying bravely to smile, but clearly overwhelmed by everything that had happened. She bit into the apple, and ate meditatively.

"Lorien. It'll do for a name, won't it?" Doldo mused.

"It's lovely, " said Sindo.

"My trees grow in Lorien," Mallie replied. "It's as lovely a name as anybody could wish for."

"The Mallorn trees? I thought elves grew them," Noldo puzzled.

"Of course, " Mallie laughed. "But only in Lorien. They don't grow in Greenwood, or in our woods, or anywhere else that I know of. Just in Lorien. Laurelindorinan..." she sighed, watching Lorien devour her apple.

"How were you named after a tree in Laurelindorinan, Mother?" Sindo puzzled.

"Well, you know my family comes from much further south," Mallie replied. "When my father was young, he was out hunting in the woods, and pursued a fast and clever buck far into strange territory. He was challenged by a young elf for trespassing. My father pleaded with Haldir to let him pursue the crafty buck, to no avail. But the elf took a liking to him. After a friendly archery contest-- which my father lost-- they became friends. Haldir taught my father many songs and tales, including what the land was like that he was forbidden to enter. My father used to go and trespass just to hear Haldir's stories, and they would talk far into the night up on Haldir's platform in the tree. He told my father about the Mallorn trees, silver and gold with golden blooms, and when I was born, my father named me after them."

"Did you ever meet Haldir?" Noldo wondered.

"My father took me to see him when I was a tiny baby, but I don't remember him, " sighed Mallie.

"So that's where your father learned all of his songs! From an elf up in a tree!" Sindo somehow thought this terribly funny. He tried to laugh quietly, and succeeded when Doldo shot him a warning glare. But then Doldo smiled too. It was good to hear his son laughing. It was good that his son was alive.

They were nearing the tree-line, and there they would rest the ponies. He still disliked the idea of going above the tree-line, feeling visible and vulnerable, but there was nothing else to be done. There was no hope in the valley behind them anymore.

He didn't know how much hope there would be over the mountains, either. And he didn't know whether they would find any elves to take care of this mystery elf-child, this apple-eating Lorien maiden.

When they stopped by a cold mountain stream, they filled the water bottles-- when she had packed, Mallie had had no time to run down to the stream-- and Doldo opened a loaf of bread, and divided it into five parts. They all ate in silence, sensing the chill in the air, and Mallie got out their winter cloaks. She had none for Lorien. "Whoever carries her will just have to wrap her up in their cloak, " Doldo ordered, and that sounded good to everyone; riding could be cold business, and the idea of sharing body heat with a passenger had tremendous appeal. For the remainder of the journey, anyone developing a chill on horseback took a turn holding Lorien, and warmed up quite well. This was also partly because as she began to recover from the shock and learn to enjoy her new friends, she grew more restless and active, and was apt to lean suddenly, or twist to look at something, and it took more and more effort and attention to keep her in the saddle. Since they all took turns, everyone slept well at night.

But that day they were not that cold yet, nor was she restless yet. They looked up at the pass looming over them, and although it was snowy, they were glad that the snow had not yet time to become deep. The ponies were sturdy, and they had lived on the mountains all their lives, and were not afraid.

Doldo was afraid of what was behind them. He walked up well past the tree-line and climbed up on rocks until he could see the valley below.

What he saw chilled him. Fires burned all through their lovely valley. Perhaps fifteen miles of the valley showed flames in the villages and towns. His heart sank. He returned grim and silent to his family, and they did not ask him anything. He sat with Mallie, and held her hands.

Lorien wandered over to Noldo and to his complete astonishment, sat in his lap, and played with his hair. Sindo came over to join them, and she played with his hair too, fascinated by the short brown curls.

Noldo studied her. "Can't you talk?"

The blue eyes met his, smiling, waiting. As Noldo waited, growing a little uncomfortable, Lorien grew impatient and began to frown. Soon her head was tipped to one side, and she reached up and took his face in both her hands.

"What?" Noldo puzzled. "Tell me. You have to tell me. I don't know what you want."

She started over. She focused on his eyes, smiled, deepened her gaze, and waited. He sensed that she trusted that he would do something, but he had no idea what. She waited longer, and then the impatience returned.

"I don't understand what you want!" Noldo said, exasperated. By now the rest of the family was watching. Again Lorien reached for his face, and again she started over, looking in his eyes, smiling, waiting.

He tried. He didn't know what he was trying to do, but he willed himself to do what she wanted him to do-- whatever it was. He studied her. She waited, fighting off disappointment. His heart sank (over what? he wondered.) Finally she gave up, and slumped; guilt invaded Noldo.

"No, look. Here. You have to learn to talk to us. Lorien! Look. Talk to me." He lifted her chin again, and then put his finger against her lips, and then lifting her hand to his face, he spoke again. "Talk. Like this." He put her hand against his throat, and spoke again. "With words. Talk to me."

He realised she was laughing at him. He turned to his Mother, exasperated. She shrugged.

"I've never met a teenage elf before, Noldo. I don't know when they learn to converse, or how."

"Maybe they read each other's minds, " offered Sindo.

"But she understands us when we speak, " Mallie countered.

"Maybe just the parents read the children's minds, " Doldo replied. "It sure would make things more peaceful around the house." He stifled a grin. Sindo almost rose to the bait, and then glared at him.

"Doldo, " Mallie softly scolded, almost purring. Doldo shared a secret, eyes-only smile with her.

Noldo tried again. "Lorien, please. Talk to me. Please?"

She again stretched to her full height, and for a moment hope rose in him. "Lorien, " she murmured, and turned to examine Sindo's furry feet.
Well, it was a noise, he consoled himself. Heaving her over onto Sindo's lap, he rose. "Isn't it time we rode further?"

To his surprise, Doldo shook his head. "I'd rather wait for twilight, or at least sunset. I feel too vulnerable without any forest over us. I think if we can, we should travel by night across the pass."

"Isn't that dangerous?" Noldo countered, and then felt he had overstepped himself.
But Doldo nodded. "Yes, it is, "he replied. "But I think there are worse dangers about, and the moon will help us. I'd rather avoid being seen as much as possible."

"All right, " Noldo agreed, and sat back down after checking the sun. They had about an hour's wait before the sun sank behind the mountains.

Lorien, still in Sindo's lap, turned back to him. "No," she said suddenly.
"What? No, what? What No?" He knelt by her, thrilled.

She pointed to him. "Me?" he asked. She nodded. He was delighted. "Noldo. Nol-"
"Noldo, " she announced, and turned to his brother. "Sin-da."

They beamed at her, and Sindo let out a whispered cheer. "Sindo," Noldo corrected gently, but she shook her head. "Sinda." Noldo frowned at Sindo, but Sindo laughed. "It's close enough. I know who she means."

Noldo tried several more times to correct her, but she maintained the -a ending. Sindo actually seemed to like it.

"It's feminine, " Noldo groused.

"Maybe not to the elves, " Sindo shrugged. He and Lorien shared a long smile.
By sunset she knew Doldo's, Mallie's, and all the ponies' names. But it did not seem to come to her easily.

When they mounted, she insisted on riding with Noldo. He was glad at first, but about three hours up into the pass in the moonlight, she was still endlessly, rhythmically repeating his pony's name and his name in an exasperating sing-song chant, and he thought he would go mad. She clung to him and would not let him give her to anybody else.

"Nol-do, Hun-ter, Nol-do, Hun-ter. Nol-do, Hun-ter, Nol-do, Hun-terЕФ
Noldo buried the fingers of his free hand in his curly hair, and pulled.

************
Chapter 3: The Staring Game

The western foothills of the Misty Mountains, above the Ettenmoors

Not too far from the bubbling little stream, the family lounged in a clearing, weary of traveling and enjoying an unseasonably warm afternoon. The ponies nosed about, drinking from the stream and grazing on whatever they could find. They had done well crossing the mountains, but there wasn't much to eat on this side, and Sindo fretted, feeling for their ribs and worrying about the approaching winter. He hoped they would come on some good grazing soon.

Mallie gave Lorien the last apple, and fretted about the dwindling supply of bread. She had packed plenty of dried fruit, which the elf reluctantly gnawed through, asking "Apple?" between every bite. Lorien did like potatoes roasted in the hot coals of a campfire; they had only lit one so far, afraid of unwelcome visitors in this new land. There were plenty of potatoes, but Mallie wanted to save some for planting in the spring.

Lorien did not relish meat, and ate as little as she could, wrinkling her nose with distaste. "Until her own people find us," Doldo growled, "she'll have to eat it. That's all we'll have this winter. She'll either eat meat, or go hungry." The family fretted over this, but saw no alternative, unless they found civilization soon. They had seen no signs of civilization so far. Mallie was immensely glad that she had impulsively seized the garden seeds on her way out the door and stowed them in her saddlebags. She shuddered to think what they would have done in the spring without them.

Doldo, too, was beginning to worry about finding a settlement. He had hoped to find other hobbits, but this did not strike him as Hobbit countryside, nor elvish, nor mannish either. He hoped that they had not crossed the mountains only to die on the other side. Now that their home was left behind, Doldo's love for his wife became his only anchor, and the boys noticed as the days wore on, that Doldo's eyes lingered on Mallie more and more.

While the sun streamed down on them, Doldo watched Mallie, and Mallie watched Lorien eating her apple, and Lorien, crunching, watched Noldo, and Sindo watched Lorien watching Noldo; Noldo in turn, was watching his parents, mostly, although Lorien occasionally drew his glance. The silence grew until Lorien finished her apple. Tossing the core into nearby bushes, she began wandering, softly lapsing into her singsong chant again.

"Nol-do, Hun-ter, Nol-do, Hun-ter..."

Noldo covered his ears, desperately wishing he could roar in anguish. Sindo laughed.

"I'm going hunting, " Noldo said, catching up his bow and quiver.

"Don't lose any arrows, " Doldo said. "And why are you going? We're not nearly done with that buck carcass yet." They had not dared to light many fires, and it had been cold enough. The meat would keep for quite a while yet. Sindo pitied the pony carrying it, but the pony did not seem to mind. It had frosted and there were no flies.

"I'm going, " Noldo said, "because I am sick and tired of that song of hers."

"She loves you, " said Sindo, darkly. "True, devoted and dedicated love."

Noldo churned, pacing. "Can't you woo her away from me, please?"

"I don't want you to go, son, " Doldo said. "I know she's irritating. But we don't know this countryside yet."

"Then let me scout it out, " Noldo said, his voice edgy with frustration. "I need some time away."

"Nol-do, Hun-ter..."

Noldo turned on her, on the very edge of control. "Will you STOP IT? Can't you sing something else???"

"Son, quiet! Calm down!"

"Then let me go for a while!"

"You've hurt her, " scolded Sindo, rising and walking to Lorien, and putting an arm protectively across her shoulders. She looked up at him with those huge blue eyes, and calmed down. Sindo stared back at her.

There they go again with the staring game, thought Noldo. He's got more patience than I do, that's for sure.

"Sing something else for a while, " Sindo prodded gently. "Just change the song, please?"

Suddenly she brightened.

"Nol-do, Lo-rien..."

Sindo's smirks grew uncontrollable, despite his father's attempts to hush him, and he was soon collapsed on the ground holding his sides. Noldo, torn between humor and rage, stalked out of the clearing. Sindo's laughter followed him until he crested the nearest ridge.

"You don't make it easy, that's for sure, " Doldo grumbled at Lorien, who pouted a little and changed her song again to "Dol-do, Ma-llie..."

"She does it to torment us, " Doldo grumbled, reaching for Mallie's hand.

"I think it's sweet, " Mallie purred.

"After three weeks?" Sindo sighed. "She could come up with another tune."

"Tune, " Lorien echoed seriously, turning their heads. "Tune." She approached Sindo, and started the staring game again.

"Tune, " he agreed, and stared back. She pondered, and began to hum softly, a rather pleasant wandering melody, and meandered off. They gaped.

"I wonder," Doldo said. "What do you do when she stares at you like that?"

"Nothing, " shrugged Sindo. "Stare back."

"She certainly seems to learn from it, " Mallie pondered. "You suggested another tune, and there it is."

"Well, I don't-- Hey, Lorien! Wait!" Sindo jumped up, and caught up his bow and quiver. Lorien was heading off in pursuit of Noldo.

Mallie worried, and Doldo shrugged, and chuckled, and reached for her hand.

"They'll be all right. The elf has obviously grown up in the woods. And our boys can take care of themselves."

"That's not what worries me."

"What then, my Mallie, my queen?"

She smiled gratefully at him and gave his hand a squeeze. "It's Noldo. He's almost twenty-nine. He's been getting restless."

"They both have been."

"You've seen it too."

"Of course I have, my love, " he murmured. "Once this elf-child returns to an elf-settlement somewhere, we'll find a hobbit settlement, and the boys can get back to normal."

She nodded. "How are we going to find the elves? Elves find you, you don't find them."

"They'll come, " Doldo said with complete confidence.

"Why?"

"I've been thinking about this. Elves always know, " he said. "They'll come and find her. They'll know."

She studied him, uncertain.

"Anytime they are missing one of their own, " Doldo continued, "they find him. They know where to look."

"You think that she will draw them to herself."

"I'm sure of it. Like that staring game. There's more to that than just who looks down first."

"Oh, they never do look down. It's not like that."

"That's what I mean. Sindo is onto something. Funny that she only plays the game with him."

"She's tried with the rest of us, " Mallie said. "She tried for the first whole week, with Noldo."

"And he had no patience with her, " Doldo snorted. "Young hothead. His temper worries me." Mallie bit her tongue. "But Sindo kept at it, and there's an understanding of sorts there, I think."

"And you think that she'll draw the elves to herself, like that. Calling them somehow?"
"I'm sure of it. They'll be here."

She stroked his hand, wondering.

"We could look for them for the rest of our lives, and never find them. You know that. They can't be tracked like other races can."

She nodded.

"We'll settle somewhere, then, and wait. We'll plant your seeds and your potatoes, and we'll hunt, and build a small shelter. And she'll call them, and they'll come."
She wanted to trust his judgment, but somehow she was uneasy, as if she was missing something.

She looked into his eyes, and forgot her uneasiness. She had thought him devoted before, but she was in awe of him now, in awe of his love for her. They stood and walked to the stream, and he drew her to sit close beside him on the bank, his arm around her. She watched the stream and he watched her, overflowing with tenderness.

Two hours later, when Noldo, Sindo, and the still-humming elf-maiden returned, Mallie had gently fallen asleep listening to the stream, and Doldo held her, stroking her hair. The three silently watched them for a few minutes, and then quietly turned again, and wandered aimlessly back into the woods, the hobbits staring at the ground or the sky, the maid chasing the leaves as they blew down from the trees.

*******

To be continued...
__________________
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-24-2020, 09:59 AM   #2
Huinesoron
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
Huinesoron's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2017
Location: The north-west of the Old World, east of the Sea
Posts: 3,304
Huinesoron is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Huinesoron is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapters 1-3: review

A confession right off the bat: the Hobbit films have infected my mind. For a brief moment, I read the first sentence and a half to indicate that Doldo was riding a deer.

I feel like randomly naming their children after tribes of the Quendi is a very Hobbitish thing to do. Given that the story takes them into a very unfamiliar place (for Hobbits), it's nice to see elements of the same lightheartedness making it through. Mallie takes the trophy for this, with the Best Line - "You didn't expect me to invite them to tea, did you?" - and her very Hobbitish concern for the family trees.

I have to say, Mallie is just straightaway my favourite character. Lorien (or "Lorien", presumably) comes in a close second, for the learning-to-talk sequence at the end of Chapter 2; it just charms me.

In fact, the characters are the thing that really jumps out for me in this story. All five of them are wonderfully distinctive, and get there very quickly. That's unusual for me - I tend to get distracted by worldbuilding and plot (fairly minimal in these first chapters), or by language use (which also popped out: the use of 'tumult' to describe the coming of the Orcs - the "din-horde" of Sindarin - is the example that first snagged my attention), but in this instance the characters - forgive me, Noldo - really sang.

hS
Huinesoron is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-24-2021, 03:19 PM   #3
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,043
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
The Fairy Wife, Chapters 4 - 6

Chapter 4: Settling

Above the Ettenmoors

Lorien hummed as she carried armloads of evergreen brush from the woods to the hillside. The hobbits were working on the south side of the hill, scooping out earth from beside a large boulder that Doldo had decided would give them additional protection from the North wind. Mallie was weaving mats of evergreens for a windbreak, and the father and sons were cutting larger poles and binding them together with rawhide thongs cut from the buckskin. The north side of the hill was covered with tall grass which they would use for thatching. The west, south, and east sides had heather and broom. They were clearing an area for a garden as they harvested the heather for bedding.

Sindo smiled at her, but Lorien waited for Noldo's attention, holding her evergreens. "Put them over there, " Noldo pointed, and she smiled at him, and set them down, and returned for more. Sindo averted his eyes, jealous of her smile. Noldo sighed. She was less annoying now that she was learning more words and humming nicer tunes, but still, she grated on him.

Noldo watched her out of the corner of his eye. Mother fretted that she was not eating well. Noldo resented her finicky attitude. She was not the same as when they had found her. She seemed wearied, or weakened, perhaps. But she was as cheerful as ever, or nearly so.

She seemed to learn best from Sindo. He was as endlessly patient as Noldo was short tempered. They played the staring game by the hour. As much as she annoyed him, she enchanted Sindo. Whenever Sindo backed a word with emotion, she learned the word, and she caught on the quickest when Sindo was exasperated or angry with Noldo. The largest part of her vocabulary seemed to be the insults Sindo threw at Noldo when he offended Lorien. Stupid, clumsy, stuck-up, impatient, bullheaded, knucklehead, and silly arrogant fool, had been one day's enlightening new vocabulary. Doldo had had words with Sindo after that.

Still, Lorien doted, smiling and humming, on Noldo. He frowned. Why she refused to dote on Sindo instead, Noldo could not discern, but he heartily wished she would.

The sun was sinking in the west. They had a hollow dug into the hillside, a frame in front of it with a thatched roof up, and all that was left for the most comfortable evening yet, was to thatch the floor. This they did leisurely, bringing in the heather for the beds last, and Doldo declared they were done for the day.

Lorien wandered off into the woods, and Noldo and Sindo watched her go, too tired to deal with it. Doldo noticed too, but the elf-child was wary and wood-wise, and he let her go. Mallie smiled, thinking the child would probably sit out under the stars, and just be an elf for the evening. When would her people come for her?

They built a fire in the newly cleared garden area, scorching the heather roots beneath; they would move the fire daily, until the garden area was as large as needed. Potatoes and venison and dried fruits, thought Noldo, and the dried fruits won't hold out much longer, and the potatoes will run out after that. It would be a long winter. He wondered whether Mother could succeed, over the winter, in growing anything green in this new garden of theirs. He doubted it; this place seemed colder even than home. He suspected that their first green leaves would not come ‘til March or perhaps April. She had already set aside some sprouting potatoes to be planted as soon as the garden was thoroughly burned off.

So they would settle here indefinitely? Noldo thought. He sighed again, glancing over at the pleasant stream, the woods not too far away, the moors stretching northward, eastward, and westward. There was the barest hint of a mountain range to the far north. And southeast to southwest, stretched a long range of hills and ridges, covered with brush, scraggly trees, and occasional thickets.

Noldo did not know its name. That long range of hills and ridges was called The Ettenmoors. It was not considered a hospitable place, and wanderers did not travel there; it was the haunt of trolls and wild things. Nevertheless, Doldo's family had been unmolested. Such quietness in the Ettenmoors would have been taken as an ill omen by anyone familiar with those lands; what kind of enemy would drive cave trolls into hiding?

Doldo and his family remained blissfully ignorant of this, and freely enjoyed the Ettenmoors, hunting there and wandering in the woods. Once in a while they came upon old charred bones and evidence of fire, but the evidence was always old and grown over by fresh new growth. They did not worry unduly about such discoveries, having more immediate concerns.

Noldo was not looking southward, but west, north, and east, all across the moors. As the stars came out and the venison/potato/fruit stew bubbled, he again stood and scanned the horizon as he had the previous evenings, looking for twinkling lights. Bonfires. Fires. Candles. Anything. Any sign that this place was not as barren and lifeless as it looked. His heart sank. Again, as the previous several evenings, all of the horizon was black.

How he longed for civilization. And how settled his father had suddenly become, satisfied with this empty, vacant, barren moor. His mother was being brave, Sindo was too starry-eyed over Lorien to care. But Noldo wanted hobbits. He missed his friends, especially Ned, and he had been thinking about Lily more than usual. He ached for the past summer to return just as it was. He wanted beer, laughter, song, and most of all, he wanted a wife.

If only the elves would come and claim their confounded nuisance of a girl.

Mother had only packed four bowls, so somebody usually had to wait their turn. Tonight Lorien's absence made dinner rather pleasant, like old times, and the only person to really miss Lorien was Sindo; not that he mentioned it, but his glance strayed often towards the woods.

Suddenly Sindo set his bowl aside and struggled to his feet, mouth open, eyes glowing. The others listened, straining, but heard nothing for a few moments. Then they heard it too. They listened for a while, glowing. The gentle breeze was bringing a song their way.

"Why, " Mallie whispered, "That's the Lay of Nimrodel!" It had been her father's favorite lullaby, and childhood memories mingled with the ethereal sweetness of the breeze-borne song. Tears trickled down her face.

Doldo leaped to his feet. "They've come for her, and she's not here! We've got to find her. Mallie, you stay here, and if they find you, keep them here! We'll bring her back! Come on, lads. No time to waste. Noldo, you find the elves, we'll find the girl!"

The thought of getting rid of Lorien gave Noldo new strength, and he ran towards the singer with joyous abandon. It was quite far away, he thought, three minutes into a sprint, and he slowed to a steadier pace. He jogged for a while longer, as the song got louder, and clearer. And then suddenly it began to fade.

He skidded to a halt, desperately hoping that these elves wanted to be found. He looked up but saw nothing in the trees. He stopped, listening; the song was behind him. He turned and tracked the sound until he was underneath it. He looked up, but saw nothing. He called.

The song only continued, lovely and wandering and sweet and peircing, but his urgency did not let him enjoy it. He called again. And then he heard a giggle.

"Silly Noldo."

His heart sank. "Lorien??"

"Stupid Noldo." More giggles. She came climbing swiftly down, and sat on a branch, dangling her feet over his head and laughing at him. "Bullheaded Noldo..."

"That's enough!"

She lapsed into her infuriating chant, only this time, stringing all his insults together. He jumped for the branches and climbed up beside her, livid.

"Do you mean to tell me, you can sing songs like-- like that, and you've been mocking us, annoying us instead? You've been singing these absurd prattling tunes instead of talking-- like that?? You've been able to talk all along!!" His rage, suddenly in her face, frightened her, and that only made her more obstinate.

"You talk stupid, " she said, climbing away from him. "You word stupid. No learn stupid talk."

She climbed higher, singing something else now. Something lovely, lilting, elvish, and grammatically much more refined that what she had just mangled in the common tongue.

So, she didn't want to be bothered with learning the hobbits' speech. Excuse us, the stupid hobbits' speech. Well, fine.

He detested her. And the sooner he got out of this tree the better. He jumped down, jogging away, but the wind brought her song to him, so he cut across the wind until he lost the sound. And then he stopped, hating her even for her songs, and not wanting to go back to his father and tell him that it was Lorien singing and there was no relief in sight. But there was nothing for it. He found his father and broke the news, and together they found Sindo. Sindo looked decidedly relieved.

They went home. No, Noldo thought, not home; to the little hut in the hillside. It wasn't home. Mallie was crushed by the news, but amazed that Lorien had done the singing. Mallie, Doldo, and Sindo sat for a while discussing the songs. Noldo re-warmed his venison stew, ate it, and went to bed, but lay awake, fuming.

Lorien came home late that night, and when she entered the little hut, he left it, and slept out by the ponies in the long grass.

The next day dawned cold and dewy, and Noldo sneezed himself awake, startling the ponies. He struggled to his feet, shaking out his blanket and cloak, and stumbled to the hut. The rest of the family was asleep. He rekindled the fire.

The crackling cheered him, and he drew a pan of water, and wandered about hoping to find something to make a tea out of. Eventually he found a patch of sorrel and picked some. Lorien emerged from the hut, followed by Sindo.

"Good morning, Sindo, " Noldo said pointedly, ignoring Lorien, and Sindo privately thought his smile resembled bared fangs. He wondered what had happened. His brother was usually polite. Lorien approached Noldo smiling and humming, and he shoved her away roughly. Sindo gaped as he dodged forward to help her, and glared at his brother.

"You want her, you worry about her. I'm done with her, " growled Noldo. He busied himself heating the water for tea. Lorien, however, spotted the green sorrel leaves and stepping daintily behind him, collected them before he could pour the hot water. He looked up and saw her taste them, savoring them, chewing appreciatively, and smiling a mischievous thank-you.

Sindo bristled as his brother slowly boiled into a rage, but Noldo only took her by the wrist and dragged her away from the fire towards the sorrel patch. Sindo followed angrily. Arriving at the sorrel patch, Noldo picked another handful for his tea, and then shoved her towards it. "Eat all you want! Only leave me alone!"

Sindo stood by her as Noldo stalked back to his fire, sat down with his back to the sorrel patch, and made his tea, this time uninterrupted. But he didn't enjoy it at all. Eventually he turned, and saw Sindo holding Lorien protectively and tenderly. That was the good news. The bad news was that Lorien was leaning her head on Sindo's shoulder, but gazing soulfully at Noldo. Sindo's face was a tangle of emotions, jealousy not the least.

He looked from Lorien to Sindo, and looked away, wondering if he should also hate the girl for being cruel to his brother. It was tempting.

Doldo emerged from the hut, yawning and stretching, but as soon as he saw his younger son, he called him. Sindo released Lorien with a gentle kiss to the forehead, and ever so reluctantly obeyed. It seemed to take forever to cross the hillside. Doldo's hand finally fell on his son's shoulder, and Sindo received the gentlest lecture he'd ever heard his father give. He listened as well as he could.

"I know she's enchanting, I know she's vulnerable and more beautiful than anything you've ever seen. But she must go home to her people. She cannot belong to a mortal. It's not to be. Don't think about her that way, lad."

Sindo nodded numbly, leaning against his father's hand, drawing strength from him as best he could. His father's lecture finished too soon, Sindo thought with some surprise, wishing his father could somehow talk him out of his heartache.

Doldo wished the elves would hurry up and come and get her, and he began to worry about his sons.

They turned, and saw Lorien approaching Noldo, who was sitting, trying to enjoy his tea. They both started forward.

Bending, she climbed into his lap. Exasperated as to why a nearly grown elf would do such a thing, he set the tea down and began to push her away. Doldo growled something at Noldo and he stopped, loathing the girl, and not terribly fond of his father at the moment.

She focused those annoying blue eyes on him, and began to plead. "Sorry. Want learn."

He glared at his father.

"Sorry. Learn talk, " she persisted, in his face, invading closer and closer. He finally just stood up out from underneath her, dropping her in an awkward tangle of limbs, and tried to walk away. She sprang to her feet and dodged in front of him. "Lorien want learn."

Noldo, exasperated, turned to his father, pleading for refuge. "Will you please get her away from me?"

"I think, " said Doldo wryly, "she's trying to apologize." He folded his arms, trying not to smile.

"Will you forgive her!?" Sindo exploded.

On cue, Lorien seized Sindo's latest word. "Forgive. Forgive? Forgive! Sorry, forgive?"

"Oh, get away from me, for heaven's sake! Leave me alone!" The dance continued.

Mallie emerged from the hut, took in the situation for a few moments, and suddenly called, "Lorien, come here."

"No. Noldo forgive Lorien."

"Lorien," snapped Doldo. "Obey your Mother."

"No Mother. Mallie," Lorien replied primly. "Noldo forgive."

Doldo was stumped for a second, but she was correct. "Obey Mallie." Doldo glared at her.

Lorien, for the first time, stood still and struggled with laying aside her own will. To Noldo it seemed like minutes before she turned, the picture of reluctance, and inched towards Mallie, casting numerous glances over her shoulder.

Noldo exhaled, smoldering, and ran his hands through his hair, and distantly surveyed his father and brother. "I've lost you both to that girl, haven't I?" he said flatly, and turned and walked towards the woods.

Sindo looked at his father, angry and baffled.

Doldo returned his hand to Sindo's shoulder. "Tell him I said, No, he hasn't lost me. I love him still. And they'll come and get the girl, and we'll move on then. Tell him that for me," Doldo gave his son a gentle push towards the disappearing Noldo, and turned toward the fire and his wife and the frustrating elvish girl.

Sindo dragged himself towards his fuming brother as Noldo disappeared into the woods. He didn't want to have to track him. He started jogging.

Too late. Noldo had sprinted ahead, and it became a chase. Cresting ridge after ridge, Sindo caught occasional fleeting glimpses of Noldo. He ran on in dogged pursuit, burning lungs and aching legs notwithstanding. Noldo was stronger than he, but he was running on temper and Sindo was running on orders. Sindo hoped that as he slowed Noldo would slow too, and that Noldo would run out of temper soon.

Forty-five minutes later, he did. Sindo found him on his stomach drinking face-first from a stream. He had no idea how far they'd come. He struggled the last dozen yards, gulping air, and sat exhausted by his brother, who looked up, and half angry, half playful, gave him a backwards shove. Sindo fell slowly backwards, and Noldo scooped some cold water his way.

"Are you done being mad yet?"

"I don't know."

"Well when you are, could you please let me know?"

Noldo chuckled sardonically. "Maybe."

"Well, I suppose I can figure it out."

"How?"

"By chanting your name. If you kill me, you're still mad."

Noldo let out a mock growl, seized his brother, and soused his head in the stream.

"Right. You're still mad, " Sindo spluttered, "I understand." He shook the water out of his hair, a little, and sat up. His brother was staring at the stream, so he did likewise. It bubbled along, oblivious, and they watched it for a while.

"Look," Noldo said suddenly. "I miss you. I don't know why I should have to miss you, and Dad too, when you're both beside me all day and all night."

That was fast. "Dad gave me a message for you," Sindo began.

"Do I have to bribe you to hear it?" Noldo prompted.

"He says, No, you haven't lost him. He still loves you. And when they come and get Lorien, and take her home, then we'll move on."

Noldo thought it over. "He told you to tell me that?"

Sindo nodded.

"Do you think he's right?" Noldo asked.

"You mean, about them coming to get her?"

Noldo nodded.

Sindo looked back at the stream, and didn't answer.

"Well?"

He's still mad, remember, Sindo thought. He took a deep breath. "Well, I... well... no. No, I don't, really."

"You don't think that they will come and get her. Or do you mean, you hope that they won't come and get her?"

"Yes, and yes."

"Why ever wouldn't they come and get her?"

Sindo procrastinated, and then hedged. "I don't know. I just don't think so."

Noldo glowered. "You know something we don't. Out with it. It's that staring game, isn't it? You learn things too."

"I... maybe it's just a feeling."

"Well, then tell me what this 'just a feeling' is."

Sindo turned toward his brother, and pleaded with him. "First can you promise me that we'll still be friends? And stop hating me? And not be mad at me anymore?"

Noldo nodded. "I'm sorry. It's not really you. I mean, not all the time, not... I don't want to be mad at you."

Sindo nodded. "Okay, I'll take that." He sighed. "I don't want to be mad at you either." He took another deep breath, and met Noldo's eyes. "I don't think the elves are going to come for her, because I don't think she wants them to."

Noldo waited.

"I think she has her little elvish heart set on you, and that's all there is to it, " Sindo said, trying to say it neutrally, but he couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice.

Noldo studied his brother. "You're... you're just saying that, because of how she acts."

"No, " Sindo replied. "I know it. I've known it for a couple of weeks now. "

"But she's a child, " Noldo replied.

"Not for much longer, " Sindo said, awkwardly.

"How do you know that?"

"She's kind of playacting. And she's frightened, and lonely. And I can't be angry about it," said Sindo. "That whole scene with the apple, where Dad was trying to learn her name... she was really frightened. I mean, she really has those childish moments. But it's because she was so scared, not because she's young."

"You've lost me."

"The fire, " Sindo said. "It frightened her half out of her wits. It changed her inside. She's gone back, in some ways, to being a little girl. And in some ways we reward her for it. I know I do. Because...."

Noldo waited.

"...because I can be her uncle, or her big brother, even if I can't ever... marry her."

Noldo thought this through, and then objected again. "But why can't you just win her heart and marry her then?"

"Because it's too late for that," Sindo said. "She's chosen you. And that's that."

"You know this."

"Yes, " Sindo said numbly. "I know this. That's why I don't think the elves will come. She's not about to call to them. She's happy with you."

"Maybe she'll call to them now, " Noldo reflected on his earlier behavior over the leaves of sorrel.

"No, " replied Sindo, "she won't."

"Stubborn."

"Yes, she is."

"Well, we knew that."

"Yes, we did."

"Are you all right?"

"No."

"Sindo, I'm sorry." Noldo studied him. "I really am."

"Thanks."

"I mean it."

"I know."

They sat watching the stream bubble past for quite some time before Noldo broke the murmuring stillness.

"You know what we each need, " Noldo said, thinking of Lily, and her brother Ned Fairbanks.

"What."

"A nice, pleasant, gentle, brown-haired, brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked hobbit-girl. We each get married, settle down, raise families, live regular lives. We could live within a stone's throw of each other. Tell jokes and sing songs at the inn. Go hunting together." Noldo clapped his brother's shoulder. "Get past all this stuff, and be happy. Like Mother and Dad. Really, truly happy."

Sindo nodded, but didn't reply.

They sat and watched the stream for hours, shifting occasionally, until Noldo got really, really hungry.

"I'm hungry."

"Let's go then."

"Right. Venison for breakfast."

"Ah, yes, right."

*******

Chapter 5: Calling

Above the Ettenmoors

Lorien was quite subdued when the two hobbits returned. After the venison breakfast, Noldo went around the north side of the hill to check on the ponies, and then returned.

Lorien approached him timidly. He took a deep breath, and met her eyes. "Lorien, come here, please."

She gladly came forward, and he took both her hands, and then he sat down. She climbed right into his lap.

"That wasn't what I had in mind, " he objected.

"Noldo forgive Lorien?"

"All right. Yes. I forgive you."

She snuggled against him happily.

He looked over to his father, and saw that Doldo was frowning and thoughtful. He rose and approached Noldo and Lorien.

"Let me repeat what I told your brother, " Doldo said very softly. "She's got to go back to her own people. You understand, don't you."

"Of course, Dad." Noldo gently disengaged Lorien, and sat her facing him, and took both her hands again. "Look at me, Lorien."

She looked at Sindo instead. He had been watching, and now he stood and joined them.

He stared hard at her, and focused on her eyes, with all of his strength and will. She flinched.

Sindo watched as Noldo concentrated harder, pushing at her, and then Sindo spoke. "You're trying way too hard."

Noldo scowled. "What do you mean?"

"Relax. Just let go."

Noldo nodded, and forced himself to relax. Distress crossed Lorien's face.

"No, no," Sindo laughed. "Just let your mind soften."

"Are you insulting me?"

"Idiot."

Lorien chimed in. "Idiot... idiot..."

Sindo tried hard not to laugh. "Lorien, no, " he smirked. She was offended, and turned aside and pouted.

"Look, Noldo. You don't have to do anything. "

"I'm not used to that."

"It's worse than that; you're just not like that. You'll have to go against your nature to do this."

Noldo only grew more determined. "Tell me what to do, " he insisted.

Sindo sighed, and thought. "It's like a book, lying on a table, open to a page. The book doesn't do anything. It's just open. Waiting. The reader does all the reading. The book's only concern is to remain open on the table." Lorien was watching them again.

Noldo thought this over for many long minutes, and then took a deep breath and touched Lorien's shoulder. Their eyes met.

There, thought Sindo. Now he's got it. He waited.

Noldo closed his eyes. Sindo was about to object, but Lorien smiled, so he waited. Apparently closed eyes were all right too.

Noldo sensed something, sensed a thought on the edge of his thoughts. He chose to let her closer, chose to let her look, read, see. He could sense her delight as she looked around.

A little closer. He waited. She drew closer still.

Lorien, he thought, trying to think gently; Lorien, call your people. Tell them to find you.

She smiled in his mind.

He tried again. Call your people. Tell them to come and find you.

Now her thoughts sounded clearly in his head: Come find me.

Yes, he thought. That's right. Call them. Good girl. Call your people.

Come find me.

Keep calling your people, Lorien. Call them until they come. Call them every day.

Come find me. He could hear her laughing in his mind.

He smiled. Keep calling them, Lorien. Call your people every day. Don't give up.

She was laughing like a spring rain, like a cheerful brook inside his mind. It was incredibly musical. Come find me, come find me. She laughed and laughed.

Good girl, Lorien. Call them. Good girl.

He gently closed his mind to her and opened his eyes, and looked up at Sindo.

"She's calling, " said Sindo, trying hard to hide his disappointment. "You did it. It worked."

"Splendid!" Doldo crowed, and pummeled Noldo's shoulder. "Good thinking, my boy. Splendid, splendid!" He looked very relieved.

Noldo smiled at him, and then at Sindo, but seeing Sindo's brave nod, Noldo's smile faded then. Doldo turned, and headed back towards Mallie and the fire. Noldo looked back at Sindo, and saw his face was strained. Noldo felt guilty, but Dad was right, and Sindo had to see that.

"My, People, " Lorien started.

"Don't start chanting!" Noldo snapped, but softened immediately. "Sing something nice. Something pretty."

She smiled, and a lovely tune began. But still, the words "my people" bubbled to the surface every so often, and sometimes they heard "Noldo," and sometimes "Sinda". She sang and sang, but she kept it pretty. Noldo reminded himself to be patient.

"She's still calling, " Sindo said softly. "Can you hear it?"

"Not listening, " Noldo said. "Wait. Let me try." As soon as he quieted a little, there it was. Come find me.

He nodded, satisfied.

Late that evening, Lorien was out in the woods alone. Doldo and Mallie had retired, and Noldo was heading into the hut himself. Sindo stopped him.

"Listen."

Noldo closed his eyes. (Come find me.) He smiled, and then chuckled. Good girl, he thought. I'm proud of you. Don't give up.

(Come now!)

Noldo withdrew, and opened his eyes, and clapped Sindo's shoulder. "It'll be all right, " he promised him. "Everything is going to be all right. We'll be just fine."

Midwinter

The stars glittered cold in the black sky. The low fire was now by the doorway of their hut; it warmed the large boulder next to the hollow, and the rock stayed fairly warm even when the fire burned low. Venison was hard to find in these moors, but rabbits were plentiful. Their main concern was making new arrows; they lost too many in the long grass hunting the rabbits.

They were glad of the rabbit fur, for Lorien's sake. She ate little, enjoying stewed rabbit no more than venison, especially since the Sorrel patch had gone dormant for the winter. She was usually cold. They had made her a cloak of rabbit pelts, and they wrapped her in every rabbit-fur they had, and still she shivered. She spent more and more time by the fire.

Except at night, when she went out into the nearby woods, and climbed a tree. She did this at least an hour every night, and came back cold. And while she was away, Sindo was distracted, restless, listening to her call. Sometimes he would leap to his feet, as if to answer the summons himself; sometimes he gave in to the impulse, and ran into the woods, searching ‘til he found the tree she was in; then he would sit down at the foot of it, and she would sing to him. But still she called as she sang.

Doldo fretted over his younger son. He seemed always distracted. He began to think that the staring game no longer involved staring, that Sindo and Lorien conversed more and more, at longer distances, for more reasons. It worried him.

Still, Sindo ate well, and tried to be cheerful, and persisted in obedience and respect. Ever since the boys' long chase in the woods, the quibbling over Lorien had stopped, and Sindo had much less "rescuing" to do. He gave Lorien a reasonable amount of respect and courtesy, treating her more like an adult. Doldo couldn't fault the boy.

Noldo kept an eye on Sindo. At first he listened, periodically, to make sure that Lorien was still calling. But after a while, he knew by Sindo's behavior, and did not have to listen for himself.

Early Spring

Three evenings in a row, Lorien did not go out to the woods. Noldo finally noticed that something was amiss, and asked his brother about it. Sindo shrugged and looked away.

"She stopped calling, didn't she."

Sindo didn't answer.

Noldo got up and went to Lorien, and sat down with her. "Lorien, did you stop calling your people?"

She nodded.

"Why?"

"You never came."

Noldo laughed. "You weren't calling me. You were calling your people. Keep calling them. They will come."

For an answer, she reached up and took his face in her hands, and met his eyes. He sighed. Her speech was better now; he had hoped this would not be necessary. But he took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.

Longing washed around the doorway to his mind. He welcomed her steadily, and the longing grew.

You miss your people, he thought. I'm sorry.

My people are Sindar and Noldor, she thought. Sinda and Noldo, my people.

They will come for you. Don't give up. Keep calling them.

Only Sinda comes. You don't come. You don't listen.

Noldo took a deep breath. He sensed a trap closing in on him. ...So if I come, sometimes, like Sinda does, will you keep calling?

Come find me.

Keep calling, he thought. Keep calling. Don't give up.

She released his hands, and stood, and went out into the dark. He sighed, not in the mood for hide and seek, but he knew this was a test. He kept his mind open, and she kept calling.

He listened. Tell me when to come looking for you.

When he found her, she sang for him. He listened for a while, and when he turned towards home, she came down and walked home with him.

Late Spring

When the garden produced fresh leaves and roots, Lorien's color returned, and the spring came back into her step. The change was dramatic enough that the whole family commented on it. Mallie was immensely relieved. Sindo laughed and joked with her, albeit without words. Sometimes Noldo grew so curious he eavesdropped, and whenever he did, he could sense welcome and delight in Lorien, and a hint of jealousy in Sindo, quickly controlled and overcome.

The nights grew warmer, and they stayed out later under the stars. Doldo, concerned, followed them both one night, as Noldo and Sindo both headed out into the woods looking for Lorien. He sat under the tree with them as they listened to her sing. It seemed harmless enough. Perhaps he worried too much.

Some nights she did not come home until dawn. Mother soothed their worries, saying that healthy elves did not always need sleep, and that if Lorien was tired she would take care of herself. And indeed it seemed to do her no harm.

One night Noldo woke from sleep haunted by longing and a deep sadness. He rolled over to check on Sindo, and found his blankets empty. Mother and Dad were fine, breathing softly. He stood and left the hut.

Sindo was not on the hill. He closed his eyes, listening, and in the midst of Lorien's call-- Come find me-- Noldo thought he sensed Sindo just inside the woods; the sadness was his. Noldo sought him out.

He was standing and weeping, with Lorien's call pulsing inside his thoughts. He heard Noldo approaching, and turned slightly.

"Are you all right?" Noldo asked, knowing he wasn't.

"Six months, " Sindo said. "She's been calling them for six months. And they haven't come."

Startled, Noldo realized that Sindo was as angry as he was sad. He put his arm across his brother's shoulders, but could find nothing to say.

Sindo drew his sleeve across his face, but the tears started fresh when he was done. "They have hearts of stone."

"Come on, " said Noldo. "Let's go find her. Perhaps she'll sing."

They did, and she did. But afterwards, she came down from the tree, and they sat at the foot of it, and thought together about the stars, and the warmth of the night, and the pleasures of summer. Only then did they wander home.

*******

Chapter 6: What Noldo Wanted

The Hill, late summer

Noldo finished weeding the row of kale seedlings his mother had planted for the winter, straightened wearily, and reflected that hunting was infinitely preferable to gardening. He couldn't argue that the roots and leaves had brought Lorien back to a healthy glow, but she had only become more attentive and more annoying. Sindo argued that mealtimes had become much more interesting with the garden in full swing, and that was true.

He had to keep after Lorien; she had grown weary of calling to the elves, and lapsed into periods of silence. Sindo, seeing no reason for her to leave anyway, never informed him, so he had taken to listening every night. Sometimes he rewarded her by finding her, and fussing over her, praising her, listening to her sing. It was getting old.

His father had gone to the stream to wash the dirt off his hands, and Noldo joined him. Doldo sensed something pensive about his son, and waited. It was not long coming.

"Do you know what I miss, Dad?"

"What, son?"

Noldo struggled a little. "Do you remember Lily?"

"The Fairbanks youngster? Waterlily?" Doldo sat back on his heels, studying Noldo, who nodded. Doldo was completely surprised. "I never knew."

"There was nothing said. I mean, I had never spoken to her, in, in that way. We just ran into each other sometimes. Well, often. And her parents were kind to me. You know I was friends with Ned."

"And you were fond of her."

"She had a cheerful, catching laugh, and such a sweet smile. She was hardworking, helpful, and pretty; so pretty. And she admired and respected her brother until I almost got jealous of him. I miss her more and more. I miss them all. " Noldo fell silent, and it was a while before Doldo spoke.

"I'm sorry, Noldo." Something about his father's voice made Noldo look up, and he did not like the haunted look in his father's eyes.

"What, dad?" But he knew.

Doldo's heart battered him mercilessly as he watched his son react. "Oh, son, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"How do you know?"

"The whole valley..." Doldo shook his head.

"You saw it?"

Doldo nodded. "That night, while we were waiting for sunset. I climbed up to where I could see the valley." His face was grey with the memory.

"But she could have gotten away, like we did. She could have escaped. They all could have. All the Fairbanks could have."

"I hope so, " said Doldo. But Noldo could see that he didn't believe it.

"Oh, dad, " Noldo sat back, numb. Doldo sat beside him in silence.

They had heard no footsteps-- they never did, but there she was, behind Doldo. "Noldo, are you sad? Poor Noldo."

"Not now, Lorien."

"I am sorry that you are sad, " she tenderly persisted. Doldo was about to interfere, to send her away, when Sindo appeared. Doldo glared at him. He did not want Noldo's grief turned into a brawl but he could feel it coming.

Noldo growled, "Leave me alone."

"Poor Noldo. Lorien is sad too," she coaxed, drawing closer, really being quite gentle.

Doldo held up a hand. "Lorien, not now."

"Very sad, " she persisted, pleading with them both.

Noldo stood, and his words were swift and ruthless. "Leave me alone! I don't your sympathy or your company! Go away!"

"Lorien, leave Noldo alone!" Doldo snapped. "Sindo, take her away."

But Noldo stalked off, and Sindo caught Lorien's hand and glared at his father. "Why? All she wanted was to comfort him."

"Bad timing, " was all Doldo could growl, and he began to follow his son. Mallie appeared, and he reached for her hand, and they followed him together around the hill. But he had caught Hunter, mounted him holding a handful of mane, turned him with his heels, and galloped off westwards into the moors.

Mallie turned to Doldo. "What happened?" Doldo echoed it all, and they held each other, watching him crest hill after hill. He was gone all night. Sindo seethed with annoyance, both with his father and Noldo. Lorien went off into the woods as usual, and Sindo disappeared immediately afterwards.

"I don't like that, " Doldo frowned. "This girl has him much too enchanted. I don't like the moonshine in his eyes."

Mallie held him tighter. The little hut seemed cavernously empty that night.

Sindo sat at the bottom of the tree, and Lorien sat halfway up, calling halfheartedly. She gave up and climbed down towards Sindo, and the thoughts flew between them.

Sindo asked her, Are you hurt?

He doesn't love me.

I know. I'm sorry.

He loves another girl. I saw her today. She lives by a big river.

Does he really love Lily?

He must. He weeps for her.

Even now?

Yes.

I've wept for you. Often.

I know. You love me, don't you. Someday he will love me, like you do.

You know I love you, he replied. Why won't you have me?

I already chose him. I know I will be his.

It's not that simple. He has to love you too.

He will.

You've been trying to win him for six months now. He is as stubborn as they come.

He will love me.

What about me? I love you now. Can't you choose me?

No.

Sindo leaned his head back against the tree, closed his mind to her, and let the tears roll, unheeded in the darkness. She briefly wondered why he had closed his mind, but shrugged, and climbed back up the tree. With a new determination, she called out to Noldo again, and again, and again.

Come find me.

The next morning Noldo rode up to the north side of the hill, and left Hunter grazing, and sought out Sindo. "Walk with me a bit," Noldo said.

"Why?"

Noldo raised his eyebrow. "I want to talk with you. "

"I don't care what you want."

"Come with me, Sindo. Look, if I hurt her feelings, I'm sorry."

"You'll do it again, and again. I don't see why you bother to apologize."

"Let's go and have a talk. It sounds like you need it."

"Why should you suddenly be worried about what I need? All you think about is what you want."

"Sindo, at least hear what I've got to say, " Noldo replied, trying not to be exasperated.

Sindo wavered, and finally his curiosity got the better of him. "I hope it's worth hearing."

"Maybe, " said Noldo, leading him westward towards the next hilltop.

"Why here?"

"So nobody comes looking for us."

"So, have your say, then." They sat down.

"All right. I don't think that the elves are ever going to come for her. She's called and called, and where are they?"

Sindo waited.

"I don't want her. And I know you do."

"How do you know that you don't want her?"

"Because I want a normal life " Noldo replied earnestly. "I want to live in a hobbit hole in a hobbit village and spend time with hobbit friends. I have no interest in being badgered by her for the rest of my life."

"Badgered!"

Noldo snorted. "All last night, do you know what I heard?"

"No, " Sindo lied.

"I think you do, " Noldo eyed him. "'Come find me', all night long. I'd block it out, and then drift off to sleep, and there it was in my dreams again. I don't know how many times I heard her. I can't live like that," he shifted, "knowing I'm at the beck and call of a bossy, selfish, self-centered, stuck-up little girl."

Sindo bristled.

"No, listen to me. She doesn't care what I want, either. She wants me for herself, and whether I like the idea or not, she doesn't care. And I don't like the way she treats you. She strings you along, lets you care for her, protect her, watch over her, and all the time bossing me around, 'choosing' me instead of you. I don't like that."

"She loves you!"

"She has no idea who I am or what I want. And she doesn't care. I don't know what she loves, but she doesn't love me."

"Yes. She does."

"Well, fine. But I'm tired of it, and I wish she'd quit. I want her to quit. And so here's what I'm asking."

"You? You're asking?"

Noldo leaned forward earnestly. "Yes. Please. I'll beg if I have to. I want you to win her, Sindo. I want you to woo her, capture her imagination, take her attention off of me once and for all. Teach her how to fall in love with you. Win her and marry her. Make her your wife."

"How? You make it sound so simple. Do you think I haven't tried?"

"Try harder." Noldo leaned further forward. "Do whatever you need to do. Romance, woo, win, conquer, capture her heart. Whatever it takes."

Sindo studied his brother, and impulsively tested his mind. Noldo's eyebrows went up, but after a moment's hesitation, he closed his eyes, and welcomed his brother into his mind, and asked him what he wanted.

Sindo had already found what he was looking for. Noldo really wanted to be free from her. Sindo looked again, and again to be sure, but it was true.

Hope gave him joy, and joy gave him color and humor. For a while he was his old self again. Mallie and Doldo wondered why, but thought it best not to ask, crediting it to Noldo's mysterious talk with him that morning on the west hilltop. They hoped the boys had come to some sort of understanding.

Early autumn

Mallie was asleep beside Doldo in the newly dug room, with Noldo snoring soundly out by the doorway. Sindo hesitantly approached her. "Mother."

She stirred.

"Ssshhh. Mother? "

She sat up. "What is it, dear?"

"I think you should come talk to Lorien."

Her eyebrows shot up. "Is something wrong?"

"I don't think so, " Sindo said, "But she's afraid, a little, and confused."

Mallie's curiosity was piqued, and with a quick glance at her husband, she rose swiftly and left the hut. "Take me to her."

She was on the edge of the woods, with her arms crossed over her abdomen. Mallie thought she could guess. "You go to bed, dear, unless I call you, " she told Sindo.

The next several days, Mallie and Lorien were never far from each other. "She's not a little girl anymore, " was all Mallie would say. Lorien was much quieter than usual.

Doldo took the opportunity to go hunting with his boys. Noldo was delighted, and felt as if old times had returned at last. He wished Lorien would remain this quiet indefinitely. But within a week she was her old self again, almost. But not quite. Mallie understood the difference. Doldo was afraid of it. Sindo sensed it, and it grieved and enchanted him at the same time. But Noldo simply saw it, and tried unsuccessfully not to think about it.

Mid-Autumn

Sindo and Noldo knelt side by side, stringing the rabbits to carry them back home. There were plenty. The hillsides had been positively teeming with small game since late summer, and there was no lack. The afternoon was fine and hot, and neither of them relished the long walk back to the ponies under the large collections of warm furry corpses, so they dallied. Noldo studied his brother.

"Sindo, how are you?"

Silence.

"You seemed so happy for a while. What has happened?"

Sindo looked away, angry and sullen.

"Come on. Tell me." Noldo waited, and time went by, and Sindo showed no signs of opening up. Noldo set the rabbits aside and sat by his brother and waited.

Sindo let him wait. Noldo stirred a few times, but resettled.

After a while Sindo gave a little laugh. "You must really want to know."

"Yes, I do," Noldo replied.

"All right, " Sindo said, his face suddenly twisting with grief. "All right. I've tried, and tried, and tried to win her. But I can't. The more I express my love for her, the more she expresses her love for you. Every time I touch her mind now, she shows me yet one more clear and tangible reason why she loves you. And it's always something the opposite of what I am, that I could never be or do. I can't stand it anymore. I can hardly make myself try." He gave in to despair and wept.

Noldo slumped, and then dropped backwards onto the grass, and stared at the sky. He had honestly wanted his younger brother to be happy, to have what he wanted. It had seemed so simple. He hated the pain coursing through his younger brother, and wanted to stop it, but had no idea how. His powerlessness over the girl made him angry and so did his own powerlessness to change anything, or to protect his brother; he was angry at Lorien for hurting Sindo, at his brother for failing to win Lorien, at his father for keeping them out here in this God-forsaken moor, and furious at the elves for not coming to find her. But all the anger had nowhere to go. He felt weak, and defeated, and weary, and he turned the anger inward and raged at himself until he was numb inside.

Sindo was numb all over. His brother's failure to express compassion did not go unnoticed by him. He quietly took up his catch of rabbits, shouldered them, and shaking slightly, began walking back to the ponies.

If the other two ponies followed Sindo home, Noldo would have a very long walk. Noldo dragged himself upright, picking up the rabbits, and followed Sindo through what had become, despite the sunshine, a very bleak world.

*******
__________________
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2021, 09:19 AM   #4
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,043
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapters 7 - 12

Chapter 7 - The Hillside

Noldo tied his catch on the pack pony, and then watched Sindo mount his pony, Archer, and lead the pack pony away. Noldo took a different route home. He swung south, and rode homewards through the scrubby woods bordering the Ettenmoors.

When he was almost home, he tied Hunter and went into the woods a little further. The woods were warm, most of the trees were turning golden, and there was a light blanket of early leaves softening the ground. He found a pleasant hillside facing the sun, but as he approached it, all his heartache approached the hillside with him-- his disobedience to his father, his heartsick brother, the annoying girl he could not avoid, and his desperate desire to find a hobbit settlement and live a normal life-- all of this loomed before him. He had hoped to leave the heartache behind him as he rode; hunting or riding often helped, but not today. He sat down, sunk in self-loathing misery.

Come find me.

No, he replied, hardly thinking, you come find me.

He sensed her eagerness. She was on her way. He sighed, dreading her arrival, and lay back against the comfortable hillside.

She came far too soon, with shining eyes, a bright smile, and mischief all over her. He had no strength for it.

"Why don't you love my brother?"

She puzzled, uncertain. He wasn't angry, or indignant. He was weary. She came and sat very near him.

"Why not? He adores you. He loves you more than you can know. Why can't you love him?"

She tried the edge of his mind, asking to come in. He fought for a moment, but he wanted answers, and the stubborn girl did not want to talk. He closed his eyes and let her in.

Why won't you love my brother?

Because I love you, she replied.

Tenderness enveloped him, taking him by surprise. The tenderness was sweet, but it confused him, and puzzled him, especially after his afternoon of heartache and self-loathing. After a few moments, he asked, Why? Why do you love me?

Slowly, one memory at a time, she began to show him. Little kindnesses, jokes, encouragements were replayed. Moments of humor and camaraderie and gentleness flowed past, and little behaviors of his that fascinated her.

Knowing how often he had rejected her and been angry with her, each image brought him more guilt. After a while he said so, and he wearily expressed his sorrow and asked for forgiveness for all of the times he had hurt her.

Tenderness flowed around him again, and this time he sank into it, wanting it, opening to it and receiving it gratefully. She showed him more. She loved his love of hunting, and riding, his love of nature. She loved his love for his father and brother and mother. She loved his spark, his determination, his edge. He began to see, to believe, to understand that she loved him for who he was; that she had searched him as much as she had been allowed, and found him desirable, and noble, and strong.

He felt overwhelmed and unable to take it in, and yet she had already poured it inside him. He struggled, feeling as if he was somehow sinking, and he opened his eyes. She was watching him.

Her beauty struck him as if he was seeing her for the first time, which perhaps he was. He stared, and she drank in the stare. A small thought rose in his mind warning him that this was all very sudden and overwhelming, and probably rather dangerous, and that he should stop and think; but immersed in pleasure, he ignored it. He felt as empowered by her love and as overwhelmed by her tenderness as if he was flying and drowning and on fire all at once.

He sat up and leaned forward, brushed her lips with his, and silently called her. That filled her with hope and longing, and he kissed her and called her again; he knew that she wanted to respond, but she hesitated. His mind was drowning in her tenderness, and he sank back against the warm hillside, gazing up at her, drinking in her beauty, silently drawing her. Her hesitance was fading. He called her again.

In the distance something was crashing through the brush. He paid it no attention. Hunter snorted, but Noldo could not tear his concentration from Lorien; still he called her, drawing her. Then he heard hoof beats, and then Sindo's voice cut through the air as if from far away. "You've agreed? You're going to marry her?"

With a huge effort, Noldo tore his eyes from Lorien and looked up at Sindo, not comprehending.

"You're going to marry her." Looking down from atop his pony, Sindo's eyes narrowed. "Aren't you."

Reality began to seep in, and Noldo realized what he had been about to do. He struggled to rise up on one elbow, his jaw slowly beginning to open, just beginning to be horrified. Sindo was ahead of him.

"Aren't you, " Sindo threatened.

He could barely speak. "I-- I wasn't thinking-- "

In a normal, fair fight, gentle Sindo would never have had a chance against him. But despite his brother's clear desire to kill him, Noldo was still half focused on the tenderness his mind had been drowning in, and hardly had the presence of mind to shield his face as an outraged Sindo jumped off his pony onto his older brother. Archer, snorting, backed away as Sindo drove one knee into Noldo's stomach, pummeling mercilessly with his fists. Noldo could only writhe in pain, and when Lorien finally got over her surprise and wrapped her arms around Sindo's waist, Noldo could barely move. Sindo roared at her, but she clung tightly, hauling him backwards, until Noldo had half crawled to Archer, mounted, and galloped away.

Riding was agony, but he knew he needed miles of distance over rocky ground, or Sindo could track him. He headed south and then east, burying his hands in Archer's mane and focusing mainly on staying on and not getting sick. He rode hard for two hours, across whatever barren and rocky ground he could find, and crossed northward into moorland again, and found a trickling stream. He followed it until it broadened, painfully dismounted, and after letting Archer drink, Noldo lay down in the stream.

As various fiery bruises began to cool, Noldo considered his options; he had only his hunting knife, having left his bow with Hunter. He could not survive long away from home with just his knife, nor did he want to try. His guilt was too clear, and he had no desire to be alone with it any more than he had to. He knew that he had to face his father, and admit everything that he had done. But he had to be able to ride first, and Archer was all but spent.

He crawled up onto the bank and lay down. On the edge of his mind, he felt someone tugging. He closed his mind hard. Sindo was probably still trying to kill him, and Lorien he no longer deserved; he never had, he reflected. Before, he had been insensitive to her, and cruel. Now, to the misery he had been drenched in after the hunt, was added the guilt of having tried to seduce her. He shuddered, wishing again and again he had not ignored that little warning thought on the hillside. It would have been a good idea, after all, to stop and think. His sudden abandonment of self-control contrasted starkly with the many images he still held of Lorien's admiration and respect for him. He compared the two, baffled. He pondered the contrast late into the night, but came no closer to making any sense of it.

And suddenly he remembered Lily. A deep stab of guilt convulsed him, and he buried his face in his hands. His self-loathing spiraled deeper, and he had no refuge from it; thinking about Lorien's love for him only made him dread what Lily would have thought of his behavior. He lay awake with misery keeping him company, til he finally rose several hours before dawn, caught Archer, and headed home.

*******

Chapter 8 - Decisions

(Still mid-autumn)

He was stiff and sore and weak, and it took him five painful hours to get home. The family was awake and working, and saw him coming from a ways off. By the time he arrived, they were loosely arrayed and waiting for him.

Sindo's eyes were ice-cold, and once he took that in, Noldo did not look at him again. Nor did he meet his mother's eyes or Lorien's, and he kept his mind closed tight. He rode straight to his father, dismounted painfully, and respectfully and meekly asked him permission to speak in private.

Doldo granted it, ordering Sindo to remain where he was, and keep Lorien with him. They walked together, Noldo limping slowly, to the west hill.

Noldo slowly poured out, in detail, everything having to do with himself, Sindo and Lorien from the time they had begun arguing over her. He explained the sharing of thoughts; he explained Sindo's extraordinary abilities in it, and Sindo's level of attachment to Lorien. He continued with his own attempts to change the situation, his own desperate desires to move on and find a hobbit settlement, and how in pursuit of that he had pushed Lorien away so that she would take refuge in Sindo, and how it had backfired and made Sindo's plight worse. He detailed his challenge to Sindo, to woo and win her for himself, and marry her, and how that had backfired most of all. He had guessed correctly that this would anger his father the most, and indeed it did. He finished with his account of the previous day, leaving out no detail, through to Sindo's arrival, and his rage. He defended Sindo's actions. And then he admitted his guilt in all of it, apologized, submitted himself to such mercy or judgment as his father would chose, and waited.

Doldo listened in silence, and when Noldo was finished, he said, "Stay here on the west hill, and wait until I call for you. I need some time to think."

"Yes, sir, " Noldo replied. It was now out of his hands, and he felt immense relief. After his father walked away, Noldo lay down and closed his eyes, knowing that he was in the safest place possible. He fell asleep immediately.

He was wakened gently about an hour later, by Mallie, who had brought him a meal.

"Mother."

"Noldo, how are you?"

"Better than I deserve."

"Sindo said he caught you by surprise."

"I wonder, " Noldo said. "I'm tempted to think that I should have let him kill me, for what I did."

"Don't be ridiculous, " she said.

"Mother, I've been horrible."

"Leave it for now, and eat what I've brought you."

"I will try to leave it, and try to eat. Perhaps I can." He sat up painfully; although he had mostly succeeded in protecting his face and throat from Sindo's onslaught, the outsides of his arms and chest were a mass of bruises. He did have one good shiner around his cheekbone. He ate slowly, fighting nausea; his abdomen hadn't recovered either, and sitting up to eat was painful. He finally knelt, leaning forward, and that was not so bad.

She frowned, wishing she could poultice his bruises for him, but Doldo had only spoken about food, and she thought he would have mentioned the bruises. She resolved to ask him about it. When Noldo finished eating, he lay back down, and she went home.

Doldo sent Mallie back for him at mid-afternoon. They gathered around the fire, Doldo placing himself between Lorien and Sindo, on the one hand, and Mallie and Noldo on the other.

"First of all, " Doldo began, "I didn't lead you across the mountains to let you kill each other here. I want your word, each of you, that you won't raise a hand against the other again."

Noldo gave immediate assent, and looked across at his brother. So did the rest, and Sindo sat with all eyes upon him and glared at his brother.

"No, sir."

Doldo's face showed no reaction except that his eyes glittered. "I see."

Mallie made no effort to hide her own anger. But Doldo continued.

"Secondly, it's clear to me that the elves are not going to come for Lorien as things stand. We are going to have to go and find them."

Lorien suddenly seized Sindo's hand, and her face went wild with fear. Mallie and Noldo both puzzled over that. Sindo did not.

Doldo continued. "I have decided that Noldo will search southward along the Misty Mountains, and Sindo will search west and southwest. Find, and return with, either the elves, or news of a settlement. Lorien will stay here with Mallie and I, awaiting your return."

"No! Why will you send me away?" Lorien cried.

Doldo turned to her and gently and firmly reminded her, "You have been calling to your own people. You must to back to your own people. You must return to the elves."

"Elves?" she cried. "Why?"

"You are an elf, you belong with elves, you must return to the elves, " Doldo said, an edge in his voice.

"No! Noldo and Sinda are my people! I do not want to leave!"

"The Noldor, and the Sindar, are your people, " Mallie corrected her. "Child, you must go back to the elves."

"Yes. Noldo and Sinda are my people. So I must stay here, with them, " she cried.

"Wait, " Noldo said. "Lorien, how many people are your people?"

"Four, " she said. "Sinda, Noldo. Doldo, Mallie. But only Sinda and Noldo hear me call."

"What-- only Sindo and I hear you call? What?"

"Only you hear. Doldo and Mallie do not hear, " she said.

"Doesn't anybody else hear you call?" Noldo demanded.

"No. Why would I call anyone but my people? My Noldo and Sinda."

Noldo's head swam. "Do you know what you are?"

"I am Lorien."

"What are you?"

"I am like you."

"No. You are not. You are an elf."

"You are not an elf!" she pointed out.

"No. I am a hobbit. So are Dad, and Mother, and Sindo."

"Then I am a hobbit, " she said, with wide-eyed sincerity.

Noldo turned to Sindo, who did not look surprised at all, and demanded, "How long have you known this?"

"Since late summer, " Sindo replied evenly.

Noldo's indignant retort died on his lips. He was in no position to judge.

"Well, " said Doldo, "Hobbit or no hobbit, Lorien, you are going to live with the elves. I can't let you continue to destroy my sons. My decision stands. You will both leave as soon as Noldo is strong enough to ride."

"No! I don't want to leave! I belong here with you! You are my people! I don't want any other people! I want Noldo and Sinda!"

Mallie had never seen Doldo's eyes so cold before. "You may have neither of my sons, as long as I have anything to say about it. And until they come of age, I do have something to say about it. You are going back to the elves. That is all."

"Father, " said Noldo.

Doldo turned in surprise.

"There may be one more thing."

"What is that?"

"Sharing thoughts. You know how dangerous it is."

Doldo nodded. "We will discuss that further, but until then, I forbid it. Sindo, Noldo, I want you both to close your minds to her. Completely."

Noldo agreed. Sindo glared. "What if I refuse?"

"I can't control your mind, " Doldo replied. "But I am asking you to. Your mind should not be under the control of this girl."

"And if I don't want to leave?"

Doldo's eyes hardened still further. "As long as you are in the vicinity of this homestead, I will make it attractive for you to leave. You may leave without a beating, or with one; or with as many beatings as you choose to receive."

Noldo did not worry; he knew that Sindo would leave, since distance no longer had much effect on his contact with Lorien. But he thought Sindo would never give up his contact with her.

What happened next did surprise him. Lorien met his gaze. "Noldo?"

Doldo bristled, but Noldo nodded at his father and held up a hand, and after a pause, his father nodded back. "Yes, Lorien?"

"Do you want me not to share thoughts with you anymore?"

"Lorien, listen to me. I want you to stop sharing thoughts with me, and I want you to stop sharing thoughts with Sindo, too."

She looked as though her heart would break. Perhaps it was breaking. Gathering her courage, she looked him in the eye, and said slowly, "Because I love you, Noldo, I will do this." Tears fell, but she held his eyes.

"Thank you, Lorien, " he said, not looking at Sindo. "Thank you."

Doldo nodded. "All right then, " he said. "Noldo, your job is to recover quickly so that you both can depart soon."

"Yes, sir." He thought of asking his father for a head start, so that he could confuse his trail. If Lorien would actually close her mind to Sindo-- and Noldo believed that she was in earnest-- Noldo was afraid that Sindo would try to kill him again.

*******

Chapter 9 - Sindo

(Still mid-autumn)

The night was raining and pitch black. Doldo gave orders that Lorien and Mallie would sleep in the newly dug room, and he would sleep in the older room between Sindo and Noldo. Lorien had wept much of the evening, and fallen asleep exhausted in Mallie's arms. Noldo now suspected that Sindo's thought-sharing with her was even more extensive than he had guessed.

Sindo's restlessness did nothing to allay his suspicions. Sindo was as angry as Lorien was distraught, and tossed and turned. Noldo listened to him torn between fear and pity. Doldo waited until Sindo calmed down and his breathing because regular before he lay down and slept himself.

Noldo's dreams were restless, and Sindo featured in them. He fled from his brother again and again, only to find a knife at his throat. Distraught, he woke, to find that it was true. The knife blade rested under his right jaw. Sindo had crept over their still-snoring father, and Sindo's voice spoke in Noldo's mind: Don't move.

Noldo realized that if he planned any counterattack, his brother would be able to sense it and foil it. And if he closed his mind to his brother, Sindo would assume that he was going to counterattack and slit his throat anyway. Noldo lay perfectly still, and tried to think very gentle thoughts.

Yes, you're in a bit of a fix, aren't you, Noldo.

Mercy. Sindo, have mercy on me.

You had none on me today. You took my reason for breathing. You stole her from me. Again. You always steal her from me.

I love you. I'm tired of seeing you in pain. I--

Don't talk to me about pain. You have no idea.

No, I don't.

You have no idea.

What are you going to do?

Look and see.

Noldo was afraid to, but more afraid not to. He looked. Sindo showed him his rage, his anger, his jealousy, his despair; then he showed him his many and varied schemes for ending his brother's life. Noldo struggled against despair, and Sindo silently laughed at him.

All this, because she loves you and not me. She showed you yesterday, how much she loves you. I was watching. I saw it too.

Sindo's jealousy became more than Noldo could receive. Instead of opening to it any further, Noldo reached back inside his own heart, and thought of his affection for his brother. He thought of Sindo's first hunt, of chasing a buck across the mountain pass together, of swimming in the Langwell River. He thought of birthday celebrations, of Sindo's first beer at the inn. He felt Sindo wavering, ever so slightly. He gathered hope, and brought out happy memory after happy memory of Sindo and Noldo together, talking, laughing, joking, riding, hunting.

He was so focused on bringing up his love for his brother, he hardly noticed when his brother closed his mind and withdrew. He wondered when the coldness of the knife had left his throat, but it wasn't there now. Once he became aware of it, Sindo's absence was suddenly disconcerting.

On a sudden hunch, he sat up, probing desperately for his brother. Had he left the hole? He dodged out, clumsily waking his father. Doldo rolled to his feet. "Find Sindo, Dad, " Noldo whispered. Cursing, Doldo followed him out.

The rain was miserable, and no probing would locate Sindo, but suddenly Lorien was beside him. "Noldo, help Sinda!"

"Where is he?"

"That way. He's very angry!"

"Find him! Call him, out loud!"

"Sinda!" she screamed. "Sinda!" She broke into a run.

Sindo's shaking voice called an answer. She ran to him; Noldo followed. He heard Sindo burst into tears.

"No, no knife, " Lorien said; she had taken it from him. He had buried his head in her hair and was sobbing.

"What happened?" Doldo demanded, catching up. Noldo stood beside them, and she gave him Sindo's hunting knife. Noldo showed it to his father.

"He called out to me in his thoughts," Lorien said, and now she was in tears too. "He said goodbye."

Doldo looked at the knife again, and realized that the situation was still worse than he had yet realized. He gently took his son into his arms, without pushing Lorien away, and held him as he sobbed. When he ran out of tears, they went back to the hole, Lorien returned to Mallie, and Doldo kept watch over Sindo ‘til dawn.

The next morning, Noldo sat next to Sindo and opened his mind to him. Sindo stirred, and sat up, looking at him, a wild mix of emotions.

Noldo thought: It was hard to lose thought sharing. I know it's become important to you. Share thoughts with me.

I don't know. You're not nearly as sweet, nor as pretty.

Of course I'm pretty. I've stunned everybody on this moor with my dazzling loveliness.

If the ponies think you're pretty, I don't.

I meant the rabbits.

Get out of my thoughts.

Really?

No.

What happened last night?

I'd rather not think about that.

Later then. I love you, you little idiot. You're the peskiest thing around. Don't do that to me again.

I thought Lorien was the peskiest thing around.

I was grateful to her last night, let me tell you. She found you quick.

I thought we weren't going to talk about that.

Stay with me, Sindo. You're going to move into the hobbit hole next door to me, and we're going to go riding and hunting together, and drink beer together, and tell jokes and laugh and be happy. Really happy.

Sindo threw his arms around his brother's neck, and Noldo thought that Sindo's anger began to ebb, a little. Noldo held him for a while, and kept his own mind open, and Sindo stayed with his thoughts.

Staying open was hard for Noldo, and as the day wore on, there were times when he faltered and his mind closed. But before too much time went by, Sindo nudged the borders of his thoughts, and asked to be let back in again. By mid-afternoon, Noldo had a headache and was exhausted. Sindo laughed at him, retreated, and verbally offered to sit with him while he slept. Noldo accepted gladly.

Now, when Sindo showed up in his dreams, it was Noldo's own happy, affectionate memories of him. He suspected, even as he slept, that Sindo was gently exploring for them. He was glad to find, on waking, that his suspicions were correct.

*******
Chapter 10 - Departure

(Still mid-autumn)

Noldo spent as much time as he could sharing thoughts with Sindo, or talking to him, trying to build the bond of brotherhood back up again until he felt safe around his brother. Much progress had been made, but there was much still to be done. Sharing thoughts continued to be tiring for Noldo; combined with the extensive bruising, he required a good deal of rest. Sindo and Doldo did all the hunting for a while. When Sindo returned, he would wake Noldo and verbally relate the hunt to him, and then share thoughts and let him watch it.

Lorien and Mallie became inseparable. After a week went by, Lorien began to talk in earnest, and Mallie remembered what it was like to chatter and giggle. Mallie smiled much more often, and Lorien's clear, musical laughter often rang across the moor.

Noldo sat with Doldo at first breakfast, watching the mists in the early sunlight, and said, "I think I've recovered enough to ride, now, Dad. But I'd like to ask you about your plans for us."

"Go on, son."

"Dad, I wish you'd let Sindo and I go together. I know we'll cover less territory that way. But he's still carrying some anger, and I have to admit I'm still afraid of him."

"Does he know that?"

"He must. I can't hide things from him the way he can hide things from me."

"Then why do you want to go together with him?"

"So I'll know where he is, partly. And so I can keep working on our friendship. I'm afraid that if I don't share thoughts with him, he'll be drawn back to Lorien. I think he's making progress. At least, I hope so."

"Wouldn't you rather be separated from him by miles and miles, if you're afraid of what he might do?"

"Dad, if he decides to come after me again, miles won't stop him. And he'll be able to track me. He's a fine hunter now, and he's also got the thought-sharing on his side. I can't block him out that well. Nor Lorien. I can deny them entry into my thoughts fairly well, but I can't hide from them so that they can't find me. I'm just not that skilled or that self-controlled. But they can both hide from me whenever they choose."

Doldo sighed. "Where did Sindo get this talent for thought-sharing?"

"I don't know where he got the talent, Dad, but spending almost a year with Lorien developed it to a fine edge. He's formidable."

"Is he?"

"Well, to me, certainly, " Noldo said.

Doldo fretted. "Noldo, I couldn't bear to lose either of you. And if Sindo killed you, he'll run off with Lorien, and Mallie and I would lose both our sons, and Mallie will lose her friend. I'm at a loss. I can't believe my family has come to such a horrible juncture as this."

Noldo had few words of comfort, but he spent the morning with his father, and Doldo seemed to cheer slowly. His glance strayed often to Sindo working in the garden with Lorien and Mallie. Finally he clapped Noldo on the shoulder, and called Sindo, and went off walking with him over the moor. By the time they came back, Doldo had returned to his usual cheerfulness.

Doldo went to see Mallie, and Sindo came to see Noldo.

"Dad says we're to go together after all; south first, then swing west, and return."

Noldo smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."

"We leave in the morning."

Mallie kissed each of her sons, and Doldo shook their hands solemnly, clapping their shoulder. Lorien clasped Noldo's hands and held them tightly, choking back her emotion, and reluctantly let go. But then she threw herself into Sindo's arms and sobbed. He clung to her for a moment, but kissed her brow and released her just as Doldo decided to intervene. Then she returned to Mallie, who held her hand. Both sons were a turmoil of emotion as they rode away.

As they rode south over the Ettenmoors, the sun was climbing over the Misty Mountains and lighting the cold fog all about them. They rode for half the day in silence, and spoke little during lunch. Noldo tried whistling, and softly singing a few tunes he and Ned had once sung together, and by and large he began to cheer up somewhat. After another hour Sindo spoke.

"So whose idea was it that we ride together?"

"I suggested it. Dad agreed, " Noldo said with a smile.

"Which one of you doesn't trust me?"

Noldo's smile faded. "Oh, Sindo, can you blame me? I want you to come with me. Yes, I'm afraid. But I also want to spend that time with you. Look, read my thoughts. See for yourself. You know I can't hide stuff like that."

Sindo plunged into Noldo's wide-open thoughts, making him wince, and sorted thoroughly through Noldo's conflicting emotions. Noldo waited.

Sindo studied him. "You still remember that tenderness, on the hillside. You still want it. You want her. You've fallen in love with her after all."

Noldo blinked, stunned. "Wh- what?"

"Admit it."

"Am-- do I? Have I?" Noldo struggled, glassy-eyed. He searched his own heart. Sindo watched him, his mouth tightened, and he privately thought, be honest with yourself.

Noldo was afraid of the possibility. He remembered how that tenderness had shaken him, and how it had seemingly stripped him of his reason and self-control. Could he have prevented that? Had her tenderness weakened him? Could it have, should it have strengthened him? If he had responded differently, how might that day have ended differently? What would his response be if he faced that tenderness again? Did he really want to return to it-- did he want to return to her? He couldn't decide. He ached for the love he had experienced; he feared the loss of control that had followed, and he feared his own indecision in the face of her strength.

Sindo clearly saw that he was torn in half, and said, "I won't let you forget her love for you. Ever."

Noldo's heart sank. "Why?"

Sindo's gaze grew ice cold. "Partly because she deserves to have her love returned. And partly, because you deserve to suffer for failing to return it."

"But I can't marry her anyway. I'm not of age. Dad would have to approve, and he doesn't. And he's right."

"Is he?"

Noldo felt suddenly weary. "Yes, Sindo, he is. He's my father. I respect him and I love him. He wants the best for me, for both of us. I'm going to trust him. I'm going to obey him. I'm going to be the best son I can."

"Regardless of how Lorien suffers as a result."

"I can't help that. I'm sorry. "

"You'll be more sorry than you can imagine, if you fail to return her love for you."

"What?-- Sindo, I thought--"

"You thought what? That we were friends again?"

"Yes."

"We are, " said Sindo. "Good friends." His face was peaceful. But his eyes were simmering.

"Have you gone mad?"

Sindo gazed at him another moment, and then spurred his pony ahead. They rode single file for the rest of the day.

That night, Sindo made Noldo sit and relax, saying that he needed the rest, and Sindo lit the fire and cooked a pleasant dinner, and served it to Noldo. They chatted about many things, and Noldo wondered if Sindo remembered their earlier conversation. Then he felt Sindo on the edge of his mind, and with a sinking heart, he opened up.

Sindo filled his mind with friendly memories, and kind thoughts, and he took the first watch. When Noldo had difficulty falling asleep, Sindo explored his mind for peaceful memories. With his brother sitting by his side, and holding fear away from him, Noldo slept. But there was a deeper fear lying below the surface that Sindo let be.

*******

Chapter 11 - Brothers

(late autumn)

Noldo rode several strides behind Sindo, as was his habit. Sindo trotted along unconcerned, seemingly carefree. Noldo wondered whether he really was.

There was much that Noldo wondered now about his brother. Four different times over the past two weeks, he had been sitting with his back against a tree, awake or asleep, and had been terrified by the loud thwock of an arrow into the tree, beside his head. Sindo had lowered his bow, each time, and turned aside and busied himself with something else, or simply ridden off. Each time, Noldo had removed the arrow, and silently returned it to Sindo's quiver late in the night. Now he shunned trees altogether, preferring to lie in the open where his brother would have to worry about wasting the arrow.

Night after night, Sindo insisted on cooking dinner for him and watching over him as he slept, and often Noldo sensed real affection and gentleness in Sindo. And at other times, the look in Sindo's eyes made Noldo think of his lifespan in terms of minutes rather than years. He knew that Sindo was playing with him, and could have killed him each time, but had chosen instead to scare him out of his wits.

Noldo wondered over and over again if Sindo had gone mad. It was affecting his dreams and his nerves, and he had lost weight. Hunter was edgy because Noldo was edgy. He laughed seldom, whereas now Sindo laughed easily and carelessly.

He seems careless, or he wants me to think he's careless, Noldo pondered, but if he really wanted me dead, I would be. Half of me wishes he'd just finish me off and get it over with. Why is he keeping me alive?

He wanted to believe that it was because Sindo still loved him. But the other half replied that he was being naive.

Sindo turned to him, looking over his shoulder, and said,”Watch those clouds. They're moving quickly."

"So... what am I looking for?" Noldo replied.

Sindo smiled. "I just think that they look nice."

Noldo's stomach turned, and Sindo smiled wider. "They're moving eastward,” he said.

"Clouds do that."

"My, touchy today, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry,” Noldo said. "I don't mean to be rude."

"No, of course not,” Sindo soothed. "But about those clouds."

Noldo waited.

Sindo smiled, and turned forward again. Noldo, baffled, shook his head, and stared at the clouds, wondering if this was a brotherly game, or a deadly game, or madness. He felt his brother's thoughts along the edges of his own, and biting back tears of fear, let him in. There was no sense resisting him and occasional benefit to letting him in; if he closed his mind to Sindo, he aroused his suspicion and anger, and if he opened his mind, he earned only ridicule at worst, sometimes comfort and camaraderie at best.

He looked back up at the clouds, and now with his brother's thoughts influencing his own, he saw patterns and purpose in them, but fragmented, shadowy, uneasy. Why should clouds have purpose? he wondered. Was this mad game an indication of his brother's own mind, or of his anger towards Noldo? Would he ever know?

Sindo smiled, watching the clouds.


Glorfindel leaned his elbows on the armrests and rubbed his temples, concentrating hard. "I don't recognize either of them,” he said.

Elrond stood at the railing and gazed up at the top of the valley. "The stronger mind is keeping the weaker mind confused enough to hide him from us,” he said. "He doesn't want the weaker one to be found."

"I don't understand why,” Glorfindel frowned. "Why not simply address us, or shut us out? Why this wide-open sowing and spewing of confusion? It's giving me a headache. He's being rude."

Elrond stood still, listening. "There is cruelty in the stronger one, bitterness and anguish,” he said. "But there is kindness as well, struggling to be seen. He is in torment. If he would open fully to us, we could help him. But he chooses not to."

"He makes my head ache,” repeated Glorfindel. "What is he afraid of, that he hides the weaker one from us?"

"That he is successfully hiding from me,” Elrond frowned. "Indeed, I can see very little."

"What can you see?"

Elrond turned to Glorfindel. "Clouds." He sighed. "He is playing in his mind with the clouds like a child. Or like one who has lost his reason."

"I do not think he has lost his reason,” Glorfindel said.

"No."

"They are just above the rim of the valley,” Glorfindel said. "I could catch them quickly, and parley with them."

"They do not want to be found,” Elrond objected.

"The strong one does not want to be found. Or so we guess; he is certainly being rude enough to push us away. But the weak one?"

"We cannot know. And so we should not pry further."

"They hardly obey the common courtesies of Osanwe that we were all trained in,” Glorfindel objected in turn. "I hardly think that they know them."

"I will not use their discourtesy as an excuse to violate their privacy. We have already pried too much." Elrond's expression meant that the subject was closed, and indeed Elrond closed also his mind, and turned away.

Glorfindel sighed. This mystery intrigued him more than many others he had experienced in many years. Elrond was right, and Glorfindel gently allowed his mind to close. But for many weeks, he pondered who the two riders were that had ridden along the edge of the secret valley of Imladris, both minds open in Osanwe, the stronger mind using confusion to shield the weaker mind from two inquisitive Elven lords, and riding on their way, without word of greeting or challenge or even acknowledgement. It was puzzling, it was baffling, it was rude behavior. That ruled out Elves; would they have been Edain, men of the west? Somehow that did not seem to fit. Edain that learned Osanwe learned proper customs with it.

It would be several years before he would learn who had ridden past.


Sindo suddenly relaxed, and turned and smiled at Noldo, letting go of his mind. "Race you to the next hill."

Noldo gathered his reins, relieved and suddenly optimistic. He loved racing. He chased his brother over the next several hills, until their ponies were blowing and lathered.


The hoof beats echoed through the valley of Rivendell, and Elrond and Glorfindel exchanged puzzled and wry glances, and listened to the hoof beats thunder and slowly fade. Then they turned and left the balcony.

The two brothers rode hard for several days further south, and then Noldo decided that they should swing west. Sindo agreed cheerfully. They rode west for over a week.

******* (winter)

The rhythm of their ponies' hooves had relaxed them both. Powdery snow was drifting gently down. The air was still, and there was no sound beside the softly muffled hooves. For some reason, Sindo had decided he didn't want to lead today, and had dropped back to ride beside Noldo. Noldo wondered why.

Sindo turned and glanced at Noldo, and then said, "Tell me what you are thinking."

The falling snow did not muffle Noldo's bitter outburst of laughter. "How can you ask! Just look."

"No."

"You can find out anything you want to about what I'm thinking. Or feeling. I don't try and hide anything from you anymore. Why on earth do you ask?"

Sindo looked sad. "I really want you to tell me."

"Why?"

Sindo waited.

Noldo snorted again. "You won't like it anyway."

"Why not?"

"You won't."

Sindo sighed, and looked down at Archer's mane, and waited. Noldo puzzled, waiting, but there was no expectant or inquisitive touch at the edge of his thoughts.

After a while Sindo spoke again. "Just talk to me."

"About what?"

"Look, I'm... I'm sorry I've ... I've been such a beast. I've been lording it over you and pushing you around, and... and I'm sorry."

Noldo watched him for a while, and then replied, "You're the peskiest thing around, kiddo."

Sindo smiled sadly. "Thanks." A twinge of nostalgia crossed him, and then he sighed. "If it wasn't snowing, I'd say, let's run the ponies."

"Too risky now, you're right."

"So.. so tell me that thing that's going to upset me so much."

Noldo laughed. "Really?"

"Really."

"You're sure."

"Yes."

"Certain."

"Oh, come on!"

"First promise me something," Noldo teased.

"What?"

"No more stray arrows."

"They went exactly where I meant them to."

"It's not funny, Sindo."

Sindo studied Archer's mane again, then started trying to divide the hairs down the center and put an even amount on each side.

"That never works," Noldo mused.

"Like so many other things I do," Sindo said. "All right. No more stray arrows. And I'm sorry for that too."

"Pesky." Noldo reached over and gave him a token shove of affection. They rode on for a while in silence, which eventually Sindo broke.

"So now tell me."

"All right," Noldo said. He took a deep breath, but dreaded opening his mouth. Finally, he said, "Lily. I was thinking about Lily." His voice choked, and he was silent.

"Waterlily Fairbanks," Sindo mused.

Noldo nodded, and stared at the horizon fighting tears.

"What about her?" Sindo prompted, once he thought his brother was ready to speak again.

Noldo thought. "Everything about her was soothing," he said. "Her eyes, her voice, her way of talking. Her respect for her brother."

"She was always polite to you, too," Sindo mused.

Noldo nodded. "Yes. She was."

"Is that what's important to you in a girl? That she's soothing and polite?"

"I don't know," Noldo said, surprised by the question and not quite easy about it. "I mean, it's awfully nice."

Sindo nodded, thinking. "Is that what you were thinking when I first asked?"

No sense lying about anything, Noldo reminded himself; he can, and will, check what I said later, next time he's visiting my mind. He sighed. "No."

"What then?"

"I was thinking," Noldo replied carefully, "how rosy and soft her cheeks always looked, and how I always longed to touch her cheek with my hand, and then, kiss her on the cheek and touch her hair."

Sindo thought about that for a while. So did Noldo. Finally Sindo spoke again.

"Did you really love her?"

That was too much. Noldo turned his head away.

Sindo watched him. "Let go of her, Noldo."

"For pity's sake, how can--"

"Noldo, she's dead."

"You-- you callous, insensitive-- "

Sindo looked away then.

Noldo clenched his teeth and swallowed his angry words, though he thought them anyway. Now anger mixed with the grief, and he fought back tears. "Where on earth did you get the right to say that?" he spat through clenched teeth.

Sindo's eyes flashed. "You haven't seen Lily for over a year, and you know you won't see her again. But day in and day out there's been a girl adoring you with every breath she takes, and all you can think of is someone you'll never see again. Now who's callous and insensitive?"

Torn between grief and seething fury, Noldo wrenched Hunter to a halt, and sat staring and shaking with rage. Sindo looked back over his shoulder as he rode, and finally Noldo turned Hunter away, fighting off grief and fury and weariness, sagging over the pony's neck. He couldn't leave his little brother, no matter how furious he was, and he had given his word he would not raise a hand against him again. But he wasn't going to hurry to catch him just yet.

Sindo waited patiently and silently, and when Noldo eventually resumed riding west, Sindo kept him in sight ‘til sundown, and then quietly made dinner from rabbits he had shot from the saddle that afternoon. Noldo was angry enough not to speak to him for several days, and stricken enough by his words to feel guilty about his longings for Lily. For the next several days, and nights, Lily and Lorien wove, bafflingly tangled, in and out of his dreams and waking thoughts. And Sindo, without leaving his side, left him in peace.

********

Chapter 12 - Fire

(winter)

Four days later, they had resumed speaking briefly about mundane things. They rode abreast, shooting rabbits from the saddle, the left-hand rider shooting rabbits seen on the left, and right-hand on the right. Before long, they were sighting rabbits for each other. The casual hunt became a contest once they realised that the cold weather would keep the meat indefinitely. They were up to Sindo, nine rabbits, and Noldo, eleven, when the ice finally broke, and they laughed together.

That night Sindo roasted many rabbits, and dinner flowed into supper seamlessly, and they ate rabbit until they could hardly look at it anymore.

"We could use some herbs, or something," Sindo said.

"Potatoes," said Noldo brightly, "and greens-- kale. Remember that late Kale mother had us plant?"

Their eyes met, and they both wished that they were riding northward, home, instead of westward. Suddenly Archer snorted, and Hunter shied.

"You'll have a hard time finding potatoes here," said a voice, and they both jumped to their feet despite their painfully full stomachs. "But your fire is easy to find."

A tall shadow stood in the snow at the edge of the firelight. "Who are you?" said Noldo, drawing his hunting knife. Sindo, with one hand on his knife hilt, probed for thoughts. He sensed a normal mind, neither open nor closed, simply there, and unaware of Sindo's inquisitive probings and attention. Then it couldn't be an elf, Sindo thought. Sindo's fears faded as Noldo's intensified.

The tall shadow stepped forward into the firelight. "I am a wanderer in these wilds. You are a long way from any hobbit settlement, and the winter is growing cold."

"Who are you?" Noldo repeated.

"My name is not important. I scout these lands in the service of the king; some call us scouts, or rangers. You may call me Ranger."

He was very tall, Noldo thought, and regal, but not beautiful. Noldo did not think he was an elf, but he was leaving nothing to chance today. "Ranger, are you an elf, or a man?"

"I am a man. And now who are you, and why are you traveling here?"

Sindo kept his mouth shut tight, and his worries grew again. But he let Noldo do the speaking, as was his right, being the eldest.

"We are hobbits, from the Langwell River, and we are looking for elves," Noldo replied. "Do you know where we can find any?"

Ranger laughed. "You have come a long way. Perhaps if you tell me why you are looking for elves, I might be better able to counsel you," he smiled, not unkindly.

Noldo looked at Sindo, perplexed. He had not thought this far. How much should he tell the man? "We are trying to find a settlement of elves," he said, cautiously. He did not want to declare his parents' location or that they were alone.

"Ah. A settlement. Those are hard to find."

"Why?"

"Well, I know of four. Lothlorien, and Rhovanion, or Mirkwood, you may be familiar with. I am not sure why you didn't look there first, rather than crossing the Misty Mountains?"

"That was not the path fortune gave us," Noldo replied, shortly. "You said four settlements. What are the other two?"

"Imladris is one, and Mithlond is another," the man replied. "Imladris is eastward, and difficult to find. Mithlond is westward, and not so difficult; find the river and follow it, and you will find Mithlond."

"What river, and where should we look for it?" Noldo asked, his voice softening a little.

"Look to the West. The river is named Lune, and it leads west to the sea. Follow the river and you will find Mithlond."

Noldo slowly set it sink in. Go west; find the river Lune; follow it westward to the sea; and there will be Mithlond. It sounded simple, all right. But there was a more pressing question, to Noldo's mind. The man had said they were far from any hobbit settlements. Did that mean he knew where there were some?

"Do you know where there are any hobbit settlements?" Noldo asked.

"The King of Cardolan has granted several settlements well south and slightly east of here, along the Bruinien and the Hoarwell rivers," Ranger replied, now watching him closely.

Slowly, the point of Noldo's blade dropped, sagging, and relief flooded his body, and he whispered "Thank you." The ranger watched. Noldo’s relief washed over him in waves, and he turned aside, muttering, "thank you," torn between laughter and amazement. He sheathed his blade and paced, rubbing his face and scratching his fingertips through his hair. Sindo stood still, watching, his own hand still on his knife hilt.

Ranger, bemusedly watching, smiled a little. At length Noldo turned back to him.

"I'm sorry, I'm a bit-- I am glad to hear of the settlements. Would-- would you like some cooked rabbit?" Noldo managed to say, stuttering, and Sindo approached him and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Perhaps your road has been too long," Ranger observed, "and the news of a settlement is glad tidings to you."

Noldo choked, and nodded. Ranger took off his pack, and set it down in the circle of firelight. "I cannot find you any potatoes or Kale," he said, "but there is a stream not far from here, with a sorrel patch and some wild sage nearby, that might improve your meals tomorrow."

Sindo smiled. "Thank you very much."

"Would you like to find it tonight or tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow will be fine."

Ranger happily ate plenty of rabbit, and the hobbits were not sorry to see it go. Then they sat with him by the fire, and plied him with questions about the hobbit settlements they were hoping to find. He told them all he knew, that the rivers grew wider as they went south, and that the hobbits dwelt in holes along the riverbanks and the surrounding hillsides, tilling the land and fishing from the rivers, and not hunting much. He said there had been many travelers coming down the rivers of late to join the settlements.

Sindo almost began to hope that they could all go to the hobbit settlements together, but after Noldo had learned all he could and thanked Ranger, he had him review Mithlond again. Go west and find the river Lune; follow the river westward to the Elf settlement by the sea. It sounded simple enough.

Ranger stayed with them near the fire, and the next morning he led them to the stream and they collected plenty of sorrel and sage, knocking the powdery snow easily away. They thanked Ranger again and offered him some more rabbits to take with him.

"Aren't you going west?" he replied, puzzled. "I am returning to Amon Sul; we could travel together ‘til then."

"Thank you," Noldo replied, "but because of your news, our road now lies north."

Ranger laughed and shook his head. "Your road is your business," he laughed, "and I will not pry. But have a care; the Ettenmoors and the wilderness south of them are no place for unwary travelers. Travel by day, and mind that your fire is well hidden at night!"

"Ettenmoors?"

"The mountain range north of here, jutting out from the Misty Mountains. Trolls haunt that range, and the wilderness below."

Noldo and Sindo exchanged glances. "We had no trouble," they said, looking at Ranger oddly.

"How long did you spend in the Ettenmoors?" Ranger asked.

"Over a year, " Noldo replied.

Ranger frowned, pondering, and the hobbits could see that he was very puzzled and concerned. "Either you were extremely fortunate, or the trolls do not relish the taste of hobbit; or much more likely, some larger fear has driven the trolls away. And if something has driven the trolls away, you have the more need for caution. I do not wish to learn of your demise, or find your bones in some reeking cave." A somber sense of foreboding seemed to come over him.

"What could be worse than a troll?" Sindo murmured, and Ranger met his eyes in grim silence. Sindo did not like to think about it. Noldo thought of the Grey Mountains, with its blasted, desolate heaths haunted by wyrms and worse, and hoped that nothing from there would cross the high ranges of the Misty Mountains.

With an effort, Ranger shook the foreboding off, and cheered somewhat. "Take care, and be wary. Farewell! May we meet again where there is warmth and good cheer!"

"Farewell, and thank you!" the hobbits said, bowing.

They rode north, and soon Ranger's somber warning ceased to trouble them, and they thought instead of the earlier discussions. They began whistling and singing, greatly cheered; Noldo by the news of the settlements, Sindo by the thought of seeing Lorien again, both of them at the thought of seeing Doldo and Mallie. Noldo wanted to see Lorien too, in a brotherly sort of way, he thought. The reports of the Hobbit settlements had re-awoken all his old dreams and plans, and Lorien's love for him held little appeal; he dreamed of gentle brown eyes and soft rosy cheeks and long, shining brown curls as he rode. Lily still reigned in his heart.

Two weeks they rode, and the Ettenmoors came into sight. That cheered them further, and they began pushing their ponies harder across the snowy ground. They were more tired at night, and slept better than they had since the trip began.

They shot a young buck early in the morning, and when they camped that night, they build a fire in a hollow out of sight. Sindo was roasting a deer haunch over the fire, tending it, when suddenly Noldo heard a gasp. Sindo dropped the haunch into the fire, but made no effort to retrieve it. He stared glassy-eyed into the fire.

"Sindo."

Nothing.

"Sindo!" Noldo reached forward, snatched the haunch and tossed it into the snow beside the fire.

Sindo's lips moved.

"What is it?"

Noldo heard a sharp intake of breath, and then Sindo cried aloud. "Don’t go near it!" Sindo stood, panic rising in him. "No, Lorien, stay in the woods!!"

"What? Sindo, tell me!"

"No!! Mother, no, no!!" Sinda stood frozen, every muscle taught, sweating, weeping, eyes wild, and kept screaming. Noldo dove into his thoughts.

Lorien was there, panic-stricken and hysterical, and between her terror and Sindo's anguish Noldo couldn't sort it out, but he could grasp that something was terribly wrong with Mother. He seized Sindo by his shoulders and said "Show me!"

Sobbing, Sindo did. At first Noldo couldn't believe what he saw. All the heather around their hill, their home, was burning. The roof and door in front of their hole was pouring out thick black smoke. The ponies, some with burning manes and tails, were neighing and galloping in a panic around the hill, vainly seeking the only safety they knew in the midst of the fire.

In front of the doorway, ignoring his own burning clothes and the burning heather around his feet and legs, Doldo stood. His hunting knife raised, he howled defiance and rage, protecting the charred and unmoving body of his wife. Over him towered something Noldo had never seen, but knew at once. This was no goblin, no troll. Dominating the hillside and glowing reddish in the firelight, the dragon glared down at the tiny hobbit. Doldo lunged at him with his puny knife, and the dragon responded with flame; then one sweep of the lizard's huge tail sent Doldo flying through the air. The dragon seized him as he fell and shook him as a cat shakes a mouse, and then dropped him; the flames engulfed Doldo's body, and he did not move again. The dragon launched himself and killed the ponies one by one. Then the dragon returned to Doldo's still body and landed.

Then he heard Lorien sobbing; and he realized she was calling them both, in fear and terror and confusion. He could see the hillside still in flames, with several dead ponies, and the unmoving body of his mother, and the dragon bent over the still body of his father. As he watched in horror, the dragon launched himself, snatched up the bodies of his father and mother, turned, and flew northeast. They watched numbly as the dragon swiftly receded into the distance and disappeared.

Slowly he realised Lorien was at the edge of the woods. She did not know what to do, and was rooted to the ground in terror with her pony's reins in her hand, on the verge of panic.

"Ride southwest," he told her. "Mother and Dad are gone. There's nothing you can do to bring them back. And the dragon may return for the dead ponies. Ride southwest, towards us. We will come and meet you. Hurry."

She stirred, and still weeping and shaking, led her pony into the woods, watching fearfully behind her. She led the pony into the woods over the first hill, mounted, and galloped southwest.

Noldo and Sindo stood shaking, and together they wondered what to do. If they had been able to go back and bury their parents they would have done so, but they were gone. The hillside was in flames; they both thought the hole had been thoroughly burned out. With the odd clarity that sometimes happens in such moments, Noldo realised that the black smoke pouring out of the hobbit hole was probably from the winter stores of potatoes and roots, burning. The only pony left alive was being ridden south by Lorien. There was nothing left for them to return to.

As if in a dream, they quenched the fire by dumping snow on it. Noldo absently packed the deer haunch away, they mounted, and without speaking, they rode hard northward.

*******

Noldo and Sindo rode as far apart as they could and still see each other, in the hopes that they would not miss Lorien. They rode hard and stopped late at night only when they could ride, and the ponies could stumble, no further.

Sindo stayed in contact with Lorien, and Noldo often checked in. In two days they found her. She was ravenous, terrified and in shock, but she had ridden hard and kept her course. Noldo was proud of her. Sindo clung to her, and buried his face in her hair. Noldo did not separate them.

They camped in a small wood, where there were still leaves clinging to a copse of old oaks, and built a fire under that. Lorien, once having found the two brothers and realised she was safe, descended the rest of the way into real shock, and was soon shaking and glassy-eyed and all but limp. She was horribly cold. They made the fire as hot as they dared, and Noldo held her carefully near the fire while Sindo cooked some venison and some rabbit. Sindo worried that she would be too upset to eat. Noldo was sure of it. They melted water in their metal cups and poured it down her throat; at least she swallowed that.

"Sindo, can you help her?" Noldo asked.

"I'm not sure what you mean," Sindo said.

"The way you used to when I was too upset to sleep. Find her some pleasant memories to think about, or something."

Sindo considered that. "You weren't as upset as she is now. And Noldo, I'm pretty upset myself. I might just make it worse."

"You? Are you?"

Sindo nodded, looking down.

Noldo shrugged. "Should I try?"

"Be careful, Noldo."

"We've got to try something."

Sindo approached him and knelt in front of him. "I'm not so sure that now is a good time. Wait. Just hold her. Be patient."

"I don't understand, Sindo. Explain what you are thinking to me."

Sindo considered his response. "When we found her-- after the last fire-- she reached out to us when she was ready. She came around to us, not the other way around. She will again. I think the second fire reminded her of the first, when she lost her own parents. She's lost another set of parents now. Wait. Give her time."

Noldo accepted that. "How about you? Are you all right?"

Sindo shook his head. "No, Noldo, I'm not. I've lost my Dad and my Mother. I'm not all right at all."

"We haven't had time, have we?" Noldo mused, his heart aching for his brother. "We've been so focused on finding Lorien."

"No, we haven't," Sindo replied.

"Stay with me," Noldo said. "Stay with me, Sindo."

"I will, Noldo," Sindo reassured him. "I will." But he seemed absentminded. He busied himself with the fire and the meat, and Noldo thought about the girl in his arms.

She's seen too much fire, he thought. It's time she saw some safe, green fields, peaceful green forests, soothing blue rivers. It's time for her life to be peaceful. It's time for her to have a home. Mithlond, he reviewed. I wonder what it's like; I wonder what the people are like, and if she will be happy there.

The cups of snow had melted, and he waited ‘til they were quite warm to the touch, and then poured them down her throat, and filled them with snow again. Then he smoothed her hair, and tried to make her as comfortable as he could. They ate, and Noldo fed Lorien a fair amount of venison and rabbit; she ate mechanically and swallowed when he gave her sips of water. Occasionally she would lean against him and cry, but that would pass. As she warmed up, she grew drowsy, and soon slipped off to sleep.

Sindo took the first turn tending the fire and keeping watch. He looked after the ponies, and uncovered what grass he could find for them, which they ate hungrily. Noldo's pony was slightly lame, and Sindo used a rabbit skin to wrap snow around the swelling. He melted water for the ponies too when the hobbits were done drinking, lifting their heads by the bridles and pouring the water into the corner of their mouths as best he could; they coughed part of it out, but swallowed enough that he kept trying. Afterwards he washed the horse slobber off of the metal cups.

By then Noldo had fallen into a deep sleep still holding Lorien. Sindo watched them a few moments, and then brushed the hair out of his brother's eyes, and spoke very softly to him. "Idiot. You're holding a treasure, and you can't see her for what she is. Open your eyes."

Sleep was the furthest thing from his mind. If he closed his eyes, he knew he would see the fires again. He paced and tended the fire all night, and let Noldo sleep.

*********
__________________
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-15-2021, 10:36 AM   #5
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,043
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapters 13 - 18

Chapter 13 - Acceptance

(winter)

The next day, Sindo tried to talk Noldo into heading south to the hobbit settlements instead of going west, but Noldo refused. "She needs some sort of healing, I think," he said, "and I think the elves must be able to help her. And she needs her own food. It's time she went home."

Looking at Lorien, Sindo couldn't argue about the food, or about the healing either. He reluctantly submitted to his brother's leadership.

They rested for two days; Noldo's pony stopped limping, Lorien was warm and able to ride. They prepared to set off westward. Lorien could have ridden by herself, they thought, but she was still easily chilled, and the old arrangement they had used crossing the mountains made sense to them both. So they used her pony for a pack pony, and Lorien rode in Sindo's arms all morning and in Noldo's arms all afternoon. She stayed much warmer that way, and the brothers were better aware of how she was. They kept up a consistent chatter about her well-being for the first few days.

That was partly because it was easier than missing their parents. They did not talk about Doldo and Mallie; neither of them were able to. It was as if it was all a bad dream. But when Noldo felt brave enough to open his mind to Lorien, that illusion perished. It was all too real, and it was beyond his strength to share, he realised. He closed his mind again as tenderly as he could, and kissed her brow gently, and spoke to her. She curled up against him and hid her face.

When two weeks had gone by, she began to be her old self again, a little; her eyes brightened, she smiled occasionally, and spoke more. They picked up the pace, and more and more Lorien rode behind, with her arms wrapped around Noldo or Sindo's waist. She was even warmer then, with her cloak wrapped all the way around both riders. And warmth was needed. The sky was a grey wall before them. The sun never made it through for weeks on end, and they went westward by the best guess they could. In the featureless landscape, they sometimes wondered if they were going in circles, but every morning the sky behind them lightened first, and every evening the sky in front of them faded last, so they pressed on.

Sindo had worried whether Lorien would eat, but in Noldo's arms, she would eat whatever he offered her. Sindo obligingly roasted every catch, and meal after meal, watched Lorien eat her fill. Hot or cold, it was clear that she had grown to hate the stuff. But it was also clear she would not refuse Noldo's request. Sometimes that worried Sindo, a little.

While meat was better than nothing, it was clearly not what she needed. She lost color, and weight, despite Noldo's persistence. His determination to find Mithlond grew daily.

They had been riding for a month, when they came to gently rolling hills. They pressed on, enjoying the change at first, but then the hills became as dreary as the wild flatlands had been.

One afternoon, as the three ponies trotted abreast up and down the dreary hills, Noldo felt Lorien on the edge of his thoughts. He turned instinctively to look at his brother, but his brother was lost in his own thoughts.

Cautiously, Noldo opened his mind to her. He found her thoughts gentle, and peaceful. She waited on the edge of his mind, patiently.

He waited for her to think about something.

She waited for him.

And somehow, he found that very relaxing. She sensed he was content, and that made her content too. They rode like that, completely peaceful, for an hour or so, and then he grew weary of keeping his mind open. She sensed that, and gently withdrew.

That night at dinner, Sindo noticed something different about Noldo; an added hint of tenderness, maybe, than he had seen in him before. He wondered if it was real, or he was imagining it. And he wondered what might have brought it about. He thought he could guess.

Once every morning, and once every afternoon, Lorien would open her mind, ever so quietly, to Noldo, and he grew to anticipate those times. Before a week had gone by, he relished them. In two weeks, he began approaching her thoughts instead of waiting for her to come to him. She smiled in his mind then.

One afternoon in the third week, as they rode peacefully along, she asked him permission to ask him a question. He smiled in her mind, and asked her what she wanted to ask.

Her question surprised him. Very gently, she asked him to tell her about Lily.

He had not thought about Lily in a while. The loss of his parents had given him enough grief, and he had steered clear of grieving for Lily on top of that. But as Lorien brought up Lily's memory, he was stricken that he had neglected her.

Lorien waited, gently, patiently. Noldo fought with himself for a while, uncertain of his willingness to open up his private thoughts to her, uncertain of her motivation for asking, uncertain of how they would be received, before he realised how patient Lorien was being, and how gently she was waiting for him to make up his mind. And somehow that decided him.

He reached two years back, to the Inn on the banks of the Langwell. Ned was there, and they were finishing up their beer; and as they left the inn, Lily joined them, her arms full of herbs gathered on the hillsides above the riverbank. For a moment Noldo stood transfixed, nervous, shy, and longing to be near her; Ned kept up the banter and the joking, trying to help Noldo hide his awkwardness and nerves; Lily was kind and smiling, laughing good-naturedly, and in a few moments Noldo unfroze, and the three of them walked along the road to Ned's house. When they got there, Missus Fairbanks invited Noldo in for supper, and as it was sunset out, he agreed; and all during that meal, the candlelight flickered in Lily's eyes, and gave her skin a soft, ethereal glow, and her hair shone. More than once, Ned had to repeat himself because Noldo was absorbed in gazing at his sweet sister. Ned didn't complain, and Lily seemed to smile more softly than ever. Ned's parents said little, but looked happy enough, and were especially kind to Noldo after that night.

Noldo sighed, and suddenly wondered how Lorien felt-- he was not hiding any of his feelings from her, as accustomed as he was to showing Sindo everything without reservation. But she reassured him, and asked him to show her more about Lily.

Memory after memory surfaced, with Lily shining more and more, and Noldo growing ever more fond of her, and her parents growing ever more fond of him, and Ned smiling through it all and saying nothing.

Lorien watched it all, gently, and waited, with an open mind. Noldo grew weary, and she wondered if he needed to rest. But he wondered how she was.

"You love Lily," Lorien thought. It was an agreement, not a challenge.

"And I miss her," Noldo agreed.

"Poor Noldo," Lorien said, very gently.

At that moment, Noldo flashed back to the day on the west hillside, when he had confided in his father that he missed Lily, and his father had told him that he believed she was dead, and grief had flooded him. Lorien had pressed close to Noldo that day, full of sympathy, and he had refused her sympathy. He apologized to Lorien for that.

She apologized to him, for being so pushy with her sympathy that day. He thanked her.

You are weary now, she thought. You should rest.

I should, he replied. But I don't want to let go yet.

In answer, she tightened her arms around his waist, and then gently began to release his mind.

Wait, he begged. Don't leave yet. Stay with me.

Gently she hushed him. He begged again. Suddenly beside them Sindo turned and gave Noldo a quizzical glance. Lorien hushed him again, and Noldo let her go, and closed his mind. He kept his face blank, and they rode on in silence.

The next afternoon, Lorien asked him about Lily again. He was less surprised this time, though no less puzzled, and continued the narrative from the day before. But it wasn't long before he arrived at the last time he had seen Lily, about three days before the deer hunt, the fire, and their departure over the mountains with Lorien. That last memory of Lily, often replayed, and the memory of their flight over the mountain pass, and his vivid recollections of his father and mother, overwhelmed him.

Sindo turned, and saw the sorrow on Noldo's face, and gave him a quizzical look. "Noldo, is everything all right? What are you thinking about?"

"Too much," Noldo replied.

"Mother and Dad?" Sindo asked, very softly.

"Yes, and Lily," Noldo replied, honestly.

"That's a lot," Sindo said. Lorien withdrew suddenly from Noldo, but just seconds later, Noldo sensed Sindo on the edge of his mind.

Noldo let him in, guard down, wide open, out of habit both emotionally and mentally. At the same time he wondered if that was wise, and he could feel Lorien tensing behind him.

Sindo didn't explore his mind at all. Instead, he painted a picture of two hobbit holes side by side on a hill, and said, We'll go hunting and riding and we'll spend time at the inn and sing and drink and laugh together. And we'll be happy. You'll see.

Then Noldo did weep, a little. Lorien held him tighter, Sindo gently stayed with his thoughts, cheering him with hopes about the Hobbit settlement, and the afternoon slipped gently away.

That night, Sindo approached Noldo while Lorien had stepped outside of the camp. "Thanks for letting me in this afternoon," Sindo said.

Noldo looked at him quizzically.

"I'm doing my best not to pry," Sindo continued. "But if I trespass, please let me know somehow. All right?"

Noldo frowned, and nodded, waiting for something more. But Sindo said nothing else, except to give him a light shove, and murmur "Idiot."

"Pesky, " Noldo replied, shoving him back. They clapped each other on the shoulders, and Sindo returned to roasting the rabbits while Noldo melted snow.

*******

Chapter 14 - The Lune River

(late winter)

They left the rolling hills behind them, and descended once more into flat, boring plains. At least now the sun came out, but it was so bright against the snow that in the afternoon, when it reflected into their eyes, the glare was blinding, and it gave them all a headache. They took to taking turns watching, and the other two closed their eyes to the glare.

When it was Sindo's turn to keep his eyes open, he was able to thought-share with Noldo and Lorien, and let them see what he did, if they were interested. Sometimes they were. Sometimes they got just as tired of staring at the thoughts of endless glaring snow as they did looking at it with their own eyes, and then they sang hobbit songs or played word games, or shared thoughts about other things. This they did less and less, though, or if they did, they simply shared silence, keeping each other company wordlessly and almost thoughtlessly.

During this time Noldo asked Lorien to teach them the Lay of Nimrodel. It took a while to overcome her reluctance, but finally she sang it several times through for them. But she wasn't ready to teach it to them; something about that bothered her.

Several days after they left the hills behind them, Noldo suddenly spoke. "What's that?"

Was that a white shadow coming towards them? The brothers stared. There was another beside it, or were their eyes fooling them?

"Two hobbits walking, wearing white clothes, " said Lorien. "Stocky, broad hobbits. With beards."

Noldo frowned. "Most hobbits don't have beards, " he told her. "Do they have long, thick beards? Perhaps they are dwarves."

"What kind of hobbits are dwarves that they wear white cloaks?" she asked, confused.

Sindo clapped heels to flanks, and Noldo followed. Soon they were upon the dwarves, who shouted and raised their axes as they pulled up the ponies.

"Peace, " Noldo shouted. "We seek tidings only. We mean no harm or offense. Please hear us."

"State your business, " the dwarves replied, not kindly.

Noldo hesitated, and then decided to keep it very simple. "Where is the Lune River?"

One of the dwarves pointed straight behind him, westward. "Twenty miles."

Once again, relief swept over Noldo. "Thank you!" He shouted. And then, feeling rather strange, he gestured toward the pack pony. "Would you like a rabbit to take with you, or several?" He laughed. "Your tidings have gladdened me."

The dwarves traded glances, and shrugged. "We could eat two each tonight."

"Take them, and welcome!" He quickly loosened four and handed them to the dwarves. "What you will find to cook them over I do not know, but I wish you good cheer. Thank you. We seek to follow the river westward."

"It branches, " said one dwarf, considering his pair of rabbits, "and the westward branch is perhaps three to five miles north of here. Go straight west to the river, turn north, and then follow the branch west. It will lead you to the mountains. And over the mountains there lies the sea."

"Thank you, " Noldo repeated.

"At your service, " the dwarves bowed, and Noldo and Sindo glanced at each other, not understanding.

Suddenly Lorien spoke. "At yours and your families." They smiled at her, surprised, and she smiled back. Noldo and Sindo nodded and smiled awkwardly, and the dwarves waved at them, happy with the rabbits, and went on their way eastward.

"To Mithlond, then, " Noldo said softly, and Sindo sighed. Lorien tightened her grip around Noldo's waist, and as they turned towards the river, Noldo wondered why he was not as happy as he expected he would be.

As the miles passed, Noldo grew restless. The river would be in sight shortly, and that meant the beginning of the end, he thought. And then he wondered at himself. He had been anticipating the end of this trip with every passing hour, but suddenly, the thought of an afternoon without Lorien's arms around his waist was hardly bearable. He took his reins in his left hand, and placed his right hand gently over Lorien's hands that were wrapped around his waist. She laid her head on his shoulder.

The river appeared like a grey ribbon on the horizon and slowly grew until their ponies stood halted on the bank. Sindo and Noldo looked at each other wearily. It was deep, and it was wide, there was ice on it but it was treacherously thin, and there was no bridge.

They turned north. Several miles up, they saw the westward fork on the opposite side, but they could not cross and follow it.

"We'll have to keep going upstream and hope for a ford," Noldo said. "It's much too cold to think of swimming."

He had a respite, for a while, and he enjoyed it, enjoyed her arms around his waist. He did not remove his hand from hers, and opened his mind to her.

He heard, I don't want to leave you and Sinda.

I will miss you, he replied. But you will be happier with people like you. He tried to think happy thoughts about the elf settlement, but he did not know what it would look like.

She was not cheered by his efforts. "I will miss you more than you can know, if I truly have to leave you," she thought. Her sorrow surfaced in his mind, and he tried not to let it affect him, but it did. The depth of her sorrow surprised him. His hand tightened over hers. She shifted her grip, and their hands clasped.

That night they ate the last of the cooked rabbit. "We need to find wood for a fire," Sindo said. "And we'll be out of rabbit altogether shortly; we'd best return to hunting."

Noldo sighed. Part of him wanted to wander in the wilderness as long as possible, so he could enjoy the gentle peace of sharing thoughts with Lorien, and hold her hand as he had that afternoon. But he berated himself, saying that she needed good food, and rest, and a good home, and her own customs and culture.

"Where were the last trees that we saw?" Noldo asked Sindo.

"I saw some across the river, where that western branch was, " Sindo replied. "But we can't get to them."

Noldo buried his head in his hands. "I wish I knew how the dwarves crossed this river."

"We don't know that they did, " Sindo replied, reasonably. "All we know is they told us where it was. We don't know where they came from."

"Have I been a fool?" Noldo asked Sindo suddenly.

Sindo shrugged. "We've never had a problem finding firewood yet, " he replied. "Let's just keep riding. We'll find a tree somewhere."

Noldo had not been asking about firewood. But he decided to let it go. Sindo got the ponies ready for the night, tied them loosely together hoping they would serve as a bit of a windbreak, and curled up in his cloak to sleep. Noldo sat down by his shoulders, and Lorien curled up in her cloak with her back to Sindo, resting her head on Noldo's knee. Noldo spread his and Sindo's blankets over them both, tucked his feet under himself as best he could to keep them warm, and kept watch.

The night grew bitterly cold, and the stars glittered. Noldo studied them, but his eyes kept returning to Lorien asleep, barely visible in the starlight. Partway through the night a half moon rose, and put an unearthly sheen on Lorien's hair and face. He shivered, and watched her. He had to remind himself to tear his eyes from her, periodically, and scan the horizon. But nothing troubled them. In the dark hours, he grew tempted to wake her, and share thoughts with her, and rest in that quietness again. He resisted the temptation for quite a while, but when he sensed himself really weakening, he woke Sindo.

"Pesky. Can you take the watch for a while?"

Sindo shivered, sat up, and nodded. "Thanks, Idiot, " he replied, touching Noldo's shoulder and trying to smile, but he was cold and chattering. Noldo gave him a bear hug, but that pulled the blanket off of Lorien. They both dove forward to resettle the blanket on her.

"Well, she needs body heat, " Sindo said. "You're only making her colder."

This was nothing new; ever since they left the Ettenmoors, one of them kept watch while the other slept back to back with Lorien, or held her as she slept. The alternative was that she slept lying on the pony's back, but she had slid or rolled off in her sleep too many times, and ended up bruised and limping.

But now, tonight, after having held her hand all afternoon, Noldo hesitated. "Sindo."

"What?"

"I-- I don't know if I should."

"Hold her in your lap then. She's all wrapped up in her cloak."

Noldo just looked at him.

"Look, I'll be on watch. I'll keep you honest. I'll be right here."

"You promise?"

"If you want, I can watch your thoughts too."

"Yes. You'd better. Yes, good idea."

"All right. No funny stuff."

"Thanks, kiddo. Keep a close watch."

"I said I would! She's getting cold. Come on, I'll settle the blankets. Fold your arms across your chest."

Sindo kept a hand on Noldo's shoulder and a watch over his thoughts, and Noldo got several hours sleep before dawn.

The next day they pressed on; Sindo could see that Noldo was in turmoil, and finally he asked him about it as they rode. But Noldo shook his head. Sindo wondered, guessing.

That night Lorien wandered about the perimeter of their fireless, cheerless camp, and Noldo and Sindo sat together and watched her.

"You asked what was bothering me, " Noldo said. Sindo waited.

"Now that it comes to it, or is getting close to coming to it..." Noldo's voice trailed off.

"Go on."

"I don't want to give her up," Noldo said.

Sindo waited.

"She needs good food, and healing. And time with her people. But I want her to come back with us."

Sindo nodded, and looked at him. "So... what are you saying?"

"If I was to... Sindo, if-- if I did marry her, what would that do to you?"

Sindo toppled backwards into the snow, and covered his face. Noldo silently panicked, and for a moment hopelessness engulfed him, until he heard his brother softly laughing.

"Talk to me, " Noldo prodded, very worried. "Sindo."

Sindo rolled halfway up and earnestly studied his brother. "You Idiot. It would set me free. I would be free. Do you hear me? I would be myself again. I could be her brother, her children’s' uncle."

Noldo watched him, doubtful. Sindo came face to face with Noldo and took both of Noldo's shoulders. "She would be happy. You would be happy. And I would be free. Do I have to beg you? I will. Marry her. Marry her now."

"Are you sure? Really sure?"

"Go on. Look." And Sindo opened his mind wide. Noldo believed him then, although he took a good look around to be sure.

Noldo sat back and nodded. "I don't understand why you won't be jealous."

Sindo laughed, partly because his brother should have looked for that too before he retreated. "Well, I didn't say that, did I? Maybe I'll always wish that things had been different. But once you are bound to her by an oath, then there's no sense my hoping anymore, is there? I'd really be able to let go of wanting her, because there'd be no reasonable hope left. Not that there has ever really been," he mused, "but I used to fool myself into thinking that there was. Once you and she speak the oath, even the illusion of hope would finally be gone." He studied Noldo. "Does knowing that make it simpler?"

"There's one other thing, " Noldo said.

"That is?"

"Dad."

Sindo waited.

"I know Dad wouldn't approve."

"I know. But Dad thought she was bad for both of us. Do you think she's bad for you now?"

Noldo rubbed his eyes and then scraped his fingers through his hair. "I wish I knew. I can say that I've been happier; I think I was happier living by the Langwell River than I am now," he said, "but I've never been more peaceful. And there's another thing. If I had Dad here, would he still feel the same way he did about Lorien? After these two months of travel? Lorien has changed. I'm not sure how or why. Maybe it was losing Dad and Mother. But she's quieted down, and she's become polite and gentle. She always drove me crazy before. Now it's the opposite. She helps me stay sane. I can't imagine losing her. I don't know if I could take it."

Sindo nodded. "I feel the same, especially after losing Mother and Dad," he said quietly, musing. "I feel that if we leave Lorien with the elves, I shall go mad. I can't imagine life without her. I wonder if I would rather die."

Noldo didn't like the sound of that at all, thinking back to the black rainy night and Sindo's despair. "But you don't mind if I marry her, even though you can't stand the thought of losing her?"

"She'd still be family, " Sindo pleaded. "Right next door, one hobbit-door over. I'd see her when I visited you for dinner. I'd invite you over for meals myself. We'd go walking." Sindo grew more earnest. "What else haven't we lost? We've got nothing but her. And if we lose her... I can't stand the thought. Please, Noldo. Make her my sister. You love her. She loves you. Marry her and make her happy."

Noldo thought that over for quite a while, and Sindo sat waiting. Lorien completed several more wide, wandering circles around the camp, singing song after song. Finally Noldo stirred and looked at him.

"Between the two of us, how much of the ceremony do you think we can remember?"

"At least half of the songs and poems," Sindo said, looking at Noldo expectantly. "And I know the oath. That's the part that matters most."

"I remember the oath, " Noldo said, standing and smiling at him. "I've been musing it over for days."

"Have you!" Sindo laughed, leaping to his feet and waving his arms, bursting with relief.

"Fighting it every step of the way, " Noldo laughed.

Sindo celebrated, pounding Noldo on the back and roughing up his hair.

Noldo suddenly grew serious. "I'm going to ask her now."

"We haven't gotten the ceremony down yet, " Sindo warned him. "We're going to do the best job we can. We should spend tomorrow reviewing it."

"You Pesky!"

"Where do you want the ceremony to happen?"

"Right here, " Noldo shrugged.

"Oh, come on. At least by the riverbank, or something. Maybe I'd better ask Lorien."

"I suppose," Noldo said, "It would be nice to take the oath where the two rivers join together into one."

"That's it! She'll like that."

"Which means, " Noldo groused, "that we've either got to ford the river, and we don't know where the first ford will be, or we've got to turn around and go back. I don't like either idea."

"Let's ride north, find a ford, and ride back. So it takes us a couple of days, or a week; we've got to do it anyway. You can wait."

"Now that I've made up my mind?"

"No funny stuff, " Sindo admonished. "I'm sticking right by you from now until the ceremony is over. And then," he smiled, "I'll go hunting. Three days, or five?"

"Three, " Noldo said. "She's still got to eat. I can't lose track of taking care of her just to enjoy her. We'll ride during the day anyway. Look for us along the river, and don't delay."

"All right. And now when are you going to ask her?"

"Now that I've made up my mind... " Noldo said, and turned towards her.

"Should I leave?" Sindo asked.

"You did say no funny stuff, " Noldo replied. Ever since the fiasco on the hillside, he deeply distrusted himself. "Maybe you should stay."

"Right. I'll stay right here," Sindo said.

Noldo nodded, relieved, hoping they could ford the river quickly and that the ceremony would not be too long delayed.

He turned to watch Lorien, where she was still wandering around not quite out of sight. He opened his thoughts to her, and letting his guard down completely, called her with every bit of tenderness he could find in himself. He closed his eyes.

She hesitated, wondering, suddenly on guard. Noldo reassured her that Sindo was right there with him. Then he called to her again, filling her mind with tenderness.

Lorien, I want to marry you, if you are willing. Stay with me, Lorien. Remain with me. Come live with me and belong to me, and I will belong to you.

And then he waited.

"I think you might want to open your eyes again," Sindo said.

Noldo did. Lorien was racing towards him with all the speed she had, golden hair flying in the starlight. Sindo laughed for joy, and then brushed away a tear.

She slowed and stopped in front of Noldo, smiling, wildeyed and trembling, holding out her hands. He took both her hands in his and completely covered them with kisses, and then drew her into his arms, and held her. He kissed her hair, her brow, her cheek. He thought of her lips.

"Wait, " Sindo warned him sternly.

Noldo laughed, glad that his brother was right there, and settled for holding her as tightly as he could. "I was just going to kiss her, " he murmured, smiling.

Sindo snorted. "Your eyes are smouldering like the setting sun. I don't think so."

Noldo would have laughed, but for the glowing joy he held in his arms.

*******

Chapter 15 - Family

(late winter)

That night they could none of them sleep, so they reviewed the wedding ceremony then. As Sindo had guessed, between them they remembered a little better than half of the songs and poetry. "Maybe the rest of it will come back later, while we are riding, " Sindo said. Part of it did; they had about three-fourths of the ancient ceremony by the time they found a ford many miles upstream, crossed it, and rode back to the fork in the river, about a week later.

Noldo's and Lorien's appetites were quite taken away, but Sindo was still hungry, and to his great relief, on the second day they finally found a small thicket of trees a little uphill from the river and were able to cook the rest of the frozen rabbits.

Noldo did not sleep much the first several nights, much to Sindo's consternation-- he stuck by Noldo's side the entire time-- but then exhaustion caught up with Noldo and he slept like a rock, much to Sindo's relief. Then Lorien offered to watch while Sindo slept too, and both the brothers snored while Lorien paced the outside of the camp and sang under the stars.

At last they arrived, just before sunset, at the fork where the northern and western branches of the river joined and flowed south. Sindo left Archer and the pack pony ready. The poetry and the songs had become poignant since they had had a week to review and memorize them and think about them. The simple but ancient oath had become meaningful beyond anything any of them had said or heard before, and the very ground and air and water about them seemed to hear the words and remember them.

The much-anticipated ceremony was over too soon, and Noldo and Lorien were both sorry to see Sindo leave, but Sindo was in no mood for delay. Noldo and Lorien watched him leave 'til he disappeared from their sight. They held hands then, and leading Hunter, they walked slowly westward, following the river, toward the fading sunset, until the sky was ablaze with stars.

On the fourth morning following, Sindo rejoined them, happy, triumphant that he had shot a large buck and plenty of rabbit. The rabbits were all cooked.

Feeling that nothing could possibly go wrong, they galloped westward, expecting at any moment to catch their first glimpse of Mithlond. But as eight more days passed, and the river dwindled to a hillside river and then to a mountainside creek, they faltered.

"This isn't big enough to support a settlement anymore, " Sindo frowned, and Noldo agreed with him. "Did we miss something in the dark?"

"We haven't been riding in the dark, " Noldo helpfully pointed out. "No. There's nothing here."

"But-- but why? Did Ranger lie to us?"

"He had no reason to, " Noldo replied. "Westward to the settlement."

They began carefully reviewing their every conversation regarding Mithlond and the Lune river. "Exactly what did Ranger say?"

"Go west and find the river Lune; follow the river westward to the Elf settlement by the sea. "

"The Dwarves said that the river led up the mountains and across the mountains was the sea. Did Ranger know that we would have to cross the mountains?"

Sindo closed his eyes. "The dwarves said, Follow the branch west. It will lead you to the mountains. And over the mountains there lies the sea."

"Well, then," Noldo sighed, "The elf settlement is by the sea, so-- over the mountains we go. Poor Lorien! I will be so relieved to watch her eat something green, or at least roots of some sort."

They camped there for the night. Lorien sat happily beside Noldo while he worried about her drawn and hungry look. She had no desire to find any elves, but Sindo and Noldo grew more determined daily. Lorien was happy enough now to not care about food at all, and Noldo had to plead and cajole to get her to eat the rabbit meat.

The next day they set off upward over the mountains. They were fortunate to stumble onto all the right paths. Still, it took them a week to crest the range. They stopped at the top; it was perfectly clear, and before them the mountains tumbled down into the foothills, and beyond those to meadows, and beyond that a broad, greyish blue expanse.

Lorien caught her breath, and Noldo twisted around to look into her eyes. She was gazing at the blue horizon, wild-eyed, holding her breath. He watched her, wondering, and gently touched the edge of her thoughts.

"We will go there, " she thought.

"Where?" Noldo responded.

"There, " she thought. "Far, far away. There is joy, and song, and light, and peace. We will go there."

"Lorien, " he said aloud.

She looked at him.

"We need to find you a settlement of elves, and we can't go on the water right now. We need to be looking for food for you, and rest. We'll talk about boats and journeys another time," he said gently.

She nodded, but then went back to gazing out over the broad blue expanse. He urged Hunter forward, and they began the journey down.

He was troubled, and Sindo was too, that there was no sign of any kind of settlement in front of them. They did see a river beyond a wood. But there was no sign of any settlement along it.

They decided to follow it anyway. "Elves are good at hiding, " Sindo shrugged. "Perhaps they've hidden the entire settlement from view of the mountains. Ranger said the settlement was on the river; perhaps he meant this one."

Noldo's shoulders sagged with weariness, and he fought off despair.

They rode down the mountains and through the wood in five days, and found the river. They followed it. It went west at first for three more days, but then veered south. Noldo once again fought off despair.

That night Noldo took the first watch, and paced and fretted. When the night was half spent, he woke Sindo.

As Sindo slowly sat up, Noldo said, "You call."

"What?" Sindo mumbled, groggy.

"You call the elves. Open your mind, and call to them. Find them."

"Now?" Sindo groaned, rubbing his face and still tired.

"Half the time they don't sleep, " Noldo said. "Yes, now. You know how worried I am about her."

"I'm worried too, " Sindo agreed. "All right. But let me pace for a bit, and wake up." He stood, and stretched, and munched some cold rabbit meat, and then sighed. "All right. Come with me."

"Where?"

"I mean, just stay with me."

"Sindo, you're not frightened?"

"If it's not intimidating, you do it then."

"I-- I see what you mean. All right. I'm here."

"How do I know if they can hear me?" Sindo procrastinated.

"I don't know. How do you know if Lorien can hear you, or if I can hear you?"

"Well, usually because you respond, you answer with another thought. And I recognize you. Or her."

"So, " mused Noldo, "it'll be someone you don't recognize, then."

"Great, " Sindo grumbled. "A stranger in my mind. Or twenty, or a hundred."

"Just close your mind if it gets hard, " Noldo replied. "But we've got to try. And you know you're better at this than I am."

"I'm out of practice and you're not, " countered Sindo.

"You are?"

"She's spent all of her time with you. All of it."

Noldo nodded. "I'm surprised you never asked me then."

"I figured you were falling in love, and probably didn't want me watching the process, " Sindo replied, reasonably.

"You're right again, " Noldo agreed. "All right. All right. If you're really feeling that out of practice, I guess I'll try it."

"You will?"

"Stay with me, little brother, " Noldo replied. "I don't want strangers in my mind either." He took a deep breath, and opened his mind, and called. Sindo waited on the edge of his thoughts, silently eavesdropping.

Gently, gently, like stars softly appearing as night deepens, he felt one answer after another. Delicately, they listened, queried, gave him their attention. Such was the delicacy of each answering mind that Sindo gasped in wonder, and Noldo stood amazed, feeling clumsy and rude.

He indicated they had traveled far. He showed them the fork in the river they had followed, and the mountains they had climbed, and the woods and the second river beyond it that they were now following south; and then he showed them Lorien, and explained that she was malnourished and needed healing and rest, and feeling strangely vulnerable, asked for their help.

The stars faded out of Noldo's mind one by one, ‘til only one was left. And that one grew stronger, and said, Stay with the river and follow it southwards. We will ride northwards and find you along the riverbank.

Thank you, Noldo replied.

The last star faded softly and gently from his mind, and Noldo felt almost refreshed from the encounter. Sindo said the same. But at the same time, there arose a nagging worry in Noldo's mind that he could not shake. These minds were so very different from Lorien's; he wondered why. He had expected them to feel similar, but they did not. And there was something else he could not explain, but that worried him deeply. He tried to explain it to Sindo but he could not, and then he tried to open his mind so that Sindo could read it there, but Sindo did not understand even then. Perhaps Noldo did not understand it himself.

Noldo lay down for the night, but he could not sleep, and tossed and turned, and finally sat up and gently laid Lorien's head on his knee, and stroked her hair. The nagging fear grew, and dawn did not drive it away.

Spring seemed to be on its way, or at least, a thaw. The first day they rode across lingering snow, but the second day the ground had melted and almost cleared in places, and they rode a little faster; Noldo's reluctance and fear grew, but Sindo set the pace and Noldo did not fight him.

Halfway through the fifth day they saw a company in the distance. As the distance closed, Lorien's grip tightened around Noldo's waist, and Noldo's shapeless fear grew even worse.

As the elves slowed their approach, Sindo realised their horses wore no saddles or bridles, and smiled. He had heard that some elves did not need them or use them. But his own smile dissolved as they drew closer, and he saw their faces; they were not smiling.

Finally the elves and the hobbits halted their mounts, each company considering the other with carefully blank faces; all blank, that is, except for Lorien, who shrank against Noldo and was clearly very afraid.

"Thank you for coming to aid us," Noldo began. "My name is Noldo Took, this is my brother Sindo, and this is Lorien. Lorien needs your aid; she needs healing of body and mind. Please help her."

"I am Alphaelin, " replied one, "And with me rides Aergeleb, Adaron, Mirthlūn, Naurloth, Thorontir, Helkaris and Rinloss. And now tell us why you call this child Lorien, for I perceive that that is not her name."


Noldo replied, "When we first found her a year ago last Autumn, and asked her name, and where she came from, that was her answer for both questions. We have called her that ever since."

Lorien sat up straight, and very quietly but clearly spoke. "Lorien is my name, Noldo and Sinda are my people. And I need no others."

"Hush, child," said Alphaelin. "Your trial is over, and all will be well. Fear no more. Come, we have brought you food and drink. Adaron will care for your needs. Go with him now." Hearing this Adaron dismounted and approached Hunter.

"I do not want to go with him. I will stay with Noldo and Sinda," she said, holding tighter onto Noldo. "Noldo, do not let them take me from you!"

"They will care for you, Lorien. You need food and rest, and healing. Trust them." He stroked her topmost hand, but she had no intention of letting go.

The elves frowned, and Sindo turned Archer to stand beside Adaron. "Lorien, you need their help."

She merely tightened her grip.

Much to Noldo's disquiet, Adaron began speaking in Sindarin. Noldo and Sindo exchanged nervous glances, quite lost.

Lorien was still very upset, but Sindo could see her struggling to understand Adaron. She was grasping the words, but not trusting him, Sindo could see that.

She answered Adaron's questions hesitantly, occasionally refusing to answer him at all. Adaron persisted patiently, seeming to reword questions often, and slowly Lorien gave answers.

Adaron kept up his questioning for quite some time, and the other elves were waiting like sentinels in a line, watching. Sindo and Noldo grew nervous and self-conscious, and the questioning went on.

Adaron finally extended his hand, speaking quietly, obviously wanting her to take his hand and dismount. Lorien hesitated, turning to Noldo, all the fear back in her eyes.

"There is more to this story that we must learn," Adaron said, turning to Alphaelin.

Alphaelin frowned. "It will be a long journey for her, if she will not dismount even to eat. Forlond is fifteen days from here."

"Forlond?" blurted Sindo. "Aren't you from Mithlond?"

"You should have followed the River Lune south, for many miles, if you were seeking Mithlond," Alphaelin said.

Noldo said, "You came here in five days, not fifteen; how did you arrive so quickly?"

"We were in Forlindon, not Forlond. We often wander in the forests, south of here, at the foothills of the Ered Luin."

"All right," Noldo said. "As long as you can help her, I don't care where you are from. I'm sorry. Please forgive my rudeness."

Alphaelin nodded, and the elves surrounded Noldo and Sindo. Adaron leaped onto his horse, and turned south. The rest of the elven company followed.

They rode hard ‘til sunset, and then halted. Noldo dismounted first, and Lorien followed Noldo down, staying as close to him as she could manage. He let her.

Adaron approached Noldo and met his eye. "There is much that you have not told us. Let the others prepare camp, for I have much to ask you."

"All right," Noldo agreed. They walked outside the camp, Lorien's hand clamped around Noldo's.

They walked for a long, long time in silence. Noldo was edgy, and Adaron seemed distracted as if his mind was far away. When they were quite a ways downriver, Adaron said, "Lorien is not merely your friend or companion."

"True, " Noldo replied. "She is my wife."

Adaron stopped, one hand on Noldo's shoulder, and met his eyes, boring into them with his own. Noldo steeled himself, meeting his eyes. Adaron's gaze grew more intense, and Noldo hung on grimly. He realised with a sudden odd clarity exactly what he was holding onto: Lorien's acceptance of him. Eventually Noldo spoke with a heavy effort.

"I have no wish to hide anything from you," he said thickly. "If you want to read my thoughts I will invite you in." The pressure Adaron exerted on him was growing stronger, and Noldo felt himself wilting under the test of wills. I don't wish to resist you, he cried internally. Why do you torment me?

"Why did you not tell us that she was your wife?" Adaron demanded.

"Because I have been afraid since we called you, and I have not understood why. There is much that I was afraid to say."

"And yet you say that you will open your mind to me."

"Apparently my brother has trained me well," Noldo said thickly. "Look, I can't bear it. Yes, your will is stronger than mine. Just read."

Adaron relented, and Noldo ran his free hand over his face, and then reached for Adaron's arm. "Just read," he repeated, opening his mind.

Adaron gazed at him.

"Go on," Noldo prompted.

"You lack much training," Adaron mused.

"Look, I'm sorry," Noldo said. "Sindo and Lorien can read me like a book. I don't know what you are waiting for."

"Is it possible that you have been so ill-used?" Adaron said.

"I-- what-- ill-used? Why do you say that?"

"You expect me to plunder your mind."

"No, just read it. Find what you want to find."

"You say your brother has this skill?"

Noldo shrugged. "And Lorien too. Look, we're not getting very far. You're not learning our story."

"Perhaps I am," Adaron replied.

"All right. Lorien is my wife. She has loved me since we fled across the mountains, and I have only recently come to return that love, but now I do. And neither I nor my brother can bear the thought of parting from her, nor she from us, as you have seen. So I married her. We asked her to call her people, to come and find her, but apparently she did not understand us. We waited for a year for elves to come and find her; we went looking south and west for elves to bring her to, but we found none, and only learned tidings of Mithlond, which we have been looking for ever since. And if you had found us six weeks ago, we would have surrendered her to you. But now, no. I can't bear to be separated from her; neither can my brother. But neither can she live on what we hunt.

"She was healthy while we had the garden, healthy in body at least, although her mind still bears the wounds of losing her people. But we lost the garden, and she has been weakening ever since. I brought her to you in hopes that you could heal her mind, as well as her body. She has suffered much."

Adaron waited. Noldo took a deep breath, realised how scattered and confusing his tale had been so far, ran his hand over his eyes again, and continued.

"Let me go back to the beginning," he said, "if that's all right with you."

Adaron waited.

"I, my brother, and my parents Doldo and Mallorn lived high above the banks of the Langwell River across the Misty Mountains, just below the edge of the forest. My brother, my father, and I were returning from a hunt when we smelled smoke. We went to the edge of the forest, and we found a burned glade." Noldo paused, remembering. Lorien's grip tightened even more on his hand. "There was only one survivor." He looked at Adaron, unwilling to go into the details with Lorien there. "The marauders were returning, so we caught her up and raced home. The entire valley was ablaze, and my mother met us, fleeing. We turned into the forest, and raced up the mountains and over the pass. We could see the valley burning below us. We met no one else fleeing, nor have we since. We fear that few, or none, survived.

"Knowing that elves can find lost companions by hearing them call in their thoughts, my father settled in the first good arable, livable hill we found west of the mountains, and we built a home, and tilled the ground; we encouraged Lorien to call her people, and waited for the elves to come for her, but none came. We waited an entire year. My brother grew terribly fond of her, and learned to share thoughts with her; but she was fond of me. I was not interested in her."

Adaron listened politely.

"The next part of the story is hard for me to tell because of my own shame, " Noldo continued, and then suddenly turned to Lorien and said gently, "Darling, please hold my other hand instead." She did so, and as he moved them both across to Adaron's other side, he tried numbly to work some blood back into the hand she had squeezed the life out of.

Adaron waited.

"As I told you, Lorien was fond of me; my brother was fond of Lorien and I was not. I thought the solution was for him to win her heart. Against my father's wishes, for my father wished her only to return to the elves, I asked Sindo to woo and win Lorien. In fact I begged him to. And with all his heart, he tried. But instead of moving her heart, the effort broke his own, and so, I had devastated my own brother. When I realised what I had done, I despaired. Lorien came to me to comfort me in my despair. I asked her why she loved me, and she opened her thoughts to me and showed me. I was overwhelmed." Noldo hung his head, and dropped his gaze to the ground, struggling for courage to continue. He was hot with shame. Adaron waited in silence.

"Thankfully my brother intervened, and separated me from her, or I would have taken advantage of her that day. I fled from my brother at first, and then returned to my father for judgment. His judgment was that both Sindo and I would search until we found either elves, or tidings of an elven settlement. We departed, and found no elves, but did learn tidings, of Imladris and Mithlond. We chose Mithlond, and swung north to inform our father."

Noldo stopped, turned to Lorien and stroked her face, and then faced Adaron. "I cannot continue the tale aloud, " he said. "You must read my thoughts if you wish to know it."

"Then tell me, just as you have been. Tell me the story as if you were telling it out loud."

Noldo looked at him, puzzled, and said, "All right." He opened his mind, and Adaron gently, gently entered, his presence delicate and careful.

Noldo thought about the dragon and the hillside engulfed in flames, Lorien's terror, the death of his parents, and the flight of Lorien southward. Then he thought of finding Lorien, and her shock and grief. He wept as he did. Lorien stiffened as his tears fell.

Suddenly, Lorien plunged into his mind, and enveloped Noldo in peace, and resisted Adaron's presence. Noldo blanked completely, not wanting to remind her of Mallie and Doldo; and Adaron softly faded and departed. Noldo realised that they had all three halted, that her arms were around him protectively, and that she was glaring at Adaron, who was watching them both. There was a silence, in which Noldo struggled to overcome his grief, and did so. Noldo was embarrassed about weeping in front of the elf, and Lorien was angry at the elf for embarrassing him, and the elf stood back thoughtfully. He still seemed distracted, as if his mind was far away; he thought for a while, and then nodded.

"We should return to the others," Adaron said gently. "You are weary, and need rest. " Then Adaron spoke to Lorien. "Child, you do your husband no service by shielding him from his grief. It is fitting that he mourn his loss. Do not keep him from the memories of his parents."

Noldo noticed the contradiction in Adaron's sentence. "She's not a child anymore, " Noldo objected, echoing the sentence his family had used many, many times over the past eight months.

"You are wrong, " Adaron said gently. "She should not have married for many winters yet. She is still a child, although she now carries one of her own."

Noldo stopped, thunderstruck, eyes wide, heart pounding. Adaron nodded.

"But-- but-- " Noldo turned to Lorien, and gazed at her; he studied her face, and thought about her weight loss, her drawn skin, the weariness and lack of sparkle in her eyes. "She's so weak. How could she conceive and carry while she was barely surviving on rabbit and venison?" Noldo stroked her hair; his hand was shaking.

"Her strength shows in many ways, and this not the least, " Adaron said softly. "Perhaps this news should have waited, but I did not want you ignorant of what the rest of us knew."

"I do not understand how you can know some things, and yet be unwilling to see others, " Noldo said.

"As for that, " Adaron replied, "she told me herself, as an argument that she should stay with you."

"How would she know?"

"It is true."

Noldo shook his head, and they turned and began the long walk back to the camp. Noldo dreaded meeting the rest of the elves. At least Adaron seemed to have softened somewhat, or to have found some sort of patience or compassion, but he remained distracted, and Noldo wondered what he was thinking about. Noldo spent much of the walk back to the camp thinking about Lorien's child-- his child; their child. His joy was so full it became heartache.

*******

Chapter 16 - Trials

(Early Spring)


When they came within sight of the camp, he was surprised to see the elves seated in a circle, with Sindo in the middle. Adaron slowed as they approached the circle, and Noldo and Lorien followed suit. They could see Sindo's face. Suddenly Lorien clamped down on his hand again.

Sindo was sweating, body taught, fists clenched, fighting; his breath was coming in gasps; he gazed at Naurloth wild-eyed and fearfully. Suddenly Alphaelin turned to look at Noldo, who stepped into the circle full of concern for his brother. Sindo jumped, and a spasm of pain crossed his face.

"What are you doing?" Noldo cried, and at that moment, Sindo burst into tears and fell on his knees at Noldo's feet.

Noldo turned on Alphaelin. "What have you done to him! Answer me!"

"He will tell you himself, " Alphaelin replied evenly, and Noldo seized his brother's shoulders and hauled him to his feet, pleading with him. "Sindo, what have they done to you? Sindo, talk to me. Sindo, stay with me." He turned back to Alphaelin and barked, "What did you do!"

Adaron stepped forward. "Sindo will explain it to you. He will be well. Give him time."

"You distracted me," Noldo accused him, raging. "You kept me away while they tormented him!"

"You may hold me responsible for his well being," Adaron soothed him.

"I will, " blazed Noldo, not really knowing what it meant and not caring.

"Do not fear. Soon he will speak."

Noldo held Sindo, who sobbed completely out of control, gasping for breath, wild-eyed and shaking.

Lorien, meanwhile, stood behind Noldo, slowly turning on her heel, scanning the circle of elven faces. Her fear simmered, and she knew that she was next, and she was somehow both afraid, and unafraid; afraid of what she would see, but unafraid of the looking, unafraid of the search. She waited, meeting the eyes of one elf after another. She slowly, slowly calmed down.

So did Sindo, and when he was able to meet Noldo's eyes, Noldo said to him, "Sindo, what have they done to you?"

Sindo shakily replied, "They-- they asked me for our story, and I let them read it from me. And then, they read it back to me again through their own eyes, and in their eyes and in their minds I-- I saw what I had done... I saw what I had done to you. Noldo, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..." He fell apart again, and slid back down to his knees, wretched and miserable.

Noldo immediately knelt beside him, but Sindo was overwhelmed in grief and guilt, and could not respond. Noldo wrapped his arms around his brother and turned to face Alphaelin, glaring.

Alphaelin watched Noldo, not without pity, and shook his head. "We will say nothing tonight about this matter to you, " he said. "You wish us to tell you what we saw; but that is for your brother to tell you, and not for us. Adaron has spoken wisely; give Sindo time, and he will tell you all that must be said. Adaron, bear Sindo away to a place where he can consider his deeds, and rest."

Adaron knelt on one knee and gently gathered the still-wretched Sindo up like a child, and bore him out of the circle, and stopped, waiting for Noldo. Naurloth stood, quietly approaching Noldo. Noldo turned to Lorien, protectively, suddenly defensive of her.

But Lorien shook her head. "Noldo, please go with Sinda. I will remain here."

"Darling, no. Don't."

"It is best," she said gently. "It is my turn now."

"No! I won't let them do that to you too!"

Naurloth stepped forward and Noldo turned on him. "Leave her alone!"

Rinloss stood but Alphaelin halted him and faced Noldo. "You asked us to give her healing," Alphaelin countered.

"Like that?" Noldo cried, gesturing at Sindo.

"Perhaps," Alphaelin replied evenly.

"No!" Noldo roared his defiance, and Adaron was reminded of nothing so much as the vision of Doldo facing the dragon and protecting the body of his wife. He stepped quickly back into the circle, handing Sindo to Naurloth, and turned to Noldo. But Lorien got there first.

She plunged into Noldo's thoughts, pouring peace and comfort into his soul, and reassuring him that she would be all right. He vehemently disagreed with her, and she quailed; he had never been forceful against her thoughts before. He cried aloud. "No, Lorien, don't stay. Don't let them do this."

And suddenly his fear, that had been growing since the time he first called the elves, took shape: They will take her from me, they will separate us by force, and I will lose her. He abruptly released Lorien, and turned on the elves, opened his mind to all of them at once, and launched all the rage in his soul at them.

He took them completely by surprise, and more than one of them winced. Naurloth staggered, tightened his grip on Sindo and recovered. Rinloss stepped forward threateningly, with clenched fists. Adaron closed his mind at once, and came and stood behind Noldo.

The remaining seven elves recovered from their surprise, and turned their wills against Noldo. Noldo reeled; Adaron caught him and steadied him; he rallied, and attacked them again; they bore down on his mind, and he reeled again, and rallied yet again; and the third time they pressed down on his soul, he buckled, and passed out. Adaron was waiting to catch him as he crumpled, and he lifted him, bearing him out of the circle.

There was a moment's pause, as the elves considered what had just happened. Alphaelin and Aergeleb looked grieved.

"Savage little fool, " said Helkaris.

"Brave little fool," replied Mirthlūn, with a grim chuckle. "He has a fiery spirit. We could call him Little Feanor."

"A dangerous jest, and an ill omen," replied Aergeleb. "Still it was bravely done. His strength surprises me; I had thought him weak, and easily led."

"Of course he is weak, " Rinloss spat contemptuously. "He is just a mortal."

Alphaelin frowned, annoyed both at Rinloss's impertinence in contradicting an elder, and his narrow attitude.

"Nay," replied Mirthlūn. "I perceive he has learned to humble himself and seek counsel. He is passionate, and knows that his passions mislead him. He is not weak, I deem. Say rather that his strength has willingly been gentled."

Thorontir nodded thoughtfully. "He sets a watch over his passions, and submits it to the eye of another."

Mirthlūn replied, "His submission shows deep wisdom. Would that even Feanor had had that wisdom."

Rinloss rolled his eyes, and Aergeleb stifled a smile. Mirthlūn's grandiosities were often amusing. No one told him that, of course.

Alphaelin was watching Lorien. At Mirthlūn's last statement she turned on him such a smile that Alphaelin smiled to see it.

"Still," Helkaris replied, "Wiser watchmen and counselors would have served him better. He has rashly spoken an oath in haste, and no humility nor gentleness will save him from the breaking of it."

"That is yet to be seen," Alphaelin rebuked him, "and will not be judged by aught who sit in this circle. Set all such thoughts aside. Of necessity we subdued Noldo, and to my grief. We are met to bring peace and healing, not dominance. Let us return to the task at hand. Come, child."

"I am ready," Lorien said, stepping forward, and squaring herself before Alphaelin.

"Your courage becomes you, child. And now, sit down, and tell us your story."

Lorien sat in the center of the circle, and silence descended, softly shimmering like dew on the leaves, glistening in the starlight.

Half an hour further down the river, Sindo sat quietly weeping beside his unconscious brother, and at a discreet distance, Naurloth and Adaron kept watch. But although they were distant from the circle of elves, their eyes flickered and kindled, and they watched Lorien's story as well.

**********

The sky lightened steadily, although the mountains blocked the dawn's sunlight. Sindo, now dry-eyed and hoarse, still sat beside Noldo, who stirred, and opened his eyes, got up on his elbows and looked around. He saw Sindo, and far off he saw Naurloth and Adaron, and no one else. He lay back down.

"They have taken her, and we are prisoners," he despaired.

Sindo only met his brother's eyes.

Noldo waited. Slowly Sindo began to tell the events since the flight over the mountains as the elves had seen them, and apologize as he went. Knowing Sindo needed to release his soul from it all, Noldo tried to listen but his own misery made him quite heartsick and rather deaf, and early in the tale he soothed his brother and hushed him. Sindo nodded and set it aside for another time.

An hour later, they heard the thunder of hooves approaching; Noldo rolled onto his elbow, and gazed. Two riderless horses separated from the group and approached Adaron and Naurloth, who leaped onto them, and rejoined the company.

They stood wearily. Lorien was sitting behind Alphaelin, and she gazed at Noldo. He met her eyes, and she nodded at him gently. He wondered what that meant. He returned her gaze with all the tenderness he could.

Mirthlūn spoke to their three ponies; Hunter and Archer obediently approached the two hobbits and let them mount, and the pack pony wandered along behind them. As soon as they were mounted, Noldo found himself flanked by Mirthlūn and Thorontir, and Sindo was behind him flanked by Adaron and Naurloth. Alphaelin, with Lorien riding behind him, led the company with Aergeleb. Helkaris and Rinloss brought up the rear.

Lorien was a good deal shorter than Alphaelin, and could not see well over his shoulders. She often leaned to one side or the other to see forward. Sometimes she just looked straight up. Noldo wished she would turn around and look back at him more often.

They rode hard, in grim and complete silence, for seven long, long days, eating from their backpacks on horseback, and stopping only to sleep, or drink from the river. Noldo thought he would go mad. His only comforts were, knowing that Sindo was still with him, and when he caught a rare glimpse of Lorien's face, seeing the bloom and shimmer return to her cheek and eye. He did not dare seek her thoughts. The silence was deafening and oppressive and he was sorely tempted to begin a chatty conversation with Hunter. He steeled himself and waited, for what he did not know.

What surprised him were small kindnesses from Mirthlūn and Thorontir. Although everything proceeded in the same eerie silence, at every meal they were courteous, and their glance was always respectful and kind. Had he known it, Sindo was puzzling over the same kindness from Adaron and Naurloth.

On the seventh day, Noldo and Sindo were teetering on the edge of self-control. Their escorts noticed, and when the pace slowed to a walk, Adaron offered Sindo one small sip from a flask. He was rewarded by seeing Sindo visibly relax, and he carefully gave him one more small sip. Sindo bowed his thanks, feeling somewhat better.

Adaron passed the flask to Mirthlūn, and Mirthlūn offered Noldo a sip. Noldo obeyed listlessly; Mirthlūn and Thorontir watched hopefully for a sign of rest or peace. But instead, despair surged within him; they were astonished to see his face contort, and he bowed over his pony's neck, desperately fighting off the rising flood of emotions. Mirthlūn and Thorontir exchanged glances of consternation. Thorontir spurred forward to Alphaelin and spoke to him. The company straggled to a halt.

"He is at the end of his strength," wondered Mirthlūn.

"He is in despair," Adaron countered, riding forward. "Noldo, listen to me."

Noldo did not move, but numbly surrendered his mind to Adaron, who sighed, and reluctantly but gently entered his thoughts and tried to encourage him.

"Let me," said Sindo, riding forward, and looking up at Adaron. "Let me try." He joined Adaron inside Noldo's mind, and nervously reminded Noldo of the settlements south of Amon Sul in Rhudaur and Dunland, along the Hoarwell and Bruinien. Gathering his courage, Sindo silently reminded him: "Stay with me, Noldo. We'll go riding and hunting, and we'll sing and laugh... "

"She will not be with us," Noldo grieved. "I will not sing, I will not laugh."

Sindo faltered, but Adaron replied: "That has not yet been decided. There is still hope. Take courage."

Noldo waited, wondering, not believing what he had heard in his mind.

Adaron explained: "The validity of her marriage oath has not yet been judged. For that judgment, we now seek the wise. We have ridden hard and we should arrive at Forlond tomorrow at sunset. Take courage."

Adaron and Sindo waited, and slowly Noldo straightened, and met Adaron's eye. A flicker of hope kindled. Alphaelin nodded, and turned his mount northward. Lorien looked over her shoulder back at Noldo, and he drank her gaze as the company reformed and walked south again.

Mirthlūn dropped back to ride alongside Adaron and asked, "Why did the Miruvor harm him and not help him?"

Adaron shook his head. "The release of grief is no harm, but great good. He has much to mourn for still. And when he has a moment's peace, I will help him find that grief again, if it does not find him first."

Shortly after that, Alphaelin set the company back into a gallop, and Lorien looked forward again. Noldo took comfort in watching her shimmering hair for the rest of the day.

*******

Chapter 17 - Honesty

(Early Spring)


It was several hours after sunset that they rode into Forlond. They slowed to a trot. Immediately Adaron, Naurloth, Mirthlūn, and Thorontir turned southward along a side street, and slowed, and the hobbits' ponies were swept along with them.

Rinloss, Helkaris, Aergeleb and Alphaelin, with Lorien, continued on. As Helkaris and Rinloss rode by, Noldo looked into their eyes, and felt chilled. As Helkaris passed, his thoughts pressed into Noldo's mind. "Little savage, we will let you keep the child. It is mortal."

Noldo looked up at Adaron. Now that Alphaelin was gone, he felt free to speak at last. "I wish he and Rinloss had stayed with us, and you had gone," he said; "I trust you and do not believe that you would speak harshly against us."

Mirthlūn studied Noldo. "If they speak harshly, the wise will mistrust their motives."

Noldo looked at Mirthlūn. "I like you," he replied simply. "You have been kind, and I thank you for that."

They halted in front of a white house that looked as if the walls were made of seashells mortared together. The elves slid off their mounts, and the horses simply wandered off, some visiting a stream and some going directly to a nearby field. Noldo and Sindo stripped the tack off of their ponies, and Noldo looked at Mirthlūn. "If we let them go with the others, will you call them back for us when we need them?"

Mirthlūn nodded.

Thorontir frowned slightly at Noldo, and Noldo shrugged. "What must we do?"

Thorontir replied, "Rest. And wait."

"Rest..." Noldo looked down at the ground. It looked as good a place as any. He didn't care.

Sindo tapped him. "Not here. Thorontir, where can we go to rest and wait?"

The four elves once again surrounded the two hobbits, and led them inside the house. They climbed two stairwells, and came out through a door; the whole roof was a balcony, slanted slightly, but there were benches, and trees from three sides of the house reached leafy boughs over the roof. The effect was gardenlike; although there were no flowers, there were several small basins of water.

Thorontir was still frowning at Noldo. "You are not resting."

Noldo sat on a bench. The elves gently surrounded him, except for Naurloth, who followed Sindo closely. Sindo stood by Noldo, clapped him wearily on the shoulder, and then sat down on the ground by his feet. "Naurloth."

"Yes, Sindo."

"I suspect that these four have some important talking to do. But I am exhausted. May I ask you to do something for me?"

Naurloth waited.

"It seems funny to ask, and maybe it's not proper, or something," Sindo wavered, nervous now. "But what I was going to ask was--" he hesitated.

Naurloth waited.

"Well-- sometimes, when everything was quiet, Lorien used to sing in my mind."

Naurloth smiled, delighted, waiting for the rest of the question.

"Do you know the Song of Nimrodel? My mother used to sing a few verses of it as a lullaby. Lorien sang it to me by the hour."

Naurloth chuckled. "The Lay of Nimrodel. Yes, I do. I've never tried to sing a tune inside someone's mind before," he laughed. "We generally sing out loud, for joy or grief. But I will try it."

Naurloth sat on the bench beside Noldo, and Sindo curled up at Noldo's feet and opened his mind to Naurloth. Naurloth began to concentrate, and Sindo visibly relaxed, and within a few verses, was fast asleep.

"Take him below, " smiled Adaron, and Naurloth smiled back. "Yes, but I think I had better keep singing; he has woven his dreams around the song already." Sindo stirred, and Naurloth hurriedly began concentrating again. Once again he lifted Sindo and took him downstairs. He returned shortly to the rooftop, but kept his distance, concentrating with a smile.

Thorontir still frowned at Noldo, baffled that the hobbit could not, would not relax. "Your brother is resting now. Why cannot you rest as well?"

Adaron shook his head. "The day you fall in love, Thorontir, you will understand."

Noldo looked at Thorontir in surprise. "How old are you? If it's not improper to ask, that is."

"It is considered improper, little one, but I will answer. I have seen a thousand summers and more, " Thorontir said.

Noldo rubbed his hands over his face. "I suppose that makes you young."

"Yes," said Thorontir. "But not so young as Mirthlūn."

Noldo raised his eyebrows at Mirthlūn. "I have seen five hundred and forty two summers since I came of age," Mirthlūn replied. "Yet neither am I the youngest." He laughed at Adaron.

Noldo waited, eyes widening.

"I am barely two hundred years old," replied Adaron.

Noldo stared at him, waiting.

"However," Adaron replied, "I am married. And I have a daughter and a son. My son has just come of age. And my daughter," he said, very quietly, "is scarcely Lorien's age."

"Then, " replied Noldo, "why don't you hate me for what I've done to Lorien?"

Adaron shook his head. "Hate you? No. Grieve with you, perhaps. Grieve over you, certainly."

"I don't understand."

Adaron smiled sadly, but then his eyes softened. "One hundred and seventy years ago, another tale of youthful love was told in Forlond. Well before either of us were of age, I knew that Lothuial was, as you quaintly say, fond of me; as I was of her. She was very young, not much older than Lorien, although not nearly so strong-willed and tenacious. I remember that time clearly, of course. I remember the guidance we had, the counsel, the guardians, the oversight. And none of it was wasted; we needed it all."

He sighed again. "And so did you. But you had only your father's imperfect understanding, until you lost even that, and had to count on your brother for counsel. And your brother was guided by Lorien The Strong-Willed And Tenacious. Noldo, without your father you had no chance. You fell into their hands."

Noldo bristled despite himself.

"Do not mistake me, " Adaron said gently, with a sad smile. "I do not doubt your love for her, nor her love for you. But she wooed you, finally, with such skill, because your brother counseled her. And he counseled her, because he believed her love for you was immutable; but she had never been put to the test. She had never tried to let go of her love for you; there was no one capable of disciplining her out of her willfulness, no one to guide her with millennia in perspective. She had never been subjected to discipline and patience. She had never been made to understand that the consequences of her actions and decisions would last for thousands of years."

Noldo began to feel rather uncomfortable.

"I have said too much, " Adaron said, "but perhaps now you understand why I grieve over you. If you had had your way, none of this would have come to pass; but you were guided, in the end, by the passions of a stubborn, willful, spoiled elf-child, and the counsel of your brother who had become her willing servant. Between his counsel and her tenacity, you were wooed and won."

Noldo waited, expecting a rebuke but somehow not fearing it.

"That she loves you with all her heart I have no doubt. That you love her wholeheartedly and devotedly I am also entirely confident. And now, " Adaron continued softly, "because you and she shared thoughts without training or guidance or restraint, already your minds are intimate, your thoughts flow together, you have learned to wait peacefully with each other, to help each other, protect each other, and encourage each other; and now also you have taken an oath binding yourselves to each other. If that oath is upheld by the wise, then, she will watch you age and die, and Sindo will also age and die, and she will watch your child age and die; in the end, she will be alone, with only the memory of your love for her. Elves generally do not remarry. There is no reason to expect that she would."

Noldo waited, but Adaron seemed to have finished his tale. Noldo's heart was now heavier still for the thought of Lorien's long, slow wait as he, Sindo, and the child died off.

Perhaps, thought Noldo, it would be better if she were spared all that, and taken from me now. Perhaps if the oath is declared invalid, she could marry someone who could be with her all her long, long life.

Adaron stirred, and turned to look at Naurloth, who looked up at him, stood, and came to stand beside him. "How is Sindo?"

"His dreams have quieted, and he sleeps deeply."

Adaron nodded. "Noldo, Naurloth is my son."

Naurloth smiled at Noldo, and Noldo struggled wearily to his feet. "You are happy indeed, Naurloth, to have such a father as Adaron."

Naurloth smiled and nodded. "Mirthlūn named him well."

Mirthlūn laughed. "I like giving names, Fiery Little Spirit. Belegadar seemed an appropriate name when his girl-child was born, although all now shorten it to Adaron. Lothuial bore him two children within twenty-eight years."

Adaron gave Mirthlūn a fond scowl, and changed the subject. "I think, " he said, "as weary and burdened as Noldo is, that perhaps we should all sing for him. Perhaps then he would be able to find some rest."

Adaron nodded at Naurloth, who softly began to sing, and the rest joined in. To Noldo's surprise, the song they sang was one he had never heard before; he half expected the Lay of Nimrodel.

Instead, they sang of Fingolfin's challenge to Morgoth; hardly a lullaby, Noldo thought. As they sang, Noldo saw the mountainside and the terrible Thangorodrim gates, and Fingolfin standing outside the gates shouting his challenge; flames leaped up in Noldo's mind, and a tall, dark foe towered over Fingolfin, and overpowered him despite the King's valor. But Fingolfin looked strangely like Noldo's own father, and Morgoth grew more dragon-like as the song progressed. When Morgoth finally defeated Fingolfin, and the eagle swooped down to take up Fingolfin's body and bear it away, Noldo saw no eagle, but the dragon, bearing away the bodies of his father and mother.

Noldo stood suddenly, and took his hands away from his eyes, in despair and anger and horror about to rail at the elves. To his surprise, Thorontir and Mirthlūn, and Adaron and Naurloth were all watching him with compassion, and with a wave of his hand Adaron stopped the song, reached forward, and lightly touched Noldo's chest.

"Weep for them, Noldo. Give them the mourning that they rightly deserve."

And so he did. He sat down among his four friends, who quietly waited and watched over him. Alternating between tears and silence, as the night deepened and the far eastern sky lightened, Noldo grieved, at long last, for the loss of Doldo and Mallie.

As the day dawned, Noldo, completely exhausted, fell into a deep sleep. Adaron had Naurloth carry him downstairs to another room near the one Sindo slept in.

Not long after dawn, Sindo woke up and came looking for Noldo. Naurloth was watching over Noldo, and Sindo asked him how Noldo was. Adaron joined them quietly as Naurloth was answering, "He looks peaceful enough."

"But how are his dreams?" Sindo persisted.

"I do not know."

"Well, are you going to look?"

"No. Are you?"

"Yes."

Adaron frowned.

Sindo, without any outward sign of concentration or focus, simply nodded. "His dreams are peaceful enough. I'll let him be, then."

Adaron stepped forward. "Sindo, you need more wisdom than you have, to know when his dreams are 'peaceful enough'."

"What do you mean? He's not having any nightmares, and his mind isn't full of fear or worry."

"How many times did you distract him from remembering your parents' deaths?"

Tears started into Sindo's eyes. "As often as I could!" he said vehemently.

"But you were not afraid to weep for them."

"I had to. I couldn't help it. I cried night after night. But I didn't want him to have to."

"Why should he not weep for them even as you did?"

"Because he had been sad enough, " retorted Sindo. "Losing Lily was hard enough on him."

"Not as hard as unreleased grief and mourning."

Sindo wilted. "Lorien didn't want to see him sad either. Neither of us did."

"Then you are both guilty of keeping him from the healing he needed, and could only find in grieving and mourning for his parents. Sindo, I understand your love for your brother, and your desire to care for him and protect him. But neither dreams nor waking thoughts are to be trivialized or toyed with, or casually dismissed or suppressed, by a thought-sharing guest. It is one thing to share thoughts with a friend. It is another thing to control that friend's thoughts."

Sindo looked at Adaron, and still finding deep acceptance in his eyes, replied, "He never fought me."

"How could he, Sindo? You started in his dreams with a knife at his throat, and tamed him from there. Even if he had decided that blocking you out was a safe option, his love for you was far too deep for him to want to block you out of his mind. And that proved to be his undoing."

"Should he have blocked me out?"

"Perhaps. I shall not judge that now. But he should have been free to do so if he chose."

Sindo sat by his brother's bedside for a long time, thinking. Naurloth and Adaron waited in silence.

Mirthlūn and Thorontir brought bread and fruit, and they quietly ate while Noldo slept on; as they finished the last of the food, and the sun climbed to its zenith, Noldo stirred and woke. He glanced around, and noticed the empty platters. The elves laughed, and rose to leave; Mirthlūn promised to return with another plateful, which he did quickly, and then he left.

Noldo ate slowly. Sindo took a deep breath, and beginning far back at the crossing of the Misty Mountains, related his own tale to Noldo as the elves had seen it. And he apologized, carefully and deeply and sometimes with tears, at each trespass, until Noldo reached over and smacked him on the shoulder. "All right, Pesky. I forgive you for it; all of it. Let's let it go."

"Noldo, I'm sorry. I'm not meaning to be a... a pest. But each of these moments is like a weight on me. I've got to tell you about each one. Please."

Noldo sighed, and lay back down. "First get me another plateful then."

"All right." Sindo got up and went out. Noldo waited, staring out the window, and Sindo returned and set the plate beside Noldo. Noldo started on an apple.

Sindo struggled. "The next part is the worst."

"It is?"

"Yes. About three weeks before we met Ranger. I was talking to you about the clouds. Remember?"

"I was more and more sure that your mind had really snapped."

"I know. But it hadn't. I hadn't. I was-- I was keeping you from something. From somebody."

"From what?"

"From... I think... I think it was an elf. Or two elves."

Noldo sat bolt upright. "What?"

"I think it was two."

"But why?"

"Oh, Noldo, why do you think? But no, I'll say it. Because I couldn't bear the idea of being separated from Lorien, and I was determined to fight it any way I could."

"So... so you hid me from an elf? Two elves?"

"Yes."

Noldo slumped forward.

"It's worse than it sounds."

"What? Why?"

Sindo's voice shook as he spoke. "If we had stopped then, and learned where the elves were-- I think that was Imladris, or Rivendell-- we would have gone back then, and told Dad. We were only two weeks from home. And we would have gotten home, and probably packed and left, all of us, before the dragon came-- four weeks later. " Sindo burst into tears.

Noldo sat, numbly staring out the window, still raw from last night's grief and mourning; and for a little while he said nothing, but clasped his brother's hand as he wept.

Slowly Noldo stirred. "Sindo, you don't know that. We don't know that. We might have all still been there. Or Dad might have sent only one of us south with Lorien. Or the dragon might have found all of us together."

"No, " Sindo sobbed. "The elves knew about the settlements along the rivers, the hobbit settlements along the Bruinien and the Hoarwell. Dad would have taken Mother there as fast as he could have. We would have left right away. None of that would have happened. They would still be alive."

Noldo turned and looked hard at his brother, realizing the depths of his misery. "How long have you been blaming yourself for their deaths?" he asked, but he knew the answer even as he asked; Sindo had added up the weeks and come to his conclusions the very night that Doldo and Mallie died, and had blamed himself ever since.

Noldo thought he would ask for elvish help to get past that, so he rolled out of bed and stood beside his brother and held him tightly, and said only, "Stay with me, Sindo. Stay with me. I need you. You've got to come hunting with me. You've got to live next door to me. I need you to laugh with me and sing with me. You've got to stay with me."

"I will," his brother sobbed, "but it is true. The elves said so. They told me that Rivendell would have helped us, and I wasted that chance. I destroyed it. And now Mother and Dad are dead, and it's my fault."

Noldo's eyes widened. He wanted to protect his brother from the guilt, to deny it, to shield him, so that he wouldn't carry that burden anymore, but somehow he realised that he could not and that he even should not. He didn't know what to do. So he held his brother tightly as he cried.

It was quite a while before Sindo's tears slowed, and as he regained his composure, Noldo began to try and speak some comfort to him. But Sindo waved him off. "There's more."

"You've had enough for one afternoon!"

"No, Noldo, please. I can't carry this around any more. Please listen."

Not knowing whether he had enough strength left, Noldo nodded, and got back into bed, and sat listening.

"When we were riding west, and Lorien shared thoughts with you, peacefully and quietly... Remember?"

"Of course. That was what first began to win my heart."

"Of course it did. I told her to do it."

"What?"

Sindo buried his face in his hands. "You told me that what you liked about Lily was that she was polite and respectful, and soothing. So I explained that to Lorien. And I told her that she should be soothing and polite, and you would like that. And it worked."

Noldo paused, thinking that over.

Sindo dropped his hands into his lap and stared at them. "I used your description of Lily to defeat your love for Lily and replace it with love for Lorien instead." He clenched his fists. "And to think I called you callous and insensitive."

Noldo thought for a while, and then replied, "Look, this is all water under the bridge. I've fallen in love with Lorien and I've married her. I don't care if you helped me along or not. I love her now."

"And what if you don't get to keep her?"

"That's not your fault."

"Isn't it? Since I'm the one who convinced you to let go of Lily and marry her?"

"If anyone convinced me to let go of Lily, it was Lorien. I needed to tell somebody Lily's story, and Lorien listened, quietly and respectfully. It was Lorien's increasing respect for each of my memories of Lily that made me comfortable with sharing more of my memories of Lily with Lorien. Lorien cares for Lily, for my memories of her. She knows how important Lily was to me. And she respects that. I think she values Lily. I think she respects her."

"You do still love Lily, don't you."

Noldo felt so very weary. "Sindo, I love my wife. I'll always have very fond memories of Lily, yes. She'll always be very special and important to me. But I've given my oath to Lily."

Sindo raised his eyebrows. "To Lorien, you mean."

Noldo drew the back of his hand across his eyes. "Of course. Did I say Lily? Of course I meant Lorien. Sindo, I'm tired. And I miss Lorien, and I wonder if I will miss her for very much longer, or whether they will return her to me. Look, Sindo, I don't know whether you have more to ask me or tell me, but I'm very tired. Could I rest again? Feel free to talk to me in my dreams if you'd like."

Sindo frowned. "I'm not sure I'll do that very much any more, " he hesitated.

Noldo gave him a curious look. "Well, it's up to you."

"Maybe we both could use a rest. I'll go back to my room. Good night, Noldo." Sindo left.

But a half hour later, they were both wakened by Mirthlūn, telling them that they had guests downstairs. They combed their hair as best they could and washed their faces, and followed him groggily down to a parlor.

*******

Chapter 18 - Lorien's Secrets

(Early Spring)


"This, " said Mirthlūn, "Is Gildor. And this is Cirdan."

Sindo and Noldo bowed, and Mirthlūn introduced them too. Then Mirthlūn left, and Noldo and Sindo were alone with Cirdan and Gildor. A silence followed, and the hobbits studied the two new elves even as they were themselves studied. And then to his surprise, Noldo sensed a gentle presence on the edge of his mind. He welcomed Cirdan automatically, and asked him what he would like to know.

Cirdan replied, I would like to understand your love for the girl you call Lorien.

Noldo and Sindo exchanged glances, and Noldo realised that Gildor had likewise approached Sindo.

For the next hour, Cirdan explored Noldo's memories and feelings, and Noldo was reminded of nothing so much as Sindo. Cirdan was much more polite, and asked permission before he explored anything, but Noldo knew that Cirdan was easily as thorough as Sindo was. He sensed in Cirdan many greater depths yet unplumbed, and was afraid to ask or look.

Meanwhile, Sindo was also realising he had met his match in Gildor. Gildor politely pressed him for many answers, and Sindo's natural resistance and reticence faded under Gildor's strength of will.

When the hour was over, Cirdan and Gildor physically got up and changed places, almost ceremonially, Noldo thought. And then Gildor was at the edge of Noldo's mind, asking to be let in, and Cirdan was exploring Sindo's memories. This lasted rather longer.

However, it did finally end, and the stars glittered coldly outside.

Cirdan rose, and paced toward the starry window. "Noldo."

"Yes, sir."

"You believe that Lorien's parents died in the fire, and that you saw their bodies."

"I assumed so, sir. We all did."

"Lorien's parents were not there."

Noldo waited, icy fear in his heart.

"Noldo, her parents had died four years earlier in another raid."

"....Oh, no."

"That fire that you saw was Lorien's second great loss. Doldo and Mallie were her third."

No wonder she snapped at the first fire above the Langwell; no wonder she panicked when the dragon came. Not from fear of the danger; from despair at another loss. Noldo silently wept for Lorien. Sindo stood, stunned, reviewing everything he knew about Lorien and wondering if there was any way he could have guessed; but she had blocked out her entire past.

Cirdan continued. "The guardians that she was with on the hillside, had great pity on her because of her loss. Too much pity. They failed to guide her, failed to guard her from her own selfishness. They indulged her. So when you received custody of her, you received custody of a spoiled, impertinent, arrogant, selfish child."

Sindo, knowing what was coming, hung his head.

"And your brother endorsed and supported her every desire. She is now more spoiled than she was before." Cirdan turned and studied Noldo.

"Now that you know what has happened to you and why, do you not wish to be released from your oath?"

Rather than wildly roaring 'no' at Cirdan like he wanted to, Noldo thought that over. "Sir, I know that Lorien would be better off married to another elf instead of me, and that I failed to keep her long future in mind when I offered her my hand. I know that my own decisions were bad, and that I was short-sighted. Yet, sir, you ask me only if I wish to be released from my oath. No, sir, I do not. I love her still. And I do not wish to be parted from her. Whether that is wise or prudent or just, I do not know. Perhaps not. Probably not. But you only asked me what I wished."

"Indeed, your mind is not my concern tonight. I seek to understand your heart," Cirdan replied. "I ask you again: do you love her?"

"Yes, I do."

Cirdan stepped closer. "Do you love her," he continued, "enough to curb her pride, and train her out of her impertinence, and humble her arrogance, and teach her selflessness? For these tasks will not prove easy."

It sounded like Cirdan was asking him if he wanted her back desperately enough to actually finish her upbringing. Noldo's head spun. He thought hard, and remembered Adaron's story, and all the counsel Adaron and his young Lothuial had received.

"Sir, perhaps-- perhaps it would set you and I both at ease if Lorien and I were to have assistance. Elvish assistance."

Gildor's eyebrows went up. "What kind of assistance would you consider?"

"Someone to mentor her, and me. Someone to advise us, perhaps to come and visit us, and see how she is doing, in regard to her humility and selflessness, and see how I am doing in leading her and caring for her; and to counsel us both. Is that possible?"

Gildor and Cirdan studied each other. "Indeed, it will be made possible, if you desire it. Have you thought of anyone in particular?"

"Yes, sir. Adaron."

"It is a good request." Cirdan nodded. Then he studied Noldo again.

"She does not desire to be released from her oath, even now that she knows who and what she is, and what life in Forlond would hold for her. She does not want to lose you, Noldo, nor you, Sindo. And given her threefold loss, I do not wish to inflict a fourth. Not now. Many more losses will come to her later; but by then she will have the strength to bear them. I do not wish to separate her from you now."

Noldo held his breath, hardly daring to believe what he heard. Sindo stifled the urge to shout and break into a wild celebratory dance.

"I foresee that your trials are not yet over, Noldo. But Lorien will return to you in the morning, as your wife. You are welcome to stay in Forlond for as long as you like; and I suggest that the three of you stay at least 'til the child is delivered. The midwives here will care well for your wife and child both."

Sindo could bear it no longer, and a shout of delight escaped him. Noldo jumped, but Sindo pounded his back, and then burst into tears. Noldo stood by him with one hand on his shoulder, pondering, watching Cirdan, casting glances at Gildor. They waited.

Finally Cirdan approached Noldo gently. "Adaron is a good choice. He is young, but he is wise far beyond his years. I will ask him to mentor you."

"Thank you, sir."

"And now, until the morning comes, I suggest that you rest if you can. You are both very weary, in body, mind, and heart. Sleep now, and may no fears or worries burden your dreams."

Cirdan and Gildor went outside, and three of the four elves returned. Adaron was outside speaking with Cirdan. Then Cirdan and Gildor walked away, and Adaron returned. The kind joy in his eyes gave Noldo the answer he needed, but Adaron confirmed it. "I will come and visit you, if you wish me to."

Before Noldo could find an answer, he also burst into tears. Adaron smiled, and placed a hand on his shoulder and guided him back upstairs to his room. Naurloth followed with the now quiet Sindo.

That night, Noldo was afraid that he would be unable to sleep. But whether from the draining day he had had, or from the quiet presence of Adaron who sat in the room next to his, reading, Noldo dropped off easily. Naurloth wandered between the room his father sat in and the roof of the house as he silently sang in Sindo's mind, and Sindo wove The Lay of Nimrodel in and out of his dreams.

*******

Noldo woke just before dawn, wondering when Lorien would arrive. Sindo was already up, washed, and restless. Noldo washed up, and paced, not hungry. Sindo watched from the rooftop. Noldo joined him, pacing there.

Adaron and Naurloth joined them. Naurloth went to Sindo, and they stood gazing out over the railing. Adaron and Noldo paced.

"Adaron, where are your wife and daughter?"

"They are on their way. They left the forest when we turned south, but they did not ride as hard as we did. They will come here."

"Is this your house?"

"Yes, it is."

"Thank you for opening your house to us."

"You are welcome to stay as long as you like."

"Are we? Adaron, it feels like home here, with you and Naurloth. I enjoy it here."

"Why don't you stay here as long as you remain in Forlond?"

"I should like that very much. Thank you, friend." Noldo paced a little, and then asked, "What is your daughter's name?"

"Which one?" Adaron asked, and then blushed. Noldo had never seen an elf blush before.

"I thought you only had one daughter!"

"Lothuial is expecting again," Adaron said. "It is one reason they are travelling slowly."

"There's no reason for you to be embarassed! I congratulate you, Adaron."

"Please don't tell Mirthlūn. I'm just worried that when Mirthlūn finds out, he will give me another name. This one's bad enough."

"Why? What's wrong with your name?"

"Belegadar. Mighty Father. Even when you shorten it to Adaron, which has the same meaning, it's rather presumptious, don't you think? He could have named me Kind Father, or Happy Father, or something a little more innocuous. But alas, Adaron it was and is, and few forget it. Mirthlūn is quite fond of telling everyone that Lothuial has had two children in twenty-eight years. Now it will be three children within fifty years, and he will give me no peace."

"I do believe you're rather shy. What were you named at birth?"

"Nevermind that. Adaron will do fine."

"You didn't like that name either!"

"No. I've often wanted some sort of normal name, like Blue River, or White Cloud, or Green Tree. But everyone has such grandiose ideas."

"Perhaps there's a reason for that, " Noldo smiled. "Whatever people may call you, you've been very kind to me, and I'm grateful. But how do you know that your little child is a girl?"

"By the sense of her mind. The same way I knew that Lorien's child is a boy."

Now it was Noldo's turn to be silent. Adaron smiled. "It makes choosing names easier, or so they tell me. I'm not good at choosing names anyway."

"You could let Mirthlūn name the girl," Noldo smiled mischievously.

"The poor child would be named Little Elbereth, or Queen of Arda, or something. No. She will be named after a humble blossom of some sort, like her mother and brother and sister before her."

They looked out over the railing, but the streets were mostly empty.

"And my elder daughter's name," Adaron added, "is Lothlūn, which means Blue Flower."

"It's a sweet name. Did Mirthlūn have anything to do with it?"

"He did not name her. If you're asking whether we named her after my good friend, the answer is yes. But I think he was so thrilled that we named her after him, that he renamed me. I have often wondered if I called her Tirloth, Watchflower, if I would not have such an embarassing name now."

"Tirloth isn't as pretty a name as Lothlūn."

"No." Adaron sighed. "Well, it could have been worse. He could have called me Little Feanor, instead of you."

"What does that mean, anyway?"

"Poor Noldo. He only named you after the elf who created the Silmarils and was indirectly responsible for the downfall of all of Beleriand and half of civilization. That's all. Perhaps if you do not mention it again, no one will remember it and it will not stick."

Noldo chuckled. "Too bad. I rather liked being called Fiery Little Spirit."

"You did?"

"Ned would have laughed." And then Noldo fell quiet, and Adaron decided not to ask why at that time. There was a long silence.

Suddenly both Noldo and Sindo stiffened, and ran to the front railing, looking wildly up and down the street. They could not see her. Naurloth and Adaron looked at them, puzzled.

"Didn't you hear it?"

"Hear what?"

Noldo and Sindo laughed, listening again. Come find me. Her voice laughed inside their minds like the sunlight on the water. Come find me. They guessed she was behind the house, on the street that ran past the back garden; they looked over the back wall. There she was, laughing, on the other side of the garden fence. If they went out the back door, they'd have to climb the fence, or figure out how to open the strange gate. But if they went out the front door, they could go around the garden.

"You go left, I'll go right, " Noldo whispered, and they pelted down the stairs, split up and sprinted around the house.

Sindo had a shorter route to get to Lorien, and by the time Noldo came around the corner, Sindo had met her, and embraced her, laughing. Noldo stopped, watching, listening, her laughter giving him chills of joy. Sindo looked up, and released her, and she turned to face Noldo.

He stood ten feet away, gazing at her, wondering suddenly who she was. What had the regained years given her, and had they changed her?

He gazed into her eyes. She had changed. He could see it. She looked at him with a depth, and a presence, that he had never sensed in her before. Suddenly she seemed ancient. He fought that. Adaron had told him that she was barely twenty-six. But not only had her own past been restored to her; she had learned, from Alphaelin and Aergeleb and Gildor and Cirdan, more in the past ten days about her elven history than she had in all her previous twenty-six years. It showed in her eyes, in her bearing, it changed the way that her mind felt. Noldo waited, torn between wild longing and sudden fear.

And then she reached her arms to him, and he sensed her calling again: Come find me, Noldo. Come find who I am.

He came. He held her as tightly as he dared, and buried his face in her hair and filled her mind with all the tenderness he could pour into her. Sindo quietly turned to leave, but Noldo called him back; and after Noldo kissed Lorien, the three of them walked around the front of the house, through it, and into the back garden, and opened their minds to each other.

For a while they laughed for joy, and shed a few tears; but then they rested in the gladness that they were all together again at last, and that there was no need for them to be separated anymore. Noldo and Sindo happened on the same thought together, and Noldo turned to Lorien, and spoke out loud to her.

"Stay with me, Lorien; stay with me. And Sinda will live close by, and make his home in a hillside not far from ours. We need you. Stay with both of us. Come and make a home with us."

She smiled like sunlight shining down through deep blue water, and replied, "Noldo and Sinda are my people; I am at home now. You are my home."

***********
__________________
Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-19-2021, 08:49 AM   #6
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,043
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapter 19 - Friends

(Mid Spring)


Several days later, just before noon, Lothuial and Lothlūn arrived. Adaron introduced them to Lorien, Noldo, and Sindo.

Lothuial, Lothlūn, and Lorien enjoyed each other immediately, and Adaron smiled; he suspected that the three young ladies (Adaron still thought of both himself and Lothuial as very young) would spend a great deal of time together. The three young ladies settled in and washed up, and then went to Lothlūn's room and shut the door. The door didn't muffle the chatting and laughter very well.

Thorontir and Mirthlūn arrived, and they began preparing for an evening meal. Noldo and Sindo learned that all eight members of the original escort were expected; Noldo worried, since Alphaelin and Aergeleb intimidated him so, and Helkaris and Rinloss made him uncomfortable in many ways.

Adaron tried to reassure him. "Alphaelin and Aergeleb have mentored me for many years. And Helkaris and Rinloss have their faults, but they are not dark. They are young."

"Young?"

"Rinloss is Helkaris' son. I think Rinloss took a fancy to Lorien and hoped that Cirdan would permanently separate you from her. But since Cirdan did not, Rinloss will not harp further on the idea. I hope Helkaris is as reasonable. He tends to be more stubborn than his son."

"You sound worried."

"I am more than half afraid that Rinloss will pursue my own daughter, and then I will have to turn down the son of a friend. I do not like the idea. But I would not marry Lothlūn to Rinloss."

Noldo studied Adaron, and wondered who he would approve of, and whether there was a shortage of marriageable male elves, that there were no other, more preferable suitors for Lothlūn. He puzzled over that, and then remembered Alphaelin and Aergeleb, and worried about what they thought of him still, and whether they disliked him, and whether he should care. Too many questions. With an effort he shook off his uneasiness. He and Sindo helped their four friends with the food preparations.

**********

Late that afternoon, the other four elves from the company arrived, and to Noldo's uneasy surprise, there were many more elves with them, and more still followed. The three floors of the house and even the garden began to fill. More food arrived in waves and was set out. A few musicians gathered and played out in the garden, and there was some dancing there and on the roof where the music could be heard as well.

Noldo and Sindo hung back in the kitchen, nervously looking for more things to do. "Adaron, I hardly feel that I shall fit in, or that we are ready to meet all these elves. Perhaps my family should go for a walk, or a ride, " Noldo suggested.

Adaron replied with mock surprise, "Why, I do believe that you are shy!" He smiled. "Do not fear. These are all friends of my family, and they are here to see Lothuial and Lothlūn. Most do not know your story, nor need they learn it. Very few, I think, will ever learn it as we have."

"We needn't be introduced in detail, then, " Noldo said.

Adaron nodded. "We will simply say that you are travelers, and guests in my house. If you wish your story to remain hidden, then do not display too much affection, and no one will ask."

Just as well. Noldo realised he had gotten quite careless about the amount of affection he showed Lorien in public anyway, having gotten used to life in the wild. Society, whether elf or hobbit, had stricter norms. Noldo sighed, and nodded, and took a deep breath, and closed his eyes, and called Lorien. She responded, and he explained as gently as he could what Adaron had just told him.

She laughed softly and sweetly in his mind, and told him Lothuial had already explained all of that, and he needn't have worried.

Just then the three ladies emerged from Lothlūn's room where they had been closeted away for hours. "Apparently they've been adjusting a dress for Lorien. I should say they are quite finished, " Adaron nodded approvingly.

It was a stunning dress, and Noldo forgot his uneasiness as he watched Lorien. The dress affected her too; her movements became more graceful still, and she stood as tall as she could, and her eyes glittered less and shone more. She was never far from Lothuial or Lothlūn, and the three of them composed one lovely picture after another. Noldo admired Lothuial's elegant grace, and wondered at Lothlūn's slender height. But seeing Lothlūn and Lorien together worried him. Lothlūn towered over Lorien, and he knew they were only two years apart in age. He pulled Adaron aside and asked him about it.

"Gildor mentioned that," Adaron replied. "He thinks it was the stress of losing her original parents, and then her guardians, and Doldo and Mallie; and then the cold winters without fresh fruits and vegetables just made it that much worse."

"What are you saying? That she'll never grow as tall as she should?"

"That is true. She may have reached her full height already."

Lorien was just one inch taller than his four-foot-nine-inch height. "No wonder your people hate me."

"Noldo, all of us are grieved and upset by your story and your early marriage. But none who have taken the time to truly learn your story, hate you. A few of us are even quite fond of you, now."

Noldo blushed, stung by the reminder, but he was still fretting about Lorien's height. "Don't most elves grow to six feet tall?"

"Many do. Not all."

"She is by far the shortest elf here."

"You and your family worked hard to care for her, and did all that you could do. You and Sindo have both paid for your foolishness, and your wife is returned to you. Don't berate yourself. Be at peace and look to the future. But if you do berate yourself, then Sindo will by far bear the heaviest burden since his guilt is the deepest."

That stopped Noldo. Sindo had suffered enough for his misdeeds. In one moment Noldo decisively dismissed the entire subject. Adaron knew he did, and was glad that Sindo had such a brother to look out for him.

A gale of laughter interrupted them, and Adaron smiled. "I had previously noticed that Lorien was overly solemn for a lady her age. I wonder if that is about to change."

"She laughed often with my mother, " Noldo said.

"Perhaps she will learn to laugh again, spending time with Lothuial and Lothlūn."

It was odd to watch the three of them. Tall Lothuial was solemn one moment, and then would burst into elegantly rippling laughter the next. Lothlūn was giggly and chatty and vivacious. Lorien was somewhere between the two, sometimes mischievously alert, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes bubbling and silly. On the surface Lorien and Lothlūn looked closest to each other. But then the conversation would suddenly turn serious, and occasionally Lorien or Lothuial would grow solemn; and then even the laughter had a solemnity about it, though it was no less joyful. But a moment later, Lorien and Lothlūn would be lightheartedly giggling again.

Watching Lorien's rapid mood changes made Noldo's head spin. "Help me, Adaron, " he murmured. "I need all the counsel you can give me."

"Yes, you do, " Adaron replied, having noticed the same thing. "I will be there for you whenever I can. She is formidable. But she does appear to be enjoying their company. I wonder if my wife and daughter will not do more for Lorien than I will do for you, even despite my best intentions."

"She seems to be thriving around them."

"Yes, I think she is."

By keeping the ladies in sight as they wandered about the house, Adaron had succeeded in leading Noldo and Sindo away from the kitchen. Noldo suddenly realised Mirthlūn was by his side, with a glass of wine in his hand, in quite high spirits.

Mirthlūn smiled warmly at Noldo. "Lorien is absolutely radiant. Lovely. The very embodiment of feminine vibrancy and strength. And that dress is an appropriate setting for such an exquisite jewel. Wait 'til she goes outside in the starlight. I wouldn't miss such a sight for all the wine at this table."

"Beware, " Adaron muttered. "He'll name her any second now."

Noldo smiled fondly up at Mirthlūn. "Mirthlūn, how do you say, 'Strong-Willed and Tenacious' in elvish?"

"What did you say?"

"'Strong-Willed and Tenacious'."

The words rolled around in Mirthlūn's mind. "Sindarin for strong-willed... hmmmm ... obstinate would be tarlanc... Or better, strong-spirited, bell-fear; tenacious-- how about dauntless... thalion. Unquenchable would be uluithiad."

Noldo tasted the combination of syllables. "Tarlanc Thalion... Belfear Uluithiad. Hmmm. Yes, those names do sound like her."

Mirthlūn seemed to snap back to reality. "You can't mean to apply those names to Lorien! Noldo, my goodness, this is all much too masculine. Really, Noldo, 'Strong-Willed and Tenacious' is hardly an appropriate name for such a glowing, radiant, heavenly creature!"

"Oh, I don't know, " Noldo shrugged. "Adaron named her that, and I thought it was perfectly appropriate. Quite perceptive of him."

"Oh, but you can't be serious, " Mirthlūn scolded.

Adaron smiled. "I wouldn't argue with him, if I were you. You don't have the rest of the company to rescue you if he turns his will on you now."

Mirthlūn gave Adaron a look of mock-terror, and then turned to Noldo. "His point is well taken; I'd best behave myself, hadn't I, Little Feanor!"

Adaron wilted under sheer guilt, and shot Noldo an apologetic glance. "Sorry."

Noldo laughed.

"In all seriousness, " Mirthlūn continued. "Lorien; dreams, dreamland. Pleasant enough. But hardly a name to do justice to such a beautiful creature. Don't you agree? She really does need another name."

"I'm perfectly happy calling her Lorien, " Noldo admitted.

"Oh, use your imagination!" Mirthlūn cried.

"You've never made such a fuss over Lothlūn," Adaron suddenly interposed.

Mirthlūn actually was at a loss for words, for about five seconds. "I thought you didn't like my names."

"You don't have to name her. But you've never even seemed to notice her."

"Ah... ...Should I?"

Adaron shot Noldo another glance of apology before he proceeded. "Lothlūn is every bit as attractive as Lorien. If you're so comfortable telling Noldo how lovely his wife is, why don't you take a minute and tell me how charming my daughter is?"

Noldo glanced at Lothlūn, and saw Rinloss chatting with her. Suddenly he understood. Mirthlūn, however, clearly had not caught on.

"Lothlūn has a quick sense of humor," Noldo pondered thoughtfully, savoring the words as he spoke, "and a lovely, musical laugh that makes her eyes sparkle like the sun on the river. She's lively, she's intriguing. She is tall and elegant and moves with a delightful shimmering grace, like a birch in the wind. Don't you agree, Mirthlūn?"

Mirthlūn's eyes grew wide, and he studied Noldo with something akin to amazement, and then turned to Adaron, who smiled at him and raised an eyebrow.

Noldo turned towards Lorien, and called her. "Lorien, shall we go outside and listen to the musicians?" She started towards him. He smiled invitingly at the other ladies, and they also smiled, excused themselves, and came laughing toward Noldo. Rinloss looked disappointed.

"I wondered whether the three ladies would be inseparable," Adaron said, smiling gratefully at Noldo.

Mirthlūn filled his glass again, suddenly off-balance, and Adaron waited for him as the ladies went out with Noldo. Mirthlūn studied Adaron, and then tried the edge of his thoughts, but Adaron's mind was closed tight.

"Adaron, what are you thinking? Your daughter is twenty-eight years old."

"I am thinking, " replied Adaron as bluntly as he could manage, "that the next twenty-two years will be over before you know it. Consider that yourself. You know you're tired of being alone. Twenty-two years is not that long to wait."

Adaron turned, and Mirthlūn, struck dumb by amazement, followed him outside where they joined Noldo, Sindo and the three ladies.

No one had any trouble, nor even hardly any discussion, from Mirthlūn for the rest of the night. Some pondered his starry eyes and wondered if he was composing a poem, or perhaps thinking up new names for everyone at the party. And he did make up a few new names. But they remained secret for another twenty-two years.

*******

Chapter 20 - Discretion

(Mid Spring)


Meanwhile, all this talk of renaming Lorien was bothering Noldo, and suddenly he realised why. Alphaelin had asked him why he used the name Lorien when he, Alphaelin, perceived that Lorien was not her name. He did not doubt that Lorien now knew what her original name was; he wondered why she had not told him. But she was busy with her friends, and he did not want to disturb her with his sudden curiosity.

He began wandering around the garden, and then into the house, through the rooms, and finally searched the roof. On the same bench he had sat on six nights earlier, listening to the song of Fingolfin's challenge to Morgoth, he found Alphaelin and Aergeleb. He was surprised to see them both stand to welcome him. They were both gentle and friendly, and they set him at ease; they invited him to join them on the bench, and he agreed.

They knew he had come with a specific question, and they waited.

"Alphaelin, when we first introduced ourselves out by the river, and I introduced Lorien, you asked me why I called her that, and that that was not her name. Do you know her original name? Her true name?"

Alphaelin hesitated. "We do. We are not certain that we should tell you what it is. We wonder whether it would be best if we did not."

"But why?"

"Out of kindness to you, Noldo. Lorien is a perfectly acceptable name for her. There is nothing wrong with calling her that. You do not need another name for her."

"What harm can knowing her name possibly do to me?"

"We do not know, and so we have left that choice up to Lorien herself. She knows you, and she will choose what to say and what to leave unsaid."

The subject seemed closed.

"May I ask you another question?"

"Yes."

"Why did you spend time in Lorien's thoughts, and in Sindo's thoughts, and yet not in mine?"

Alphaelin replied, "But we did."

"You did? When?"

"When you challenged us."

"The eight of you together?"

"Yes."

"But... what could you have learned by that? It only lasted for a moment."

Alphaelin replied, "If Aergeleb and I had not had Sindo's tale first, we would not have learned as much as we did. But we saw how Sindo sees you. We saw that you willingly submitted yourself to your father's judgment when you transgressed. We had seen through Sindo's eyes how you had fallen in love with Lorien. We knew that your love for her was based on Osanwe, and compassion for her, and responsibility for her. That base, despite her tender age and yours, was a foundation that Aergeleb and I hoped that we could trust."

Noldo listened, waiting and wondering.

"But when you turned on all eight of us," Aergeleb continued, "we could see what you were willing to risk for her. That showed us more about your love for her than hours of exploring memories. At that point, Alphaelin and I felt that we could trust you."

"I don't understand," Noldo said. "When Adaron challenged my will, I buckled. Quickly. I tried to give in even before he wanted me to."

"She wasn't threatened then, " Aergeleb replied. "He was merely attacking your pride, and you saw little value in resisting. But when your wife was threatened--whether the threat was real or perceived-- that was an entirely different matter."

Noldo considered that for quite a while, and then thought of something else that had been bothering him. "Why was the ride to Forlond made in silence?"

Alphaelin replied, "Because Lorien had much to remember, and much to learn. Aergeleb and I took turns teaching her much that she did not know."

So it had not been for the sake of hobbit-torture after all, then. He was relieved to learn that. It also explained why she had turned around so few times; she had been busy learning. "Will she teach those things to us?"

"That is up to her. Much of it is simply the history of her own people. She is free to teach you whatever she would like."

Noldo nodded, stood, and bowed. "Thank you. I have found much more kindness here than I expected."

They smiled sadly at that, and bade him farewell, and Noldo went back down to the garden. Seeing him coming, Lorien lit up into the loveliest smile, and he was content simply to join her and stand by her side.

Meanwhile, up on the roof, a tall young lady approached Alphaelin and Aergeleb. They rose to greet her and exchanged courtesies, and then she spoke very softly.

"My lords, I am concerned about the very young lady who is staying here in Adaron's house. I believe she is being referred to as Lorien."

Alphaelin and Aergeleb exchanged unhappy glances and then waited.

The lady's eyes filled with tears, and she dropped her voice to the quietest possible whisper. "My lords, I and my friends have perceived that she is with child."

Alphaelin raised his hand gently, and answered her softly. "It is known to us, and has been addressed by the wise. Neither we nor your friends will speak of it further."

The lady composed herself, placing one hand to her lips as if to seal them, but she could not contain her tears, and they fell freely. She studied Alphaelin and Aergeleb, and knew that they shared her grief; and she reminded herself that the issue had been addressed by the wise. Cirdan knew, then. All would be well; as well as it could possibly be. She took a deep breath, dropped into an equally deep curtsy, once again composed herself and returned to her friends, who were quite subdued throughout the remainder of the evening.

Alphaelin and Aergeleb sighed, knowing that others could perceive Lorien's condition as well. Cirdan and Gildor had warned them that keeping the story quiet might become rather difficult. And they had at least eight more months of dealing with the rumors and questions, before Lorien's earliest possible departure date. They would have to tell Adaron that his insistence that Noldo, Sindo and Lorien enjoy the elvish gathering had been insufficiently cautious. They were not looking forward to the discussion.

*******

Noldo, Sindo and Lorien stayed at Adaron's house through the summer and into the fall. They found their freedom somewhat curtailed after the party, for which Adaron apologized profusely, but Noldo was quite relieved. During the spring and summer they went out often at night into the fields and along the river. Noldo's favorite pastime was still riding; Sindo rode Archer, and Noldo and Lorien rode Hunter, Lorien riding behind Noldo with her arms around his waist. Hunter had gotten used to Noldo only having one hand on the reins; his other hand always covered or clasped one of Lorien's hands. In the fall they rode less, but when they did, Noldo rode behind Lorien, enjoying the shine of her hair, sometimes casting it around him like a golden cloak.

They made few new friends among the elves, but the original company of eight were always in and out of Adaron's house. Noldo never really relaxed around Helkaris. Noldo and Rinloss did seem to come to an uneasy truce of sorts, although Rinloss always suspected that Noldo had something to do with Mirthlūn's sudden interest in Lothlūn, which Rinloss rather resented.

Cirdan visited several times, at night, usually to speak to Adaron, although he also took time aside with Noldo and Sindo individually, to ask them how they were and offer them any assistance they needed. But they never could think of anything that Adaron hadn't already thought of.

Gildor visited more often, and discussed Noldo's plans for moving to a hobbit settlement. Gildor cautioned Noldo that the hobbits along the Bruinien and Hoarwell were at once more and less open-minded than the old settlement along the Langwell river had been.

"They are less concerned with the old laws and customs; they left much behind when they crossed the mountains. They, like you, learned that survival sometimes takes precedence over societal niceties. But they have become more tribal, and less open to outsiders. Loyalty is valued more than ever, sometimes more than it should be. You may find that your choice of a wife from outside your tribe is deeply resented."

That would produce a severe backlash against Lorien, Noldo realised, with a sinking heart. "But I can't not go home. Gildor, I need to go home; I need to be with hobbits again. What should I do?"

"I do not know the individual settlements, nor can I make suggestions about where you should go. That you will have to decide," Gildor said.

Lothuial delivered in mid-fall, and for many weeks the house rang with the cries of her child. Adaron did not mind the noise, and Naurloth tried not to. Adaron mused, "It is tempting to name her Lothlorien, in honor of our guests." Lothuial smiled warmly, liking the idea. "But we are trying to give them their privacy, and that would hardly help their cause."

Mirthlūn suggested Lothrin for Crowned With Flowers, and Lothuial liked that too.

"Well, " Adaron sighed, "I suppose it's not too pretentious. Any lass in a field of daisies can make a crown of flowers." Noldo laughed at him.

But Mirthlūn shook his head. "You misunderstand me. Name her Lothlorien, and call her Lothrin for now. Our guests will have their privacy, and you can unveil her true name any time you choose after our guests leave." That pleased everyone, and so it was decided.

Noldo noticed with no little pleasure that Mirthlūn referred to Noldo's family as "our" guests.

As fortune would have it, almost to the day that Lothuial's child began to cry less, Lorien's child was born. But many of the neighbors assumed that it was the same child crying. The voices of the two children were very similar.

Any similarities ended there. Noldo's son had blond hair, and blue eyes; but instead of being Lorien's deep-October-sky-blue, they were one shade lighter, with a grey ring around the iris. Somehow, even though the child's eyes were blue, they were definitely hobbit-eyes. Everyone agreed about that. And the child's blond hair (he was born with a full head of hair) was wildly curly. Compared to Lothuial's little Lothrin, his body was stockier and smaller. He laughed often, and his favorite sight was the river-- until he saw the sea.

Noldo struggled hard to come up with a name for him. They had been debating for months before he was born, and still it was three days after the boy was born before he settled on something.

"He was born in Forlond; you could call him Fordo, or Forlo, or even Foldo, " Sindo suggested.

Noldo knew that Sindo's suggestions made good sense, and would roll well off the tongue, and look fine under his own name in a genealogy table. But, "No, " he said. "His fate was bound up with the Lune River. If we had not set out to find the Lune River, he would never have been born. And it was arriving at the Lune River that moved me to propose to Lorien at last. I'll call him Lundo." He pronounced it to rhyme with the river.

Sindo gave him a bit of a wry look. "I don't like the 'u' sound. Hobbits won't pronounce it right. And do you want to have to explain that you named him that because that's where you were married?"

Noldo shot him a look that said the discussion was over, and Sindo sighed. But he got used to it. Adaron liked the name, and Mirthlūn congratulated Noldo on his use of symbolism and said that the name held good poetic promise. Noldo had to laugh.

Now he had to decide when to travel. Winter was almost upon them, and Noldo guessed that the journey ahead of him would take three months without a newborn child along. He discussed it with Adaron, who gently insisted that he wait 'til spring. Nervously, Noldo yielded, after checking with Cirdan and Gildor and Alphaelin and gaining their assent. With Noldo's and Adaron's withdrawal from society, the rumors had quieted down somewhat.

"There is a third option, " Adaron mused. "We could all return to the forest at the foot of the Ered Luin in Forlindon. It would be a little colder, but it would be quiet, and you would all have more freedom to move about."

"My uncle, " interposed Mirthlūn, "has a cottage in the forest east of Forlond. It is empty all winter, but it is also very quiet, and that would take ten days off of your journey in the spring."

This had great appeal. Mirthlūn spoke to his uncle, and it was arranged.

Everyone but Helkaris wanted to join them. Noldo was surprised and delighted that Alphaelin and Aergeleb mentioned wistfully that they would have enjoyed coming along, but the cottage was too small.

Even Rinloss expressed interest, primarily in the interest of keeping an eye on Mirthlūn and Lothlūn; but there were not enough rooms in the cottage, nor any other cottages nearby, and Rinloss concluded that his suit had been defeated, at least for now. He tried not to be sullen.

So it was settled; Mirthlūn, Thorontir, Adaron's entire family, and Noldo, Sindo, and Lorien with Lundo, mounted late one moonlit evening, along with several packhorses carrying warm clothing and food supplies, and headed east. Alphaelin, Aergeleb, Rinloss, and Helkaris were there to bid them a quiet farewell, and as they were riding slowly out, Gildor arrived to convey Cirdan's farewell. He drew Lorien aside.

One look into his serious eyes and she grew solemn. He spoke. "Lord Cirdan instructed me to tell you that he wishes you well, and hopes that many joys find you. But when those joys are past, when your husband and brother and your own children have left the circles of the world, you are welcome to return to the Havens. You then will have his permission and his blessing to sail west with the next departing ship, or any ship thereafter." He then kissed her hand and bade her farewell.

Noldo noticed that when Lorien returned, she was far more solemn and very quiet. She was thoughtful for several days.

Sindo begged to be allowed to hold Lundo as he rode, and Noldo enjoyed the idea. Sindo proved to be a doting uncle, and Lorien was frequently able to ride with Noldo on Hunter, her own pony running free alongside.

They stayed the winter at the cottage, hunting, riding, walking in the forests, the children cozily wrapped and warm in Sindo's rabbit furs. Mirthlūn arranged for regular shipments of food stores. Noldo and Sindo discovered and grew into an elvish love of the stars. They sang and talked and told stories into the night. Often as the songs and speech faded into satisfied and restful silence, the group would all open their thoughts just to enjoy the meditative stillness found in friendship. That winter would remain one of Sindo and Noldo's most cherished memories.

As spring broke, however, a joyous eagerness came upon all of them. Noldo understood it in his own family, but in the elves it puzzled him, until he learned that all of the elves had decided to accompany him on his journey. He was absolutely astounded.

Adaron smiled. "When you arrive at the hobbit settlements, we will roam in the wild. It will be no hardship for us, but a joy; we will find some woods to wander in for the summer. Perhaps we will visit Imladris. And we will help you settle in any way we can. You have won our hearts, little Noldo. Perhaps we will help you dig your tunnels." Adaron laughed merrily at himself, but Mirthlūn and Thorontir agreed staunchly.

"Elves can tunnel well at need. You will not require anything as large as Nargothrond, but we will help you dig and build a good home. And I will name your home for you," Mirthlūn promised solemnly.

Noldo wept grateful tears, and thought he was looking forward to whatever name Mirthlūn might choose. Sindo was astounded and utterly delighted; he and Naurloth had become fast friends.

There was little to pack and little to prepare. They would hunt and purchase food as they went, and the way was well known to Thorontir and Mirthlūn, both of whom enjoyed the forests of Eriador. They set out the next day.

*******

Chapter 21 - The Hole Next Door

(Mid Spring)


Gildor's caution about the tribal loyalties of the Bruinien and Hoarwell settlements stayed with Noldo, and he gave it plenty of thought. He decided not to travel down the river and through the settlements, but to settle on the northernmost, or north-western-most edge of the settlement. He wanted to be as close to Forlond, or perhaps Imladris, as he could. He wanted to give Adaron easy access to him and his family. Adaron liked the idea.

So that meant the Hoarwell, he thought. He wanted the northernmost section that was included in the settlement, so they swung north and followed the river southwards. When they arrived after a long and pleasant journey, they stopped at the first hobbit dwelling they found, and got directions to the nearest patriarch's dwelling. Noldo sent Sindo alone down the river to find the patriarch and obtain permission to settle, and also with instructions to find the nearest Inn; Noldo wanted a mug of beer.

Meanwhile they stayed and chatted with the hobbit. His name was Sandy Shallows, and he was a fisherman. He had a small, well-made wooden boat, and he fished the river and had a small garden. He was delighted to see Noldo, and a bit in awe of the elves.

"We don't see many of the fair folk on this part of the river. I hear tell that they can be heard singing in the forest betimes, but I'm not big on the forest. I'm happy with my fishing. There's odd folk in those forests, I hear."

Sandy assured Noldo that the beer at the Inn downriver was pretty good considering, and the food was proper. "You'll be settling hereabouts, maybe?" Sandy asked.

Noldo nodded. "I don't mean to interfere with your fishing. How far upstream do you fish?"

"Well, now, I can show you if you step up on the hill above my front door." Noldo followed him up. "Higher, now, up over here. All right. Now see that bend there? Beyond the rock. There's good reedy fishing right there. Beyond that it's all sandbar or sandy bottom for miles and miles; I never go past that sandbar."

Noldo nodded. "We'll look at the land above the bend, if that's all right with the local Patriarch... what did you say their name was?"

"Fernybanks. Go ahead and look at the hillsides, lad. Nobody as comes from across the Misty Mountains is bound to be refused. There's a loyalty here, there is. You'll be welcomed."

Noldo sighed. He wondered what part of the Anduin that the Fernybanks were from originally, and if they knew, or had known, any Fairbanks. He shook off the question.

"Fernybanks. Well, all right, and thank you. We'll go and ride the land now. Thank you, Sandy, and I hope we'll be seeing more of you. You'll send Sindo upriver to us when he returns?"

"Aye, that I will. Good luck to you." Sandy nodded and waved, and returned to his baskets of fish.

Noldo and all the elves led their horses upriver, past the rock and around the bend, and went a ways beyond that for good measure. Mirthlūn had a critical eye on the hillside.

"Here, I think the earth turns from sand to good soil; up there, to the right of that little ledge outcropping. There are woods behind it. I wonder how far back those woods go."

Thorontir obligingly mounted and went to explore.

Noldo liked the idea of having his hobbit-hole up by the woods; he had never relished being too close to the river, always having worried about floods. "We could fit two smials up there, couldn't we, Mirthlūn?"

"Smials?"

"That's what we call our tunnels."

"Smials. Why do you want two?"

"One for Sindo, one for me. He'll settle down and marry, too, one of these days. As soon as he comes of age, I hope."

"When will that be?"

"He's twenty-seven now. Another six years."

"And you? How old are you?"

"I'm thirty-one."

Mirthlūn raised an eyebrow at him, and Noldo nodded. "Yes, I did. Three years early. I thought you knew."

"What I don't understand, " Mirthlūn continued as if nothing had happened, "is why you don't build one large hobbit-hole, with lockable or barrable doors."

"Well, I suppose we could. But normally it's one smial per family. Well, but I suppose the larger families, the dynasty sorts of families, they build big interconnecting tunnels, but..."

Mirthlūn smiled. "Perhaps we should build two smials connected by a barrable tunnel."

"Perhaps we should ask Sindo what he wants."

"All right."

"But you are right about that hillside, Mirthlūn. I like the looks of it. There's only one thing wrong with it. It faces east, not south."

"Ah, I see your point. Then, " Mirthlūn swung his eyes further upriver, "That would be a better spot."

Noldo agreed. The new spot had all the advantages of the first, but the river had bent eastward for a long reach, and so the broad bank faced due south, and the woods ran due east-to-west behind the hillside, offering shelter. The sun would be bright on the hillside all winter. The soil was a rich loam. There was room for four or five good-sized hobbit-holes. And Noldo liked the idea that it was a bit further removed from Sandy Shallows' hole.

They waited for Thorontir to return; his horse was blowing hard. He had run his horse ten miles into the woods and returned. Noldo was delighted to hear that the woods were fairly deep.

The ladies and children stayed waiting for Sindo, and the rest rode up the hillside to survey the surroundings. They spread out, and explored the woods, letting the scenery dictate their speed and focus, moving through the woods in a broad and wide semi-circle around the prospective site.

The woods behind were deep and rich and healthy, with a moist but well-drained forest floor and the same good soil, and the elves thought that they could be quite content in woods like these. Noldo saw enough signs of game that he concluded the woods were teeming; Ranger had said that the hobbits here primarily gardened and fished, and from the sign, not much bothered the wildlife here. Noldo also thought that Lorien would like the woods. After an hour of happy exploring, they returned back to the hillside.

Noldo and Mirthlūn discussed several possible front-door sites, and discussed how the smial-tunnels would wind into the hillside, and whether they would turn left, or right, or branch both ways. Mirthlūn seemed determined to build Noldo a palace.

Noldo discussed the possibility of having a back exit from the tunnel directly into the woods. Mirthlūn loved the idea.

The ponies Noldo wanted kept where there was a close water supply, and that proved more of a challenge, until Thorontir remarked on a bubbling brook that tumbled down the hillside to join the river from the woods. That was further upstream still. So the stables had to go on the right of the brook, farther upstream, and the hobbit-hole on the left of the brook. That shifted Noldo's front door further upstream still. At first Noldo did not want it quite that far upstream, and they debated a while, Mirthlūn cautioning Noldo that a long walk to the brook would seem worse in the winter than in the summer. "And you'll need a good sturdy bridge over the brook so that the ponies can cross."

In the midst of all this discussion, Sindo returned. He had had a pleasant meeting with Fernybanks, who had listened to his story and told him to settle and dig where he pleased anywhere on the outskirts of the settlements, and then had walked him down to the Inn and bought him a beer, and introduced him to several of the locals.

They had asked his name and his origin, and he had told them both; they had listened without recognition to his name and Noldo's, but when he mentioned the Langwell River, they had nodded. "There's a few folk from up that way." He had asked whom, and had been told that there were four or five families further down river.

"Well, we're not going down river, " Noldo said. "I know I said I wanted a mug of beer, but it will have to wait. Come and see what we've been planning." Noldo, Sindo and Mirthlūn went back to the hillside and began planning in earnest.

Mirthlūn asked Sindo whether he wanted his tunnel connected to Noldo's or separate. Sindo didn't know. But when he mentioned the backdoor into the woods, Sindo brightened. "Oh, I'd definitely like that. We could make the backdoors close, if we wanted to. That would almost be as good as a connecting tunnel."

But Mirthlūn was fixated on connecting the tunnels. Finally, in the end, to make him happy they settled that they would dig long storage tunnels towards each other, far enough so as to be almost connected, but leave them separate. Then if they wanted to it would be a simple matter of breaking through a foot or two of earth and connecting the tunnels later. And the backdoors into the woods would be from those storage tunnels. To this Mirthlūn acquiesced.

The sun was setting, and being rather tired from all the debating on tunnel design, they all gathered at the edge of the woods, some dangling their feet over into where the grassy hillside began, and watched twilight fall over the river as they ate and sang softly. Noldo held Lorien who held Lundo; Naurloth and Sindo sat on one side of him, and Adaron, Lothuial and Thorontir on the other side. Beyond them, primly side by side and hands carefully folded in their laps, sat Mirthlūn and Lothlūn.

The odd thing, thought Noldo, is that even after all these months-- has it been over a year now?-- Mirthlūn can talk anybody's ear off but hers. With her Mirthlūn is completely tongue-tied. He wondered if that would last another twenty-one years, or more.

Tomorrow, he thought, he would ride downriver with Sindo and ask to borrow shovels. And as soon as he had two shovels, the digging would begin. He was looking forward to it. The first priority was making a snug place for Lorien and Lundo, and Lothuial, Lothrin, and Lothlūn, to sleep. He did not doubt that the elves would spend most of their nights in the woods, but in case it rained, the ladies at least would be dry.

********

Noldo was astonished at the progress that they had made in just two weeks. Mirthlūn was a formidable taskmaster, and Thorontir, Adaron, and Naurloth needed little urging once they appreciated the task at hand. To the left of the brook and Noldo's front door, and furthest downstream, Sindo's smial had a front hall, and from there branching to the right, had a bedroom, and a parlor roughed out, with plans for a kitchen and pantry and then the long storage tunnel running towards Noldo's smial. There was a layer of last-years' hillside grass on the floor. Sindo missed the heather from the Ettenmoors, but he did not mention that, nor complain about the slightly dusty grass.

Noldo's smial had the front hall, a steadily lengthening tunnel reaching towards Sindo's tunnel, and off it were three rough bedrooms and one rough parlor with a fireplace. They were planning on starting a kitchen and pantry the next day. Thorontir had assumed charge of the fireplaces, and laid the hearth with rounded river stones, and then went into the woods for rough stones for the chimneys.

The one thing that the elves did not consider was wooden paneling or doors. Noldo asked Adaron about that as they dug side by side in the parlor, and Adaron replied, "We would be grateful if you dealt with that when we are gone; we would rather not see the trees fall."

"Perhaps we could barter for already cut wood, " Noldo mused.

"You could, " said Adaron, "if that would make your own mind easier."

That meant it wouldn't ease Adaron's mind at all, Noldo guessed. He personally had no desire to begin offending Adaron in any way, least of all by cutting down trees. Adaron observed, "At the rate at which Thorontir is bringing in stones, you may not need the wood for much beside doors."

Noldo smiled. He would worry about the details later. Their hole on the moors had never been lined with anything but heather, thatch, or woven branches. It had been snug enough. One good door for him and one for Sindo would set him at ease.

"I wonder, " said Noldo, "what we could do with driftwood that is lying along the riverbank, or fallen wood that is lying on the forest floor. Perhaps we could put some of that to a good use."

Adaron realised how hard Noldo was trying to avoid offending him, and nodded. "Yes, perhaps you could. It is a good thought."

There was a shout from Sindo, and Noldo saw a pony laboring hard halfway up the hillside, carrying two hobbits. He wondered who they could be. Slowly everyone came to a good stopping point, and came out to the hillside.

The pony was either old or unhealthy, Noldo could not tell which. One of the hobbits slid off, and slowly led the pony the rest of the way up the hill. The hobbit limped rather badly on his right leg, and Noldo noticed he held the reins awkwardly in his left hand. His right hand he kept in his pocket. The lass on the pony had her face turned down. They looked pained and weary. Pity welled up in Noldo as he watched them climb. Lothuial and Lothlūn started up the hillside to the campsite to gather some food for them, and Thorontir headed for the brook to fetch some water.

They came closer, and Noldo and Sindo drew together and stood side by side. Finally the pony halted, and the lass slid off, and the hobbit removed the pony's bit so he could graze. Now that they had almost arrived, they seemed hesitant to approach further. Noldo and Sindo glanced at each other and started to approach them. Lorien swept forward to their side, holding Lundo, and the four of them met the two hobbits.

The cause for the hobbit's lameness became clear; burn scars ran across the right side of his face, and down his neck. From the way he moved, it looked as if his entire right side had been burned. Noldo glanced at the lass, and saw that she likewise had burn scars, down the left side of her face from the corner of her eye downwards, though not as broad or deep. She walked with a slight limp, on her left side. But both her hands had been badly burned. Noldo and Sindo's hearts wrung with pity, and they were hesitant to speak, but Noldo said, "Good afternoon, and welcome to our homes, such as they are."

The hobbit looked them each in the eye, and said, "It's good to see you so well. You're looking healthy, Noldo. And you, Sindo, you're strong, a fine strapping lad."

Baffled, Noldo looked at the hobbit again, and suddenly his head spun, and his knees felt weak. He raised his eyes to look past the hobbit at the lass, and as he recognized her he burst into tears.

It was Ned and Waterlily Fairbanks.

*******

Chapter 22 - Reckoning

(Mid Spring)

For moments that seemed like minutes, everything stood terribly still. Noldo had an overwhelming desire to take both Ned and Lily into his arms, and he was desperately trying to fight off that desire and afraid that he would fail. He groped blindly for Lorien's hand, found it, and held onto her for his sanity's sake.

She put her other hand on his shoulder, and for a moment he felt her gentle thoughts on the edge of his, and then Sindo plunged into his mind. "I did this. This is my fault. I'm going to help them as best I can. Let me handle this." And just as quickly, he left Noldo's mind.

Sindo approached Ned, and said quietly, "Come in, please, both of you. Come in." He gently took Ned's good shoulder and Lily's wrist, and turned them towards his smial.

But Noldo stepped forward. "Ned."

Ned turned a guarded stare on him, glancing from Noldo to Lorien and back, and waited.

"Ned, I-- I thought you were gone. I thought I would never see you again. Nor Lily." His voice broke. Noldo reached for Ned's good shoulder. "I've missed you both so much." His voice broke again, and he stepped back and could not meet Ned's eyes any more.

Ned thought about that for a while, and his eyes softened somewhat. "Join us, Noldo, " Ned said, softly. "And you, too, please, lady."

"This is Lorien, " Noldo whispered. "Lorien, this is Ned. And this-- " his voice broke again, Lily looked up and met his eyes, and that finished Noldo off. He could not breathe, nor could he tear his eyes from Lily's; he froze, tortured and ashamed, desperate for his wife's presence behind him, but he had let go of her hand.

Sindo cleared his throat, Lily looked away toward Sindo, and Sindo finished the introduction; "Lorien, this is Lily Fairbanks."

Lorien nodded kindly and gently said "At your service. You are welcome here, " which Ned thought was a bit strange, but kind.

She stepped forward and took Noldo's hand again. Lorien's thoughts enveloped Noldo's; she tried to bring some comfort into his mind, but she was carrying her own sadness over Waterlily's plight. In despair Noldo turned to Lorien and buried his face in her hair; suddenly Mirthlūn was at her side taking Lundo, and Lorien wrapped her arms around Noldo.

Ned, now baffled and thoroughly embarrassed, turned to Sindo for help, and Sindo gestured westward towards his doorway. Adaron and Naurloth accompanied Sindo, Ned and Waterlily westward to Sindo's front door; they sat there in what would prove to be his front-door-yard, and Lothuial, Lothlūn, and Thorontir, who had been cautiously hanging back, followed them there and made them as welcome as they could. Ned and Lily were very quiet for a while, occasionally glancing eastward at the still-weeping Noldo, as Sindo chatted about the new tunnels and the plans for the stables. Then Ned began to ask Sindo questions about his journey.

Mirthlūn and Lorien stayed with Noldo, who burrowed deeper into his wife's embrace and wept his heart out. The meal was long over and Sindo had told the entire tale of their trip across the mountains and their settling on the moors, before Noldo stopped shaking; even then he could not gather enough courage to walk over to Sindo's dooryard.

"You know what she meant to me, " he whispered, pleading; "I'm so afraid. Lorien, help me." He burrowed into her mind, desperately seeking strength from her. Lorien was almost as afraid as Noldo, but trying hard not to show it and unable to fight his fear at the same time as her own. They were trapped together in their common fears and regrets, spiraling deeper into despair as they sought strength in each other and could not find it.

Mirthlūn did not know how to pull them out of it. Eventually Lorien saw him look westward at Adaron. She listened to the thoughts fly, and knew that Adaron had engaged Ned and Lily in conversation, and Sindo was on his way across the hill.

He came to Mirthlūn, and took Lundo from him, and held the wide-eyed boy in front of Noldo. "Why did you name him Lundo?"

Hoarsely Noldo responded, staring at his son. "Because of the river. We looked for the river. And we were married by the river; we spoke our promises there. The oath." Slowly Noldo straightened. He looked into Lorien's eyes, and the oath resurfaced in their minds, and they remembered it and began to calm down. They remembered the day, the ceremony, the promises. They remembered that the air and the river and even the ground had seemed to listen.

One more deep, ragged breath, and Noldo looked out over the river below him, and reviewed the oath in his mind one more time, and then turned to his wife and repeated it, softly but clearly. She smiled at him, and repeated it back to him. He took her in his arms, and filled her with the strength that he had just found.

"Are you all right now?" Sindo asked quietly.

Noldo nodded cautiously. "It won't be easy, but I think I'm all right. For now, anyway." One more breath and he grasped Lorien's hand firmly and led her back across the hillside towards Sindo's dooryard. Mirthlūn and Sindo followed.

He faced Ned almost comfortably.

"You'll spend the night, of course, " Noldo said. "It took you most of the day to ride here, didn't it?"

"If you're sure it's all right, " Ned studied him.

"Of course it's all right." Noldo nodded at Sindo, who said, "We have plenty of room, and plenty of food, and you'll be snug and dry."

Noldo invited Ned to see his smial and the planned site for the new stables. Ned hesitated, weary and not relishing the thought of limping across the hillside; Noldo whistled, and Hunter came. "Naurloth, would you mind giving Ned a leg up?" Naurloth lifted Ned easily onto Hunter, and Noldo thanked him and smiled up at Ned, and clapped his good hand, and led Hunter towards Noldo's smial. "I should get you out into the woods."

Ned gave him a wry look. "Show me your bad hand, " Noldo soothed him. Ned reluctantly did. Ned's thumb was gone, and his forefinger badly burned. Noldo considered his remaining fingers, and said, "You really only need two good fingers to nock an arrow. And your left hand is all right, isn't it?"

Ned looked at Noldo, and back down at his right hand, and worked his three good fingers a little, pondering. "My shoulder's a bit tricky. But it might be worth a try. How would I find the arrow behind my back with no thumb?"

"The quiver doesn't have to be on your back. It could be where you could see the nocks when you reach for them, " Noldo suggested. "Being out in the woods ought to do you good. We could make you a lighter bow to start with, and let you take your time. "

"We?"

They were walking past Noldo's front door now. Noldo nodded. "Ned, I want you to think about staying here. With us."

Ned shook his head. "I hardly think..."

"Ned." Noldo stopped Hunter and turned to face his old friend. "Things have changed. There are some things we can't change back, now or ever. Some things are all awry. And some things that will be haven't yet become clear. But one thing hasn't changed. You are my friend. And I want you to stay with me. I want you to come hunting and riding with me and my brother. I want to meet you at the inn for song and laughter and a beer. And if you'd oblige me by living in my neighborhood, I'd be grateful."

"And Lily?"

"Tell me about Lily." Noldo bit back tears, and Ned watched him. "Why did you come looking for us?"

"I was hanging on to your memory as her last hope, " Ned replied. "Lily can't keep a household; no one would marry her except for the sake of her heart. I knew you would. At least, I thought you would."

"I can't marry her, Ned," Noldo said hoarsely. "But I can't leave her destitute. You say she can't keep a household. What is it that she can and can't do?"

"If she wears fawn skin gloves, she can garden, carefully, or gather herbs like she used to. But she can't sew, and cooking isn't an option; her hands can't take the heat of the kitchen. "

Noldo's eyes steeled. "We don't need a seamstress, and we don't need a cook, " he said.

"What are you getting at?"

"Lorien learned to sew in Forlond. And Sindo always cooks. But, " Noldo met Ned's eyes, "none of us like to garden, and Lorien doesn't do well on just meats, not for very long. She thrives on fresh plant food. Roots, leaves, vegetables. I should have a grain patch for her, but none of us can face the idea. I need a gardener in my community. Badly."

Ned thought about that.

"How about you, Ned? If need be, could you pitch in with the weeding and such? That is, when you're not out hunting with us."

"Sure, " Ned frowned.

"Then we need you too. Think it over. "

"We live way down the river."

"We're digging new rooms now. If we're going to want an apartment for you and Lily, or a whole separate smial, now is the time to decide that, while we've got the help. We can always give you a barrable door. Lily will be quite safe. You could have a hole anywhere along this south facing slope, and be warm and well-lit all winter."

Ned thought, and thought. Ned's own little hole downriver faced east, and was generally damp and chilly, and that was bad for them both, making their limping worse. And it was dark and dreary in the afternoon. Noldo did have a good, warm, bright slope here; the soil looked good too, and the woods above reminded him a bit of the forests above Doldo's old home above the Langwell, except that they let in more sunlight and were cheerier, and not as steep. Noldo led him over the clear rushing brook, and past the site of the stables. They startled one rabbit after another. Then Noldo led him up into the woods, where after a few minutes they also startled a fine buck. Ned couldn’t help noticing that the moist earth was producing several different varieties of good mushrooms.

*********

Lorien and Sindo joined Lily, and together they set about trying to be a friend and ally to one whom they felt they each owed a terrible, unpayable debt. Lothlūn and Lothuial hovered nearby at first, bringing such comforts and pleasantries of the body and soul that they could. But Adaron suspected that Lorien and Sindo wanted to be alone with Lily, so the four elves went back to work in Noldo's smial, with instructions to call immediately if they could be of any assistance. The ladies retreated to a respectful distance, likewise available if called.

At first, Lily could not decide whether she was glad Noldo had left with Ned, or not. She had been desperate to see him, but it had all suddenly come crashing down-- how had he possibly married before he came of age? But then, many of the hitherto unbreakable customs had been set aside for one reason or another as people crossed the mountains and dealt with hardships and death. She would wait and see if there was an explanation. And even if there wasn't, she thought, there was no sense in being unkind. Her own hurt would fade in time. At least, she told herself that it would, as bravely as she could. She wanted to wish Noldo well.

Sindo by himself set her at ease. But she was jealous of, and very uncomfortable around this slender, golden, other-worldly creature who had captured Noldo. However, she tried to be a good guest, and courteous. It was easy for her to be respectful towards Sindo, who had always been kind, although he reminded her a bit too much of her Noldo. No, she reminded herself, not "her" Noldo; you don't have the right to call him that anymore; apparently you never really did. It was just a dream. She tried not to be bitter, but it was hard.

Sindo, Lorien, and Lily sat in a triangle on the ground, and Lundo played nearby until Lothuial and Lothlūn spirited him away to play with Lothrin.

Lorien and Sindo asked her many questions, and listened closely to her answers. She didn't want to tell them the story of their escape from the marauders along the Langwell, and their crossing over the Misty Mountains. But she said that they had stopped at Rivendell, and that the elves had been extremely kind to both her and Ned. Other than that, she chiefly spoke of the local culture, how close-knit it was, and how folks were having their own difficulties adjusting, and how unbalanced the population was. Lorien gave her a puzzled look then, and she reluctantly explained that there were many more hobbit lasses than lads, after all the fighting in the valley. Then she began talking about gardening in the sandy soil along the riverbank, and the fishing, and raising chickens and goats.

Sindo guessed that Lily's injuries made her situation even worse.

When she grew weary of talking, Lorien sang to her, and Sindo sang along whenever he could. Periodically Lothlūn returned with water and fruit. Lily began to relax, a little, and thought that Sindo was very kind to her, and that Lorien was showing her quite a bit of respect and deference. She wondered why.

Noldo and Ned returned after sunset. Ned was growing interested in this northern bend of the river, and its new denizens. But he was afraid to ask Lily if the idea of staying interested her.

Sindo begged Lily to stay the night in his smial, and he would sleep in the forest with Adaron and Naurloth and Thorontir. Lorien with Lundo returned to Noldo's smial. Lothuial and Lothlūn offered to stay in the smial with her, and she hesitantly agreed. But she had not had such cheerful and peaceful company in a while, and Lily and the two ladies spoke far into the night.

Ned and Mirthlūn stayed in one of Noldo's rooms. Mirthlūn was watching Lundo, as Lundo was fussy that night and Lorien was exhausted from the stress of meeting Lily. Mirthlūn held Lundo for a while, and then Ned became interested in the boy. "Blond curls. And look at those eyes." Ned held Lundo a bit, and Lundo seemed to appreciate him, and quieted partway down. While Ned held Lundo, Mirthlūn explained that the elves' presence was temporary, but that they planned to visit often. Ned plied Mirthlūn with questions, and Mirthlūn told what he could about their wintry stay in the woods, and their journey to Hoarwell. But of the times before that Mirthlūn would not speak.

"I imagine Noldo will tell me what he wants me to know, in due time, " Ned considered, thinking that the secrecy was a bit odd, but reflecting that elves were mysterious anyway. He considered asking Noldo, but Noldo was talking to Sindo.

That night, before he went up the hill to the woods, Sindo asked Noldo, "I have a question for you about Lily."

Noldo waited.

"If I do find that I'm interested in her-- if I find that I grow fond of her, will I have your permission to pursue her? To court her? Or even to ask Ned for permission to do so?"

Noldo's jaw dropped, even as the beginnings of hope kindled in his heart.

"You were right about her, " Sindo said. "Everything you said about her. She's lovely. She's courteous, soothing, patient, respectful. I'm already tempted to be interested in her, after just one afternoon. But before I let my guard down any further, what I want to know is, whether I have your permission to be interested in her."

Noldo nodded. "You have it."

"Then there's one more thing."

"What?"

"Crossing northern Eriador that winter, you showed Lorien all your memories of Lily."

Noldo nodded, dreading what might come next.

"Why don't you give them to me."

"Give them to you?"

"It's worth a try, isn't it? I want to see them anyway. Maybe you can further let go of them, at least a little. Lorien helped you to let go of them, partly, didn't she?"

"That was different; I thought I was grieving Lily's death. But still, it's worth a try. I need to let go. I'll try it. I'll need Lorien with me, I think."

"I should think so, " Sindo agreed. "Let's try it tomorrow night."

**********

The next day, all the hobbits slept in. When Noldo woke, Lorien was watching over him, and he was tempted to think that it had been a bizarre dream at first, but when he gently caressed the edge of Lorien's thoughts, he realised she was worrying about Lily. He wept and struggled again. Lorien shed some tears of her own. But eventually they calmed, and took comfort in each other, and remembered the Lune river and its place in their life together, and their son. Once again they took courage from the oath they had spoken, and shared that courage with each other, strengthening one another.

Noldo went up the hill and woke Sindo, and they came back down, and built a fire in Noldo's parlor fireplace, and soon there was toast and tea and coffee, and slices of baked apple drizzled in honey. Sindo thought they needed to find someone who raised chickens; he hated taking care of them himself, but this breakfast was missing eggs badly.

"We could use some milk, at least for the tea and coffee, " Noldo commented. "Perhaps a goat. I don't think we have enough grazing to support a cow and the ponies together."

"A goat? What's the point? And don't we need eggs more than we need milk?"

"I don't mind goat's milk. It's better than none."

"Your chatter would wake the dead, " Ned groused, coming into the parlor. "Eggs can be had, as can milk, downriver, if you're willing to make the trip."

"I'm not sure we want to count on that. But it's good to know."

"Well, you could probably find a goat too. Maybe."

Lorien came into the parlor long enough to hand Lundo to Noldo with a quick kiss, and then headed out the door. "Ladies' breakfast is planned next door, " she said. "I suspect the other hungry elves will be calling shortly."

She was correct; Mirthlūn had gone out and rounded up Naurloth, Adaron, and Thorontir, who crawled in to the parlor carrying some more bread and dried fruit from their campsite, and several containers of water, and some herbs they had gathered on the hillside. Sindo added some rabbit meat to the thyme and rosemary, and more toast was made, and the elves sat cross-legged by the fire and enjoyed a hobbit-breakfast, smiling at Sindo's apologies about the lack of eggs.

As they finished breakfast, Noldo turned to Ned, refilled his coffee, sat beside him, and gently asked him how he had escaped the fires on the banks of the Langwell.

Ned stared at the ground. "We were out fishing, north of the village. We headed home when we saw the smoke. But we realised that the entire shoreline was crawling with goblins and orcs. We never did come to shore. We could see that our house was on fire, and everything was burning and there were goblins everywhere. And then they started shooting at our boat.

"The first arrow hit my right shoulder, and caught my clothes on fire. Another arrow hit Lily's seat, and her dress caught fire, and that's how her right leg and cheek were burnt. It was at that point that we both jumped into the water."

Noldo and Sindo were both weeping, and Ned waved at them. "Now, now, we're both fine, so there's no sense in getting all upset."

"I'm sorry, Ned, go on." Noldo dashed his forearm across his face. Sindo made no such effort, and wept on.

"Well, as I was jumping out of the boat, another arrow hit me in the leg. I was in too much pain to think straight. And I started to go down. And that's when Lily took me by the shirt with one hand, and the boat with another hand, and held my face above water. "

Despite his previous admonition, Ned began to cry as well. "The boat was burning. But she wouldn't let go of it or me. When one hand got too burned, she changed hands, and held onto it with the other hand. Until finally, she saw another piece of wood that she could hold onto, and she somehow hauled me up onto it, and let go of the boat, and we floated downstream on that. By then the smoke hid us. And we drifted down river half the night, and when she came to the sandbars where she could touch bottom, she pulled me to shore. She found some other refugees headed south, and sweet-talked them into bringing us along; and they put both of us on their pack ponies, bless them.

"I crossed the mountains in delirium. I don't remember the passage at all. I remember waking up in Rivendell. They healed us both wonderfully, as I've been told by several hobbits since who fared less well. And then we traveled down the Bruinien, and settled further south, and here we are, " he finished, wanting to be done with talking for a little while anyway. "How about we head up into the woods and see if we can find some mushrooms for second breakfast?"

Noldo thought that if Ned learned where all the good mushrooms were growing, he would more than pay for his keep. He glanced at Sindo, who touched the edge of his thoughts and told him the same thing. They laughed, and Ned wondered about what, and Ned and Noldo went off together to hunt mushrooms. Noldo put Ned on Hunter again. Ned pointed out the mushrooms, and Noldo gathered them, and Ned took off his tattered waistcoat and bundled the mushrooms into it.

The day passed pleasantly, with Ned finding numerous half-plausible reasons not to head back home in any big hurry. Lily wondered why, but wasn't in the habit of fighting her brother in front of his friends, and so let it go. She was beginning to enjoy Sindo's company, and Lothuial and Lothlūn, and little Lothrin.

Ned and Lily each retired a couple of hours after sunset. Lothlūn and Lothuial with Lothrin again joined Lily, and Mirthlūn joined Ned, bringing Lundo with him. Thorontir joined them as well, for no apparent reason, but Mirthlūn was grateful; sometimes he was at a loss with the child, and sometimes with the hobbit, and he was grateful for Thorontir's presence.

Late into the night, Adaron, Naurloth, Sindo, Lorien and Noldo sat up at the edge of the woods overlooking the river. Noldo slowly and carefully remembered everything that he could about Lily, and one by one, set each memory in front of the other four, and tried hard to let go his ownership of each memory. To a certain degree, he succeeded. Each memory hurt a bit less. Each time, he hoped more and more that Lily and Sindo would find happiness in each other, and friendship, and strength, and hope. And after he released each memory, he sank deeper into Lorien's acceptance of him. By the early morning hours, he was exhausted, and asleep in her arms. But he was also free enough to think of Lily without tears or despair.

Lorien curled up beside the exhausted Noldo, and gently slipped into dreams, weaving hers with his, feeling safe for the first time since Lily had come. But Sindo sat awake for another hour, with Naurloth and Adaron waiting patiently beside him. As he reviewed Noldo's memories, owning them, imagining himself there, seeing Lily's eyes glowing and shining, and the sparkle in her hair and the blush on her cheek, Naurloth stirred beside him.

"What if she does not love you?"

Sindo smiled softly, and shrugged. "I don't know. But I'm not afraid of that. Time will tell, I suppose."

Naurloth did not have to pry in order to sense the softening and gentleness in Sindo; it was flooding out of him. Naurloth considered Sindo, a little concerned, but eventually decided that such tenderness would go a long way in winning Lily, and let it go. They waited beside their friend, as he drove Noldo's most tender and affectionate memories deeper and deeper into his own soul.

When Sindo finally curled up beside Noldo and Lorien and also fell asleep, Adaron put his cloak over Noldo and Lorien, and Naurloth put his cloak over Sindo, and the two elves wandered off in the starlight.

"Father, " began Naurloth, "I'm not sure why you wanted me to be present for that. Wasn't it rather personal, and a little too romantic for someone that's not married or betrothed?"

"Yes, Naurloth, it was. But I have a question for you. Once Sindo realised your talent for Osanwe, he spent a lot of time in your mind, didn't he?"

"Yes, Father, he did."

"And he has invited you into his mind, often. And you have enjoyed that."

"Yes. He is a good friend."

"Yes, he is, Naurloth. I am glad that you and he have developed a friendship. Now tell me: are you beginning to understand the difference between sharing thoughts and controlling them?"

Naurloth studied his father, and began to understand the lesson his father had immersed him in this evening. "The consequences of controlling thoughts are very difficult to anticipate, aren't they, Father?"

"They are, even when the control is exerted with the best of intentions. Futures, relationships, destinies hang in the balance. Tremendous damage can be done."

Naurloth knew the lesson would go deeper still, but he was glad of it.

"Naurloth."

"Yes, Father."

"Who will teach you to correct the improper Osanwe manners and customs that you have learned from Sindo?"

"Are his manners so very improper, Father?"

"They are terrible. He learned them from bonding almost completely for a year with a spoiled child. They have improved, but he needs much improvement still. So does she."

"Then I do not know, Father. Should I ask Alphaelin?"

"You should ask someone that you trust, that is skilled and mature. I would consider Alphaelin, except that I wonder whether Sindo may have pushed his own abilities further even than Alphaelin's experience. Perhaps Gildor would be your best choice. We will seek counsel when we return home, or if we reach Imladris."

"Thank you, Father. I had not considered this."

"There is yet more for you to consider, Naurloth. You have thought about Sindo's control of Noldo, and I trust that you will continue to ponder that and explore its ramifications. I want you to also think about the bond that formed between Lorien and Sindo, how it formed and why, what dangers were involved, and what the consequences were. And then consider, finally, the bond between Lorien and Noldo that formed the basis for their courtship. You begin already to understand the consequences involved there; follow them through to their possible conclusions in your mind."

Naurloth studied his father, a little overwhelmed. "Yes, Father."

Adaron nodded. It was a lot to think about even for him. If anyone had warned him that his family would be exposed to such disruptive influences from a family of halflings, he would have been highly skeptical.

But knowing what he knew now, he wouldn't have missed any of it. He wondered if anyone else would have uncovered Naurloth's talent in Osanwe at such a young age. He wanted to believe that somebody would have, but then, the truth was that so far nobody else had.

And now that it was discovered, Adaron wanted it developed wisely.

*******

The next morning, once the household was astir and breakfast had been eaten, Ned, Noldo, and Adaron went out hunting, and the other elves busied themselves in the smials or in the woods.

Sindo and Lorien rejoined Lily. Lorien began to tell Lily her own story. She made light of her once-forgotten elvish past, and began the story at the fire on the hillside above the Langwell, and across the mountains, and to the new home on the moor. And she told Lily honestly of her love for Noldo. She carefully and persistently revealed her heart to Lily, who wasn't sure at first that she wanted to hear it, but listened politely. Lorien told Lily in detail how she had pursued Noldo relentlessly for a year and made no progress.

"Nothing I could do or say swayed him away from you, even though we all believed that you and Ned were gone, " Lorien said, gazing at Lily. "His memories of you were like an anchor to him."

Lily wondered why Lorien was telling her this, and resented it a little. Obviously the anchor had not held.

It was at this point that Sindo broke into the story, and began telling Lily about thought-sharing. "The elves call it Osanwe, but we didn't know that. We just knew that we could be inside each other's minds. At first, as I learned and improved, Lorien and I spent entire days sharing thoughts without stopping. Later that stretched to weeks, both night and day. And then we simply bonded together. Basically, in the end we were together night and day for an entire year. We became almost inseparable, and the mere idea of being separated from her was terrifying to me. My father didn't know that at the time. Noldo began to suspect, a little, that we were too close for our own good; but he had no idea how extensive it was."

Lily wondered what this had to do with Noldo, and why Lorien and Sindo hadn't ended up together, but she was intrigued now, and listened in earnest.

Sindo told her about Noldo's aggravation with, and Sindo's love for, Lorien, and the conflict that arose between them.

"Finally Noldo learned thought-sharing too, in order to try and teach Lorien to call the elves. She didn't though. She just called Noldo, and me. She didn't remember what the elves were, or why she should be calling them. So she called Noldo. And he began to hear her. He resented her at first, and resisted her. For a long time, actually."

"A very long time, " mused Lorien.

"And then one afternoon, he gave in to her, and opened his mind to her briefly; but then he felt so guilty about it, and I got so jealous, that he fended her off again. On our father's orders, after that, the thought-sharing between either of us and Lorien was supposed to stop. I was ready to disobey that order. But Lorien, for Noldo's sake, obeyed it. And I was separated from her for the first time. The strain on me was terrible. It was torment. I would have given anything to be reunited with her."

Lily raised her eyebrow at Lorien, who nodded, and said, "I wept and wept. I was inconsolable."

"Shortly after that, by father's orders, we rode south, looking for a settlement of elves that could take Lorien off of our hands. We rode past Rivendell."

Lily had been to Rivendell, briefly. They had restored the use of her hands to her. "Did they help you?"

Sindo met her eyes, and suddenly came forward to kneel right in front of her. He was suddenly terrified that she would reject him for this, and his eyes pleaded for mercy as he spoke. "We rode right past. And Lily, there were two elves that tried to contact us as we were riding past. I kept Noldo from them, and I kept the elves from Noldo. I drove their thoughts away, because I didn't want elvish help; more importantly, I didn't want to lose Lorien. I wanted Noldo to marry Lorien so that she would be my sister and I could keep sharing thoughts with her. And I started trying to bend Noldo's thoughts in that direction."

Lily's eyes grew wide.

"Lily, I gave him no peace. I was manipulative and controlling. I treated him horribly. I tormented him. Lily, I am so sorry for what I did to him. He thought I was going mad, but I wasn't. I was just doing anything and everything that I could to avoid losing Lorien to the elves."

Lily studied him, saw the regret in his eyes, and waited.

"Part of bending Noldo's mind toward Lorien, " continued Sindo, fighting tears, "included reminding Noldo that you were dead." He held her eyes, struggling with his own shame. Lily gazed at him, wide-eyed, and did not know what to say. Sindo did not try to excuse himself.

"Another part of that, " Sindo continued, stammering, "included asking Noldo why he loved you, and--" He struggled to continue. "And telling Lorien what I learned. She listened."

Lorien spoke slowly. "Lily, I pursued Noldo with every advantage I could possibly find. And I used every piece of advice Sindo gave me. Even later, as I asked Noldo more about you, I studied everything that Noldo told me about you. I became as much like you as I could, Lily. "

Lily's head spun. This ethereal, enchanting elvish beauty had had to imitate her in order to win Noldo? Lily studied Lorien; as she looked into her eyes, she saw something she could not explain. Perhaps it was pity or compassion; perhaps it was respect. But she knew that Lorien did not have to tell her all of this, did not have to be spending the afternoon with her, did not have to admit that Lily had kept Noldo's heart for so long. She wondered what she would have done in Lorien's place, confused and fearful of being sent away, and hanging on to the hope that she could be accepted and made part of the only family she could remember knowing.

There was much that she did not understand. But although she felt hurt, she did not feel angry, not at Lorien. Was she angry at Sindo?

Lily studied Sindo. He had intentionally, deliberately distracted Noldo away from her, and done everything he could to give Noldo to Lorien. She felt betrayed, and he saw that in her eyes, and understood. But she also saw the remorse in his eyes, and suspected that he felt as bad, in his own way, as she did now. She pitied him; she knew what losses he had suffered; she had lost her parents too. She wondered how she would have felt if someone had threatened to take Ned away from her, and how fiercely she would have fought to keep him in any way that she could. But her pity for Sindo balanced against her own, far more painful loss of Noldo. Lily struggled, wanting to be kind, wanting to be generous, wanting to avoid bitterness. Sindo and Lily studied each other for quite some time, and then Lily dropped her eyes and thought for quite a while.

As the minutes wore on, if Lily had looked up, she would have seen Lorien watching Sindo, and Sindo's now dreamy eyes studying the softness of Lily's cheek, the one with the burn mark running downwards from the corner of her eye to her jaw. The red scar contrasted with the softer, rosy color of the cheek it framed, and with the glossy brown curls cascading past her gentle face. He was wondering what it would be like to brush his fingers through those glossy curls, and then, brush his lips ever so carefully and gently against that cheek.

She was so near. Suddenly he wondered if there was a possibility that she might not mind.

Lorien crisply tapped the edge of his thoughts. "Don't be absurd," she rebuked him sternly. "Of course she will mind. She's still grieving her loss of Noldo. "

She was absolutely right, of course. He sat back, blushing slightly. But that didn't mean he had to stop dreaming about that lovely cheek, or those shining brown curls. They traded glances, and Lorien tried not to smile.

That evening, in the twilight, if Noldo had dared to meet Lily's eyes he would have seen pity in her glance. But he did not. He did, however, notice Sindo's eyes lingering softly and tenderly on Lily.

Ned noticed too.

**************

Chapter 23 - Extended Family

Ned and Lily moved in to the other half of Sindo's smial, with a sturdy barred door made of the best available driftwood between them. It was the best door on the hillside. Lily tended the gardens, and Ned helped her, and hunted small game, having grown quite skilful with a light bow. He hung the quiver over his pony's left shoulder. His fame as a mushroom gatherer grew despite Noldo's efforts to keep it quiet, and he made rather good money selling mushrooms downriver when the woods were moist. But he always made sure Noldo's clan had enough to satisfy them before he took the rest to market.

Lily grew in respect for Sindo, and then in appreciation of him, and then she came to love him. When Sindo turned thirty, Ned gave him permission to marry Lily three years early, and Noldo agreed. The spring ceremony was also attended by Adaron's family, who happened to be visiting, including Mirthlūn and Thorontir. After the ceremony, Lily joined Sindo next door, and Ned stayed where he was. After they married, Sindo slowly began teaching Lily Osanwe. It was difficult; she had almost no natural talent for it. But she was willing to learn, and he delighted in working with her.

Lorien's second child was a girl, delivered that same spring, with Lorien's eyes and hair, very slender and tall for a hobbit-baby.

Mirthlūn started to comment how amazing it was that Lorien had delivered two children in just four years, but Adaron suddenly descended upon him like an avalanche and subdued him immediately. Afterwards, Mirthlūn sheepishly confessed to Noldo that he had only meant to remind him that Feanor had had seven sons. Noldo laughed merrily, reaching up and slapping Mirthlūn's shoulder.

Noldo considered various hobbit-girl names while Lorien was expecting, but three days after the child was born she still had no name. Finally Noldo approached Lorien and asked her, "Would you consider naming her Mallorn, after my mother?"

Her long silence puzzled him, until finally she turned her October-blue eyes on him and said, "I've been afraid to tell you this, Noldo. But you never did ask me about my own birth name."

He waited.

"Do you want to know my name?" she gently prompted.

He thought long and hard, and finally said, "Yes, darling, I do."

She stood, and took him in her arms, and kissed him, and then to his surprise she released him and stood back.

"My name is Mallorn, " she said.

She had known it would be difficult for him to hear, but at least several years had passed. He paced for quite a while, and then returned to her, and took her hands.

"Darling, I can't call you that."

"I know."

"I'm sorry."

"I know. It's all right."

"Does Sindo know that that is your name?"

"He does. He asked me right away, as soon as I knew."

"And you both chose not to tell me."

"Yes."

He nodded. "You chose well." He sighed. "If we call the child Mallorn, she will be named after both of you... three generations in a row." He pondered, and she waited. "But no one would know that except Sindo, you, and me."

"And the elves."

He nodded.

Lorien said, "Remember that Adaron named his child both Lothlorien and Lothrin?"

Noldo smiled. "Do you have a nickname in mind?"

"We'll think of one. Or perhaps Mirthlūn can come up with one."

Thunderstruck, Noldo gasped. "Mirthlūn promised that he would name our smial! He never did! Did he?"

She laughed. "Of course he did. I refused to let him tell you the name. He was crushed."

"Lorien, what was it?"

"Absurd. That's what it was."

"Oh, but you've got to tell me."

"It's totally ridiculous."

"I'm sure it's overly ambitious."

"Outrageous. It's outrageous."

"I want to know. Please."

She oscillated between indignant refusal and suppressing the rising giggles. "He-- he called it-- Little Valinor!" She burst out laughing hysterically.

Noldo shrugged and chuckled. "Well, we knew it would be grandiose."

But she was laughing far too hard to have even heard his comment. He wandered out the backdoor into the woods and found Adaron.

"Did Mirthlūn tell you that he named our hillside 'Little Valinor'?"

Adaron cringed and groaned, and hid his face in both of his hands, shaking his head. How long would his dear friend continue this horribly embarrassing indulgence of hyperbole? Would he never be reasonable? Adaron was suddenly thankful that Thorontir and Mirthlūn were deep in the woods with his wife, his son, and his two daughters, and only Noldo was present to witness Adaron's discomfiture.

Noldo gently took Adaron by the arm, and as Adaron looked down at him quite surprised, Noldo said, "Have you noticed that no matter how he is laughed at for his grandiosities and exaggerations, Mirthlūn never gets angry? Never acts injured or annoyed?"

Adaron looked surprised. "This is true." He gave Noldo his attention.

"Sometimes, I wonder if Mirthlūn doesn't make up his wild names to be intentionally funny. Don't you think so?"

Adaron looked rather uncomfortable, and Noldo thought it was unusual for Adaron to be at a loss for words.

"One of these days, O Mighty Father, I wonder if you could reward one of his grandiose names with a chuckle."

Adaron looked so astonished Noldo half expected his jaw to drop, but his dignity didn't fail him that badly.

Laughter sparkling in his eyes, Noldo reached up, and as he so often did to Mirthlūn, he clapped Adaron's shoulder. "Perhaps you could lighten up... just a little."

With a huge effort, Adaron dutifully and magnanimously received Noldo's advice, and, looking extremely thoughtful, rather like Naurloth usually did after one of his father's lectures, turned and slowly walked into the woods to find his family.

Noldo, after considering Adaron's retreating back and thinking how well he loved his staunch friend, quietly chuckled a few more times.

Then he turned and wandered alone downhill to the water's edge, and in the bright noon sunlight, stood by the river, and then turned to look up at his hillside, glowing in the sun. Lily and Ned were working in the garden, and Sindo, flirting and dallying near Lily, was showing Lundo how to pull radishes. Lundo had more than he could carry (and more than the clan would eat that day) but he was still pulling more.

Up above Noldo's front door, Lorien was standing at the edge of the woods, holding little Mallorn. Her cream-colored dress glowed white in the sunlight, her eyes shone, and her hair was fiery gold; meeting his eyes, she turned with a proud smile so that he could see his daughter's face. He smiled as he studied them, deeply content, and thought how very happy he was.

Little Valinor. Noldo laughed out loud. He rather liked it.

**************

Chapter 24 - Epilogue

Lorien crested the hill and looked westward, and saw Adaron, Thorontir, and Mirthlūn riding towards her. Behind them the sea shone, and it beckoned her; soon, she thought, soon. She urged her mount down the hill and met her friends.

One by one, they embraced her. Mirthlūn embraced her last, and sadly asked her, "Lorien, Faelnaneth, has your last child left you?" Knowing the answer, he held her fast as she wept. Thorontir and Adaron wept with her, and when her tears slowed, they mounted again.

Together they rode to Adaron's house, where his whole family awaited her. They greeted her with a mixture of joy and sadness. Lothlūn proudly displayed her infant daughter. "What's her name?" Lorien asked, and Lothlūn giggled. "Lhūnel we call her, Blue Star; but her birth name is Bereth Lhūnel, Queen of the Blue Stars." They laughed merrily. Mirthlūn smiled, but did not apologize.

Lothrin had also married, but as yet had no children. Adaron had hunted far and wide for the right husband, and had practically wooed the young elf himself on his daughter's behalf; and once again, Rinloss had been disappointed. Adaron was waiting for Rinloss to ask him why, because he honestly felt that someone should tell Rinloss about his quick temper and his judgmental attitude, and this would be the perfect opportunity; but Rinloss never asked, and neither did Helkaris.

The next ship was scheduled to leave in a month, and Lorien had planned to leave for Mithlond early, but Cirdan sent her word that the ship would pick her up at Forlond instead. She was grateful. There was no one in Mithlond that she particularly wanted to see, and she dreaded leaving Adaron's family.

They asked her to stay, and not to sail; Lothlūn begged. She listened with tears in her eyes, and was tempted as long as she gazed at them; but the moment she looked down or away, Noldo's memory and that of her children, and Sindo and his children, filled her mind. Forlond could not hold her.

Most surprising, to all but Adaron, was Thorontir. Adaron and Naurloth looked out into the garden one afternoon to see Thorontir kneeling before Lorien, earnestly pleading, his face wet with tears. She was weeping, but with pity, and Adaron knew that all Thorontir's hopes had been in vain.

"Father, " Naurloth asked, "if he wanted to be married, why did he not pursue Lothrin?"

Adaron shook his head. "Because he fell in love with Lorien. He has been waiting, and hoping, the past hundred and sixty years, that when the mortals that she loved had all left her, she would be able to love him."

"When did he realize that he loved her?"

"The winter we all spent in the cottage in the woods. He told me then that he finally understood Noldo's inability to rest without her that day we first arrived in Forlond. I do not think he has had much rest since."

"But Father, he had never courted her in any way."

"How could he? He had to wait, and hope, and say nothing."

"And now her mind is set to sail."

"Yes."

"Father, I had always thought that Lorien was meant for Sindo, and that her marriage to Noldo was due to Sindo's interference and her own stubbornness. But was I wrong? Was Lorien meant for Thorontir all along?"

Adaron sighed, fighting off tears of his own. "Such choices and such destinies we cannot even begin to judge," he replied. "Avoid such judgments, and do not dwell on them. It is difficult even for the very wisest to discern what should have been."

"But Father, you asked me to consider these things."

"Consider, yes. Judge, no." Adaron sighed. "But as to the heart of your question, my son, it would not surprise me to learn that Thorontir believes what you suggested. And that will only make his grief deeper."

Thorontir was no longer kneeling, but he was still pleading, still weeping. Adaron wished Lorien would leave him so that he and his son could comfort him, if they could. But one hundred and sixty years of waiting would not be wept away so quickly, and she did not leave him in his grief, but waited respectfully with him. He was grateful at least for her pity. Eventually Adaron and his son turned away.

*********

When Thorontir and Lorien finally left the garden, Adaron came to find him. What he saw worried him; a new grief was etched in his face. Adaron asked him why.

"She is not simply going to Valinor, " he replied, and tears began to flow again.

"What do you mean?"

"She is going to ask for permission to follow them."

"I don't understand."

"To follow Noldo. And her children."

Adaron was stunned. "How will she do that?" he asked, although he was afraid that he knew.

"She has been thinking about the choice of Luthien, and her audience with Mandos. And she wants to follow her husband and children. She misses them more than she wants to live."

"What will you do?"

"Do? What can I do? Her choice is made. All I can do is sail with her on the small chance that her request will be refused. But I do not think it will be."

"And if her request is not refused?"

"Then what rest will I find here?" Thorontir asked.

To that Adaron had no answer.

*********

NOLDO= LORIEN MALLORN
LUNDO
MALLORN
ADARO
MIRLO
THORO
LILY
DOLDO
ALFAELO
ARGELO

SINDO=WATERLILY FAIRBANKS
NAURLOTH
FORLO
LINDO
LOTHLINNOLIEL
MITHIEL

**************
Mithadan is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 12:49 PM.



Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.