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Old 06-08-2021, 09:19 AM   #4
Spirit of Mist
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,089
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.


"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.



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?"


"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.


"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."


"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."


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?"


"You're sure."



"Oh, come on!"

"First promise me something," Noldo teased.


"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


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."


"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!"


"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!" 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.
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