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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."

***********
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Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
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