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Old 11-17-2020, 08:52 AM   #1
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,004
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
The Fairy Wife by Mark12_30

The Fairy Wife

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

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

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

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

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

FOOTNOTES

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

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

Of the Elves and Osanwe (from Many Partings):

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

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

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

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

The Fairy Wife

Chapter 1: The Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What do we do?" sobbed Noldo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dad! Stop! STOP!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********

Chapter 2: The Tree Line

The Misty Mountains

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

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

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

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

"I think she likes you, " Mallie smiled.

"She?" Noldo asked.

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

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

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

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

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

"They do?"

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

"Can't she talk?"

"Well, she's frightened."

"Of course..."

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

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

"Where did you grow up?"

No answer.

"Do you want another apple?"

That brought a smile.

"So you do understand me!"

Laughter, but no speech.

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

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

"What's your name?"

The silent, blue-eyed stare continued.

"Where are you from?"

The stare turned into a pleading.

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

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

"Lorien, " the elf repeated.

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

The elf looked away.

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

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

"It's lovely, " said Sindo.

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

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

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

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

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

"Did you ever meet Haldir?" Noldo wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's feminine, " Noldo groused.

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

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

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

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

The western foothills of the Misty Mountains, above the Ettenmoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Son, quiet! Calm down!"

"Then let me go for a while!"

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

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

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

Suddenly she brightened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's not what worries me."

"What then, my Mallie, my queen?"

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

"They both have been."

"You've seen it too."

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

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

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

"Why?"

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

She studied him, uncertain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stroked his hand, wondering.

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

*******

To be continued...
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Beleriand, Beleriand,
the borders of the Elven-land.
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Old 11-24-2020, 09:59 AM   #2
Huinesoron
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
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Location: The north-west of the Old World, east of the Sea
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Chapters 1-3: review

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

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

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

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

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Old 05-24-2021, 03:19 PM   #3
Mithadan
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The Fairy Wife, Chapters 4 - 6

Chapter 4: Settling

Above the Ettenmoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Silly Noldo."

His heart sank. "Lorien??"

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

"That's enough!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He glared at his father.

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

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

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

"Will you forgive her!?" Sindo exploded.

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

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

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

"No. Noldo forgive Lorien."

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

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

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

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

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

Sindo looked at his father, angry and baffled.

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

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

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

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

"Are you done being mad yet?"

"I don't know."

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

Noldo chuckled sardonically. "Maybe."

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

"How?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sindo nodded.

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

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

Noldo nodded.

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

"Well?"

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

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

"Yes, and yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noldo waited.

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

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

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

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

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

"How do you know that?"

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

"You've lost me."

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

Noldo waited.

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

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

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

"You know this."

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

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

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

"Stubborn."

"Yes, she is."

"Well, we knew that."

"Yes, we did."

"Are you all right?"

"No."

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

"Thanks."

"I mean it."

"I know."

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

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

"What."

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

Sindo nodded, but didn't reply.

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

"I'm hungry."

"Let's go then."

"Right. Venison for breakfast."

"Ah, yes, right."

*******

Chapter 5: Calling

Above the Ettenmoors

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

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

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

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

"Noldo forgive Lorien?"

"All right. Yes. I forgive you."

She snuggled against him happily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noldo scowled. "What do you mean?"

"Relax. Just let go."

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

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

"Are you insulting me?"

"Idiot."

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

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

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

"I'm not used to that."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She smiled in his mind.

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

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

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

Come find me.

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

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

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

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

Good girl, Lorien. Call them. Good girl.

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

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

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

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

"My, People, " Lorien started.

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

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

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

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

He nodded, satisfied.

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

"Listen."

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

(Come now!)

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

Midwinter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Spring

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

"She stopped calling, didn't she."

Sindo didn't answer.

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

She nodded.

"Why?"

"You never came."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come find me.

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

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

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

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

Late Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Chapter 6: What Noldo Wanted

The Hill, late summer

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

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

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

"Do you know what I miss, Dad?"

"What, son?"

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

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

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

"And you were fond of her."

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

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

"What, dad?" But he knew.

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

"How do you know?"

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

"You saw it?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Not now, Lorien."

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

Noldo growled, "Leave me alone."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sindo asked her, Are you hurt?

He doesn't love me.

I know. I'm sorry.

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

Does he really love Lily?

He must. He weeps for her.

Even now?

Yes.

I've wept for you. Often.

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

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

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

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

He will.

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

He will love me.

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

No.

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

Come find me.

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

"Why?"

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

"I don't care what you want."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why here?"

"So nobody comes looking for us."

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

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

Sindo waited.

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

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

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

"Badgered!"

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

"No, " Sindo lied.

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

Sindo bristled.

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

"She loves you!"

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

"Yes. She does."

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

"You? You're asking?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early autumn

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

She stirred.

"Ssshhh. Mother? "

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

"I think you should come talk to Lorien."

Her eyebrows shot up. "Is something wrong?"

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Autumn

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

"Sindo, how are you?"

Silence.

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

Sindo looked away, angry and sullen.

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

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

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

"Yes, I do," Noldo replied.

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

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

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

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

*******
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Old 06-08-2021, 09:19 AM   #4
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
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Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapters 7 - 12

Chapter 7 - The Hillside

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

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

Come find me.

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

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

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

"Why don't you love my brother?"

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

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

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

Why won't you love my brother?

Because I love you, she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Aren't you, " Sindo threatened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Chapter 8 - Decisions

(Still mid-autumn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mother."

"Noldo, how are you?"

"Better than I deserve."

"Sindo said he caught you by surprise."

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

"Don't be ridiculous, " she said.

"Mother, I've been horrible."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Elves?" she cried. "Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am Lorien."

"What are you?"

"I am like you."

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

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

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

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

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

"Since late summer, " Sindo replied evenly.

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

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

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

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

"Father, " said Noldo.

Doldo turned in surprise.

"There may be one more thing."

"What is that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Chapter 9 - Sindo

(Still mid-autumn)

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy. Sindo, have mercy on me.

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

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

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

No, I don't.

You have no idea.

What are you going to do?

Look and see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where is he?"

"That way. He's very angry!"

"Find him! Call him, out loud!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I meant the rabbits.

Get out of my thoughts.

Really?

No.

What happened last night?

I'd rather not think about that.

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

I thought Lorien was the peskiest thing around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******
Chapter 10 - Departure

(Still mid-autumn)

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

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

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

"Go on, son."

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

"Does he know that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is he?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We leave in the morning."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noldo blinked, stunned. "Wh- what?"

"Admit it."

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

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

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

Noldo's heart sank. "Why?"

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

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

"Is he?"

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

"Regardless of how Lorien suffers as a result."

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

"Have you gone mad?"

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

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

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

*******

Chapter 11 - Brothers

(late autumn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Clouds do that."

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

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

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

Noldo waited.

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

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

Sindo smiled, watching the clouds.


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

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

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

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

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

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

"What can you see?"

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

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

"No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

******* (winter)

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

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

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

"No."

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

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

"Why?"

Sindo waited.

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

"Why not?"

"You won't."

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

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

"About what?"

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

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

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

"Too risky now, you're right."

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

Noldo laughed. "Really?"

"Really."

"You're sure."

"Yes."

"Certain."

"Oh, come on!"

"First promise me something," Noldo teased.

"What?"

"No more stray arrows."

"They went exactly where I meant them to."

"It's not funny, Sindo."

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

"That never works," Noldo mused.

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

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

"So now tell me."

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

"Waterlily Fairbanks," Sindo mused.

Noldo nodded, and stared at the horizon fighting tears.

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

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

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

Noldo nodded. "Yes. She was."

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

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

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

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

"What then?"

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

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

"Did you really love her?"

That was too much. Noldo turned his head away.

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

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

"Noldo, she's dead."

"You-- you callous, insensitive-- "

Sindo looked away then.

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

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

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

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

********

Chapter 12 - Fire

(winter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who are you?" Noldo repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sindo smiled. "Thank you very much."

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

"Tomorrow will be fine."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ettenmoors?"

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

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

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

"Over a year, " Noldo replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sindo."

Nothing.

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

Sindo's lips moved.

"What is it?"

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

"What? Sindo, tell me!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You? Are you?"

Sindo nodded, looking down.

Noldo shrugged. "Should I try?"

"Be careful, Noldo."

"We've got to try something."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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