Author’s Note: I would like to take this opportunity to salaam to my muse (whom I call Spike in honour of my favourite vamp). Spike grabbed me by the short n’ curlies and made me his bitch-- I’ve just spent the past seven hours writing out a storyline to The Fall of Night that goes in a significantly different direction from Chapter 6 than I’d originally planned, and is way, way better. Perhaps it’s due to the copious quantities of Dove chocolate I’ve been stuffing in my yap all day, or maybe we should thank all the Hawaiian music I’ve been listening to lately. Whatever it is, it makes Spike very, very inspirational, which makes me type a lot. I think we can expect at least a chapter a day for the next two weeks or so. Perhaps more if I’m especially manic.
To aidenfire: Thank you for mentioning the half-elven thing! An excellent point. I guess I should have made it clear(er) that because her father is half-elven, she (as well as Elrohir and Elladan) have inherited the legacy of being able to choose either an elfin or human lifespan. Hope that doesn’t sound too silly or cheesy. It’s not a huge point in the story, anyhoo, so I don’t think it matters if I’ve buggered it up. Glad you like Rûmil, I hope you enjoy what I’ll be doing to him in following chapters…
Thanks to all who review, generous scoops of dulce di leche ice cream to you all!
The Fall of Night, Part 7
Naurë sat on the balcony outside her chamber, enjoying the warmth of the mid-autumn sun on her face. Since Haldir had left, her stamina was greatly depleted, and she left her room now only for the evening meal, leaning heavily on the arm of Elrond or Rûmil, who she seemed to greatly favour now that his brother was returned to his beloved Golden Wood. Her other meals were served to her in private, usually on the balcony, and most of Elrond’s workroom had been relocated to Naurë’s chamber as well, so she could continue her work in comfort.
She had taken to being outside at every opportunity, soaking up the sunlight and moonlight, the shine of the stars, even the damp air when it rained, even though it made her joints ache fiercely. The elves knew she was trying to experience as much of the beauty of nature as she could before having to take to her bed one last time, but Lalaith was determinedly ignoring the obvious.
“It is so lovely here!” the young woman would babble, plumping up pillows behind her grandmother’s back and fetching another shawl for her withered legs. “There is a view of the bridge, of the waterfall, of the mountains to the east! Truly, a bird’s eye view of the whole valley. Just lovely!” She succeeded in fooling only herself; even Naurë’s smile was patient and understanding of Lalaith’s self-deception.
It worried her that her granddaughter was not more at home in Rivendell. Since Haldir’s departure, Lalaith had seemed to avoid Rûmil as one would any of your smellier orcs, and her interactions with Elrohir and Elladan were courteous but strained, as she had no comprehension of humour and they had little comprehension of anything else. Perhaps it was just the Imladris elves that gave the girl trouble, Naurë considered. Each tribe of elf had its own society, after all-- perhaps those of Lorien would be more to Lalaith’s liking. Or Mirkwood…though she doubted that Thranduil would be willing to take in a young human female. The haughty king of Greenwood the Great had not thought much of her the single time they had met, and for good reason, as she recalled…
Ah, but there have been some good times, Naurë thought, and smiled as she tilted her head back, eyes closing in pleasure as the scent of fallen leaves wafted up from the forest floor. Her childhood years had not been easy, with more lean times than fat, but still had she survived and thrived, by sheer determination, if naught else.
It was quite by accident she had met Elrond Peredhil of Rivendell; he was escorting some of his people to the Grey Havens for their journey to Valinor, and of course his skill as a healer was known across the length and breadth of Middle-Earth. A budding healer herself, and possessed of singular ambition and cunning in her youth, she finagled an audience with the esteemed elf and persuaded him to consider her for his apprentice.
Elrond had been far from impressed by the woman who was too young, too poor, and too ignorant to make a decent healer, he thought; that he’d refrained from having her removed from his presence was a testament to his kindness and patience, indeed. But Naurë was nothing if not stubborn, and daily returned to him, asking him to please take her as student.
In spite of himself, Elrond was impressed by her dignity in the face of her poverty, and promised he would, if she would come to him in Rivendell in six months’ time, and looking as befitted a proper elf. He had thought that would be the end of it; there was no way she could afford even the journey, let alone the clothing required of the task.
And yet she had.
Six months to the day of his decree to her, she arrived at the Last Homely Home upon a palfrey of coal-black. Her gown of finest azure silk draped becomingly over her nickel-trimmed sidesaddle, and the elven attendants following her, managing her luggage, paid her obsequious deference. When she alighted from her mount, her grace and elegance were positively… elfin.
Elrond’s suspicion was not overcome by his interest in the determined woman, but a promise was a promise. She became his first (and, he hoped, only) human apprentice, and within a few years, his friend. In spite of his almost daily pleadings to reveal her methods, she had never told him how she’d managed the horse, the rich gown, the servants. Naurë grinned evilly… nor would she, ever. Let him wonder.
Her studies with him were the reason she married so late, at the age of thirty-one; her yearly stays at Rivendell to continue them were why her children were born when she was thirty-five, thirty-seven, and forty. He had shocked many in Bree when he came to that city upon learning that Naurë was not carrying her last child with ease, and birthed the stillborn infant with his own hands.
None who witnessed his tender care of the grieving mother were shocked, however, when it was in his arms instead of her husband’s that she cried. Hû was not known for his gentleness, after all. Nor for his fidelity. Hû had died when Naurë was but forty-three, and though some thought it scandalous that she would so cheerfully bury him, others wondered if perhaps one of her more notorious remedies had been the cause of his passing, and did not blame her if it were so.
Naurë chuckled at the memory, the sound weak even to her own ears. She had not killed her husband, though not for lack of desire. Still, she enjoyed the speculative glances she got whenever the matter was brought up in hushed whispers. It never hurt to be thought dangerous.
It had not been easy to raise her son and daughter alone, but thanks to Elrond, they had never gone hungry or cold as Naurë had in her own childhood. She knew her mentor thought himself uncommonly sneaky, with his anonymous gifts left outside her door, but she knew the truth. She would not shame him by mentioning it—if he’d wanted her thanks, he would have presented the food, clothing, and supplies openly and publicly.
It was after her children were adults and married, in their own homes, that Naurë had been able to truly enjoy herself. Free for the first time in many years, she had returned to Rivendell for more studying. Elrond had suggested they take the summer to journey to Rhûn, far to the east of even Mirkwood, and eager for some adventure in spite of her advancing years, she had agreed.
One of their companions on the trip would be one Haldir of Lorien, whom Elrond delighted in throwing together with his human apprentice at every opportunity, as the Sylvan elf’s haughtiness and Naurë’s irreverence sparked against each other like dueling blades. She insisted on mothering the handsome elf, and he insisted on making fun of her youth. They taunted and teased each other mercilessly, until even Elrond was ready to gag them both and fling them from a cliff, but never did they seem to tire of it.
It was whilst in Mirkwood that Elrond received word that his presence was required in Rivendell, but loathe was he to cut short Naurë’s first and likely only trip to Rhûn. He had prevailed upon Haldir to continue to journey, and with a glance toward Naurë that bespoke the guardian’s relish of troublemaking, he had agreed.
The remainder of the summer was spent at leisurely travel. Once in Rhûn, they spent days at the seashore, and evenings in the cool forest, feasting on venison caught that day and singing late into the night. Haldir and the other elves hunted orc, to their great delight, whilst Naurë studied the medicine of that distant land, and furthered her knowledge of orcish poisoning tactics, the better to heal its damage.
Her need for the toxic arrows used by their foe, so she could gather some of the venom applied to the tips, had started their sole, infamous argument. Haldir wanted to simply attack the settlement, no matter that the elves were outnumbered five to one. Naurë, terrified of him being hurt, took it upon herself to try to sneak into the orcs’ encampment at high noon, whilst they were sleeping. But she ever tended to forget her age, and that she was no longer as nimble as she had once been. Exhausted from her stealthy trek from the tent in which Haldir thought he had enclosed her, Naurë had stumbled and woken an orc, who then woke another, who then woke another.
Soon the entire company was awake and eagerly brandishing implements of carnage at her, and if not for Haldir’s momentous arrival (she still contended he’d been shouting like a fishwife) Naurë had no doubt she’d have been orc-dinner in short order. He had grabbed her arm, flung her behind him, and proceeded to decimate approximately two dozen slavering orcs before being satisfied that his soldiers could handle the rest, then hefted her over his shoulder and marched back to the tent. It was only after they’d arrived, he’d dropped her unceremoniously on her arse on the dirt floor, and promptly keeled over that she realized he’d sustained a grievous injury early on, and in spite of it, had gone on to fight valiantly for over an hour before carrying her back.
Her shock, embarrassment, and shame were as boundless as her tears. She tended to him, weeping the entire time, as he tossed and turned well into the night and the next day, his body fighting the filth and poison in his wound. His silvery hair matted with sweat against his flushed, beautiful face, Naurë had despised herself so thoroughly for her mistake that she had been hard-pressed not to take up his dagger and do herself harm.
But the elvish constitution is a wondrous thing, and he had recovered in due time. His ire at her would have been vastly greater if not for the matter of the dwarves… Naurë could not swallow a giggle at the memory. Ah, poor Haldir… what she’d put him through. And yet, he was her friend, and loved her as deeply as did Elrond. She sighed, feeling unworthy of the affection of two such elves.
After that fateful and bizarre summer, she had returned to Rivendell and stayed several more years. She would have been content to spend the rest of her life there, but for the urgent message from her son, Lacho, one drear and rainy morn. His feckless wife had decided that the life of a merchant’s wife in Bree held not the thrill of her childhood in Rohan, and had departed for more exciting climes. Would not Naurë, his beloved mother, return and help him raise his daughter?
As it turned out, she would. Lalaith was a sober child, alarmingly so, and Naurë despaired of ever truly understanding her, but they got on well enough. As time went on, the girl showed a talent and interest in the healing arts, was bright and enthusiastic, if not especially joyous. Lalaith was seven-and-ten when Lacho died in a riding accident. Naurë had been besieged with offers for her granddaughter’s hand in marriage, but she drew upon her association with Elrond and refused them all, saying that the elf lord had his own plans in mind for Lalaith’s future.
The years had slipped by, and Naurë’s pet project had begun to consume most of her time. Inspired by her terror when Haldir had come so close to death, she had begun work on a remedy to counter the effects of any poison, any wound, any illness. It took her years of study and work, years of forcing spoonfuls of the horrid-tasting stuff down the throats of anyone who would stand still long enough, but finally, finally she had it. The correct balance of ingredients, the precise method of preparation. All she lacked was a king.
It would not be long, now, until her remedy would be complete. Hoofbeats sounded on the cobblestones below, and Naurë leaned forward from her nest of blankets to peer over the railing. Already had Estel and the Hobbits made a dramatic entrance, and been whisked away for healing. She felt a pang of regret she was not well enough to assist Elrond, who she knew under a great deal of stress due to this Council, but if she did not save her strength during the day, it would be impossible to join the others for dinner, and she greatly enjoyed that meal and time with her friends and granddaughter, the laughter and song ringing in her ears, the graceful figures dancing their intricate steps in the candlelight…
Below in the courtyard, a handsome young Man dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to an elf. He introduced himself to Elrohir as Boromir of Gondor, and Naurë wondered if this Boromir would cause trouble with Estel… the Stewards of that land had ever considered themselves its sole proprietor, and would doubtless not look kindly upon an usurper of their power.
More horses, more riders. Dwarves, perhaps? No, not with that bright banner of hair streaming behind. For a tense moment, she thought the elf was Thranduil himself, and shuddered. No, she had not liked the king any more than he had her. But this elf, while nearly the image of Thranduil, was yet not him. One of his sons, perhaps. She wondered if he were any less daunting, any more welcoming, and decided to meet him.
The door opened behind her, and slippered feet made their way to her side. “My lady,” said a soft voice, and Naurë turned to find Aerlinn smiling down at her.
“Time to dress for supper, then?” she asked, and Aerlinn nodded, helping the old woman to her feet. Naurë stood a long moment, willing motion into her reluctant legs, and followed the elf-maid inside. She did not like needing assistance to change her attire, but arthritis had so severely attacked her fingers in these last months that buttons and laces were quite beyond her ability to conquer. She even had difficulty holding a comb, and hairpins were so impossible to manipulate that it was laughable.
“There,” Aerlinn said at last. “What think you of the vision in the mirror?”
Naurë stared hard, but the cataracts in her eyes made everything quite unpleasantly unclear. Sighing, she smiled at the elf. “I am a testament to your talents, young one,” she said kindly.
Aerlinn smiled back uncertainly. She knew the woman could hardly see any more, and that even her hearing was beginning to fade. It would not be long before she would remain all the day in bed, and indeed most of the elves of Imladris were uncomfortable around her, with the hazy, clouded eyes that saw nothing, with the need to raise one’s voice to be heard.
Her thoughts were pulled away from her musings when there was a rap on the door, and she opened it to reveal Elrohir and Elladan. “We are honoured to escort you, dear lady,” said the former, as the latter held out his arm for her to grasp. Elrohir quickly took up a position on her other side, in case she should need more help, and Aerlinn took up the rear. Assisting Naurë to her sole public meal of the day was becoming quite a procession, she thought with a grin.
Naurë seemed to think so as well, for her posture was aloof and her expression haughty as she stumped her way down the stairs and into the feasting hall, nodding with aplomb at all those who caught her eye. Due to the sensitive occasion, she would not be seated with Elrond—that honour would go to the most important dignitaries and diplomats. But further down the hall, there was dear Rûmil pulling out a chair for her, and Lalaith trying desperately not to seem overwhelmed with the pomp and luxury of the crowd around them, even as she steadfastly ignored the presence of the tawny-haired elf.
Elrond smiled at her from his seat in the middle of the head table, and she smiled back at her friend. These next days would be interesting, indeed.