Author’s Note: Just some friendly advice from yer Aunt Cinnie here… buckle your seat belts for this chapter. Trauma and angst ahoy.
Please, please review for me. Just this chapter, if none of the rest… I REALLY wanna know what you think of what I’ve done here. Dove bars for all who tell me their opinions!
The Fall of Night, Part 9
“Lalaith, please come with me,” Aerlinn whispered into her friend’s ear, touching her lightly on the arm. The woman turned from where she stood in the courtyard, her hand shielding her eyes from the early sunlight of this midwinter morn, to frown at the elf.
“Is something wrong?” Lalaith asked, reading concern in the other’s cobalt eyes. She’d gotten up early to watch as the Fellowship departed on their journey to Mordor, wanting to bid farewell to Legolas. In the past weeks she had found in him a dear friend, and would miss his pleasant presence. He never made her feel stupid or defective because she did not smile or laugh.
“Please,” Aerlinn repeated. “Be you quiet, do not make Elrond or the others know; they are needed here. But your grandmother…”
Lalaith blinked. “Say no more,” she replied calmly, and began to march back toward the house and up to Naurë’s room. Once out of earshot, she demanded, “What has happened to her?”
“It is not serious,” Aerlinn assured her, slightly out of breath from the brisk trot set by her companion. “I went to help her to the balcony, that she too could see the Fellowship go, but she cannot leave her bed.”
Nodding, Lalaith briefly squeezed Aerlinn’s slender hand in thanks. “I will attend her, go you down and tell Legolas I wish him well.”
She opened the door to find her grandmother sitting up in bed, propped against a veritable mountain of pillows, with another mountain covering her from chest to toes. Her eyes were closed beneath hoary brows, and the slack flesh of her face fell even more deeply than usual into folds around her jaw and chin. Naurë’s face looked like a withered old apple, and Lalaith’s heart clenched in misery.
“Nana?” she murmured, and pulled a chair close to the bed. Instead of harboring the lingering scent of lilac toilette water that Naurë favoured, the room smelled stuffy and medicinal, as a sickroom would. Apprehension filled Lalaith as Naurë’s eyelashes fluttered.
“Lalaith, dearest,” Naurë croaked, and reached out a feeble hand, quickly taken up by her granddaughter. The skin was as fragile as old parchment, and had been for years, but the greyish tinge it had taken since Haldir’s exodus to Lorien was more pronounced.
Since Haldir had left… Lalaith frowned as a suspicion began to pluck at her sleeve for attention. Her grandmother, while old, had been healthy and strong until the day the Guardian had returned to his forest. “Nana, surely you are not ailing so because Haldir has gone?” It seemed utterly unlike Naurë to pine for lack of someone… had not she persevered after the deaths of her husband and children? Would it not take far more to force the formidable woman to her knees?
“Surely not,” Naurë replied, her voice so wispy that Lalaith had to lean forward to hear it. Still, there was a core of iron in it. “As if I would languish over that crazy elf.” Her breath shuddered in and out while she labored to speak. “I am ailing because that day, I stopped taking my tonic.”
“What?” Lalaith shouted, bounding to her feet. Naurë opened her eyes then, and leveled such a look of censure at her granddaughter that Lalaith quailed. Breathing hard a moment, she forced herself to calm. “Why would you do such a thing?” she asked a moment later, her voice much quieter.
Allowing her eyes to shut, Naurë smiled faintly. “Because I no longer need it. I have no more need for artifice in staying alive. All the threads of my life are being woven in, Lalaith. I am secure in knowing you will be cared for. Estel blessed the athelas and I have my remedy, the remedy that will help people, the culmination of my life’s work. If only I’d had it years ago, Haldir would not have suffered as he did. Be sure it is used for good, and trust him, and Elrond. Legolas will stand by you, as well. Love them as I have.”
She forced her eyes to open once more, but seemed not to see how tears had spilled from Lalaith’s eyes, and now coursed down her shocked, terrified face. ”My work is done. I am finished.” She smiled at her granddaughter, a smile of pure sweetness and love. “I am finished, Lalaith.”
Her eyelids drooped a final time, and a light seemed to leave the room, leaving it much diminished. “No,” Lalaith moaned, and darted her gaze frantically around the room. Alighting on a familiar bottle on the dresser, she ran to it, her fingers clenching greedily around the cool glass, and back to the bed, fumbling to uncork it. With a hand more rough than tender, she pushed at Naurë’s jaw, making the old woman’s mouth open, and lowered the bottle to her lips.
Then the door banged open to reveal Rûmil,. “Why did you shout?” he demanded.
Lalaith’s arm jerked in surprise, and a wave of thick violet fluid spilled from the bottle and into Naurë’s mouth.
“What is that?” Rûmil strode across the room, his face concerned.
Lalaith’s eyes widened in horror—Naurë’s tonic was thin, and red, and did not smell as pungent. The only thing she knew of that had such colour, density, scent was… “The new remedy,” she muttered. “And it has not been diluted.” She felt faint as the implication of what she’d done washed over her, and the bottle slipped from her nerveless fingers to smash on the floor.
She was only dimly aware, after that, of the chaos that followed. How the shards of bottle had flown, how the remedy had splattered over her feet and the hem of her skirts, and how Rûmil’s gasp of shock had become a shout for help when Naurë began to thrash on the bed. Harsh hands pushed Lalaith aside, gentle ones grasped her shoulders and led her to a chair in the corner. A concerned gaze peered into her own numb one, and someone spoke to her, but she heard nothing as she stared at her grandmother, seeing but not comprehending Elrond’s white, anxious face as he tried to help Naurë, his sons’ strong arms holding the old woman down as he attempted to make her vomit up the concoction.
Elrond turned to her then, shouting her name. When she remained unresponsive, he slapped her with rather more force than strictly necessary. “Why does nothing come up?” he demanded.
Lalaith turned blank eyes toward where she thought his face might be. “It… absorbs instantly,” she replied automatically, her voice sounding like it came from very far away. “Nana wanted it to work immediately, and eliminated anything that might delay its digestion. It goes directly into the bloodstream.”
Elrond swore, an oath so powerful that even Rûmil, who had spent the whole of his life surrounded by warriors and soldiers, flinched at its obscenity. “Then there is naught I can do,” the lord of Rivendell said, sounding impossibly tired and defeated. “Just give her a sedative and hope it brings her ease.” Naurë’s convulsions had lessened, and she now only twitched a little, her head tossing restlessly on the pillows, her hands and feet trembling like leaves in a high wind.
He turned to Lalaith then, and the dark expression on his face was the same as that seen by his enemies just before he slew them with cruel and vicious prejudice. “Be gone from my sight,” he told her, his voice arctic as he turned deliberately away from her.
Aerlinn wrapped an arm around Lalaith’s waist and guided her from the room. Lalaith allowed herself to be steered; she was not paying a whit of attention. The elf-maiden could have shoved her over the falls and she would not have noticed, nor cared. Once in a smaller sitting room, Aerlinn pushed her friend to sit, kneeling before her and clasping her ice-cold hands. “What have you done, Lalaith?”
“Yes, I too would like to know this,” hissed a voice, and Lalaith looked up to see Rûmil framed by the doorway. “Be you glad Haldir is not here; he has none of Elrond’s restraint. I have no doubt you would be trussed like a slain deer at this moment were he not gone these past months.”
“Rûmil, you are not helping!” Aerlinn snapped, glaring fiercely at him before schooling her features into a more gentle mask. “Lalaith?” She squeezed the girl’s hands to gain her attention. Slowly, Lalaith turned her numb gaze from Rûmil to her friend. “What did you do?”
“I—“ Her voice faltered, failed. “She told me how she had stopped taking her tonic, the one that had kept her alive these last years. She stopped the day Haldir left.” Lalaith’s voice was monotone as she recited the facts as she knew them. “She said she didn’t need it any more, her threads were all woven…” She lifted dull eyes to them. “What does that mean?”
But they had no answer, and she continued as if the words were being dragged, kicking and screaming, from her throat. “She had completed the new remedy. She wished she’d had it for Haldir, so long ago. She was done. She was secure. She was happy. She said she was finished.”
Lalaith drew in a sobbing breath then. “I became so afraid, and reached for the bottle of her tonic, and uncorked it. Only, when I saw it, I knew it wasn’t the tonic, but the new remedy, with the athelas that Estel had blessed.” Aerlinn gasped, and Rûmil frowned deeper. “I did not mean to!” she shouted, despair overwhelming her. “When you came in, so noisy, it startled me! I never meant to harm her, you know I would not!”
“But by your carelessness, you have,” said a new voice from behind Rûmil. There stood Elrond, hands tightly clasped before him. “How you could give a dose to someone, without ascertaining first what it was, without using a spoon or measure… I think I now know why Naurë felt you unable to make your living as a healer.” His cold words slashed at Lalaith like a blade. “Not from lack of humour, but lack of competence. And lack of empathy with your patients.”
He stepped forward and grasped her chin in his hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. They were grey and hard, like chips of stone. He was possessed by a blind and barbaric fury, she realized, and only his rigid control was preventing him from killing her on the spot. “As a healer, I am beyond appalled at your conduct. As Naurë’s mentor and friend…” He released her face and stepped back, as if her very presence polluted him. “As her mentor and friend,” he continued in a whisper, “You make me long to flay you alive.”
Aerlinn made a distressed sound from her corner; Rûmil put his arm around her shoulder, offering her some comfort, but his face was just as rigid as Elrond’s.
“Have you any idea what your grandmother has done for you? Sacrificed for you?” he demanded as Lalaith shrank back in her chair. “What she has given up to provide a home for you? She wasted a lifetime of talent and knowledge to lance boils on peasants in Bree, for Elbereth’s sake, when she could have been here, studying under the finest healers of the age.”
He clasped his hands once more, and she knew it was to keep them from wrapping around her neck. “Do you know how she has worried about you? What she endured to travel here at her age, and arrange for your future? Foolish, thankless girl,” he hissed. “All you could think of were your own needs, your own fears. And now, once more, Naurë pays to relieve you of them.”
He turned away then, staring out the window, seeing nothing. Once he had composed himself, he faced Lalaith once more. “Now we work to help her as much as possible. As is often the case, I suspect the cure for overdose of this remedy will be found in the potion itself. Where is the rest of it?”
“The rest of it?” Lalaith repeated stupidly. “There is no more, that was the only bottle Nana made. She wanted to keep the amount small.”
Elrond sighed. “I know this. Where is the remainder of Estel’s athelas? For I have Naurë’s notes, and a barrel of the old recipe, awaiting only the addition of the blessed kingsfoil.”
“But that is what I am trying to tell you!” Lalaith cried. “There is no more! All that he gave us, we distilled, and used the whole quantity in what we made!”
“So you are telling me,” Elrond said casually, almost conversationally, “That the only thing that will bring your grandmother out of the coma in which she currently resides is an ingredient that is very difficult to acquire, and of which there is no more left in all of Arda?” His voice rose until, by the end, he was shouting.
As Elrond didn’t shout very often—the last recorded incident had been at the beginning of the Second Age-- it was a very daunting sight. Aerlinn swayed on her feet, as if to faint, and Rûmil handed her off to Elrohir, who lurched into the room as the last notes of his father’s diatribe faded away. He spirited the elf-maid away, and Elladan immediately took his place in glaring at Lalaith, who promptly burst into tears now that her sole supporter was gone.
“I am sorry,” she whispered over and over. “I am sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I am sorry.”
“You had better be more than sorry,” Elrond told her, smiling unpleasantly. “You had best be ready to travel.”
“Travel?” Lalaith asked.
“Travel?” Rûmil asked.
“Travel?” Elladan asked.
“Yes, travel,” he affirmed grimly. “For on the morrow, you leave with a bag of athelas and your best outfit of sackcloth and ashes.”
Her tear-streaked face was wan and pinched, and very, very frightened. “But where am I going?”
“Thranduil is the closest, but he bears no love for Naurë, and would not help us.” Elrond paced a bit before the fireplace. “No, you must go to Heleg.” Ignoring the expressions of shock on the faces of the others, he bit his lip thoughtfully. “If you ride hard—and you will be riding very hard, I assure you—you can be there and back in eight weeks. Seven, if you push yourselves unmercifully.”
He settled a hard glance on her. “You had best begin your arrangements,” he told her coolly. “I care not if you wear naught but your nightdress and a smile; tomorrow at dawn, your arse will be planted on a horse that rides west toward the city of Eryn Vorn, in the realm of Minhiriath.” He tilted his head consideringly. “And if you do not manage to bring back those athelas, blessed by the king of that land, do not bother returning, for you will find no welcome here.”