Author’s Note: Got lotsa people wondering about Elrond going unhinged. I wanted to make it clear, by his words and actions, how elves are very passionate people. They don’t often get pissed off, when when they do, watch out. They’re also sensitive about the issue of death—remember how he reacted in Chapter 5 when Naurë said, “There are times I am glad my days are few”?
The Fall of Night, Part 10
8 January 3019
I think Rûmil mocks me for keeping this journal; that he thinks I am pretending I have at least one friend who will listen to me, but it is not true. He will not understand how I do not wish to forget a single thing, not a single moment of loathing or despair or regret. Years from now, when I am Nana’s age, I want to be able to read back these words I write, and know what it is to make a terrible mistake, and have to repair it.
He still has not spoken to me beyond barking orders in my direction, never meeting my eyes. I obey, of course, but cannot help feeling that if he despises me so, he should not have insisted on leading this sullen group of elves and me on this insane mission. I know he waits for me to complain, about the cold or how sore I am, or something else, but I will not. I refuse to give him the satisfaction. Smug prat. As if in all the years he’s been alive, he has never made a mistake?
Also, it would be an insult to Nana for me to whine about any discomfort I feel. If not for me, she would not be lying between life and death in Rivendell, surrounded by worried friends. And I would not be here in Bree, in The Prancing Pony’s shabbiest room, far from her side, banished from the one person who truly loves me.
Bree. How I had longed to be here again! How I had thought to be welcomed home with wide arms from those who have known me from birth! How convinced I was of its superiority to Rivendell! And how mistaken I was, in all ways. Men are fickle, and not only in love. Our absence for so long has made most people forget us, and those who have not, mistrust us for our familiarity with the elves. Returning with a dozen in tow has but confirmed their suspicions. When this horror, this nightmare, is all over there will be nothing for me here. None in Bree will come to me for healing.
Perhaps I will go to Minas Tirith, and throw myself on the mercy of the Steward. His son seemed pleasant enough whilst in Rivendell for the Council. That is, if the Ringbearer will succeed in destroying the Ring. If not, I fear there will be no point in my worrying about finding a home and position for myself. All will be left to wrack and ruin. Even with my dark thoughts of guilt and repentance, still I can feel the spread of evil across Middle-Earth.
My sleep is poor, these last nights, and not from sleeping on the ground with strange elves curled close for warmth—that, surprisingly, is quite comfortable. My dreams have haunted me, all the more because they are not dreams, but memories. Memories of Nana thrashing on the bed, of Elrond’s face as he said horrible, truthful things to me. Of Aerlinn as she tried so desperately to protect me, even as she tried to understand my actions. She has been a fine friend, and it has hurt me terribly to know how I have frightened her.
And a memory of the thing that started it all, repeating so slowly in my head, over and over. That thick spill of violet into Nana’s mouth, that gush of what should have been a remedy, but what has ended up being a poison, a toxin. I do not have to be asleep for this to come to me. Even awake, whilst we ride, or walk, or eat, this remembrance of a torrent of vivid purple, a wave of death has the power to freeze me with shame and denial that it is possible, what I have done. I do not think I will ever be able to bear the colour, the rest of my life.
My prayers are for Nana, for our group to travel to Minhiriath and back with speed and success, and for the Fellowship. I pray we are not too late to bring Nana some measure of peace before her death, instead of the fevered writhing that gripped her when we left thirteen days ago. I pray that Legolas and Estel are well, and the others. May they remain safe and hale, please, Eru.
If I be perfectly honest, I also pray that Haldir does not yet know of what I have done to Nana. I fear there is no haven distant enough to keep me safe from his rage.
Lalaith set down her quill and scattered sand over the last page of writing, drying the ink, before closing the journal and tucking it away in the sole pack allowed her on this voyage. Beside the journal, quill and ink, she had been permitted a single change of clothing, small healing kit, and a supply of food beside her bedroll, Rûmil wanting to travel lightly for all possible speed.
To this end, he had refused more than the smallest number of warriors Elrond would permit—a mere dozen besides himself and Lalaith. Any more would slow them down, he insisted. None of them were informed of the entire truth behind the voyage; only that Lalaith’s grandmother was ailing and needed a certain ingredient that could only be obtained from this distant kingdom. They were polite, of course, but it did not take an exceptional quantity of perception to note that Rûmil was remote to the point of rudeness to the sole female in their party. They followed had his lead and gave her only the minimal amount of interaction. If not for the journal, she’d have had hardly any communication with anyone…er… anything… in over a week.
The journal had been a surprising gift from Elrond. He had thrust it into her hands even as her horse had taken its first steps out of the city. “This can be a valuable lesson for you,” was all he had told her. “Do not squander the opportunity.” She had faithfully written in it daily, steadfastly ignoring the amused looks of the elven soldiers that accompanied them, and Rûmil’s openly hostile glares.
Rûmil would be knocking on her door at any moment, and she had no doubt he would still be angry at her insistence on a bath before eating, but she hadn’t washed her hair since departing Rivendell and would be denied no longer. Clean now, and dressed in her only other gown, she had washed her grubby clothing in the bathwater and spread it over a chair before the fire to dry before sitting with her back to the inefficient, smoky fireplace in hopes of speeding her hair to dryness as well before taking up journal and quill and proceeding to record her thoughts for the day. Sadness overcame her as she wrote, making her eyes flood, and a tear escaped in spite of her determined sniffing and blinking to roll down her cheek just as a knock sounded on the door. She scrubbed it away as she opened it to reveal Rûmil with a plate of food and cup of drink.
“Still pitying yourself?” he asked, the calm tone of his voice belied by the snideness of the words. He was framed by the torchlight from the hallway, his golden hair glowing around his face, giving him the look of an angel. How appearances can be deceiving, she thought bitterly, and stepped back to allow him entrance.
Lalaith said nothing in reply, but took the plate from his hand and seated herself before the fire once more. The chair was narrow, and hard, a knot from a branch not sanded from the seat and so poking her uncomfortably in her backside. She dug the fork into the beef—she assumed it was beef, as it was in a slab and somewhat leathery—and tried to cut it before giving up and holding it up, sinking her teeth into it and tearing off a mouthful.
“Charming,” Rûmil commented, and sat on the bed. She knew he watched her, and was proud of the way her hands only trembled a tiny bit under his scrutiny. In spite of the poorness of the food, Lalaith had been hungry from a diet of lembas and dried meat for almost a fortnight, and found herself using the somewhat stale crust of bread to scrape up the last drop of greyish sauce from the dented tin plate.
She sipped the last of the watered wine from the battered tin cup. “My thanks,” she told him when she had wiped her mouth on the napkin he had brought—elves were nothing if aware of etiquette—and he bowed very formally in return. “To where do we head tomorrow?” She placed the cup and plate on the rickety table beside the door, then dug in her pack for a comb.
“The Great Bend of the River Baranduin,” he replied, gazing idly in her direction as she combed the last of the moisture from her hair and braided it in its usual single plait, but not winding it into a crown on the back of her head, as was her usual coif. The plait hung in a thick cable of dark chestnut down her back, contrasting with the bright green gown she wore. “Your bath was acceptable?”
Lalaith nodded. “Quite. I thank you for arranging it.” Then, “How long do you expect it to take, this leg of the journey, to the Great Bend?”
“A sen’night,” was his reply. “It would be longer, but we get fresh horses here in Bree, and will push them hard.”
She nodded again, and stood. “Shall I return the plate?”
“Best that you not,” Rûmil said, and took it from the table. “It is late now, and the patrons are well into their cups. A woman would not be safe.”
A third nod. “I thank you again.”
Her composure seemed to disturb something in him. “How polite you are,” he pointed out, his voice silken. “Your manners have improved drastically since leaving Imladris.” He smiled then, a nasty cat-like little curl of the corners of his mouth. “So sad that it took trying to kill your own grandmother to bring about this improvement.”
Lalaith opened her mouth as if to speak, and then pressed it tightly closed, so tightly that they lost colour completely. The waxen slash of her lips was like a scar across her countenance, and Rûmil felt ashamed of his pettiness and cruelty. It was poorly done of him, truly—he an elf of over a millennium of age, and she barely a score of years… “I am sorry for that,” he said. “Please forgive me.”
“Of course,” she said after a long, tense moment of silence. “This is a journey of redemption, after all. Who am I to deny you?” And before he could reply to that extraordinary statement, she went to hold open the door for him, clearly indicated she wanted him anywhere else but there. Rûmil bowed and left her.
Her words repeated in his head. Did she mock him? Was it possible to know? Her tone had been bland, her face without expression, and yet…And yet. Though she said not a word, her eyes had blazed, they and her dark brows almost shockingly dark against the pallor of her face. He read pain in their depths, pain and sorrow and regret. There was little of the petulance and pettiness he had observed during their argument in the garden, months ago.
So she begins to grow up, Rûmil mused as he returned the plate to the kitchen belowstairs, and to his own surprise, the thought made him feel not smug, but pleased. It was very distressing to his people that humans the same age as elvish children were given the duties and responsibilities of an adult, and as often as not, their inexperience and immaturity caused drastic problems. This issue with the One Ring was a perfect example—if Isildur had possessed the wisdom that Elrond and the other First-born had, he would have cast the evil thing into Mount Doom all those years ago.
But, alas, Estel’s ancestor had succumbed to that childish lust for power, the lust that had not faded from him as it had from those who were centuries older. And because of his youth, all of Arda was placed in extreme danger. A terrible burden had been placed upon the Nine, and the Ringbearer in particular. Rûmil breathed a word of plea to Elbereth to guide and protect the Fellowship on their task, and hoped the Hobbit’s pure soul would be sufficient proof against the seduction of the Ring he wore so close to his heart.
“Else all be lost,” he finished, the pronouncement leaving him hollow with fear as he pushed open the door to his own room. There awaited two of his elves, Brethil and Erêgmorn, and he schooled his features to a more placid expression.
“The lady is well?” Erêgmorn enquired, and seemed satisfied with Rûmil’s silent nod. Rûmil removed his clothing and climbed between the coarse sheets, frowning with displeasure at their humble lodgings.
Brethil chuckled from the other side of the bed. “Be you glad you are not Erêgmorn,” he advised his bed-mate, nodding toward the third elf, who glowered back at him as he left the room. “He drew the short straw to guard Lalaith tonight, and will pass his night standing in the hallway outside her door.”
“Care you to wager how fiercely he will complain tomorrow of the soreness of his feet?” Rûmil asked with a laugh.
Brethil thought a moment. “I think he will commence his whining as soon as he sees us. After… let us say, seven minutes… of describing the exact way his arches ache, with much use of words like “throbbing” and “pounding”, he will then threaten to beat you to death with a shovel. You will laugh at him, and he will stomp away to have a pout.”
Rûmil grinned. “Hm. An explicit prediction, to be sure.” He thought a moment. “I believe he will sulk for no less than twenty-two minutes and refuse to eat breakfast, thinking it will spite us. He will not notice how we laugh at him. Then he will tell us how his toes are sore, issue dire predictions of how this will somehow affect his archery skills, and declare that the next time he is denied his comfort he will tear out my ribcage and wear it as a hat.”
“Erêgmorn uses his toes for archery?” Brethil’s shoulders shook with laughter. “I must learn this technique; surely it will guarantee perfect aim every time.” He rolled over to his side and yawned. “And what shall we wager?”
“Why, the winner shall be the proud new owner of a full packet of lembas!” Rûmil replied with exaggerated cheer, very glad that his dark thoughts had been lifted by the Rivendell elf’s higher spirits, and ignoring Brethil’s groan at mention of the ‘prize’. After eating little but waybread for the past fortnight, with little else more to follow for many more weeks, it was less a reward than a punishment.
Rûmil listened as Brethil’s breathing steadied and deepened, and knew the other slept. He wasn’t tired, but his body needed rest even if his mind refused to slow its stream of thoughts and musings. He knit his fingers together behind his head and stared upwards into the darkness, and barely noticed when he himself fell into Reverie.