Author’s Note: Don’t know it it were just me, or ff.net itself, but I haven’t been able to access it for a few days now, thus the lack of updates.
I’ve started a Yahoo group for those of you who want easier and more reliable access to my fic, so as to not need to rely upon fanfiction.net, which is dodgy at best. You can also tell me and anyone else who reads it if you love my writing, hate it, or feel somewhere in between. I’ll also be throwing ideas at you, to see if plot bunnies that spawn in my head are worth following up on.
It’s at groups dot yahoo dot com slash group slash cinnamongrrl (you have to exchange actual dots and slashes where I wrote out the words, as ff.net seems to not want to allow links). Hope to see y’all there!
Thanks to all of you for reading, and those who review, you are priceless jewels! Reviews help me know where my story/characterization/dialogue/ continuity is weak, so please, if you see a problem, let me know! I can’t guarantee I’ll take all suggestions, as my storyline is pretty much set, but if I can improve the tone of certain situations/people/etc. then I most certainly will.
The Fall of Night, Part 13
22 January, 3019
Finally we are at Eryn Vorn, Rûmil and Aras and I. We arrived last eve, as dusk fell like a shroud over the land. It has been a very strange trip. Rûmil woke me at first light (Aras was already awake). It was very embarrassing to realize where my hand had fallen as I slept, and I pulled back with all haste, but that only made him laugh harder. After I fell out of the tree (Aras joining Rûmil in the laughter) we ate a quick meal of lembas and then rode all day like the very demons of hell were on us. When first we saw the forest of Eryn Vorn spread before us, the citadel rising above its naked branches, my relief was such that I could have cried.
We have seen no more orcs, thank Eru. Aras has been healing steadily, and was able yesterday to ride alone, which eased Rûmil greatly. His arms were so sore from keeping Aras upright in the saddle that he actually took some of the tonic (but only after I scolded him at length). Aras’ wound has closed, and now only bears a livid scar. I dose it with a few drops of tonic several times a day, working it gently into the tissues, and it is already flat and unraised against his skin, and cool to the touch. A few more weeks and there will be no mark at all upon him.
Aras seems to find it amusing, the way Rûmil and I argue. I confess I do not mind it overmuch myself—it is not fun, exactly, but neither is it unpleasant. He has great wit, does Rûmil, and crossing words with him can be enjoyable, as is the way his eyes snap and glimmer when he bickers with me. It puzzles me why I find him so appealing, when Legolas, who is inarguably much handsomer (and actually amiable to me, as well) makes me feel naught but sisterly affection. Yet, in spite of all the harsh words between us, Rûmil makes my breath come faster in a way that Legolas cannot.
I hope he is well, my Legolas, and safe. I have thought often of him in the past few days, and even more in the last hours since arriving at the Citadel of Minhiriath. My acquaintances among nobility is few—Legolas, Estel, Boromir—but still do I doubt that the conduct of Heleg, king of this realm, is fitting. It would seem that Heleg is a suspicious man, and watches us with great wariness. Wariness, and something else that makes me uneasy indeed when his gaze falls upon me. I know Rûmil sees it as well, and his face is as harsh as stone when Heleg stares at me so.
Heleg had wanted to put me in a room by myself, quite close to his own chamber (to honour me, he said) but I insisted that, as a healer, I could not be far from my patient. He did not like that, no, not at all, and while he let Aras stay with me, he had Rûmil confined to a room many floors away. Heleg insists it is not a dungeon.
It does not shame me to admit that I am frightened. Please, Eru, I am not overly fond of my virtue but would not have it taken from me by force. May the Fellowship be hale, may Nana be healing, and may Rûmil be safe wherever he is exiled in the bowels of this place. I hope the other elves do not come soon, as I fear they too will be put below.
Lalaith had no sooner wrapped up her journal in her spare dress than there was a knock at the door. “You may enter,” she called softly, not wanting to wake Aras, and summoned a faint smile for the woman who came in, arms loaded with a bundle of fabric. Lalaith recognized her as Eitha, who had shown her to this room the night before.
“Heleg King bids me give this to you,” Eitha told her, and placed her bundle on the bed. Unrolling it, she revealed an ornate gown of deepest plum, its very full sleeves banded with intricate golden embroidery and pleated hem trailing to a lengthy train.
Lalaith thought her eyes might fall from her head, so much did they bulge at the opulence of it. “Why?” she asked after a long moment of gaping.
“He wishes to see you in it,” Eitha said with a shrug. She gazed speculatively over Lalaith’s body, making her feel as if she stood there nude.
“You must thank him for his kindness,” the words stuck in Lalaith’s dry throat, “but I already have clothing to wear. I could not possibly…”
“You can, and will,” interrupted Eitha. “Or whatever boon you came to ask will go unfulfilled.” Then her face gentled a little. “Sorry I am for your plight, young one. But I have lived here many years, and I can tell you with all confidence that Heleg must be courted and flattered for every favour.” She smoothed her hand down the heavy velvet. “If you refuse to wear this, you will never get what you need from him.”
Lalaith agreed reluctantly, and ducked behind a screen with Eitha to help her wriggle into the gown. It was a little snug in the bodice, and the amount of bosom and cleavage that threatened to spill from the top was alarming, but Eitha only grinned and pronounced it perfect. “He will not be able to refuse you, in this.”
They stepped from behind the screen to find Aras was awake. Awake, and staring in amazement at Lalaith. Or rather, what was jiggling merrily atop Lalaith’s neckline. Agog, he turned his gaze with effort to her face, and declared that she was not to leave the room. Ever, ever again.
Eitha began to laugh while Lalaith sputtered in outrage. “I see elves are possessive of their lemans,” she said, sly.
“I am not his leman,” Lalaith fumed. “I hardly know him.” She turned to Aras. “Why say you such a thing? You give Eitha the wrong idea.”
“Tis not for me I forbid your appearance in public wearing such a thing,” Aras protested, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, his eyes pleading. “But Rûmil… ah, the top of his head will come off should he know you reveal so much of yourself.”
“Small is his right to dictate my attire, and little is his influence over my decisions,” Lalaith sniffed. Then her shoulders slumped. “You have heard Eitha, I know, Aras. Heleg is our only chance to help my grandmother. If wearing this dress means he will bless the athelas, then wear it I will.”
Aras sighed. “You will convince him I at least tried to stop you?”
“This Rûmil sounds like a much more troublesome lover than he is worth,” Eitha announced.
“Whereas a king who extorts small favours with improper gifts is above reproach,” Lalaith fired back tartly, earning an admiring glance from Aras. “And Rûmil is not my lover.”
“As you say,” Eitha said, lifting her hands in placation. “It is time to join Heleg King to break your fast.”
But Lalaith did not move. “And Aras? Will someone bring his meal, or should I stuff my sleeves full of food for him?”
“A meal will be brought to him,” Eitha assured her. “Now, come, else Heleg grow impatient.”
Lalaith followed the woman through a labyrinth of short, wide passageways only dimly lit with oily torches. Surely the destination would be very grand indeed, she thought, if it took such effort to reach it. But the hall, when finally they emerged from the corridor into it, was squat, with flattened arches above. The stone walls were built of different-coloured bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, and some optimistic soul had built a louvered slat-door into the roof, hoping the smoke pouring from the central fireplace would escape.
“Fools,” Eitha muttered under her breath, flapping her apron to ward away some of the smoke. “Always do I tell them, never the poplar! Never the poplar! But look you at the ceiling.” She pointed. “Do you see the black soot staining it?” Lalaith nodded. “From years of burning poplar.” She frowned grimly. “If not for me, this kingdom would fall to wrack and ruin.”
“Then glad am I that we have you, Eitha,” purred a voice from behind them, and they spun as one to see Heleg, king of Minhiriath, smirking at them. He was just as squat and wide as his home, with grizzled brown hair growing in all directions from his head. Jade-green eyes, disconcertingly beautiful, peered from beneath bushy brows, lit from within by cunning and, Lalaith could see as he perused her velvet-clad form, voracious appetites.
“My lady,” he rumbled, “you do this gown great honour by wearing it.”
“Your Majesty,” she replied, bowing as deeply as she dared with such a low bodice. “You honour me by lending it.”
“Lending?” Heleg asked, taking her hand and tucking it firmly into the crook of his elbow. Beneath her fingers, the muscles of his forearm were solid as oak and she knew that she would only be free if he allowed it. “It was no loan, lady, but a gift.”
Oh, Eru, she thought despairingly. “You will spoil me, Majesty,” is what she said, smiling demurely.
His eyes glimmered at her as he bade her sit beside him at the boards. “Eitha will serve us,” he announced, and she could only smile weakly at that irate woman as Eitha slapped food onto two rich plates before setting them with a clatter before her liege and his guest. Lalaith forced herself to eat, though her stomach rebelled, and tried several times to broach the subject of the athelas to Heleg, but he would not hear of it.
“There is no rush, dear lady,” he told her, smiling, and she forced herself not to cringe at the amount of crumbs lodging in his beard. “You will have a long visit with us ere we ruin it with talk of serious matters.”
Lalaith decided to let it go for then. She would try again at lunch. Surely a few hours would not make the difference between life and death? An image of Naurë thrashing on her bed swam before her vision, hardening her resolve. She would ask at lunch, no matter how Heleg demurred.
She thought she’d never been so happy in her life as when the meal was almost over and she could escape Heleg’s pointed innuendo and seemingly-casual touches of her hand and arm. He had stared so at her chest she had been hard-pressed not to drape her napkin over it, and the way he kept licking his lips made her feel distinctly queasy.
“I would like to see Rûmil,” she ventured, taking a reluctant sip of wine. After the silken smoothness of elven wine, this coarse stuff was abrasive to her throat.
“Rûmil…” Heleg repeated, stroking his chin. It was obvious he was pretending not to know the name.
“The other elf who travelled with me,” she reminded him from between clenched teeth. “I would like to see him.”
He waited a moment, then a moment longer, enjoying her discomfort, before nodding. “Yes. I think that can be arranged.” He snapped his fingers in the direction of a guard. “Puio,” he commanded, “you will bring the elf, Rûmil, here at once.”
Lalaith concentrated on eating and avoiding Heleg’s suggestive glances while the guard fetched Rûmil. When the elf appeared, she heaved a sigh of relief so profound that Heleg raised a brow in her direction. “Rûmil,” she exclaimed in relief, and crossed to him, taking his hands in hers. “You are well?”
He stared impassively at her neckline before raising his gaze to her face. “I do not recall that dress in your pack as we travelled,” he said at last.
Lalaith forced a neutral expression on her face and strove for a cheerful, pleased tone as she replied, “Heleg King was kind enough to give it to me; he was most insistent that I wear it.”
Not a muscle moved in Rûmil’s face, but something flickered in his blue eyes, an awareness of her tense posture perhaps… Lalaith knew he was aware of her discomfort and fear. “That was indeed kind of him. Aras is well?”
She nodded. “He heals nicely, but is still weak and needing my care.” Her way of telling him, I am not alone, Aras remains with me.
“You are satisfied your companion is in one piece?” Heleg’s laughter boomed across the hall, bounced off the ribbed arches of the ceiling, echoed off the stone, surrounded them in its cadence.
Lalaith took comfort from Rûmil’s presence, stared into his eyes another long moment, before turning away. “I am, Your Majesty. My thanks.”
Heleg gave her a slow, heated smile and she could not prevent a shiver of distaste, but he did not seem to notice, instead motioning for Puio to escort Rûmil back to his room. Rûmil noticed, however, and a tendon leapt in his lean cheek. Lalaith sent him a look of mute pleading, and he allowed himself to be led away.
Then she turned back to her beaming host, and resigned herself to a long, long day.