Author’s Note: C’mon down and join my new yahoo group, available at groups dot yahoo dot com slash group slash cinnamongrrl. Deepest apologies for the retarded appearance of the URL, you have ff.net to thank for it. I will be updating there before on ff.net, and it’s more dependable too. And the formatting is exactly as I wish it to be, no more buggering about with ff.net’s dodgy uploading. Come express your opinion of my fic, and suggest other good stories! Come vote in the polls! They’re funny. Really.
In other news: Had me another momentous occasion of enlightenment, or satori as we Buddhists call it. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, dear readers, because it was a satori about writing a sequel to The Fall of Night. Yes, friends, this fic will be ending in a few more chapters, but the story will continue. I’m even considering a third part, but I think I’ll wait until the sequel’s done to see if it’ll work.
And in conclusion: 10 points to whoever spots the word that Spike, aka William the Bloody, was so fond of before he became a vampire.
The Fall of Night, Part 16
Contrary to Brethil’s belief, Lalaith was completely aware of his abduction of her journal. She just didn’t care. She was also aware of Rûmil’s reluctance to drink the wretched soup, though she did not realize that he did so for the same reason she kept spooning it into him—it was the only valid way she could think of to remain so close to his side.
There was little she remembered of that night, that battle. She remembered noise, and moonlight glinting off bloodied weapons, and terror when the orcs had tried to take her. She remembered Rûmil’s face, so determined, so angry, as he fought his way to her, and her complete confidence that he would rescue her. There had never been a moment’s doubt. But neither had she suspected he would be hurt. And never in her life had she thought she would take up arms, let alone wield them with such passion, but clearly could she recall the feel of the dagger-hilts in her hands, hear the whistle of the wind as she sliced them through air, and flesh, and bone.
She had killed for him.
Though it was true it had only been an orc, still, it had had life, and that life she had taken. And she could not even pretend it was in self-defense, as her actions had been motivated entirely by revenge. Another memory assailed her, the knowledge that the moment her hands had touched Rûmil’s daggers, a single line repeated in her head: “It will pay. It will pay.”
Part of her was deeply satisfied that she had avenged Rûmil’s injury, but the other part of her, the larger part, was shocked and appalled that she had killed something, and with such great relish, as well. Ever since Nana had come to live with Lalaith and her father, she had taught her granddaughter to revere life, to treat it as a precious gift that could not be easily given, so it should not be easily taken.
Yet another way I shall fail her, she thought sadly, unaware her hands had fallen into her lap and that she stared at a pull in the blanket across Rûmil’s chest, until the spoon was removed from her fingers and a cool hand clasped hers. She looked up and found Rûmil watching her, concern on his face.
“What pains you?” he asked quietly.
To her disgust, tears filled her eyes, the horror and fright of the past few days overwhelming her all at once. She tried to cover her face with her hands, to hide her shame, but he would not let go of her and she ended up sobbing against his hand, her tears wetting his skin. Over her head, he indicated with a nod of his head that the others should leave them. When they were at last alone, he tugged on her hand so he could see her face.
“Lalaith, tell me,” he urged. The sound of her weeping created in him a maelstrom of anger, of fear, of pain, of sorrow. He thought he might be willing to do anything, if only she would stop. “Please, tell me.”
“I have killed for you,” she gasped at last, sitting back and forcibly retrieving her hand from his firm grasp. She scrubbed at her face, eyes red from salt.
Rûmil nodded. “And grateful I am to you for it.”
She sniffed and wished she’d a handkerchief. “No, you don’t understand,” she tried again. “I have killed. For you.” He nodded again, but it was clear he didn’t understand. Lalaith sighed. “I have never killed anything in my life,” she explained, watching his dawning comprehension. “Ever have I striven to protect life, guard it, heal and restore it. And yet, my need to avenge your pain was so great it overcame every lesson and inclination of peace I have ever had.”
She stood and placed the forgotten bowl on a rickety table before going to stare out the grimy window. Across the Gwathlò River she could see the marshy ponds of Nîn-in-Eilph, the swans that were the famous inhabitants of that area absent from the snowy hillocks covering the meadows.
“I am overcome,” Lalaith whispered at last. “I thought I had talked myself out of it, that your harshness to me had killed it, that this journey would reveal to me your true nature. I was right only about the last.” She drew a fingertip through the grey film of dirt on the windowpane. “I am overcome,” she repeated. “I cannot pretend any longer.”
She turned to face him again, determination writ clearly on her countenance, mixed with a bit of trepidation and something else… something else that made him nervous and elated at the same time. “I love you,” Lalaith said at last, her voice as caressing as her gaze as it moved tenderly over him. “I have loved you from the moment I saw you.”
He said nothing for a long time, merely looked at her, and she began to feel uncomfortable. Lalaith had not expected a declaration in return, but this prolonged silence… ashamed, she turned to leave.
“Do not go,” Rûmil said at last, catching her hand in his, pulling her to sit beside him on the bed. Still he said nothing; his blue eyes, dark as a twilight sky, flicked over her face, her hands, her hair, every part of her. Finally, he spoke.
“You must understand what love means to an elf, Lalaith.” His gaze met hers, soft and effulgent. “It is not something we speak of lightly, nor something we enter into easily. It is something, once started, that does not end, even past our death.” He took a deep breath. “Most of us avoid friendships and love with humans because of this. Not only are mortals short-lived, but in their immaturity they are often fickle as well… love for them can fade and wither after a few years, and the elf they scorn left languishing, their devotion unrequited.”
She made to speak, but he silenced her with a finger across her lips before moving his hand to cup her cheek. Lalaith leant herself into his touch, unable to resist the temptation, and gloried in the feel of his warm palm on her skin.
“You know of Arwen’s sacrifice for Estel; she sacrifices immortality to be with him. She is choosing death over life to share a too-brief moment of time with him. This is her joy, and her sorrow.” He gazed deeply into her eyes, into her soul. “There is no such choice for me to make, do you understand this?” She nodded slowly.
“I am not sure what love feels like, Lalaith,” Rûmil continued, and slid his hand down over her jaw, caressing the velvety earlobe en route to column of neck and slope of shoulder before descending down her arm to her hand. This he clasped tightly, wrapping her small hand in his large one, surrounding it with his. “If you know what love is because of what you would sacrifice for it, then… I believe I love you as well, because just as you have killed for me, sacrificing a precious belief, I—“ his voice, usually so smooth and mellifluous, turned rough, and broke. He cleared his throat.
“My life is the most precious thing I possess, and yet I would give it up in a moment for you. I nearly did, when those orcs attacked us.” He smiled when he saw how stunned she was, at the sight of tremulous hope dawning in her eyes, and thought that never had he seen such a lovely shade of green before, so soothing and fresh. “I would die for you, Lalaith. And I think that means that I love you.”
She reached out then, hand trembling just a little, to cup his cheek as he had hers. “I would greatly prefer that you live for me, Rûmil.” And she leant over to place her lips on his. The touch, so light, so tentative, nevertheless sent a flash of fire through them both, and it was not long before he had pulled her across him and threaded his fingers in her dark curls, fastening her snugly against him to prevent escape in the unlikely occasion that she would want to.
Lalaith believed she had gone mad, or this was some sort of insane fever dream, for never had she thought that Rûmil would react with anything but laughter or, perhaps, scorn to her declaration. But his hands in her hair, on her skin… his mouth slanting over hers, his tongue spearing between her lips to taste her, and share his taste with her… oh, surely this was a dream?
He pulled away at last, smiling at her dazed expression. “It is not a dream,” he said, and she realized she’d spoken aloud. His thumb brushed over the fullness of her lower lip, and his eyes darkened when she darted her tongue out to moisten it, and flicked against him. With a groan, he pulled her to him again, and kissed her fiercely.
In spite of her proximity to Rûmil, it wasn’t enough… she needed to surround him, to wrap herself around him… only then would they be close enough to suit her. Not knowing entirely what she was doing, she tried to put arms and legs around his body, pressing herself as close as she could.
Growling low in his throat, Rûmil took a deep breath and pushed her gently away. “None of that, meril nîn,” he told her. “The others will be back soon… they will be suspicious of the silence.” He grinned saucily at her. Trying hard, she offered him a wobbly smile of her own. “You are even prettier when you smile, as I knew you would be.” Her smile this time was genuine, and wider, and he squeezed her hands in his own, feeling their delicate bones under her skin. So fragile was this woman, so easily broken, and he wanted only to keep her safe, and bring that smile to her face every day.
The door opened, and the others entered. Brethil took one look at the elf and the woman, and turned to his companions. “I win!” he exulted, and the others frowned and grumbled, fumbling in their pockets to pay their lost wager.
“What exactly were you betting on?” Rûmil enquired mildly as Lalaith, embarrassed, pulled away and tried to pat her skirts and hair into some semblance of order.
“Oh, just what the scene would be when we came back!” Brethil replied airily. “I wagered that you would be holding hands and grinning goofily at each other. Erêgmorn said you would be finishing up a wild bout of lovemaking, but ever is he thinking with his pintle.” Lalaith’s cheeks turned faintly pink at this statement; Erêgmorn looked no less uncomfortable at the revelation. “We were only gone for a few minutes, Erêgmorn,” Brethil scolded. “Are you always so hasty?” He shook his head in mock despair. “Your poor partners.”
He continued on, blithely ignoring the looks of death Eregmorn was sending his way. “Aras, the dear romantic boy, thought you might be holding hands and chastely kissing—“ he reached over and pinched that elf’s cheek, earning himself a hearty swat for his trouble—“and Aglar suspected Lalaith would be huddled in a corner, sobbing, while you glared fiercely from the bed. Thalion, however, surprised us all with his randy suggestion that you would be half-undressed and in a mad clinch.” Lalaith turned to that estimable elf and saw him scanning both her and Rûmil for signs of hastily refastened clothing.
“I assure you, we are both fully attired,” Rûmil told the older elf with an amused glance. “What have you won, Brethil?”
Brethil’s jolly smile faded, and his expression turned to something quite close to a pout. “More lembas,” he said sulkily. “There is naught else to wager.”
“Perhaps that will teach you to place bets on the behaviour of others,” Lalaith said archly, merely raising a brow when he turned a sad face to her. “And now, it is late. Go you all to bed. I think Rûmil will be well enough to travel in two days.”
“Two days?” moaned a chorus of bored elves, including Rûmil himself. “But, meril nîn,” he protested, “I feel quite well enough to ride tomorrow.”
She turned a bland face to him as the others glanced at each other at his endearment. “You might be,” she conceded, her voice soft but with a thread of steel within, “But you will be even more so the day after.” It was said with a great finality, and he slumped back against his pillows. There would be no point in arguing, he knew.
Lalaith shuffled the others out and made to sit in the chair once more, where she had slept the previous nights, but Rûmil slid a grin toward her. “I think that, with our new understanding, you might prefer to share the bed with me?” he asked teasingly. “I promise not to damage your virtue.”
She paused in the act of pulling her gown over her head and squinted through the messy curtain of hair falling over her face. “A pity,” she drawled. “I had hoped for a good ravishing this night.” Clad in her shift, she padded barefoot to the bed and slipped between the sheets.
“Was that a joke?” Rûmil asked, pulling her close and pressing her hand flat against the warm, smooth skin of his chest.
“Maybe,” she replied serenely, and kissed his shoulder before resting her head on it and closing her eyes. “I am very happy, Rûmil.”
“As am I, meril nîn. As am I.”
meril nîn = my rose