The Yellow Bird, part 3
for wildecate on the occasion of her birthday
The trip from Fennas to Caras Galadhon was taken slowly, with Dúlinn somehow managing to arrange for Orophin to dedicate himself to Emmelin’s assistance, to both her horror and tremulous delight. He was solicitous of her injury, often carrying her over especially difficult terrain so she would not be troubled with her compromised balance. By the time Cerin Amroth was in sight, she had become quite accustomed to the feel of his arms around her, of her cheek pillowed by the round muscle capping his shoulder, of his hair falling against her face.
Even when he was not carrying her, she was delighted by his companionship. He was quiet, like Haldir, but whereas his brother’s silence was due to vigilance, Orophin’s was of a different sort of perception. He listened to her as she spoke, at first haltingly and then with more ease as it became clear he was genuinely interested in what she had to say. The shyest of the females in their family, Emmelin found it intoxicating to have someone’s complete attention, and it was only when she realized she’d been talking for hours did she fall silent, a fierce blush staining her cheeks.
When the brothers led their family to the telain they would henceforth call their homes and then bowed prior to leaving them, Emmelin wondered if, in a city this size, she would ever have the chance to see Orophin again. It was unlikely; he had a position on the borders, and likely would be away for months at a time. It was pure luck he had been home when the need has arisen to come to Fennas, after all… and none of those explanations were helping to quench the tears that threatened to spill at the idea of seeing him but once a year, as she’d done before. Now that she had come to know him personally, Emmelin was more in love with Orophin than ever. And now that she knew him, it would be sheer torture to not be in his presence.
She bit back a sob and darted into her family’s talan, hoping in the confusion her absence would not be noted. It worked; when Heletir and Tuilinn and Dúlinn entered, her parents gave her looks of nothing but sympathy. Her sister, however, shot as severe a glare as she could in Emmelin’s direction. Thankfully, Dúlinn being severe was as fearsome as anyone else being simply a little dyspeptic.
“He knew you left without saying goodbye,” she said bluntly. “He thought he had done something wrong, and felt bad.”
Emmelin felt greatly shamed by that, and over the next few days, as the boxes and crates of their belongings began to arrive at their new home, began looking through the many portfolios of her work she’d accumulated over the year for one she could give him in a gesture of apology, albeit an anonymous one.
But first, she owed him a drawing for his last birthday. She had felt terribly that he had not received it; the orc attack had occurred just hours before she had planned on leaving with Merelind to come to the city and deliver it. The drawing was a scene of him sitting on the ground, back against the base of a mallorn as he repaired a broken arrow. His hair fell in shining locks around his face, and golden brows were drawn together while even white teeth bit gently into his bottom lip as he concentrated. Emmelin had managed just a glimpse of him that day, months ago, but his expression had so charmed her that she knew immediately that was the scene she had to use for his begetting-day present.
But how to deliver it? With her arm in its new splint, beautifully carved by her uncle Tavor, she was hardly inconspicuous. And Dúlinn, with her radiant, dark-haired beauty, was noticed wherever she went. Her parents and aunt and uncle were only willing to support her little “issue” to a certain point, and Merelind had only quirked an eyebrow when the request had been put to her, saying Emmelin needed to relinquish her squeamishness if she ever wished to be a bride.
Filig had finally succumbed to his cousin’s pleas, and even concocted a credible pretense to be at the brothers’ talan should he be noticed there. When he returned, he shot her an amused look. “I slipped it in his bedroom window, just as you said. Second window on the left.”
Emmelin blanched in horror. “No, no!” she exclaimed. “Second from the right! Second from the left is Haldir!” They all fell silent at the implications of Haldir thinking he had a secret admirer, and then she lowered her head to the table with a thump. “Ai, what a disaster.”
“All is not yet lost,” Dúlinn contradicted lightly, and stood. “Let me see what I can do.” With a gasp of horror, Emmelin tried to stop her sister, but Dúlinn was practiced in the art of evasion—she had managed to elude many an ardent suitor over the centuries of her life, after all—and had disappeared down the ladder before Emmelin was hardly to the door.
Dúlinn’s face was set and determined even before she reached the mallorn housing the brothers’ talan, knocking firmly three times upon the door. Rùmil answered it, his handsome face astonished to see her for only a moment before he schooled it to a more neutral expression. “Hello, Dúlinn,” he said at last. “Is Merelind with you?” He stuck his head out the door, glancing this way and that, and could not hide his disappointment to see Dúlinn was alone.
She smiled demurely. “Ah, Rùmil, you will hurt my feelings if you do not at least pretend to be glad to see me.”
He laughed and stepped back to allow her in. “Should I sweep you up into my arms and dance you around the talan?”
“I will hurt more than just your feelings should you try it,” Haldir grumbled as he emerged from another chamber. “Dúlinn, you honour us with your presence.” His perfunctory tone made the compliment seem distinctly less complimentary. “What may we do for you?”
“You may attend me whilst I tell you something of grave importance,” she replied seriously. His face immediately clamped into its customary marchwarden-on-a-mission expression. “But Rùmil must leave us.”
Haldir shot an enquiring glance at his brother. “I have done nothing wrong,” Rùmil protested. “And this time, I am telling the truth!”
Haldir just grinned at him. “I am sure you are,” he said, “but leave us, in any case.” Once the other was gone, he turned to Dúlinn, face grave. “Your words trouble me, milady. What news do you have of such import?” Then he watched in amazement as she went by him, into his bedchamber, and began rummaging around. “What are you doing?”
Dúlinn wrinkled her nose. “Bachelors,” she said with no small amount of disgust as she hoisted aloft a sizable pile of laundry, tossing it behind her.
Haldir leant his shoulder against the door jamb and folded his arms, watching her in bemusement as she methodically searched every inch of his bedroom. Finally, without success, she gave up. “Is this not the second room from the left?” she demanded.
“Noo…” he replied slowly, wondering if she’d gone mad. “That would be Rùmil’s.” But he refused to budge when she tried to pass him in the door, instead seeming to expand to fill it completely. “Dúlinn,” he said, voice low enough to cause her to shiver as he loomed over her, “You are not going to ransack my brother’s room until you tell me what you are seeking.”
She tried to dart around him; he was there before her, careful to grasp her uninjured shoulder. She tried to elbow him in the gut, earning a soft ooof from him at the impact, but he was implacable. “Dúlinn,” he repeated warningly.
She slumped against him in defeat. “Emmelin is in love with Orophin.”
Haldir released her, turning her to face him. “Already?” he asked. “It is but a fortnight she has known him.”
“You would be surprised how little time it can take to fall in love,” she grumbled, trying to comb her hair back into place with her fingers and studiously avoiding his gaze. “But she has loved him considerably longer than just a fortnight.”
He was silent a moment, as if consciously deciding to ignore her first sentence and instead focus on the second. “How long?” he asked, tugging on a long, rumpled curl when she did not answer right away. “How long, Dúlinn?”
“Eighty-two years,” she replied rebelliously, and pulled away from him in his moment of surprise. “Well, eighty-three, now.” And she wriggled past him, steadfastly ignoring how divine his strong body felt pressed to hers, to enter Rùmil’s room and begin knocking it apart.
“Enough!” Haldir roared as he followed her. “No more searching until you tell me what you seek.”
She sighed and stared pointedly down at the hand he’d manacled around her wrist. “A drawing,” she said at last. “Every year for the last eighty-two, Emmelin has—“
“Has given Orophin a drawing she has done of him,” Haldir finished, exhaling heavily. “Yes, I am familiar with the gifts by a mysterious artist for the past decades.” He frowned, brows knit together in perplexment. “Why has she never told him?”
“It is not easy to say such things, when you are unsure of the reception,” Dúlinn replied haltingly, finding much of interest in the tongue of her belt of a sudden. “I imagine hearing words of rejection from beloved lips would be very painful.” A long, protracted quiet fell then, tautening the air between them. “May I look in Rùmil’s room now?” she asked at last, a slightly desperate edge to her voice. She did not lift her eyes from where she twiddled her belt.
“Yes,” he murmured, and she fled from him. A moment later, the sounds of a room being torn apart followed. The noise stopped abruptly, and she said, “Oh, here it is.” Haldir joined her in Rùmil’s now-disheveled chamber to find her gazing at it in silence. Looking over her shoulder, any evidence he could have needed to prove Emmelin’s love for Orophin was there on paper, in coloured pencils that captured his brother so perfectly that he found tears coming to his eyes.
“She has never let us see any of the drawings she has made of him,” Dúlinn said, her voice hushed, as if speaking loudly might destroy the hushed moment. “She is so quiet, we never of us thought…”
“That there was such passion within her?” Haldir finished for her. “A wise person once told me that it is best to never underestimate anyone, and passion may be found in the most unlikely of places.”
Dúlinn lowered the drawing slowly, then, and turned to find him standing quite close behind her. Keeping her gaze fixed on the little triangle of pale flesh revealed in the open collar of his tunic, she opened her mouth to say something—anything—but then Rùmil’s cheerful voice boomed in from the main chamber.
“May I return to my own home yet?” he asked, his footsteps thudding lightly on the plank flooring as he walked about, trying to locate them.
Dúlinn sucked in a dearly-needed breath and stepped around Haldir. “We are here, Rùmil,” she said.
“In my room?” he asked, rather surprised. “Would you not have been more comfortable—“
“Do not say another word, muindor,” Haldir interrupted through gritted teeth. Rùmil shut his mouth with an audible click, then, and saw that Dúlinn held a roll of parchment. “What is that?”
“It is naught,” Haldir told him, taking it from Dúlinn’s hands and ushering her toward the door.
“Naught? Interesting,” Rùmil commented, arms crossing over his chest not unlike his older brother as his eyes slitted in speculation. “Very interesting, as it has the distinct look of one of Orophin’s begetting day gifts. He is still distraught that he did not receive one this year.” Both Haldir and Dúlinn started at that, surprised. He smiled grimly. “Ever am I thought to be simple, but I am not,” he told them grumpily, and stomped (as much as an elf might stomp) to his room, where he fairly skidded to a halt. “Is there a reason that my chamber has been nigh destroyed?” he demanded.
“We were looking—“
“Dúlinn was looking,” Haldir correctly swiftly, “for the drawing. At first she ransacked my chamber, and when it was not there, came to search yours.”
“But why did she not simply look in Orophin’s chamber?” Rùmil asked, bewildered. Both brothers looked to Dúlinn for the answer.
“Filig put it in the wrong bedroom,” she admitted.
“Why would he do that? Is he the artist?”
“No,” said another voice from the door, and all three turned to see Merelind standing there. “I am.”
Three things happened, then: Dúlinn gaped in astonishment, Rùmil looked like he had taken an arrow to the chest, and Haldir took in Dúlinn’s reaction as well as the almost haggard expression on Merelind’s face, and smirked. “Of course you are,” he said briskly. “So if you would be so kind as to place this drawing in Orophin’s room, you and your cousin can return to your home, I can be off to the audience Lord Celeborn requested an hour past, and Rùmil can indulge in the mighty sulk he has already begun.”
Immediately, Rùmil tucked in his protruding bottom lip, settling for glaring at his brother while the elleths stared at other, trying to communicate without words. “Yes,” Dúlinn said faintly after a while. “We’ll go. Our apologies for disturbing you.”
Merelind shot a glance of such longing in Rùmil’s direction that it nearly took Haldir’s breath away, but his brother was steadfastly staring at the tips of his boots and missed it. Haldir sighed. Was he the only one of the three unafflicted by games of the heart?
Then Dúlinn stepped quickly past him on her way to the door, her faint scent of elanor wafting around him, and he was not so sure about himself, either.