Author’s Note: This chapter made my spell-check go insane. Finally, my edumacation presents a use for itself! My very own Froggy poem. Yeah, I know. I should stick to writing prose. Can I just mention, the word vérouillées is REALLY fun? Say it a few times… you know you want to. vay-RROO-wee-ay. vay-RROO-wee-ay. Fun!
Without, Part 14
In retrospect, the trip itself was much easier than the preparations. Much less stressful, in any event.
First, Celeborn and Galadriel requested that they cross the Anduin there at Lothlórien and travel up its eastern shores, the better to patrol the new territory of East Lórien (as the southern part of Mirkwood was now known) and bring messages to the elves newly settled there from their Lord and Lady.
Legolas was not happy about that.
“I’m sure they wouldn’t have asked if they thought we were truly in danger,” Buffy said, but he frowned.
“The risks of southern Mirkwood are not to be trifled with,” Legolas stated. “No matter that the Golden Lady has flung down the gate to Dol Guldur, the area is not purged of the centuries of evil.” But then Galadriel asked very nicely, smiling her sweetest, and Legolas lost that argument.
Then Haldir and Rúmil had a disagreement about bringing Tatharë along. She wanted to return to Mirkwood to introduce her betrothed to her family, and since Rhosgobel was on the way, it was a reasonable request. Unless you were Haldir, at least.
“No,” he said flatly. “This is no pleasure journey; I would not have her in danger.”
Rúmil squinted at his brother. “The journey would be no less dangerous if our purpose were benign.”
“Our purpose isn’t exactly malignant,” Corinne felt compelled to point out. “We’re not off to fight the great Orc war, just to get some advice from a wizard.” Then she sat down with her hand on her forehead, marveling at how bizarre her life was to have just said such a thing in all seriousness.
Even Haldir’s armour of protectiveness couldn’t withstand the cold knife of logic, and he lost that argument.
Then Boromir and Elessar started to bicker about how many soldiers would accompany them on their voyage, and how many would return to Minas Tirith. The king gave the distinct impression of pouting. Oh, he didn’t look any different—his bottom lip wasn’t stuck out, and he wasn’t frowning or saying anything untoward, but the petulance rolled off him in waves. Arwen was hard-pressed not to laugh at him, which was not exactly conducive to remedying the situation.
Boromir, for his part, was not pouting: he was just angry, and had not suffered to keep his displeasure to himself. “It is folly to have a monarch traipsing through lands that were the hostile dominion of Sauron a mere twelvemonth ago!” he told Elessar through gritted teeth. “You have heard Legolas; that fell place has been his home for millennia. Who better to know the perils of such a place? Will you not take his counsel?”
“I do not dispute his knowledge!” Elessar replied. “Just your insistence that we must be a huge, unwieldy force as we journey north! As a small group, we can slip unnoticed right past any who would threaten us.”
“But you wish to have only the core group of us!” Boromir said, outraged. Along with Haldir and Corinne, there would be Buffy and Legolas, Boromir and Dawn, Elessar and Arwen, Gimli of course, Tatharë and Rúmil, and if both Haldir and Rúmil were going, then Orophin refused to be left behind. That made twelve. “You cannot think to have only a dozen people on this mission, five of them female!” Then Boromir fell silent, knowing he’d just stepped in it, and stepped deeply, as Buffy, Arwen, Dawn, and Tatharë all rounded on him.
Arwen stepped forward, as queen and spokeswoman—er—spokeself. “And are you saying, mellon, that we cannot protect ourselves? For I very much doubt that even a rough warrior as yourself would be so unwise. Especially in the case of Dagnir.” It was said in a voice as dark, sweet, and deadly as poison-laced chocolates, and the bobbing of his Adam’s apple was very visible as he swallowed.
“He can say it about me all he likes,” Corinne said from behind the feminine throng around Boromir. “I’m useless in a fight. Unless I can hit an orc with a book, and somehow I doubt they’d just stand there while I did it.” Then she had an idea. “Ooh! But I’ve got mace, and my Tazer! I’ll just treat ‘em like muggers!” She smiled proudly.
Boromir glowered at Elessar over the women’s’ heads. “This will not do,” he said sourly. “We need to have an escort.”
“I do not want a great force accompanying us!” Elessar responded heatedly. “Twill draw attention, and assure that we be attacked!”
“What say you to a smaller escort?” Haldir asked from where he lounged against the wall, surveying the argument with a faint smile on his lips. “A select group of your soldiers, and my archers? No more than ten of each.”
“Twenty!” Elessar boomed. “In addition to our twelve? We might as well send out invitations to the orcs and tell them to come dine on us, for all the noise we will make.”
“Your men might make noise, but I assure you my archers will make none,” Haldir replied smoothly. “But if it concerns you, send all your men home, and our guard shall be completely elven.”
“I cannot do that either,” Elessar grumbled. “Twould be a grave insult.”
Corinne was beginning to get impatient and not a little bored of the issue; the king and the prince had been arguing over this for an hour already. She opened her mouth to chivvy them along when Haldir shot her a warning glance.
“Do not,” he told her sternly. “You must learn to wait; these people will not look kindly to your interruption. They are here to help us.”
She sighed and cracked another book from the pile she’d brought back from New York. This one was a tome in French from the 19th century, and its aged leaves were yellowed and crumbling at the edges. She found yet another illustration, a brass engraving this time, of the Cartouche of Weshem-ib, and the author had this to say about the works of the Bender of Reality:
Deux âmes, deux pensées,
Deux efforts irréconciliées
Avec deux idéaux guerrants.
Vérouillés dans un seul amour--
Trop pâle d’être Noir, et
Trop foncé d’être Blanc.
Et encore, il est.
It was a poetic expression of how things impossible were made possible, thanks to Aker. Mere coincidence that the poem pertained to matters of love, of course—or was it?—but the words seemed to echo through Corinne’s head… vérouillés dans un seul amour… et encore, il est.
Even as she was sunk into these thoughts, the men were bickering over the details of how exactly they were going to go and sever the tie between she and Haldir, and Corinne found herself unaccountably panicked by the idea of not having his love when this was all over. What would she do without it, without him? Et encore, il est.
They never should have met, never should have had the opportunity to form a bond. She would have to learn to live a life without him, that’s all, as she had lived her life prior to knowing him. Without, without. The word had never seemed so desolate before. Et encore, il est.
It was impossible, this love she felt for Haldir. Impossible, and doomed. Nothing could come of it. She was human,he was an elf, as foreign and exotic to her as anything possibly could be. She was mortal, and would die; he was immortal, and would live forever. She was plain, he was beautiful. He was a warrior, she was a scholar. Et encore, il est.
Corinne did not realize she had read the verse aloud until she finished speaking and realized there was dead silence around her. Then Tatharë handed her a square of linen, motioning for her to wipe her eyes, and she found she was crying. “Oh,” she said stupidly, blinking, and allowed Haldir to take her away.
No words were necessary; of course. He led her to his talan, to his bed, but did not undress them. Instead, he lay down and drew her beside him, curling his arm over her waist and directed her to look out the window, into the leaf-laden branches of the mellyrn around them.
“We must treasure the moments we have left,” he thought to her, nuzzling his nose against her neck just behind her ear.
“What if we don’t want the tie between us to be severed?” Her tentative question was fraught with all the fear and longing she felt.
He sighed, chest expanding against her back, and did not answer right away. “You should allow your hair to grow,” he said instead, twining a shoulder-length lock around his finger.
“Your hair’s long enough for both of us,” she said, twisting to face him. “Don’t change the subject.”
He looked at her a long time, pewter gaze flicking over each feature as if cataloguing them. “I do not want our bond to be broken, either,” he answered softly. “The idea hurts me like a sword-blow. But, at the same time, I cannot help but wonder if it is the Weshem-ib that puts these words on my tongue. I fear we will not know the truth until we can speak with Radagast.”
“We have a few weeks left, at least,” she murmured, snuggling deeper into his arms as if to hide from her desolation in his embrace. “Let’s enjoy it while we can.”
They left at dawn.
Elessar had finally relented and agreed to have ten of his men and ten of Haldir’s accompany them, and so with a force of 32 altogether, they set out. Without really organizing anything officially, they tended to settle back into the usual pairings from when they were in the War—Gimli behind Legolas, Buffy and Haldir side-by-side (all the better to bicker with each other) Elessar and Boromir at the front, watching their perimeter with keen eyes. Rúmil and Tatharë were enrapt in each other’s company, and Arwen and Dawn seemed to be enjoying a good gossip together, so that left Corinne and Orophin.
She didn’t know much about him, save that he was Haldir’s brother, and Celeborn’s former student, so she figured he was fair game to question about issues she didn’t understand from her lessons with the Silver Lord.
Thank God for those riding lessons that her parents had forced on her, she thought as she nudged her mount closer to Orophin with her knees, leaving her hands free to pull out a notebook and a pen. “So!” she said by way of greeting, startling him for a moment, “What was the deal with Fëanor? Talk about a guy with a bad attitude… what crawled up his ass and died?”
Orophin blinked at her, then looked to Haldir to assistance. His brother only laughed at him and turned back to his conversation with Buffy, so Orophin guessed he was on his own. “Um,” he began uncertainly, “Fëanor was an elf with great passion…passion that overcame his wisdom.”
“Do you think that respect for his immense talent blinded the others to his personality defects?” she asked him briskly, pen poised over the paper, ready to record his response.
“Um,” he repeated, with a tinge of desperation this time. Another glance at Haldir, whose back was resolutely turned to them even though his shoulders were shaking with repressed mirth.
“How else can you explain how the Noldor followed him in performing such reprehensible acts?” Corinne wanted to know. “If rebelling against the Valar wasn’t enough, what about the kinslaying? Oh, and what hold did he have over his father and brothers, that they were always caving in to what he wanted? Seems to me that neither Finarfin and Fingolfin really wanted to come back to Arda but he talked them into it…” Here she paused and waited expectantly, eyes bright as a bird’s as she looked to him for a response.
It had been four centuries since Orophin had studied with Celeborn, but under the barrage of her questions he found the mindset swiftly coming back to him, now that it would seem he had no choice. “I am of the opinion that the majority of the Nolder mistook his brilliance for wisdom, yes,” he began, watching as she began to write. “After he created the Silmarils, he was considered a living legend—“
“Excuse me,” Corinne interrupted. “Do you mind if we speak in Sindarin? I’d like to practice it.”
“No, not at all,” he replied faintly, and shot an evil look forward as Haldir let loose a guffaw. “Where was I?”
“Living legend,” Corinne reminded him, and he nodded.
“Yes,” Orophin continued in Sindarin, “he was considered a living legend…”
three hours later
“I don’t believe it,” Corinne stated flatly.
“No?” Orophin asked with a smile, used to her by now. “And why is that?”
“I find it hard to believe that items of such beauty, value, and power would be allowed to just languish wherever they were discarded,” she explained. “I understand how the one with Maedhros would be hard to get your hands on—fiery pits aren’t very navigable, after all But surely someone has retrieved the one that Maglor pitched into the sea?”
“That might well be,” Orophin allowed. “Perhaps the Valar have retrieved it… it would not be beyond the scope of Ulmo’s powers, nor of Ossë’s, for that ma--.”
“Enough!” Haldir said, slowing so they could catch up with him, and plucking Corinne from her mount to sit sideways before him. “You have been at this all day, and I weary of it.” Her notebook and pen flew from her hands and she glared up at him until he captured her lips in a searing kiss. Predictably, she melted against him, and all those around them suddenly found fascinating things elsewhere to look at.
“Mmph… Orphnmph, Hldr, stop,” Corinne protested, dragging herself from him. “God, you are just too good at that. It’s not decent. Orophin,” she called to him, “Can you grab the stuff Haldir made me drop?”
“It is a pleasure to do your bidding, milady,” Orophin told her gravely, and slid with careless grace down to the ground, nipping up the fallen things and stuffing them back into her saddlebags.
“It’s a pleasure to do my bidding,” she told Haldir with a grin, and poked him in the chest. “How come you never say things like that to me?”
“Because my mouth is usually too busy bringing you pleasure to waste time saying the like,” Haldir rumbled in her ear, making her shiver.
“Oh, yeah,” she agreed breathlessly, thinking about that skillful mouth of his. “Are we going to have some privacy tonight?”
His faint smile was pure sin. “I will make sure of it.”
“Aye, lass, I’m delighted to teach you Khuzdul,” Gimli said from his perch behind Legolas. “The first thing you must do is learn how to address me, as a dwarf of rank. Repeat after me, lass: ‘Ezbadu men’.”
“Ezbadu men,” Corinne repeated obediently, as Legolas rolled his eyes.
“Excellent,” Gimli beamed, teeth glinting through his beard. “Next: how to greet someone. Repeat: ‘Vemu ai-menu’.” When she had said it to his satisfaction, he nodded. “Very good. And now, a farewell. Repeat: ‘Tan menu selek lanun naman’.” She repeated. “Now, here are some other phrases you would do well to learn. Repeat! ‘Men gamaju’.”
“Excellent! Repeat! ‘Targ menu bundul gazaru’.”
“Targ menu bundul gazaru.”
“Superb. Repeat! ‘Men eleneku menu o bepap opetu ezirak’.”
“Men eleneku menu o bepap opetu ezirak.”
“ Repeat! ‘Ekespu menu men o targu men’.”
“Ekespu menu men o targu men.”
“Perfect! Now, should you ever meet a dwarf, should you tell any of those things to him, I assure you he will be most delighted.”
“I would say so,” Legolas murmured. “You would count yourself lucky to escape a marriage proposal.”
Corinne frowned at Gimli, who grinned unashamedly back at her. He was actually rather handsome, for a short guy with a huge beard. “Speaking of marriage, is there a Mrs. Gimli sitting at home darning your socks while Gimli Junior is playing with Gimliette?” To her surprise—but no one else’s—he blushed bright pink and his hand hovered over his chest, as if guarding something kept there.
“Er—no,” he answered at last. “Gimli son of Glóin suffers no ties. His heart is free and untamed!”
“His heart is bound by three golden hairs as tightly as chains of strongest steel,” Legolas corrected gently. Gimli blushed harder, if possible, and turned his head away. “He is smitten by Galadriel,” the elf explained.
“Ooh,” Corinne said on a sigh. “I thought courtly love was dead… that is so romantic, Gimli.” He glanced shyly at her and ventured a smile. It was rather strange to see this fierce warrior embarrassed by his crush, but at the same time she felt deeply for him—she knew well what it was like to have a hopeless, doomed love. “You should write a song about it. There’s nothing better than a rough soldier expressing tender emotions.”
Gimli looked delighted at the idea. “I shall! And it will be in Khuzdul! Gazardul menu ked gamelu pethem!”
Corinne replied, “And ekespu menu men o targu men, ezbadu men to you too!” Then she smiled proudly at her excellent pronunciation and inflection, though she had no idea what she’d said.
Two souls, two thoughts,
Two unreconciled strivings
With two warring ideals.
Locked in one love--
Too light to be Black, and
Too dark to be White.
And yet it is.
Ezbadu men = exalted lord
Vemu ai-menu = Greetings to you
Tan menu selek lanun naman = May your forge burn bright.
Men gajamu = I apologize.
Targ menu bundul gazaru = Your beard speaks of your wisdom.
Men eleneku menu o bepap opetu ezirak = You mean more to me than an endless vein of mithril.
Ekespu menu men o targu men = You mean more to me than my beard.
Gazardul menu ked gamelu pethem = Your wisdom is as ancient as stone.