Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road
<<           >>
Roth held the axe blade to her neck. "Well, witch, how does it feel to be so close ta death?" His voice, hissing in her ear was familiar but she still couldn't remember. He forced her head back further, the blade cold against her throat, warm blood trickling down her neck. "Which servant of Sauron's were ya?" Without the dragon she could not hold back the memories any more; fragments of past whirled through her head. "Did ya enjoy the sport in Barad-Dur?" he continued, "Did ya laugh while ya watched men die?" The words triggered a memory - sport in Barad-Dur! She choked, unable to speak for fear of the blade. Roth spun her round and threw her back against the tree, the axe still close to her neck. "Ya remember!" he spat, "Tell me now or die here". She looked at him directly, he was not how she remembered, although time and experience had blurred those memories and changed this man beyond recognition.
"I remember the orcs and their entertainment," she whispered, . " I remember a man, strong and wild who fought." She felt a tear trickle down her cheek, "There was a tournament... to the death... I remember." He held the axe steady, "Tell me witch, was it good sport?"
"Do you not remember me?" she could barely form the words... "I was the prize." She held his gaze as recognition formed. "Did you not find that good sport, my lord?"
Roth froze, the axe still resting against her skin. "Liar!" he shouted, but now the memories became clearer, he did remember her. Not as she was now but frightened, beaten, her eyes empty. "No!" He dropped the axe and clutched her shoulders. "No!" he repeated. Sobbing he fell to his knees, gripping her arm. "I would not...."
"So you like to think" She was in control of herself again. "But you did, and you, like the orcs are nothing more than an animal." She tried to pull her arm away from him, but he clung to it, his breathing harsh between sobs.
"She must be dead, she must be...... ya can't be her... she must be dead now!" "No, she replied, "Not dead; the Dark Lord found a better use for me. Tell me, Roth" she spat his name, "What does it feel like to know that you too are capable of such evil?" She pulled her arm away, he was no longer aware of her, his hands scrabbled in the dirt as if he were searching for something. "No... no..." he muttered, repeating it over and over. She turned and ran toward her horse, hearing a scream of fury and the crunch of the axe as it embedded itself in a tree.
Mounting Pathniel she galloped to the others, riding past the dwarfs and Roland she wheeled the horse in front of Aelric and Aragorn. "Roth..." she stammered.... He's mad.." They saw the cut across her throat, the trickle of blood. She was unable to tell them more, the humiliation too great. Nilgaerien, always apart from the others, turned her horse immediately to go back but Vaeltira caught the bridle. "No, he is insane, his mind will kill you! I doubt even the healer could help him now." But Amarie was already heading in the direction they had come. Nilgaerien dismounted, running wildly after Amarie, the knotted pains of Roth's insanity throbbing in her head.
"Nil! Come here!" Amarie ordered and the elf obeyed mindlessly. "Nil, look at me." She did so, tearing her eyes away from the image of Roth kneeling pitifully in the dirt. "I need you to help him."
Confused, she simply stared at the other elf then, in Amarie's thoughts, she saw her meaning. "No!"
"It's his only chance."
"Why would I care?"
Amarie just looked at her knowingly. "Because you do. I don't know why or how but you do. And that's the key. Somehow you two or linked and you can help each other. Pain heals."
"I- I can't. You don't understand..."
"No, I don't. But this is what I do - I heal...and I sense where to heal. This is your chance to be free."
Nilgaerien continued to shake her head but memories - too many - were piling up against her. Before she knew what she was doing, she was kneeling beside him. "Better move away, Amarie," came her voice from a far distance. "We may both strike out." The healer did as she was told and moved a couple feet away. Nilgaerien sucked in her breath, felt his madness in her mind, soon to become much much worse...and grabbed his shoulders. Emotions exploded but she fought against them, willing herself to lift him until his animal-like crazed eyes were looking into hers.
"Are you going to do this again?" she whispered. "Are you really going to force me to do this?" But there was no understanding in his eyes and with the knowledge that she was doing the unthinkable, the very thing she had sworn never again to do, she locked eyes with him and quit fighting, allowing her mind to invade his and his into hers. Memories and emotions and feelings rushed through but she kept her hold, kept forcing her mind to go deeper until she found what she was looking for. Then she everything went black but not before she heard a scream and felt claw-like hands grip her arms.
"Roth?" she asked, her voice sounding wavery.
He turned and saw her, recognized her. An evil grin spread his lips and he produced an axe, stronger and darker than the one he always carried. "So we come to it as last," he said and moved towards her.
Nil backed up then felt something. Looking down, she saw a sword in her hand, strong and bright, but tainted to an evil color. She looked up and saw Roth advancing and lifted the sword, stepping forward to meet him. She couldn't shake the feeling that she shouldn't be fighting him, shouldn't be here at all, but that was nonsense. This was what they had always been doomed to do.
Then Roth was upon her and she was swinging her sword to meet the blow of his axe. The contact blazed through her arms with pain, making her cry out...
Amarie winced as Nil's scream echoed through the woods, full of heartache. She could feel some of what was going on between them and what little she felt was enough - they were trapped inside each other's minds until it was resolved.
Vaeltira lost eye contact with Lord Aelric as the haunting scream came from around the bend. The rest of the companions froze, not one making any move to help whomever had made that scream...because iit hadn't sounded like any civilized being. This was the scream of a tortured animal....
Arkentos and Roland immediately went as if to draw their blades, smarting at the haughty, slanderous remarks Aelric afforded their king, but Aragorn with a calming gesture and soothing words stayed their hands, "Lord Aelric seeks this confrontation, his mind is blind to the hope that now shall spring for a long Age in the hearts of all men. His way is the path of hate and fear, yet some mysterious hand has brought us together and if by some chance he may, in what remains of his life, do some good by helping us, then I will ignore his petty taunts - For the sake of the twins only!"
"How nobly put, yet tis strange to hear the pretender King defend his honour with so little zeal, instead he leaves that to this pitiful rabble that seem so keen to die in his stead. Is this how the battle of Pelennor was won great Lord?"
"Enough!" Vaeltira almost shouted before anyone could respond to this last insult. She noted that Aelric's temper had become fell since she had revealed to him the details of her encounter with Roth. His blood was up, and he wanted to vent his spleen, but no more could be spilt today. They must proceed with haste to the barge, and with luck the elves would follow on without delay.
"Roth! Let go - I'm not Vaeltira!" she tried to sound commanding but she was scared. Deathly and horribly scared for she remembered, too. She suddenly knew what she was doing here and what would have to happen: either they helped each other to healing or one of them would be destroyed, thereby destroying the one who killed also.
"Roth," she whispered, her throat closing under the pressure of the axe. "Stop it..." She knew what would force him to let go, force him to heal...but the same thing would bring back all the old memories for her, too. She drew a ragged breath and managed to gasp out: "Don't you remember? The...the times before the dark lord's power over our lives?" The axe released her and she fell to her knees, gasping for breath. Looking behind her, she could see the images flowing through his mind. As they were running through hers. The landscape opened up around them, bearing down in all its grief and pain of memories long supressed.
Nil watched their pasts run together like water, scene after scene, good and bad...her eyes widened when she saw a younger Vaeltira...Nil shot a look of astonishment to Roth but he was no longer paying attention to her. "How could you?" she asked the unhearing ears. "It's no wonder she hates us...." Then a scene from her own past came out. Her eyes widened. "No no no....not that...please not that..."
Then the memory of Vaeltira hit her like a blow to the stomach. Oh by the Valar! No.. No.... Instincly she she roamed through her pocket for the brooch with the blue stone. Maybe she was seeking the strenght of her forfathers and -mothers. She cluched her brooch in her hand, the edges cutting into the skin and it was soon covered in blood as more painfull and horrifying memories came pouring over her. Slowly she saw the connections form between the two. But she knew the worst was yet to come, the incident that would heal or destroy them both, maybe her too. The village.
The memory changed; this was not her memory, it was Roth's but it felt so real - her and Roth surrounded by shouting orcs, their stench filling her nose and throat, their cheering deafening her. Taking the sword up again she faced Roth. His eyes filled with bloodlust, the axed swung towards her and she ducked away. Again it swung, again she dodged away. With a roar of rage he swung the axe at her, flat side on and knocked her down. Her sword flew from her hand and she lay winded on the ground. Roth was there, laughing as he lifted the axe above her. She knew what he must do and she prayed to the Valar he would have the strength. The orcs howled and cheered, their feet stamping until the very air quivered. With a snarl he brought the axe down towards her neck, she closed her eyes, invoking the Valar yet giving what trust she still had to Roth.
The axe never touched her neck. She looked up to see Roth standing above her, axe by his side, breathing heavily, tears streaming downs his face. "I...won't...do...it," he grunted through gritted teeth, "Not..again". He threw his axe down and fell to his knees beside Nilgaerien. "For you, My Lady, for all of us." And with that he fell forwards into Nilgaerien's waiting arms, sobbing against her. She felt a strange warmth pervade her body, pieces of her mind, missed for so long, clicked into place. Whatever Roth had taken from her all those years ago, he was giving back at great cost to himself. He now knew the truth and he had so many other memories to deal with. She would still suffer from the intrusions of other minds but at least she now had a fighting chance to control it.
Amarie, stood watching them as they knelt gripping each other fiercely, their eyes and minds locked in some private hell. She could only hope that she was right about this. Suddenly she saw Roth relax, his head fell forward and he toppled into Nilgaerien, her arms wrapped around him and suddenly he was sobbing. "Thank you Roth" Amarie heard Nilgaerien's whisper, "Thank you, dear friend"..
Then she became aware of a sobbing Roth in her arms, his face buried on her shoulder. Did they really do it? Were they free? Her head pulsed in pain...oh, forget it. Who cared if they were free right now? Her body ached all over and she leaned her head forward to rest on Roth's shoulder. If she was healed, it certainly wasn't a fun recovery. How could her physical body hurt if the entire battle was in their minds?
Roth's sobs suddenly quieted and he lifted his face. Well, she could still feel other's emotions - Roth's were singing away in her head....but they weren't painful. They were just...there...as if they were a natural part of her mind. Come to think of it, she could pick out Amarie's and Dorin's and Mori's. emotions, too...but none were an intrusion. She raised her head, meeting Roth's eyes and tried not to gape. For so long they had held anger and vengeance...that was still there but something else lingered now...
"Shh. I get the first thank you." She relaized her arms were still around his waist and she carefully untwined them, wondering at the pain in them. Looking down, she saw ragged bleeding cuts down her arms. It must have been Roth's hands that she thought were claws. Then she felt something and turned in time to see Amarie land in the dirt beside her, her eyes full of tears. She seemed to want to say something but then changed her mind and looked at Nil's arms.
"Oh! Here, let me..." without thinking, she grabbed Nil's arm. Nil winced but nothing changed - no sudden streaks of emotion, nothing more than she was already feeling. Amarie must have realized the same thing for she looked up at Nil with wide eyes.
And for the first time in years, Nil smiled. Nothing sarcastic or demeaning or angered...simply a real smile. Then she grabbed Amarie in a huge hug. "Thank you."
Nilgaerien accepted Amarie's help to stand, as her legs were strangely wobbly and the trees around them wouldn't hold still. The dizziness didn't last long and after she was sure she could actually walk without falling, Nil stepped over to Roth who was looking around them like one who has just been healed of a lifetime of blindness. Nilgaerien wasn't sure what she should do but she knew they couldn't stay in the middle of the path all night. Amarie, after explaining that the others went on ahead, seemed determined to keep them in one place at least for this night, and Nil didn't have the energy to argue.
"Roth?" He looked up but still seemed dazed. Nil bit her lip and stared at him. A hand suddenly landed on her back. Whirling around - a mistake since the world around her began to imitate her - she almost fell but a dwarf's strong hands held her upright.
"Well, you don't seem too healed just yet," Dorin complained.
She grinned and tried to decide if her feet would hold her on her own. "Um...Dorin, we need to get off the road and Roth isn't - "
"Don't you worry about that! We've already gotten that taken care of!"
Confused, she turned to see Amarie and Moori seating Roth beside a fire near the treeline. Come to think of it, it was darker now, too. "What -?"
"Amarie said something about you and Roth fading in and out. You both just seem to stare off into space for long periods of time. Yours lasted two hours."
She shook her head and tried to make sense of it and Dori took this as his oppurtunity to direct her to the fire, also, where Amarie was waiting with a warm drink. Nil didn't know what it was but it tasted good and seemed to clear her mind a bit. She looked across the fire to where Roth was sitting. He caught her glance but there was no hate in his eyes...at least, that expression didn't look like hate. Nil frowned. This would take quite a bit of getting used to.
Amarie helped Nilgaerien and Roth climbed up on Gondolins back. "No objections. This way you can rest and we all can keep moving even if one of you drifts away again."
With Amarie leading Gondolin they followed that tracks of the others. Dorin glanced at the two riders who seemed to almost take turns in 'sleep riding', and he wispered to Moori. "Why don't they fall off, what did Amari’ say?" "She said something of it being like getting lost in thoughts except there are no thoughs.. or something like that. You know?" "Aha...I see.." Amari’ smiled as she heard them, that was not quite what she had said. They might be short and ugly, but they made fun company.
"If you are indeed the angel I think you are" she giggled "You'll tell me there is enough hot water for me to wash." Angel indeed, m'lady", he tapped the side of his nose and winked at her. "Managed to get a few things a lady might want" he showed her into a small two berth room , "Yer get settled in here, an' I'll sort out the water. We've even got one of them tin baths yer can try out."
The others were also shown to quarters, Aragorn to his own and the others to a larger room but with 6 berths and little else. The Corsairs were efficient and polite, nodding to Aelric but mostly ignoring the others.
Aelric remained on deck, talking with the Corsairs, men loyal to him. Within minutes Aragorn returned and the two men stood side by side talking.
Below Urdon showed Vaeltira to a small room, obviously a storage room of sorts, where a small tin bath had been filled almost to the brim with hot steaming water. On the floor were several bottles of what looked like oils and soaps and on a large box a towel and to her astonishment a clean set of travelling clothes. "Ya know me, m'lady, keep everything in m'ead. Always a good thing t' be useful. As they say 'if the Dark Lord wanted....' Ah best not talk like that, eh m'lady? 'Ere, we made friends with some farmers a day or so ago. Strange world now where we don't 'ave to kill everyone. They had a bit o ' trouble with the river so we gave them an' their livestock a ride over on the barge. An' we didn't kill one of 'em." He chuckled. "Yer know, m'lady, I could get use to this peace and quiet. At least we can still kill orcs. Anywyays, enjoy yerself an' I'll bring his Lordship to yer room when he's finished chatting with that other feller." Vaeltira smiled, Urdon would have the surprise of his life when the others joined them. Aelric and elves.... "Urdon" she called to him, "You might like to heat more water. We expect a few more guests who might need to bath. Lots of water, Urdon, please."
He left her there and went in search of his Lord. Vaeltira indulged herself in the bath, the smell of the oils and the steam - such luxury she hadn't experienced since she was last in Umbar and that was several years ago now. All she wanted now was to climb into that bed with clean sheets and sleep. She wrapped a cloak around her and taking the clothes went back along the passage way to her quarters. She was tired. Aelric was in command and all was well.... for the time being. The sheets were cool and fresh. Urdon really was a marvel. She slept.
"Amarie..." she said in a low tone.
"Don't worry - Aragorn is aboard. For now, at least, we are protected."
Nil didn't look convinced but she also didn't say anything else. Turning, she clasped Roth's knee with her hand. The touch immediately stirred him from another one of his "dropping off" moments, as the dwarves were calling the occurences. She turned away before he made any eye contact and stopped Gondolin right in front of the ramp, where three men waited.
Amarie stepped up. "We come with Aelric. He and the others have arrived?"
Nil's hand itched for her dagger but she carefully kept her hand away from it - if these men were with Aelric, she must be cordial for now...unfortunately, these were also the kind of men that she used to kill without thought in the weeks after the attack on her village.
One man studied Amarie and seemed about to refuse them but then a voice came from the barge, bidding the men to let the elves and dwarves through. Nil refused to dismount and rode Gondolin up the ramp to find Aelric and Aragorn waiting for them. She waited and, again, no emotions were forthcoming. But the smoldering anger in Aelric’s eyes as he looked at Roth was all she needed to know. Looking behind her, she saw Roth staring back then looked helplessly at Amarie. Amarie nodded and broke the contest of wills by asking Aragorn where they should go. As he was giving her directions according to Aelric’s instructions, Nil leant Roth her arm as he slid of Gondolin’s back. Neither of them could walk without swaying a bit just yet and it was still easy to get dizzy.
Suddenly, Gondolin tossed his head. Nil looked beyond him in time to see one of Aelric’s men reaching for her horse’s head. ’No! He doesn’t ’ ’ but her shout was too late and the man’s hands touched Gondolin, who reared in protest. Fortunately, the man jumped out of the way of his hooves. Nil hung on to his mane to keep from falling off and finally, he came down, his nostrils flaring in anger, his eyes wild.
’I think I’m going to have to stable him,’ she said, looking at Aelric. He nodded and she was shown the way to the other horses. Without thinking, Nil jumped off the horse’s back and landed hard on her left foot. A half yell escaped her lips as pain converged on that foot. Still, she limped around to Gondolin’s head and loosely tied a scarf around his eyes.
’Keep that there, no matter what,’ she told one of the men. ’Otherwise, he might try another stunt like he did back there.’ He seemed disgusted at having to talk to an elf but he nodded his agreement anyway.
Somehow, she managed to follow Amarie to a cabin without the healer noticing her pain or limp.
’I’ll be next door, okay?’ Amarie asked.
Nil nodded and closed her door, finding water waiting in a tub. She must look and smell horrible but she didn’t care at the moment. Carefully seating herself on the bed, she pulled off her boot and gaped at the mess she found. The bandage was not even white anymore. Unwrapping it, she grimaced at the wound that looked worse now, if possible.
’Stupid!’ she told herself. ’Uruk poison their weapons!’ So maybe her dizziness wasn’t all from her mind. Steeling herself, she did something she never would have done even a few hours ago: she called for help. ’Amarie!’
Nilgaerien did as she was told, she limped over to the chair and slowly lowerd her wonded foot into the hot water, it was painful. Amari’ came back with her bag and added some strong smelling power to the water befor starting to remove the stiches and cleaning the wound, Nilgaerien had her eyes tightly closed, it was not pleasant even if Amarie was as gentle as possible. Finally Amari’ could support Nilgaerien over to the bed. She put her hand on Nilgaeriens head. Nilgaerien felt a pleasent warmth and her eyelids became heavy. "Sleep now Nilgaerien, dear friend. No pain or evil will enter you dreams tonight."
Amari’ looked over at the tub, the water had turned a nasty colour from blood and infected fluids. She would see if she could find one of the men to help her pour it out. Nilgaerien would be fine in a few days. If only she had a cure for the poison the twins suffered from as well...
He reached his own quarters. The captain had been honoured to vacate these for Aelric and his lady. Vaeltira was asleep in the bottom berth, looking more peaceful than he had ever seen her. Without disturbing her he removed the heavy armour and mud caked clothes. No doubt Urdon would... there was a light tap at the door and Urdon entered. "I'll take this lot and clean it up for yer m'Lord." And with his customary smile he disappeared. There was hot water, as expected. Aelric set about scrubbing the grime from his body by the light of the small table lamp. The warmth of the water was soothing, his mind cleared and suddenly he knew she was awake and watching. A smile played on his lips, he continued washing and finally tipped the rest of the water over his head, flinging his long dark hair back. It felt good.
He looked at the upper berth, and at Vaeltira below, smiling at him. Tonight, he thought, they would no longer be exiles, they would be husband and wife, again.
He woke early. Vaeltira was asleep in his arms, still peaceful, more beautiful to him than ever. Carefully he eased out of the bed, his armour and clothes had been cleaned and returned. With his men around him he did not need the full armour, so he dressed casually, wearing light chain, and his sword. With a glance back at his sleeping wife he left the cabin. There was much to do.
Amarie had come in first thing this morning and checked her foot, commanding her to stay in bed for the rest of the day, conceding only to a bath. Nil had waited until the tub and all bath things were removed and Amarie was back in her own room before attempting to stand on her foot. It throbbed a bit but didn't exactly hurt and could hold her weight fine. She had grabbed the clean pants and shirt found on the room's only chair but hesitated to wear the pants. Changing her mind, she had pulled out a skirt from her bag. Come to think of it, she hadn't worn a skirt for a long time - had she really forgotten all the niceties all these years?
Despite Amarie's orders, she was going to leave this cabin and enjoy the first day of her healing.
Cracking the door open, she glanced from side to side then stepped out into the narrow corridor, feet bare except for the white bandage on her left foot. Nil didn't even want to think of the time that had passed since her last bath - just seeing a reflection of her clean face in the water surprised her; she had forgotten that she could be pretty if the grime was removed. And she couldn't stop playing with her hair now - its soft curls were much too bouncy to be left alone. When was the last time she had been sane enough to enjoy such small pleasures?
Possessing the natural grace and silence of an elf, no one noticed her until she came upon Urdon.
"Wha -!" he exclaimed, turning to find her just behind him. Instead of jabbing, his emotions flowed through her mind.
"Shh!" she replied, looking back the way she had come. "I'm not supposed to be up and you might alert Amarie."
"Yer right yer not supposed to be up!" he growled at her. "How'm I gonna get anythin' done around here with you sneaking up on me?"
"I won't do it again," she promised, stifling a smile, and moved out of range. He grumbled something to himself and went back to his chores.
She finally made her way on deck and to the rail. Her foot hurt a little now but she refused to go back to her cabin.
"You're not supposed to be up." Nil turned to see Aragorn grinning at her.
"Why is everyone so concerned about that? Wait -how did you know?"
His grin widened and he nodded to the side where Amarie stood, hands on her hips.
Nil frowned and shook her head. "No." Then she realized Amarie's emotions weren't mad, just exasperated, so she grinned like a spoiled child who has gotten her way and turned back to look at the land passing by.
"Did Amarie tell you about..."
"Yes. Glad to see you're back....you are aren't you?"
"No, Aragorn, I'm not back. I'm new. I can't ever go back to what I was...my mind will always be destroyed, just controlled."
He nodded. "I'm glad anyway." Then he walked off.
Nil heard a sorrowful whinny and soon found Gondolin with his head hanging pitifully towards the ground. "Aw, Gondolin, it's for your own good. You know you can't stand being caged on a boat," she said, touching her fingers to the blindfold. He seemed to perk up at hearing her voice and rubbed his nose against her arm.
She heard a rustle and turned to see Roth staring at her. She swallowed, unsure of what to say...what do you say to the very person you have longed to kill for so many years?
Imperiously Aelric frowned, his moment of reflection interrupted by his man-servant, "Aye, all is well enough. What makes you so bold as to ask me this?"
Urdon replied with trepidation, not wishing to offend his master. He knew full well the danger of disturbing his peace, but this was necessary. So with reluctance and some anxiety he emboldened himself to prompt the question that was on all the crew's lips, "My Lord, forgive me for my brazeness..."
"Speak freely Urdon, haven't I always heard your counsel, there is no need to be... so formal" Aelric's tone was disarming yet had a cold edge.
Urdon grew doubly afraid, he knew this was an attempt by his master to elicit more than he desired to reveal, he knew the crew were restless and alarmed at the presence of Elves as guests aboard the ship. But how best to address this issue without risking offense to Aelric.
"The crew have some concerns regarding the passengers m'lord." Clearing his throat and snatching a glance at Aelric he continued, " The dwarves and elves to be more precise. In all my years in your service never have I seen such a company that appear welcome in your presence. If you could help me understand, then it would help allay their fears."
Aelric looked out toward the reddening horizon in the east, thin streaks of cloud obscured the first rays of the sun. It was not so long ago that the sight of the dawn would be a cruel reminder of his own servitude to the will of the Lidless Eye. The war had changed all this, but despite that his heart remained closeted in shadow, loyal Urdon suspected that his master was forever enraptured with power and the lust for revenge.
"The Elves and indeed all the others on board are my honoured guests, they are to be treated with respect and due deference, I will say no more on the matter." a perilous gleam in his eyes made Urdon shudder. "We are to rendezvous with the Meneltauros, I take it her crew have been informed of the change in plan?"
"Uhm, indeed m'lord the crebain carried the message no more than a day hence" he gulped hoping that for his part Aelric would forgive his earlier enquiry.
"Urdon my old friend, see to it that Vaeltira is afforded every comfort while aboard. I can trust you to do this small thing for me cant I?" Urdon relaxed and exhaled his relief in answer to this last command.
Aragorn and Amarie were far-off spectators, located as they were at the other end of the barge, but their attention was fixed upon Aelric's short conversation with his servant. Both stole a glance at the other, their minds attuned to the mutual suspicions they shared in regard to their enigmatic host.
The barge drifted steadily down the wide river, the shore of the Anduin bristled with deep thickets and wiry copses of stunted trees, mist clung eerily to the trunks and the air was still. The crew that took up the chores at first-light busied themselves eagerly, as they saw that the Lord of Umbar was present on deck. There was no sign of dissention even though they were each aware that the elf, Amarie and the Ranger fellow observed them at length. They refrained from contact, heeding Urdon's orders given minutes before the break of dawn.
Aelric held the rudder in his right hand, and became conscious of the restless clutching of his left at the decorative sword-hilt at his side. He knew what this meant, tonight the thirst would have to be slaked. Vaeltira could do nothing to stem the tide of this particular hunger.
"Roth, we need time. We both need time." It was a plea but Roth ignored it. Striding forward he stood before her, his eyes deep sunken within a face approaching gaunt. Nilgaerien startled at the transformation in him. "You should seek Amarie..." she started to say but the feelings in her head were tangled. Roth was there beside her and in her head, in her own memories.
He stepped back, surprise showing in his face. "Will I never be free?" he hissed at her. "Free from you witches. I see you there, watching me! I see you! And her!" he turned sharply as though expecting someone else, "Her!" His wild stare turned back to Nilgaerien. "What have you seen? Who have you told? What did she tell you?" His voice rose to a menancing growl. "Must I suffer these women all my life? They haunt me, they hound me." He turned away from her, stumbling towards the door. "Tell me what to do? How to stop them? Tell me!" he shouted to the air. And he was gone.
As Vaeltira expected Aelric had gone before she awoke. No matter, she had been his wife again. There had been an urgency in him, a hunger, darker than he had been before. A few hours ago she had enjoyed the edge that gave him, taking the journey with him through lust, possession, tenderness, revenge and pleasure. She touched her lips where his passion had drawn blood and smiled. Then she remembered the cut across her throat and Roth. She couldn't deal with him, not today, not with the memory of Aelric still with her.
She had seen something in his memories in that small encounter, reminding her of what she ahd suspected for so long, what she had seen yesterday...she had to try to speak with Vaeltira. Her foot somehow hurt more now but she didn't care as she limped towards the cabins, trying to avoid Lord Aelric's gaze.
Nilgaerien hurried past him, limping. Another mad one, he thought, "and linked to the other in some private hell. A hell which seemed to include his wife. Something he would get to the bottom of before watching Roth die.
Aelric grinned as she made away, he wondered just how much she would fetch at the bazaars in Umbar.
The urgent knock at the door startled Vaeltira. She had dressed slowly, enjoying the crisp cleaness of her clothes. If possible she would stay all day in this cabin, alone. But someone had other ideas. Opening the door, she was surprised to see Nilgaerien. "Lady Vaeltira", she looked flushed, "I wish to speak to... with you." The elf was not comfortable about this and by the look on her face she was in considerable pain. Vaeltira indicated for her to enter and to be seated on the bed. Vaeltira stood, waiting. "You may well guess what I need to talk to you about. You know I have shared some of his memories?" There was no answer from Vaeltira; she was staring at Nilgaerien's foot, the bandage now soaked in black mess. Stepping into the corridor she shouted "Amarie of Rivendell!" and within seconds the healer was there, running to Nilgaerien who was now lying back on the bed, her face contorted in pain. Amarie carefully removed the bandage. The wound had festered and a thick black pus congealed around it. Thin streaks of black wound their way up towards Nilgaerien's ankle. The foot itself was almost totally black.
Amarie blinked back the tears. "Nilgaerien," she whispered, "I don't know what else to do. I have tried all I can." "Help me" her friend's voice was barely audible. "I can't" she replied, trying to think of any way not tried. Even the method she used to heal Aelric had been of no use for Nilgaerien. She looked up, the Numenorean woman was standing watching. The pendant! Of course. "Be strong, my friend, I may have something..."
She stood up and turned to Vaeltira. "Lady, will you help?" A look of surprise. "Your pendant, how does it work?" For a moment Vaeltira was silent then said simply "It takes power from dark magic." "Can it take the dark power from the poison?" Amarie urged her to be quick. "I don't know" Vaeltira looked puzzled. "If it could it would already have taken it." "Then we need a conduit from the wound to the pendant, and if you can provide that I can deal with the poison." She willed this woman to understand and to co-operate. Nilgaerien's life was at stake.
"I will have to touch the elf, touch her wound." The woman shuddered. "I can't" "You must" Amarie was pleading now, her pleading touched with a hint of authority. "We are under Aelric's protection - you must do it!"
Amarie reached for her own precious brooch and taking it within her palm she offered her hand to Vaeltira. They joined hands, the brooch linking them. Vaeltira placed her other hand on the black, sodden wound and Amarie touched hers to the swollen ankle of her friend. They felt Nilgaerien shudder. In silence they concentrated. Vaeltira shook as the dark energy, seeking the dragon, drew itself into her hand and along her arm. She wanted to be sick. The warmth of the dragon against her skin was in stark contrast to the sudden cold around her. Amarie shivered. The blackness around the wound and within the flesh lessened. Slowly it dissipated, leaving disfigurement and swelling. Vaeltira waited until she could no longer feel dark power flowing and let go of both elves. Nilgaerien slept. Amarie and Vaeltira collapsed in exhaustion on the floor beside her.
Behind them the door opened....
"NO!" she screamed, running for him, arms outstretched. He went over the edge and she followed, trying only to catch even a corner of his sleeve. But only air met her fingers and then she, too, was falling...until arms grasped around her waist, stopping her fall. With the contact, Nilgaerien came back to herself, out of the dark dreams induced by the poison's lingering affect, knew she was on the barge...but instead of her brother, it was Roth's face being swallowed by the waves. In shock, she felt cold water - Roth? - then the connection was broken and she felt herself being pulled back from the edge, someone setting her on the deck. And all she could do was shiver, in shock and confusion. She understood her hallucinations and was not afraid of what she had seen but the shock from the sudden disconnection of her mind to Roth had affected her badly. A voice spoke to her and she tried to concentrate on the face it belonged to...
"I'll fetch you girls some mulled wine and maybe some bread and cheese. Them farmers gave us some good stuff." And with that he hurried off.
"Where's Roth?" Nilgaaerien's voiced cracked with fear "I saw him fall.... have I lost him again?" "Rest now, my friend, "Amarie settled her into the bed and sat beside her. "Roth will be alright, don't worry." Suddenly Amarie was aware that Vaeltira was sitting there, stunned and exhausted but listening. "Roth" she spat, "May the demons of Angband eat his soul."
Amarie sighed. This was not going to be easy.
Nilgaerien suddenly rememberd what she had come here to say and forced herself to sit up. "Lady Vaeltira, I came here becasue I wanted to tell you something.. I just thought you should know that I.. that I saw why.. know why you.."
"You know what?" Vaeltira snapped.
Nilgaerien exchanged glances with Amari’ who suddenly understood what she was trying to say. Yes she deserved to know. There was no good way to say it. It might be better to be brutally honest and hope for the best. "She is trying to say that we both saw in Roths mind why you hate him.. we saw what he did to you.. when you were young.." she bit her lip and glanced over at Vaeltira.
For a moment no one spoke then Nilgearien ventured "He was our friend before we knew and we understand what he suffered to become" she hesitated "...what he is now. How can we not be his friends when this is when he needs us most?"
"And yet you do not afford us the same courtesy?" Vaeltira stood up, tall and stately, her heritage apparent. "We, who were abandoned by the Valar, our ancestors' blindness and corruption preyed upon by The Dark Lord. Do you not think we also suffered to become what we are?" Amarie was on her feet, facing the Numenorean. "And your suffering became ours through your ancestor's greed and stupidity. How many friends have I lost because of you? How many of my beloved family suffered because of you? Do not blame the Valar for your own weaknesses." Her face was flushed, her hands tight fists.
"Yes, we have our weaknesses. As do all races, even the high and mightly elves. The legends of our race tell us of elves slaughtering elves, chasing the Dark One until the whole earth was filled with blood and rage. A fine example to those of us with but a short time to shine." Vaeltira turned from them, her head held high. "Had he asked forgiveness or even understanding" she whispered "I may have found the strength to give it. But he hated me for what he had done." She shuddered. "And yet, that was not the worse..." She looked at the elves, her dark blue eyes bright with tears. "It is not an easy life in the service of the Dark Lord."
A gentle knock on the door announced Urdon with mulled wine and food as promised.
"Are you sure you don't need anything else, my lady?" He glanced over at Amari’. The elf on the bed didn't look as she could move much, but he wasn't so sure about that one they called Amari’, she had handled that crazy elf quite well, she had skills that one. Any hint from his Lady and he would find Aelric. Vaeltira knew this and smiled. "I will call for you if I need anything." "Yes my lady. Enjoy the food ladies. I will be back for the tray later." Urdon bowed and turned to leave when Amari’ turned towards him and asked if he has news about Roth.
"Err that would be the.. tall one with the axe yes? Last I saw him he was still in bed where you left him." She gave him a short smile. "Thank you."
He shook his head as closed the door behind him. Elves! As guests! One acting wierder that the other. The world sure was changing..
"Do not think we exempt our kind from evil," she finally said, her voice soft and for some reason, hoarse. Vaeltira and Amarie's eyes were instantly on her but it was with Vaeltira that she locked her own eyes with. "I understand your pain...do you not think I've lived through every possible hell there is over my lifetime? I myself am guilty for many atrocities: I have killed without remorse...I have allowed my mind to invade others with no regrets...but apparantly, that doesn't make you hate me. After all, you just saved my life."
"But you have not been through my pain, elf maid."
Nil smiled, a queer, regretful smile. "No, I can't say I have...but I was given the privilage of seeing it secondhand and not being allowed to flee. And you don't know what I had to go through those first few years after my mind was destroyed and my family murdered...what I had to do to survive. So do not accuse us of not knowing." She wanted to say more, but the small speech had winded her and she laid her head back against the pillow, closing her eyes, but staying wide awake, listening for their response.
"Do you love him?" It was Amarie.
"Love? In a position such as ours it is best to learn not to love. Love is for those who have choices."
"But you care for him? You follow him?"
"Yes, because I have no choice. That fate was set at our marriage and it is enough that you know I would die for him and with him." She sat down on a small wooden chair beside the table, "I first saw Lord Aelric when they brought my husband's body back. He commanded the orcs that had found my husband's company slaughtered in the wasteland beyond Barad-Dur. We had been married for not even a year - it was he I was summoned to Barad-Dur to marry when the orcs decided I would make a fine prize for your friend." She sipped the wine "When I saw his body I knew; only orc weapons turn wounds black." Nilgaerien nodded and Vaeltira continued, "A few weeks later I gave birth to my sons." Both Amarie and Nilgaerien started at this. "They let me keep them for two weeks, my beautiful boys." she hesitated "Then I was sent back to Umbar. Within a year I was married to Lord Aelric, our houses united. A political marriage. No, love is best left alone."
She finished the wine. "And what of you, Amarie of Rivendell and Lady Nilgaerien, what has life brought to you thus far?"
My mother comes from Lothlorien and was one of Lady Celebrians maidens and always traveled with her. Lady Celebrian got struck with the poisoned arrows, there was no healing for her here, and my mother went with her on the ship to Valinor. Father became concerned for my safety when travelling with Lady Arwen, she who is now Queen of Gondor, and taught me to use both a bow and a sword. It is so much easier to destory that to create..
Then my father died and I was to far away to help him, and they brought me his sword which I now carry. From that day I felt I had no real purpose in Rivendell anymore, for the hurting of the ones I care for took place elsewhere. When the twins also got poisoned I knew there was little I could do for them and felt I would be of more use assisting in finding the Gem."
She smiled grimly. "I send my prayers to the vali Est’, she who heals all wounds and removes weariness, and her sister Nienna, she who teaches compassion and endurance in hope. For this quest rests on us all being able to work toghether and maybe that way do right some of the Dark Lords evil deeds. I don't feel I am doing too well as peacemaker, but at least we are talking to eachother..." She rested her head in her hands, she was so, so tired.
Vaeltira shook her head. He doesn't tell me much."
Quite baffled Amari’ sat up. "Well then it is about time you find out."
"Elrond the Half-Elven? It is his sons you seek, that my husband seeks?" She drew back, standing as though frozen. "This cannot be... " she whispered, and turning ran from the room her boots clattering as she ran up the stairs onto the deck. Amarie motioned Nilgaerien to stay were she was and followed the woman.
"Aelric, My Lord" Vaeltira ran to where he stood watching the approaching sails of a large vessel, one hand grasping the hilt of his sword. He turned at her words, frowning at the intrusion. "And what of my sons?" she shouted at him, " Where are they? Do you scorn them in favour of the beloved sons of Lord Half Elven?"
"My Lady...?" So they had been talking. He expected it sooner or later. "My Lady, you do not fully understand. It is not the elves I seek, it is the Gem." He laughed "The Gem that ensures I will be King of The Realm of Gondor AND of Umbar. The Gem that will make you my Queen". He let go of his sword and reached out his hand to her. "My Lord," she whispered in horror. The fingernails were starting to turn black. "It is the sword, even now it tries to possess you. This is all madness, Aelric. Let us turn back."
"My Lady, fear not for I am stronger than the sword. It shall be used to my advantage. " He held her wrists tightly, "When you are my Queen we will tear apart all the lands of Shadow and we will find your precious sons, should they still live. But believe this, you will either be my Queen or you will be dead."
"If I die, so do you, my Lord." She tried to pull away but he laughed again and pulled her closer, "Not with The Gem." He hissed, "The Gem, I know, is the answer to this curse. It is the answer to all our troubles. When I am King and you my Queen, my dear Lady Vaeltira, then shall our people rejoice." He looked again towards the oncoming ship with its black sails. "We shall all rejoice."
Aragorn was keeping an eye on the still sleaping Roth. Roland and Arkentos was there as well, tired of being ignored by the ship crew. The crew seemed to be on deck waiting for the corsair ship. "I know what Lord Aleric is planning with this 'help' of his. Come closer." And she told them what she had heard. "It is the sword, the one that kept him alive during the battle, it poisons his mind. I belive Vaeltira is with Aelric waiting for the ship, but I have to get back to the cabin in case she comes." Amarie hurried back to Nilgaerien.
"It is insane!" said Arkentos. "The Gems are made to help find the way to the Undying Lands."
"What is this curse she talked about? How can the Gem help?" wondered Roland
"I doubt it can." said Aragorn. "It will only lead to war. There are others Gems, but they can not be found in time to help the twins."
"My Lady", his voice was courteous, "We are all safe, even your friends... for a while. I shall not harm them, nor allow harm to be done to them."
"You know my loyalty is with you, My Lord." The wind whipped her words away. He smiled. She left him there and went back down to her cabin.
Both Niglaerien and Amarie were there waiting for her. "I need to think" she said to them, "Please leave me." Neither Nilgaerien nor Amarie moved.
"I heard what Lord Aelric said, Lady Vaeltira, but what of you?" Amarie questioned. For a moment Vaeltira hesitated, watching the elves. "If you wish I will talk with Strider and tell him what I know." She sounded tired. They led her to the room where Aragorn sat with Roland and the others, discussing the situation. There was silence as she entered. "My Lord," she addressed Aragorn, "It is not you and your companions who are in danger, it is Lord Aelric."
"My Lady," Aragorn stood to welcome her, "It would be prudent of you to explain this."
Taking the seat offered to her she looked at the surrounding company, watching her suspiciously. "My Lord Aelric has a deep loyalty to his people which goes beyond his service to the Dark Lord. In his heart he holds the dream of a free people, united in peace but by whatever means. The sword he carries is filled with the spirit of deepest evil, drawn from those monsters that served Melkor from the begnning. It sucks the lifeforce from those it slays and threatens to possess him although he believes himself immune. But it is treacherous and seeks to dominate whoever wields it, to become once more of the flesh. It is this, My Lord, which drives Aelric to this insanity."
"Well then," Dorin stood up, axe in hand, "We'd best kill him now." Roland and Arkentos murmured agreement.
"My Lord, do you judge that I should die also?"
"No, My Lady, no such judgement has been made, why would you think so?" Aragorn asked.
"Then if you kill Lord Aelric you will be murdering me with the same axe strike" She looked at Dorin, firm in his intent and already moving towards the door. "And why, Lady, would we be doing that?" He asked. "No one is saying you have to die as well. Once we're rid of him..."
"There is more to my story, if you would listen, Master Dwarf." Dorin rested his axe and leant on it. "Go ahead, Lady, I'm not in that much of a hurry."
"I have told you of the doom that binds me to Aelric and he to me. This was set at our marriage ceremony but was not of Sauron's casting although it was of his design. We are bound in life and in death, should either die the other dies as well. As you see, this ensures our loyalty to each other and provided The Dark Lord with the means to control us both." She sighed, "I wish I did not need to divulge this information but I fear My Lord Aelric will see us both dead and the sword-wraith victorious."
"Well", said Dorin, "This could be a little more difficult that I thought."
"We will discuss this further, My Lady, but you should return to your quarters now. Be assured we will take no violent action towards your Lord, if only for your sake. I understand we owe you a debt of gratitude for your help to Nilgaerien." Aragorn bowed to her. "Do not despair of Aelric, my Lady," he added, "We shall find a way."
She left them and returned alone to her room, sinking onto the bed deep in despair for her Lord and their fate.
Affter Vaeltira had gone, the elf sat in deep thought and relief as the others talked and argued. Deep thought, for she had sensed something from Vaeltira from the beginning but had no idea what it was - one mystery revealed, at least. Relief, for she had not been required to recount her own story in the confusion. After her mind's restoration and the couple of days needed for her to get used to it, all the pain that had been stolen with the pieces of her mind was returned...the agony of having her beloved torn away from her. He had fallen protecting her....even in such terror and confusion that reigned that horrible day, her first thought had been for the precious Gem given to her people, the protection for the same Gem that Gandalf and her father had pounded into her head from a very young age. He had fought to save her from her mindless protection even as her fragile mind was being ripped apart from its power. He had fallen as Roth had come, too late. Roth had touched her at the wrong moment, with too much hate....
A hand on her shoulder stirred her. It was Aragorn. "You need to rest, after your eventful day. Amarie will - "
"No Aragorn." Nil looked at Roth. "I want to stay here and take my turn watching him." She turned and saw their hesitation and gave a small, shaky smile, the smile still being a new thing to her. "I will be fine...I think the time of my insanity has passed...for now. I feel the need to be close tonight." Still they hesitated and her unpracticed smile grew to a humored grin. "Fine! Post Arkentos and Roland outside if you're so worried about me. At the least little sound, they can burst in here to save the day from the Crazed Ones." It was the first bit of humor they had heard out of her and weren't quite sure what to do with it until Amarie grinned back. That seemed to be the signal to relax and enjoy a sane elf around them. Aragorn nodded and they all filed out.
Once the door closed, Nilgaerien looked back at Roth, frowning. He was even more crazed now, after helping her. Amarie said they were linked. That meant there had to be a way for her to help him. Her mind flew back to Vaeltira and the scenes she had witnessed second hand...then she felt a gaze on her and turned to meet Roth's eyes, for now not crazed.
"It wasn't..I didn't mean for it to be like that..."
They could still feel each other's thoughts then. A smile played around her mouth. "Just like you didn't mean to drop me in the river?" She spoke of an event long ago, when he had first come to her village but apparantly he remembered and a faint curve of the corner of his lips could have been a reminscent smile. Then his eyes closed and he went back to sleep. Through his mind, though, Nil could feel the hatred pourn through him as the nightmares returned. Again she frowned, then, unaccountably sleepy of a sudden, she closed her own eyes and laid her head up against the side of the bunk and fell into her own dreams far different from Roth's...
"Nil you are not forgotten" he thought to himself and he swung his axe inti a rock as he thought of the dark one and the acts she had commited...."I will tear her a new behind......."
A huge black sail, with an emblazoned golden drake upon it loomed large on the horizon, where the Anduin widened into the straits. To the far left were the ruins of Pelagir, the scene of his defeat, already Aragorn's masons laboured in its reconstruction. Aelric feigned indifference and concentrated upon his flagship, Urdon had done well, the crebain had succeeded in rescuing his plans. These mercenaries would soon see their plotting in ruins and ashes.
"Urdon, prepare for boarding, have the guests and they're horses ready to repair across to the Meneltauros." Aelric shouted above the clamour of the oncoming galleon that announced it's immanent arrival with a great sounding of trumpets and war-horns. The ship was massive, some four times bigger than the barge, it was sleek with two battle towers at fore and aft. Three masts with heavy sails made it seem even to the untrained eye, a sea-worthy and swift man-o-war, crewed by something in the order of one hundred and twenty excluding marines onboard, all bore resemblance in height and features to Aelric and even Aragorn. They were Numenoreans, outcasts of Umbar.
As the galleon drew up to the side of the barge, a procession of heavily armed men in black plate, presumably Aelric's personal guard, strode up and began to form a line of honour. There was also activity above in the sails and masts, sailors busied themselves with securing knots and and unfurling the sea-sails in preparation for the great journey, these were professionals and it was plain for all to see that theyre home was the open ocean.
Aragorn was standing beside Arkentos, Roland and the dwarves waiting on the ladies to make their appearance, already the horses had been prepared. "Quite an impressive sight, I must concede." said Aragorn, turning towards them with a stern and sobre expression he went on,"This could be a perilous gamble for us all, for though I do not know Aelric's mind entirely we must for the sake of speed trust in his promise of safe passage, for once we are aboard we will be completely at his mercy."
Aelric approached Aragorn and the others, he had a fell look in his eye, Urdon was in close attendance and seemed agitated. "Elessar I would request that your party report to the quarter-master and deliver to him your weaponary, on the voyage you will have no need of it as it will be stowed away safely and returned to you when we arrive in Ethring." before Aragorn could utter a protest, Aelric continued "You must understand that this is a ship of war, and you are passengers no more, no less. You will find the quartermaster below decks - have faith I do not break my word."
With that said Aelric turned on his heel to acknowledge his honour guard, presently he spoke into the ear of his lieutenant and glanced back at the barge's compliment of two dozen Southrons. None suspected the bloody fate that awaited them, in mere moments all would be dead.
Nilgaerien glanced at Aragorn, her look dark and uneasy. She pressed her hands to her forehead and moaned quietly. Mulled wine and a selection of plain food and fruit was served to them. The two dwarves muttered together, tugging their beards. Nilgaerien started to stand, astonishment showing in her face then suddenly she fell fainting to the floor. Amarie was quick to attend her and upon opening her eyes she gasped "I don't know... I don't know..... so quick.... I am sorry.... I couldn't help it... the pain..." But upon further questioning by Amarie and Aragorn she could not recall what had caused it.
Aragorn suspected Lord Aelric of some dark deed. The man was indeed dangerous if he could so treat those who served him, no matter what accusations of treason he placed on them. He was well aware that Aelric had his own path, leading to whatever dark doom he followed. But of Vaeltira he was less sure. She had, albeit unwillingly, helped the elves but she was loyal to Aelric, or at least to the Aelric she believed he was. There may come a time, he thought, when that loyalty is put to the test and although he would willingly spare her life at the moment, he could not, for sure, say that would be true in time. He would, he understood, sacrifice her life in killing Aelric if this Quest was endangered. As the thought formed he saw the similarity between himself and Aelric, the need to serve the whole rather than the moment, and in his mind he saw Aelric's desires and knew this man may well bring more war and suffering to the people of Middle Earth should he continue on his dark path.
For now, Aragorn must submit to Aelric's authority. But he knew that when they reached their destination he may be forced into action against him. Until then they must all be on their guard.
Urdon arrived to take them to their cabins. Nilgaerien looked pale but her strength had returned and she scorned Roland's arm.
Amarie asked Urdon to take her to where Roth had been carried, still unconscious in his wandering mind. His axed had been stowed away with their own weapons. He was quiet but restless and she sat for a while holding his hands, easing his pain as much as she could. The rich wall hangings strung from beams across the wide room showed battles and victories from Numenor of old. This was going to be an uncomfortable journey, she thought, more uncomfortable than it had so far been. Aelric was dangerous but in command and Vaeltira, who had a score to settle with Roth, was armed. They would need to keep watch at all times and with only their skills to protect them. She sighed.
At least the Lady Vaeltira was once more by her Lord's side, as should be. He smiled at the thought. She was a noble woman, proud and brave but in all the time he had known Aelric and Vaeltira he had never seen either of them show affection for the other. No matter, her loyalty was never in question and as for her cold exterior, well, a night with him would melt the ice-maiden, he could guarantee it. But, he sighed, not for him the noble lady, all he could hope for was a quick tumble in the straw with a farmer's daughter (or wife) or a brash serving wench. Noble ladies were for the likes of Lord Aelric.
Arkentos was pacing back and forth. He didn't like Amari’ being alone with Roth. "What if that loony wakes up? If he hurts her.."
"Don't call him a loony, Arkentos." said Nilgaerien quietly. "It might as well have been me lying there. Amari’ can handle it..." Aragorn nodded, but his mind was mostly on Aerlics sword. That sword wasn't good for any of them, not for Aerlic and his wife either even if he seemed to think so. From what Amari’ said wasn't Vaeltria very fond of the sword. But she was loyal to Aelric.
The three ladies had spoken, that was good. It had to be lonely to be Lord Aerlics lady.
Vaeltira turned, her expression was calm but her thoughts and emotions raged.
"My Lady, it seems you have a need to talk with us. In peace", she added, looking at the knives sheathed at Vaeltira's side. Her eyes narrowed but she nodded and walked into the room, Nilgaerien following. Vaeltira drew her knives, Amarie's hold on Roth's hands tightened, but she laid the knives on the table, "In peace", she said and seated herself on a chair at the foot of the bed. Nilgaerien, still struggling to control the pain that came with those emotions, stood on the other side of the room her eyes fixed on the woman.
"Is there any chance his sanity can be returned to him?" Vaeltira asked.
"I fear he was never sane" Amarie replied, her voice was soft and sad.
"Why do you keep him with you? His madness endangers us all."
"Who else could take care of him? Your countrymen? Would they tend him if we left him with them or would they slaughter him?" Nilgaerien's voice was angry.
"Perhaps," retorted Vaeltira, "Slaughter would be the best thing for him. If his sanity cannot be returned, if he continues to live with those demons, his mind devoured, then why prolong it for him. Sooner or later it will be his life or ours."
"Is that why you came here?" Nilgaerien moved closer to Amarie.
"In truth, yes." The two elves were surprised not by her intention but her admission of it. She continued, "I hate him, I would see him dead.... but... watching him I am reminded of the man as he was when we met", she hesitated, "I see demons in him now that were there then. I agree with you Amarie of Rivendell, he was never sane." She sighed, "And although I still hate him, I also pity him. Can you not help him?"
Amarie looked at Roth again, "I have tried. Nilgaerien is the only one who can pass into his mind but that is too painful for her. She cannot sacrifice her mind again. All I can do is ease him to sleep."
Roth groaned and clutched Amarie's hand. She felt her healing power flowing from her and gasped. Suddenly she was flung away from Roth, and he sat up staring at them. When he spoke it was not Roth's voice, instead that of an old man whispered at them, "So dark for so long... so dark... " He looked at his hands turning them over examining detail. They were not as he recalled, this room he did not remember and he knew not the people watching him. A look of astonishment crossed his face and looking at Nilgaerien he croaked, "Tell him I do listen" Then he flung back his head and roared, spittle dribbled from his mouth, his hands ripping the bedcoverings as though they were fine paper. Before anyone could react Roth had leapt from the bed across to the table where Vaeltira's knives lay and taking them in his hands he turned to face the women. "Now I am back, " it was Roth's voice once again, cold and hard edged, "Who is going ta tell me what is happening?"
Before Amarie had finished, however, Nil’s mind had already sorted through and landed on a solution ’ one she did not care for but perhaps the most effective with such limited room for anything else. She took a step towards Roth who promptly shifted his attention and raised a dagger. ’Back, elf-maid.’
’I am not a dog, you half-wit,’ she responded, ’that you may command me as such.’ And she punctuated this with another step.
’I saved yer life once, Nilgaerien ’ do not tempt me to reverse the decision.’ His body was trembling with barely contained emotions and insanity. His eyes were a bit wild and unstable but Nil had found a calm spot in the very center of that storm and was firmly latched onto it. She had taken two more steps.
’You don’t need tempting. Your mind is made but which way has it leaned?’ Another step would bring her in range of those eager daggers’so she stopped.
’I’d kill ya in an instant,’ came his growling voice.
’Would you now?’ She shifted her weight forward and one dagger copied the motion.
’One more step, Nilg ’ ’ he did not have time to finish as she took that step, reaching into the spare folds of her skirt, and pulling out her own dagger, sleek and black. Vaeltira and Amarie could not hold in their astonishment, nor Vaeltira her sudden rage.
’You kept a weapon when ’ ’
’I kept it out of need, my lady,’ Nilgaerien replied, keeping her eyes locked with Roth’s. ’I sensed that I might have need of it.’ When Urdon had come to fetch her, she had sensed his presence and intent before he was even close to her cabin. She had quickly hidden the dagger on the inside of her right thigh, near the knee. When he had taken her other weapons, the dagger was not missed, as it was almost always hidden anyway.
’Now, Roth, will you kill me?’
’I will,’ he said and lunged for her, hate ’ though not specifically for her ’ gleaming in his eyes. Nil spun but allowed herself to let down her defense, become like water as he slashed at her. One arm burned as metal arced past it but she ignored it and completed her spin, coming up with her dagger beneath his, or rather Vaeltira’s, two.
’What did ya think? That I couldn’t do it? I’ve shown ya and now I’ll show her’I’ll pay ya back’’ Roth wasn’t speaking to Nil; wasn’t even speaking to anyone in that room, but to a past memory or a nightmare or perhaps an evil mixture of both in his ruptured mind. Nil couldn’t quite tell but either way, she decided to push him out of it in a sudden, unwanted change of her plan.
She pushed against his daggers with all her might then feinted to the left. He followed but she was already moving, turning, taunting him with her dagger. His arms opened with each weapon aimed in to pierce her sides but they met only air, for instead of jumping out, Nil had jumped in, right against his chest and now his momentum was too much to stop his arms from closing about her. Riding on instinct, she grabbed his face, pulling it towards her own, and kissed him hard.
Roth’s mind went wild and she was instantly thrust back violently. In a mindless cloud, he cursed and spat then suddenly realized the daggers were no longer in his hands and calmed enough to see Nil, legs spread, holding both tightly, one pointed up and out by her leg, the other held beside her head, thrusting towards him. Her distraction had worked.
’Just one move, Roth, and I swear by my dead family that I’ll split you from end to end.’ Her eyes were steady, hard, and so full of ice that the room itself seemed chilled. Her dagger had somehow found its way back onto her person, secured in her belt. He seemed wild enough still to leap at her barehanded but he slowly nodded and made a show of relaxing his body.
’Good work, Nil,’ came Vaeltira’s strained voice. ’Now if you would hand all weapons to me’’
But Nil had turned and was stalking towards Vaeltira, every muscle tensed, her eyes measuring the woman before her. ’I will have your word that neither Roth nor Amarie nor myself will be punished or restrained in any way for our actions here.’
Any hint of warmth that may have developed in Vaeltira’s eyes when she looked at the elf was long gone. ’For you and Amarie, yes, but Roth ’ ’
Nil raised a dagger. ’I did this for you, my lady, to preserve what shaky ground we may have established between us. Do not turn it into waste by forcing me to threaten your life.’
’Nil!’ Amarie hissed but Nil hardly glanced at her.
Vaeltira finally nodded her agreement, her body rigid and her face set. Nil waited, letting her emotions flow through her mind then only when she was settled, did she turn the daggers over and offer the hilts to her. Vaeltira carefully took hold of them then seeing Nil made no other movement, she nodded to her belt. ’And your own dagger.’
Nil covered it protectively. ’I don’t think so.’
’I do.’ The voice came from the door where Urdon stood, sword drawn, Roth’s shoulder clenched in his broad hand. ’Now.’
Nil just gazed at him then Amarie’s soothing, though troubled, thoughts flowed over her. She sighed and cursed the healing qualities the other elf possessed. Sometimes they were such a bother. She lifted her own dagger. ’Our bargain, Vaeltira.’
’I gave you my word.’
Nil accepted this and handed the dagger over, forcing her fingers to unfold from the graven black hilt. As soon as it was in her hand, Vaeltira nodded and Urdon hesitantly released Roth.
’You must know that you and Roth will be watched.’
Nil nodded at Vaeltira’s words, already knowing something would be done. Her body ached after that dagger. It was the only physical thing in this world she had of her father’s, imbued with typical elf magic directly from his hand’and Nil strongly suspected it came from the dark stranger that used to pass through her village as a child ’ the same one that she had briefly glimpsed wearing Vaeltira’s pendant.
As a few more men showed up to ’escort’ Nil and Amarie out, Nil kept her eyes away from Roth. Stupid, stupid fool! Not only had he forced her into doing something she never would done had it not been for Aelric’s consequences, but he had also made her lose the one link to her family!
With a long, tired sigh she turned around. There she caught Nilgaeriens eyes, but looked away and sighed once more. Back to square one, Nilgaerien and Roth at each others throats again and Vaeltria has seemed to have lost the little trust she had in them. Tired, so tired. Maybe things would look brighter if she got some sleep. "I need to rest, if anyone can make sure that Nilgaerien and Roth doesn't to kill each other befor I wake up, that would be fine... Just leave me alone for a while. I just.. need some rest."
She opened the door and was immediatly faced with a two sets of weapons pointing a her and two more men where standing right behind them. "i am not Nilgaerien." she said. They lowered their weapons and she went to her quarters. She undressed, climbed into bed and fell asleep.
Aragorn looked at Nilgaerien. "Why is a small army guarding you? What happend in there?"