Thread: Another Story: The Quest for the Straight Road
<<           >>
For reason known only to themselves, the dwarves had decided to become difficult and Nil had stepped between them and Aelric's men as insults were exchanged. That's when she had been pulled out of the way. Before Nil could turn her thoughts into action, Vaeltira had interfered, giving Aragorn time to quickly talk the dwarves out of their rebellion.
Nil was kept in hand, however, and was dragged down the corridor, despite her protests. They encountered Roth on the way, who promptly stepped up to the man holding Nil's arm and demanded her release in no uncertain terms. The man's face turned red and Drogba looked on in bewilderment. What spirit had suddenly possessed these people that they were now fighting against his every move? He decided that allowing them one wish would bring no harm and signaled the elf's release then continued to lead the way to the room Aelric had ordered him to bring the company to.
Nil rubbed her arm where angry red finger marks were displayed. She looked at Roth, walking beside her. "So what was that all about?"
He glanced at her then tapped his temple. "The more ya fought, the more pressure built here. Can't ya learn to keep your emotions to yerself?"
She gave him a filthy look. "It's not my fault! If you hadn't messed with my mind - "
"If I hadn't messed with ya, yer mind would still be havoc to the rest of us," Roth responded irritably.
"And if you hadn't gotten in the way in the first place, you would have had no need to 'help' me, now would you?"
Aragorn broke up the discussion before it came to blows between the two and prayed to the Valar for sanity. Ahead, opening the door to the large room, Drogba became certain an evil spirit had descended on this group. He made sure everyone was inside then led Vaaltira away.
It wasn't long before Valruin, Amarie, and another elf joined them, Valruin giving what could only be last details of what had happened in the time he and the elf were seperated. Nil cocked her head at the new member, already trying to search out who he might be but she could find nothing she recognized, though it was clear Valruin knew him. "Who is he?" she asked Amarie, who had walked over to give a report to Aragorn. Arkantos quickly slid in beside her and received a warm smile for his trouble.
"A member of Valruin's crew...." Amarie began.
Then Etharion began to speak: "ln this happy times also happens evil, which l must speak to you about. From the south, where l came from, evil things already happen. Evil Haradrim are moving to the north, l assume to find better lands, and they're well armed, and they're at least with ten thousand men. l think war is heading, once again."
Aragorn looked shocked by this news and he began to walk around the room. "This is not good," he said, "this is not good at all! We must do something but what?!"
Etharion smiled wryly. "The strength of men and the great king seems like a myth and a fantasy. I wanted to warn the people I would meet on my journeys of this growing danger, but I have found no man worthy of my warning or friendship. Only the elves I have met have shown me kindness, my friend Valruin, his crew and the fair maiden here, who I believe twice to have brought me back from deaths door." He smiled gratefully to both of them.
AmariŽ smiled sadly. "I am sadend that your fist meeting with the race of men were Haradrim and Lord Aelric." Her eyes darkned as she spoke his name but softened as she looked at Etharion. "Let me introduce you to your new friends. I am AmariŽ of Rivendell." She grabed hold of Etharion and moved him from one person to the other so he could shake their hands, except Nilgaerien, who hid her hands behing her back. "I will only hurt you if i touch you, but it is a blessing that you came to us."
Aragorn noticed how AmariŽ made sure to save the men till last, he met her eager eyes and smiled. Sure, why not? How often do you get to bring myths to life and change dispaire to hope?
"This is Roland of Gondor, a great swordsman in the Gondorian army." Etharion shook his hand with respect. "It's not all a myth after all then." he thought. "This is brave Arkantos, of the Dķnedain." She grinned as she saw his surprice, but the best was yet to come. "And this" she said with great respect and love in her voice. "Is the man whos modesty you mistook for mockery. He is the man know as Estel, Strider and Thorongil, the great king Elessar, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, king of Gondor."
"Etharion, my friend, you have found those worthy to tell at last." Valruin, although aware of the dangers Etharion spoke of, took time to enjoy the look of amazement on the other elf's face.
"I say something now that some of you will disagree with." Aragorn's face was again stern, "Lord Aelric must be included in our debate."
There was outcry from Amarie, the dwarves and Roth. Nilgaerien scowled, Roland and Arkantos were silent. Etharion spoke "That man is your enemy, surely, sire? You cannot mean to take him into your confidence."
"We are not in a good position to exempt Aelric from this. It is his concern as well. I doubt he would join with the Haradrim and he has much to lose as Lord of Umbar never mind any other titles he may aspire to. No, in this Lord Aelric must be our ally. And so we must trust him with this information."
Gradually the dissenting voices lessened. Aragorn dispatched Roland to find Aelric and Vaeltira and to request their urgent attendance. Meanwhile, Aragorn and the others discussed options, Etharion adding details as required.
"You don't wanta be disturbing his Lordship just yet, young man." Urdon chuckled, "He's a might frisky with her Ladyship, if you get my meaning."
Persuading Urdon of his urgency, Roland followed him to Aelric's door. Roland heard Aelric's laughter from within. A merry laugh, unlike the sardonic tone usually associated with him. It seemed the Lady Vaeltira had a calming influence on her lord, if she could influence him at all that is. Roland had to admit, that strange couple though they were they both had respect and it seemed, admiration for the other. While Aelric appeared arrogant and cruel at most times, the Lady had a certain sadness about her, a lost puppy looking for a safe haven. For probably the first time he found himself questioning the hate he had for these people, or for some at least.
Hesitating before the door, not wishing to disturb the couple he took a deep breath and knocked. Aelric's usual gruff voice ordered him in no uncertain terms to cause himself fatal damage! This was not a comfortable situation. He knocked again, calling out that Strider had most urgent need of their attendance. The door was flung open and Aelric stood there, his face red with anger.
"I am not a lacky to be summoned....." he began then Vaeltira touched his arm gently. "Listen to the man," she urged, "It is not Strider's way to summon you on a whim." To Roland she said, "Tell Strider we will be there as quickly as possible." The door was slammed in Roland's face and he turned to see Urdon trying to hide his mirth. Turning red, Roland hurried away back to Aragorn and the others.
AmariŽ glanced over at Etharion. He was grinding his teeth and looking quite fierce. AmariŽ sighed and sat down on a chair. Someone had to tell them. "Etharions bruises are not from him nearly drowning. Aelric brought me to him so I could help him. But he had barly awoken befor we were taken away.I was locked in a room while Alerlic in the presens of men from his crew.... 'interrogated' him. I heard everything but couldn't stop them. " Nilgaerien gasped. "That is horrible! We can't let him get away with that!"
"Oh the best part is yet to come dear friends. He did it to be 'nice'. He could have killed him and never told us, this way he saved Etharions life so we wouldn't find out he killed one of our kind and he got his crewmens repect again. He left him bloody enough to pleace the crew but did not do more harm than I could handle. He enjoyed every punch and I am sure he is very proud of himself."
Aelric raised an eyebrow at this speech in his support. Whether Aragorn was being deceptive or not he did not know but it did not seem in his nature. He nodded his assent to Aragorn.
"Whatever it takes to free our lands of this threat will be done, by all men. " Aelric continued, "But we are aboard ship, far from our lands and until we have fulfilled our quest I fear we can do nothing."
"My Lord," Vaeltira stepped forward, "We could risk sending the message pigeons to Gondor and Umbar. That way preparations can be made against the Haradrim."
"My Lady, as always...... I am in your debt for pointing out what should have been obvious to me. Strider, let us go to my quarters and compose these messages. I have connections in Gondor. Everyone else stay here."
"Who is he to give us orders?" One of the dwarves was muttering.
"Not an order, master Dwarf, merely a suggestion for your own safety."
After Aragorn and Aelric had left Amarie approached Vaeltira.
Aragorn and Aelric were disappearring around a corner and she followed until they entered Aelric's room and shut the door. She then put her to the wod but it was to thick to make out the quiet voices within. Nil stomped one foot impatiently. She could not even discern their emotions, for Aragorn was much too grim and Aelric...well, she had never been able to enter Aelric's mind, had she?
Sighing, she moved away...then jerked to attention. The tickle at the back of her mind was getting stronger. She made her way on deck and to the rail. The Gem pulled at her senses, begged her to come to it...she leaned forward then frowned. That was strange - had the Gem ever had that tremor to it? She shook her head; she must have forgotten certain tendencies it had on her mind. That presented a new thought: would encountering the Gem again destroy her halfway stable mind? Nonsense - Roth had restored whatever he had taken and Amarie would be nearby...she would be fine. Her hands tightened into fists. She needed to be fine!
"An elf on her beloved sea should not look so serious." Nil blinked in surprise and turned to the voice, finding Valruin gazing at her. He laughed at her expression. "Apparently, you can't escape Amarie very well. She noticed your disappearance and Vaeltira sent me to find you. I think they don't want any of the crew or Aelric finding you wandering around - seems like common disposition for elves isn't good right now."
"And what will happen when they find you wandering around?" Nil wondered.
He smiled and jabbed a finger behind him. She looked and saw Urdon standing a discreet distance away. "It seems he is very loyal to his lady." He moved ot the rail beside her. "So...other than the obvious reasons, why do you look so downcast?"
She studied him for a moment. "I can't remember - where you ever able to sense the Gem?"
"Of course I was. All of us were - as we were all sworn not to talk about it. You and your family could sense it much better, though, for obvious reasons."
Nil pointed out across the water. "What do you feel from over there? If anything?"
He concentrated then finally shook his head. "Something, I think...but I can't be sure."
Her shoulders slumped. "No, I didn't think you could sense it from this distance. The Gem lies over the horizon there." She hesitated then bit her lip and met his eyes, the eyes she had seen all through her childhood, the ones that had shared and kept secrets with her and her brother. "I'm scared, Valruin. I wondered for years after the destruction of the village...Gandalf tried to keep me with him, but somehow, I kept escaping his care. Those times when I was alone, in lands unknown to me, I was barely coherent. When I came near to people, my mind exploded into pain so intense that I would sometimes fall unconcsious...and wake up hours, even days later, unable to remember where I was or why. Finally, Galadriel intervened and though it hurt so much, she taught me enough to survive on, taking me to Rivendell where Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian housed me for about a year - one of the happiest years I've had - before I again fled. After that however, I was able to make it through. I learned how to remain conscious, even endure, the pain of people though I didn't often search them out. I remained that way for years and years, only ever making contact with Gandalf or the Lady of the Wood. Once I again found Roth..."
She paused and seemed to retreat into that time then shook her head. "Let's just say it wasn't pleasant...my mind screamed for months afterwards, as I'm sure did his." She again looked at the elf beside her, saw the pain in his eyes for her. "All of that from the Gem...my mind would have been fragile anyway, but having the Gem so close amplified it, I think. What happens if coming close to it again tears apart all progress I've made? Through Galadriel and Gandalf first, through Amarie and Roth most recently..." Her eyes filled with tears and she hastily swept them away with the back of her hand. "I don't know if I want to find it again, Valruin," she whispered, knowing as she did that any betrayal on her part would cost the lives of the twins. And she hated herself for it.
"Yes, ok." AmariŽ led the wondering Vaeltira out in the hall towards her room.
"I must talk to you about another danger, a much closer one that willl effect us all very soon. " "What is this danger you are refering to?" AmariŽ waited til the door was closed. Urdon had changed the bedclothes. At least AmariŽ could sleep in her own room that night. That was a relief.
"I am talking about the Sword."
"Aelrics sword, the cursed sword that posesses him, making him angry, mean, thoughless, making him forget who he is. Making him become a danger to us, to himself, to the race of men and to you. And making his arm turn black..."
"How did.. Hey, you have been spying on me!"
"Only that one time. But that is really not the problem is it? He is changing into a man you don't recognize. He won't listen to reason. You are worried and have noone to talk to.. Talk to me, talk to us, we can help eachother and him."
Etharion was about to reply, but Valruin grabed hold of his arm and signaled very strongly to obey the man. Vaeltira had warned him that the deck would soon be swarming with men again after dinner was over and he explained this to the ohter two elves.
"I didn't know this ship was this big." said Etharion. "I just snuck up here to have a look, I thought we would have a chance to take the boat if we worked togheter, now I see that can never be done. We really are at Lord Aelrics mercy."
Roth was waiting at the end of the stairs. He struck out his arms in a mocking welcome. "Nilagerien, how lovely of you to return to us! What ever happend to your promise of never doing stuff like that without telling someone? And Etharion, the crew take great pleassure in thinking you are either dead or in great agony, how clever of you to try and show them it was all a trick!" Nilgaerien snarled at him. "Be quiet Roth!"
"I apologize," began Etharion "I would never have gone up if I had realized the danger, but I do now."
"You don't need to explain yourself to him, he is crazy." said Nilgaerien as they reached the door to the common room. Urdon made sure they all went inside, then looked around in the room. "Ahh you are all here, except.. where is the Healer and Lady Vaeltira?" "They went somewhere to talk I belive." said Arkantos. "Well, I'm sure I'll find them. I'll bring you some food later if the Lord accepts it." Then he closed the door and locked it. He ignored the objections and beatings on the door.
"Give it a rest in there, it seems you can't be left alone unguarded. I have been instructed to lock you in if you casue any trouble. You are lucky you have such a nice room, you should see where the two prisoners are, you don't want to go there, I assure you!" He was quite firm when he was following orders. He shook his his head as he went to find Vaeltira. These elves were nothing but trouble.
There was silence for a time, broken only by the creaking of seasoned timbers and the distant crash of waves upon the prow. Amarie watched patiently. At last Vaeltira spoke. "I trust you, Amarie of Rivendell, and I trust your friend Nilgaerien despite her strange ways. Lord Aragorn as well. He is a man much like Aelric although I doubt you would see that. I find I understand more about Aerlic merely by observing Lord Aragorn. Their paths have been different and soon they will either merge to one or cross each other to go in different directions. For my part I want peace and I want to share that peace with Aelric. If he takes the path alone it will lead to conflict and war. I know he is not an easy man to be with, especially for those of your kind, even without the sword he is not easy. But this is how he must be to rule these men until such time he concedes fully to Aragorn...... if he does at all. I wish I could persuade you that he is not ruthless or cruel but he is and to work with him means to accept that. His actions are born out of loyalty and love for his people; the sword antagonises the darker parts and spurs him on to higher ambition. If the sword wins then Aelric will be lost to us and to his people and we will be led to war and carnage on a grand scale, even with the Valar themselves." She paused.
"To save my people from this fate I would suggest that if we are unable to overcome the influence of the sword you should kill me, thus killing Aelric as well. I am sure Roth would not need persuading to do so."
"Vaeltira! You cannot suggest that. We will find a way to take the sword and break its hold on him."
"Even as I say it, I would take back the words. I am no hero, Amarie of Rivendell, but I am no coward and although I may entreat you to forget my offer I would say to you now that if it is the only way you must do it. I know Aelric's strength and fuelled by the evil in the sword he would be too great a match for anyone. Remember my words."
"For now Vaeltira, we should think of ways to remove the sword. You say it is less powerful while at sea but Aelric is surrounded by his loyal men here. Could we wait until we reach the island?"
"I know not. If the island is untouched by evil then there will be no dark power for it. If it is touched by the shadow then the sword will feed. There is maybe one way...... it makes me shudder to think of it for it means I must betray my Lord. But I would need the help of Urdon and possibly Drogba... I am asking them to betray their lord as well." She sighed.
"If we can help you at all My lady..."
"No! No elves must be involved. We will deal with it ourselves. Let me speak to Urdon and Drogba and see where their hearts lie. But if you do wish to help keep Roth and the two elves from the sea away from Aelric. Roth would seize any chance to kill Aelric and I am not sure about the elf with the strange speech."
"It is one of three dragons forged in the early days it is said by Aule himself when he taught his dwarves metal working skills. Thus it was created with the power of Aule within but for what purpose we know not. Morgoth stole the pendants and corrupted them as much as he could but he could not fully undo what Aule had created. I know nothing of the other two but this one was corrupted to feed on dark power. Many generations ago a dark stranger bestowed the pendant as a gift to one of my ancestors, at that time one of the most powerful Houses in Numenor. Legend has it that the dark stranger was none other than Sauron himself. The dragon became a symbol of our House and was passed from mother to daughter and each daughter was trained in its use. Thus it came into my possession but like Aelric's sword it has little to feed on here and I feel its power waning but it keeps the dreams away."
She felt someone step up beside her. "Ya promised, Nilgaerien," Roth hissed into her ear.
"Shut up, Roth," she said through clenched teeth. "I warn you that I am not in a receptive mood."
He carried on as if she had not spoken. "What did ya think ta accomplish with that stunt of yers?" When she did not respond, he grew angrier. "Listen to me! Ya keep doing stuff like that and that devil Aelric will have yer head!"
"Nice to know you care," she responded sarcastically.
His hand gripped her elbow, just hard enough to cause her to look at him. "For our mission, I do. And whether either of us like it or not, yer a vital part of that." He released her and looked mildly irritated. "So if ye'd keep yer promises, it would be easier to do what we're supposed to do."
She stared at him. "Are you proposing a truce of sorts?"
He blew out air through his mouth then gave a short nod. "Until this is over and if it'd make ya act better, yes."
She considered this then gave her own nod. "Fine. I'll keep my promise and report to you if I'm going to go somewhere." This she said with some mockery but he merely waited for her to continue. "That's my end. Your end is to not come stomping after me when I do something that irritates you. That's starting to get annoying - I liked you better when you ignored me."
Something that could be called a smile crept onto his lips. "All right - truce?"
"One more thing - don't go near Vaeltira." Anger arced his brow and his eyes darkened but so did Nil's. "Don't go into on of your rages, Roth. I mean it - I don't want you doing anything that would harm her."
He seemed about to refuse but he abruptly nodded. "Fine - unless someone is with ya, then you don't have anything ta do with Aelric."
A victory. Small one, but Nil was pleased. "Truce." Then she actually grinned.
A few feet away, Moori shook her head. "Never thought I'd see the day when those two actually got along." Dorin chuckled his agreement.
Then she hesitated a bit befor she continued, it was clear that she was weighing her word.
"If it truly is a gift from Sauron, then you should be careful. In Aelrics case the danger and damage is clear to see, but that sword was probably made by Sauron himself. Your pendant is more unsurtain since it never got complety broken and the evil may be conceled as a blessing. It may protect you and warn you from danger, but I fear it also hides you from yourself and makes you depend on it."
She barly dared to look at Vaeltira
"I do not mean to pry in your personal life, my Lady, you can tell me to let it be and I will not speak of it again, but I feel I have to ask for I do care about your well-being. It keeps the dreams away you say, does it also keep all the dreams away? There is so much sadness in your eyes, while his are proud and strong. It protects you from the bad memories but does it let you remember the good things? Your childhoods secret hideout? Your first love? Your first marriage? Your mothers touch and your childrens eyes? Is the old Vaeltira allowed to speak in your heart? Burried memories does not go away, they grow and grow, only when they are set free can they be dealt with and maybe in time be able to live with and not feared... " The last part was barly a wisper.
"You are not alone, Vaeltira. You have us to help you and once Aelric is free from the sword wraith then you will have him again, the Aelric you know, even if he is not perfect."
Vaeltira laughed unexpectedly. "Amarie of Rivendell, you cheer me. Aelric not perfect! Please do not let him hear you say that."
"M'Lady, I have to tke the Lady Amarie back to the others. I'm afraid I've had to lock them all in for their own good. But they don't like it."
"Urdon? Are these Aelric's orders?"
"Well, M'Lady, they are and they aren't, if you see what I mean. He wants them safe and out the way of the men. This seemed the only way. But they don't like it at all," he shook his head, "Not at all. Shouting and banging on the door."
"I will not be locked away again by Aelric or by you, Urdon." Amarie was no longer smiling.
"I will go with Amarie and I will stay with her and the others and you will leave the door unlocked, understand me Urdon.?"
"Yes, Lady Vaeltira, if you insist but his Lordship's not going to be happy about it." he sighed, "Ah well, his Lordship don't seem to be happy about much these days."
He led the women to the barred room, dismissed the guards, telling them to stand further along the corridor and let Amarie and Vaeltira into the room explaining to the now quiet group that the door would be unlocked but they were on their honour not to wander the ship without protection from him, Drogba or Vaeltira.
"Are you saying we're offcourse?" Aragorn asked.
Nil bit back the sharp retort that rose to her tongue and glared. There went her irrational raving. She sighed suddenly and forced her crossed arms to relax. "No, our course is fine, I think. But the Gem is moving -"
"It's what!" exclaimed several voices at once.
"I think it is, but not far! I am feeling tremors from it that did not use to be there and that is the only explanation for it. It confuses my mind and so I cannot be absolutely sure without staring at the place where I feel it."
"Are you saying you must go back on deck?" Vaeltira asked harshly, though not as harsh as it would have been had she been talking to another.
Nil winced. From Vaeltira's and Amarie's minds, she gathered Urdon had filled them in on her latest expedition. "Yes," she said, meeting Roth's eyes. "With an escort, of course."
Vaeltira's forehead formed into a tight frown but she nodded nonetheless. "Very well - to be certain. I will escort you if the rest of you will stay put according to Urdon's orders." Roth seemed to rankle a bit at this but one glance at Nil and he backed down - but only slightly.
Aragorn nodded and came to stand by the door. "We will stay." This he punctuated with a firm look at the others. Vaeltira turned to Nil, who was already edging towards the door, impatient to be on her way. With a short word to the guards about their mission, Vaeltira followed the elf on deck and allowed her to pick the spot she would best sense the Gem from. Vaeltira watched with some interest as Nil scanned the horizon for several minutes then glued her gaze to one spot. She slowly nodded to herself.
"Are we oncourse?" Vaeltira asked.
Nil turned to look at her, a strange, silvery, glassy appearance to her eyes that quickly faded as she answered. "We are, but it makes no sense...how could it move? There are - or were - no other beings on the island...Vaeltira? Are you all right?"
Vaeltira shook her head at the dizziness that passed over her. "I think...so...where did you say the island is?" Nil hadn't, but she pointed anyway. Vaeltira focused in that direction and again felt the odd sensation pass over her as she clutched her pendant close. "I feel something...but I cannot be sure at this distance..."
Nil bit her lip and looked out to sea then back at the tall woman beside her. "If used properly, the Gem can...amplify those things I sense from afar. It is difficult and takes much energy but...I can do it. If you must know this thing, I can help you though it will require..." she trailed off.
Vaeltira thought she knew where this was going and that thought almost sickened her. "You will have to transfer that range to me by...touching me." The elf maid inclined her head slowly, as if the weight of what she had just offered weighed it down; her eyes dulled with that same weight of feeling.
Vaeltira's own eyes hardened in distaste at knowing what another of Nil's touches would do. But then, she would not have offered if she did not think it meant something to Vaeltira...Vaeltira straightened her shoulders as another wave of unease passed through her from the pendant. "I must know. I feel it is of deadly importance."
Nil pondered her for a few more long moments then seemed to reach some internal desicion and held out one long-fingered hand. Vaeltira grimaced and hesitantly reached for it. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" was Nil's quiet question. Vaeltira looked up in surprise - her voice was also full of concern. And elf concerned? For her? She shook her head. This was beginning to become one crazy quest.
"I'm ready. Let's just get it over with."
"I'll be as gentle as I can." With that statement, Nil's hand closed the distance between them and latched onto Vaeltira's. Vaeltira pulled back in shock at the electric tingle that ran through their hands and up her arm, passing right up into her mind, but Nil's grip was strong and could not be broken. Strange feelings and pictures suddenly exploded and Vaeltira again panicked before Nil again spoke.
"Be calm - you're taking too much of my attention. And look towards the horizon where I showed you the island is. It will make it easier for me."
Vaeltira did as she as told - though calm was rather a difficult thing to do at the moment - and instantly, the images in her mind cleared and she felt Nil. Now that was an odd sensation - feeling another being! Was this what elves always felt or merely this strange elf? She felt a sudden strain and realized her mind's wandering thoughts were causing Nilgaerien trouble so she tried her best to keep focused. Then, there was no sea or ship around her but merely a sharp blackness and the radiating power of her pendant. Then, something...land! An island - the island? It must be! Craggy rocks, trees in full bloom, small creatures...creatures! How was there creatures? When the Gem had been brought here, nothing was living, except vegetation.
Vaeltira was confused - how did she know that? Was...oh yes, those must be Nil's thoughts. They were connected, right now. So what kind...Vaeltira's concentration seemed to make her drift closer, closer, closer...until suddenly, she was right among the beasts. And beasts they were! Ugly, evil things! Her pendant strained against her, hungering for those beasts...and something else. It was hungering after larger prey...where? She turned and saw them. Orcs! Hundreds of them...her presence calling to their cackling minds and...extreme pain blossomed and she heard a scream. Hers?
Suddenly the ship's beams were again around her and the pounding of waves against the hull. And she was screaming! Vaeltira clamped her mouth shut and felt a hand being wrenched out of hers. Instantly the pain subsided, though a horrible ache filled her entire body and her mind felt like someone had drilled a sword into it. "Vaeltira!" the gasp containing her name brought her fully back to herself and she saw a worried Nil bending over her. A Nil with odd looking eyes.
"Yes...yes..I'm...I'm fine. Did you...see?"
Nilgaerien nodded and opened her mouth but before anything could come out, three men grabbed her. Her head swung around in sudden panic and all three let go, pushing her away, and subsequently into each other, in their rush to get her emotions out of their minds. Vaeltira tried to stand on shaky legs but failed and on her way back down, strong hands caught her. She turned to see Drogba lifting and supporting her, then directing her away from Nilgaerien and the larger group of men around her.
"Wait!" Vaeltira said weakly. "You can't...she wasn't doing anything..."
"There now, milady," Drogba said soothingly. "I'm taking you down to that healer to see what she did to you. Leave her out of your thoughts."
Vaeltira would have responded but she was drained and found herself unable to say anything else. She summoned enough energy to glance behind them and see an even wearier Nilgaerien dropping to the deck at the feet of the men, unable to defend herself. A part of her mind that must have still been connected to the elf until that moment closed down and Vaeltira felt a little stronger. "Drogba, listen to me...she didn't do anything to harm me!"
"I have several witnessess, my Lady. I'm sorry, but they most certainly won't allow me to take her back down to the others now."
"But you can't leave her with them! Look at her!"
Drogba turned his head with Vaeltira and both watched as Nil became completely still. Two men disgustedly picked her up. She hung like a limp doll and Vaeltira suddenly noticed that her skin was deathly white. Then she saw a dagger beneath the spot Nil had been lying. Vaeltira caught her breath. What if...the dagger had affected her last time...what if it had worked opposite and her pendant had wrought harm through that dagger into Nil? She didn't know how close to her skin the elf wore the dagger but there was no other explanation that she could think of.
"Drogba...I'm feeling better by the minute but..." her hand brushed the pendant. "I think, whether the men like it or not...we'll need Amarie to see to Nil immediately."
Roth shouted something. His gaze fixed on the dagger. Before the others could hold him still he ran towards Vaeltira shouting. "You witch! You killed her! You killed her!" He reached her before Aelric and Aragorn could and snatched the dagger from her. His voice changed, "You stole it from us and you killed her with it." It ws the voice they heard before from Roth, when the old man's spirit had surfaced briefly. "She stole it from us, from you! And she killed your friend. The witch should die by it also." The voice was low and weak, both comforting and persuading. Amarie was running towards Nilgaerien when Aelric, catching up to her, held her arm. "Stay back, elfmaid" She pulled away from him, and moved again towards Nilgaerien, her eyes watching Roth as he stood, dagger in hand. Vaeltira moved backwards, towards Aelric and Aragorn. Roth stood still, now seeing nothing except the dagger.
A second before he moved, Amarie knew what was in his mind. "Roth! No!" she screamed and flung herself between Roth and Vaeltira. The dagger, aimed at Vaeltira's heart embedded in Amarie's back and she fell still screaming into a frenzied fit upon the deck. Roth's shoulders sagged and he dropped to his knees as the men held back by Drogba swarmed around him, dragging him unresisting down below. As they passed Aelric kicked out at Roth's head with his booted foot, blood trickled from Roth's mouth but still he said nothing.
Vaeltira knelt beside Amarie. She was still now but still breathing. The dagger was embedded to its hilt near her shoulder blade and could not easily be withdrawn. From what Roth said the dagger had been his. Had Nilgaerien taken it from him and for what purpose? With both Amarie and Nilgaerien hurt there was no one to heal them. She felt tears running down her cheeks; she had only cried once before for an elf but this time she cried for her friends.
Aragorn and Aelric reached the stricken elves, Aragorn stopped Roland from following Roth. "This he had brought upon himself and must endure whatever happens. We have others to attend to now." He turned to Mori, "Fetch Amarie's bag of herbs for me. We must do whatever we can."
To Aelric he said, "The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, it is said and the words are as true now as they were then."
With that he sat beside Amarie and touched the dagger's hilt gently.
Arkantos looked at the two elf maidens, it was all so surreal, how could this be? Aragron continued to give orders
"Arkantos, carry Nilgaerien to the healing room and make sure things are ready. Roland, Mori, Dorin, move AmariŽ onto the stretcher, as gentle as you can and carry her down to the healingroom." He himself roamed through her bag, some of the herbs were familiar and could be used, some he didn't know.
AmariŽ let out a cry of pain as they moved her. Arkantos heard it as he was carrying the dead white Nilgaerien below deck. His heart acked at the sound and Nilgaeriens still face. Why the maidens? Why them? Why the one he loved? He lay Nilgaerien gently down on one of them beds. He heard the dwarves comming with the stretcher and hurried to clear one of the tables used for operating.
Valruin and Etharion had stayed below decks, but when Moori came running and didn't have time to say anything, they had to come see what the fuss was about. They came just in time to see AmariŽ being carried into the room with a knife in her back. They gasped. What a cowardly act!
"Not physically, Aelric. But the madness in his eyes, the hate.... "
Roland voiced the question others would not. "Did you attack Nilgaerien?"
"No! I would not. But he saw me with the blade and he thought I had killed her, he thought I had stolen the blade from him when it was she who had taken it."
Vaeltira recounted the joining and the visions of the island and Nilgaerien's collapse. "We were working together but I had no idea she had a dagger on her. It is likely the blade reacted to her because she was linked to me and the pendant. "
"That cursed dragon.." Roland began but Vaeltira halted him with a look.
"That cursed dragon was the key to seeing beyond our sight at what awaits us on the island. Nilgaerien thought to use it and had it not been for the d...d...dagger she w..w..w..would... and if Amarie.... she sh..shouldn't have done that... " her voice failed and she leant against Aelric in silence, her eyes shut tight against the threatened tears.
Roland followed a few steps behind. He glanced over where Drogba had commanded some men to swab the blood away. So many times had AmariŽ taken care of his bruises and twisted ancles caused by his amazing clumsyness. He wanted to help help her, but as he nearly fell down the stairs he figured she was better of if he stayed outside in the hall. Aelric lead Vaeltira towards their chamber.
"You value their friendship." It was a simple statement.
"Yes, Aelric I do. They have both called me 'friend' and they mean it. I think it amazes them as well as it does me that elves and one such as I could be friends. They are not what I expected."
"They are not what I expected either, wife. I have never met an elf I wasn't trying to kill before and yet to sit and talk with them.... I wonder at the stories we were told, the history of our races."
"Perhaps this is our chance to find the truth for ourselves. You should try to get along with them, Aelric, you will learn much if you just listen. Stop ordering everyone about as though they were your serfs."
"Old habits, my dear wife, die hard and it is with some enjoyment that I see people still fear me." He laughed, "Fear not, I shall endeavour to be charming."
"And that you can do very well, My Lord."
"Still, enough, I have duties to attend. That dark half breed for a start." He moved towards the door but Vaeltira stopped him, "Please Aelric, do nothing you will regret. Remember he has friends."
"I will question him, that is all. Stay here and rest. I will be back later." He left, closing the door behind him, his footsteps receding as Vaeltira paced the room.
Taking Drogba with him, Aelric marched to the cell where Roth had been thrown by the guards, the door was opened for him and the two men stepped into the small, bare cell. Roth was sitting, his back against a wall, his head held high, eyes staring at nothing. He muttered, shaking his head. Occasionally he twitched and whimpered.
Aelric stood beside him looking down. "Why did you attack my wife?" Roth ignored the question, his mumbling continuing as though Aelric was not there.
The question was repeated and again ignored. Taking hold of Roth's hair Aelric twisted his head round until Roth was looking at him. "Why did you attack my wife?" he asked again, his voice low and measured. Roth giggled hysterically.
At a sign from Aelric two guards took hold of Roth's arms and hauled him to his feet. His face was now on a level with Aelric's but his gaze still wandered. Aelric took Roth's face in his hand squeezing it until his mouth puckered and he flinched. "You will tell me now." The words were threatening and his voice barely concealed menace.
Roth tried to shake his head, he gabbled unintelligibly. Aelric stepped back and lashed his hand across Roth's face. Again and again he repeated it but Roth did not respond.
"If I may make an observation, My Lord, the half breed appears quite mad and unable to communicate or understand. Questioning him now may be a waste of time. I would suggest we wait."
"Very well, Drogba. Although I am tempted to smash him to a pulp anyway. When he recovers sufficiently let me know. I have unfinished business with him."
Vaeltira chose that moment to look in and see how the wounded were faring. Her eyes widened at the sight of both strong men holding down the twisting body of the elf maid. "What is happening to her?" she demanded of a speechless Dorin.
"She...uh...we don't know...Aragorn reached for her..."
Vaeltira frowned as a though hit her then caught a man passing by. "Where is Lord Aelric?"
"Below with that cursed Roth."
Vaeltira stared at him then at Nilgaerien. Aelric was interrogating Roth now. Could it be that even after Amarie's healing - which had been only partially explained to her - something was still connecting the two? Or was it mere coincidence? That spirit, not Roth, could be torturing Nilgaerien as she was the only thing it could grip at the moment.
Amarie cried out weakly and shifted the shoulder beneath Arkantos' firm hand, though it was clear she was still unconscious.
Vaeltira approached Aragorn, "Lord Strider, I have no skill at healing and it is obvious that Amarie of Rivendell cannot heal her own wounds but I have a suggestion." She touched the pendant. "If my pendant were placed on Amarie, her spirit may be able to work through it. The power is there for her to use." She saw the look of concern in Aragorn's eyes. "The dark power is merely its source, fear not, it will not harm her. But it may help. I fear the pendant cannot help Nilgaerian; she must wait for Amarie's healing."
Aragorn considered the offer. The pendant was certainly a stronger force than the woman who wore it. Her use of it was limited but who knew what power was in it and what that power could do to the stricken Amarie. Still, Amarie was weakening rapidly, his healing skills had eased her pain slightly but he could not stop whatever elven magic had seeped into her body unwanted and uncalled for?
He took the pendant from Vaeltira and placed it in Amarie's hand. "Watch over her while I tend to Nilgaerian" and with a single carress of Amarie's hair he turned from the beautiful elf maid he had known all his life, sorrow for her in his eyes, and leant over the other maid who had come to mean so much to him, the fragile Nilgaerien, so vital to this Quest yet so tortured.
Outside, the two watching elves glared at each other. How could Aragorn trust that woman?
Etharion rushed forward his hand reaching out to stop Vaeltira but Arkantos stopped him saying quietly, "Amarie trusts her. Let her be. She would not harm our friend, of that I am sure."
Vaeltira stood, caught between the brooch and the pendant, a circle of power joining her with Amarie. The pain she felt from Amarie hurt but at the same time the warmth of the pendants power seem to distance it. She felt she had drunk several flagons of fine wine and her head spun. She gripped Amarie tighter. Aragorn was watching. She was unable to speak but she smiled and Aragorn relaxed moving closer but careful not to touch either of the women.
Valruin, unseen by anyone, slipped past to where Nilgaerien lay. He stroked her head. "My dear friend, I cannot lose you once more. You are all I have left."
Nilgaerian opened her eyes and stared at Valruin. "He's gone," she whispered, "For now." Closing her eyes again she sank into a deep sleep.
"Wise words Arkantos. And I shall heed them. But heed mine, I have seen the way you look at her. Remember she intends to go the Undying Lands and you will lose her for ever. Be sure you know what you ask of her."
With those quiet words she left Arkantos with Amarie and made her way back to her room to rest. Valruin remained beside Nilgaerien, his hand holding hers. Etharion stood outside pondering the strange things happening here.
Below Roth started to regain consciousness....
"You fool! We have lost her now. You should not interfere."
"She was, she's ma friend. You hurt her."
"No, it was not I, it was that Mordor Witch."
"Ya made me take the dagger, ya made sure she saw I had it. You knew...."
"Knew what? That the silly elf would take it from you? How would I know that?"
"Ya did, ya planned it. Leave her alone."
"No! She will help us. For your sake she will help us." His voice became a whiny mimicry "My dear friend Roth....... oh my dear, sweet Roth...... Ha! She cares not for you. She does not know you, does she? She does not know what you have become."
"I am Roth"
"No, *WE* are Roth. I will be with you always."
"No! Ya said ya would leave."
"How can I? I am trapped here in your mind amid all this angst and fear, anger and madness. Do you think I wish to stay here. Find a way to free me and I will gladly leave you, if that is what you truly want. Do you?"
"Yes! More than anything I want ta be free from this."
"More than the 'feelings' you have for this elf?"
"Say it Roth. Say yes. You would betray her gladly if it gained you your freedom."
"No, I would never betray her.... she is tha only thing I cling to....... she...she..."
"She what? She controls you? Takes care of the madness for you? Pah! She uses you, a toy, a plaything 'oooh look at my pet. Yes, he's mad but he's mine'. Betray her before she betrays you and then we can take care of the Witch."
"I don't know.. Ya made me attack her, Ya made me stab Amarie. I don't want to.... I don't know!"
"But I do. I know this. I know how to help us both but" his voice became caressing and peruasive, "You must trust me. Trust me like you used to. Did I ever fail you then?"
"No, but ya said things... ya made me do things..."
"I never forced you to do anything. Remember how you survived. Without me you would have been orc food within a year. I saved you. Trust me, Roth, trust your old friend."
Roth's voice was weak. "Promise me she won't be hurt."
"Of course she won't be hurt except maybe her pride. But she is an elf. Too much pride in elves. It won't harm her, I promise."
Roth slumped forward, his eyes closed and was silent.
Wait, something was intruding...a hand on her head. No - not yet! Who knew when she could again relax as she was now? Vaguely, she tried to fight the sensation of rising out of the dreams and memories, but all too soon she was opening her eyes to find a smiling Valruin looking down at her.
"Thought you'd never come back," he said. She calmly stared at him. "Aragorn was merely waiting, though. Can't fool the healer, apparently." Her eyes shifted as Aragorn's warm eyes appeared over the elf's shoulder. He studied her face and even gently touched his fingertips to her forehead then nodded satisfaction.
"She'll be fine now."
Those simple words caused relief to flood Valruin's face. "We've been worried. It took Arag-...um...Strider...several hours just to cleanse your mind. Then you were out for almost two days."
She blinked slowly, trying to register his words. "Two days? I was asleep for two days?"
Aragorn took over. "You were. After all your latest adventures, I'm sure your body was taking everything it could get." A wry smile curved one side of his mouth. "How do you feel?"
Nil took a quick, mental evaluation of herself. "Fine...except for a pressure in the back of my mind. Can I sit up?"
Aragorn and Valruin carefully propped her up, two pillows supporting her. She was in a tiny room that held the bed she was in - little more than a cot - and a bedside table with barely enough floorspace to move around the two.
"I felt that you needed your own space for your mind to heal properly and this was all Aelric had," Aragorn informed her.
Valruin shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, Nil...what happened...with Roth?" She knew instantly what he was referring to and knew her mind had probably screamed out information in her dazed state at the time.
"Nothing I particularly want to talk about." This they accepted and as silence filled the room, Nil ran all she could remember through her mind and carefully eyed Aragorn, then Valruin. They were trying their best not to show it, but weary lines were drawn all over their faces. "What is wrong?"
Aragorn eased himself onto the edge of the bed. "After you fell unconscious on deck, there was a little scuffle between Roth and Vaeltira. Amarie was injured badly..."
Nil sat curled up on the bed, still trying to get it all through her head. Aragorn had filled her in on all that had happened, reassuring her that Amarie, too, was on the road to recovery, but at a much slower rate than Nil. She had insisted on hour-to-hour reports on her good friend then settled down for a meal for her empty stomach. Sensing her need for time alone, Araogrn and Valruin had both left her after she had finished, which had been a full two hours ago, but she still could not settle herself. Amarie's mind felt distant, hard to reach....but that didn't bother Nil so much as the dark storm she felt when she reached for Roth. Her skin prickled everytime she felt it and the pressure in her head increased - pressure, she was sure, placed there from the horrible fight she had had with that spirit invading Roth. She shivered now, thinking about it.
The door opened and Roland hesitantly poked his head in. She smiled her welcome and he slid his body inside. "Didn't want to knock and wake you if you were sleeping," he told her. "I came to tell you..." he took another step towards the bed but in the close quarters, his foot found one leg of the bed and he nearly fell flat on his face. She hid a smile as he hurriedly picked himself up, his face a tell-tale red. "I...um...I came to tell you that...um...that Amarie is still the same. Aragorn said you wanted a report?"
He looked so worried at his clumsiness that Nil took pity on him. No doubt Aragorn had also told him of her still extra-fragile mind and knowing her reactions of before when he had fallne in her presence...she shook her head. "Roland - don't worry. You're not affecting me."
He seemed to brighten and a little of the red receded. "I'm not?" he asked hopefully.
A rare laugh came out of her mouth. "No, you're not. I feel stronger with every hour that goes by. Thank you for letting me know of Amarie."
He nodded, grinning like a boy, and began to back out of the room. "Oh, um, Roland? May I ask a favor?"
He turned back eagerly. "Anything." He seemed to hesitate. "Uh...well, anything that is okay with Aragorn...and Aelric, of course."
"Don't worry, I'm sure they'll be fine with this. I've neglected poor Gondolin in the past few days and he must be well-near mad. The stables aren't far and..." She hated asking for this, but already the tiny room was closing in on her and she was still far too weak to get out by herself. "And I wondered if you would be willing to carry me to his stall."
Roland stared at her for a moment then turned red again. "I'd be glad to...but...um...aren't you afraid I'd...well, drop you or something?"
Her blue eyes sparkled at him. "I trust you as far as the stabling, I think. Plus, I'm sure we most definitely require an escort about the ship now. Urdon won't let you drop me."
Roland grinned and hurried out the door. A few minutes later, he returned with Urdon, which surprised Nilgaerien. After all that had transpired, she was only joking about him accompanying them. She didn't think he'd want to. But as soon as he saw her, a small smile crossed his lips and Nil knew that Vaeltira must have talked to him.
Roland scooped her off the bed and Urdon grabbed a pillow and blanket. "Oh, no, Urdon, I don't want - " One look from him buried her protests and away they went out the door and a few paces to the horses. Nil took deep breaths of the fresh air then almost chuckled to herself. Two days shut up - and most of that unconscious! - and one would have thought she had been shut up for months. Most of that came from her years of solitary wandering, however.
Gondolin, relieved from his blindfold some time ago, whinnied in excitement upon seeing her. Urdon laid the blanket on the hay scattered near the big horse and Roland carefully stooped and set her upon it, the pillow at her back. Gondolin was nudging her with his nose almost before she was settled. She wrapped her hands about his face then looked gratefully at Urdon.
"Thank you...and not just for this." He seemed a bit surprised but a little more warmth flowed into his eyes at the comment as he nodded.
They came and sat down on each side of her, removed boots and socks to let their feet play in the water. Just like old times. Almost.
"How did you know we would come?"
AmariŽ smiled. "I woke up in the forrest of my childhood, of course I would find you here."
Elladan smiled. "Those were good days, dear friend, but we don't belong here now."
"We hear father calling for us" continued Elrohir. "But we can not find the way."
"The other path leads away from here, but we have no wish to leave."
"I am so glad you are still here. We are working hard and have travelled far away to help you." "It can't be going so well when you are here with us." Elladan said sadly. "Are you lost as well?"
"I was for a while, but my path back has opened. I haven't finished what I came to do. You need me and they need me. We can help you if you don't give up."
"We will stay as long as we can, we don't want to leave our father and sister like this.."
Amarie stood up. "I am ready to go now. I feel better knowing you two are safe and well, despite everything."
The twins got up and gave her a hug. Elladan kissed her forehead. "Thank you. We'll meet again, hopefully somewhere different from here. Be well."
Arkantos sat by AmariŽs bed holding her pale, still hand. She was still in the healing room, they didn't want to move her much. But as the wound was healing they had gently turned her around so she could sleep more comfortable on her back. He couldn't help staring at her. She looked so peaceful, so beautiful. He didn't have to hide his feelings. Noone was there to see them anyway. He thought about what Vaeltira had said. Though Nilgaerien thought the ide of him and AmariŽ was great, Vaeltira had said what really had held him back all this time. How could he ask so much of her? She was a gift to her people, such powers could only come form the Valar. How could he take her away from her people and family? But if he didn't, how could he let her go?How could he live without her? His felt a knot in his stomach tighten at the thought. She had never left his mind, not even when he was far away from Rivendell.
Then he suddenly felt a warm flow from AmariŽs hand over in his. He awoke from his thoughts and dropped her hand like it had burned him and stared at her face again to see if she had woken up, but she looked the same, but it was a sure sign that she was getting better. What was he doing? Here she lies fighting fo her life and instead of giving her his support, here he is wallowing in selfpity. And she had tried to heal his hurt.. Hopefully she didn't sense what caused the pain, she had enough on her mind already.
He leaned back in the chair. Great, now he was mad at himself, that wasn't helping AmariŽ either. Why did he have to be so hopeless?
"My Lady," Arkantos began "She is still sleeping deeply but I feel she is slowly coming back to us." He was suddenly embarrassed at Vaeltira seeing him here, longing for Amarie visible in his eyes. "Someone should be with her when she wakes.... I don't want to leave her alone."
"May I stay awhile?"
"Of course, My Lady." He moved away, offering her his chair. "I didn't thank you for what you did for Amarie, I doubted your intentions and I apologise."
She looked at him, her dark blue eyes fathomless. After a moment she spoke, "Amarie of Rivendell risked her life for me and I don't know why. She is becoming my friend and to walk these paths with a friend is better than to be alone."
"You are not alone, you have Lord Aelric."
Vaeltira laughed softly. "This is true. But as you know, Lord Aelric is not always aware of his friends. It is good to have more."
Arkantos was uncomfortable talking about Aelric and uncomfortable at what Vaeltira might see of his feelings for Amarie. "Would you prefer I left you for a while?"
"I think I would like that Arkantos. Just for a while. You could do with some food and maybe some sleep."
"Oh no, I couldn't sleep, not while she is... not while Amarie.... not yet."
"I understand but go and eat. She will be safe until you return." There was that disarming smile of hers again.
Alone with Amarie, Vaeltira wondered how Arkantos could sit her for so long and not be uncomfortable. The chair was hard and straight backed. She watched him leave, his glance back at Amarie said more than he could about his feelings. Vaeltira sighed. No good would come of it[
On the bed, Amarie sighed softly in her sleep. Quietly Vaeltira began to sing, something she hadn't done for a long time. The song had been long forgotten and she struggled to remember the words.
"To the Pillar of the Heavens I will go
Where silence keeps grace
And Manwe's Eagles fly
There to rest awhile and look
Beyond the tombs of our Kings"
She hesitated, trying to recall the words then another voice took up the song
"To Eldanna, beautiful haven, I look
For news of Eressea
Wait for me, my love, beneath
The Yavvanamire trees
And I will come to you...."
"You look surprised, My Lady. Did you think I, of all people, would forget the songs of Numenor. It is good to hear you sing again and I wish I could linger here but I have much to do. A landing party is to go to the island within the hour. " Aelric glanced at the sleeping Amarie. "I see she has not yet woken." He sighed. "I must go, My Lady." He kissed the palm of her hand gently and bowed. As he left she could hear him whistling the tune from Numenor.
"That was Lord Aelric you heard, Amarie. One of the songs from Numenor of old."
"Sing it for me again."
Vaeltira sang, softly, her eyes misted by tears of joy and remembrance for precious things forgotten.
Aelric was impatient for the party to be off. Relucantly he had agreed with Drogba that he should remain aboard ship until the party had reported back but Captain Izzariend was an able commander and Aelric trusted him to carry out his orders.
Eventually the craft was lowered and the oarsmen took up their familiar chanting as they drew away from the larger vessel. Aelric watched threw a spyglass until the boat became a small speck upon the distant shore. Now all they could do was wait.
"Drogba, find the Lady Nilgearien and if she is well enough 'request' that she join me here." He frowned, "And ask my wife to join us." He did not relish the thought of Vaeltira and Nilgaerien in close contact again but he needed as much information as possible and, unfortunately, this was the only way.
"Lady...Nilgaerien - Lord Aelric requests that if you meet him on deck, if you are well enough."
A tiny, amused smile curved the corners of her lips. "And were those his exact words, Drogba?"
He was puzzled. "Uh...yes, they were." What was this elf-maid up to now? At least she had Urdon keeping track of her this time.
The smile turned itself into a grin and she looked at Roland. "Well, in that case, I want to make every effort to honor his request. If you wouldn't mind, Roland..." The big man instantly bent, scooping her up and turned towards Drogba.
Urdon was shaking his head. "Yer not planning to stand up there, are you?"
"Of course I am. You wouldn't want every man up there to think less of elves because I am coddled and doted on? I'll be fine."
Urdon continued shaking his head as he made his way back to her room with the pillow and blanket mumbling something about Aragorn "not likin' this one bit." Roland followed Drogba until they came into the sunlight, then Nil shifted restlessly in his arms. "Right here, Roland. Put me down."
"But Aelric is clear across - "
"I don't care. Put me down. You can hold onto my arm and if I collapse, you'll be able to catch me."
Drogba shook his head as Roland reluctantly complied. The elf maid was not supposed to be up and by the looks of her forst wobbly steps, should in no way be going to his master. But it wasn't his business and he didn't take too kindly to the elf after the incident on deck a couple days ago anyway, though Vaeltira had tried to vouch for her. Nil made her slow way to where Aelric and Vaeltira stood (Drogba had summoned his lady first). By the time they made it all the way, a few tiny beads of sweat were resting on her forehead and he fingers were white from her grip on Roland's arm. As soon as Aelric turned, however, she brushed the wetness away and released Roland's arm.
"You wanted to see me, Lord Aelric?"
He stared at her, marking the signs of fatigue she was doing her best to hide and nodded, hiding an amused smile. These elves! Before he could say anything, Vaeltira jumped in. "Nil! What are you doing? Drogba, you can see she's not well enough to be up!"
The man shrugged helplessly. "She insisted."
Vaeltira glared but Aelric touched her arm. "If the elf maid deems herself well enough to be up, let her be."
Nil gave a half grin, full of cockiness, and rested a hip on the side of the ship, for all purposes looking well rested and confident. But Aelric saw her full weight on that one hip and the paleness of her skin, white even for an elf. Still, it was her choice to wear herself out. "I need you to sense something for me..."
"I need to know if you still sense the Gem, those...beasts or whatever you called them. And if you could somehow attune yourself to my men."
She studied him carefully. Still sense the Gem? It was the first thing she had felt when she awoke and its presence in her mind was like an incredible force that insisted on edging deeper into her brain with every passing minute. Not fully satisfied with her persusal, she turned towards the island...how beautiful it was! This harbor had always been her favorite, green and cool...though it had never had that evil taint to it.
A frown creased her forhead and darkened her eyes. What was that? Reaching a hand to Roland for any support she might need, she closed her eyes and studied the currents around her. The beasts! They had tarnished the entire island with their presence! Her teeth gritted but she shoved that thought away fro the moment and the Gem's hold on her mind strenghthened and guided her. There were Aelric's men, not much more than a blot on the horizon to her at this moment...there! There was a beast...ah, it was running from the sounds of the men forging towards it. She let it pass out of ehr mind and continued searching, trying to find the reason the Gem was pressing so hard on her mind.
Suddenly, she made a sound that could not quite be called a snarl. Roland's grip on her tightened but she ignored him. The Gem was no longer in its hiding place! Far from it, actually. Her guardianship blossomed like fire inside of her, the long-dead feelings of trust and protection bursting from their hiding places.
Far away she heard a voice. Valruin's, she thought distractedly. "No! Don't touch her! Roland, let go! It's coming back to her!"
"Coming back to what?" an irritated voice demanded but she could give more no more thought to them. The Gem was burning bright in her mind, in her soul, and her only thought was to get to it and save it from whatever darkness surrounded it, keeping it in danger. That sudden flare subsided and as it did, the Gem's power allowed her to survery the island quickly before she was drained and coming back to the ship, where she could sense everyone for a very brief moment, from Vaeltira close beside her to Roth down in his cell...and the spirit's sudden interest when it felt her flare.
Opening her eyes, she was amazed to find herself standing and standing on two strong legs, as if nothing had ever happened between her and Vaeltira. Aelric was scowling darkly, along with Drogba. Vaeltira, sandwiched between the two, was holding her pendant and staring at Nil - apparently, it must have allowed her a glimpse of what Nil saw. To Nil's left were Roland and Valruin, the latter grinning like an idiot.
"You did it, didn't you?" he asked excitedly.
"She did what - and no more excuses!" Aelric said irritably.
"Your eyes are different..." Roland said.
Nil looked a tthe island and felt the buzzing in her mind. "I connected again with the Gem, as I once did when I was young. Much more powerfully this time, as I am now the only guardian instead of partial."
"I knew it, I knew it!" Valruin shouted. "I knew that look!"
"Hush, elf, or I'll make you," Aelric threatened. "What do you mean, you connected?"
Nil shrugged. "That's just what it's called. I don't know what it is - perhaps the power in the Gem. It enforces my mind's power, helps me see farther...and more importantly, let's me know what condition the Gem is in and where it is." She looked down at her body, the limbs strong and her skin its natural color. "And I think its power healed me somehow. Or triggered any sort of healing in me."
A very small tremor came to her and she looked up in time to see a very hungry look pass through Aelric's eyes before he concealed it and his hand grip his sword's hilt. Nil's mouth tightened in confused wariness and her eyes darkened. "Anything else you need, Lord Aelric?" she asked, trying to keep that unknown dread from leaking into her voice.
What she couldn't quite remeber was what had happened after she fell to the ground. The last few seconds vere crystal clear though and seemd to have lasted a small eternity, she felt the dagger slowly cut through her skin and flesh and scrape against bone. And Vaeltiras eyes as they met hers, filled with disbeliefe and shock. AmariŽ hand was white from grasping the bed covers. Being stabbed in the back by a friend was not a pleasent memory, even if he wasn't aiming for her.
After that there were just bits of conversations and the feel of people being present. And Vaeltira and the pendant. And the brooch, it must help to focus her thought and mind in some way. Useful thing that pendant, unless you weren't wearing any elven weapons while it is being used. She remebered Nilgaereins dead white body and she was deeply worried about her. Hopefully someone would come soon so she could ask. She sighed and closed her eyes returning to the blur of voices and feelings she had picked up. Arkanto' presens seemed to be constant. The dear man. And Aragorn running back and forth. But there were so many things that didn't add up. She felt something being hidden form her, a feeling of something burried and covered up, she didn't understand it and it made her feel uneasy.
Suddenly she felt Nilgaeriens mind sweap over her. She felt strong, stronger than ever. AmariŽ opened her eyes and turned her head in the direction she thought it had come from, almost like when you are listening for the source of a weak sound. But it was gone. Maybe Nilgaereins mind had taught AmariŽs mind some new tricks when they were connected, or maybe some of her overload of sensitivity had leaked over to her. Befor the quest, AmariŽ would barly have noticed a Nilgaereins mind. Now she had felt another power adding to Nilgaeriens own strenght.
AmariŽ felt a sense of pride.This was the Nilgaerien that was hiding inside the tortured girl who had joined them in Lothlorien, and she, AmariŽ had helped her. She had been right about her being of more help here searching for the gem than sitting at home holding the twins hands. It was good to feel useful. She layed back on the pillow with a content smile on her face, though an occational sting of pain made her face frown and her shoulders twitch.
"How can you laugh about that man. He is the beast here. I have seen what he does, he beat me and Ea knows what he has done to Roth."
"Yes, his actions are harsh and often cruel but not without reason. He knew you could take such a beating and he had me close by to heal you. Do not mistake my feelings here, I hated every minute of that and I hate him for putting you through that pain but it was to show his men that he was in command. With Roth it is more personal. This was not the first time that Roth has attacked Vaeltira. I know some of the history and she is not at fault. It is his madness we should blame or whatever caused the madness. Aelric controls by fear and strength yet he has so much more than that if only he would accept the world as it is and use those other abilities. The world will not bend to Lord Aelric's will, no matter how strong his spirit."
Etharion thought for a moment. "And his wife, Vaeltira? Is she an evil witch like Roth says or what? I saw her tending you. I see how Strider and Arkantos talk to her respectfully. Yet she is his wife. Is she not a monster?"
"No, she is not. She is becoming what she should be, what has been held from her all her life. Trust me, she is no monster, she is my friend."
"Etharion, I feel absolutely awful for not telling you this sooner, but something always came up and .. well the last couple of days I've been busy bleeding and dying." She glanced over her shoulder, but couldn't see much naturally then leaned over towards Etharion as best as she could and he leanded towards her, slightly worried about what she had to say.
"You are not in any way sick, weakend or dying. You are strong as a balrog and as fit as an elf can be."
Etharion leaned back and laughed a short laughter. "I was wondering about that, I have been feeling fine, but I was nervous about asking. You might very well know something I did not."
"I am sorry, I never ment to worry you or tell you lies. What I said in there was in a desperate hope that the men would think the beating was worse that it was, and maybe Aelric would let you go sooner."
He took her hand. "There was nothing more you could do to help me. It helped a lot hear I was not alone. It is over now"
She gave his hand a squeeze and smiled. "Well it doesn't look like I am going anywere in a hurry, what more do you want to ask?"
"Ok then, Nilgaerien and the Gem?"
"Ahhh... Good choise. Do you want the long story or the really long story?"
"I think I'll take the long story, but befor I wear you out with my endless list of questions, have you had anything to eat yet?"
AmariŽ shook her head an suddenly realized she was hungry. "They think I am still unconscious and that Vaeltira is here, but she was called away not long after she came."
Etharion rose from the chair. "I will get us some food then and allert any of your friends I see on my way. They would want to know you are awake! I will be back soon."
She rested her head back on the pillow. "Nice man that Etharion." she thought.
"yes, yes... good very good." he waved Drogba away distractedly. Then to himself he muttered in the dark tongue, "Soon the trap will be sprung, We have the elf-maid as bloodhound, the half-elf Roth as bait - and then the Shadow of Thuringwethil will be reunited with her children and the youthful days and noble deeds of Elessar will be forever undone." He snarled and momentarily a blood-red gleam came to his grey-blue eyes. Blinded with this surging power that siezed his entire frame, he felt resonant pulses of dark energy pounding maddeningly at his temples forcing his lifesblood to course through his system at an unimaginable rate, his conscious mind fighting desperately to maintain control. But to no avail.
Drogba turned instinctively to see his master amble toward the ship's prow moving like a drunk, then all of a sudden his hand clasped against his forehead he uttered a curse, and fell. "MAN OVERBOARD, ALL HANDS, MAN OVERBOARD!" went up the cry. In despair, Drogba swiftly strode to spot where his Lord had been and looked directly down to the crashing waves and an intemperate sea.
"It's no use, Sir" Drogba heard the words for the hundreth time but still he insisted they search. When finally the light gave way to night he called the men back.
Vaeltira stood, still and pale as a marble statue, watching the waves weave about the ship. She knew Aelric was alive. Nilgaerien knew it too, as did Aragorn and the rest of the group. The fact that she still drew breath proved it. Despite requests from Urdon to go below and keep warm Vaeltira remained where she was. Nilgaerien stood by her side and they had been joined by Aragorn, and Arkantos. Dorin, Moori, Roland. and Valruin had joined Amarie and Etharion below.
As the darkness crept towards them and the island was swallowed in its velvet cloak, Nilgaerien gasped.
"You felt it as well," Vaeltira's eyes were wide in unbelief. "What is it?"
"I do not know, I cannot see clearly. It is too quick. They are too quick."
Aragorn quietly enquired as to what was too quick. "I am not sure" Nilgaerien's forehead wrinkled as she concentrated, "I see something moving quickly but it is as though it has no substance. It smells of evil."
"And you, lady Vaeltira, what do you sense?"
"A great source of dark power, Lord Strider. Something other than orcs. Other than that I cannot say."
On the island, in the dark shadows close to the water's edge something crawled.
As the dark mantle of night drew itself across the island, orcs ventured out from their pits and lairs. Even the females came out into the open, forsaking the lairs. They were savage and undisciplined, banding together for safety and to hunt for food. Tribes fought to protect their territory, anything was prey to them especially Brethes, the vicious creatures that scuttled over the island.
A small party of orcs made its way northwards across a valley. Brethes favoured this part of the island for its lush greenery as well as enough small slugs and rodents to satisfy their hunger. But hunting here was not easy for the orcs. This was the land of shadow and a full belly was only gained at a price.
The orcs closed in on a group of brethes foraging in the undergrowth. The brethes were fairly easy to hunt with wooden clubs , bows and spears, the only weapons the orcs were capable of making. Something startled them scattering them in all directions. The orcs, angry at their prey escaping, stamped and snarled, slapping each other as if to lay blame. Suddenly their noise cease, only their harsh breathing could be heard. A dark shadow passed overhead, black against the black of night. The orcs shivered, rooted to the ground in fear.
The men, commanded by Captain Izzariend, set camp for the night. Orcs would be abroad so sentries and guards were posted. In the distance screams of some wild beast could be heard. "Orcs" commented one soldier. "Them's not orc screams," his companion sniggered. "well, sounds like orc to me." And he wrapped his thick cloak about him against the sudden cold. The line of tree tops to their right was barely discernable against the night sky yet they could see what appeared to be a vast shadow balanced on the tree canopy. The soldier who had first spoken dropped his voice to a whisper. "Gervien, what is it?" As they watched the shadow gathered itself together and lifted into the air. Within seconds it had gone. "I'd better report this to the Captain, Gervien, you stay here and keep watch." He moved swiftly away back to the main camp. "Captain," he began but his words were silenced by a bloodcurdling scream. "Gervien!" he cried.