The Two Swords Go South, Chapter 5
|Disclaimer:||This is a not for profit work of amateur fanfiction and no copyright infringement on any of Tolkien's or New Line's works was intended.|
|Genre and timeline:||LOTR, specifically The Fellowship of the Ring. A mix of both movie and book canon but the character of Conner is definitely AU.|
|Summary:||The further adventures of Conner, squire to Boromir, amongst the elven folk of Imladris, Mirkwood and Lorien.|
After an exhausting and thrilling afternoon of being lustily ministered to by the trio of Lórien ellith, it did not take long for Conner to fall deeply asleep with his head in Ivreniel's lap. Her soothing singing voice, mingled with Fileg's, acted on his faltering senses more quickly than a sleeping draught, for he struggled at first to stay awake and eavesdrop on the ellith, if only to learn as much as he could about his immediate fate.
With a blindfold on, Conner could not tell what time of day it was when he awoke with his face still resting on Ivreniel's thigh, but he felt well-rested. He continued feigning sleep for a little while, although he was not at all sure that he was fooling anyone. This particular trio of female Galadhrim may not know very much about mortal men and their weaknesses, when it came to overexposure to the elements, but they probably were not fooled by his artificial snores, judging by their giggles.
But the young squire was not ready to so soon resume his acting role as the heat exhausted human, even if there was a chance it might lead to some more intimate physical contact with his willing nurses. He enjoyed the way Ivreniel's thigh felt beneath his cheek, the scent of her skin was better than perfume, and he had a dream, a very nice dream, while he napped that he now wanted to linger in. It was not about her, or her sister, or her cousin.
While he was drifting off to sleep, Ivreniel had stroked and patted his hair during her lullaby, but in his dream he was back in the Mirkwood forest. He was without a blindfold and when he turned to look upwards, it was the foxy little Rusciel that was his pillow. It was her voice singing and her fingers in his hair, and he felt more deeply at peace than he ever had in his own mother's arms.
"I love you," he told her. She laughed. Then he remembered that he had already said those very words to a couple of other ellith, maybe more, and they may have lost their effectiveness. "I love only you," he added, and felt much better.
"I know," she had replied and then smiled into Conner's eyes, warming him. He had clearly seen an invitation there, but to what end? He could not recall any more of the dream, but he awoke feeling well-rested and serene.
It was only after he had reviewed the dream in his mind that he realized Rusciel had spoken to him in the common tongue. A language he was sure she did not know. It did not make him miss her less, it made him want to see her again, sooner.
The elleth Ivreniel was not a dream, however, and she now had her hand casually draped over his shoulder while she chatted with her companions. They spoke of how they planned to put him up in a tree for the night. There was a little argument for sleeping on the ground, but it was quickly silenced. This part of the Golden Wood was outside of their normal range, they had no idea what to expect from these surroundings, and the Lady had been pretty specific about Conner's safety.
With a yawn and a stretch of his limbs, Conner announced his wakeful state. Instantly, the ellith stopped discussing their plans for the night while they made sure Conner was given water to drink and something light to eat. When asked how he felt, after awaking from his nap, he pretended to be tired, still, and perhaps a bit dizzy from his 'seizure'.
They helped Conner back into his shirt and boots. Brethil delegated Fileg and Ivreniel to guide him along the way while she went ahead of them with his pack and sword. He still wore his blindfold, but he could tell the daylight was fading as he was led to the tree bearing the hunting platform. From somewhere nearby, the sound of water babbling, from a stream maybe, could be heard.
The oak had densely growing thick branches and it was not hard to climb. Conner managed to make it up into the crude flet easily, with the ellith's assistance, and without being able to see a thing. Once he was seated and comfortable, and no longer needed hands to guide him, he mulled over mentioning that his blindfold was not necessary if he was going to be traveling out of the hidden realm of the Golden Wood.
On one hand, the longer he wore the blindfold, and acted the part of the recovering patient, the more likely he would have to be led around and catered to, and that meant direct contact with his guides. How could he argue with that? His curiosity about his whereabouts, and what the ellith looked like, was another matter and was swiftly getting the better of him.
"What is hunted from this platform?" Conner wondered out loud, unsure of who was nearby. "Deer?"
"Yes, mostly deer, and boar," answered Ivreniel. "There is a place just underneath us where the animals of the forest usually come to the brook's edge to drink." After she spoke, she translated to Fileg what they had just said.
"Is he hungry for deer meat?" asked Fileg in her lilting Sindarin tongue, and with concern in her soft voice. Conner smiled at the notion of her providing him with a venison dinner on his whim, and she probably would try if he told her it was a mortal man's cure for heat exhaustion. He was, however, very hungry for something to eat, more substantial than the few dried berries and bit of dry bread that he was fed earlier, even if he was not expecting a hot meal of fresh venison, which would have to hang and cure first.
"Do you have any questions, soldier?" Brethil's voice was less scornful than before, but he could tell that she was not truly humbled by Galadriel's message, as he had hoped.
"Just one, lady elf," Conner answered.
"Speak it, then."
"What is the reason for my continued blindness?" The resultant silence was palpable.
Before his eyes were uncovered, Conner had only one of their faces firmly in his mind, and it was that of the frowning elleth, Brethil. The other two were vaguely exciting visions behind his blindfold. The last time he had seen their faces, in the dawn's earliest hour, the murky morning light combined with their cloaks had made their exposed faces seem to float in his vision like blurred milky moons in the gloom. Nonetheless, he recognized each of them before they spoke.
It had not taken much talent to tell which of them was the smallest built, and Fileg's shy manner when he smiled at her was another clue to her identity. The smidgen of a smirk on Ivreniel's face matched her saucy manner, a trait that she could not hide from a blind man. Brethil was not frowning now and that was the best he could tell about her mood. They sat cross-legged in a half circle in front of him, and he named them one by one.
After the novelty of being stared at by their human charge wore off, the ellith lit a few lamps within the tree branches and left him alone. They told him they were going to prepare him a proper meal. He promised to stay put and recover his strength. It was growing dark outside the dimly lit flet and he could not see very far beyond the small stand of oaks they were camping in. Taller trees surrounded them on all sides.
The oak tree branches he sat in were thick, hoary, but thinly leafed. Autumn worked its way on the world, even here, although the valley otherwise felt like perpetual summer time. The sun had long set and the sky was purple overhead and faintly sprinkled with the early evening stars. Below, a flashing glimmer came from the brook's water, lit as it was by the stars and what little light the elvish lamps made. He could see the silhouettes of the ellith's bodies as they hovered and darted around the water's narrow edge. From this view, Conner could see how a hunter would have a great advantage over any prey that stopped to drink.
A fire was started outside of his view, water sizzled, pine knots popped and their fresh tangy aroma mixed with the scent of what could only be fresh fish cooking made the hungry soldier's stomach growl. He was glad to be alone.
Now that Conner had his blindfold removed, and had become better acquainted with his surroundings and the Lórien ellith, he found that he his thoughts still lingered on the Mirkwood elleth from his dream. He wondered how difficult it would be to travel by boat back up to the place he met her if he was to be given his own craft to use. Just for a quick visit.
For dinner, there was the fish, fat speckled trout that were caught in the nearby brook, he assumed, and he felt admiration for his clever caretakers, and a certain amount of pride. The fish was cooked with some tangy greens that the ellith had gathered in the forest and slices of the same white root the Mirkwood elves had fed him. Conner could not tell how it all had been cooked, he had seen no pots and pans involved, only that the flaky moist flesh tasted poached. He decided that the limp, warm mallorn leaves the fish was wrapped in must have been part of the process. Uncooked mallorn leaves, as large as dishes, were used to serve the meal. Fresh water was shared from the water skin.
After the meal, and a trip down to the brook to wash up and stretch their legs, the young soldier easily climbed back up the tree, even in the dark, and without any assistance. With a slight gesture of her hand, Brethil sent Fileg and Ivreniel from the flet and she was alone with Conner for the first time since they had met.
He opened his pack and spread his cloak and bedroll out, after hanging his sword on a knobby looking branch. All the while, he pretended not to notice she was there. With a loud sigh, he settled down on his makeshift bed, seated with his back against the tree's trunk and his legs stretched out before him.
"You must not judge me too harshly, Gondorian," Brethil said, not looking at him, as if she was suddenly shy. Her tone of voice, however, was not modest or demure, but neither was it haughty and aloof. If anything, she sounded unguarded and sincere. He listened. "This has been a rigorous day for me, and, under unusual circumstances I tend to be… a bit…" her voice trailed off, as if she was unsure of how to describe her own behavior that day.
"Bossy?" Conner volunteered, but not cheekily. He honestly wanted to help her finish her sentence. She sat down cross-legged a little ways from him.
"I would rather say cautious." Brethil glanced at him and then stared down at her hands. "To be put in charge of a possible enemy spy, who is a mortal man, is not something that I have been trained to do." As she spoke, Conner was glad she was not facing him, because he could not help but smile at her description of him. A possible enemy spy. It made him feel dangerous.
"Your brother left you in charge," he said. She nodded and lifted a lock of her hair, which lay over her chest in a single silvery coil, to stare at as if she found it suddenly fascinating. "That seems to mean that he must have trusted you to know what to do…," he continued, only to be interrupted.
"Haldir promised me that there had been no new sign of the enemy on this side of the Anduin and in this part of the forest," she told him, adding, "He said that we would not have to do much more than listen to the birds while we braided each other's hair." She said this last in a mocking tone.
Conner realized she must be mimicking the placating tone of her brother, this Haldir, when he had assured her that she was suitable for the task of temporarily replacing him as a guardian of the wood. More than that, he sensed that she felt duped. As if to verify his guess, Brethil tossed the lock of hair back over her shoulder, and muttered, "As if I could not better serve in his place against the true enemy while he used his skills where they would have done the most good."
He heard more than her words, and the tone, he heard the hurt in her voice, the hurt that only a Lórien elf could feel, at being left to baby-sit a bothersome human when the possibility of an orc attack was taking place elsewhere in her beloved forest. She had a warrior spirit, Conner could sense it, and it stirred him in a strange way to notice it.
"You say he is better suited? Ivreniel told me he taught her how to speak Westron."
"He has traveled outside the borders many times for our Lady," Brethil explained. "He has learned your language and much of your ways, which knowledge he has shared with me. I am not wholly ignorant."
"How did your brother not know I was coming?" Conner reminded her that both Elrond and Thranduil had sent messengers ahead of his arrival. "Do you think that he may have left you in charge because he knew I was coming?"
"He would never…!" Brethil's voice hissed and then, after a flinty glare at him, cut off sharply down to a whisper as she finished, "…do a thing like that." Conner had not meant to stir bad blood between the elven siblings with his question, but from Brethil's stiffened posture upon hearing it, and a fierce gleam in her eye as the idea, which obviously had not previously occurred to her, sank in, he felt regretful for asking.
Even if her brother had known in advance that Conner was coming, and had left his sister to be a caretaker of sorts, still the elf had no way of truly knowing whether or not an enemy spy was out on the loose, disguised as a soldier of Gondor. There was no telling what he could have done, if he was a minion of the dark lord.
"I admire your courage," Conner said to Brethil. It was the truth. "In your place, I can not say that I would have done as well, but I would have been more pleased at fulfilling my escorting duty to such a lovely elf lady."
"You have a fair tongue for a human," the elleth replied briskly. He could not help but notice how her face softened a bit and her stiff posture relaxed a little. As if she had been caught avoiding some important duty, she cleared her throat and scanned the interior of the hunting platform. "The only thing this flet lacks is a weather screen," she said, back to her former all-business tone.
"More is the pity that you have to put up with a human," Conner said, not in the least bit worried about his comfort. "Am I that hideous to you?"
"Hideous? What?" She seemed offended that he had said so and she almost dithered a bit. "Well, I… you…, why would you think so, or say that, to me? Of course you are not hideous."
"All you ever do is frown at me, fair lady elf," Conner explained, as if it was plain as day.
One thing that Conner had felt self-conscious about when he was near an elf, whether that elf was from Imladris, Mirkwood, or these Lórien ellith, was his girth, his bulk, which usually made him feel bear-like and clumsy in comparison.
The tall elves were normally slender, males and females, and their torsos were narrow and lithe, their limbs long and tending to leanness. It was an enjoyable difference with the females but he knew better than to question the strength of the male elves. Their seemingly frail exteriors were deceptive, and that was true of either sex.
Something, however, in the way Brethil and the others had touched him today, and remarked on his body when they thought he had fainted, gave him another outlook, even if he was blinded, on the effect his mortal physique was having on them. He knew better than to offend a lady with such an observation and tried to think of another way to test his theory.
He looked down at his body, his shirtsleeve was a pale shimmer, and then grasped his right upper arm, his sword arm, with his left hand. "You seem to have a problem with my arms; I could not help but notice when you were walking me today. Are they misshapen in your eyes?" He smiled into her eyes.
"I do not know what you are talking about," Brethil said, firmly, adding, "and I think it best that you lie down and rest some more. You are delirious, I fear, and imagining things that are not real." She rose to her feet and made a movement toward a branch, preparing to climb out over the side instead of going through the hole in the middle, which would have forced her to cross in front of him.
"Brethil, you know very well that I was not ill today," he said, amazed to hear the words leave his lips before he could swallow them. Maybe she was right and he was delirious? Whatever it was that had possessed him to speak so boldly kept him calm as he watched her react to his remark.
The elleth whipped her head around to face him, and a look that was barely discernible in the weak lamplight twitched her perfect features, and she approached him. For a moment, he thought maybe she was going to bend down and slap him, and he would not have blamed her. She knelt before him.
"You must never let the Lady know this," she whispered.
"I will vow on my mother's grave to keep such information to myself, however, I do have one condition."
"Name your price, soldier."
"Smile first, and then I will show you." Holding his breath, Conner waited for the elleth to back up and give a haughty shake of her head in reply. Instead, after a moment of utter stillness, one of the corners of her mouth quirked up slightly. "No," said the soldier, feeling braver than he thought possible. "A real smile and you have to come closer. I can hardly see your face."
After moving nearer no more than an inch or so, Brethil's half-hearted grimace spread into a knowing smile. She leaned forward.
"Do not let Fileg know, either," she said quietly and confidentially. "She is very worried about you."
"They both desire to keep watch over you this night, while you sleep," said the elleth. "Only Fileg truly fears that if you are left alone then you might have another… seizure, and die."
For a moment, Conner had to lean his head back against the tree's trunk while sweet, gentle Fileg replaced the foxy Rusciel within his heart, so he could not immediately answer. Brethil added, "And that minx Ivreniel is hopeful that you will."
"She is hopeful that I will die?" Conner teased. He knew that was not what Brethil meant, but he enjoyed the look of disdain she gave him, instead of a reply. "What do you hope, lady elf?"
"Are you going to name your price, Gondorian?" Brethil stayed put, and remained still, with one hand on each crossed knee, but Conner could sense that she was about to bolt, if he did not think of a way to stop her. The only question was did he want to stop her?
"Your smile is gone."
"I do not have time to play games all night." She began to turn away, now he had to move. Before she could prevent it, Conner reached out and put his hand on one of hers.
"What else is there for you to be doing?" He pulled her to him and she did not resist. "I think I might be ready to have another seizure," he whispered, before he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. He grew even more excited from the way her lean body pressed against him as she responded to his embrace. A voice from below startled them both apart.
"Brethil?" It was Ivreniel. "Is everything alright up there? Do you need any help?"
"No! I mean yes!" Brethil, rattled, composed herself and added, "Everything is fine and I do not need any help." She gazed at Conner, begging him to remain quiet with her eyes. "I have to go," she whispered.
"Why?" He did not let her answer; he kissed her instead. Her mouth was too close, and too inviting. And he liked this new Brethil, or this side of her that he had no way of knowing existed. At first, he was sure that she would surrender, but she was stronger than even he had imagined. She broke away, slipping from his arms and ending up sitting next to him before he could react, and put her hand on his mouth, firmly.
"I have to go," Brethil repeated, a bit more breathless now, but still sounding more in control than Conner felt. "If I do not, they will come up here to see what we are doing." She stood, and slipped out of his sight as if by magic, even though he knew there was an opening in the floor. With a sigh, he pulled his cloak over his chest and lay down.
The long nap Conner had taken that day did not help him now. Wide awake, he stretched out on his back, stared up through the branches at the stars, and juggled all of the various ellith below, and one from Mirkwood, and a few from Imladris, around in his thoughts. Which did he prefer? It was hard to choose, they all had something wonderful to offer a mortal man, if only to lighten his otherwise dreary world with their grace and beauty. His cloak proved too warm and he tossed it off.
Finally, he decided it was the lamp's lights that were keeping him wakeful, so he doused them all and was able to doze off, if a bit fitfully at first. The nearby edge of the flet's floor occupied his mind for a little while until he decided that if he rolled off of it by accident, he would survive the fall.
He slept soundly at last, and without dreaming, and woke up to a riot of birdsong in the pre-dawn light. Having spent months traveling through the wilderness with Boromir, on their way to the valley of the Halfelven, being wakened by birds was his only alarm. Rising first, he would prepare a fire and what breakfast he could manage for his Captain, who could sleep through a battle if tired enough.
At first, Conner tried to fall back to sleep, despite the noisy birds around him. He could tell from the lingering heaviness in his eyelids that he needed more rest, but when he began to turn over to his side to attempt it, he realized that he had not been alone during the night. His cloak was covering him now, the edges tucked in tight, and he felt swaddled. Who had done this? And why did he not wake up when they were doing it? He was touched, frustrated, and even more impressed with his caretakers.
Should he let anyone know that he was awake or wait to see if one of them would come to check on him? Maybe if he was very still, and very quiet, one of them would come close to make sure he was alive, close enough to touch. He let that scene play behind his closed eyelids. A chuckle escaped his lips before he remembered that he was acting dead.
"Are you awake, soldier?" Brethil's voice sounded very close.
"I am trying not to be," he answered and then yawned loudly.
"When you are ready to be awake," said the elleth, amused, "let us know, and we will bring up your breakfast." From the sound of it, she was perched in the tree just beneath him. "But take your time, because we have not caught it yet."
"Could I climb down to the ground and stretch my legs, instead?"
"Of course, you can do whatever you wish, as long as you do not stray far from this tree then you are a free man." From beneath him, Conner heard some faint rustling noises. "I will be nearby." Brethil's voice sounded farther away, she must have climbed down. He rose and looked over the edge of the flet.
"Good morning," he said to her, the other ellith were not in sight. "Where is everyone?"
"Ivreniel and Fileg have gone hunting and should be back soon," Brethil explained. "I am going to climb a mallorn and have a look around." She pointed to the magnificent trees that surrounded the stand of oaks, the very tips of which were being turned golden from the dawn. "I will be able to hear you if you need anything." With that said, she bounded away and into the shade of the forest before he could ask to come with her.
For the first time in his life since becoming a soldier, it occurred to Conner that he truly was free. Not only was he a free man, but he was one with no particular place to be. No one else, besides the elves, knew of his whereabouts, and even among them it was only this handful of Lórien ellith who knew his exact location. His Captain was off on some sort of suicide mission into Mordor for the glory of Gondor, which Conner had not been invited to join, and Boromir would have no way to learn that Elrond had sent his squire over the Misty Mountains into Lórien.
As far as anyone back home knew, he was in Imladris, or some might think he was dead, either along the way there or on the way home. The Fellowship could not have possibly made it all the way back to Minas Tirith, in this short amount of days, to tell a different tale. If Boromir was even leading them back to the White City first, which Conner highly doubted. If that was the case then he would have brought his squire along.
In any case, no one knew where he was, besides the wisest of the wise elves, and they were not in the habit of informing the people of Gondor about anything. His primary duty was to be a squire to a Captain and he had been put on leave indefinitely. Like a long vacation. Even if he was to return directly to the city, he would be told to wait for Boromir's return before a decision about his soldierly status would be made. Why should he hurry?
As a test, he hesitatingly tried to bring forth an image of his father back at their home, a once clear and poignant picture that had carried him over the mountains, and away from his cozy sanctuary in Imladris. He failed. Minas Tirith seemed even farther away than it had when he felt imprisoned within the hidden valley of the Halfelven. While he ruminated over his newly discovered status, and sense of freedom, a breeze blew through the flet and made the tiny remaining oak leaves chatter.
The same breeze that rattled the oak leaves was now strumming through the golden-leaved mellyrn as if they were a massive musical instrument. Their music was absorbing and he lost track of his thoughts for a time. Why did he have to go anywhere?
Perhaps he could just stay here? That idea woke him up again, he sat up straight and his mind began to race with thought. Was it possible to seek shelter from the mighty storms of good and evil, which were brewing out beyond the borders, in this enchanted place? These elves shared one thing in common that none of the others he had met so far seemed to share, and that was an absolute sense of fearlessness, an utter lack of impending doom.
How did one go about asking? And who would he ask? The Lady of the Woods, that mighty Queen that he had heard legends about? Or could he just continue to pretend to be ill, with Brethil's assistance, and unable to travel further? So absorbed in his thoughts was Conner that he actually jumped, startled, when a head poked out of the floor.
"A soldier of Gondor caught wool-gathering?" Ivreniel's cheeky tone warmed him. She rose up higher to just shoulder height, placed her cheek on her hand, propped up by her elbow, and smiled at him.
"I am permanently off-duty, lady elf," he answered and then he had an idea. "But I would like to ask for employment."
"Why, you naughty thing…" purred the elleth while she pulled herself up the rest of the way into the flet.
"I mean as a Galadhrim," he said quickly, hating to disappoint Ivreniel, but eager to explore the idea of being more than a shared duty for his ellith babysitters. She sat down near him and cocked her head to the side, interested.
"What do you mean?"
"The eastern shore has been neglected, I believe, both by the absence of the regular guards, and in some ways due to my arrival, true?" She nodded and he continued, "Perhaps I can offer myself as a substitute for your men folk and help you out there? Until they return of course."
"You can never be a Galadhrim, Gondorian." She did not seem otherwise shocked by his idea, however, and a wide smile lit her face after she sat silently for a time, as if contemplating his words. "We are supposed to take you back to the Anduin, but we were not told to force you to leave once we get there."
"It would be a small way to pay back the generosity shown to me." Conner did not have to act, he felt very sincere about his offer. "It would be an honor to be allowed to lend myself and my sword into your Lord and Lady's service."
To be continued in Chapter 6
Posted: June 11, 2006
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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"