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Shadows of Nan Elmoth

By: Malinorne
Beta: Mary Aseltyne
Pairing: Eöl/Aredhel
Rating: PG13, possibly leaning towards a very mild R
Disclaimer: Playing in Professor Tolkien's sandbox, as usual.
Summary: Aredhel seeks a different life and finds it in the shadows of Eöl's realm.
Author's notes: Written for the 2007 Little Balrog Stocking Stuffer Swap . The request was for Finduilas/Gwindor or Aredhel/ Eöl with more emphasis on a realistic relationship than on typical romance. No rape, violence, humour or fluff. Preferably rated PG13 to R.
Feedback: Please write to to thaladir@yahoo.com

As so many nights before, Aredhel sat alone by the fire with her embroidery while her husband and son occupied themselves in the smithy. She used no pattern. None was needed, for the image in her head of the royal banner of the ruling house of Gondolin was as fresh as when she had last seen it years earlier.

It had not always been like that. When she left, after finally talking her brother the king into allowing her a visit to their kin in the east, she was so tired of him and his rules that she would gladly never return to his hidden city. Filled with longing to roam free on horseback among plains and forests, as was her wont of old, she had not looked back even once. Losing the escort that accompanied her had not scared her, but filled her with excitement. Even if her absence was temporary, and she would be back in the dusty streets before winter, it felt like a new life had begun, far from the confinements of the encircling mountains. Far from king Turgon.

Little had she known that she was not to reach cousin Caranthir's realm, nor that of any of his brothers. The forest she took refuge in during a heavy shower of rain had seemed merely an adventure on the way, something to enjoy for a passing time, and then forget. Instead she had felt drawn to it.

Soon the sun glittered in the drops of water on the fresh light-green leaves of the young bushes along the edge, and the pattern of light on the path beckoned an invitation. She followed it further in among the trees, enamoured with the scent of greenery that surrounded her. There were flowers, too, much lusher than the tiny specimens of the mountain region, and butterflies.

The lengthening shadows caught her unawares. Suddenly, when she looked up, she could no longer see the sun. A tangled roof of thick branches was there above her head, efficiently locking out all but a tiny speck of evening sky. Hastily she turned her horse, eager to return to her intended way of travel before it grew dark entirely. She could not afford letting her mare go lame from stumbling on tree-roots.

Strangely enough, the forest path now seemed to wind in a different direction than the one she had come from. The trees looked familiar enough, if regarded each by itself, but altogether the surrounding landscape seemed changed somehow. She rode on for as long as she judged it would take to reach the edge of the forest, even a bit further, and then she turned her steed again. This time, she slowed down to a walk and searched carefully for any by-roads she could have missed earlier. There were none.

Refusing to panic, she reasoned with herself, concluding that every path must have two ends, and if this forest was Nan Elmoth, which it had to be according to every map she had seen, then it was just a small speckle of trees in the plains, not nearly as vast as Doriath. If, for some weird reason beyond her comprehension, she could not return to where she came from, she could simply continue following the path and it would eventually take her to the other side.

Her resolve made things feel easier, the shadows less threatening, and she noticed with joy that she could now see the first stars through the nettle work of leaves. Steadily she rode on, choosing not to worry over how the path seemed to turn constantly towards the east, rather than leading straight south. Maybe it was just her eyes that betrayed her, that, and the tiredness that began to spread through her body.

Then, just as she was contemplating finding a place to spend the night, lights appeared some distance ahead, and as she turned around a bend, a house became visible. It was a simple structure, of the kind that one could expect to find on a farm. This one must be occupied by a forester - who else would seek such a solitary place, far from the company of others? Now, she could only hope that she would be able to make herself understood to the simple man, as she had little experience with the Afterborn, and especially those that did not speak the language of the elves of Beleriand.

"The night is fair, my lady."

She jumped at the sudden voice, not understanding how the tall, but stooping, figure before her on the path could have approached her without her noticing him. But he was an elf, and as such a welcome sight. And he was hardly a simple forester.

"So it is, my lord."

"I bid you welcome to my home, unless, of course, you prefer to stay under the trees."

"Your hospitality is most appreciated."

She had not planned to say anything, neither about herself, nor her errand, but the strange elf made her feel at home, and before she knew it, she had told him all of how tired she was of being the White Lady of Gondolin, and how she much preferred spending her time in the wilderness. She answered all his questions, too; he seemed particularly interested in how and where her guards had been lost, and whether the sons of Fanor were aware of her visit and would look for her if she did not arrive within reasonable time. It was an odd thing to ask, and something she shouldn't have answered truthfully, but something - it must have been weariness - dimmed her wits.

The elf offered little information in return; all her efforts of finding out who he was and why he dwelt in such a remote place were met by questions she could not stop herself from answering. It was as if she had had too much wine, when in fact all that the stranger had offered her was tea brewed from herbs of the forest. She gladly appreciated the plate of food a silent servant - seemingly more a shadow than a live elf - placed in front of her, and as she ate, entertained by the stranger's recount of the wonders of the wood, which was indeed Nan Elmoth, she came to feel completely at ease with him.

It was not until later, when he took her to bed, that feeble voices of clear thinking tried to break through the dull haze of newly awakened lust. It was not right that an elf she hardly knew - 'but I know him', protested her body - should undress her with desire in his eyes, and even less appropriate for him to cup her breasts, squeezing them gently until she moaned.

Neither was it heard of among the Noldor that a high lady would allow her beloved to touch her between her legs before the proper time of betrothal had passed. 'In times of unrest', spoke her body, 'all is allowed'. 'But he is not your beloved,' piped her mind, 'and you do not even know his name.'

"Please do that again," was what her mouth uttered, and the strange elf complied with an ire that frightened her for a moment, before he seemed to regain control of himself and proceeded with as much care as before.

When he finally entered her, the voice of her mind was subdued by pleasure to the level of not even questioning this final act that would irrevocably bind her in marriage to her lover, forever making her his wife, and all for a few minutes - or hours - of carnal satisfaction.

She saw it clearer in the morning, awakening with a cry of astonishment at the man lying beside her. What had she done? She must flee, to bear her shame if she could, or else...

"You are my lawful wife now," came his cold voice as he caught her wrist to keep her from running. "No longer lady of the Noldor, but the lady of Eöl."

"My lord, please, let me go!"

"If you are indeed the daughter and sister of kings, you know the laws of your people. Mine is no different." In a milder tone he added, "You will stay with me, my Aredhel," and he put his arms around her, caressing her back as he whispered soothingly in her ear.

Whether it was his words weaving their way around her mind, or his gentle touches melting the resistance of her body, she did not know, but before long they were back in bed and she did not resent it. Rather she enjoyed it to the fullest, knowing now that she had calmed down, that she was doomed to stay with her husband, willingly or not. He seemed to have some peculiar kind of love for her already. Maybe, in time, he would earn hers.

The first year of their marriage passed by almost unnoticeably. She learnt to appreciate the long walks under the trees and to accept the shadows of Nan Elmoth, the literal ones as well as those that dwelt in the mind of her husband. Although Eöl had left the community of Doriath willingly, he was an outsider, a loner who preferred solitude to the company of other elves. He had made a life here in the wilderness, with only a few servants to help him, and she admired him for it.

Later on, the absence of sunlight unhindered by heavy branches, as well as the lack of friends, began to wear on her nerves. At first, she accepted her husband's refusal to allow her to venture outside their forest even a small distance, but then she began to make plans of her own. What would he know if she took her horse just a little bit farther from the house than she used to? He hardly kept track of time anyway, customarily being late for dinner whenever his beloved work captivated him, which seemed to be more often the more time passed since their 'wedding'.

The thought of it made her sewing erratic and in her anger she pricked her finger. The pain, if brief, jerked her back to the present. Hastily she put the embroidery away, fearing to ruin it with even the tiniest stain of blood. She sucked her fingertip and then inspected it closely. Good. The needle had not broken the skin, even if it felt like it. Calmer now that she knew no harm had been done, she picked up the needle and thread again.

As she continued to sew, she thought about her son and how he had always come running to her whenever he hurt himself. He would still do that if his father was out of sight. She chuckled. The relationship between her son and her husband was not the best at all times, but maybe she could hardly ask for more, considering how it had begun. They would not always have to live like that; one day she would leave the shadows of Nan Elmoth, if even for a short while, and she would take the boy with her. Eventually, she would succeed.

Back then, her attempts at leaving the forest had not been successful. Each time she tried, either the trees would twine their limbs together, the tangled mass of greenery restricting her passage, or the path behaved strangely, seeming to change its course the way it had when she had first arrived. The farther she went, the closer to Eöl's house she came. Each attempt left her in a subdued mood, which she didn't try to hide. He did not seem to notice, and if he knew of the strange behaviour of his woods, he said nothing about it.

One day, she finally had enough of his silence.

"Why do you keep me here if you don't care about me?! You always work!"

"I took you to wife, my lady Aredhel. Is that not proof of my feelings?" His voice was sweet, making it much harder for her to be angry with him. If he would just shout back, throw the dinner plates on the floor, do anything.

"No!" she exclaimed angrily. "You do not spend time with me."

"And our nights together, Aredhel? Are they despicable to you?" They were not, and that was also part of the problem. Their nightly walks under the trees were pleasant, as were the kisses and caresses that often followed when they returned.

"You make me spend the whole day, every day, with only servants for company! If you truly hate my relatives in the north, whom you have not even met, then I will honour your decision, as I have said before, and not seek to visit them. But, what about your own? You are Thingol's kin. Let us go to Doriath, let us sing and dance at King Greymantle's court."

"I need no such companionship." His voice was hard now, and there was flint in his eyes. She knew there had been some kind of discord in the past, making him choose his solitary way of life, but it had not to last until the end of Arda.

"But I do! And it is your duty as husband to see to the happiness of your wife!

"If you are lonely, I will give you a child." His words were few, his solution, as always, simple.

Their son was born the following spring, a dark child with fey eyes. His father refused to name him, but to his mother, he was her child of night, her twilight son, her Lómion. She never used that name in Eöl's presence, knowing his hatred for all that was Noldorin. How he could bear looking upon her every day despite her heritage was a riddle to her. At least he was attached to the boy, once the child was big enough to help out in the smithy.

Maeglin of the sharp eyes was he eventually called, a name he bore with pride, even if she knew he liked her to use his childhood name when they were alone. He became her companion from the start, his tiny hand conveying love and trust to her during their walks, his laughter filling her with joy long before his conversations began to amuse her ears with their combination of cleverness and childish folly.

Those years had been good, she thought as she changed threads, about to begin to embroider the border around a flag. She had not been lonely, her days filled with the joys and work of caring for a small child. There had been little time to think, and it was only now, when Maeglin, no, he was still her Lómion, was on the way of growing to manhood that she had figured out why she could not leave the forest. The details would possibly always remain hidden to her, but at least she knew now that it was her husband who caused the trees and the path to behave like they did, whether by will or instinct.

Or, maybe, it was all in her mind, but even in that case, her only chance of slipping away would be during her husband's travels. How she had wished that he would take her with him even once! A court of dwarves was not like one of elves, but at least it would have been something different. For her own part, she had stopped wishing. Maybe he would take their son, almost certainly he would, as they spent more and more time together, working that mysterious metal of Eöl's invention.

She liked it not. The craft she understood, the quest for knowledge and the desire to shape useful things or items of beauty. The obsession scared her, reminded her too much of Fanro's deeds and their consequences. And she did not like how the boy had begun to become like his father: silent, sullen, and easy to anger. It would still take many years before his proud stature achieved his father's characteristic stoop, but it was clear to her that her son needed other company, or he would never grow up to be a true prince of the Noldor.

She lifted the embroidery towards the chandelier in the ceiling, loving how the light played in the colourful image, almost making it seem alive. The royal banner would fly over her head again, and over her son. It might yet take a number of years until the right moment would come, but she would eventually set her plan to work. She would take Maeglin out of the shadows and into the light. Her Lómion would see Gondolin.

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Posted: December 25, 2007

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