It was growing dark when Leni arose and touched Maevyn's elbow, signifying for her to rise as well. "What are we doing?" asked Maevyn dubiously as she got to her feet. The light was dim, forcing her to squint, but something was off about the Elf girl's manner. Leni seemed anxious.
Her voice, on the other hand, was calm in its characteristic softness. "We need to get wood for the fire." Gently inviting: "Come. You can help me look."
"Are we looking for green wood, or brown?" That was always the first thing Maevyn always asked Mama whenever Mama sent her to gather sticks at the periphery of the woods.
"Whatever you see that lies loose." Brown, then. Dry dead wood to catch quick and burn fast. There was a part of a large broken branch nearby. Maevyn started towards it, but Leni caught her arm. "No no, smaller pieces. That is too big. You will hurt yourself pulling it."
"I'm strong enough!" said Maevyn in an aggrieved voice. "It's not that big!"
"Nonetheless, smaller pieces are easier to feed the fire." Leni bent and picked up a paltry stick. "Such as this one."
Maevyn stared at the little twig. She wondered, not for the first time, if Leni wasn't a bit funny in the head. "But we'll be at it forever if we just pick up itty-bitty ones like that—"
Leni turned, put her hands on Maevyn's shoulders and leaned in towards her. Her blue eyes looked into Maevyn's brown ones intently. "Maevyn. Please. Do as I say."
Maevyn sighed. Her first response to this sort of command from an elder was always an urge to talk back or whine. But Leni had this strange power over her. She only wanted to please the older girl. Instinctive obedience warred with rebellious habit. "All right, we'll do it your way," she said sullenly.
Then Leni smiled at her, a sudden, relieved, approving smile that made Maevyn's heart jump up inside of her and made her forget her annoyance. As she followed the Elf girl, she thought to herself with a sense of wonder, I don't care if she has me picking up twigs all night, if she'd smile at me like that again...
He was looking at her.
Eleluleniel had seen Grushak's increasing glances in their direction, the predatory glint in his eye as he watched Maevyn. Grushak was the one who had brought Maevyn back from the raid—she was his captive by Orkish code, his to treat as he wished. And Grushak was not Kurbag; not one to keep a prisoner long to enjoy at further leisure.
She had to buy time. For all that she knew it was in vain, she had to buy time. So long as Maevyn was busy and was near her, she could keep an eye both on the little girl and the Orc.
They had been picking up sticks for several minutes when she heard a sigh—small and faint as a feather falling on soft grass, and yet clearly audible to Eleluleniel's keen Elven ears. She spared a glance for Maevyn and was immediately struck by the set look to the girl's mouth, the telltale rapid blinking of her eyes. "Maevyn?" Maevyn mumbled something. "Pardon?" Eleluleniel asked. "What did you say?"
"I do this with my little brother—did this with my brother…."
"Ah." She pursed her lips, feeling a sympathetic pang in her chest. Maevyn had lost a great deal. Eleluleniel missed her own family. Sometimes she missed them so hard, her whole body ached with the pain of missing them. And yet, she knew they were alive—knew that they were well, and that they were grieving her, and that they were living their lives without her. It hurt her, hurt her badly, but it comforted her as well. So long as she knew that, she could feel that they were not lost to her, but were only far away. She could not begin to imagine how she would feel if she did not have that illusion to console herself with.
But Maevyn had nothing.
"What was your brother's name?" she asked gently.
"Demmi." Maevyn's head was turned away suspiciously, and Eleluleniel knew that she was barely holding back tears.
"Demmi." Suddenly the older girl smiled. "Like Demaerion."
Maevyn swallowed a little, then looked at her. "What?"
Eleluleniel tilted her head inquisitively. "You do not know of Demaerion?"
"Demaerion who had to choose. You have not heard the tales?" she asked, honestly somewhat astonished. But then, Maevyn wasn't Elven. Perhaps that explained it.
"N-no. Should I have?" Maevyn, distracted, looked at her with eyes half bright with unshed tears, and half with curiosity.
"Ah." Eleluleniel laughed, a soft laugh of surprised delight. "We shall have to rectify this….But oh—you do not understand Sindarin. Wait a moment, let me consider how I may best render this. Aear celair-luin, sui dhaer venel a…." She stood still for a moment, deep in thought. And after a time she lifted her face to the starlight beyond the tops of the pine trees and began to sing in a sweet clear voice:
"Demaerion came to the bright blue sea,
Broad as the sky and twice as free,
And he smiled on the waves and the white seabirds
And none of his thoughts could be put to words
As he hearkened the call of the sea."
As she sang she was suddenly struck by an unexpected memory of a sunlit day…sitting under a poplar out in the green grass, her fingers busy with a bit of embroidery…one of her sisters plucking out a tune on her lute, the tune to this very song, and Eleluleniel raising her voice in a spontaneous duet. It seemed to her that she could almost hear the instrument's plucked notes accompany her singing.
"Yet o'er and away her singing came
Sweet as the nightingale, sad as the same,
And he sighed, for the sand was as gold as her hair—
Her voice and the sea, they were both so fair,
The sea and his Elven dame.
"And Demaerion sighed, for to heed the call
Of the sea meant to never return at all,
Ne'er to kiss her lips, nay, to see her face;
To stay meant losing the sea's proffered grace
As the ship sailed beyond recall.
"And away to the east sang his lady fair,
And the sea bid him westerly journey there,
And he sighed, and he chose….
He rode forth,
Turning away from the sea and his love
For the north."
As she drew to a close she held the final note for a time, and it was as if she could hear the last soft touches of the lute drifting in the darkness after. Her lips curved in a wistful smile.
Maevyn stared, taken aback by the unexpected ending. "North?"
"But what about the Elf lady? What about the boat?"
Eleluleniel giggled. "That is why he is called Demaerion Half-Ways. He never takes the obvious choice."
"So it's a joke?"
Eleluleniel shrugged. "Do you know, most would say it was? And yet I have always felt there is wisdom in it of sorts, for where most would see only two choices, or one, Demaerion sees three, seven or more. He sees the world in many shades. Nevertheless, he is something of a scoundrel." She leaned towards Maevyn confidingly. "When I was little I used to say that I wanted to marry Demaerion. He seemed so full of fun."
Maevyn made an odd face. "Uhhh…I don't think I get Elf jokes. I mean, I liked it fine. But it sounded like a sad song to me."
"Well, in truth, it is not one of the happier ones," agreed Eleluleniel. "There are others, though." Since Maevyn seemed interested at that, she tried to think of a good one. There was the one where Demaerion eschewed both the stately Elven beauty and the humble human maiden in favor of the handsome stable boy…but she remembered well enough the job her older sisters had of explaining that one to her, and she blushed at the prospect of doing the same for Maevyn. Oh, verily Demaerion was a scoundrel. As she searched for something amusing but appropriate, she murmured unconsciously,
"Hiril nín, mas ledhiach, Demaerion-gornon,
A amman ledhiach úvaer dem?
Ledhia o man sad hin gelair lín,
A man cennich?—"
She stopped short abruptly. A piece of night had detached itself from the outlying shadow, and she recognized Kurbag's silhouette.
"That's pretty," said Maevyn. "What does it mean?"
"Whither rides Demaerion…" Eleluleniel heard herself saying distantly.
Maevyn gave a stifled gasp as the half-Uruk loomed up out of the dark. He spared a half-curious but dismissive glance for the little girl, directing his words to Eleluleniel: "What was that you were singing?" She didn't speak, and he scratched his ear as he contemplated her. "Cut it out, Squeaker," he said at length, cryptically.
She looked down at her armful of twigs. "I was not thinking."
"Ah. Then think next time." He examined her a time longer; then his eyes shifted to the sticks she was carrying. "Hey, those are kind of small, aren't they? You're gonna be at it all night, picking up sticks that small."
A shifting sound at her left elbow. Eleluleniel saw Maevyn out of the corner of her eye, looking fidgety and uncertain in the Orc's continued presence. "Why have you stopped, dear heart? Best not to fall behind now," said the Elf, trying to keep her tone a casual murmur.
"My arms are full," Maevyn mumbled. "I got to go get rid of these ones." She turned and started back the way they had come.
Eleluleniel, alarmed, made a movement to follow her when Kurbag stepped, unaware of what she was about, into her path. "You would not believe the day I have had," he began with a faint groan, and Eluleniel realized, with despair, that she was stuck.
Maevyn, for her part, was feeling very odd about what she had just left behind her. The tall dark Orc gave her a funny feeling, not funny "ha-ha" but the other way, like where you know your parents have been talking about something important but they fall quiet just as you come in. The same funny feeling Leni gave her whenever Kurbag was near, the feeling she'd given Maevyn when Maevyn had mentioned his name and Leni had abruptly changed the subject. Funny-strange, with a touch of the shivers, like poking around a rock with a snake under it.
And usually Maevyn would pick up the rock, because it was always just so tempting to have a peek, one little peek. But she didn't think she was going to like what was under this rock. Not one bit.
She bit her lip. She didn't like to leave Leni alone with him. She liked Leni. And, while Maevyn was young and did not entirely understand all of her feelings, unconsciously she detected a strange familiarity between the Orc and the Elf, and she resented it. With her family dead, this new friend of a bare twenty-four hours was the only person she had. She didn't want anyone else having any part of Leni, much less Kurbag. Much less an Orc.
Preoccupied as she was, she wasn't really paying any attention to what was in front of her. And so when, in the dimness, she walked abruptly into a wall of muscle and sinew, it was a big shock.
Grushak had evidently seen her coming and had evidently been waiting. "Watch where you're going, scum."
Thick fingers twisted in Maevyn's hair and she shrieked in unexpected pain, dropping her armful of sticks.
Grushak made no move to pass her. Looking down at her, he leered menacingly. "Pick those up."
Though he spoke in a low growl, she could sense the high eagerness crackling behind the words, as if he were hoping for her to defy him. It made Maevyn think inadvertently, painfully, of the dares her little brother would make her, the taunting games he would play.
Try and make me, Maevyn. Want to bet, Maevyn?
And as with Demmi, it made Maevyn wish to respond with nothing so much as a good slap. Since that would be suicide in this case, she gritted her teeth and bent down to pick the sticks up.
Grushak continued to tower over her until she rose once more with her armful. "You're still in my way, tark."
Maevyn, not sure of which way he intended to go, took a step to her right. The Orc stepped with her. Biting her lip, she took a step to her left and again he stepped in the same direction. She looked up at him in angry bewilderment.
Grushak, for his part, was decidedly amused. He had waited long enough for his entertainment. Idly he scratched his neck, looking down at her. "This is beginning to grow wearisome," he remarked.
But it wasn't, not a bit of it. It was just getting started.
Hiril nín, mas ledhiach, Demaerion-gornon,/ My lord, whither go you, valiant Demaerion,
A amman ledhiach úvaer dem?/ And why do you go glumly sad?
Ledhia o man sad hin gelair lín,/ From whence do they hail, your radiant eyes,
A man cennich?—/ And what do they see?—
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.