Only a Game
13. Wild Tribes of the East
I opened my eyes and looked into starlit grey eyes and at a very tender smile.
Oh my. I felt Elrohir's arm tighten around me.
I feel it, too.
It was almost as if I could hear his thoughts.
But you can.
I pressed closely against the long, strong lines of his body, feeling a tingling sensation spread all over my skin. I buried my face against his side, inhaling the fragrance of his body.
And do you hear my thoughts, too? I thought at him, allowing my lips to touch his body.
Indeed I do.
Gentle hands lifted my face up to his lips. A lithe, strong body moved against my own.
Love such as this outshines even the most glorious sunrise.
When we finally rose, the sun was already high in the sky. The storm had dissipated, and the sea was calm, so had a leisurely swim in the green waves of the Sea of Rhûn. Holding on to each other, weightlessly moving with the waves, jumping into each other's arms across the white crests of the waves like children, laughing and kissing and fooling around with no thought about the future.
In the evening we lit the fire again between the dunes. But this night was different. Only the slightest, softest breeze came to us from the sea, caressing our cheeks, lifting a tendril of hair.
I sat leaning against Elrohir's shoulder, his left arm curling around my waist, my legs across his lap, his right hand stroking the length of my thigh and the bones of my knee.
I felt out hearts beat as one, and in my mind I felt the presence of his thoughts, his soul touching me in an invisible embrace.
"I come from far away", I finally said.
"I know", he answered softly, his right hand intertwining with my fingers. "But that does not mean that you do not belong here."
"I don't know if that is possible." I whispered, my voice choked, tears burning at the corners of my eyes.
"You will know." Elrohir lifted my hand to his lips. "Do not worry about fate. What will come to pass, will come to pass. Enjoy the night. The weather is already changing. Autumn draws near."
Elrohir let himself sink back into the warm sand of the dunes, drawing me with him. I let my lips drift slowly across his cheeks, along his jaws, across his throat, down to his collarbone, my hands trailing feathery touches down his sides, until I felt like sinking into moonlight come alive. His strong slender fingers travelled down to my waist, gripping me tightly, then turning me around, coming to lie on his left side next to me, his right leg curled around my right leg, bringing him almost unbearably close to me. He propped himself up on his left elbow, locking his starlit gaze with me, drowning me in the depth of his beautiful eyes.
The wind blew the long, silky tresses of his dark hair across my breasts and I started to shiver uncontrollably. His fingers reached up to my temples, tenderly stroking a sweaty tendril of my humble brown curls back from my face.
Then his lips found my own, and within moments we were floating, joined together, one soul, one body, one mind, lost in the light of love bestowed upon the elves as a blessing by the Valar.
We rode on the next day. Elrohir had been right about the weather. The heat of the summer had waned over night, and although it was not cold and there was no rain, the sky was grey and the wind was cool, blowing from the Eastern plains, smelling of dust and wilderness.
The riding was beautiful today. We had to pass the Sea of Rhûn, and so we followed the shores of the turquoise inland sea, taking winding paths across the softly sloping dunes.
Leaving the Bay of Dorwinion behind us, the sandy beaches lost the pink tinge of irony red pigmentation, turning the more common sandy colour.
I rode behind the elf, watching him not very surreptitiously. A grey rider under grey skies he seemed to me an image from a painting come alive. He sat on his proud grey horse straight and tall and of a grace transcending mortal elegance by far, his hair flowing in the wind, the shimmering grey cloak billowing around his slender figure, the golden fastening his cloak gleaming green and golden at his collar bone. He was standing out in stark relief against the drifting clouds, the white dunes fading in undulating hills away into a dusty haze, the subdued green of marram grass and sea rushes and the darkened turquoise and emerald of the waves the only colours in this scene of white and grey.
I was losing all sense of reality.
And I did not give a damn.
After four days we reached the North-Eastern edge of the Sea of Rhûn and then left its turquoise waves behind us, continuing into the East. The Lands of Rhûn were vast empty plains, covering more leagues than the American prairies ever had.
It was a harsh and lonely country, with cold, strong winds blowing across, moving the long grasses of the plains into waves of green and dusty gold. Elrohir told me that the tribes sometimes called these plains "Sea without Water". Watching the flowing motion of the grass as far as the eye could see, I could understand this sentiment. It did look almost like an ocean, and not like grassy plains or steppes at all.
"What are the Eastern tribes like?" I called out to Elrohir. He reined in his horse and nudged it to walk next to me.
"Some say they are primitive, but that is not true." He said. "Evil peoples hiding at the edges of their country and fighting for the enemy of the third age gave them an undeserved bad name in the West. The wild tribes of the Far East have never fought for the enemy. They pay tribute to none, and never have. They are very much like this land. They are wild and free and proud."
"You forgot dangerous", a dark, heavily accented voice commented. I jumped at that, only barely maintaining control of my mount. For all I knew appearing out of thin air about twenty men in wide flowing robes were suddenly rising from the grass in a circle around us.
The speaker was a tall man in blue robes with eyes dark as coal and a complicated tattoo of chevrons covering the brown skin of his cheekbones.
Elrohir bowed to the leader. "And dangerous, of course."
"What do you want in the Sea without Water, son of the stars? Your soul is calling you back to the waters of the West." The piercing gaze of the headman left Elrohir and moved to me. I felt an almost burning sensation across my forehead. Was there more to his gaze than simple curiosity?
Elrohir slid gracefully from the back of his stallion. I dismounted, too. Not gracefully, but without falling onto my face. I grabbed the reins of Cloud, feeling nervous sweat gather on my palms.
Elrohir was perfectly calm and unperturbed at this meeting. He turned towards the man of the tribes. The elf was taller, and more slender than the Easterling.
"My name is Elrohir, son of Elrond-Peredhel. My companion is Jarro, a ranger from the North. It is a pleasure to meet one of the noble tribes of Rhûn." He held up his hands, his palms turned towards the headman.
"I am Umbra, and my tribe are the Children of the Clouds. We roam from the Sea of Rhûn to the Eastern River." He touched the palms of the elf with his own. He only inclined his head towards me. Probably not a matriarchal society.
A formal greeting from the leader. Then they would perhaps not try to kill us.
"We would like to ask your permission to travel through your lands." Elrohir asked politely.
"Perhaps I will even grant it. But such negotiations should not be carried on out in the open. Certain rituals of politeness should be observed. Or strangers might start thinking us primitive." There was a definite sparkle of amusement in his dark eyes.
Humour is always a good trait in a leader, it makes life so much easier.
The headman continued. "I would like to invite you, son of the stars, and your woman, the one from the outer world, to accompany us to our tents. We can eat and drink together and get to know each other and talk about why you entered our lands and what it is you seek to find."
Outer world? How in heaven and hell did this… chieftain come up with that description for me?
Elrohir smiled and inclined his head gracefully. "We accept your invitation."
The headman turned and we followed him, leading our horses by the reins. The other men spread out around us. A guard? An invitation we could not refuse?
We walked about half an hour in a northern direction, and then found ourselves suddenly looking into a slight hollow in the level ground of the plains. Below the level of the high grasses on the plains above the hollow some twenty to thirty low tents in earthen colours were put up here.
To the human eye the settlement would remain invisible until one was stumbling right into it. An exceedingly clever camouflage, I thought. Milling about the tents were some goats and small, sturdy horses with bristly manes, watched by scrawny yellow dogs.
At the centre of the settlement was a large fire place.
The headman motioned a small dark boy to come nearer. "He will take your horses." Elrohir nodded and relinquished his reins to the boy. I stroked Cloud's soft nose, and then let myself be relieved of her reins, too.
We were led to the fire place and a thick, richly coloured carpet was spread out for us to sit on. Elrohir slid to the ground in a fluid motion, which made it look as if he had no bones at all in his body. The headman followed suit on a bit of faded blue carpet in front an especially ornate tent, which was adorned with feathers and small colourful banners fluttering in the wind. I sat down more slowly, taking a cross-legged seat next to Elrohir. Six of the other men took seats around the fire place, too; the others vanished between the tents. Veiled women brought goblets with water and wine, and large brass plates with sweet dates and creamy white cheese and thin, crispy loaves of bread.
The headman took a goblet of water and raised it in turn to all four directions of the world, and lastly towards the sky. Elrohir mirrored the actions of the headman, so I did the same.
The water was cool and clear. There had to be a hidden spring somewhere close by.
Then the headman took one of the loaves and broke it, keeping a piece for himself, he offered the rest to Elrohir, who broke off another piece, then handed the loaf to me. I broke off an edge, too, and then carefully transferred the remaining part to the large brass plate sat on the ground between us.
We ate the bread.
Then the headman smiled at us. "Now that there is peace between us, we can talk."
Remember never to travel anywhere without knowing how to establish peaceful relations with the natives, I thought. But on the whole, this wild and dangerous tribe of the Eastern Lands did not really seem inimical towards us strangers from the West. Probably because of Elrohir being an elf. I liked the title the headman had given him. "Son of stars", that sounded even more beautiful than "Elf".
"Indeed we can, friend Umbra." Elrohir said, taking another sip of water, waiting for the headman to take the lead in the conversation.
"Well then, friend Elrohir", the headman said, and I thought I detected a hint of amusement in his voice. "Not many strangers travel into the Far East. What may it be that a son of the western stars is searching in the East?"
Elrohir was very still, and his eyes were dark with anguish when he answered. "I am looking for my twin-brother, Elladan, son of Elrond-Peredhel. He wanted to travel to the East and has not returned. We heard rumours about strange elves living far away in the East, near the Forgotten Mountains. I hope to find them. I hope that they have news from my brother."
The headman studied Elrohir's face thoughtfully. "I have not heard about another son of the western stars travelling through our lands. If your brother came through Rhûn, I would know. But there have always been tales about the forgotten children of the stars living in the woods at the feet of the Forgotten Mountains. Maybe your brother travelled far to the north, where my people never go. But even if you find him, do you believe he can help you?
The legend about the choice of the Half-Elven is known to my people. The children like it. We use it to teach the young ones about the quality of choices and decisions. It seems to me that with all the wisdom of your many centuries, you have yet to understand this lesson."
Elrohir looked away, his eyes gazing into the distance. His voice was full of sorrow, when he finally answered. "You may be right."
"Then there are Elves in the East?" I asked, my curiosity overcoming politeness and fear.
"Well, little one," the headman smiled at me, amusement obvious on his face. "There have always been legends about children of the stars, those, who you call Elves, living far away in the Eastern woods and mountains. They are called the forgotten ones, because it is said that they never went into the west, and were finally forgotten by the stars, and all their western kin. Though perhaps not by the One. And we have a saying about legends and stories: where there is smoke, there may be fire. I have never seen them. But my tribe does not venture so far to the north."
I was intrigued. Forgotten elves? If they really existed, how could it have happened that they were forgotten by the Valar? And why?
Elrohir was staring at the dark skinned nomad pensively. He had not heard about elves in the East either. He had not believed the rumours I had heard from the dwarf, not being absolutely free from the customary suspicious attitude of elves towards dwarves. But he did believe this wild man from the Eastern plains. And he did not think it was only a legend. "May we have your permission to travel your lands? I would like to search for these Eastern Elves. If they really exist, as you believe they do, perhaps my brother is with them. Even if he cannot help me, I want to see him again, before I… choose."
The headman inclined his head, the harsh lines of his face softening to an expression of understanding. "I hope you find your brother. Being able to bid your fare-well eases the passing."
"I don't know. Maybe. Thank you for your permission. I would be honoured if you accepted this gift in return." Elrohir said, producing a small box from the inside of his cloak.
The headman accepted it and opened it. Inside was many-faceted jewel set in a golden base.
"It shows the approaching weather, taking on the colour of clouds and sky."
"Ahhh", sighed the headman, his voice dark with reverence. "A kingly gift, my Lord. May the stars shine on your way. And yours, my Lady." He nodded to me.
"But I hope you will stay for the night, some singing and dancing seems in order, to say good-bye to new-found friends."
We stayed for a long night of tales and songs and dances around the bonfire on the village square. We were served spicy dishes of goat meat and chickpeas, sticky rice and strong red wine. The music was foreign – keening one-stringed instruments, lilting pipes and rolling drums with tingling brass coins at their edges – but strangely beautiful and suited to the harsh, melancholy landscape of these windswept plains.
Our hands were clasped tightly and we were drawn into warm embraces of fare-well after the feast, but in the morning no one appeared to take any notice of our leaving, waving us good-bye or something like that. After the warmth of feeling I had encountered among these strange people during the previous night, I was more than a little confused by that behaviour and looked back at the small settlement of tents in their sheltered hollow, feeling disappointed by our new friends.
Elrohir – reading my thoughts once again – explained why.
"They believe you can never meet again. Even if their men return, they will be changed by what they have seen and done. And more often then not, anyone who leaves will never return at all."
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.