8. Of Plots and Prey
Lost. Completely, utterly lost. Ellie stood in the long corridor and scratched absently at the back of her scalp. Perhaps she shouldn't have wandered out of her room. Clearly she'd been meant to stay there - Neldor had always made sure she was securely locked in. But she'd been itching to be out of the room, pleasant and airy though it was, out of the basic human (or Elvish?) need of freedom.
And where was everybody? She'd not seen a single elf since she stepped out of her room. She doubted that the Haven's staff consisted only of Neldor, Cirdan and that poor girl who fainted in her room the other day.
Then she heard it - the slosh of water in a bucket, and the squeak-eek of someone vigorously polishing a marble floor.
Moving hopefully in the direction of the sound, she came upon the very same elf-maiden she had met only a couple of days before, squatting on the floor and enthusiastically rubbing at the pale grey marble with a large cloth.
The maiden squealed and fell backwards, knocking over the bucket.
"Oh, sorry, sorry," muttered Ellie as she offered a hand and pulled the maiden upright. She didn't think she had been that quiet in her approach. A feeling of dread began to creep up on her as she realized the woman's expression had gone from one of fright to absolute adoration. She'd nearly forgotten about her impressive Balrog-Slayer form.
"Er," she said nervously, dropping the maiden's hand. "Could you tell me how to get back?" She waved in the vague direction of where she thought the infirmary might be. "You know, back?" Her movements got more frantic as the maiden flushed and began to look a little faint. "Don't faint? Please?" The maiden's only response was to hold a wrist weakly to her forehead and sway dangerously on her feet.
Not knowing what else to do, Ellie fled.
* * *
Neldor smiled to himself as he serenely pounded a handful of dried herbs into powder with mortar and pestle. Utterly relaxed, surrounded by the soothing scent of pulverized plant material and the pleasant bubbling of fresh potions over the fire, he lazily wondered if the Balrog-Slayer was wishing himself back in his rooms and under Neldor's reassuring guardianship. The halls of the Shipwright could be a perilous place for a stranger.
Neldor's thoughts were interrupted by the faint patter of running Elven feet and a familiar, annoyingly high voice.
"Uncle, uncle!" A pretty dark head appeared around the door. "You will not believe the goings-on!"
The dear, empty-headed twit, thought Neldor dryly. Over a thousand years old and still as brainless as a goldfish. Haneth[i] (an ironic name, but his sister had always been somewhat sarcastic) always came to him when she had heard of some new, juicy piece of gossip. And he encouraged her, not because he enjoyed it (quite the contrary), but because he had supposed it useful to have his own informant.
"Niece," he greeted, with that particular, carefully crafted grin of avuncular affection that he reserved especially for Haneth. "It is good to see you. Come in!"
The elleth fairly bounced into the herb-room, looking fit to burst, and plopped herself down beside her uncle. "Oh, the things I have heard!" she squealed happily, jiggling Neldor's arm. Neldor suppressed his irritation with some difficulty, and forced an indulgent smile. If I had a daughter like this, I would sail West too, he thought, remembering the barely-veiled looks of relief on his sister and brother-in-law's faces as they boarded the ship. I only hope she has the news I want.
"Pray tell," he said, putting away his work and giving his niece his full attention.
Unfortunately, Neldor was forced to endure a full half-hour report on the whitefish crisis in the kitchens and the sudden, mystifying appearance of freckles on some unfortunate maiden. Did the girl ever need to stop for breath?
"... And Miniel met this golden-haired ellon who was very handsome and chivalrous and kind ..." Golden-haired? He knew of only one blond fellow in the whole of Círdan's realm. And Miniel, that silly fainting girl. Pricking up his ears, he gestured for Haneth to go on.
"He also spoke strangely," continued Haneth obligingly. "And Miniel thinks it is some kind of archaic language, but of course she would not know; perhaps Lindir will, he is very clever..."
"So, what has become of this elf?" asked Neldor, interrupting his niece before she started extolling the virtues of her beloved (who, in his opinion, was only marginally more intelligent than Haneth herself).
"Miniel has gone to look for him now, and most of the girls with her. She said he seems dreadfully shy, and might have been lost," she replied. "I would have gone along too, just to see if he is as handsome as Miniel says. But I had to tell my dearest uncle first!"
"I am glad," replied Neldor, smiling genuinely this time. Just as I anticipated, he thought smugly. The elf-women of the Havens were noted for their ... desperation in the matters of the heart (as unwary male visitors usually found out to their horror or delight). Small wonder, as most of the elf-men were far too preoccupied with ships and the sea to notice something substantially smaller, like an elleth (or a stowaway rat, for that matter). The few who engaged in other pursuits, being a rare and prized commodity, had found themselves rapidly snapped up (with the exception of Neldor, of course, but Neldor decided that a gem like himself was fated to be underappreciated in this seaside town with its simple, saltwater-loving people). He had a very good guess as to the current fate of the dashing Balrog-slayer.
"Miniel also says he is under your care," said his niece, tightening her grip on Neldor's arm and jogging him out of his musings. "Why have you not mentioned him before? Tell me more about this man, uncle!"
Neldor shifted uneasily. "Well, er, patient confidentiality, you know!" He stood up quickly, and put away his herbs. Time to execute his plan. "I have something to attend to, Haneth -- healer's business-and I must go now." And with that, he swept like a whirlwind out of the room, very nearly tripping on a flagstone in his hurry.
* * *
Ellie panicked. She'd run blindly away from that besotted girl, only to run into more elf-women. They'd each given her that sly, calculating, predatory look that terrified her out of her wits and caused her to flee in the other direction. A part of her told her it was silly to run, that these graceful, beautiful people probably meant her no harm, but what she decided was Glorfindel's pre-programmed initiuition informed her that these lovely ladies could just have something more sinister in their agendas, and she wanted nothing more than to get as far away from them as she possibly could. She could hear their light, melodious laughter not far behind, and wagered they'd done this before. Heavens, who would have thought the mere sight of a good-looking fellow would cause a group of civilized women to behave like a pack of starving hyenas?
She dashed madly through a narrow corridor, towards the light and a glimpse of greenery, hoping to get out in the open. As luck would have it, she found herself trapped within a walled garden. Miserably, she watched with an impending sense of doom as the first of the ellith strolled leisurely into the garden, having obviously taken a shortcut. More followed, smiling their sweet, shy smiles - three, five, ten. Close to hysterics, she looked wildly about for an escape route. Not even a tree, only disappointingly short flowering shrubs and the grey, stone wall. The wall! It didn't seem unduly high, only a little taller than her shoulders. Glorfindel could scale it. He had to. Taking a deep breath, Ellie retraced her steps and broke into a headlong run. A leap, a half-conscious execution of an Elven gymnastic feat, and she was up and over the wall, leaving the feminine cries of surprise and dismay far, far behind.
* * *
Thinking ahead was something Mandos had never been terribly good at. It came with being the Doomsman of the Valar - what could you plan after someone's doom, anyway? Except, of course, for where the spirits of the dead should be kept, but the assorted Maia assigned to the Halls saw to these trivial matters. Now he had a problem on his hands. Fëanor, someone not supposed to be released from the Halls till the ending of the world, was currently re-embodied (well, sort of), and therefore eligible for release. Manwë, once he had heard of this, would probably explode. Mandos winced and surveyed his options. He could probably keep Random Newly-Re-embodied Elf #2 in the Halls for awhile, citing the wretched thing's psychological problems as a valid reason, while he tried to figure out a way to extract Fëanor (which he frankly had no idea how). Of course, the simplest way would be to get the elf killed again. But being a Vala and supposed upholder of morality meant conforming to certain rules, which, since he greatly valued his current occupation, he had no notion of circumventing.
He returned to his observation of the hapless elf (ah, he had Aulë to thank for those helpful one-way mirrors), whose crying and whimpering had slowly given way to a dark brooding and occasional bursts of angry, rapid speech. All very eerily familiar. Mandos began to wish he had experimented on Maeglin instead.
* * *
Ellie loved this body. Strong, agile, athletic-everything her own hadn't been. She couldn't help laughing; for the joy of having left those scary women behind; for the pleasure of stretching these wonderful, supple legs in such glorious exercise; for the sensation of long, golden locks flying in the salt-tinged breeze. She sprinted through gardens, lawns, verandas (startling not a few elves peacefully having their afternoon tea) and danced on top of balustrades, for the sheer delight of it. Finally, here was something she liked better than plants - the intoxicating rush of adrenaline through her blood, and the exhilarating feeling of freedom under the wide, open sky.
She spotted yet another wall in her path, made of white stone, and higher than the one she had just scaled. Impulsively, childishly, she decided to see if she could leap it. Besides, it would put more distance between her and them. With a flying bound she vaulted easily over the wall and landed on her feet in a half-crouch. Triumphantly she straightened up-and found herself locked in the gaze of a pair of stormy grey eyes.
Those incredible eyes were set in an incredibly handsome, sculpted face, framed by incredibly beautiful, flowing silver hair, set atop an incredibly muscular, bare torso covered in a sheen of perspiration. Ellie gulped.
The man's look of mild astonishment turned to one of impatience, and with some amount of guilt Ellie realized that he must have been speaking to her. Not that she could understand, anyway. As she wracked her stunned brain for an appropriate response, the man folded his arms crossly, and Ellie noticed he was holding a large hammer. Glancing about, she discovered herself in a shipyard, where a group of twenty or so men seemed to be working on some kind of watercraft. Círdan's elves, she thought dazedly. They were all possessed of a kind of silver beauty that would've put Neldor (whom she'd thought was the most good-looking male she'd ever seen till this moment) to shame. And heaven help her, they were all stripped to the waist. And staring at her. Ellie could feel heat rising to her cheeks. Determined to save herself further embarrassment, she hastily vaulted back over the wall, ignoring the shouts of confusion behind her.
* * *
"Where is he?" muttered Neldor to himself. He had been wandering the halls and gardens for quite some time now, without any luck. The ellith too, seemed to have lost the scent, and were now milling around, looking quite forlorn. Suddenly a flash of gold caught his attention. Glorfindel! An exclamation from an overhead balcony told him that the ellith had seen him, too. The hunt was on.
Huffing a little, cursing the frivolousness of female youth, and berating himself for not having exercised since the end of the First Age, Neldor followed as best as he could, through the numerous balconies and verandas of the West Wing. They would probably try to corner Glorfindel on one of the higher balconies, he reasoned, where they ended in a sheer cliff-drop rather than led to another part of the building. This was exactly what had happened to the visitor from Lórinand[ii] not long ago. The poor elf, in his desperation, had bounded up a nearby tree and refused to come down until Círdan himself came to his aid. He sailed shortly afterwards. Precisely the kind of harrowing experience that would considerably reduce Glorfindel's animosity towards Neldor himself, if he could only make a timely rescue.
* * *
The sun beat down heavily, its heat finally stirring the courier from his deep slumber. Yawning, he slowly crawled out of his bedroll and breakfasted heartily on fine foods (Neldor had been uncharacteristically generous). Then he ambled to the little meadow where he had left his mount and spent the ensuing hour and a half coaxing the very reluctant horse to come away from the sweet grass. Eventually he managed to clamber on (but not before discovering his distended abdomen was now somewhat of a hindrance to any physical activity), and the pair set off at a leisurely trot towards Minas-en-Elenath[iii], Gil-galad's stronghold by the mountains.
* * *
Ellie wondered what she'd ever done to warrant such mistreatment from the divine powers. She'd been a well-behaved, low-profile botanist in the employment of the National Parks Services, living out her days quietly and peacefully and harming no living thing (except cockroaches and the occasional plague of aphids). Now she was stuck in a dead hero's body, and cornered by a bevy of beauties (far greater in number than in the beginning; it seemed her running about had attracted a great deal of unwanted attention) on a high balcony. Life surely couldn't get any more absurd.
"Um, ladies?" she stammered, scrunching up her face into what she hoped was an ugly frown. "I'd much appreciate it if you ... back away. Look, I'm not who you think I am, alright? Or even what you think I am." Unfortunately the women didn't seem to take the hint, and giggled lightly to themselves, coyly batting their eyelids. Ellie decided to take more drastic action. "Go!" she growled, waving her arms in what she hoped was an imperiously dismissive gesture. The maids twittered, puzzled, but otherwise seemed unfazed. A few of them latched onto her arm, murmuring soft questions, and Ellie couldn't get rid of them, short of violently flinging them off. Ellie was getting desperate. Yet, at this critical moment, Ellie's brain perversely refused to come up with an escape strategy, preferring instead to dwell on unhelpful subjects such as the depressing similarity between her situation and that of a deer surrounded by a pack of wolves, and whether Glorfindel had a wife.
Just as she was dimly contemplating the thirty-foot drop to the ground, a very welcome voice, bristling with irritation, resounded through the garden. Neldor, Ellie heaved a sigh of relief. Almost reflexively the maids drew back as the healer came marching towards Ellie, muttering angrily; he said something in a firm tone which appeared to mollify them. Ellie looked on in bemusement as understanding dawned on the women's faces, and one or two even shot her pitying glances. What had he told them? But she had no time to ponder, for Neldor, shaking his head, grabbed Ellie by the shoulder and began to steer her through the little crowd.
Maybe I've wronged him after all, thought Ellie, pointedly ignoring the numerous scented handkerchiefs that the suddenly butter-fingered maidens dropped on her path. He had come for her, even after all the hostility she'd shown him. "Thank you," she said, pouring all her gratefulness into the two words. Neldor beamed, understanding, and led her back into the maze of sea-grey corridors.
[i] Haneth (S.): Intelligent female. Does not accurately describe Neldor's niece.
[ii] Lórinand : Old name for Lothlórien.
[iii] Minas-en-Elenath: Tower under the stars, my name for Gil-galad's fortress. Círdan, however, persists in calling it a "palace".
Many thanks to the Merin Essi ar Quenteli website for their Elvish translations, and to the angels of GoI for their wonderful beta-work.
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.