1. Actions and Reactions
Ivoreth groaned as her Ada carefully set her back on the ground, and she clung to his hands for the long moment it took to make certain she wasn’t going to collapse in a heap like she had the first two days. Morrod, the huge, black war stallion who had carried her all day for the last four days, turned his face around as he had every evening upon halting to snuffle into the girl’s hair and lip her ear until Ivoreth finally felt stable enough to turn and give his forehead a scratch. “I love you too,” she told the proud mount, “I just wish riding you didn’t make me ache.”
“The more often you ride, the more you’ll get used to it, daughter,” Ada told her as he pulled out the small, silver flask of tonic that he’d given her at the end of each day’s ride so far. The liquid inside tasted like sun-ripened fruit, and Ivoreth savored the small sip she was allowed. Then, as he had every time they stopped either to rest or camp for the evening, he held both her hands and led her in a small circle until her legs could work without a stiff jerk.
He had been distressed when, at the end of the first day’s ride, Ivoreth had been completely unable to stand. She remembered that he’d told her that she’d be uncomfortable, but for her entire lower body to be numb surprised her and, she was sure, frightened her Ada. The end of each day since was a little better, but Ivoreth was genuinely looking forward to a time when she wouldn’t have to think about climbing on a horse’s back again.
“I can do it now, Ada,” Ivoreth told him and took a few careful and painful steps away from his hold to demonstrate that she was once more able to move on her own.
Ada nodded and turned back to his mount, untying and handing down to her the various clothing and foodstuffs bundles that needed to be removed before the saddles could come away. He loosened the straps from the warhorse’s belly and lifted first the child’s seat away from the larger saddle and then cleared Morrod’s back completely, draping the saddles over a fallen log nearby.
As Ada cared for Morrod, Ivoreth carried the bundles over to where the Lórien Elves were already establishing a circle of stones within which they would build the evening’s cooking fire. In the four days she had been on the road with the Elves, it had become her task every evening to set up the sleeping blankets for her family; with hers closest to the fire, then Raini and then Celebriel – with Ada’s blankets at one end and Elrohir’s at the other to surround them. The bending and stretching involved in laying out the blankets properly helped get her muscles used to moving again, and she sighed as she straightened when the task was once more finished for the evening.
She could hear Elrohir playing with Raini, as he usually did at the end of the long day’s ride, to get her ready to spend time on her feet. She looked away with a sigh of remorse whispering through her lips before the dark-haired Elf could see her staring at him and turn away from her again. She didn’t blame him for his treatment – after all, he had yet to forgive her for stealing from him and his punishment of choice was a painful silence except for rare and curtly voiced orders to do something. He hadn’t believed her to be so crippled at the end of the first day’s ride, and his remarks – when Ada was nowhere close by – had been as sharp and painful as the reawakening muscles themselves. But the number of ways she knew to do things for him to try to win back his favor was running low, and the continued distance between the two of them distressed her greatly. Every cold glance, every turned shoulder in her direction was as if Ada himself were chastising her, and she was beginning to avoid Elrohir herself first now. If she stayed far away from him, his avoidance didn’t hurt quite so much.
“Hiril nîn,” a soft, Elven voice broke through her reverie. Ivoreth turned to find Belegorn, the captain of the Lórien warriors, holding out a pair of buckets. “Be careful, nethben, as the current of the river here is very fast and strong.”
Ivoreth nodded and walked toward the Anduin to fetch water for the evening meal and perhaps a quick wash before bedtime. This, too, was becoming routine. The Elves were efficient at setting up and breaking down their camp, and everyone but Raini had their accepted duties to fulfill to make the process run smoothly. Already Pilimor and Perdon stood at the edges of the river, poised to spear the evening’s fare. Ivoreth chose a spot several paces away to dip first one bucket and then the other into a small eddy that had formed between two large rocks, knowing enough by now to not want to startle any of the potential targets of the fisher-elves.
The place they had chosen to stop this evening was pretty, but then, everyplace they stopped to camp in or paused to rest the horses or even just passed through along the way was breathtaking to her. Nothing looked as solid or cold as the stone streets and buildings of Minas Tirith; a fresh green stretched as far as the eye could see, which Ada had told her came only in the Springtime, when all of Nature was newly awakened and growing. She looked over the green grass to the trees beyond and the purple-black shadow that Ada said were the Misty Mountains that they would eventually have to cross. Such sights she’d never dreamed of seeing only a few months earlier, when her entire world consisted of the interior of a large, stone cistern and the back alleys of the lowest Circle of the City.
What was more, the Elves themselves were starting to confuse her. One moment they’d be riding without hesitation or comment through or past a view that she found so beautiful that she could almost forget to breathe, and the next they’d be singing what sounded like hymns in soft harmonies that brought visions of green grass, dancing stars, and tall trees into the back of her mind. The most astonishing thing she discovered on this trip, however, was that Elves glowed – especially on cloudless nights. Even Ada glowed. For the first time, Ivoreth understood that she was living with people very different from her – and felt more than a little alone in a crowd.
The music of the river was soothing, and Ivoreth put the full buckets down carefully on the riverbank and then splashed cool water up into her face to wash away the dust from the day’s travel. She rose and took up the buckets again and carried them back to the fire circle and Belegorn. Her gaze roamed the camp to find her Ada still grooming Morrod, although Celebriel had joined him and now the two of them were caught up in an animated conversation that included some laughter. Now that Ada was around all the time, she was beginning to notice that Celebriel’s smile came just a little quicker for him than for anyone else – and that Ada himself seemed of lighter heart when she was near. The fondness between the two made her inclusion in their group that much more secure.
It was one of Ivoreth’s greatest regrets, however, that not all in the family was put to rights as yet. Once more, Ivoreth’s gaze obsessively sought out Elrohir. So much of her new life was good and beautiful now that she was free of Minas Tirith and all the memories that belonged there; and yet, his continued distance and disapproval of her ached desperately. He was alone now, grooming his own mount – Raini was wandering over to where Ada and Celebriel were talking – and if she wanted to speak to him without being overheard, now would be the time.
Do I dare? What if he refuses to talk to me again? How can he know how sorry I am if he never speaks to me again?
Elrohir’s war stallion was as black and huge as Morrod, and Ivoreth knew it took him just as long to groom the beast as it took Ada to care for his own mount. And now that Raini had caught Ada’s attention and would not need his vigilance, Elrohir had turned his full concentration on brushing the black war stallion until he shone.
Ivoreth took a deep breath to gather her courage and walked toward her Ada’s brother. She stopped when she was close enough that she knew he was aware of her presence, and she watched him work for a long moment. “Is there anything I can do for you, Elrohir?” she asked finally, when no other ideas for beginning a conversation would come to her.
“No, thank you,” was the brusque reply, with Elrohir not even glancing in her direction.
The rebuff wasn’t unexpected, but it still stung. “Can I ask you…”
“I’m busy, Ivoreth,” he interrupted her. “I’m certain Belegorn could use your help getting the meal around; I suggest you speak to him and let me finish my work.”
Normally, this kind of response was enough to push her into walking away while struggling to control her sadness. This time, desperation demanded she try one more time. “Are you going to be mad at me forever?”
The motion of running the brush over the stallion’s flanks hesitated slightly before continuing. “I don’t know,” he replied coldly. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“I don’t want you to be mad at me anymore.” It came out only barely louder than a whisper.
“What you want matters little at this point.” Finally Elrohir turned to her, and Ivoreth bore with the cold and angry expression out of gratitude that it was more than a simple dismissal. “You betrayed my trust – that isn’t something that can be just set aside because it’s inconvenient, Ivoreth. Trust is all any of us has in the other, and it is a fragile thing that can easily be shattered by simplest words or deeds. Once gone, it is difficult at best to build again, if not often impossible.”
The tears she’d been working so hard to control escaped. “I’m so sorry. I will never do anything like that again, Elrohir, I swear it. Please…”
He shook his head at her, and it was as if Ada himself denied her yet again. “Crying about it isn’t going to aid your cause either. This is the consequence of your actions, and you’ll have to learn to live with it. My trust was given to you freely once, and you broke it without a single thought. I’m not going to just give it to you again; you’ll have to earn it this time.”
“What must I do, then?” she begged, stepping closer to the Elf who was so much like her Ada she sometimes wondered which one she was looking at – until lately, that is. Now she could distinguish them easily; Ada smiled at her and Elrohir ignored or scowled at her. The resemblance between the two still confused her emotionally, however, and the rebuffs from Elrohir echoed within as if Elladan himself was pushing her away. “Tell me what to do!”
“You will have to prove to me that you deserve to be forgiven, and the only way you can do that is to be honest and truthful with others; and not just for the next few days, but from now on until the end of your days. I will have to know just from watching you that you no longer are thinking like a thief from Minas Tirith, but rather like a proper daughter from the house of Elrond.” His gaze lost some of its anger, and became wary, but did not stray from boring straight into her soul. “Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
No. I don’t understand you at all. I give up.
Ivoreth shook her head and turned away. Somehow she was going to have to learn to stay away from Elrohir completely from now on. He didn’t want to make things right ever again, and she didn’t want to feel as she did in that moment. She turned her head and looked around and then bolted for the nearest stand of trees at the fastest run she could manage. She had to get away, and get away now.
“Ivoreth! Come back here!” she heard him call out to her, his voice sharp and angry-sounding again. She ignored him – doing to him what he’d been doing to her and evidently would keep doing to her – and kept running. There were bushes at the base of the trees that were tall enough to hide her. For the first time since leaving the City, Ivoreth found herself wishing for the convenient drainage channels that had been her refuges and escape routes for so long.
She headed towards the base of the thickest brambles she could find, fear giving her feet wings as she heard the sound of a larger person who could only be Elrohir pushing through the bushes altogether too closely behind her. The thorns caught at the suede of her tunic and skirt, but she didn’t let them slow her anymore than possible. There was a hollow at the base of the largest tree around which the brambles had grown, and she pushed herself as deeply into the tree as she could.
“Come out here immediately! It isn’t safe in the trees after dark, and Anor will be setting soon!” Elrohir called out again, obviously trying to push through into the thicker brambles and being deterred, as Ivoreth had hoped. “Nuath! Ivoreth!”
Ivoreth ignored him and curled herself up into a small ball and threw her arm over her head.
I should never have said anything to him. Ada told me that I’d have to bear whatever punishment Elrohir chose to give me without complaint, but I didn’t know that I’d have to live with him being angry at me all the time from now on. I wish he’d just hit me and be done with it, like Da would have.
After a while, the sounds of an Elf calling for her and trying to force his way through the thorns ceased, and Ivoreth relaxed a bit from her protective curl, let her arm fall to her side and then leaned back against the inside of the tree. If she went back to Ada, Elrohir would see her and be even angrier at her for disobeying him. And, most likely, Ada would be angry with her as well. But the past three nights had easily been as cold and uncomfortable as the cistern had ever been, and even tucked within the protection of a tree, Ivoreth knew that without a blanket, she’d suffer the cold even more. And she was hungry; she’d not eaten well since leaving the City, mostly because the constant reminder of Elrohir’s anger stole any desire to eat away very quickly. If she stayed here, she’d not only be very cold very soon, but would remain hungry.
She had two choices, neither of which were good ones. She wrapped her arms around herself defensively, aching not only from the long hours in the saddle and the deep scratches on her face and arms, but from the bleeding wound in her soul from her guilt at what she’d done and Elrohir’s refusal to forgive her for it.
Ada! I don’t know what to do – tell me what to do!
“Ivoreth. Daughter. Come out now. You cannot remain here all night.”
Ivoreth roused and immediately shivered. Night had fallen, and the deep dark was bitterly cold without a blanket or the warmth of the camp fire. Worse, the hollow she’d slipped into was small enough that her muscles had stiffened painfully from being forced to fold themselves to fit.
“Ivoreth,” came the call again, this time in a patient and worried tone, “come out and come to the fire with me now. You need to eat and warm yourself, or you’ll make yourself ill.”
Ada. He doesn’t sound angry. But… is he?
Still, the idea that he’d come for her and waited outside the protective shield of brambles for her to come to him gave her a little courage to face him. Very slowly she tried to unfold herself and groaned when her legs refused to do as she wanted them to.
“Ada, I can’t move,” she whimpered desperately. She now wanted nothing more than to be in her Ada’s arms, where she could be warm. Ada knew how to make her stop hurting.
“I’m coming.” Ivoreth could hear the sound of movement in front of her for a few moments. “You really managed to get yourself stuck, didn’t you?” he commented as his large hands suddenly appeared and carefully pulled her from beneath the tree and through the thorns with ease.
If Ada could get to me, why didn’t Elrohir try? Does he really hate me so much?
The moment she was free, and before she had a chance to look around for the soft glow that was her Ada, she found herself wrapped in a warm blanket and gathered into comforting arms. “Are you mad at me too?” she asked in a small voice, too tired not to lean her head on her Ada’s shoulder in utter relief.
“We will talk once you’ve eaten,” was the answer.
Ivoreth’s stomach churned. So he is angry, then. Can I do nothing right anymore? “I’m not hungry,” she whimpered. The very thought of food made her half sick, despite the hollow and empty feeling in her stomach. She shivered despite the blanket, chilled to the bone.
Ada didn’t reply, just tightened his arms about her as she could feel his lengthy stride carry her back to the camp. She turned her face into his neck and kept her eyes tightly closed so that if Elrohir were nearby, she couldn’t see him at all. Ada brought her close to the fire, and Ivoreth sighed as the warmth finally began to slow her shivers. He sat down and stationed her on his lap so that she faced the fire, and then reached up when Pilimor handed him a thin wooden trencher with what promised to be a succulent roast fish and some of the remaining bread.
Ada set the trencher in Ivoreth’s lap, but she shook her head and moved it to the ground next to her. “I’m not hungry, Ada,” she repeated. The smell of the food turned her stomach. Tired beyond all belief, she closed her eyes and leaned back against Ada, praying that she could avoid the scolding that was certain to come by falling asleep before it got started.
“Didn’t Elrohir tell you that it was dangerous to be where you were after dark?” Ada asked in his calm voice – the one that made Ivoreth cringe when he was reminding her of something she should have known or listened to. Still, she loved Ada enough to give him an honest answer, so she nodded. “Then why…”
“Because he hates me, and I just wanted to get away,” slipped out before she had a chance to think.
Ivoreth sighed again and turned to try to tuck her face into her Ada’s shoulder.
“No, Ivoreth. What makes you think he hates you?” Ada sounded confused and concerned.
“I asked him if he was going to be mad at me forever, and he said he didn’t know,” Ivoreth gave up with a shudder and pulled herself into a smaller ball on Ada’s lap. “He told me there was nothing I could do to make him like me again – and asked if I understood.” A small sob escaped. “I didn’t understand, and all I wanted to do was get away from him.”
“There are still wolves and other beasts who would find a girl like you a juicy meal, sweetling,” Ada told her, pulling her to him again and then rubbing small circles onto her back through the blanket. “He may still be angry with you, but he wouldn’t want any harm to come to you. You should have come back with him when he called.”
“He doesn’t care what happens to me, and it just hurts so much to see him…” Ivoreth buried her face in the soft suede of Ada’s tunic. She didn’t have the words to tell him of her pain or how Elrohir’s behavior wounded her.
“He cares, Ivoreth. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t still be angry.”
It doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that is important anymore is to make sure that Ada doesn’t stop loving me the way Elrohir has.
“I’m sorry I ran, Ada. I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll stay close to you and do exactly what you tell me.” Since that seemed to be the thing that Ada was most concerned about, it was an easy promise to make. She wouldn’t run away from the camp again. She’d also never go anywhere near Elrohir again either - not if she could help it – and she’d certainly never try to talk to him at all anymore.
Ada seemed to hear her inner thoughts the way he sometimes did when she was very upset. “You need to be patient with Elrohir, little one. He has always been quick to anger and very slow to forgive, even when we were elflings. I know that you want to make things right, but the only way he’ll accept is for you to leave him alone until he’s ready to forgive, and then it will be an easy thing.” He inserted a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face to his, and her eyes opened and gazed sadly at him in the golden glow of the flames. “Trust me, Ivoreth; I’ve been through this with him too, many times.”
Somehow, knowing that Ada knew the pain of his brother’s rejection helped a bit. Ivoreth bit her lip, nodded again and tucked her face back into his tunic.
“Now, won’t you eat – just a little?”
She shook her head. “I’m not hungry, Ada – really.” Her stomach growled, but she was sure that if she tried to eat, it would only come right back up again.
Celebriel moved to sit down beside Ada and smoothed her hand over Ivoreth’s head. “Can you get me the salve from my bundle?” Ada asked her in a soft voice. “I need to treat the scratches on her body before they get infected.”
“Did she tell you anything?” the elleth asked when she returned, and Ivoreth could hear the worry in her voice.
“It is as you suspected,” Ada replied, and Ivoreth felt the first gentle application of an oily substance being rubbed into the worst of the gouges the thorns had left on her right arm. It stung, and she hissed a complaint but didn’t shrink away from Ada’s touch. After the first few times, she knew what to expect and didn’t even hiss anymore.
He wouldn’t use that stuff if it wasn’t going to help.
“I’m glad we’ll be in LothLórien in the next day or so. Maybe the Lady can help her,” Celebriel commented, holding out her arms. “Here, give her to me; you can treat her better if I hold her.”
“I’m not certain that it’s Ivoreth who needs the help at the moment,” Ada replied, gently shifting Ivoreth into Celebriel’s lap so that he could continue to treat the scratches.
“Go to sleep, nethben,” Celebriel soothed, running a hand over Ivoreth’s tangled hair. “Things will be better in the morning, I promise.”
Better for whom?
But Ivoreth had no more energy left with which to remain awake, and her eyes slid closed.
Hiril nîn - my Lady
Nethben - Little One
Nuath - Shadow, a mild expletive