The archers were all mounted and ready to ride out. Tindómë had said her farewells in private to Rumil, Orophin, and Legolas. She had admonished each one to be careful – and each one had given her an almost identical look in response.
Rumil leant down from Hirilmith and brushed his fingertips across Tindómë’s cheek. There would be nothing more in public, even here amongst elves, but the touch would remain with her as much as all they had done together the night before. Legolas gave the word, and the company rode away from the village.
Not until the horses had all disappeared from sight did the Elves who had watched them leave turn away and get back to their tasks of the day. But get back to them they did and soon the sound of voices, singing as the work was done, echoed around the trees.
Tindómë had expected things to be a little sombre, at least for the morning, but then she thought that these elves had watched warriors go on patrol, or off to fight battles, many, many times. It was probably better to just get on with things as usual and, really, it was not a lot different to when Rumil and Orophin left Caras Galadhon regularly to take their turn out on the fences. Except that it was. And it was not the same as seeing Buffy or the Potentials getting ready for battle either.
They would be away for goodness knows how long and she still didn’t have an Elven attitude to time; it would feel like a long time to her even if they thought they were not away for long at all. But, she mentally shook herself, she had agreed that it was right for Rumil and Orophin to go if it was right for Legolas. Now she had to get on with being an Ithilien elleth.
There were tasks to do, everyday things to keep her occupied, boring though some of them were. She went back to Legolas’ cottage and decided to do one of those boring tasks; she stripped the sheets from his bed and took them to the place on the riverbank where the washing was done. She would do Orophin’s tomorrow; but Rumil’s she would take to her own bed for a time, to keep the smell of him with her when it wore off the sheets on which they had lain last night.
Other ellyth greeted her when she arrived, and helped her wash the sheets. Often she wished for the washing machine from the basement at Sunnydale, or at the least a Laundromat, but today she was glad of the menial task to keep her busy. Sisters and friends of other warriors were doing the same thing and, by the time all the bedding was spread out to dry, she had been invited to eat with some of the others that night.
They were riding south. They had joined with the mounted men of the army of Gondor, with their King at their head, and the éored of Rohirrim Riders led by Éomer King. Rumil and Orophin rode in the middle of the Elven party. Aragorn – no, best think of him as King Elessar – had greeted them by name when he welcomed the party, but he had also done the same to three or four other ellyn. The same was true of his brothers, who remained beside him, and Gimli; who did join the company of Elven archers, riding with Legolas as he had in the past.
Éomer King had also picked Orophin and Rumil out by name, and spoken to them for some time, when they made camp for the first night. This had been the source of one or two jests from the other ellyn, but nothing more; and then they had entertained those others over the evening meal with tales of the Rohirric warriors making unexpected advances to them, in those post Ring War days in Minas Tirith. By the end of that first night the two Galadhrim warriors felt they had been totally accepted by even those others whose names they had only recently learnt.
Rumil had slept as they rode, just as he had planned, and was happy to take watch for much of the night. As he finally lay down on his bedroll he thought, briefly, of the last time he and Orophin had been in a band of warriors; camped amongst the Rohirrim and the men of Gondor on the ride back from the Black Gate. Then, Tindómë had been with them; unconscious, broken, and in almost every way unknown to him. Now they were surrounded by their own kind and Tindómë was well and safe in Eryn Ithil, known to him as none other was, and he reached for her hand as he stepped onto his dream path.
It was a week since the warriors had left. Tindómë had washed Orophin’s bedding and left the brothers’ accommodation clean and tidy. She had started to sort out the books and scrolls that were stored in a couple of trunks in the living area of Legolas’ cottage, been berry-picking with some of the ellyth, and had eaten as part of the community each night. Now she had decided that some of her clothes needed to be washed – although she still clung to the sheets Rumil had slept between with her.
As she approached the washing area she could, not surprisingly, hear female voices. But then she realised they seemed to be talking about her.
“I am surprised that she has stayed even a week – she will be off to join her own kind soon, you wait…”
“Why would she want to leave our village? She is Legolas’ gwethil after all.”
“And Elbereth alone might know why he did that. But then, our Prince is young, and he was surrounded by mortals…”
A third voice joined in. “Tindómë may not look exactly like an elf, but she is an immortal – why would she want to leave here to go to be amongst mortals?”
“We only have her word that she is immortal…”
“No. Legolas, Rumil, and Orophin say that she is immortal. Mithrandir told them so.”
“Yes, well, he is not here – and I see no reason to believe that she is anything but some Mannish female who wishes to join with ellyn…”
Oh! Someone was so going to get an ear-bashing… Tindómë began to move towards the river again, knowing she would soon be within sight of the ellyth who were talking.
“Hush, Laegwen, Tindómë approaches!”
“She will not hear what we say; she has the deaf ears of a Man.”
Tindómë wanted to take Laegwen and shake her. But would it be better to act as if she’d not heard? No! Then it would convince Laegwen that she was right and Tindómë was not edhelfaral – not even peredhel.
As she approached the three ellyth she reminded herself that she was sworn kin to the Lord of Ithilien and also, as Elladan had once told Lady Wilflede in Rohan, the ward of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. She pulled herself up as straight as possible and arranged her features into an expression modelled on Lady Galadriel at her most imperious; then channelled her ladyship’s voice at its most chilling.
“Do you have a problem with my presence, here, in the woods over which my gwador has Lordship, Laegwen?”
The elleth in question looked slightly surprised, but did not immediately answer, and so Tindómë continued.
“If you consider your Lord, Legolas, to be too young to know what he is doing I am surprised that you chose to follow him here. Perhaps you felt the need for adventure; that you doubt Mithrandir’s knowledge does show you know little of life outside your own glade of the Great Greenwood. All those who dwelt in the Stronghold would know that King Thranduil respects Mithrandir’s word on things.” (Although, from tales told by Legolas, the King might not always have been happy with what Mithrandir said or did…!)
Hardly pausing, Tindómë went on with the attack.
“While you are right that there are
human women who might find ellyn desirable, my lessons with Lord Celeborn,” (‘Yay to go, Tindómë! Name Droppers-R-us!’) “suggest that more ellyth are attracted to mortal men. Look at Idril, or Luthien… So, perhaps, you chose to accompany your Prince here to see what that attraction was for yourself?”
Behind Laegwen, Tindómë could see one of the other ellyth looked amused – the other looked… impressed. Yes, definitely impressed.
Laegwen had found her voice. “I… No – most certainly not… how dare you?”
“How dare I? You
are the one who is questioning not only my
integrity,” (‘Good word!’) “but that of your own Lord, amongst others.
“However,” she continued, “I will not bother him with such trivia on his return. Let me suggest, instead, a wager. You do not think I am likely to stay here, in Eryn Ithil, but will go to the home of Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn, or to Minas Tirith? I am sure I would be welcomed in either place – Legolas suggested I might go to spend time copying useful documents from their libraries – but I have no plans to do so.
“You also doubt that I am immortal and suggest that I have lied about this to your Lord, amongst others.”
She was still managing to channel her inner Galadriel pretty well, she thought, but perhaps it was time to think more like one of the guys, now.
“So – my wager. Shall we say just twenty gold pieces to be paid if I am still here amongst the Elves when the warriors return? With a larger wager on the subject of my mortality or immortality as, there, you slight not only me but others? One hundred gold pieces, to be paid in fifty years? That would be long enough for you to be sure whether or not I show mortal signs of aging. Do you accept?”
She was pretty sure the other elleth would have to accept – she would certainly lose face if she didn’t; the other two were there to witness if she backed down. Those other two ellyth were both, now, looking at Laegwen who looked blankly at Tindómë.
Finally Laegwen answered. “Certainly. Who will pay me if you are not here when the warriors return, or have grown old and died in fifty years?”
Oh – cool as a cucumber, eh?
“Legolas,” Tindómë answered almost immediately. “He stands as kin to me. Would you agree,” she waved at the other two ellyth, “that he would willingly pay if it was proved that he had been wrong in his assumptions about me?”
Looking equally serious one of the others said “Of course. In that event we would ensure he knew of the wager.”
Tindómë noticed, though, that the speaker, mother of the settlement’s only elfling, had a definite twinkle in her eyes.
“Thank you, Tária,” Tindómë said and then, ignoring Laegwen, began to sort out her washing.
Laegwen said nothing more, gathered up her own clean washing, and left.
“Well said, Tindómë,” said Tária, “please do not take any notice of Laegwen. She offered to come to Ithilien in the hopes of meeting interesting ellyn in a close-knit community, I think. And you are, so clearly, going to bind to one of the only two ellyn here, so far, who do not already know her. I fear this sours her view of you. No-one else sees you as anything other than a peredhel elleth, who is now kin to Legolas, and welcome amongst his people.”
The third elleth, Tária’s sister, voiced her agreement. Soon the three were chatting happily about the elfling, Merilwen, asleep in her basket nearby, the possibility of other Galadhrim coming to Ithilien in the future, and so on. But Tindómë didn’t find it quite so easy to forget Laegwen’s words.
It became hotter as they rode, both further south and further into summer, following the old Harad Road. They moved more slowly since they had been joined by the foot soldiers, who had sailed down the Anduin until the course of the river and the road became too divergent. Now they were also joined by a troop of local men; one of these new arrivals told them they were now in the lands of South Gondor, although still many leagues from the area disputed by the Haradrim warlord.
The Elves, of course, were not particularly bothered by the heat but many of the Rohirrim finally shed their armour and rode, as the Elves had done since they left Ithilien, in tunics and leggings. Rumil noticed, though, that many of them seemed to be becoming redder in their faces and on other bared skin.
He asked Elladan about this one evening, when the other ellon came to join them for a while, and was surprised to hear that the men’s skin was tender enough to burn in the sun.
“Many of the men of Gondor come from these southern lands, or had forefathers who did – their skin is darker and less likely to burn than the Rohirrim. The sons of Imrahil are more comfortable, for example, than Éomer. But, if we reach the land of Near Harad, the men who live there cover their heads at mid-day to prevent illness caused by their brains over-heating. We will encourage the Rohirrim to do likewise.”
Rumil, conscious as ever of Tindómë’s body, somewhere between that of a mortal and an elleth, ‘filed away’ (as she would have described it) this information in case he ever needed it.
All the Elves had studied maps of the area and Rumil knew, from a quiet conversation with the dwarf, that Gimli had done likewise and for the same reason. All had wondered how close to the sea their route would take them, all conscious of how it could effect Legolas, some wondering how they might react themselves if they heard the cry of the gulls.
Fortunately it seemed likely that they would stay many leagues from the sea. Rumil was not worried for himself or Orophin; they had been with Legolas on the Corsair ships when he had first been struck by the sea-longing. He was glad, though, that it was unlikely that they would have to return to Eryn Ithil without its Lord because he could resist the pull of the West no longer.
Each night the Elves checked their bows, their spare strings, the fletching on the arrows. They cared for their horses, oiled the leather straps of quivers, scabbards, and armour, and waited for what was to come. Each night Rumil thought of Tindómë and, as he had told her he would, remembered each freckle, the curve of her beautiful behind, the tiny pink molehills that tipped her round breasts… and smiled as he walked the dream paths.
Eldroth, Eryn Ithil’s marchwarden, asked that the ellyth attend weapons practice. All the ellyth could use a bow if called upon, although some were out of practice, and all had also been taught to defend themselves with a knife if needs be; they had lived their lives in the shadow threatened Greenwood when it had been rightly called Mirkwood.
“It is as well,” Eldroth said, “to be prepared, when some of our warriors are at war.”
Tindómë went, the first time, with Túriel – Tária’s sister, who had been there when she had made the wagers with Laegwen. The other elleth had an archer’s braids in her hair – the first time Tindómë had seen any of the ellyth with them.
Túriel noticed her looking at them and explained, “Many of us passed as archers over the years – but we only show it if we are using the skill, unlike the ellyn.”
Despite Túriel’s words Tindómë was glad that she hadn’t worn the swordsman’s braids Orophin and Rumil had once given her, even though… Eldroth interrupted her thought, sending Túriel to one group, Tindómë to another.
The ellon in charge of her group said that, as she was so young, he would not expect her to have her full strength yet, or be anywhere near as skilled as any of the others in this group – in which, she noted, none of the other ellyth had archer’s braids, either.
In fact, subsequently, the trainer professed himself pleasantly surprised with how good she was – at about the level he would expect from a young ellon entering warrior training. Tindómë was happy with that, and thought Rumil and Orophin would have been too – as would the weapons-master in Caras Galadhon who had helped them train her in archery.
As their session drew to a close Eldroth came over to watch before speaking to Tindómë.
“I know that you have your own sword,” he said, “bring it tomorrow that you may practice with that as well.”
So next day, although she took her bow with her, she also wore her sword. The beautiful sword the Imladris smiths had made for her last winter. Eldroth, and the two other wardens present, asked if they could look closely at it, and seemed well impressed – as Tindómë reckoned they should. They appeared to be even more impressed when they began sparring with her. A winter of almost daily lessons with the Els and Glorfindel had certainly honed her skills.
“If any of the young ellyn I have trained over my years in Eryn Lasgalen had been this good with a sword whilst still in their fifties* I would have awarded them their swordsman’s braids straight away,” the marchwarden said after Tindómë’s third or fourth bout.
She bowed her head slightly, in acknowledgement, but didn’t say anything. She was actually glad that only the twins, and now Glorfindel, regularly called her ‘tithen maethor’ – Eldroth had made his own decision, not coloured by anyone else’s name for her, earned or not.
“Yes,” he said, nodding his head, “I think, tonight.”
‘Tonight what?’ Tindómë wondered.
She found out when night fell and, as usual, many of the elves gathered around a central fire to eat and talk. Eldroth stood and called for silence.
“Not only is it advisable for the ellyth to make sure they are reacquainted with their bows, their knives, and their swords in some cases, but it is also advisable for all our border patrols to be up to strength.”
Tindómë knew that the loss of a company of twenty or so warriors would not have had much effect on guarding the fences in Lorien, nor would it have been likely to have much effect on the patrols she been told were kept in Eryn Lasgalen, or on the watch kept over Imladris. But in this small community it was quite a high proportion of the warriors who usually did warden duties.
Now, Eldroth was requesting that those ellyth who had passed their basic warrior training and earned their archers’ braids would take their turns on the fences. After all, he went on, it was better to be prepared for problems never met than to meet an unexpected situation short handed.
That leaves me at home… no change there then, Tindómë thought, rather sadly, until she heard Eldroth mention her by name.
“…is clearly very skilled with a sword, even at such a young age. I would request that you, also, take your turn on the fences.”
‘Elo!’ Tindómë thought.
“…as we have no other young elves to reach warrior status, and our Lord is not available, I think it acceptable that Saeldauron and I do it now.”
So, although she would never tell them it was so, for the second time in six months Tindómë found herself standing between two ellyn formally putting swordsman’s braids in her hair. She was sure that Glorfindel and the Els, who had shared the duty between them in the Hall of Fire, would be very happy to know that the Eryn Ithil Marchwarden agreed with their earlier decision…
* Elves come of age at 50. Young elves will start learning the bow well before that, and sword by the age of 40 or so. They will not qualify as warriors until they are over 50. The elves see Tindómë as being about 52 or 53 as she is only a little past her majority as declared by Galadriel.
edhelfaral – almost elven
peredhil – half-elven
Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only, and all rights remain with the estate of JRR Tolkien. (And Joss Whedon if he is at all bothered that Tindómë once spent a short time in his care...)