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An Unexpected Meeting  by Bodkin

4: Lost

The servants removed evidence of the picnic from the lawn and disappeared through the open doors into the castle, leaving baskets of fruit and cool pitchers of juice and crisp wine.  Mithrellas had ignored them, disregarding their constant surreptitious attention, but she sighed with relief as the last one departed.

‘My apologies,’ Imrahil said simply.  ‘I doubt that many who live here have ever seen an elf.’

‘You must have been the subject of much interest as you travelled here,’ Amrothos remarked, fixing his eyes on her.  ‘And much of it could have been more threatening than simple curiosity.’

‘Elves do not generally have much difficulty in avoiding attention,’ Mithrellas told him.  ‘I simply walked into these gardens last night, despite the presence of guards.  I could have remained – unnoticeable, had I so desired.’

Lothiriel frowned.  ‘Then how did the raiders know that you were vulnerable?’ she asked.  ‘Couldn’t you just have slipped past them?’

‘Horses, little sister,’ Erchirion grinned. ‘Horses can’t hide.’

‘Except in the middle of a herd of horses,’ Elphir added, watching Lothiriel blush, before adding with mock-innocence.  ‘Perhaps in Rohan it might be possible.’

‘Legend has it that Imrazor found you lost in the wooded hills in the high reaches of the Ringló,’ Amrothos interrupted.  ‘How did you manage to save yourself from the disaster in the White Mountains and travel so far to the south east?’

‘Luck,’ Mithrellas said with a sudden devastating smile that made the Prince think of his long-dead wife.  ‘Luck and caution.’


The sun was setting as she recovered her senses, and, fortunately, she remained unmoving under the strange veil created by her cloak as the memory of the day returned.  She wanted to weep as she remembered the sound of sword on sword and the bite of sword on flesh.  She replayed in her memory Amroth’s commands and Nimrodel’s words and felt the fear tighten her throat as the raiders on their rough ponies chased the ellyth through the woods, as she felt her horse lose his footing and she fell.

But, she thought, as the final red glow faded, she seemed to be alive.  More, she still seemed to be free.  And, if she wanted that state of affairs to continue, the dark hours would be to her advantage, for, if she remembered correctly, Men could scarcely see their own hands in the shadows of the night.

Mithrellas turned her mind to consider the state of her body and was surprised to find that her injuries did not seem to extend beyond bruising.  She raised a hand that hardly seemed to belong to her and eased the cloak away from her face just far enough to enable her to inspect her surroundings.

She was alone.

She closed her eyes and listened to the song of the land nearby, slowly tuning out the sounds of the small mammals, birds and insects to focus on larger life forms.  Neither she nor the nearby trees could hear anything. Mithrellas frowned.  Surely the raiders would have looked for her – they had chased her hard enough.  Why would they let her go without making an effort to find her?

She drew her knees under her cautiously and pulled herself up to a crouch.  Her head swam and her stomach rebelled, but she forced herself to remain alert.  There was no movement from the hillside behind her.  She needed somewhere to hide, she thought.  At least until the world stopped swimming.  A tree, perhaps – or a hollow beneath some bushes.  And a drink of water would be welcome, too, although it would be too much to expect that she would find anything to eat.  A waybread tree, she thought, and had to suppress a rather hysterical urge to giggle.

She could smell death, she realised soberingly as she eased herself upright.  Her horse had clearly not survived the fall.  She lurched towards him somewhat unsteadily. Something might remain of her packs, she told herself, and at this point, anything would be useful. As she approached cautiously, she frowned with a dawning feeling that something seemed wrong.  The horse was the wrong shape, she thought in confusion.

The animal had been butchered, she realised with revulsion.  Choice cuts had been removed from him, even as she lay a few yards away, and the remainder of the carcase had been left – either for scavengers, or for a second visit.  She grabbed at a blanket that had rolled down the slope and put a hand over her mouth.  There was nothing she could do, she told herself, except get away quickly, before anyone came back.

She had travelled as far as she could before the moon rose and then taken refuge at the heart of a patch of spiky gorse that had agreed to shelter one of the race of Star-folk.  Once hidden, she had allowed herself to grieve silently for the loss of her people and in fear for herself, before drifting, despite herself, into troubled dreams.

Voices had woken her twice before she came to herself, but both times she had slipped back into a healing sleep, so that, when she opened her eyes, her headache had passed and her bruises were no more than a distant stiffness.  She frowned – had the voices been elves?  She did not think so, but she could not be entirely sure – and it would be foolish to thrust herself in the way of the raiders.  She would follow the route Amroth had described that led down from the mountains and take the road towards the river.  Once she had found that, she could follow it to the coast.  It would take far longer than with a mounted party and she would have to make sure that she travelled among trees that would give her shelter, but she could keep out of sight that way.  There would be water and it was summer – the woods would provide her with enough food to sustain her.  And if she travelled mostly at night she would be able to avoid most of the other occupants of these lands.

She had become accustomed to it after a time.  At first the loneliness had eaten into her, but as the days passed, she had found that she had become too wary to take up companionship if it were offered.  She had missed the Morthond – she learned later that the pass had brought her down further south – but she had discovered the road heading down towards the more populated areas of Gondor and after several days of indecision she had chosen to follow it from a distance, keeping it within sight, but remaining hidden. 

Mithrellas was no warrior, but she was a Wood Elf and she knew how to live in and of the forest – as long as there were trees she would be able to live.  She had no knife, but there were sticks to dig for roots and vines she could use to make snares.  She found sharp-edged stones that would serve as elementary blades and made smokeless fires in hidden places to cook what she found. 

The worst thing, she had found in exasperation, was the lack of clothing.  She had never felt the need to have dozens of gowns, as had Nimrodel, but she grew to long for freshly laundered garments, crisply pressed and smelling of soap rather than wood-smoke.  She did her best, but resting naked, rolled in her blanket, her head pillowed on her grey cloak, in the high branches of a friendly tree, while her clothes hung dripping in the patchy sunlight, made her feel vulnerable in a way that dirt did not.

Many times she longed to return home, but the pass through the mountains became an insuperable obstacle, peopled in her mind with fierce hairy creatures and the ghosts of dead elves and she knew that the endless miles across the open plains would be impassable to her, horseless and lacking in provisions as she was.  She needed the woods to protect her and the road to lead her to safety.

She had nearly stopped when the road passed across the fords of the Ciril just below Calembal, shying back like a nervous pony from the presence and the smell of Men.  It had taken several days for her to summon enough courage to approach the water, finally slipping through in the dead hours of the night, when clouds made the darkness complete, and she had then lain hidden among the tended trees of a leafy orchard until her pulse had stopped racing and she had felt bold enough to continue on her way.

Voices had roused her from restless dreams and she had peeked cautiously between the leaves to see children playing in the shade of the old apple trees.  She had been interested to see that the young of Men were fairer than their parents, although sturdy and ungainly compared to elflings.  Their games seemed similar to those she had played herself when young, and the meaningless jabber in their high innocent tones brought tears to her eyes.  As the afternoon cooled to evening, a female old enough to be their mother had come to call them in and they had gone off hand in hand, leaving Mithrellas aching with loneliness. 

When would she find others of her kind in this strange world populated by Men, none of whom spoke her language?  Would she ever find the sea or would she still be wandering when the snows of winter blanketed the forests and food became impossible to find?  She buried thoughts of Nimrodel, of Amroth and the others who had left the Golden Wood with her – survival did not leave her time to mourn, not yet.

She left as it grew dark, keeping to the edge of the road now that the land was more populated and farms spread along the valley.  The land was happy, she felt, despite the meddling with the natural forest: it was cared for well and the plants thrived.  The men here took what they needed, but they also returned gifts to the land and they were not greedy.

Summer was passing, here in the highlands, and the birds were singing of the sea, of following the rushing water down to the plains where the warm weather lingered in the sheltered valleys.  She knew that soon, once she had crossed the river Amroth had called the Coldflood, she would leave the safety provided by the line of the road and head towards the ocean. 

The river was cold, too, and it whispered of snow-capped mountains and flows of blue ice that yielded to the sun and sent sparkling streams of meltwater down to enliven the sluggish waters of the lowland rivers.  She loved it at sight, for it had a life about it that spoke to her of home and she willingly allowed it to lead her down into the forests of living green that gifted it with fresh streams of pure water.

She relaxed, taking what the forest offered, bathing in streams of freezing clearness, eating little but berries, and nuts and feeling, for the first time since she had left Lorien, happy and secure in her solitude.  She forgot that winter was coming, forgot that she had no way of defending herself, forgot that she wished to reach the coast, forgot that she was alone. 

Their arrival was unexpected, but, had she been listening to the trees, they could never have taken her by surprise, for they were as noisy as Men always are and the forest had been murmuring its warnings.  But she was combing her long dark hair and looking in the small pool cupped in the rocks.  They had stepped into her hidden place, blinking and confused – not certain of the true existence of what they were seeing – and she had frozen.


‘For there he was, the light of stars in his eyes.’

Amrothos looked at her with an air of puzzlement.  ‘You had hidden from so many – what made him different?’

Mithrellas raised her eyes to watch a great white bird drifting across the sky, its wings reflecting the sun so that it appeared to be made of light.  ‘He was of Númenor, for one thing,’ she said simply.  ‘In his ancestry, no matter how distant, flowed the blood of Earendil and Elwing, of Elu Thingol and Melian, Finwë and Indis – I could see it in that first moment.  These were not the men of the mountains.  And I was hungry for company.’

‘You can tell those who have elven blood?’ Erchirion said doubtfully.

‘Legolas knew – he remarked on it as soon as I met him,’ Imrahil said.

‘Elves are not easy to see, if they wish to remain unnoticed,’ Mithrellas continued, ‘but to those with a trace of elven blood, they are more real.  There are many,’ she said with apparent irrelevance, ‘among those who watched from the lower circles as Undomiel married Elessar, to whom the Elves are already a fading memory.  The splendour of the occasion will live with them – but Lady Galadriel, Lord Celeborn, Lord Elrond – they will become hazy, like a tale told in the winter firelight.  In the end, they will not be sure of what they saw.’

‘How does that work when confronting elves in battle?’ Elphir asked doubtfully.

Mithrellas smiled wryly.  ‘It is difficult to doubt the reality of an elven blade singing through the air,’ she said.  ‘It has an immediacy about it that removes all shadows.  Yet elves use their ability to seem – elsewhere – to help them fight numbers that far exceed their own. It works better against Men, I am told’ she added.  ‘The creatures of the Dark are better equipped to disregard illusion – they are simple killers.’

‘You met Imrazor,’ Lothiriel prompted, her eyes gleaming and a faint flush across her cheekbones, her air of suppressed excitement making her father look at her with an unexpected qualm.  He was not ready to part with his daughter yet, no matter who it was that made her heart sing.

Mithrellas stroked her cheek, her fingers lifting the girl’s chin so that their eyes met.  The elf smiled softly.  ‘You know it, when he is the right one for you,’ she nodded and she turned her head to study Imrahil thoughtfully.  ‘And it does not matter, then, that there will be pain, because, for however short a time, the rewards are greater.’


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