Legolas limped towards the palace. He looked up to find an elf standing in his path. The Half-Noldo was grinning at him. “Did you have fun sparring with my grandfather?”
Legolas huffed out a breath that stirred a strand of hair hanging over his face. “Has everyone already heard?”
Tirven shrugged. “I was there when grandfather was called away to teach you and Sadorchyl not to brawl so close to the sparring ring. I assumed they would not let you face your own mother, again.”
Legolas straightened to his full height despite twinging muscles. “You are in fact, correct. I have, apparently, had more than enough practice with Lathwinn the Great and required training with a different opponent.”
Tirven gave his friend the closest thing he had to a Silvan smirk. “You have my fullest sympathy.”
Legolas raised an eyebrow. “I can see that clearly.”
The Thranduilion passed Tirven and continued on towards the palace. His friend turned and strolled alongside him. “Are you going to escort Mellolaes over the first leg of her journey?”
The blonde elf nodded. “Elrond will send word of when he wishes us to reach the edge of the forest. We will set off in time to arrive then.”
“You had better mount up now, mellon nin!” Both elves turned to see Collas approach. The Silvan held an envelope out towards Legolas. The letter was addressed to King Thranduil of Mirkwood and its top had been sliced open. Tirven's eyes widened and jaw dropped.
“Collas! Tell me you did not open and read a letter sent to our king!”
The Silvan squinted in thought. “Would that have been wrong?”
The Half-Noldo bowed his head and groaned. Collas burst into laughter and slapped his friend's back. The darker elf straightened and glared at the Silvan who smirked back. “Of course, I did no such thing. I am simply following his majesty's orders. After opening and reading the missive himself, Thranduil commanded me to deliver it into the hands of his son and then to Mellolaes.”
Legolas took the envelope and drew a sheet of parchment from it. Tirven stood a respectful two paces away. However, the Half-Noldo could not help noticing the thinness of the paper allowed the light to reveal the dark, neatly written letters on the other side. If one could read backwards, which Tirven could, he would be able to decipher them. However, he was not as practiced as Legolas at scanning Elrond's many lines and picking out the message they contained. So, before Tirven understood the writings, his friend sighed and lowered the paper.
“Mellolaes is to arrive at the western end of the elven path as soon as possible. With good weather, her escort from Imladris should be there by the time we are if we leave . . . today.”
Collas clapped a hand onto his Legolas' shoulder. “Don't worry, mellon nin. There is still the packing to do. Surely that will take an elleth some time, enough for your sore flesh to recover from its trouncing at least.”
This reassurance earned Collas a scowl and swat to the back of the head. He easily dodged the latter and laughed. Legolas' speed was still hampered by exhaustion.
Mellolaes and her mother stood surrounded by piles of elleth clothing sorting them into take and leave piles. Merilvidh gazed upon her best dress before folding and tucking it into her daughter's bundle. Was it good enough for the feasts of Rivendell?
The Lord of Imladris might loan or make a few things for her daughter if he did not consider these garments appropriate, but then . . . that did not mean Mellolaes would wear them. Only Nithrestil and she knew what her elfling would put on and not simply stuff into the back of her closet. The older elleth sighed. “If only there was time to make you new gowns.”
Mellolaes laughed. “Nanneth, if I waited for you to make me dresses you thought proper to wear in Imladris, the child would be grown before I got there.”
The older elleth smiled as she folded a skirt. “You know me well, my daughter. But can you blame a seamstress for that?” Merilvidh sighed. “Manlings grow up so fast.”
Mellolaes nodded to herself as she packed one of her dresses. Since sending her reply to Lord Elrond, she had spent every afternoon checking in on the descendants of her patients. When she returned the littlest ones would be half-grown, those already half grown, wed, those newly wed, parents, those already parents, growing lonely as their children left them, those already growing lonely, growing old as well, and some of those already old would be dead. A tear wound its way down her face. Mellolaes dashed it away, but not before her mother saw.
Merilvidh set aside the dress she had been folding, walked over to her daughter, and wrapped her arms around her. The younger elleth sighed. “Why have you not begun trying to talk me out of this, Nanneth?”
“Then you have your answer.”
Mellolaes turned around, the first flash of nerves in her eyes and voice. “Could . . . could you come with me?”
Her mother shook her head. “I was not invited, but” she reached up and tucked a strand of her daughter's hair behind her ear, “if you send a letter asking me too, I will invite myself.”
Mellolaes chuckled. “Thank you Nanna.”
“Do not let yourself become frightened now child, you will be more miserable if you stay.”
Her daughter smiled sadly. “I do not think Ada and Sadorchyl have thought of it that way.”
Merilvidh smiled just as sadly back while squeezing her elfling's shoulder. “They are both defenders. They would not be themselves if they did not want to protect you. But your Adar and I have talked much since you gave him the news. He will let you go. After all, you are of age, and even when you were not, we could never stop you.”
Mellolaes blushed. Her mother's grinned at the sight and continued. “We must do whatever Ilúvatar has made us to. Since I saw you with those duck eggs and felt the younglings within stir at your touch, I knew where your gift lay. Caring for younglings is your fountain of joy and root of pain, but if you did not use it without thought for yourself, you would not be my Mellolaes.”
Her daughter grinned and thrust herself into Merilvidh's arms. The Silvan held her daughter close and fought to not to let the younger elleth feel her fear.
She recalled several things that made her not want to let go. She remembered her elfling sobbing until her back and chest screamed with pain. She remembered Mellolaes' skin turning gray and eyes losing focus as she had begun to fade. She remembered filling the room with the scent of Athelas. She knew by heart the songs she had crooned to comfort her daughter. She remembered telling her elfling how much she was loved and how they would miss her if she left. Every time Mellolaes buried one of her children, Merilvidh worried she would bury hers.
Things had been no better when they had tried to hold her back. Mellolaes had gone quiet. Her eyes had still lost focus. Her complexion had still grown gray. She had cried not, but her eyes had filled with the worst kind of pain and longing. She had become like a plant kept in the dark.
No, there was no use holding her back. Mellolaes still felt younglings pain as her own, even when she was not there to soothe it. So, she and Arathrad had decided not to stop their elfling from going to them. Merilvidh just held her daughter now and prayed.
Oh Ilúvatar, bring her back. Be with her when I am not, every time she needs it hold her close, please! Let her find delight in this task you have brought her. Please, please bring her back to us! Or at least let us reach her before it is too late.
After a shorter time than the elleth liked, Merilvidh gave her daughter's back a few pats and drew away. She then grinned into the younger elleth's face.
“Now let us get back to the mending and packing or that manling will be grown when you arrive.”
Mellolaes rose with a laugh. Her eyes danced more than they had for days. Her mother sat upon the bed and grabbed a garment that needed mending before it went into the pack. Merilvidh shook her head as she pulled the thread through the cloth. Mellolaes was nearly as hard on her clothes now as she had been as an elfling. All that climbing of trees and rushing through brush, just like her brother and father.
The twin Elrondions were packing their most ordinary garments. Bright robes hung appealingly on their hooks in vain. Elladan and Elrohir had never cared much about fashion anyway.
Elrohir cared more than Elladan. He was more concerned with pleasing their father and Erestor than his twin. Elladan sometimes had to be threatened into giving assurance he would appear at gatherings properly attired. The eldest Elrondion smirked as he packed his plainest gray and brown cloaks, tan and black pants, and gray and cream shirts. “This could be a fun journey.”
“We cannot race the whole way there and back, brother. There is the elleth herself to consider. She may prefer a sedate pace.”
“Do not think so far ahead, Hir. We can have the journey there anyway.”
“I suppose you are . . .” Elrohir's sentence trailed off. He stared into the bottom of his closet for a heartbeat. Then he turned around and glared at Elladan's back. “Truly, brother mine, today?”
His twin turned to him with a frown. “What do you mean?”
“My boots.” Elrohir pointed to the bare spot in his wardrobe. “You want to play games mere hours before we leave?”
Elladan's eyebrows rose. “Yours are not in your closet either?”
“No they . . .What do you mean 'either?'”
The elder Elrondion shrugged his shoulders. “Well mine are not in their spot, but I simply thought I had misplaced them again, maybe under the bed or in the stables.”
Both twins stared at each other. Elladan was always missing and re-finding his things. Elrohir's only disappeared when his twin got tired of his superior attitude over the matter. Since the Elrondions could read each others minds, it did not take them long to discover both were innocent in the disappearance of the others' footwear. Only one more person could be to blame. Both elves shouted out the door with one voice.
A knock sounded on the door. Mellolaes lifted her head and looked to it. “Come in!”
Nithrestil entered, smiling over a bundle in her arms. A grin lit Merilvidh's face. Bless the Sindar!
The darker elleth stepped inside while closing the door behind her and then walked up to her friend. “I brought you something for your stay in the Last Homely House, mellon nin.”
Mellolaes' jaw dropped. “Oh, Nithrestil! You didn't!”
A hint of a smirk twisted a corner of the Sindar's smile. “If you are asking whether or not I made over two of my better dresses for you as fast as my fingers could fly, then yes, I did.”
Mellolaes scowled. Her hands went to her hips. She stomped one foot upon the dirt floor. “If it would do any good, I would demand you do them back over for yourself right now!”
Nithrestil answered with a deceivingly placid expression. “But you know it will not. So, just take them. They should be good enough for even Imladris' special occasions. It is not as though I have a shortage of gowns.”
Behind her daughter's back, Merividh was winking at the Sindar maiden. Mellolaes just walked across the room and grabbed one of the garments from her friends arms. “You love them all more than I could ever love any piece of clothing!” The Silvan then stared at the gown hanging from her fingertips while shaking her head. “But I will love these two more than any I have possessed.” Mellolaes bent backwards meeting her mother's gaze upside down, “except for those you made me, Nanneth.”
Merilvidh shook her head. “I know you have always hated wearing dresses, my child. I am just glad you are showing your friend proper gratitude now.”
Her hand began to creep toward Mellolaes' bags. “I suppose a few other things will have to stay so you can take those.”
Her daughter spun around to point an accusing finger. “Oh no! Leave my archer's outfits alone. I will make room or remove something else!”
Merilvidh gave a sigh of defeat and leaned against the dirt wall. Then her brows drew together as she looked towards the door. Mellolaes had turned towards it as well. Nithrestil glanced over her shoulder at the frame of wood.
The door burst open. Two blurs rushed inside. Nithrestil shrieked and dove out of their way. The gown in her arms flew into the air. The blurs pulled up too fast, fell backwards, and crashed onto the floor.
The dress drifted down to cover the upper half of their forms. A red-faced Mellolaes tossed the dress she held aside and yanked the other off the intruders. “Anduant! Adulas! What are you doing here? You almost smashed into Nithrestil!”
Faces alike as reflections blushed pink. Then one gave her an apologetic grin. “We are very, very sorry.”
The other looked to the Sindar maiden. “Our apologies, Nithrestil.”
The dark-eyed elleth peeled herself off the wall to stand more naturally. Mellolaes looked back to her cousins. “Now, what is this about?”
“We heard you were leaving us, Mellas.”
“We are here to talk you out of it.”
Their cousin folded her arms across her chest, the dress still hanging from her arm. Her expression softened slightly. “Why did you not bring this up earlier?”
“We did not think it would be this soon.”
“We have been arguing over the perfect way to make you stay.”
One elf tilted his head in the direction of the other. “Anduant wanted to kidnap you.”
Anduant grinned. “We have been arguing over whether or not to ask uncle Arathrad and cousin Sadorcyl to help with your abduction.”
Mellolaes bowed her head. Merilvidh chuckled behind her while folding the dress her daughter had tossed in her direction. Nithrestil crossed her arms and stared at the overgrown elflings who had almost run her over and trampled her gown. Their cousin finally looked to the intruders again. “So what is your plan now?”
One elf sighed. “It is too late to kidnap you properly, so we must attempt persuasion.”
Both stood up, then fell on their knees before her with great, pleading eyes they had used upon her while growing up. “Do not go, Mellas!”
“They will make you wear dresses every day.”
Mellolaes held up the gown she had removed from their faces. “What do you think these are for?”
Both twins' pairs of brows drew together in confusion.
“You are not going to actually wear that are you, cousin?”
Nithrestil's jaw dropped and hands went to her hips. Mellolaes glanced at the other healer, then bit her bottom lip before looking back to the elves and enunciating her syllables carefully. “Very proudly.”
“But you hate dresses!”
“I would hate leaving a little boy without a friend more. Besides, they cannot make me wear dresses all the time even in Imladris.”
Merilvidh lifted her brows behind her daughter, but said nothing and continued folding. Her nephews were trying another tactic and she wanted to catch every word. “But you will be so boooooooooorrrrrrrrrrred cousin.”
“There are only Noldor and Sindar there you know.”
The other brother nodded. Nithrestil huffed and rolled her eyes. Mellolaes lifted a brow. “Some of the stories you two love best are about Noldor and Sindar, and I will have a manling to entertain me.”
“But those stories are all from the second age cousin. They have done nothing interesting since the beginning of the third.”
“And manlings sleep so long. Who will entertain you while he sleeps?”
Mellolaes was biting her bottom lip harder to keep back the laughter bubbling up in her chest. “I am certain I will find something.”
“But . . .”
Their cousin held up her hand and the elves fell silent. Then Mellolaes crossed her arms over her chest and bent down towards them.
“Do not think I am blind to the real plan, cousins. And I am more impressed with it than the one you pretend to implement.”
Both twins blinked their eyes innocently. Mellolaes bent lower until her nose almost touched theirs. “You are trying to keep me talking and not packing.”
Both elves pointed to themselves without changing expression. The elleth nodded and continued to stare them in the eye. “Now you have had your say and not changed my mind. You may, however, help my father, brother, and Legolas escort me if you like.” Mellolaes grinned as she straightened back up. “If you would like to stay now, you may help us pack.”
Both elves leapt to their feet and began backing towards the door. One swept his arms wide in an appealing gesture.
“We need to sharpen our weapons if we are going to escort you, Mellas.”
The other clasped his hands behind his back with a nervous grin. “And pack something to eat.”
Within moments the two were running down the hall. Nithrestil stuck her tongue out after them. Mellolaes grinned in triumph at the vacated doorway. Merilvidh was laughing her face red.