Dimoriel laughed. It wasn't just a soft chuckle, but a real laugh. She could not remember the last time she had laughed. The sound was foreign to her ears. But still, she laughed.
Three weeks into their work sessions, Dimoriel and Maenthol were discussing the cultures of Men for the latter's book on the history of Gondor. She smiled as he finished telling her about a story he had heard about a man from Dale that drank too much Dorwinion wine.
"Suffice to say, I don't think he ever looked at a chicken the same way," Maenthol said, chortling softly. "Anyway, I apologize. What were you saying?"
"I don't even remember now," Dimoriel said, grinning. "You managed to successfully distract me from everything we were just talking about."
"I need to stop doing that," Maenthol said with a sigh, looking down at his notes to see if there was anything to hint at what they had previously been talking about. "I suppose we can just call it a day and pick this up later."
"That is fine with me," Dimoriel said, standing up from the table they had been working at. "Would you like to stay for dinner?"
"Not tonight, I'm afraid. I have some work to do for the king. The harvest is starting soon and I have a lot of work to do. I may not be able to stay for a full afternoon anymore either."
"That is too bad," Dimoriel said, genuinely disappointed to hear this. "Let me know if anything changes."
"I will, don't worry," Maenthol said with a smile as he put the last sheaf of paper in his bag. "I know you generally avoid festivals, but I think you should try and come to the Harvest Festival. It will be a lot of fun. Music, dancing, games…I think you would like it."
"I remember going many years ago," Dimoriel said, thinking back to the last time she went, shortly after she returned from Gondor. She remembered the feeling she had of isolation and of being unclean as she walked through the crowds of elves laughing and singing joyously. She had not realized how bad her mental health was at that point, but she felt a level of anxiety there among the colors and noises that she was not eager to feel again. The bright oranges and yellows reminded her of the fires that burned down town after town in Gondor, and the shouts and laughter reminded her of the Wainriders' enjoyment at the utter destruction they caused as they swept across the plains. She shuddered thinking about it.
"Are you alright?" Maenthol asked, concerned at her silence.
"Yes of course," she said, smiling up at him, though she could still feel the memories fighting to get free. "I will think about it. I cannot promise to make an appearance, but I will use the next few days to think about it."
"I suppose that is better than nothing," Maenthol said with a grin. "Goodnight, Dimoriel."
"Goodnight," she replied, shutting the door behind Maenthol. She fought to repress the memories that had rekindled in the back of her mind. The Harvest Festival. She put her head in her hands as she sat heavily in her chair. She wished she could be normal and go. When she was just a young elfling, she had loved the Festival. She loved trying to best her brother at archery and to dance with her father to the cheerful music. Had it been long enough since Gondor for her to go without risking another episode? She must have been fairly close last time, considering her level of anxiety. One more trigger and she may have lost it.
Maenthol wanted her to go. She had become quite attached to the elf in the last month. His perpetual good mood was infectious, and he had not once pressed her for personal details of her life. When not discussing his work, they talked about books, food, what part of the forest was their favorite, who knew more about this or that. Perhaps with him to keep her relatively calm, she would be able to go.
Standing up, she decided to go seek advice from Lithiril.
"Good evening Dimoriel! What brings you out here tonight?"
"Evening, Lithiril. I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something."
"Certainly, come in," the elleth said, stepping back to let Dimoriel into her house. "Duarthon isn't home yet, but I am making dinner if you would like to stay."
"I do not want to impose," Dimoriel said, taking a seat at the table where she could watch Lithiril work in the kitchen.
"Not at all! You know you are always welcome here. So, what is on your mind?"
"Lord Maenthol has been asking me to go to the Harvest Festival."
"That sounds like fun. You should go. You haven't really left your house much in the last month or so."
"I know, but I had some problems last time I went. It was right after I returned from Gondor, and I very nearly had one of my fits. The bright colors and the shouting reminded me too much of the wars."
"That is too bad, I do love the Festival. Has enough time passed that it will be better this time around?"
"I do not know, honestly. I started having flashbacks just thinking about it."
"I know you really like spending time with Lord Maenthol, but I am not sure you should force yourself into something like that. Perhaps you should just give it more time. Wait until you are ready."
"Ready for what?" Duarthon walked into the room, hanging up his cloak as he looked over at Dimoriel. "Good evening, Dimoriel. What brings you here?"
"We were just discussing if it was a good idea for her to go to the Harvest Festival," Lithiril said, kissing her husband before returning to the kitchen. "I think it might be a little too much all at once."
"Too much stress?" Duarthon asked sympathetically as he sat across from Dimoriel in his usual spot.
"I went right after I returned from Gondor," she explained again. "It was not a good idea at the time."
"I hate to have you miss this just because of that," Duarthon said thoughtfully. "Especially if you do want to go."
"I use to really enjoy it," Dimoriel admitted as Lithiril laid out dishes. "Maenthol has been asking me to go for a week now."
"How about this," Duarthon asked, leaning forward. "Lithiril and I will be going in the evening after I return from the palace. Why don't you go with us for a while, and then we can see how it goes. If you have a problem, I'll be there to make sure things don't get out of hand, but you can still enjoy yourself if there isn't a problem."
"That sounds reasonable," Lithiril said, sitting down at her spot next to Duarthon.
"Alright then," Dimoriel said with a small smile. "But I do not have anything to wear."
"Oh do not worry about that," Lithiril said cheerfully. "I will take care of it."
Dimoriel was nervous about the festival. She had informed Lord Maenthol that she had decided to attended, and he had enthusiastically launched into a longwinded account of the history of the Festival, occasionally interjecting with comments like "you are going to love it" or "just wait until you see it". The entire time he was talking, she was thinking about all the things that could go wrong. When she went to see Lithiril the afternoon of the Festival, she was thinking about just telling the other elleth she wasn't going and returning to the safe solitude of her house.
But Lithiril would hear nothing of the sort, insisting that Dimoriel try to be social, if only for a little while.
"You have been doing so much better lately," Lithiril said earnestly. "The only reason you are nervous is because you've been telling yourself that something will go wrong. Try being positive about it."
"Alright, I'll try."
"Excellent. Now follow me. I have a dress you can borrow that I think will suit you well."
Dimoriel followed Lithiril into the guest room, where a dark red dress with golden trim was draped across the edge of the bed. Lithiril smiled as she picked it up and showed it to Dimoriel.
"I had to find something seasonal, and I thought this color would go well with your hair. Speaking of which…"
"What's wrong with my hair?" Dimoriel asked, playing with a ringlet self-consciously.
"Nothing, dear, but I think we should do something new with it. You only ever have it down with those feathers in it."
"It is easy to manage that way," Dimoriel explained as Lithiril handed her the dress.
"Be that as it may, I think I want to try something different, if you'll let me. Get changed and I can get started. Duarthon will be home in less than an hour and then we can head out."
Duarthon arrived home just after dark, and found his wife standing behind Dimoriel as the elleth sat in a chair. Lithiril had an intense look on her face as she braided Dimoriel's curls, which did not appreciate being forced into a new configuration.
"You look like you are in pain, melamin," Duarthon said humorously as he stood in the doorway.
"Fighting nature is not the easiest thing in the world, you know," Lithiril replied without looking up. "It is amazing I have been able to do anything at all."
"How are you this evening, Dimoriel?" Duarthon asked with a smile. The elleth looked up at him with a slightly terrified look.
"I have been better," she replied simply, wincing as Lithiril pulled roughly on her hair. "I will be glad when this is over."
"I am sure. I will go change and then we can head out, provided Lithiril doesn't try and start all over with your hair."
"I am almost done," Lithiril said, finally looking up at her husband with an un-amused glare. "Stop your teasing and just go change."
Several minutes later, Dimoriel felt the tugging on her hair cease.
"There, all finished. What do you think?" Dimoriel stood and looked in the full-length mirror next to the door.
"Wow, Lithiril. I do not think my hair has ever been so under control." Her hair no longer fell in a wild mass of curls, but was pulled back in three different braids. The large one in the middle was fed by the two on either side which started above her ears, and together the three were braided down her back.
"I can believe it after the fight we had," Lithiril replied with a laugh. "Duarthon! We are ready to leave."
"I'm coming," he called back, appearing a moment later wearing golden-yellow robes with dark orange embroidery. He and Lithiril matched perfectly, as she wore a loose, gauzy gown of pale yellow and orange.
Together the three elves began the long walk to the festival. Dimoriel grew more and more nervous the closer they got, and she started biting her lip and wringing her hands, trying in vain to think of something other than what could go wrong if the sights and sounds set her off. Lithiril noticed her nervousness and came back to take Dimoriel's arm comfortingly.
"Stop worrying so much. I won't leave your side until we are sure you are going to be alright. It will be fun, you will see." Unable to speak, Dimoriel just nodded, taking a deep breath as she began to hear the music and laughter coming from the Festival.
Lithiril gripped her arm tighter as the two of them stepped out onto the Festival grounds, Daurthon a step ahead of them. All around them were elves talking and laughing, elflings darting around between the legs of their elders, and music was being played in every corner while elves played games or just feasted and drank wine. Dimoriel tried not to focus on the sensory overload she was experiencing, trying instead to think about the reassuring feel of Lithiril's hand on her arm.
"Come," Lithiril said softly. "Let's go sit down for a minute while you adjust." Dimoriel nodded, letting her friend lead her over to a nearby table. Duarthon disappeared for a moment, reappearing with some wine.
"Here, see if this helps," he said, handing a goblet to Dimoriel. She took it gratefully, taking a swig and letting the liquid warm her insides as it ran down her throat. Even that small feeling calmed her significantly, and she sighed as she looked at her surroundings.
"It hasn't changed much since I was here last," she said off-handedly.
"I am not surprised. I have never heard anyone complain after the Festival. The king sees no reason to change things, and everyone is happy. Oh, there is Legolas. I will be right back," Duarthon said, disappearing into the crowd.
"How are you feeling now?" Lithiril asked as Dimoriel took another swig of wine.
"Quite well, actually," Dimoriel admitted. "The wine helps. Thank you for putting up with me, Lithiril."
"My pleasure," Lithiril said with a smile. "I am just glad you are getting out and about for a change. It will do you a world of good."
"Lithiril! So good to see you!" Dimoriel looked up as a blonde lady came up behind Lithiril. They exchanged pleasantries as a couple walked up to the table and greeted Lithiril as well. The four elves began talking happily as Dimoriel watched in silence. After Lithiril introduced her, she was largely ignored, which was fine with her. She drank her wine quietly, waiting for Lithiril to finish talking with her friends.
"There you are Duarthon. Where is Lithiril?" Legolas asked, looking around for the elleth.
"She is over there sitting down with Dimoriel while she gets use to the Festival atmosphere," Duarthon explained, gesturing towards his wife. Legolas glanced over there, but could not see anything through the crowd.
"Lady Dimoriel is here?" he said in surprise. "How did you manage that?"
"I didn't," Duarthon said with a smile. "Lord Maenthor talked her into coming."
"Did he?" Legolas said pleasantly, though Duarthon noticed a slight hitch in his voice. Others may have missed it, but Duarthon recognized the change in his friend's tone at the mention of the other elf. "Well I am glad she is trying to enjoy herself."
"Would you like to join us as we walk around? You must be getting bored, standing here talking with all these nobles."
"Thank you, but no," Legolas said with slight regret. "I don't think Lady Dimoriel would appreciate my company. I will have to find some other way to entertain myself."
"If you change your mind, you are welcome to join us," Duarthon said, putting his hand on Legolas's shoulder. "I will see you later, then."
"Alright," Legolas said, watching Duarthon squeeze through the crowd as he made his way back towards his wife. Legolas craned his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of Dimoriel, still not quite believing she was there. But there was a crowd of elves around the table Duarthon stopped at, and he couldn't see the elleth anywhere. Giving up, he turned to join in a conversation with his father's agricultural minister, who was going on about the apple harvest that season.
Dimoriel walked around with Duarthon and Lithiril for several hours. Every once in a while, they would stop to talk to friends, and Dimoriel would stand awkwardly next to them, trying not to get drawn into a conversation that would get too personal. Lithiril did a good job heading off any potentially dangerous questions that were directed at her, but Dimoriel noticed several pairs of curious eyes watching her during these exchanges. She held her anxiety in check, even managing to smile at some of the games going on.
"You should sign up for the archery contest, Dimoriel," Lithiril said encouragingly as they passed an archery range, where young elflings were competing enthusiastically. "It is always one of the highlights of the evening."
"I think I'll pass," Dimoriel said, watching a tiny elleth try and pull back a bow that was at least a foot taller than she was. She smiled as the elleth managed to shoot an arrow several feet in front of her, coming nowhere near the target. It had been a long time, but she remembered when she had a similar problem, trying to outshoot her elder brother.
"We can still watch it," Lithiril said as they continued walking. "It is always impressive to see how far some of the Home Guard can shoot. Prince Legolas won a couple years ago, didn't he?"
"Yes he did," Duarthon said with a grin. "The only reason he doesn't win every year is because he doesn't always compete. I think he is going to participate again this year, so I'm not sure it will be much of a contest."
"I don't know, Penderyn shot very well last year. I'm sure if you decided to try you could put up quite a fight as well, Dimoriel."
"I am a fair shot, yes, but I don't know if I am that good," Dimoriel said smiling at the complement. She was not too enthusiastic about having to watch Prince Legolas compete after their last meeting, but it would be far worse to have to compete against him. "I think I'll just observe this time."
"Lady Dimoriel!" The elves turned to see Lord Maenthol waving from a table over near where King Thranduil stood talking with his court. Dimoriel was hesitant to go so near the King, but since he had yet to meet her and did not know what she looked like, she decided to go join Lord Maenthol.
"If you need anything, we'll be on the dance floor," Lithiril said before her husband steered her away. Dimoriel smiled at them before making her way towards Maenthol.
"Good evening Dimoriel! How are you liking the festival?"
"I am enjoying myself," she said truthfully. It wasn't as fun as it was when she was little, but she was not nearly as stressed as she had been on her last visit.
"I am glad to hear it. You look beautiful, by the way. I must say, you look very proper."
"I don't expect I will dress like this again anytime soon," Dimoriel said with a smile as she sat beside him. "It is far too much work."
"It suits you though. I do have some bad news, however."
"What is that?" Dimoriel asked, concerned.
"I am afraid I won't be able to continue meeting with you for awhile. We are expecting an exceptionally abundant harvest this year, but early snow falls as well. I have a great deal of work to do in the next month and cannot spare time with my personal endeavors."
"That is unfortunate," Dimoriel said sadly. "But I suppose it is good that we have such great harvests."
"Yes, best to look on the bright side of things," he said with a grin. "Speaking of the bright side, I want to introduce you to someone. Wait here for a moment."
Dimoriel watched as Maenthol rose to go find whoever he was looking for. Dimoriel sat alone at her table, looking around at the lords and ladies milling about. She quickly looked away when she caught sight of Prince Legolas standing only a few yards away, talking to some finely dressed lord. He was standing facing her, and she immediately felt eyes upon her after she looked away. He must have noticed her watching him. She was saved from having to try ignoring his gaze as Lord Maenthol returned, a dark-haired elleth behind him wearing a green and yellow gown. Dimoriel stood to greet the new comer, feeling a strange heat in her chest as she met the elleth's golden eyes with her grey-green ones.
"Lady Dimoriel, I would like you to meet Lady Faencol. Faencol, this is Lady Dimoriel."
"I have heard so much about you," Lady Faencol said with a warm smile. "I know how much it means to Maenthol for you to share your knowledge with him."
"Of course. I am happy to be of service," Dimoriel said with a smile that did not reach her eyes.
"He wouldn't stop talking about all the things you have done. I am amazed that you actually fought in wars in Gondor. That must have been awful. I am just glad that he gets his adventures from books and stories. I couldn't bear it if something happened to him." She smiled up at Maenthol as he kissed her temple.
Suddenly, Dimoriel snapped. Her jaw and fists clenched as the sights and sounds of the festival flooded in on her. She couldn't ignore the loud laughter, the bright colors, the flames of the torches surrounding her. Memories of the war washed over her, images of beheaded soldiers and internal organs bleeding on the ground filled her mind. She had just enough control to smile once more at Maenthol and Faencol.
"It was a pleasure meeting you," she said through gritted teeth. "But I really should be going. Goodnight." She quickly turned and walked away, looking for the quickest way out. As soon as she reached the darkness of the forest, she picked up the hem of her skirt and began sprinting away into the darkness as the madness took hold.