The darkening of hearts

By Nuredhel

Drama / Romance

The worth of a favour

Chapter nine: The worth of a favor.

He could clearly see that his name did cause some sort of reaction but he didn’t think she knew who he was, after all, the sindar and silvan and avarin elves who had been reborn in Aman stayed away from the noldor and they preferred the forests to the cities of the coast. He did know that the story of the fall of Doriath was well known, many had been telling it and it was almost common knowledge but few knew of the details. He smiled, a bit of a sad smile. “I served under king Elu Thingol. And died when he did, as dwarves tried to steal a silmaril from him”

Lerina swallowed, she had heard about that, but she had only been told that the king had tried to get the silmaril fitted into a necklace and that the dwarves in greed and madness had slain him. “Oh, I am sorry. I…I think I have heard your name, but I cannot remember when”

He nodded. “I was a marchwarden of the king, one of his best warriors. I tried to protect him and the treasure but the dwarves were too many and took us by surprise, I was cut down in front of the doors to the treasury”

Lerina shivered, his tone was relaxed, casual, as if being murdered was something quite normal. “That sounds absolutely terrible”

He grinned. “It was, and I refused to listen to the call too, stayed there as a spirit until the sons of Fëanor came to claim the silmaril, too many died then and I couldn’t refuse the doomsman any longer, we were all dragged to the halls.”

She froze, stared down. She had heard what the brothers of Maedhros had done, had heard how they were killed as they yet again were slaying their own kin, and all because of the silmarils, those accursed jewels. If only Fëanor had never made them in the first place. “I…you were reborn two years ago?”

He nodded. “ Indeed, and I have tried to get used to this land and its spirit. I must say it is better than I thought it would be, the forests are grand, and beautiful and I already love them.”

Lerina tried to smile but her lips felt stiff still, the smile looked a bit forced. “ I am glad, it is very lovely here yes”

He tilted his head, straightening the tack of the mule and trying to decipher her odd body language. “Have you lived in this area for long? You said you were of Tirion?”

She nodded. “ Yes, but my daughter and her husband lives here and there was a disease ruining the orchards around the city so I moved here to continue my business”

He got the mule to move, the animal didn’t like being pulled along but he was so strong it couldn’t resist. “That is a tough way of making a living, in special when you are alone. Do you collect only nuts?”

He tried to make a pleasant conversation, to make her trust him. He was getting more and more curious and he really wanted to get to know her better, in lots of ways. She blushed slightly, there was a glimpse of pride in her eyes. “ I do collect fruits and berries too, and use them to make everything from jam to dye. It was a very good business before that disease.”

He realized that she was very dedicated to her work, and proud of it too. “What sort of nuts do you collect? I have been roaming these forest far and wide and know of every holt there is, maybe I can be of some help?”

She sort of made a gesture which could represent both eager surprise and confusion. “ Ah, I do mostly collect walnuts and hazelnuts, and also some other types when they are in season”

He smiled, a warm smile that for some reason made her stomach feel as if there were butterflies trapped within it. “ Do you use those large nuts with white husks and brown stripes?”

She nodded, eagerly. “Oh yes, many love them, and they are so tasty but they are rare. I have only found one groove of them and it is small”

He knew what to do now, how to approach this. He had a plan! “I know of several grooves of those trees, most west of the river. I can show you if you like?”

Lerina hesitated for a few seconds, then her enthusiasm got the better of her, grooves of those trees? That would mean a lot of work and a lot of income too. She nodded. “ Oh yes, please. Is it far?”

He nodded. “A little more than half a day’s ride so you will have to spend at least one night out there, but I can get you a tent and some equipment and some better mules too. And I will of course help you gather the nuts.”

She sort of felt a little overwhelmed, this moved forth too fast, but she thought of huge bags of delicious nuts and smiled. Maybe this was a lucky day after all, she didn’t have the courage to ride around in these huge forests looking for the right species of trees. “ That is alright, I am very grateful”

He smiled and urged the grumpy mule on, the animal tried to bite him but he just punched it in the chest and then it obviously understood that this was someone it couldn’t mess with after all. “I will need a few days to organize the trip, but four days from now? How does that sound?”

Lerina smiled and tried not to blush again. “ That is great, I will be ready then. I have a lot of baskets we can use”

Mablung found her zeal a bit endearing, she looked a bit like an elfling who has been promised a very nice new toy and he decided to try to learn more about her before the trip. He had friends who knew almost everything which went on everywhere, they ought to know more about who she really was, and her back story. Lerina kept walking, the dress dried nicely and she gave him his cloak back, eyes to the ground. It felt odd walking there alone with a ner, and one she didn’t even know but she felt safe with him, at least for now. They got back to where the mule had ran out and he lifted the full bag back onto the animal and Lerina did understand that he too was used to working, he was no nobleman but someone who does what needs to be done without complaining.

An awkward silence fell as they walked towards the small village where Ariniel lived, Lerina didn’t really know what to say and Mablung was whistling some sort of tune while walking next to the mule. She didn’t hear his footsteps at all, he was moving as silently as a ghost and that was a bit unnerving. Lerina tried not to stare at him, he was so different from the elves she was used to, so much more vibrant in some way. His light wasn’t subdued by rules and unwritten laws, it was wild and untamed and she realized that she in him could see how the eldar had been to begin with, just after the awakening. It was like taking a peek at the distant past and she couldn’t help herself, she just had to ask. “What is it like? Middle earth I mean?”

He turned his head, a bit surprised by her question. “ It is…well, how can I describe it, oh like a multi layered piece of glass, so many details and so much of everything, both good and bad. It is more wild than this place, and much more unpredictable”

She could see the village gates now and some part of her wanted to make him stay, to prolong the conversation. He was so interesting since he was so different. “What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “The valar aren’t controlling everything there, you are in charge of your own fate. It is freedom”

She frowned. “ The valar aren’t controlling stuff? I have never seen them do that?”

He had to scoff, she was really very naïve in a cute way. “They are Lerina, I bet you have learned to worship them but let me tell you, they can be just as petty and narrow minded as other beings. There is nothing divine about them, other than their powers.”

Lerina stared at the ground. “My…my husband used to say something like that, but he never said it out like that, so openly”

Mablung just grinned, there was a challenge in his eyes. “But I dare saying it, and there isn’t a darn thing they can do about it. We didn’t need the valar back then and we doesn’t need them now.”

Lerina just swallowed hard and tried to smile again. “Your people are probably stronger then, than we are. “

He nodded, the smile a bit mischievous. “Darn right, we have had to grow strong, or die”

She stopped, the gates were open and she grasped the reins, feeling a bit nervous all of a sudden. “ Well, in four days then?”

He nodded and bowed slightly. “In four days, I will be here at sunrise, with mules and do you have a horse?”

Lerina nodded and he smiled. “Great, I will see you then. In the meantime do not attempt to do something that stupid again.”

She blushed once more, he grasped her hand and kissed it politely and she had to gasp, that custom was something he had had to have learned from some noldo, for the teleri or vanyar didn’t do that. “I…I won’t”

He grinned again and let go of her hand. “Great, I will see you then”

He started walking and she stood there for a few moments, just staring at the tall wide shouldered figure as he disappeared into the woods again like some spirit, she felt shaken, why she didn’t know but she realized now that elves could be very different from what she was used to indeed. She dragged the now subdued mule with her to Ariniel’s cabin and tied it up, then she removed the baskets and poured the nuts into some crates made for it. She would have to use a few days to sort them out and remove bad ones before she could sell them. She was busy pouring nuts out of the baskets when Ariniel suddenly came walking out of the door, she looked worried and Lerina immediately got a bit nervous. “Is something wrong dear?”

Ariniel made a grimace, she held a small note in her hand. “ I just got a message from Alciel, and I don’t like it, not even a bit. There are rumors spreading.”

Lerina frowned. “Rumors? What sort of rumors?”

Ariniel sat down and Lerina did too, she felt a bit scared that something bad was happening. “Mom, they claim that some noldor are trying to overthrow king Finarfin, to take the throne for themselves. They are noldor who never left Aman, who didn’t follow Fëanor and mother, they say your father is among them”

Lerina just stared, unblinking. Her father? Oh Eru, he was most certainly capable of that. “What? Oh no, that is…terrible”

Ariniel had never met her grandfather, and she despised him intensely. Lerina knew that Ariniel probably knew more about Lerina’s family than she was willing to admit. It was just the way it was. Ariniel bit her lower lip. “There was something else too…”

Lerina held her breath. “Yes?”

Ariniel stared down, her hands were busy fidgeting with her sleeve. “ You will not .like this mom”

Lerina sighed, “Sweetheart, I have never liked anything that ner does, so out with it”

Ariniel took a deep breath. “Alciel had heard from someone close to him who does despise him that he is planning on using you once more. The marriage to ada is annulled after all, and he thinks that it means that he can marry you off again. He already have a suitor ready, someone named Calpon”

Lerina gasped, for a moment she felt like passing out, hadn’t he given up after all? Couldn’t her father see that she no longer was some pawn he could rule and use as he wanted to? And Calpon? That was a friend of her father with a dubious reputation and a fondness of ignoring others completely to get what he wanted. He was if not an orc then not far from it psychologically. She was panting. “Oh no, did Alciel say anything more?”

Ariniel shook her head. “She has someone keeping an eye on him, he is in Tirion these days, and there is nothing to suggest that he will be coming for you anytime soon. I will make everybody keep their eyes open in case some of his servants do show up”

Lerina let out a sigh of both relief and despair. She would never be safe again now would she? It was horrible. “ I thank you daughter, these were horrible news. Well, at least I will be spending some days in the forest soon, not likely that he will find me there.”

Ariniel frowned “ Are you mad? You cannot go out into the great forest alone?”

Lerina suddenly realized that she had said too much, oh this was going to haunt her! “I…I will not be alone. I met a sinda today who has offered to show me more nut trees, he knew of some huge grooves west of the river”

Ariniel smiled, and the smile was a sly one. “Mom? A sinda? Tall? Blonde? Drop dead gorgeous I bet?”

Lerina blushed. “ Ah, he isn’t blond, darker than blonde actually, and yes he is tall but that is not important, he can show me more trees!”

Ariniel tilted her head, there was a glimpse of something devilish in her eyes. “ Oh sure, that matters not, I bet he can show you a lot. What is the name of that handsome stranger? Did he sweep you off your feet?”

Lerina rolled her eyes. “Look, the mule ran out and jumped into a pond and he rescued me from drowning, so yes, I feel a bit compelled to be nice. That is all, really. His name is Mablung of Doriath”

Ariniel gasped. “ Oh Eru, I have heard some of the sindar here speak of him, he was like one of the best warriors ever! Mom, if you don’t use this chance I will kick you I swear, you do need some happiness in your life, and imagine, a marchwarden of Thingol! That is a catch mom”

Lerina felt herself blush, desperately. “Ariniel, you have no business playing matchmaker, I am not interested in him, just the trees he has agreed upon showing me.”

Ariniel looked like the cat who has caught the canary. “ Yeah right, they say he is even more handsome than ada, so I don’t think I need to play anything, I bet he had you at first glance”

Lerina remembered that first glance, of him in all his nude glory and her face turned beet red. “Uh, no, and I am busy daughter, so please excuse me”

Ariniel did chuckle. “ So, when are you supposed to meet this prime specimen of masculinity?”

Lerina felt a need to growl at her daughter. “In four days, he needed to get some more mules first”

Ariniel got up. “ Mom, like I said, if you let this one pass you by I will by Eru shake you senseless. You cannot mourn ada forever, he would have wanted you to be happy again”

Lerina didn’t know what to say to that, she couldn’t tell Ariniel the truth so she just sent her a sheepish grin and grasped the basket again. This was going to be some long days indeed.

Mablung had found his horse in a meadow not far from the pond and he rode back to the settlement where he lived. It consisted of mostly sindar elves but also of a huge group of avarin elves from several different tribes and clans. It did also house a few noldor who had lived among the elves of middle earth and had chosen to stay with them also after their rebirth and he was seeking one in special. He sent his horse off to the woods again and walked through the groove of enormous trees. Not one building was on the ground, all were placed along the branches and some were elegantly shaped talans while some were notched and looked rather unique. He stopped and took a look up, a huge talan was built over some very thick branches and it covered an area the size of a football field. The noise told him there were plenty of elves there already and he swiftly climbed the ladder and took a look around. There were elves sitting by the tables everywhere and some maids were running to and fro with cans of beer or wine. The atmosphere was pleasant, and everybody were chatting so the noise was loud.

He saw that ellon he had been seeking by one of the tables, he sat there with two other former marchwardens and Mablungs old friend Beleg. Obviously Beleg was trying to describe some situation from one of the battles they had been in and Mablung had to grin, being reborn had definitely given his friend a new sort of boyish energy and he was constantly trying to find new and crazy things to do. The dark noldo who sat at the end of the table was patiently listening and Mablung hawked to announce himself and sat down. Circamo grinned and shook his hand and Mablung patted his back. “Well hello there, I haven’t seen you in a while old friend, what brings you to this humble waterhole? I thought you preferred the solitude of the woods?”

Mablung had gotten to know Circamo not long before he died, he had been an envoy from the court of Finrod Felagund and he had been allowed to stay in Doriath because he was married to a sindar elleth and openly despised the choices the sons of Fëanor had made. Circamo had a reputation for being able to find any form of information, about anyone and really swift too. He had the nose of a bloodhound when it came to gossip and most thought he had been a spy but that had never been confirmed. Circamo was likeable, that was the most surprising thing about him, he was so charming and eloquent most spilled their entire life story without even hesitating. “Well normally I do yes, I have come to ask you a favor, I need to find out more about a person”

Circamo tilted his head and the soft brown eyes turned sharp like a hawks. “Right, who? And how much do you need to know?”

Mablung leaned forth and whispered. “An elleth named Lerina, she is if Tirion, probably of a good family, half noldo, a quarter teleri and vanyar.”

Circamo’s eyes got narrow. “Mablung? A noldo elleth? Seriously? There are plenty of sindar or silvan ellith who would give their right arm to bed you, you know this?”

Mablung sighed. “ Yes I do know, but that is not the point of this, I just want to know who she is alright?”

Circamo shrugged. “Fine by me, I don’t care who you are fucking or why, when do you need the info?”

Mablung shrugged. “As soon as possible?”

Circamo sighed. “Oh you are demanding now aren’t you but fine, I will see what I can dig up. There are a few noldor living in the village north of here. They come from Tirion so they ought to know a little. I will contact you when I know something”

Mablung patted his back again, in a friendly manner. “Excellent, I am very grateful.”

Circamo got up. “I’d better be going then, see you later”

Mablung grinned and the others raised their glasses, Circamo looked determined and he knew that the noldo liked a challenge.

Before long Mablung was engaged in a discussion about whether or not it was true that Thingol was about to be reborn and that Melian would take him back as her husband and he sort of forgot thinking about Lerina for a short while. He got some beer and some wine and when he finally sluggishly climbed onto a guest talan to sleep he could only think of that gorgeous body and those sparkly eyes, he just hoped that Circamo wouldn’t come up with something bad.

He slept like a log due to the alcohol intake but in his dreams he remembered it all, the shock of seeing a mule with a rider falling down the waterfall, his initial fight or flight response and the slight panic when he realized that the person in the water couldn’t swim. Oh sweet Eru, his loins were aching when he thought of her and he just prayed that she was available, and that she would be willing. He had never reacted thus to an elleth before, even if he had met some very nice specimens over the ages.

He woke up with a hangover of another world and the feeling of having a fur rug sewn onto his tongue, and there were a sound of huge bells coming from a distance. He shook his head and opened his eyes, it wasn’t bells at all, it was Circamo standing next to him banging a stick against a tin piss bucket. “Awake? Alive?”

Mablung just groaned and made a grimace. “Yes, and yes, even though I somewhat ache for the halls right now, there were no physical pain there”

Circamo chuckled. “No, but you are going to be fine, I did find out a lot about that fair maiden of yours, you’d better brace yourself”

Mablung frowned. “ Uh-oh, is it bad?”

Circame sat down, cross legged and there was a distant look within his eyes. “Your little lady friend is an enigma Mablung, and by Aüle’s beard, I have never heard so many rumors concerning just one person. It was insane. Those noldor knew everything since they had served at Finwë’s court and they didn’t hesitate at all telling me the juicy details.”

Juicy details? Mablung swallowed hard, was she somewhat connected to some sort of scandal? “Right, spit it out”

Circamo took a deep breath. “Mablung, she was Maedhros wife!”

Mablung almost jumped up but his headache made him just lurch a little. “What?! But…everybody knows that…”

Circamo nodded. “ Oh yes, everybody who were in middle earth knows that he loved his male cousin and that he preferred Fingon’s ass over any elleth’s tight cunt, but apparently he was married.”

Mablung felt a surge of conflicting feelings rush through him, Maedhros wife? What the hell? He had seen the carnage the sons of Fëanor had created, had seen it first hand. He had fought alongside them in battle and had a sort of reluctant respect for Maedhros. He remembered that tall redhead with just one hand, fighting with a sort of wild fury that frightened even him. Was this mild and tender creature the wife of that savage? Impossible! How could she have loved someone like that? Maedhros had to have been very different before the kinslayings and the whole silmaril mess but still…” I cannot believe you”

Circamo sent him a sad grin. “You’d better. It was Fêanor who had the marriage arranged, Lerina’s parents are infamous Mablung, power hungry and pious and they treated their daughter like a brood mare, married her off to gain influence. It became quite a scandal.”

Mablung felt appalled, disgusted. An arranged marriage? To the sindar and avarin elves that was an abomination. “Did she want to marry him?”

Circamo shook his head violently. “Heck no, she was terrified they say, hardly more than an elfling. And the wedding was a royal mess, apparently her own parents tried to almost murder her when they discovered that she hadn’t been a maiden on the wedding night.”

Mablung frowned, she had seemed so shy and innocent? “What? How could they know?”

Circamo grinned, a lewd grin. “Her mother demanded the sheets to be hung out in public and they were clean. No blood, her father went ballistic and interrogated every darn ellon in the entire household. Maedhros took her to a mansion he owned and she stayed there most of the time, hardly showed her face among the other members of the nobility. Why he kept her I don’t know but he was renowned for having quite an appetite in ellith as well as Ellyn so perhaps he did find her useable after all”

Something about Circamo’s words made him feel angry, she had to have been very scared and if she had had a lover then perhaps she had loved that ellon and been forced to leave him. That was tragic. Circamo continued. “Apparently she suffered a miscarriage too, no wonder considering who small she is and the size of her husband, it must have been like trying to breed a wolfhound to a tiny lap dog. “

Mablung cringed, the mental images he got were not good, not good at all. “ I…see”

Circamo shrugged. “But then she did get a daughter, and her cousin who had stayed with her since that apparent miscarriage married Fingon. I bet it was just to cover up the truth, that Maedhros and Fingon were lovers. Some say they had orgies, all four of them, but I do not believe those rumors. Lerina was apparently a very dedicated mother and a good wife too, obedient and humble and only living for her family. The darkening and the whole horrible mess with the oath and all almost broke her, at least that is what they said”

Mablung swallowed hard, he could almost see her, a broken and fragile little thing forced to accept that her husband just left her, alone with a child, and probably despised by many too. “That is quite tragic”

Circamo nodded. “Yeah, she even got attacked once, and a maia saved her from being violated. That was when Nerdanel was pregnant with her daughter Alciel, they all moved away from Tirion after that, and Lerina learned to make a living for herself. She may be fragile but there is a solid core in that one.”

Mablung nodded slowly, his mind was racing. She was a victim, he had to remember that. Whatever hatred he did feel for the Fëanorians shouldn’t affect her, she had been forcefully married to one, she hadn’t chosen it on her own. Yet it was hard to think of it, that she had bedded Maedhros, carried his child. It sort of made him angry to think of it, what if she compared every ellon she met with her dead husband? Mablung almost growled to himself, he had promised her to show her those trees and he was a man of his words, he wouldn’t break a promise and he still felt that odd sensation of attraction.

Well, at least she was used to Ellyn and could probably handle even someone of his size and vigor. That was encouraging, and he decided that he would see where the trip lead them. If she allowed him to get a little closer he would go for it, fucking her didn’t mean marrying her, not anymore. He would see this as an adventure and a challenge and if she proved to be worth it he could perhaps keep her for a while. It was just that his inner voice sort of protested against his new attitude, he shouldn’t think of her in such a manner but be more honorable and honest. After all she was no longer Maedhros wife but a free elleth and very skilled and probably smart too. She would be a nice catch, and she already had a kid.

He sort of cringed internally, kids? Why would he think of that? He had never wanted elflings when he was alive the first time so why would he think of that now? And from a widow? No, he wanted an affair, and a challenge and some good times and that was it, end of discussion, period. No involvement of the heart, that would only bring agony to them both. He couldn’t marry the widow of a Fëanorian, it would be a mistake of epic proportions or would it? Ah crap, he didn’t know what to think anymore.

Circamo sighed. “Her dad has tried to annul the marriage since Finwë banished him and his wife from Tirion for having attacked her. He has tried to marry her off again at least once, rumors says that he will try yet again, to gain influence since she still is regarded as a noldorin royal through her daughter”

Mablung stared at his friends with wild eyes. “What? But her father cannot do that? She isn’t some elfling! She doesn’t have to obey him?”

Circamo made a nasty grin. “Apparently that ellon sees his own daughter as property, to be used as he fancies. If you are interested you’d better make your move, before someone snatches the prize from right under your nose”

Mablung almost hissed. “I will take that into consideration thank you!”

Circamo backed off a bit. “Whoa, I am not a dwarf, no need to bite my head off. You asked for info and info you got”

Mablung managed to smile, a very stiff smile “ Yes, thank you, I am grateful. Now I know what I am dealing with here”

Circamo frowned. “Let me give you some advice then my friend, for free. You ought to reconsider this, messing with that family is never wise, even if she is hot as hell. She is trouble my friend, real trouble”

Mablung kept the stiff grin. “Well, that is my middle name so we’ll fit perfectly together don’t you think. Worry not, I want some fun, nothing more”

Circamo shook his head slowly, there was real concern within his eyes. “ Oh Mablung,, sometimes you are even more stupid headstrong and obsessed than your king, you are trying to believe your own lies and fail at it. Am I right or am I right?”

Mablung didn’t answer, maybe Circamo was right, but he would rather bathe in orc dung than admit to it. Right, get some mules and meet Lerina again and then he would decide what to do, if he was to end it before it even became more than a chance meeting or if he would pursue her. That was a plan and a good one, he would stick to that.

The next day he went and borrowed some mules and found some camping equipment, he did feel somewhat divided doing it, a part of him was looking forward to it while another part of him were I doubt. What would the others say if they found out he was interested in the widow of a kinslayer? And even worse, a son of Fêanor himself. Mablung had heard a lot of tales about the noldorin prince and his genius but also his madness and he sort of understood that you had to be more than a little mad to force your own son into a marriage with an elleth when he clearly preferred Ellyn. He had of course heard of Maedhros fate, of his capture and rescue and his death. To begin with they had all sort of accepted the reason why the Fëanorians came to middle earth, after all, they all understood the power of grief and vengeance. But when they finally found out what the noldor had done to get there everybody had been horrified. The sons of Fëanor were demonized and even their cousins were regarded with a great deal of suspicion. He remembered that Thingol had been convinced that only Fingolfin with family and the offspring of Finarfin was to be trusted, he saw the sons of Finwê’s first son as abominations.

Mablung went through his memories, and he remembered the good things Maedhros and Maglor had achieved, maybe they were right who claimed that the two oldest sons of Fêanor had been the best ones, that they had been wise and driven only by the love for their father, not belief in that horrible oath. Mablung really wanted to find out what that family had been like before it all started, if they had been tainted even then like some claimed or if Melkor had somehow corrupted them all with his vile lies. He would have to step carefully though, he didn’t want to awaken bad memories and he didn’t want to harm her in any manner, he was just curious. He decided to bring some small gifts as well, as tokens of his goodwill. The customs of his people were very different from the manners of the noldor and he didn’t think she would understand but he could try.

Lerina spent three days in a state of slight anger, she had been so stupid to say yes, now her daughter and even her law son were sort of teasing her all the time. Lerina just longed to get started to get away from that friendly harassment. She knew that Ariniel just wanted what was best for her but she found it very annoying that she sort of assumed that Lerina was interested in Mablung after just one meeting. She wasn’t! She kept telling herself this until she believed it but there was a sort of voice deep within which downright laughed in scorn at her conviction. She got ready early that morning, got her horse and put on a riding suit which was a bit prudish to say the least but she didn’t want to give him any ideas. She kept thinking about the nuts, that was why she was doing this, he was just her guide, nothing more.

He did keep his word, when she rode out of the gate he sat waiting by the path, and ten mules with woven baskets were tied behind his grey gelding. The horse stood there and looked half asleep so he had probably waited for a while and she felt herself blush a bit. She hadn’t wanted to be late but he had probably started the day very early indeed. She bowed her head and tried to look professional and friendly but curt. “Greetings, that many mules?”

He nodded and smiled, he was wearing some dark pants made from deer hide and a sort of west embroidered with odd patterns and his long hair had been carefully braided back into a very intricate pattern. He did look primitive and yet not and she was fascinated by the craftsmanship she saw in his things. The embroideries were exquisite and she did see that he had brought weapons as well as baskets and other equipment. He petted his horse on the neck. “There are many trees there, ten mules is not that many but we can transport at least a ton or two of nuts with these beasts, maybe more.”

She swallowed, a ton of nuts. It would take quite a lot of work sorting them but it would bring a lot of income indeed. Those nuts were so very sought after and she started thinking that she maybe could send at least some baskets to Tirion. She could make a small fortune that way, and get new customers. The royal court had never been among her customers but now that could perhaps change and it would secure her business for years to come. She would gift Finarfin with a basket, that ought to create some interest.

Mablung clicked his tongue and the gelding started walking, he touched his bow and quiver with a grin. “ I have brought some weapons just in case, there are wild boar in the woods and bears as well. Not that I anticipate any sort of trouble but one can never be too sure.”

She saw that he had two axes strapped to the saddle as well, and a slender sword. Axes were an unusual weapon for an elf and she could see that the weapons were rather different from the ones she was used to. These axes were weapons, not tools and they were exquisite and probably very valuable. The blades were crescent shaped and very elegant and only made to cut through flesh and bone. She had to remember that he was a warrior, not a person born in the peace of Aman. “I have never even seen boar in these parts?”

He nodded. “They do not cross the river, it is too wide and the current too strong. But there are plenty of them to the west, and we hunt them a lot. The meat is delicious”

Lerina frowned as she rode there beside him, she knew that the silvan avari and sindar ate meat more often than the noldor, it was a part of their culture and it made some of the noldor and vanyar look at them with despise. “I have never tasted boar, we rarely eat red meat.”

He tilted his head, those gorgeous eyes were almost hypnotizing. “ I know, but fish is alright isn’t it?”

She nodded hesitantly, the fish markets of Tirion were usually very crowded and the fish usually not very fresh but sought after still the same. Many saw fish as very good for your health and a hefty use of spice camouflaged the fact that it often had gone bad. The telerin fishermen would sell their catch to the other teleri elves who sold it to the noldor and vanyar. She knew that the vanyar were particularly fond of fish since they believed that fish spawned without any sort of sinful activities being needed first. “ It is, I am rather fond of it but we rarely had good fish back in Tirion, it was usually rather old and stale and it did smell to high heavens.”

He had to scoff. “Ah, then I will see if I can catch some fresh fish and show you how it is meant to be served. There are plenty of fish in the river, I have brought some fishing line and some hooks as well.”

Lerina found that she was reluctantly getting curious. “I have never learned how to fish, it isn’t regarded as a suitable past time for a nis.”

He had to laugh. “No? that is peculiar, back in Doriath many of the ellith were very good fishers, we never starved to be sure”

She had heard a lot about Doriath, that it was a grand underground palace, the thousand caves some called it and she bit her lower lip, feeling a bit too bold and perhaps even a bit naughty showing such curiosity but she couldn’t help herself. “Tell me more about your home, I have heard it was a thousand caves?”

Mablung chuckled. “I have no idea of how many caves there were, but more than a thousand? Nope, some hundred I think but they were all interconnected so you could perhaps call it a glittering maze instead.”

She stared at him and he grinned. “ Alright, let me tell you more about the fallen city, I bet you have been fed a lot of lies. “

And so he started telling her of his life in Doriath, of the king and queen and her magical girdle, of their daughter and her romance with the mortal Beren and how the king had become entranced by the silmaril and wanted to create something unique with it, thus causing his own death, and the death of so many more. The day did pass by as they rode and Lerina forgot about everything and just listened to him, he was good at telling stories and she both laughed and felt sad. The kingdom of Thingol had been drowned when Beleriand sank beneath the waves and she could hear the sadness in his voice, but also anger as he told her of the second kinslaying. He had been there in spirit and seen it all. She felt her throat going tight, could she tell him who’s widow she was? He would hate her then, knowing she was Maedhros wife, that she had been married to a son of Fëanor.

But they rode on and reached the river by the afternoon, the horses and mules didn’t hesitate, it was a ford there and the water wasn’t deep but the current was strong so Mablung rode next to her to ensure that her horse didn’t slip. She was getting eager now, the trees there were so huge and beautiful and the forest seemed completely undisturbed and she could swear she heard them singing to her. He did see her fascination and childlike awe and he felt a bit moved by it. There was such innocence in her, and he wondered again who her lover had been. It had to have been a very brave ellon considering what he had heard of her father. Could it have been just a youthful infatuation? A crush? He knew of some ellith who had lost their maidenhood before they had come of age simply because of such storming emotions most hormone ridden youths are bound to experience. And in some cases they had regretted it but then again, his people did regard sex with a very different attitude than the noldor and vanyar. He had been completely aghast when he heard of the vanyar customs and he did pity the vanyar husbands who had to perform their “duty” in a dark room with a wife who just laid there praying the whole time. It had to be absolutely boring in the long run, no wonder the couples usually lived apart after a few years.

When the sun started to set they came upon the first groove of trees and Lerina gasped and stared. It was a whole forest in itself, huge trees heavy with nuts and she felt herself shiver with zeal. Oh this was going to be wonderful, the nuts were ripe and ready and she thought of break baked with such nuts and her mouth was watering. Mablung saw her expression and grinned, he dismounted and helped her off her horse before he unloaded the pack mule with the tents and equipment. “We can start working tomorrow, it will be dark soon and I want to have the tents erected and a fire going before that. I am hungry too so I guess a meal would be welcome, what do you say? Baked fish with roasted nuts and berries, does that sound good?”

Lerina heard her stomach rumble and she blushed. “That sounds delicious for sure.”

He smiled widely. “Great, there is a narrow stream not far from here and it is teaming with fish, let me fix the tents and then we will go fishing!”

She had to smile back, she was getting rather excited, maybe she would be able to catch something? “ I cannot wait! I have never tried that before”

Mablung winked with a twinkle in his eyes. “Well, there is a first time for everything now isn’t it? “

Lerina blushed and nodded and couldn’t help but think that there had been a hidden meaning in those words, or was it just her own rather turbulent emotions who were playing games with her mind? But she did look forward to a good meal, and a nights rest before she went to work. If she would be able to rest with him that close, her heart was doing somersaults in her chest whenever he smiled and she had never felt this silly and stupid before, he had to think she was some moron, blushing and stuttering like an elfling. But she would show him she could work hard the next day, she wanted to impress him, to show him she was able to make herself useful.

As they prepared the tents and the bedrolls and lit a fire a certain vala was walking around in circles, he was frowning and the beautiful face was marked by worry and a hint of anger. He stared at the maia standing in front of him. “Do you believe these rumors?”

The maia nodded. “ I do my lord, something is most definitely going on, and I have no doubt about their ill intent. They are most certainly convinced that their actions are righteous and that they are doing the right thing, but it is still bad, very bad”

Namò hissed and his long dark robes slid across the floor as he went over to a huge bowl made from crystal, he stared into the water it contained and made a grimace. “It will be a disaster, they cannot just usurp the throne like that.”

The maia bowed his head. “I know, it will shift the balance in a most negative manner”

The maia walked a little closer. “ I can of course intervene? “

Namò shook his head. “No, we have meddled too much with the affairs of the eldar as we have, they have lost their faith in us and that is our own fault, we have been like overprotective parents and they have righteously rebelled against us. Now we can just do what we can to affect them through subtle methods. I think I have a plan, and I do see a possibility here, one we can exploit to our benefit”

The maia stared at the shining surface of the water. “ Oh, her? But…is that wise?”

Namò nodded. “Yes, if there is someone out there worthy of some real happiness it is that poor soul, and her meeting that one ner was like Eru’s own hand reaching out to aid us. They will most certainly change a lot. The conspiracy will be ended soon enough, worry not. I will allow the true king to return, he will set them straight”

The maia nodded and bowed deeply. “ Your wisdom is truly great my lord”

Namò stared at the water again with a distant look within his eyes, this could flip both ways, it all depended upon her, and her choices. The relationship between the clans could be patched together, if she only allowed herself to follow her heart and forgot about her old fears. There had to be something he could do to encourage her? He grinned widely, Lorien owed him a favor, dreams of a certain type ought to awaken the sleeping natural urges also in that poor shy elleth, and if he knew that sinda right he wouldn’t fail to impress her. Yes, it was a plan. He called a messenger maia to him and told him to deliver that little naughty request to Lorien, it would do the trick for sure. He smiled and wandered off to find a certain spirit among the inhabitants of his realm, if anyone could put the rebellious noldor back into their place it was him, they didn’t need yet another kinslaying.

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