Never Look Back
Author's note: The settings and characters have been borrowed from Tolkien.
I also purposefully borrowed some fun, quotable lines from the LOTR and TTT movies in this chapter. It was just too fun not too. See if you can spot it!Chapter Fifteen: Never Look Back
Miredhel pushed a curl behind her ear as she peered through the darkness behind her. Her heart clenched in her chest, holding tight to the hope that her brother might suddenly appear. Long hours had passed since she had last seen the prince as they left him, shrouded in a swirl of white mist, waiting. His face at their parting had been a study of concern and grief. Despite her mixed feelings for Legolas, Miredhel knew that he would do everything in his power to help Eledhel, or any of his people for that matter, including her. She simply did not understand him. One moment he could be so gentle and tender, and the next, completely self-absorbed and arrogant. 'He does have some redeeming qualities,' she admitted to herself with a smile, 'such as being the most skilled archer she had ever seen, and possessing an exceedingly fair face and body to look upon, and having a blessed ability to kiss.'
If only he were not so disagreeable. He had behaved abominably when she had attempted an apology during the rainstorm. Perhaps his kind did not believe in apologies or humility. He was a Mirkwood elf. Miredhel struggled to look past that very fact, and for him to be their prince was even worse. He embodied the whole of the dark forest. True, she had never been there, but even now she did not want to go, not to that place, where grim trees soaked their roots in the blood of the slain.
Miredhel shuddered. She felt the absence of her brother even more. She glanced back on more time. Still, nothing. Only this time Lady Limaer observed her actions. The lady elf rode to Miredhel's side.
"Lady Miredhel, friend, thrice have I seen you look back into the night," she said.
Miredhel kept her eyes forward, not wishing to look at Limaer. She was still very young and though prone to folly, had a sympathetic soul.
Limaer was not to be deterred by silence. She meant to help the distraught Miredhel, whose missing brother she considered very handsome and eligible. It would not hurt to gain the sister's good graces. "Do not worry for them. Your brother is a valiant lord and can protect himself against this evil. And Prince Legolas will find him, for he is also brave and strong…and handsome."
"I hardly think that his charming countenance will fend off any dragons in the night, Limaer," Miredhel said and rolled her eyes.
"No, I suppose not," she agreed and looked earnestly at Miredhel. "I saw the way he looked at you before we left, the way he watched you at the campsite."
Miredhel inwardly groaned and then whispered words to her horse, Thorontal, to push toward the front of the company. Perhaps she could get separated from Limaer in the rush of the crowd, and the conversation would just have to end. She and Thorontal moved to squeeze into an opening between two other elves, but Limaer was quite the handy rider and she managed to stay at Miredhel's side.
"I could not tell, so I thought I would ask…" Limaer began.
"Please do not," insisted Miredhel.
"Has Prince Legolas…ahem…made any declarations to you?"
"Declarations?" Miredhel sputtered. "Limaer, I thought you wished to console me for the absence of Eledhel, not inquire after the Prince's heart." She and Limaer were now in the thick of the riders. She was certain all listened. They could not help but overhear. Miredhel could not decide if she were on the verge of blushing or crying. Perhaps both.
"Are you interested though?" Limaer whispered.
"Please, leave me be! I refuse to broach the matter now, or any time."
Limaer sniffed and tossed her head. "I am sorry, Miredhel. I know you worry for your brother's return. I honestly do not know what came over me, even to wonder at the prince's interest in you like that. I know he is great friends with your brother. Forgive me," she said.
Miredhel nodded and then finally gained freedom from Limaer's side. She lifted her cheek as she rode toward the front, letting the cool night breeze soothe her burning cheeks. 'What did Limaer mean to imply,' she wondered, 'that I am beneath his notice?' She gave a derisive look in Limaer's direction. 'Ha! If she only knew half of what has passed between us. Not that I care…He is nothing to me…nothing.'
Atop Thorontal, she pushed her way to the front edge of elves, where Belegil and Sulindal kept a vigilant watch. Being near them brought comfort; after all they seemed like brothers to her, so long she had known them. With a nod of his head, Belegil gave her a wink and opened his mouth to speak, but Miredhel would not permit it.
"Please, do not speak of it," she begged hastily.
Belegil and Sulindal exchanged amused looks.
"Why not," Belegil entreated, "when everyone else speaks of it?"
"All the more reason for you to set a good example through your own silence," Miredhel instructed him, with a hopeful ring to her voice.
"Hmm," Belegil stroked his chin as if in heavy contemplation. "Our own little Miredhel and the great hero-prince of Mirkwood, one of the Nine Walkers, no less. What say you, brother?"
Sulindal merely shrugged, and Miredhel shot him a thankful look.
"Oh, come now, Sulindal. I know that you are withholding valuable insight. I can tell by the smug expression on your face." Belegil squinted at his brother. "Did Legolas tell you something?"
Now it was Miredhel's turn to look curiously at Sulindal. "What did he tell you, Sulindal? Was it about our wager for the tournament?"
Belegil hooted, and Miredhel realized she had said too much. She clapped her hand over her mouth and turned a brilliant shade of red, bright enough to light the trail.
Belegil was intrigued by her reaction. "Oh…very interesting. Worried about the wager are we, Miredhel?"
"Of course not. Do not be silly, Belegil. It was but a trifle," she insisted, but her fidgeting hands betrayed her.
Now Sulindal joined in the teasing. "Why do you twist that ring on your finger so, my friend, if the wager was just a trifle, and you do not mind us knowing of it? I know you only to do such a thing when nervous."
"Oh, I am so glad I rode up here to join you," Miredhel said. "It is really too enjoyable."
"Please, Miredhel. Sarcasm does not wear well with you…but honesty does. Now, why do you not just free your conscience and tell us about the prince?" Belegil persisted. He tilted his head and stuck out his lip in a pout. "Please?" He batted his eyelashes at her.
She laughed. "You old gossip!" she said. "You can look at me with those eyes as long as you want, but there is nothing to tell."
"I know that you and Sulindal keep something from me," he insisted irritably. "Everyone knows except me."
"Mark the day, Miredhel. A first in Elven history, for Belegil is kept in the dark." Sulindal said, fully enjoying the satisfaction of besting his brother
"For myself, I still want to know what Legolas told you, Sulindal," Miredhel said. She had really thought that Legolas would not say anything.
Sulindal regarded her with his sharp grey eyes. "Legolas told me nothing," he said and then added with a whisper, "nothing that you would not already be privy to anyways."
"Hmph," Belegil snorted, "if that is how you both want to be, I shall have to wait until Legolas returns." He paused with a wicked twinkle lighting up his eyes. "Legolas and Miredhel...Miredhel Greenleaf, Lady of Ithilien…" he teased.
She looked around nervously, hoping that no one heard, especially not that pesky Limaer. "Hush," Miredhel insisted. "We are hardly even friends. Yet, I know that it is folly to try and win an argument with the likes of you. In times like these, I am desperately in want of your sister for support."
Sulindal peered at her curiously. "You know," he began, his voice oddly strained, "Annariel confided to me once that she feared you would meet some dashing prince of an elf, those were her very words, who would utterly confound your heart and wed you away."
Belegil smirked. "My apologies, Miredhel. For once our dear sister sides with us, even from the Halls of Mandos."
"Let us say no more of this. We will gain nothing from such idle speculation," she said, hoping for an end to her torment. The two brothers fell silent and both thought of their sister as the moon waned above and the stars faded into the dim velvet sky.
The journey became silent, rushed. The light-hearted banter of the twins had served to ease Miredhel's heart, but she observed the way that Sulindal continually watched the darkness and the path before them with a white-knuckled hand on his bow. Belegil led the chase without reserve, charging into shadows, yet he would not release his grip on the hilt of his sword. All faded and was bleak. No birdsong greeted their footfalls, or comforting whispers from the aged trees they passed. The Anduin's low refrain called to the elves, "hurry, hurry." Both horses and riders wearied of their flight, yet still they pressed on, even till dawn. Eledhel and Legolas did not return, nor was there any sign of them doing so.
The sun pushed over an expansive horizon of dark trees to the east. Mirkwood, Miredhel thought and her heart lurched within. She had long felt its steady pull on her soul, beckoning her to an unknown fate. She did not want to see where her beloved friend had breathed her last. Already the elf had visited this place many times over in her dreams.
Morning's first light bathed her cheek and tresses. Hope stirred with the rising sun that her brother might soon return. The sun hung heavy and crimson, as it rose, burning away the night mist into shriveled tendrils, which clung to their horses' hooves.
"A red sun rises," observed Sulindal. "Blood has been spilled this night."
Miredhel looked aghast at him. She felt her lip tremble. He had managed to put into words the very thoughts plaguing her mind.
"Bah!" scoffed Belegil. "That sounds like some over-stuffed flight of whimsy that Legolas would say, were he here. The both of you make me laugh," he said and forced out a cackly laugh, carefully eyeing Miredhel's expression. "Do you not find it diverting, Miredhel?" he asked, comically rolling his eyes.
She managed to look at him stoically and bit her lip. She would not start crying. Perhaps blood had been spilt, but not her brother's. Eledhel was fine, and there was no need for tears, she reminded herself.
Belegil continued on, mimicking his brother in a high-pitch voice, "Oh dear, Legolas, a white moon rises! Milk has been spilled this night!" He looked back at Miredhel for her approval, and her lips curved into a faint smile.
"That is much better. Sulindal did not mean anything by it," he said, sharply looking at his brother.
Sulindal looked sheepish. "He is right, Miredhel. It is only an old saying, after all. Legolas and Eledhel will meet us soon. They shine too bright for darkness to claim."
Ahead, the red light made pink the marble of the ancient bridge, which vaulted high across the Anduin, curving above the river in a seamless arc of unmeasured artistry. Two carven elves stood in silent sentry, their arms stretched toward the sky and their hands clasped together a single star, forming a high arch over the entry way. Long ago, powerful kings of elves had ruled these lands, and many of the Ithilien party gasped at their legacy, their own fading power.
The company's path finally joined the old road that they had only abandoned yesterday in favor of detouring around the orcs.
"The southern wood should be a day's ride from here, if we do not tarry," Belegil announced.
"Let us hope then, that we have no more delays," agreed his brother.
They reached the bridge by mid-morning. Where it had seemed small on the horizon, the bridge now loomed before them as a colossus. The stone elven guards rose tall above their heads, blazing in a silent fury of white marble despite the cracks that blemished their frames.
"This is still safe to cross by?" Sulindal wondered out loud, noting the weathered masonry and the spider web of fissures scoring the bridge's surface.
"Legolas meant for us to cross here. I will take the first group and wait for you on the other side." Belegil gathered the first half of elves and began to cross. Both Miredhel and Sulindal spied a few chunks of marble crumble and fall into the Anduin as Belegil crossed over. She was not exactly fond of heights and elected to study the faces of the guard statues instead. They had long hair and traditional elven warrior braids. Even the tonnage of years could not mar their handsome faces. Miredhel had just decided that the one on the left strongly favored the prince when a dark shadow crossed before the sun. She shaded her eyes and peered at the dark speck, now moving quickly toward them.
"'Tis but a whiff of clouds," mused one elf.
"It's moving fast, and against the wind!" guessed another.
"The dragon returns!" shouted Sulindal. "Cross the bridge now! Go! Waste no time." All clambered across the bridge, save Miredhel.
"Miredhel, what are you waiting for? Go!" commanded Sulindal, but she heard him not. Her eyes were fixed on the road behind them where traveled two horses and riders.
"Eledhel and Legolas," she joyfully shouted as they came into view. "We cannot leave them now."
"We must!" Sulindal rode to the mouth of the bridge and beckoned her to follow. "Come!"
Miredhel shook her head. "No, I lost him once. I will not abandon him again," she called as she turned to ride toward her brother.
Sulindal made to follow her, but Belegil shouted across the bridge, "Let her go, brother! We can tarry no longer, for the beast is nearly upon us. They will protect her." So Sulindal gathered back and joined the others as they streaked toward the dark horizon of Eryn Lasgalen.
Miredhel knew she had sealed her fate as she galloped away from the bridge, but she did not care. She could see the dragon clearly now. Its wide webbed wings and long lashing tail cast a fearsome shadow on the ground behind her. She took one look back and leaned into her horse. "Quickly now, Thorontal. We must fly!" The dragon looped above the clouds. "Legolas, Eledhel!" she shouted above the thunder of his wings, "Turn and save yourselves!" She feared they would do no such thing. They would ride to her rescue and the ruin of them all.
The black beast flew directly above her now. Thorontal tensed and ran wildly across the dale. The dragon swooped in a fan of flame and molten breath. Miredhel's horse screamed and bucked, knocking her to the ground. She rolled out from under the pounding hooves, grabbing her ankle in pain; it was badly sprained, if not broken. She could not run, and she could not hide. The dragon circled and then lunged again, plummeting full speed toward Miredhel, years of greed and bloodlust written in his yellow eyes. She braced herself and grimly fit an arrow to her bow. She would not go quietly, not today. Not now.
* * *
Uh, oh! I think Miredhel is in a tight fix! Time for her finally to prove herself! Should I let the dragon eat her up, so Legolas can fall haplessly into the clutches of the overbearing Lady Limaer? Or pine from a broken heart?
Or maybe the dragon should haul butt over to the forest and roast Thranduil and family before Legolas can get there. That would be sad. Bwa haa haa!
Or maybe the dragon should just partially maul Miredhel, and we could have one of those pathetic death scenes…just kidding.
Let me know what you think should happen! I love to get any comments, reviews, questions, critiques, opinions.
Besides, it's my birthday! So give the gift that keeps on giving and click on that review button!