Chapter 27: Beyond Reach
Everything was happening much too quickly for her comfort, Miredhel decided, and now she had promised Legolas that she would ride with him to Gondor. Gondor! She slapped her hand to her forehead.
"Foolish, Foolish, Foolish," she muttered. She could barely stand seeing one orc, and now she was going to race against some odd thousand? 'Oh, Miredhel, what have you gotten yourself into?' she wondered, looking grimly at the woodsy Mirkwood path before her, vaguely wishing all paths in life would be so clear.
"Everything all right, my lady?" questioned a smooth voice from off to the side. Her head snapped up to see that captain, Adrendil, casually leaning against a tree. He corrected his posture and in an instant matched her pace to join her side.
"This is the outer reach of the camp, you know," he warned her. "Please, allow me the pleasure of joining you on this path." His eyes flickered fro a moment as he took in her casual garb, and the knife at her belt. "You know," he continued, 'orcs and other foul beasts have been frequenting the Southern Rim as of late. He paused and watched her face, "But of course, you would know this better than most."
She opened her mouth to say something contrite and quickly closed it.
He went on, "There was much discussion of you at the council last night, Lady Miredhel."
"So I have heard, " she replied evasively, determined not to look surprised by any comment he could possibly make, wondering what his aim was by this line of conversation.
She decided to take the offensive and steer the conversation away from herself. "I have also heard, Miredhel commented archly, 'that my brother, Lord Eledhel, dealt with you, well, rather abruptly?"
Adrendil's hand glided to his neck, which he rubbed uncomfortably. "That is not exactly how I would describe such an unwarranted attack."
"I have to admit that I was shocked to hear it," she paused and arched an eyebrow. "Eledhel, generally speaking of course--"
"Of course," allowed Adrendil, still massaging an ugly violet bruise on his neck.
"Eledhel usually shows so much more restraint in regards to his temper than I," Miredhel finished, flashing a charming smile at Adrendil before she continued, "but of course, he is very protective of his sister."
Adrendil was determined to look non-plussed by the warning in her last statement. He quickly returned with a charming smile, "Who would not be, with such a lovely sister?"
Miredhel frowned at him, thinking that despite the fact that his attention was completely unwanted and unwarranted, he was extremely handsome, in a roguish sort of way. He had high cheekbones coupled with smart brown eyes and thick sandy hair.
He smiled a slow smile again, for she had not rejected his compliment to her. He offered his arm to her, and she could hardly think of a reason not to accept it, so Miredhel allowed him the honor. After all, she really was not going to acknowledge her new courtship with Legolas, and she hoped more than believed that Adrendil was merely trying to be friendly.
"So Lady Miredhel, you have had many adventures as of late it seems," he observed.
"Alas, one too many for my taste, Captain. Adventures have been my lot, ever since I fell into company with your prince."
Adrendil smiled inwardly to himself. He hoped she would mention his name. "Ah, yes, the prince… or should I say Lord of Ithilien now, since he has given up his title and connection to Mirkwood?"
"I suppose so," Miredhel agreed uncomfortably.
"Prince or no, he has always possessed a knack for finding adventures…or the most beautiful maidens."
Miredhel carefully manufactured a smile. 'Unnerving, insidious creature,' she thought, 'what does he want from me?' She laughed for his benefit, and then merrily objected, "Certainly he has a talent for the former; as for the latter, I really could not say."
Adrendil chuckled. "Sly one! But of course, I spoke of you. Tell me, are you friends with Prince Legolas?"
"I admire the strength and leadership that your prince has shown."
"Ah, but that is not at all what I asked for, Lady Miredhel," he said and stopped in his path. "Please, be frank with me. A simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice."
Color rose to her cheeks. The audacity of it all! She resolved once more to remain cool. "My apologies, Captain…that you did not comprehend my answer. I will be more plain—yes, he is a friend."
He nodded and a cunning gleam entered his eyes. "It became quite obvious at the council meeting that he greatly admires you," he said softly to her.
"He has told me so himself before," Miredhel stated matter-of-factly in her normal tone of voice, ignoring the pretended intimacy of his whisper. They rounded the corner of the path, and she wondered how much longer he intended to walk with her.
Very briefly did Adrendil appear surprised by her remark, but he recovered and continued on, "My lady, I cannot presume to know his feelings for you—"
"Then please do not," interrupted Miredhel.
"—But know this, he is not your only admirer." And before Miredhel could pull away, he brought her hand to his mouth for a long, engaging kiss.
"Captain!" she indignantly gasped, and he dropped her hand before she could wrestle it away.
"Now it is I who must apologize. Forgive me, for your loveliness overtook my good sense." He pushed his hair over his shoulders, and then clasped his hands before her. "Please," he said, and Adrendil did have a velvety, attractive voice, "allow me to make it up to you, tonight—over dinner?"
Miredhel let out an angry puff of breath that she had been holding in and said, "I cannot allow you that satisfaction, Captain. I have made," and she looked away before she said, "other plans."
"I understand completely," Adrendil answered generously, and he really did understand, because her answer now confirmed his suspicion that she was indeed seeing the prince.
She smiled demurely, now more certain than ever that she wanted to part from his company. He was not finished, however; if anything could be said of Adrendil, let it be known that he was persistent to a fault.
"Here is where I must be leave of you, Lady Miredhel. I am joining Legolas' company, you know, and mean to help plan for tomorrow's journey. We leave at morning's first light."
"Yes, I know," replied Miredhel. She did not volunteer the fact that she would leave as well.
"I have always admired his lordship," Adrendil said to her, his voice intense and fluid at the same time. "He mentored my master archery training. He helped me obtain my captaincy in the Forest Guard." His eyes bore into her, but she did not look away.
"He is very kind," she said plainly.
"That he is. No one is more loyal to him than I. Yet all revealed, the apprentice always wishes to surpass his master." Adrendil squeezed her hand and then started down a separate path running through the clusters of tents. A few steps later, he pivoted and called to her, "If you and the prince… should part ways, I would most happily enjoy your company one evening, for dinner…or more." He flashed a smile, turned and was gone.
"Insufferable elf!" Miredhel shuddered, feeling annoyed to the hilt. "For dinner…or more?" she repeated to herself. He somehow knew or suspected her relationship with Legolas and still persisted. 'Some loyalty,' she thought.
She could not deny that she felt flattered to the slightest degree, for Adrendil was, despite obvious defects, very fair in voice and appearance, even charming in his own way. 'Yes, and now he is moving to Ithilien as well. Perfect!' She wondered what Legolas would say or do if he knew of the captain's amorous behavior. She sighed and started back to her tent, wondering if Limaer would be there or not. Limaer! Only the night before, Limaer had been Adrendil's object.
"Hmmph!" Miredhel snorted and quickened her pace to the tent.
Once there, she slipped into her tent to see Limaer stretched across one of the beds. She busily mended a gown and set aside her sewing to look inquiringly at her friend's return.
"Well, well," she smiled and looked at Miredhel expectantly.
"Indeed," Miredhel said and sat down on her bed. She pulled her knapsack from the floor and dumped its contents, keen on rearranging them before tomorrow's trip.
Limaer pursed her lips and then sighed. "Miredhel! Do not pretend that nothing has happened. Tell me! You know I want to know!"
Miredhel complacently folded a chemise and placed it next to the bag. "Know what?"
Limaer crossed the floor in a single step and grabbing the bag from Miredhel, promptly sat on it. She was not going to give up so easily.
"I am not getting up until you tell me what happened! --with the orc? --with the prince? Everything!" she declared through clenched teeth.
Miredhel scowled for a moment and then laughed. "It sounds as if you already know all that I could tell."
"No…Miredhel!" she cried.
"Oh, alright," she said with an overdone sigh. "At least make yourself useful and help me fold these things.
Limaer brightened, pulling the bag from under her and began to help, eagerly listening to Miredhel as she recounted her tale—leaving out the personal moments between her and the prince, of course.
"So you killed the orc?" she gasped. "How dreadful! Certainly better him than you." She squeezed Miredhel's hand. "And now the prince and a select group leave to warn this kingdom of men," Limaer said, "but I suppose you know all of that."
Miredhel nodded as she organized a length of rope to go into her bag. "I am going with them, Limaer."
The other maiden's eyes paled. "Oh, Miredhel, I figured as much. That definitely explains your packing." She paused to scrutinize her friend. "Why are you doing this? They have enough warriors without you."
Miredhel shrugged. She was not sure of the answer to that question herself.
"Is this because of your brother? Limaer asked and then lowered her voice, "Tell me, is this because of Prince Legolas?" She tried to read Miredhel's eyes, but she shied away from her gaze.
"I would be your friend if you but let me, Miredhel," Limaer said softly.
"Of course you are," she responded, meeting her eyes.
"I know Annariel's death was hard for you, but I do not think she would want you to be so lonely."
"How could you pretend to know what Annariel would want?" Miredhel snapped, instantly regretting her tone when the young maiden flinched.
Since her youth in the Golden Wood, Limaer had admired Miredhel, thinking her strong and clever, always hoping that she might join in Miredhel and Annariel's close friendship. She had envied them so, ever wanting to be included; wishing to join in their jokes and laughter, their ways quiet and merry. She still wished it, and perhaps she could still find that kind of friendship with Miredhel.
Limaer breathed deeply. "Who do you talk to, Miredhel? Confide in? Your brother?"
"I might," she replied stiffly, but in her heart she knew the truth of Limaer's words. She did feel alone. She missed having a female friend, and while Limaer was nothing so sweet or indefinable as Annariel, she was here. Annariel was gone, and Miredhel softly swallowed at how irreparably hollow that made her feel. To admit defeat and loss was a horrible thing. And lonely.
"I know how much you have admired him, Limaer." She said with downcast eyes.
Limaer slid closer to Miredhel. "I still do, but Miredhel, this is a mighty journey to take in the name of friendship." "In truth, he is more than a friend," Miredhel confided. She had to tell someone.
"More?" Limaer asked with a sly smile.
"—But how much more, even I do not know," Miredhel added hastily, "and if you want truly to be a friend to me, than please be silent on this matter. Do not repeat it."
Limaer winked conspiratorially. "Of course," she assured her. "I will be more silent than the forgotten hills of Eryn Loch." She sat quietly for a moment, studying her hands folded across her lap. Then she picked up one of Miredhel's faded shirtwaists, folding and smoothing out the wrinkles. Her eyes darted to catch Miredhel watching her.
"What?" asked Miredhel. "Something troubles you. Is it because of what I said, about me and Legolas?"
"No, Miredhel. Honestly, I thought I would feel more jealous, but I do not. Instead, I worry for you. Prince Legolas, he is nothing short of remarkable, is he not?" Her fingers ran over the folded pile of clothing again, smoothing the wrinkles away. "But have a care, my friend," she warned, "for I have heard far too many tales of his love affairs since our arrival here."
Wondering what kind of stories Limaer had heard, exactly, Miredhel said, "Then I shall have to be on my guard."
"Indeed. I heard this one story of a peerless lady who—"
"Enough, Limaer!" Miredhel exclaimed, favoring ambiguity. She did not want to know any names, descriptions, or tales concerning Legolas' previous conquests. She had been known to be just a little jealous in times past, and any such information could only torture her mind later.
"You would rather not know the truth?" Limaer innocently asked.
"How can we know these stories are true?" Miredhel retorted, really hoping, more than believing, that they were just that—stories.
"You are right; we have yet to see him show favor to any lady save you, Miredhel," Limaer agreed.
"Exactly. Had we actually seen him engage another's affection, then it would be a different matter entirely," Miredhel said, pleased with her rationale and by the fact that Limaer seemed satisfied with it as well.
"Do be careful, though, dear." Limaer advised as her final say in the matter. She reached back to smooth one of her sleek curls and stood. She moved back over to her low bed and carefully sat down next to her mending.
So the afternoon passed for the two ladies. Limaer faithfully kept to her mending and sewing, and Miredhel arranged and rearranged her items and supplies for the trip tomorrow. She spaced all of them across her bed, debating on which to take and which to leave behind. Every time she felt that the arrangement could not be more complete, she would notice some small flaw in her reasoning and start over again. In truth, she was quite nervous, not only for the impending journey, but also because of her dinner tonight with Legolas. Most of her anxiety, she discovered, stemmed from being with him.
When she finally grew tired of arranging and packing, feeling that no perfect solution could be had, she changed into a soft, lovely gown for the evening to come. She let loose her hair so it curled softly around her face, down her back, and when she was quite pleased with her appearance, swept off the much debated contents of her knapsack from her bed and reclined upon it. Miredhel figured she could always finish fixing her bag later.
Miredhel's thoughts of meeting Legolas in the evening were hastily overthrown, however, when she heard her name called outside. She rose from the bed and pushed the door aside to see one of the forest guards from Mirkwood.
"My lady, the prince sends this message: that the plans have changed and the company will leave within the hour. Gather your things and meet the rest of the company within the forest circle," he said, his eyes uncomfortably flitting from Miredhel to Limaer.
"Yes, of course," replied a rather dazed Miredhel. The tent flap door fell from her finger tips, and she looked at Limaer and then to her belongings on the floor beside the bed in disbelief.
"Miredhel? Did you not hear what he said?" Limaer asked as she stood. "They are leaving—in an hour!"
Miredhel continued to stand there loosely fingering the silken fabric of her dinner gown. She could hardly believe it. Leaving? She still had much to do: finish packing, change clothes, braid her hair back, check her weaponry, and she had not discussed the trip with her brother yet! She wondered if he even knew that she was going with them. Probably not, she surmised, because if Eledhel had known, surely he would have stormed over to her tent in heated protest. Miredhel grimly swallowed.
Limaer tapped her on the shoulder. "If you plan on going with them, then we had better get you ready."
Miredhel looked down at her dress, her mouth forming a perfect 'o.' "I should change first," she decided.
"Yes, I think that would be a start," Limaer said wisely. "You change and I will finish packing your bag."
So the two ladies quickly went to work. Miredhel traded her lovely dress for more practical riding attire in soft Lorien grey while Limaer hastily shoved Miredhel's belongings back into her bag.
"I wonder why this sudden urge to leave."
"I know," Miredhel agreed and sat down to tighten the laces of her light boots. She picked up her leather gauntlets from the bed. They had been a gift from Eledhel, fitting to her slender wrists perfectly with a pattern of nephredil forming a star across the cuff. By the time she finished lacing them on, Limaer had finished packing her bag. Miredhel strapped her belt and her new knife to her waist and then picked up her bow and quiver. Limaer handed her friend the bag, which she had managed to pack quite slimly.
"Thank you," Miredhel said, and then very hesitantly reached to shift her bow to her left hand so she could hug Limaer with her right. "Thank you," she said again.
"Be careful, Miredhel," Limaer warned, "and try not to let our favorite prince do anything too foolhardy."
"I could hardly stop him if he tried," Miredhel said with a smile. "Will you go to the send-off?"
"No, I do not think so," Limaer said. "I was never too famous at farewells."
"May your paths be green and golden until we meet again," Miredhel said and she left.
She had pulled her hair into quick braids, and now as she walked, she patted them making sure of their steadfastness. Miredhel felt as though she could scarcely breathe, and the cool autumn air burned in her throat. She continued on down the path, nervously checking her belt for her knife, her bag for this or that, stretching out her fingers and then closing them again. She was lost to the hum of busy folk along the woodland trail, jesting, discussing, each on their own errand; until she heard a single voice which she had come to recognize. It came not from the jolly cluster of tents in the clearing, but from beyond the other side of the small path—into the woods.
"You know that I cannot allow this," the voice said excitedly. It was Legolas.
Miredhel paused. Her first impulse was to stop and listen, but certainly this did not concern her. She strained her ears towards the outer ridge of trees.
"No!" he cried and again, "No, I will not let you." Now Miredhel feared for his safety. What if he had been ambushed?
She silently nested her bag at the foot of a tree and crept deeper into the woods. Her hand lingered at the knife in her belt as she gained proximity to the sound of Legolas' voice. She flattened her back against a decrepit pine and slowly, carefully turned her head to peek around the trunk. She could not have been more surprised had she seen the prince hosting a tea party to a large number of Uruk hai.
For there standing beneath the bows of an ancient oak, was Legolas and a beautiful maiden with white blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and peerlessly fair skin.
Miredhel sucked in her breath and plastered herself back up against the tree. 'Well, this is certainly what comes of eavesdropping,' she thought, 'you inevitably hear that the worst is true.'
"I cannot believe you have done this, but I am so glad you are here," Legolas said in a low voice to the girl. "The king shall be very angry."
"I know, but I could not allow you to leave without saying goodbye," she said.
"Miredhel stifled a groan and dared to look once more. Now the maiden was in his arms, with Legolas smoothing his fingers across her silky fine hair.
"Shh," he comforted her. "I can never be angry with you for long, but I am leaving tonight. You should return home."
Miredhel's head spun, reeling from wonder of who the girl could be and then to how she could sneak away without being seen. She bit back a sob and then braced herself to steal back to the path, but before she was out of range, she heard their low voices once more.
"I am sorry that I did not come sooner," she told him
"I understand why you did not."
"Take care of yourself, Legolas," she said and whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too," he said.
And in the shadows and bracken of the woods, Miredhel squeezed her eyes shut. She could feel her pulse thrumming in her head, pounding: I told you so, I told you so, I told you so. She could scarcely believe it, could not. Could this be the same prince who only hours before proclaimed how much he needed her? 'Needed you,' a tinny voice reminded her, 'needed you, but he did not say that he loved you.' No, he did not.
Searing pain swept through her head, her chest, her stomach, and she stumbled to her knees near the tree where she had stowed her knapsack. She knelt there for a moment, nary a thought crossed her mind, and for the first time in many long hours, days, months, emotion reigned free, unchecked to destroy at will her cool demeanor. Finally, she slowed her breathing to a manageable pace, wishing she had never seen them, never heard their words, so she could still believe that he truly cared—that his words meant more.
When she heard the crush of pine needles, warning of someone's impending approach, she stood and swept her hands across her forehead and cheeks. She brushed away the tiny bits of red and gold leaves clinging to her tunic and pulled her bag to her chest, clutching it like a child who finds security in a beloved toy.
It was Legolas. She faced him nonchalantly though it drained every ounce of resolve to do so. She certainly could not level any accusations now. She could scarcely move. Desire and action have ever been two unique attractors, and now that Miredhel felt the full force of one, she lacked the other. She would not mention what she had seen, but wait for a more opportune time. She could recollect her thoughts and then strike with more certainty, more resolve. She managed a small smile at Legolas, who had been studying the play of emotion across her face.
"Are you ready, then?" he asked.
"Not really, " Miredhel answered.
"Can I carry that for you?" he asked politely of her bag.
"Miredhel still clutched her knapsack to her chest. "No, it is fine. I am fine. I was on my way to the clearing." She looked at him expectantly to see if he would offer any excuses to why he was in the forest.
Legolas looked at her with concern, noting the odd light in her eyes. "So was I, but I had to stop to linger once more in this wood."
"Oh?" asked Miredhel.
"I shall miss these trees, my home for so many years."
"You were saying goodbye to the forest?" she asked tiredly, and Legolas mistook her reserve for fatigue or perhaps nervousness.
"I am sorry we will not be able to have our special dinner tonight, Miredhel."
"As am I, Prince Legolas," she replied, "as am I."
"Do not mourn its loss, my lady. I will make it up to you, three fold if such a thing is possible."
Miredhel said nothing in return and merely continued onward. Now Legolas was certain that this new mood was related to their early departure. He wished to lighten her spirits and changed the subject.
"I told your brother that you were joining the company, so you should not worry about his reaction or anything," Legolas tried.
Now he held her attention again. "What did he say?" she asked anxiously.
"Say? Growled is more like it. He was not…overly pleased," he informed her, and seeing her dismay, was quick to add, "but I let him know that it was my expressed intent to have you along—since you were the one to shoot down the dragon. Eventually, he saw it my way."
"Did you tell him—" Miredhel started to say.
"About us?" he stopped and looked at her carefully, placing a hand on each shoulder. "No. You shall, though." He looked at her confidently and leaned in to place a lingering kiss on her forehead.
Miredhel's instincts screamed for her to pull away, but she did not. Even in the face of his duplicity, his lips still burned, strumming desire across her skin, through her heart, and she despaired. How could she fight this, when her weapons, her anger and loathing turned to ash with a single kiss? 'A fool am I,' she thought bitterly, 'to forfeit all chance of joy in one who loves another.' Miredhel remained silent for the rest of the way, answering only to the cruel thoughts that robbed her peace.
When they reached the clearing, Legolas steered her to a light brown mount with dusty white feet.
"Listen, Miredhel," he said and squeezed her hand, "I know that losing your horse on the way here was difficult for you." She nodded loosely, confused about his purpose. Her mind was already a jumble anyways.
"I chose this horse from my father's best—for you. I know she will not be the same as having Thorontal…" Legolas' voice faded out in his desire to know her opinion, to observe her reaction.
"No, Legolas. She is beautiful. Thank you."
"Then she is yours." Legolas smiled to himself. At last a gift that she would willingly accept.
Miredhel shyly rubbed the horse's muzzle with obvious adoration, but when she turned to look at Legolas and thank him, he sensed that something still bothered her. Her reluctance at his touch. Her uneasy silence. Now her eyes bespoke of a soul that had drifted beyond his reach. Vague, distant. Like a forest on a long horizon, he could hear the faint rustle of many swaying canopies, he could see the emerald leaves and rich, brown bark, but the distance was simply far too great to measure and cross. She was inexplicably beyond him.
Hoping to draw her back to him, Legolas asked, "Miredhel? Do you like her?"
"Yes, Legolas. She is wonderful," Miredhel said, turning to face him, and much against her set will, she impulsively kissed his cheek.
"I have to go now," he said, feeling immensely better after the kiss. "Ride close to the front—try and stay with your brother, if possible," he instructed her and left, feeling certain that he would always be at a loss to understanding females. He took one more look back to see her admiring the horse and shook his head. What was wrong with her? He reassured himself that she must be feeling overwhelmed. Feeling comforted by this analysis, he strode over to Arod, where his father and brother both happened to wait for him.
"I heard the scouts' reports, Legolas," his father grimly said. "Another large company passed the edge of the southeastern rim towards Gondor?"
"Yes, which is why I decided to leave sooner rather than later. There is evil at work here, my father."
"The old alliances are dead, son."
"I cannot believe that," Legolas said firmly. "I will not."
"Legolas, please," Oromer spoke up. "Let someone else go if you must warn the world of men."
"It is MY allegiance to Gondor, to Aragorn, that binds my decision, my will," Legolas answered firmly.
The king exchanged a mournful glance with Oromer. "Peace be with you then," he said, and Legolas pivoted to secure his belongings before mounting his horse. The king's hand caught his shoulder, and his son turned.
"Legolas?" he said softly, "I am proud of you. Of your determination. Your strength. Your loyalty. I do not think I have to fear for you the way I once did." He pulled Legolas into his arms and hugged him. "Be careful, my prince…my son."
"Thank you, Ada. I will," Legolas whispered.
He swung up on Arod and raised his long bow with a great shout. "Hear me, my company. We ride into grave danger against forces unmatched and time itself. We no longer ride for Eryn Lasgalen or the Golden Wood. Now in this hour we shall ride as one. One people! One purpose! For Ithilien!"
"For Ithilien!" the company roared in return, and the host of elven riders leapt forward through the woods, breaking the smooth paths into a ripple of straw and dust behind them. And the Lord of Ithilien led the way, his hair caught up in a high breeze of his own haste, a golden-white standard to rule the way into battle and glory.
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