When All Lights Pass
To all my readers and reviewers:
Mejg, Miss Troll Queen, Sakimi1014, Carolyn, Yavanna and Sunstar, Tilara, Solangedrama, navV, Asian princess, Nieriel Raina, Pixie Alice, RiverOtter, Adurna Eldrvarya, gppr, elflingskitten, dawn, Lady Jezebella, lathril, demmons1399, Love4horses, Nevatoriel (my old OBboard buddy!), isilme222, the Hobbit Ivy, Oleanne, Arcanum Paradox, Miri, ashsecho, Rhyselle, the Sequestered Princess, , Elfbride, Faerlain, Eltara, Eyes of Sky, Child of the King, AngelRain32525, Shopgirl1, Arsenel, Hypersquishy, Silvertiger, hineko, kyra, EnigmaJade, K'lara7, Jousting Elf with a Sabre, Linilya elf, A monkey's Harp, Cee, buttercup, Lena Love, Jessiner, KnowInsight, Verpoort, dejjzza, Fiddleheim, Elvnchic9, SnopdropsinWinter, Love to be Loved90, TheRedPenofDoom87, Emjo, LegolasLady 101, Adele, Stacey, Iluvien, OrangeBlossom07, Megara, phoenix23, Dundaeal, Silimaure, Kay50, Shilly, Legolas Melamin, Dissolved Starr, Alanis Darkholme, Remixer, blurr, QueenieB, the Bluehaired Loon, Mermaid Sushi, Sarilleny, Legyviel007, Daphne,Xorie5, Perdu, dans Paris, Pardon the Interruption, Ashariel, ElvenDestiny, Lady Miriel, Blue Kat, TigerLily 713, born to be hanged, Ithildiel, Concetta, Santoori, Elvenstar5, Nadariel, FYfangirl26, Green*Eyed*Elf*Goddess, dragonfly, Lil, LoverofLegolas, etheral dragon, Darma Druid, ari anwarunya, anwar, mari3, caged phoenix, Elerrina Rose, Kaelyne, Nightlight4, Nikki1, Tinnuial, Elvishwine, Thorongiliel, icy878, erewyn, DaisyPrincess, jambaby1963, Fan81981, Lady Celebwin, aga_xris, mspolarbearr, falling lust, Norie, Merenwen Luinwel, orion, Ruth, Kyma, Dawn1
I just wanted to give a huge shout-out and a big thanks to all my readers who have stood by Building Ithilien. We are nearing the end, my friends, and you have my unending gratitude for every review you've ever written. I took the time last weekend to sit down and read every message again. It was really uplifting, and a little emotional too, to think back to some of these chapters and where I was in my personal life at the time!
I always find it ironic that I started writing this story that had two sets of twins in it: Legolas' sisters (identical twins) and Legolas' friends from Lothlorien, Belegil and Sulindal (fraternal twins.) Then in 2007, I had my own set of twins (identical girls)—go figure. This chapter is dedicated to them on the occasion of their third birthday.
Chapter 47: When All Lights Pass
Later that evening when Aragorn found Legolas in Thranduil's tent, the elf was propped up against the divan where Miredhel rested, with his long legs stretched across the floor. His arms were folded across his chest, and the elf's eyes were closed. His skin still showed remnants of the orcs' cruelty from when they had captured him, but nothing could diminish the sheer beauty of Legolas' face.
Aragorn had spent much of his life in the company of elves, growing up in Rivendell, not to mention his long friendship with Legolas—elves had been his family, his friends. But familiarity would never ease the secret wonder that Aragorn felt when he looked upon them. Their natural grace and flawless appearances still held the power to make him pause.
"I would like to know why you felt it necessary to enlighten my father concerning my relationship with Miredhel," Legolas said softly and then opened his eyes to lock with Aragorn's.
"You do not think he could have guessed it for himself, after the way you brought her back in your arms, half-crazed?" Aragorn countered. "Your father is extremely perceptive, my friend."
Legolas closed his eyes and leaned back against the divan. "You know how he is about me, Aragorn. You know how he worries… has always worried…" he said tiredly.
Aragorn sank down across from his friend on the floor in the tent. "I am sorry, Legolas. I did what I thought was necessary—I saw Adrendil making his rounds, and I thought that it would be better if your father heard it from me than him."
"Does not matter now," Legolas murmured and fixed his gaze on Aragorn, "and saves me the bother of it all. Is that wrong? To want to be left alone, just let somebody else take the lead for a while?" He picked at the end of one of his braids.
"No, Legolas," Aragorn answered slowly, "You've never been one to forgo duty."
"She's dying," he whispered. "And I only have myself to blame."
"Legolas, you cannot…" his friend started, but the elf cut him off.
His elvish words, so soft to human ears that Aragorn strained to catch them all, tumbled out, "I pursued her. I pushed her. I wanted her—and even as she warned me that the healers said her heart was weak, I did not stop. I just went ahead and took what I wanted. Selfish."
"Do not blame yourself this way, my friend." Aragorn said sternly, the edge in his voice causing Legolas to look up. "Do you think things would be any different if Eledhel had died, and you and Miredhel had not bonded? I think the Grief would have already killed her."
"I think," Aragorn said deliberately, "that your bond is the only thing holding her here. You give her strength, Legolas."
"If it were Arwen," the elf said, with a long look at Aragorn, "what would you do?"
"I would try to save her, heal her," the man answered slowly. "If I could not, then I would send her to the Undying Lands to find healing and peace there."
Legolas angled his head to glimpse Miredhel still sleeping on the divan behind him and swallowed hard. He then nodded and was silent for a moment. "If you could, would you go with her? Forsake your duty to Gondor?"
Aragorn rubbed his long fingers across his temples, and then stood. "I would try saving her first," he countered. "I know you went to the healers' tent earlier. Did they give you any reason to hope?"
"None, save Colmaethor, one of the Lorien elves. He said Lady Galadriel called Miredhel out of her dark dreams even as she was fading, but she has left these shores by now. Elrond has sailed as well. None of my father's people have skill enough to save her. They are all of the mind that she should sail as soon as possible."
"You say Lady Galadriel called to Miredhel in her dreams?" Aragorn asked.
"You know as well as I do that she had the power to speak in people's minds," Legolas reminded him of their days in Caras Galadhon when they first met the Lady of the Golden Wood. "And even though I have bonded with Miredhel, I would not try to enter her mind, especially not now when she is so fragile, so weak."
"Your words just now reminded me of something that I have not thought of in a long time, not since the dark days before the fall of Sauron," Aragorn answered carefully, for he had an idea that gave him great hope, but he wanted to proceed cautiously with Legolas. It would not do to raise his friend's expectations too high. In one point, Aragorn had to agree with Thranduil—and he loathed the idea that the elf king was right—but Legolas had always been too easily ruled by his emotions, and failure in this instance would be a hard disappointment.
Despite Aragorn's careful approach, the elf's eyes sparked at his words. He stopped picking miserably at the ends of his hair and leaned forward to listen.
The man continued, "I have a notion, a hope that Miredhel's grief might be treated like the Black Shadow that had stricken Eowyn upon the slaying of the Witch King on the fields of Pelennor."
Aragorn recalled aloud the old lore which had saved the shield maiden of Rohan and Faramir, Steward of Gondor:
And death's shadow grows
And all lights pass
Come athelas! Come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!
"Both were grievously injured, the light of the spirits grown cold and waning," Legolas wondered at the similarity between their malady and Miredhel's. Yet Aragorn had revived them with the herb athelas.
Could Aragorn bring Miredhel back? There was nothing to be lost by trying and everything to gain.
"Truly you are Estel," Legolas murmured. "You bring hope when there is none." He pushed his hair back from his face, and his dark blue eyes caught the light.
Once more Aragorn was struck by the youthful innocence of Legolas' face, even though he knew him to be immortal, centuries upon centuries older than he, and a warrior who had known much of bloodshed and battle. He had seen Legolas as the very face of death itself during battle, as mighty as the elf lords of old. He preferred Legolas as he was now, hopeful.
Aragorn stood and offered a hand up to his friend. "Let us go find some athelas." He had carried some in his bag from Minas Tirith, but had used up his supply the night Legolas was attacked.
The two friends left the tent and purposefully crossed the camp. Aragorn wanted to speak to Colmaethor, the healer that had given Legolas hope earlier. Before they reached the healers' tent, however, Belegil and Sulindal intercepted them.
"Legolas," Sulindal bowed his head, "Eledhel was our captain in the Golden Wood, and a brother to us. Tell us, how fares Miredhel?"
"She lives yet, but…" Legolas' voice trailed off.
Belegil sagged against Sulindal's shoulder, and both whispered words of thanks to the Valar. They had tended Eledhel's body after the battle and had worried together that Miredhel would not last much longer.
Sulindal had glimpsed Miredhel's face when Legolas had carried her in from the battle field, and a thousand painful memories of his sister Annariel's death tore his heart. Miredhel. Annariel's death had devastated her. No elleth should have to bear such a burden of grief. He ached for this elleth, one whom he had come to view as a sister.
Belegil straightened as he addressed the Prince, "When she wakes up, my brother and I wish to stand in as her family if she wishes to look upon Eledhel. We also wish to take care of the funeral preparations."
"That is most generous," Legolas answered. "He was my friend too, and—" The prince looked curiously at Sulindal. "I suppose you already noticed that I'm no longer wearing my family ring."
Sulindal smiled softly. His sharp gray eyes had detected the missing ring and had entertained the small hope that the same ring had moved to a certain lady's finger. "Well?" he inquired.
"I asked Miredhel to become my betrothed," Legolas confessed quietly.
Both Sulindal and Belegil shared a quick smile. "That is glad tidings indeed, my lord." Sulindal hesitated and then clapped Legolas on the back. He meant to reassure and comfort, knowing fully well that it was not his place to offer either.
The prince was not affronted by the small gesture—in fact, it caught him quite off guard, and he flashed a grin at the twin brothers, one that spoke of kinship and great camaraderie.
By the time Legolas and Aragorn had crossed the camp back to the healer's tent, they had been intercepted by no less than eleven different groups of elves and men all offering their best wishes for the prince's beloved's quick recovery.
One of the elves did not join the outpouring of hope and sympathy to the prince; Adrendil had no heart for pretty words or prevarication. Instead he watched silently and waited. He had observed Legolas' anguished retreat across the camp earlier. Miredhel's Grief must be dire indeed. With the prince's attention drawn across the camp, Adrendil slipped through the draped entrance the wood elf king's tent..
Miredhel stirred when he entered, and Adrendil paused at the sight of her lovely form stretched across the king's divan. He desired her; there was no use pretending otherwise. True, Legolas had announced their betrothal, but that was before Eledhel had fallen in battle. Now Miredhel grieved again, and Adrendil only wished to offer her succor.
She brushed a sleepy hand across her eyes and then propped herself up to look at her unexpected guest.
"How are you feeling?" Adrendil asked, his eyes softening as he gazed upon her.
"Not my finest," Miredhel admitted frankly. "Why are you here, Captain?" She had every reason to be suspicious as one of her last encounters had ended with him trying to bestow a much unwanted kiss upon her lips.
"You were always direct," Adrendil remembered. "I appreciated that about you."
"Not all the time," Miredhel reminded him of when she had pushed him into the tent to ward off his advances.
"No, forgive me. My behavior that night was inexcusable."
"You were saying why you had come?" Miredhel repeated.
"I heard rumors across camp…that you were dying." Adrendil's voice broke into a whisper. "I just wanted to see for myself, how you fared. Offer my assistance to you."
Regret marred his handsome features and troubled his usually roguish brown eyes. Miredhel had never known him to look so sincere. Finally, this was a side of the captain with whom she could relate.
"Not much can be done," Miredhel confessed tiredly, "I overheard Prince Legolas say so to King Aragorn. They thought I was sleeping, and I did not mean to listen, but I could not help it."
"I understand, but perhaps all you need is time for recovery, my lady. The shock of your brother's death is still new…"
"Time—that is the last thing I want." Miredhel turned her head to look at him directly.
"Grief is pain, Adrendil. My heart aches so. I can hardly bear it. To think about days, weeks, living this way--it is insufferable." Miredhel took a deep breath and looked down at her hands and the golden ring upon her finger. "I do not wish to hurt Legolas. He already blames himself. I overheard him say that as well." she muttered.
"Well, of course he blames himself, my lady. He would feel responsible for your brother's death," Adrendil said and knelt by beside her to bring himself eye level. "He probably feels like he is reliving the tragedy of his mother all over again too, but you should not dwell on such things, my lady."
"What about his mother?" Miredhel asked abruptly and grimaced. Those sudden flares of pain were becoming more frequent now. She gripped the coverlet and willed it to pass while she despaired of hearing of Legolas' mother this way. He rarely spoke of his family.
"The prince never mentioned it to you?" Adrendil could hardly hide his disbelief. "His mother was sick with grief many years ago. Legolas blamed himself for what happened then as well. The queen and her son were out riding in the forest. Orcs attacked, but the queen and Legolas managed to escape. They were racing back to the palace, and when he looked back again, she was gone. He was very young when it happened. As soon as he reached the palace, he summoned the guards and they rode out and found the queen, alive but wretched. The orcs had done their worst. There was no way Legolas could have saved her, but he suffered cruelly." Adrendil was but a new recruit to the guard when this had happened, but everyone in the kingdom had adored their queen. She had been everything that Thranduil was not—warm, kind, gracious.
"Did she fade?" Miredhel asked in a small voice.
"No, but she never healed either, and Legolas became so distraught over his mother that KingThranduil feared for his son's well-being. It was an ill-kept secret at court that the king thought his youngest son too sensitive to emotion. So the queen sought peace in the Undying Lands." Adrendil folded his hands on his knee and studied the maiden before him. Dark circles smudged her eyes, and she looked so lost and weak that he only wanted to take her into his arms and hold her.
"I would spare him any grief if I could," Miredhel said softly to herself. "Perhaps it would be best if I left for the havens as well." As soon as she had spoken the words, she knew that she really meant them, especially if it meant saving Legolas from fading as well. Miredhel would consider any alternative over that fate for him, no matter the cost to her.
"Lady Miredhel," Adrendil said and bowed, "If you decide that you wish to leave, I offer you my service as an escort. You may find your prince very resistant to the idea of you leaving; I'm sure it would pain him greatly to let you go. If I may offer counsel, this must be your choice and yours alone, and once decided you should leave quickly and without reserve, for the longer you linger, the more Legolas will suffer the loss."
Miredhel nodded thoughtfully. Adrendil had given her much to consider. She lay back down upon the divan, and the captain sensing her wish for privacy quitted the tent after a soft farewell.
Legolas and Aragorn entered moments later, and Miredhel propped herself back up, pushing her hair away from her face, her eyes gratefully resting upon her beloved. She was not sure if it were her bond with Legolas or just the overwhelming sense of love she felt for him, but merely the sight of him, his presence alone, soothed her spirit like no other balm.
"Legolas," she whispered his name to herself, hardly still able to believe that he belonged to her alone. Even now in the evening after a hard-fought battle, he looked glorious, and his eyes lit up when he heard her say his name.
"Miredhel, you are awake!" Legolas exclaimed and gave her forehead a swift kiss. He glanced back at Aragorn, and the two had a silent, puzzling exchange that ended with the king unquestionably shrugging.
"I will be right back, my love," Legolas guaranteed, offering absolutely no explanation of what had just happened, and slipped outside the tent with Aragorn.
The man and elf quickly strode out of hearing distance from the tent together, and both began whispering at once.
"Well, I wouldn't have thought she would be awake!" Legolas voiced his complete surprise.
"Since she is awake now, I believe we must postpone our idea with the athelas," Aragorn guessed. "It may not work the same if she is awake. Neither Eowyn or Faramir were when I worked the cure upon them."
"We'll save it for later then," Legolas agreed. "I'm going to go back, and I'm not going to mention anything to her about it. Keep the element of surprise, you know."
Aragorn nodded, and Legolas left him there, eager to see Miredhel. He was not expecting to see her sitting up upon the divan, with her face looking gray and wan, and lacing up her boots tiredly.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" he inquired at the sight of her.
"How come you and King Aragorn bolted out of the tent like that when you first came in?" she asked, artfully dodging his question with one of her own.
"Oh, that—" Legolas nonchalantly brushed the hair off his shoulders while he paused and then sat next to her, "he just wanted to let us have some privacy."
"Hmm." She answered noncommittally, giving absolutely no indication that she believed him. Miredhel picked up her second boot and tugged it on. Even as she completed this smallest of tasks, her breathing was slow and labored.
"Here now, Miredhel," Legolas said concernedly, although he did not try to stop her in the middle of her task. Even he knew better than that. "Tell me what you want, and I will make it so. All you have to do is ask…"
The prince cupped her chin with his hand as though he were handling the most delicate porcelain and made her to look at him. The icy pallor of her skin and the dim light of her eyes sent him reeling inside. If he had entertained the slightest sort of denial about the gravity of her condition earlier, that one touch and glimpse into her eyes shot it down with a thousand arrows. Her condition had worsened. Considerably.
Miredhel tried to pretend not to notice Legolas' shock. His hand had trembled after he first touched her face. His hand, shaking-- the very same hand that was legend throughout Middle Earth for steady grace under pressure! Legolas in turn was trying his best to act nonchalant about his reaction and knowing that he was failing miserably.
"Legolas," she sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. "I want to see my brother."
She felt him tense, but continued, "Legolas, please. Take me to see Eledhel. I wish to see him one last time… to say goodbye."
"You know that I am powerless to deny you little," Legolas began, "but I wish you would reconsider…"
"Legolas, please. I plan on doing this," 'with or without your help' Miredhel omitted, "but I would rather not go alone."
"All right then," he answered somberly and took her hand. "Can you walk, or would you prefer me to carry you?" It was obvious which option he preferred.
'"I would like to go there of my own volition," she amended proudly, even though her voice was weak.
Legolas sighed and pressed his forehead to hers. He loved her spirit, even when it was infuriating. He helped her to her feet, and then took her arm in his own to guide her outside the tent. The chill in the night air made her shiver, and Legolas ducked back inside to retrieve a blanket, which he then folded over her shoulders like a shawl.
Both elves pretended to take no notice of the wide-eyed stares of the men as they passed; Legolas kept his gaze fixed firmly on Miredhel's face as he steered her toward the edge of camp where he knew Sulindal and Belegil kept a silent vigil over their fallen captain's body.
And even though Legolas was taken aback to see many men and elves trailing behind them in a long forlorn column, he did not mention it to the lady beside him, and if she noticed it, she made no mention of it, save perhaps a lonely tear that wandered down her cheek.
When at last Legolas and Miredhel reached their quarry, Belegil and Sulindal rose and greeted Miredhel with a kiss on her cheek from one brother and a hug from the other. They bade her wait with Legolas, so they might bring move her brother's body out from the covered wagon to rest upon a trestle where she might look upon him in the open air.
As the brothers left to move the body, the procession of men and elves that had followed the prince and Miredhel from camp now formed a large loose circle, and King Aragorn came to stand next to Legolas. King Thranduil also appeared, and with a slight nod to his son and King Aragorn, took his place on the right of Miredhel, took her free hand in his.
When at last Sulindal pulled back the finely woven Lorien cloth from Eledhel's body, Miredhel exhaled a breath she had not even realized she had been holding. She broke away from the others and knelt by his side. His face was so flawless and peaceful, if she had not known any better, she might have supposed him to be only in a deep and restful slumber.
"Oh, Eledhel," she breathed, "oh, El." She hung her head for a minute, wishing fervently that she could see his steady gray eyes mocking her just one more time. A thousand memories bombarded her, and the grief's spiking pain made her waver. Nausea barreled up her chest, and Miredhel leaned down with one hand on the cool grass to steady herself.
Legolas would have gone to her then, but Aragorn checked him. "Let her do this," he softly advised.
Miredhel inhaled and willed herself to take one last look at her brother, the last of her family in Middle Earth. She placed a kiss on his cool cheek and withdrew.
Immediately seeking the comfort of Legolas' gaze, Miredhel did not return to his side; instead she quietly addressed the group that had formed around them.
"Eledhel, son of Bragoglin, First Marshal of the Guard in fair Lothlorien," she said and with each word her voice gained strength and authority. If any doubted her love for her brother after the small quiet farewell they had witnessed, none would second-guess the height of her emotion now after listening to her.
"He was friend and brother, a leader and warrior. Eledhel loved life with all his being. Those who knew him best," she said with a long look to Belegil and Sulindal, "would speak of his unmitigated joy, of his loyalty to those he loved. This was my brother. He shall not be forgotten." She closed her eyes...
And began to sing. Eledhel had loved music. He had always had a song for everything and in between. Now she would have one for him. With the stars and soldiers and kings as her witness, she sang to her brother, her voice carrying over the fields and hills of love, and hope.
Ai! Laurie lantar lassi surinen,
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron!
Yeni ve linte yuldar avanier
Mi ormardi lise-miruvoreva,
Adune pella, Vardo tellumar
Nu luini yassen tintilar I eleni
Si man I yulma in enquantuva?
An si, Tintalle Varda Oilosseo
Ve fanyar maryat Elentari ortane
Ar ilye tier undulave lumbule;
Ar sindarnoriello caita mornie
i falmarlinnar inbe met, ar hisie
untupa Calaciryo miri oiale.
Si vanwa na, Romello vanwa, Valimar!
Namarie! Nai hiruvalye Valimar,
Nai elye hiruva. Namarie!
'Ah! Like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the song of her voice, holy and queenly. Who now shall refill the cup for me? For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the Stars, from Mound Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow; and out of a gray country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacirya forever. Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!'
The men listened in wonder, not understanding the words, but lost in the achingly beautiful melody, and the elves among them who listened and knew her lament joined their voices with hers, sweet and clear in the darkness, rising above the smoke of a hundred campfires and the ash scattering in the night's wind.
When she sang her last farewell, Miredhel found herself in the arms of Legolas who caught her up in a tight embrace, partly in comfort, partly because he feared she might collapse where she stood.
"Eledhel would not have wanted this," she confided to him brokenly, as he held her tight, "he wouldn't want me to fall to grief." She pulled back from him just enough to meet his gaze. "I wasn't planning on telling you this, but—I seriously considered leaving for the Havens, and I made up my mind."
Legolas' eyes widened, and he tightened his hold on her as though she might leave that very minute.
"No, no," she said, sensing his misinterpretation. "I don't want to fade, Legolas. Nor do I wish to leave you for the Havens. I wish to stay. Here. With you."
Verily did Legolas' eyes mist at her declaration, and he pulled her even closer to him and kissed her soundly, not caring that hundreds of soldiers surrounded them.
"I am going to fight this grief, Legolas." Miredhel said in a small, yet determined voice. "With whatever strength, whatever grace the Valar may grant, I will fight past the pain or learn to live with it. Eledhel would never have wanted his death to bring my own. I see that now. Ithilien meant much to him. I'm not ready to leave yet."
Legolas decided to throw all convention by the wayside and scooped her up in his arms.
"We'll find a way, Miredhel," said her prince, touching his lips to hers again. He thought of Aragorn's possible cure with the athelas and silently prayed that it might be so. He did not speak of it to Miredhel, so closely he held the hope that it might save her.
For all the other eyes watching the prince with his lady, and there were many—kings and warriors, men and elves—most filed past the couple silently, each on their way back to find rest in the remains of the evening. When Legolas finally took Miredhel away in his arms to return her to the king's tent, he did not leave her side. They would leave tomorrow for Gondor and Minas Tirith, and then from there, Ithilien.
Days of peace were at hand, Legolas reflected as he stowed his well-worn knives in his pack at the foot of the divan. Peace and healing—he had been fighting for so long, forced by circumstance ever to play the warrior for his people—Legolas hardly knew any different…but he wished he might. One glance at Miredhel perched on the side of the divan with her hair unbound and curving loose around her face, and Legolas hoped wholeheartedly that Ithilien and what they might build there would bring both of them peace. He pulled his tunic off and snuffed the lantern. Well, if anything, there would certainly be no shortage of love; he would make sure of that.
*Miredhel's song and translation borrowed from FOTR, "Farewell to Lorien"
Thanks for reading!! This is NOT the last chapter, I assure you! A few stray ends to tie up and some more surprises, I think!
If you've been reading this story—If I listed your name up at the top, I would LOVE it if you would review this chapter and let me know that you're still reading! I'm just curious who's still hanging in there with me! And I know I have some brand new readers too, just since the last update. Let me hear from you! Please! Especially if you have anything you would like to see happen before the end of the story-- I value your input.