1. Chapters 1-3
Running through the woods created its own problems. The grass tugging at the feet not caring where they were placed. The downed branches and roots thoughtlessly tangling the little used path. The uncaring limbs reaching out to smack tender flesh, unseen by eyes filled with tears. The sound of a breaking heart, crushed beyond repair. The stench of fear, pushing one beyond their limits. Yes, the woods created its own problems.
Limrel had no care where she ran, or how far. She only knew that she must put as much distance between herself and the object of her pain. It did not matter that the woods was no place to be alone. The dangers were countless. She did not care. Anything was better than what she faced back in the village. The horror of her situation would not let her care. Why had she not listened to her mother? Why did she have to be so stubborn? She had heard the stories. Knew the rumours. Had refused to see the signs. And now, it was too late.
The small village rested on the side of the lake. Sea, would be more like it, had any of the inhabitants ever been blessed with the opportunity to actually view a sea. The water was not salty, although the people had heard stories of great oceans to the west and south. None had ever seen them. Simple farmers had no time, nor means to wander in search of fables. They were consumed by the daily adventures of survival. Crops to be tended in an unforgiving land. Livestock to guard through a winter when the greatest enemy was the cold.
Limrel had watched that very morning as her father and oldest brothers had embarked upon one last sailing upon the lake. She had stood beside her youngest brother as they lost sight of the large boat slipping over the horizon. Limrel had pulled her cloak closer against the fingers of winter brushing through her garments. It was never warm enough.
Turning to Dermlo, she noted his grim look. She knew as well as he, the winter would be especially hard this year. Spring had delayed her appearance, stetting the crops back a month and a half. Then the rains had flooded the fields making it impossible to determine if it had been too much, too early. When the ground had finally dried out, it had taken half the young plants with it. With food so scarce, it was likely that most of the livestock would not see the new spring, and a safe bet that a few of the villagers would join them. The only saving grace had been the fishing. The flooding had brought in more fish than was normal. They may get tired of the taste by spring, but more would survive because of the fish.
The floods had devastated the village. Twelve people had drowned, including Limrel's mother and aunt and uncle. It had taxed the small population. Of the twelve, six had been couples. There were homesteads to be tended and children to parcel out. Limrel's father had taken in his sister-in-law's two small children, and it had fallen on Limrel to care for them. Not a difficult task, but she had looked forward to her own home and children. She did not want to be tied to her family in that way. Yet, she did it, without complaining. It was no more than others were doing. Still, she was sure that in just a few short years, Melcon and she would have the home she dreamed of. Just the two of them. No parents, no brothers. A whole house to herself. It was the one thing she desired most.
She followed Dermlo back home. He did not care for fishing, so it fell to him to tend the farm while the others were gone. The three days would be quiet with only the four of them in the house. Gellum and Gisell, four year old twins, were abnormally quiet. Limrel was not sure if it was the deaths of their parents that caused it, or just the harshness of their life in general. They did not speak unless spoken to and never played. They just sat by the fire and held each other. At times, it was unnerving to Limrel. Although life was hard and the people sober, growing up with four brothers had not been as quiet as some households. They had had their share of joy and amusement. Their poor mother would throw her hands up in the air and wail in mock anguish that they would drive her to an early grave. Their father would growl in a gruff voice that he was plagued by the worse children in the world, then brag at the tavern how hard working the boys were, and beautiful and obedient his daughter was. It was a joke around the village that his poor wife got no rest.
While Dermlo went to the barn behind the house, Limrel went to the neighbor's to collect the twins. She found them sitting in a corner, holding hands. The woman watching them shook her head. Such strange and quiet ones. Too young for such sadness. The children immediately rose from the stool they were sitting on and went to Limrel. She thanked the woman and led them from the house.
Walking along the road home, Limrel tried several times to engage Gellum in conversation. Her remarks were met with silence. Giving up, she focused on the road ahead. She noticed with surprise a small white flower growing beside a fence post. Stooping down, she examined the frail blossom. How strange to see a flower so close to the winter season. The fall winds had ripped the leaves from the trees and withered any remaining flowers struggling with one last bloom. For some reason, Limrel was struck with a whisper of hope. Maybe this was a sign that things were not as bad as believed.
"Elenor." She spun at the rare word from Gisell.
"What did you say, child?"
"Elenor," she repeated, pointing at the flower.
"How do you know?" Limrel had never seen such a flower before. And she wondered at the chance the child would know it.
"From far away." Gisell pointed across the lake. Limrel looked back at the girl. All knew there was not much to the west. Wars had devastated the land. Tales brought by the rare wanderer had recounted the war, almost a thousand years ago, now. The tales told of the brave kings and great loss of life. And all in the land knew that the GREAT ONE had lost his bid for power, and withdrawn to the edge of the world. Did not his soldiers travel the land, looking for more fodder for their army? So far, Limrel's people had been lucky. None had been chosen from their village. But, then, advance warning had made it possible for all eligible men to be out [i]'fishing'[/i] whenever the soldiers came. And they were not interested in women and old men.
"How far away?" she asked Gisell, skeptically. The child was four years old and had never left the village. What did she know of the world?
"'Cross the plains and over the river and into the woods of gold."
Limrel looked to the west. The only woods she saw was the stunted forest that covered most of the plain north to the Hard Mountains. And stunted was giving them too much stature. As forests went, theirs was sorry. The trees barely topped ten, maybe twenty feet, if they were sheltered enough. Even the evergreen trees were hard pressed to retain their foliage in the harsh winds that swept the flatlands during mid-winter. Woods of gold? Dark brown, maybe. Black for sure. And between here and anywhere west was the realm of the GREAT ONE. None venturing that direction had ever returned. The only travelers into the sparsely populated country came from the southeast.
"Gisell, how could you possibly know this flower, and from whence it came?"
The girl looked up at the older one.
"My mother knew." Gone were the childish vocabulary and voice. Limrel turned away from Gisell's gaze. Gods, the child unnerved her at times.
"Come on, I have things to do at home. It is high time we get there." She started walking once more, confident the two would follow.
She was some distance ahead of them, when she heard voices in the tall grasses beyond the fence. She was moving to pass them by, when she recognized the one.
"Beton, you are so soft." His voice was not much above a whisper, and silky smooth. "Why is it that you have fought me so long? And yet, here you are now."
The girlish giggles subsided. "Melcor, you are so besotted with Limrel, I did not think I had a chance. She has said that you will wed."
"I suppose she should have asked me. I want one thing from Limrel, and as she has not yet given it to me, I will continue to pursue her. But wedding? I rather think not. What can she offer me? The youngest and a daughter at that. She will bring no dowry, no land and no prestige. And once I have the only thing she has of value, what will she have then?
"Then you do not intend to ask her father for her?" There was a slightly shocked tone to Beton's voice. As Limrel's best friend, she had been privy to the hopes and dreams that made up Limrel's future. She had helped her plan her wedding. Even now, they were deciding on her dress and trousseau. While Beton did not mind a little dalliance with Melcor, she was not prepared to betray her friend totally. She sat up suddenly.
"You do know that she is expecting you to ask her father. You have never given her any indication that your relationship was not going there."
"Neither have I ever told her I would wed her. Wait, where are you going?" he demanded as she stood up. He was irritated that he still did not have what he wanted. He stopped at the shock on her face. Standing himself, he turned and looked into the eyes of his 'beloved'.
"Limrel" Beton began, "I am sorry."
"I am not. My mother warned me that you were bad, Melcor. But I chose to believe you, and not her. And now, I will not be able to tell her that she was right. I hope that Beton was able to give you what I did not. Although, I cannot believe that she would throw away the only 'dowry' she also possesses. And I would watch what I said in the village. Everyone thinks we are to wed. If you value your life, find a way to explain why it is that I now refuse. And make sure that my brothers accept it. You do remember that I have brothers? Four of them. Fishermen. Perhaps you should seek another place to live. It may be safer."
She turned and followed Gellum and Gisell, who had not stopped. Catching up with them, she urged them on. Restraining herself, she held back the tears that threatened to spill. She would not cry in front of Dermlo or any of the others.
Reaching the house, she opened the door for the children. For once, they did not go to their corner. Gisell went to the drawer where the eating utensils were kept and counted out four forks and spoons. Gellum got their stool and climbing up, handed Gisell four bowls and plates. Limrel barely registered what they did. She moved to the sink and began the preparations for lunch.
Washing and cutting up the vegetables took her the better part of a half hour. She could not concentrate on the job at hand. Her thoughts kept racing to what she had heard from Melcor's own mouth. He was not wedding her. Had never intended to. How could she face Beton and her other friends? All knew of her dreams. It was a small village. If someone's cat had kittens, it was newsworthy. And celebrations were few and far between. A wedding was an especially good reason to have a party. The gifts would be few, but the fun would be great.
Limrel reached up to wipe a tear from her eye. She would not let Dermlo see her cry. He would want to know what was wrong. Then he would find Melcor and beat the life out of him. How then would she hold her head up in the village? No, it would be best if none found out, just a quiet disinterest and then a breakup. That would be best. Melcor had best come up with a good reason. Dermlo was his only friend, and that would not last long, now. Not many of the men in the village liked him. He was too highhanded when it came to women. And he was lazy. He expected his good looks to gain him a wealthy wife and an easy life. Ha!, she thought to herself. Where he would find wealth in this village, she would never know. The only wealth here was in your children. And the wealthier you were, the poorer. Children did not feed and clothe themselves. That took work and goods. And while work was in abundance, goods certainly were not. So, wealth? He would be hard pressed to find a father willing to give him a chance. Even her father had seemed reluctant to give him a chance. When asked about Melcor, he would only tell her that it would settle itself. Well, she guessed it had. It appeared that he would not have to give an answer.
Limrel felt a tug on her sleeve. Looking down, she saw Gisell.
"What is it, child?" she asked. The dark blue eyes were pooled with tears.
"Why do you cry, tauni?"
Limrel knelt down to meet the girl, eye to eye. She brushed a stray hair back from Gisell's face.
"It is just foolishness, tauni. Big girl stuff that I hope you will never have to think on. Now, is the table set? Tauni Dermlo will be in for his lunch soon, and I would not make him wait. Gellum?" She glanced at the boy. "Are you ready?" At his nod, she turned and put the platter of vegetables on the table.
After the big breakfast she usually fixed when all were at home, her brother preferred a light, cold lunch. Raw vegetables and maybe cold fowl would hold him until the evening meal, which tonight would also be light. Dermlo was loathe to put her out for just the four of them, so soup would suffice. Limrel thought, with bitterness, this is my life from now on. Cooking and cleaning for my brothers until they all wed and find a woman to do it for them.
Not for the first time did she envy her brothers. The freedom to choose their path in life. To do as they wanted. No, she would have to wait until some man decided he was ready to wed. And then, he would have to decided on her. Of course, she would have some say in it, but precious little. And, her prospects dwindled with time. There were only so many men. And most families had only a couple of children. And those were evenly sexed, so no abundance of men to come calling. Melcor had been her best chance. And she would not wed him now, even if he was the only man left in the village. Let him think on that. She knew that of her friends, Beton was the only one not promised. And if he thought her to be a likely match, was he in for a surprise. Beton thought less of Melcor than the other women. She had only thought to have a little fun with him.
Limrel thanked the stars that she had come across them before something worse had happened. She was angry with Beton, but that would not last long. After all, Melcor was among a very few not already wedded or promised, and so, fair game. Courting was vicious until the promising, then it was hands off. Literally. The penalties were harsh for stealing another's mate. And promised was the same as wedded. Unless the parties involved dissolved the agreement. Then, people would take sides for a while and there would be hard feelings. Until one of the parties found someone else, then all would be back to normal. That had only happened twice, that Limrel could remember. And as for someone taking a promised mate, Limrel had witnessed that, once. But once was enough. The girl was shunned and driven from the village. The boy had had to pay the injured girl's family thrice what her dowry had been. His family had finally sent him to relatives across the lake. They did not want to be reminded that he had shamed them. It had been very ugly, and Limrel was glad that things had not gone that far.
She shook off her thoughts and turned as the door opened. Dermlo stopped to hang his coat on the knob beside the door. He sat heavily in the chair he had occupied since old enough to join the family at the big table. He raised an eyebrow at the four settings. The twins had never sat at the table, not in the four months they had lived there. They always sat in the corner and ate. It seemed maybe it was time to join the family. He smiled up at Limrel, his smile faltering as he glimpsed into her eyes.
"What is it, anda?" he asked. The sadness there was unmistakable. Something was amiss.
"Nothing, andë. Just thinking on mama. That is all." She hoped he bought her lie. She did not need to deal with an incident in the village.
"Well, then," he replied. "Can you help me with the western field? I will need someone to guide the horses."
"Of course, if you need the help. Gellum and Gisell can ride, and I will direct. What do you think of that?" She looked at the twins.
"We can help." Dermlo glanced at Limrel sharply. Interaction, from the two of them. She shook her head slightly. He understood. It would wait.
Lunch was eaten in relative silence. When finished, Dermlo gathered up the dishes and placed them in the sink. They would wait until supper. He waited while Limrel gathered coats and mittens and hats. Bundling the younger ones up, she allowed him to help her into her coat. Of all her brothers, she was closest to Dermlo. He was only twenty-five years older than she, and had always been there for her. Not that the others did not care for her, but they were so much older. Mindan, the eldest, was even old enough to have started his own holding and family many years ago. But, he had chosen to stay and work with his father. The others had seen no need to move out, either, even though they were also old enough. It seemed that Limrel was the only one who wanted to start a family. And the likelihood of that happening now had fled faster than the summer breeze before the first breath of winter.
She followed Dermlo and the twins out the door. She carefully locked the door after them. There was no need to lock out thieves, but the wind could sometimes blow just right and cause the door to bang against the latch. Then they would come home to a cold house, and possibly a stray critter or two. It had happened before. Running to catch up, she could hear the twins speaking softly. She went into the barn as Dermlo came in from the paddock with the two large draft horses. Heavier and larger than the ones rode by the soldiers, these animals were slow and steady. They did not give any trouble and knew what was expected of them. Limrel reached up to rub the nearer one on the nose. He drew his lips back in a huge grin. She started at the laugh from Gisell. Smiling, she turned back to the horse. Yes, well, maybe the winter would not be so harsh, after all.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.