12. Chapter 12
Wow, it's starting to be a long time between chapters, though this is a bit short! I really hope you all are enjoying my story. Now I can say with confidence that the...err...dirt... hits the fan very soon now!
Details of routes taken, numbers of soldiers etc. are all invented.
Mother of Horsemen - Chapter 12
Elrond heard a noise in the library early one morning as he passed by, and went in to investigate. At first he saw nothing, but then a flicker of movement behind a large pile of books caught his eye. Readfah looked up from her seat at a corner table, trying vainly to arrange the books back in order, and gave the job up as hopeless. She looked at her feet as he walked over to her and kissed her. She would not look at him.
"What is this? I have never before seen you here...what are you reading?"
Readfah blushed scarlet, and swallowed hard. "Nothing. I was reading nothing at all."
Never had she lied to him, but she looked so guilty that Elrond frowned as he shuffled through the books she had been holding.
"Why, these are nothing secret...some old histories..." He knelt beside her. "Surely you know that everything I have is yours. I care not if you wish to read my books." He almost laughed, until he saw the tears spill and her hands shaking.
"Readfah, whatever is the matter?"
"I - I can't read!" she buried her head in her arms and sobbed.
Elrond thought of the thousands of manuscripts he had read, and the not inconsiderable number he himself had written. What she was telling him seemed unthinkable at first, but then he thought, how should she have learned to do so, living the way she had? Maedhros would have been the only one who could have taught her, and it probably hadn't occurred to him, preoccupied as he was with other matters. The Laiquendi had no letters, and obviously neither had the Azke-mau, the men of Forochel.
"What were you doing with these books, then?" he asked gently, stroking her hair. "They have no maps or illuminations."
Came the small-voiced reply, "I was trying to teach myself."
"But...why? After all this time? I just assumed you could, and took no pleasure in it."
She could not answer. Her face and eyes were so red from embarrassment and crying he thought she might have done herself an injury. He held her close for several moments.
"Come," he said at last. "I will teach you."
"Oh, you must not...take time for such a matter as this!"
"As keen witted as you are you will learn in no time," he assured her. "Your grandfather devised the letters we use today, and they are marvelous in their simplicity..."
He took a bit of parchment and a quill, and in a quick, neat hand reproduced the Fëanorian letters for her. After a brief explanation of why the letters were arranged the way they were, he began to sound them out. In two hours, she had memorized all of them and written them several times herself. Her efforts were much blotted, and Readfah's fingers would not look the same for days, but what she had produced was readable.When he opened a book of verse and indicated a few simple lines to read, her eyes grew big as she read the words aloud.
He took the parchment again and wrote a word at the top. She looked up at him.
"That's right," he smiled, and she jumped up suddenly and kissed him. Grabbing another square of parchment, a pen and some ink, she bolted from the library and disappeared down the long hallway.
Elrond had seldom seen her so overjoyed. As always, her happiness warmed his own heart. Later, he chanced to look from the library window and saw her sitting on a bench in the garden, repeating the lesson to a pair of big, yellowhaired horse soldiers who sat before her like respectful schoolboys. Of course, he thought. Tovig and Held...brothers...Éoghan's great grandsons. Neither had the men of Éothéod had knowledge of reading and writing until now. Now, on the brink of war, they would begin to have a history. Somehow it seemed fitting, thus. He would not have thought it possible, but when he turned away from the window at last, Elrond loved Readfah all the more.
At the very same moment, Gil-galad too, was watching Readfah from a window. Unlike Elrond, he turned away with a sigh. She was such a vivid reminder of what they were leaving behind. Though her mortal blood was very evident, she was the very heart of what it meant to be an elf...questing, curious, alive. He loved Celebrían, of course, but there was something about Readfah he merely very much liked, and that was so much more comfortable.
He looked about him at the sparely furnished room, furnished as he had wanted it, and his heart was seized with a sudden dread. How I wish we need not leave! he thought wildly, throwing himself onto the bed as he did when he was a boy and troubled by anything. The smooth coverlet caressed his cheek, but he was not soothed. What was this? Tears? He sat up again, thankful no one had witnessed his weakness. He wiped his eyes and lay still for a few moments.
He had never been visionary, but as the evil day grew closer disturbing dreams began to invade his sleep. Most often, he saw a fiery abyss yawning at his feet, but before he could react, something struck him and his vision went white, and all sensation was drained from him. Most often, he would wake then, but sometimes the blinding whiteness would suddenly give way to a pastoral scene. The meadows of the Imlad Ris, perhaps, in the days before anyone lived here. In none of these dreams did he ever see anyone, or hear anything. Gil-galad was terrified.
But this was the first time he had ever shed tears over it. He thought of Readfah in the garden, showing a bit of paper to her friends. She was doing what he wished he could - being brave. Of course she wasn't riding into the face of the Dark One, as she still called Sauron, but Gil-galad thought perhaps those left behind had it worse. There would be so much loss of life, and the pain would be theirs to deal with. Elves were meant to live! Not that Men were not, but they died anyway sooner or later. Yet even they were meant to grow old peacefully, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, and pass peacefully into whatever new life Eru had in store for them. And Elves - no Elf should ever die. It was theirs to be as one with the ebb and flow of the pulse of Arda. What had happened to change the courses of their lives so?
Gil-galad wished he could be more like Elrond, who was still somehow able to take joy in what time was left to them. For Elrond, food still tasted good, the air still smelled sweet, his lover's touch still brought pleasure, and music held no discordant notes.On his last trip home, he had found the old silver harp that Elrond had played as a youth, and had it restrung, thinking to delight his friend. And it had, but soon he wished he had never brought it. Even the liveliest of tunes seemed melancholy.
He left his room then, and went out into the sunshine. He could not concentrate on the activity around him; the officers' voices crying orders, the clatter of the forges upriver, the cadence of hoofbeats in the meadow beyond the house, where Readfah's green-clad assistants drilled horses and riders again and again. He ignored salutes and warmer greetings alike and walked up into the woods as if he had a purpose there. When he knew he was alone he sank to the ground and wept. He might be able to ride forth with some measure of kingly bearing if he could but set aside the dinning in his ears that told him he would never return.
Galadriel felt the One Ring speaking to her at the same time, with the advantage of knowing her enemy, at least magically, better than Gil-galad did. She knew what Sauron was doing to the king, and she also knew there was little she could do to prevent it. Gil-galad wisely refused to wear the Sapphire, but he also refused, the fool, to bear it on his person. How did he expect to go to war with Vilya buried at Imladris with a halfbreed horse-maid to guard it? He had said that the protection of the valley was more important than his own life, and that Vilya would never leave that valley until the One was unmade.
And he chose Readfah to keep the blue ring safe, and not her own daughter to whom he would be wed! Gil-galad may not be versed in magic, but he knew Galadriel well. And whether it sat well with Galadriel or not, Readfah was far more likely to stand up to any enemy than was Celebrían, and far more likely to succeed.
She shrugged, and looked out from her perch on the great flet outside her apartments, over the hazy golden treetops. Glorfindel had come with a detachment of three thousand Númenorean exiles several weeks ago, and he and Celeborn had departed for Imladris with nearly every male Elf of Lórien. She had watched him go without a tear, saving her grief for the privacy of her rooms. He had not looked back, and that stung worse than his departure. O Celeborn...she followed his long-cold trail with grey eyes softened with her love for him. What has become of us? Of all of us, that we would even for a moment forsake what it means to be Elves?
If all went well, they should be arriving there today. There was so much that was now out of her hands. But if she had all she wanted, what then? What good was a safe home if all the ones we love lie dead at the gates of Barad-dûr? Her eyes hardened again. What's done is done. I have gambled and I may yet lose. When Celebrían weds, the first bond between Nenya and Vilya will be fixed, and the Realms will be safe. A son will ensure invisibility and a daughter immutability. A complicated spell, but one even Sauron could not break or prevent. Oh why couldn't they have wed ages ago? Gil-galad's reasons at the time had been sound, but now, with things so close to perfection, his insistence on waiting seemed calculated only to annoy her. Waiting was all any of them could do now. Turning in to her suddenly and strangely feminine household, Galadriel could tell them nothing more than that.
The farewells had been said, the last walks taken. The forges were silent and the air no longer smelled of smoke. The Sun was yet an hour from rising when Elendil departed with his sons, and Gil-galad's horse troops sat their restless mounts waiting only for the Númenoreans to clear the barriers before they could be away. The footsoldiers had departed hours ago and they would all meet on the other side of the Anduin before the day was over.
Gil-galad's face was hard and deeply lined as he watched them ride past in the grey light, the pennons bearing the arms of countless houses fluttering and snapping in the cold wind. He sat astride an unmarked blood bay as grim of countenance as himself. Nár he had named him. Fire. Beside him as ever, on his right, Elrond bore the Standard of Gil-galad - silver stars spangled upon bright blue silk. To his left, Celeborn and Glorfindel waited for their own companies, in order to move out alongside them. Ranged behind and to the sides of the king were the men of the Éotheod, on great horses, clad in green tabards and cloaks, red horses' heads embroidered over their hearts.
Behind them, an unhappy Readfah sat, Ahliehha motionless beneath her. She was clad in the tabard and arms of the Éothéod and bore an ash-spear, though she wore no armor and her head was uncovered. She shivered, though she had endured cold much worse than this. She hoped they would turn and speak to her one last time, and at the same time hoped they would not. This last morning as they left the house had been almost too much to bear. She had read the terror in Gil-galad's eyes, and found to her most profound sorrow she could say or do nothing to ease it.
Celebrían had bid first her father, then Gil-galad goodbye, then had broken down and had to be taken back upstairs. Readfah, in horsemen's fashion, kissed everybody as they departed. When she came at last to Gil-galad, he surprised her by taking her hands, pressing his lips to both palms, and then, looking into her eyes for a long moment, gently kissing her upturned mouth.
"I had to do it," he tried vainly to cover the break in his voice with an attempt at humor. "I couldn't go to war without knowing why my comrade smiles all the time."
The moment passed, and Elrond, whose only reply was yet another smile, took her in his arms and kissed her more deeply, but pulled back before he made matters worse. He found that he could not speak.
"I love you," she said. She took Gil-galad's hand as well. "I love all of you. I wanted to say thank you. I never thanked you for taking me into your house. I will do all I can to keep things safe for you."
It was Gil-galad's turn to be speechless, but Elrond embraced her again.
"You are my beloved Readfah, and this will always be your home," he said, and stroked her face with a gentle hand before turning from her at last.
And now they were riding away. Readfah held back her tears until Elrond's and Gil-galad's horses began to move off. They did not look back after all, and she knew precisely what this moment was costing them. Tovig and Held, riding behind them, did turn and wave goodbye before following, and a wave of fresh pain washed over her.
"Nic beseo'eft, min bearnes," she said softly. "Fahrth'u Éothéodias hael!"*
She followed as far as the meadow where, so long ago, Ux and his kinsmen had made their camp, and watched as they wound their way up the ancient path to the Eastern cliffs. The Sun was up now, and burned bright and cold into her eyes. Glad of the excuse to watch no longer, she turned toward the house. There was much to do, and the responsibility was all hers now. Almost absently, she wondered about the strange ring entrusted to her with such secrecy. It was safe, she made sure of it, but of magic and it's props she knew nothing. Maybe Gil-galad could explain it to her, when he returned.
* "Don't look back, my sons." "Hail and farewell, kinsmen of horses!" (This last is a very rough and very much invented translation. I could not find any other.)
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