5. Hard Truths
Ivoreth tipped her head and looked at the strange board in front of her, and then back up into the Grandfather's face. "Our pieces can only sit on the dark squares?"
"Exactly. We move from one dark square to another, you towards me and I towards you, as long as they are next to each other - unless we can jump over our opponent's piece in a straight line and so capture it. Watch." A long finger moved one of the white stone discs to a neighboring dark square. "Now, since my piece is right next to yours, you must jump it and remove my piece from the board. Like this." He picked up the black stone disc and dramatically carried it to the other side of the white disc to yet another dark square. "Take my piece, little daughter."
Ivoreth obediently removed the white disc and set it next to the board. "What now?"
"Now, since your piece landed next to mine, I must jump and capture yours." Grandfather picked up his piece, leapt it over the dark stone Ivoreth had just moved, and then removed it from the board. "Your move."
"How do I win?"
Grandfather chuckled. "You win by having the last piece on the board. So when you move, you must think about the many ways that you could move to capture more of my pieces. At that same time, remember that I am doing exactly the same. Mind you, I might give you one of my pieces freely if it means I can take more than one of yours in a single move."
Ivoreth stared down at the board. This had seemed like a very easy game at first. But as she was discovering quickly, nothing the Elves did was simple. "I can't just move?"
"Certainly you can; but you must understand that I will take advantage of any mistake you make, just as you should take advantage of any mistake I make," he explained patiently. "Go ahead and make a move, and we will discuss it; and I will show you how to think ahead."
"Think ahead?" Ivoreth frowned and pushed one of her dark stones to a touching square.
"Yes. Now follow my words, and I will show you how to think ahead. See how you've moved to where I will be forced to take the piece right away?"
She looked up from the board and into the serene Elven face with distress. "I made a mistake?"
"Yes, but we shall play only practice games until you learn to play better, so fear not." Grandfather smiled reassuringly at her. "The key to any game of strategy is to imagine moving the piece in your mind and then try to think as your opponent would. In this case, what would my best move be to answer yours." He pointed to his piece, drawing her attention back to the board, and demonstrated what his move would be. "See how you've offered yourself to me, and that when I finish, you wouldn't be able to jump me?" Ivoreth nodded. "So, was that a good move?" She shook her head. Grandfather pushed her piece back where it had been. "Very well. Try again. Imagine what I would do in answer to your move before you make the move."
Ivoreth studied the board for a long moment, and then smiled. She pushed a different piece, and then looked up at Grandfather. "Better?"
"Much better! See how you have made it that I will have to be very careful moving to this square, for you will jump me at the first opportunity. That is a good move!"
Ivoreth flinched slightly when she felt a hand come to rest gently on her shoulder, but then she smiled up into her Ada's face. "Grandfather is teaching me to play a game!"
"So I see," Ada smiled back at her. "You should know that he is a master at draughts, and a very good teacher."
Ivoreth looked over at the silver-haired Elf on the other side of the game-board and smiled. She liked her Ada's Grandfather; his resonant voice touched something very deep inside her and made her feel safer than even Ada ever could. "I see potential in your daughter, Elladan. She has a quick mind."
"I'm sure you see the same thing I do, daerada, and I'm pleased that I'm not the only one who recognizes her worth. But I'm afraid I'm here to interrupt your instruction. Grandmother wanted me to call you both; the midday meal is being served. Perhaps you two can continue your game after eating?" Ada offered a hand to Ivoreth. "Are you hungry, little one?"
Ivoreth looked back up at her Ada with regret in her eyes. She still didn't want much to eat, for the bread and honey he'd convinced her to down that morning had left her feeling very full. Still, she was caught between the hopeful look in his eye and not daring to upset him. "A little, I suppose," she said. She looked back over at Grandfather. "Are we done then?"
Grandfather nodded. "For the time being. Perhaps we will have time to play a little more before you have to leave. Would you like that?"
Ivoreth nodded decidedly. I like Grandfather. He's a lot like Ada.
"Then come, little daughter. Time to fill some of the empty corners in your stomach." Ivoreth found the hand she hadn't given to her Ada claimed by Grandfather. To be between these two stately Elves gave her a very secure feeling. Maybe she could even convince herself to eat a little, for her Grandfather.
Grandmother moved her stick very carefully in the little tray of fine sand, her tengwar easily legible and beautiful but slightly different from Celebriel's. "Can you tell me what that word is, Ivoreth?" the elleth asked gently into Ivoreth's ear.
"An...i...r...on," Ivoreth sounded out slowly. "Aniron?"
"Almost. The word is 'aníron'. Do you know what that means?" Ivoreth shook her head and twisted a bit to look into Grandmother's face. "It means 'I want' or 'I desire'. If you have need, it is the word you use to tell another of that need. If you thirst, you can say, 'aníron nên', or 'I want water.' Do you see?"
"Aníron nên," Ivoreth repeated obediently. She thought for a moment. "Aníron adar nîn?"
Grandmother's face broke into a wide smile. "Exactly. Can you write that in the sand for me?"
Ivoreth claimed the small stick from Grandmother and with care began copying the letters she so carefully learned, her mouth silently forming the sounds she was representing with the curls and lines in the sand. Her letters were nowhere as graceful as Grandmother's, but they were far more legible than her first attempts with the pen had been with Celebriel. Finally she turned again. "Is that right?"
Grandmother put an arm about Ivoreth's shoulders and pulled her close. "You will have a neat hand when you have more practice, little daughter. That is exactly correct. And as a reward for doing such a good job of remembering, I have a gift for you."
Ivoreth's eyes widened. "A gift? For me?"
Grandmother smiled wider. "Yes, although I hope that you will share this gift with Raini when the time comes. Here now. Close your eyes and put out your hands."
Ivoreth took and held her breath while she did as the Grandmother asked, and then gasped as she recognized both the shape and weight of what was placed in her grasp. "But Grandmother! This is..." She stared down at the little book of letters and words that she had been learning from for the past two days - the little book that she knew had helped teach her Ada his words and letters, and his naneth before him.
"Yours now," Grandmother finished the statement for her. "I will most likely have no use for such a thing where I am soon going, and this book should stay with our family. Read this and learn from it, and think of me from time to time when you do. When the time comes to teach Raini her letters, tell her of our time here together. Help her remember me a little bit."
Ivoreth's eyes widened. "You're going away?"
Grandmother nodded. "In the fall, I will come visit you in your home for a time - and then I will go on to the Havens and take ship to the Undying Lands of the West, to Elvenhome."
"What's there, in the West?" Ivoreth asked in a whisper.
"All of the family I have left behind so long ago," Grandmother told her gently. "My parents, many of my brothers and sisters, uncles. My daughter, who went there long ago to heal. I came from there originally; it is my home."
"But isn't this your home too? What about Ada, isn't he family too?"
Grandmother turned so that she could pull Ivoreth into her arms. "I know this is hard for you to understand, little daughter. For Elves, the Undying Lands is the one place most wish to go in the end. And many of our people are tired and need the rest and healing offered there."
"Will you come back to visit us sometimes?"
"No, little daughter. When I leave, I will be unable to return."
Ivoreth stared down at the little book. How can a person go somewhere and never be able to come back? It's almost like... "Are you dying?" she asked finally in a very small voice.
"Oh, no!" Grandmother kissed Ivoreth's forehead. "Not that. I am quite well, I promise."
"Then why can't you come back?"
I don't understand.
"Because the Straight Road only leads West. I have stayed long enough to see the worst of the old evils of my people defeated, and the time has come for me to go home." Grandmother's voice was even and soft, but Ivoreth could hear something that reminded her of the great sadness she'd sensed in her Grandmother's eyes the first time she'd seen her.
"Is Grandfather going West too?" she wanted to know next. Am I only meeting them to lose them?
"No. His love for this land has not waned yet. He will remain." Grandmother's voice wavered slightly.
"Can I go with you?"
"No." Another kiss landed on Ivoreth's forehead. "As much as I would love to take you with me, the West is only for the Elves. And besides, would you leave your Ada and Raini behind here? I am trusting you to watch over them for me, you know..."
Ivoreth's breath hitched. "I don't want you to go, Grandmother."
"I know, little daughter. Not seeing you grow up into a lovely lady will be one of the greater regrets I carry West with me. Perhaps your Ada will have pictures drawn to show me your life that he can show me when it is his turn to cross the Sea."
Ivoreth stiffened in shock and disbelief. Ada will go West one day? He will leave me too? "Ada will leave too?" she gasped, despair filling her mind.
"Shhhh..." Grandmother's arms held her tightly. "He will go West someday - but not for a very long time. He will not leave you, little daughter. His time in this world is not finished - anymore than is Elrohir's or your Grandfather's. At the very least, they will remain until Estel passes beyond the circles of the world and their sister follows." Ivoreth felt gentle fingers smooth wayward curls back from her cheek. "You will not lose him, this I promise you."
She wasn't listening. Nan. Da. Evien. Daren. Grandmother. Even Ada. It isn't fair! Everyone I love leaves me.
Ivoreth squirmed and worked her way free of Grandmother's arms and began to run across the garden, her eyes so full with tears that she could barely see where she was going. She heard Grandmother call to her, but she didn't hesitate or turn. She ran until her head started to spin and she found herself forced to sit down in the grass and leaves at the base of one of the silver-trunked trees that grew in this Elven city. She leaned into the strong tree and sobbed until she had once more found the bottom of the well, and then leaned because she had no energy to lift her head.
She cradled the little book she'd been gifted to her chest as if it were a precious treasure, for in her mind, it was. Nobody had ever given her anything of real value before; and to have it presented to her as a way of remembering someone who was going to be leaving forever was beyond her understanding. All Ivoreth knew was that her heart ached with yet another final parting looming on her horizon, to be added into all of the others she'd suffered.
She would do exactly as Grandmother had asked; when the time came, she would teach Raini her letters and Elven words from the little book and tell her of the beautiful elleth who had been their Grandmother for a very little time. No wonder Ada and Elrohir felt so bad! It was a terrible thing to know that someone special was getting ready to leave forever, and that there was absolutely nothing a person could do about it! And Ada would go someday too - and even Elrohir would leave - and she couldn't do anything about that either.
Light laughter caught her attention, and Ivoreth opened her eyes to find herself being studied by two ellith, one of whom was fingering her own, pointed ear with one hand, pointing at her with the other and laughing. The companion shook her head and laughed as well, saying something in a chiding tone. Ivoreth didn't understand the words they were using, but she understood the tone well enough; it was one the "better" folk of Minas Tirith had always used whenever faced with the ragged children of the cistern.
Things don't change. I'm nothing here too.
A soft yet firm voice sounded from very close by, and Ivoreth twisted her head about to see that a very tall and golden-haired Elven warrior had stepped close and now towered over her. The warrior's grey eyes rested briefly on her before returning to gaze at the ellith again with something like anger, and Ivoreth stared up at him in shock. His armor sparkled in the scattered sunlight through golden leaves, his bow had been carved with beautiful vines and leaves and the feathers of the arrows that showed over his shoulder an iridescent green. She had gotten to know Beregond and his companions on the way from Minas Tirith to here - but this dangerous and looming warrior made her traveling companions pale in comparison. The very air seemed stilled around him.
Did I do something wrong, that Grandmother would have sent the Guards after me? Am I in trouble again?
Evidently, the ellith were also intimidated by the sudden intrusion of the warrior, for Ivoreth soon heard them speed along their way, and she turned to watch them cast quick glances over their shoulders as if making certain that he hadn't followed them. Once the ellith had vanished around a large, silver tree trunk, Ivoreth looked up and found the warrior's grey gaze once more on her face. The expression behind those eyes made her shiver.
"You are a long way from where you belong, young one," he said, his voice holding an odd accent and rhythm to it that told Ivoreth that he didn't speak her language very often.
Ivoreth finally broke her gaze away from the warrior to look around her, and her heart sank. There was no sign of the huge silver tree that was the place where Grandfather and Grandmother lived, and all the other trees of the Elven city looked too much alike. She was most definitely lost. Her eyes gazed back up into that stern face with fear, and she didn't know how to answer him in a way that didn't get her into worse trouble.
"You are foster-daughter to Elladan Peredhel, are you not?"
Not entirely certain if it was safer to remain frozen or respond, Ivoreth finally managed a tiny nod.
"I am Haldir, March-Warden of LothLórien. If you wish, I can take you back to your adar."
Ivoreth nodded again in defeat and dropped her gaze to her feet. She had broken her word to remain where her Ada told her to stay, hadn't she? Elrohir had been right: she didn't deserve to be part of her Ada's family. She certainly couldn't stay where she was, leaning into a silver tree near a fountain with water dancing and laughing at her like the ellith had. She might as well go back to her Ada, admit her failure to keep her word and await his punishment, and it was just as well that she go back in the custody of a warden.
"Come along, then," Haldir gestured for her to get to her feet. "Follow me."
He isn't going to hang onto me, in case I decide to run again? Then again, where am I going to run?
The Elven warrior had a long stride, and Ivoreth had to trot at times to keep up with him. And then they had come far enough that she could make out the grand stairs that encircled the large mallorn that was where Grandfather and Grandmother lived, and she saw her Ada hurrying down the last of the steps toward them. He was still limping a little, but his step was quick enough that he was very soon in front of her.
Haldir spoke to Ada with quiet authority, and then turned and pointed with his thumb. Ivoreth knew that he was telling Ada where he'd found her. She looked back down at her feet, wishing she could fall through the ground to somewhere else. Her fingers felt the fine leather cover of the book Grandmother had given her, and she almost cried. She didn't belong to this family; she was going to always be a disappointment. She couldn't keep her word, she was a thief, she kept running away...
"Daughter." Ada's voice called to her, and Ivoreth dared raise her eyes to his face briefly, fearing to see that the angry Ada had returned and surprised to see nothing but worry and relief on his face. "What were you doing, half-way to the city gate?"
She looked back down at the carpet of golden leaves at her feet. She wished she dared just sit down amid them and throw her arm over her head, but that just didn't seem to be something she could do here.
"Elladan!" she heard Elrohir's voice in the distance, and then closer. "Did you find her?"
She clung to her little book, as if holding it tighter would keep it in her possession for a little while longer. She'd never had a real gift before. Still, she didn't deserve this one. She'd have to give it back.
Ada moved to stand behind her, his hand on her shoulder as if fearful that she'd run away again. Ivoreth sighed and submitted to remaining in his custody. She'd broken Ada's trust now.
"She's fine. Haldir found her accidentally and brought her back." Ada's hand moved on her shoulder as if to give her comfort, but Ivoreth could only draw in a shuddering breath.
I want to go home. For the first time, she found herself wishing to be back in the safe darkness of the cistern. At least she belonged there...
Elrohir knelt in front of her. "Are you all right, little one? Grandmother was very worried; she said that you just ran away."
Having Elrohir so close to her only made it worse. Ivoreth sniffled and struggled not to break down in tears right there. She'd worried Grandmother too, and here was Elrohir reaching out to her. She shrank back against her Ada when she had nowhere else to escape Elrohir's grasp.
I can't do anything right.
Haldir spoke again, his voice much less stern and a little worried-sounding. Ivoreth wished they'd all finish talking so that Ada could take her back to their ta... talan and scold her properly where nobody else would hear.
Only one thing remained for her to do. She took a very deep breath and held out her little book to Elrohir, who took it from her with a confused look on his face. "What's this?"
She had just opened her mouth to tell him to give it back to the Grandmother when: "Ivoreth!" Ivoreth cringed and shrank together at the sound of the Grandmother's voice coming toward her from behind. "Are you all right, little daughter?" And then she was being pulled from Ada's control and gathered into the Grandmother's tight embrace as the elleth bent to her. "You startled me. You didn't have to run away, you know."
Too confused to know what to think, Ivoreth reached out desperately to her Ada. "I'm sorry I ran, Ada. Don't be angry with me..."
Grandmother easily let her Ada take charge of her again, but kept a hand on Ivoreth's back. "What happened?" Ada demanded as Ivoreth tucked her nose into the soft material of his robe so that she didn't need to look at anyone anymore.
The Grandmother was quick to explain. "We were finishing our lesson, and I gave her the book of beginning words and tengwar lessons. And as we were talking, she found out what it meant that I am leaving soon, and suddenly she ran away."
"Is this the book you gave her?" Elrohir asked. Ivoreth was certain he was giving it back to Grandmother. At least it was back where it belonged.
"Why do you have it?"
"She just gave it to me." Elrohir still sounded confused. "She didn't say why."
"Elladan, you need to take her back to your talan," Grandmother spoke with a voice of authority. "Let her rest for a while, and we'll settle this before the evening meal. She's too upset now for anything we say to do any good." She stepped closer and spoke softly and swiftly in Sindarin, obviously giving Ada more instructions.
She finally stepped back. "Thank you, Haldir, for bringing our lost one back to us."
"Hiril nîn," the warrior replied. Ivoreth felt a very light touch on the top of her head, as if the March-Warden had stroked her hair.
"Come, daughter," Ada put a hand at Ivoreth's shoulder to help lead her. "I think we should let you have a little rest for a while." He hesitated, as if someone had stopped him for a reason not requiring words, and then pressed on her shoulder to get her to move. "Then you can tell me what happened, when you feel a little better. You seemed to be so happy to stay with Grandmother. I thought you liked her."
"I do!" Ivoreth burst out. "But..." She hunched beneath her Ada's hand. "Are you angry?"
"Whatever for?" Ada sounded shocked.
"I ran again," she confessed, her head hanging. "I promised I wouldn't."
"Well," Ada's voice sounded anything but angry, "at least this time I didn't have to fetch you out of the roots of a tree, all scratched and bleeding - and there are no wolves or animals who would want to eat little girls threatening you."
"I still ran."
"I know." Ada's hand surrounded her shoulders and held her close. "And that's something we're going to have to talk about, isn't it?"
Ivoreth hung her head and nodded. "Elrohir was right. I don't deserve..."
"Ivoreth!" Ada halted suddenly, turned her to face him and knelt to hold her shoulders tightly. "I never want to hear you say that again. Elrohir was wrong, and he's apologized for all that he put you through. Don't repeat his mistake."
"I broke my promise," Ivoreth condemned herself in a broken voice.
"You didn't run away from me," Ada pointed out gently. "You've broken no promise that I can see. And as for the rest of it, I said that we'd talk about it later."
She stared at him, dumbfounded. I didn't break a promise? I don't understand...
"I'm sorry I ran, Ada, and I'm sorry I scared Grandmother."
Ada gathered her close. "I know you are, little one. All is well, though; you're safe and sound where you belong. That's the most important thing. Come - here's our tree." He rose and held out his hand to her.
Confused and unwilling to do anything that would push Ada into real anger, Ivoreth took his hand and let him lead her up the winding stairs to their temporary home in the strange tree city of the Elves. And once he had her tucked into her little bed, Ada sat down on the edge of the bed next to her, his hand stroking her arm, and sang softly a song that brought visions of trees and gentle winds to her mind until she floated away into slumber.
adar - father
aníron - I want
daerada - grandfather
ellith - female Elves (sing. elleth)
hiril nîn - my Lady
mallorn - a tree of Valinor with golden leaves (pl. mellyrn)
nên - water
nîn - my, mine
talan - tree-platform, traditional housing unit for Silvan Elves
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.