21. Scene III.x
The Lay of Leithian Dramatic Script Project
BELOVED FOOL: BEYOND THE WESTERN SEA
[Elsewhere: a wide tapestried hallway with pillars down the length of it, lit by silver-white light from discreet sconces.]
[Two ghostly figures are duelling down it, with speed and agility impossible for mere mortals, neither giving any quarter, -- but neither managing to get any hits in, either. When one of the fighters -- female -- seems close to gaining the upper hand, her opponent manages to block her, darts behind a pillar, and from the other side flings a short spear. The swordswoman (who ought to be played by Carrie Ann Moss of Matrix fame) deflects it with her blade, catches it in her left hand and throws it back at him -- he raises his hand and it vanishes. She puts a hand on her hip and jeers at him:]
Hah! I told you you couldn't keep yourself from cheating. If you'd come to Aman you'd have learned some honor there, instead of how to shoot from the safety of the trees, Dark-elf.
[He moves out -- Gabriel Byrne might be cast in this part -- and they circle each other, watching for an opening] Eol:
Oh yes, that famous Noldor honor. Which somehow doesn't stop you from killing unarmed kinsfolk.
As if you have any ground to stand on!
Marrying you was the biggest mistake I ever made. I should never have let you lure me from my peace and quiet!
You should have stayed single? --I'd still be alive if it weren't for you, you wretch!
So would I, if not for you, you seductress!
[They clash again in a bout lasting several exchanges and fall back, frustrated, without lodging any hits]
I should have known you'd be a thankless ingrate and a rebel -- just look at the rest of your family!
Stuck without using any secret weapons, hm? Sure you don't want to cheat now? Or are you going to try to down me with poisoned words this time?
[Enraged, he lunges forward again and they go up and down the pillar footings like a small whirlwind until this gets boring again. Before either of them comes up with a new insult, the Captain saunters in and stands there watching with a contemptuous expression]
Do you only fight women and children, old chap?
Be off, Kinslayer!
Captain: [shaking his head pityingly]
Don't insult Her Highness -- it was an honest, if tragic, misunderstanding. --Unless you're talking to yourself . . . again.
[Both of them shoot him dirty looks; Aredhel's glare turns to a smirk]
Of course, if you're fighting the White Lady -- she really ought to be handicapped to make it fair, unless you plan to manifest a few illegal weapons along the way.
[Eol snarls; Aredhel snickers]
What, you've already cheated? And you've not even been nicked once in this match yet? Seems like you're backsliding, Master Smith -- you're supposed to be learning calm, and patience, and tranquility and such.
--What are you up to, I wonder?
Don't you dare to lecture me, you insolent, immature, Noldor delinquent!
Captain: [as if neither of them has spoken]
And you with that amazing galvorn stuff, too -- I notice that your wife hasn't even bothered with a reinforced jerkin, so obviously in spite of your cheating she still outclasses you. I suppose you're used to sparring against employees scared you'd sack them if they actually showed you up? Or perhaps you always just ambushed your adversaries in the midst of peaceful counsels. Rather like my lord's cousin and the emissaries of Morgoth, both planning to get the jump on each other, eh?
[Eol lunges at him without warning -- before he gets there the Captain has drawn his sword and blocked him, hard]
Aredhel: [wickedly amused]
[Surprise assault foiled, Eol breaks off and starts stalking -- they circle, facing each other. Eol's stalk is more dramatic, but because the Captain is only pivoting, Eol's using a lot more energy and has more distance to cover when he makes his move]
Captain: [musing tone]
You do realize that I used to do this sort of thing for a living? Not just as a hobby. --Never used any of my own folk for target practice, though--
[That does it -- Eol charges him with a furious yell and they set to in earnest. The difference between this and the earlier fight is not so much strength or even skill, but style -- earlier the couple were duelling, but the Captain fights combat-fashion: no dramatics, just the combination of rapid reflexes and brute force that one sees in predators fighting for survival, not for display. It includes tactics like stomping ankles and following a thrust with a driven shoulder or using the hilt as a bludgeon, for offense, and drop-slide-and-roll for defense, though there is a sort of horrible elegance to it nonetheless.]
[the Captain has feinted and used the mistaken block on Eol's part to get in a gladius-style short thrust up under two overlapping plates of his armor. As the Dark-elf falls he succeeds in landing a hard counter-stroke on the Captain's shoulder, but the latter has plainly counted on this and does not appear surprised.]
Captain: [holding his collarbone]
--And once again, the combination of practice and training demonstrates its manifest superiority to beserk rage and dilettantism.
Eol: [from the floor]
Faugh. Make much of your blow and belittle mine. Typical invader arrogance.
Yes, but you'd be dead -- if you weren't already dead -- and I wouldn't be -- if I weren't, again, already dead.
Are you all right, my lord?
[to Eol, lecturing mode:]
You should have taken that on your vambrace and ridden it out: trying not to get hurt at all will inevitably get you killed. If you're down to your last adversary, a clavicle's an acceptable exchange.
--But not, however, if you still have more to go.
Aredhel: [cheerful exasperation]
I know that. --And don't start on the "that's why you always wear armour, even if you're not planning on fighting and it's uncomfortable and others think it's paranoid, because being good isn't good enough" lecture. --So what are you up to? Simple boredom, or did someone finally get you to take that bet?
Captain: [gingerly testing his arm]
Which bet is that?
The one that you could take my -- consort -- without turning a hair. So to speak.
--Damn! If I'd known about that, I could have made a nice haul.
Eol: [sitting up slowly, hunched over]
You're all mad, vying for non-existent trifles!
Right, like destroying what you -- ahem -- love, makes any sense at all.
If it wasn't that, then what was--
[she breaks off and rolls her eyes as Nienna's Apprentice makes his appearance in the hallway and gives them all meaningful Looks]
Apprentice: [patronizingly-superior tone]
Lady Vaire sent me to discover what the disturbance was about and to make it stop. I ought to have guessed you'd be part of this.
Upon my honor, sir, I--
--did not draw until drawn upon, I'm quite sure.
Don't you people have anything better to do than engage in senseless violence?
Now then, now then -- I've been given to understand that you consider yourself no mean hand at swordplay, either.
And why do you say that?
I . . . have my sources, and mean to keep them thus. --So it isn't true? You don't, in fact know more than hilt from point?
I didn't say that.
I suppose it must be a guilty secret rather, not quite as bad as having done in your relatives, but with something of the same taint about it.
What are you talking about?
Though perhaps things have changed while we've been gone, though I confess it doesn't sound that way from the rumours I've heard.
Do you think it's funny to be annoying, or can you not help it? --Ah--
Threnody, but that's what he's always asking me.
As a matter of fact, I can help it--
--he just thinks it's amusing to be cryptic and insolent. My cousin collects the strangest people.
You don't know the half of us. --I meant, young sir, that your kin must look quite askance on such a violent hobby, unless the Vanyar have changed far more in the years since the Rebellion than even we.
Oh. I see.
So do you meet in secret to make weapons and train like we did? Or are they simply resigned to their unruly offspring and hope that by ignoring it you'll get bored of it and grow up?
Erm . . .
I suppose you were just trying to show off, then, when you made all those careless remarks to the Princes' lads about being a fair hand at it. --That's how I know, by-the-by. That was a deliberate careless remark, intended to edify, not an actual accidental careless remark let slip. --You see how easy it is to mean to keep secrets and give them away all the same? At least to anyone who is paying close attention to the things you're saying -- or not saying.
Aredhel: [shaking her head]
This is why people want to see mincemeat made of you, you know.
Because I'm right all the time?
Eol: [who has gotten up at last, standing rather painfully and still holding his chest]
Because you're an arrogant whelp of an interloper, lording it over your betters and elders.
What, are you still hanging about where you're not wanted? Why don't you go and vent your ill-temper on the following of Feanor, who actually deserve it? Oh -- that's right, there are a lot of them and they'd probably go out of their way to hurt you, like kicking you in the face once you were down.
[Eol spits towards him -- the Captain ignores him]
--Which I would
never do because it's petty and trivial and lacking in nobility and besides that, it's stupid to give your enemy the chance of hamstringing you for such juvenile satisfaction. Well, stay around, then -- sooner or later milady's father will turn up and fillet you again, but far be it from me to deny you the satisfaction of being annoying.
[the Dark-Elf draws himself up and sneers at them before stalking off]
I'll be avenged upon the lot of you, I swear it!
Captain: [shaking his head]
That's my husband you're talking about.
And you call him much worse than that.
Yes, but he's my husband. When you insult him you call my judgment into question.
? ? ?
[while he is still speechless the Apprentice murmurs something like "Who would do such a thing?" causing Aredhel to whirl and flare at him:]
Shut up. You haven't any right to tell me what I ought to do or have done.
[she turns around guiltily. The High King is there, looking grave and a bit disappointed; he could be played by Roger Rees of Nicholas Nickelby. With him is the Steward, appearing somewhere between mildly interested and almost bored.]
What is all this turbulence that fills these Halls of grief and reconciliation? Ar-Feiniel, it is ill-becoming to berate the household, as well I have taught you.
[impatiently she drops him a quick bow and one towards the Apprentice]
Your heart is much troubled still, I perceive, from this dispute.
[frowning at the Apprentice]
Must I complain to your Master yet again regarding your lack of solemnity and dignity, then? I consider your internship here -- never yet having been interred -- to be a most improper experiment, and do not doubt that I shall say so again to the Lady.
I -- but -- I--
Ah, Your Majesty--
[he bows deeply]
--I must confess the fault in part is mine: we were baiting the young Elf, in truth, though it was but meant in humourous fashion. I merely wished to teach him the unwisdom of boasting, especially on a certain subject.
I wasn't boasting!
Indeed? And what matter might that be, gentles?
Oh, the lad considers himself a master of the sword, one hears.
You don't say.
Indeed, Your Majesty, one has heard this rumour as well -- though where and whence he has his training, one confesses one's self greatly curious. But since it's past testing, there seems little purpose in pursuing this . . . diversion.
[he manages to look disapproving and amused at once]
What do you mean, "past testing"--?
Surely one cannot think it's possible to put it to the proof? When all that have such skills in truth are ghosts, and held here, and so there's none to challenge in the world without, or to judge, that truly might make test of such a brag.
Are you so sure of that? --What about Lord Tavros?
I would never disrespect the Hunter or his might -- but neither he, nor any of his following, have spent such years in such bitter wars as we, matched against enemies that tried our skill but to try to better it, and to outmatch us withal in numbers, if not in main strength.
If you could fight one of us, we'd be more inclined to believe your claims. Or at least the general nature of them, since you can't possibly be as good as you think you are. But obviously that isn't going to happen -- at least not anytime soon.
And why not?
You don't think it's possible, surely, to engage in affray -- us being dead and you being not?
You needn't make it sound as though -- discorporation -- were some mark of achievement. It is -- at least for you Noldor -- a sign of disgrace.
Besides, are you so sure? I've watched you at your games, and I think I could manage to conjure up the form of a sword as well as any of you.
Unless of course, you're afraid to try.
[the Captain gives him a scornful look]
Afraid? As a friend of mine from the Old Country would say -- give me a break. No untried recruit would stand a chance against me.
Apprentice: [raising an eyebrow]
Then let's put it to the test, shall we? Don't you chaps favour metaphysical experiments?
[the Captain sighs, shaking his his head, half-smiling]
[to the Steward]
So how much have you got riding on this?
[he only shakes his head, looking surprisingly serious]
Battlefield rules, or this ritual combat nonsense?
What do you mean, "battlefield rules"?
Nothing one couldn't do in the flesh. No manifesting pits beneath your adversaries' feet, or boulders between, or previously-absent weapons, steeds, or abilities. A true contest of strength and skill according to one's respective limits, and no others -- real life has no such "rules of combat."
You talk to me as though I were a child--!
Because you are one, by comparison.
[the Apprentice hides a flicker of expression at this]
So, shall we have the great and noble Fingolfin confirm the sameness of our equpment?
Are you mocking my father?
No. Why should I be? None of us has managed what he accomplished, to withstand and cripple the Enemy, let alone single-handed!
[she looks suspicious; he asks, with another gracious nod to Fingolfin:]
Shoudln't we have His Majesty determine the exactness of our swords?
Why? That isn't how it would happen in the field. Work with what you're used to and comfortable with, and I'll the same. You don't think that an Orc-chief is going to set down his axe and take a sword because that's what you've got, do you? Or, better yet, measure and weigh both your blades before you set to?
[the Apprentice smiles ironically and draws a sword out of thin air, flourishing it rather impressively before falling into a "guard" position]
What, no exchange of names and titles and so forth?
What, do you do that in combat, then?
Well, no, --but I didn't expect you to--
[without missing a beat or cuing his intent he lunges forward and comes within a few inches of ending the match right then and there -- except that the other with equal agility has sidestepped and brought up his blade in a parry]
Flattery will get you--
[he has to make a rather undignified duck to avoid unexpected decapitation and backs away, rattled]
Captain: [stalking him down]
--a distracted adversary, lad--
[he leaps at his oppponent with a lightning-strike attack. The Apprentice manages to deflect and riposte, catching him in the wrist just before the edge of his vambrace starts -- and backs off, with a pleased expression]
A hit, to me.
Only an idiot does that in a real fight.
[he switches hands and moves in again, with a more cautious approach -- they circle and feint several times, before the Apprentice breaks first and closes, with a vigorous set-to in the classic 30's swashbuckler mode. With a particularly dextrous parry the Apprentice manages to disarm his opponent and the backstroke takes him hard across the leg halfway between knee and hip, bringing him down full length]
[the Captain rolls out of range and comes up to a sprawl, braced on his right elbow -- with a dagger in his left hand that leaves it almost before anyone has realized what he has. It should take the Apprentice squarely in the eye -- except that it dissolves into a trail of glowing embers that vanish before they hit the ground. The Apprentice backs off and puts up his sword, waiting for his opponent to retrieve his own weapon and resume the match. The Captain, however, does not get up, only raises his good hand for attention.]
Your Majesty, gentles all -- I call you to witness. Unfair advantage of abilities has been used.
But you manifested "previously-absent weapons"!!!
Not so. I've always carried bootknives. Hundreds of witnesses, many of them hostile, in here, if you won't take my word for it. Your lack of observation skills is not my fault.
--But turning them to harmless sparks is not something one ought to be able to do in the real world. Not even King Felagund could do that using the combined heritage of all three Kindreds. --Certainly not some young stay-at-home Vanyar twit who's never seen combat sorcery in action.
[to the onlookers]
--Was he, or was he not cheating there?
Who can say? Perhaps he can do that Outside as well.
Captain: [mock concern]
Shh! You'll blow his cover.
[the High King shakes his head, consideringly]
Oh, I very much doubt that's the case, regardless. If Morgoth had possessed the ability to obliterate weapons from a distance he'd surely have disarmed me before I managed to mark him. Clearly unfair advantage has been employed here.
Apprentice: [starts to object further, then sighs resignedly and bows -- easily:]
M'lord, I apologize for my action -- and the rashness of my assumption in presuming dishonorable behavior on your part, which led me into such error of judgment.
Shall we to it again, sir?
[the Apprentice looks at him, surprised]
Your apology was nobly made. --The question of the penalty for cheating, however, is not yet settled.
But of course. It is well that you regret your actions, but redress must still be made. Otherwise your apology is empty breath and echo.
[the Apprentice casts a worried glance around]
I cannot of course compel you to endure the consequences of your actions -- only your own conscience, and honor, may do so.
[that decides it]
Your Majesty, I would not have you consider me coward, or worse yet, unfair. What forfeit must I make for my transgression?
Fingolfin: [to the Steward, in a manner of casual politeness]
What say you, my lord? Over the yen my nephew entrusted many crucial matters of judment to your discretion -- surely you have some thought as to what would be both fitting and serve well as memorial against future temptations?
[the Steward puts a musing forfinger to his lips, frowning in thought, then holds up his hand as though delivering a message]
If the young -- Elf -- considers himself unworthily matched, then let him match himself against the greatest warrior of us all, and thus be satisfied in his honor even as the price of dishonor shall be paid. --If -- no less -- such exactment should meet with your Majesty's willing approbation.
[Fingolfin raises an eyebrow]
It does have a certain symmetry, I'll grant -- and I do find this enforced idleness wearying after a time.
Apprentice: [rather desperately]
Your Majesty, I am no Melkor.
No, nor Sauron, neither.
[the Apprentice shoots him a piqued glare before adding:]
The -- the punishment could in no wise be commensurate with the offense -- whether I cheated or didn't. --Please.
Well then, if your taste for combat has worn cold, perhaps the gentler contest of the chess-table would be more to your liking?
I hear that it is wonderful practice for those who are in need of learning patience.
[the Apprentice looks absolutely, and if possible, even more horrified at the prospect]
Sire -- permission to make a suggestion?
Granted, my lord.
The King your nephew has an errand he has tasked me to undertake, the which shall doubtless require much in the way of walking -- would it not be appropriate to require him to fulfill that task, seeing as how he's temporarily incapacitated me?
That has a certain justness in it, I confess.
What say you, gentle sir? Is such a forfeit acceptable to your honor and your occupations?
Apprentice: [a little ungraciously]
Oh, I think I can fit it in.
[he grimaces, shaking his head, and lets the blade vanish from his hand]
Of course, if it be too onerous a burden, I am most ready to give you a quick drubbing on the spot and we can get it over with.
[he extends his arm, and the Steward hands him a swordbelt and scabbard. The High King draws the memory of Ringil -- and the Apprentice pales]
Sire, your judgement is more than acceptable, and more than generous. I am quite glad to make such restitution to your nephew's servant.
Good, then you can start by giving me a hand up.
[he accepts the other's help -- the Apprentice's disgruntlement changes to concern when it becomes clear that he isn't faking. The Steward looks away with a tight expression while his friend struggles to stand and put away his sword.]
Fingolfin: [to Aredhel]
Well, child, now that this brief excitement has passed like all earthly things, perhaps you would be kind enough to spend a little while communing with your parent in his lonely exile and indulge him in the diversion of a quiet game of chess?
Pray excuse me, Father, but I am reminded by Lord Edrahil's words that I should practice my meditations and strive to attain tranquility and detatchment of spirit.
[she bows and hastily vanishes -- the Apprentice rolls his eyes]
Oh, deftly done.
She is good, isn't she?
Too good for her own good. That one has -- an awful lot to learn.
I would remind you that you are speaking of my daughter, young sir.
Why, so we were, Your Majesty. It is a shame my Master isn't here, so that she could join in this conversation with us.
[Fingolfin's expression changes to annoyance]
Well, come on -- don't dawdle about, your assignment's waiting.
[the Apprentice gives him a Look]
Fingolfin: [to the Steward]
My lord, seeing that my own kin have abandoned me once again, might I for a little demand your gracious assistance in a brief round at the table?
Your pardon, but I must request your indulgence for the present: my lord requires that I spend more time in attendance on him, and less in diversions, Your Majesty.
My nephew doesn't actually need you to do anything that he can't manage perfectly well by himself. This isn't Outside, nor does he have dominion over two thirds of these Halls and the troubles thereof. He can spare you for another match. --I understand that he wishes to embroil myself, if not my folk, in another scheme of his, is that not correct?
Steward: [to the Captain]
--I'll make your apologies.
[he leads the Apprentice down the hall away from the others, still limping]
I hurt you.
[the Captain shrugs]
Then you'd best put aside arms, and all thought of them. It comes with the territory. Get ready for it.
I'm not afraid of being injured.
Then you're an idiot.
[an expression of annoyance flickers over the Apprentice's face, quickly vanishing]
"Surely one may regret the necessity for causing pain, even while not holding back from the deed?" -- Were those not your very words to my Master?
[the Captain gives him a sidelong glance, says nothing]
--How did you know I -- am not entirely what I seem?
I didn't -- until now.
[this sinks in]
His Majesty had made the conjecture first, of course, but we had no proof. Thank you for the confirmation.
Which--? -- Finrod. Of course it would be he. --I am still sorry I hurt you, but I confess -- not quite as much.
At least I didn't have to fight the High King. That would not have been fun.
Why? I thought he was fond of your crowd.
What's that got to do with it?
. . .
You don't think he'd go easier on me because I'm not part of House Feanor, do you? Aside from refraining from an extra twist once he'd nailed me -- it's not as though I'm some new recruit or beginning amateur. --No more than you are.
[the Apprentice looks a bit sick]
Good thing for you you made the right decision, eh?
--Wait -- why should you have to fight Fingolfin?
Had to draw you in somehow -- I'd forgotten about Master Eol.
This wasn't accidental at all, then?
By your Lady, no! Of course not!
I was beginning to be fairly certain there was more to you than someone who just killed things.
Still too slow, then. --Speaking of which, you want to let Arda do as much of the work for you as possible. Don't fight your weight when you turn -- use it. I know it looks impressive to jump around like that, but . . .
--So what is this task your King has set you, which you've now arranged to pass on to me? Organizing a chorale society? Interviewing veterans of the Battle-under-Stars for his complete history of the War?
To ensure your complete and unconstrained cooperation in the matter of securing inside information regarding the Powers' deliberations concerning Melian's daughter and the Lord of Dorthonion.
[Nienna's Apprentice halts in shock]
You -- want me to spy on the councils of the gods for you?
Not for me--
For your king, then.
No. For the sake of Beren and Luthien.
[the Apprenice just stares at him]
There is after all nothing
dishonorable in it; you've been doing it already for your own curiosity as well as to assist, have you not? And you cannot think that my sovereign lord means any harm or mischief to either Aman or the Powers, can you? We merely require that you bring the infromation you have witnessed to King Finrod in timely fashion and full measure, without reserve or deception, and without such noncooperative responses as providing so much information that no useful timely assessment of it can be made.
[with a narrow Look]
In other words, don't report every fiddly little detail of "and then Lady Yavanna started drumming her fingers on the table again," unless for some reason you really think that's relevant and are ready to give reasons for it.
Yavanna isn't there.
But I understand what you're getting at.
And you'll do it?
Apprentice: [dawning realization]
You deliberately lost.
Oh, I didn't lose. --Not yet. Will you pay your forfeit, then?
You let me strike you down. Why?
We needed some certain way to provoke you into cheating. Nothing so likely as the appearance of it, eh? But it had to look plausible, hence desperate enough.
[the Apprentice looks both horrified and awed]
Don't worry, everyone knows we're all stark staring mad.
I've thought that all along too -- but recently my Master said to me, "But what if they aren't?" I haven't been liking the answers to that one very much. --I'm liking them even less by the heartbeat.
That means you did cheat, though. Not technically perhaps, but in the deepest sense. It was all a setup, wasn't it?
No, I didn't have anything to do with the Endless Whirlwind -- they did that all on their own, as usual. I merely had to locate them.
But the High King, and your friend, and the rest of it -- that was all planned?
What, rooking you into it? Absolutely.
[with an ironic but not sneering bow, he gestures for Nienna's Apprentice to keep walking with him]
[to be continued...]