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Elflings: Sixth Sense
‘Celeborn and Laerwen will come back as soon as they can,’ Galadriel said with exaggerated patience. ‘In the meantime, you would be wise to remain still. Moving will only hurt you and it will not speed their return by one second.’
Thranduil cast a searing glare at her, which she met with calm indifference. ‘There is nothing the matter with me,’ he snapped.
Galadriel raised her eyebrows. ‘The blood on your garments tells a different story,’ she said with polite disbelief. ‘As does the pain in your face.’
The King of the Woodland Realm narrowed his eyes intimidatingly, before realising that even his most threatening expression was unlikely to overawe the Lady of the Golden Wood. Besides, he acknowledged privately, she had a point. He was not feeling himself.
‘Anana,’ a young voice piped up, ‘can we not help you?’ A fair-haired elfling leaned over Galadriel’s shoulder.
‘I believe I would prefer you to keep your distance,’ Thranduil snapped. ‘It would seem that there is unlikely to be much you can do to, apart from avoiding making the situation worse!’
Galadriel raised an eyebrow and Thranduil immediately felt both resentful and guilty. It had not, after all, been the elfling’s fault that he had fallen. Elflings were like kittens, he thought. You raced to the rescue only to be left floundering as they walked away. It was not that Nimloth had appeared to think that she was in any difficulty as her tunic suspended her from that slender branch – and so, of course, it had proved when he had overreached himself and fallen, despite the best efforts of the tree, and tumbled headlong into a scrubby blackthorn. While she, of course, had stepped easily down from the heights and ended up on the ground, looking as neat and unruffled as her ananeth. It was enough to make anyone feel unwell.
‘I would appreciate a drink,’ he said in a more conciliating tone.
‘Water,’ Galadriel insisted. ‘Fetch some fresh water from the spring, will you, please, Nimloth.’
Thranduil scowled. ‘Wine would do more to deaden the pain,’ he complained. ‘If I were feeling any,’ he said challengingly after a moment’s thought.
Galadriel ignored his words, but Nimloth looked at him with a frown. ‘Daerada would not let you drink wine,’ she informed him. ‘You banged your head, so you should not take anything more than a little water. If that,’ she added thoughtfully.
‘Here you are.’ Aewlin offered the Woodland King a partly filled cup.
‘You should not move your head,’ Nimloth told him disapprovingly. ‘You do not know what damage you may have done.’
‘I hope Anada and Lady Laerwen bring the others back before it gets dark,’ Aewlin observed, glancing anxiously at the quiet forest that surrounded them. Even the birds appeared to have decided to cease their song in response to the dramatic events of the past hour and there was an unnatural stillness about the trees.
‘You are not nervous, surely.’ Galadriel was surprised. It was not a reaction that seemed consistent with the nature of her bull-headed and excessively over-confident great granddaughters. ‘These woods are not dangerous.’
‘You never know what might be out there, Ada says,’ Nimloth informed her. ‘Rabid bears, hungry wolves, wild boar. He says that things that are not a menace at all to a party of well-prepared, alert elves who understand the forest can suddenly become quite threatening to those who are young, or alone, or unable to defend themselves.’
Galadriel kept her face straight and nodded soberly. ‘He has a point,’ she said. So her grandson had attempted to curb his daughters’ wandering habits by getting them to take the possible perils more seriously. She had to commend his effort, but would have to warn him of its ultimate futility. It had, after all, never worked with Celebrían – or, come to that, with her daughter’s children. Although, she supposed, when they discovered from experience the truth of his words, at least Elrohir would know that he had spoken them. The principal flaw in his argument, as far as she could see, was that Nimloth and her twin would deny that they fitted any of his categories of those at risk, being neither alone nor young, as well as being, in their opinion at least, more than capable of looking after themselves.
‘We are not defenceless,’ Thranduil said grudgingly, wishing to reassure the ellyth. ‘No elf or beast in possession of his senses would take on your Anana. She would make mincemeat of him.’
‘Why, thank you – I think,’ Galadriel said courteously, a ghost of a smile on her lips. ‘I am sorry it pained you so much to admit it.’
Nimloth removed a neatly folded and clearly unused white handkerchief from the recesses of her pocket and poured some water over it before kneeling beside her friends’ daeradar and beginning a careful process of removing the blood and dirt from the hands that had attempted to grab onto the spiny branches and break the speed of his fall. ‘You have got some nasty splinters and thorns stuck in there,’ she observed. ‘Shall I get them out for you?’
‘I do not believe I wish to have you sticking a needle in me.’ Thranduil opened his eyes and frowned.
‘Why would she do that?’ Aewlin asked curiously. ‘Nimloth is very good at removing splinters – and she has had plenty of practice. When Galenthil fell into a patch of brambles and looked like a pincushion, he was happy to let her take the thorns out.’ She grinned. ‘I think he hoped that his naneth would not find out about it, but of course she did.’
Nimloth put her rather grubby hand over Thranduil’s and stroked it gently, barely touching his scraped skin. He stilled as a cool tingling replaced the sting and attempted to lift his hand.
‘Keep still,’ she said, her warm fingers exerting a light pressure. Her twin rinsed out the cloth and returned it to her and Nimloth moved it delicately over Thranduil’s scored palm to brush away the needle-sharp, but co-operative thorns.
‘Did you know she could do that?’ Thranduil lifted an eyebrow at the twins’ great-grandmother.
‘No.’ Galadriel looked at elfling consideringly. ‘I do not believe I would encourage her to try to deal with anything more serious than splinters, though – unless there is no alternative. She lacks experience of healing.’
‘You astound me,’ the wheat-fair king retorted sarcastically. ‘I would have thought that she would be a stalwart of the halls of healing.’
‘What injuries do you think Aran Thranduil has sustained?’ Galadriel enquired gently, ignoring him as if he were a petulant child. ‘Do not touch him, but close your eyes and feel for his hurts.’
Nimloth glanced at Aewlin and sighed, but decided she was far too much in awe of her illustrious ananeth to complain any more openly. ‘There is a spot there,’ she pointed. ‘I think it is a broken rib – and maybe the next one is cracked. Other than that, Aran Thranduil’s head is a bit – woozy and he has lots of scrapes and bruises. And more thorns,’ she added.
‘She is not far wrong,’ Thranduil admitted grudgingly. ‘I told you there was nothing seriously hurt.’
‘How can you tell one is broken whereas the other is cracked?’ Galadriel asked.
Nimloth hunched her shoulders as if she wished she could change the subject. ‘It feels warmer,’ she muttered. ‘Redder, in a way.’
Her great-grandmother inspected her thoughtfully, but decided to let the subject rest.
‘Shall I start a fire?’ Aewlin asked. Nimloth’s talent was clearly no news to her twin and, indeed, she seemed to want to distract Galadriel from probing it any more deeply. ‘We could make some tea.’
Nimloth slid her eyes to meet her twin’s. ‘I do not know why everyone else went off and left us,’ she complained.
‘Do you not?’ Galadriel lifted her eyebrow and stared compellingly at her grandson’s child. ‘Be honest with yourself, Nimloth, even if you prefer to conceal matters from others. Their reasons seem distressingly clear to me.’
‘That is not fair,’ Aewlin intervened with determination. ‘It is just picking on Nimloth – and me.’ She stirred the ashes of the small fire that had served them earlier in the day. ‘We just wanted to see if the kites were still sitting or whether the eggs had hatched.’
‘So you disappeared,’ Galadriel said coolly, ‘just as everyone else was ready to leave to go to the waterfall, knowing that we could not leave you behind, and that yet again your friends and cousin would have to give up what they wanted to do in order that Nimloth and Aewlin could get their own way.’
‘I would have left them,’ Thranduil remarked. ‘I suspect they would soon have caught up.’
Aewlin frowned at him, but decided that remaining silent was a sensible move. If there were two people, she thought resentfully, she would have preferred not to remain in anticipation of Nimloth’s and her return, it would have had to be Anana and Aran Thranduil. Her parents could be quite intimidating when they wanted to be, but they were rank amateurs in comparison with these two – and now it was not just a case of simple disobedience, but they had managed somehow to be the cause of Eleniel’s daeradar being hurt.
‘You are becoming tiresome,’ Galadriel told them flatly. ‘You are no longer young enough for your thoughtlessness to be endearing and your parents and the rest of your family are not prepared to watch you grow into self-indulgent, selfish, demanding, volatile adults. Enough is enough. We are not going to tolerate it any longer.’
Aewlin’s eyes stung and she blinked hard to clear them, dropping her head so that only her soft fair hair could be seen. Her sister sat back so that the twins were shoulder to shoulder and their hands sought each other.
‘Aewlin only came because I wanted her to,’ Nimloth said defiantly. ‘Do not blame her.’
The ominous silence that followed made the twins lean together as if each was the other’s only defence in the face of the storm that was likely to hit them at any moment. The clearing chilled briefly as a cloud passed over the sun, before the pleasant warmth of the sunny afternoon resumed and they were able to breathe again.
‘It is interesting to watch you grow,’ Galadriel said with sudden mildness. ‘In some ways your behaviour reminds me of your daernaneth in her growing years, but, on the whole, I see my own youth in you both.’
‘May the Valar help us,’ muttered Thranduil, not quite quietly enough.
Galadriel flicked a reproving glance at him, before continuing, ‘I am not prepared to see you learn from long centuries of painful experience things which we can teach you now. I am going to see that you develop a sense of duty,’ she added pleasantly. ‘And your lives will be a great deal easier if you apply yourselves to your learning – although, should you choose to absorb your lessons the hard way, it is of no concern to me. We have time.’
Thranduil was aware of a sudden wave of unexpected sympathy for the two ellyth. ‘They are children,’ he protested. ‘You cannot expect them to behave with wisdom and maturity until they have had time to learn.’
‘That is not what you were saying a short while ago,’ Galadriel reminded him. ‘You said then that perhaps there was something to be said for beating some sense into the recalcitrant young.’
Nimloth’s horrified expression settled on the Woodland King, so that she missed the edge of humour in her ananeth’s voice. Aewlin, less literal than her twin, narrowed her eyes and waited for the conversation to conclude.
‘I may have said that, yes,’ Thranduil snapped, ‘but I did not say what it was! And I did not do it – nor would I.’ He shifted uncomfortably. ‘My son will tell you that consequences in my household have always been about taking responsibility for actions and learning from them rather than revenge.’
‘Precisely,’ the Lady said decisively, before allowing the subject to drop.
‘I could make some willowbark tea,’ Nimloth offered as she watched Thranduil stir, feeling sorry for his discomfort. ‘I’ve seen Aunt Miriwen make it often enough. And put some witch-hazel to steep for the scrapes.’
Galadriel nodded absently. ‘Show me the bark before you use it,’ she said. ‘And I will watch you – we would not want Aran Thranduil to think that you are trying to kill him for threatening to beat you.’
‘I did not . . .’ Thranduil snarled, before clenching his teeth and refusing to gratify the Lady by reacting any further.
It took Nimloth remarkably little time to find and assemble sufficient willowbark and witch-hazel, and Galadriel noted that she had, without apparent thought, selected exactly the pieces that would prove most effective. Aewlin, however, was holding back and there was a shadow on her face as her sister worked.
‘I would be of more assistance,’ Galadriel said pleasantly to Thranduil, as she supervised her great-granddaughter’s efforts, ‘but experience leads me to believe that you would rather suffer than endure my aid.’
‘I was not aware that you had trained as a healer,’ he said. ‘And,’ he added uncertainly, looking at Nimloth, ‘I see no reason to bear the ministrations of amateurs.’
Galadriel laughed. ‘So you are saying that, after centuries as a warrior, you would be unable to dress a wound? Or that, after years as a parent, you would be unable to ease a headache? How have you learned to make healing teas, Nimloth?’
‘From watching Naneth,’ the elfling said, straining her infusion into a cup, ‘and Aunt Miriwen. Elrin’s Naneth is very good at explaining what she is doing and why. And she says it is silly to rely on Daeradar for everything, when most healing is common sense and cleanliness.’
‘A small part of being the Lady of any holding is seeing to the health of those who live there, Thranduil. I am more than capable of dealing with the minor injuries you have sustained without bringing to bear any skills with which you would be uncomfortable.’ Galadriel looked sharply at her husband’s cousin. ‘But I will merely guide Nimloth, if that is what you prefer.’
‘Aewlin can help,’ Nimloth insisted. ‘Anything I can do, she can do, too.’
‘Perhaps,’ her ananeth said. ‘Although being twins does not mean that your talents are exactly the same. Your adar is a better healer than his brother, and better at understanding others, whereas Elladan reacts more swiftly on the field of battle and is an inspiring leader. I suspect that you both know that there are differences between you that will only grow greater as you age.’
The twins’ eyes met. ‘Go on,’ Aewlin said quietly. ‘You know that what you do will be more effective than anything that I can do. Even if it is exactly the same thing.’
‘Nimloth has inherited Elrond’s healing talent, has she not?’ Galadriel asked gently. ‘Why have you tried to hide it?’
‘Because I did not need to look in a mirror to know that it would separate us,’ Aewlin said bitterly.
Her ananeth cupped the elleth’s chin and raised it to look into her eyes. ‘Not necessarily,’ she said. ‘Not yet. What you both need now is self-control, sweeting. You will have to work at your lessons so you have the learning you will need, develop self-discipline, acquire the training necessary to your parents’ daughters. Then, when you are old enough, you may choose to follow different paths – but it will be your choice, Aewlin.’
Aewlin held her breath as she felt for the first time the sheer age and experience of her ananeth. Her eyes, usually so bright and full of laughter, had a depth into which the elleth felt she could fall and drown. She could see the blue and bitter cold of endless ice, the wheeling of stars in the vast dark, reflections of a huge and ancient forest in the clear waters of a deep pool; feel the searing pain of loss as, one by one, those she loved were sacrificed to a relentless doom; hear the cries of the new-born and the dying in the complex melody of the song. The connection broke as Galadriel closed her eyes, drawing down a shutter between them.
‘Not now,’ her ananeth said. ‘You are too young to take on the burdens of that sight yet. But let the experience show you that you must be ready.’ She took the shaken elfling in her arms and allowed her strength to soothe her. ‘You have both been given – interesting talents,’ she said, ‘and it is your burden to make of them all you can. Help your sister,’ she said briskly, patting Aewlin’s shoulder.
‘The willowbark tea is ready,’ Nimloth said.
Galadriel took the cup and tasted it cautiously. ‘That is fine,’ she said. ‘It is not too hot.’ She looked at Thranduil with amusement. ‘Drink it,’ she commanded. ‘Without pulling faces, if you can. About half the cup,’ she told her great granddaughter. ‘And then you can use the witch-hazel on the surface injuries. Get out all the thorns you can, but avoid the damaged ribs.’
The afternoon grew brassy and stifling as Nimloth busied herself with the tasks under her great grandmother’s watchful eye. Little though he wished to admit it, Thranduil had to concede that her ministrations eased much of the soreness and that his head was no longer throbbing painfully.
Aewlin looked round the clearing uneasily. ‘I wish the others would come back,’ she remarked.
‘What is unsettling you?’ Thranduil enquired, swallowing repeatedly to try to remove the foul taste from his mouth.
‘This does not feel a good place to be,’ Aewlin said simply. She looked anxiously at her ananeth. ‘Can you not sense it?’ she asked. ‘There is something in the air.’
Galadriel raised her head sharply. ‘Leave the fire, Nimloth,’ she ordered. ‘Get your things and move off into the trees.’ She looked round. ‘That way,’ she indicated. ‘We might be able to find shelter. Quickly!’ she added as the ellyth hesitated. She looked at the recumbent form of the Woodland King. ‘You will have to move,’ she said. ‘I am sorry. I would not ask it of you if I did not think . . .’
A sudden wind gusted in the clearing, ripping at their clothing and tearing at their hair. Thranduil seized Galadriel’s outstretched hand and used it to pull himself to his feet, catching her sense of urgency. A metallic stink made the air heavy as he clasped one hand to his ribs and limped as swiftly as he could behind the forms of the twins.
‘There is a cave,’ Nimloth called, even as a shaft of lightning tangled in the tree under which they had been resting and a deafening crack of thunder seemed to rip the crown from the tree and hurl it, spinning, towards the ground where they had been sitting. Even as a twist of fire began to lick through the blackened wood, the clouds burst and a torrent of rain began to drop.
‘Get inside,’ Galadriel commanded.
‘Let me go first,’ Thranduil insisted. ‘There might be other occupants.’
‘And how will you fight them off?’ the Lady snapped. ‘You are hurt!’
Thranduil’s glare silenced her. ‘Give me your knife, Nimloth,’ he said, ‘and do not come beyond the entrance unless I tell you it is safe.’
‘It is safe,’ Aewlin whispered. ‘We were in here earlier.’
Galadriel put a finger to her lips. ‘Let us be sure,’ she said. ‘Elves are not the only creatures to seek safety when they sense threats.’ Even the few moments she had been out in the rain had been enough to plaster her hair to her head and saturate her dress and she looked down ruefully before shrugging. ‘I will see if I can find some wood before it gets too wet,’ she sighed. ‘We will need to get dry, if we can.’
‘There is wood in here already.’ Thranduil sounded strained. ‘It would seem that elflings use this place as a den. ‘It should be enough.’
‘Lie down, Thranduil,’ Galadriel said as she looked him over. ‘I think I might have to insist on doing something for your ribs. You would not want to puncture a lung, would you?’
He hesitated for so long that she was sure he was going to turn down her offer. ‘If you must,’ he said reluctantly at last. ‘It feels better, but I daresay that is the willowbark.’
‘I will direct Nimloth,’ Galadriel told him ironically. ‘I am sure you would prefer that.’
Thranduil waved a hand in salute. ‘As you wish, my lady.’
‘Move as little as you can,’ she said, sliding her hand inside his tunic to raise it above the injury. ‘You have a rather dramatic bruise,’ she added.
‘It goes with my rather dramatic personality,’ Thranduil retaliated, winking at Nimloth.
‘There seems to me to be no displacement,’ Galadriel remarked. She looked at the twins. ‘Do either of you think anything different?’
Nimloth placed her hand tentatively over the site of the injury. ‘No,’ she said cautiously. ‘It is beginning to heal already,’ she offered. ‘It is less angry.’
‘Keep your hand there,’ her ananeth told her, ‘and think about how you want Aran Thranduil to be better.’
‘Is that all there is to it?’ Nimloth asked in surprise.
‘No,’ Galadriel admitted, ‘but it is all you are able to understand at the moment.’
Thranduil was unable to resist the urge to squirm a little as the same pins and needles feeling that had touched his hands when Nimloth removed the thorns returned much more strongly.
‘Keep your hands steady,’ the Lady advised. ‘Ignore any complaints.’
The tingling faded gradually, remaining longest at the point where the ache had been concentrated before disappearing. Nimloth removed her hand and sat back, looking at her ananeth for approval.
‘Better?’ Galadriel asked.
‘Better,’ Thranduil agreed, running his fingers over the spot. ‘Thank you,’ he said to Nimloth. I forgive you for having inadvertently been the cause of my humiliating accident. It would seem that both you and Aewlin have valuable skills that incline me to excuse your less-than-perfect behaviour.’
‘I take it your headache is also better, then,’ Galadriel said.
Aewlin nursed the small fire she had managed to light. ‘I suppose all we have to do now is wait.’
Drawing a tentative deep breath, Thranduil looked at the heavy rain falling just beyond the opening to their small refuge. ‘For some time, I would suspect,’ he said with resignation.
‘They have taken shelter, too,’ Galadriel agreed. ‘I hope we have wood enough to last until we are dry.’
‘That poor tree,’ Aewlin said at last, breaking a silence warmed only by the crackling of the fire. ‘One moment it was growing and healthy and the next . . .’
‘It is as well for us that the lightning struck high in its crown,’ her ananeth said thoughtfully. ‘We were too close had it grounded.’ She pushed away the knowledge of what the bolt could have done. ‘We will thank the tree later and do what we can for it.’
Aewlin glanced at her sister before moving to press herself against Galadriel, who automatically wrapped her arms round the warm figure of the slight elleth. Nimloth leaned closer to Thranduil, who responded in the same way, so that she dropped her fair head onto his shoulder, the better to enable him to stroke her hair.
‘They are like kittens in this as well,’ Thranduil said softly, as she relaxed into sleep against him.
Galadriel looked at him curiously, not having been party to his earlier thoughts. ‘They are offering comfort,’ she said, ‘as much as seeking it.’ She looked at Nimloth and smiled as she rested her cheek on Aewlin’s head. ‘We will be proud of them yet,’ she sighed.
‘I think their parents should be proud of them now,’ Thranduil challenged. ‘They are young and foolhardy, it is true, but, when it counts, they do what they must. You can ask no more.’
Galadriel stroked Aewlin’s soft cheek with a gentle finger. ‘Perhaps not,’ she agreed, ‘perhaps not.’
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