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2. Hair of Uinen
Eglarest, First Age 458
There was a knock at the door. Aerneth's father wearily looked up from the report he was reading. "Who might that be at this late hour?" He turned to his wife but she had not heard, being too absorbed in her painting. When Falasiel had begun a new project she was blind and deaf for everything except the motive evolving on her canvas.
"I will check." Aerneth left the table where she had been wrapping up lembas for the seal hunter's expedition leaving Eglarest tomorrow. She was fairly sure she knew who it was, and when she opened her suspicions were confirmed.
"Hello, Arminas." She smiled politely.
"My Lady." The ellon bowed. "Would you come out and walk with me? It is my last evening ashore for a while as you know."
"I have not finished the lembas yet, but I guess… A short walk could not hurt." She called to her parents. "I am going out."
Her father grunted something incoherently that she interpreted as meaning yes. Grabbing her coat she left the house.
The couple walked towards the southern part of the bay, Aerneth's favourite route. Even on a winter evening like this she enjoyed being close to the sea, to smell the salt on the air and hearing the booms of the rolling surf. She had a thick sealskin coat; the sharp wind did not bother her.
The ellon held out his arm for her and she took it, wishing she could enjoy the feeling of his strong arm under her glove. Or enjoy being together with him at all, for that matter. Arminas looked handsome, was pleasant company and he liked her, he would have been the perfect match. If only she could have liked him that way…
But she could not. Like she had with all the ellyn who had wooed her the past decades, Aerneth could not help compare him to another ellon, one never far from her thoughts, and just like them Arminas came out short in that comparison. None other were as tall and strong, none had such silver blonde hair or expressive eyebrows, none had his dark, tantalising voice.
It was Thranduil she wanted, and only him.
Aerneth would never forget the moment she saw Thranduil for the first time. She had recently arrived in Menegroth, alone and afraid although she tried not to make it show. Queen Melian was kind but their baking lessons were irregular, depending on when she was not occupied otherwise. The rest of the time Aerneth would be ambling around, feeling out of place in the underground caves of the city, longing for the sea and her parents.
She had no friends among the other young elves, but then, she had never been good at making friends even back home. She talked too much, or said the wrong things perhaps. She had never quite understood what she did wrong.
That day she had wandered outside the city to at least catch some sun and smell the wind, when she came across the training grounds. The warriors practicing archery and sword fighting fascinated her, she admired their skill, their suppleness and strength. But very soon she had been caught by a couple of young ellyn who promptly shooed her away, telling her it was not allowed to watch. She believed their lie and morosely left the area, hearing their jeering laughter behind her and feeling wretched. Caught up in her misery she did not watch her feet and stumbled over a root, but a strong hand had caught her and prevented her fall. When she looked up, the most beautiful ellon she had ever seen was standing before her.
The ellon had been Thranduil, of course, and he had not only helped her remain on her feet, he had also asked if she would like to watch him shoot. Only out of politeness, naturally, but young and naïve as she had been, Aerneth had believed herself singled out.
Thranduil had saved her, and from that moment he had been on her mind constantly. She had followed him around every day, usually discreetly, but more often than not he had known she was there. Oh, he had hated it of course, she was not stupid. She had annoyed him and embarrassed him in front of his friends but she had been unable to stop. It was like a spell, or, as it had felt after her return to Eglarest, a curse.
It was a long time ago now, and Aerneth had tried hard to get over her infatuation – but obviously failed. Perhaps finding another elf to love was a hopeless endeavour? Maybe she would just have to accept a future without a husband and elflings. She had her parents and a few friends, and she had the city's appreciation for her work with the lembas recipe. Did she need more? She could live without an ellon in her life; many ellith did.
Arminas began talking about the hunting expedition and she dispelled her brooding thoughts, trying to give him her attention. She could be his friend at least, even if he had prefered something more.
They were almost back at her house again when Aerneth felt a warmth in her mind. Someone was thinking about her. Normally this meant that her father or a friend was trying to contact her, but now it felt different. It was someone else – and she instinctively knew who. It made no sense at all, but yet… with absolute certainty she could tell: It was him !
"I must go now. Goodnight, Arminas, I will see you off tomorrow at the port."
He looked disappointed. "So soon? I shall be gone for weeks perhaps. Could you not give me something to remember you by?"
"Here." Aerneth took off her glove and held out her hand for him. The ellon's face brightened and he pressed his lips against it, holding the kiss a little too long. Why could he not hurry? She must go find water before it was too late.
"I shall miss you, lovely Lady!"
"Thank you. Goodnight!"
"Promise to be there tomorrow?"
"Then… I shall watch out for you. I must memorise your fair features to last me during those long hours at sea, and–"
"I really must go, Arminas."
"Tomorrow then. Adieu!"
When Aerneth finally had closed the door in front of the ellon's infatuated smile, she hurried to her room and filled her washbasin. Through Uinen's hair, all rivers, lakes and ponds were connected, and if a person was near water and thought about her, Aerneth could use that to see them from afar – and speak with them too, if she wanted.
Uinen was a Maia, and a servant of the Vala Ulmo together with her husband Ossë. While he was known to be wild and dangerous, causing great waves and making the seas dangerous for sailors, Uinen was gentle. She was the only one who could calm her spouse.
Despite Ossë's temper, Círdan had made friends with him a long time ago, and soon their wives became friends too. Uinen had taught both Falasiel and her daughter water magic, but where the former used her knowledge to draw the most lifelike sea-paintings imaginable, the latter prefered more practical uses such as distance communication.
Aerneth sang a short spell while reaching out with her mind, and soon an image formed in her bowl. A forest with bare branches, a glimpse of sky between them and there – a young ellon. Thranduil.
Finally she saw him again after so many years! Thranduil, the only one she could ever love and who – no matter how hard she tried – she could not forget. Whose name alone sent shivers through her body.
He was sitting on a log, leaning slightly forward so his hair framed his handsome face. The golden strands were moist as if he had just bathed, and plaited in a pattern popular by warriors. He was so beautiful her chest hurt. Her memories had not done him justice! Those dark eyebrows over his pale, blue eyes, his long lashes and…
She moved closer to the surface to see better. Why did he look so nervous?
He was wearing armor; a chainmail shirt it looked like, and he held a helmet in his hands. Was he going to battle? Or had he just been at one and injured himself?
Then suddenly his eyes met hers and he jumped up in surprise.
Aerneth quickly moved away from the bowl and closed the connection. She was not ready to be seen, not yet. First she needed to find out what was up. Why had Thranduil thought about her, and why was he so worried?
She ran back to the living room and roughly shook her mother's shoulder to get her attention. "Nana, I need help. Can you get Uinen for me?"
"Uinen?" Falasiel dazedly looked up from the wave crest she was painting.
"Aye! I need to speak with her. It's about Thranduil."
" Yes nana, Thranduil – the ellon I met in Doriath, remember? I think he may be in danger."
"Oh, him , of course I remember." Falasiel smiled tiredly. "You speak of him often."
"Please call Uinen now. Hurry!"
Sighing, her mother reluctantly laid her brush aside and went to pick up her own water bowl. Technically any water worked for the purpose, but they both prefered bowls. They were easy to carry around and one did not have to go outdoors to use them.
Soon Uinen's face appeared with her familiar, greenish curls billowing around her cheeks like seaweed. She was wearing a coral circlet on her brow.
Aerneth quickly explained the situation.
"Doriath, you say? Hmm." Uinen's ocean-blue eyes went distant as if she was searching for something. "Aye… Near the Sirion. Almost all elves of Doriath are there, and humans from a nearby forest also. Ah. I see why now. Further north the fair river waters are tainted, soiled by a legion of foul creatures. Morgoth's evil spawn!"
"What creatures?" Aerneth breathed.
"Orcs." The Maia said the word like a curse.
"Can you see what's going to happen? Will Thranduil be safe?"
"The enemy outnumbers the defenders, and they will become divided. I see your loved one fleeing, running towards the river."
"Help him. Please!"
"Aye. I see victory – if he and his people are saved, I foresee a great victory for the defenders. I shall help hide them."
When the Maia had left the bowl, Aerneth paced the room restlessly, hoping her mother's friend really could do something. A legion of orcs! It sounded terrible. Thranduil must not be hurt!
Seeing his beautiful face again had made her feelings reawaken. She knew she still loved him with the same passion as before.
If he survived – should she do something about it?
Thranduil had never seemed to like her much that summer, but young and inexperienced as she had been, she had hoped he would miss her when she was gone and that she would later feel him thinking about her or even receive a letter from him. Of course those hopes had been crushed, and when the years passed and Aerneth grew older she had tried to forget him and come to terms with being alone.
But now… Should she contact him? Ellyn found her attractive now, what if he did too? Maybe then he would not mind how annoying she had been as an elfling. Or maybe he would not recognise her?
A plan formed in her mind. She could visit Doriath again, make her father send her there on some errand or other… surely something plausible could be worked out. And then she would get a fresh start over – as a stranger!
She must use another name at first, of course, but after he had gotten to know her and fallen in love with her she would reveal her real identity. By then he would understand and forgive her guile. It might actually work!
Right in the middle of her grand plotting, she felt a warm glow within. Thranduil again! He was thinking about her twice in one day, and this after not thinking of her at all in over forty years. Aerneth could not believe her luck as she established the connection.
This time Thranduil was standing up to his waist in water, and the air around him was white and smoky. That must be Uinen's doing! She had succeeded in hiding him. He did not look happy, but who would under the circumstances? The water was probably cold and he might worry the orcs would discover him despite everything. Aerneth wished she could be there physically with him and hug him, perhaps rub his shoulders to warm him and say something comforting.
Then Thranduil caught sight of her face again, and his eyes widened. Aerneth looked back at him with a pounding heart. He did not seem to recognise her! Instead he looked curious, with one eyebrow cocked and his eyes narrowing slightly as he scrutinized her. His gaze was so intense she could hardly breathe.
Before she could stop herself a word slipped through her lips: "Thranduil…"
The curiosity instantly disappeared from his features and was replaced with shock and a hint of fear. Aerneth cursed herself inwardly. How stupid she was! She should not have revealed that she knew his name. He knew she could work water magic, it would not take him long to figure out who she was and realise she was chasing him again like she had done when she was younger. He would be annoyed and think she had not changed at all.
Stupid! She was such a bloody idiot!
Aerneth hurriedly closed the connection, slamming her fist at the table beside the water bowl and biting her lip to restrain a frustrated cry, not wanting to worry her parents needlessly.
She had ruined her chances again.
After a sleepless night, Aerneth went up in the morning to finish her work with the lembas. The hunters needed food on their journey and heartbreak was not reason enough to abandon her duty. Her head felt heavy and her eyes were swollen from crying. Why was she so unlucky? And why must she love one who was so unattainable? It was unfair.
After a while, Falasiel joined her in the room, but instead of taking up her brushes and palette she sat down to help her daughter wrap the waybread. "Uinen just let me know the orcs are dead and your ellon is safe."
"Thank you Nana." Aerneth sighed, relieved. Even though her plan had failed she still wanted Thranduil to live.
"You seem unhappy, my dear."
A bit surprised, Aerneth looked up from her lembas. Her mother rarely paid attention to her daughter's mood. "Well, I guess I just miss him. And regret I cannot be with him."
"You know why. He doesn't like me."
"He will like you now . You are a beautiful elleth who just saved his life."
"But what if he remembers how obnoxious I used to be!"
"He's not stupid, he knows people grow up. Just give him time to get to know you and don't pressure him. Shall I ask your father to send you back to Doriath?"
"Oh Nana!" Aerneth threw her arms around her mother's neck. "Aye. Please do! Thank you."
The next chapter we shall find out what Thranduil thought of the vision in the water, and what happened with the orcs. Most of this story will be from his perspective, but I will throw in one from Aerneth’s every now and then. :)
Translations: Ellon=male elf, ellyn is the plural form. Elleth=female elf, ellith is the plural form. Nana=mum, Ada=dad.
On Valar and Maiar: The Valar were a sort of demigods, and the Maiar their powerful servants. All of them were created by Eru Ilúvatar – The One God, and together they sang the world into existence.
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