Gaergath halted in his tracks.
He had told himself the previous day that he was done with women. All they brought him was trouble. First She, then Binya, then the farmer's wife... And if this one had an entrancing voice, all the more reason to turn and flee....
Save that he could not. He was as trapped as a moth in a web, waiting for the voice to speak again.
Yet the speaker was not showing herself. The beast, whatever it was, growled once more. Gaergath could see its eyes, which were on a level with his own, although as far as he could tell, it was not standing on its hinder legs. They were not wolf eyes. Why...they were large and brown, like...like a dog's.
It was a dog.
Still, he was no more anxious to meet a dog the size of a small horse than he was to meet a wolf.
"Huan," the voice spoke again. "What see you?"
He saw leaves on the bush move above the dog's eyes, and a fair hand appeared briefly, and the branches moved briefly and he glimpsed a face beneath a dark hood...whoever it was, obviously did not wish to be seen.
Then the dog, or whatever it was, made a strange rumbling growl in its throat, like no other dog sound Gaergath had ever heard.
It seemed to be talking.
Then the sweet voice spoke once more. "Come, Huan. I do not think he means us harm, or he would have done so by now. Who is it?"
This last was meant for Gaergath, and he made as if to speak, then found his throat was dry.
He coughed a little, and then the branches moved once more, and a tall figure stepped forward. It wore a black cloak also...but as unlike the one he carried, as singing was to choking.
This cloak was apparently of silk, with a soft sheen like starlight on water--indeed, it seemed made of black water, with a flow to it like such, and a rustle like that of a stream flowing over mossy rock in a forest.
And the fair hand reach up and pushed the hood back just a bit. The face within was yet in shadow, but no more so than a white rose beneath the protective shade of a brake of dark ferns.
Gaergath drew in his breath sharply. He had been expecting a lovely face, to be sure, to go with that voice. Yet he was not prepared for what he did see. His heart was thumping like a snared rabbit.
The hood fell away completely, and the dog stepped out from the brush as well, but Gaergath did not see it.
Her hair seemed made of exactly the same stuff as the cloak. It was as though some faery-being had decided that nothing less than what resembled that hair was fit for her to wear, and so had woven the garment from threads spun of nightsky and water and dreams for her. And her eyes...well, he could not even come up with a color to name them, whether blue, or grey, or black, or a mingling of all such, it seemed nonsensical even to try. It was as though gems and stars and flowers and dark water and dewdrops had all come together in a conspiracy to bewitch and entangle and envelope. She was as tall as he, so he did not have to look either up or down to see into the eyes, making it all the harder to look away from them.
The rest of her face might have been as plain as dirt, and those eyes would have held him as ruthlessly captive as they were doing now. Yet it was as perfect a setting for them as the most skillfully crafted jewelry for the most flawless gems imaginable. And there was a soft glow about it all, that even shone through the cloak. It could only have come from the face of a woman in love, and he did not even know how he knew this. It was a face acquainted with joy and pain in equal measure, and both had worked together to refine that beauty to its incomparable zenith.
"Do not be afraid," she said once more, in that voice that could only have come from such a source. "He will not attack you, if you do not mean us harm. He has the most beautiful of possible hearts, and a fëa of shining perfection, beneath the darkness of his coat. I rather think him the son of Ilúvatar himself."
"What?" Gaergath said stupidly, then realized she was referring to the dog. Which was standing before him now, black and brown mostly, with a spot of white at its throat, and ears that pointed sharply upward, and it was no longer growling, since her hand rested upon the back of its neck. Its eyes now were as any other dog's, brown and sweet and trusting.
Gaergath wished with all his might that he were that dog.
He could think of nothing to say that did not sound entirely idiotic.
"I mean no harm," he said at last. "I have lost my way, and my horse got frightened and so we ended up here somehow. I have been trying to get home. I was abducted, and I escaped and have been wandering for some time now...and...well, here I am."
She stepped forward once more, enough for him to see her gown beneath the cloak. It was blue, as far as he could tell...and that was as much as he noticed about it.
"Also," he heard himself saying, "I...I think I killed someone."
He could not imagine what possessed him to tell her this. It seemed he was in the presence of the Impossible, and so it called forth things he could not possibly have said. He had changed utterly in the space of a few moments. The Gaergath he had been previous to this was a complete impossibility. That Gaergath, who considered magical cloaks and evil books and silver daggers as matters of importance, was as a befouled garment that had been stripped off him, to be flung into a bonfire and forgotten forever.
And he scarcely knew what to do with the new Gaergath. It was as a butterfly newly emerged, exposed and vulnerable to all about it, yet would not have gone back into the cocoon even if it were possible.
It could only blink in unstifled wonder at the flower of divinity that stood before it.
For she was most certainly a goddess. Yes. One of the Valar she must be. The Star-kindler perhaps? But what was she doing here? Was this her abode, and had she come forth to light the stars? He could see her lighting a star in her hand as one might light a little lamp or candle, then flinging it upward to bedizen the heavens....
Yet she was not doing so. He had interrupted her at her task before she could even begin.
Perhaps he should step away and leave her to her work. She might let him watch....
"I am deeply sorry," he found himself saying, "to have disrupted you, my Lady. Please go ahead with what you were about to do before I so rudely intruded upon your task. I did not know I was so close to your home."
At the same time he was puzzled not to see any such home. He would have expected her to live in a luminous faery-palace on high, with lights glimmering in every window, and harp-music issuing forth. All he saw were trees. And mountains. Perhaps she lived in a mountain? Perhaps that was where she kept the stars. All lined up in shelves inside of a mountain, where none could come in and steal them, the brightest one at the very top.
Perhaps she would give him one. Perhaps she would allow him to dwell close by, where he might come and watch her light the stars each night....
"I beg your pardon?" she said with a little smile. He had not thought it possible for her to be more beautiful, but he had not seen her smile yet.
"Are you not the Star-kindler?" he asked with lifted eyebrows.
She laughed, just a little, and that was far better than harp-music. "Nay, I am not, any more than I am the mistress of trees, or the healer of all ills and wounds, or the weeper of uncounted tears, although I have imagined so of late," she said. "I also was abducted, or say rather I was lured away on false pretenses and imprisoned, and I have escaped with the help of my Huan..." She patted the dog, which looked at her in such a manner...of course. He was her lover, and some wicked being had put an evil spell on him causing him to take the form of a dog. "And now I would find my home and my lover, but I am not sure of the way. And I fear my beloved has been taken as well. I must find him...if I only knew where to begin."
Gaergath suddenly remembered the small army he had seen approaching Sauron's tower.
"Do you think he was taken by Sauron's forces?" he asked her.
She paled a little. "Aye, it is exactly as I supposed," she said. "I must find a way to his home, and see if my beloved has been imprisoned there. Two wicked brothers brought me here with promises of succor, and I foolishly believed them. One of them meant to force me to be his bride, and yet his hound, of whom he was never worthy, took pity upon me, and came to my chamber to comfort me, and brought me back my cloak, without which I am as helpless as any other maid. And he showed me the secret passages leading outward, and here I have met with you, my friend. You are not a messenger from Beren?"
"I do not know any Beren," he said. "I...I am lost merely, as I said, and my horse brought me here. It is not even my horse, I--I borrowed him, and have been trying to find my own. And...I happened to see some men being taken to Sauron's tower. I know where it is, for I have been there..."
She suddenly reached out and gripped his wrist, with a grasp that might have twisted his arm out of the socket, yet he was scarcely aware of any pain.
"He is in Sauron's tower? You truly have seen him?"
Gaergath numbly had to wonder if he himself would ever be loved as this Beren was loved.
"I do not know, my lady," he stammered. "I saw some men, at a distance, being led to the tower by some armed...creatures. They carried spears and whips, and...oh, I am sorry, I did not mean to alarm you thus..."
"Can you lead me the way?" she gasped. At the same time she released his arm. He was certain she had no idea she had been gripping it as hard as she was, and he marveled at her strength. If she had left bruises, he hoped they would never fade.
"I have here," he fumbled in his doublet until his fingers touched the parchment, "a map, but...my lady, you do not wish to go there. I have been, and it is...well, you do not wish to go. You see, there was an Elf...I suppose you do not know Rimbrion?"
Instead of answering, she reached for the map, and he let her take it even so.
"I do not think it is any good," he said. "There are few names, save for...just rivers mostly, and...but then...he gave it to me for...."
"How do you know Sauron?" she asked him suddenly, and he was confronted with terrible beauty, and fearful urgency, and impossible striving, all contained in those eyes that were windows to the priceless wonderland that was her soul.
"He is my father," Gaergath said without hesitating one instant. Lying was simply out of the question, before this being. "And yet I hate him, for I know he killed my mother, and mean to avenge her. It is exactly like him to do such, without a thought, simply to get what he wants. He has no shame. Yet I do not remember how long ago it was...three weeks, or maybe more. Most likely..."
But he could not say it. She was looking at the map once more.
"We are here," she pointed to it. He looked, but the region she was indicating was not named. "At Nargothrond. That is where I was taken. I am from here..." She pointed to another larger spot. "Where my father is King and my mother is Queen. And Sauron bides I know not where, can you show me?"
"Here," Gaergath pointed to the largest of the rivers, "in Tol-en-Gaurhoth, in the River Sirion. Come ride with me, and I will take you there. Now that I know where I am, we can find the way together."
The thought of having this peerless creature sitting on the same horse with him, her body touching him, made him feel like swooning utterly. He was certain her lover was dead by now. It mattered not, one way or the other. If he could only have her sitting with him, vulnerable, dependent on him for a matter of days...well, the memory of it would last him the rest of his lifetime, of that he was certain.
Perhaps if he could get her cloak from her... Yet he knew he would not even try it. He was disgusted that the idea had even occurred to him.
The dog made the murmuring in his throat once more, and a chill ran over Gaergath. It seemed the beast could understand every word he said, and read his thoughts as well. It was as if he were a twin to Drauglir, and yet as unlike that beast as this lady's cloak was to Celirwen's.
"Thank you, dear friend," she said with a more radiant smile, and he truly had to look away this time, less he be blinded, "but Huan will take me on his back just as your handsome steed, who is now cropping the grass and clover in yon field. You shall lead the way, and perhaps you can distract Sauron for me while I try to find my beloved, and..."
He did not want to tell her of the wolves, although she must surely know of them already. Likely they had made short work of Beren already. And he would have to witness her grief if they had.
Then again, perhaps he had been taken to Angband, along with...
He heard her asking his name, then jerked up his head as she asked him once more.
"Gaergath," he said after the slightest hesitation. She gave no indication that she recognized the name.
"Lúthien," she said. "I am Lúthien, Princess of Doriath."
"Of course you are," he said softly as an impossible haze descended before him, and the first stars began to peep unnoticed in the pinnacle of the sky.