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32
In the Clearing

Silma:

The first we knew that our friends had caught up to us was when Rimbor came running toward me and almost knocked me down. I was trying to keep him from licking my face from forehead to chin when I heard Dalf roar my name as he galloped out of the woods. He leaped down from Agate and swept me up in a hug, held me off to demand, “Are you all right?” and then was kissing me very thoroughly.

If he had been cast down by my refusal of his earlier proposal, he wasn’t showing it….

His kisses lasted for an eternity and not long enough at all….until I heard Tamperion bellow, “Rhylla!”, and heard hoofbeats and laughter. I began pushing at Dalf’s shoulders and turned my head away until he released me. Then I had to grab his arm, because my knees almost buckled.

“You’re hurt?”

“No, I’m fine. How are you?” I knew that my face was flushed; I must look a mess.

He laughed. “Couldn’t be better!”

Tamperion was embracing Rhylla, her feet dangling almost a foot above the ground, kissing her soundly. Legolas was leaning on his pommel, bright eyes flicking from face to face to the trees and back, Tuor was watching, with something indefinably different about his expression and stance; did he need some liniment? Caic was holding Agate’s reins, petting him while looking at the rest of us; he beamed when I looked at him and sketched a bow.

One of Rhylla’s kicking feet connected, and Tamperion abruptly folded over and set her down. She immediately disengaged herself from his arms, then grabbed one again and smacked his face. “An’ who give you leave t’ be kissin’ me?” she demanded as he took a step back.

“I’ll ask your da as soon as we get back,” he said.

“Don’t. Ask Rill—after you ask me!” she retorted.

The worry in his face gave way to startled delight so quickly it was comical, and we all laughed. “Rhylla! Do I have a chance?”

“Mayhap. A woman likes to be courted. We’ll see.” She reached up and patted his reddened cheek, then turned to curtsey. “The day’s greetin’, Lord Dalf, Prince Legolas, Master Tuor, Caic,” she said sedately, and giggled as Rimbor leaned against her to have his head petted. “Good dog! Did you find us, then?”

“Is everyone all right?” I inquired.

“All except Apple,” Caic said. “We fought orcs while we hunted for you!”

“What happened to Apple?” I asked.

Dalf took my hand. “The orcs must have slaughtered him when the Men made off with you. I’m sorry, Silma.”

“But we killed them later,” Master Tuor said with surprising fierceness.

“An’ Prince Legolas an’ Lord Dalf has your tack and saddlebags,” Caic added.

“Poor Apple! Thank you all for following us,” I said. “Would you like some tea?”

“We’re here t’ rescue you, my lady,” said Caic uncertainly.

“How nice,” I said agreeably, and gestured towards the small fire nearby. “Will you sit down? We have much to tell you.”

Tuor and Tamperion were looking as if they had bitten sour apples, but Legolas was smiling and Dalf was grinning as we all sat and Rhylla began to pour; I handed them some small cakes I had baked in the ashes that morning.

I briefly summed up the first two days of our abduction. “I must have lost the pestle from my satchel when the orcs were quarrelling,” I ended regretfully. Without a word, Dalf took it from his belt-pouch and handed it to me.

“You found it! Thank you!” I cried.

“Rimbor found it.”

“O best of dogs!” I praised him, and he wagged his tail, settling down beside me.

“But what happened then, Lady Silma?” Caic asked.

“How does it happen that you are here alone?” Legolas interjected; he was still sweeping the clearing with his eyes, and was standing, leaning on his bow.


Dalf:

Leave it to Silma to be calmly sitting with Rhylla in the wilderness, ready to provide tea and cakes when we found her! I sat beside her with my hand on the middle of her back, just to assure myself that she was indeed there. My heart was still singing from her response to my kisses, and I was hardly abashed by my spontaneity. After all, she might have reacted as Rhylla had! I felt for poor Tamperion, but since the maid had patted his cheek and given a qualified assent to his wooing, he looked much more cheerful. It was amusing to see how outraged Tuor and Caic looked, not to be rescuing our fair ladies after all, but in time they would learn never to expect a ballad or tale to fit neatly into real life, especially where Silma was concerned!

Legolas alone seemed immune to relaxing. Silma verified our deductions, pausing to praise Rimbor for finding the pestle I returned to her, and Caic ssked, “But what happened then, my lady?”

“How does it happen that you are here alone?” Legolas asked.

“Where are the Men who abducted you?” Tuor demanded.

“They took the fight between the orcs as an opportunity to leave their company,” she said composedly. “I had thought at first that they were Southrons instead of the Sagath Easterlings they are. All they want is to go home to the plains, near the Sea of Helcar.”

“Never heard of it,” declared Tam.

“It’s further east of the Sea of Rhûn on the maps,” Legolas said absently. “Our ancient lore is that the First People awoke near it.”

“This group of Sagath is related by marriage to another Easterling people, the Asdriag,” she went on, “and their leader says that that those folk believe in two gods. One is the Black Master, or Sauron, and the other is the Hûr-Iriga, or Lord of Light. As nearly as I can make out, that is the same as Eru. He and his men now believe in and wish to follow the Lord of Light, and are intent on going home and making new lives for all their people in this new Age.”

Tuor’s eyebrows were raised so high they almost disappeared into his hair. “You’ve been having theological discussions with them?” he asked incredulously.

“Their language is based on Logathig,” she explained as if that clarified all.

“That’s my loremistress,” I chortled. “Go on!”

“Having established that we both shared a belief in Good,” she said, “I felt able to ask why we had been taken. They knew that our Healers use a red satchel for medical supplies, needed some, and thought that Rhylla was the Healer and I her maid, carrying it for her.”

“Fools!” grumbled Rhylla.

“So they were quite glad to carry off both of us. They fought against the Hosts of the West, and have been wandering since, gradually working their way north only to be turned back more than once by orcs. These two bands had joined them only the day before, and they weren’t having much luck in eluding them. The orcs participated in the raid for the fun of it, I suppose. It’s what they do, after all.”

“Why did they need medical supplies and a Healer?” I asked.

She sat a bit straighter. “Because their leader is the uncle of their hereditary chieftain, with omens showing from birth that he has been reborn to unite their clans. The uncle recited a long list of omens; this boy is to be the King of All the Tribes. That is why he was forced to come, as a means of demonstrating Sauron’s power over them, even though he is just a lad about Caic’s age. Apparently there are as many prophecies about him as there were about Aragorn. He was wounded in the battle, and they have been trying to keep him alive; that’s why they traveled so slowly, only seeking a Healer when he worsened, after leaving him behind with a few of their best warriors. They wanted me to heal him.”

“And you were able to in so short a time?” Legolas sounded skeptical.

“No, but I operated early this morning and used the Elvish techniques, and so far he is doing well.”

“Where is he?” I demanded, jumping to my feet. The others were on theirs as well, except for Rhylla, who was pulling on Tamperion’s hand.

Silma put her hand atop mine, now grasping my axe. “You cannot fight my friends, Dalfinor. Any of you! Don’t you see, we have an opportunity here! King Elessar will need to form alliances and treaties on all his borders. So will Thorin, and they tell me they have seen Dweorg in Rhûn.”

I tucked that new fact away for later consideration. “So they abducted you, endangering you with a bunch of orcs! Why didn’t they just ask for help?”

She got up, clearly exasperated, hands on her hips. “First of all, they don’t speak Westron! Do you speak Logathig? Do you?”

“No,” I admitted.

“Second, they are far from their home, and they all witnessed what happened at the Black Gates. How would you react if everything you had been taught to believe proved utterly false and wrong? Their world as they know it has ended, and now they are trying to cope. Rhûk deeply loves Akesh for himself, and so do the rest of them. He’s a bright, talented lad who is afire to help his people — and that may help ours.”

“Besides,” Rhylla said, glaring at us, “Healers take care of anyone as needs ‘em, an’ she’s a good Healer!”

I deliberately relaxed my stance slightly and glanced at Legolas, who nodded slightly and unstrung his bow. He bowed to her. “Where are they, Cousin?” he asked. “Surely not far if you operated this dawn.”

“Tamperion, Tuor, let go of your weapons,” I said quietly.

“It could be a trick,” said Tuor, still tightly holding his knife-hilt.

“Let go. Now!” I said, and they complied reluctantly.

Some of the brush moved aside—I realized it was a cunningly woven screen—revealing a cluster of warriors, all only a head taller than I, holding short curved bows and swords, which they also lowered. The tallest came a step or two closer and bowed.

“Rhûk of Iderii, Hûrdriak Akesh, these are Prince Dalfinor Redglass of the Lonely Mountain; Prince Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood; Master Tuor of Minas Anor; and Caic of Minas Anor,” she said slowly and clearly, and named them one by one.

Bows were exchanged, and I could see that communication was possible but would depend upon Silma as interpreter. Tamperion sent off a pigeon to Beregond, and we settled down to a discussion of what to do next.

Silma was definite that Akesh could not be moved for a few days, and adamant that she would not leave him until his condition had improved.

“Good!” I said. “This will give us a chance to wait for Beregond and the others to catch up to us.”

She smiled at me. ”I will be glad of a chance to rest.— Why are you frowning?”

“If you voluntarily speak of resting, you must be exhausted or ill, or both,” I said.

“You're exaggerating!”

“Not by much,” I replied.

“O’ course she's wearied,” Rhylla spoke up. “She's been a-wearin’ herself out a-Healin’ Akesh.”

One of the Sagath was looking at Legolas' bow with great curiosity, hands carefully behind his back, but clearly longing to ask questions. He fetched his own bow, showing that it was unstrung, and held it out to the Elf, saying something.

Rhûk smiled slightly. “Evit good bow. Good hunt.”

Evit said something, and his leader said, “You tall, bow tall. He short, bow short.”

Legolas was hefting the smaller bow, then handed over his own to be similarly examined. “Please tell him that my people live in woods, often hunt on foot. His bow is better on horseback.”

“You admit that?” I asked. jestingly


“You needn't tell Gimli,” Legolas smiled. “But why not? His is obviously suited to his way of life, as mine is to mine. His arms aren't long enough to fully draw mine. Silma, would some meat be useful for your patient?”

“Broth made from some game or venison wouldn’t come amiss,” she answered.

Legolas mimed hopping, leaping, lumbering and mimed shooting. Evit nodded enthusiastically, and both disappeared into the wood along with two others.

Rhûk sat by his dozing nephew; Tamperion was seated by Rhylla, who was cutting up some greens near the fire and occasionally stirring a pot; and Tuor was helping Caic tend our horses to one side, looking thoughtful.

I took my bedroll from my saddle and spread it in the shade. “Will you rest, Silma? I will call you at need.”

“Thank you,” she said, lying down.

I folded my cloak to make her a pillow; she smiled at me, and slept as soon as she closed her eyes.


Silma:

It was a great relief to know that Dalf, Legolas, Caic, Tamperion and Master Tuor had all come safely to meet us. I was surprised that Tuor had come, but felt it indelicate to say so. His relationship with the others seemed to vary, although he often looked yearningly at Caic. He had obviously suffered during their pursuit, being unused to hard riding and short commons, but oddly looked better, with a healthier color in his face and a more alert expression. His voice had mostly lost its whine, to my added relief.

Evit and Legolas went hunting more than once, soon joined by the other Sagath, and by Tamperion and Caic, borrowing their shorter horsebows. Two days after their arrival, Caic was proudly showing us the deer he had managed to shoot, when Rimbor came dragging a small ram. Caic caught some rabbits with the snare that Akesh showed him, although I would not allow the Hûdriak to go with him as yet- although he was healing and gaining strength rapidly. If only there was some way we could replace lost blood! That loss was what slowed his progress, for his flesh knitted swiftly.

Beregond arrived four days after our party was reunited, leading a larger group of ten Rangers and twenty guards, plus some packhorses—and a graceful dappled mare that he led over to Legolas, who in turn led her to me.

Bowing, he said, “Lady Silma, I beg that you will accept this steed to replace your other mount as a gift from Lord Elrond and myself. She is half-sister to my Arod; her name is Isilmë, which means Moonlight.”

“Oh, how beautiful!” I exclaimed, and she nosed my hand in a gentle indication that she wished a caress. I was delighted to oblige. “To think that I should ever pet an Elven horse!” I marvelled.

“But why not, Cousin?” he asked lightly, and I blushed again to be called so.

“You and Lord Elrond are too kind,” I said.

Dalf was talking with Beregond, who nodded as they came towards me. “The King and Lord Faramir were most upset to learn what had happened, my lady. We were much too complacent. More patrols will be sent out, heavily armed. I have orders to take you back to the city at once.”

I glared at him and at Dalf, hands on my hips. “Is this your idea?” I demanded of my Dwarf, “To wrap me up in wool and set me on a shelf?”

His mouth twitched. “Not I! Besides, the captain does not take orders from me.”

“Good. Captain Beregond, I don't mean to be difficult, but I don't want to go back until the expedition is over.”

“That's as may be, my lady, but my orders are to take you. It'd be as much as my head is worth if you were badly hurt or killed.”

“Am I under arrest?” I demanded.

“No, of course not.”

“Then short of putting me under arrest, I am not going. I promise you, as soon as you deposit me at the House of Hammer and Axe, I shall start right back for Ithilien. I was promised an opportunity to see my childhood home, and I intend to do just that!”

“Mayhap you should introduce him to your guests,” Dalf suggested.

“What guests?” He looked around wildly, but the Sagath had retreated behind their screen as soon as one of them had espied them coming. “Prince Dalf said that you had some unexpected adventures.”

“It is an interesting tale,” Tuor put in.

“Please tell me.” What else could he say?

So I did, and at the appropriate time, Tamperion and Caic set aside the screen and we made introductions. Beregond reacted as well as I had hoped he would, once he got past his amazement, and so did his men.

Dalf said slyly, “If you send or take her back now, Captain, you will be separating a Healer from her patient and possibly endangering a treaty with a future ally. After all, none of us speak Logathig — or do you? Do any of you?”

Heads were shaken, and to my relief I saw most of them were grinning.

The captain sighed. “I can imagine what the King — and Lady Ėowyn — would say about my stopping a Healer from her craft! But I do have orders! So, my lady, I will sit in council with you and the others, and discuss what you wish to do before I decide what I will do, for both the King and Prince Faramir surmised that you would not wish to come, and they did allow me some latitude. I brought some pigeons with me, and can send some news back to them.”

“Fair enough,” I agreed.

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