Scars: Chapter 2 – Treading in Darkness

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     A leather bound book sat in her palms. Her eyes slowly ran over the pages, her fingers light in touch and careful as she turned each one. The paper was worn and stained, and very delicate. Age had long affected the condition of the book, and some areas were difficult to read, causing her eyebrows to knot together in concentration. The book spoke of a servant of evil, yet so absurdly was it a written that she laughed. She wondered, however. Was there any truth to the book, and if there indeed was…does this servant still remain?

     Why did she read this? Had her dreams so greatly disturbed her that she sought to read any book at hand? Her nights were sleepless and were filled with many dark dreams. Dark memories. If she continued, she soon would be unable to even close her eyes. With a sigh, Duvaineth closed the book and returned it to its proper place on the bookshelf. Her eyes were attracted to the large window in the study, through which a beautiful moon illuminated the entire room.  

     Duvaineth went to the window and gazed through the glass. Her eyes fell nowhere in particular before settling on the rushing water of the falls in the far distance. She heard footsteps; they were quiet as though made with the intent not to disturb her, but she did not turn to meet the person. She knew who it was, and gladly welcomed his presence when he stood next to her. He said nothing, and neither did she for a moment. Finally she spoke, her eyes unmoving from the window, “Sleep remains far from me.”

     “Such has come to be a nightly custom,” he answered, his tone giving away that he already knew her answer, and mayhap the true reason behind it.

     “Come and go they do, but never from existence do they fade,” Duvaineth said. “They are never far. When I close mine eyes, they return always darker than before, and so great grow they in their darkness that they would sully the earth. Life as we know it to be, but a memory carried to the graves of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.” She then tore her gaze from the window and looked at him. Sorrow drenched her eyes as the flow of a river, and despite her strong efforts to hide it, the heavy weight of weariness and trouble could not be concealed. “And then I see the great flames of Evil consuming the world.”

     Duvaineth took a deep breath. She was quiet for some time, but at length she spoke again. “Forgive me, Lord Elrond. I know my dreams are dark and none too pleasant, and I am certain you would not care to hear in words that which you have already seen, and worse.”

     But the Elf-lord smiled warmly. “When have you been known to dream of pleasantries? Your captivity was a trial long and painful to endure. Wise you are, but as a heavy shadow does the memory of your torments follow you. It is so for all those who have faced such times, even my own people. But you must allow not the evil to consume your very heart, or naught will be left of you.”

     “Such befell me once,” Duvaineth said darkly. “It shall not happen again.”

     “No, I believe it will not. You are of a greater strength,” Elrond reassured with a smile. He rested a hand on her shoulder, a comforting touch that made vanish her fears. “I say to you, Duvaineth of Lindon, your heart is strong and your will stronger. Let not the dark vapors of your dreams cloud your mind, for you are there in the darkness no more. Sleep, and fear not.”

     Duvaineth bowed her head to him, a gesture the Elf-lord knew as a promise she would keep, or would attempt to, at the very least. “I think, Lord Elrond….” She smiled as she raised her head. “I am long overdue to see the world and its beauty.”

     “Do as you will. Your return, when you should choose to, will be welcomed and is looked upon with gladness. For you Imladris holds open her doors, for she is my home and to it I yet welcome you.”

     Despite the words of Elrond, sleep came not easily to Duvaineth. She tossed and turned and tried to make herself comfortable, but to no avail. The images of her dream filled the night. Though she repeatedly tried pushing them away, they would soon return, and she lay awake for many hours.

     Duvaineth knew not when she fell asleep. Peace and relief washed over her as she slowly slipped into slumber, but the peace did not last long. The dream again returned, darker than before, and she felt entrapped in it. Darkness loomed over her, a heavy reminder of the shadow that followed her – taunting her, torturing her, and telling her she would never be free. When she awoke in the morning she felt as if she had slept not at all. But she had managed to rest, though not well, and such was all she needed for her coming journey.

     She packed very little, only the provisions she needed, and retrieved her weapons: her bow and quiver, a small number of daggers she hid within her garb, and her cloak. It was not often that Duvaineth left the safety of Imladris and rode the plains, or hunted Orcs least of all. She loved the world as if it was her very soul, but in her heart was pure hatred for the darkness and death that had fallen upon Middle-earth and little encouraged her eyes to look upon the world. But it was her dream that had placed a heavy weight on her heart, and she desired nothing more than to put the servants of the Dark Lord to their deserving death.

     And she would. She would make certain of it.

     Duvaineth soon left the Last Homely House and stood in the stables, preparing her mare. She had bidden farewell to Lord Elrond and the guests of his home, of whom she was very fond. The Elf-lord had looked upon her with a warm smile and a small sparkle in his eyes as he wished her peace. “Go with speed and watch where you tread, for danger lurks so well-concealed that even the greatest traveler could be easily fooled,” he had told her. His eyes then fell on the blood-red jewel lying on the hollow of her throat, and his eyes grew dark. “Be careful. Let your necklace come not to the sight of stranger nor enemy. You know who hunts you, and gladly would they have either your head or the necklace. Keep it hidden.”

     Her hand rose to her necklace and gingerly touched the stone, but found it so unnaturally cold that she immediately retracted her fingertips. She dared not look at the necklace. Quickly, she stuffed it within her tunic and grabbed the reins to her horse, Gilroch, and mounted. “Tolo, melui nín, si nora-lim!” Duvaineth barely gestured for her horse to gallop – her words were enough – and the mare bolted with an eagerness that nearly tossed her unprepared rider from her saddle.

     Her horse bore her swiftly, and soon Duvaineth was nearing the path that would lead her out of the valley. There, walking along the road into Imladris and standing in her way, was an old Man garbed in grey, from his pointed hat sitting on his head to the soft boots he wore. Even his hair and long beard were grey, and in his hand was a staff. He stayed his walk when he saw Duvaineth galloping towards him, and he spoke, but she knew not what he said. Duvaineth abruptly pulled on the reins, shouting in Elvish to her horse, and barely came to a stop in time. The old Man laughed in delight at her, a bright shine of amusement in his eyes.

     Duvaineth’s lips twitched into a smile. “It is unwise to block the road.”

     He raised an eyebrow at her, his smile never leaving his grandfatherly features. “It is unwise to challenge a Wizard.”

     “Only a fool would dare challenge a Wizard, unless he felt sure that he would win.” The simplicity of her words was even more amusing, and his smile grew wider.

     “And such is why, Duvaineth, Wizards have never been challenged!” he retorted.

     Duvaineth laughed and smiled fondly at the Wizard, outstretching her arm towards him, and he firmly yet gently grasped her forearm. “Mithrandir! It is wonderful to see you again, my old friend. But I am afraid you are a bit late to visit. I am departing from Imladris.”

     “Nonsense!” Gandalf said, leaning on his staff. “I knew you would be departing from Imladris. I wanted to come before you took your leave, and it appears I have done so in excellent timing!”

     “No, indeed!” Duvaineth said. “Only Gandalf the Grey has precise timing, whether he is early or late.”

     “A Wizard is never late! Nor is he ever early. He arrives precisely when he means to,” Gandalf rebutted. There was a short pause. His face softened, as did his eyes, and there was a certain look in them that Duvaineth knew all too well. “Only comes he early when he is concerned,” he added in a softer tone.

     Seeing that something lay heavy on his shoulders, Duvaineth dropped all attempts at humor. “I am favored plenty by the Grey Wizard to be thought of. What is it, my friend? Tell me.”

     Gandalf drew closer to her, tenderly rubbing her mare’s nose as he did, and laid a firm hand on her shoulder. “I have a message for you. It has not yet come to pass but will, and when it does I urge you to heed my words and think not of them carelessly.” His voice was deep yet quiet, as if speaking out of fear that he might be heard by others. The frown darkening his features told her his words should not be taken lightly. Upon Duvaineth’s nod, the Wizard continued. “When grows darker the Shadow, when becomes quiet the world and little hangs in the air…return to Imladris, and seek me.”

     Duvaineth frowned. Gandalf was a wise person, wiser than she hoped to be, and he could see things that even her Elven eyes could not. She often held counsel with him and she had quickly learned to trust his words, no matter how the odds might seem. Whenever she received warning from him, she heeded it. Now his words dismayed her, even more so to hear of the Shadow of Mordor. Glancing at his face, Duvaineth saw he was pleased to see that she was deeply concerned. “I little understand, Gandalf,” she said softly. “You speak these words and of the Shadow of Evil, but you mean to say more to me.”

     But Gandalf did not answer her. He merely smiled at her and placed his fingers on the stone of her pendant that had fallen out of her tunic, and unbeknown to her, he casted a spell on it. “You are no riddle-master, but in time will you see the meaning of my words. So take them not lightly, Duvaineth. We will not see each other for some time, but when comes the hour for your return to Imladris…do so with all the haste you can manage.”

     His words chilled her heart, but the gentle squeeze of his hand on her shoulder brought warmth to her body. Duvaineth nodded rigidly and gathered the reins in her hands, her eyes fixed firmly ahead. She was about to chirrup her horse into a gallop when the Wizard spoke again, stopping her. “Keep it hidden.” Gandalf stepped back and smiled at her, offering a slight nod. “Farewell, Duvaineth.”

     “Farewell, my friend,” Duvaineth said softly, and chirruped loudly to her horse. Gilroch burst into a gallop, and soon the shining beauty of the Last Homely House was gone from her sight.

     Duvaineth rode all through the day, with the small exception of a meal and some rest for the sake of her horse. Although she did not have a precise course set in mind and simply rode where the wind blew, Gilroch had a course set in her own. She moved in the general direction commanded by her mistress, taking her far south from the Trollshaws. The scenery around Duvaineth had changed; there were more patches of grass, though not green and in great need of water. Dust followed her trail as her horse headed swiftly over the plains, and in the near distance she saw the shimmering, flowing waters of the Mitheithel River. It was a beautiful sight; it had been long since Duvaineth had traversed the plains of Middle-earth, and she had dearly missed it.

     Night soon showed signs of shadowing the world in its darkness, and Duvaineth quickly sought a safe place to make camp. Amid the grassy plains, she found a spot nearby the river. Its flowing water was gentle and quiet, and a tall tree stood nearby, providing shelter. Gilroch was not so willing, much to the amusement of her rider. Duvaineth had spent several years in Imladris, not once looking towards the valley where the world lay beyond. But Gilroch had; several years without roaming the lands was too long for her, and she was greatly eager to explore the world once more. But finally she complied. Duvaineth dismounted and made a small fire, and as the fire burned she tended to her mare, undoubtedly famished from the long hours of bearing her mistress. Then she returned to her fire and ate her own small meal; a slice of bread and an apple.

     Afterward, Duvaineth leaned into the broad bark of the tree. Her eyes lifted to the sky and marveled at the crystalline stars. It was a sight that had been seen many a time before in Imladris, but in the open plains there was a certain beauty to it that could not be explained. As mesmerized by the night sky as she was, Duvaineth’s attention soon fell away from it and onto the cold pressure of a stone lying on her chest underneath her tunic. Slipping her hand in her shirt, she withdrew her pendant from its hiding spot and held it in her hand. Gazing upon the pendant filled her with a strange mixture of comfort and dread.

     It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, one that a king could not deny his queen. A precious stone lay in the center, blood red and shining brightly as if it were the moon itself, held by many silver wires and formed in the shape of a dragon’s eye. But what gathered her attention was deep within the jewel—a tinge of black that only she could see. It swirled about like a wandering soul and gave her a sudden cold shiver.

     Duvaineth turned her eyes from the looming shadow and stuffed the pendant into her tunic. Relief fell over her. Lying down, she tossed and turned in a hopeless attempt at sleep. A couple of hours before dawn she at last fell into a slumber, but dreams came of taunts and misery and a dark menace veiled by darkness.

     When Duvaineth awoke with a start, she saw that the sun was slowly rising above the horizon and giving life to a new day. Doubtful that she would be able to slip back into slumber, or even sleep peacefully if she did, she rose and tended to Gilroch and herself before preparing the continuance of her journey. In less than five minutes, she was galloping away into the breaking dawn. Gilroch eagerly bore her mistress, and this time Duvaineth was just as impatient to return to her travels. But before long, a deep weariness crept over her and sleep beckoned enticingly.

     Perhaps sensing her need, the horse slowed. Duvaineth laid her head upon Gilroch’s neck and simply watched the scenery pass. A part of her did not want to fall asleep in fear that the dreams would return, but another part of her cried out desperately for sleep. She was unable to resist, and soon her eyes softly closed. For the first time in a very long while, Duvaineth drifted into a dreamless slumber.

By Aelineth

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