His eyes darted upwards in surprise, for a short moment betraying his insecurities behind the walls. His eyebrows furrowed, he glanced around the room, and for a moment wondered if this was the right place—if any place was the right place.
"Forgive me." His voice was hushed. "I did not intend to remind you of such pain."
His skin crawled, rejecting being laid bare in more ways than clothing. He wished for the comfort of bile between them, so he may sit alone on his pedestal once more. Loneliness did not scare him. He was used to the distance and it suited him. But this, with all his steadfastness, threatened to make him crumble.
She smiled somewhat bitterly and turned to face him more fully, wiping the tips of her fingers together, scattering the condensed moisture upon them in a fine mist which fell and beaded on the silk of her pantaloons.
"All things remind me of such pain," she told him with perfect honesty. "I was taught that to love another person is to be weak, because it opens you to that pain. To love another is to invite injury."
She shook her head a little, but did not drop his eyes. “And it’s true, as far as it goes. You and I both know that. But I would rather have the memories of my siblings warm within me than to have been cold and empty all my life.”
Giveaway prize, icon set for irmolorien.
So here you go, Gandalf! Use in good health!
Guilty conscience, the First Wife would have said, because he jumped at the sound of a tap on the window - and she would have pinched him, too. Funny how nobody who said that ever seemed to consider that living with the sort of person who says that is enough to give anyone a guilty conscience, because more often than not, the sort of person who says that thinks the mere act of existing is a sin in need of reparation.
The train of thought did not stop him from limping hastily over to the window and, with a furtive, instinctive glance about, sliding the pane aside to let her in.
Her hands were smaller than his and not as strong, but when she squeezed as hard as she could it was almost uncomfortable, but sort of a welcome near-discomfort, the sort that tells you, inarguably, that you’re alive. The irony of it would have burned him if he’d spared thought for himself.
He leaned down to kiss her head as she spoke urgently to his shadow sitting next to him. Everything from the angle of her head to the strain underlying the excitement in her voice told him she only sort of hoped it was a sister. He wondered if it was because she’d known a brother, loved him and lost him; did she wish for another, or fear to lose one if he came to be?
For himself, he thought of what a girl-child would face in this time and in this place, and envisioned the ward-sign against evil so vividly he nearly did sign it in actuality. A terrible feeling came upon him, that he was not imagining but Seeing - only that term was a terrible misnomer, but to say you Saw something garners far better reactions than to say you felt it. Feeling it remained though, a premonition of worse things to come, and he wrapped tightly around the girl in his arms.
"I’ll be her big brother too, I promise. And you’ll be the best sister a child could ask for, as you are for me."
She shook her head a little bit but she didn’t let go of Ziya’s hands. He was just a eunuch, and a crippled one too. He wasn’t really her brother, no matter how much they said he was. No matter how much she wished he was.
"I’m not supposed to love you," she whispered very seriously, in almost the same way she would have taught him some fact of which she was proud of knowing. "I’m not supposed to love anyone. Atto says."
She looked at him in the moonlight for a little while, and then leaned her head on his shoulder. “It’s hard not to, though,” she added finally, her voice a little plaintive. “But it hurts, too. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Atto says it only hurts because you let it.”
"—Adorable? I have not been referred to as adorable since I was an elfling."
"Yes. We can but hope." Wherever Sauron was now, he was a weak little spirit whom had not the strength to corrupt anyone or anything. Perhaps he had been called to the West to face his crimes properly, and Thranduil secretly hoped the poor wretched thing would be thrown into the Void with his cruel master. It would be fitting, at least.
"I have had sugar before, of course, though not the sort you speak of, I do not believe. I have never traveled that far south." Most of his sugar came from Dorwinion, though he was certain they obtained it from elsewhere, perhaps Rhún. "I enjoy sweets greatly, especially baked sweets. I do a good bit of baking."
"Mmm, then perhaps you have tasted Haradrim sugar-cane, indeed! The plant is widely grown in the further south regions," Berúthiel explained. "And it has long been an important trade-good in Harad and the east. I believe the plant is native to the regions beyond Rhún originally, in fact? But wherever it is grown and raised, it is processed into several varieties, some almost pure white and fine-grained and merely sweet. Others are brown, and larger in crystal, and with a natural flavor almost of caramel or spice. But the real innovation of the Haradrim sugar-sellers in particular was to infuse their wares with other flavors, also! Orange-blossom sugar, vanilla sugar, lime sugar, mint, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger!"
He brought his staff up in time to deflect some of the wet snow, but the rest ended up seeping down the neckline of his clothing. The wizard gave her a look as sorrowful as an old hound, but humor danced in his eyes. “What have I done to earn such treatment, my lady?”
Gandalf studied the woman from beneath the brim of his pointed hat. At her sharp words of warning, his lined face became solemn and his back bent a fraction more under the weight of sorrow. Her defensive stance further plumbed the great wells of compassion within him, grieving him anew at what evil Sauron had wrought.
And he grieved, too, that she was not entirely wrong in her fears. Had he been Gandalf the Grey when those tales of her were still in the making, he might have brought about a situation that would have ended in her death. Not directly, no, but through careful suggestion that would have ultimately set others against her. But it was not another time and place, and he threaded his fingers together around his staff as he gazed at her.
"Berúthiel," he said, deep voice speaking her name for the first time. "I do not take you for anything, save perhaps a person afraid of wizards and too long haunted by the dark. I do not come to kill you. I am about other errands of late and did not think to encounter you, but it is not ill that we have met."
"I am not afraid of you, Incanus," she answered in low tones, bare of any emotion at all. Bare of pride, or of pain. Bare most of all of fear and challenge. She spoke the truth as she saw it; for fear required some degree of self-preservation, and she had set that aside in large part long ago. Her life had been perhaps too long already; what fear could be left in her, with that realization in her bones?
"But I do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, just as those who are wise do not step between a hedgewitch and her way," she snapped, voice holding her old accustomed tartness as she rested fists upon cocked hips and gazed at the old man whom she had long suspected was no Man at all.
IT’S BEEN A REALLY GOOD MAIL DAY FOR ME, GUYS.
LOOK. LOOK WHAT lonelymountainson SENT ME!
*SQUEAK* He sent me the original! The original of THIS!!
Aaaaaand he gave me this, toooo!
And then, completely unrelated to the other package, I also received the Fëanorian star necklace I ordered last week! (Ok, yeah, it’s a “compass rose” necklace but shut up it has 8 points.)
For a moment, Fingon was taken aback, but then he relaxed, even managing an amused snort of laughter. The Ñoldor made fine warriors, but they loved letters and words foremost. And crafts—but words were but another form of craft. “We too value boldness. But not to the extent of foolhardiness.” Not that he would ever extend that trait to his late father, or even to Fëanor in his fey anger, and they were the boldest of the Ñoldor.
He couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as Berath admitted her people had fought elves; she phrased it in a way that made it seem as if they did not do so any longer, but with that precedent set, was it not possible that they could, and would, do it again? To make no distinction between the hideous servants of the Enemy and the descendants of Cuiviénen surely made these people unrefined, perhaps even vicious.
"You shall have to tell me more of these battles," Fingon replied with an easy smile, imagining these dark foreigners with crude weapons in hand, slashing and hacking their way through a village in Dor-lómin. Would they understand the different rules of different environs? He could instruct Berath before she returned, he reasoned, but she would need to pass those teachings on to every last man she brought to these lands.
If, in the end, he agreed to allow it. Perhaps it was something to indefinitely postpone until the War was in more stable condition, and if this woman was older and frailer…
Fingon’s teeth sunk into his lip, displeased by his own thoughts. “But I think I understand your plight now,” he continued. “I can make no decisions without close counsel of my lords. You will be privy to those discussions—” Some of them, at least— “in due time. Now, may we speak of your immediate situation? You have travelled far, alone save for your cats, and you are not among friends yet. But you need food, lodging, and better clothing if you do not wish to freeze. May we speak of matters domestic?”
There was only so much he would learn from her now, but some arrangement must be made so she would be safe and well when he next sought her out. He considered it might have been easier to hold her as a form of prisoner—but again, where? They kept no dungeons, but she should not have been held with the likes of orc-scum anyway.
“The line between bravery and foolhardiness is not wide,” Berath responded mildly enough, “and changes with your, ai, what is the word? With…with the view from where you stand.”
She shook her head, feeling her tongue clumsy in her mouth. Her flesh nearly quivered with exhaustion and a fog of dull stupidity was sinking over her mind. She was losing words, losing track of the situation. She had dared to speak to him as she might have spoken to her cousins, to Borlad who was her own age or Borlach only a few years younger. Borthand the youngest had not yet joined in their training and she knew him less than the others, but he promised to be as strong and fey as any of his kin.
A pang of hurt stabbed through her as their faces rose in her mind, and the face of her sister also, Berach, who was nigh Borthand’s age but already taken in hand by the elders of their clan – to ensure Berath’s compliance to their will.
She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes a moment and spoke through numbed lips. “I will tell you, yes. Tell you all you need. Help you understand us.”
Her teeth gritted and she looked at him again, letting her hands fall open upon the table between them, fingers curled like a dying spider’s limbs. He was kind, for all his strangeness – though she felt the calculation in him, and the conflict. He would use her if he needed, would imprison her, would perhaps even kill her if it came to that. He was kind, but they were not friends and could not be friends; in that, his words were true and more than true.
White-fiend, thief of glory and light, usurper of the lands that should have been their own!
He was kind, and beautiful in his strangeness, but she would not hesitate to slit his throat if it would gain her what she needed.
Berath nodded slowly, not even certain if it was a gesture the white-fiend king would understand. “Right now, all I want out of life is a soft place in which to sleep,” she admitted, and it was the first perfectly honest thing she’d said since she had arrived.