Disclaimer: Any recognisable characters are J.R.R.Tolkein's, not mine
A/N: Thank you so much to all those who are still reading this and to those who reviewed, and my apologies for this taking so long. I rarely have time to write anymore, but I do mean to finish this. Just… I don't know when. Thanks for your patience, and I hope I didn't disappoint!
11. Silent partings
It had become a fight for survival.
Winter had set, and times were hard. It was next to impossible for the men to go hunting. The stores they had set by had to last through out winter; belts where tightened and tempers short, for what they had would be just enough, and permitted no excesses.
The men had sworn loyalty to the leader of the clan. Esguon gloried in his newfound power, but inspired no goodwill from the men with his actions. He was not only cruel and merciless, but a coward and a fool. Tactics and plans had no meaning; he rushed headlong where he should have been wary, and kept back when he could have won. There was no longer anyone to curb his excesses.
Esguon promised better times ahead, when winter was past. The Romen clan was going through hard times, but although they were following Esguon's orders for the time, the air of discontent was palpable.
Eleanor and Legolas had squirreled away as much as possible, foreseeing that the future, for them at least, bode no good, and it was just as well they did so. Esguon had not forgotten the elfing and the humiliation he had come about because of the child. He brooded on his wrongs and enlarged them, and sought to avenge himself when possible on those who had wronged him and could not fight back. Now, with no Agaskill to hide behind, Legolas was fair game.
Times of relative peace in their little household came only when Esguon was absent. Though they met no kindness from the others – who expected it? – no one bothered them, unless they thought they could gain Esguon's favour by doing so. Only Esguon delighted in tormenting Legolas whenever he felt like it, while Nelly fervently prayed that Esguon would not tire of the elfling and kill him.
They had been relegated to a small shack which was barely large enough for one person, let alone three. Dark, cramped and droughty, it provided little or no shelter from the winter cold.
Sybil suffered the most. Never a strong child, the hardships she had to endure and the lack of proper food took their toll. She developed a cough which never seemed to get better, notwithstanding the herbs and mixtures Nellie tried to make her drink. Their mother had suffered from a weak chest and Nellie had seen her wasting away slowly… she was worried. They had no medicine, and neither she nor Legolas knew what to do.
They kept the Sybil away from the others, and many had forgotten of her existence. Legolas, who was more adept at climbing would carry her to the stable loft where it was warmer and she would spent most of the day crooning to herself and playing with sticks near the hay.
But Sybil needed food.
At first, Legolas took apples from the horses' feeding trough – the horses didn't seem to mind, and those apples helped somewhat to assuage the gnawing hunger pains they all felt. But even this little store dried up. Somehow, the head groom got to know of this and Legolas got a harsh beating. From then on, one of the stable lads would stand by grimly while the horses fed, and Legolas and Nellie could do nothing but save their scant stores for Sybil.
They tried to think of ways to keep her warm, to scrounge, or beg or steal food, anything, anything, so that Sybil would lose that wasted look, and smile and laugh instead of lying there, huddled in a ball, growing paler and weaker by the day.
It was useless anyway.
They awoke one day to find her cold and stiff in the early dawn.
No one mourned her except two forlorn creatures, a skinny, gawky girl and a dirty urchin. They buried her under the trees before anyone else was awake, both numbed by shock, acting mechanically.
They went about their chores, keeping their grief locked inside, because no-one cared, and no one wanted to know. But that night, when they lay side by side the palpable absence of that little figure was almost more than they could bear. Nellie curled up into a ball, not moving, not crying, simply staring into nothingness.
Legolas went to her, but she pushed him away when he tried to touch her. "You can't understand," she spat as she glared at him, face pale and drawn, "she's not your sister, she wasn't yours and I failed her and me mam and she now she died!" Her voice rose to a shriek and she bent over double, making a keeing sound which terrified Legolas and chilled him to the bone.
He retreated to his corner watching her as she rocking back and forth, unable to do anything but wish that the terrible dull ache inside would go away, wondering desperately why he couldn't have died instead of little Sybil.
During the day, they could almost forget. They could almost believe that they would find that small figure waiting for them to come back, and reward them with her smiles. Something seemed to have broken, and Nellie and Legolas kept their distance from each other. They couldn't speak about it, both of them locked in their own misery.
But one night as Legolas lay on the hard floor, pretending to sleep, he heard some stifled sobs. He crept to Nellie as she cried, sobs racking her body and put his thin arms round her. "I'm so sorry Nellie" he whispered brokenly. "I know she wasn't mine, but I cared, I did and I…" he choked back his tears. "I loved her too, Nell."
She turned to face him, white-faced with grief, "It hurts. It hurts and it never stops." she told him shivering, "I didn't do nothing to make her well, and I promised, I promised I'd take care of her." Her eyes bore into Legolas' as she swallowed.
"I think of her out there," she confessed, voice trembling. "Out there alone in the cold and in the dark, and I can't sleep. It just seems so empty and I can't…" her voice broke. Legolas buried his face on her shoulder as she hugged him fiercely, both of them weeping their hearts out, grieving for a child who had left life before she knew what life was.
The dark, cramped place which was too small for three people, was far too large for two.