Imladris felt cold and lonely. Hardly a day had passed since the setting out of the Walkers, and what choice had life in the House but to go on – yet still, Emerald found the halls disturbingly quiet, the verandas alarmingly vacant, and conversation in the dining hall insufferably dreary. So attuned to little hobbit voices had her ears become that the forced conversation around her as she picked at her plate was even worse than the silence. She waited only long enough to be polite, then quietly departed, turning away from her room and instead shuffling through the light snow for a meander through the gardens. The black limbs glowed against the moon; small drifts of snow occasionally toppled from tired branches, falling to the ground with muted thuds.
He turned at her voice, though his body remained stiff, his hands clasped behind his back as he stood against the balcony. His attention had been focused somewhere out over the water and returned there as he nodded, "Emerald." He said her name as though they were mere acquaintances, as though they hardly knew each other, as though she were some pebble stuck in his boot.
She hesitated, thought to say something, then thought better of it and turned to go. The last thing she needed right now was to stand awkwardly behind her estranged brother. She had nothing to say to him. After only two steps, though, he spoke,
"Why can you not be a princess as Arwen?"
"Why can you not be like Arwen, or any other proper princess that has ever lived?" he repeated, turning once again towards her. The moon created a halo around his dark head. "Why do you have to be so . . . so into everything? All Mother and Father – and I – ever wanted for you was to see you happily married and settled down, safe and content. You should have married Alagedh by now and –"
"Alagedh!" Emerald interrupted, but Gildas seemed not to hear her.
"– be safely on a ship to the Havens. But instead you're putting the sons of King Orwig to shame. You are the confidante of Mithrandir and Lord Elrond and Saruman."
Emerald had nothing to say. Perhaps Gildas was putting things together, figuring out for himself just how intrinsically linked Emerald was to current events. She remained silent, staring at his strong back.
After another long pause, Gildas sighed, "I had a dream of you last night."
"It was not a good dream. A nightmare, more like it. We were standing together on a cliff overlooking the sea, and you were wearing all gold with little white flowers in your hair, like you used to when you were little. There were hundreds of people behind us, watching us against the clear sky. You held out your hand for me to kiss your ring, that ring you always wear around your neck. I bowed low and then . . ."
"Then what?" she pressed when he trailed off, his pale lips tightening at the memory.
"I killed you. I drew my sword and stabbed you, right here," he explained, putting his hand on his own stomach. "Your dress turned crimson; your blood turned the sky red, and the sea, and the ground. And you just looked at me with those eyes . . ."
"Which eyes? These eyes?" Emerald teased, grabbing his arm to make him look into the biggest, roundest eyes she could manage. He gave a small smile, which made her laugh. "It was only a dream, Gildas. You aren't going to kill me! I don't think so, unless--"
He suddenly scowled, "Why not, Emerald? Why are your dreams the only ones that matter?"
Out of surprise, she took a step back and argued with a confused shake of her head, "My dreams don't matter. I–"
"Svea used to write them down."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your dreams," he explained. With his arms crossed, he looked like a pouting child, but Emerald didn't think he would appreciate the comparison. "Remember she would always ask you what you dreamed about?"
"Because my dreams were interesting stories."
"Well she wrote them all down, in this big book. She was descended from kings herself, you know. She had royal blood. But no one knew until she went crazy. She lied to everyone just so she could be your–"
"What are you talking about, Gildas?"
"Svea! Your nurse. Or have you already forgotten about her?" he hissed cruelly. What had been a gentle, ponderous conversation was quickly taking a turn for the vicious.
"You've lost your mind, Gildas. I will never forget Svea; don't you dare accuse me of such a thing," she retorted. "I'm not the one so blinded by glory that I'm willing to disobey my own father simply for the sake of chasing the notion of honor around Arda."
Gildas tore his eyes from the river and now glared at her, demanding cautiously, "What are you talking about, disobeying father?"
"The message you got this morning from the rider."
Emerald rolled her eyes, "Don't even try to play stupid with me, Gildas. It's never worked before. The rider this morning that you intercepted before he reached Beven. I saw you. You told him not to give Beven the full message. Father doesn't just want Beven, Hergest, Tegryn, and me to come home. He wants you home, too, but you aren't going because you know if you go home, Father's going to try and make you go to the Havens, but you would rather die in battle than go home without glory.."
"You think you have me so figured out?"
"You're going to succeed, you know. You're going to get yourself killed."
Gildas gave her a dark look, then turned his eyes away, hardening his jaw as he demanded, "Did your dreams tell you that?"
"No, my common sense did."
"You? Common sense? You've been hiding a secret stash of common sense all these years?"
"Honestly, Gildas, do you hear yourself?" He didn't reply. "I know you, Gildas. Ever since I got hurt, though. That's when things changed, huh? Ever since I got hurt coming here, you've been nothing but cruel to me."
"Poor little Emerald."
"Stop it, Gildas! You're acting like a child."
He snorted, "Of all people to tell me that."
"I'm walking away, Gildas," Emerald retorted, turning to do so. "I don't know what's gotten into you, but I don't like it. You've snapped. You're in no state to go out and fight in any war. Before you start lecturing me on what I should and shouldn't be doing, you need to get your own mind sorted out. Go home and–"
"I'm not going home. And neither are you. Don't act like we're so different, Emerald. You're going to disobey Father, too."
"For a vastly different reason."
"What reason? That you're so important now? Just because you're Saruman's little mistress–"
"Good-bye, Gildas," Emerald interrupted, stomping away as the sting of fresh tears pricked at her eyes.
"Wait, Emerald!" he suddenly called, turning to face her entirely. She stopped and glanced over her shoulder, some small part of her hoping for an apology. Gildas had always been stubborn and headstrong – almost as badly as she. But this cruelty was entirely unlike him. This wasn't her brother.
"What?" she snapped, swiping at her hair as it stuck to her flushed face.
"See you on the other side."
"Other side of what?"
He finally smiled at her, but it was a malicious, vindictive smile as he shrugged and shook his head. Before he'd even turned his back, Emerald had raced off to find Alagedh or Tegryn or Hergest or someone who could comfort her.
Gildas had disappeared before the sun rose.
"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Beven insisted, wrapping his arm around Emerald's shoulder. He had never been good with emotions, though he supposed he was a better comfort than Tegryn or Hergest. The former joked and teased; the latter only sank into depression as well. As for Gildas . . . he could kill Gildas. What had snapped within him that he should be so terrible to their baby, and then go running off as though he had no responsibilities in Imladris to their kingdom, to their family?
"Let's not talk about that anymore," Emerald replied shortly. She had cried. She had fumed. She had vented. He was gone now, probably to his death, and she was so simultaneously furious at him and terrified for him that thinking about Gildas could only lead to utter self destruction. She had to put him from her mind. "What are we going to do about Father?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well I can't go home. If I go home, I'll be on the first ship out of Arda."
"I know, I know. You can't leave; you've got work to do."
"But what can we say to Father that will keep him from coming here to get me himself? We can't very well tell him I'm involved in the war effort. That'll spur him on even more."
"Well . . ." Beven set his hands flat on the library table. He loved Imladris' library, but he had spent too much time in here. Frankly, he was growing restless of meetings and discussions, of reading and researching and trying to figure out symbols and clues, of pouring over books and maps. He didn't want to go home, either, but neither did he want to stay here much longer. The House had taken a sad turn with the departure of the Walkers and the fleeing now of Gildas. They had agreed, he and Emerald, to say they had known already of Gildas' going. He was on an errand for their father, urgent, secret. Tegryn and Hergest were skeptical but said nothing.
"I guess the question is whether you're still going to be here when Father comes looking for you."
"No. I can't stay here any longer. I'll be gone by tomorrow."
Emerald sighed and shook her head, "I don't know." She hadn't slept that night, first upset at Gildas, then overcome with anxiety over what to do now. The Riders were gone; that task of hers was accomplished, but she had no clear instructions on what to do next. All she had was a vague command to "make sure the Walkers succeed," but what did that mean? Follow them? No, she had clearly been told she wasn't supposed to follow. Then what?
With an agreement that they could put off answering Father's letter at least one more day, Emerald took her leave, this time wandering back to her room to see if maybe the book had any instructions or news. It did not. She wished the hobbits were here to amuse her, or Mithrandir to give her cryptic advice, or even Legolas to listen to her incoherent ramblings and make a valid comment or two.
What to do, what to do, what to do. Emerald flopped onto her bed, arms stretched wide. There was the mystery about Ivorwen and Aragorn to sort out – perhaps Gondor would have some records. She could get down there and peruse their libraries. In that way, too, she would be setting up her path to cross with the Walkers' possibly; they were headed that direction, as well. Of course, she would quite literally be marching towards Mordor.
Perhaps she should make contact with Saruman again. Keep up appearances. Of course, if she went back to him, he would be wanting news, and what was safe to tell him? Anything?
Maybe going home was best after all. Gildas had given her some interesting things to ponder about Svea. She had never heard about this royal link, nor about the dream journals Svea kept; perhaps something interesting would be in them. But that really had nothing to do with current events, and could result in her being bound, gagged, and tossed onto a ship headed towards the Havens.
"All right, Eru," she sighed, staring up at the ceiling as though this were the location of the estranged One. "If you're so insistent that I be wrapped up in all this nonsense, what am I supposed to do? I'm no good to anyone just sitting here, but I'm not any good if I just go wandering around Middle Earth and get myself killed, either."
She waited. She strained her ears, listening for any voice that might be whispering to her what the next step was. Nothing came. Only the rustle of the curtains, footsteps outside, gentle voices floating on the breeze, horses snorting and stamping some distance away.
Emerald sighed again, rolled onto her stomach, and began flipping through the pages of her book, looking for anything she might have missed. It was raining on the Riders and they were all getting on each other's nerves. It was raining at home and her mother missed her. It was sunny and bright here; the air was crisp and pleasant to breathe – not that the book told her that; it was her own observation. Pippin was hungry – the book did tell her that. The last page marked was the page on which she had written the poem when she had remembered it, large and loopy in her hurried scrawl. She never had been a good scribe, but at least she could read and write; Beven contended this in itself was miraculous for how little she cared for studies growing up.
"You may know of coming doom, but be brave little one, blah blah blah," she read, rolling her eyes and trailing off. When she reached the final paragraph, though, she saw the change. One row had been underlined, and two letters turned bright red: Yet one more GOes, not glory seeking."
"Just go? Fine, but you could have put it in a less cryptic color than red," Emerald muttered, pushing herself up. At least it was an instruction, though. Finally. In only a few minutes, she had her bag packed and was just pulling it up when Tegryn and Hergest came barging through her door.
"Hey, Emmy, we're going down to the –where are you going?" Hergest demanded, stopping short, his smile instantly disappearing.
"Yeah, right," Tegryn snorted.
"You don't believe me?"
"We know you."
"Fine. To be honest, I don't know where I'm going. I'm just going to go wander around the wilds of Middle Earth during a war until I figure out where it is I'm supposed to be."
There was a moment of comical silence; the curtains and horses and voices and footsteps continued. Pause.
"All right, let me go get my sword," Tegryn nodded. "I'll meet you in the stables. Hergest, go find Beven and tell him we're leaving; we'll wait for you."
Emerald laughed, "No, no, you two can't come with me."
"Why not?" Hergest asked. He looked hurt.
"Well . . . because the poem says only one more goes," she offered with a casual shrug.
"We heard the poem. It doesn't say only."
"It . . . okay, valid point. But still."
"You can't just invite yourself along on someone else's quest of fate."
Tegryn rolled his eyes, "Don't be so dramatic, Emerald. You don't even know where you're going. Maybe your fate is on hold for a while and its one of our turns. Go pick out a horse and we'll be right there."
"But . . ." But Emerald realized she didn't have a good reason to say no. At least not for now. She was only going to wander around; and though he was joking, Tegryn made a good point. Sure, she would probably be on her own eventually, but hadn't she learned to utilize the help of friends when possible? Besides, wandering around by herself would get lonely, so why not have some company, at least until she knew where she was going? "Fine. But don't keep me waiting." They were gone before she'd picked up her bag.
Lord Elrond intercepted her on the way to the stables, seeming to spring from nowhere. He saw her bag, saw her direction, and nodded.
"I heard a rumor you are leaving, Princess?"
His face was serious, though not upset, as he admitted, "I knew you would not stay long, nor am I foolish enough to assume you are returning to your home."
"Well, Lady Emerald, I will not ask questions, for you answer to those much higher than I."
"I would have no answers to give anyways, Lord Elrond. But don't worry about me. I'll have Hergest and Tegryn to keep me safe." She laughed as she said it, and even Elrond smiled at the likelihood of either of those boys protecting her.
"Nonetheless, I pray our paths should cross again. Be careful--"
"When am I ever not careful, eh?" she continued to joke. The gravity of their farewell made her anxious. Her jokes were out of place, though, so she added, "With any luck, Lord Elrond, you'll only get a few weeks rest from me before I'm back in your hair, pestering you with more questions at all hours of the day."
He smiled and assured her, "I welcome the day. May the Valar keep you, little one."
"Thank you, and may Eru bless you, Lord Elrond. Now don't tell anyone else I'm going until I'm gone; I don't think I could bear another good-bye," she insisted after pressing her hand to her heart in farewell. Her mind had already leapt to Arwen and Glorfindel and Alagedh.
Elrond promised and watched her back for some time before disappearing once again; she felt his eyes on her long after she'd finally left Imladris. But for now, she crept through the eery House, her bag tucked against her stomach lest anyone notice and suspect. A clean getaway –that's what she wanted. As she neared the stables, she could hear Hergest and Tegryn inside.
"All right, are we ready to – what? You can't all come with me," she laughed, four pairs of eyes turning to her: Tegryn, Hergest, Beven, and Alagedh, each holding the reigns of a horse, bags, swords, bows and arrows ready, bodies tingling with anticipation to be off.
"And why not?"
"Why, it's only supposed to be me going!"
"Nonsense," Alagedh insisted, handing her Occamy's reigns. "The only way I would not be going with you is if the Valar themselves appeared right in front of me and said, 'Alagedh, do not go!'" He motioned with his hands beside him, looked, waited, then shrugged, "And they didn't."
"You're lying. Not even the Valar could keep you from going," Tegryn laughed. He gave Hergest a playful, unnecessary shove, then mounted his own horse. "Ready, Emerald?"
Beven shrugged, "I'm just needing a break from libraries. You know, fresh air. That, and I don't want to be the one to answer to Father when he comes looking for us . . ."
"What about Father?"
"I sent a message saying simply that for reasons I can't explain, we are unable to either return or stay in Imladris, that we're safe, and that'll I'll send another message when I can."
He looked down at her from his own horse and bit his lip, then shrugged as casually as he could manage, "I told you, Emmy, I don't mind being your dumb monkey. I'm a damn loyal dumb monkey, though." The emphatic words sounded so silly coming from his timid lips Emerald couldn't help but laugh despite the seriousness of his pledge.
"Well, fine, if you men are going to be so stubborn about it. But only because I don't know yet what I'm supposed to be doing. As soon as I find out that I've got to go somewhere on my own, you all have to step off."
"Sure we will. Of course," Alagedh nodded, though he didn't even try to hide that he was lying. He smiled at her narrowed eyes. "Well come along, Lady. Seems you're the one holding us up."
She mounted under their watchful eyes, then led the way to the gate of the House, too amused by her little parade to feel much anxiety about her lack of direction. Suspicious eyes watched them from windows and doorways, but no one had any reason to impede them. For all anyone knew, they were headed back to Arathilien.
It was when they reached the gate that Emerald realized the time had come for decision number one already, the same first step Frodo and his companions had faced two days before. She tried to follow her gut, but her gut seemed oddly silent. So, thinking on what Tegryn had said earlier about it being someone else's turn, she cast a glance over her shoulder and asked,
"So, Hergest, left or right?"
"Left or right?"
"I . . . this is your expedition, Emerald. I'm just following."
"Come on. Feel your gut. What's it telling you?" He looked hesitant. "Come on, we're waiting on you."
"But . . . but what if I'm wrong?"
"Well, technically you can't be wrong. Either fate is unavoidable and you can only pick the right way, or else fate is unimportant and it doesn't matter where we go anyways," she quipped.
"Then . . . south. Left."
"Left it is," Emerald nodded. And so they left Imladris.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of book one. Please review and let me know what you thought! Then traipsy on over to Emerald Book II: Ivorwen (link in my author's profile) where the adventure continues!