A/N: So maybe this is a sequel... I dont know. Here is another installment. Enjoy!
She was so tired. Her muscles ached and she could barely keep a grip on the sword in her hand. She'd dropped her knives during the blast, and now regretted she'd chosen to fight with those first. The sword was so much heavier, and the mix of rain and blood made the hilt slippery.
She had long since lost sight of him and the rest of her companions. They'd been separated when the wall blew apart. She'd tried to stop it – she'd even tried to contain the blast to the best of her abilities. But when she felt the immense power well within her, so much so that she thought she might explode, she knew she had to release her hold or risk incinerating herself.
She brought up her sword just in time to fend off another attack. The sky was black and the thick sheets of rain made it nearly impossible to visualize her attacker. She parried its blows, barely keeping up with the enormous creature before her. At last, she saw an opening and snaked her sword around his, stabbing through a weak point in its heavy armor. The Uruk-hai fell to its knees with a groan. She swiftly withdrew her sword and beheaded it.
There was no time to pause to catch her breath. She'd hardly had a moment since the battle began! Chaos had erupted around her. They were no longer trying to defend the keep, now they were merely fighting to stay alive.
"Am marad!" She paused upon hearing the command to pull back to the keep. She looked up to see one of her companions waving them back. The men and elves began to retreat to the helm, the archers covering them as they ran.
It was then that she saw him. His silver hair was slick against his face, and his silver armor was black with filth and blood. He shouted for a retreat, waving the rest of his warriors towards the helm. He did not retreat however. He turned and was confronted with yet another adversary. He was so tired, she could see it in his movements. She could almost feel fatigue radiating from him. She cried out when he dropped his sword and clutched his arm, grimacing in pain. Bright red blood slipped from between his fingers. She was so far away. She couldn't reach him in time to help. How was he to defend himself?
She was running now, trying to get to him in time. He glanced up towards the helm, seeing the others retreat and staggered forward. She saw the attacker behind him and tried to call out, but no sound came. He would not turn around. He was too tired, he didn't know the danger he was in! A scream ripped from her throat when the ax embedded itself in his back. Slowly, almost as though he was sinking through water, he fell to his knees.
She reached him and pulled him into her arms, pleading with him, begging him to let her help. Thunder drowned out the sounds of war and she watched the light fade from his eyes.
Vanwa awoke sobbing this time. She shivered uncontrollably and was bathed in sweat. After all of this, he was no longer alive! She could almost feel the crushing blow that had taken his life. Her chest felt constricted and she struggled to breathe. They had taken him from her! All this time spent dreaming of the ellon she knew in her heart was meant for her – and now to find he had been killed, and while she stood watch no less!
She continued crying as the Lady Galadriel pulled Vanwa into her embrace. Galadriel smoothed the young elleth's hair, holding her while she cried.
"He is gone," she managed through her tears. "I watched him die!"
"Be at peace, Vanwa," the lady crooned. "He-"
"How will I find him when he has been killed?" she cried. Galadriel waited until at last her tears subsided.
"He has not been killed. I know what you dreamed of. He survived."
Vanwa was silent for a time. She felt numb now. She knew her heart should be singing to hear such news, and yet she could barely process the words that had just been spoken to her. Moments ago she had been grieving for him as though they were lovers. The pain she felt still lingered, and the news that he had survived seemed so incompatible with what she had witnessed. No one could survive an attack like that. She was so confused now, and above all else, so exhausted.
"I cannot keep having dreams like this," she said at last. "It has been months now and they only grow worse!"
Galadriel sighed sadly, looking down at the young elleth. Dark circles had formed under eyes from so many nights of interrupted sleep. She has lost weight over the last few weeks, and her shoulders slumped with fatigue. It had been Galadriel's hope that by allowing Vanwa to move in to the spare room in her talan, she would be better able to assist the elleth and guide her through what would be undoubtedly a rocky transition. She was somewhat dismayed to find that over the past months, Vanwa's dreams had not subsided, but had rather increased in their frequency and intensity. This made Galadriel uneasy.
"They will be easier to manage with time," Galadriel said. "Do they still trouble you during the day?"
"Less frequently than before. Now it is only if I daydream for too long. The visions will sneak up on me." Vanwa looked down at her lap, idly plucking at the material of her nightgown. She was so weary and, to be frank, was growing a little tired of all her dreams of this stupid ellon and his stupid life with that stupid, infuriating woman. Vanwa had not asked for this. She did not wish to be 'reborn', or whatever this nonsense was about another returning from Mandos.
"Have you learned his name yet?" Galadriel asked. Vanwa shook her head.
"No. And I don't suppose you'll tell it to me either," she replied dejectedly. Galadriel gave her a knowing smile.
"No," the lady admitted. Vanwa pouted.
"I feel that I am so close. I am almost certain I have heard it in these dreams, and yet, I forget when I awaken. All the details seem to slip away. I have started to try to draw him," she said with a slight blush. "I had hoped it would organize my thoughts, but I can never remember his face well enough to make a sketch."
"You are too impatient," Galadriel said. "This will become clearer to you in time."
"Yes, I know eventually it will be easier," Vanwa said with a sigh, "but I cannot wait that long. I am tired now and I want answers now. And surely you tire of me waking you so many nights in a row. You certainly cannot continue like this forever."
"No, but I have confidence in you, Vanwa. This is something you are perfectly capable of handling, even without my help."
Vanwa eyed Galadriel suspiciously.
"You say that as though you plan to leave." Vanwa felt her stomach roll when the lady paused and looked away.
"Yes, child. My time here grows short. I have lingered to help you as best I can, but the sea calls to me more strongly every day. There are others who feel its call more strongly than I and would leave but for me."
"Well, I would not keep you," Vanwa said quietly, her eyes downcast. "Not if this call you feel is so strong."
"I do not ask you to understand, Vanwa. A time will come when you too will leave this wood, and it may be sooner than you think," Galadriel replied, placing her hand over Vanwa's.
"How many others will go with you?" she asked.
"At least half of those who are here now," Galadriel replied.
"Half!" Vanwa exclaimed. "How will we protect ourselves?"
"The wardens that stay will be enough. You underestimate how the war affected our kind. There are many wardens who were crippled by it, physically and otherwise. Traveling to Valinor will be their only hope for some measure of peace."
Vanwa looked away, feeling selfish for thinking only of herself. She had heard of what had become of the warriors who had fought during the War of the Ring. She very rarely saw any of those who had returned however. It was well known that they kept to themselves in the outer reaches of the northern part of the city. Vanwa had been there only twice, once to deliver a message, and once to bring a tunic her mother had made for the others. Each time she had gone, she had felt overwhelming sadness that lingered for the following month. The pain that cloaked the talans seemed to be contagious. She couldn't imagine how anyone who lived there managed to heal, not when the air itself burdened anyone who inhaled with an aching sense of sorrow and anguish.
"Do not look so morose," Galadriel chided lightly. "You have managed thus far on your own, and I am confident that this change you are undergoing is a surmountable challenge."
"I hope so. Though I always dreamed of being something more when I was little, I admit I am starting to miss being ordinary," Vanwa said with a rueful smile. Galadriel smoothed Vanwa's hair.
"You were never ordinary, child."
Vanwa did not go to the gate the day Galadriel left. When she awoke, she could feel the sadness that hung thick in the air, and though she felt an almost irresistible urge to run to watch Galadriel, the wardens and their families leave, she did herself a favor and remained in her bed. Her mother had scolded her, telling her it was rude not to see off the elleth that had ruled and guided their people for so long, and though a part of Vanwa screamed at her to go, she dare not put herself through the anguish that would result from being so near to those who had been affected by the war.
This was another thing her parents could not understand. While the pain felt by the wardens and their families was tangible to all who lived in the Golden Wood, none were affected by it as acutely as Vanwa. The two times Vanwa had visited the northern reaches of the city, she returned morose and stayed that way for weeks after. Her parents had attributed this to Vanwa's slightly over-developed sense of the dramatic. Perhaps it was her way of attempting to understand that which she had not been alive to see.
Her father, Taurnil, was glad that his daughter did not wish to travel anywhere near the wounded soldiers. Often, she wished to accompany him when he went about his business through Lorien, but her reluctance to venture anywhere near the northern limits made it easier to visit his friends who had been so badly affected by the War. Chief among them was Lorien's March Warden, Haldir. Taurnil often kept his friend company, though Haldir had long since stopped speaking. To fill the silence, Taurnil told Haldir of his daughter, Vanwa, and how she was growing up much too fast. He talked about the changes taking place in the Golden Wood, and updated him on the progress that Orophin made as the new leader of the wardens (though he was sure Orophin did this himself).
He was sad to see Rumil and Orophin leave with the other wardens, but understood their need to accompany their brother. The two looked somewhat regretful, as they were not completely ready to leave Lothlorien. Their loyalty to Haldir was unwavering however, and both brothers could sense Haldir's need for a place that would alleviate some of the strain on his mind. Galadriel had explained the inner battle he fought each day – his grief, even 60 years later, ran strong and he was still at risk of fading and passing on to the Halls of Mandos.
"You will take care of him?" Taurnil asked. "And see that he improves?"
Rumil and Orophin smiled.
"Of course," Orophin replied. "We would see our brother whole again."
"Or at least functioning beyond the basics," Rumil added with a sigh. The two glanced back at Haldir, who stood by his horse, staring absently at malorn trees.
"He needs this," Taurnil remarked. "It is well you are going with him."
A signal from the front indicated that the procession was ready to leave. Those who were to remain behind had said their goodbyes, and those who would journey to the Gray Havens mounted their horses.
"Travel safely, wardens," said Taurnil. "May Valinor bring you some measure of peace."
As the weeks passed, Vanwa found that her dreams lessened in their severity and frequency. She found it almost strange, for as soon as the company of elves bound for Valinor left, her dreams ceased plaguing her almost immediately. Vanwa mulled over the idea of a possible correlation between the two - that her dreams were somehow linked to those who had left, but she could do no more than speculate. Who among them had the power to affect her dreams? None, she was sure, particularly since it was her understanding that these dreams were born of some higher influence – the will of the Valar, Galadriel had said.
It was a relief, really. At last should could sleep for more than a few hours at a time, and she no longer worried her parents by waking them with her cries in the middle of the night. It was also a comfort to be back in her home. While living with Galadriel had helped, for a time, she had always felt as though she was inconveniencing the lady, or somehow imposing. It also raised numerous questions from her friends, none of which Vanwa was inclined to answer. The departure of Galadriel and the wardens provided enough of a distraction that soon the questions Vanwa had once been besieged with were forgotten.
For the next month, Vanwa was able to pretend that nothing had happened. There were some days that she had convinced herself that she had made the whole thing up. This comforted her, because it removed much of the confusion she had felt over who she truly was. This 'warrior reborn' nonsense must have been some sort of joke, or perhaps a lie that had been told to comfort her and explain away her strange dreams. Whatever the explanation, she was glad to be rid of the visions.
"Vanwa," Gailrin called.
"Yes, mother?" Vanwa entered the kitchen where her mother was putting the finishing touches on a cake she had just made. She eyed it hungrily. It was a rarity that her mother ever made desserts, but when she did, they were always delicious.
"I was hoping you might deliver the basket on the table to Thelithil. Both of her brothers left with the Lady Galadriel for Valinor, and she has been having a hard time adjusting."
Vanwa walked to the table and lifted the cloth covering the basket's contents. The smell of freshly made muffins wafted out, and she could see that her mother had packed plenty of other treats for her friend.
"How come you never prepare anything like this for me?" she asked sullenly.
"It's unbecoming to pout," her mother chided, ignoring the question. "You know where Thelithil's talan is, yes?"
Vanwa nodded and picked up the basket. She was surprised by its weight.
"Really, naneth, you have packed it as though the poor elleth never eats!"
"Think of it as a way of building muscle," her mother said with a twinkle in her eye. "I can think of no better way to strengthen your arms for archery."
Vanwa made a face, as though to say 'very funny', and turned to leave. Her father had begun to teach her the basics of how to use a bow and arrow, but it was something she had neither the strength nor natural ability for. Though she practiced regularly, she had made little improvement over the past year.
Vanwa pulled one of the ribbons from the basket and used it to tie her unruly hair back. Since her coming of age over 100 years ago, her hair, which has once been pin-straight, had grown curly. It now formed loose ringlets that seemed to have a keen taste for rebellion. The summer humidity worsened the problem. At first, she had mourned the change and wished fervently her hair would return to being straight like that of the other ellith in Lorien. Now, she merely puzzled over it. No one she knew of had experienced such a change. She sighed and picked up the basket again.
"I won't be long," Vanwa called as she left. "And be sure ada does not eat all of the cake you made!"
The sound of her mother's laughter faded as Vanwa briskly walked down the steps. She felt bliss and contentment as the sounds of the forest filled her ears. The warm sunlight filtered through the leaves above, making the trees glow. The gentle hum of the forest filled her veins, and Vanwa could not help but feel alive with energy. She had always felt particularly attuned and connected to nature. It was as though each time she connected with the trees, it was for the first time.
Vanwa reached Thelithil's talan a half hour later. Though Caras Galadhon was not a large city in terms of its diameter, the trees were enormously tall, providing the city with an almost immeasurably level of complexity. Nature was always incorporated into the homes the elves made for themselves, as though they had grown from the trees. The result was a variety of flets and talans, some settled comfortably on the forest floor, and others nestled high in the canopy of the malorn trees.
Thelithil's talan was small and homely, and relatively low to the ground. The branches of the malorn tree had grown to support and accommodate her dwelling in such a way that over the years, the talan and tree had become almost indistinguishable. A discrete set of stairs spiraled down the massive trunk towards the forest floor.
Vanwa was disappointed to find that Thelithil was not home. It was likely that she had not returned from her duties in the kitchens. Vanwa opened the door to the elleth's talan – few in Lorien ever left their doors locked – and found parchment and ink to leave a brief note indicating who the basket was from. Vanwa left the note and the basket on the main table in Thelithil's talan and left, closing the door behind her.
She had meant to return immediately. Her mother would be expecting her for supper soon, and the trees glowed with the orange light of late afternoon. Something halted her progress however, and delayed her from returning to the higher reaches of Caras Galadhon.
She peered into the depths of the forest. Thelithil's talan lay on the edges of Caras Galadhon, and beyond her friend's home the number of other talans began to gradually taper off. The trees in the northern part of the forest were much less densely populated.
The forest here seemed darker, as though the light did not penetrate through the leaves as fully as it did in other parts of the main city. Vanwa headed north. Something compelled her to explore. Where was the harm? Surely she would not be punished for being late to supper.
The glowing city faded behind her. The talans here were fewer, yes, but they were also much higher in the trees. Winding staircases crawled up the trunks like vines, leading towards homes with darkened windows. The trees here were quiet and somber. Vanwa rested the palm of her hand against the trunk of one of the malorn trees. It responded to her with what one might have called surprise. At once she felt connected to this part of the forest. The trees were peaceful here, and yet filled with a kind of lonely sorrow Vanwa could not understand.
It was then that she realized she could no longer sense the presence of other elves around her. Vanwa turned and was astonished to see how far she had wandered from the main city. Its soft glow was visible to her only in the distance now. She thought to return, but found that she could not. Not yet at least. There was something she needed to find first.
She journeyed farther north. She would know it when she saw it. At last, Vanwa stood before a majestic looking tree that stood out from the others. Its trunk was much thicker than any of the others. Not even with five of her friends holding hands could Vanwa encircle it. In the canopy of the tree, an intricate talan had been built. It was graceful, almost proud looking, and yet simple and understated in its design. Numerous bridges made of rope and wood connected it to other talans farther away, all of which were equally as large, if not bigger. The trees were much more spread out this far from the city, and so more conventional bridges were no longer practical or even feasible – the narrow bridges of robe and beams were the only way to connect these homes.
Vanwa stared at the network of talans and bridges. A large family must have lived here, or perhaps many families seeking to stay together. It would explain the bridges connecting them. Like the other talans Vanwa had seen, the windows here were dark.
Her mother was expecting her back. She turned again to leave, but once more hesitated. Almost unknowingly, Vanwa began climbing the stairs towards one of the talans. Her fingertips grazed the trunk of the malorn, and it hummed at her touch. It seemed glad to see her again. Vanwa was puzzled by this sentiment however, as she was certain she had never been here before. And yet, the tree was familiar, and she knew the carvings on the wooden rail.
Abruptly she stopped. Her hand was on the door knob. She had been about to enter the talan when she realized where she now stood. These were the abandoned homes of the wardens who had left for Valinor! Vanwa shuddered and staggered away from the door. She looked around wide-eyed, now understanding why the trees felt so melancholy here and why all the windows were so dark.
She was astonished she had made it this far north without realizing where she was. And to think, she had nearly entered someone else's home! A stranger's home. It would not have mattered, of course. No one had lived in these homes for over 100 years now. Even still, Vanwa was shocked by her own behavior, and unnerved to find herself in such a sorrowful place.
Her mother chose not to ask questions when dusk had settled and her daughter burst through the door with flushed cheeks and frantic eyes. She spoke of it later with her husband, wondering what had made their daughter so distraught.
"The visions may have left her, Gailrin, but we both knew this tranquility would not last. She will realize her true self, even if the Valar themselves must descent from the heavens and drag her to it."
That night, Vanwa dreamt of the talan she had visited. It felt familiar and warm, and the curtains had been pulled back to let the light stream in.
She opened the door wearily and set her sword by the door. Her arms ached from hours of practice. She closed her eyes and inhaled as the scent of fresh bread and stew reached her nose.
"That smells wonderful," she remarked, closing the door behind her. She felt her heart skip when he appeared from the kitchen, an easy smile on his face.
"I thought I would spare us the pleasure of your cooking tonight," he teased. He placed a quick kiss on her lips before returning to the kitchen, and Vanwa felt pleasure and contentment fill her.
"When will it be ready?" she asked.
"A few minutes. Might I suggest a bath in the meantime?" he said lightheartedly. She smiled at his playful attitude.
"If you insist."
Vanwa made her way to the bedroom she knew they shared. She began removing her clothes, preparing to bathe. She paused, remembering her necklaces. She wore them so often that she sometimes forget she had them on, and she was unsure if the soapy water would cause them to deteriorate. She removed the first, a pendant, and set it on her dresser. While she would not say it was her favorite, as both were equally important to her, she liked its uniqueness, and she'd always had a soft spot for dragons. The second, a necklace made of blue and green beads, she held for a moment, running in through her fingers.
Vanwa awoke to find she was holding the necklace. She looked around and shrieked, covering her mouth with her hand. She stood in the bedroom, the one she had dreamed of. She was standing in his talan, the talan the ellon from her dream shared with the woman, and in her hand she was holding the woman's necklace.
Vanwa put the necklace on, and immediately felt a strange sense of connectedness. With what or who, she was unsure, but it was as though she was no longer alone in the talan. She shivered, feeling the presence of another around her. A breeze picked up, lifting the curtains as it came through the window. And above its soft whistling, Vanwa was sure she heard a voice.
I wish you had not left me.
Haldir stared mournfully at the necklace in his hand. It was heavy, made of some kind of metal not found in middle Earth. She told him it was a blend of metals made through a technique not yet invented in middle Earth. He sighed and placed the necklace around his neck again, tucking it under his shirt.
Haldir regretted that he had allowed his grief to consume him for so long. It had prevented him from interacting with anyone until he had come to Valinor. It had made him careless as well. He was not himself when they left, and so his brothers had no way of knowing that he had left Fara's other necklace in the top drawer of the stand by his bed. Now it was too late, he had no way of finding it again.
He sighed, closing his eyes as another wave of pain came over him. He gritted his teeth, willing it away. So often he was besieged by sorrow that nearly consumed him fully. It was no longer constant, as it had been when he was in Lothlorien, but was still just as powerful each time it made its presence known.
He rested his head against the tree behind him, and stared up at the night sky. He touched his hand to the pendent and felt a sense of calm wash over him. Haldir closed his eyes and inhaled. It was as though she was standing next to him now. He could almost feel her. He opened his eyes, half expecting her to be in front of him. She was not, and he felt his heart clench at the reminder that she was gone.
"I wish you had not left me."