Alunim could still picture the day her father sailed for the Undying Lands like it was yesterday. The pain still seemed so startlingly fresh and sharp it was hard for her to see how it had been over fifty years since. She had known it was coming eventually. She lived in the Grey Havens, making the sailing of those around her an appalling inevitability.
Her father, Rumayil, was the master boat maker. The best in all of Middle Earth she had often been told. Everyone who chose to sail came to the Grey Havens. They always raved about the beauty of the boats. Perhaps they thought they were beautiful because they were the last thing from Middle Earth they were going to see.
Alunim had always thought the boats had the sad sort of beauty that inspired tears and smiles all at the same time.
The elves stayed in the small inns that littered the breezy city, waiting for the day when the boat would be ready to take them. They sat along the piers, elegant dresses and flowing hair snaking around them in the constant wind. They never seemed to take their eyes away from the sea in front of them.
Their leaving affected her father more than the others. She would see him wiping away hasty tears as he watched the boats sailing away until they were nothing more than little blips on the horizon. Alunim saw no point in leaving. The unknown had to be worse than anything in Middle Earth. She was never able to convince her father and over time Rumayil began to recoil in on himself.
When Alunim's mother, Denolyn, sailed, Alunim knew Rumayil would not be far behind. He didn't eat for days after she left, choosing instead to keep himself holed up in his musty workshop. His glow that Alunim had always found an odd sort of comfort in, diminished until it was almost completely gone. Rumil, her older brother, paid no mind. He brushed it off, acting as if Rumayil was suffering from nothing more than a mortal ailment. He was depressed by the sailing of his people and his boats and his wife.
The awkward loneliness at the dinner table was the worst.
Alunim's mother was gone and it didn't seem like she had much of a father either towards the end.
The way Rumayil led his life was unnatural.
Elves were not meant to live such sedentary and lonely lifestyles. Alunim had to force him out of bed, or to go for walks with her, or on his absolute worst days, to talk to her.
It took Alunim far longer than she cared to admit to understand what was happening. She finally understood that she was fighting a losing battle when it came to him. He would not recover, as much as she liked to tell herself that it was otherwise.
She tried to convince herself, just so she wouldn't burst into angry tears, that she wasn't going to have to watch him sail. The task of taking care of Rumayil was left to her, while the task of building the boats was left to Rumil. She tried desperately to make him smile again, to laugh out loud like he used to when she was a young elleth. She never seemed to be able to, however, making the task harder and harder as the days wore on. It broke her heart to see him so lifeless and sad. Everything about him seemed to dim in comparison to his old vibrant self. His normally long black hair, so shiny and brilliant, became stringy, brittle, and short. His eyes, like the sea foam that formed around the bottom of her favorite sea walls at the edge of the Grey Havens, dulled and sallowed. Like his body was trying to reclaim them, they sunk back into his increasingly pale face. It was not normal for an elf exposed to so much sun to be as pale as the moon.
She found towards the end of his time in Middle Earth she was crying every time he cried. At times, the worst times she thought she would experience, it felt as if the burden of the pain he was feeling sat upon her chest. It weighed her down to the point that it became hard for her to function.
Alunim missed the days that her and her father would sit and talk about nothing and everything for hours on end. She missed being able to speak with him. It seemed so simple yet so impossibly hard for him all at the same time. He did little more than live his life in a depressing silence. He was no longer excited about anything, no longer saw joy in the things that had once brought him immense happiness. She tried everything, only to have him respond by sitting in silence, staring at nothing.
Alunim approached Rumil five years after their mother left. Alunim had, in her own admitted desperation, come up with the idea to send their father to Rivendell to be healed and to spend time with his old friend and colleague, Lord Elrond. Rumil refused, simply saying that Rumayil would not be sent away for healing, because there was no healing that could be done.
Rumayil had felt the call to travel to the Undying Lands for a very long time and had lived with it for many, many painfully long years.
Rumil made the decision for Rumayil to sail shortly after Alunim begged to send him to Rivendell. It was what needed to be done, as much as Alunim wanted to convince herself otherwise. She was livid at Rumil the day he helped Rumayil board the boat. She refused to speak even one word to him for a solid month and a half after their father left. It was beyond her grasp to understand how he could send their father away so carelessly, so casually. Rumil didn't even try and help him move on. In Alunim's mind, in her feeble rationalization, there was always the possibility to move on and live even somewhat happily.
Alunim was not alive the day the old King of the Grey Havens sailed. Her father told her many longwinded and sad stories about the day his older brother, her uncle, made the crossing. From what she understood the day was filled with such sorrow many elves chose to sail along behind him. All of the elves feared the future and a life without the magic of the ring to protect them. Rumayil, the King's younger brother, elected to stay behind and continue his duty of making boats for the rest of Middle Earth. The boats always had to have somebody making them.
It was particularly hard on Alunim to see all of her fellow elves dim around her as they thought of the family that was waiting for them in the Undying Lands. She was never as unhappy as them, never as depressed, never as burdened by life by the sea. They all seemed to live their lives in anticipation of crossing and never looking back.
Alunim seemed to be the only one who lived her life in anticipation for something much greater, waiting for her. She wanted to see what was in the rest of Middle Earth. She had read the stories and seen the paintings and heard the songs. It sounded so happy and different than the depressing life in the Grey Havens. There was too much to see in the rest of Middle Earth, far too much left to explore and to experience. The rest of the Grey Havens did not seem to share her views on the rest of Middle Earth, and for that, she was an outcast.
Since the time of Alunim's birth, there had been rumors that swirled around the royal family like a swarm of angry bees, bothering and pestering them almost constantly. It was only natural, considering the obvious physical differences. Rumayil and Rumil were rather beautiful, by both male and female standards. There was no other way to describe them that would do them justice. Alunim had always felt rather plain and homely when she stood next to them. They had long black hair that seemed to be made of silky ink that flowed down their long and lean backs in smooth lines. Black hair was very common in the Grey Havens, but theirs seemed to put all others to shame. They had identical eyes to each other as well, and the rest of the family line. They were an odd green that was unique to them and no one else, making all other eyes colors seem dull and muted by comparison. Alunim had always envied their eyes. They would sparkle and shine with mirth and knowledge that she found herself striving to duplicate. She was never able to grasp it.
Alunim looked nothing like them, or anyone else in the community for that matter. She was short, for an elf, and rather ungraceful. Her hair was an odd yellowy straw color that waved and curled down her back unevenly. It puffed up on the more humid days, much to her chagrin. Her skin tanned more than usual, causing the rumors to spread viciously behind her back. The only thing that she shared in common with anyone in the family was with her mother. Their eyes were quite similar in color and shape. The blue was not uncommon, but in them it held a certain undeniable mischievousness. Alunim loved her mother's eyes more dearly than her own, however. They had something that seemed to be missing in hers, although she could never quite pinpoint what it was.
Due to the obvious physical differences, people would talk and gossip. Alunim had heard every story under the sun as to why she looked the way she did. Some of the nastier renditions claimed that she was deformed and was an abomination to elf-kind. They thought she shouldn't even be allowed to walk Middle Earth associating herself with the most noble of the races. That one stung more than the others. Others claimed that she wasn't an elf at all, but some new evil sent to haunt them until they finally made their crossing. Rumil would laugh them off, saying that they were just gossiping for the fun of it, but over time Alunim grew weary of the constant whisperings behind her back.
The rumors persisted long after her mother and father had sailed, and if possible, intensified, making Alunim's time miserable. By tradition, Alunim should be the one to craft the boats. However Rumil insisted he take full responsibility for them, leaving Alunim utterly lost as to what to do with her time.
She tried different things to occupy her time, such as horseback riding and archery, but none of them seemed to keep her busy for very long. She already knew how to ride horses, as he father taught her from the time that she was very young, and archery was something that she had little use for. There was nothing for her to shoot, besides the targets, so it never held her interest for very long. She tried to learn to sew and make designs like her mother had wanted for so long for her to know how to do, but she just couldn't find the motivation to stick with it. She had hated it when her mother first introduced it to her, and she hated it still some six hundred years later. There wasn't much actual ruling for her to do, Rumil insisted that be left to him as well, so Alunim began to flounder.
She felt her days slipping by her in a blur of whispers and menial activities as the years wore on.
She tried to busy herself with reading about the other places in Middle Earth, but that only added to her ever growing and perpetual want to find a way out of the Grey Havens. Over time, the number of people leaving intensified, leaving her wanting out more and more. Alunim felt trapped and alone, surrounded by people who, while they claimed to be similar, were as far from her in every possible way. She dreaded the day when Rumil would announce he was leaving. She would truly be alone then. The thought scared her enough to consider other options, other rather drastic options.
She made her decision rather quickly on her six-hundredth birthday. She knew it would bother Rumil, but she had no choice left.
She had to get out. She had to see something besides her people boarding the boats one by one and leaving. She had to see and do something new.
She had to get away.
Alunim sat on her small balcony that overlooked the massive sea wall, tapping her fingers on the railing absentmindedly. She could hear the familiar soothing sound of the sea slapping against the hard rock below her, lulling her into a reluctantly lethargic state as she allowed her mind to wander. She knew she had only a few moments to herself before she would be ushered off to spend the rest of her day with her brother. Rumil had planned a lunch for just the two of them to celebrate her birthday, much to her hesitation. Alunim sat waiting and thinking, mulling over her own thoughts.
Mithuiel was due at any moment to fix her hair and help her dress, as she had done for every big occasion over the past three hundred years. It was not necessarily her job, but seeing the state of disarray Alunim tended to show up in, she took over, tutting her tongue tersely every time she got a glance at Alunim's constant state of messiness. In all her free time, Alunim had somehow managed to avoid learning how to properly do her own hair.
She leaned back slightly from her spot, throwing her wet hair over her shoulder. She could already feel it puffing up in the humidity of the late morning heat. Mithuiel would not have been impressed with her if she allowed it to become unruly.
Alunim sat in silence for a short while longer before she finally managed to drag herself back to her own bed chambers. They, like usual, were horribly messy and disorganized. Books were strewn everywhere, some half read, others abandoned completely due to the dull subject matter. Scribbled and muddled drawings lay discarded on her desk, half finished. Her bed, her huge and overly fluffed up bed, was constantly unmade, causing Mithuiel a constant ache in her stomach whenever she saw it. Alunim sat down heavily on it.
She was tempted to fall back asleep and forget the whole birthday lunch entirely.
Just as she had made her decision to go back to sleep she heard the familiar pattern of knocks on her door that signaled it was Mithuiel. She stood up slowly, immediately missing the comfort and warmth of her bed, and trudged over to the door to let her old friend in. She swung the door open to reveal a smiling Mithuiel, burdened by a mass of sea blue fabric. Alunim smiled at her tightly before stepping aside to let her, and her bundle of blue, in. A new dress, no doubt. There was always a new dress.
"I see you were capable of bathing yourself, or should I be concerned you missed the most important bits?" Mithuiel quipped as a greeting.
The tall elf made her way into the room, depositing the mass of fabric onto Alunim's bed before turning back around to face her. She smiled brightly at her, pointing over to her dark brown dressing table.
"Not bothering to impress me I see? This room is just as disgusting as ever."
"When have I ever tried to impress you?" Alunim asked, running a hand through her wet hair as she turned on her heel to stalk over to her dressing table. "You would love me regardless of whether or not I was clean."
"An unfortunate affliction, I am afraid."
"I am not amused, Mithuiel." Alunim's voice came out flat and hollow. She had hoped it would escape Mithuiel's notice. However, the elf never missed a beat.
"Something troubling you 'Princess'?" The emphasis placed on the title made Alunim smirk, despite herself. It was a private joke they shared. At times Alunim did not feel like a princess at all, but merely a lady pretending. Mithuiel pulled out a piece of leather from her dress before reaching her hands behind her head and tying her long brown hair up into a knot at the nape of her neck. She did that every single time she did Alunim's hair. Alunim wasn't sure if it was actually helpful, or merely a habit that she hadn't been able to rid herself of over the years.
Alunim considered whether or not she should tell Mithuiel of her decision to leave as she watched the maid mess with her long hair. She would find out eventually. Alunim planned to leave as soon as possible, so the whole thing was unavoidable. "I have decided something."
"That is very vague. You decide things all the time, such as what dress to wear, or where to eat your lunch." Mithuiel started pulling a brush though Alunim's unruly hair.
"Not like that. A big decision."
"Such as?" Mithuiel's tone had turned wary. She paused with her brushing for a moment, eyeing Alunim with her large brown eyes.
Alunim sucked in a small breath before speaking. "I have decided to go to Rivendell."
It was something that Alunim had been pondering for a while. She had been pondering for longer than a while, actually. It was said that Lord Elrond was a master healer and a brilliant teacher. Alunim had been thinking and searching for something she could offer her community for a while, and being a healer seemed like the perfect thing to do. They had been out a decent one for about fifty years and it would be a perfect way to quash some of the nasty rumors that floated about her. She imagined it would be just what she needed to get away from the Grey Havens for a while, just to clear her head and loosen the perpetual knot in her stomach.
"That is a decision. A big one too." Mithuiel said after a long moment of silence. "However, I can understand why you would want to go. I do not think the Grey Havens is the right place for you right now."
"What could have given you that idea?" Alunim asked playfully.
"Perhaps it is that there doesn't seem to be an activity capable of holding your attention for more than five minutes time." Mithuiel answered, reaching her pale fingers down to mess with one of the strips of color braided into Alunim's hair. "Or it could be the almost constant depressed expression on your little face."
"You aren't mad?" Alunim asked, leaning back into Mithuiel's stomach as she felt her continue to fuss over her hair.
Mithuiel let out a titter, rolling cat like eyes at Alunim. "Do not be so silly, child."
Alunim smiled up at Mithuiel as she finished braiding her hair. That was one person down. Now all she had to worry about was telling Rumil. He would not be as understanding as Mithuiel. He would not be as caring and considerate of her decision. She imagined his face would turn a rather fabulous shade of red at her even mentioning it.
Mithuiel pulled her up, pulling Alunim from her thoughts, and pushed her behind her dressing screen, grabbing the blue dress as she went. She made quick work of stripping her of her bathing robe, throwing it into one of the many piles of clothes that littered the room, before forcing her into the smooth fabric of the blue dress. It flowed silkily over Alunim's hips, reminding her vividly of the water she had been fortunate enough to go swimming in mere hours before.
"I swear I do not know how you will manage to dress yourself without me." Mithuiel said, lacing up the back of the dress.
"I will just have to muck about in the buff." Alunim said, shooting a wink over her shoulder at the less than impressed Mithuiel.
"Add it to your long list of scandals, then."
Alunim had hoped it would take a bit longer to dress than it did, so as to avoid Rumil for longer, but Mithuiel was very thorough and had her down to the dining hall within moments. Mithuiel had walked along beside her, whispering to her fiercely before she had disappeared when they had arrived to the table Rumil had had set up for them. It was, surprisingly, the small table that their family used to eat at on one of the many balconies. It was covered in a pale green table cloth, which Alunim suspected Mithuiel had had a hand in picking, as well as a large plate of Alunim's favorite fish and a side of leafy greens.
Rumil stood up to greet her, a small smile playing on his normally stoic face. They settled down on opposite sides of the table from each other, serving themselves full plates and pouring full goblets of the expensive wine.
Just as Alunim expected, the first part of the meal was awkward. Rumil and Alunim were not particularly close and they never shared meals when it wasn't a special occasion. He was over a thousand years older than her and had never fully grasped how to connect with a much younger elleth. He had left that task up to Mithuiel, choosing instead to only speak to Alunim when it was vitally necessary and only when he wasn't feeling particularly awkward.
Rumil knew something was bothering Alunim, and Alunim wasn't talking. About halfway through Rumil cleared his throat, setting down his fork and turned to look at Alunim.
"Are you going to tell me why you are so quiet?"
"You will not like it." Rumil raised a dark eyebrow before signaling that she should continue. "I have made a decision that I do not think you are going to agree with."
Rumil was silent as he waited for her to get to the bad part, crossing his silvery clad arms over his chest. She could see the faint stains that always covered his hands from working on the boats blooming out from under his palms and along his thumb.
"I have decided to go to Rivendell to train to become a healer." Alunim scrunched up her face waiting for Rumil to start in on her.
It never came, however.
Instead Rumil eyed her for a moment, studying her face, before he offered her a rare smile. Alunim cracked open an eye, checking to see if it was just a ploy. Smiling was not something that Rumil did very often. It only occurred when he was with his friends, which was rare, or when Alunim did something particularly stupid to get herself into trouble.
"Why would you think I would not like that? I have been waiting for you to do something for years." Alunim scoffed slightly at his tone. "All you do is sit around. I think a change of pace would be good for you."
"That is it? No argument? You're just going to let me go?" Alunim questioned, slightly worried for her brothers mental state. He normally put up such a fight to anything out of the norm. Alunim eyed him warily as he smiled slightly at her. It was just not like him to agree with her so readily. "Are you feeling well?"
"Of course." Rumil said simply, returning back to his stoic posture.
"I will not stop you because I would not be able to stop you." Rumil smirked at her. "Besides, it will give you a chance to use my new gift to you."
"Gift?" Alunim perked up at the mention of a gift. Despite their less than stellar relationship, they did always give each other gifts on their birthdays. She had been the one to give him a new set of crafting tools, which she was rather proud of herself for thinking of, ten years previous. He had hugged her, which had alarmed them both, before hurrying off to put them to good use.
"It is your birthday after all."
Alunim rushed forward and threw her arms around her brother's neck, surprising herself at her actions. She felt his smooth hair brushing against her cheek, reminding her suddenly of their father. "I will miss you, brother."
"And I you, sister." Rumil said, placing a kiss on her cheek. The rare moments of physical affection between the two of them always caught Alunim off guard. She squeezed him tighter for a moment before stepping back. She gave him one last grateful smile before hurrying back up to her room. Now that getting out was a reality, she wasn't willing to put it off any longer.
She wanted out as fast as possible.