Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings, nor nothing thus related, belongs to me. Cólalph, Cuilnoth, Caillaer, and the other OCs named in this chapter do belong to me, although they are free to be used (as long as you speak with me first. Because occasionally I have ideas/threads/arcs for them that I would wish you to adhere to if you did incorporate them). No profit was made from the writing of this tale.
A/N: My sincerest apologies for having taken so long to update this. All of my WIP this last month were kind of...put on hold, if you will. I don't have much of an excuse other than writer's block, and school... If anyone's interested, I think that there will be two more chapters after this, although I have no idea about word length. This chapter ended up being much more typical "Seren" chapter length, totaling in at about 4,500 words, rather than the not-quite-3,000 that the previous three chapters have been. Hopefully this longer chapter can help to make the long wait worthwhile. Also, I realize that this chapter is rather OC-saturated, and for that I apologize (although not so much that I feel like I need to change it. It has its purpose). Originally, it was supposed to center entirely on one of our beloved canon characters, but that really wasn't working out, so I had to change the perspective. Brownie points to anyone who can say what else I've written in which I named Cólalph. :)
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Dedication: For beloved Crookneck, who once again has not been having such a wonderful week. I really wish that I could have gotten this to you earlier, my friend. *sigh* But hey, this is the beginning of a brand new week. We can hope that it turns out better than the last (for the both of us), no?
The day had begun peacefully enough. Cólalph had awoken just as the sun passed its zenith, and had simply lain beneath the blankets for a long moment, content to listen to the melody of summer – a faint breeze brushing through the trees and rustling the leaves, birds singing raucously, their differing songs clashing and harmonizing as they intertwined, and the waterfalls drumming in the distance. When he had at last arisen, he had felt refreshed, despite that he had come to his room to sleep only after watching the sun lift above the walls of the valley in a beautiful conflagration of gold and orange and dusky scarlet.
With no pressing duties to attend to, Cólalph dressed leisurely, and then slipped from his rooms and down the staircase to the second level. As usual, the second floor – which housed the offices of those of importance (such as the high councilors, the captains, the head housekeeper, the grounds warden, and, of course, Lords Elrond, Glorfindel, and Erestor) as well as a number of meeting and council rooms, archives, and the Great Library – was hushed, and an air of busied calm hung in the corridor.
Cólalph quickly descended the side staircase that stood just beyond the one he had just come down. There was no need for him to walk all of the way to the main staircase, especially when the side stairs would lead him directly to the kitchens, which just so happened to be his destination.
The main floor, unlike the one above was filled with activity. Even so, it was a peaceful sort of activity, with everyone knowing what they were doing, and none hurrying about simply for the sake of rushing. If one listened, he could hear the footsteps of scribes and scholars, musicians, guards, and even guests as they criss-crossed the wide hallways, often the soft murmur of voices accompanying the tread. The faint sounds of pots and pans being handled, of knives slicing and dicing, and of large fires crackling in hearths was just audible through the walls that separated the kitchens from the rest of the house, and they grew louder as one neared the open doorways.
Cólalph slipped into the kitchens through a side door, and for a long moment he merely stood by the wall, watching the kitchen staff as they bustled about, preparations for the evening meal already beginning. Dough was being kneaded, vegetables scrubbed clean, and tender venison was being laid out pans of sauce, and Cólalph thought that he could just make out two ellyth cutting strawberries and putting the pieces into a large bowl filled with sugared water.
Cólalph's stomach twinged, reminding him why it was he had come down. He glanced around, searching for the familiar splash of white-blonde hair amongst a sea of black. A moment later he found her, bending over a hunk of bread dough that she was carefully crafting into thin rolls. Cólalph left the safety of the doorway, and threaded his way through the kitchens, nimbly dodging out of the way of the staff as they worked. Few paid him any heed, so accustomed were they to seeing him, and those few who did notice nodded or smiled in silent greeting, gestures which he returned gladly.
As Cólalph neared the place where the blonde-haired elleth was working, he caught a good glimpse of what it was that she was doing. A shallow dish was sitting at her elbow, and around the lip of the pan, an intricate weave of small, circular pieces of pie crust was beginning to take shape.
The elleth turned abruptly, hearing a loud bang emanate from across the kitchen as a pan fell to the floor. Cólalph, realizing what was about to happen the instant before it did, jumped forward just as her elbow caught the lip of the pan and sent it skittering over the edge of the counter.
Cólalph caught the pie dish in one hand, just barely managing to save it from shattering on the hard ground. The elleth turned, trying to catch the dish herself, and then gasped in surprise as Cólalph appeared suddenly beside her. But then she laughed as she saw Cólalph holding the dish and looking both a little surprised and flustered at what he had just done.
Cólalph stood, pie dish in hand, and then placed it safely back on the countertop. "You should be more careful, Caillaer," he remarked, but there was no bite to his words, and when he turned to look at her, there was a gentle smile on his face.
Caillaer smiled in return, and then moved the pan farther away from the edge. "Yes, I know," she said lightly. "My thanks, Cólalph," she added, turning to face him once more. "Without you, there would be one less pie for dinner tonight." Cólalph inclined his head, although he did not say anything more on the matter.
"Not that I do not like your company, my friend, but why are you down here?" Caillaer asked, turning her attention back to the dough she was working, "other than, of course, to save the pie." Her fingers nimbly returned to work, pulling off a small section of dough to begin rolling it between her palms.
Cólalph leaned against the counter. "The same reason as every other day," he admitted.
"You do know that there is still food in the Dining Hall, do you not?" Caillaer asked.
Cólalph shrugged. "Yes," he replied simply.
"Then why do you never get your lunch from there?"
"You know why," Cólalph said. "There are far too many people there."
"There are more in the kitchens than in the Dining Hall at this time of day."
"Ah, but those in the kitchens do not try to drag me into a conversation, do they?"
Caillaer laughed. "Very well, you win again. But one of these days, I shall convince you to eat in the Dining Hall."
"I do eat in the Dining Hall," Cólalph protested. "I eat there at least once a week, and for every high day, feast, and festival." Caillaer only laughed again as she wiped her floury hands on her apron.
"Come along then," she bade, playfully butting his shoulder with her own, turning away from the counter. A grin was tugging at the corners of her mouth. "There should be some fresh bread just out of the oven."
She lead Cólalph through the kitchen to the opposite wall, where the ovens were located. There were at least a dozen, their fiery mouths gleaming and radiating heat as they baked the various breads and pastries resting on the racks within. A long trestle table stood a few paces in front of the ovens, and atop the wooden surface was arrayed a number of cooling pans and trays. Nearly a dozen kinds of bread were there, from sourdough to buttermilk, from rolled crust to thin, and from cheese-filled to cinnamon topped. Cólalph's stomach grumbled again.
"Here," Caillaer said, picking up a bread knife and cutting off a thick portion of one of the plain loaves. "Go get yourself some cheese to spread on it if you like, and I am sure Idhremith would give you some cold chicken if you asked."
"I thank you," Cólalph said, taking the bread from Caillaer and bowing slightly. "You are a good friend, Caillaer."
"I know," Caillaer replied cheekily. "And now I must return to work. See that you do not get into any trouble," Caillaer said with mock sternness. Then she turned on her heel and retraced her steps back to the pie she was making.
Juggling the steaming bread from hand to hand so as to keep it from burning him, Cólalph hurried to the table by the cellar door that held an assortment of cheeses. Every night the cheeses were returned the cool cellar, where they would keep without spoiling, but during the day there was usually at least one kind sitting on the small, squat table, waiting for someone to cut off a piece to eat or to be used in some hasty dish.
Bread and cheese in hand, Cólalph settled himself down at the table in an alcove beside the main hearth to eat. He spread the cheese over the bread, and then let it sit for a long moment, allowing the cheese to melt and seep into the soft, fluffy bread before eating. While he waited, he watched the kitchen staff hurrying about like a colony of ants or a hive of bees.
Just as he was taking a large bite, Cólalph heard a commotion outside. Someone shouted, and then there was a flurry of pounding steps as someone sprinted past, pushing anyone who had not moved aside and out of their way fast enough. Oddly enough, it sounded and looked like Lord Erestor, at least from the brief glance Cólalph had gotten of the person. Cólalph frowned, wondering what was happening.
Everyone else in the kitchens seemed to be wondering the same thing, for the silence that had fallen after the initial shout collapsed, and hushed, hurried conversation sprung up all around like a multitude of little brush fires.
"I wonder if it has anything to do with Lord Elrond and Lord Erestor running through the halls earlier." The speaker was a rather short elleth, her dark hair twisted up on top of her head in a braided bun so as to keep it out of her way. A small, thin-bladed knife used to cut fresh fruit was in one hand, and she held a peach in the other.
"What do you mean Ereboth?" someone else asked.
"Well, when Miluinel and I were coming in from the gardens, Lord Elrond very nearly ran into us as he ran out of the door. Lord Erestor was but a few seconds behind, and after asking us which way Lord Elrond had gone, he ran after him," Ereboth explained. "I thought it odd before, but now…"
"Do you think the Valley is in danger?" someone wondered aloud, and there was an uneasy murmuring.
"I doubt that we have anything to fear," someone else retorted, and Cólalph was fairly certain that it was Idhremith, the head cook. An instant later he caught sight of her stepping among the cluster of cooks and household staff that had gathered in a knot a few paces away from the table Cólalph was sitting at. "If Lord Elrond knows of what is happening – whatever that may be – then I am confident that all will be well."
"You have much faith in our lord," a gardener commented.
"Of course I do," Idhremith replied calmly. "Don't you?"
"Of course I do," the gardener retorted, and he sounded almost affronted. "I would trust Lord Elrond with my life. It is only..."
Having heard all that he wished to, Cólalph rose, the heel of the bread in hand. He put the last morsel of food into his mouth, then quietly slipped around the group and out of the nearest door.
He was in the main hallway, across from the Dining Hall. Shrugging mentally, Cólalph started down the wide corridor, heading for the main staircase. He needed to stop by Celondirith's study in any case, so he might as well take the longer route to the main stairs – which were much nearer to the high councilor's study – rather than walk to the side stairs, all of the way across the second floor, and then back again.
There were small knots of people standing around in the corridor, all of them speaking in hurried whispers or low voices. Every now and again, Cólalph was able to catch a snatch of what was being said, although for the most part he ignored those around him. All were speaking of the same thing – the reason behind Lord Erestor's unusual behavior.
"Cólalph!" Cólalph paused, turning to look for who had called out to him. He found Lady Celebrían hurrying toward him, a puzzled look on her face.
"My lady," Cólalph said with a low bow. "How may I help you?"
"Do you know what all of this commotion is about?" Lady Celebrían asked, motioning around her at the people who were clumped together, or who were walking briskly down the sides of the corridors, tense or worried expressions on their faces.
Cólalph hesitated. "Not really, my lady," he replied. "Lord Erestor came running through the halls not five minutes ago, but otherwise I know little of what is happening." The lady frowned, and Cólalph thought that he could sense an air of worry in her gaze. His heart clenched at the sight of her distress, as minimal as it may be, and he knew then that he needed to tell her all. "I overheard one of the kitchen staff – Ereboth – speaking of it," he said after a few seconds of silence. Lady Celebrían looked up, urging him to go on. "She told of how she and a friend saw Lord Erestor running through the halls earlier. He was following Lord Elrond."
Lady Celebrían went suddenly very white, her eyes widening. She shook her head, as if to clear it, and then she faltered. Cólalph reached out instinctively, steadying her as she wavered, then gripping her shoulders and looking into her eyes with concern.
"My lady? My lady, are you well?" he asked, his soft voice surprisingly strong as he sought to catch her attention – he was not one to raise his voice above that of a gentle murmur, even during the most stressful of times. Lady Celebrían started, as if coming back to herself, and she looked up at the dancer.
"I am well," Lady Celebrían replied, although her voice was quiet and hesitant, as if her thoughts were far elsewhere. "Please, I am sorry Cólalph. I must go…" she pulled away, and Cólalph let her do so, his hands falling to his sides as she began to walk down the hall. He turned to watch her go, and just caught a glimpse of the look on her face. She was pale and her eyes were wide, the faintest trace of something hidden in the ice blue orbs. It took a moment for Cólalph to understand what he had seen, but when he did, he felt momentarily sick – it had been fear.
Cólalph glanced up the stairs, then back to where the lady of the valley was quickening her steps, her back rigid and her hands held tightly at her sides. He hesitated for just an instant, indecision warring in his heart, and then he was turning and hurrying after his lady. Just for a moment, he would forget propriety, would forget his other duties, and would forget his own dislike of people and large crowds. Lady Celebrían would need someone, of that Cólalph was certain although he did not know how, and he had the feeling that none of her family would be able to provide the support she would need. And at the moment, he was the only one present that could help.
"My lady, wait," Cólalph called out, hurrying to catch up to her. "Where are you going?" Lady Celebrían simply kept walking. "My lady…"
"I must find my husband," Celebrían said. "I must…" She trailed off.
"I shall help you," Cólalph promised. The lady looked up at him.
Cólalph bowed. "Of course, my lady. I know what direction Lord Erestor went," he added. Lady Celebrían nodded.
"Please, show me," she asked.
Cólalph took the lead, directing her down the corridor past the kitchens. He hesitated at the door at the end of the hall, glancing up and down the side corridor that lead to the Guest Wing, and then pushed out into the gardens. He did not know for sure that such was the proper direction, but he knew that Ereboth and her friend Miluinel had met Lord Elrond, they had been coming in from the gardens. Thus, it stood to reason that they were somewhere outside…
The afternoon sun was bright and the kitchen gardens were alight with life and the color of healthy growth. Greens and browns gleamed richly all about, and the sweet scent of blooming flowers and ripening fruit was thick upon the air, borne upon the light wind that swirled agitatedly through the gardens.
Together, the two Elves skirted the garden beds, keeping to the walkways cut in between. The cool, hard-packed earth felt good beneath Cólalph's bare feet, and for just a moment he allowed himself to enjoy the feel of dirt between his toes, the sun on his face, and the gentle breeze tugging at his hair.
But then his attention was brought crashing back to reality when he heard the lady walking beside him gasp, and then grab his arm.
"What is that?" Lady Celebrían asked tightly. Cólalph followed the lady's gaze, and in the distance, just appearing from between the trees, he caught a flash of movement and a blurred shadow. Then the shadow stepped into the light, and it resolved into three figures stepping from the darkness beneath the trees, two of which were carrying something between them. "Who is that?" Lady Celebrían whispered, voice strained.
"No." The single word was strangled, and Cólalph could hear her breath hitch as she struggled to draw breath.
"My lady?" He turned, worry now clashing alarmingly with the sudden surge of worry that had swept over him. The words were barely out of his mouth, his body only half-way turned, when she saw her move. He reached out to stop her, to grab a hold of her, but she slid past him like an eel through water, the fringe of her trailing sleeve only barely brushing against his fingertips.
Cólalph sprang after her. He did not know why it was that she was running, but he felt that, if it was good enough a reason for her to do so, then it was good enough a reason for him as well. More than that, however, he felt as if the moment in which his presence would be needed was not yet come, but that it was drawing closer. And so he pushed himself faster, feet flying across the furrowed earth of the gardens and ignoring the feel of leaves as they were crushed beneath his heel.
As they drew closer, the figures began to resolve into forms that Cólalph could decipher. The one who was not carrying anything, Cólalph recognized suddenly as one of the master healers – Cuilnoth, he believed her name was – and as they drew closer, he thought that he was able to recognize the faces of the two carrying the object, although he did not know their names.
It was only when they were little more than a hundred paces distant, however, when he was finally able to make out what it was that the two were carrying. It was a stretcher, and there was someone lying on the stretcher, although who it was Cólalph could not make out. He could only see long dark hair and a single hand draping off of the edge.
Cuilnoth looked up, and her piercing grey eyes swept from Lady Celebrían to Cólalph, then back to the lady. She moved quickly, maneuvering her body so that it was between the two Elves approaching and the stretcher. She looked worried, Cólalph thought absentmindedly, even as he pushed himself just a little faster as he tried in vain to reach Lady Celebrían.
Cólalph watched as Cuilnoth reached out and halted Lady Celebrían, continuing to keep her body between the lady and the stretcher. Cólalph could not hear what was said, but he could see Lady Celebrían stiffen, and could hear her distressed cry
"There is naught that you can do, my lady," Cuilnoth was saying as Cólalph slid to a halt a few steps behind Lady Celebrían. "You must stay here and wait for the others – they should be along soon. I swear to you that we will do all that we can for your daughter, but for now you must trust us with her care," she urged, and laid a hand on Lady Celebrían's arm. Lady Celebrían did not respond, merely stood there completely still, back rigid and head high.
With that, Cuilnoth turned and ran, her long legs easily carrying her to the stretcher, which had been carried on away while she had spoken with Lady Celebrían. There, just as she reached the stretcher, Cólalph's eyes having been following her, he caught a glimpse of the figure lying there, and he felt his blood run cold, the healer's words at last sinking in.
Arwen. No, no it could not be. Not her. Please, anyone but her, his heart cried, and for an instant he felt as if all of the air had been sucked from his lungs, as if his chest was being clenched with a giant's hand.
Cólalph turned just in time to barely catch Lady Celebrían as she abruptly sank to the ground, her legs seeming to have suddenly given way. Cólalph grasped her shoulders, helping her to sit slowly, and then he crouched beside her
"Arwen," Lady Celebrían murmured, sounding shocked. "My daughter…no, this cannot be." Wide blue eyes snapped up to meet Cólalph's, and in their depths Cólalph could read both fear and denial. He found he did not know how to respond, nor even how to fully fathom what it was he was seeing and she was feeling. He felt trapped within her gaze, and for an instant it felt as if he were drowning. But then Celebrían blinked, and he was released from the odd sensation. "I must go," she said quietly, and then made to rise.
Cólalph reached out and grasped her wrist, halting her before pulling her back to the earth. "Go where, my lady?" he asked. "Surely you do not mean go after Lady Arwen and the healers?"
"Where else would I go?" Lady Celebrían asked sharply, and once more she began to stand. This time Cólalph could not stop her, and instead he stood alongside her, never once releasing his hold on her wrist.
"Wait, my lady, think this through," he plead. "Did I not hear Cuilnoth ask you to stay here? She promised that they would do all that they could for Lady Arwen," he reminded her gently. He did not know if what he was doing was right or justified, this attempt to keep her there, and he knew beyond a doubt that it was improper for him to be addressing his lady in such a way. But even so, for once in his life he did not back down, and instead he stood his ground.
"But she is my daughter!" Lady Celebrían exclaimed, and Cólalph could see that she was beginning to become frantic once again.
"My lady, please," Cólalph begged. "The only way for you to be of any help is if you remain calm."
Lady Celebrían did not seem to hear his words, for they had barely left his mouth when she stepped forward and attempted to brush him aside. To her surprise, he did not budge.
"Move out of my way," Lady Celebrían hissed, and Cólalph was taken aback by the venom in her voice. But then his resolve hardened, and he stood his ground, although he swallowed thickly. "I ordered you to move," Lady Celebrían said coldly, and this time with much more authority. Once again, she attempted to push past, and this time Cólalph was not able to stop her, despite his attempt to sidestep in front of her.
Lady Celebrían turned faster than Cólalph would have thought possible, her entire attention instantaneously focusing solely upon the dark-haired Elf hurrying forward, albeit hurrying rather slowly and with a slight limp. Cólalph bowed to the newcomer, although he was not sure that the he had seen him, for he seemed to intent on his mother.
"Elladan, my son," Lady Celebrían smiled, and the relief was evident in her voice. "You are well, thank Elbereth," she said, and then stepped forward to pull him into a tight embrace. Lord Elladan's arms encircled his mother, and for a long moment he merely stood there, hugging her tightly. At last he pulled back and looked down into his mother's eyes.
"You wish to know what has happened, do you not?" Lord Elladan asked somewhat reluctantly, reading something in her face.
"Of course," Lady Celebrían replied. "However, tales and explanations can wait. Tell me, are you or your brother injured?"
Lord Elladan smiled thinly and shook his head. "Nay, mother, Elrohir and I are fine, if a little tired. I am more worried for father," he admitted.
Lady Celebrían's gaze sharpened. "Why? Tell me," she bade when Lord Elladan hesitated fractionally.
Lord Elladan shook his head with a sight. "He is utterly exhausted. I do not know all what he did, but he rescued Arwen, and then he gave her almost all of his strength. I do not remember ever seeing him so drained – he can barely even stand, and I doubt that he can walk without aid for more than a few paces."
Lady Celebrían shook her head slightly, although whether from exasperation or something else, Cólalph had no idea. "Where is he?" Lady Celebrían queried.
"He should be coming," Lord Elladan said, and then glanced over his shoulder. "El and Erestor were with him…" Lord Elladan trailed off, a frown flitting across his face. "I would have thought they would be here – or at least close enough to see – by now."
"I will find them," Lady Celebrían said, squeezing her son's hand, and then departing, heading toward the trees where the party bearing the stretcher had exited from.
Cólalph turned to leave, not seeing any further reason to stay – Lady Celebrían was safely with her family, and she would no longer need his support – when Lord Elladan called out his name. He looked over his shoulder, then retraced his steps when he saw that Lord Elladan was beckoning to him.
Cólalph bowed. "Yes my lord?" he asked, straightening. To his surprise, Lord Elladan reached out to rest his hand on his shoulder in a gesture of gratitude and brotherhood.
"My thanks to you for staying with my mother. I do not know what transpired between her and the healers, and I doubt that she would have done anything foolish, however I fear that her own anxiety would have overcome her common sense. I know that, had I come upon Arwen lying unconscious on a stretcher, I would…" he trailed off, and then cleared his throat. "Just…I thank you, as I am sure my brother and father would – and will – as well."
Cólalph bowed, and he could feel as slight flush creeping up his cheeks at such praise. "Thank you, my lord. To be honest, I did not know if what I was doing was right or wrong. I simply thought that I had to have done something."
"You did right," Lord Elladan assured him, and squeezed the dancer's shoulder. "I have one more favor of you, if you would," he added hurriedly after a few seconds of silence, as if he had come to a conclusion of some sort.
"Of course my lord," Cólalph replied promptly. "Anything that you ask."
"Come with me, and help my father?" Lord Elladan asked. "I fear he will be unable continue on much longer, and while I do not doubt my mother's strength or willpower, it would be good if there was another to help carry him should he collapse. Would you do that?"
Cólalph was startled. "Of course my lord," he said. "I would be honored."
"Then you have my mine and my family's thanks yet again," Lord Elladan said. "We will not forget what you have done for us this day, Cólalph." And with that, Lord Elladan turned toward the trees, beckoning for Cólalph to follow.
Cólalph trailed after Lord Elladan, and together they stepped into the comforting darkness cast by the tree canopy.
A/N II: Okay, so just for you guys' knowledge, I actually have maps that I am working off of when I'm speaking of the layouts of the house, etc. (Although the ones that I was using for the first three chapters are slightly different than those I am using now. They underwent some re-draws) They are maps created by me (although I took a lot of information from the books (well, not a lot, because quite frankly there's not much concerning the layout of Imladris in the books), the movies, and various concept art that I have been able to get my hands on. If anyone is interested in seeing the maps I have drawn out, I would be willing to put them up online and provide links. Just let me know!