The Maiden and the Star - Part One
The elf-town was quiet in the light of the late winter eve; there was no snow to be seen in the mild vale that opened to the sea. The dark-haired woman dressed in elf-clothes sat on a stone bench near the circle of meeting, a bare branch of cherry wood idly twirling in her hands. She looked at it aimlessly, as if she did not know why she had picked it up.
Hearing steps approaching she looked up. But it was just the sentinel doing his rounds, nodding to her politely but uninterestedly as he passed by. She nodded back, but he had already turned his back to her.
The woman pulled her knees up to her chest to warm herself and sighed as she listened to the retreating steps. She laid her head down on her knees and stared out into the valley where the sunset painted the water and the sky pink.
Her keeper had not come tonight. She was not sure what that meant - was she a burden to the Elves, or had they lost interest in her? Again she sighed.
"If only I knew..." she mumbled.
Her hand holding the branch dipped down, idly painting shapes into the sand lining the terrace. The Elf-letters engraved onto the statues and benches meant nothing to her in her current state, but they still had a haunting familiarity - something she was meant to know but had forgotten, much like their melodic language. At times she almost understood...
As if reality reflected her thoughts, she now could hear voices drifting up to her from below the terrace. She straightened, instinctively turning her head towards them. But it was only the Elf-tongue again, her ears straining to catch meaning but failing. Yet still, something was different...
As she saw the speakers, she understood. The one speaking to the sentinel was a figure much unlike the Elves of the vale - his voice low and rough, his figure broad and dark next to the sentinel's thin elegance. With a shock she realised the speaker was no Elf.
She blushed and looked away as she saw him glance in her direction, staring to the ground and rubbing her cold hands together. The scars on her fingers - Scars, why? I remember I have had them since childhood, but I cannot remember how I got them... - glowed white in the pale light of the rising moon.
Now the Man was bowing to the Elf and turning away, walking in her direction. She made herself look at him as he approached, locking eyes with him.
He hailed her in response, to her relief in the Westron tongue.
Her voice was steady in reply. "Hail, Lord. What brings you to these lands?"
He smiled in reply, nonchalantly sitting down on the bench beside her. Close up, she could see what she had taken for bulk to be mostly the furs and travelling garb he was wrapped up in, his shoulders covered by a thick and splendid bear-fur. His face was broad but not fat, lined and tanned by the sun, and his gear showed all the signs of having travelled long. Despite that, his dark beard seemed neatly trimmed, covering only the mouth and chin.
She grinned to herself, attempting to calm her nerves. The man was in all appearances rough and threatening, from his broad shoulders and dark hair to his large gloved hands, yet somehow - or was it just that he had spoken the Elvish tongue? - she could not feel scared of him.
The man seemed to be looking her over in the same way. He sat silently, not showing any intention of replying to her question. The fur on his shoulders twitched and waved from his motions and the evening breeze.
"It is not often one sees members of the race of Men in these havens." he said after a while.
She looked at him, not knowing what to reply.
"I am but a travelling man, my lady. And you?" His eyes found hers, dark and piercing underneath bushy eyebrows.
She returned his gaze, summoning up the lordliness these Elves so readily emitted.
"I have not come voluntarily, my lord. I was found by the elf Noruihel and brought here."
He tilted his head a little, questioning.
"And I am? I know not." She faltered. "The Elves named me Arodiel, though whether this is my true name I know not."
The man nodded, as if he had already known that fact. "Aye, the Elves spoke of you to me, and I, curious, sought you out."
She frowned. "And have I quenched your curiosity's thirst, my lord?"
He grinned awkwardly, and the gesture suddenly made his face look younger, boyish - like a child caught in some sort of mischief. She could not hide a smile at the sudden change in the large man.
"Arodiel. It is a fair enough name." He smiled. "The Elves thought that perhaps the sounds of a familiar language could spur your memory. Alas, it seems it has not yet."
The woman's grey eyes flickered for a moment as she brushed a strand of black hair out of her face, looking interested. "That is kind of you... my lord."
He waved a hand impatiently at the address. "I am called Grimm by the men of the plains. It serves, though it does not ring as clear as a name in the Elven tongue."
He stopped, looking the woman over again with his piercing eyes. "Where were you found?"
"Haudh Lin, my lord. I..." She thought for a moment, trying to remember. "I awoke one morning to find a fair elf-maid standing over me."
He looked at her scarred hands, then back to her. "You were hurt, mylady?"
She nodded confusedly.
"You were lucky to be found by this fair a people then, my lady. Their healing powers are unequalled." He pulled off his heavy riding gloves, taking her small hands into his awkwardly, looking them over. She felt herself blushing.
"Do not worry, my lord - I have always had these, I cannot remember a time where my hands where as a fair as an elf maid."
He pulled up the corner of his mouth. "A shame. A beautiful lady's hands are not tools to hold sword and shields, and neither should they have to be."
She stirred, slowly pulling her hands away. "I... suppose not." She frowned uneasily.
He sensed her discomfort and looked away. "You had nothing on you to perhaps cast light on your past? Do you remember anything?"
"Nay. I was not found with anything except the clothes on my back. Only..." She shook her head.
"Speak on, lady."
"Nay, it is foolish. Dreams mean nothing, my lord."
"Dreams mean many things. Of course..." He grinned his boyish grin again, still looking straight ahead. "Of course, often they mean things like 'I ate onions the night before.'"
She joined in his chuckle, then followed his gaze out into the vale again thoughtfully. "I dreamed..."
She sighed. "I know it is foolish. I dreamed of a tall king, bearing a shield emblazoned with seven white stars - he towered above me, looking upon me with stern grey eyes, told me I had forgotten my duty." She shook her head. "Let us not speak of it any more, my lord! It is just a foolish dream."
The man was silent for a while. He did not look at her, but stroked his beard thoughtfully. Then he stood up.
"Yes, yes, likely a foolish dream. Forgive my asking." He turned his back to her, motioning to go. "Perhaps I should let you rest for now, my lady. If I am still here, we shall speak in the morrow."
She nodded, watching him walk away down the stairs and to the Elf-town without another word.