The Maiden and the Star - Part Four
Grimm led the horse and mule a while off, removed the burdens and rubbed them off with dead leaves and grass. Then he returned, confident in letting them roam free on the small meadow. A small brook sang a while off, rushing into the vale over the stones.
She crouched down on the blanket, accepting the warmth of the furs gracefully, concentrating on breathing.
"Drink, it will help." He handed her a waterskin.
She sipped carefully. "I'm sorry..."
He shook his head and sat down. When she had finished drinking, he held out his hand with a few oblong, darkly glistening leaves on it.
"What are they for?"
"Chew on them. They are bitter, but clear your head."
She took one gingerly and sniffed it, then put it in her mouth. The bitterness almost overwhelmed her but she forced herself not to spit it out. After a while, the taste faded a little and she felt better.
"How far is it to the place you are taking me?" She looked up at her companion warily.
"A few days' travel." He seemed quite unconcerned of her, busying himself with preparing mattresses and a kind of half-tent to keep out the wind. Right now, it put her at her ease - she had wondered if she was doing the right thing leaving herself at the mercy of a stranger.
"And you are certain it is the place of my dreams?"
"Nay, lady." He finished his work and sat down again, at a respectful distace. "I said so. It is a possibility, though."
She shook her head. "Forgive me. When my mind is clouded, I seem to forget all things." She frowned, rubbing her temples.
He shrugged and stuffed some leaves into a short-stemmed pipe that had been hanging from his neck, hidden under his shirt.
She watched him smoke in silence as the evening darkness descended, seemingly at ease with the world.
"Tell me about yourself." She gathered up her courage and looked at him.
"Me, lady? There is not much to tell. I travel these roads. Sell furs, and stories, at times. Carry supplies and messages." He stuffed the pipeweed pouch back into his shirt.
As he did so, something else glinted around his neck for an instant. For a moment, she could almost grasp something, like a forgotten memory...
She squinted, but it was already gone. "I know nothing of either furs or stories."
"Stories. News. When one travels, one hears a lot." He gestured to the landscape surrounding them. "But mostly, I travel for the road. Not many villagers like to travel themselves, but I like the freedom."
She smiled, taking in the landscape. "I can see the appeal."
"You do, lady?"
"It is quite beautiful to see the scenery change..." She looked at him. "Whilst I do not know if the place of my dreams exists in reality, it is beautiful - awe inspiring."
He smiled. "I hope you will find the road just as beautiful."
"I wish I had more bravery and courage in my heart, and possessed the skill to survive. I would very much like to travel and see more of the world." Her raven hair fell forward and into her face as she bowed her head.
She brushed it away impatiently. "Ah, and my hair has grown so much - one day I shall surely trip over it!"
He chuckled, looking at her.
"It is beautiful hair."
"You think so? It is so dark - I feel just as a raven compared to the golden locks of the Elves."
He smiled. "Not at all. They say the most beautiful Elf who ever lived had hair just like yours."
"Is that so?" She grinned incredulously. "I suppose I have to believe you."
"Listen." He started to hum again, another old-sounding melody. "The leaves were long, the grass was green, the hemlock-umbels tall and fair..."
"And in the glade a light was seen, of stars in shadow shimmering. Tinuviel was dancing there, to music of a pipe unseen..."
Suddenly she realised she was singing softly in tune with him. Shocked, she clasped her hands to her mouth.
He was looking at her, a surprised smile in his face. "And light of stars was in her hair, And in her raiment glimmering."
"How - how can I know this?" She opened her eyes, staring at him.
He smiled. "Please do go on, Lady. You sing beautifully."
He continued humming softly. She closed her eyes again, letting her memory continue the song.
"There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves.
And where the Elven-river rolled,
He walked alone and sorrowing."
Together they finished the verse:
"He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following."
He looked at her in wonder, his pipe forgotten between his fingers. "It seems you do remember something."
She shook her head, looking at him imploringly. "I don't know what I am remembering, Grimm."
"It is called the song of Beren and Luthien. The most beautiful of Elven children, who gave herself to the Man Beren. The Westmen still sing the song, at times."
"She did? How beautiful and sad..."
He looked at her curiously. "Sad? Yes... sad..."
"But it is sad. Such a love shall not exist in our lifetimes, Grimm - I am sure of it."
She looked up to the stars, continuing. "And yet - the ultimate act of love, from an Elf, costing the Elves, as you said, 'the most beautiful of elven children' forever."
She became aware he was staring at her. "Am I wrong?"
"No. No, you are not." He shook his head, looking away. "Yet you do not remember who taught you this song..."
"Ah well." He stood up, knocking out his pipe on his boot and shuffling it back into the pouch hanging from his neck.
"You should rest a little, my lady. I will stand watch."
She nodded and shuffled closer into the blanket and fur.
When she opened her eyes next, the sunset was gone and it was pitch black. She did not remember to fall asleep. To her right and above there was only the starlit sky, making her feel like she was falling into a sea of stars. She stirred, fighting the sudden vertigo.
On the edge of the meadow, she spotted Grimm's dark figure, a shadow before the starlight as still as a statue. She stared at it until she fell asleep again.