As I wait, the sun slips slowly down behind the trees, so that the leaves blush with rosy light. I light the lamps myself, kindling each small flame one by one. In the gathering darkness, the stone maiden stares out into the distance she cannot see, one hand always reaching out, expression lost in shadow. I sit cross-legged on the soft grass, listening to the sound of the waterfall just a few feet away. It doesn't completely mask the approaching footsteps, but I do not turn until I feel the hand drop lightly to my shoulder. He smiles a welcome, moving to sit opposite me, and I am struck by how tired he looks. It is the same weariness Maltariel carries when asked about her home – these are a people beset by enemies on every border, and exhausting themselves in their own defence. For a moment or two we sit in silence, and I wonder what he sees in me. It is a long time since we were both here, under the golden leaves, sharing a silence like this one.
Eventually, I break the silence, leaning forward to ask quietly, “You received my message? I was beginning to get worried.” He gives me a wry smile, then nods.
“I have been in the north – I had only just returned to Fanuidhol when they told me you'd been there. There are already some... rumours of your companions, too.”
I drop my eyes, feeling his disapproval even without looking at his expression. We sit for a little while longer before he gives an exasperated sigh, shifting impatiently on the dry leaves.
“You really mean to do this? You will cross the river with those...” I look up, and he shakes his head, lips pressed together for a moment in irritation. “Rainith... they do not even speak our language.” At my raised eyebrows he gives a dismissive wave of his hand, explaining that he has spoken to the scouts we met on our way in. I remember Estarfin's use of their private tongue then, remember the anger I felt. It seems the watchful eyes of the scouts have missed nothing – and now my friend reflects back at me my own doubts.
As if sensing that I will not answer, he sighs once more and stands, turning his face up to regard the silent statue. I move to stand beside him, taking comfort in his familiarity. Despite all that happened here in the end, Lorien was a refuge for me, and once more it takes shape to offer me the same respite.
“Does Galdorion know? He is not here, I see.” It is the same question everyone asks, and I do not even need to answer for him to know. He shakes his head at me, laying a hand on my shoulder once more, and speaking gently, “Oh Rainith... the two of you will tread the same paths over again until it tears you utterly apart if you go on this way.” I shrug, dislodging his hand and turning slightly away from him. I do not want his comfort, his sympathy. If I do not think of Galdorion I will not feel the well of hurt that lies buried there, the silence of a door shut against my urgent calling, the emptiness of standing alone in halls where we once danced together. He nods slowly, and turns back to the statue, giving me silence and space while I gather my tattered thoughts together. Eventually, I turn back to him, finally asking the only question that should really matter. “Well? May we pass? Your company could make it impossible for us to cross the river safely... or go anywhere further...” I trail off at his irritated shake of the head.
“I will not hold that kind here. They may go where they will – we need not court any more trouble. We have plenty here to share. If they choose to, they may cross the river with any of our scouts, and we will not molest them on the other side. We need nothing to do with their errand, and I will pass that message among all the companies and ensure it is understood.”
I begin to thank him, but he cuts me off again, holding up a hand for a moment. In that instant he is teacher rather than friend, commander rather than companion, and I fall silent, a slow uncoiling of dread as I recognise what he is about to say.
“Not you, Rainith. If you are with them, we will hold your company here, by force if we must.” I am ready to object, even while the will to fight this battle yet again flickers and falters within me, but he turns to me with a look of such compassion and fear that I find myself silenced. “You are lost – I see that. And I will help, if I can. But this is wrong. You do not belong on this errand, with these people. I will not tell your new husband that I sent you off to your death with those I did not trust to protect your life. If you need a purpose, then let us give you one. Rejoin us at Fanuidhol – there is always need of more fighters there. But do not ask me to sanction this self-destruction. I will not allow it.”
The silence stretches out, hangs heavy and laden with pain. His words cut, yet without drawing blood. It is almost as though ever since we have entered Lorien, a part of me felt that this was my final destination. And now once more I am bound by another's command, yet this time there is a sense of freedom in giving up. He stands beside me for a moment more before he squeezes my shoulder and moves away, tone quietly commanding once more.
“I will write to the Lady Danel and inform her of our decision. You know where to find me, if you choose to.”
With that he is gone, and I am left alone with only the statue for company. She shines silver in the starlight, this maiden who lost her love and is now lost forever. I wonder if she feels lost, wherever she is. Maybe even now she wanders the shores waiting for someone to find her. I wonder if this is how she feels.