The pen skitters off the table and rolls across the floor, coming to a rest barely an inch from where Maltariel sits on the sill, looking out of the window at the dawn. She looks up at the sound, uncurling lithely to pick it up and walk slowly across the room, eyes on me as she holds it out. I grimace apologetically, pushing the ruined piece of parchment towards her as she drops into a chair opposite me. Lack of practice for long years has rendered my handwriting obscure at best, but this is a hopelessly illegible scrawl, and I see my friend struggling to hold back a smile as she examines it.
“Well... I can see why you were frustrated, but there's really no need to throw pens at innocent bystanders,” she finally remarks, sliding my attempts back to me. “Not as easy as it seemed?”
“It's hopeless!” I exclaim, leaning back into my chair as if I would reject the letter entirely. The movement sends a twinge of pain up my arm, and I am hard-pressed not to wince. Maltariel does not look convinced.
“You must have known things would be difficult for a while...” she begins gently, but I interrupt, shaking my head in irritation.
“Difficult! It's hopeless. I cannot lift a sword for months... and now I cannot even answer letters.” My voice drops to a barely audible level as I finish, “How can I be of any use like this?”
Maltariel looks at me reproachfully, retrieving a fresh scroll from the pile, along with the pen. “That's enough of that, thank you. The healers said that you would have to be patient – besides, the House clearly does not need you for your stunning penmanship.” I feel my mouth open to retort angrily, but she is smiling at me, eyes warm with affection and gentle reassurance, and so I shrug my left shoulder, nodding slowly. “For now, why don't you dictate the letter to me – we can see if we can arrange some more... long-term help later.” I know that her suggestion is sensible – I clearly cannot write a formal letter with my left hand, at least not without a great deal more practice – but it is galling. I had come to terms with the idea that I could not fight, could not ride with Lord Veryacano to prove the value of my Oaths to Lord Anglachelm. Now I find I cannot even do as much as the meekest scribe in Elrond's libraries. Maltariel is already neatly addressing the letter, musing out loud as she does so, “Eliriael? That sounds familiar...”
I nod, settling myself more comfortably in my chair, trying not to let my friend see the wince of discomfort that accompanies the movement. I had known even before I left Lorien that the journey back to the valley was coming too soon – but the urge to return home was stronger than the nagging voices of Lorien's healers. Now, I am paying the price for my impatience.
“You might know her,” I reply, suddenly remembering Belegos' words from the night before. “Belegos spoke of her last night – he said she is from Gondolin, too. He helped her escape the city, I believe...” Maltariel looks rather uncomfortable at the reminder, and I remember with a pang of guilt the nights she spent hidden away in these rooms immediately after meeting Belegos, revisiting old griefs. Somehow, surrounded by our own troubles, it is easy to forget that even those long past may bring pain. “You... have you seen him, since he returned to the valley?”
Maltariel shakes her head, finishing the elleth's name with a smooth flourish which I can only envy. “No, I know he is busy. Besides, why should he wish to see me? We did not really know each other, then, you know.” The ghost of their shared connection seems almost to stand leaning over the table, but I do not speak the name confided in me in the depths of one of those lonely nights, and Maltariel's quick smile is enough to banish any shade. “We will have time, if he wishes to speak. But as for this Eliriael – I don't think I know her. Perhaps I have simply heard the name before.”
Maltariel looks up at me patiently, waiting for me, and I nod, choosing my words carefully as I respond.
“Well then... Dear Eliriael. Thank you very much for your kind note.” Maltariel glances up and grins at the formal tone, but I persevere, ignoring her. “I am pleased to hear that you would like to become one of our members – and I agree with you that it sounds as if your skills will be ideally suited to helping us. I would be glad to meet with you to discuss the matter further at a convenient time – you might find me in the Hall of Fire or by the waterfall today, if that is suitable? I hope to hear from you soon. Yours Sincerely,”
“I can probably manage that part,” Maltariel murmurs, signing my name with another dramatic flourish. “I had no idea you had such an... official writing style.”
I begin to frown, holding out my free hand to take the letter from her, but she shakes her head, standing and folding it neatly.
“Don't worry, it's perfect. I will go and find someone to take this to her – you just... sit, for a little while.” She gives me a rather reproachful look once more, and I nod, obediently laying my hand on the table in front of me, and turning my gaze out of the window. The birds are singing in the trees, and I see the breeze slowly shifting the highest leaves into motion. The valley hums quietly with life, elves and beasts alike, all occupied in their own tasks. Despite the new cares that I bear, it is good to be home.