An Ending



It ends like this. Apparently.

 

The pain is unbearable. It burns as if Nirhen has spent the days swallowing hot coals, and fills her head and throat as if now she is choking on the smoke they let off as they eat away at her insides. She had never really considered what the ending of this might be, and now, watching them flutter like frantic birds around their golden-haired Lord, it is worse than anything they have done so far.

 

It is easy enough to bully a scrap of parchment and writing equipment from the provisioner – the others are so concerned with their business over their fallen Lord that no one notices her stealing away. Perhaps she does not even need to consider it a risk - even Estarfin has not spoken to her since their meeting at the gate, although she tries to be glad of this, her only success. It is what she had wanted, after all – to push him back towards this group whose triumph she cannot share. Even if now she has won it, the solitude tastes bitter.

 

It is a long time since she has had cause to write much at all, and for a moment she can only stare at the parchment, hesitant for the first time in weeks. Finally, she limits herself to the truth, writing in her own tongue, in handwriting as old-fashioned as the language it describes:

“I have gone ahead to secure a path for your successful return.”

She wonders whether she should congratulate him – her commander, such as he has been – on a triumphant venture. But she cannot think of any words that would not seem trite, and she does not value pointless niceties. In the end, she signs it with the only signature she has ever used – the mark her father had once taught her, beaming with pride, of the guards who'd taken their identity from their own Lord even long after he was lost. Perhaps it will not matter if Lord Veryacano remembers or even recognises the old mark of Makalaurë 's company – he will know who is missing easily enough. Still, it is an identity she will not relinquish, even here, at this ending of this other hunt, another successful tale, the triumph of a company that isn't hers. She leaves the unsealed note with a guard, who agrees to pass it on, and looks disappointed that he cannot immediately read its contents. Sometimes, it seems, the passing of time is enough to keep things hidden. Or forgotten.

 

Ostensibly, her errand is not a vain one – orc camps litter these forsaken woods, some larger than others. For a while, it is enough to turn the fire burning inside her out against these cursed creatures – it is enough to let the icy resolve of battle fill her in its place, pushing out all else, until there is nothing left but to fight, and track, and fight again. By the time the sun rises, grey light filtered through darkened trees to spill across the bleak lands, she is some way away from Ost Galadh, and the mindless battle has been almost distraction enough. A new slash from a badly redirected blow cuts into her thigh, crossing the old web of scars from similar dawns, and the discomfort when she runs is almost distraction enough.

 

There is no way of really knowing whether the route she picks to slaughter her way across is the one the company will take, but it doesn't matter. Either she will serve them, or she will serve the beleaguered guardians of this land and Lorien's borders, or she will serve her own desperate desire to be doing something, anything, that can be counted as right. Something she can hold up as a success, when she must look at the face of their Lord and face her own failures. The night's work is almost distraction enough. And if in the cold light of day the question comes back to stand beside her once more, in the shape of those she had once fought with, once run with, once trailed patiently through plains and forests, at least now there is no one to speak it aloud.

 

What now?