Some time ago
The wind rises. Leaves on the trees stir fitfully, shaking shadows across the moonlit floor. Her silent companions watch her – she can feel their eyes on her, tracing her back and forth. And yet she cannot stop pacing, as if fighting against a cage that none of them can see. She is all anger, all frustration, and it leaks out of her as though he had struck a hole in her with his pathetic practice sword, and left her to pour out all over the valley.
“No. I will not. I… I cannot.”
The admission is a groan of despair, of defeat. Cachunir, less practiced at hiding his emotions, eyes her with open dismay.
“But… where will you go?”
“Anywhere! What does it matter now?!”
He shakes his head, but it is the other who speaks, voice measured, expression calm. After all this time, all they can do is rehearse conversations they have had before. She is bound in the same circles, tangled in the same hopeless, ridiculous chains – paths she has never sought, decisions she has never taken. People she wishes she had never met. Never hurt.
“You will not resume hunting now?”
“Why not?” She looks at him, that hard, angry stare, but he does not drop his eyes. They have known each other too long – she cannot force him away even through her anger.
“You know why not. What possible chance is there of success? What can you possibly gain? It has been too long! It was too long the last time, and the time before that! It has been too long for many, many years, Nirhen!”
Nirhen nods, turning away as if the matter is settled. “I have stayed here too long – been… distracted. I should have known there was no information here.”
He sighs, his irritation plain, even if he does not contradict her. Cachunir looks warily between them both. “Then where? Where is there left that you have not already pursued this course?”
He is waiting for an old answer – an account of a planned journey to Angmar, or to the frozen areas further North, where she could spend years fighting countless enemies and failing to defeat the source of her fury. But finally, she is learning. The years may repeat themselves, this story may be retold and retold, and a wake of destruction, friends and foes alike, left ruined in her path. But finally, she is learning.
He throws up his hands in disgust, and half-turns away. It is Cachunir who replies, a confused frown crossing his brow. “I don’t understand. Why Lorien? Surely if there were any information there, someone would already have heard it.”
Nirhen only looks at him. Their companion shakes his head, and speaks in a scathing tone. “She is not thinking of tormenting scholars, or hooking up with old houses this time, Cachunir. She is going to try the Lady herself. An undoubtedly excellent plan, like all of the rest.”
Cachunir’s expression brightens, but then he looks doubtfully at Nirhen, registering the sarcasm in their companion's tone. “But… will she…?” He trails off, abashed by Nirhen’s darkening expression.
“No, of course she will not! Even if she knew where he was, how do you propose to get access to her company long enough to ask her to exert herself to tell you? What reason does she have to care for someone like you?”
From somewhere, Nirhen has re-summoned that stillness, that core of ice which has kept her veiled for so long. She regards them both calmly, only her dark eyes showing any hint of the maelstrom of anger which still lurks within her.
“I will earn her answer. They have their war too – she will need warriors.”
He shakes his head, looking at her sorrowfully. Cachunir looks troubled. “That could take… will you write? Let us know how you are?”
She looks at him almost in amazement, unable to prevent a scowl crossing her face. “No. We are not friends, Cachunir. You have repaid me your father’s debt. You may consider our connection ended.”
Their companion grimaces, putting a hand on the wounded-looking Cachunir’s shoulder. “Don’t take it personally, Cachunir. She does not have ‘friends.’”
He is mocking her, almost with affection in the wry twist of his mouth, but there is no trace of either laughter or sorrow in Nirhen’s expression of agreement.
“No. I do not.”