The Reluctant Apprentice

The sunlight streamed through the windows. Outside, wind blew the cherry trees in a graceful fashion, and the long grasses danced in the breeze. Inside, the teenager looked away from the windows. The lavish walls, blue and decorated in elegant swirls and flower art, felt cold compared to the world outside. Melestheliel held a book in her hand. In the dark oak chair she sat in, she looked down to the book. This was one of her father's martial arts manuals, explaining through words and illustrations the martial arts of elves throughout history. She turned a page, eying the subtle evolutions of sword designs. As she looked down, she felt the warm sunlight in her neck. As she read the manual, she once again asked herself...


Do I want to become a guard like my father?


Her father, Orotasarin, had been in the Noldorin military since the First Age, long before she was born. He had been a key special ops member, alongside Melestheliel's mother and aunt. It was hard to believe her gentle, quiet mother had been the on field commander once, strong and powerful. Yet, that blond Noldor-Vanyar hybrid had been a decorated hero. Of course, since then they had children. Melestheliel was only the third child. The eldest, Gwaindoriel, was a remarkable hunter and bounty hunter, but was completely unfit for the military. She was too wild... Losgliniel had studied as a crafter and healer in Eregion, prior to its fall, and had no interest in the military. This left Melestheliel to be the option to continue her parents' legacy as prized members of the military. True, Sauron had been taken captive to Numenor right around the time of her birth, but there were still rogue orcs and feral trolls out there. Eregion had fallen, Lindon still needed its saviors.


Melestheliel sighed, reaching back and tucking her hair behind her ears. She knew she had what it took. She was the "good child," compared to unruly Gwaindoriel and passionate Losgliniel. Melestheliel always preferred structure compared to them, and she was bold enough to handle the pressure of the training stocks. As she turned another page of the book, she smiled. If her retired, sweet and timid mother could of become a skilled, respected commander in the First Age, Melestheliel could easily surpass her.


She gasped when she heard the door make a loud click.


Melestheliel's head darted up, to the dark wood door. It opened in a long swing, allowing Melestheliel to see the person at the door. Her eyes narrowed, a recognized her instantly. "Aunt Aurthiel."


Aurthiel stepped in with a wide, long step. The floorboards moaned as the elf "maiden's" loose, red dress swirled. The pale skinned woman lifted a canteen to her lips, taking another swig of alcohol. She was not completely drunk, however. She only got wasted at night and at some more casual gatherings. Yet, everyone in town knew Aurthiel was always a bit tipsy, always had some alcohol in her system. Melestheliel was not impressed with her at all. Aurthiel was an outcast at the edge of town. She always rode out to hunt orc, according to Orotasarin it made her feel alive for once, then came back to drink. She was uncouth, unkempt, a shame to elven women who should know dignity and grace. It was remarkable, Aurthiel was an insanely good fighter with a massive reputation in the First Age, according to mother. Looking at the Noldorin lady lean against the wall in a casual, sloppy fashion, she could not believe it.


Why did I have to be related to her?


Even worse, Aurthiel always had an interest in Melestheliel. She was very close to Gwaindoriel and Losgliniel, yes, but both sisters admitted that the bond her aunt felt with her was unique. Mythrenniel had told her that since Melestheliel was born shortly after the fall of Eregion, Aurthiel had become attached to the new baby in grief. Melestheliel simply wished Aurthiel would leave her alone. She was a loser, a sad elf with a deplorable lifestyle. It was bad enough that they were related...


Lowering her canteen and wiping her jaw, Aurthiel looked at the teenager seated near the window. "Hey, kid. Mythrenniel said she'll be another half an hour 'til she gets back, okay?"


Melestheliel rolled her eyes, "Thank you for the message."


Aurthiel nodded and lifted her drink again - then lowered it before she took another sip. She looked down at the book in her hands. There was a strange sadness in her voice and she blinked. "You're really considering the military?"


Melestheliel nodded. "Of course. Somebody needs to continue the legacy of my parents."


Aurthiel flinched, wincing as she swallowed with a wrinkled face. Why did she cringe so hard? Her aunt was so weird! Aurthiel looked back at her and shook her head, "I was in the military once. It won't be easy."


Aurthiel pushed herself up from the wall. Walking across the floor, she walked by a table with another chair tucked into it. She grabbed the chair as she walked by. The legs squealed against the hard floor before she lifted it and plopped it next to Melestheliel. The teenager could smell beer and metal on her aunt, suggesting that the elder elf had been crafting before she came here. Aurthiel sat down, crossing her legs with an "Ah!" She sealed her canister tight before tucking it inside her top, making Melestheliel look away awkwardly.


"I was your age when I joined. I was fresh with grief, and anger, over all Morgoth took from me." Aurthiel looked out of the window, leaning back in the small chair. "I had lost my home, my family, and endured hardship. All the Noldor did, you know this."


Melestheliel nodded, trying to look involved. In actuality, she was internally sarcastically asking why another "when I was your age" conversation had to be shared.


"I was filled with nothing but rage. I could only think about fighting, violence. I grew to be one of the best soldiers in the training regiment, but outside that I had no life. No friends - save your mother of course - no hobbies, no light."


Aurthiel looked away from the window, towards the door. "It took me years to develop anything outside the tunnel vision of destruction in my life. I don't regret the ugly in my life, it made way for the beauty. But..."


Melestheliel straightened up a bit when Aurthiel turned to look at her. Those green eyes burned with intense emotions buried beneath a somber veil. "Are you sure you are ready? Emotionally? It is easy to learn external discipline and learn military code, but if you leave yourself unchecked inside-"


"I am ready." Melestheliel locked a firm gaze with her. "I am confident that I can manage. I am under control, stable. I have nothing to fear."


Much to her surprise, Aurthiel started to laugh. Laugh! A low chuckle solely escalated into a belly laugh as Melestheliel found herself inching to the edge of her seat in discomfort. Aurthiel finally lifted a hand and wiped the tears from her eyes, "Really!"


With her cheeks burning, Melestheliel felt herself harden in defense. "Of course!"


Aurthiel shook her head as another chuckle escaped her. Embarrassed defiance caused Melestheliel to glare as she fumed. How dare you laugh, you old hag! I'm far more capable than the mess you always were!


"You think you're so well put together!" Aurthiel scoffed, "You always were the little angel who made mommy and daddy proud! Without true purpose, what are you?"


Aurthiel leaned in, very close to her. That disgusting booze smell hit her nose as Melestheliel leaned as far back as she could without falling off the chair. Aurthiel's face was close, too close, as her warm breath hit Melestheliel's ear. "The moment someone questions you, you need to defend your spoiled title of good girl. You know nothing of real suffering, the death and destruction I've seen. Allies brutality maimed, homes destroyed. You want to make your parents proud, that is all. You know nothing of conviction!"


Melestheliel bolted from her chair. Her trim, blue dress was out of place for once as she turned and shouted at her aunt, "So what if I never had to cross some stupid glacier to get to Beleriand! Eregion fell just when I was born, and I remember how depressed Losgliniel was when I was a child! Lindon needs defended too! What must I do to prov-wait!"


Melestheliel stood straight, her usually perfect hair in her face. "I don't need to prove anything to you! My parents think I can join, they support me! All I need to do is sign up!"


Aurthiel glared from the side, still seated. Her messy hair flew as she spat, "I don't!"


"Like I need you to!" Melestheliel threw her arm, "You're nothing but a drunk outcast who spends her lonely, pathetic existence scrapping by on bounties and crude crafts! And why should you lecture me? Why are you so concerned about me! You're not my mother!"


Melestheliel could see Aurthiel flinch as if physical wounds were dealt. Her body seemed to shrink as she turned away, jet black hair covering her face. Melestheliel wondered if, in the heat of the moment, she went too far? Yes everything she said was true. Her aunt was a disaster, why should she try to tell her what to do with her life?


Then, she saw a tear hit the floor. Aurthiel was... crying...


"I still care." Her back heaved, "I always cared, kid. You're still family."


Aurthiel pulled herself off the chair. Tears streamed down her face as she turned to Melestheliel with such intensity in her usually dull eyes. Butterflies raced inside Melestheliel's stomach, her chest heavy, as she realized something outright triggered this drunk she-elf. The teenager took a step back, already considering bolting out the door.


"I've lost everything! So many times!" She took a step forward, "My homes! Friends! Families!"


Her voice was raised in a scream as she took another step closer. "I'm in agony!"


Melestheliel took another step back, unable to break away from this. She felt something inside shatter. She was... sorry. Somehow, the girl who always disdained her aunt felt her eyes forced to open when she wanted to stay asleep.


Aurthiel closed that distance again in a step. She was vibrating in emotion as she barked, "I can't! Not again! Not you! I won't let some orc take you from me!"


Melestheliel was shocked. Intense, passionate. All Melestheliel saw was the drunk loner who spent her time crafting, killing orcs, and wasting away in her run down, uncared for house. Melestheliel realized, in that moment, why. This was a broken, tormented person who had recently lost everything again, when Eregion was demolished.


"Please! If I can't convince you, let me train you first!" Aurthiel walked right up to Melestheliel, towering above her in height. "You foolish girl! Let me make you strong enough to survive myself! I can't lose you, you idiot!"


Melestheliel was born about a year after Eregion fell, she must of been a single ray of light to her. Tears flooded her eyes when she realized just how badly she had hurt her. She loathed being related to this sad, pathetic emo, yet found herself feeling more guilty than she ever had before in her life. Her aunt was screaming at her, begging her...


"I know everything! How to fight, survive! I'll teach you everything you know, and you'll be more prepared for the military! Please! I trained Gwaindoriel too, you know!"


Melestheliel's lips parted, throat tight as she croaked, "Stop..."


Aurthiel slammed her hand on her shoulder, shaking her, "Let me help you! I know you're not ready, kid! Not yet!"


"And-" Melestheliel's voice cracked, "You were?"


"No," Aurthiel's voice lowered, she shook her head, "I was never ready..."


As tears streamed down their faces, Melestheliel swallowed. Aurthiel was completely dedicated to making sure Melestheliel was alright. Why did she doubt her? Orotasarin and Mythrenniel believed she was capable, what was different with Aurthiel? Melestheliel could not deny the potent emotions in Aurthiel's eyes, as if something far deeper was at play here. Her aunt always watched her carefully, Melestheliel remembered the frequent visits and attempts to know her growing up. Melestheliel always turned away, because of her reputation. Even as a little girl, Melestheliel knew the importance of prestige. Yet, here she was. Before to joining the military, Melestheliel could learn first hand from someone who was there from the beginning. This tormented, broken elf felt something about Melestheliel she could not define. The closest thing she could compare this to was the moments Mythrenniel, her mother, was concerned for her.


Melestheliel was shocked by Aurthiel's display, shamed for insulting her, and suddenly felt the need to close the gap she made. There was far more to this story than Melestheliel knew. Melestheliel realized that the only way to find out was to force herself into contact with her aunt.


Melestheliel nodded slowly, reluctant yet pushed by curiosity and guilt. "Okay. We can train."


Aurthiel's breathing instantly slowed. Her eyes glowed with that same, raw softness she saw in Mythrenniel's eyes when she fixed her hair or bandaged her knee. What was this? Some kind of motherly love? The relief caused her tight posture to soften. No longer did she grit her teeth, the wrinkles in her face were gone.


She nodded, "Thank you... This'll make me feel better about this..."


To Melestheliel's surprise, Aurthiel wrapped her arms around her in a deep hug. Awkward, unused to open affection, Melestheliel stood frozen as she smelled the harsh alcohol and tinkering materials of her aunt. Aurthiel sighed, squeezing her niece. Her voice was full of affection and broken heartedness, "You stupid girl..."


Melestheliel swallowed. "I went too far. I was angry. I apologize."


Aurthiel sniffled, lifting a hand off her back to wipe her eyes.


Melestheliel shook, "I didn't want to hurt you. I just - why do you feel so strongly about me?"


"Oh, Melestheliel..."


Aurthiel pulled away from her. She reached into her dress and grabbed her canteen. The liquid inside it swished as she walked behind her, facing the door. The affliction and passion in her voice scorched her like the burning sun. "You will never know how strongly I feel for you, child..."


Confused, Melestheliel turned to see Aurthiel walking towards the door. She opened her canteen and took a long, heavy drink. She lowered her drink, unashamedly belching, then reached for the doorknob. "I'll need to talk to your parents about us training."