I awake to the gentle chirping of birdsong, somehow loud enough to overcome the roaring of the waterfall which served as a soundtrack to my sleep. My eyes open to a briefly unfamiliar location, though as they adjust I am able to recognize it as the East Porch of the Last Homely House. The sun is making its path along the morning sky.
I stir slightly, though a sharp intake of breath behind me stills me instantly. Ithilwe is still asleep, his arms still loosely wrapped around me; drawing me to his chest as comforting as he could offer. I do not want to disturb him yet, so I remain still. My eyes fall to the nearby bottle of wine, and my stomach churns in nausea at the sight of it. I only had one glass last night. There were no excuses for the awful things said. For a moment, I want to seize with anger, and throw the bottle across the floor just to watch it shatter into pieces. Yet I do not.
The evening had started on a great note. Ithilwe and Cardanith introduced to me an elf of the Woodland Realm; a minstrel named Galtharian. He seemed kind and inquisitive, asking curious questions about our pasts. Between the three of us, we had plenty of answers for him. The topic of going East came up, but I told Cardanith it wasn't feasible until the Company began to head East. He behest of me to ask Deorla which path we would take; if we planned to head through Imladris or not. I decided I would indeed ask.
I mentioned to Cardanith and the others they should come back to Annuminas with me for a time; it is, to me, my homeland. They agreed to come, but Cardanith wanted to deal with a drake problem in the Trollshaws. This is where things took a turn for the worse. I offered to stay with Cardanith and assist; I hate the dragon-kin with a fierce loathing, and should see them all felled. Galtharian said he would tag along as well - he was no fighter, but at least his music could keep our morale up.
But Ithilwe, not wanting to be left behind, said he would join us if e’eryone else was going. I reacted instinctively; I had seen the fierce dragons in all their blazing glory, and it took many of us to fell just a large drake. I did not want him to go and voiced as much. I feared his arrows would be of no use against their hide, and apparently that was the wrong thing to say, as all three of the others were quick to rebuke me for suggesting as much.
I relented to them and bit my tongue, but my disdain must have showed on my face, for Cardanith said something. I do not remember the exact words he used; something to the effect of “behaving like a child whose toy has been taken away”. For Ithilwe’s sake I attempted to keep the peace, and to keep silent, but Cardanith told me to speak ere I prove him right.
I told him he was not my better and had no right to mind me like a child. I was not so cruel at first, wishing to just voice my dissent with his opinions of me. It got crueler as we continued; Cardanith’s temper never flared once - or if it did, he never showed it. He never once raised his voice. I, on the other hand, fell back into my blind fury, again a fire doomed to burn anyone close to myself.
I asked him where he was when Mallossel died. I asked him why he did not protect her. I heard Ithilwe gasp in disbelief at my words, but Cardanith was quick to rebuke me for asking such a question.
I told him that Mallossel was his responsibility the second he convinced her to stay on these shores. Ithilwe stepped in this time, and encouraged me harshly to calm myself and be quiet. Cardanith stepped back, and told me he regretted leaving her that day, but it was not his choice. That her last wish was for him to seek me.
“She wished what?” I asked in disbelief, as my temper cooled instantly, and I withered beneath the mourning gaze of Cardanith and the worried expression of Ithilwe.
Cardanith said, “She wished for me to find you, and mend what was severed an age ago. I did not say it; for I did not wish for you, in your grief, to know that your sister died with your name on her lips.”
Everything froze for me in that moment, and my heart became a pounding drum in my skull; the beat to which I murmured listless apologies; the music to which I felt the world slip out from under me, and the next thing I knew I was seated on the ground with the bottle of wine in my hands. I dared not drink of it, and Ithilwe was quick to remove the bottle of my hands and pour me a glass of it instead. I drank it just to keep from breaking down in front of everyone, but it did not stop hot tears of shame to fall down my cheeks.
Cardanith removed from his neck the star pendant he had borne for years and left it in my care - I think Ithilwe told him that he could care for me from there. Galtharian left as well; I owe him another apology. He sat there silently and watched the entire scene. He tried to step in at one point, but he found himself incredibly out of his depth with the discussion at hand - wounds that were torn open years ago that still had not healed.
The second that the East Porch emptied and just Ithilwe and I remained, I burst into tears. The grief was still so fresh - too fresh, and I did not know those things of Mallossel. I felt ashamed for how I treated Cardanith, and felt that everything he said of me was true. I would eventually drive away those closest to me with my temper and my tongue. Ithilwe did his best to soothe me, but there was little he could do, in truth. I simply told him that I did not wish to see him felled like Mallossel; that I could not lose him too. He understood, and then I begged him to stay with me. To stay until the sun shone down upon us in our misery; he promised to stay with me forever if that is what I wanted, drawing to his chest my head. Ere long, I wept myself to sleep. He did not let me go.
I wonder if there was truly anything I could have done to save Mallossel. I wonder if it is my pride speaking - that if I had been there, I could have stopped it. As if my pride was a stronger force of will than her sacrifice. A part of me knows that thinking such a way is to put her life in vain. If only I had an enemy bigger than the pride inside of me, perhaps I could have won.