Bedraggled and stunned, the company returned to Calidis’ home in Rivendell each shattered by the strange ordeal in Imlad Gelair in their own way.
For the Lady Arahen, it had been a shocking realization of just how vulnerable even havens such as Rivendell had become. She had been reminded that the wise too often overlooked that the war waged in many places, in many ways.
For Addiela, the situation had given her much to think about, and relieved her fears to a degree. She had been assuming herself the weak link due to her being fooled by Mans, yet she had resisted the nightmares that had tried to lay her low.
Nethrida viewed things as a soldier. A hard won victory was in hand, now was the time to heal and rest and celebrate. Questions could be asked later, but for now, they were all safe. Nothing else mattered to her.
Ryn was still coming to grips with the strange reality she had walked into upon leaving quiet Bree, and now had a new concern as well. Her rage was barely able to be controlled, and if not for Nethrida she could have easily slain that man. Even worse, she had nearly attacked Nethrida. Her anger, as well as her growing power, frightened her.
Eduwiges was barely conscious as she was put to bed, agonizing over her horrible nightmare and struggling to regain herself. She was still moaning softly, insisting that she had not betrayed her people, and that her father was innocent as she drifted to sleep. It would be some time until the horror of this day was truly past for her.
Both Xandilif and Finchley had not faced the Masked in Imlad Gelair, but had aided Elrond and his forces in seeing to the rescue of the company. Finchley was mainly confused but relieved everyone seemed mostly alright, but Xandilif was keeping a close eye on her sister, not liking this strange turn of events at all.
The Lady Calidis was almost grateful for her wound, as it kept her from dwelling on all of the other frightening aspects of the confrontation with the Masked. The apparent loss of Xanderian, her friend Merilos attempting to kill her, and facing a twisted future that every ounce of reason told her was impossible….all was too much for her to cope with as the ache in her shoulder reminded her that if nothing else, she was alive.
As for Xanderian, upon arriving back in the haven she embraced each of her friends, made certain that Eduwiges was as comfortable as she could be, then withdrew to think and reflect and try to sleep. None of those three tasks was simple for her at the moment, sleep least of all.
Nonetheless, several hours later she slipped downstairs at the sound of raised voices, wearing only a sheet to find everyone present and in agitated discussion. In her hand she held a sealed letter.
Calidis rose and embraced her, and Xan rested her head against the woman’s shoulder…their eyes met, and Cal knew they would discuss her choice to risk her own life to save Merilos later. For now, they were both here and healing….and that was clearly enough for Xanderian as the two kissed.
Finchley smiled, watching the two, relieved that Xanderian was on her feet, then tilted her head. Addie and Ryn were both looking anywhere they could other than at Xanderian rather then risk a lack of modesty. Grinning, Finchley took a length of ribbon from a table and came to Rian..a few deft ties and tucks, and the sheet was transformed into a sort of bedgown which seemed the best course for the sensibilities of all.
Rian smoothed the silky cloth and smiled at Finchley, then looked at her companions. “What grave topics are we discussing to cause such consternation.”
Eduwiges held a slip of parchment out to Xanderian. “Nethrida received this, just a few minutes ago. Some poncy messenger nearly brained himself against Calidis’ wards trying to deliver it.” She smiled at the memory, then dispelled the lighter thoughts…this was clearly a serious matter.
Reading the note carefully, Xanderian frowned. “There has been a death, come home. Signed A….and there is a postscript in the same hand. Bring Help. Disturbing. I assume that A is your sister?”
Nethrida nodded, her face etched with concern. “That is certainly written in my sister Anendyll’s hand. However, it is hard to imagine her calling out to me for aid. Our relations have been…strained for some time.”
Xandilif snorted. “Strained? She wants to wear yer kidney’s as earrings. For her to send that, either something has gone very very bad, or it’s a trap. Either way, best to face it head on, yeah?”
“I am finding it hard to deal with the shame of agreeing with the Banshee…” Addie took the note from Xan and passed it back to Nethrida. “But I agree, the sooner we deal with this the better. At any rate, did Arahen not tell us Elrond would prefer we be on our way?”
Lif nodded. “No question…he is gonna want to finish rounding up these masked bastards, and then start pretending nothing happened and everything is just dandy. We are a mess he does NOT want to have to explain. So yeah, we ride at dawn…assuming the Monk feels up to it.” Her eye focused searchingly on Xan, as so suddenly did everyone’s, a nervous silence descending on the friends. It was hard to reconcile the Xanderian standing before them with the scarred, blinded madwoman they had faced in Imlad Gelair.
In response, Xan smiled gently. “I appreciate the care of all of you, my sweet ones…but I am fine. By morning I will be more than content to ride out of Imladris. Before that, I just wish to have a conversation with Selunae and thank her for her aid…and post a message.”
Finchley took the envelop out of Xan’s hand. “I can take it to the mail clerk…who is it to?”
“Hawke…” Finchley met her eye and the two shared a smile…and a look of concern. “I am writing to him in Bree in case he is still there and…under his own recognizance. I am just telling him I love him, we love him..and miss him…and he should speed home to Belfalas as we are. I…I did not try to explain to him what has happened since we parted from him in Bree. That is all best for him to hear from my own mouth I think.”
Finchley nodded..telling herself she should include the note she had been preparing along with it, when she looked back at Xanderian, noting something odd. The blue mark was gone. She reached out and touched the Elleth’s throat. “Xan…you…the scar..it’s….gone?”
The other’s crowded around and saw that the blue scar she had worn since falling at Kheledul was indeed healed, the skin of her neck smooth and unblemished again.
Xanderian herself seemed just as confused as the others, touching her own throat in shock as Addie’s voice cut through the hubbub, sounding strained and more then a little afraid. Was this truly THEIR Xanderian?
“Xan…” Addie whispered in the sudden quiet. “You must answer a question for me, quickly and directly. The gifts we once exchanged…what were they and why?”
The elleth smiled to herself, and answered. “You gave me a carving of two hearts entwined in honor of our sisterhood, and I gave you a band for your hair in purest emerald. We exchanged the tokens to sooth hurt feelings over the fact you had locked me outside your door for fear I would attempt to teach you the gentle ways of loveplay.”
Ryn nearly laughed at the joke, then looked at Nethrida questioningly when the others were silent. The Captain just nodded, mouthing “Yes that happened” back to the newcomer.
For a moment Addie blushed, but then nodded. “Correct. You are certainly the Xanderian we know, both due to your knowledge and the fact that..well…you answered me in precisely the way I would expect our Xanderian to do. Perhaps now then is a good time to come to grips with some things. How then is your throat healed? What happened to you when the Mistress was in your place...and what was affecting the reflections in the water so strangely in Imlad Gelair?”
Xanderian sat, taking Calidis’ hand. “I…I do not know where I was, or why the water was…I was…in a room, lined with pale wood and many books and scrolls. The carpets were…thick and plush. I was simply…there. However I knew what was happening..I knew the danger you all were in…yet I could do nothing.”
Addiela nodded. “And what changed..how did you leave this room?”
Thinking hard, the memories already fading, Xanderian looked down, her voice faraway. “Lilta…the bow Heartbreaker…she knew her…me…not…and rejected her, casting her away, sending her also into this room. We…I…quarreled..argued….I fought. I needed to return to you, but I did not wish me to. Then….we knew that Calidis would die, and neither me wished that, neither of us could bear that…yet Heartbreaker would answer to only me and it was our only hope. So…we agreed…and I returned. As for my throat...I am as shocked as any....”
Addie frowned…and was about to question her further when Eduwiges stepped forward and hugged the elleth firmly. “What else matters? You heard her Addie!!…she returned to us, and that bitch was sent back where she came from. Victory Tonight we drink, and tomorrow we ride to save the day in Linhir!! Forth Eorlingas!!!” Ryn readily agreed, and Calidis also seemed eager to move the topic along, doubtless to spare Xanderian pain.
Sensing the mood shifting, Addie swallowed her questions for another day as preparations began both for drinking and departure. Looking at the concern etched into her friend’s Nethrida’s face, she knew this was the right course. Linhir first to see what that message meant…but then….there were answers to find about what exactly had happened to Xanderian, to Rivendell…and what did it all mean. She paused as she saw Xandilif the Banshee staring at her. For a moment, the intensity of the woman's gaze frightened her.
The Champion of the Azure Faithful finally nodded at Addie. “Yeah, I know HorseImp. What the blazes does WE mean? I can feel in my soul we ain’t seen the last of this Mistress of the Masked….one way or another.”
As Lif went off to begin gathering the horses with Eduwiges, Addiela swallowed hard. That was just what she had been afraid of.