“I did not take him from you,” Ruineth folded her arms across her chest.
I tried to sound as gentle as possible, aware my words, if not carefully chosen, could cause harm.
“No. I know that,” I said. “I am but trying to say that I know what it is like to lose him. In my case I struggled accepting my father telling me Estarfin was slain.”
Ruineth raised her brows. What were my sorrows to her?
“I grieved for …oh…over six thousand years, until we were brought together again. That was before he met you. I did not take him from you either.”
Shaking her head, Ruineth was slow to reply. “No, you did not take him. I never had him. I do not think what I loved is even still there.”
I lowered my head, knowing she spoke the truth. She understood. “I wish matters had been otherwise for you, Ruineth. But I would have you know that you are highly thought of as an apprentice and friend. If and when you wish, you would be welcome to visit us in Ered Luin, to stay...and perhaps learn further?”
“He is most skilled. Such praise is worth something,” she said, seeming to relax a little, but her expression was set firm.
“If you ever want to renew your apprenticeship, we would both welcome you at Numenstaya. He knows I speak with you of this, and would resume the friendship if possible?” While she did not have his heart's love, I knew he missed her. I knew he was saddened over losing his most promising apprentice. I wanted him to be happy.
Ruineth looked at me sadly, then stepped closer and lowered her voice. I glanced at Parnard. His attention seemed to be elsewhere.
I swiftly and respectfully focused back on Ruineth.
“You know what he has done? she whispered. “He has told you?”
I saw that Parnard was now regarding Ruineth with interest. I think he was listening closely.
And for my part I was unsure of what she referred to? Did she mean the way he had parted from her, which I confess was far from well done, or was she speaking of the darkness he bore since the two kinslayings?
“He has spoken with me about many things, yes. Or is it something in particular to which you refer? I know he tried to drive you away from him by telling of some of his past deeds? Of the kinslayings.”
And I all but bit my tongue, knowing Parnard stood close.
“He has told me all of it,” Ruineth replied, still softly, but loud enough for Parnard to open his eyes wider. “All of the blood that still clings to him, that can never be made clean.” She shuddered. “He reveled in it.”
I looked towards Parnard, but there was nothing for it: Ruineth had raised the matter. I would not back away.
I nodded slowly. I had heard her. “He speaks not in that manner in front of me. He is still capable of dark deeds at great need. He can revel in the death of the Secondborn,” I lowered my head, “A matter which I can understand, if not full-heartedly agree with. But the kinslayings….never has he hinted he reveled in those. He did what he did, and nothing can change that.”
“You know him best, my Lady,” said Ruineth, looking unconvinced. She took a step back.
I was aware of Parnard’s eyes upon me. I was aware that defending Estarfin was not what I had gone there for. Yet it hurt me when others saw only the worst in him. He could not undo what he had done, I knew the old darkness still lingered. I also knew he would never again slay another Elf.
“It may be that he spoke his darkest deeds to try and turn you away? He has tried several times to caution me on binding my life with his. He knows the cost of his past. But I knew him before all the struggles. There is still much of that ‘him’ to be coaxed into the light. He knows I will stand by him, whatever is to come. But the deeds themselves…you are still young, and know not what it was like in those days, save through books and tales. Many followed our Princes, yes to murder, but that was never our first intent. We were not bloodthirsty, at least the majority were not. We hoped the others understood. But we all were bound by an oath, save the very youngest. I was bound…and would have been involved had my father not prevented it.”
“I am sure you would,” Ruineth looked at me a little coldly.
“As would you, Ruineth, had you been born in that time and place. But as for Estarfin, he was young and joyful before the wars, before he had to face what none should face. The battles changed many, the kinslayings many more. Yes, there is a darkness yet in him, though he fights against it, it calls him to despair even as I try to call him back to the light. But he is no mindless killer, reveling in bloodshed.” I turned to my Wood-Elf friend, wondering what, if aught he was making of this. But he also knew Estarfin rather well. “Parnard here can confirm my words,” I said.
He was staring up at the night sky. “The Bull rides high tonight! - eh?”
“You do not need make excuses to me,” said Ruineth.
“Ah, but I am full of excuses,” Parnard told her.
I sighed. “I make no excuses. I remember,” I stated. She had said her ‘truth,’ I would say mine.
“What do you wish me to attest, Cousin?” said Parnard.
“Estarfin, as he is. That he is not a mindless slayer.”
Parnard’s expression brightened with memory. “Oh! No, no, no, he is not a mindless slayer. He is very mindful when swinging that great sword and lopping off arms and whatnot…”
I closed my eyes.
“He has a purpose,” continued Parnard, warming up to the conversation. “That, to me, is not mindless at all. In fact, it seems rather the opposite. He is mindful.” Opening my eyes again, I saw Parnard nodding - from his perspective it seemed that he had proved his point very well.
“As Ruineth suggests, we are not here to defend him,” I said, wishing that I had never started on that track.
“Estarfin is, as you say, as he is - no more, no less,” concluded Parnard, and seemed pleased with himself, as if he had wrapped everything up in a nice, neat package, and had just put the final touches on the bow.
“I know what he is,” Ruineth said. “I see you see that as well. I am glad - at least of this.” Ruineth finally unfolded her arms. She bowed a little before me. Parnard smiled; I believe he thought we had reached some kind of accord. “I will happily make these things for you, Lady,” Ruineth continued. “I wish for nothing more from him though. I hope you understand.”
I nodded.“If there comes a time when that changes, the doors will still be open to you; I shall ensure that, but I do understand your present choice.” I bowed my head to Ruineth. “I am glad we spoke.”
“I am glad you and I met again under better circumstances,” Parnard said to her.
“Is there aught else, Cousin?” I asked him.
“No, it seems that our business here is done.”
I took a bag of coins from my belt pouch, and handed them to Ruineth. “Twenty five gold. If it comes to more I shall pay when I return to Imladris.”
Ruineth took them with a nod. It was unusual to pay for a commission before it was received, but Ruineth would make the items, and there was no guarantee, given the dangers faced on our journey to Mirkwood, that I would return to pay for her time and effort. It was better to pay now.
“Oh, and points on the toes of the sabatons, please. I like to kick.”
“Namarie, Lady.” she inclined her head
I turned to leave, then Ruineth asked to speak with Parnard for a moment. She looked uncomfortable.
I moved away to speak with others of the blacksmiths, it being obvious her words were for Parnard alone. Atharbain was quite willing to show me what she was working on.
“A recent commission?” I asked her.
She shook her head.
“But from what I see your sword is most excellent.”
She frowned slightly. “It will be, in due course, Lady.”
I waved a hand at her. “Marvelous,” I said. I was concerned because I could hear Parnard’s voice becoming higher in tone. That was never a good sign.
For a moment the wind was perhaps in a different direction that I could not help but overhear a few words. “I wished that you would understand, but perhaps that was too much to hope for,” Ruineth was saying.
I drew closer to Atharbain, and paid more attention. I did know something of weapon forging, but my thoughts were elsewhere.
“It takes a hard heart to tame metal,” Parnard suddenly announced in a loud voice to everyone.
I turned to look at him, in part because I disagreed. It takes a strong will, not a hard heart, I thought. But Parnard had left Ruineth and was walking over to me.
“Cousin, is all well?”
“That is the rudest maiden I have ever met in all the lands! Both sides of the mountains! Wait…there was that other one.”
“What was her name - it is right on the tip of my tongue. Confound it!”
“You will have to finish this alone. I have other things to attend to,” Ruineth addressed Rombrennil. Without another look at us, she turned away.
I sighed. Whatever had passed between she and Parnard had lowered her mood. I had the impression there were tears on her face.
I waved ‘farewell’ to her, just in case she saw.
“What Losshell, Filignil’s sister? Is that the one that you are trying to remember?” I suggested to him, knowing no love was lost between that lady and Parnard.
“No, not her - she comes a close third, though. Bah, these kinds are not worth remembering! Let us go,” said Parnard. We made our way down the path between the rocks to the gate. “What a cross sour-faced maiden she was, too! It is so hard to keep track of them all.”
I smiled, in despite of myself and Parnard’s aggravation. I was curious as to what Ruineth said that upset him so, but I would not pry - not now.
“If I only had my journal –”
“You would record her name?”
“I have recorded many names! But my journal is lost.” He halted in the middle of the path. “Oh! My blood is up!” he cried out.
“Can we find it again,” I suggested, hoping he would calm himself. I knew then she must have said something distressing. I lay a hand gently on his shoulder. “I am sorry, Cousin. But she has suffered a disappointment that will take time to recover from. She is likely not thinking at her best. Let us go to the Hall of Fire,” I suggested. “Estarfin may still be there, and wine will do neither you nor I any harm.” I tried to take his arm as we continued walking away from Imlad Gelir, to the bridge, but he frowned and stalked off. I hurried my step to keep pace with him.
Parnard was fast, when he wished to be, which was not often.