Upon entering the Hall of Fire, we headed to Estarfin, who was standing conveniently near Sogadan. There were several folk in the place, but it was not yet late enough in the day to be crowded, if indeed it would be.
A more refreshed Estarfin smiled a ‘welcome’ to us both, and nodded to Sogadan for a refill for himself and fresh glasses for Parnard and I.
“I am sorry I ran off like that, Cousin,” Parnard said to me with an apologetic bow. “My blood was up.”
I nodded back that I understood and patted him on the arm. “There is no need to apologise.”
Then I moved close to Estarfin, and smiled warmly as he passed me a glass.
“That Dwarf came back again, you know,” he said with a hint of a grin.
I nodded to Estarfin, laying my free hand on his arm. “I thought…” I began my reply, but then Parnard picked up his glass and gulped down wine without savoring it at all: that was rather unlike him. “Cousin, was something particularly dreadful said to shake you so?”
I understood he had just been spoken to by the “rudest maiden he had ever met in all the lands,” but he seemed particularly aggrieved.
“Wel-l-l-l,” began Parnard as he cradled his almost empty glass between his fingers, his expression distracted and pensive, and seemingly reluctant to say anything more, fell silent.
Estarfin gave Sogadan a few coins, and indicated both his and Parnard’s glasses should be refilled.
“Parnard, what happened?” I asked. Better for Estarfin and I to hear it now, whatever it was, than for Parnard to brood upon it in silence.
Stepping close, he whispered not very softly in my ear, “She said you are blinded by affection for Estarfin.”
I shrugged. “She is not the first to say so. I ignored Prince Caranthir when he made the same accusation. Will I not ignore her opinion also?" I noticed the curious look Estarfin gave me. I had not told him of Prince Caranthir restricting me to my home for five years, for my unseemly challenge to him. It would wait until a more suitable time.
“And then she said I did not understand, as expected, or something similar,” Parnard said, and glared at the table.
“If you did not agree with her, that makes sense.” I commented.
“Then she told me to leave, as she had work to do. But she was the one who wanted to speak with me!”
“Oh cousin,” I stepped towards him and gave him a gentle hug. I had not wanted him to be troubled so by accompanying me to Imlad Gelir.
“Sogadan, she is the rudest person I have ever met at the forges,” said Parnard.
The Vintner sighed, being used to hearing all sorts of matters. But he retained any insight to himself.
I glanced at Estarfin.
“I would not give her any commissions if it was up to me,” Parnard said, taking up his wine again.
“She accepted my commissions. I was pleased at that as it was my main way to reach out to her,” I explained again. I had no regret over the commissions, but was increasingly concerned over Parnard’s experience.
“She must like you more.”
“I do not think she likes me at all. She has no reason to. I just wanted an opening to let her know she is free to speak or visit with us.”
At this Parnard frowned, and Estarfin looked a little confused.
“But she is not, nor ever has been a friend to either of you,” Estarfin sought clarity. “Why would you expect her to visit?”
Why indeed? But I wanted him happy, and I wanted not for Ruineth to suffer if it be possible.
“I want her to know she is free to visit you, as her instructor, if she ever wishes. You valued her highly as a student. I suspect she valued you highly as a mentor.”
Estarfin nodded slowly. “Yes, that makes sense.”
“Well tell me when she is going to visit, and I shall be elsewhere,” declared Parnard. ”But she will not visit you.”
I nodded somewhat sadly. “Parnard is correct. The door is open to her, but she will not visit.”
“There was talk of – well, Danel can tell you what else she spoke of, if she wishes. It is not worth mentioning.” Parnard continued.
I pondered his words for a moment. Was it not worth mentioning to Estarfin that she wanted nothing more to do with him? He did not feel for her as she wanted, but knowing him, he would still care. Had I not learned he would sometimes seek to resolve matters by blaming himself, as he had done over the woman Hildfrith?
“I can understand her wanting to stay away,” I spoke cautiously, “but she does her craft a disservice by acting so.”
“Then it is as we expected,” Estarfin said, sipping his wine.
I nodded to him. “We tried, Estarfin.”
“It could have been worse, I suppose…” admitted Parnard.
“She is stubborn. A useful quality in a smith,” said Estarfin.
I nodded to him, but turned again to Parnard. It seemed to me that he had left something out of his telling. “I heard you shout out.”
Parnard looked puzzled, then replied: “Did I, Cousin? The hot blood rushing up into my head must have heated up my brains, and drove out what I shouted.”
Estarfin looked concerned. “You shouted at Ruineth?”
I paused for a moment. I understood anger driving away reason, but memory? Yet from his tone Parnard was not jesting. He did not recall what he had said. I wondered then if he recalled the talk about the Kinslayings? He had made no mention of it.
“Hmm. I must have said something like, ‘I will leave with pleasure!’ or - ‘I leave with the greatest of pleasure!’ or ‘I would like nothing better in the world than to leave with the greatest of pleasure!’ I think I shouted something else, too - what was it? Oh yes! I told Ruineth, ‘It takes a hard heart to tame metal!’” Parnard nudged Sogadan with his elbow and attempted an easy laugh. “That was a good one, that was a good one…”
I nodded at Parnard. “I had been prepared for her to be sharp in replies, but to me she was not.” I could not quite agree with Parnard’s words, for I knew it was a strong will rather than a hard heart that tamed metal.
“How was she?” asked Estarfin, trying to sound casual.
He needed to know. I smiled at him most fondly for that.
“She looks well. She was working the forges when I arrived, and bantering with the other smiths. She seemed content. Then she saw us, and looked taken aback..surprised…but nothing worse. Her work was carefully and skillfully done. I think….she comes to terms with matters.” I hesitated, but it needed to be said. “But she will not speak with you.”
Parnard spoke up. “She did not speak very kindly. Perhaps that is a reflection of her hurt?”
“She has no reason to,” Estarfin replied.
I lowered my head a moment. Parnard would tell it all. He would tell the truth.
“She said other things too,” he added, then looked at me. “You heard her.”
“She said things about me?”
“Only what I have already told you.”
“That I am a fool?” I tilted my head to one side. Yes, I knew some thought that only a fool would seek to bind themselves to Estarfin. But they did not know him, not as I knew him.
“Not a fool, Cousin, but blinded: according to that maiden’s opinion, Estarfin is mindless, you are blinded, and I am a fool.”
“She is entitled to her opinion, but it counts for little when she know us not.”
Estarfin looked up. “Mindless?” said he.
What transpired at the forge earlier today could have made me angry, but I was not going to let it disturb me. At that moment I could only feel Estarfin’s….lack of ease? “Tsk…I told her that was not so. Anyone who knows him would know that as an untruth. She would know that, were she not speaking from her own pain.”
“She does not know us,” Parnard said, and turning to Estarfin, asked. “How well did she really know you? She said she did not.”
Estarfin shrugged. “We mainly spoke of smithing.”
“Well, I care not what she thinks of me,” Parnard said with a disdainful snap of his fingers. “None of us should be made upset by an ill-informed opinion.”
“Or assumptions,” I added.
“There is no hold upon her heart, on that you may be assured,” he confided to Estarfin. “Our paths will ne’er cross again, it matters not. Oh - the commissions,” he said, and looked crestfallen.
I lay a hand on Parnard’s shoulder .“Concern yourself not. I shall collect those myself.”
“Yes, return to the forges without me, lest I provoke the maiden’s ire again.” Then Parnard turned to address the sleepy-eyed Vintner. “I am glad I minded my tongue, Sogadan, but it was hard, exceedingly hard not to speak.”
Estarfin waved his empty glass in front of Sogadan for a refill. “Thank you for your kindness, Parnard,” he said. “Thank you both.”
“I would do aught I could,” I said to Estarfin as more wine was poured out. “But I cannot do the impossible. Pour one for yourself, friend Sogadan, for we must vex you mightily.”
Parnard murmured to himself, “It is almost as if she wishes to see Estarfin made unhappy…”
I drew a sharp breath and pondered that thought.
The conversation turned to our plans for our journey. Though not overly late, the stars were already gracing the late winter sky, bright and cold. We were ready to depart from Imladris, for though we must cross the frozen Hithaeglir, there was the promise of happier days ahead. I confess lately my thoughts had turned to Parnard’s betrothal, and wishing that all would go well. Estarfin and I would do our best to impress upon the nis’ father the worthiness of her would-be suitor. All would be well. “We should all have a good rest tonight,” I said, as I wondered to myself when that would be possible again.
“The last bed for many miles,” Estarfin added.
“And the last bath for many miles,” said Parnard with a wistful laugh, yet his eyes sparkled with excitement for the journey ahead.
So he and Estarfin returned to the house ahead of me, as I spent time reading and making notes concerning the two letters. Yes, there was indeed interesting information therein. But it was in itself not enough. I replaced the letters in the low drawer in the library, and was thankful that Librarian Talkale was not there.
Back at the house myself, I found the fire had been made up, and Parnard, wishing to take a bath, retired to the bed-chamber. Estarfin had changed from armour back into a robe. He was sitting in a high backed chair, drawn up nigh the fire, and turned to greet me.
“And the last glass of wine until we are through the Mountains,” he said, raising it in a toast.
I knew he would not risk any effect of wine on his reactions in any dangerous situation. He was right so to do. It would be my last drink of wine too then. He had poured me a glass that stood on the small table nearby, and nodded that perhaps I would also draw up a chair?
I shook my head. I had something else in mind. Talking off my cloak in the growing heat of the room, I hung it up, pulled forward a footstool, and sat upon it just in front of him. I unbound my hair, and shook it out.
“While we are on ‘lasts’, it is the last night we are likely to have any time alone, no?”
We both smiled. Much as we loved his company, there would be no escaping Parnard for some days.
Estarfin put down his glass. “You wish me to brush your hair?”
Did I not know he liked running his hands through my hair, as much as I liked running mine through his?
“If you will? I would have it braided for the journey. It is easier to manage.”
He searched his pockets for a moment. “No comb” he said, and looked to me.
“My brush and comb are upstairs: I will not disturb Parnard’s bath, else he thinks we are having a hair-braiding party, and come to join us,” I laughed.
Estarfin raised a brow. He took up a long lock of my hair.
“Your skillful hands will do, meldanya,” I said, looking up at him with a warm smile. I leant back against him.
“As you wish,” he replied.