"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny."
"MY own heart let me have more pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst ’s all-in-all in all a world of wet."
-Gerard Manley Hopkins
It was not a long distance between her home and Anárion's grandparents, and she had walked the way so many times during her years that she could do it in the darkness of a new moon. Actually, she had, a couple of times, but that was neither here nor there. Her brothers would be furious when they realized she had ventured outside on her own during festival and truth was that, after what happened yesterday, she did feel an inkling of fear here for the first time in her life, but it had to be braved--she could hardly appear to a meeting with Elanya with her three brothers trailing behind her. Not to this kind of meeting, anyway. She hoped they would not give Lalriel any grief on her account.
This early in the morning the warblers were beginning to wake and fill the air with their sing-song cooing, and she was grateful because their song had always soothed her heart. The lane was still filled with the flowers' evening scent. She was too preoccupied to stop to play her favorite fragrance game, but she spared one look for the phlox and the clusters of jasmine and sweet peas that lined her way. She heard the gulls' squawking in the distance--the noise that would always mean home to her--above the murmur of the waves, and the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth at that ridiculous thought relaxed her clenched jaw. Oh, but she could have cried from the relief, she had not known she was so tense! She loved every bush, every leaf, every pebble, every petal, every critter, every noise in this lane. Was this the last time she would ever walk on it? The oddest misgiving had been growing in her heart that she would lose it all, though she was not sure what she would be losing it to. It was not just her home, or her family--the whole world was changing all around her. Her own world had keeled over a few times, but this was different, though she could not exactly put her finger on what this was.
Elenwë's nature was prone to look for cheerfulness, and light knew she had tried so hard to find cheerfulness despite her petty sorrows, but it was easier to feel ashamed at how readily she had given up even though her little problems were like grains of sand beside other people's mountains. As horribly as it had come about, her having a cause had woken her from herself and her misery. It would have been a nice tale to tell her nieces and nephews someday: When she understood how many women were left abandoned without any means to support themselves, she realized that something had to be done and it was within her power to do it. The truth was much different. She had to be compelled by tragedy knocking at her door to realize the women's plight and to purpose to do something about it. That Elanya had so thoroughly fallen in with her scheme was beyond anything even a wild imagination like hers could have conjured. Elenwë knew she should have prevented her friend from getting involved, but she understood that neither of them, alone, could have achieved anything. Together, however... Ah, together they were on the verge of opening the very first salon for women crafters in Númenor. One day they may even establish a guild! She expected opposition from all quarters, but she had to go on because those women needed her, and she had the financial means and the relative freedom that her unmarried status afforded to be their voice. After this she would have to resign herself to a life of solitude, and she believed she was reconciled with the idea. It would be easier to leave her home if she thought of how she would be helping Lalriel, upon whom she had so unfairly imposed all these years by remaining behind, a figure with whom to be compared and pitted against by every man or woman who made their living by working in their house. As for herself... well, no man would ever want her after what she was about to do, she would not deceive herself on that particular point, but this was larger than any man or woman. Entire families would benefit from this effort if she had the guts to see it through. If she had been born for something, anything, let it be for this!
But Elanya's letter had troubled her. They had agreed that the style of their correspondence needed to appear harmless enough that anyone who happened to see it could not discern anything of deeper meaning was going on behind the scenes. But, a request for evaluating some lace samples before breakfast could not fool even the most casual of observers. Was she in distress? Maybe she did not fully know what had happened at the market and wanted more information? But, why not get any answers she needed from her sons? And, if her sons were not available to be asked, then where were they? Had something happened to either of them on their way back home last night? Was this what Anárion had been fearing? Suddenly, it was very important that she reach that house at once, and she did not care whoever saw her running. The blisters on her feet made it unbearable to try to run as they rubbed on her slippers, so she took her slippers off and ran the rest of the way to Haldor and Eilinel's house. Stopping for a quick dip of her fingers and a wish for Anárion's safety--and Isildur's of course--at the fountain of the Lady of the Sea in the front garden, she ran the length of the courtyard in a short fifteen seconds (a new personal record) before knocking on the door. And, when Mithrennon opened to greet her, she found out, to her dismay, that everyone was--
"Gone?" she repeated his words back to him, a hand on her chest while she tried to catch her breath after her run. Mithrennon regarded her with surprise and a mild look of disapproval. "But she--the lady Elanya sent for me just a short while ago. Are they--are they... well?"
"As far as I know, my lady. Would you care to wait for their return?"
If they were all gone there could be no harm in her waiting alone though this was largely Anárion's house, she thought, and if anybody gave her any trouble she could always say she had been summoned. Mithrennon ushered her into Elanya's sitting-room, which was the sitting-room of her youth before her marriage to Elendil, an altogether fascinating place that had figured prominently in her fantasies when she was a little girl. Would she grow up to be the queen of her own sitting-room, much as Anárion's mother was a queen of hers? Would she teach any of her peers? or small children? entertain influential men and women? receive suitors? Would she save the world from her lofty position in her own sitting-room? Shaking her head at the memories, Elenwë thanked Mithrennon and sat to wait, as expected, though sitting was the farthest thing from her mind just then. How could she manage to stay put, still, when so many questions--so many fears--swirled in her mind over and over again? That unpleasant tickle in her stomach grew and grew until it became a very uncomfortable pressure under her rib cage that she had to stand to attempt to alleviate. When she sat back down, she chose a lovely hard-backed chair, carved with flowers and birds so life-like she would have had to look twice to make sure they were not alive, if she had not known the chair already. It had been a gift upon Elanya's coming-of-age, she remembered being told, though nobody ever spoke of who the giver had been. Elenwë had wondered why Elanya had not taken such a stunning present home to Andúnië with her, but Anárion had enlightened her on that particular with the same pragmatism that he bestowed upon everything else: should they be forced to entertain the King at any time, the chair would surely be remarked upon for its elven-like craftsmanship. It was more out of the way here, where the King or anybody else who could cause trouble for them was more unlikely to call. She still remembered how the fringe of soft, black hair had fallen over his eyes when he had bent his head to run his fingers over a particularly winsome blackbird. There it is! she thought, mimicking his movement as she gazed upon the beautiful bird.
Her mother had told her stories of how widely courted Elanya had been before she had married Elendil. Everybody's son, it seemed, had wanted to score her for his prize, but once Elendil got into the game very few people doubted that he would not win the girl in the end. Elendil had that same drive, that same single-minded focus that Anárion had inherited, her mother had said, and coupled with the otherworldly charm that he had passed on to Isildur, there was little for anybody else to do. From her own observations, it was very much obvious that Elendil was just as besotted with his wife as she was with him, and it was a favorite game for her to try and discover what had won the boy in the first place, though she had not had a lot of opportunity for observation now that she was more mature and skilled at reading people. What she liked best about Elanya was her firm kindness--how she never compromised, and still managed to do it with grace. Her disarming smile probably played a big role in that, for once Elanya smiled it was hard to resist falling in with her plans. That smile, and her ability to understand people at a glance, she had passed on to Anárion, never mind that he never thought of using those particular traits on her.
The torture of the next few hours would have been hard to describe. Everybody and their brother must have walked by the main road, visible from Elanya's left-hand window, and she watched them all go to the slow, painful ticking of the mantel clock. After the clock struck ten, Elenwë was ready to burst into a million anxious fragments. Leaning against the windowpane, she fought to control the nervous energy pulsing through her as she thought of what tomorrow would bring with it, or how today would end. If Anárion and his brother had been hurt in some way because of what they did to help her, she could never forgive herself. If fortune smiled upon them all and she had been worrying over them for nothing, she would count herself blessed, and worry about Númenor tomorrow. It still seemed unbelievable, unthinkable, that the whole island would rebel in such a way as they were about to do. They were not only abandoning the old celebrations but they were making new ones to replace them.
"Oh, but I have to do something!" She cried, pushing away from the window and surveying the room around her for something to do. Maybe Cook could use her help in the kitchen? Maybe there was a garden somewhere that needed weeding out? Splendid! And then she would miss Elanya's return altogether for being so out of the way. Surely there was something, somewhere, that she could do to get her mind off this miserable uncertainty! She looked through the shelves and stacks of books, hoping she could find something to organize, but the books were meticulously arranged and free of dust, as if somebody else used this space every day of the year. The thought occurred to her that she could make a catalogue for Elanya--she was good at making lists, and her handwriting was one of her best talents. Chiding herself for not thinking about it three hours earlier, she set to find some ink and paper. She had already sat on the desk, was about to dip her pen in the ink, when she thought better of it. How could she be so free with somebody else's supplies? Paper was expensive, and had not Anárion said he'd rather brave the market than pay for paper full price? If her extravagant ways sent him off into the market's danger, her conscience would give her no respite. No. She had to find something else to do. Looking around the room again, her eyes caught sight of a basket tucked into a corner behind one of the settees. Upon closer examination, they were clothes for mending. Elenwë returned to her favorite chair, fervently grateful for something that would occupy her, but she had not worked long before she felt her eyelids close.
The beach stretched before her. Not just any beach, but that particular stretch of shoreline in Andúnië where they always found those amazing pearls. The water was warm against her ankles and it beckoned to her--she felt so cold, so tired! Even hitching up her skirts to wade in deeper was a monumental effort, but she kept trying because, despite her fog-like state, she recognized that if she went further in with her full skirt on she may not be able to pull herself out. The water still beckoned. The clear surface let her see fully into the ground beneath, where colorful fish swam lazily about, and oysters clustered here and there. Suddenly she saw what she had been looking for: it was not an oyster, but a snail. Oh, if she could remember what it was called, but no matter! What was important was what the snail held inside. It was so close, maybe no wading was necessary! If she stretched just a little, maybe she could reach...
But she misjudged.
Water closed in on her, like a wall slamming against her body, pushing her downwards, herself powerless against such massive force. Now she knew despair! Moments stretched out in endless succession while she sank deeper and deeper and deeper into black oblivion and then, when she had all but given up, she felt a strong grip hold on to her fingertips, then her wrist, holding her tight, tighter, never letting go. She thought her wrist might snap in two, but what did that matter when she was being pulled out of the hole--
"Elendil!" was the first word Elenwë heard through her gasps. Soon, hands were clasping her shoulders forcefully, more words whispered around her that she did not really comprehend. A hand was pressed against her forehead, then the sides of her face.
"No fever," she heard.
"She must have been having a nightmare."
That other deep, masculine voice grabbed her out of the clutches of her dream and jarred her back into the present. Her eyes snapped open, but after the darkness of the water around her, of the hole she had been falling into, the light was too much to bear and she had to close them again. Desperation threatened to reclaim her when she tried to shield her gaze from the brightness and found she could not move her hands.
"Shhh," she heard, softly, against her ear. A gentle voice. A mother's voice. When was the last time that she had heard such a sweet sound? It was such delicious agony that a sob began to form in her throat, when the thought pierced through her consciousness that she had no mother and this beautiful, wonderful voice could not possibly be addressing her. That made her even more frantic for a connection, and she leaned in against the caress on her cheeks.
"Dear child, are you well?"
"Hmm?" she heard herself ask--not what she had been hoping to say. Where was she, and why was she here?
"Elenwë, darling, are you all right? I am sorry to have made you come all the way here. Had I known what you have been through, I would have come to you. After the chase at the market..."
The market! That was it, how could she let herself forget? With a final struggle she managed to release the hold on her arms and sit up straight against the chair. "Where is he?" she asked, the first thing that occurred to her to say. "Is he all right? He did not come back here last night, did he?"
The puzzled, yet commanding tone of that last question dispelled the last of her confusion, and when her eyes had focused once more she found Elendil looking straight at her. Elendil! Elendil, of all the people who could have happened upon her! Her face grew hot. What must he think of her, finding her asleep in his house, in his wife's own sitting-room, asking about his son like her whole life depended upon the answer! The whole episode was so mortifying that she briefly toyed with the idea of falling back asleep, or letting herself faint, but hysterics were never becoming and there was too much she needed to know to let herself be overcome just then. Clearing her throat, she pushed her back straight against the chair behind her, hands clasped in a knot against her stomach.
"I'm sorry." She was able to get that much past her throat, but nothing more. Right then what she needed was to think, but that was hard as she tried to steady the jumble of emotions that were pressing upon her. It had all been a dream, and she had awoken disoriented and confused, but what was real was that Anárion was missing and she needed to find out where he was. Her heartbeat was in her throat still, but she had enough wits left to seize upon the thought that Elendil and his wife would certainly not be wasting any time on her if either of their sons was in trouble or missing. Whatever had happened must have been resolved by now. Yes? Clearing her throat again, she tried, "You are... all... well...?"
"Never mind that, love, but are you well?" Elanya asked in turn. "You were moaning and thrashing about. I thought you must have been hurt."
"She was," said Elendil, holding her arm aloft, much as Emeldil had done the night before. "What is that wound there? And this bruise? Did you get these at the market?"
All she could do was nod, but that put a very grim line on Elendil's mouth that she did not like at all. Her gaze strayed to her hands, her wrist, felt a shudder pass through her when she recalled the darkness of her dream, the raw feeling of pure despair when she thought she was trapped forever.
"How did you get these?" Elendil asked again. "Has a physician looked at these for you, Elenwë?
She nodded her assent, but thought that she would rather cut her tongue than tell him how she came by the bruise.
"It might not be a bad idea to let Côfniben take a look at her," Elendil said, intent as he looked at her himself, then suddenly breaking contact and grunting, of all things. Anárion sometimes did that, when they were younger, but she noticed how he did that less and less as they grew older. She had never once heard Elendil grunt but, thankful nonetheless for the reprieve, Elenwë sank back against the chair, only to have that last register a heartbeat later.
"A physician? No, please!" she cried, leaning forward to seize upon Elendil to prevent him from humiliating her further which was, in turn, one of the most humiliating things she had ever done. Letting go of his sleeve at once, she leaned back against the chair, her strength spent after such a small struggle. What was wrong with her? Why was she so slow today? Why could she not think straight? Trying to calm her breathing enough so she could talk, she began, "I--I'm sorry; I sat here for a moment to wait for you and... I'm sorry, I must have fallen asleep."
"It must have been more than a moment," Elendil said, "Mithrennon says you came here soon after we left, and that was at breakfast."
"Have you had any food?" Elanya asked, the look she was directing at her troubled and a little frightened. "I am sorry you had to wait here by yourself when you could have been resting at home. I did not think, when I wrote to you, that I would have to leave in such a hurry."
"Yes!" Elenwë spoke aloud, too grateful they were finally discussing what was really important to check her eagerness. "As soon as I read your note, I knew you had not heard about the market, and when I got here and heard from Mithrennon that you were all gone, I knew something was wrong. It was late--too late--when we finally got home last night. I should have made Eralmir ask Isildur and--ask the boys to spend the night."
"It is a kind thought, though wholly unnecessary," Elendil said, standing to pace away from them. "The boys made it back to Anárion's place without a problem. It was what happened afterwards that made the whole mess."
"Mess?" she asked, without thinking. "What do you mean?"
A rueful chuckle was all she received by way of reply. Beside her, Elanya grunted in a way very reminiscent of her husband's.
"You must let it go, Elendil," she said, moving to face him, "if you want to get to the bottom of their quarrel. Getting angry will not endear you to either of them, and might make matters worse. I know it's hard; I feel like giving them each a good earful myself, but what will that do? They are grown men, and will have their reasons--"
"Their reasons?" he cried, fisting his hands. "I don't care what reasons they might have. A man does not fight his own brother, no matter what--"
"Fight his brother?" she asked, perplexed. "Anárion and Isildur would never fight each other--not really. Sure, they like to tease, to provoke each other sometimes, but it's always done in the spirit of fun. Are you... sure... that..." Here she trailed off, realizing that she had been on the verge of lecturing the heir to the throne of Andúnië on his own children, and felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Truth was, she could not imagine a world where Anárion and Isildur were at odds with each other. If enmity between them could grow, their decay was farther along than she had hoped. "But they are... all right?"
"As all right as can be expected," Elendil said, which did not tell her much except that he was done talking about it. His lips were pursed as he watched her from the window she had previously occupied, and his unblinking eyes were fixed on her with such intensity that she felt their force like a physical weight on her. Elendil was not known for his amiable disposition, but under his scrutiny she had that curious sensation that he did not find her irksome but amusing. How she could feel that way was beyond her, but that was, nonetheless, the sensation his stare evoked. It was a serious look, intent, not so much angry but assessing, with that hint of curiosity in it that made her rack her mind to discover what part of their interaction could have induced such feelings, but to no avail. Elanya's countenance was an interesting mixture of pity and caution, all traces of motherly concern suddenly erased while she momentarily slipped from her role as her friend into that of Anárion's mother.
It was mortifying to find herself thus observed by people she respected, and thankfully she found her voice in time to say, "I apologize for all the inconvenience. You are both busy right now, and I can come back later when you are free to send for me."
To her surprise, they both cried, "No!"
"We are not busy," said Elendil.
"You need a physician!" added Elanya.
"Please, don't," she pleaded, unsure if their wanting her to stay was a good or a bad thing, wondering wether her staying would help or hinder her from finding out what had happened between Anárion and Isildur, and feeling like she should have left the moment before the conversation began. "Last night my brother sent for--" but she was cut off by Elanya squeezing both her shoulders, giving her a minute shake of the head.
"I would feel much easier if we sent for the physician, Elendil, or a healer at the very least," she said, which sent Elendil out of the room in search for help. Elanya followed her husband's progress out of the room, enveloping her in a warm embrace the moment he had stepped out of her domain. As awkward as it was, Elenwë found herself returning the contact with abandon.
"I am so sorry that I sent for you like I did and then left you to fend for yourself. Are you well?"
"Well? Yes, I am well. Are you?"
"When I wrote to you my head was so full of what I had to tell you that I was quite oblivious to propriety and delicacy. I must have gotten you out of bed! But just as we sat for breakfast the messenger we had sent to bring the boys over returned with the story of your adventure at the market, and I had to see for myself that they were all right."
"Are they? As soon as I read your letter I knew you had not heard, and that made me wonder where they had gone--if they had been hurt--"
"Everyone is all right, though when we first got to Anárion's house he was not there..." She shook her head daintily, then tried a smile. "So you are well?"
"What do you mean he was not there?" Elenwë asked, feeling the panic rise as she went over every possible explanation in her mind. "He would never have left Isildur when he was just come home, something must have gone wrong!"
"They had some sort of altercation, but he returned just as we were setting out to look for him."
"This morning?" she asked. "You mean he was gone all night? Where to? Why?"
"I'm sure Elendil will pluck that out of the deepest recess of his heart sooner or later, but right now I could not tell you." The tough facade faltered for a moment to reveal worry lines around her eyes, around her mouth, that Elenwë had mistaken for smile creases in the past. Elanya rubbed that spot right between her eyes, while shaking her head. "He refuses to say where he went, but assures us that he was not in danger and feels bad that he left, and so on and so forth. You tell me whether he is repentant or is trying to throw dust over what he did."
"By fight, you don't mean that they hurt each other..."
"No, no, I don't think they would dare come to blows, though I did not think that they would dare walk off on each other."
"Did either of them say why?"
"No, and that's what's interesting," she said, biting the inside of her cheek for a moment before shaking her head again. "You can bet if Anárion had started it, Isildur would have let that slip by now, but he is keeping mum. You know Isildur would not keep that kind of detail to himself."
No, he would not, but what did that really tell them?
"Their protecting each other is a hopeful sign," she said, trying to sound hopeful herself.
"A sign of mutual necessity, if you ask me." Elanya sighed, and knelt beside her again, though she simply looked at her for a while, before asking, "Does Anárion normally do things like that? Go off? Walk away without saying where he is going?"
She felt like saying, All the time, but that was not what Elanya was asking. She finally decided to go with, "I could never tell you for sure. All I know is how he acts when I am around, and I could not say if that is how he normally behaves. I doubt it. I am different when he's around, too; it can't be helped, and I think we both agree about that. If you want to ask my brothers, they will probably have something more helpful to report."
Elanya's penetrating gaze unsettled her. It seemed to look inside into corners that she had not wanted to shed any light on, and Elenwë did not like how it made her feel. Elanya had never looked at her like that, and once more she had the feeling that the woman she trusted had gone and left her Anárion's mother--someone she had, astonishingly, avoided all these years. She made herself return the look, only because cowards are the only ones who look away, or liars, and she wanted Elanya to know that she was neither. Still, it was very difficult and the strain of it was making her head spin. And then Elanya squeezed her hand.
"He acts differently when I am around too, but he does not know it. Or does not know that I can tell." She sighed. "This fight with Isildur worries me. Anárion is always so self-possessed. Even when he was a child, he was always remarkably in control of his own reactions. I cannot imagine what Isildur could have said to him to push him over the edge like that, or what his purpose was in doing so. He was ashamed of his lapse, I could tell. Isildur was too, in his own way, but you know how he tries hard not to dwell on his mistakes for too long when he is embarrassed."
"Yes, that is one of the core differences between them," Elenwë said. "They never used to fight... Not like that. No younger brother could idolize his older brother more. Where would you have gone to look for him? He gets around all over this city... I suppose you could have started at the Guild?"
"That was the plan," Elanya said, her pursed lips telling Elenwë that she was still upset, "but thankfully he spared us the effort. He did not say anything about this bruise, or this..." she made to feel her bandage, but reconsidered at the last minute, which made Elenwë heave a small sigh of relief. The area was still tender.
"We had to fight our way out of the market," was all she gave by way of explanation. Elanya raised a brow (That had Isildur written all over it!) but, thankfully, said nothing else. "What about the lace?"
"Oh. You won't like it." Elanya looked around them and, seeing as they were still alone, she whispered, "Before I left Andúnië, I received word that some of the girls we had still not found shelters for had ran away. Nobody knows where they are, but I cannot shake the thought that they are coming here. They have not come to me--where else could they hope to go? Unless they have gone to Golasgan?"
"He has said nothing of it to me."
"Unless something else dreadful has happened and we are all in danger."
Elenwë felt her heart race, but forced herself to take a deep breath and steady her hands.
"Let us think it through," she said. "What could have happened? If they had been discovered, word of it would already be all over the island, and we have heard nothing so far."
"You are right, but where could they be?"
"If they set out to come here on foot it will take them a while."
"These are women with children that will also need food. We are not physically prepared to house anybody else, and most certainly not here! But, more importantly, can it be done? This takes our plan to a whole new level that I am not certain we are prepared to explore. On the other hand, can we really abandon these women?"
Elenwë felt herself tremble. They were already traitors to the crown but, in far Andúnië, they ran less of a risk of being caught. For those women to be homeless meant there had been a charge of treason placed upon their husbands or guardians, or on themselves, though women were still unlikely to be under harsh surveillance yet--how would that change if anybody knew what Elanya and herself were doing! These women were in hiding from the king. If they did not provide help, the women would die. If they provided help, they themselves would be in danger of being found out and executed.
Elanya clasped her hands. "I feel as you do, and I have no answer, either. I sent word to Golasgan before I left. That way, the messages would come from the usual channel and less likely to be suspect, though they will take longer to reach him."
"Does Elendil know?"
"Not all of it." Elanya closed her eyes for a quick moment. "I do not want him to ever be found guilty if he should be questioned. I could not do that to him."
"But you will destroy him just as well if anything should happen to you! You cannot hide this from him, Elanya. How will you keep it up? Think about that. You will have to go on lying and lying to cover yourself up, until he will no longer trust you." Elenwë moistened her lips. "I think you need to tell him. The sooner you do, the better."
"How? How do I tell him that things have gotten so far out of hand? He'll make me step away, and I believe in what we are doing."
"I do too, but--"
The door opened again, but this time a voice that she knew as well as her own drifted inside, arresting every one of her senses. She stood, or rather jumped out of her chair, only to find his eyes already fixed on her. That was enough to root her to the spot, left alone to endure the weight of his gaze, of his judgement.
"What are you doing here?" he asked from the threshold, his commanding presence suddenly making the room feel very small and crowded. Elenwë knew she should have looked away from him, but she could not. She was not sure what she was hoping to find, but seeing the genuine surprise register on his face at finding her in his house for the first time in years helped settle her nerves a little.
"Anárion!" Elanya cried, looking from her son to her, then back at him. "I think you need not be asking those questions of my guests in my own home. You still have some explaining to do yourself."
He had the decency to blush, though his blushes usually did not signal sheepishness. He did, however, lower his eyes when he next looked at his mother.
"Forgive me, Mother," he said. "I was not expecting... I thought you would be alone."
"I sent for Elenwë to show her some pieces for a new project we have been working on together. She was telling me about... yesterday."
"What part of yesterday? When she risked herself on a fool's errand? When she got hurt? When I got hurt?"
Her astonishment at his bringing all those private details out into the open must have shown on her face somehow, because his lips compressed into a very thin line, and she could see he was biting the inside of his cheek. Taking a step in, he asked, "What part of yesterday?"
She felt her hands clasp the armrests as she returned his look stare for stare. "I did not come here to talk about you. I came because of... of a... a project--"
"The mystery project..." he said with that tilt of the head that always conveyed suspicion from him, and something new that she could not place--disbelief? Disdain? Anger? Frustration? It alarmed her. Where had he heard anything about her workshop? Could her brothers have betrayed her to him? To anybody else? "What have you to talk with my mother about any of that?"
Elanya's jaw dropped at his tone. "Son, I may entertain whomever I wish on my own. I do not need your opinion, nor your permission."
"I know that, Mother," he said, looking at Elanya briefly, his gaze softening for a moment, before turning all his compelling force on her again. "I want her to tell me why she is here."
Elanya was about to protest, but Elenwë lifted her palm to forestall her, squared her shoulders before saying, without taking her eyes off him, "He is concerned because he thinks our persecution at the market yesterday may have had something to do with me, and he does not want any of you embroiled in that type of risk."
"Did it, Elenwë?"
The way her heart thudded at the sound of her name in his voice should have been shameful, but her wits deserted her and she could not think clearly enough to feel the sting. She had not heard Anárion say her name since that last day they had fought in her grandfather's garden, when he had come to tell her he was leaving with the navy, and she was utterly unprepared for the wave of homesickness, of sadness, of longing that enveloped her whole at the sound. It was such a concrete, physical manifestation that she clutched at the air and had to sit, all the while hating herself for being such a weakling. Hands pressed fast against her stomach for strength, she made herself look up at him again while delivering the little speech she had prepared in case anybody wanted more details about her activities: "I would think you, of all people, would know that the king needs no excuse to persecute others--all he needs is a craving. Were those men following me? I could not know; but, do I have any one thing that the king could possibly desire? I doubt it. I'm the fourth in my house, the least in my father's line of succession, and a woman at that. When the world looks at me, they see nothing. If those men were following me, I suppose I should probably feel flattered rather than terrified."
The little attempt at humor at the end was lost on Anárion. She had watched the progression of emotions play upon his face while she was talking, from expectancy through pity through rage through disbelief, and other things she could not name that made his presence utterly overpowering and his eyes pierce her to her core. The force of his personality and whatever strong emotion he was conveying to her was such that she felt herself tremble. She had always felt perfectly at ease with Anárion, like she belonged wherever he was. This man before her now was different, new, in many ways unknown to her, and that frightened her.
"Surely you don't mean that," he said, taking two steps closer to her. "Those men could have killed you. They had it within their power to do so and, if they were after you and they did not do it, the only possible reason is that they need something from you that they can only get with you alive. What is it, Elenwë?
She was little better prepared for it this time, but at least the yearning did not take her by surprise and she was able to face him without flinching. He was doing that on purpose, and how she hated him for it! Well, she'd just have to remind him that she could fight too, and let him see how he liked it. It would be hard, but she saw no other way; there would be plenty of time later to berate herself.
"What if they were not there for me?" she asked. Elenwë could tell the exact moment her arrow hit the target because his demeanor transformed completely and the mask slipped on once again, that invisible wall of aloofness that he carried with him wherever he went, that he always put up between them. Once again, she was unprepared for it to hurt her, but oh, how it hurt. There was no way out but to continue the way she had began. "I see I've struck a nerve." She could almost touch the distance between them now. It would get worse. "Now you tell me, Anárion, why those men were there at the market. How was it you knew where to go, and how to hide?" The sudden, almost imperceptible widening of Anárion's eyes at that last, the way they flicked quickly to his mother and back at herself was meant to tell her something, though she could not precisely understand what it was. Later, she would not be able to say wether it was force of habit, or something else, but she stopped--all the strategy she had devised to make him let off her at the wake of his own secrets died out right there under the weight of his stare, of his silent pleading. She always let Anárion win. She was a fool, and a coward.
Suddenly, she could not stay there any more. "Elanya, I will think about what you showed me," she said, rising to leave, fumbling for,the right words and hoping Elanya would understand. "Please, let me think about it. I can take care of it. Just wait before ordering any samples."
She averted her gaze so she would not have to look at Elanya's puzzled, pleading countenance, and walked past both her and her son, only to collide with Isildur at the door.
"Whoa! What did I miss?" He asked, palms up, legs spread out to block her exit. She saw his eyes travel to his brother, then his mother, eyebrow raised as if to ask them what he should do next.
"Nothing," she said, "I am on my way home."
"She was waiting for the physician," Elanya added, but Elenwë shook her head.
"If you would please grant me this one wish, I really must get home now."
"I will take her." That came from both brothers at once, and Elenwë could not help but turn to Anárion. He would not have offered any such outrageous favor to her. Something was wrong.
"You have other things to do here, brother," Isildur said, in time that he reached for her hand--the bruised one--and placed it on his own forearm, linking them both together for the journey home. Her astonishment was complete when Anárion walked to his brother, a mere pace away from herself, and put his hand on Isildur's shoulder.
"I recall Grandfather wanted you to look at some of his books."
"You have a better head for numbers than I do."
"Not his finances, his maritime logs."
"Certainly!" Isildur said, removing Anárion's hand and leading them both away, "I will look at every single book he puts in front of me, as soon as I get back. Oh, and before dinner; remember we are expected at Elenwë's for supper! You left in such a hurry last night that I could not ascertain if you had heard."
"Isildur?" she heard Elanya call behind them, but Isildur kept on going.
"I will be right back, Mother. Elenwë's is not very far."
As flaming hot as Elenwë's face and neck felt, she risked one last glance behind her. Anárion stood, fists clenched, lips pressed into a thin line that matched his narrowed, unblinking eyes rather well, as he watched them walk away.
"Why did you do that?" Elenwë asked Isildur as soon as they were out of the room, but he shushed her and walked faster, leading them toward the back door that overlooked Eilinel's herb garden. "And why are we here?"
"Because it takes longer to get to your house this way, of course. Unless you also fancy some mint, or perhaps a little tarragon?"
"What foolishness are you talking about?" She asked, trying to pull her arm off Isildur's hold, but Isildur held fast. "And why are you holding me like this?"
"I need to talk to you. I promise I'll let go if you promise you will listen to what I have to say."
"Well," he said, a slow smile drawing itself on his face, "I have to confess that I also wanted to see what Anárion would do."
"That was not very smart," she said, not bothering to disguise her unladylike snort. "You know your brother's work ethic is compulsive; you should have stayed and done your chores like you were expected to do."
Isildur's bark of laughter bothered her quite a lot. "Do you think work is what all that was about?" he asked.
"Maybe he is still angry with you about last night. What could have possessed you to argue with your brother? As bad a day as we all had yesterday, you should have tried harder to keep him safe at home."
"Do you think it was my doing that he left?"
"Well, who else's? Look," she said, trying to pull her hand free again. "I have enough trouble with your brother as it is for you to be making more for me and, I am telling you, if you do not release me at once, I swear I will scream."
Isildur then let go with yet another laugh. "I suppose I should listen to you, he'd come to help you in a heartbeat, and then my whole purpose in bringing you here would be thwarted. I did not know that about him."
"Of course he would not come, but Mithrennon or somebody else would hear and bring your mother."
"He would come," Isildur said. "You didn't see his face when we left him standing there? But, I have no desire to quarrel with you. Instead, I have a proposal."
That gave her pause. "What kind of proposal? And why me? The last time you proposed something to me I ended up gutting fish for three whole days. Believe me, it is not an experience I care to repeat. Sometimes I can still smell the fish in my fingers."
Isildur laughed again. "You were so good at it, too! That little episode taught me that you are a woman of your word, more stubborn than weed, and that you absolutely won't give up. All qualities I need in the person who will help me now."
"Help you with what?"
"I need to find out what Anárion is hiding."
It was said in such a nonchalant way that it took Elenwë a few moments to realize that he was, indeed, serious.
"He is hiding something, isn't he?" she asked, forgetting for a moment that she should not be interested, and that she should not be giving that kind of fodder to Anárion's brother. "It's not just yesterday at the market. Have you never wondered why he stopped coming to the meetings at the public square? All meetings--he does not even come to town assemblies any more. And I know that Eilinel got help from Lalriel to plant a small garden for him: chamomile, licorice, ginger, peppermint--and he even got a goat!"
"Yes, I saw the goat last night. How did you know? I thought that Lalriel had been sworn to secrecy."
"Eranion," she whispered. Placing her hands on her cheeks to hide the blush that would surely be there. "Something is worsening his heartburn."
"Yes..." he said, rubbing an eyebrow. "Yes. I can't let this go on any more. Will you help me?"
"Because you know him better than anybody else."
"Not anymore," she said, shaking her head, dropping the handful of rosemary she had been fingering and plopping down onto one of the small benches Eilinel had placed to either side of the path. "If I ever knew him... Sometimes I think that was... an illusion."
"You may say whatever you want, but you could always tell what he was thinking just by looking at him. You still can. I know that, deep inside, you know there's something wrong with him, and it bothers you."
"It bothers everybody, but what can be done? He has closed that door. There is nothing for me to do."
"Because you are too proud to try and soften his heart, but if anybody were to do it, it would only be you."
She snorted again. "This is painful for me, Isildur." She rose and shook her skirts. "You'll have to find somebody else."
"There's nobody else, Elenwë," he said, rising, taking her hands in his, the closest she had ever seen Isildur to pleading. "Did you know that he has no food in his house besides that stupid goat? His garden is in shambles because his gardener took his family and left. He is completely alone there."
"Meldiron would never leave Anárion."
"He did, I'm telling you. Wait-- did you know Meldiron?"
"I have met him before. They have that darling little girl."
"Well, he is gone. To the Hyarrostar."
"So you mean to say that Anárion has nobody to cook for him, or make sure that he sleeps and has clean clothes? He has no time for my of that, he arrives at the shipwrights' at dawn and does not leave until there is no more light to work." Isildur's smile widened to a grin that filled almost all of his face and she added, rather belatedly, "Or so I've been told."
"Who would have known?" he asked, that insufferably smug expression on his perfectly-sculpted face. "It sounds like you have begun to spy on him already."
"I would never spy, and certainly not on your brother! You forget," she added, pacing away from him, "that my brothers are in contact with him all the time. Not to mention that I have to hear about his various exploits from every single woman I encounter in the city. He is quite popular around these parts."
"I knew it bothered you," he said, crossing arms over his chest. "Try to deny it."
"It does bother me! I would be quite happy if I did not have to hear about something or other he did at least twice every day. Since he worked that little improvement on the city's irrigation, I even have to suffer the servants singing his praises."
"Say you'll help me."
"I can't, Isildur. How do you propose I find out what you are looking for? Do you think your brother will just confess everything to me? He does not want my meddling."
"That is the least worrisome part of it. Will you help me?"
"Your brother and I cannot be friends."
"I beg to differ. That bruise you've got there..."
That was the last straw. She let out a small scream--that shamed her later, but she could not help herself--and turned in on him by the potted oregano. "Why--?" she began, coming back until she was level with him, "why does everyone insist on bringing that up? He obviously does not know his own strength. The most logical explanation is that he hurt me because he was careless, or maybe even because he wanted to!"
"You know Anárion would never hurt a woman. And he would sooner hurt himself rather than hurt you. Was it not enough to see him risk everything to get you out of that market? That place where he had us hide... That place is part of it, and he was willing to expose himself for you. Is that not proof enough that he cares? But, if you want more, how about what he just did back there?" he asked, gesturing back towards the house with his head. "He was angry with me, because I took you away."
"He was angry with you already."
"That was your doing, too," he said, in a sort of slow drawl that spoke more of manipulation than reluctance.
"What do you mean?" she asked, taking a step back, suddenly eager to put distance between them. Perhaps she had invited his acrimony, but the way he said it put her on her guard. Feeling ashamed for backing down from him, she put her best, bravest face on before asking, "How am I to blame for your disagreements with your brother?"
Then he showed her exactly why the world could be fooled into thinking he was the more decisive of the two brothers. Closing the distance she had created, he took hold of her chin and tipped it so she would look straight up at him. He was as gentle as if he had been touching a flower, and she knew that any other girl on the island could have swooned at the gesture, but she hated how he thought he could take that much from her, and do so without her leave. He released her not a moment after he had command of her gaze and her attention but, to her mind, it was a moment too late. He sent her a smile to show her he knew what she was thinking, and that irritated her even more.
"What do you want, Isildur?" she made herself ask to prove to him, to herself, that she could not be cowed. "Say it now before you waste any more of my time, or yours. You are not going to tell me what you and your brother quarreled about, and I am not going to give you the pleasure of begging you to do so."
He laughed! But gave her what she wanted. "He wants me to tell him what I know about your enterprise in Andúnië, and I almost did."
"There's nothing to tell," she said, perhaps too quickly, but she made herself lift her chin to go on. "Everybody will find out, eventually, but I hoped at least to have things in place by the time they did."
"I said I almost told him."
She knew what he expected her to say and, seeing no way out, asked, "What stopped you?"
"You did." He paused, long enough to attempt a smile that she did not return. "When I saw that the knowledge gave me leverage with him, I thought it best hidden from him. For now."
"I would slap you right here," she said, splaying hands against her hips to keep from fisting her palms and bleeding all over Eilinel's garden, in front of Isildur. "I should do it! But I remember you used to have some decency about you, and in honor of that memory I will forget everything you just said. And because I care for your mother. Don't get too far ahead of yourself: you very well know your brother was probably trying to find the chance to talk to me and to berate me for my foolishness in endangering everybody else. I'm sure he wants to question me regarding my involvement with your mother."
"Yes, that's the rest of it."
"Well, there is nothing to say. Your mother will happily tell you what we are doing herself, if you would just ask: we want to create a place where helpless women can earn a living."
"That is beautiful, except helpless women are everywhere and you are setting yourselves up to get mobbed. No," he said, after a pause where she felt herself thoroughly laid bare under his scrutinizing gaze, "that is not it. But, you let me puzzle out my mother. It is Anárion I want you to figure out."
"I told you already: your brother and I are no longer friends."
"I'm not asking you to be his friend," he said. "I want you to find out what he is hiding."
"Why would I do that, Isildur?"
"Because you have secrets of your own that you do not wish known," he said, pointing the way toward the path out of his house and waiting for her to begin walking.
"That's why they are called secrets," she said as she passed him, but could not help feel a stirring of alarm. She had heard that tone before. Isildur generally portrayed himself as being self-absorbed and uncaring, but she knew better than to believe that. And, when he used that tone, he could be as single-minded and relentless as his brother. She would have to tell Elanya they needed to guard themselves against his interest.
"You know it is only a matter of time before I find out."
"Is that a wager?" she lashed out at him in her anger, but had to check herself at the expression of pity in his eyes that took her by surprise.
"A logical conclusion. As unfair as it is, women on their own cannot keep these sort of secrets for long: you need money, resources, contacts, henchmen to help you enforce discipline, none of which you currently have; nor are you in a position to find any of that on your own without giving yourself away. Look," he said, stopping, lowering his head in a show of contrition that was not the norm with him, "I deserve your slap, and I will happily let you indulge if it turns out I am wrong. But if I happen to be right, and you really could use my help, I can help you, if you will help me figure out Anárion."
She resumed the walk, eager to escape his gaze. "If you think you'd be so good at figuring out my secrets, why can't you use your talents on your brother?"
The smile he gave her was so heartbreaking that she got distracted, skipped a step, and had to accept his support.
"I am sorry for being so insolent, Elenwë, but I don't know what else to do! He's pushed me away too and, for the life of me, I can't break through that wall he's built." Without thinking, she gave his hand a squeeze. Didn't she know what that felt like? "But when he looks at you I can see emotion there that I don't normally see in his eyes. If there's anybody who could rouse him, it is you. I saw it today. I saw it yesterday. You saw it too. Please, say that you will help me. I will do all I can to help you on your quest if you help me out on mine."
Elenwë stopped walking, looked ahead toward the oaks that lined the path, upward toward the sky were light filtered through the canopy in dappled beams. Knowing what she knew she would be facing, could she really afford to let Isildur's offer pass? What would Elanya think? Would Isildur really help her? She had never known him to willfully deceive anybody, but she knew that he was cunning and could certainly find ways to twist his words so he would not have to do exactly as he had promised if that suited him better. Without thinking, her hand reached to pull her absent chain that she always kept tucked under her chemise. Isildur's smug expression when he discovered what she had done was beyond enduring, and she was forced to cover the movement by reaching for that errant strand of hair that had always plagued her by escaping its confines, to twist it like a silly flirt. Birdsong was all around her, the wind whispered answers that she could not understand, and her hands felt clammy and cold. What would it take to discover Anárion's secret? How close would she have to get? Could she risk herself in such a way again? She did not think she could survive another wound like that other one.
"I need some time to think about this," she finally said, feeling disgusted that just a few years ago she would not even have contemplated that sort of betrayal. "And, should I agree, I would need an advance from you. Just so I know you will hold to your word."
"I always hold to my word, but how will I know that you will hold to yours and carry things through to the end? No advance, darling," he said, but she did not miss that look of pity he gave her before he added, "but I know that, if you put your mind to it, you will think of something to give me that we can begin to work on. Do that, and you shall have what you want. Don't wait too long."
For the first time, she wondered if there was a biological reason why the sons of Elendil were so good at overcoming her defenses, or if it was her own weakness that made her a good prey. She could not come up with a good answer.