“Just ask them!” Aredhel wiggled in frustration. She would have tapped her foot in impatience had she not been on horseback. “Just ride up to them, say good afternoon, and ask them if this is the road to Pearly Bay.”
Celegorm watched the small line of woodcutters vanishing off between the trees but made no move to follow them. “We’ll find it on our own,” he said for the third time. “It has to be somewhere along here. It’s on the coast just past Avallónë, and there’s a mountain behind it, or so he said in his letter.”
“Everything is on the coast or close to,” Aredhel exploded. “This is an island, Celegorm. Surrounded by water? And there are mountains everywhere. Admit it, please. We’re lost!”
Celegorm shook his head stubbornly. “No we’re not. We just haven’t ridden far enough yet.”
“It’ll be night soon. What do you intend to do then, camp on the side of the road?”
Celegorm glared at her. “You never had a problem camping in the forest back in the old days,” he growled. “I remember how you used to like hunting down a nice, plump bunny for dinner, watching the stars…”
”…getting it in the neck from my father, my brothers, anyone who happened to hear I’d spent the night away from home with you,” she finished off, her tone sharp. “Yes, well, that was a long time ago. I’ve grown up since then, got quite used to sleeping in a bed.”
Celegorm rolled his eyes. He had finally been released from Mandos only a couple of weeks previous and had so far only been reunited with a couple of members of his family. He had been thrilled to find Aredhel all but waiting at the gate for him, but was starting to wish she would stop reminding him how much time had passed and how mature she now thought she was.
“Why didn’t you ask them the way?” One thing hadn’t changed, once she had an idea in her head she was as tenacious with it as fleas in a blanket. It was a wonder she hadn’t driven Turgon crazy back there over the sea. Mind, what he’d heard of the setup in Gondolin didn’t speak well for that cousin’s probable sanity.
“Don’t need to,” he replied. “We have the stars and our own sense of direction, and Tol Eressëa isn’t all that big really. Would only take a few days to ride around it if we had to. Which we won’t. I don’t ask directions. That’s for people with no personal resources.”
Aredhel stared at him, disbelief written across her fair face and blazing from her clear, grey eyes. “I don’t believe it. You were embarrassed to ask? We’re going to end up camping out without a tent or groundcloth or – anything – because you were too damn embarrassed to ask for directions?”
“Men don’t ask for directions. That’s for helpless women who can’t read the stars.”
Her mouth forsook its habitual sensual pout and dropped open as she stared at him. After a minute she recalled herself and closed it smartly. “I’ll have you know that when I left Gondolin with those idiots Glorfindel and Ecthelion – and Egalmoth, least said about him the better – I was the only person who had a clue where we were going. I left them in the end and made my own way. My only worry was whether they would find their way home without me.”
And look where that all ended up, Celegorm thought. He had been carefully briefed about his family’s exploits before Lord Námo let him leave, and Aredhel’s story was amongst the least surprising. Trust her, she always liked the bad boys.
Fingolfin’s daughter found a rather squashed bunch of purple grapes in her saddlebag and proceeded to eat them one at a time, peeling the skin off efficiently with her teeth before sucking them into her mouth and chewing slowly and with savour. At any other time the effect would have been devastatingly erotic. She very pointedly did not offer any to Celegorm.
They rode on, Aredhel craning her neck to look around, but the elves they had seen earlier had apparently vanished. “I would have asked them myself if you were too chicken,” she said darkly. “I’m not scared to admit I don’t know where I am. Not in a strange place. And anyone we talk to must surely know where to find Glorfindel. Big, blonde, not terribly bright…”
“They wouldn’t have known him,” her cousin cut in.
Aredhel blinked. “Why ever not? How many people living around here could fit that description?”
Celegorm’s jaw muscles twitched. “Well yes, but they were Sindar. Not likely to know a Noldorin lord.”
“Don’t be silly,” Aredhel retorted. “A good third of the people in Gondolin were Sindar. And from what I’ve heard, they made up the majority east of the sea after the First Age. They’d be the best people to ask. The only Sindar who had nothing to do with us were those in Doriath, so unless they were….” She fell silent, then shot a sidelong glance at her tall, impossibly good looking cousin. “Ah.”
“What do you mean, ‘ah’?” Celegorm saw where this was going and urged his horse forward, but Aredhel kept pace with him effortlessly.
“Just ‘ah’. You weren’t just embarrassed about asking for directions. You didn’t want to talk to them in case they came from Doriath.”
“Never crossed my mind.”
“No, of course not dear.” Aredhel smiled smugly. “Not a cause for concern at all. No chance they might recognise you and find another use to put their axes to.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous,” he snapped. “This is the edge of the Undying Lands. No one gets killed here…”
They stared at one another.
“Oh all right. There was Grandfather.”
“Yes indeed there was.”
They exchanged eloquent looks. The least said about Alqualondé the better.
“I’m sure if they’d been in Doriath when you — came calling, their time in the Halls would have given them some perspective on things,” Aredhel said in an attempt to be reassuring. “And as for the survivors? It was a very long time ago. And it wasn’t your fault anyway. Blame Maedhros.”
“Really. Just – don’t worry about it. Unless you run into Dior and Nimloth, of course. Then you might want to say sorry.”
Celegorm shot her a sharp look, then compressed his lips and made a business of studying the sun’s angle to estimate the hour. “Well, whatever,” Aredhel finished, realizing it was time to drop the subject. “Anyhow, I think right now we…”
“They’re not living here, are they?” he asked abruptly, clearing his throat roughly. “Glorfindel would have mentioned, wouldn’t he? He’d know, right? About me maybe not wanting to run into them.”
Aredhel reached over and patted his arm, acknowledging how hard it must have been for him to admit his concern. There had always been an exceptional degree of trust between them. “Oh, I’m sure he knows the whole story by now,” she said. “He had two ages to catch up on the gossip about what we’d all done and where and why. In his letter, he sounded quite up to date and really looking forward to meeting up with everyone again.”
Glorfindel had arrived from Middle-earth around the same time Celegorm had been released from Lord Námo’s care and, like many who had spent a long time in the east, had made his home on the Lonely Isle. He had written to several old friends and family members inviting them to visit while he and those who had sailed with him settled into their new lives. He had made no mention of grudge-bearing Sindar, but then he had not been expecting Celegorm.
Aredhel, bored witless with the social round in Tirion, had accepted almost as soon as she finished reading the friendly missive and had then set about persuading Celegorm to keep her company on the journey. It had all started well. They had ridden to the coast, taken the ferry across to Avallónë, collected their horses, and set out to find the cottage by the sea that the half-Vanyar former lord of the House of the Golden Flower had been at such pains to describe. Just north of the town, he had said, overlooking the sea. On the road to Pearly Bay Can’t miss it.
While they were talking, the horses carried them through the trees and out into the open again. The sea sparkled up at them from the bottom of the steep drop to their left, the wave-caps dancing white in the late afternoon sunlight. Just ahead of them, a tall elf came into view, trudging along on the mountain side of the road. A fishing rod was slung over his shoulder, and he carried three silvery fish threaded on a stick.
“Right, I’ll ask then,” Aredhel said determinedly. “There isn’t a house for miles here.”
“Manwë’s Balls, do you never give up…?”
“Hush! You can’t say that here.”
“Oh yes I can.”
“That attitude is what got you into trouble in the first place. And he’s not Sindar either. Look at his hair. Definitely Noldor.”
Aredhel sat a little straighter and tilted her chin up fetchingly. “Excuse me,” she hailed, urging her horse forward. The elf looked her up and down, apparently unimpressed. She reined in and tried her brightest smile, the one that Cousin Artanis – she couldn’t get used to that stupid new name – said looked like a cat that had swallowed the house finch. “Would you happen to know where we could find Glorfindel of Gondolin? He’s — about your height? With long blonde hair and blue eyes. Recently arrived from Endor?”
The elf startled her by spitting off to the side of the road. “New arrivals,” he muttered. “Place is crawling with them all of a sudden.”
Celegorm had caught up with them and waited, affecting a bored expression. “I’m sure he hasn’t a clue where Glorfindel lives,” he told Aredhel. “Stop wasting his time. If we just keep going along this road, we’ll find him eventually.”
“That you won’t,” the elf informed him. “Not along here.”
“Oh for — come on, Ari, we’re wasting our time here. You were worried about it getting dark.”
“Wait,” Aredhel said imperiously. Keeping pace beside the elf, she asked sweetly, “Not along here? Why would that be?”
“Back that way, way you’ve come,” he replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “Go into town, take the lower road that passes the harbour, keep riding, it’s just after the ostriches. Can’t miss it. Got a hulking great flag out front, big gold flower on a purple background.”
“But he said north,” Celegorm said, genuinely puzzled. “And this is…”
“This road heads east,” the elf told him with a look of unveiled disgust. “Back there in town, you turn north from the harbour, follow the roadup.”
Aredhel was careful not to look in her cousin’s direction while she thanked the fisherman and bade him a hearty meal. They turned back the way they had come, riding in silence. Finally Celegorm broke it. “Could have sworn this was north. Must have turned the directions around when they — bent the sea. Or whatever they did with it. Can’t get my head around that one. But this was always north before.”
Aredhel nodded placatingly. “I’m sure it was, dear,” she agreed. “Just got all turned around, yes. It would have been much easier if we’d arrived at night.”
Celegorm gave her a suspicious look. Somewhere in a corner of his mind that he disliked exploring he had always suspected Aredhel was smarter than him. In an even deeper corner dwelt a little voice that had on occasion very softly suggested that perhaps she thought so too. “Night? Why would arriving at night have helped?”
“Stars,” Aredhel said airily. “After all, you say men never ask for directions, All they really need are the stars to guide them. And now,” she went on, tossing her dark hair back over her shoulders, “Let’s try and get back to town before it grows dark enough to put that to the test. Come on, I’ll race you to the first crossroads. Winner gets to ask Findel about the balrog.”
Beta: Red Lasbelin
AN: For Zhie in the Midwinter drabble swap.