After the Darkness

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'After The Darkness'

 

After the Darkness
 

Ancalimė sat on the stone bench bouncing her ball. She watched what she was doing because the first time she had come out here to play she got carried away with thinking and the ball had flown up in the air and almost hit someone. That ‘someone’ was one of the elves who lived here in the elf king’s palace and they had all looked at her and Mother had been upset.

"Calie, we are guests here, outsiders, only welcome in such an important place because my time is close. You must not play rough or be loud or do things to upset anyone. Please, darling. It won't be for long."

That had been before the new baby came, of course, and left again, and Mother had gone to bed and was still there. Calie had heard the ladies talking in hushed voices about it being too soon and all the worry not helping and later that there had been so much blood...

They let her in to see Mother eventually. She had to cry and shout but in the end they took her to a strange-smelling room where Mother was a small shape in a very large bed. Mother smiled and held her hand for a while, but she was sleepy and soon her eyes closed. She looked as though she had something wrong with her eyes: it was only much later that Calie understood she had been crying. She had never seen her mother cry.

Calie bounced the ball some more. She tried to be careful, but it slipped out of her hand and went rolling across the terrace. She sighed and got up to fetch it, but she was too slow, one of the elves had seen and got there before her. Calie hesitated, not sure what to do. She couldn't decide if this was what Mother meant about upsetting people; the ball had only rolled a little way. To her surprise, instead of frowning at her as everyone seemed to, the elf smiled.

"I believe this is your ball?" He spoke fluent Adūnaic, not just the few phrases that were all the other elves seemed to know. He spoke with an accent but the words were still clear and he had a soft, husky voice.

She smiled tentatively and came to claim it. "Thank you. I tried not to bounce it too hard."

"But what's the fun in a ball that has to keep still?" he asked, and his voice sparkled with laughter. "How about taking it down into the garden and playing there? You would have more space and no edge for it to roll off."

"I'm not allowed to," Calie explained. "Aunt Ruda said I was to play here if I must go outside. She wanted me to sit inside and read, but I only have two books and I am so tired of them."

The elf raised his eyebrows. He had nice eyes, Calie noticed. They were almost the same light-golden brown as the little stones in the bracelet Father had given her two years ago when she turned eight. Her face must have gone sad because he looked concerned. "Reading the same book all the time would be tiresome, no matter how good. I also think fresh air is important for young growing things - elf children spend much of their time outdoors."

He sat on the corner of the bench instead of walking off and gestured for her to join him. He was not very tall and had long black hair that shone in the sun. His robe shone too: it was made of some fabric she had not seen before that shimmered. A little intimidated, Calie sat down carefully. "My father always says that," she agreed.

The elf nodded. "A sensible man. Is he with King Elendil, or...?"

She shook her head. "He went -- south? -- to join Lord - I mean Prince Isildur's men. He won't be back till the year turns, Aunt Ruda says."

"And - your mother went with him?"

"Mother isn't well. There was going to be a baby, a brother or sister for me, but it went away again and she's been sick ever since. They let me sit with her in the afternoons but she sleeps a lot."

The elf tucked a foot under him and sat back. "And meanwhile your aunt looks after you? Have they sent word to your father and asked one of our healers for help?"

"Aunt Ruda said that elven folk know nothing of our kinds of ills," Calie said, her voice unconsciously changing to mirror her aunt's.

The elf gave a small nod. "That is often true, because not all elves live close to mortals. Where I come from though, our doors are open to everyone. If you tell me your mother's name, I could ask my lord to visit her. He is a very good healer as well as a soldier."

"My mother's name is Azruphel," Calie said shyly, wondering at the thought of a soldier who would also have time to help sick people. “And I’m Ancalimė, but they call me Calie.”

"I will ask him," the elf said. He looked out across the garden for a while then said, "How was it, Calie, coming here on the ship? Were you very frightened?"

Calie could feel herself creeping into herself. "There was a big storm and waves as high as the ship," she whispered.

"And you were afraid, of course. I would have been too," the elf said kindly, reaching over to touch her hair with gentle fingers. "The sea was very wild here too while you were on your way, it came right up over the hou... right up to the houses. I only ever saw something like that once before, a long time ago."

"Will it do it again?" Calie asked him, giving the sea a hard look.

He shook his head. "No, that will not happen again. It was -- something that cannot be repeated."

"I wanted to go home," she confided, because he seemed kind and wouldn't tell her to hush as Aunt Ruda did. "I asked and asked when we would, but Mother said we couldn't and Father said Nśmenor was gone."

He sat flat on the bench again and looked at her with concern. "You can never go back, no," he said, "but so long as we remember things they are never truly gone. Would you like to tell me about your home?"

Calie paused. Aunt Ruda had said not to annoy or impose on people's kindness while they were here, but he did seem truly interested. "It isn't a big town,” she said, thinking so hard she could almost see it in front of her. “There are no shipyards or factories, but we grew vegetables and Father gave three days' service out of ten to Lord Elendil and the rest he spent with us. He's a carpenter, though he says now he has to be a soldier for a while. Mother did sewing... It was so pretty, there were flowers and hills and trees and we lived by the river..."

Tears choked her and the elf moved closer and put an arm comfortingly round her. He smelt like lemon and spice and something green; a good smell. She shuffled closer and leaned against him.

"It sounds very beautiful," he said. "You might like my home, too. We live in a valley far beyond the mountains you see around Mithlond. My lord has a big house with many doors and there’s a village grown up around it where most of the people live. There are meadows and planted fields, woods full of foxes and badgers and other wild creatures. At night we sit in Lord Elrond's Hall of Fire and listen to songs and stories and talk with friends, or else sometimes there is dancing and music down in the village. And then, of course, there’s my favourite sound..."

"What's that?" she asked, her tears and the loneliness temporarily forgotten as she drank in every word.

He smiled down at her, and although his face was young and fair and he looked no older than her uncle Roth who had stayed behind, his eyes were old and wise. "Imladris is full of song and laughter," he told her, "but I think best of all is the voice of the Bruinen, the river that runs through it."

Her eyes lit up. "I loved our river," she told him. "Does your river have ducks on it? Ours did."

"Not till below the house, which is where I live. The water falls from a great height and then leaps down rocks laughing and it throws off spray and rainbows, but when it reaches the village it runs calmer and there are ducks and wild geese roosting in the rushes."

"Are there children in your valley?” she asked wistfully.

He glanced around as though he had almost forgotten where he was. "There are no children in the palace are there? I think the staff with families all live in town. Yes, there are children. Not many, but enough for no one to lack company, enough that we have a school rather than everyone learning from their parents. I have no idea how it is done where you..."

"Erestor, everyone’s been looking for you."

The voice was rich, amused, and Calie looked up to see another elf, taller, with lots of dark hair and clear grey eyes. He wore a silver circlet around his brow and had on a richly embroidered robe. The ladies couldn't stop exclaiming over the clothes the elves wore, both men and women. Her elf, whose name must be Erestor, smiled and rose to his feet gracefully after first patting her shoulder. "Well, as you can see, I am here, not even out of the palace grounds. People don't look hard enough. In any event...Lord Elrond, I would like you to meet my new friend, Calie. Calie, this is my lord, the one whose home is in the valley."

Calie got up too, not sure what to do, so she did the little bob her mother made for Lord - King Elendil. She had to remember he was a king now. The new elf, Lord Elrond, reached a hand down under her chin and raised her face to look up at him. Like Erestor, he had a kind face, if a little tired. She was scared she would have to speak in Sindarin, which she was still learning, but she needn’t have worried. He also spoke the Common Tongue. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Calie. Welcome to Lindon. I know you had a terrible journey here, but you're safe now."

Erestor put a hand on his arm, his other still on Calie's shoulder. "I wonder if you could spare a little time, Elrond," he said. "I meant to speak to you later. Calie's mother has need of a healer. She lost a babe and it seems not to be going well with her. Could you...?"

The grey eyes were warm, but with a strange shimmer as though star lit. He looked at her, into her, and then he nodded and smiled again, soft as summer. "I could hardly refuse to help your new friend, Erestor. Come, Calie. Show me where your mother is. I do not pretend to know all there is about healing, let alone childbirth, but I have studied for a long time. Let’s see what can be done."

Calie led the way back indoors, the two elves on either side of her. The day that had started scared and lonely had changed dramatically in the space of an hour. And more important, Mother would be well soon. The Lord might say he did not know everything about healing, but she felt safe now as she had not since they left home.

Later, when Mother was well and Father was back from the south, perhaps they could visit Imladris, and perhaps they could start a new home there. Erestor had said the doors were open to everyone, not just elves. A home with meadows and woods, flowers and laughter. Somewhere that had a river running through it. She hastened her steps and a little song started in her head. Deep down she knew that the darkness was passing and soon everything was going to be all right.
 

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Beta: Red Lasbelin