Date Posted: 19:18:53 11/20/02 Wed
Namün glared after Madjael's retreating figure. Back in her life for just a few hours, and already he was trying to control her. She was right- what sort of a relationship could they possibly have? Admittedly, she was attracted to him, but she didn't love him. Not even when they'd kissed had she felt the same tug at her heart that she did when Aragorn touched her. But even her time with Aragorn was doomed- he still loved his wife.
He cares nothing for you, he's using you! Why can't you see that? You're just keeping the bed warm until his wife returns. He doesn't want you or need you or love you!
Madjael's words echoed hollowly in her head. He was probably right, but even so, could she turn her back on this? With every action, the tangled skein of her relationships pulled tighter, fusing itself into an impossible knot that she didn't know how to undo. And, judging by the expression she had seen on Cirad's face, it was about to get worse.
Apologetically, she turned to Harion, still waiting by the door. "Don't feel you have to walk me home, you know. I wouldn't want you to put yourself out."
Harion regarded her curiously. She seemed to change so quickly; a few minutes earlier she had looked terrified at the prospect of walking home by herself. Now her expression gave no emotions away. She was obviously a strong character, a survivor, dominating perhaps?
"I'm already up now... lets get it over with." he waited for her to walk out and closed the door behind them. The icy wind howled down the dark alleyway. The first few snowflakes clung to clothes and hair. They fought against the wind towards the palace. Namün 's face was set in an expression of grim determination. Her long black hair whipped in strands around her face. She was shivering, her eyes not focusing properly on anything; her mind was obviously occupied with something important. At first Harion ignored her. All he had to do was make sure that she got safely to the palace and go home. He had enough problems of his own, without adding someone else’s.
They walked in silence; occasionally Harion glanced at her to check she was alright. Her expression never changed. Finally he could stand it no longer. He stopped and turned to her, touching her arm to grab her attention.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
The corner of her mouth lifted slightly in a sardonic smile. "You've been dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and made to trek half way across this cursed city in the snow, and you're asking me what's wrong?"
"Well...yes. Since you've already covered what's wrong with me."
She shook her head slightly and walked on, head bent down into the wind. They continued in silence for a few paces before she replied, "What if I was to tell you I'm afraid of the dark?"
"I'd want to know why. You don't look to me like the sort of person who has irrational fears."
She looked at him sharply. "Maybe you're right. Maybe you're not. But, rational or irrational, we're not going to be talking about my fears this evening. I'd rather they were buried- under all this snow perhaps."
Harion shrugged. "If you like."
A few minutes later, more for something to say than out of any real interest, he added, "But if you don't want to talk about it, why did you even mention it?"
This time it was her who stopped. "You know, you're brighter than you look." she paused, considering her answer. "You asked. Most people in this city don't really care about anybody but themselves. You're obviously new here- you haven't learnt that yet. Right now, you still care."
"Natural instinct I suppose." Harion thought quickly, trying to put his views into words. "There are always enough people out there to hate and despise for real reasons. Maybe things they've done to me, or threatening my family. I don't see the point in cutting myself off from people who have done me no harm. And if there's anything I can do..." he tailed off. It sounded stupid telling someone else, especially as her expression gave nothing away. He shivered and forced his hands deeper inside his cloak. He was getting colder. Soon he wouldn't care whether or not she said anything as long as they reached shelter quickly. He started up the pace slightly as the palace slowly loomed up above the houses. Harion glanced quickly at her again.
"Try to hold on to that Harion," she told him quietly "It's rare. I used to think I could change the world. But it seems the world doesn't really want to be changed. Ara-" she started to say Aragorn, before cutting off- "My lover says it takes time. But how much time do we really have? Even the things we love we have no hold over. They can be taken away in an instant, in the time it takes for you to take a single breath."
She paused, having come as close as possible to mentioning the source of her problems. It seemed so silly- to be talking to a complete stranger about this. But on the other hand, that was the one thing Harion had above everyone else. He didn't know her, and he hadn't judged her. Not yet, anyway. And his advice could prove helpful. She decided to take the chance.
"That man you saw me with earlier, what did you think of him?"
"As what" Harion decided to tread carefully. "As a person? a soldier? a friend? - I wouldn't know. I've only just met him"
as a lover? he wanted to add, but decided against it. Something in her voice made him assume that the lover she had mentioned earlier was not the man in the bar. Yet there was definitely something between them, he was sure of it.
"Just...first impressions then. What did you think?" Namün insisted
Harion sighed. "I don't know. He's got a lot of confidence and he's a smooth talker. It could be hard to tell what’s for real, and what is a cover hiding the real person beneath. He seems nice enough...but you might want to consider something with a deeper foundation than first impressions." Harion tried to picture how Madjael had behaved with Namün.
"He obviously cares for you though."
"You think so?" Namün tried not to sound too interested.
"Yes. The way he looked at you, and wanted to make sure that you'd be safe."
Harion decided to stop there. He was telling the truth, but didn't want to alter the facts by exaggerating or leaving anything out by accident. It was her decision and he had promised to be unbiased, yet he wondered if she knew about the barmaids.
Namün was silent again for a while, obviously thinking. Finally, she shook her head with a bitter laugh.
"I'm a fool."
She hesitated. "I don't want you to judge me here. You're the first person in a long time who hasn't looked at me as if I'm a whore. Just...listen. Hear me out- please?"
"Thank-you," she took a deep breath then continued, "I'm having an affair- with a married man. The problem is, he still loves his wife. Always has. I knew that, but I let myself do it anyway. And, stupidly, I fell for him. We've got no future- nothing. It's only a matter of time before he realizes he can't lie to himself any more, and ends things. And it hurts, but I can't bring myself to do the right thing and let him go. And today...
Madjael, he- he says he's in love with me. And I don't know what to do."
Harion was silent for a moment. This was outside his field of experience; first hand information wouldn't help him here. "I suppose my stereotypical reply would be to ask you if you love him. However, the fact that you're telling me suggests that you don't know. Am I right?"
Namün nodded slowly.
"You've already told me what you have to do with your lover. You know he loves his wife and nothing will change that." Namün's eyes pricked slightly
"It doesn't make it any easier" she whispered.
"I know. But life is hard. I know that, you know that. If it continues, you'll only end up getting more hurt. At least you've made the first step by admitting to yourself what needs to be done. Things will get better. This won't knock you down for ever."
He smiled at her encouragingly. "You have to decide what to do, I can't help you there."
"I know." Namün's voice remained quiet. "But what about Madjael?"
Harion stared across the courtyard, watching the snowflakes build up into large drifts.
"You want my honest opinion?" he asked. "I'd say wait for a while. Let yourself recover fully first. Taking the pain from this relationship into the next would cause extra strain between you. If he does really love you...as he says, then he'll wait for you for as long as need be."
He turned to look back at her. "Of course, you don't need to take my advice. I just hope talking about it might have helped."
"Thank-you," she smiled at him weakly. "It's not often someone takes the time to listen. They could learn that from you- both of them."
She sighed. "It all depends on how much I'm willing to sacrifice really, doesn't it? I can't let things continue like this."
Harion waited patiently, not wanting to interrupt her train of thought, but the harsh cold was fast penetrating his bones, and he shivered in spite of himself. She looked up, pulling herself out of a shadowy reverie.
"You'd better come inside and warm up. You can't go walking back in this."
He would have protested, but by then his teeth were chattering, and he allowed himself to be led past guards who stepped aside without a word at the sight of his diminutive companion. He glanced at Namün in surprise, but she took no notice and offered no explanation for the courtesy. They came to a halt in a vast kitchen, deserted but for a dying fire flickering in the hearth. He looked around nervously. "Should we be in here?"
"Mirwan will be in bed by now, and there's no one else who'll protest. Don't worry, I'm not going to get you into trouble. Sit down and get warm."
Taking a chair, he watched as she threw another log into the fireplace, then disappeared briefly, returning with a flagon of mead which she pushed into his numb hands.
"It'll help you heat up."
He sipped it gratefully, noticing however that she took none herself. She was sitting on the stone floor now, as close to the open firepit as she could get, with her chin resting on knees huddled up to her body. She stared into the depths of the blaze, ignoring the soft sound of melted snow dripping to the ground. Her hair was heavy with damp, clinging to cold skin, and sodden clothing, and cheeks that were flushed red from the bite of the weather outside, and the sting of the heat from the fire. She shook, partly from cold, but more from relief. The walk back from the tavern had scared her more than she'd been willing to let on, as well as having to put her trust in a complete stranger.
Aryante trod quietly through the palace, listening to the sounds of restless sleep. She herself was wide-awake; her Elven blood left her needing less rest than pureblood humans. Her preparations were nearly done now- clothes packed, as well as her supply of medicines, and food supplied by a helpful, and wakeful, servant. All she really needed now were some more herbs from the kitchens to replenish her dwindling supply, and they would be ready to set out. The only thing that concerned her was their lack of men- she and Legolas would hardly be enough to fight off a band of orcs, as well as dealing with a possibly injured dwarf. And who would lead and care for the packhorses, and fetch water, and do all the other chores that she was used to servants doing? It was doubtful that the royal prince would be accustomed to the task, and she herself traveled rarely, certainly never alone. It was a potential problem.
As the healer neared the kitchens, she saw the flickering light of a fire through one of the open doorways. When she entered the room, her gaze was caught by the sight of the two huddled near the blaze. Elessar's mistress- what was her name? Namün?- and a young man she didn't recognize, both soaked to the skin and shivering.
"What are you two doing in here?"
The boy spun around almost guiltily, as if warming himself was a contraband act. Namün herself stood and curtsied with a murmured, "Lady Aryante."
Straightening up, she explained, "I forgot the time and got caught in the Rusty Chain after dark. Harion here was kind enough to walk me home." With a gesture to her clothes, she added, "It was snowing, you might have noticed."
"It was a foolish thing to do, with no coat." Aryante told her crisply. "By the state of you, you'll both get chills. You'd better come with me while I fix something for you. You too," she added over her shoulder to Harion, heading for the pantry.
She gathered together the herbs she needed for her journey, then set some others to boiling over the hearth. As she worked, she talked. "Your accent isn't from around here," she noted to Harion, "Where do you come from?"
"A farm, miles up North, milady," he replied shyly. "Lived there all my life, until I came here looking for work."
"A farm?" Aryante asked, an idea forming in her head. "Do you have any skill with horses?"
"Yes'm. Well, when we had them, until about a year ago."
"You said you were looking for work. Did you find any?"
Harion looked slightly puzzled, she was obviously heading somewhere with her questioning.
"Yes'm. I've got a job at the Rusty Chain."
"Oh" Aryante looked a little disappointed as leaned over to prod the herbs above the fire. So much for that idea. Still, she may as well continue the conversation.
"So why did you decide to come to Minas Tirith?" she asked curiously. Harion thought for a moment.
"We needed the money" he stated honestly "There is none to be found where I live. The raids and high rents meant that no one has any spare. My sister had heard about the city, where it would be possible to earn a fortune... Well,
enough to pay the debts anyway, so I decided to come."
Aryante nodded sympathetically. She knew a little about the corrupt landlords extorting money.
However... another thought entered her head. Perhaps all was not lost. One thing she could easily get hold of was money.
"Do they pay you well in the tavern?" she asked trying not to appear rude.
"More than I've ever earned before ma'am" Harion replied cautiously.
Aryante decided to explain her motives.
"The thing is, I need someone like you to go on a mission. Someone young and strong who can manage horses. I'd pay you well, twice what you'd earn at the tavern."
Harion sat there gobsmacked. Twice as much as the tavern? It was extremely tempting.
"Tell me more about the mission." He said suspiciously. There had to be a catch somewhere.
"Prince Legolas is searching for his friend Gimli the Dwarf. We know that he was captured by Orcs at some point several months ago. We will find him and bring him home."
Harion shuddered slightly at the mention of orcs. Common sense had always told him to hide and wait till they had gone. The idea of searching them out seemed like suicide. Thoughts flashed to his mother. However, double pay...
"I would come..." he said slowly. "But I've only just got my job. I don't want to back out so soon, I'd be letting them down."
Aryante smiled. That at least was easily settled, her position in court would help here.
"I'll write the landlord of the tavern a note,” she said briskly. "I'm sure he won't mind. At least, I'll persuade him not to." Her bossy tone made her smile even more. Still, if it meant gaining a worker.
Harion stared into the flickering flames for a few moments.
"I'll come then,” he said at last.
"It's done," the healer told them, removing the strong-smelling mixture from the heat. I know it doesn't taste too pleasant, but it should keep you from getting sick."
Sternly, she watched them drink it, smiling inwardly at their disgusted faces.
"I'll see you in the morning," she told Harion. "Dawn if possible. Prince Legolas won't like being kept waiting. We'll have food supplies, but you might want to pack enough clothes for several weeks on the road. I don't know how long it'll take to find the dwarf. Legolas will find you a horse when you arrive, and I should think he'll give you a weapon as well. You might have to fight. Try to rest well tonight."
Next, she turned to Namün. Despite the medicine she'd drunk, the girl still looked flushed and shaky. Worried, Aryante took a closer look at her, sending a small vein of her power to hunt for the source of the problem. She drew back startled.
"Go to bed," she ordered her. "Try to keep warm. Your body's weak, and it won't fight off illness well. You need to rest it. Come to see me tomorrow before I leave. There's things we need to talk about."
Namün opened her mouth to protest, but Aryante stopped her. She turned her around gently and propelled her towards the door.
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