|Subject: A moment in time
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Date Posted: 22:18:31 05/01/03 Thu
How long ago it was since he had held her last…
The Tathren Elves could frequently be seen along the banks of the Sirion, and in its waters too, as they easily piloted small craft through its swirling eddies – mostly for transport in their small, efficient community, but often simply for the joys of it as well. It was an experience that Aralias found strange, used as he was to a more solemn community, but an exhilarating one nonetheless. Its effect could clearly be seen on Faeirex’s laughing face as she scrambled from the water on to the sand bar, pushing soaking hair back and turning to check that he was with her. The look irritated him – she hadn’t wanted to come on this doomed expedition - he had bullied her into it - but already she seemed to have forgiven and forgotten it; the reality of their situation was not lost on Aralias however. Already today his pride had been spectacularly wounded by his failed efforts. At the beginning of the day he had cherished the hope of recreating and building one of his own little boats but that hope had been dashed along with the craft as they entered the canyon forcing its pair of passengers to make for the nearest dry land in the treacherous currents. That Fae didn’t even seem to have taken notice of his failure should’ve been reassuring, instead it merely rubbed salt in an already open wound. A wound that gaped further when he pushed himself from the damp sand and glanced around, realising where they were and the only way out.
Fae had noticed at the same time as him, and her face paled when she saw what he was thinking. “No Lia, I can’t go in there. Don’t make me. I’ll stay here.”
“Don’t be a fool,” he snapped at her, trying to keep his own private anguish from entering his voice. “You saw how rough the river was back there, without the boat we’ll have to swim to land.”
“Then I’ll swim,” she said obstinately, starting back towards the rushing water. Panic made him run after her and pull her back more sharply than he had intended.
“It’s too dangerous! You’ll drown! Promise me you won’t go back in there.” She made no move, and his grip tightened. “Promise me!”
The seconds stretched out but she gave in first, as he had known he would.
He released her; the mark of his grip did not. “Good girl.” He said, drawing her in close for a relieved hug. “Fae, you know we have to do it. There’s no other way.” If I have to go through this, you are too.
She was shaking when he let go of her, but allowed herself to be led towards the open mouth of the cave.
The caverns beneath Nan-Tathren, that had once been wandered through so freely, were now a treacherous place of fallen rock and jagged holes. After the fall they had been closed off, and it was easy to see why. In some places the gaps that had once been great caves were so small they had to wriggle through, and in others the heights were so big that he could barely scramble up them. Faeirex, so much smaller, couldn’t make the climb at all and had to be helped up. It was too dark to see much but whenever he did, he could see her frenetic clenching and re-clenching of fists, and her rapid, nervous breathing sounded loud in the silence. He kept outwardly calm, knowing once he panicked they were lost and his own pain unable to find an outlet formed a small hard knot inside of him, coated itself over with layers of anger. Behind him Fae whimpered slightly and he grimaced. This is your fault, he thought furiously in her direction as he walked, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re hurting.
It wasn’t true of course, and the cruel twist of fate that gave enough light for him to see her frightened face at that very moment only made him hate himself for thinking it and hate her for making him hate himself.
”Sometimes I can’t stand it!” he burst forth to Riel finally. “She’s so good, and sweet, and wonderful all the time. It’s not natural. Sometimes I’m sure she’s doing it to spite me!”
“Don’t me ridiculous,” Cadrieldur replied, a funny look in his eyes, “Even I know that Fair hasn’t a spiteful bone in her body. Besides, she absolutely adores you, anybody can see that. I’m not sure why, but she does. Maybe you should try appreciating her for once.”
The trip had been an attempt to prove to Riel and himself that he appreciated his beautiful, talented, exasperating sister. And didn’t it turn out brilliantly, Aralias? his own voice sounded inside his head; so much like his fathers. A perfect failure, as always. He wanted to cry but knew he couldn’t. Behind him he could hear Faeirex’s tears. He stomped forwards, furious and frightened.
Daylight was visible up above, so real and warm it stung. So close, yet so far away. The steep rocky walls hemmed it in and held it back, so only shadows made it down to where they stood. The only way up was a haphazard tumble of rocks where the roof had fallen in years ago, leaving a scar in the hillside above wide enough to take a large tree. Somewhere on the other side of the fall the mouth of the caves opened onto fresh air, but it was as unreachable as the stars. Lia tested the bottom of the pile carefully, feeling it rock under even his slight weight.
“Get back,” he warned Faeirex, taking no notice of his own advice. “It’s unstable.”
She did as she was told, but unwillingly. “Lia, don’t go up there.” The telling crack in her voice told him she was on the verge of hysteria.
He ignored it and started to climb towards the light, the unstable mass shaking under him all the while. He was nearly at the top when stones started to slide beneath him. Cursing, he lunged for solid rock and grasped it as boulders crashed below. Hearing Fae’s scream behind him he struggled up the rest of the way, then turned to check on her. She was crying now, quietly, but the tears still shining wherever there was enough light to reflect them.
“I’m going to get help,” he assured her guiltily. “Just wait here and I’ll be back before you know it.”
She was protesting but he ignored it and moved towards the warmth he could feel on his wind-chilled face. “Lia!” she screamed. He looked back at her, her slight figure so small and fragile down there among the rocks that had killed their mother. “Don’t follow, it’s not safe. I’ll be back, I promise.”
She whispered brokenly, “don’t leave me down here…” The desperate plea reached his ears but he couldn’t allow himself to hear it, so instead he smiled reassuringly and disappeared out into freedom.
He waited for a while outside the cave mouth, the noise of Fae’s cries muffled by the wall of rock that stood between them. He should stay with her of course. He should stay, and talk to her, and try to help her deal with her demons whilst he waited for someone to pass. But deep inside, part of him was bitterly aware that it was all her fault the parent that had loved him was dead. Part of him wanted to lash out, to hurt her, to restore some of his injured pride. A large part of him.
He walked away.
“You did what?” his father shouted furiously. “You left her there!?! She’s a child, Aralias! A child! She’s frightened and upset, and you left her down there in the dark. I promise you, if anything happens to her I will never forgive you."
She had tried to climb up, as part of him had known she would. Alone, with only her own fears for company, and fury that yet again her brother had gone ahead of her and left her behind, she had braved the dangers and had fallen.
They were lucky she hadn’t been crushed, somebody told him when they’d pulled the rocks away from her unconscious body. He’d barely heard. When he carefully picked her up and cradled her against him, all he could think of was her falling away from him. Had she lost consciousness immediately, he wondered? Or had she had to lie there in the dark, unable to move, until the shadows claimed her?
What had he done?
And then his father was there, white with anger, taking her away from him. Holding her and talking to her lovingly, until her eyelids flickered and finally opened. He waited until she looked at him, putting as much apology and entreaty into his eyes as he knew how. But there was nothing of forgiveness in her face this time. A look of profound hurt and disappointment flashed across it, then was gone returning to blankness. He started to speak but she had turned away from him and hid her face against her father’s shoulder. Erliân held his only daughter close and caught his son’s gaze. I promise you, if anything happens to her I will never forgive you.
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