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Author name: Keiliss
Recipient's name: ladyelleth
Title: Like a Shooting Star, Leaping Skywards
Rating: PG
Request: I'd love a hurt/comfort femslash story set on a Winter Solstice in the First Age
Author's notes: Takes place about six months after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Other story notes are at the end.
Left to its own devices, this story would have reached 30k. If you enjoy reading it even half as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’ll be delighted. Happy New Year, Elleth.
Beta: red_lasbelin
Summary: Sensing danger, Galadriel has sent a former friend to guide Meril and her young son Gil-galad down the coast from Eglarest to Balar

Like a Shooting Star, Leaping Skywards

It was not the first time Meril had been told to pack and leave a place overnight and she suspected it might not be the last, but the circumstances were even less usual this time. When she was told a messenger had arrived from her husband’s aunt Galadriel, currently living on Balar, the last person she had expected was Amareth, but here she was, still in her riding clothes and as brisk and organising as ever.

Meril was not prepared to be bullied. She stood in the centre of the airy room given to her for household tasks like sewing, her hands on her hips, her chin up. “No,” she said firmly. “My lord Círdan is away and anyhow, if I were to take my son elsewhere it would be where he belongs, home with his father. Your lady has no authority over me.”

Amareth, who had gone over to examine the light blanket Meril had begun on the small loom by the window, turned back and raised her eyebrows. It gave her eyes a startled look like a rabbit, which under other circumstances would have been funny – few women were less rabbit-like than Amareth. “She is your husband’s aunt? That is authority enough amongst our people at least. And Círdan is not your lord, that would be your husband’s king who sits ... somewhere over there in some hidden place no one has ever seen.” She accompanied her words with a wave of the hand in a northerly direction. No one really knew where Turgon was but north was the usual bet.

“Our secret king. Yes, I can imagine your opinion. Amareth, I don’t understand. What’s this about? Why now, why not wait for spring? No, don’t touch the thread, you’re death to looms.”

Amareth smiled ruefully and stepped back, joining Meril who had gone to sit on the windowseat. “You still remember Lady Edhellos’s efforts to teach me, do you? I’m more use outdoors, I fear.” She looked out the window at the clouds skudding across the pale winter sky. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “She sent for me and told me to come to you, that she chose me because you would know me and listen.”

“Sending you is the only part that makes sense. She knows we knew each other even before my marriage. She asked questions about everyone in the escort on the journey from Nargothrond when she made Orodreth send Gil here... after which you left to make your fortune with her.” Meril kept her eyes on the tree growing near the window while she spoke.

“Well, I was hardly cut out to be a child’s nurse and your law mother had already tried and failed to turn me into a lady.” Amareth shrugged, shook back her long russet hair. “As to what it’s about, all she said was this was more urgent even than the last time, that you were to pack what you could manage for yourself and the boy and to leave at once. That your lives depended on it.”

“I’d like to know why she sent us here just to move us again in less than ten sun years,” Meril said crossly. “It seems untidy to me. And how are we meant to travel? The weather’s already turned. She has no children, she cannot imagine how it would be to travel this time of the year with a boy not much above twenty years...”

“We’ll be riding, not walking, Your Highness. He’s old enough to ride long distances, surely? I thought his father’s people start them young.”

“Of course he can ride, Amareth, that isn’t the issue. Noldor princes are almost born in the saddle. And you can dispense with the title, it’s not much used here.” She couldn’t keep the snap out of her voice.

“Part Noldor,” Amareth pointed out. “Do not deny your own blood in him, my lady.”

They glared at one another. “The Noldor blood is all that matters, isn’t it?” Meril asked at last, tiredly. “Even as they lose battle after battle until almost no hope remains. It’s what matters to Círdan who is fostering a minor prince, to my lord’s aunt, who is Noldor to her fingertips and ambitious for her family line...”

“To me he is your son,” Amareth said, surprising her. “A child born in the north as we were, with your hair and his uncle’s eyes. And if his life is holding by a thread, as she implied, then we must do what we must do. But not because he is Noldor and their new king has left them to chance and the winds of fate. Not even because he is Sinda from you, or has the Telerin from your father. He’s a child. We need to get him away from here. Trust her – she sees true.”

“Why should I trust her?” Meril asked. She rose to glare down at the loom, the new blanket that would never now be finished. “Why should I disrupt Gil’s life and mine yet again on her whim?”

“Because she is Galadriel,” Amareth said simply. “Now find your son and show me who to speak to about horses. We need to be on the road by first light.”

-----o

They exchanged the messenger service horse Amareth had used for a fresh one and took an extra for baggage. Amareth said they could take all they needed on their own horses but here Meril had balked and rather than drag the argument out, Amareth reluctantly agreed to a pack horse. Meril hoped against hope that Círdan would return to Eglarest in time to either forbid it or give them an escort, but he was still in the north when they left next morning. Amareth was also quick to point out an escort had been deemed unnecessary by Galadriel, who had said three would draw less attention than a company and, ominously, that the men could not be spared.

The night before, when she had finished their meagre packing and talked to Gil, Meril had written a long note to Círdan, explaining the situation as she understood it – that she would remain under his protection, but in his house on Balar rather than his primary home here in Eglarest - and covering gratitude for his hospitality before venting her frustration at her aunt by marriage’s high handedness. The act left her feeling a bit better even if it did no practical good.

It was all a grand adventure for Gil-galad, whom Orodreth insisted on calling Ereinion in his infrequent letters, as though trying to prove a point, Meril thought. He chatted to his horse, pointed out things that would only interest another young boy and begged to be allowed to help Amareth hunt for dinner. When Amareth said Meril would be doing that he had looked amazed, as though he had only then seen the bow slung across his mother’s back. Meril privately hoped there’d be no call for her to prove herself with it – city life had taken its toll on her old skills.

By the end of the first day she was sore and exhausted, and Gil was almost asleep in the saddle. Amareth helped him down while Meril saw to getting the packs unloaded. “You’ve been a true prince today,” she overheard Amareth say to him. “Your uncle Finrod who was would be proud of you.”

“Is it easier riding the way you do?” he asked, pointing towards her saddleless mount. “Is it very hard to learn?”

“Oh, that’s the way of our people, your mother’s and mine,” Amareth said briskly, getting the saddle off his horse while she spoke. “We trust the horse to bear us where we will, though your mother’s since taken to the western ways.”

“It’s better for distance,” Meril threw back at her. “And Gil’s been taught like this to prepare him for a warhorse when he’s older.” She had found it hard to adapt at first, but the Noldor all used saddle and bridle and in combat their horses were part of their armoury. Her own people, the Sindar, used them for transport, not battle, while the Silvan folk seldom rode at all.

“Are you and Nana family then?” Gil asked, picking up on a previous phrase the way children will when it’s least convenient. Meril opened her mouth but Amareth said simply, “We were born in the same part of the world, in the same community. Our ways are sometimes different than your father’s people, like how we treat horses.”

“Different customs, different needs,” Meril said firmly. “Your father wants you raised as he was, which is how men are, that’s all, and it’s right for me to take my husband’s culture to myself. Now – let’s see if you can help with the horses. I recall Amareth is a wonder at getting a fire started.”

-----o

It was getting late and Meril and Amareth sat across from one another sharing out the last of the tea they had brewed earlier before taking turns to watch and sleep. The fire was burning low and Gil was already sound asleep, well wrapped against the night on a bed of ferns, a thick cloak rigged up over him as shelter from the threatening rain.

Sipping her tea, Amareth favoured Meril with a quizzical look. “You’re very defensive, aren’t you?”

“I am not defensive,” Meril snapped, and immediately regretted her tone. It just gave Amareth more to work with. “But there is nothing wrong with a man raising his son the way he was brought up.”

“Did I say there was?”

“You implied saddling a horse was wrong.”

“Well, so it is. You make a proud beast into a servant – rather as your law mother tried to with me.”

“That wasn’t her intention at all and you know it. She was just trying to find a place for you in Nargothrond...”

“As a lady’s maid or a cook, you mean? There being no place for an outsider amongst the guards.”

“If you’d just tried a little harder...”

“If I’d tried a little harder, what? Mending and weaving and dying and carding? I was meant to be grateful? For that?”

“Well you could hardly go back home.”

They both fell silent at that, listening to the crackle of twigs and the occasional little pop of sparks. “There is no home, no,” Meril said at last. “For either of us. It’s gone, like so much else, burnt by dragon fire or ravaged by orcs. And our families with it. So we had to make the best of what we had. I though you would have wanted to stay.”

“I couldn’t breathe inside those stone walls,” Amareth said, taking a hard breath with the words as though sensing Nargothrond around her again. “I was not made for that, my lady.”

“You weren’t made to call me ‘my lady’ either. I wish you’d stop. There were no stone walls at Eglarest though, and yet you left.”

“I found my path,” Amareth said quietly. “I don’t expect you to understand, but it’s how it is. Now – you need to sleep first. It was hard riding after all this time for you. I’ll wake you after the midpoint and you watch till the first bird.”

“Is Balar really so much better than Eglarest?” Meril couldn’t help herself, the words just came out. Amareth looked at her, an eyebrow raised, then got to her feet and added a few small branches to the fire.

“Balar is my home now,” she said. “When you get there, you’ll understand.”

---o---


The rain set in, squalls of it, slanting inland off the sea and pelting through the trees, driven by wind that was bitter-chill. When they woke in the mornings the ground was white with frost, but as least there was no snow and little ice.

Meril had been worried about Gil, but once they’d talked and she made it clear there was no reason – so far as she knew – for him not to go back often and visit his friends and make the rounds of his favourites amongst the artisans and fisherfolk, he remained unrelentingly cheerful, savouring every drop of ‘his’ adventure. He was already an experienced rider, which Orodreth had insisted upon despite him living amongst people who mainly travelled on foot, and although he was tired by the end of the day and enjoyed the breaks they took along the way to rest the horses, he was the son of a family of warriors and it showed.

“I never get to do anything exciting,” he confided in Amareth during one of these stops. She had given their stock of arrows to him to check and he was going over each one meticulously. He was not yet a particularly good archer, but he tried and said he would try harder now he had seen his mother shoot. She had managed to bring down a rabbit earlier in the day and not embarrass herself and had pretended not to see Amareth laughing, either at or with her.

“You’ve had more adventures than most boys your age,” Amareth told him, amused. “I was with you years ago when your aunt brought us all to Eglarest, and before that, when you were hardly more than a babe, we had to escape Tol Sirion and the northlands ahead of the flames when the Dark One broke out of his hole – you might have been too young to remember that. There – that one’s bad. See the angle of the feather?”

Meril watched him put the defective arrow aside. “Adventure isn’t something to look for, Gil,” she said. She was sitting against a tree doing nothing, letting her stomach and thigh muscles rest while they could. “No one goes cross country at this time of year unless they have no choice. Anything could happen.”

She kicked herself mentally as soon as the words were out of her mouth, even before she saw Amareth’s eyes fill with leaping laughter.

“Do you think we could meet orcs?” Her son’s face wore the kind of unholy glee only common to boys of a certain age. He had finished with the arrows now, put them together neatly for Amareth and shot to his feet. “I would fight them off if they dared show their faces --- like this --- take that – that…” He grabbed a stick which became a sword and he took wild swings at the air, charging around the clearing.

“Don’t bother the horses,” she called before saying to Amareth under cover of the noise, “We won’t, will we? This far west, I mean.”

Amareth gave her a flat look before transferring the arrows back to the quiver. “I have no idea. Why do you think I sleep with this at my hand?” She touched the sword at her side. “I hardly need protection from you, after all... do I?”

Meril bit her lip, refused to make eye contact. “Hardly, no. Though you might watch out for our great warrior here – Gil, stop that, you’re upsetting the horses.”

“They’re war horses,” he shouted, outraged. “Of course they won’t get upset.”

“Not even I had the nerve to borrow warhorses from Lord Círdan, young prince,” Amareth told him, her expression softening. “Have a care for their delicate natures. Come sit down. I have some fruit.”

-----o

It began raining hard near nightfall and they had to construct a shelter over the fire so they could heat food and brew tea. Travelling with children demanded things like meals at the end of the day, which Meril was relieved to find she had no need to explain to Amareth. Afterwards, with Gil curled up under as much warmth as they could spare him, she and Amareth went through the new ritual of their second cup of tea before sleep. The rain pattered down on the heavy felted fabric above them, brought expressly for this purpose, and the fire sputtered fitfully, prey to every conflicting draft.

“Would you really rather have gone back to the caves?”

They had been quiet for so long she had begun to think this was how the evening would end. The question caught her by surprise. “Back to Nargothrond? When did I say that?”

Amareth frowned. “When we were in Eglarest? You spoke of taking him home to his father.”

“I meant instead of a dangerous journey at the gates of winter to an island I’ve never seen. Not that I wanted to go back there.”

“You don’t want to go home to your husband?” Amareth’s voice was pointedly neutral.

Meril felt her back straightening of its own accord. “I never said that, of course not. I mean of course I do. I mean – you know what I mean.” She had to remember to lower her voice, not wake her son.

Amareth drew her legs up and wrapped her arms round them, watching her. She was more sensibly dressed for the road than Meril, wearing men’s heavy leggings and boots and a thick padded jacket. “Do you miss him?” she asked.

Meril opened her mouth, remembered who she was talking to, closed it on the obligatory affirmation. She drew in a breath, another. “We had too little time to get to know one other well enough for that. He had his work, I – I had the baby...”

“So you don’t miss him?” Amareth’s eyes were intent, even in the dim light Meril could see the flare of green overtaking the grey.

“We exchange letters? Of course. It was an agreed match between his father and mine, a mutual aid treaty if you like, not a love match. You knew that. It’s – It’s not like that.”

“Not like what?”

‘Not like missing and aching for someone and conjuring their face in the dark at night and – not like that.’ For an awful moment she thought she had said it aloud, but there was no echo of sound and the green-grey eyes still awaited an answer. “Of course I’d like to go home. I worry about my stepdaughter, Finduilas. She may be grown but she still needs someone to stand as mother to her. And Orodreth and I may not have been a love match, but we fit well and – and he’s my husband.”

Her words sounded weak even to her own ears and she waited for Amareth to again tell her she was being defensive, but Amareth’s attention was elsewhere, listening. Meril held her breath and followed suit. Something whispered on the edge of the rain and the fire’s crackle... She only knew they had reacted together when they both put the first handfuls of moss on the little flames, damping them down with minimum smoke.

They sat in the dark for a long time listening for sounds beyond the rain, but all was quiet again and the horses were undisturbed. After a time Meril slept, curled up against Gil, breathing in the warm, boy-scent of him. She woke once to a movement but it was only Amareth walking back from either passing water or seeing to the horses. She sat down under the tree at the far end of their shelter where she would have a proper view of anything that approached them and laid her sword over her knees. Meril closed her eyes again and went back to sleep, knowing that she and Gil were safe.

---o---


The next day was one of sullen gloom. The rain dripped down ceaselessly, the wind had strengthened and cut through clothing, burning fingers and faces. Even Gil’s inexhaustible spirits were dampened. He still sang occasionally to the horse, and asked the odd question, but mainly he was quiet. They kept to the trees as best they could. There had been no other sounds during the night and no sign of tracks that either of them could see, but both women were alert and jumpy.

The midday break was short because there was very little shelter where they found themselves and the wind whipped round them before wailing off up into the hills. There was less to eat now, just dried fruit and waybread. Gil pulled his face. “I don’t like waybread,” he said, accepting only a small piece.

“Well, you wanted an adventure,” Meril pointed out to him. “And this is all part of adventures, along with being cold and wet and sometimes hungry. It’s no adventure when things are easy and comfortable.”

“Have you had lots of adventures, Nana?” he asked, more subdued now, nibbling each mouthful to make it last.

“I’ve had a few,” she conceded. “Mainly strange journeys I never planned for, starting with leaving my father’s home when I was just a girl to go and live with strangers on Tol Sirion...”

“That’s where I was born,” he said eagerly.

“Yes, that’s where you were born,” she agreed. “It was becoming my home by then, but we had to leave because of the Enemy.”

“Father fought him there, didn’t he?” Bright eyes, hungry for a story. She shot a covert look at Amareth, but she was watching the hilltop, apparently paying them no attention. She hadn’t missed a word, of course, but at least it seemed she would keep her opinion of Orodreth as a fighter to herself.

“Your father did his best, just as everyone else did their best,” she began, but Amareth turned an unreadable glance on her and said, “Your father sent you and your mother away with enough of us to keep you safe and stayed on alone with his men for another half year, even though he knew he could never hope to hold the island for much longer. He kept faith with King Finrod and stayed as long as any leader could have hoped to before retreating in good order.”

He shuffled over to sit closer to her. “Were you a soldier, Amareth?” he asked. He had seen female warriors before, but there were none in Eglarest and Meril had thought he would have forgotten.

“I fought for kings, yes,” Amareth said. “For my people first, and then for Nargothrond’s king, the Spell-singer and his family. You have a look of him, you know? Your mother’s hair, yes, but your uncle’s blue eyes, same as your father, and King Finrod’s smile.”

“And my father?” he asked, almost wistfully. “What do I have from my father?”

Amareth considered him. Meril kept quiet. “You have your father’s energy,” she said finally. “He is always busy, never still. You have that, and it will see you well in the future when you’re grown. More than blue eyes and dark hair will.” She paused and suddenly grinned at him and ruffled his hair. “But not the smile. There is no coin that could meet the value of that smile.”

-----o

When they stopped that night Amareth collected almost three times the usual supply of firewood while Meril helped Gil see to the horses. This was his chore but he was still too young and neither tall nor strong enough to do it alone. Meril, seeing her drop yet another load, frowned and straightened up. “Surely that’s enough wood for the night now? Is something wrong?”

Amareth pushed her hair back from her face, wiping her forehead with her arm while she was about it. “You’re forgotten, haven’t you? Tomorrow?”

Meril looked at her blankly, counting the days of their journey in her head, looking at dates.

“Tomorrow will be the shortest day,” Amareth reminded her. “The day when we light the fires and try and push back the darkness a little? Remember? I know it’s not your husband’s way - it’s not the island’s way either, the Teleri have their own ritual.”

“And you want to light a bonfire?” Meril was horrified, her tone enough to silence Gil who had been about to break in with a boy’s enthusiasm for fire.

Amareth wrinkled her brow at her tone. “Why would I not? We greet the sun, we pray for hope... you remember doing that when you were a girl, surely?”

“Out here. Where the flames could draw anyone? And what hope? We stagger from one less reason to hope to the next.”

“There is always hope, Meril,” Amareth said quietly. “It is only lost when we stop believing in it.”

“Tell that to those who lost partners in the last battle,” Meril said bitterly. “Whole communities, wiped out. Whole tribes of Men who are no more. Princes who never saw the sun rise after that sixth day.” She had met and liked Fingon the Valiant.

Amareth put a hand on her arm, the first time she had initiated physical contact. “Yes, there are all those things. Doriath only survived because the Girdle stayed closed, Nargothrond because just a tiny complement went to fight – oh yes, I listen, I know what goes on. We all do on Balar. The Lady says one day we will be all that is left, and I believe her, but that is no reason to give up hope. There is always something to believe in – life, breath, your son... why else did she send me to fetch him, or demand you travel this late in the year?”

Meril tried to draw away and found she couldn’t. Amareth’s eyes held her, her very urgency and sincerity held her. She could see Gil watching them, his hand against his horse’s neck, knowing with a sense old for one so young that this was a time to be very quiet. She was starting to notice he had very sound instincts.

“I have forgotten how to hope,” she said quietly. “There has been just pain piled atop pain for so long in my life now. I had forgotten acknowledging the winter-sun too.”

Amareth’s hand stayed on her arm a little longer, their eyes still held. Then she stepped back and said in a normal voice, “In that case it’s time you remembered. Young prince? Come. I’ll show you how to build a real bonfire, ready for the morning.”

-----o

There was rabbit again that night, stewed with what roots and herbs they found growing nearby. Amareth claimed it had been sent by the forest when Meril saw and shot it, but Meril, mindful of the Noldor view on these things, passed it off where Gil could hear as a lucky sighting and an even luckier shot. Privately she was starting to grow confident again in her marksmanship, something she had been known for when she was a girl in the northern forests.

After the meal, Amareth told Gil about the Sindar custom of greeting the sun on the shortest day and giving her fire to aid her on her way, and he listened carefully in that serious, unboyish way he had for important things that made Meril's heart ache with love for him. After he settled down to sleep, she heated more tea while Amareth went to take a final look around and be sure the horses were content across the glade from them.

When the tea was ready she poured it into their cups and then, as Amareth had not come back to the fire, put them on a flat stone next to the coals to keep warm and crossed the glade to where she was barely discernible as a dark shape beside the horses.

“Something’s wrong?” Meril asked quietly when she reached her side.

Amareth shook her head. “I was just thinking, that’s all. Tomorrow we need to leave the trees and move closer to the coast again so I can see exactly where we are, but I doubt we are more than three days outside Sirion now.”

“We’ve been lucky. Nothing on the trail, passable weather if you ignore the rain, and the horses have held up well.”

“I was worried about them, it’s why I agreed to the pack horse,” Amareth said. “I thought that in a pinch one of us could ride him.”

Moisture dripped through the leaves with a steady tock, tock, tock and the horses moved sleepily. The trees were quiet, watching them. They knew not to trust humans with fire. “Tea’s ready.”

Amareth stretched, rolling her shoulders, and smiled. “Good. The air’s like ice when I breathe it in.”

They walked back to the fire together and Meril took a moment to lock the little clearing into her memory: the makeshift tent covering the sleeping place from above and on one side, the packs bundled under this cover with Gil beside them, the fire burning small but bright, two cups alongside it, the dark trunks of the trees forming walls, unidentifiable bushes growing in between and branches meeting overhead. When she looked up she could see stars as the wind ruffled the canopy.

“It might be a clear day tomorrow,” she said, sitting down and reaching for the tea.

Amareth’s hand closed over her wrist. “Be careful, you’ll burn yourself, the metal’s hot. Use a fold of your cloak.”

Neither of them moved a moment, then Amareth released her and leaned over to take her own cup carefully. They sat side by side instead of facing across the fire and drank in silence while the flames crackled and spat. The horses shuffled and muttered while out of sight on the other side of the packs, Gil murmured in his sleep.

“You’ll stay on the island then? After we get there?” Meril asked at last.

Amareth turned from gazing into the fire to look at her. “I live there, yes. I come and go on errands for my Lady, but I always come back.”

“Not like before.”

“How do you mean?”

“You didn’t come back before. You left Eglarest, said you would see me when you returned, and never did.”

“Why yes, I did return,” Amareth pointed out. “Else we would not be here, would we?”

Meril made a tutting sound worthy of her mother, now gone into the darkness of the Call. “You know what I mean.”

“There was no place for me,” Amareth said as she had before. “I would have made a terrible lady’s maid and it was not what I saw for myself – did you want me to be your servant?”

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous!” Trying for lightness she added, “Though you were always good with hair.”

Eyebrows up, Amareth gave her an inscrutable look. “Would you like me to do your hair, Highness?”

“Very funny. Though it might even be beyond you to ease the tangles – I have no patience with it.”

“That’s because there’s so much of it and it’s thick and bouncy and undisciplined,” Amareth said, suddenly laughing. She got up and went to their packs, careful not to disturb Gil. She paused a moment once she found what she sought, looking down at him. “He’ll not thank you for giving it to him when he’s older either,” she observed softly. “Most men have even less patience with styling than you.”

She came back and knelt behind Meril, lifting her hair out from under her cloak. Now that she was there, so close, brush in hand, Meril had nothing to say. The throwaway comment had taken them somewhere unexpected, a dim-lit road whose ending was unsure.

“You’re a soldier, not a maid. Even Orodreth said you were good, and he had his doubts about most of the fighters my father sent him,” she said as competent hands parted her hair and the first brushstrokes evened the ends. “Nargothrond was difficult for you, but you stayed. And I assumed you would in Eglarest too, but – it was like watching a moth to a candle, you with my husband’s aunt.”

“I had no choice but to stay in Nargothrond,” Amareth replied, ever practical. “They would have killed me had I tried to leave, an outsider with knowledge of the path. Don’t argue, you know I’m right.”

“I would have asked the King – or Orodreth when he came back.” The King was always Finrod for her, because they had left Nargothrond before Beren and his quest and Orodreth’s kingship.

“It is as it is,” Amareth said, voice close to her ear as she leaned in, brushing carefully, quick fingers separating tangles as she went along. “You really need to fasten this up better when you ride.”

“When you came with me to Tol Sirion, you said you would never leave me alone.” Her voice was low, careful of old pain.

“When you went to Tol Sirion to your bridal bed, yes. I had no idea what manner of man he was, if you would be safe with him, if he would be kind. I followed. And there was work for me, so I stayed.” She said it matter of factly, as though it was something small and obvious. “And then he sent you to safety when the land burned, and I went with you too, you and the babe.”

“And finally Galadriel offered an escape from the price you paid for a single Beltane night that swallowed up your life. How you must have resented me for getting you into all that.” Meril spoke quick and quiet and tried to ignore the bare, stinging place in her heart that had the shape of the Anfauglith when she looked at it.

The brush snagged her hair hard enough to make her gasp, but there was no apology. Amareth’s strokes became quicker, angry. “Is that what you believe?”

“It is what I saw.”

Amareth carried on in silence, working slowly up from tip to root. Half way she stopped and began to brush the smoothed fall vigorously, the hair draped over her arm.

“I watched you,” she said finally. “I looked out for you for as long as I could, I even tried to learn the weaving that came from over the sea if it would keep me close to you. I never asked anything of you, just to let me be close, but then we took you to Eglarest and there would have been no place for me beside the queen of Nargothrond, Círdan’s guest, a Noldor lord’s wife. So I found my own master, not one of their tunnel-visioned overlords, not even the Spell-singer who I respected, and certainly not one of our own, hoping always the dark would somehow pass them by. Because you were gone where I could not be and so I was forced to choose a new road.”

“Do you love her? Your Lady.”

Amareth snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous, she is Galadriel, royal by birth and you never forget it. I answer to her, but love? I love you. No one else. And if you say ‘but you left’ again, I shall shake you.”

Meril cast around for something intelligent to say and came up with, “You never said so.”

She heard the brush fall and Amareth, true to her word, shook her hard, then leaned forward, resting her cheek against Meril’s hair. “And all but falling over me every time you turned around didn’t tell you?”

“I thought it was friendship and knowing how frightened I was, being sent off so young to marry a stranger, one of them...”

“Well yes, of course, but friendship only goes so far, you know. I could have been part of your escort and then gone straight back home to report to your father afterwards.” There was a catch in her voice that might have been laughter or emotion, Meril couldn’t tell which. “And no, I never told you. You were a bride, then a mother. It was hardly my place. We only shared one night, there were no promises, and you were my lord’s daughter, too. You never spoke ill about your husband, he seemed fond of you, I had to assume all was well.”

Meril swivelled round to face her. “I would conjure your face in the dark at night, hear your voice in falling water. And I couldn’t tell you. There was never that right moment.”

Amareth’s eyes glittered with firelight and something more. Cool fingers, roughened by work and cold, brushed her cheek, tasted the shape of her face, slid up into her hairline. Amareth leaned forward till their foreheads touched and their hair mingled like their breath. “There is now,” she said simply, and then their lips met and there was no more talking.

Later they took Meril’s blanket and found a dry space near the horses and made their own celebration of the night before the shortest day. And later still, in the silent dark before birdsong, it snowed, turning the world white and pure.

---o---


Gil loved the bonfire. He walked around it feeding it sticks as though it were a living beast, and was full of questions about other traditions from the place where his mother and Amareth had grown up. Meril had always respected Orodreth's wishes that his son be raised fully Noldor, but now she started sharing the other part of his heritage with him and drowned in the approval in Amareth's eyes.

He wanted to leave the bonfire burning when they rode away but both women responded with the horror of those who had been raised in a forest. They let it burn for a while after greeting the dawn, though it took less time than the blaze might have suggested for it to start dying down - Amareth had laid a few solid branches at the base but built the rest with quick burning twigs that soon fell to ash.

Scraping sand mixed with the thin layer of snow over the coals preparatory to leaving, Amareth paused for a moment to survey their work and said, "I trust this isn't your hope we're burying here?"

There was laughter in her voice, but Meril's answer was serious even as she added an armful of sodden leaves. "That fire we made was my hope leaping to the skies. Nothing, not even the Enemy himself, could take it from me now."

Their eyes met and Amareth leaned forward and gave her a friend's public kiss on the cheek. "See you don't forget that," she said. "There is nothing without hope. It's what’s brought us here, just as I believe it's what we take with us to the island."

-----o

The rest of the journey took another three days as Amareth had predicted. There was no more snow, just that one light fall, but the ice in the air bit deep. They rode in line with the shore now, keeping the sea in view, but not too close because Amareth thought it best to avoid people until nearer to the estuary.

Sirion turned out to be a sprawling settlement, part well-built houses, part temporary shelters, some of which were no more than wood and hide fastened together against the wind. It was busy, overcrowded and smelt of fish, but the view across the bay was breathtaking.

Despite Gil’s protests they left the horses at the end of town where Círdan’s messenger service between Sirion and the rest of the coastal towns kept mounts, and made their way to the sea. Standing at the top of the steps down to the harbour where Amareth needed to go and ask about a ship, Meril looked around, breathing in lungfulls of cold, salt air. She pointed to a dark outline on the horizon. “Is that Balar? Out there?”

Amareth nodded. “When you’re over there you can see the fires on the shore when the weather’s good but it’s just a smear from this side.” She caught Gil’s attention – he had found a dog – and pointed. “Your new home, young prince.”

With the dog in attendance, he came to stand next to them. “It looks far away. Does it take long in the boat, Amareth? Where will we live? Will you live with us?”

The women exchanged startled glances. “You’ll live in Lord Círdan’s house, of course,” Amareth said. “That’s where all the important people like your aunt Galadriel stay. I have rooms in the village and I’m very comfortable.”

“Oh, but you’ll visit,” Gil said hastily. “Often. Right?”

Meril linked her arm through Amareth’s, hugging it against her side and Amareth, who was looking out at the island, smiled faintly. “I travel a lot for the Lady, but yes, when I’m there I will visit as often as I can. I might even learn to weave, if your mother has the patience to try teaching me again.”

Meril laughed softly. “You’d test the patience of one of the Shining Ones, but we’ll see. Go and find out when there’s a boat – take Gil with you, I can wait here with the packs. And then let’s go to your home.”

“Your home now too,” Amareth said quietly, and their eyes met.

Hearing he was about to go down and speak to sailors about boats, Gil took off down the steps, whooping at a seagull as he passed it, the dog in pursuit, and for a moment everything dissolved into laughter. Then Meril caught her breath, turned back to Amareth. “Our home,” she said. “We’ll have to be discreet I know, but – ours. And no matter where you’re sent, you’ll always come back through the darkness?”

Amareth gave her a steady look. “I don’t have the Sight, I can only promise to try. But you are my heart’s home, as you’ve always been. If I can, I will. Always.”

“And I will be there waiting,” Meril said just as seriously. “Despite husband or family, despite all the other things that we let keep us apart before. Always.”

o----------o

A/Notes:

The fragments on Gil-galad’s names and parentage are so muddled it becomes writer’s choice. I settled long ago on Orodreth as his father – I like the closer connection to Galadriel and the idea of a junior royal finally becoming High King appeals to me. In one source his mother is said to be Meril, a Sindarin lady from the north, and that’s about it. Gil-galad was his mother-name and it seemed right to me that she might shorten it to Star.

The idea that it’s Orodreth’s second marriage and Finduilas is not Meril’s child is my personal head canon, an attempt to work out why a mother would leave one of her children behind.

Amareth, the Sindarin warrior, is an OFC. It is purest coincidence that, in my mind’s eye, she looks a bit like Tauriel. (what? I didn’t have to admit that)

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
rhapsody11
Jan. 2nd, 2015 01:46 am (UTC)
I loved this Kei, what a wonderful story and so much history between those two is packed inside it. Young Gil is a delight to read, and I so like the touches upon the differences between the Noldor and Sindar, and that both heritages are equally important to live by. I just have to read it again, happily!
keiliss
Jan. 4th, 2015 01:00 am (UTC)
If this fic could have run 30k as it wanted, I could have looked a lot deeper at the difference between culture and how that worked out in practice - it would have been really interesting to play with. Failing that though - this is what we have :) I'm so happy you like it, sweetie. Thank you very much for the review and for planning to read it again. Oh and also thank you for your encouragement while I was finding my way into this. Those pom poms have been working overtime, lol.

*hugs*
ladyelleth
Jan. 2nd, 2015 03:18 am (UTC)
Keiliss, thank you so, so much for such a fantastic gift!

I've read this through twice now, and I know I'm going to come back to it often. I don't know how you managed it, but you worked in so many of my favourite tropes and made it so rich and layered - the beautiful, beautiful original character (I love her name and her resemblance to Tauriel!), the acknowledgement of Meril's and Amareth's heritage, writing them as separated would-be lovers, the slow-burn romance, the growing tension throughout the story. I literally held my breath when Amareth grabbed Meril's wrist - what an exquisite scene! The solstice celebration and all the worldbuilding details were a lovely touch as well; you obviously worked hard to bring everything to life, and it worked beautifully! Little Gil is really cute as well! :)

I have to say, though, my most favourite part was the ending, because it tethers it to canon so well: “Your home now too,” Amareth said quietly, and their eyes met.

Hearing he was about to go down and speak to sailors about boats, Gil took off down the steps, whooping at a seagull as he passed it, the dog in pursuit, and for a moment everything dissolved into laughter. Then Meril caught her breath, turned back to Amareth. “Our home,” she said. “We’ll have to be discreet I know, but – ours. And no matter where you’re sent, you’ll always come back through the darkness?”

Amareth gave her a steady look. “I don’t have the Sight, I can only promise to try. But you are my heart’s home, as you’ve always been. If I can, I will. Always.”


I also love your headcanon that remarriage is possible among the Eldar (my version of the Mithrim Sindar allow it, too), and the beacon of hope that comes with for Meril and Amareth.

This was all I'd been hoping for in my wildest dreams (making my request initially made me wonder if someone would want to write it at all), but I'm both very happy and very lucky that you did! ♥ Thank you again!
keiliss
Jan. 4th, 2015 04:23 am (UTC)
Himring caught the more blatant typos for me, so at least that's fixed now....

This wasn't the story I thought you'd get. It was planned as a 3,000 word Gondolin fic - I still have the outline, it's a nice little romance. It's also flat and boring and very contrived and I had no interest in the OFC so I deleted what I had and spent a while thinking more about the kind of thing I like writing and what I've done in the First Age, which is a shortish list, mainly Gil-galad, Balar or Sirion, which is no use to a femslash story.

And then after writing him for over ten years I thought, suppose his mother isn't dead? (my headcanon) And between that and actual writing there was a timeline and maps (I know I'm getting serious when I look at maps) and then I was writing two people with fully formed personalities, and I'm not sure how that all happened. However, if it has made you happy, if you're please with how it has filled your prompt (I never thought to see a femslash prompt for the Yule swap and loved that someone was finally doing this), then I am beyond delighted!

Orodreth's second marriage might not have happened if I'd had more time to puzzle it out, but Meril was clearly young when she married him and there was no time for her to have a much older daughter. And if she had, I couldn't believe she would casually leave her behind and not even worry much. The only thing that made sense to me was if it was her step-child, to use our term. So maybe LaCE got that one wrong too *g*, maybe Meril being Sindarin made a difference.

I've loved every minute of writing this, so thank you for a great prompt that pulled me out of my comfort zone and into a new experience (my first femslash, yes --- so imagine the panic when I found out who it was for!) I'm so happy you like the end result.
ladyelleth
Jan. 4th, 2015 12:38 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I didn't even notice any typos - which really only happens when a story pulls me in enough to override my betaing mode. So that's a further compliment for your writing. :D

and then I was writing two people with fully formed personalities, and I'm not sure how that all happened.

I love it when that happens! It's a strange sensation to me, too (and it makes me wonder if that was what Zeus felt like when Athena decided it was time to be born), but any result of something this intuitive is bound to be excellent - yours is no exception! And I'm glad you entertained the idea of Meril being alive; I'm so beyond fed-up with Tolkien's trend of fridging women that I've started headcanoning most any female character who is not described as dead being very much alive, thankyouverymuch. Sometimes not even then, if the circumstances make survival conceivable - ask me about my ideas for Niënor sometime? That's not to attack your headcanon, and I think I would have loved the story regardless, but it's a wonderful bonus.

I never thought to see a femslash prompt for the Yule swap and loved that someone was finally doing this

The delight is all mine! Femslash is such an underrepresented genre, but aside from wanting to read a femslash fic, I also did hope that it might inspire other people to consider it an option in the future. (Something similar happened with Slashy Santa; the fist time I signed up there I asked if femslash was allowed and Red was far more enthusiastic than I'd expected, saying that it was and simply never had been requested, so hadn't been considered. Now there are a handful of femslash fics every round). So here's hoping for the future!

so imagine the panic when I found out who it was for

Hahaha, oh no! ♥ No need to panic! I mean, I know that it happen (last year I wrote for Dawn and panicked much more than was merited), but I'd never imagined myself to be the cause of that! So, thank you for wiriting in spite of that, and for having fun, and producing such a wonderful result!
curiouswombat
Jan. 2nd, 2015 12:47 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this; both the relationship between Amareth and Meril, and the young Gil learning something more of his mother's heritage, to sit alongside his Noldorin heritage.

It has given me real pleasure to sit and read it.
keiliss
Jan. 4th, 2015 01:14 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you've enjoyed reading this and that both threads appealed - that's great! It's the strangest thing. I worked against the clock to get this written and now it's done I feel like there's a hole -- and no, it's not like I don't have Answers to get back to, but they really took over my life while this fic was being written.
red_lasbelin
Jan. 3rd, 2015 04:05 am (UTC)
I feel like this fic came from behind and left me totally surprised but really rather in love with it, like it was a piece of the puzzle missing. The connection between Amareth and Meril felt quite real and true to a time when the world was a mess and politics and survival are everything. Like Elleth said, the moment Amareth touched her wrist, there was an 'oh' moment that was delightful.

Really liked the push-pull of cultures and traditions and how Gil learned (and will learn) both from them. I think it also explains things about Gil and how you write him - a good man and a good leader would have known good women in his life and learned from them and respected them. (Love he got his hair from her!)

Very glad Amareth and Meril found each other eventually and happy that Meril has hope again. I would very happily read 30k of this if you'd ever want to expand or continue this.

Edited at 2015-01-03 04:05 am (UTC)
keiliss
Jan. 4th, 2015 01:33 am (UTC)
Your job is to help me find a way to give an expanded story a happy ending. I've been trying to work out why I never thought of getting to know Meril but all I can assume is it had to wait for Amareth to arrive first --- which proves that swaps serve a very important purpose, lol!

A good man and a good leader would have known good women - yes. And to draw people together and be able to extend a hand to many cultures needed a grounding in respect for more than the Noldor ways. I like the idea of Amareth;s influence colouring the style of a three and a half thousand year reign.

You put in a lot of work with this and had to deal with the limited writing time I had to complete this. Thank you for all those many, many highlights, even if I cringed each time I opened the file :D The final result owes a great deal to the time you spent with it. *hugs*
talullahred
Jan. 3rd, 2015 07:05 am (UTC)
What Red said. I was eager to read this and I knew it would be good but I'm blown away. All I can think of saying is 'this is SO good'. So good really.

Gil is so real as a boy. I kept smiling, thinking of my own. I love that he loves Amareth and that he is so interested in his heritage. This is what will make him the great king he was, later on.

Meril and Amareth are both amazing, Meril accultured but still herself, deep down, Amareth fierce and bright - and loyal too. She could have tainted Orodreth before GG's eyes, but she instead pointed out how long he held Tol Sirion.

I love Galadriel in the backdrop, pulling the strings for the greater good. I love the landscape and the weather and how you effortlessly squeezed in Yule.

Amazing work. You outdid yourself.
keiliss
Jan. 4th, 2015 02:13 am (UTC)
And then LJ ate my reply (!!!)

*begins again* First, thank you for noting how Amareth chose not to belittle Orodreth to Gil - I liked what it said about her honesty and honour and lack of pettiness. She was so interesting to write btw, I never worked her out in advance, I just wrote and she knew exactly who she was and what was possible for her. Love it so much when a character grows like that.

I actually forgot the story was meant to be centred on Yule till I was about half way through, then I happened to reread the prompt and went 'ohhhh'. So very glad you liked how it worked out and that it didn't feel at all forced (I always worry about that with prompts, don't like when it's like reading a checklist --- thunderstorm, check. golden goose, check. dragon's scale, check...)

Your fic was absolutely lovely, so the dance with the prompts turned out exactly as it should, I think. Even if I nearly had a heart attack when I realised who I was writing for, lol. Thank you for making it happen, I had a great time writing this and I'm thrilled you enjoyed reading it *hugs*.
talullahred
Jan. 4th, 2015 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you, you're too kind. I so wish I had worked just a little while longer on that fic.

I love it when a character comes to me as Amareth did to you - it's wonderful, not because it's easy but because every step feels right in writing - and later in reading. I love those qualities about her, that you mention, and I would so love if someday you were to pick her up again.
kayleelupin
Jan. 6th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
Kei,

I am, I think you know, not a fan of slash generally in Tolkien fandom, particularly elven slashfic. (I even wrote a fic to the effect of Maedhros/Fingon's horror at being shipped by their servants. xD) BUT. BUT, EVEN SO, I read this. Why? Because it's you and you've written for me before and your writing is fantastic, so I thought I would give it a shot. *g*

I am SO glad I did.

Not just because it's you but because this fic...it was so gut-wrenchingly beautiful and heartbreaking. The characters were so *believable*, which is something I don't often see in the slash I've tried reading, and the love between these ellith was so well written. I stepped out of my comfort zone and was like, "Ok, Kei wrote this, I shall read it" and just...YAY. I love your Amareth and Meril. I do. And lines like "Because she is Galadriel" had me giggling madly. That's the only reason necessary to do what Galadriel tells one, isn't it?!

Well done, Kei. Thank you for broadening my horizon here :)

Kaylee Arafinwiel
keiliss
Jan. 8th, 2015 01:49 am (UTC)
Oh wow. I can't think of a bigger compliment than for someone to go read outside of her comfort zone because she trusts me.... Kaylee, I am so touched by this! Thank you, my dear, and I am very glad I didn't let you down and that you liked what you found. They're very special people, those two, aren't they? Days after posting, I still miss spending time with them. And Galadriel is - well, Galadriel *g*.

Some slash fiction is very relationship-based with less focus on the story itself, but I like to read (and write) things with realistic characters whose love affairs are one part of their lives, not the main point. I read your Maedhros and Fingon fic ages ago btw, and was very amused. Strangely enough, I've never mentally slashed them. I know it's almost canon in some corners of fandom but I love the idea of cousins who were close friends and would always have one another's backs.

Thanks again for this wonderful comment, sweetheart. You totally made my night *hugs tight*
blslarner
Jan. 9th, 2015 07:16 am (UTC)
I am glad they found one another again.
keiliss
Jan. 10th, 2015 08:41 pm (UTC)
I'm deeply flattered that you read this, Larner. Thank you, and I am so glad you enjoyed their story.
hhimring
Jan. 10th, 2015 12:22 pm (UTC)
I really like the story and hope that now these two characters have introduced themselves to you, you will write more of them.
I got a real sense of that trip, through that place, at that time--their shared history in Tol Sirion and Nargothrond, the haste and uncertainty...
And so lovely to see your Gil as a young boy!
keiliss
Jan. 10th, 2015 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the lovely review, I really appreciate it and am thrilled you enjoyed this. I worried about Gil because he has a habit of taking over when he gets into a story but he was quite well behaved this time *g*. I may need to do a few edits to my Balar arc because Meril didn't feature before, but she and Amareth certainly belong as part of it. I couldn't believe how easy they were to write, it was as though I'd known them for years.

Again - thanks :)

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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