The ships kept coming and choking the vast Sirion harbor like a flock of Fall swans come to roost. Glimmering whiter than white, they outshone the breaker caps in the starlight and hurt the eye in the noonday sun. Likewise, the host flooded the streets like mica-chips tossed into colorful Sirion. Bristling soldiers marched with fierce faces and shining eyes up and down the streets. They sheltered in the houses, drank in the cafes, danced in the squares, and filled the air with their haunting music.
She couldn’t take it anymore. Simply couldn’t. Today they were here again just… here. Every flash from the armour at the clinic door caused an answering tightness in her chest, and the air was growing hotter. So hot. And now they were looking at her as she struggled to finish a simple wound closure; their companion had trodden on… something. She hadn’t been listening, not while those sharp eyes looked at her and lusted after her blood. One of them laughed, and she started, turning and expecting to see her orderly decapitated, perhaps, or the clinic on fire. It felt on fire and she couldn’t breathe and…
“Lalaith, bind this, please. I shall be in the supply closet.” She was in a house full of healers, and they were growing used to this after two weeks of it. The first time, they thought someone had poisoned her with the way her heart was racing. Now, she wasn’t the only victim of this new epidemic in Sirion, where everyone had seen their friends and family cut down by Feanorians. Sirion was nearly out of athelas, and it was barely Midsummer.
The closet was dark and completely lacking in glimmer, but still, it was hot. Burning, to her, and she imagined that she heard roaring? Clanging? Khuzdul? Trapped again, trapped and burning and she had to get out.
She wasn’t sure exactly how she got back to the Menegroth libraries, and even less sure how she ended up in her own bed with her hands bandaged and Borasvar hovering. She was frightened and ill and the pie smelled so wonderful that she snapped, “I am fine.”
“Perfectly. Fine. Behold, my hands.” She held them out to show they weren’t shaking, and stared in befuddlement at the gauze.
“You climbed the shelves.”
“I did not.”
“They say you were telling someone named Fiori not to kill you.”
She forced her face not to redden. Her control was far, far shakier than it should have been.
“You pounded through the roof tiles.”
She made a non-committal grunt.
“Then you tried to save a child from a Balrog.”
Her eyes flashed to his and he held them. She couldn’t shield against the alarm and worry and… other things pouring off of him and felt her heart begin to race again. Where were her shields? Where the… “Stop it. Stop…”
“Looking. I can’t… you’re…” and right on schedule, her breathing choked to a halt as his concern pressed harder. And then, miracle of miracles, he went to the window.
“The balrog was, in fact, the child’s pony. It had to be chased down after you did…. whatever you did to it. It nearly died of fright. Her parents are rather wroth.”
She concentrated on her hands, willing them to stay on the safe linen sheets, willing the room to stay here, and not come unstuck again. His voice made it easier, and finally she said, “I don’t remember that.”
“There was a dwarf.” she insisted. There simply had to be a dwarf, else…
After a while, he said softly, “Not today, Meren.”
“Don’t call me that.”
The silent moments swept by, and did so in chronological order. He breathed in, out. In and out. She watched his shoulders and his ribs rise and fall as he stared out to sea. She tried not to notice how hurt he seemed, though he made it difficult. He was so… so loud. Most of all, she tried not to think about the potholes opening in her sense of time and space. Potholes? Sinkholes, surely? She rather sneakily reached for the pie.
The silent afternoon became silent evening when armed men came to Borasvar to beg still more arms. Celeveren then realized through the growing wash of panic and Feanorians what her mistake had been last time. One escapes through tunnels, not closets. With oddly lucid clarity, she climbed from the balcony on twisted bedsheets and headed for the tunnel out of Gondolin. Her hands hurt badly and the storm sewer’s cover was heavy. Desperation overrode pain as she saw dragonfire in the torches of passing merrymakers. Feanorians and Morgoth and what next? She had to leave before the dwarves showed up.
This was better, much. Water befouled by things irrelevant to escape tugged at her robes and her battered hands jarred against the walls. Still, this was a tunnel. It went somewhere that was, by definition, away, and she had only to drift along with the current into the maw of the giant squid.
There were no giant squids in Gondolin. Gondolin is in the mountains. The squid is a lie only…
No. There was most definitely a squid, and the thing that had just tugged at her leg was most definitely a tentacle. She reached for the squid’s fea, but was sorely disappointed to find it too simple to manipulate overmuch. It barely registered pain, or fear or… hunger? Plenty of that. For her, of course. Brackish water choked her breathing as her hand hit upon one of the ladders. She clung, letting blind terror steel her into avoiding her inevitable demise.
The squid let go, and then proceeded to die. She gagged at the tug of its passing, but only some; squid death, as it turned out, was less painful for its simplicity. It was nearly like being saved from a walking tree or a particularly intelligent legume or…
“Meren? Elbereth! Meren! Meren get down, by all the stars of Arda!” Terrified, annoyed, and relieved; Borasvar, of course. Everything would be all right now. She opened her eyes, still clinging half-submerged with a severed tentacle bruising her flesh through tattered nightrobes.
There he stood, dim in the sewer’s darkness, but his fea lighting the shape of his hroa for those with eyes to see it. His chest heaved and his strong muscles glimmered with fire from the hard work of hacking an axe through the body of a cephalopod. He was drenched in ink, and an inappropriate giggle escaped her, edged with the shreds of failing sanity. “Is it for dinner, then? With noodles?”
He boggled, and he cursed. “This. Isn’t. Funny. You could have died.”
She heard herself saying, “No. I never die. Never, never. I burn and I run and I scream and I never, ever die. Just everyone else… everyone…” anywhere else, her tears would horrify her. Raw and bleeding pain strong enough for even Borasvar, with his thick-skinned fea, to sense flooded through her as the tide of terror went back out to sea. But this was a tunnel, and tunnels were safe. Borasvar was always on the end of them, and everything was fine. Nobody could see, nobody could care. When he pulled her from the wall to cradle her close, she only shivered closer and sobbed into his inky hair.
He froze a little, then he spared a hand to stroke her dirty, tangled hair, muttering, “Forgive me this… this liberty.”
“If… if you stop I shall… I shall bite you.”
His muscles twitched as she felt his heart spasm a little. She felt the shock and… that other thing she wasn’t wanting to notice rolling off of him, and then, his fingers ventured lightly, tentatively, more deeply into her hair. Like living mithril but more fine, sharp and strong and rarer than…
“Must you think so loudly?”
His hand froze. Elbereth she can hear me oh no what else has she heard don’t think about her lips oh Elbereth what lips…
“You really can’t help it, can you.”
“No. Sorry.” His hand was still doing wickedly pleasant things to her hair.
“If you can find my athelas hoard, I should calm enough to block it.”
His heart sank and his hand stilled. “I… of course, Celeveren.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Meren,” left him in a pained explosion, and she found herself shifting her lips to his, just a little. Later, she would tell herself it was merely her healer’s reflexes alleviating pain.
For a moment, he pulled her closer, then quickly he put two fingers between their faces, but gently. So gently. “Not now. Not when you’re… ill. I’ll take you to your naneth.” He added, almost mournfully, “You’ll be yourself soon. I swear it.”
She sounded, even to her own ears, like a lost child. “Who am I, Borasvar?”
She felt his sad smile against her neck. “The moon.”
“I am not.”
His tone was tired rather than tart. “Then I wonder why you ever bother asking my opinion.”
And they were quiet as he carried her across half Sirion, safe to her parents’ door. She tried very hard not to think about how he had found her at all.