It's still my realm,
no matter how much I hate it.
The roots of Nan Elmoth went deep. The ends were rumored to reach Angband even, but no one had ever started digging to see if it's true. Many Sindar whispered that the forest was evil, unnatural since the trees refused to answer them. Their voices had been silenced by spell work long ago, their language altered until passing visitors could no longer understand them no matter how hard they tried. There was only one elf they spoke with, one mind they were connected to and the forest refused to let him out of its grasp.
Only Eöl Mornedhel's mind and vision was sharp enough to comprehend the muted whispering of Nan Elmoth. A curse he couldn't escape from no matter how fond Nan Elmoth was of it's master.
Yet that pattern changed the day Eöl woke up one morning gasping for air and with wide-eyed panic in his mind. What he had dreamed could not be true, could never be true. But the bloody images refused to fade from his mind, Eöl made a life-altering decision even before he rose from his bed.
They were eating in silence together. Shortly after rising from sleep neither Aredhel or her husband were in need of an conversation. Often a calm quietness stretched between them for days, without ever giving her the feeling of awkward embarrassment. They simply had no words to say, in a forest that would swallow pointless noise and render the effort into insignificance. Aredhel had learned in Nan Elmoth that you should only speak, if you could not say it with signs or gestures.
Great was her surprise when Eöl spoke up to tell her, „I will lead you out of the forest, if you wish.“
Shocked Aredhel sat the cutlery down.
„What...?“ she asked. „Why are you saying this now? After all the time I hinted at it, you chose the time when it's truly unsafe for me to travel?“
Aredhel placed a hand over her womb, where the new life was growing inside her. Truth was she had not been in a great hurry to leave Eöl's home and the perspective to raise her child in safety was promising.
But her husband looked troubled, obviously struggling with a grave matter in his heart. He put the knife away from his trembling hands.
„I'm aware how unfavorable the moment of my offer is, but I fear...,“ Aredhel watched how Eöl run his fingers through his silvered hair, the only visible sign of his origin, „I fear if I do not let you go now, I would never find the courage to do so again.“
„The forest has you too tightly in its grasp?“ Aredhel asked, slowly understanding the point her husband wished to get across.
She knew how different Nan Elmoth was from other great woods in this world. Dark, but not necessarily evil. Just very possessive. It took Eöl several attempts to make up his mind, if he wished to visit the dwarves. In similar fashion Aredhel had always put off her decision of returning to her father's people. Surely why not? Nan Elmoth was safe from Orc's and provided them with everything they needed.
Her husband nodded, meeting her eyes with his own across the table and she felt his mind pierce into her own.
I do not wish for my child to be bound to this place, he told her in sharp words. It had taken some time to get used to his keen gaze and abrasive voice, but this is too was a reaction the forest.
Aredhel had wondered before what had taken place here that it had such lasting effect.
How much time do we have, she asked, making up her mind already.How do you wish to proceed?
Truth was Aredhel was ready to jump from the table and make a run for her horse, if it was necessary. The prospect of never leaving the place, never seeing her father and her brother's again gave her the determination to withstand the forest's influence.
„We leave today,“ Eöl announced. His voice carried the authority of a Lord, the command cutting through the dense light of this morning and clearing the air. For now. Eöl looked firmly at Aredhel, „Go grab your coat, your knifes and your bow. You may also take whatever you do not wish to part with or deem of value to you.“
Of course he spoke of tokens, but Aredhel knew Eöl enough to understand his inquiry to provide fro her future and that of their child. She would not be stopped, if she went to his chambers now and took gold, gems or silver with her.
Carefully she raised an eyebrow. She would not take the gold, of course. As princess of the Noldor she had no need for it. Some of Eöl's own creations on the other hand were not so safe. His forging skills were Eöl's greatest skill and she judged his swords of better quality than Curufinwë's.
Thankfully Eöl understood her well enough.
„You will not return,“ he said, no vowed. Aredhel felt the tremor of oathmaking and was reminded of that fateful night in Aman.
Eöl had spoken true, she would not return.
Further he said, „Since we do not know the future, it would be best to ensure your safety.“
Aredhel smiled, nodded at her husband and left the table. She would not question his mood and would take the chance of leaving instead. The life inside her was still young and well protected. If Eöl feared for it, she would listen for once.
She loved the little fëa inside her more than the gruff elf who sired it.
Instinct and a fierce resistance to leave Nan Elmoth woke inside her now. With calculation Aredhel gathered her belongings. The great heavy coat made of bearskin that ensured her survival on the Helcaraxë was her most prized possession, next to her hunting knifes and her bow. More she would not need on her journey.
A last survey of her sleeping chambers affirmed she could discard anything else. Eöl would forever be in her memory and his greatest gift to her was resting beneath her heart. Perhaps she would mourn one day that she hadn't stayed and let her child grow up with its father, but for now safety and freedom came first. What put her husband on this path, she could only guess, yet she would never know or be able to ask. Secrets and old scars covered Eöl's past and so far she had brought herself to find out more.
Why Eöl lived in this forest and not with his kin in Doriath or why he could not leave Nan Elmoth as freely as he wished.
There is no time now, Aredhel knew. I will never know and neither will my child.
In spite of the fact she had to leave first and did not know where the road would take her then, Aredhel already feared the day her child would wander into this forest, searching for answers. Shuddering at the thought, she pretended not to have heard the wood shifting around her.
You won't get my child, Aredhel vowed with a cold determination worthy of her father. Never.
Never looking back, she clothed and armed herself. Venturing out of the place she called home the last decades, she approached where Eöl was waiting with the horses. He offered her rare smile and his wandering eyes told Aredhel, he approved her choice of clothing.
„You look like a hír feril*,“ he offered. „Like one of the hunt master of the old days, where they often left the safe circles of the tribe to bring back meat.“
Eöl touched Aredhel's face before he bowed deeply.
„My lady, I fear I didn't treat you with the reverence you deserve,“ he said.
It was the clarity in Eöl's voice that made Aredhel feel as if she had been stripped done to her bones. After a moment of embarrassment she remembered after the long nights they spend together he knew all her fears and corners of her soul.
Like any woman of the House of Finwë she covered her tears with dignity.
„The words of the Lord of Nan Elmoth make the Lady proud,“ she whispered since her voice threatened to break under the prospect she would never see this loving soul again. „The Lady allows the Lord to ride with her own her horse until they must part.“
The sunrays seldom broke through the roof of the forest, but Aredhel saw light reflected in the corner of Eöl's eyes. She did not comment on it. But she felt a great relief when he mounted the horse and embraced her from behind. The entire way Eöl had one hand placed upon her stomach as if could shield their child from Nan Elmoth this way.
Not often Aredhel had sense for magic, but if the Lord had a connection with the land perhaps Eöl could make use of it for once. The question was, did he strengthen or dissolve the bond with his son in order to protect him?
And in all honesty? Aredhel did not wish to know.
They had been riding all day. Neither of them spoke for words weren't necessary. They bonded in silence over the small swell of Aredhel's stomach. Reaching the edge of the forest meant finally speaking words of farewell. Ever since they had been reaching the outskirts, Aredhel had wondered what she was supposed to say. On a flimsy whim she had entered this forest and had never bothered to look back or think of the people she left behind. Her worries had ceased with time and Eöl's company had been enough.
Now she realized the world had probably moved on without her. It was better not to ask Eöl of all people, how much time had passed. Especially when she needed an excuse for long absence.
The Moon was lightening the fields of grass in front of her, when she finally stopped her horse. Eöl's breath touched her neck, before the warmth of his body vanished from her back. His hand still rested on her thigh, yet it was edging towards her knee already. Not long and they would part, probably forever. Or at least for a very long time and Eöl would not be there to watch his son grow into a man.
With a startling shock Aredhel realized how unhappy she was to leave Eöl behind.
„You must leave now,“ he whispered. „Before I change my mind.“
Eöl's silver hair caught the light of the moon, heightening it to unusual beauty. On a normal day it had the color of a week old spiderweb, too grey to be distinguished from his equal colorless skin. Aredhel doubted the sun had ever touched her husband.
In comparison she was a dark, coal dyed figure.
„I wish we could part on better terms,“ Aredhel admitted.
Eöl shook his head. „There are no better terms for us. Not as long as Nan Elmoth still exist and I'm still sane enough to know that you shouldn't be a prisoner.“
„Do you believe this would change? Is this the reason for you suddenness?“ Aredhel asked.
Her eyes widened in shock, when Eöl nodded and turned his head away. She felt his eyes prickle on her skin, resting where her child was sleeping. At instance Aredhel wished she was wearing armor. Her own body suddenly didn't offer enough protection.
„I sired this child,“ a hint of greed rolled from Eöl's tongue and it frightened Aredhel. This was not the usual possessive behavior she was used to. The next words eased her mind a bit, yet stood proof for that the parting was unavoidable.
„But I'm not ready to surrender my child to the fate of becoming the heir of this forest,“ Eöl said with conviction. No further explanation was given and Aredhel feared anyway what horror it would contain.
Finally Eöl took a step back and Aredhel took tight hold of the reigns, prepared to bold out of the forest if she deemed it necessary. Still she had to make a last offer.
„Are you sure you will not come with me?“ she wanted to know. „And be free of this place?“
Sadness filled Eöl's eyes.
„As long as Nan Elmoth exist, I will not be free of it. The roots go deep and are connected to my heart. I fear the consequences should I try to leave in earnest“ he denied her request.
„Are you doomed to die here?“ Aredhel wanted to know. If yes, she would make her son swear an oath worthy of Fëanor's own never to set a foot beneath these tree. Still, the comparison brought insight if what had happened to her husband's soul.
“Probably,” Eöl shrugged. “So far I had no reason to complain.”
Love half hidden in the shadows of his eyes he added, “At least not until the Lady stumbled upon my doorstep.”
“I did not stumble,” she grumbled in response and caught the wry grin of her husband. For a moment their worries were forgotten. Far too soon they both sobered up under the finality of the hour.
“There's nothing I could say to convince you, isn't it?”
“No, there is not,” he said. Instead Eöl took his sword from his belt and handed it to Aredhel.
Wonder reached her eyes. To call this gift kingly was an understatement. Only Elu Thingol possessed a sword like this and its existence weighted much in the world. To free Anguirel from its master grasp was akin to placing a Silmaril in the hands of an ignorant mind.
The questions must have been written into her eyes, since Eöl offered freely an explanation.
“It's for our son. Keep the sword until he is off age and master of his craft. Only your dying breath would allow Maeglin to wield it prematurely,” Eöl warned and now Aredhel was convinced sleep last night must have brought her husband a dream.
“I will,” she promised and bound the sword to her hip. Yet she sensed it would stay in its sheath for some time at least.
Her horse began to dance beneath her. It was time to leave, but she would determine her departure. “Anything else I need to know?”
“Nothing in particular. The fate of the sword will reveal itself. Unlike your accursed jewels the danger of wielding it are fairly obvious.,” Eöl revealed. “A blade is made to kill and nothing else. Who or what depends on the intend that guides the arm.”
This opinion was nothing new to her, they had spend hours in his forge or exchanged arguments about scientific approaches. As sword maker and master of iron crafting Eöl had a far different opinion about the kinslaying than his kin in Doriath.
Someone who lives through the sword must be prepared to die through the sword, he had said once, when Aredhel confessed the sin of her people. A weapon like a sword is just a manifestation of a decision that has already been made. Horrible as the hour must have been, do not blame yourself for my uncle's blindness. He should have remembered the laws of a battlefield.
It had been a great relief to her that Eöl didn't hate the Golodhrim because of what they had done, but how they lived and treat the land and people around them.
Gathering her courage, Aredhel leaned forward to kiss Eöl's brow. “I will leave now. Take care of yourself.”
She did not say my love. The words would not leave her tongue.
Eöl nodded and braced himself. Soon her absence would cut into his heart and fill it with loneliness, but this end was better than what he had seen in his dreams last night.
Slowly her horse started to trot forward. A last important message struck through his mind. Eöl sprinted as fast as his long legs would carry him. When he was running next to his wife, he surrender a last confession before his wife damned herself on a false assumption.
“Aredhel, give the boy a father, would you? I grew up without one,” he pleaded while the rushing wind made it hard to breath. “I lost mine to this forest. Find someone, anyone. Even a Golodh if it must be if he will love and protect our child.”
His rushed speech came to a halt, when the pair reached the border of the realm. While Aredhel passed through it, her horse now galloping with full speed, Eöl was thrown against an invisible barrier. Later the elf would detect that his foot had gotten caught in a root of a tree, but he knew it was just the way of the forest of keeping him in place.
His body ached, but the sight of Aredhel's back fleeing into the wide sky beyond the hills eased a fear in his heart. Perhaps this was the only thing the accursed forest would ever gifted to him, aside from leading his love into his realm in the first place. The vision of her death had been cruel, but not as much as seeing himself standing over her body. Possessive love would have tried to keep her here, as has it been done before with the witch and his uncle. Eöl was not sure if spell originated from Melian herself and the remnants sunk into the forest. It might be just the other way around. In this case it wasn't a curse but a deeper connection between him and the trees reaching into the vast land itself and allowing him to get a glimpse of one pathway the course of history would take.
Eöl shuddered, when he pulled himself to his feet to return into his now empty home. Perhaps he should remodel or live in a tent in the future. Seeing the empty rooms, the bed void of his wife and the halls free from child laughter would weight on his heart.
Yet he knew his forest. It had taken Elenwë and released him. But only because it had taken Elmo in return who wandered into this forest searching for his brother Thingol. After losing father to it, Nan Elmoth took Eöl as well in the end, taking away his freedom. Yet it would keep him alive as long as he didn't try to leave.
There was a pattern and it was easy enough to recognize. The wood could have him but never his son.
So far Nan Elmoth had released Maeglin. But with the Doom that laid upon the shoulders of his wife, he better never learned if this had been a good thing.
She had been traveling straight for hours, tears blurring her sight. Her horse was loyal and found the way alone, so all Aredhel had to do it cling to its back and weep. Leaving her home behind had been harder than she thought and the shock of new light all around her did not help her ease. How used she had become to the scattered twilight of Nan Elmoth to have forgotten how beautiful the stars could be?
Nan Elmoth possessed only a few places where the trees gave way to the light. High thick branches where the result and nothing lived on the ground, because the sunrays never reached the ground. Blind she had been, to the sun, the moon and most of all herself. Aredhel felt as if the unlight had came unto her again, quenching any hope to an insignificant amount of rubble. Half she expected the cold never ending ice to greet her around the corner.
But there was a difference between then and now. On the Helcaraxë she had no reason to turn around. Guilt and her promise to her husband kept her from making a foolish decision. Riding over the grass plains cleared her head, the wind touching her face did the rest. It filled her with new thoughts and allowed her to bury her grief for now. Aredhel could not continue to weep on horseback, when the sun was raising its beautiful features in the distance, bringing a new day.
The first day for her, in freedom. Aredhel declared it so.
In Aman she had been a child, wildly running and heeding one one. On the Helcaraxë her joy had shriveled, like a sensitive flower touched by the cold. Long hours she had spend in her head, following and supporting the command structures her father had build to survive. Following Turkano to Gondolin had been an automatic reaction. The days of building had helped her return to reality. Planning a city had required thought and attention. She wasn't an architect and measuring stone to carve into beauty not her preferred profession, learning about the local wildlife was.
It was upon her to discover what plants were eatable, which for healing and what kind of animals lived nearby. Her time with Tyelkormo had been very useful, even if she had never learned the art of communicating with animals. Instead there had been hours of wondering about types of grass, the usefulness of fertilizers and burning field at the end of the summer.
Only her position had allowed her to ride out at all. Despite that her senses started to clear the further she rode away from Nan Elmoth, she had trouble remembering what excuse she had given her brother to exit Gondolin. Since she had been on her way to Tyelkormo, food and crops probably. Hunting in the mountains in general. She could barely remember.
If she was honest, Aredhel barely cared now. A blazing smile graced her lips when she addressed her son.
“Maeglin, look around you,” she said, firmly believing her son could see the world with her eyes. Using the name Eöl had revealed to her was a way to stay connected to her husband. “The world is beautiful and we are free. Perhaps you have been brought to me in twilight, but you will be raised with seeing the sun everyday and no borders around to restrict your movement.”
Not often Aredhel believed in the finality of foresight. Nature moved in cycles, familiar images returned with the seasons. But when she turned her horse towards North with the sun casting warm shadows for her left, Aredhel senses she had passed a threshold.
Something was different, something was joyful and she would not waste the opportunity.
If she contributed the feeling to the new life her son had given her and not because her immortal fëa sensed having missed the pathway to Mandos Halls, no one but the Doomspeaker took notice.