Author's Note: Any words found inside stars (* *) indicate
Chapter 1: Sweet Feet
Tree limbs whizzed past her head, as she leapt over rocks and roots, smaller branches catching on her hair and dress. She ran swiftly and effortlessly through the wood, her keen ears always listening for sounds of her pursuers. Pausing, she glanced around. No, she had not lost them - in the snow, that was impossible - they were, in reality, gaining on her. The fact that they were not trying to conceal their footfalls spoke of their extreme anger. She broke into a run, trying to put more distance between them.
‘They will catch me this time, for certain,’ she thought to herself, as she concentrated on moving more or less silently, ‘why do I do these things? I always get myself into trouble.’
Again, she paused, listening. They were slowly surrounding her, as if they knew her destination.
‘There is no way to outrun them, and I'll never make it to the rocks,’ she concluded, ‘I’ll have to fight. If I can make it to a clearing, I may have a chance...’ With that thought she altered her course, heading for a treeless circle.
Bursting into the clearing, she gathered her thoughts. If she could not concentrate, they would defeat her immediately. She gripped her staff tightly, and braced her feet apart, ready for anything. Listening intently, she tried to determine from which direction the first one would appear. Silence reigned. Even the birds had stopped singing. She stood stock still, troubled and strained to hear anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.
“Haha!” a voice shouted from behind her. She whirled around, her staff catching the man flat across the chest and knocking him down, winded. A second came flying at her from the right and she only managed to hit his shins before the third and fourth men tackled her to the ground in a puff of cold white, pinning her there. The snow in her face blinded her temporarily.
“You cannot get away this time, Calen Gaimil,” said the second man, rubbing his shins with a grimace, “and this time, you will pay for your insolence.” He helped the first man to his feet, and leaned down to get a closer look at her.
The third and fourth men grinned at each other and then at Calen Gaimil,
held her to the ground. She started struggling in earnest, to no avail. They were all larger than her, and much stronger.
“I am not sorry, you deserved it,” she declared as she shook the snow from her face. Preparing herself for what was coming, she promised herself she would not cry out. She would not give them that satisfaction. Deciding that waiting was worse than what was coming, she stuck her tongue out at her captors.
The third one said, “That is it, you are going to get it.” And with that, three of the men dove towards her... and started tickling her mercilessly.
Holding her breath, Calen endured it as long as she could. After a few minutes, she gasped for air and yelled between breaths, “All right... all right!... I am sorry... I did it.”
Leaning back with a triumphant grin on his handsome face, the second one inquired, “Did what? I want to hear you acknowledge your deed.”
Still panting, Calen admitted, looking down at the ground, “I... I put the honey in Nenion’s boots while you were all warming your feet by the fire.” Then she glanced up at him, and giggled, “You should have seen the look his your face! I would not have missed that for all the Jewels of Fëanor.”
Unfortunately for Calen, this set off another round of the tickle-fest. At length, three of the men looked at each other, then across the clearing to the first.
“What do you think, Nenion? Has she been sufficiently punished?” the third one inquired.
Nenion, so addressed, looked up from where he stood leaning against a tree. He shook his head, “Probably not, Lindion, but it is getting dark, I am hungry and it is a long walk home. Come along... niece.” With that, he turned on his heel and started walking.
As he stalked into the trees, she thought she heard him mutter, “Do not think this is over, misfit.” With that, the men filled out of the clearing, heading towards the mountain in the distance.
Her stomach muscles hurt from holding in the laughter. Calen rolled to her feet, her hand on her side, and slowly leaned down to pick up her staff, which had been tossed away. She brushed the loose snow from her clothes and shook out her cloak. Then she trotted to catch up with her uncles; she was already quite far behind them.
“Amarion,” she called to the one closest to her, “wait for me, please. You know you are all faster because you have longer legs.” Her eldest uncle slowed his pace, allowing her to catch up. “Is Nenion very angry with me?” she asked worriedly, looking up at him.
Amarion looked down at her and smiled reassuringly, “No, I do not think so, but he was not impressed. He had been hoping to catch some meat for supper, and he could not track very quietly without his boots, now could he?” They walked on for some time in silence. “Besides,” Amarion finally added, grinning from ear to ear, “those were his favourite boots.”
It was already dark when the five reached their family home in the foothills of Ered Mithrin (1). The large house looked strangely dark and alone, almost sinister. Calen would probably never be accustomed to coming home to an empty house.
Once inside, she started setting the table as Lindion rekindled the fire they had left banked for the day. Amarion searched through the cupboards, pulling out this container and that, while Naurion walked out to the spring house for some cold Elven wine to accompany the meal. Nenion stood at the pot hanging over the fire, sprinkling in some of the contents of the containers from the table.
“You know,” he said, without looking up,” The stew would have been much better had we been able to catch a rabbit or two.”
Calen looked guiltily at her uncles, “I said I was sorry.” And under her breath, she added, "I just thought <i>some</i> of us needed to relax a little."
Nenion looked up quickly, “What was that?”
“Nothing,” she replied, instantly sorry she had said anything. In a conciliatory tone, she added, “but you are right, the stew would be better with meat. Perhaps tomorrow we will have better luck?”
Nenion would not be so easily appeased , “Perhaps,” was all he would allow.
It was a quiet meal, as everyone was tired, and very hungry. Glancing around the table, Calen was thankful for her family, and the closeness they shared. A lump formed in her throat as her gaze fell on the two empty chairs pushed up against the wall. She looked down at her plate again, pushing the vegetables around on her plate.
Once the meal was finished and the table cleared, and everyone was occupied, she grabbed her cloak and tried to slip out the door unnoticed
“Where do you think you are going?” It was Lindion - he never missed anything. He walked over to stand in front of her.
“For a walk,” she replied, desperate to be outside, alone.
“Would you care for some company?” he asked, searching her face for a clue to her emotions.
“No, thank you,” she said, avoiding his gaze, “I will be all right.”
“Just do not go far,” he cautioned, stepping aside, “and do not be out all night, like last time.”
“I will be fine,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried into the dark. Calen found it was both irritating and endearing to have him question her like that. Her father used to be the one to ask the questions.
The thought of her father brought back the lump in her throat. She missed him so much. She had loved the feeling of towering over him, and leaning her chin on the top of his head. She missed his gruff voice, telling stories of his ancestors in Khazad-Dûm, laughing at her bad jokes, rumbling through the halls early in the morning. But most of all, she missed how safe she felt when he hugged her. Letting out a sad sigh, she headed for her thinking tree. Hopping nimbly up to her favourite branch, she leaned her back against the trunk, and started to think.
She was unaware of the passing time. Gradually, she became aware of her surroundings again, and realized she was crying... again. Hastily, she wiped the tears away with the hem of her cloak. Her face felt frozen where the tears left tracks. Calen suddenly noticed that Amarion had joined her. He was leaning against the tree, just beneath her.
“How did you know where to find me?” she asked softly, knowing her would hear her.
Amarion snorted amiably, without looking up, “It was not very difficult. Where do you always go when you miss them?”
Calen dropped to the ground silently, landing next to him. She leaned against him, he wrapped his arms around her, and she shivered.
“Amarion?” her voice was muffled as she hid her face in his chest, “I’ve been thinking.”
He chuckled. “About what, this time?” he asked, looking down at the top of her head.
“I need to get away from here, Amarion. Everything I see makes me sad, everything reminds me that they are gone,” she looked up at him pleadingly, desperate for him to understand, “I want to see the world.”
“Oh, starling,” he started quietly, “I know you are feeling alone. There is no one here you can talk to freely. But you are young, you should not travel far from home.”
“Please, at least consider it. I feel trapped here. I am the only one who has not ventured beyond the foothills,” she tried not to whine, “Amarion, I am 127 years old. Stop treating me as a child.”
“All right. I will think about it,” he assured her. She looked pointedly at him. He smiled back at her, “I will. I promise.”
(1) Ered Mithrin: the Grey Mountain