They would crucify her at dawn.
“This cannot be,” he who was Elentyaro stated quietly, absently brushing back gray-flecked dark hair from his windblown visage.
Thane Harald glanced once towards a shaven-pated priest, who was quick with a rejoinder. “She is an abomination, proof that the dark woods hide creatures of wanton flesh and devilish corruption. This she-devil had come amongst our beloved fiefdom, spreading disease in guise of healing. And lured good men to her lair in the green depths. Our gods -”
Harald stretched , muscles crackling along his back and flexed his sword arm. “I care little for your dryland gods, shoreman, and the strange names that you call them by. Yet, I grant you leave to do whatever your local customs dictate.”
He rose, and gestured to Elentyaro. “Come Master Hargrim. We shall speak from the eyrie.”
With a sinking feeling, Elentyaro noted the lascivious licking of the lips as the priest bowed low in obeisance.
Harald Iarnbeiter was a giant of a man, his fair hair blowing free in the mild wind. The Starlord thought wryly how like one of the Rohirrim he looked. Alas, those names were bygone relics that even loremasters were wont to forget.
“Our gods are the same, wanderer – only different names. So I treat you with more respect that is my wont in this strange realm we plundered from longships and now rule in plenty. Perhaps with more respect than I should. If you ever gainsay me in my own thane council then your tongue shall flap alongside my pennant this morning.”
Elentyaro held the gaze and spoke evenly. “Longships under Erik Redaxe are preparing to invade the great trade city in the south your people call Miklagard. He will then prove to your King Gorm that even though a hundred leagues closer you were a laggard in filling the fjords of your homeland with gold from the prized city. He will not budge before spring ends. So ready most of your men to sail once more from these over-peaceful shores, where bald men bicker about woodelves and people only know the plough. Shall this tongue flap some more?”
“Nay. You may visit the wretched she-elf. I prefer those in my Northland home. They are less skinny – more flesh for these hands.” Grinning suggestively he turned away.
They spoke silently, the Starlord coaxing the shaken young Elf-maid to converse thus. Almost diminutive she seemed, made rustic and quaint in this Age. He made her insensitive the pain that would follow, as much as he could. And bowed his head in silent misery at his own inaction.
The brass nails thudded into the oaken cross. Lalaith did not scream, but sighed and looked her last into the West with a final acceptance. Frail and of barely man-height, given to childish magicks instead of the high powers – at the moment of her death she realized in some small measure the grace and majesty from which she, along with her remnant race, had fallen. The tears were not of the cruel metal tearing her lily-white wrists, nor at the uncontrollable flexing of the thumb as the tendons were skewered. She smiled her last smile to all that could have been: a last laugh on an evening in the woods. A last swim in some still dark lake, and laying down on a green sward afterwards with a crust of lembas and a draught of miruvor.
Elentyaro felt the blood trickling where his nails dug into the palm as the cross reared its gruesome load into the late afternoon sunlight. Gnashing his teeth at his own impotency, the lord glanced at the knot of fair heads and horned helms that surrounded Harald. The giant rested his arm upon the shoulder of a slim lad, young Harald.
The Starlord looked searchingly at the faces of the folk around him, Northman and village-folk alike. A glimmer of remorse, or even disgust at this sickening display. Only remorse were more from meekness and fright than any righteous thought. Except…except….
Young face stern and impassive, he felt a certain young Northman question the reason for crucifying what looked like a young girl with shining eyes and pointed ears.
We shall meet again when you are grown a man, young Harald. Elentyaro then made his way to the old priest who was the loremaster (not the fiery one in a perpetual need for well-advertised crucifixions). In the small backyard, he plucked a twig of thorn. The priest, perhaps knowing from half-forgotten scrolls what this dour wanderer was, willingly gave him a splinter of ash. As he rode out of the town, the wanderer rested his hand once upon the oaken cross, the ageless lifeblood trickling down. He broke off a splinter from here too and galloped off on the High Road into the mountains.
“Her name was Lalaith, laughter. Long sundered from my sanctuary, she was a willful spirit of life and laughter indeed. May it wing swiftly to Mandos. I thank you for easing her passing.”
Elentyaro frowned in concentration, maintaining the thought-speech over vast leagues uncounted. Tauriel was one of the legends of the past – the one with the hundred cats and strange reclusive spirit of gloom. The last of the legends to survive still, bearing some of the old majesty. He spoke swiftly, the grief of the slain Elf-maid embittering his thoughts. “This news shall not spread beyond us two at this time. The high ones in the West have pondered long and deep at the plight of those of the Eldar that stay. Many of the names that did the Third Age proud were among those that beseeched the Lord of the West for a final succour. Young Gilfanon of the Teleri has agreed to lead a bold sortie – a last Sallying Forth to gather all those that linger on, by strength of arms if need be, before the number and might of mortal Man waxes overmuch even for us to thwart in such diminished stature. The isle of Tol Eressea shall be the mighty vessel to bear the Host of the West hence, and carry off the Remnants thence forever.”
The Lady at the other end was silent in shock. At the enormity of the plan, and the chances of total failure. “A Valar valuvar. Unspoken and furtively hoped for, this was my plea every day as I gathered what few of our folk I could to my small haven. Speak to me lord. Tauriel is thine to command.”
“Send one of your best rangers to Weyland, in the Village-by-the-Smithy. Do you have any left of the High Line?”
“There is Meril-i-Ingmarwen … my ward. But much too young.”
“Meril…Meril… Of the bloodline of the High King himself?”
“Aye lord. Of Ingwe himself. She was sent to a frozen sleep in the early days of the Kinstrife, deep within my caves. It is only recently that she was awaken and is under my tutelage.”
“Young or no, she is the one. Yes, it feels right in a way most other things do not. She must prepare for the next score years. When I return to your thoughts next, Lady, Meril-i-Ingmarwen must ride forth. Alone. Gather the weapons at the Smithy. And meet the champion that I hope to unearth. Namarie.”
Things were stirring. This land was in need of young heroes from its own soil. The Starlord was already thinking of striking a bargain from a trader in Miklagard (preferable before Harald sacked it) for a passage to the Far East. A certain great city there beckoned. And the last two of the highest Five of his order.