|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
I heard a splash," Inglor said, leaning towards the window. This incidentally moved him in Ethirwen's direction.
"It's probably just a fish." Ethirwen believed this was a ploy on his part, an excuse to draw closer to her. She smiled softly and prepared to step into his arms, shivering with anticipation.
But then even she could hear the shouts of alarm from the deck.
"Excuse me," Inglor said. He spun on his heel and burst out the door before Ethirwen could blink.
Ethirwen cursed. She still trembled, but now it was with rage. She had been so close. Whoever had been responsible for this interruption was going to pay dearly for it. She took a moment to compose herself and then followed Inglor above deck, intending to drag him back to her chamber at the earliest possible moment.
"Man overboard!" came the emergency call.
A small crowd had gathered around the area just above Ethirwen's cabin. They were all leaning over the railing, pointing at the dark waters and talking excitedly. The captain was there, looking as though he was going to burst a vein.
"Oh no," Inglor said as he surveyed the surface of the water. He had braced himself on the side of the boat, ready to jump over when someone grasped his arm. His first impulse was to forcefully remove the hands that kept him from diving overboard and rescuing Haleth. Then he released it was Ethirwen who was holding him. It still took a conscious act of will for him to not simply sweep her aside.
"Haleth?" he called with his mind. There was no reply.
"What is it?" Ethirwen asked, sounding both concerned and frightened. She secretly hoped that it would be something dangerous enough that it would give her a valid excuse to cower against Inglor and beg for his protection.
"Haleth has fallen overboard," he said shortly.
Ethirwen paused at the tone of his voice. He was certainly very worried, even angry. She thought she had detected a certain amount of distraction there as well, as though his mind was not entirely on the immediate problem. She smiled inwardly, believing herself to be the cause of his preoccupation, and considered the best way to play the situation to her advantage.
"How could that have happened if she was in the hold?" Ethirwen asked as she leaned against Inglor. She appealed to him with her large blue eyes. "Do you think someone pushed her?"
"Possibly," Inglor said, too distraught to notice Ethirwen's body language.
He pushed his awareness beneath the surface of the water, searching for a spark of human life in its cold depths.
"Haleth?" he called again.
One of the crewmen had lit a torch. The faces gathered on the deck shone red in its ruddy light.
Haleth had just enough time to take a quick breath before she was engulfed by the river.
Normally she would have simply swum to shore, cursed heartily, and sloshed to the camp on the shore. But she was not accustomed to hanging upside down for extended periods of time. She had already been light-headed when she had hit the water. The shock of the cold had cleared her mind just enough for her to realize that she was in enormous trouble.
Haleth tried to get her bearings. She was surrounded by featureless darkness and could not trust her already ringing ears to tell her if she was swimming up or down.
"Haleth!" Inglor's voice burst into her mind with the tremendous power. The force of his communication stunned Haleth's already reeling mind. She stopped fighting the water and allowed herself to be pulled downwards by the current.
Her instinct for survival forced her focus. If Inglor had called for her once, he was likely to do it again. He was probably trying to determine where she was before diving after her. She tried to brace herself for the mental juggernaut.
"Haleth!" The call came again, just as powerful.
She tried to send him a message asking which way would take her to the surface, but could not form a coherent thought. She desperately clawed the water, fighting the current and the ever increasing pressure to breathe. With luck she had given enough information for him to find her in the endless, wet, cold dark.
A bright, red light suddenly flared to her right. Hoping desperately that it was a torch, Haleth kicked out in its direction. Of all the ways to die, drowning after being dropped over the side of a boat by the jealous suitor of another woman and then mentally stunned by her best and only friend had to be the stupidest. It was not even her own jealousy that had been fatal.
Haleth's lungs were ready to burst when she at last broke the surface of the river, choking and spluttering. She inhaled deeply and immediately began to swear.
Inglor heard something erupt through the surface of the water. This was followed by a round of sulphurous cursing. He closed his eyes and drew a thankful sigh of relief. If Haleth could still swear like that, she was fine. The several of the crew camped on shore were already approaching her in a dinghy.
"Who would do such a thing?" Ethirwen asked, sounding small and frightened. She pressed herself against Inglor, believing that her non-verbal appeal would dissolve the barriers between them.
"I have an idea," Inglor said. "Excuse me." Satisfied that Haleth was no longer in danger, he gently but dismissively brushed Ethirwen from his arm and went in search of Orolondė.
Ethirwen, trembling with fury, found herself abandoned and forgotten.
"There he is!" someone shouted.
"Bring him in," the Captain called. A small craft left the shore. Four oarsmen rowed to the place where Haleth fought with the current and the cold to keep her head above the water.
After what seemed like an age, a paddle was carefully extended within her reach. She grasped it tightly and was pulled to the safety of the dinghy. The sailors rowed back to the boat as she panted her profound thanks. They must have thought her worse than an idiot, judging by the looks they threw at her.
A small crowd had gathered to watch the proceedings, their curious faces glowing ruddy in the light of the torches.
The rescue craft was raised and Haleth was roughly aided over its side to stand alone, dripping and exhausted, within a circle of blurry faces. A quick glance told her that Inglor was not among them.
"You again." The Captain was livid. "If I'd known it was you, I'd have left you for the fish."
Then he paused to consider. As annoying as Haleth was, actively throwing her overboard to drown was too harsh. If he was going to do that, he should have done it right after the fire. Besides, the elf travelling with her might take a dim view of her being left to die. The Captain had heard the stories of the elves. He did not want to contemplate what an angry Inglor would do.
He was about to order his crewmen to throw Haleth back in the hold when Ethirwen pushed her way into the circle of men. The merchants beautiful face was twisted in fury.
Again the Captain hesitated, waiting for Ethirwen to speak. Her money gave her great power. Any decision that went against her wishes could break him.
Ethirwen was upset, confused, and most of all furious. She had never had her pride wounded as badly as Inglor had done by rebuffing all of her advances. But when she thought of his fair face she could not bring herself to do him harm; at least not yet.
Haleth was the only thing that stood between Ethirwen and her goal, and she focused all of her keen, angry intelligence upon the ragged vagabond who stood so high in Inglor's affections. Jealousy raged within Ethirwen as she raked the dripping, bedraggled woman from head to toe with her eyes, searching for something to use to compare her unfavourably with herself.
The list was so long that Ethirwen could not decide where to begin. Haleth was older than her and far more travel-worn. She evidently paid little or no heed of her personal appearance and refused to say anything in her own defense. Ethirwen could not imagine what Inglor could possibly see in this woman who was completely lacking in every charm and social grace.
Her eyes fastened on the silver ring that Haleth was nervously twisting around her right index finger.
"What is that?" Ethirwen shrieked. Everyone jumped at the strident tone and volume of her voice.
Ethirwen grabbed Haleth's right hand and held the ring up for all to see. The silver shone blood red in the reflected light of the torches.
"How could such a creature possibly come by such a treasure?" the raven-haired beauty demanded, her voice as shrill as a hawk's. "She must have stolen it!"
"Put this trash ashore," the Captain ordered his men. Two of them moved to flank Haleth.
"I gave it to her." Inglor had chosen the perfect moment to reappear.
The words were uttered softly, but with such force that everyone froze where they stood. All eyes were turned upon Inglor, who looked as he had on that one night in Dale: tall, imperious and extremely dangerous.
Ethirwen dropped Haleth's hand as if she had been burned by it. She backed away from the intensity of Inglor's quiet rage, which was directed squarely upon her.
"I'm sorry," she stammered, quailing at his anger. "I didn't know...I thought that...I'm sorry."
As Inglor came close to her, Haleth grasped his arm with all of her returning strength and firmly planted her feet on the deck. She was not certain if he even noticed her.
"Inglor," Haleth whispered, "Just leave it. Please."
"If Lord Inglor gives his word to be responsible for this woman, that is good enough for me," a new voice called from the back of the crowd.
Every head snapped in the direction of the newcomer, grateful for some distraction. Orolondė, wearing clean clothes, approached them. He had found time to comb his hair and beard so that he looked less like a tramp and more like the rich, powerful merchant that he was. Taeg followed behind his master, his face a careful blank.
"You have my word," Inglor said, inclining his head towards Orolondė. "I shall be responsible for her."
"Only for the time we're on this boat," Haleth insisted.
She was answered by a mental sigh and the slightest of tightening of Inglor's jaw muscles.
"Master Orolondė," Captain Dorlas bowed his head.
"Captain Dorlas," Orolondė inclined his head in a similar manner. "I am pleased with the way you run my ship. As her owner, I request that you to release this woman to the custody of Lord Inglor."
The Captain heaved a sigh of relief. He was in a very delicate situation and Orolondė had just offered him a relatively graceful way out of it.
"As you wish," he said shortly. "Crew dismissed."
The men began to make their way back to their sleeping quarters, as did the Captain. Orolondė remained with Inglor and Haleth. Taeg winked at Haleth when he thought no one was paying attention. Ethirwen was nowhere to be found.
"Thank-you," Haleth said to Orolondė when the others were out of earshot.
The merchant gazed at her steadily and remained silent. She evenly returned his inspection.
"It was the least I could do," he finally said.
A night breeze sprang up and Haleth, who was still dripping from her close encounter with the river, began to shiver.
"It would probably be a good idea to get her inside," Orolondė said to Inglor.
"Of course," Inglor replied quickly. "She's prone to the cold."
"Excuse me?" Haleth asked, one eyebrow cocked in half-mock indignation. "I ammm not." The effect was spoiled by the cold-induced stutter.
"Good night," Inglor bowed to Orolondė. "You have my thanks."
"Good night," Haleth echoed.
"Good night," Orolondė answered. He watched the unlikely pair until they disappeared.
"I heard," Haleth replied, wincing at the memory of Inglor's panicked mental shout. "I couldn't not hear. I couldn't answer. Im sorry."
They stopped outside the door of Inglor's cabin, the elf intently studying the woman. Haleth dropped her gaze and shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. She had not known the Eldar could communicate without speaking. Although she was amazed that she could hear and answer him, she was too busy being terrified that he had seen her guilty daydreams to wonder about her unexpected talent. The entire situation was so mortifying that she briefly considered diving into the river again.
He sighed and placed one hand gently on her shoulder. "I apologize," he said softly. "It will not happen again."
Haleth blinked in confusion. "Inglor, I don't blame you for my falling into the river. And that or something like it most certainly will happen again."
A ghost of a smile drifted across his face as he unlocked the cabin door. Haleth waited until his back was turned before allowing herself to shiver. As much as she liked Inglor, carrying on a mental conversation with him was simply too intimate.
"I need to get into some dry clothes," Haleth said, immediately turning to practical matters to hide her embarrassment. Inglors cabin was identical to the one she had used before the fire. There was only enough space between the bed and the far wall for one of them at a time. A long, narrow bed lined one side of the cramped room, a large drawer beneath it. The space smelled of wood and sunshine on green meadows. "Too bad all of mine were burned."
"They weren't," Inglor said quickly, a faint smile twitching the corners of his lips.
"What?" Haleth found herself answering his grin in spite of being thoroughly confused.
"Just sit down and lift your feet," he told her.
Mystified, Haleth sat on the very edge of the bed and pulled her feet up. Inglor opened the draw under the bed and displayed the contents to her with a quick flourish of his hand. Her spare clothing and the other contents of her pack were neatly arranged beneath her feet.
"Oh most wondrous elf!" she said when he handed her the box containing the mechanical bird she had purchased in Dale. "I did not know that the Eldar could perform miracles."
"If you mean that using soap and water to clean things is a miracle, yes, we can," he laughed.
"But everything was burned in the fire," Haleth said.
"No," Inglor corrected her. "Your pack was not touched by the flames. The fire was started on the floor and made up in such a way as to cause a great deal of smoke."
"I guess we know who had it set," Haleth sighed as she leaned over and took her spare set of clothes from the drawer.
"I will never understand humans," Inglor said with quiet intensity.
"If it makes you feel any better, neither will I," said Haleth. He closed the drawer and she stood up and dripped on the floor instead of on the bed.
"That is not very encouraging," said Inglor, shaking his head.
"It wasn't meant to be," she replied, smiling.
Haleths smile faded to a frown. She shivered and rubbed her arms, pointedly looking at the door.
"I guess I should change my clothes," she said.
"Yes," he agreed pleasantly.
"Inglor, I don't know about elves, but it's a custom among humans to change in private," Haleth said when it became clear that he was not going to leave without prompting.
"I agreed to be responsible for you," he said as though it explained his refusal to leave the room.
"You're going to be responsible for me catching my death of cold if you don't get out so I can change!" said Haleth, her voice rising.
Her frustration died a quick death when she saw the amused look in his eyes.
"Just get out," she said, pointing emphatically to the door.
"Very well!" he said, finally moving towards the door. "I do not understand your anxiety. It would not be the first time I have seen you unclothed."
He ducked out and closed the door in time to hear the dull thump of a well aimed boot on its opposite side, chuckling at the outraged expression on her face.
|<< Back||Next >>|
|Home Search Chapter List|