Even golden silences long to be broken. We humans cannot help ourselves. Breaking things, I mean. No matter their beauty.
Quiet, if allowed to persist too long, fills with imagined conversations, all the could-have-saids and unspoken thoughts. And I suppose we speak up out of some fear the unsaid words might be somehow misinterpreted.
Waiting on the decision from the Elven council, I could not have made wanted for a more idyllic setting or for better company. Time flowed by with the patience of the tributaries spilling forever into the river gorge. Never any hurry, for all their rush. The peace of the gardens, Shinvar’s presence, her nearness, could have continued for an eternity and I would have no cause to complain.
And yet my thoughts churned like the river. Words surfaced. And I had to speak.
“I – ” Of course, I began with me. Faltering, as though stumbling over all the speeches I had not made. “That is, I meant to tell you – I worked out why. When you asked for my help with the mine carts. Why I was so slow to act.”
Shinvar’s brow folded in a soft frown. “That? It’s not important. Forget it. We made it here. And we’ve done all we can. For now.”
“No.” Despite the awkwardness of my speech, I could not simply return to the perfect peace we had shared. “That is, I have done all – what little – I could. But I have not said all that I should.”
“Are you okay?”
“Hmm?” I touched my forehead, where it was wet. Perspiration, naturally. “Oh, it’s nothing. Spray from the river.” I indicated the crashing falls. For once, I could not bring myself to look on Shinvar. “But – the thing is – my heart, you see. In you, I have met – ” Somehow I forced my head upwards, with the effort of a salmon trying to climb the falls – and I met Shinvar’s gaze. Her expression was one of guarded concern. “I did not hurry to your aid because – because of my feelings for you. My respect and affection are – I recognise your strengths and capabilities. I did not think you needed my help. But what little help, what service I can be to you – I pledge it. As a knight and – and as more, if you will have me.” I laid a hand over my heart, as though that might stay its gallop. Perhaps arrest the words charging forth from me. But it was too late now. The silence lay in ruins and I may as well press ahead with the finishing blow. “I am not the warrior you are. But under your guidance I am learning. We belong together, you and I. We make a great team.”
“Oh,” she said. “Wow.”
It was a rare thing to see Shinvar so stunned. To think, I had been the one to render her thus. For a while, I feared we might return to the silence of before. Feared, because it could never be so idyllic as it had been before I had broken it.
“Listen…” said Shinvar. And her voice was music to my ears, but the word a prelude to something I felt sure I did not wish to hear.
“Please,” I interrupted, “you need not answer. Not now. There is no – after all, there are far more pressing concerns. I should have said nothing. I should have waited until all this was over.”
“Well, the world doesn’t stop for the sake of people’s feelings,” she reasoned. “And people’s feelings don’t stop while the world carries on.”
Her gaze drifted out over the scenery, exploring some of the sights that had so inspired me earlier. I frowned. I had followed her so far, trusting to her guidance. But with this, I had no idea where she was leading.
She bit her lip lightly. Then opened her mouth to speak.
And a yell of alarm erupted over everything. We turned. The shout had hailed from below. Somewhere near we had arrived and where I had first been relieved of my blindfold.
A mounted figure rode in and was instantly surrounded by Elvish guards. Fenced in, the horse danced about uncertainly, spinning in search of an escape route. The Elves closed their circle. The rider toppled from the saddle and crashed amid the ring of guards. The clatter of his suit of armour rang all around the walls and hollows of our oasis, like a bell tolling in warning of some dread disaster.
Shinvar was running. I ran after her.
She raced down the path and dived into the band of Elves now crowded over the fallen knight. Two Elves calmed the horse and grabbed its reins, tugging it clear. The others made some respectful space. Allowing me through to see Shinvar kneeling beside the battered figure of Knight-Captain Meister.
His teeth clenched, beard matted with dried blood, he struggled to focus and hissed his words through great pain. “It is – done. Lost. Look – to yourselves!”
Shinvar turned the man over. The sawtooth-flighted shaft of an Orkan crossbow bolt jutted from his flank. The blood was wet. Running freely.
“This is recent. Too recent.” Shinvar looked to the narrow path where he had ridden in. “What have you done, Knight-Captain? What have you done?”
[To Be Continued…]