“Please, Master Istuion. We will not sta –”
“No,” the Eldar lord interrupted, the single, sharply spoken command echoing through the stone gatehouse. “I will not say it again. You may water your horses and rest for an hour. My sons brought you here, so they will escort you away. Them and a company of archers will see you and your men safely to the next bridge.”
The face of the tall Arthedain commander known as Jorrin hardened as he chose his words . “Will all due respect, my lord, that would be back tracking. Winter has come even earlier this year, and from reports from back home it will be even harsher than the last. We have reason to believe –”
“Sir, do you suggest that the soldiers I have will not be able to easily thwart whatever scourge the cold drives south?”
“I do not, my lord,” responded the human commander, meeting the elf’s gaze, “but my men and I only mean to pass through you lands.”
Tension flooded the space left by silence. “I will deal with whatever filth the Witch King has sent so far west. You will take your men back south. If you leave in an hour you can make the human outpost by nightfall,” spoke Istuion finally.
“Very well, Master Istuion,” Jorrin responded grimly.
Artis watched from where she sat perched in a gatehouse window as her father paced away, hands clasped behind his back and head high. A bitter wind floated over her, goosebumps pricking on her arms and sending a chill down her back. The older she got the less she understood why Istuion treated the humans with disdain. What made it worse was the silence and dismissal she got whenever she asked. She probably should have sought understanding, but Rainion had been sworn to say nothing, and Milloth knew as much as she did. Istuion’s refusal to speak of it only made her want less of that which he wished for her to pursue.
Swinging her bare feet over the ledge she jumped to drop the several yards to the ground below, landing with ease. Smoothing out her tunic and pulling her braid over her shoulder she rounded the corner to where the human commander still stood, frowning after the Eldar lord. “Mae govannen, heruamin,” she said as she offered the man a slight curtsey.
“Oh! I-I beg your pardon,” said Jorrin, startled out of his thoughts. A fond smile replaced the frown on his face as he bowed, the dozen or so men behind him following suit. “Well met, Lady Artis.”
Nodding with a kind smile to the others she motioned with a hand to the inner courtyard. “Shall I show you to the well, sir?” she inquired in Westron, remembering that many humans did not speak her native tongue.
The commander arched a brow at her even as he gave her a faint, grateful nod. “That is not work for you, my lady. Your father will send a servant in a minute, I am sure.”
“Nonsense,” Artis said, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth as she turned, expecting for them to follow. “It is the least I can do to show you and your men hospitality.”
The commander motioned to his men and stepped with her. “Thank you.”
Artis nodded as she led the way to the stables. “What is it that you and you men are –”
“Pardon me, were hunting?”
“The enemy,” Jorrin chuckled. Motioning for a younger Ranger to lead the others to the troughs the commander motioned to the side and led Artis to the vine covered wall that separated the main way into the estate from the stable courtyard. “But that is not important,” he said in a lower tone. “Your father will see these lands safe, but if I may, I suggest you do not leave for a few days.”
Artis arched a brow, clasping her hands in front of her as she studied the man. As much as she liked the humans they still at times confused her. “Why would I need to stay? I would not go out alone. Whatever dangers present themselves –”
“My lady,” said Jorrin more sternly, “I mean no disrespect, but for all your skills in the hunt you do not know battle, and I doubt that in your few hundred years you have even known fear.” Glancing back at his men he sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.
“You worry about reporting back not having found what ever it is?” she asked, eyes narrowed.
Jorrin nodded. “The trouble in the east grows worse and we would like to keep it out of Lindon.”
Aris sighed and nodded. “Very well.” She then chuckled lightly. “I am sure that you just saved my father the trouble of convincing me.”
“I doubt he would thank me,” the man laughed. “Your brothers do say you have an unusually rebellious streak.”
“Just because I would rather be out hunting with them than learning to embroider and restore old paintings does not mean I am rebellious,” Artis retorted, pouting about as much as a proper elf could.
“For and elf, for an elf,” the commander added quickly, flashing a grin. “If you were a human I do not doubt you would be a prized child.”
“If I were a human, at my age I would no longer be a child,” she quipped with a smirk.
“You will always be a young one to us, my dear onórë” rang Milloth’s amused voice from behind her.
“Lord Milloth,” said Jorrin, bowing to the elf.
Having caught the glare Artis sent him, the elf lord walked up to stand with them. “I apologize for this, my friend,” said Milloth quietly to Jorrin as he rested a hand on Artis’s shoulder. “Both Rainion and I would have let you pass.”
The commander tucked his lips in, narrowing his eyes as he nodded. “That was Lord Istuions decision, so we will respect it. These are his lands. Even beyond the river, we are just guests in Lindon.”
Artis looked between them, wishing she fully understood the serious looks the two exchanged. She wanted to go with them. Why should she stay when they were only riding to the bridge to begin with? Turning her gaze up to Milloth she was prepared to speak when he looked down to her, a different shadow passing over the eldar’s face.
“Thank you for showing them in, Moriquendë. I will see to our guests from here. Father wishes to speak with you.”