Title: To Be Brave
Request: Some kind of reflection into the Haleth people, and their interactions with Caranthir and the other Feanorions (Sawain/Samhain).
Notes: Haldan is the nephew of Haleth (son of her twin brother). Moryofinwe is Caranthir's father-name, thus Mori. Aran is Quenya for King--the Haleth people were said to follow no lord or master before she became chieftain, so a "king" was probably, to them, something other people had to worry about. Be gentle, I've never written Feanorions or Haleth-ians before ;).
The Elves, they said, were a wild and savage folk. Cold right down to the core. Pretty faces with placid expressions, but to look in their eyes was to see madness and whispers of dark deeds. Long, lovely fingers which took most joy in curling round knife hilts or the throats of the unwary. They lived so near, the Elves--some less than an hour's ride north--but who had ever seen one? The Elves hid themselves and watched, walked without making sound, haunted every shadow. They made their presence known in subtle ways, like malevolent gods.
Haldan laughed and said he was not afraid. He bragged to his playmates (or as Aunt Haleth called them, his packmates--for she said they had the manners and habits of wolf pups) that he had once seen an Elf, who had come to speak with his grandfather. Elves were only funny-looking men, he declared, taller and thinner and paler than they ought to be, with a walk like they were dancing. The other boys swore they had no more fear than he, but their eyes shone in admiration and they always let him lead their adventures.
He had seen the Elf, to be fair. At a distance, hooded and cloaked, but the tall shape had seemed harmless enough. The long white hands on the reins had not spooked him, nor the queer glide of its steps, and he knew in his heart that he would be just as brave at two paces as he was at fifty. He didn't detail the circumstances to his friends, of course, because they weren't blessed with that same innate faith in his abilities (their own loss, naturally).
The woods to the north, too, were target for some suspicion. Little Branthor swore that was where Elves hid to carry out their spying. Women liked to go between the trees in twos or threes to collect things for their medicines and dyes, but rarely alone. Children were scolded for venturing there without a parent nearby. Haldan's father and grandfather, however, strode tall in that wood, and so did he. If Elves lurked there, he imagined they were like honey-bees: give them no cause for offence and they would extend the same courtesy. Besides, it was no good setting snares in the middle of the village.
That was why he was out, today. It was a feast day, a farewell to autumn and a chasing-out of the spirits that came at the death of natural things. Haldan could add a rabbit or two to the offerings, if his snares had proved lucky, and his mother cooked rabbit like no one could.
It was early, the woods quiet; he found the solitude more restful than eerie, though it was a misty morning with little sun. This was Haldan's hour--he walked alone, daydreaming without interruption. He imagined himself a great hero of his people, invincible; then he dreamed of being made the ruler of them, an aran like Grandfather said the Elves had. And then (once he could be certain he was out of sight of the village), in his most private fantasy, he pretended to be one of the Elves, practicing that queer gliding walk and laughing as musically as he could manage. In his mind's eye, he painted himself tall and slim and white as a snow-drop, near as lovely as a maiden (but not quite!), ageless as the mountains. What power he would have! How he could frighten--or delight--the people of the village, at his slightest whim!
His fancies ran far, and he nearly wandered right past the spot where he'd set the first snare. A bird above him chattered at its neighbors, shaking him from his dream before he went too far astray; but then, his snare lay empty, so he did not thank the noisy creature.
As he straightened to go on to the next trap, the bird went silent. A moment later Haldan could feel it too--a change in the air, something that pricked the hairs at the back of his neck and made the mist seem suddenly chill. He hardly dared to breathe, turning very slowly around; he was certain he sensed the weight of eyes, of something looking at him. It was there, just in the corner of his vision--
A doe stood there, greyish in her new-grown winter coat, watching him warily. Haldan could have laughed with relief. "Brave enough for Elves, but weak-kneed over a deer! Some Aran you'd make," he scolded himself, if only to hear his own voice. The doe seemed to decide he posed no threat, returning to its perusal of the undergrowth. Now that he thought of it, she might have been the same doe he'd spotted a few times over the summer a little east of here, with her tiny dappled fawn. It was hard to say with her new coat. He glanced about to see if the fawn was near, but his eyes caught on something else entirely.
Too late, he thought--birds don't go quiet over a browsing deer.
A pale, fierce face stared back at him. Haldan stood as still and stiff as the trees, feeling as though the mist had frozen all over his skin. His blood was full of ice too, and the pit of his stomach. The apparition raised a hand to its mouth, indicating that he should be silent; Haldan watched in mute horror, and didn't dare do anything else. At the edge of his vision he saw movement, what might have been the readying of a weapon--the ghostly figure was not alone.
Branthor had been right, and Haldan had been foolish, for it could be no mortal creature opposite him. That was an Elf. It must be.
Honey-bees, he reminded himself frantically. Let them be and they'll do the same. Let them have their deer, and they will have no grievance against me, and I can go home--
Today they bid autumn farewell, and accepted the coming of winter. Haldan knew a new fawn stayed with its dam through to its first spring, and winter was a challenge for even grown creatures. Even grown men. He had a brief image of the fawn, stumbling in snow, bleating for its mother like a lost lamb. Did fawns bleat? Did it matter? Why was he thinking of it at a time like this? He couldn't even be certain this was the same doe. But if it were...
So this is what it feels like to be brave, Haldan thought for the briefest of moments; then he shouted, running towards the doe, and threw a stick that had somehow made its way into his hand. The doe startled and leaped away like a bird taking flight; the Elf's spear missed Haldan by less than half a metre, then quivered where it had lodged itself firmly in a tree. He shuddered to think what force it must have been thrown with. Perhaps he would soon experience it firsthand.
The spear-Elf swore, or at least Haldan thought he did--the word was beautiful, but the accompanying tone made it clear he was not chatting about the weather. The first Elf said something back, more calmly, and got snarled at for his trouble. To Haldan's horror, yet another melted out of the brush and joined the conversation. And all three were staring at him. He stood frozen, unable to run even when the spear-Elf drew closer to retrieve his weapon, giving him a look fit to kill.
"What are you playing at? Does it amuse you, to spoil a clear shot?" His attempt at Men's language was strangely clumsy for a creature of such grace, heavily and strangely accented, with emphasis in all the wrong places. "Believe me, little beast, you do not want the anger of Elves on your foolish head!"
"It's only a child, Curufinwe." The third Elf, yellow-haired like Haldan's mother, had a better grasp of the language. He crossed to peer at Haldan as well, dismissing him with a glance. "He will not hurt you, boy. But back to your village now, for it is rude to disrupt someone else's hunt."
Haldan took a stumbling step backwards, trying to make his body obey him long enough to flee. He might have made it, but just then the first Elf he'd spotted crossed into his vision again, still staring hard at him. He froze again, feeling sure that his worth was being taken, his soul analysed and his thoughts calculated.
When this Elf spoke, his accent was barely noticeable, though the musical voice would never have been mistaken for human. "You were checking your snares. Surely you did not act out of pity for the deer?"
Haldan gaped like a fish. Eventually it occurred to him that he was actually meant to respond, and he stammered something unintelligible. The gaze persisted.
"Or are rabbits less worthy of life than deer? Less important, do you suppose?"
He remembered the flash of courage before throwing the stick, and gathered his wits. "She has a fawn. We--we come now into winter, and..."
The spear-Elf--Curufinwe--laughed without mirth. "And your people say that Eru loves little children, and beastlings are practically your brethren. Come, Mori, you know the folly of such creatures in youth. Send it home, and we'll be off." He was shushed by the fair one, but not before Haldan caught the sting of his words. Creature. It.
"The spear could have gone through you," the first (Mori?) observed, calmly. "Is a fawn's life worth your life?"
"Maybe it will grow to be a great and ancient stag. Or the mother whose descendants feed mine," Haldan said, uncertainly. Mori's eyes burned through him again, laying his thoughts bare. Maybe he was a lowly beast, beside these high graceful people.
"Maybe you will grow to be a king, and it will be the meat of your coronation feast." The comment seemed more strange than cruel, as if someone whispered ghost-words behind the ones spoken out loud; it gave Haldan a shiver down his spine. "Maybe Eru will grant you rescue someday, as you have granted its mother."
Curufinwe huffed impatiently and turned to disappear into the forest. The yellow-haired Elf paused a moment longer, looking between his hunting-companion and the boy, then went more calmly after. Only the strange, cool Mori was left, and in a way Haldan thought him the most frightening of all.
Mori gave him one last piercing look, and then, as if by magic, a dagger appeared out of his sleeve. Haldan flinched instinctively, but the Elf only turned it to offer him the handle. He edged forward wide-eyed to take it, wondering whether there was something about it he was meant to see.
"You tell tales to frighten one another around the fire, do you not? Tonight is a good night for it." Mori gave him a strange, wild smile. "Tell them what you found in the forest. There is your proof--show them my dagger, and tell them the treacherous, eerie Elves count you a friend."
Haldan gazed dumbly at the dagger in his fingers, trying to make sense of it all. Counted as a friend by--not the Elves, maybe, not Curufinwe or the yellow-haired one--but by Mori, anyway. Mori with his cold dark expression and queer eyes, who looked right through him and did not find him lacking.
"I will tell them--"
But when he looked up again from the dagger, there was nothing, only falling leaves in the sudden chill breeze.
He tucked it away and went to find his next snare, remembering what it was like to have been brave.