The Nightingale: Bread Crumbs

Merry's Cliff

A tiny figure in black cowered in the shadows of the corner formed by the outer walls lining Dol Amroth and the sea cliff overlooking the Keep of the Swan-knights. Even though “Faindir” had found her there the day before, she had little where else she could go. She kept back from the edge and pressed against the stone wall; surely no one would look there for her twice. On the other side of the wall, the sound of the garden patrons would set her on edge every once and a while, but most of the time only the call of the seagulls interrupted the steady rush of the ocean and clang of weapons training from the court of the Keep. Here at least she could be near the sea.

Ships coasted past bearing their men to far away places, but for once her heart did not long to feel the wooden decks beneath her feet. Her eyes dwelt on doors of the keep and the bridge connecting it to the mainland.

His letter was folded and tucked inside her shirt for safe keeping. She had read and reread the words a thousand times since she left his arms that morning in the Keep. He had written it before she shattered his trust with the truth, but still she repeated one line of the letter like a mantra: Perhaps soon I will be released from the infirmary and I can come to you. 

I can come to you.

The plan was to meet him four days from now. She would be there in the black leathers that were all she would take with her from her past life and in the wilds she would rebuild the trust that had broken with her honesty. She would come with what she could steal or scrounge. Food. Water skins. Blankets. Though it would be a long time until the suspicion and disappointment would fade from his eyes, she trusted him. She could only hope that one day, he’d be able to trust her again.

As the sun set behind the cliffs of the coast, a gleam caught her eye. She unwrapped her arms from around her legs and crawled over to the small rock cluster clinging to the cliff side. A bulky package wrapped in waxed brown paper sat wedged into a rock and had caught the last beam’s light before the sun disappeared.

Frowning, she plucked off the note attached to the package. It was addressed to her and she quickly opened the attached note.

My dearest Arameril,

I know you have no reason to trust a gift from a stranger, but when I learned of your flight from the Ivory Tower, my heart went out to you. I know all this is a poor substitute for my absence from your life, but only now with your breaking from the Mormerili is it safe for me to contact you.

I’m not worried for your safety. I know you’re a clever girl and can take care of yourself. But I also know that without the protective circle of the Ivory Tower around you, you’ll need every windfall you can find. I only wish I could do more.

I pray that you and I will have a chance to meet openly soon, though I know better than to think it likely. Until that day, my dear, know that you have always been precious to me, and always will be. Keep Elmeleth in your heart, and never stop hoping for better.

All my love,
Your Father

She reread the signature. Your Father. Without smiling, she opened the package and found a new bedroll, a waterskin, a fire-starting kit, a well-made butterfly knife with a carved horn handle, and a week’s worth of hard tack rations.

She turned the knife over and ran her fingers across the handle. “How…” Who could have known she had left the Order so quickly? And how could she have a father after nineteen years of not even being able to ask if she had one?

Most of the girls in the Order were orphans. Slaves ‘rescued’ by Lady Gwenithel. She was just another charity case who secretly paid for her meals with blood, secrets, and lies. She had no father.

But it seemed as though that was a lie, too.

Very slowly, she wrapped the travel supplies back in the paper and tied the string into a perfectly even knot. She slipped the package back into the crevasse where she found it and quickly scaled the city wall for the nearest roof. She leaped without looking as she rushed for the unfamiliar trails of the forest. Her fingers and feet found their holds instinctively and soon she found herself standing on the banks of the waterfall near the stables where she and Pengail stole a morning when things were simpler.

Even though Pengail had warned that there were frequent visitors to the glen she doubted any would be out so late in the evening. The black leather came off in a rush. She plunged into the water and let the falls rinse away the scents of the city. As she stood beneath the frigid cascade, she lifted her face up and screamed, the water drowning out the sound. Slowly, she sank to her knees and sat staring at the wet stones that forced the water to plunge and froth around her. She sobbed.

Too many things were shifting and her paradigm could not keep up.

Waterlogged and exhausted, she dragged herself out of the falls. Leaving her clothes on the banks, she crawled into the shelter of a cluster of dense brush. Sheltered from any gaze save the forest animals, she lay in the darkness until the first stars blinked to life. Only then did she pull herself up, slip back into the leathers of the Black Roses, and start the slow journey back to the city.

She couldn’t leave just yet.

((Letter copy by Atanamir))

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