The Nightingale: Memories Lost

The grounds of the Colagar estate seemed busy with the increased guard patrolling them. Arameril walked close to the windows as she traveled the various halls of the manor arm-in-arm with Pengail. At each window she would stare longingly outside as they passed. The clouds. The sky. Since Atanamir’s wards had been applied, she dared not touch even the sills to lean out to feel the open breeze on her face.

Pengail slowed at one of the larger windows on the second floor of the sprawling manor. His long stride halted as Arameril gazed on the distant skyline of the city.

“You know, Pen,” she said without turning to look at him, “sometimes, I do miss the Ivory Tower. I left on an errand and never went back. I knew I could not return to that place knowing the Orchid was being held captive there somewhere.

“I had hidden a set of spare leathers near our picnic spot. I left everything else I had behind.”

Pengail placed a warm hand on her in the crook of his elbow. I’m s-sorry, Merry. Mayb-be you will be able t-to… retrieve it wh-when this is… all over.”

Arameril smiled warmly and covered his hand with her own. “Perhaps. I did not have much, but it means something to me. I… I didn’t realize just how much until I realized I missed it.”

Pengail returned the smile and led her to a bench in a recessed alcove where they could sit and watch the city from afar.

“T-tell me?”

Arameril leaned against his good arm. Her head barely met the middle of his bicep.

“Well, clothes. I only owned the simplest gowns and training gear, but they were mine.” She tugged at the fabric of the new dress she wore. As long as Sir Carmanadh or anyone else had purchased it for her, it would never be truly hers. “Is that silly?”

Shaking his head, he said, “N-no!” His gentle eyes looked down at her with sincerity and urged her to continue.

She nodded, her confidence in returning to the memories of her life in the tower growing.

“And I had a little box. A jewelry box I was given the Yule after I earned my ink. The only jewelry I ever owned was this silver necklace.” She touched the chain around Pengail’s neck. “So the only things in it were a coin I had since I was little, some seashells I collected over the years. A few pieces of sea glass. And a wooden coin with a carving of the Kipper on it. Scuppers gave it to me when I had sailed fifty times. Those trinkets represent… they represent my life…”

Her brow creased as she added, “Now, the only things I own are my black leathers and the gifts from my father. I am… what others have built.”

“Merry.” Pengail’s long fingers tipped back her chin as he gazed down at her. “…you are, are… you. Not w-what… they d-did to you. And now… now you c-can be f-fr-free.”

Arameril smiled as she rested her head against him. Her little fingers intertwined with his.

“Meeting you on the Kipper, Pen. That is what set me free.”

Pengail shook his head. He tried to find the words to match his thoughts and she watched his eyes as he worked through it.

“I only… c-caught you. When you st-stumbled. You took the first, first steps yours-self.”

Arameril reached up to lead his face down to hers. She kissed him tenderly. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips.

“I love you.” He smiled and stood holding his hand out to her to help her to her feet.

As they continued down the hall, he asked, “Why a c-coin?”

Shrugging, Arameril said lightly, “I got it when I was very young. From a fountain in the gardens. I don’t remember much about it except that my arms were too short and a nice man… got it out… for me…” Her steps slowed as she spoke each phrase. “Oh, by Elmeleth. Pengail. I think… but it was so long ago. I’ve always had that coin.”

She turned to face the direction from which they came. Down, down the hall and around a left turn and then a right or two. Hathlafel’s room.

“I could never remember his face. He was so kind and I don’t think I even said a word. He… he gave it to me even though they weren’t for taking… He… he…”

Pengail squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“You, you think it was your father?”

“Why… how could it be?”

Smiling, Pengail took both of her hands in his and stood before her. They paused in front of a wide window overlooking the coastline.

“He w-was watching ov-ver you. H-he loves you, M-merry.”

Arameril held his hands as an anchor as her brow worked through her thoughts.

“He was always there, Pen. Always watching over me. I always remember Sir Hathlafel visiting the Ivory Tower every Tuesday to meet with Lady Gwenithel. We had spoken only a few times before… before that day he asked me about… about you.”

Pengail’s brow arched. “He, he asked a-about me?”

Arameril nodded. “Yes. Whether or not I had ‘romantic affection’ for you. If you were important to me. I tried to keep it secret, but he already knew. He just wanted to hear it from me, I guess. To protect you? If he was lessening the dosage to keep you alive… we owe him your life. And mine.”

Pengail nodded. “We do. H-he has always watched over u-us. He… he is g-good, Merry. You c-can help him… re-remember. To-together. We can… h-help him.”

Arameril stood on tiptoe and still had to wait for Pengail to stoop to bring his lips to hers.

“We will, Pen.”

The Nightingale: No Matter the Consequence

My dearest Pengail,

I was five when I knew things were not as they seemed in my life. We were in the study and one of the girls, Romdin, bumped into a round mahogany side table. A fine porcelain vase fell to the floor. It never hit. I caught it. I never knew how, but that was what caught the attention of the Order, Deludhae told me. The swiftness of my reaction pleased her and she put me through a series of games that were really tests and I was on my path toward becoming a Rose.

I was five.

It was around the age of ten that I took the ink and the real learning began.

The power it gives is intoxicating. The world appears different when you know the strength of your arm can bend metal and render death in the blink of an eye. But it quickly became something terrible and frightening. The control needed to blend in with the rest of the citizenry was exhausting. The secret of it ate away at the heart and was crippling. And we needed more. We always needed more to survive. Without it, we would fade away to nothing and become mere shadows of who we once were.

The girls that were chosen to be Roses always had nothing else to turn to. When you owe the Lady your life, you give it. We were slaves or lacked family to protect us. If we disappeared, died, or shunned marriage no one would care enough to question it. We were forbidden to engage in relationships outside the Order to prevent such a care from forming.

And only since I found you do I understand why.

The strength and speed of the ink is nothing to the power I feel when I am charged with your love. I have everything to lose because I have you and you are everything. I cannot fix the pain I have caused you by keeping the truth from you. There is no time to regain your trust. Innocent people are hurting and lives are at risk because of me. I should have stood up to her long ago.

Master Kemendin fears I will not return from House Aearanel.

But it must be done.

Just as you said, I have to do good, Pen, no matter the consequence. If I did not do this, there would be no way I was worthy enough to even ask for your trust. Your love. You are my conscience and my guide to redemption.

Thank you. Thank you for giving the freedom of your love. I only wish I could grow old with you by my side and raise little horsemen that could jump so high they could fly and girls that could run as fast as the wind. I wish we were free to watch the stars come out each night and wake to the rosy dawn each morning and measure our lives only with our love.

Pengail, I know in my heart that even if I go there to die, we will find one another again. I will always be with you.

Always.

With all my heart,

~Arameril

P.S. Please take care of Auriel for me. She only just found her way to me.

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))