Rhiannon: The Cliff's Edge (part 1)
“You know, he wouldn’t recognize you if he saw you.”
The voice broke the stillness of the evening. The stars had just made their appearance and the twilight beauty of Lake Evendim lay before and beneath her like a great jeweled blanket. Rhiannon sat motionless trying to ignore Raveniel much as picnic goers ignore the presence of ants.
“I mean really…. you couldn’t possibly wear any more black. As it stands, if you traded in Ulaire for something darker the neighbourhood would be in a panic thinking that some horrible ring wraith had taken up residence.” Raveniel frowned at the lack of response and with a sigh changed her tactic.
“Honestly, Rhi. He’s alive and has returned safely. Couldn’t you have done something to freshen up the look a bit? You used to wear red and now all you wear is this horrible darkness. You’ve even replaced that jaunty little number that you used to wear on your head with this…. What is it exactly? Sauron’s tablecloth? Granted the last one could take an eye out if you turned your head unexpectedly, but at least there was some excitement in engaging you in conversation.”
And still Rhiannon remained motionless. For a moment Raveniel considered that perhaps she was talking to a cleverly arranged decoy while her Elven cousin was instead cavorting in the cool waters below, irresponsibly disrobed and probably with her returning hero… until a gloved hand lifted to fan away a bit of the pipeweed smoke that had drifted too close. She supposed that wishing for her minstrel companion to do something that resembled fun was too fanciful.
“Speaking of your Captain,” she ploughed on, determined to find some way beneath the carefully crafted armour that Rhi had meticulously devised through years of verbal sparring. “I hear that they had quite a ceremony as he stepped down and someone else took his place. Of course, I don’t need to tell YOU about it since you were personally invited by a number of people and… oh, now wait… you weren’t there, were you?”
“Shut up, Rav.” The words were spoken quietly but forcefully.
Raveniel sat carefully beside the stone-like figure and puffed her pipe contentedly as she prepared the next assault. “In fact, I would hazard to say that you weren’t anywhere near the Silver Blades Kinhouse that night, were you? Who were you with? That dashing champion? The other captain who seems to spend a lot of time saving that shapely butt of yours? Actually, now that I think about it that butt saving seems to be pretty reciprocal, is there something we should know?”
“Raveniel….” The voice was more stern, inflexible.
“So, on the night that…” Raveniel paused for a moment, not quite sure how far she could push her luck. “On the night that HE was stepping down from the identity that he had crafted and lived for as long as you have known him and probably needed your support and assurance you were…. Where was it again? Oh, yes… somewhere in that hole called Moria hunting calamari… now that’s devotion!”
“Damn, I just got that pipe broken in,” Raveniel commented dryly as her pipe was unexpectedly whisked from her almost constant and petulant sulk. As she listened for the sound of it bouncing down the cliff face, she hazarded a glance from the corner of her eye and noted Rhi’s knees in a close proximity to eye level. “I’m sorry,” she mocked an apology as she looked upwards. “Did I say something wrong?”
“I don’t need this from you,” Rhiannon hissed through her teeth as she grabbed Raveniel by the shoulder and hauled her to her feet.
“My Rhi, that’s a bit forceful,” the loremaster commented, horrified as her mouth seemed to ignore the warnings that rang through her head. “Stop talking, you idiot! You could be following your pipe if you keep this up!”
“Perhaps you should use all this pent up aggression in other ways. I mean, what you do in the bedroom is between you and…..” She yelped as she found herself pushed roughly back to the ground and she practically sighed in relief.
“How dare you…” Rhiannon started muttering as she paced in an agitated manner. “You think I haven’t gotten it enough from all sides? You think my absence hasn’t been noted and commented on by countless others? You want to talk about support and care… what about supporting ME for once? You act like I didn’t WANT to be there! You act like I actually had a choice!”
“What? The word ‘no’ doesn’t exist in your vocabulary?” Raveniel didn’t dare look up and instead picked imaginary blades of grass from her clothing. “Funnily enough, I hear it fall from your lips regularly when it comes to me or the rest of the gang.”
“What WAS I supposed to do, Rav? What?” Rhiannon’s voice expressed the frustration that seemed to be her constant companion of late. “What is it that I should have done differently?”
“Said, NO, Rhi,” Rav said simply. “Said, I’m sorry but my services are not available tonight. My lute is being restrung. My clarinet reeds split. My drumhead is loose. I have a sore throat. I’m washing my hair. I’ve heard that there are fifty ways to leave your lover, surely you can find one excuse that works for the rest of the world.”
A heavy sigh was her reply as Rhiannon lowered herself to the ground once more. “And then what?” Her question was soft and disheartened. “Why don’t you understand, Rav? Are you that heartless or just stupid?”
“Hey, now! Listen here…” Raveniel’s indignation leapt to the surface.
“No, you listen,” Rhiannon’s voice rose above her cousin’s silencing her. “For every one of those things that we kill another one seems to take it’s place. How can I walk through Moria, interact and deal with these dwarves who look upon me as a kindred soul, greet them, do business with them KNOWING that one of their sons, fathers, uncles, mothers, sisters, cousins could have been taken because I decided that I had to go to a party for someone who feels the strain and weight of responsibility and as gravely as I do?”
“There are no BUTS about it,” Rhiannon’s voice sharpened. “Who am I to put MY happiness above someone else’s? What right do I have? I am an officer not because I wear cute hats or smile and giggle or eat more pies or tell the best jokes. It is because I take my responsibilities seriously. I am dedicated and loyal.”
“But surely, there’s somebody else… another minstrel…”
“Do you know what the life expectancy of a lifesinger is? It’s not long, I’ll tell you that.” Rhiannon’s voice lowered slightly. “I’ve outlived a lot of those whom I used to look up to and admire. Sauron’s forces are not stupid. They’ve learned to target and exterminate the minstrel as a first priority. Some of us fall in the field and don’t get up, some wander off broken and battered and never return because our souls simply can’t bear it any longer.”
“But, Annundril,” Raveniel started to counter.
“Don’t EVEN mention him!” Rhiannon sputtered. “The only reason he’s lasted this long is either because he’s totally insane and that insanity never allows our opponents to guess his next move or … or…. Well, he’s just not all there.” Rhiannon almost smiled as she rolled her eyes at his legendary antics.
“Well, maybe you should spend some more time with him. Maybe you’d loosen up some.” Raveniel’s eyes narrowed. “I know how you feel about what’s his name, but..”
“You know NOTHING about how I feel,” Rhi interrupted.
“I know that you,” Raveniel ploughed on.
“I’m just saying.”
“If you would just think it through.”
“SHUT YOUR PIPEWEED SUCKING, PIE ENGULFING, LIE TELLING MOUTH!” Fury seemed to radiate in waves off her. The Elven minstrel was to her feet with the grace and speed of a cat and she advanced quickly upon the lore-mistress.
In a panic, Raveniel scrambled crablike backwards, trying to find her staff in the long grass. “I don’t lie. You know I don’t lie. Not to you. Maybe to a Hobbit or two and definitely to those stupid Men.” She rolled over and tried to get to her feet but found herself being lifted instead. Hauled was more the word, as Rhiannon’s hands grabbed hold of Rav’s tunic by the shoulders and yanked her roughly upwards. A strangled whimper escaped her throat as she felt herself being propelled forwards. “Away from the cliff, away from the cliff, please say it’s away from the cliff,” she repeated in her mind as she squinched her eyes tightly closed.
The whimper turned to a relieved yelp as she hit the hard earth. Reflexively, she curled into a ball to await whatever punishment was going to be provided. “Kick me, punch me, maybe she’ll beat me to death with my own staff,” she listed in her head. “Not that I don’t deserve it. Always have to run my mouth. Drive her mad. Poke her until she roars. If she were a bear I would have been eaten ages ago.” She opened one eye experimentally to see what was to come. Not seeing Rhiannon in her immediate line of sight, she lifted her head carefully, half-expecting it to bid a hasty good-bye to her neck.
Having survived thus far, she uncurled her body and sat up slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible until she froze with fear and uncertainty. Rhiannon had returned to the position that she had first found her, a silent and motionless sentinel looking out over the lake.
“Just go, Raveniel.” The voice was cool not in a refreshing sort of way, but more in the chilling menace of a wight’s breath kind of way. “Leave me.”
Rav located her staff and snatched it from the ground. “Look it’s not…”
Brushing her clothing off, Raveniel checked her pockets and bag to make sure all was in order. “That was my favourite pipe, you know.”
“You shouldn’t be so careless with things you care about,” Rhiannon said patiently as if speaking to a child. “Would you like me to assist you in finding it.”
The undercurrent of molten steel in her voice warned Raveniel that Rhiannon’s assistance might involve Rav making a quick and painful descent. “Probably a broken leg at the very least,” she murmured.
A deep sigh emitted from her black-clad cousin. “Is it replaceable?”
“Yes, but it was very costly.”
“But it IS replaceable?”
“Some things are not, Raveniel.”
“Oh, goody… I wondered how long it would take her to adopt that patronizing school mistress tone,” Rav mentally gagged.
“One day, you’ll go too far, Rav.” Rhiannon lowered her head and gently massaged her temples. “Order a new one.”
“It was costly.”
“Just order it.”
“I might need a deposit… to guarantee it.” Raveniel knew her lower lip was sliding out into a pout, but she couldn’t seem to stop it.
“How much to do you have?”
“Not much, you see there was this dwarf who claimed that the gemstones that he had were…” A heavy sigh stopped her from continuing. “I don’t hear you complaining when you need some of those fancy tokens… those ones that you say inspire hope. What do you do with them anyway? That copper doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
“Yes, I do know. It’s mined from the ground.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Tell Roseredd to give you a few gold from the house account. I’ll pay the balance once it’s done.”
“Can’t you come back with me and get it?”
“Just tell her.” The irritated edge was back.
“See, it’s like this…. She doesn’t trust me.” Raveniel was SURE that Rhiannon knew that in the past she had used the “Rhiannon said” line to line her own pockets from time to time… and about the time Roseredd had caught her jimmying the lock on the house vault. She frowned. If only she could figure out where the hobbitess had hidden the darn thing this time, she wouldn’t be in this position.
“I can’t imagine why that would be.” Rhiannon pulled a quill and a scrap of paper from her backpack and scribbled something on it before handing it to her sly cousin.
“Huh.” Raveniel studied the scrap without understanding. “How’s this supposed to help?”
“Just take it to her,” Rhiannon’s mind was already leaving the present conversation and returning to the view of the lake. “You should have actually attended music class instead of getting fleas from those vermin you kept trying to befriend. Three gold should cover it.”
Raveniel frowned at the line of notes and chords that danced on the page. “But this is just a bunch of…”
“How can I…”
“Oh, consider me gone,” Raveniel grumped and stomped away.