Narn I Auros

At First Sight

Second Age 3223, Late Lairë, Harlindon

by Eönwë-(Valar)
April 13th, 2024

If Farothel had to pick one thing about Dinmir he liked, it was her sense of humor. No, it was her wit. No, it was her genuine care for and appreciation of the people in her life. No, Farothel couldn't pick one thing after all. She was the big sister he wished he had. The big sister he did have, kin or not, and the only person who could still get away with ruffling his hair. She always did have a sisterly way of watching out for him; and who else would sit there quibbling with Auros like she was doing right at that moment? Auros didn't quibble with just anyone. Including Aldawë, it was like Farothel had three siblings, and he enjoyed every minute of it. Comfort flowed from that bond forged growing up together.

Their quibbling was more fun to listen to while driving than the clopping of horseshoes and creaking of the wagon wheels. It was such a shame he had to put an end to it. "Big Brother, Big Sister, there's a fork in the road. Could you pull yourselves away from matters of such great import long enough to tell me which way we're supposed to go?" Of course Auros' response was quicker as he leaned in from the back of the wagon, but Dinmir's was right on its heels.

"Go left."

"Go right."

"You have two deliveries over to the left."

"Yes, but I have one over here, and it's closer."

"There's a trail beyond the second house just big enough for the wagon. We can use that to get over for the last delivery."

"Yeah, but—"

"Right down the middle into the grass it is!" With a flick of the reins the horses picked up from a trot to a canter. Less time might result in a quicker decision, and if not, well, he was sure the grass would make for a soft landing. Pretty sure. It didn't look prickly at least.

"Go right."

"Go left."

Really? "Instead of switching answers, perhaps only one of you could tell me which way?" Farothel snorted at yet another overlapping "Left" and "Right." At that point it didn't matter who'd said what.

At last, it was Auros who relented. "Go ahead. They're your deliveries."

"Thank you. Go left, Farothel."

"Left it is!" A direction, and none too soon! A light tug on the reins and the wagon veered left, leaning Dinmir into a few blades of tall grass before leveling out. Her shock from the speed of the turn was enough to draw out Farothel's mischievous grin. "You didn't really think I'd send you flying into the grass, did you?"

Surprise melted into relief as she released her grip on the bench and swept the grass seeds from the skirt of her dress. "Me? Of course not. I was concerned for Auros." A snort sounded from the back of the wagon. Relief melted back into cheerful humor and Dinmir turned her attention to the list she'd crinkled in her attempt to stay seated. "There's a small trail after the second house that we can use to get to the other road. It ought to be just large enough for the wagon." She let her words linger long enough for satisfaction to exude from Auros. Then she sprung it on him. "Yep, that was an excellent idea I had."

"You had?"

Farothel could feel her grinning, hear the snickering. Dinmir poked Auros like that on purpose.

It was all in good fun, of course. The subject of the quibble didn't matter, only the speed and caliber of the retort. It was never anything serious: the subject or the argument. Dinmir's professed reason was she thought it would keep them sharp; that's why she quibbled with Aldawë too. Auros gave no reason, but Farothel noticed that if Dinmir looked like she was feeling down, Auros was likely to start it to distract from whatever was bothering her. That would be his rationale: she couldn't feel sad if she didn't have time to think about it.

Not that any of them had much free time in the first place, at least not for anything other than sibling-type banter. Dinmir had been spending long hours at her shop to keep up with an unexpected deluge of orders. Auros tried to spend at least a few hours a day making house repairs, and Farothel helped when he could. He'd taken on the provisioning among his other tasks. Planning out meals and keeping everyone well-fed with their long days was easier when he knew what he had to work with. It was great practice for when he would have his own kitchen to run. Perhaps he would open an inn so travelers could find a safe night's rest as well as a good meal.

Farothel stretched as best he could with his hands on the reins. Had it not been for the wagoners cancelling their contract the day before it was supposed to start, he and Auros would be working on Dinmir's house rather than making deliveries with her. There was more work to be done than time for it, and if Aldawë didn't arrive soon, the repairs wouldn't be complete before the first snow.

The first of the three deliveries went by without a hitch: there and gone with little time for Farothel to so much as step down from the wagon for a proper stretch. The second, however, was a suit of clothes to a miserable sort of man. In the short time they were in his cloistered little yard surrounded by high hedges, he'd managed to skitter so close to the uttermost edge of Auros' forbearance that if he'd made one misstep it might've come to blows. Yet, as much as that man tried Auros' patience, he was smart enough to know there was one line not to cross, and so he escaped unscathed. For the moment.

"Don't ever accept work from that man again. At the least, never deliver to him again. Make him come all the way into town if he wants his clothes. I know when someone is sparring, and I know when someone is looking to draw blood. He came too close to the latter." Auros must've felt Dinmir's surprise and concern. "Metaphorically speaking, of course."

Farothel nodded. "He's the kind of man who doesn't collect debts, he collects debtors. And he never lets you forget it."

Out of the corner of his eye, Farothel saw a grim smile edge onto Auros' face. "And he doesn't much like it when he lacks an advantage. I'm glad you were paying attention."

"I can't let you have all the fun, now can I? What was his name again?"

"Taurant." The name fought its way through Auros' clenched teeth.

Dinmir retrieved her list from a pocket and jotted a note. "Maybe Thiliel knows more about him. I think I'll ask."

"You do that. In the meantime, we're here." Auros pointed to the house coming into view.

Cobblestones formed a path from the main road to the door of their final delivery and back again. It was a nice house; a little larger than some of the others, and older too, or at least the core of the house was. The age and style of the outer wings suggested to Farothel they were added during later renovations. Rose bushes lined the path nearest the veranda in tight formation, soldiers committed to hold the charging cobblestones at bay. The lawn and trees beyond made for a more welcoming climate than the flowers imprisoned in Taurant's garden. This house struck a truer balance on the wide scale between the overgrown, untamed wilderness and the over-meticulous subjugation of nature's beauty.

As the wagon came to a halt, Auros cast his cloak across the seat, leapt down and rested his shield-hand on his sword. He would meditate on the previous encounter until he'd determined that Taurant fellow couldn't cause any of his companions trouble; little could stop that. "Big Sister," on the other hand, was too stubborn to let unpleasant people keep her in a foul mood for too long, and she wasn't about to let such a person keep those she cared for in a foul mood either. Her smile was secured before hopping from the wagon.

"That's quite the pose you've struck! You couldn't do that at any of the other stops? Are you trying to impress a maiden or scare off potential rivals?" She fit quite a bit of teasing into her tone to accompany that smirk.

"It's getting a little warm." His tone was equally devoid of humor.

"Just don't challenge anyone to a duel or anything."

"Yeah, let her!" Farothel had more fun helping Dinmir be jovial than helping Auros be dour. Besides, the image of her flapping a dueling glove in people's faces was too funny to not grin at, even for Auros.

"Hah hah." When Dinmir gave him that false-angry squint over the grin she couldn't hide, Farothel knew she found it funny too.

Box in hand, Farothel was the last to step down from the wagon. Dinmir was first to the door. Three raps she gave it, and after a short pause a man came to answer.

"Greetings." Past Dinmir the man's gaze was drawn, first to the hand Auros had on his swordhilt, then to his eyes. Auros met the distrustful glare with his usual calm.

The man hadn't yet introduced himself and already Farothel expected either him or Auros to lunge at the other. He gripped the box. If that were all he wouldn't waste his concern, but the air had the feel a brawl, not a duel, and Dinmir was lodged in the triangle. Auros' first instinct would be to get her clear of any conflict. That meant it would fall to Farothel to strike, but there was no discreet way to shift the box so his sword would be easier to draw if necessary. Which was worse: using Dinmir's needlework as a bludgeon or a shield?

"Greetings. My name is Dinmir, the new tailor. I've come with a cloak to be delivered here upon completion. Would you be Laikendir?" Tension dissolved as Dinmir's introduction drew the man's focus.

"That would indeed be me. I wasn't aware the roads were so dangerous as to require armed escort, or I would have come to your shop personally and saved you the trepidation." He shot a glare at Farothel, a clear message to let him know he hadn't been overlooked. Fortunately for Farothel, he hadn't had any such illusion.

Auros' hand moved from his hilt to his baldric. "Not so dangerous with the proper training." His lingering agitation left him in no mood for a stranger's witticisms.

If the last few moments were anything for Farothel to go by, Laikendir was careful. He'd measured his opponents, found his position untenable, and switched battlefields from brawn to wit. Both Auros' hand on his baldric and Laikendir's shift in stratagem seemed to be a tacit agreement that neither intended for the encounter to come to blows. While that was a relief, everything Farothel knew of his cousin told him Auros had taken a particular dislike to the fellow. He'd seen that scowl before. Dinmir called it his "Big Brother glare." Did Auros think this man had taken an interest in Dinmir? They'd just met! As in, it'd been less than five minutes since the door opened! That kind of thing doesn't happen in less than five minutes!

Cordiality remained Dinmir's manner in the face of the adversaries clashing around her. Of course it was. Once words were exchanged she couldn't have missed it, but she had to make a good impression. "You'll have to excuse my companion. He's quite vigilant in his duty."

Vigilant. Yes, that was the word. "Vigilance" was on duty in Auros at that moment. Dinmir had to be cordial, but Auros just had to be Auros. Standing like a sentry a mere step away from Dinmir, he could be as gruff as he liked. Considering his charge, few would fault him.

The door opened wider as Laikendir drew himself up for a proper bow. "Well then, dear madam, we should most certainly give you at least a small respite from your travels, lest your companion weary his sword arm overquick on the next ruffian." Farothel had to suppress a chuckle. The man's delivery was as dry as any of Auros' best. "Please come in, all of you."

One by one they filtered past Laikendir into the foyer. "You can leave the box here for now, if you like." From there Laikendir led them through a hall into the sitting room. A breeze from an open window at the far end brought them the aroma of roast mutton prepared and waiting on a small table in the center. Any other time, Farothel's first thoughts would be of the chef's technique: how was it prepared? How was it seasoned? Was there anything new for him to learn? That all fell by the wayside as his gaze wandered past the table to the far end of the room.

It was a close call, but Farothel caught it just in time: his jaw dropping, that is. Rising from a cushioned seat against the far wall was a maiden. Raven-dark hair spilled over the shoulders of her white summer dress, and a white flower was graced to sit over her ear. Laikendir cleared the distance and escorted her to their guests.

"This is my cousin. The cloak is a gift for her. I had a friend commission it so the surprise wouldn't be spoiled before its delivery."

"Salutations! My name is Gelurien."

If Dinmir was "Cordial" and Auros was "Vigilant", Farothel was "Enamored": of that lovely smile Gelurien's lips had drawn up into as she welcomed them, of those delicate sky-blue eyes aimed in his direction. Their direction, not Farothel's only; but it was too late when he came to his senses. His foot had pulled him forward without any warning. What reason could he give? Introductions. Introductions needed to be made. "I am Farothel." As he brought Gelurien's hand to his lips he became very much aware how little in the last several years he'd had practice. "My cous— uh, companions are Dinmir and Auros." It was time he made more effort in that regard.

Laikendir led them to the table and slid a chair back for Dinmir. "Please, have a seat. I haven't always dwelt here, and the memory of being new is still fresh with me. We're about to have lunch, and would be honored for you and your cousins to join us. Perhaps afterward you'll be inclined to forgive my sense of humor, and then we'll see the cloak." As "Cousin" Dinmir took her seat, Farothel knew she would be grinning for days about that declaration of kinship. Auros said nothing and he didn't relax; not even as he eased onto one of the most comfortable cushions Farothel ever remembered having on a chair.

Dinmir and Gelurien spent much of lunch talking, and it seemed they were on their way to becoming friends. From what Farothel caught of their conversation, the house was once a generational residence. That explained the expansion. Laikendir found himself as its new owner when a granduncle, the last of his line, passed many years ago. How he died wasn't mentioned. Sometime after, Gelurien joined him so the house wouldn't feel so empty. It was her passion for gardening that gave the lawn its ambience. While they professed to prefer handling most things themselves, they'd hired a couple of hands to assist with some tasks of the household, like tending to the horses, so there was some bustling about for much of the day.

Auros and Laikendir spent the meal gauging each other, exercising all propriety and discretion while doing so, of course. Farothel was sure an entire conversation hid in the undercurrents of their words. He might've found it if he had the desire and patience to examine them. Laikendir had no spouse or children of his own. He'd directed what he probably considered his most charming smile at Dinmir as he mentioned that such a big house was best with a family to inhabit it, and regaled them with tales of his childhood tramping the grounds with various cousins. It was a rather bold move for a man who seemed so careful, especially with Auros sitting little more than an arm's length away. Perhaps his cousin wasn't far off the mark after all. Regardless, in the rest of their conversation Laikendir seemed to expect a response from Auros that never came, at least not so far as Farothel could tell. Keeping up with it was more difficult than he liked. Try as he might, all it took was a stray glance from Gelurien when Dinmir's attention was diverted and he lost his place.


Farothel blinked at Auros' voice. "I'm sorry, I missed what you were saying." A sip from his cup bought him a moment to think. "The beauty of our surroundings caught my attention. The pattern on this tablecloth is quite intricate, Master Laikendir."

"Thank you." Their host had a smile and a piercing glare that made Farothel feel crystalline. "My grandmother embroidered it herself. Her needlework has no equal; begging your pardon, dear madam."

Dinmir grinned over the politely considerable slice of blueberry pie she'd been granted. "I'm humble enough to acknowledge when I see quality work, Master Laikendir. I'd love to see more of her accomplishments."

"It's quite possible that can be arranged. She's been promising a visit. I would consider it an honor to make the introductions, if Gelurien doesn't have the opportunity before me. But Sir Farothel, I was inquiring as to your skill with a sword."

"You would be hard pressed to find his like among a hundred men." Auros dug into a chunk of apple pie nigh the rival of Dinmir's.

"I doubt you not, Sir Auros, but I'd hoped to hear this from his own lips. Come now, Sir Farothel. Have you no exploits of your own to share?"

Farothel studied his dessert as he thought, then met their host's gaze once more. "I think, Master Laikendir, that I have nothing I should consider worthy of boasting."

"Indeed." The smile perched on Laikendir widened. "Humility runs true in this family. No please, there was no offense intended, Sir Auros." He leaned towards Gelurien, cup in hand, and motioned to Auros and Farothel. "See, dear cousin, we have two distinct strategies set before us. On the one hand, Sir Auros is a true sportsman. He does not brag or gloat, and his bearing should be enough to deter any challenger; but if not he gives fair warning of his ability as if he were telling you that the bakery offers fresh bread in the morning. Therefore, what befalls if you choose to be his foe is on your own head. Sir Farothel, on the other hand, has a sense just as keen. His affable nature belies the speed at which he braces for combat, and his whole manner says he would rather everyone be about their own business; but woe to the man who gives him just cause to draw his blade! Which do you think proves more effective to ward off an opponent?"

"I'm sure I wouldn't know, Laikendir."

Laughter rolled up from Laikendir's belly. "Let not her demure response fool you, gentlemen. My cousin is no less dangerous for it."

Gelurien smirked at the beverage swirling in her cup. "Not all armaments are borne openly. Not all that is sharp can be worn at the waist."

Her repartee was another net cast around Farothel's heart. He grinned at her across the table. "But it gleams nonetheless. Wisdom would suggest one should be wariest of a foe on whom a weapon cannot be seen."

A flicker of amusement sparkled in Gelurien's eyes as her gaze rose to meet Farothel's. "One deserves what one gets when hubris is permitted to overrule sound judgement."

"One is at greatest risk of hubris when one assumes their opponent stands vulnerable for want of a sword."

Gelurien's lovely smile once again graced them with its presence. "Indeed."

Laikendir straightened in his chair. "Well said, Sir Farothel, well said. I, for one, would rather you not find yourselves opponents; unless it were, perhaps, in more sporting matters than the ones we discuss. Alas, I do believe now that lunch is over it's time to see the cloak. I dare not keep you from your duties overlong."

Dinmir pushed back from her empty plate with a nod. She was lucky she could eat such a meal and still have an appetite for that large piece of pie. "You've shown us great hospitality, but it is indeed time to turn now to the purpose of our visit. Farothel, help Gelurien with the cloak, would you?"

Finishing the last bite of his more moderately-sized slice, Farothel nodded and retrieved the box. From it he drew the cloak, dark as night and speckled with stars, bordered by a trim as white as fresh snow. He draped it about Gelurien's shoulders, and as she turned around for him to fasten the clasp their eyes met again.

Satisfaction trumpeted from Dinmir. "Just as I thought. It looks wonderful on you! Doesn't it, Farothel?"

"Breathtaking." Farothel's eyes darted around the room. He hadn't willed that word to come forth. Arandil would say it chose him. He needed to be more careful.

Escorted back to the door by Laikendir and Gelurien, Dinmir strolled to the wagon and Auros strode, and Farothel was the last standing upon the veranda. He thought for the briefest of moments he could breathe a sigh of relief, until a hand clapped him on the shoulder: Laikendir's hand. He leaned close to Farothel's ear.

"One must be able to defend oneself and one's allies, Sir Farothel, but there is also wisdom in knowing when not to engage. Should you find yourself making deliveries for the fair Madam Dinmir again, do stop by."

Farothel's heart skipped a beat. That smirk left no room for doubt. The man had seen right through him. He was as quick as Auros. Too quick. This whole thing was too quick. Falling for someone at first sight? How absurd. What would Auros think if he knew?

If Auros knew? Laikendir knew by the end of the meal, so Auros must've seen it the moment Farothel put his foot forward. Dinmir would've seen it when he put the cloak about Gelurien's shoulders. Auros would insist he call upon Gelurien at once. Dinmir would be giving him advice to no end. No, this was all too fast and all ill-timed. He was in this town only to help Dinmir get settled. Though this visit would be much longer than originally intended, he would have to leave eventually, and who knew when he would return?

Bah, there was nothing for Auros and Dinmir to know. Farothel would gather his thoughts, and he would come to his senses just as soon as he was clear of this house, away from Gelurien's bright, entrancing eyes as she watched him climb into the back of the wagon. Auros had traded driving duty with him.

The wagon rumbled down the road, and Auros said nothing about it. Dinmir said nothing either. They were too busy discussing the visit. Could it have escaped their notice?

"What were you about with all that?" A scowl brewed on Dinmir's brow as she glared at Auros.

"Didn't you find it odd how he had places set and a meal prepared large enough for five people? And the 'coincidence' of dessert? Tell me it wasn't lost on you."

"Now that you mention it, yes, I did. Why didn't you demand we leave then?"

"Gelurien—" Farothel clamped his mouth shut. He regretted opening it as soon as the name was out.

Auros nodded. "Yes, actually. She was why. After he invited us in he was bound by the duties of a host. I was still cautious, but I figured we were safer accepting his hospitality than rejecting it. Even then once I saw the table I might've suggested we make some hasty excuse. Then he introduced his cousin. Something changed in his demeanor. I couldn't figure out why, but I'm certain whatever his initial intentions were, she wasn't involved, and he wasn't going to make a move in front of her. Not overtly, anyway."

Laikendir's demeanor had changed. The more Farothel thought about it, the more he realized it was true. Their host had blamed it on his "sense of humor," but it hadn't felt like a satisfactory explanation even at the time. Had the man caught on to him that soon? And if so, why did it seem Auros and Dinmir hadn't? Bah, he'd missed part of their conversation while he was distracted by such questions.

"Yes. I thought I kept it quite civil, all things considered." Auros had returned to the cold tone from before Laikendir's door opened.

"He never did mention what he does, did he?" Farothel winced. Was he trying to draw attention to himself?

"You noticed, did you? Perhaps Dinmir was too busy talking to his cousin to pick up on it, or she might've noticed too."

"I'm sorry I missed it. While you were busy giving Laikendir your Big Brother glare I was getting to know one of the folks in my new town. You do know it's going to take more than a flashy smile to win me over, right?" That smirk on Dinmir's face. Farothel wasn't the only one with suspicions for the cause of Auros' distrust of Laikendir.

Auros snapped the reins. "I know men like that have a knack for appearing charming."

"Not like you." The smirk was as much a part of her tone as it was a look on her face. Farothel didn't have to see it to know it was there, and neither did Auros.

"I make no pretense about who I am. He may not be an enemy, but I would be wary all the same."

"Hmm. Well, I doubt it's something I'll have to worry about soon. I'm not going to let concern over it dictate my plans, but I'll keep it in mind."

"That's all I ask."

At last it was clear: Auros was so focused on assessing threats posed by both Laikendir and Taurant that anything short of a proposal would've escaped his notice. Why Dinmir didn't catch on, however, was still a mystery. At that moment she was occupied arguing with Auros, and if it distracted from noticing other, more inconvenient things, that was just as well.

Farothel put his arms around their shoulders. "In the meantime, we have work to do!"