Narn I Auros

Until It's Gone

Second Age 3223, Mid-Lairë, Imladris

by Eönwë-(Valar)
March 9th, 2024

She was gone. All was folly. All was squandered. Every opportunity. Every moment. Wasted. Lost. Never to return.

Arandil slammed the last nail into the shelf. It was finished, ahead of schedule. His client would be happy. They all would be. He was days, maybe weeks ahead on his orders. Ahead? He'd finished them all. He had nothing left to do. Nothing left to keep his mind off his defeat. Shelves, tables, chests. Auros made the hinges for those. Why didn't he listen to Auros? Auros tried, he really did. Arandil knew what his friend had been doing, even after he'd sworn Auros to secrecy; made him swear before he knew what he was swearing. There was always tomorrow. When tomorrow came, there was next week. It had to be perfect. It had to be right. But "right" never came. "Perfect" never came. Now she was gone.

What betrayal Auros must've felt at the end, holding to his word, still working to bring them together within the confines of that vow, seeing nothing come of either; but after losing every day while she was there, every failure to say the words, Arandil couldn't ask her to stay. Which of his failures was worse? Which was the greater betrayal?

Another candle melted. Another candle lit. Rows of his labors filled the space once occupied by unshaped lumber. Arandil opened the window and blinked. Afternoon already. How long had he been working? A knock at his door. Who could that be?

"A moment, if you will!" Papers were shoved off his desk into a drawer, dust blown off a book of his plans as it was closed. He wanted to build her a house. He would've built her a castle, if she had but asked. Maikalkar could fashion the walls; Auros the gate. He would dig a moat, and in front of it all would stand a shop for her as splendid as the castle itself. Bah. He thrust the book onto one of his shelves and lit another candle. He wasn't just a carpenter; he was also an architect. One more in a long list of masteries: carpenter, architect, shipwright, engraver, bowyer, fletcher, hunter, notary, and a number of other little flecks of competence he'd picked up along the way. There was always a new talent to achieve, a new skill to learn. To prove his worth. To show her. To show him. If he'd declared his love and was found wanting, that might've cost him a friend; but if Arandil could've proven himself, his friend wouldn't have objected, would he? Every new skill, every mastery should've taken him closer to his goal, closer to her. Every one of them left him further away than the last, until he'd lost sight of victory altogether. What would've been enough? What was he missing?

The knocking came again. "Another moment, please!" He splashed water on his face. Whoever it was didn't need to see him weary. They didn't need to see him in bad humor. Seriousness was tiring, at least of the kind he'd tried to wear while she was still there. It wasn't him, but he wanted to show he was dependable, reliable, more than some tomfool. More than a litany of jokes. Try as he might, he couldn't maintain the facade when he was with her. With her nearby, he felt a joy his jokes and antics could never hope to match. If they could ever provide others even a shadow of that joy, then he would consider them a success. That was the pleasant thought that helped him secure the grin on his face. Clinging to it he opened the door.

"Good day! Aldawë? I wasn't expecting you today. Didn't we agree on—" Arandil's eyes lighted upon two baskets sitting on his doorstep. So that was knocking he'd heard after all. His hammering and sawing had all but drowned it out. To think he'd settled for some dried meat he stashed for busy nights. "I suppose it is today after all. My apologies, I've been very busy for my clients. Please come on in." He'd forgotten to take the pile of books from his extra chair. "Would you like something to drink? Eat? I'm sure one of these baskets is much too full and there's got to be something still edible in them knowing... well, I suppose I'm not really sure who left these." Auros and Farothel were helping Dinmir get settled in her new town. Aldawë was supposed to join them soon. Perhaps it was Maikalkar; good old Telwë, always looking out for him.

"The second one has a bottle of a vintage that's excellent for difficult discussions. Let's go with that."

"Ever the vintner. Second basket it is! Looks like the bread's not stale yet. Maybe there's a small wheel of cheese in here too. There it is! I've no fancy glasses here, so I hope you don't mind a mug. I fashioned it myself." Arandil washed two mugs and set them on his desk while he fumbled around for a corkscrew. Aldawë put on a wry smirk, produced one from his pocket, and filled the mugs.

"So." Aldawë leaned back in his chair, swirling his wine around. "You've been hard at work." The workshop full of furniture must've given it away. From the look of it, he hadn't slept much more than Arandil.

"Aye." The sloshing mug forced hunger and thirst to the forefront of Arandil's mind. A gulp was in his mouth before he remembered what he was drinking; before he realized his friend had yet to put the wine to his own lips. After the effort to force that gulp down, he set the mug on his desk. So much for cutting open the cheese wheel. His hand withdrew from the small knife in his shirt pocket. "I needed some time off, but I couldn't disappoint my clients, so I pushed to get it all done. Don't worry. As you know I put my all into everything I do. I may have been fast, but it's still quality work. If you dropped a boulder on that shelf over there, your biggest concern would be making a boulder match the rest of your decor... or why you had a boulder in your house in the first place, I suppose. Regardless, now that I'm done, I don't think I'll take any more orders for a while. I'll have a fair bit of coins in my pocket, so I can afford a little respite."

"Hmm." He didn't take his eyes from the swirling wine.

Arandil grew uneasy in the silence. Aldawë sitting there, mute, somber, choosing his words: it wasn't what he was used to. Aldawë didn't have to choose his words. Words chose him. Words leapt at the chance to be spoken by Aldawë. That he chose to discern from among them was more telling than a thousand books. "Aldawë..." It was a vain attempt. What could Arandil say? What was there to say?

Thoughts took shape, words joined, and Aldawë's voice was heard, but it faded and withdrew the longer he spoke. "I find myself in a conundrum. I've noticed a burden weighing down those whom I care for. Had I been more vigilant, I might have lessened this burden before it grew too heavy. Now, I fear I must continue to be blind. I have no one to read this riddle for me." He seemed to be speaking to himself, or the mug, rather than Arandil.

"My friend—"

Little more than a mumble escaped from Aldawë. Of all that rolled out Arandil thought he heard, "I must do what I can." His focus lifted from the mug. Whatever Aldawë had been mumbling to himself about, decision had concentrated his gaze, and that intensity was aimed at Arandil. "Dinmir needs help. The wagoners who were supposed to aid her for the next few months have rescinded their contract. I don't know the details, but I know my sister is in dire straits. You wouldn't turn your back on her, would you?"

"Of-of course not."

"She needs your help. We need your help. Auros and Farothel are doing their best, but they won't be enough. Even with me there it'll be a trial. We need another pair of hands. Someone we can count on."

"I'll be ready by tomorrow morning."

"You're a good man, and a good friend. I've never doubted either for a moment. I hope I've never given you cause to believe otherwise." Aldawë rose from his chair. "This will be your chance."

"...My chance?"

The intensity subsided. It wasn't until Aldawë's familiar grin eased into place that Arandil realized that was the first time since he'd opened the door that his friend had worn it. "To see the house Dinmir purchased. You have all of the requisite skills and I need you to assure me it's not going to collapse on her head." He set down his mug, the contents untouched. "If during this visit you can promise me she'll be safe and happy, then I will be content. If you cannot... well, we'll cross that bridge if we get there." He stopped at the door, waving a stack of papers in his hand. "I'll let your clients know they need to come today to pick up their orders."

My chance... He clenched his teeth, glaring at where Aldawë stood moments before. If after all this time I haven't proven my worth, nothing I do ever will. All at once it was gone: the doubt, the frustration, the apprehension, the pressure. Everything that held him back while Dinmir was there. Only two things mattered, two thoughts that resonated in his mind: he'd proven himself many times over, and Dinmir loved him. Had loved him. It might still be too late, but for different reasons. He felt something new, something old, something he hadn't felt in a while. Even as determination furrowed his brow, he felt lighter, freer, unencumbered. He would go, and he would do all he could for Dinmir. She was Aldawë's sister. If he had no other reason to go to her aid that would be enough. That had to come first; but once that task was done, if she still had any love in her heart for him he wouldn't squander this chance. If she felt nothing for him, or worse, if that love had turned to scorn and contempt, he could do naught but hold her blameless. Then they would both be free.

So little time was left to prepare, and there was so much to be done. A bath and a fresh change of clothes would do him some good, as would a meal if he could fit both in before his clients trickled in to pick up their orders. A list of preparations and provisions accumulated in his mind as he scanned his shop. On top of it all he needed to find his pack. There it was, wedged between his tool bench and the new dartboard he'd shaped. It was easy to miss. For a moment or two he hefted the circle, contemplating the plain, unpainted wood, then cast it at the wall where it belonged. If the board catching on its hook didn't count as a bullseye, nothing did. A grin broke the somber countenance he'd borne for too long. He would see this through to the end, whether that was bitter or sweet.