Cough … “Grandmother?” Helyanwë called out as she walked further into the studio, waving her hands in front of her face to help clear the clouds of stone dust from her vicinity. She coughed again and then called, “Grandmother, are you in here?”
“Oh, child! I'm so sorry.” A dampened face cloth was pushed into her hands and a strong arm against her back took over, steering her through the dust and into the garden. “I'm busy roughing out the contours of my latest and I guess I got a bit carried away with the saws, rasps and riffle files.”
While she was talking Nerdanel's hands were busily smoothing down the fabric of the younger woman's dress, wiping and dusting off the bodice. She then grabbed the skirt and shook it firmly. A cloud of dust rose from the dress causing both women to quickly dash into the clean air closer to the flower beds. “What can I help you with, 'Yanwë? Are you bored in the forge with your grandfather and uncles out with the King on the annual family hunt?”
“Yes … no … well, not really. But I thought we might do something together. Remember last year we had discussed going out on our own while we were 'abandoned' by the rest of the family? I think we should do it.”
A gleam entered the sculptor's eyes and a sassy smile appeared on her lips. “You know? I think that’s an excellent idea. We can track as effectively as they can and we can handle a bow and a blade and make a welcoming campsite just as well as they can and probably even better. Let's go into the house, have a cup of tea, and discuss the details.”
“I brought a list of what I thought we might need, and tea sounds welcome, but must we pass through the fog of stone again to get to the kitchen?”
Nerdanel chuckled. “No, my dear, the side door is unlocked. Let's just go through the west gate and the kitchen herb garden.” She turned away and led the way into the comfortable kitchen. Shortly afterward the two women were seated at one end of the large trestle table, tea and bread in front of them and their heads together as they discussed additions to the supply list. A map was spread out nearby with sugar and jam containers keeping two of the curling corners under control, a couple of knives weighing down the others.
“Do you know where they were going to be hunting this year?” Helyanwë asked as she stood up to take a closer look at the map.
“Yes, they were going northwest towards Formenos. Apparently there is a boar in the forest that is threatening the local settlers when they go into the forest to harvest their wood and their plants. Two elves have been badly gored and many more have been chased back into town. Finwë decided it would be good sport to capture and kill the boar, and it would also help keep relationships between the crown and the towns of the north companionable.”
“So if we go south, we can avoid meeting any of the family, and if we dress carefully, anyone we do meet probably won’t recognize us. We could go as unknown adventurers without titles for a few days.”
Nerdanel nodded and snapped her fingers. “There are older tunics and leggings with various holes or that have been outgrown by one child or another in chests in the storage rooms, and there is plain traveling tack in the stable. We will have to tell the groomsman that we are going on a journey so that he doesn't raise the alarm when we are gone for several six-days. What story shall we wind for him?”
“Let's say that we have taken it into our heads to visit my mother in Alqualondë. I haven't been home for quite a while and you owe her a visit. It wouldn't be out of character to plan such a journey while we are here alone.”
“Excellent. Now, what shall we do on our trip into the wild?”
“One of my customers mentioned a white wolf has been seen in this area.” Helyanwë put her forefinger on the map and circled a small area near the lower slopes of Taniquetil. “Although the villages are small and scattered many pilgrims on the roadways seeking to petition Lord Manwë and Lady Varda pass near there and could possibly be endangered by the beast.”
“Perfect! If we can track him we can use our bows initially, only relying on our blades at the very last. We may not be as strong as other hunters but arrows can make up for strength if they are accurately aimed.”
The two women rolled up the map and returned it to its case and finished their tea. After the kitchen was clean again they went to the storerooms to look through the chests for appropriate clothing. Bedrolls, cloaks, and foodstuffs were gathered together and packed and weapons were sharpened and repaired. Within two minglings of the Trees the two females of the House of Fëanáro were mounted on their horses waving good-bye to the small household staff as they headed east on the road towards Alqualondë.
They each rode their favorite mare and a packhorse followed on a lead behind them. They were dressed in serviceable gowns that were appropriate for riding, but had prevailed upon the stable master for the least ornate horse tack. The tunics and leggings they were going to wear for most of their journey were hidden, wrapped up inside the bedrolls. They planned to change clothing as soon as they could after they had turned off the main roadway.
Once they were out of sight of the household staff they continued heading east for another few miles, then veered south, leaving the packed dirt surface behind them and entering a game path through slim trees that marked the beginning of a deep forest.
That night found them sitting comfortably at a small fire. A spit holding the bodies of two hares was being turned slowly over the flames by Helyanwë while greens that Nerdanel had gathered were baking in a small stone oven she had constructed at the side of the campfire. The horses were grazing contentedly and a clear, cold stream gurgled nearby.
"Which trail shall we follow?" asked the sculptor.
Helyanwë stood up, leaving the spit for a moment. "We need to track down where this beast was last seen. Let's head southwest towards Taniquetil and begin asking women about rumors or sightings as we pass through the settlements. It is harvest season so we might have to help harvest the crops before they will have time to talk with us."
"That won't be a problem, I lift stone and handle heavy and rough tools every day," Nerdanel replied. She pulled two trenchers from the supply pack, sprinkled herbs into each, and opened the oven to add the baked greens to each platter. Turning to the spit she pushed one cooked hare onto each plate, handing one trencher to Helyanwë as she asked, "Do you think helping the villagers in trade for information will be difficult for you?"
“Oh no. I work hard forming and pounding metal at my forge. Sweeping a scythe to harvest grain will just be using a different set of muscles.”
The two of them tore into the dinner. “Mmmm. Why is it that food in the wild always tastes so much better than what we prepare in the kitchen?” Helyanwë asked, not really expecting an answer.
Nerdanel laughed as she scooped up the greens with a piece of flatbread from their stores. “It's the tang of different air, my dear. It seasons everything with a spice unmatched by the enclosures of walls and roofs.”
The two women smiled at each other and finished eating. After cleaning up and burying the bones they set up a watch schedule and the sculptor, who had won second shift with the die roll, wrapped herself up in her bedroll and went to sleep while her granddaughter stood guard.
Over the next few days both women had the opportunity to test their stamina and muscles, each night falling into their bedrolls feeling new aches and pains. But as they spoke to the women they met in the small villages and settlements, they learned more about their quarry.
“The wolf is white like the snows that lie at the top of Lord Manwë's mountain.”
“He stalks silently. He is very cunning. He was in this area a year ago, but we haven’t seen him for many minglings now. I heard he moved south.”
“He is big. I saw him stretched out sleeping in a clearing one day. I ran and brought back the others to kill him but he had moved on. I paced off the marks he left in the dirt and was startled by his size. His body is easily as large as that of a fully-grown elf.”
* * *
The two hunters were closing in on the wolf's current hunting area. The accounts of his whereabouts seemed to center around one village called Taurelos. While cooking their evening meal of baked guinea hens and tubers they discussed their strategy.
“We’ll be arriving in Taurelos tomorrow mid-mingling. The paw prints we found earlier today lead towards the settlement. We're getting to the end of our quest,” Helyanwë said. She reached over to push the log farther into the small, contained fire. A howl sounded eerily echoing over the trees and hillocks in the distant dim light. The two women froze, listening for an answering sound, but there was none and silence fell over the trees as Telperion’s light reached its zenith.
“We’ll have to be very cautious now. We must always have our weapons within easy reach and our bows should be partially strung.” Nerdanel looked around their small clearing carefully, returning her attention to their meal after pulling her weapons within easy reach.
“I agree, Grandmother. I’m going to check the horses and make sure they are comfortable and ready for tomorrow's hunt.”
“Take your blade with you, 'Yanwë.” The young smith got to her feet and put on her sword belt, making sure that the blade was loose and hanging correctly for her to grab quickly. She walked towards the three grazing horses while her grandmother began digging a hole for the small amount of dinner debris that they would bury later.
A low growl came from the forest’s edge between the two women. Looking up, Nerdanel froze as the white wolf leaped towards her, landing onto the ground in front of her.
“Grandmother!” she heard Helyanwë exclaim, and a moment later the young smith whistled sharply. Nerdanel risked a quick glance and saw that the younger woman had her sword drawn and was advancing towards the wolf who was still growling menacingly at her from the other side of the fire. A second whistle sounded and the wolf turned around and began stalking towards the other woman.
As soon as the wolf had turned his back on her Nerdanel reached out and gripped her sword, standing slowly. The two women were now armed with the wolf standing threateningly between them. It was time to act.
Nerdanel stepped forward coming up to the hindquarters of the wolf which was focused away from her. Raising her sword in a two-handed grip she brought the blade down upon his rear with all of her strength, the blow cutting deeply into the wolf's left hip. It turned immediately towards her with a snarl of pain, almost pulling her sword from her hands.
As the wolf readied itself to spring towards Nerdanel, Helyanwë struck another blow at its hindquarters, cutting deeply into the bone of its right back leg. At the same time Nerdanel brought her sword across the wolf's head, cutting it across its forehead and down its jaw.
The wolf was now bleeding and partially crippled, yet it was still dangerous. In fact it was even more dangerous than just a few moments earlier because its caution had disappeared, overcome by its pain and fear. Although its right back leg was hanging uselessly, he still coiled and sprang at Nerdanel.
“Grandmother!” Helyanwë screamed as she leaped forward towards the wolf. It had knocked Nerdanel to the ground in front of it. Its open jaw was aimed at the woman's arm which she had thrown up defensively in front of her body as a barrier. As the younger woman pierced the wolf's side with her sword, Nerdanel grabbed her belt knife and pushed upward with the blade, thrusting through the wolf's lower jaw and into its brain. Terror fueled the women's speed and strength as each of them twisted their blades while they withdrew them in preparation for another stroke. But the great wolf shivered and whined once before falling lifeless upon the body of the sculptor.
“Grandmother! Are you all right? Grandmother, talk to me. Are you all right?”
“Get this beast off of me,” sounded a muted voice from below the bloody body. “Pull, girl. Get it off. It's heavy and it's bleeding all over me. We'll attract every predator in the valley and my horse won't want to bear me if I smell like wolf.”
Working together the two women finally pulled the large, heavy body off Nerdanel. With a final pull the body rolled free and Helyanwë fell down onto the ground as the carcass shifted into its final position next to her grandmother. She looked over at Nerdanel and started laughing softly, getting louder while she shook her head. “What a pair we are. You are covered in blood and white hair with wolf slobber down the front of your tunic and I'm butt down in the dirt, covered with blood and hair up to my elbows. What a mess!”
“I can't believe that we managed to do what elves in the surrounding area have been unable to do for the past two years. It might have been dumb luck, but it's dead and we're alive and relatively unharmed,” the sculptor responded.
Nerdanel shook her head and slowly looked down her ruined tunic. She turned her eyes towards her granddaughter and the fire, noting that both of them were the worse for wear. “Well, I think dinner might be a loss tonight, but let's go to the stream and get cleaned up. I think I want the wolf’s tail for a remembrance in my studio, but the rest of it can feed the creatures who feast on carrion. We'll set up a different campsite after we clean up.”
“That sounds good to me. Why don't you head for the stream and I'll cut off the tail for you. I’ll join you after I make sure that the horses are calmed down and still in the area.”
A short time later they met at the small, swift stream and washed up, tickling a few small fish from the rushing water for dinner to make up for the destroyed guinea hens which were now strewn below the carcass of the wolf. Clean tunics and hose, washed bodies and hair, and a new fire and campsite across the narrow valley from the battle scene made both women feel much better. As they pulled the sweet flesh from the fish bones Nerdanel looked over at her granddaughter.
“What are you thinking about, Grandmother? That smile on your face almost always means mischief.”
“Aside from the fact that we managed to succeed at a task that has eluded the elves of the area for more than two years, a fact that I'm very proud of by the way, I also have this simply marvelous bushy tail to take back with me. I think it will work well as a duster in my studio, don't you?”
Helyanwë giggled. “I wonder how long it will take until someone notices your new tool?”
“Knowing the rest of the household; maybe never. They do tend to be a bit single-minded most of the time.”
The two laughed companionably as they settled down to grab a few hours of sleep before retracing their journey back to the family compound.
* * *
Several Six-Days Later...
Fëanáro entered his wife’s studio, fanning his hands to clear the airborne dust a little.
“Welcome home, my dear,” Nerdanel called out as she climbed down her ladder, duster in her hand. Reaching the ground she placed the furry length onto the statue’s base and walked towards him. The two elves drew each other into a passionate embrace followed by a deep kiss that left both of them breathless when they broke apart.
Nerdanel walked to the side bench and removed the cover from a pitcher of watered wine. Pouring two goblets, she picked them up and offered one to her husband. “How was the boar hunt?”
“Not too bad, Father got his boar and has the tusks to prove it and the closest village had a nice feast from the carcass. The hardest part was spending such a long time in nothing but the company of males. Do you realize what crybabies your sons can be when the weather is anything other than perfect?”
She laughed. “My sons? It seems to me you had an equal opportunity to raise them to be tough, strong, and uncomplaining.” She turned back to her statue and looked at it for a moment, then turned back to her husband. “But at least your Father got his prey. Maybe now he'll be silent about hunting for a while.”
“No, he's actually a bit upset.”
“Yes. It seems that while he was busy hunting the boar, someone else killed the white wolf that had been terrorizing the south for the last two turnings.”
“Why would the slaying of a threat be something that would upset him so?”
“Apparently hunting the white wolf was what he had planned for next year's hunt. Now he has to find a different quarry for next summer. Also, no one seems to know who actually killed the wolf, although it didn’t die of natural causes. The reports are that it was killed by at least one sword, maybe more. He wants to at least thank those elves for their service.” Fëanáro’s voice dropped into a whisper and he pulled his wife close to him. “I think he is hoping that it took an entire village of elves to kill the beast. Good publicity, you know?”
Nerdanel giggled as his mouth found hers once again. Releasing her lips, his mouth moved to her ear and he whispered “Do you have any plans for after dinner?”
“Only one item on my agenda; meeting with the most attractive elf in Valinor for some bedroom exercise.”
“Hmmmmm,” he hummed. Releasing her he turned and walked to the studio doorway. He stopped at the entry, looked back at her and winked. “By the way, I love your new duster.” The door slowly closed behind him. She stood immobile for a moment before she started laughing, her merry sounds following him as he walked towards the main house.