Sigilidh’s head slammed into the ground and the jolt knocked the breath from her. She had not even considered rising again when a cold length of metal on her throat held her immobile, a knee landed hard on her chest and a hand unclasped the necklace hanging askew outside her chainmail.
The pressure faded and the same hand was offered to her to help her up. “Dead,” said Tauriel with a flick of her hair. Already there were three necklaces wrapped around her wrist and a ring on her finger, and she strung up Sigilidh’s with them. Only the crooked grin when she had divested the other guards of their valuables was absent this time. Sigilidh braced herself for a tongue-lashing instead, and not to see her necklace again for a very long time - until they had proven themselves to Tauriel, none of the soldiers could expect theirs back, and Sigilidh could not say what she might do to sway the Captain.
“Weak,” said Tauriel. “Very weak. I will have to reconsider your assignment, if I let you into the field at all.”
“You ambushed me! -- Captain,” Sigilidh retorted, rubbing her throat where the blunt back of Tauriel’s knife had pressed down against her windpipe. “A fair fight and I’d beat you.”
“A fair fight and you’ll be orc-fodder the moment you set a foot outside any guard post north, south or west! It’s the south that needs reinforcements the most, and you know what that means,” Tauriel snapped. Already she had turned her back and was marching toward the beginning position of the training area, but she tensed, paused mid-step and swung back around. “Fair fighting is for new recruits to learn the motions and gain confidence, not for soldiers training for deployment. Next!”
Mercifully, no one laughed, but even so Sigilidh's cheeks were burning when she slunk up into the grandstand surrounding the small arena, a natural dell near the palace. The next soldier - Sigilidh did not know her name, but had dubbed her Mouse because of the large dark eyes and the perpetually startled look on her face - squeezed past her on her way downward, and patted her arm before she crouched into the underbrush, a hand already on her knife hilt. The dappled summer-greens of the coat she wore above her plate armour were the exact shades of the forest, and even from above Sigilidh found it hard for her eyes to follow, she blended in so well. She was excellent at stealth and barely rustled the carpet of leaves when she flitted from position to position, at last coming up behind Tauriel, tensing to spring.
When she did, Tauriel whirled and dragged the knife down the front of Mouse’s armour with a horrid screech of metal upon metal.
“Dead,” she proclaimed. The crooked grin was back, half feral and half delighted. “That was well-done; you almost had me. Still, dead.”
Mouse meekly unclasped an armband of pearls she wore, and handed it over.
* * *
“It’s Lórilind… but if you’d rather keep calling me Mouse - that is fine. I like it. It seems like it fits.” Mouse smiled. “And don’t take getting beaten so hard. Captain Tauriel doesn’t mean it.” She took a long draught of the mead she and Sigilidh were sharing, sitting cross-legged on the floor of Mouse’s talan after the training. It was good to talk to somebody who had no true stake in Sigilidh’s life, and Mouse seemed warm and amicable.
“It’s not the beating that I care about, or losing my mother's necklace - it’s the way she humiliated me in front of others that hurts me. I was no worse than some of the others. Worse than you, certainly, but so were most others.”
Mouse’s eyes widened over the cup of mead. “She cares for you, walnut.”
Against herself, Sigilidh barked out a laugh, then paused. “What did you just call me?”
“A walnut, walnut. But still -” In the half-light below the treetops where Mouse lived, Sigilidh wasn’t sure whether she was flushing, at any rate her movements had become hectic and flustered suddenly; she tipped over the cup but caught it before a drop spilled onto the floorboards.
Sigilidh whistled through her teeth. “I’d like reflexes like that. Maybe I’d come up better against her next time, and she’d actually let me go out.”
“Did she really take you off the roster?”
Sigilidh grimaced. “I’m guarding Gollum for the next month, and I have training with Ivrinen, then she’ll re-assess whether I am fit to go into the forest itself.” Sigilidh thumped a fist against the floorboard. “I don’t understand what goes on in her head!”
“You really are a walnut, aren’t you? You’re not so very lacking that you couldn’t go out or that you aren’t ready, and if Daerroval was not making up one of her stories, then it was the Dúnadan Ranger who brought in that Gollum, and the Wizard spent a long time interrogating him - he isn’t an unimportant prisoner if that is true, not someone to be left in the care of incapable guards. Which can only mean that she doesn’t want you to go out, to keep you close! Even if Ivrinen lauds you into the sky, she may not let you. I may not know your history, but that you have one is obvious.”
“Walnut,” muttered Sigilidh. It was by far the most preferable train of thought to follow. “How did you even think of that?”
“It just so happens that I like walnuts,” answered Mouse. “And if you continue evading, we’re never getting anywhere.”
“I did not know there was any place to get.” Sigilidh crossed her arms and looked down at Mouse, who, with an exasperated huff, let herself fall onto her back and flung an arm over her face. “You. And the Captain. Neither of you are very good at this.”
“... at what? Why did you even ask me to come with you?”
“At friendships - relationships. Whichever you prefer. And I invited you here to talk - a Man by night could see that you were taking her reproach harder than you ought, and she made it harder than it ought be. How was it that you got to know one another?”
“We… do not know each other. Not truly. Our parents did, so we were made to spend time together as children, but when we grew up we also grew apart, especially after her parents were killed on duty. I had nothing to do with her until after the Battle of Five Armies, when she wound up before my door.” Sigilidh paused, and did not elaborate on what had followed, and Mouse remained stretched out on her back, but a blink of dark eyes from beneath her sleeve was following Sigilidh’s every move, apparently waiting for her to continue.
“My parents died in it,” Sigilidh said at last. “Tauriel was the one who brought the news. She stayed with me for a while afterward.”
Mouse whistled through her teeth, long and low. “There is your reason,” she said. “She feels responsible for their deaths and wants to do right by you. Protect you.”
“But why me? And why now? It was a long list of casualties, and a long time since then, and I have seen them again more than once - I am at peace with that,” she said, but all the same remembering how tired Tauriel had been, and how desperate for a show of comfort, even while she rebuffed Sigilidh’s offer to stay in her bed for the night after they had taken comfort with each other, instead sleeping wrapped in blankets on the floor, and shouting herself awake halfway to morning.
Mouse sighed. “Not even eighty years. That is not so long for a wound of that sort to heal, if what they say about her is true. And with the darkness rising again, are you surprised that she worries now, not while we had peace?”
“Her priorities are strange,” answered Sigilidh, sighing even while heat flooded her cheeks. “She ought to think about protecting the realm, not protecting individuals, other than the King and Queen.”
Mouse sat up. “What makes you think that this is a contradiction? Without us, the realm itself is void. Without subjects, what makes the King and Queen just that? And besides, that is not the point of caring. That is not always logical.”
Sigilidh blinked. “The King and Queen? Their birth, for one thing, and I am not here to argue theories of the realm.”
Mouse raised both hands; her eyes were wide. “That is fine, what would you like to talk about instead?” Sigilidh hid a smile. Mouse, whom she had first noted for her evasive maneuvers, seemed to prefer that tactic in conversation as well, even when she reproached others for doing the same.
“I’d still like to know why Tauriel is acting like she has to protect me personally.”
Mouse tried conceal her grin, badly so, as though she had divined something from the twists and turns of the conversation. She took another sip of the mead while Sigilidh was beginning to feel anxious, a jittery feeling starting low in her stomach considering the only obvious response - and sure enough, Mouse gave it:
“That you should ask her, although you might try to appear a little less lovestruck, or even the Captain might notice, even oblivious as she is. Or perhaps that is it - you are in love with one another and neither wants to admit it.”
Sigilidh coughed. Not giving an answer was as much of an impasse as outright denial would be. She climbed to her feet, careful not to tangle her hair in the low-hanging bundles of healing herbs that Mouse had strung along the branches to dry.
“I let go of that a long time ago when it became clear that there was no hope for it.” If Sigilidh’s statement came out clipped, Mouse thought better of it than to comment on it.
“Hearts may change,” Mouse said simply. Her words neither meant to tease or joke, now, and there was an inscrutable look in her dark eyes. What history hid behind her words Sigilidh did not ask, and resolved not to do so unless Mouse volunteered to talk about it. There was no ring on her hand, nor did she wear any of the ornaments - braids or marked skin or particular patterns embroidered into her clothes - that many of the different Silvan or Avarin groups of Mirkwood employed to signify a bond, but neither must mean anything, Sigilidh thought.
“Well?” Mouse asked. “Are you going to speak to her?”
“Not for now; I am going to adhere to her orders. Challenging her may do more harm than good if I ever mean to go into true duty. When are you leaving south?”
“Tomorrow night,” Mouse answered. “Although the Captain will return here once she finds everything in order at Echad Thonion, so perhaps next rotation will see you down there. We may have some time together, if that is a comfort at all. They say that there are servants of Mordor holding Dol Guldur again, and I would rather not meet them.”
Sigilidh glanced at the sky, clear and cloudless between the branches, and although the hour was drawing toward evening, still light. “It is summer,” she tried to encourage. “Light evenings, brief nights, fewer chances for them to move against you, if they do at all.”
“There is a new moon coming,” Mouse said. “The nights will be dark, even though they are short - but I will not be alone, that is some comfort at least.”
Sigilidh nudged the cup of mead toward Mouse in a gesture of consolation. If it had not come with such a humiliation, Sigilidh would not strictly have minded remaining in the vicinity of the palace rather than the long track south almost to the Mountains of Mirkwood, where the forest turned dark and inhospitable, and the shadow of the hand of Dol Guldur grew darker, although that lay many leagues further south yet. But without guards, more than merely its spies would soon plague Thranduil’s realm, and she, like Mouse, wanted to do her part in protecting it.
Mouse murmured her thanks, and drank.
* * *
Outside the bounds of the palace guard to the south-west, there was a large, solitary beech in the forest. It stood in a clearing all of its own and had been struck by lightning in a thunderstorm years ago, but not not felled, and only part of it still thrived, later than other trees, so that on the evening before midsummer’s day the part of it that continued to thrive still only bore the light green leaves of spring.
To that tree they took Gollum to climb on days that were overcast or threatening rain - fair weather by his standard - so that he did not need to face the sun he hated. He perched, a thin, frog-like shape on the highest bare branch, outlined dark against the cloudy sky toward nightfall. Coming into the clearing with the rest of the nightwatch group, Sigilidh groaned. She had only been on guard duty for a week after the conversation with Mouse, but already she had become familiar with Gollum’s mannerisms.
She ran a hand across her forehead and glanced up at Gollum. He seemed not to care that even this late after sunset it was sweltering, hazy and humid so that sweat ran down the side of Sigilidh’s throat and itched under her leather armour. She was certain there was a storm brewing.
“Will he come down? I was hoping to go to the dances later,” she said through her teeth with little hope of an affirmative and at her side saw Danael nodding her head while Oroddin had his arms crossed and glowered at no one in particular as he usually did. Like Sigilidh, he was on duty guarding Gollum as a disciplinary measure, but his fault had been insubordination rather than failure, and he hated every minute of it.
“He’s clinging to the branches again. Good luck prying him off! It’s one of those days. I’m telling you, we should ignore Gandalf’s orders and keep him leashed, at least that way we could simply get him down. If he wants to behave like a piece of fruit hanging in the tree like that, we ought to be able to pluck him,” Daerroval said; her, Gilchalar and Lygniel all laughed, the rest of them were gathering up the weapons they had dropped among the tussocks of grass and cotton-sedge while they had relaxed their guard over the course of the day. The other members of her own group went to take their places, some in trees at the edge of the clearing to keep watch on the perimeter from their higher vantage points, others at the foot of the tree itself in case Gollum would come down unexpectedly.
“Sméagol,” Sigilidh called softly. It seemed that, while he was unfriendly to most of the guards, her he allowed to handle him with only a little spitting and less biting than others were subjected to, perhaps because as the newest member of his guard she had not yet disgraced herself in his eyes. For a while they had all worn chainmail gloves, but when it became clear that Gollum's teeth, like bodkin arrows, were able to fit between the rings and right into their hands, they’d discarded those again as well, especially in favour of climbing after him when he got one of his moods and sat in the tree long into the night, crooning to himself in a horrid sing-song that echoed far over the forest.
He was not crooning now, but even from below it was easy to see that there was malice in his large, bulging eyes as he regarded her from above. Whether Gollum knew of the festivals or was simply spiteful as he so often was, Sigilidh was certain that he was planning something to ruin her night. She had been looking forward to the dancing, and if Gollum had come down, there would have been a fighting chance she might have been able to go; it was enough for one guard to keep watch while he was in his cell in the dungeons, and on those days they drew lots - and so far she had been lucky, although she had done little with her free nights so far, other than brood on Tauriel - recently returned from the south - and trying to muster up the courage to visit her - informally - as Mouse had suggested before Sigilidh had taken her leave at last. “Whether,” as she had said, “there is anything to her behaviour, other than wishful thinking.”
She might even have made a point of meeting Tauriel at the dances, but into the thought of Tauriel spinning in the firelight with flowers studding her copper braids intruded Lygniel’s voice.
“Well, have a good night! I hope it won’t be all that long!” Lygniel called from the edge of the clearing. She was by far the kindest of the daytime guards, and Sigilidh liked her, mustering a faint smile in response to her good wish.
Time passed. She patrolled the forest, chatted with Danael and called for Gollum again, to no avail. Dark fell over the forest like a blanket lowering suddenly over the trees since the thick clouds swallowed the light of sunset and dusk at a time when the sky ought still be light. Sigilidh felt the beat of wings against the side of her head; one of the fat black moths that inhabited the forest after nightfall had caught in her hair, and she carefully freed the strand its fragile legs had tangled in. She would consider herself fortunate if - her mood barely improved by Mouse’s fearful warning that this would be a night of no moon - this remained the least of her cares.
In the distance, the drums of the dancing started up, a lively beat between the trees that she felt tempted to sway in.
But instead she sat down, her knives drawn and resting on her thighs, and began plucking the white tufts of sedge to weave into a wreath. “For my mother,” she explained to an astonished-looking Danael, who was sitting among the roots at the foot of Gollum’s tree. She did not say that she was planning to make another for Tauriel, if she had the chance.
“Your mother is in the forest?”
“They both are. My father is Sinda - he wants to go West and heed the Summons, but my mother is Nandorin and will not, at least not while I am still here. They’ll be waiting for me tonight, and I hope Sir Frog will let me meet them. My mother always loved to dance, and she makes a point of mingling at the crossing-over festivals.”
“It must be nice, having them stay, even if you can only meet them twice each year,” Danael said. “My parents sailed long ago, in the retinue of Nimrodel, and I have been thinking of following them once travel becomes saf-”
She was interrupted by Gollum’s horrid, cackling laughter from within the tree and leapt to her feet. Sigilidh snatched up her knives and followed suit in time to see a large shadow - a crow - wing away swiftly through the dimming sky, leaving a branch bouncing in its wake.
Spy! blared Oroddin’s bugle signal while Sigilidh still tried to grasp the situation, but where she had expected arrows to fly from the watchers in the trees around the clearing to take the bird down, nothing moved. The watch-trees stood as dead. Sigilidh’s blood ran cold.
An ambush, a diversion, not a spy at all.
Then the orcs broke from the trees.
* * *
What followed, Sigilidh remembered only dimly - the rush of relief understanding that these orcs were not skilled in forest warfare - they trampled, they stumbled, they fell over roots and ran into underbrush where they tangled hopelessly, and their armour was strange, unlike what Sigilidh knew of orcs - not the small, dun-skinned kind that wove with ease through the growth and were well-nigh invisible if they put their minds to it, and who made Sigilidh think of the wild Elves of the east that were claimed to be the forerunners of orcs - but these were large and pale; they were not from Mirkwood, which was an advantage she intended to use, weaving along the edge of the forest, in and out of cover, leaving the trample of her hunters behind her with ease, then leading them back into arrow’s range.
Danael was up the tree, firing arrows with deadly precision. Her brown hands flew, a blur too fast to see; Oroddin was on the ground, his face white and lifeless, open eyes staring into the sky.
That must have startled Sigilidh into stopping, or perhaps she had fallen. The smell of moist forest earth rose into her nose, the ground cold against her skin, her heart racing with a hollow thud against her ribs and on into the feathery soil like the drums of the dancing - only that no one would hear her.
An iron shoe slammed into the small of her back, holding her down. A clawed hand dug into her shoulder. A knife pressed against her windpipe, jagged, biting at her skin. This was not Tauriel’s measure of kindness. Sigilidh closed her eyes and prepared to breathe forth, choking on a sob.
Tauriel had been right.
An iron fist slammed into her temple, and the world went blank in a flash of pain.
Shreds, flashes. Iron shoes, the crack of bone.
When she came to, her cheek chafed against the stinking leather of an orc’s shoulder armour; rank sweat and filth made her gag. Her ribs hurt - a mass of bruises at best, and every breath stung. It was dark, perhaps even darker than it had been. Glimmering faintly before her she could see the silver of Danael’s long braid, swinging down her back over her bound hands as she ran flanked by the hulking figures of two orcs; further ahead the frog-figure of Gollum half-leaping, half being cruelly dragged across the muddy path by a leash on his neck. Daerroval’s jest about plucking Gollum from the tree flashed to her mind, and bile rose in her throat. There were three more captives toward the front of the group, although she was not sure whom else the orcs had taken - Beriathon, she thought, one of the perimeter guards and the tallest of their small group, the other two she couldn’t make out.
That made five out of twelve. What had happened to the rest of them she could only guess - most of them likely slain, but if even only one of them had escaped and raised the alarm, there might be hope for rescue. If not, and judging that they were moving downslope, southward -- it was Dol Guldur that awaited.
It was enough to let herself fall again, although terror did not relinquish its grip on her wholly - she remained awake, or half-awake, and over the stomping of the orcs’ heavy feet and the grunt of their breaths she imposed a rhythm and prayer of her own: Tauriel, Tauriel, Tauriel, and if that was foolish, then at least the thought brought her a little comfort over the rough treatment of the orc. The edges of the metal plates of a glove dug into her legs where her captor held her fast, slung around his shoulders like a sack, the chafe of the rope on her wrists, tight enough that her fingers prickled and hurt. And ever the stomping of the feet - until it stopped and she was flung to the ground unceremoniously, landed on her stomach and had the breath knocked from her, the sting of her cracked ribs spiking. She wheezed for air, fought to stay awake.
Danael was pushed down next to her, her face was bloody, her lip split - it seemed she had put up a fight and received her share of trouble for it - but then she lay still like a terrified beast in the grass, and only her dark eyes roved, finally meeting Sigilidh’s.
“You are alive,” Danael mouthed, blinking her eyes rapidly, but whether to hide relief or terror Sigilidh was not sure. “They are resting. It must be near daybreak. Can you run?”
Sigilidh shook her head. The ordeal had left her dizzy and nearly unable to breathe, and if she tried to escape, she might simply pitch forward and not rise again, especially not if the orcs caught up to her. She was unarmed, too. If she still had her knives, the hilts would be digging into her hips right now, but there was nothing there apart from the empty leather sheaths on her belt. She turned her head aside, finding, to her surprise, that there was water mere inches from her face - a well or spring of sorts, rising into a clear pool and a trickling watercourse.
She twisted herself around so her lips met the cool surface of the water. Sigilidh could have cried with relief, not noticing how parched she was until that moment and how thick her mouth had been with the taste of blood until the water washed it away. Her eyes slipped shut. If she drowned now, that would be a kindly lot.
What she had not expected - the gentle ripple of water back against her face, the touch of cold fingers against her forehead that shocked life and awareness back into her, jolted open her eyes - for a moment she thought it a trick of what little light there was, the face outlined faint and translucent against the dim of the forest - “Tauriel?”
No. The eyes were kinder, the features softer, the hair darker, framing her face in waves rather than the smooth red silk of Tauriel’s hair. She knew that face from her childhood - Arasgell, Tauriel’s mother, fallen in battle near the southern borders years and years ago. The hidden springs that became the haunts of the Houseless, the night before the summer solstice, the festival of crossing-over.
“Quickly now, before I am noticed - my daughter bade me seek you, bring you love and hope. What other fighting there was was ended, you are sought throughout the wood, and you are pursued - hold out but a little longer and help shall come. Your mother, too, bids you find your strength - she is seeking for you elsewhere. I cannot stay nor come further with you, lest I draw the eye of more terrible foes in Dol Guldur that may entrap me, too - they, too, inhabit the unseen world. But you are not abandoned.”
Arasgell faded. In the dark that took her place, Sigilidh couldn’t help wondering if she had dreamt up the vision - perhaps wishful thinking, fear, perhaps she had been drugged, poisoned, a cruel trick of the Enemy, but when she turned back to Danael, she found a smile on the other woman’s face - unless that, too, was not real, Arasgell’s appearance must have been.
“Hope,” Danael said, lifting her head to the lightening sky. Sigilidh said nothing, but her mind lingered rather on the word love.
* * *
When the counterattack came, Sigilidh slept. It was the twang of bowstrings and the whistle of arrows that startled her awake, then the sound - again, intimately familiar since the past night - of orc feet running, though this time in panic and fear. No one came for Sigilidh, although she half-expected to be pierced by an arrow herself, or hoisted up again by clawed hands.
It was not long that Sigilidh succumbed to the pressure to open her eyes, finding the clearing pierced through with shafts of daylight between the branches of the trees that spun into a vault overhead. On the floor of the camp, many orcs lay dead, riddled with arrows.
Past Sigilidh many Elves sped, and more of them moved overhead through the trees in direction of the fleeing remnant of the orcs. Her relief was palpable, and quickly followed by darkness when she tried to climb to her feet.
* * *
A damp cloth, fragrant with herbs, dabbed across her face like kisses. At the edge of her sight, a glimmer of coppery red that might be a fire, or Tauriel’s hair.
* * *
“Well. She is at least as much of a walnut as you are,” a familiar voice said, whispering close to Sigilidh’s air. Walnut and walnut, that fits.”
Instead of an answer, Sigilidh felt a coughing fit coming on, wrecking and abysmal with pain in her chest and head both, that made light burst double behind her eyes. A pillow was pressed to her chest, and her arms went around it, then again a cloth dabbing at her face while Sigilidh struggled to draw breath.
“Your ribs are cracked, some broken outright. Try to breathe normally, I will give you something for the pain.” Despite her discomfort, Sigilidh felt her lips twitch into a smile. “I did not know you were a healer, too,” she said to Mouse, who was piling pillows behind her, and helped ease Sigilidh into a sitting position so that she could breathe easier, and look around.
She was in a small room, lit warmly by a fire flickering behind one of the gauzy curtains that parted her bed from the rest of the room; faintly outlined behind she could see more beds, seemingly inhabited - a healing ward of sorts, then, as Mouse soon confirmed.
“You are at Echad Thonion, that was the closest outpost near your location - everyone is recovering, don’t fret - and that I can heal is not the only thing you do not know about me. What I want you to know is that I am glad you are safe, walnut. I feared that I had seen the last of you when news of the attack came.”
Sigilidh could not help it. “Walnuts are hard to crack.” Mouse barked a laugh, then put a finger to her lips and drew back one of the curtains. In an unoccupied bed next to Sigilidh’s own, no more than an arm’s length away sat Tauriel, her head sunken forward and one hand outstretched toward Sigilidh in sleep.
Sigilidh raised an eyebrow over the bowl of tea that Mouse handed her, but drank obediently. Her mouth still was parched, and the pungent smell of herbs helped her breathe. Slowly, the throbbing in her head began to abate.
“Is she the other walnut?” Sigilidh asked, finishing the drink and closing her eyes for a moment.
“You should have seen her… I have never met anybody else so concerned. Once the orcs were routed and Tauriel and Prince Legolas determined that Gollum had escaped, or at least obfuscated his tracks so that there was no finding him - that was four days ago, while you were drifting in and out of consciousness with that concussion of yours - she hasn’t left your side unless I made her go and eat. She slept with her head on your chest to make sure that you were breathing, even, washed your face, tended to you as much as I allowed. So that’s the truth of that,” Mouse said, and added, with the sort of grin that Sigilidh had seen on her face before:
“And of course I could not withhold the things that you told me, so that she told me things in turn. Truth will out, as they say. You see, I was right and you were wrong, and the good Captain carried a torch for you for those eighty years since she slept with you and ran, never daring - or knowing - what to do, and knowing even less how to cope with your appearance on the training field.”
Warmth swelled within her, blooming into heat in her cheeks. Mouse’s superiority was insufferable. Sigilidh made a noise of protest - or wanted to, but that came out half-laughing. Instead she reached out, wrapping Tauriel’s hand in her own, feeling to her surprise something cool and hard between Tauriel’s fingers - Sigilidh’s necklace.
At the touch, Tauriel lifted her head, blearily, before her face transformed in a smile, and her eyes softened out of whatever dream had harried her. Swiftly, she moved to sit on Sigilidh’s bed, closer to her, without breaking contact between their hands.
“Not dead,” said Sigilidh, smiling in return, and leaned in, resting her forehead against Tauriel’s shoulder and feeling her warm lips on her hair.