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Away to the Waters

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The quiet of the battlefield leaves Tauriel hurting; her lungs scratch with dust when she breathes and where numbness has not blanketed her, the hurt swells under her skin until she is threatening to burst.

She needs, badly, though her hands curl empty where relief should be. It is too early to fill up the hurts that all the death has carved into her with life, and so she hangs in abeyance, strikes into the hidden places of the forest, carries the tidings of the Five Armies into the trees to those that deserve to know. The trees ring with laments and dirges and all but eclipse the voice of the forest.

At last, when the grieving is done and there is rebuilding that she has little place in before she heals herself, she turns her back on the forest with the songs on her mind still. There used to be a time, they say, when the living and the dead alike that haunted the trees, that is still remembered in the languages that ran through the forest like water before the Sindar came and laid their enchantments upon the streams to sleep, before they bespelled and tamed the forest near their palaces, and even Tauriel's name shifted into a tamed form of who she was, before they realized that it was not the darkness but the very being of the forest that embraced the shadows, and that the shadows were not all evil. Before they decided to join with the forest people, but imperfectly, and kept their little enclaves of magic that are a constant battle.

But the old languages are rarely to be found in the wood now, and nowhere else in the world if she listens to what travellers say and what she feels when her feet carry her there: Lindórinand has grown as sweet as it is golden now, though its old spirit is not quenched; there are voices in its rivers and there is love in the very ground there that will still devour - but for the moment the Valley of the Singers lies like a flower that has been adream for longer than Tauriel has lived. She tastes that in the kisses of its lady, who should rain healing upon her like water, but it pearls on her skin and drips useless to the ground, and she sleeps uneasily even after her passions are spent, for there are lamps overhead her bower that are kindled anew each night, not the ancient stars that she knows, unless she climbs the highest of the gold-trees and even then the sky is strange and wrongly ancient, a keepsake of the wrong things.

Lothlórien, as they call it now, she knows will claim a life to become its own old self again, but not while Galadriel is there. The trees and flowers that she brought must fade and fall at first, and she knows it. Still she clings, and so Tauriel is not ready to relinquish herself to it in vain, although the land's song calls her to.

She does not pretend to want to stay past the winter that piles snow at the forest borders and keeps her there. Galadriel knows why, and does not try to keep her. She says, also, that there is no returning to the place that Tauriel longs for, a journey back in time, but Tauriel grows restless and departs in spring with the wind in her face murmuring something faint and ancient that is nature as much as it is words, and the sun high behind her shining on young green.

The plains spill open under her feet, and although the treeless expanse of rolling hills is enough to remind her how small she is, and the enormous, open skies that stretch stars from horizon to horizon each night make her smaller yet while showers of them rain down - in high summer when she herds a Hwenti nomad girl's sheep by night in exchange for milk and meat, and in a brutally cold winter when she walks with a late Variag caravan and shoots at the howling, hungry shadows that stalk them further east over the frozen ground. This is a land that will eat its people, in the rolling plains and the sand dunes and the dry rivers that will run with flash floods after rain. It holds no power over her, save by its beauty, so she goes further.

Where Tauriel walks now, the only Sindarin is her own. She has picked up bits and pieces of the languages of the East - the speech of the Avarin kindreds and mortals alike, songs and stories as she bounces children on her knees when she finds rest and shelter with the people of the land, and they ring heavy with ancient warning that send thrills into her very blood.

Go no further east, they say, lest you would lose yourself.

So she goes. There is a sharp dip in the land, not a faultline but the coast of an ancient inland sea, and below surges a forest thicker than any she has seen. Her home is to it what sea-magic and ring-magic Lothlórien is to her home: fast asleep with its teeth hidden, but this place is ancient and thrums with awakening the first step Tauriel dares in its boughs. For the trees are as ancient as the place itself, and they shift under her steps and creak and groan with the voices of the forest that she has so longed for in her home. There could be cities in a single one, and not even the wide skies of the east have made her feel so small.

And at night she meets the ancients: those who are barely even elven still with their skin the hues of their forest, and large eyes that catch what little light filters to where they dwell and have always done, growing moss and algae in their hair to become one with the wood, long fingers and toes for climbing, creatures that chirp like night birds, gurgle like water, whisper like breezes and howl like wolves, living in forest shelters of trees bowing gladly to be their houses, and they do not suffer anyone less than than them to pass.

Tauriel is less than them, and when a long-fingered hand rests on her shoulder, she is afraid - and is not. They are her kin, more than any of those that she belongs with through their blood. For this forest and its guardians who have ever loved and never left it, she would gladly lay down her life.

For Cuiviénen needs its guardians. There may be no returning to the Waters of Awakening as they were, but there is returning. They could eat her alive and raw, rejecting all the away-goers - Tauriel's own people among them - and it left them with nothing but the woods.

Mirkwood has no wildness on them.

And no kindness, for even here there is a balance, even if its scales balance death with death.

They crowd around her, ushering her from the trees and into the heart of the forest, to what is now a spring, a pond, a puddle, never more than a leaf-choked mere, perhaps, after the strongest thaws, but nonetheless it is sacred.

The Waters of Awakening taste like wine, and Tauriel drinks as one dying of thirst.