Lírien slid back the bolt blocking the hatch at the bottom of the flet when the telltale rapping sounded. A moment later, and Tauriel pushed inside, shaking snow off her red hair even as she laughed and held up a pheasant for Lírien to see.
"Lucky day today; I brought us dinner" she said, smiling. She slipped the strap of the old rifle off her shoulder and stood it in its corner with her prey before stealing a kiss from Lírien that she happily granted.
"No run-ins. Although something is strange today," she said. "I had expected to meet Ensi today; she meant to show me a colony of immune Saimaa seals she had discovered, but there were no boats on the lakes at all."
Lírien frowned. "I will see if I can find her dreaming. She is mortal, and an old woman. She may have fallen ill, or perhaps her grandchildren ran into trouble. You know how they are."
The look on Tauriel's face - like she was sucking on sour candy from Before - told Lírien she was trying not to laugh. "Do you think Onni failed to change back into his human form again?"
Lírien burst into peals of laughter. "And hid in the laundry to hiss at anybody who came too close. Poor Ann-Mari; she is not going to forget that incident soon! Or perhaps Tuuri tried to steal the Lumilintu again?"
They shared a laugh about Ann-Mari and the day she had discovered her son in the form of an owlet, or the one her then four-year-old daughter had tried to drive the family's houseboat out onto the lake. Tauriel sat on the pile of sheepskin rugs and furs that doubled as their bedstead. "I am not too worried. The forest or the water would have told me if anything had happened to them." Still, Lírien saw the shadow over the lightness of her words.
"I will have answers for you in the morning," Lírien said. She had always had an aptitude for dreams, from her childhood in Imladris, but she had accepted it with barely any second thoughts. Her love had always been with music first, and then with Tauriel when she had come to find refuge in the Last Homely House following her travels. Only when they had decided to remain in the world and Elrond had sailed, Lírien had begun to pay more attention, and began to link her skills.
It had been that way for four ages, so that when the Rash Illness ravaged the unsuspecting world of mortals that they had both settled into together and adapted to as far as they could, she had known that it was no ordinary pandemic that humanity would emerge from and prosper again as it had so often done. Humanity survived nonetheless - by a thread, despite the monsters and magic that re-emerged to trouble the survivors.
And Tauriel and Lírien had vowed to remain with the Secondborn to protect them. Tauriel took the inevitable losses to heart more than Lírien allowed herself. It had been seventy-nine years and if she mourned every death, she feared Nienna might compel her to join her following. But even through the long-years, Tauriel had never grown cold or callous, and Lírien loved her all the more for it.
"Chin up," Lírien said, reaching for her lover. There was nothing, short of braving the troll-ridden woods at nightfall, that they could do, and although she was immune - as Tauriel herself was - she was no fighter and had never learned to become one. It would have to wait until she could find Ensi in the world of dreams. "I have made a new song while you were away. Would you hear it?"
Gratitude flowed from every movement when Tauriel reached for her, and Lírien joined her on their bed. She knelt behind her lover and began to undo her braid until Tauriel's hair hung in thick red waves down her back, and started singing in time with the strokes of her brush.
* * *
The world of dreams had long become as familiar to Lírien as the waking world, and often she walked in both at once, but to find her way out of the gorge of the Bruinen river that was home to her memory, mind and heart, she preferred to be asleep. As she settled for the night, with Tauriel's bare arms encircling her loosely from behind, and her lover's heated skin against her naked back, it was easy for the pleasant buzz of exhaustion after their love-making to pull her under and bleed into the rush and echo of the river.
She only needed to follow it where it spilled into the dream-sea under the vast expanse of starry skies and continue walking. Tauriel thought that Lírien's way of travel must be a variant of the Straight Road that allowed her to pass through the air at will as though she was walking on firm ground. It had taken Lírien a long time to stop fearing that she would plunge into the dark water below.
Ensi's island was not far away, and Lírien reached it swiftly, but where she had expected to pass through the barrier with ease, she found Ensi had closed it to her, and answered to none of her calling. She could see only dim shapes moving beyond the protective shield, locked in struggle.
It was a shout from across the water that attracted Lírien's attention in the end. Lalli, the grandchild most like Ensi or as Tauriel jokingly said, the one who must have some strain of elvish blood, stood up to his knees in the shallow water outside his own haven and reached to cling the moment Lírien came to him. That in itself was sign enough of his distress.
"Onni," he said, pointing toward his grandmother's Haven. "She made a mistake. He is fighting her." Then Lalli pressed his face into her shoulder. "It is my fault. She took me outside and made a mistake. I -" the rest of the words never came. Lalli's fists tightened in the golden silk of the garb she wore in dreams, and she found she was running, only setting Lalli down in the safety of her own area.
"If you can stay asleep, stay here," she told him. "Tauriel and I will be coming for all of you, to bring you to safety." All the same, she doubted there was much she could do. Ensi was a powerful mage, and if anything had corrupted her, they might have a foe who was beyond either of them - and who had been a good friend in her own uncommon way.
Her heart bled for Onni, who was locked in a struggle that might be his undoing - and for Tuuri, who had no presence in dreams at all.
Looking back, Lalli sat forlorn among the boulders, hunched in on himself. Lírien forced herself to wake.
* * *
"The Suurisalo quarantine facility," Tauriel said. "If we evacuate the survivors there, they ought to be safe until they can decide what to do. They must have mages there."
"Yes. But of course we cannot go there, ourselves," Lírien reminded her, peering through the swaths of smoke that had settled over the water and made her eyes sting more than the tears did that she refused to let fall. She would have reason enough: The island of the Hotakainens was aflame and they were roving blindly on the lake in search of survivors. "Only take them so far they can make it. You recall what happened in Odense," she added meaningfully.
"It has only been seventy-nine years," Tauriel replied, tight and low. "Quiet now, you would not want to upset Vellam-"
"Uinen will not mind us talking," Lírien said. One of the big matters of contention between them remained the gods of the Finns. Lírien held they were only the Valar and Maiar of old by other names and guises, while Tauriel claimed they were their own beings. But even so she understood the distraction for what it was and pushed no further into recollection of the matter, only glad that Tauriel had freed her before too long.
They rowed in silence. The smoke grew thicker around them.
"What is that?" Tauriel said at last when a shadow drifted soundlessly toward them. "We are not at the shore yet."
"Their ship!" Lírien exclaimed when the shape resolved itself into the hulking houseboat out of the dark, painted with a swan and faded red hearts along the sides. They climbed aboard easily, and Lírien was struck first of all how empty the boat was. Onni slept on the sofa in the seating area; crusted blood clung to his nostrils. Lírien knew what it meant - he had exhausted one of his spirits into vanishing, but she could only hope that it would return before too long. She spotted Lalli's silver hair under a blanket pile that pushed into her touch when she stroked it, and she murmured a calming verse, feeling him relax under her hand.
Tauriel had found Tuuri in the captain's seat when Lírien joined them. Her hands clutched the steering wheel even though she, too, was fast asleep with traces of tears on her face. She looked far younger than her ten years.
"Only them?" Lírien asked.
"Only them," Tauriel agreed. "I found no one else, but all three are unharmed." She started the motor, and as the ship shuddered alive, Tuuri's eyes flew open as well, wide and disorientated.
"It is fine now," Lírien said. "We found you. You did well. Sleep."
Tuuri nodded. Her eyes shut again when Tauriel set the course for the quarantine facility. Lírien sat on the floor, rested her head against Tauriel's thigh and strummed the harp at her belt, suddenly weary beyond belief, but before them the smoke parted to reveal Lake Saimaa calm and still under moonlight.