Queen Teleperien is more relieved than she cares to admit that Alatar is here. He could not stay long but had chosen to pass through Eldicor on his way to wherever. Xenograg, too, had visibly brightened when she told him. Alatar’s compassion is great enough to include even those not from Arda but still of good heart. Xenograg was want to spend long evenings with the Wizard whenever possible.
The day’s duty complete, Teleperien walks through the palace to Alatar’s suite. As she approaches, however, she senses something wrong. Instead of stopping to understand the sensation, she rushes ahead and opens the door. She is greeted with the frightening sound of Alatar yelling.
“You were wrong and you know it!” Her shock is mirrored in the faces of the two men before her. Alatar’s expression softens to one of sternness but regret. Xenograg, who had been looking down when the door opened, looks up with…shame. Without a word, he quickly breaks his gaze with Teleperien and moves for the door. Xenograg passes her quickly without any greeting at all and without looking up. He is out of the room and gone, but not before she saw his eyes—eyes denying tears.
Teleperien looks to Alatar, waiting.
“My apologies, My Lady,” he says with a bow of his head. Still somewhat in shock, she does not reply. Alatar holds her gaze without flinching and answers the unspoken question.
“It was for his own good and yours. No one trusted as he can be allowed to ignore the truth.”
“What truth, Alatar?”
“That his street war was a black deed. I do not know if you are cognizant of all his recent actions or merely too forgiving.” Teleperien blinks with another minor shock. Only Alatar can rebuke her that way, but rarely has. “I felt it had to be addressed immediately and directly.”
“He is still a good man.”
“Yes, and he does regret it—now. As I said, it is for his own good.”
“And my own?”
“Yours and Eldicor’s. He is high in your counsel these days.”
“I trust him.”
“And rightly so, but without self-deception by either of you.” Teleperien bristles some but also trusts her teacher implicitly. “My rebuke to him was not planned, or I would have ensured his privacy and spoken with you separately.”
“I understand. I hope Xenograg…feels better and returns before you must depart.”
“I will certainly check on him, My Lady.”
It is two nights later, and the hour is late. Teleperien has retired to her rooms. She is enjoying a last cup of tea before bed when there is a knock on the outer door. After checking to see that Teleperien is adequately dressed, Constance admits a palace guardsman and Vinyamar of Gondolin.
“Forgive the intrusion, Highness,” is the old Noldo’s quick apology, “but the General just departed and I…am concerned.” There is only one general in Eldicor: Xenograg. It was becoming normal within the palace to refer to the foreigner by that rank as Xenograg preferred it over other titles.
“Departed, you say?” is Teleperien’s surprised reaction. “What concerns you, Vinyamar?”
“I have been working with the General on his new armor. For the last two days, he has been obsessed with completing the work.” Teleperien feels a chill run down her spine. Alatar’s rebuke of Xenograg was two nights ago, and she has not seen him since.
“We finished the work. After the final fitting, he refused to remove the armor. Before leaving the smithy, he thanked me in a very formal way and bade me perform one more task. I was to return this to you in the morning.” Vinyamar gestures to the guardsman who quickly holds up the sword, Nartelemna, in its sheath. “I did not like the sound of that, and came directly.”
“O Elbereth!” Teleperien jumps up and snatches the weapon from the guardsman’s hands. She had loaned the sword to Xenograg until he could recover his Ostego sword. He promised to take good care of Nartelemna, and return it when no longer needed. Why would he do so now unless….
“I need to see Lady Amaltea and Alatar immediately!” The guardsman and Vinyamar run from the room. Teleperien sits back down, Nartelemna across her lap. “Elbereth, he would not…?” she whispers in dread.
Xenograg scowls as he rides up to the forest. Unlike real forests, forests here in the Otherworld cannot be traveled around or otherwise avoided; nothing can be avoided here. Even if he stood still, Xenograg would eventually find himself within the forest. He dismounts and walks into the tree line with wary eyes and an arrow nocked in his horsebow. Xenograg knows he should never have come here, and he knows that he is not acting rationally. A need drives him on—a need to redeem himself, to atone for sins, to pay for them.
Vinyamar quickly returns to Teleperien’s suite with Amaltea. To the queen’s surprise, Amaltea is still fully dressed despite the hour. Alatar has not yet arrived.
“Is something wrong, Tel?” Amaltea asks.
“I do not know but am worried. Do you know where Xenograg is?”
“Yes, he went back to his homeland. Tonight is the Winter Solstice—”
“And he has to guard a magic gate tonight.”
“So he expects a fight tonight?”
“Yes, there usually is,” confirms Amaltea in a voice of controlled calm. Teleperien gestures to the sword in her lap.
“Xeno left this behind, intentionally.”
“He takes different arms each time.”
“He has been upset lately.”
“I know. He told me a little of it.”
“I fear that—” Teleperien begins but stops as Alatar enters the room.
“Your Majesties,” the Wizard greets them with a bow of his head.
“Alatar, I fear that Xenograg may be putting himself at unnecessary risk tonight.”
“I know,” replies the Istari in a calming voice. “I watched him depart Vinyamar’s forge. I know what he intends.”
“Which is?” is Amaltea’s very worried question.
“Fear not for your husband, Amaltea. I have already sent word along. He will be met in time.”
Distracted by his dark thoughts, Xenograg starts in surprise as the creature appears at close range in a flash of light. Xenograg, scared and angry, pivots and draws the bowstring back hard. He sights his target and freezes. His eyes widen in horror and his mouth falls open. His hands begin to shake. The arrow is released but misses the target completely. Xenograg drops the bow, still staring in horror at the creature before him.
He has made eye contact with the creature and now cannot break it. The guilt and anguish Xenograg was feeling before is as nothing now. Tears fill his eyes but the creature’s gaze remains upon him. Xenograg’s knees buckle, and his fingers grab at the ground as if he would fall off the world. Xenograg throws his head back and cries out—a long wailing cry of despair, shame, exhaustion, and self-hatred from the depths of his wounded soul. The wail becomes sobbing, and Xenograg lowers his head all the way to the ground.
The unicorn, surrounded by a nimbus of white light, just stands there watching and waiting.
Xenograg’s sobbing finally lessens to where he is aware of his surroundings again. He sits back onto his folded legs but avoids looking up. His eyes fall upon the hilt of the dagger sheathed in his boot. Without even thinking, he yanks the dagger out and rushes to slit his own throat.
“No,” is all Xenograg hears. He finds his hand empty and all his other weapons gone. He drops his head and begins to sob again, but quickly feels a hand touch his back. He looks up to find a beautiful woman of middle age with olive skin and wheat-colored hair crouching beside him, surrounded by that same nimbus of light.
“I am so sorry,” he whispers hoarsely before falling into her open arms. He clings to her and simply cries.
“My child. My bannu,” is Her reply as she rocks him like one. Her last word has told Xenograg Her identity. He lies within the arms of the mother-goddess, Arhis. He tries to speak but she calms him with a thought and a renewed hug. Xenograg just wearily surrenders himself to Her infinite compassion.
“Yes, my bannu. You are mine now. You wanted to die, and so you have…in spirit. This will be a new life now, where I will be yours and you will be Mine.” Xenograg is beyond understanding why, only knowing that he wants this terribly. She reads the desire in his mind, and kisses the top of his head.