The Watchtower by Ness

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Story Notes:

Written for the May challenge on lotr_community.

Title: The Watchtower
Rating: G
Theme: Adolescent Angst
Elements: Peer pressure

Nolwen watched the others leave wistfully, with a pang of regret. It felt odd not to be part of the group. They had always stuck together, the girls and boys of her age of the smallish Dúnedain settlement, often with younger siblings joining in as well. She had not truly known how it felt to be left out, until now, and the fact that this was of her own choosing didn't make it any easier.

It had all started a few weeks back, as a dare. „Let's explore the Watchtower!“ Meriel had proposed, and the others, bored on a hot summer evening and feeling too grown up to join in the younger children's games, had quickly agreed. The Watchtower, or rather the crumbling and overgrown ruins of it a mile or so west of the settlement, had always fascinated them; despite or probably just because they were strictly forbidden to even go near it. It wasn't safe, they were told, it would fall down on anyone attempting to climb it. Even more so it was considered an evil, haunted place, though none could or would tell exactly why.

Only Nolwen had hesitated. In the beginning the others had tried to persuade her: „Come on, Nolwen, it is going to be fun!“ „Nobody is going to find out!“, „That are just stories to keep the little ones away, we're old enough to take care of ourselves!“ When she had still been reluctant, the others grew impatient: „Nolwen is scared!“ „I never knew you were such a coward, Nolwen!“ They had finally gone without her. Those words had stung. She certainly wasn't afraid, neither of exploring the supposedly haunted ruins nor of the punishment should they be found out. What held her back was the thought of her mother who would worry should Nolwen get into trouble. Her mother had enough to worry about with the new baby and her father gone for months now.

The Watchtower had since then become the favourite meeting place of her friends. There they would go whenever they had a bit of time to spare. It was a good way of staying hidden, thus avoiding to to be pressed into household chores or being followed around by younger brothers or sisters. At first her friends were eager for her to join them: „You have to come next time, it is great there!“ but now they did not bother to ask any more. It was a secret shared, their special place, and Nolwen felt like an outsider.

She had promised to stay out of trouble. The evening before he had left, her father had taken her aside: „You are nearly a woman grown now. I trust you to stay out of trouble and take care of your mother and brother.“ She had been proud, then. To be considered responsible.

Her mother had noticed that she was at home more than usual. She had asked her had she fallen out with Meriel but she also was glad that Nolwen was around to help with the baby. Meriel, her best friend for as long as she could remember. In the beginning, it was her who told Nolwen about every little adventure that she had missed, and she had tried hardest to get her to join them: „I wish you would come! Your father will never know!“ Now even she seemed to have given up on her.

She missed her father. She could talk to him about most things. „You are responsible for your choices. Never follow blindly.“ he had once told her. But he had also said that it was important to be loyal to your friends.

Her friends must surely think her to be dull, craven. Handir, too. When he had come second to her in the horse race at the last Midsummer festival, he had laughed and congratulated her. She had, secretly, not quite admitting it even to herself, hoped that he would dance with her at this year's Midsummer, but now she very much doubted it. She often saw him talking to Meriel when they returned from the Watchtower. The two of them laughing together. Maybe they were glad that Nolwen wasn't coming with them.

Nolwen reluctantly turned to go home, her ganz lingering longingly in direction of the Watchtower. Probably her friends were right. There wasn't any danger. Neither did any of the adults seem to notice that they were staying at the ruins. Her mind suddenly made up, she quickly looked around for anyone who might watch, then set off westwards, following the trail her friends had walked ­but a little while ago.

When she arrived at the ruins, she was greeted cheerfully. Her friends seemed to be glad that she had come to join them. Meriel gave her a hug, Handir smiled at her and made room for her to sit down next to him. Nolwen shoved away what little remained of her quietly nagging conscience.

The sun was about to set when the group returned to the village. Nolwen was singing happily under her breath. It felt good to belong. They said their farewells and agreed to meet at the Watchtower again as soon as possible, then returned home.

Later, she would remember the soft red-golden evening light changing to half-darkness when she stepped into the doorway of the house. The tall grim Ranger she didn't know, her mother silent, stricken. She couldn't recall the words being said that meant that her father would never return.



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