There was an elf at the bottom of the garden, Haldar was sure of it.
He was sure of it, even though Haleth had looked where he was pointing, into the undergrowth, and said firmly: 'There's nothing there.'
Haleth was usually right, even though she was his sister and the same age as him. It paid to listen to her advice; if he didn't, Haldar often ended up regretting it. And she had a point: he had never seen an elf and so he couldn't really know what they looked like.
But he was sure that there was an elf there, anyway, hidden in the wood that bordered the bottom of the garden, and when Haleth called him away to play, as she put it, a more interesting game, he didn't respond, didn't even say no. Instead, he crouched down by the raspberry canes and stared and went on staring into the forest, until all the patches of green and brown and of bright and gloom ran together and he wasn't at all sure what he was looking at any more.
What was it he had actually seen? Eyes that looked at him or had it just been a feeling of being looked at?
'I still can't see anything, Haldar', said Haleth, behind him, speaking more gently now, because she had caught on that this was important to her brother, although she still wasn't sure it wasn't just a game of pretend and she didn't like those very much.
But just as she was speaking, the elf emerged out of the woods. It was hard to see how he did it, even though they were both looking straight at him. The green and brown, the bright and the gloom shifted and he was there, stepping out onto the grass.
He was very tall or so it seemed to Haldar. His hair was the colour of chestnuts and even redder where the sun glanced off it. He wore a bow over his shoulder.
'Greetings,' he said. He was speaking in Taliska, with an unfamiliar accent. 'I am Amras. May I ask your names?'
From behind, Haleth gripped Haldar's shoulder so hard it almost hurt, but she answered unhesitatingly, across his shoulder, also in Taliska: 'I am Haleth and this is my brother Haldar.'
Haldar would have liked to be the one to answer. It was his elf, after all, he had seen him first and he was not afraid of him, because they had looked at each other and he knew him. But he could not remember, right now, how to say anything in Taliska. He could not think of any words at all.
Amras smiled at him.
'Well met then, Haldar. Well met, Haleth. I come in peace. I heard news of your people and came to see how you fare. Who is the head of your household? Your father? Can I speak to him?'
He sat apparently at ease at Haldad's table, although he had to cross his legs because he was so tall.
'Beor mentioned you to my cousin,' he said to Haldad. 'No, you would know of him as Balan, wouldn't you? Balan mentioned you to Finrod, but it wasn't clear whether you were going to cross the mountains--not to me, at least, when I heard about it. In all the excitement--and it was exciting, you know, we had heard about people like you but never seen any before--Finrod didn't follow it up, I guess.'
'Those elves down south knew well enough we had crossed the mountains,' commented Haldad drily.
'Indeed, yes,' said Amras. 'It was from my friends in Ossiriand that I learned of your movements--eventually. The arrival of your people rather alarmed the Green Elves, it seems. They didn't know how many more of you there might be and how long you were planning to remain in their lands... Your group was small. I gather you didn't meet a friendly reception. My friends weren't exactly proud of that, I think--and so they were slow to mention you to me.'
Haldad shrugged. 'They did drive us north but in the end we found land that nobody had claimed and settled there.'
Amras cleared his throat apologetically.
'The whole of the land of Thargelion all the way to the River Ascar was claimed quite some time ago by my brother Caranthir,' Amras informed him.
'We've seen neither hair nor hide of of your brother,' Haldad protested.
'Well, knowing my brother, he may have been biding his time, once he decided you weren't a threat--waiting for you newcomers to introduce yourselves.'
'Newcomers!' exclaimed Haldad, angrily. 'I was born on the banks of the Ascar!'
'Three or four decades?' said Amras. 'From our point of view that's really not such a long time, you know.'
Haldad clenched his fists.
'I do know that for you, it's different. Or at least we have learned that about your people, by now,' said Amras. 'I came to find out--once I had realized where you were--what your plans were. Many of your kin first moved to Estolad, southwest of here, and then followed my cousin Finrod further westward...' He went on explaining.
Silence fell. Haldad sat frowning. Amras waited.
'It is true that when our fathers and mothers crossed the mountains they had heard of your cousin and wished to meet him,' said Haldad, heavily, after a while. 'But we live here now. And now we really just want to be left alone, in peace!'
'I think my brother would understand wishing to be left alone,' said Amras, thoughtfully. 'And he is not really worried about his southern border--it is the one border he is not worried about--where he least expects an attack by the Enemy. He doesn't talk or trade much with the Green Elves, either, he prefers to leave that to us... If that really is your wish, I can speak to him on your behalf if you would like me to.'
That wasn't quite the end of it, because Haldad could not speak for all the Haladin. But Amras spoke to the other householders--some came to Haldad's steading to speak with him and others he went and saw. In between those trips along the Ascar he returned to Haldad's steading. Sometimes he helped Haldad with tasks about the farmstead that needed doing, but sometimes he just sat quietly by himself and fletched arrows.
'Aren't elves supposed to be wonderful singers and sing all the time?' Haleth asked him.
Haldar looked from one to the other, worried. Some people were offended by Haleth's manner--she could sometimes sound critical without intending to, just because she really wanted to know.
Amras smiled at Haleth. 'I do have a brother like that. He used to walk about in a perpetual cloud of music when we were young...'
'Another brother?' asked Haldar. It didn't sound to him, somehow, as if this was the brother who understood about wanting to be left alone.
'Yes, another brother,' Amras confirmed.
'How many brothers have you got?' asked Haleth.
'Six,' said Amras.
Six! Haldar was really impressed. He himself had Haleth for a sister and that was enough. But he liked watching Amras fletch his arrows. There was something about the way he did it... Amras turned his way so that Haldar could see his hands better. Haleth decided Amras wasn't going to say anything else interesting, went away and left them to it.
The Haladin all agreed that they wished to stay by the Ascar, and Amras promised to negotiate with Caranthir for them so that they would be allowed to remain undisturbed.
'Will I see you again?' asked Haldar, as Amras prepared to depart. He had given a bundle of arrows to Haldad as a parting gift.
'I fear not, Haldar mine,' said Amras. 'Your father wants to be left alone--and I don't think that is compatible with a Son of Feanor continuing to walk in and out of his farm...'
'Are you saying my father is wrong?' asked Haldar. He did not want to hear Amras or anyone else criticizing his father. At the same time he did not want his elf to leave forever.
'I don't know,' said Amras. 'It's hard to tell. There might be advantages to staying all by yourselves, I think. There might also be downsides... But I hope there won't be, at least for a while.'
He bent suddenly and dropped a kiss on Haldar's head. 'Farewell, Haldar. May the sun, the moon or the stars shine on your path, always.'
Haldar stood in the garden between the red currants and the raspberry canes and watched him enter the forest. The green and brown, the bright and the gloom shifted and Amras was gone.
'So was the elf as beautiful as they say?' asked Buri, who had not seen Amras himself, and laughed.
The Drughu often thought the opinions of the Haladin funny and it seemed elves being beautiful was one of the things they considered amusing.
Haleth snorted in answer but not, Haldar thought, with complete conviction.
It was not a question Haldar had already put to himself, though. He carefully considered the matter.
'I don't know,' he answered Buri, after a pause. 'He was strong--not just in lifting things or drawing his bow--he was strong a bit in the way your people are, Buri, but also very different...'
Buri had stopped laughing.
'Yes,' answered Haldar and then, firmly, he said: 'Yes, I think he was beautiful.'