Rúmil sighed as he glanced across to the nearby flet, wishing fruitlessly for what he knew Haldir would never let come to pass. Haldir, his dear brother, his surrogate father and mother; who was almost as dear to him as his darling wife. As dear to him as his other brother, Orophin, who sat beside him on this sentry flet .
"What has he done this time?" The words came rumbling from a deep throaty voice, breaking his train of thought. "Or rather, how did your plans fall apart *this* time?"
Rúmil turned his head to gaze into Orophin's deep blue eyes, seeing a mixture of sympathy and amusement lurking therein.
"She was perfect!" he wailed. "Long golden hair, a sweet smile and a good cook. *And* she likes and wants children. I thought that they would be perfect together."
Rúmil smiled, a smile twisted in defeat and despair.
"They met. She smiled. He smiled. He wined her and dined her and then -" he sighed once more. "He took her back to her talan and bid her a goodnight. With a peck on the cheek."
Orophin stared, stunned, his mouth agape. Haldir did this?
"He did not bed her? He did not even kiss her on the mouth? Haldir, the lover, has ceased to pleasure his conquests? Elbereth! How does he expect to find his soulmate if he will not even reach for the first branch of the tree?"
Rúmil shrugged, his eyes sparkling with suspicious moisture.
"You know that his reputation has hidden his deepest longings, Orophin. He despairs, tôren." His eyes stared directly into his brother's, impressing upon him the serious nature of his words. "He is so lonely, Oro. He is so alone. And it is getting so hard to find eligible ellith, for he has tasted of every sweet flower in this wood. Aye, and in Imladris too!"
Orophin snorted. "I tell you again, Haldir is meant for an ellon, I just know it. If only he would give them a chance! I know of dozens in this Wood alone who ache to spend a night in his bed. For all his aloofness, they adore him."
Rúmil nodded in agreement, for he too had been approached on behalf of his handsome brother. In his polite rejections of the males of the realm Haldir only generated adulation from afar. Sadly, Haldir had no longing for them in return.
"Perhaps, but he has always been so adamant that he prefers ellith. He wants children and so will not look at an ellon in anything but friendship." He swallowed, finding it hard to say what he truly feared. " Oro, I - I fear that we may lose him, if he does not find a mate soon. He wearies of the waiting. I - I think that he is fading."
Now it was Orophin's turn to blink back the unbidden tears, for the terror in Rumíl's voice showed that he was deadly serious. Haldir - dead? No, it could not be. It would *not* be!
"No!" he blurted out, a lump rising in his throat. "He will not fade! We won't let him. *I* won't let him! Rúmil, he is our brother and our parent. After Adar died at Dagorlad; after mother faded. Oh, the times he dried our tears, held us in our grief, soothed our troubled dreams. Barely past majority, and he became mother and father to us! Ai, why won't the Valar send him his soulmate, so that he may have a family of his own? We found our true loves, why not he?"
Yes, they *had* found their soulmates, and now Rúmil was wed to his lovely Meluiwen and had two lively, adorable elflings; he, Orophin, had been bound to his Doron for nigh on a thousand years. He smiled as he thought of his beloved husband, one of many librarians who tended to Lady Galadriel's extensive library. Who would have thought that he, a warden of the Northern Marches, would share a soul bond with a bookworm? Not that Doron would let him get away with that descriptive term. For all his bookishness, Doron was well able to stand up to his formidable lover. Still, their happiness had shone forth on the day that Haldir and Rúmil had stood as witnesses when Orophin and Doron had sworn their oaths and bound their hearts forever. Which was why Orophin still maintained that Haldir should open his heart to those of his own gender, else in his devout rejection of this possibility his brother was halving his chances of finding the soulmate he sought so desperately.
Now to hear that the Marchwarden was rejecting the pleasures of bodily joining with an elleth... Ai, this was * Haldir* they were talking about - Haldir, the rampant lover; the arrogant warrior; the gentle partner and, in his spare time, a most learned scholar. His search for a soulmate had at one time been so enthusiastic that the door to his talan had nearly worn off its hinges, and his bed had needed replacing yearly from the nightly abuse it received. If Haldir's body was now not responding to the charms of ellith, if it was being denied the opportunities of physical release, then the news was more than dismaying. Rúmil was right. They were going to lose Haldir to the elven sickness if he did not find the elf of his heart - quickly.
"Have you spoken to anyone save Meluiwen and I?" he asked his younger brother. Rúmil nodded sadly.
"Aye, I spoke to the Lady before we returned to the borders. She could give me no answer to the dilemma. Well, no answer that I could understand."
"As cryptic as ever, then?"
Rúmil wrung his hands in his anxiety. " She said that all things come to pass - or through the pass. She does not fear for Haldir, but that Haldir will fear soon, and that he must overcome it to face his future."
Yes, that sounded like their Lady. Succinct and indistinct. Orophin could only shrug.
"Then if the Lady does not worry for the life of our brother, then neither will I." He looked across to the nearby tree, where the topic of the conversation was keeping watch. "I just hope that whatever she foresees will come soon."
Across in his flet, Haldir of Lórien was musing on very similar thoughts to his brothers', and he could feel his heart sinking with every passing moment. He sat with his legs pulled up to his body, his arms wrapped around them and his chin resting on the hard bones of his knees; he stared forlornly out into the edge of the woods of the north-eastern border, to the heights of the Misty Mountains.
For two days they had been waiting for the arrival over the high passes of a party from Imladris, and now they were well overdue. The group was comprised of a number of scholars and scribes with their escort, who were bringing to the Lothlórien libraries copies of documents and volumes of histories from Lord Elrond's personal collection, pertaining to the renewed vigilance against the return of evil to Middle Earth. Within a thousand years of the beginning of the Third Age, the southern regions of the Greenwood of King Thranduil had become dark with evil and the fortress of Dol Guldur leached creatures into the renamed realm of Mirkwood. Mithrandir's surreptitious visit to the evil abode had alerted the Elven realms to Sauron's return. Now the Dark Lord had removed to Mordor, but it was in the resulting resistance to the Evil that the Elven kin had begun to share their knowledge, vital to aiding the Elf Lords in the fight against the servant of Morgoth.
Normally Haldir would have been overjoyed at the prospect of access to new reading material, for he devoured literature and the lore of books as others devoured honeycakes at teatime. Instead his mind was distracted, and replaying the humiliation of his most recent encounter with an elleth - and he pondered on its meaning and its result. He had not really minded the machinations of Rúmil and Meluiwen, for they had been diligent on his behalf and prepared for the evening with such love. However he had been most disappointed when he met the young elleth that they had introduced to him. The disappointment was not with the girl, for she had been most fair, but with his own heart's reaction to her.
There had been nothing. No reaction, no quickening of the pulse or flush to the cheek. No desire to talk with her, to get to know her. To share a bed. A dead and empty space lurked in the centre of his chest and his pulse had slowed on his perusal of her lovely form. Once his heart would have raced in hope and he would have persevered in his attention, begging his soul to come alive. He used to allow every opportunity for his soul to extend itself to the elleth in question, even to the point of sharing his body with her. Physically his body had responded at these liaisons but in the last few decades he had always woken the next morning with the taste of despair in his mouth. So much so that at this latest encounter he had not even bothered to continue the evening for his lust had been dampened by the lack of rapport with the unfortunate elleth. Haldir almost snickered at the epithet 'unfortunate', for he knew full well what his reputation had been and he had in a perverse way been proud of it. Now his reputation was in ruins and, truth be told, he did not care.
The Marchwarden looked across at the nearby tree, knowing that his brothers were speaking about him, and were as sorrowful as he. He did not even understand why he was so despondent. After all he was immortal save to injury, he had forever to find someone with whom he could share his life. He certainly had enough things to occupy himself with, for his duties were extensive and demanding, and fulfilling so many ways. He had always taken great satisfaction in a job well done, and he knew that the Lord and Lady had complete confidence in him. His leisure activities were also extensive, for he adored books and would spend many happy hours in quiet solitude with a well-thumbed volume and a glass of fine wine. Nor did he neglect his physical activities; he danced with delight in the woodland revels and took his turn on a harp when requested at the time of festival. For millennia this had been enough to distract him from his solitary state - so why now did he feel so low.
Haldir's eyes drifted from the Rivendell road to the north-west, to the southern reaches of Mirkwood and the evil therein. Evil that was rising fast, there in Taur-nu-Fuin as well as the southern desolation of the dark country of Mordor. Soon they would all be called to face the Dark Lord just as his father had, standing on the Plains of Dagorlad - where he had died.
Haldir passed a hand over his eyes, wincing at the pain of the memories. His father, who had loved his first-born son so much, who had taken such pride in Haldir; he had confided his deepest hopes and dreams to him. Haldir had been full grown when first Orophin, then Rúmil , was born, and as one of the youngest Galadhrim he had been assigned to guard the borders of Lórien when the more experienced warriors had marched away under the command of Lord Celeborn. The years of waiting, of siege and skirmish, had been long, and then the dreaded day had arrived when victory was trumpeted and deaths were mourned. Both his brothers were still elflings then and so, when his mother had finally passed from her fading, Haldir had been reassigned to the guard of Caras Galadhon so that he could take care of them. As he watched his siblings grow into their majority, Haldir had dwelt long on his father's confided words and had then sworn a silent oath to fulfil his father's hopes and dreams.
A bird's cry called him forth from his reflections and he looked back to the distant pass. At last! Descending from the heights of the mountain path he could see the party he had been waiting for since two days past. His heart fell as he perceived the distribution of the group, for their numbers were fewer than he had been told to expect. This delegation had not been delayed by something so trivial as a cast horseshoe or a small rock fall. No, for they were two horses short, aye and two warriors, and he gasped in dismay as he saw a litter strung between two of the remaining mounts, obviously bearing a wounded elf. He acknowledged the call and sang another, warning of injuries to be cared for. Swinging lightly out of the tree he signalled to his warriors to venture forth. The normal procedure of challenge within the wood had to be abandoned in the face of needy succour of the survivors of the Rivendell group. He had no fear that this was a trap set for his men, for at the head of the nearing column he could see the shining mane of the seneschal of Imladris, unique in its golden splendour. That Glorfindel of Imladris led the travelling party was a sign of its importance in the affairs of both realms, and the desperate fact of the injuries sustained in the attack it must have faced declared that the fight must have been fierce. Haldir knew that Glorfindel was a consummate warrior and that few could defy his swinging blade. Glorfindel would feel the loss of a single elf under his protection to be as a blow to his heart, even as he, Haldir, did when it was one of his Galadhrim who had been sent to the Halls of Waiting.
Haldir raised his hand in greeting as he reached the head of the column, noting that many of the following elves bore signs of battle and minor injuries. At least two of the party were female and not warriors, and the shock and fear in their eyes was very evident. Haldir nodded to them, then turned to Glorfindel.
"Greetings, Glorfindel of Imladris, and welcome once more to Lothlórien." He indicated about them. "My lord, what happened to your party? I see evidence of a conflict and I would know details so that we can take steps to protect this border."
The golden lord bowed to the Marchwarden, whom he had known since his return to Middle Earth.
" Haldir, it is good to see you again, and especially since our encounter upon the heights. It was a large warring band of orcs, as you possibly have surmised, about three dozen in all. They fell upon us as we journeyed along a narrow part of the trail. We lost two of my patrol but sent ten times as many to their deaths. And poor little Mel there - ai, despite valiant efforts by this young scribe a poisoned blade sliced through to inflict a vicious wound. We have rinsed the wound as best we can to wash out most of the poison, and have applied such herbs as we had, but still the pen- neth suffers."
Glorfindel led the way over to the stretcher and the figure thereon. The elf was wrapped in many blankets yet they did not disguise the slim figure and slight stature of the distressed elf, surely the figure of an elleth. The hood of a cloak was pulled forward over most of the face leaving only a strand of dark brown hair, rich with auburn highlights, falling loosely across the pale skin. Beads of sweat stood forth upon what little face could be seen, evidence of the fever devouring this young female.
"Mel is very dear to us all, Haldir. A dear, sweet creature who does not deserve to suffer. I would ask that we continue to Caras Galadhon with all haste, so that Mel can receive treatment as soon as possible."
Haldir nodded at these words, for the urgency and fears expressed for Mel's life by the seneschal was reflected on all the travellers' faces. He signalled to Orophin, calling him to the front of the group.
" Glorfindel, I think you remember my brother and lieutenant, Orophin? He and a small number of my wardens will escort you with all speed to the City of Trees, and expedite urgent treatment for your young friend there. I will take the remainder of the patrol on a survey of your route to dispose of the remnants of the orc scum who attacked you. They cannot be allowed to come so close to the trails, nor to the Golden Wood. They will pay for the evil they have done."
A few barked commands saw Rúmil and the majority of the patrol readying their weapons for battle even as Orophin helped the elves of Imladris to re-mount in preparation for the final leg of their journey to Caras Galadhon. A soft moan from the injured figure on the litter made Haldir turn in sympathy. He knelt by the pallet, his hand gently resting on the shoulder of the suffering elf.
"Fear not, meldis. You will be safe and well soon, I promise," he murmured.
The head turned slowly and Haldir's heart skipped a beat when the dark lashes fluttered on the soft pale cheek, then slowly lifted to reveal the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Like pools of molten chocolate, the soft brown irises were deep enough to dive into, to bathe in, to luxuriate in the gentle depths of a pure soul - to drown in without struggle, for the fate of envelopment would be better than life without this fey creature. Framed as they were by the most absurdly long lashes, they captured Haldir's faltering heart in an instant. Despite the pain he saw within, Haldir saw gentle hope and dawning delight in those enticing orbs, that caused a flame to leap up inside his newly-entranced heart and burn with a ferocity he had never known before. The eyes gently closed once more as the elf slid back into the welcoming dark of dreamless, healing sleep.
Trembling fingers touched the silken skin of the tender cheek, the only part of the face other than the eyes that was visible beneath the swaddling blankets that heated the ailing elleth. Haldir started as Orophin tapped his shoulder, pulling from the momentary spell that he had fallen under, reminding him of the necessary haste of the party and his own duty. It was with a deep reluctance that they took their leave and began to climb the rock-strewn slopes to fulfil their duty and chase down the miscreant orcs who had injured the delicate elleth who now held Haldir's heart.
Haldir had ever been a neat edhel and his talan had always been a place of serene repose and calm order on his returns to the City of Trees. Now it seemed that it was the centre of a storm, a whirlwind of discarded leggings, tunics, boots and belts, all of which had been rejected as unsuitable for this momentous occasion.
The patrol had easily disposed of the orcs that had attacked the party from Rivendell, and Haldir had taken down more than his fair share of the twisted creatures in his rage on behalf of the wounded elf who had embedded herself within his very soul. When he and his men had returned to the northern edges of the Wood they found that a relief patrol had arrived but a day before. The relief was a great surprise for they were but one week into a month-long term of duty, but Haldir was informed that it was by the order of Lord Celeborn. Duly relieved of duty, the patrol had returned to Caras Galadhon where Haldir had received orders to report to the Lord before nightfall. The Marchwarden had every intention of doing that but, as nightfall was still some hours away, he had a more important meeting to arrange.
Orophin had been waiting for him at the main gates to the city, leaning against the gatepost with an extremely smug expression on his face. The warden had grinned on seeing Haldir's quizzing look, and had stepped forward in greeting.
" Suilad, tôren," Orophin had said. "Good hunting?"
Haldir had curtly nodded. "Completely," he said with satisfaction. Orophin had thrown an arm around his shoulder and the two elves had walked together into the city, both avoiding the subject, yet yearning for the topic to settle on the one thing they both wanted to discuss. It was Haldir who finally placed the question.
"How is the young elf who was injured? Healing well, I hope?"
Orophin had nodded nonchalantly. "Fairly well. Seems to have developed something else quite alarming though."
Haldir had looked sharply at his brother, not sure if he should be concerned or not. "In what way?"
Orophin, grinning once more, said, "Oh, sweet Mel has been totally obsessed about something - no, someone. Keeps questioning people about a certain elf who spoke with great concern on the northern slopes. Mel wants to thank him personally, it seems. Is very persistent in finding out who the elf is and, for some perverse reason, seems quite taken with the Marchwarden too."
Orophin had released a pained ' Oof!' when Haldir had dug an elbow into his side, but the older brother had added a spring to his stride at this news, and a satisfied smile to his face. He had hurried to his talan to bathe before going to the Halls of Healing to see in full for the first time this amazing elf, hence the disorder around him now. He did not dwell on Orophin's final words, for his brother had been keen to give him some sort of warning, a warning he did not feel he needed.
"Mel is a sweet gentle creature, Haldir, and most definitely felt the connection that you did too, I am sure," Orophin had said soberly. He hesitated. "Mel truly could be the love of your life, your soulmate, my dearest, dearest brother. Please, *please* give Mel a chance to show you how wonderful your life could be beside - her. Mel is a very -different - sort of lover than you have ever known, Haldir. And Mel is perfect for you, I am certain."
Haldir had shrugged away this obscure warning, for he knew that this Mel *was* perfect. He knew it to very depths of his soul.
After many changes of attire Haldir now stood clothed in deep green leggings and a rich copper tunic, his hair brushed to the bright sheen of sunlight on water, and formally braided. Upon the table lay a small posy of delicate elanor, the stems wrapped in damp moss to keep them fresh. Uncharacteristically ignoring the mess about him, Haldir picked up his tiny offering and exited the talan. The stairs had never seemed so many nor the paths so long, but Haldir walked swiftly and within a short space of time he stood at the ground-level entrance to the Healing Halls of Lothlórien. Here he paused, taking a deep breath, and tried to calm the excessive beating of his heart. Too many times he had hoped, and he would not allow his despair to swallow him once more by wishing too fervently for that for which he so longed. Yet those eyes haunted him...
" Haldir, you are back!" A delighted cry came from behind him, and Haldir turned to face the happy elf, barely preventing the posy from being crushed as he was swept into his brother-in-law's arms.
" Doron, it is good to see you!"
He hugged Orophin's husband with genuine warmth, for he was very fond of the ellon who had made his brother so happy. He pulled back to look into the dark blue eyes of the Lórien scribe, and grinned to see the smile upon Doron's face.
"So, did you have time to hide the secret lover before Orophin surprised you?"
Doron laughed at the joke, playing along with Haldir. "Oh, no problem, I assure you. But oh, my dear brother, it was so *wonderful* to see him again so soon after his departure! The month-long separations can be so hard to bear at times."
Haldir nodded, for he knew that the bond between the two husbands was extremely strong.
"So," he said, changing the subject. "What do you do here, tôren?"
Doron gestured to the books in his hand. "Just bringing a bit of reading material to an injured colleague - the young scribe that you rescued. And you?" He looked pointedly at the bouquet in Haldir's hand. Haldir blushed and looked away in embarrassment.
"Oh, just a few flowers to cheer the lady," he said mildly.
"The la-?" Doron stopped suddenly, and then he too flushed red. He seemed to want to say something but then stepped back awkwardly. "Oh, then you go ahead, Haldir. I can come back later." He lifted his hand in farewell and made as if to go, but stopped and turned back to his startled brother-in-law, biting nervously on his lower lip. "Mel is a very sweet, very gentle person, meldir. Please, be kind to hi- be kind to Mel, Haldir."
With that Doron left, leaving Haldir puzzled in the extreme. The young scribe, Mel of Imladris, seemed to have made a strong impression on more elves than himself. Perhaps it boded well for the future. He turned and entered the hall, approaching the first healer he saw. On enquiring as to the direction of Mel's room, Haldir proceeded to the individual chambers at the rear of the hall, where the less serious patients were quartered. He paused to give himself a final look over, tugging at his tunic to straighten it and smoothing his hair, then knocked firmly at the door. A muffled 'Come in' granted him admittance, and he turned the handle and entered the room.
The eyes were as wonderful as he remembered, the deep warmth of liquid brown that captured his own in gentle greeting. Gone was the pain and anguish of the injured creature of the border skirmish. Instead there was delight, joy and sweetness in that gaze, and trembling hope of the promise of love and unity in the eager, questing look. Mel too wished for something special to come out of this meeting.
A slender oval face, a pert nose and a delicate pout of a mouth, eminently kissable, framed the eyes. Long, shining locks of dark brown hair tinged with auburn tumbled over slim shoulders clad in a light blue nightshirt, and the figure was propped up in the bed, supported by a mound of soft white pillows.
"Oh, hello. You must be Haldir, for Orophin said that you would come. I am so glad to meet you, for I wanted to thank you for your kind words on our arrival." The elf hesitated, then a faint blush crept onto those dainty cheeks and a gentle smile curved the pale pink lips. "I am Melpomaen of Imladris."
The voice was as mellifluous as Haldir had hoped; soft, welcoming, and piercing right through to his heart like a rapier. He stood silent, mouth agape, staring at this vision of beauty, this petite elf whom he had hoped to have loved, and loved forever. He stood.
For Melpomaen of Imladris was definitely, undoubtedly and most irrefutably...