"I don't understand," Eldarion said with a pout, "where's Uncle Legolas? Who are you?"
Haldir smiled at the little prince. "I am a friend of your Uncle Legolas. Since he and your parents are away, I have been assigned to watch over you."
"Oh," the prince said. "But I want Legolas!"
Haldir sighed. This would be a long visit.
In reflection, Haldir realized, it had probably been a bad idea to play tug-of-war with the now-crying little boy. He was only a peredhil, after all, and not a full-blooded elf with the strength and ages of the trees.
"Yuck!" Eldarion squealed, wrinkling his nose. "This is gross!"
"It is elvish soup!" Haldir protested. "I made it myself!"
"Gross!" the boy said, and pushed the bowl away. Haldir frowned. Maybe the differences between Silvan and Gondorian cuisine were greater than he had thought.
"You can do it," Haldir encouraged.
Eldarion looked up at him with shining hope. "You really think so?" he asked timidly.
Haldir bent down and kissed the little prince's head. "Of course you can. Now get on that horse. You want to show your father and Uncle Legolas when they get back, don't you?"
"How'd you get one so small?" Eldarion asked, admiring Haldir's miniature horse figurine.
Haldir chuckled. "They make them special back in Lothlórien."
Haldir grinned craftily. "Now, you want me to take you to the archery court tomorrow, right, your Highness?"
"Yes!" Eldarion exclaimed eagerly.
Haldir prodded the prince's plate. "Then eat your vegetables, and I won't breathe a word about letting you near weapons to your mother."
Haldir was surprised the little boy knew so much about birds, but he smiled at the way Eldarion's eyes lit up and he began to chatter about raptors when they saw the falcon soaring overhead.
Haldir grimaced as Eldarion sneezed all over him. "You've got your sickness all over me!"
The prince only laughed. "Now you'll get a cold, too!"
Haldir didn't like his triumphant tone.
"What do you mean, Mother's grandfather is a star?" Eldarion demanded. "That doesn't make any sense!"
Haldir shrugged. "Well, he's not the star, it's the jewel he carries in the sky—"
"Are you sure this isn't just a story?" the boy demanded.
Haldir winced in sympathy as he saw the bruise purpling on Eldarion's face. "What were you doing, fighting with the commoner boys?" he demanded.
"They called me stupid," the prince mumbled, his face red with shame.
Haldir shook his head. "You're lucky I won't tell your parents. If they found out you were fighting on my watch, they'd never let me come back here!"
"Then we'd best not tell," Eldarion said seriously, and Haldir felt good to know the boy liked having him around.
"What's that on Tálagor's foot?"
"It's not a foot, it's a hoof," Haldir corrected the boy. "You must not come to the stables often. It's a horseshoe."
"What's that for?"
The Silvan elf's eyes widened in shock. "You really don't know anything about horses?" He had to teach the prince. It was a shame that Legolas or Aragorn hadn't taught him this already.
"Well, maybe you can't do it, but I can," Eldarion said confidently.
"Don't you think that's a little arrogant?" Haldir inquired.
Eldarion grinned, throwing the dart dead center in the middle of the board. "Not if I'm right."
Eldarion frowned, looking up Haldir's long, lithe body. "You're so tall," he said enviously. "Will I ever be that tall?"
Haldir grinned and ruffled the boy's hair. "Well, seeing as you're more than half elf, we can certainly hope you'll get at least up to my shoulder."
For a peredhil, Haldir had to admit the little boy was exceedingly fast. But still, he outran him in their one-on-one race. It would be a sad day for the Eldar if a human boy outraced an elf.
"It's not my fault," Eldarion whined as he cleaned up the shards of the broken pot.
"It's not my fault, either," Haldir countered. "But someone's got to clean it up. Besides, you need to learn to work. Just because you're a prince doesn't mean other people should do everything for you."
"It's such a long way down!" Eldarion wailed, clutching the trunk of the tree.
Haldir sighed. "It's only a few feet. Besides, I thought you wanted me to teach you how to climb trees like an elf? Maybe you should have picked a thicker branch to sit on."
"This way, Eldarion!" Haldir called out, directing the boy toward him. "We're going to the stables, not the kitchen!"
It was an old, small thing Haldir's mother had given him when he was a child, but Eldarion was fascinated by the way it caught the sunlight.
"You can have it," he said, handing the brooch the little prince.
Eldarion beamed and hugged him quickly, before going back to admiring the brooch.
"Ouch!" Haldir gasped, holding his bleeding finger.
"What happened?" Eldarion asked in concern.
"Oh, nothing," he said dismissively, wiping the blood off on his cloak. "I just cut myself, is all."
"You're hurt?" the prince asked in concern. "Come here—I'll take you to the infirmary!"
"Eldarion, it's just a papercut—"
"You need a bandage!"
Haldir sighed, smiling, and let the boy lead him to the infirmary.
"Yes, Eldarion, you're very brave," Haldir said with resignation as he watched the little prince attack a dummy with a wooden sword. "Now come on, soldier—it's dinnertime."
Admittedly, the joke wasn't that funny, but Eldarion had never heard it before and he thought it was hilarious. Haldir found himself racking his brains for more as he watched the little boy roll around on the floor in laughter.
"What did you just call me?" Haldir exclaimed, affronted.
"A...servant?" Eldarion admitted, abashed. "I—I didn't mean it like—"
"Really, your Highness, I thought we were friends by now," Haldir said mournfully. "Do you really think of me as lesser than you?"
"I—no! I'm sorry!" the prince apologized, and he really did seem sincere.
Fishing was not something Haldir had done often in Lothlórien, but Eldarion insisted, so they took a trip down to the pond outside the citadel to fish. He was a little shocked that the prince's skill in the sport, and by his patience, which he didn't have for anything else, it seemed; and also embarrassed that the eight-year-old peredhil was better at this than an age-old elf.
The screech startled Haldir out of his nap, and he sat up quickly, drawing his knife instinctively, only to see a frightened Eldarion.
"Was that you?" he asked grumpily.
"I thought it'd be funny," the prince admitted.
Haldir sighed, shaking his head with a smile, and sheathed his blade. "Save the screaming for when you're actually in trouble, and let me take a rest."
"Here, try this one," Eldarion said, passing the paintbrush over to his babysitter. Haldir took it, nodding his thanks, and dipped it in his own paint.
"What are you painting?" the little boy asked curiously.
Haldir smiled, making another few strokes. "A picture of Lothlórien, for you, so you can see what my home looks like."
"Well, I don't have to just look at a picture," Eldarion said matter-of-factly. "I'll go there myself someday."
Haldir's smile widened. "I hope you do."
"If I weren't so short I could get it myself!" Eldarion complained, standing on his tiptoes trying to reach the cookie Haldir held.
The Silvan elf chuckled, taking a bite of the cookie. "Well, for once I'm glad you are."
"This is disgraceful!" Haldir said in shock, looking at the cluttered prince's room. "We need to clean this place out immediately!"
"We can just get a servant to do it," Eldarion said, carelessly kicking his shoes into a pile.
"You are a prince of Gondor, your Highness, and it is especially important for a ruler to know how his people live," Haldir scolded. "You're doing this yourself this time."
"It's so foggy out today," Eldarion complained, looking out the window. "We can't go riding!"
"Of course we can," Haldir said in surprise. "This mist reminds me of spring in Lothlórien. We'll have great fun."
"But we won't be able to see," the prince pointed out.
"You're half an elf," Haldir admonished. "Use your sharp elf eyes."
Haldir looked around, making sure no one else was in the kitchen. "Promise you won't tell?" he whispered to Eldarion. "Not your parents, not your friends?"
Eldarion nodded eagerly. "I'll be quiet!"
"All right," Haldir said, giving the boy his cup of ale. "But just one sip—and don't breathe a word to anyone!"
"So you really fought in a battle?" Eldarion asked, his eyes shining.
Haldir nodded. "I am a marchwarden of Lothlórien, a guard of our forest, and while your father was defending Minas Tirith, the Enemy attacked my home."
"Tell me more!" the prince urged.
"All right, but it's a long story..."
Haldir was not a big fan of the drink, but Eldarion was determined to make his own tea. A burn and three spills later, he felt exhausted but satisfied, and the pleased look on the little prince's face made it worth the inconveniences.
"Where did you get this?" Haldir asked, quickly taking the ruby-stone ring out of the prince's hand.
"It's my mother's," Eldarion said, reaching to try and take it back.
"Well, then, you should let it stay hers," Haldir scolded. "Put it back where you found it."
Truth be told, Eldarion's feeble flute playing sounded awful, but Haldir tried to be a supportive guardian and told him he was wonderful, though internally he was hoping the boy would stop playing sometime very soon.
"Uncle Haldir, are you ticklish?"
The question, and the use of the nickname previously applied solely to Legolas, caught Haldir off guard. "I—no, of course I'm not ticklish. I'm an elf."
"Mother's an elf, too, and she's ticklish," Eldarion said with a devious grin.
"No, get away from me!" Haldir exclaimed, lurching backward as the little prince advanced on him with wiggling fingers.
As it turned out, Haldir was ticklish, which Eldarion was delighted to discover.
"And I, King Eldarion of Gondor, hereby sentence you, a murderer to death!" Eldarion cried out.
Haldir, listening to his charge's loud, make-believe antics from the next room, smiled.
"I'm gonna win," Eldarion said firmly.
"I've won every other competition we've done," Haldir reminded him.
The little prince grinned. "But not this one."
"Well, you tried," Haldir said, looking at the mess of spilled paint all over the ground. Eldarion, his lower lip trembling like he was about to cry, gave him a weak smile.
"What did you just say?" Haldir exclaimed in alarm.
Eldarion blushed. "I—well, I—"
"If I ever catch you saying a word like that again, your Highness, I'm afraid I'll have to tell your mother!"
The prince widened his eyes, horrified. "I promise, I won't, I won't!"
"You'd better not," the Silvan elf grumbled.
"I'm so c-cold," Eldarion shivered.
Haldir shrugged his cloak off and handed it to the boy. "Here, use my cloak."
"But you need it!" the prince exclaimed, pushing it back toward him.
"You need it more than me," the marchwarden pointed out.
The loud noise Haldir emitted when he saw the spider was not something a fierce, experienced marchwarden would be proud of. Eldarion, concerned for his caretaker's well being, raced into the room, only to find Haldir cowering under a table, eyes fixed on the hairy insect. He laughed.
"Afraid of spiders?" he asked teasingly.
"Just...just kill it," Haldir said in a strangled voice.
"You're, what, a thousand years old, and you've never had cake?!" Eldarion exclaimed. "Come on, Uncle Haldir, we're going to the kitchen to fix this right now!"
Haldir looked at the mess the little boy has made in exasperation. "Eldarion!" he shouted, summoning the boy from his hiding place, "come clean this up right now!"
"Look at the stars," the boy prince murmured sleepily, curled up next to his guardian. "They're so sparkly."
Haldir kissed his charge on the head. "Very sparkly," he agreed as Eldarion dozed off. "Goodnight, your Highness."
"Eldarion, what are you—are those Lord Faramir's glasses?!" Haldir exclaimed. "Take them off, right now, and give them back! Did Queen Arwen never teach you to not take other people's things?"
When the shouting and clash of swords started down below, Haldir knew something was wrong. If there was fighting, and in the palace no less, it was his responsibility to keep Eldarion safe. This was why King Elessar had enlisted his help in the first place.
"Eldarion," he whispered to the wide-eyed young prince. "You have to go and hide."
"What about you?" Eldarion asked, his voice trembling with fear.
"I'll be alright," he told the boy softly. "Now go—hide! Don't come out until I tell you to!"
The boy nodded and obeyed quickly for once, scampering away. Haldir watched him go, then unsheathed his blade and crept toward the commotion.
Haldir soon saw that the palace was being attacked, most likely in an attempt on the prince's life while his usual guardians were away. Anger clouding his mind, he leapt into battle. The attackers outnumbered the palace guard, and he wondered what was going in the city below the palace.
He crossed swords with an attacker and gritted his teeth. This was a good swordsman. Still, Haldir thought as he disarmed the man and ran him through, he was better.
Haldir and the dwindling palace guard fought off attacker after attacker, and he was growing tired, even for an elf.
He let his guard down for just one moment to catch his breath, assuming he'd be safe hunched over in a corner, but then he felt an opponent's knife drive into his back. He screamed in pain and whirled around with his blade, slicing the offender's head off, but it was too late. He fell to his knees, groaning in pain, his vision spotted with black.
He fell to his knees and he was cold, so cold. There had been a summer storm the previous day and the air was still chilly, but now the marble pressed against his skin and he could feel the cold seep into his body, and he was shivering, but above all he thought of Eldarion, how he had failed the little prince, he had fallen...
In no time at all, the shouting and fighting stopped, and Haldir was still alive. He could hear the palace guards approaching him, then he felt them picking him up and carrying him away. He passed out on the way to the infirmary.
When he woke, he felt pain in his back where he had been stabbed, but no longer did it threaten to destroy him. He was an elf, and the Eldar healed quickly.
There was a little boy next to him, a familiar little boy, and he smiled at the prince.
"I told you to stay and hide until I came to get you," he croaked to the prince.
Eldarion hugged him and said through relieved tears, "I know, but I had to see you."
Haldir recovered quickly, and he was soon back on his feet. At last, King Elessar, Queen Arwen, and Eldarion's usual guardians returned from their trip away, and it was time for him to go.
As he prepared to leave, the queen approached him.
"Haldir," she began, "I heard that you protected my son with your body while we were gone."
He nodded. "I was appointed his guardian. That extends to being a bodyguard."
"I just wanted to thank you," she said, "for saving his life."
"You're welcome, your Majesty," he said, bowing.
Eldarion ran up to him. "Uncle Haldir, you're leaving?"
"I must return to Lothlórien," he said.
"I'll miss you," the boy said, hugging him.
"I'll miss you too, Eldarion," Haldir told him with a smile. "Will you come visit?"
"Of course!" the prince exclaimed. "Right, Mama?"
Queen Arwen smiled. "We'll see."
Haldir bowed to her again, then winked at Eldarion, before walking out of the palace. He would miss the Prince of Gondor, but it was not as if they would never meet again, and it was time to go home.