Mairen - a Life Once Lost - Chapter 7- Clues
Betas: Julie, Anoriell, Jen, Char
Warnings: - in this chapter . . . Anger, hostility, mistreatment of honorable March Wardens for no good reason... gambling, elf drooling, large amounts of wishy-washiness... and sorry, no sex...yet!
Disclaimer: Tolkien owns the right to all LOTR characters and I use them with great admiration, and with a conscious attempt to keep them in character. I do not receive any rewards from writing other than my own satisfaction of elaborating on a story dear to my heart.
Chapter Seven: Clues
Glaring disdainfully at the sea of staring human faces surrounding him, Haldir tightened his arms around Mairen, holding her protectively to his chest while Eomer pushed his way through the crowd, followed closely by Rolfe and Eamon. Willem, too, forced his way past several men, his lance slamming ankles as he quickly shoved aside bodies to get near his sister.
Eomer reached out, gripping Haldir's shoulder to pull him aside, the King's gaze forcing the curious back. "Come, bring her," he said, and Haldir followed the King from the hall, using the full force of his haughty gaze and arrogant demeanor to discourage anyone else from following. Carrying Mairen's light weight easily, he followed the Rohirran King outside through another door set low into the side of the building.
Eomer waved to his attendants, and they lit several lamps while Haldir laid Mairen gently upon the large bed, noting the paleness of her face with some concern. Feeling someone's approach, he turned his head sharply, but bit back his retort when he saw it was the Lady Eowyn.
Eowyn touched his arm, a compassionate expression in her light eyes. "This is my room," she said with courtesy. "Let me see to her."
He inclined his head and stepped back, allowing her to move forward and lean over Mairen. She glanced back at Haldir. "We are lucky you are so quick, for she would have been burned terribly had she fallen any closer." He saw her gaze flick over him, and then move on to Mairen's brothers as they filed their way into the room with Faramir following closely behind.
Rolfe moved swiftly to Haldir's side, his dark eyes filled with suspicion as he clamped a hand on to Haldir's arm. "I want to know what you've done to her," he said stiffly. Eamon and Willem stood behind Rolfe, staring at Haldir with a mixture of confusion and concern.
Haldir gazed coolly at Rolfe. "I have done nothing but save her from being burned while the others stood by and stared. Why are you angry?"
Rolfe tightened his hold, ignoring the icy silver eyes in front of him. "You might have saved her this time, but I know you have bewitched her. Ever since she returned from Lothlórien she has been different."
Haldir pulled his arm free and took a step away from Rolfe, while at the same time noting that Eomer watched them both carefully, his eyes intent. He also saw the way the king's gaze slid to Faramir so that the steward eased a few steps closer. Contemptuously, he wondered if they truly thought he would indulge in some sort of common brawl with this human, right here in the Lady Eowyn's bedchamber.
"A coincidence," Haldir replied tersely. "She was treated as a guest, nothing more."
Rolfe only stared accusingly at him and took a step forward only to be held back by Faramir. The steward grasped the Rohirran's arm tightly, drawing him close.
"He has done nothing, Rolfe. The elves have only just arrived. Hold your tongue, for you speak words you do not mean. I know well the damage those can do." Faramir dragged the Rohirran back another step. "Your sister needs your concern, not your anger."
Rolfe shook off Faramir's hold and gazed for moment at Mairen, but then turned back to Haldir. "We talked only last night of her, my brothers and I. Never before has she been like this. She does not sleep. She barely eats. She withers away before our eyes." He glared at Haldir. "And it has something to do with you, I know it."
"If so, I cannot explain it," Haldir said frostily. "I know nothing of what you speak." His gaze shifted to Mairen when she moaned softly and stirred. "If you want answers, she is the one you must ask."
Mairen groaned again, prompting Rolfe to move to the bed. Eowyn perched on the edge, her arm around Mairen's waist as she sought to soothe her.
"Mairen, can you hear me?" Rolfe asked in a far gentler voice than he had used before. "Are you well?"
Mairen's eyes opened, but they seemed glazed. Then she gasped, pushing past Eowyn to rise to her feet, swaying slightly. "No!" she said. "No, I am not well. I can take no more!"
Throwing out an arm for balance, she avoided Rolfe's hands and whirled around to face Haldir. He felt Orophin move behind him and knew also that Rúmil had entered the room, aware both would act as his protectors.
Mairen's gaze moved to Orophin and back to him. "You!" She took a step forward and seized Haldir by the front of his tunic. "Make them go away," she demanded, her eyes pleading. "I don't want to see them any more."
Ignoring the other humans, Haldir held her gently by the arms. "See what, Mairen? What do you see?"
She wrenched herself out of his grasp, fixing him with a wild stare. "You do not know?" She took a few steps away, but swayed again and this time it was Rolfe who caught her by the shoulders.
"You see," he said, "even she thinks you've placed some kind of spell upon her."
Haldir frowned. "I have done no such thing."
Mairen pushed Rolfe away, staggering again toward Haldir, her hand at her temple. "That's right, you did nothing," she blurted in a quivering voice. "Nothing! You refused to help. Why should you bother? We are but mere mortals, insignificant . . ." She winced, and he could tell that she was dizzy as well as confused. Her despair and anger were so palpable he could almost feel them, and it disturbed him more than he would have anticipated.
"You do not understand, none of you," she cried. Somehow he knew that she was struggling to focus between what lay in the present and whatever it was that gripped her from the past. She came close to him again, gripping his cloak as his hands automatically wrapped around her arms to steady her.
She looked up at him, her eyes very green in her distress. "Why? Why do they come? Why did you . . . not come?" Her face was very pale.
Haldir studied her face, holding her upright. "Mairen, I could not. You know that."
She bowed her head, leaning for a moment against his chest. Before she hid her face, he glimpsed the rawness of her emotions--the anger, pain, grief, terror, and above all the despair. Such heart-rending despair as he had seldom seen.
"You could not," she repeated dully. "Yes, I know this. And I have told myself that Orophin had no choice. I cannot fault either his action or yours."
She pushed herself away from him, and from her distant look, he knew that images flashed before her eyes. Was it Helm's Deep that she remembered? Did she see images of death and men in pain, himself falling, elves she had never met dying, Willem struggling with his blindness, covered in blood? Whatever she saw, he knew the moment when her despair turned to fiery anger. The tension in her body made it clear.
"What sights does your mind show you, Mairen? Your eyes are far flung and see not me but something else," he said. "I cannot aid you unless I know what ails you. Tell me, for whatever haunts you has done so before, I can sense it."
Mairen laughed, an angry sound, and stepped back. "You can sense it? Can you sense this?" The echo of her hand on his cheek drew an outraged gasp from Eowyn.
Haldir remained very still, a tiny gesture staying his brothers, and ignored the stinging sensation of her slap. He could easily have caught her hand, but instead he only stared down into the green-brown eyes before him. Those eyes were now wide with horror and fear. Of him?
His glance slid to Eomer, but then returned to Mairen as she stepped back, covering her face with her hands. "I do not know what lies in your mind," he said evenly. "I only thought to aid you, but I see I was mistaken." He nodded curtly and spun on his heel, departing silently, followed by his brothers.
Mairen sank to the floor, wishing it would open up and swallow her forever, but it was not to be. Hauled to her feet by Rolfe, her brothers surrounded her. She was wrapped in a blanket and pushed into a chair. Willem gripped her shoulder as she accepted the wine shoved into her hand from Eowyn.
Eomer stood back, watching them, and glanced at Faramir. "I do not know what this is about, but I have a feeling Rolfe may be right and it does include the elves. I do not wish to anger them. They have become staunch allies, as have you."
Faramir folded his arms over his chest. "Based on what I have heard of Haldir, I do not think he will hold this against her. But I agree." He glanced back at Eomer. "Whatever is happening to this maiden has just begun."
She shouldn't have come so far. The road behind her was no more than a grey line in the darker shadows of black, while above her the city loomed darker yet, backlit by the full moon behind it, freed now from the rain that had swept the plain earlier that night. Occasional amber glows broke the dark expanse, animal eyes peering out distrustfully over the long shadows of the night.
Mairen turned back toward the road, aware of her danger, alone and without steed on the wild plain. Surrounded by the low hills and shallow valleys, she could be beset by any number of threats, even Orcs, who sometimes lay in wait for an unwary messenger or warrior.
But she was wary, and she gripped the lance she carried, using it as a staff to tread further from the city, and safety. Rolfe would be furious if he knew, but she didn't care. Not tonight, not after what had happened.
She did not know what to do.
Why had she reacted so strongly to the vision and to Haldir? She didn't understand it. She pushed away the guilt that lay like a rock in her stomach. She stopped for a moment clutching the long cloak around her. Around her the land lay in dark shadows, though not indistinguishable, and from the corner of her eye she caught a movement. At once she whirled, twirling the lance in her hands toward the shadowy forms behind her.
One ducked the swinging lance. The other met Mairen's weapon with her own, and Mairen's eyes widened as her lance met the elvish sword of one of Haldir's wardens. They stood frozen and then Mairen stepped back, spinning the lance to stab it into the ground angrily. "You were following me."
The warden smiled, and moved further into the moonlight. "Your guards at the gate might believe your insistence that you will be safe, but I fear there are too many dangers that lurk even this close to Edoras to walk alone at night." The elf bowed slightly, and Mairen realized finally that she was female.
"I did not realize Haldir allowed female guards."
The elf raised slim brows in amusement. "Haldir? He does not choose our life path. He only commands those who chose the life of a warrior. I am a warden and my name is Loriel. My friend is Nannirith."
Mairen eyed the two female elves suspiciously. "Did Haldir send you to spy on me?"
The elf called Nannirith snorted, and Mairen looked at her in surprise. The elf moved closer, staring at Mairen.
"Spy? Haldir has many orders for us, but none of them are to spy on you, Rohan maiden. Nay, we are here only as emissaries, and not necessarily to the King."
Mairen studied her. "You speak in riddles. I do not understand."
Loriel sheathed her sword with a smile. "What Nannirith means is that Haldir wishes us to meet you, and perhaps to earn your friendship."
"To aid you, as you requested."
Mairen gripped the lance tightly. "I requested? I asked for no one's help."
Nannirith moved around Mairen, assessing her with her gaze. "Did you not call for help? Lord Celeborn told Haldir that you had."
"Lord Celeborn? I have spoken to no one since I left Lothlórien months ago."
Loriel and Nannirith exchanged a glance and then both turned to Mairen. "It matters not," Loriel said, "but we are here. You seem past whatever beset you in the hall this evening. Has it happened before?" she questioned gently.
Mairen eyed them warily, but shook her head. "Not like that." She sighed, and shoved her hand into her pocket, pulling out the stone she had held so often of late. It had seemed to ease her mind at times, yet not completely. The elves stared at the stone.
"You carry a worry stone," Nannirith said, reaching out to touch it with one finger.
"That explains Lord Celeborn's connection," Loriel stated, as Mairen curled her fingers around the stone.
"What do you mean?" Mairen felt the stone warm in her hand.
"Do you not know that a worry stone is inherent with magical properties? It is a very valuable item. It is also an amplifier, intensifying a mental connection, sometimes over great distances. It seems you were in some way connected to Lord Celeborn, perhaps for only a few moments, but during which, when you desired aid, he heard you."
Shocked, Mairen opened her hand and gazed at the stone with a slight sense of panic. "He can hear my thoughts?"
Loriel smiled, rewrapping Mairen's fingers around the rock. "Nay, only when he is open to it in mind and spirit, and you are as well." She sent Nannirith a wink and a smile. "Lord Celeborn often is, especially when he is reading."
"Aye, he goes into a meditative trance, sometimes for hours," Nannirith quipped. "It drives Lady Galadriel mad sometimes."
Mairen tucked the stone away in her pocket. "So, for some reason he was open to me and heard my thoughts. And sent you here?"
Both elves nodded, and Mairen sighed. "But I don't need any help."
"No?" Loriel asked. "You prefer to deal with whatever haunts you alone? Have you no one to go to for help? No lover in whom to confide your worst fears and find comfort?"
Mairen stiffened. "Nay, I have no lover. I need no one like that."
Nannirith's eyes widened. "What a lonely life you must lead," she remarked in a pensive tone. "I could not imagine having no one to curl up with once in awhile. It eases the mind and the heart. We see too much death not to love and be loved when we can."
Loriel shook her head, glancing at her friend with amusement. "Of course Nannirith is insatiable when it comes to love. She is almost as bad as Rúmil . . . who I noticed smiled at you this evening," she added with a gleam in her eye as she gazed at Nannirith.
Nannirith smiled slightly. "We are meeting later tonight."
Mairen stared in astonishment. "But you are here on duty!"
Nannirith shrugged. "Not every moment. Haldir does not begrudge us time alone, if that is our choice."
Mairen shook her head. "And if you were to love Rúmil as a mate? What then?"
Once more Nannirith lifted her slim shoulders. "No difference, as long as we fulfill our obligations. Is this not the way it is with you?"
Mairen sighed. "I do not know, for I have not asked, nor fallen in love with anyone." She began to walk back toward the city and the elves fell in step with her.
"That is a pity, young warrior, for you are very pretty. I cannot understand why you have no lover. Have you not been approached?" Nannirith looked at her appraisingly.
"Perhaps she is like our March Warden," Loriel remarked. "So aloof it frightens them all away."
"I would not mind getting closer to Haldir," Nannirith said with a sigh. "But I seem only able to gain the interest of his brothers, which of course I do not mind. But Haldir is a prize rarely received, and those whom he does seek out are discreet enough to say very little of him."
Loriel sighed as well. "Aye, a precious commodity is that kind of love from our devoted March Warden. But there are times when he does seek female companionship, if only rarely."
Nannirith frowned. "It has been a long while. The last was Eluviel and she says nothing of how it was with him. But she still follows him with her eyes when he is about, though it was only a short affair."
"Aye, he loves no one but the lands of the elves."
Mairen halted, regarding the two female wardens who were giving out far too much information for her peace of mind. "Stop, I beg you."
Both elves turned toward Mairen with clear surprise. She gripped her forehead; she was getting a faint headache and knew she would not sleep again tonight. "Please, I do not wish to speak about Haldir. And you speak of things far too personal things for my comfort."
Loriel stepped closer. "I am sorry, we forget you are perhaps not as open to such things as we are. Does your head ache? I cannot heal, but I have some herbs that might bring you some relief."
Mairen shook her head. "It would not help, but thank you, Loriel, for your offer and both for your concern. I will return to my rooms now." She nodded to them and pushed past, easing back inside the city gates to become a shadow while the elves followed slowly.
"We learned little," Loriel stated quietly, watching Mairen disappear into an alley. "But she is still ill, that much is clear. Her head pains her, and I am sure it heralds more visions like whatever possessed her earlier this eve."
Nannirith grunted softly. "Aye, she will see something more. Haldir said he knew not what she sees, but Mairen grows uncomfortable speaking about him in the way that we were." She turned to Loriel with a mischievous smile. "Perhaps Celeborn is not the only one with a connection. Should we speak of it to Haldir?"
Loriel shook her head. "Nay, for if she learned of it, she would assume we lied about not spying. He has not asked us to relate to him all that she says, only to be friendly should the occasion arise. It has and we have done so. Perhaps we will seek her out tomorrow and she may speak then of her visions. We cannot press her now."
Nannirith nodded. "I fear we must press soon. She is far too pale for a Rohan warrior who rides the plain. I do not know how long she can fight against this."
Mairen sank down into the hard chair, wrapped in a woolen blanket. She wore only her tunic, afraid to go to bed, knowing she would not sleep. She curled into the chair, staring at the low burning embers of her fire. She could hear Willem moving around in his room, as it lay next to hers, and then finally silence. Rolfe and Eamon were still in the great hall, attending Eomer, and would not return until late. Perhaps she might speak with Rolfe when he came in. But for now, she snuggled deeper into the blanket.
The fire crackled quietly, sending sparks fluttering up the chimney and out into the room. She watched the tiny embers flicker with their fire, and then blacken and finally disappear into a tiny ball of ash. She wished the thoughts in her mind would burn into ash, for they continued to hound her. Thoughts and ideas, words even that were not her own! It was frightening. Was she possessed now as Théoden had been by Saruman? She was terrified that it might be so, and how to tell her brothers? Dear Rolfe, someone has taken over my mind, but please don't worry about me. She grimaced. But she had to think. If it were true, what did they intend? So far she'd only had thoughts and what seemed like memories. Where did they lead and why? She shook her head; already her temples throbbed with the effort to think clearly.
She watched the fire for a moment. Remorse curled in the pit of her stomach, her behavior toward Haldir had been uncalled for, and she knew it. She stared past the flames into the shadows cast behind them, twisting flickering shapes that leaped and bounded over the fire, casting a warm amber glow within the stone of the fireplace. How to approach him now? She flushed, dwelling on what he must think of her. He had only been kind, and she had returned his aid with anger. It was like she had no control of her emotions, feelings and now actions! How could she have struck him? And yet he had not shown any anger.
She remembered his eyes. They had nearly burned her in that brief moment of intensity before he turned and walked out. Had she destroyed any chance of gaining his interest? The heat had nearly melted her, and she had fallen when he left, unable to stand. Had it only been anger in that gaze? She shivered, and then yawned, blinking. Her eyelids were so heavy; it had been so long since she had slept. She stared at the flames and her eyes closed and her chin dropped onto her chest. The fire must be burning hot for she was warm, too warm . . .
Mairen realized suddenly that it was not her own clothing she wore but another's, someone she did not know. The gown was long and dragged behind her, catching at the rocks and sticks that lay along the shore. She had been running, laughing, along the sea. She knew it was the sea, although she has never been there or seen it. The moon was full and hung like a beacon over the water, casting its moonlight over the black waters that rushed toward her. Excited and nervous, she ran further along the beach, lifting her diaphanous gown above her knees.
The sea sang its soft whisper to her while the waves rushed to the shore, spilling out along the silvery line of beach only to recede back into the ocean, leaving foam in its wake. She splashed along the edge, chasing the waves as they came in, skipping over the deeper water that attempted to pull her out with it, reaching down once in a while to salvage a lovely shell that had washed up.
For the few hours of the night she was free from her responsibilities, but she also knew that her father would be angry that she ran along the shore. She was too free, he often warned. Too careless. Someday a sea god would come forth and capture her, taking her back with him into the sea, never to return. She always laughed and told him that her future did not lie with the sea, but with the lands of the Golden Wood. She was called there. Does he not remember?
Mairen stopped, realizing suddenly that these thoughts were not hers. Confused, she breathed deeply the salty tang of sea air and wondered what was happening. Where was she? And who was she? She needed to know, but her thoughts grew distant as she took over, wading out to her knees in the surf toward a glowing disk that floated in the water. It was a jellyfish, and she stepped back carefully, aware of their sting, but curious all the same. The waves slapped at her hips, for she had moved further out, and had to retreat quickly to escape the current's insistent pull. She knew a fleeting moment of fear as the sand ebbed beneath her feet and then she found her step on solid ground, and laughed at her silliness.
This was her place and the night was her playground. How often she had come here to escape her duties and feel free! She ran back along the beach, climbing carefully over the to the smaller cove where she would swim. Few came here during the day and none at night. It was hers alone. She ran along the water again, lifting her sodden dress into her hands as the waves splashed at her knees. She moved out into the waves when suddenly right before her a god arose from the water, lean and fair and beautiful, with silver hair and flashing grey eyes fringed with night-dark lashes.
She screamed, shocked by the sight, and found herself backing up onto the shore. Then the god laughed and she recognized his voice, covering her open mouth with her hand. No god was he, but only elf, one whom she had watched all evening in awe and flustered excitement.
The elf waded only to his waist, his chest bare, and she knew that he wore nothing more. How had he found her cove, this elf of the Golden Wood? He had come with the elves from Lórien and Rivendell, bringing one who would travel in the grey ships to the West. He had come, as she watched from her father's home, leading them to Cirdan's Hall. She had wished to attend the great meeting, but had been unable; her duties kept her at the docks, helping her father with supplies and loading the ships. But she had not forgotten his face and to see him now, standing in her cove, made her heart flutter once more.
"I did not mean to frighten you. I thought I would be alone." He spoke quietly, standing still, ignoring the ebb and flow of the waves at his waist, repeatedly revealing more and then less of him with the timeless rhythm of the sea.
"I did not expect you, that is all," she said in a defensive tone. "How did you find my cove? No one comes here."
He smiled, his eyes glittering in a way she had not seen directed toward her by any but young elves intent on their first conquest. It made her nervous, for she had no intention of falling prey to this older elf's desires.
"I only followed the trail," he said. "You must come here often to leave such a path. I thought it made by the deer."
Feeling wary, she kept her distance while he continued to appraise her. "It is actually," she answered. "The deer come across here every night. I followed them once and found the cove. I swim here. Alone."
He frowned slightly, and she suppressed a shiver, not at the change in his expression but at the sight of him illuminated by the moonlight.
"I am sorry if I disturbed your sanctuary. I only thought to take a short swim. It eases my mind." He moved a step closer and she held out her hands to stay him. He was too close, and she knew her eyes must have widened with panic, for his chin lifted and she could see his amusement. He paused, raising an eyebrow. The waves splashed lower now, around his hips. If he took another step in her direction . . .
"It is I who has intruded," she said quickly. "I will return to my home and leave you in peace."
"You don't have to go."
She laughed, shaking her head, and stepped back, but he reached out, grasping her wrist with an impossibly strong grip that pulled her closer to him. The waves rocked her as they swept around them, but his hands held her arms gently.
"I saw you tonight, but you would not come near. Are you afraid of me?"
"Afraid?" she whispered, for he was too close and she was fast losing her train of thought. "Not afraid. Only not ready."
"Ready for what?" he asked, his gray eyes piercing. She gripped his hands with hers to still her trembling.
"For you," she said, and then smiled, twisting out of his surprised grasp to wade back to shore. "I knew someday you would come. Seek me again in the future, March Warden. You will know when the time is right . . ."
Mairen woke abruptly by sliding straight out of the chair, knocking it over with her fall. Sprawling in front of the winking embers of the fire, she stared at the fire, struggling to control her breathing. A hard knock sounded on the door.
"Mairen? Are you all right?" It was Rolfe.
He opened the door and peered inside as she scrambled to her feet, righting the chair. "I am fine. I knocked over my chair is all. It got caught in my blanket." She pulled the cloth tight around her chin, staring at her brother.
Rolfe frowned, eyeing the fire and then Mairen. "Do you want me to replenish your fire? The night is chill again. You were not asleep?"
Mairen shook her head. "I was only sitting by the fire. I am fine, Rolfe. Go to bed."
He studied her for a moment longer, and then nodded and shut the door quietly. Mairen sank down to the floor, huddling for a long while in her blanket while she tried to make sense of what--and whom--she had just seen.
Haldir leaned forward, resting his chin on the back of his hand as he sat at the small desk in his room, contemplating the day's events. It had all happened so quickly. He sighed, shifting his thoughts to the small fierce warrior, both intrigued and irritated by her whirlwind emotions.
He was quite certain she had not been fully in control of them this evening, and striking him was a testament to the volatility of those emotions. Clearly, whatever was troubling the Rohirran maiden was frightening her badly, though she would not admit it to anyone, least of all him. How to circumvent her stubbornness? That was the question that nagged him, for he sensed that to leave her to deal alone with whatever ailed her would lead to her death.
The girl had looked pale and wan even before falling into the fire. The moment he'd walked through the doors of the Great Hall, he had seen her, standing amid the crowded room at her table, her eyes wide with surprise at his appearance. Her brother had stood next to her, and Haldir had instantly known that he was still without his sight, but his attention had quickly returned to Mairen.
She was thin, far thinner than when she had taken him to Lórien, and it was with a deep sense of foreboding that he had turned away to speak to Eomer. Galadriel's concern had leaped at once to his mind, and it was why he had sent his brothers into the room, hoping with their hearing to learn more of Mairen. He had not expected to find himself drawn so quickly into her troubles. What had triggered her attack?
He rose, walking to the window to peer out, and saw that Loriel and Nannirith were returning. They soon entered his room, still deep in conversation.
"If she does not speak of it, what then? If we cannot find out what is happening, how can we help her?" Nannirith was saying. A moment later she bowed to him and touched her forehead with respect. "Haldir," she said, "we have spoken with Mairen."
Loriel shut the door and bowed also, then moved to the desk, courteously waiting for his slight nod before she sank into his vacant chair. "A mystery to be solved," she said. "Mairen is stubborn."
Haldir inclined his head, having come to the same conclusion. "So you were able to meet her. What was her reaction?"
Loriel glanced at Nannirith. "Surprise. She wandered outside the city and we followed. A foolish idea to traverse the plain alone." When Haldir frowned, she added hastily, "She is a true warrior. As soon as we neared her, she sensed our presence and turned, ready to slay the both of us."
Nannirith smiled. "Had it been an Orc, he would have had no head. But we are too quick! On foot or horse, the Rohirrim are deadly with those lances they carry."
Loriel sat up straight. "A perfect idea, Nannirith! Why did I not think of it before?"
Well used to these two and their conversations, Haldir leaned against the window and observed them. They were among the most perceptive of his wardens, keen of eye, while their female gender gave them other advantages and uses. He saw Nannirith staring in confusion at Loriel and smiled inwardly.
"We must challenge her," Loriel said, leaning on the desk and gazing with determination at Nannirith. "She will not speak of what troubles her, but during any sparring match, one's words are not always well thought out. Often we speak of things that lie deep within our minds without thinking. I know I must always watch what I say when fighting Orophin, for he tries to delve into my deepest secrets when we spar." She laughed, then flushed at the raised brows of both Nannirith and Haldir.
"What secrets does my brother seek to know, Loriel?" Haldir inquired with a lazy look.
Loriel grinned. "None that I would tell you, March Warden, and I mean that quite respectfully." Springing to her feet, she folded her arms over her chest. "We have offered her our friendship. She worries that you send us to spy on her, even though we told her otherwise. She is a warrior at heart, and might find it welcome to train against us."
Remembering how pale Mairen had been, Haldir considered this with care. "If she is able," he finally agreed. "I do not wish her to be hurt."
Nannirith spoke up. "Sir, are you aware that Mairen carries a worry stone?"
Haldir's eyes narrowed. "I did not know. That is interesting. It explains her connection with Lord Celeborn. As to her connection with myself . . ." Here, he paused, unwilling to say more aloud.
He only knew that he and Mairen had been drawn together too many times for coincidence. It was a riddle he was determined to decipher.
Mairen stepped outside the stable, drawing Epona behind her quickly as the small patrol gathered to mount. The news of Aragorn's approach had Eomer deciding to meet the King on the border. Rolfe mounted his horse a few steps away and Mairen pulled Epona aside.
"Mairen, you have met Faramir, have you not?" Eamon moved near, followed closely by Faramir, who stood at Eamon's side to greet Mairen.
She turned away from Epona and bowed to the Gondorian steward, catching the hint of amusement in his brown eyes. The man was fair to look upon, his face tanned and filled with good humor. Any testament to his grief of recent days was hidden. He flashed an attractive grin, and reached out to grip Mairen's hand.
"I have not met you formally, my lord," Mairen said. "Welcome to Edoras."
Faramir drew her closer. "I wanted to say thank you, Mairen, and to see for myself that you are well. Eowyn speaks so fondly of you. I can see you and she are much alike."
Mairen pulled her hand back. "Aye, we can be, which is not always a good thing, my lord." Turning back to Epona, she pulled herself up into the saddle and looked down at the steward. "Beware of her moods, Lord Faramir. You will never know what she will do." She smiled at him and urged her horse forward into the line of patrol.
They rode swiftly from the city, two abreast as they thundered over the hills toward the borders. It would not take long to reach Aragorn, and Eomer rode at their head, his blond hair whipping in the wind with his Uncle's captain, Gamling, beside him. Behind him rode Rolfe and another of his captains, and finally Mairen at the end as rear guard.
Aragorn met the Rohirrim with a smile, reining in his stallion as he waited, surrounded quickly by the patrol, although this time it was not with spears drawn and held to point. Eomer halted beside the Gondor King. "I could not allow such fine royalty to traverse my lands unguarded," Eomer greeted them with a laugh.
Aragorn leaned back in his saddle to peruse the warriors who now surrounded them, and turned to his beautiful elf companion, murmuring something to her in Elvish. The Lady Arwen laughed at his words.
"Lord Eomer, my husband tells me your welcome this time is much more agreeable than your last. I find it most welcome to have your warriors as guard, and your presence among them is an honor." She bowed to the Rohirran Horse Lord in respect.
Eomer returned her bow and signaled to the patrol, and the Rohirrim formed rank alongside Aragorn and his retainers. Mairen found her place riding beside the Lady Arwen, and glanced at the elf curiously.
Tilting her dark head, Arwen returned her gaze. "I find myself pleased to ride beside one of the few Rohirran maiden warriors."
Mairen shook her head. "Nay it is I, my lady, who am flattered. Your visit to us has been greatly anticipated by many. I welcome you to the lands of the Eorlingas."
Arwen smiled and looked around her. "It is a land that matches her people--strong and defiant and hard, but with a beauty all her own." The elf glanced at her husband, and Aragorn reached out to touch Arwen's hand with a fond smile.
"Indeed, the strength of the Rohirrim shall be tested again and again, yet I have no fear that if I should need aid," Aragorn nodded at Eomer who rode beside him, "I shall find it on my doorstep." He leaned closer to Eomer and they began to speak quietly.
Arwen turned back to Mairen. "My husband says you have visitors from Lothlórien. I had hoped perhaps to see my Grandmother again, but he said he thinks only Haldir and his wardens have come." She sighed, but the smile remained on her lips.
Mairen nodded. "Aye, the March Warden has come to pay his lady's respects. I am sorry it is not the Lady Galadriel."
"Do not be, for I saw her just recently at my own wedding. To see her again so soon would have been pleasant, but I know she does not wish to leave her lands. I fear her next journey will be to the Grey Havens, and I do not wish for that day to come too soon."
They rode, their pace quick but not rushed, and cantered through the gates of Edoras to many cries of welcome. Mairen dismounted quickly, but not before she noticed Haldir had come to greet the King and Arwen, whom he assisted from her horse. To Mairen's slight annoyance, Arwen rewarded Haldir with a hug, but she also noticed he did not return it and felt a flash of satisfaction that was most unlike her. Why should she care? As more guards dismounted, they were soon lost from her view, and Mairen turned and led Epona into the dim stables, her emotions once more unsettled.
"Greetings, Mairen. I hoped to speak to you again." Loriel approached her, opening the stall door as Mairen drew Epona inside.
"Good morrow, Loriel. What can I do for you?" She glanced warily at the elf as she unbuckled the cinches and slid off Epona's saddle.
Loriel took the saddle from her and heaved it over the side of the stall, and then leaned against the door to watch Mairen brush the horse.
"You look better today," she observed. You have some color in your cheeks." She paused. "I thought you might like to help Nannirith and I pass some time while we wait for the wedding to commence."
Mairen slanted a curious glance at Loriel, whose blue eyes stared back with frank inquisitiveness. "I am not on duty for the rest of the day," Mairen answered. "What did you have in mind?"
Loriel's gaze now twinkled in challenge. "A match, of Rohirran strength against elf. What say you? Shall we draw eyes to a feminine warrior challenge? It would be fun and entertaining. And perhaps you will draw some appreciative glances your way."
Mairen cast Loriel an amused glance. "I don't care to draw such things to me, but I would not mind a sparring match. Eamon has been too busy and Willem no longer can." She frowned and looked away.
Loriel saw the frown and slid back inside the stall. "Mairen, do not judge your brother only by his loss of sight. He is still a strong warrior. Such things can be overcome. He can fight. You might be surprised."
Mairen gazed at the elf. "But he is blind, Loriel. He cannot see his adversary."
Loriel laughed. "And could you see us last night? We have other senses that can accommodate the lack of sight. Haldir could teach him. Haldir can fight like no other even when he cannot see. You should ask him about it."
Mairen tucked the brush under her arm in order to untangle a knot in Epona's mane. "I will mention it to Willem. It is his choice." She put away the brush and moved out of the stall to face the elf.
"If it is a challenge you offer, then I accept. Perhaps a bout might ease my mind." Despite everything, she smiled at the sparkle in the elf's eyes, and they moved out of the stable into the bright sunlight.
The area the Rohirrim used for training sat near the stables, a rare area of relatively flat land, hardly larger than an acre, but protected from the fierce winds by the surrounding stables and homes. Warriors of all sizes meandered around the arena, a few trading blows within its fences, but most leaning against the rails or standing in conversation with others. The arrival of the last patrol had many still holding their horses and Mairen sighed, knowing that as usual their attention would soon be focused on her. She strode quickly to the gate, seeing Willem standing near the fence with Eamon, but she ignored them and pushed open the wooden rail to move inside the arena.
Loriel followed her and Mairen could sense the attention they were already attracting, including Willem and Eamon at the fence. She moved to the side where the extra weapons were kept for practice, picking up a long lance and weighing it for a moment in her hand, checking the staff's balance.
"What weapon do you choose, Loriel? Will you try a Rohirran lance?" She handed the stout spear to the elf and saw Loriel smile and run a hand over the smooth pole.
"An interesting weapon. I shall try it."
Mairen nodded, and chose another lance. They moved toward the center of the arena, and then turned, facing each other as opponents.
Across the yard, Rúmil leaned against the fence next to Willem with Orophin close to his other side. He glanced at the two females as they circled slowly in the arena and then looked back at Willem.
"An interesting competition, Willem. Mairen against Loriel. Loriel is a fine warrior."
Willem smiled, his eyes moving toward Rúmil to stare at him blankly. "An excellent sparring partner, I am sure. But Mairen is exceptional. She has chosen to use the lance, has she not?"
"Aye, she has," Rúmil confirmed.
Willem chuckled. "Then your Loriel will soon find herself upon her back. Mairen has put many of us there easily." He leaned forward as the sound of the lances striking each other broke the silence, and many more Rohirrim moved toward the fence to watch.
Rúmil glanced across Willem to Orophin. "A challenge, I think. I say we should place a wager on such an event."
Orophin glanced at the two in the arena and then back to Rúmil. "I cannot choose between them. I know Loriel's skill, but I have a feeling Willem may be right. The lance is a Rohirran weapon, and I think Mairen has the advantage."
Rúmil shrugged. "But that is not to say it will end there. Loriel is wily and carries her sword. Mairen might find her weapon lacking against an elvish blade."
Willem laughed. "Enough! They are evenly matched. Let us wager."
Rúmil leaned closer. "So be it. What would you spend in defense of your kin?" The three spoke quickly, placing bets, and rapidly found more interested faces inquiring on the wager. Soon they were busy taking bets from the various Rohirrim warriors. Willem shook his head, pulling Eamon to stand next to him.
"Mairen will not be happy to be the subject of such things." Eamon chuckled, making some marks on who had been selected to win.
"She will not know unless you tell her, Eamon, for I certainly will not." Willem grinned, nodding toward the two sparring females. They had been toying with each other, and Willem could hear the whirling lances easily, noting that neither had yet made use of her full strength.
Eamon chuckled when Mairen spun her lance over her shoulder, slamming the back of the elf's knees, buckling them, and she rolled to the ground only to leap back to her feet. "The elf is agile and quick, I would be lying moaning on the ground at that blow."
Willem sighed, "You must describe what is happening, for I hear it, but cannot tell who has stuck who."
Rúmil winced as Mairen barely avoided Loriel's latest swing, the lance brushing over her head by the slimmest margin. "Loriel has just swung the lance at Mairen, but she ducked . . . barely."
Willem snorted. "She is well aware of where she stands. Do not believe it mere luck." The lances collided. "Mairen will now spin and swing the lance low only bring it upright . . ."
Orophin shook his head as Mairen proceeded to do just that, and the lance slammed Loriel's chin so that she fell backwards to the ground with a grunt.
"I told you!" Willem groaned, shaking his own head. "I felt that!"
Eamon snickered. "Aye, it's her favorite move. We should know it well enough by now. She always seems to know when to use it." He smiled as Mairen stepped back and Loriel moved slowly to her feet, rubbing her chin.
Rúmil glanced at Orophin, then back at Loriel, who spun her lance, twirling the six-foot pole toward her opponent. "Loriel has used such weapons," he said for Willem's benefit. "Our own swords use many of the same moves. She has advanced toward Mairen." He winced again as Mairen misjudged the angle of Loriel's swing and caught a solid blow to her shoulder. "She has been struck."
Willem frowned. "She is strong. I hope your brother was not angered by Mairen's striking him last night. She was not herself."
"Nay, he was not. But he keeps his distance."
Rúmil smiled, watching the sparring women closely. "Aye, but I can guarantee that he is watching them right now. And with interest."
Orophin chuckled, and then groaned as Loriel flew back, tripped up once more by Mairen's lance. The elf leaped back to her feet and backed up, grinning good-naturedly.
As Rúmil had guessed, Haldir was indeed watching from farther up the hill above the arena, where he stood partially hidden by the shadows of the building behind him. His elf warden was well trained, but it was Mairen who held his interest, his eyes narrowed against the sunlight. Something about her movements seemed familiar, and he watched, intrigued, storing them in the back of his mind while at the same time admiring her grace, strength, and beauty.
Mairen ducked Loriel's swing, and spun to bring her own weapon up but found instead Loriel had caught on to Mairen's move and slammed her lance across Mairen's jaw, knocking the Rohirran off her feet. Mairen rolled over, and Haldir knew her head must be swimming with the force of the blow, and saw her stagger to her feet. The sound of the elf drawing her sword must have alerted her, for Haldir saw her stiffen.
Haldir straightened when Loriel drew her blade, studying them as Mairen backed up a step, then leaped forward, the long lance spinning wickedly, flashing a glancing light off the metal tip. Loriel ducked and turned quickly, bringing up the heavy elvish sword in a blow that shattered the staff of the lance as it met the edge of the long blade. Mairen stumbled at the loss of her momentum, rolling quickly over as Loriel turned.
Haldir saw Rúmil lean forward over the fence, as Mairen stared up at him. Loriel straightened, holding her sword ready while Mairen got to her feet, only a few feet from the elves and her brothers at the fence.
Rúmil spoke with Mairen, and she smiled as his brother pulled the sword from the sheath on his back swiftly, handing the long elvish weapon to the Rohirran warrior. Mairen then turned to face Loriel.
Haldir's eyes continued to follow the flowing choreography of the two warriors as they resumed their contest. The ease with which Mairen adapted to the new weapon fascinated him, for she wielded the weapon like one who had trained with it. It was with an uncanny sense of certainty that Haldir decided that he had seen this warrior fight before.