Marien - A Life Once Lost - Chapter 6: It Begins . . .

Title: Mairen - A Life Once Lost
Author: Fianna
Betas: Julie, Anoriell, Jen, Char
Rating: R
Warnings: - in this chapter.... Minor battle violence, Anger management problems... some violence towards elves. Takes leaping strides away from canon... bad humor.... Minor character flaws .... Large amounts of confusion.

Note: I have taken creative license in using the word Rohirran... upon research and much discussion, I have found no word that refers to a single Rohan person, and all other suggestions do not work for me, so I have created my own term... I apologize to any in advance that finds this irritable... and also to Julie who is determined to change it to Rohirrim, using that term as both plural and singular...

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 Six: It Begins...

The day dawned warm. Summer had finally come, melting away a spring fraught with more than just cold weather, but also grief and despair. Yet beneath all that, hope remained, steadfast and solid as the Rohirrim patrol that pounded up the steep incline into Edoras, cantering thru the wooden portal into the city to rein in amid a cacophony of noise that grated on Mairen's nerves as she dismounted.

The stable yard was a confusing mix of horses, men, women, dogs and a myriad of other assorted flock and fowl and those who had been away far too long were greeted with cries of joy and or grief, depending on what news others thought to bring them. Mairen's patrol had returned in the midst of a reunion, and she now stood among men she had thought dead or worse. She pulled Epona to the side of the stable yard, avoiding a large goat that wandered aimlessly.

Too many, though, did not return and Mairen scanned the warriors she could see, making note of who had not. A deep sense of sorrow swept over her and she turned to find Renny, but could not see him in the confusion. She frowned, tying Epona to the rail, and pushed her way through the crowd toward where Eomer stood on the steps of Meduseld. Eowyn stood for a moment behind him, her fair blond hair shining in the sunlight, her face wreathed in smiles at their welcome, and then she ran up the steps into the great hall. Mairen gave a soft sigh of relief that Eowyn had returned and moved closer.

Eomer was grinning, responding to questions and accepting the many welcoming words, but she could see the weight that rested now on his shoulders. Replacing King Théoden would not be an easy task. Already she could see signs of his responsibilities in his manner and she felt a brief sense of sadness at the changes. Eomer had treated her like one of her brothers, a companion rider; but what now? She only knew that her grief of losing their King had to be put aside; paths had changed, life moved on. She strode closer, hoping to ask for news of Rolfe for she had not been able to find him.

Her eldest brother waylaid her a few steps from Eomer, whirling her around to encase her in a great hug, a rare instance of affection. Rolfe set her back on her feet, staring at her armor with amusement.

"I fear you have shrunk, sister. This armor looks far too large for your slight frame."

Mairen grinned, staring up at the tall Rohirran in affection. "I have not. `Tis Willem's armor. I have been riding with Renny this past fortnight."

Rolfe wrapped an arm around her shoulders as Renny approached, grasping Rolfe's outstretched hand. "Willem's eh? Well I am not surprised. I did not think you would sit too long by his side."

Renny chuckled, raising long blond brows in humor. "She would have stayed but for Willem's entreaties for her to ride with me. I fear her coddling was nigh driving our brother mad with irritation." He ignored Mairen's dark scowl.

Rolfe laughed. "I can imagine! Eomer has been driven to distraction by Eowyn since we left, hardly leaving his side, and speaks only of Faramir." He shook his head in bemusement and glanced at Mairen. "I fear I shall never allow you to fall in love, Mairen, if I have to listen to such things as Eowyn spoke of on our return home. I swear if I hear more about his eyes or anything else I will seek the plains and never return."

Mairen frowned, doubtful of Rolfe's sincerity, and turned when Eomer shouted a greeting to Renny from above them on the steps. The Rohirran King grinned and began to make his way toward them. Mairen drew back as his gaze locked on her. He seemed to focus in on her alone, and she grew wary, a sense of unease stealing through her as he approached.

"Mairen! It is well to see you!" Eomer gripped her shoulders, and smiled, his twinkling gaze sweeping over her.

Mairen lowered her eyes for a moment, bowing her head in respect. "Greetings, my lord. It is well to see you returned."

Eomer released her, and reaching out to shake Renny's outstretched hand. "You have just returned from patrol? And the news?" Renny relayed what tidings they had, and the King's eyes returned to Mairen. "A long patrol. You must be glad to be back. It will give you time to rest. You look weary, Mairen."

Mairen glanced at Renny, and shook her head. "I am well, my Lord. The trip was not long."

Eomer shook his head, grasping her shoulder in a tight hold, renewing her sense of unease. "I do not agree. In fact, I think you must stay in the city, for I need someone to guard my sister. Now that we have returned, I have more pressing things to do."

Mairen's eyes widened. "My lord? I do not think Eowyn needs a guard here in Edoras?"

Eomer turned to her, his brown eyes narrowing slightly and he stared at her for the briefest of moments. "I disagree. Do you wish to argue the point?"

Mairen hastily shook her head. "Of course not, if that is what you command, Lord Eomer."

Eomer's chin rose and then he smiled, easing the seriousness from his face. "That is well then. I shall expect you to become her shadow until the time of Faramir's arrival here." He winked and turned to ascend the steps into Meduseld with his retainers.

Mairen watched them disappear with a sigh.

*~*
Eowyn sat on her bed, staring at the piles of gowns with a blank expression, surrounded by a bevy of servants nervously waiting for her orders. Mairen stood near the door, posted once again as Eowyn's guard. She knew it was Eomer's attempt to keep his sister out of his way that had put her here, but the resulting weeks had seemed endless. Mairen glanced out the window, squinting against the bright sunlight and stared longingly at the blue skies above her. She sighed softly to herself, but Eowyn heard her and turned around.

"You can stop wishing you were out riding patrol, Mairen. Eomer will not give you leave to go." She smiled, pulling a heavy gown over her lap to stare at the ceiling again in distraction.

Mairen rolled her eyes. "I only wish that you would decide which gown you will wear and free these poor seamstresses to do their work. You cannot focus for more than a minute on the task at hand. Morgoth's balls! I hope I am never held in such sway by a man." She laughed as Eowyn slanted her a sheepish look.

"Am I that bad?"

Mairen folded her arms to lean against the wall. "Aye, horrible." She grinned wickedly, and Eowyn tossed the dress on the bed.

"Well, I cannot help it, so you must tell me something to take my mind off him." She pulled Mairen further into the room, pushing her to sit on the bed.

"Eowyn, I have nothing to tell. I ride days on end with thirty loud, belching, crass Rohirrim men. What is there to say?"

Eowyn's brows rose high. "Indeed?"

Mairen smiled. "Nay, there is nothing," she insisted. " They are all annoying bullies and see me as no different from themselves."

Eowyn shook her head in disbelief. "So you may think, Mairen, but I have seen several look at you with interest, but you pass them over as if they were Willem or Rolfe."

Mairen rose off the bed, her fingers instinctively brushing the hilt of the sword at her hip. "Indeed, I have seen their gaze. They can look all they like, but I will not acknowledge them. The first time I do so will be my last day on the march."

Eowyn swung around; she had walked to the bed, and had been sorting dresses again. "Mairen, that is not true. Eomer thinks highly of you, as did Uncle Théoden. If you were to love another rider it would not mean for you to stop being a rider yourself!"

Mairen walked to the window, shielding her eyes from Eowyn's gaze. "Are you so sure? Is not their first intent to father a child? And then where would I be? No, I fear such a life is not for me, Eowyn. I refuse to accept that role."

Eowyn threw the dress on the bed and stalked over to Mairen, pulling her around to face her. "You are not serious."

"I am."

Eowyn stood back, studying Mairen curiously. "I don't believe you, Mairen. But we shall see. Did you know Eomer has met someone as well?"

Mairen frowned. "Nay, I have not heard much news. I rode patrol with my brother Renny, and then was sent here to ahem... guard you."

Eowyn shook her head in amusement, "Aye, guard me." She laughed. "Anyway, I shall tell you. Eomer met the daughter of Imrahil from Dol Amroth. He is a handsome man and his daughter is very beautiful. I think Eomer was smitten at first sight." She moved back to the bed, piling several dresses in her arms and handed them over to the seamstress. "Indeed, before the year is up they plan to wed."

Mairen said nothing and Eowyn turned to her. "Does that not surprise you?"

"It is their choice, I am sure children will soon follow."

Eowyn snorted, holding up the dress she had finally chosen to inspect it one last time, plucking at some of the stitching. "I think you have a preoccupation about childbirth. Do you not want children? Truly?" She glanced at Mairen with a questioning gaze."

Mairen shook her head. "I have not felt that desire."

Eowyn tossed the dress back on the bed. "Tell me you have never desired anyone, Rohirrim... or otherwise," she added.

"What do you mean or otherwise?" Mairen asked uneasily, for those words brought back a memory that was her own, one she had tried hard to forget.

Eowyn smiled wickedly, moving to circle Mairen who stared back nervously. "Or otherwise. Don't be obtuse. You know what I mean. I think you have hidden something from everyone, except maybe Willem." She stepped back folding her arms over her chest. "I shall have to ask him."

Mairen frowned. "Ask him then. He knows nothing."

Eowyn laughed at her answer. "So! There is something then?"

Mairen sighed, caught firmly in Eowyn's trap. "Perhaps I met someone ... interesting."

"Interesting? I think it more than that. Your cheeks are flushing even as you say it."

Mairen bit her lip, unwilling to voice the heated attraction she had felt for Haldir. Eowyn continued to circle her, tapping her lips as she studied Mairen.

"You don't want to speak of it, I can see that. So you are embarrassed or totally overwhelmed. Who can it be? We've seen so many new faces in the past year," she paused. "Was it Aragorn? He is wed now to the Lady Arwen." She watched Mairen's expression and shook her head. "Nay not he. Oh! I know... it must have been the dwarf, Gimli!"

Mairen's eyes widened in horror. "That is disgusting."

Eowyn laughed merrily. "He is not so bad once you are acquainted with him." She paced a few steps and then eyed Mairen again. "Perhaps the elf, Legolas?"

Mairen stared straight ahead, hoping Eowyn hadn't noticed her slight flinch when she'd thought that Eowyn meant to say someone else. Eowyn's eyes narrowed.

"Ah, no comment! So I think not Legolas, for you flush but your eyes remain steadfast. So that tells me if must be an elf, for it is the only thing you've reacted to." She moved to stand before Mairen. "Are you going to make me drag it out of you, or will you confess? I can bring in reinforcements!"

Mairen knew she was lost. "I will tell you, but you must not utter a word to anyone else or I will throttle you."

Eowyn grinned, unperturbed by Mairen's useless threat and waited, lifting a slim brow.

Mairen took a deep breath. "It is an elf. I thought him most handsome ... and desirable. But that is far as it goes, Eowyn. There is nothing more to tell." She spun and went to the window.

Eowyn waited for Mairen to continue. At Mairen's silence she prodded softly, "And his name?"

Mairen stared at the glass, seeing only the face that continued to haunt her dreams, whether waking or not. "It is Haldir. And I will say no more."

"You do aim high! Haldir, the March Warden of Lothlórien." Surprise entered Eowyn's voice. "He is the one you carried back to the Golden Wood, is he not? Tell me what happened?"

"Nothing." Mairen said rather gruffly, to Eowyn's evident amusement.

Eowyn moved behind Mairen. "Liar," she said softly.

Mairen struggled to find a way out of the conversation. She had just turned to speak when the door was flung open and Eomer stepped inside, followed by Rolfe, Gamling and several other of the King's attendants.

"You are not even dressed yet?" Eomer stated teasingly. "What have you been doing? Gossiping it seems!"

The King winked at Maire, then turned his attention to Eowyn, who waltzed over to him with a dress in her hand. "Nay, just talking with Mairen. I have been hounding her about dress choices and she has been gracious enough to help me choose." She lifted the dress to show Eomer. "I shall be ready soon, have no fear."

Eomer sent Mairen an amused glance. "Indeed, I hope that is true, for I have news that Lothíriel rides over the border. She will be here in a few hours and I wish you to be there to greet her."

Eowyn nodded, "Of course, I would not think otherwise, for she comes with Faramir as well. He rides as guard, and I know she is well protected."

With a laugh Eomer pulled out a chair and sat. It creaked loudly at his weight but he ignored it. "An amusing sentiment, sister. You think Faramir a skilled warrior then?"

Eowyn thumped Eomer's shoulder. "I do, as you well know."

Eomer grinned, and rose with a sigh. "As I do. I am thankful you draw his heart here. The night is yet long, the hours pass too slowly, and I have come to seek a way to take my mind off my wait. What conversation do you speak that would bring such color to Mairen's cheeks? If I am not mistaken, she looked quite flustered when I entered." His piercing gaze settled on Mairen's face.

Mairen drew back, scowling as all eyes turned toward her.

Eowyn smiled, and bent close to whisper into Eomer's ear.

*~*

Galadriel moved into the shadows, walking slowly among the rock littered path, away from her city, away from the lights that lit the treetops aglow in the dark evening shadows. She glided carefully, avoiding the tiny pitfalls, stepping over the rocks with feet bare, and silent.

But not so silent that Haldir did not hear. He stood, shielded by the shadow of the large Mallorn tree under which he had been sitting. When Galadriel reached him and he bowed low and touched his heart.

"Haldir," Galadriel addressed him.

"My Lady?" Haldir replied. He moved to her side, and walked with her further along the path.

Galadriel did not speak but continued along the path, taking them farther from the city. She turned as they approached one of the many small streams that ran below Caras Galadhon, the tinkling sound of the water as it bubbled over the rock lined basin growing louder as they neared. She bent down to pick up a small stone that glittered in her palm, gazing at the tiny rock.

"I told someone once that even the smallest person could change the course of the world," she drawled slowly, her voice mysterious and soft. "And as I look upon this stone I know that should I toss it into the small stream at my feet, so shall the course of that water be changed, there in changing the water's path as it flows toward the sea, ne'r to be the same." She stared at the rock and then turned to Haldir, her sapphire eyes glowing with a magical light that made them gleam in the near darkness.

"And who is such a stone that the paths of the world may yet be changed?" Haldir asked, taking the stone from her hand and gripping it gently between his fingers.

"I cannot be certain, but I have a sense that it was not mere coincidence that the Rohirrim were close at hand when you needed aid." She tilted her head to look up at the stars that were now visible overhead, and then her unfathomable eyes returned to Haldir's face. "Do you know of what I speak?"

Haldir frowned, curling his fingers over the stone, and met Galadriel's stare. " It does seem a narrow twist of fate that she heard the battle. A rare event in itself, and yet she did. And had she not, I would have perished."

Galadriel moved closer to the stream to sit slowly on a large rock; Haldir did not move but only watched the Lady closely. "I knew something was wrong. I despaired at your peril, but when she appeared to me in my mirror, a tiny glimpse of hope replaced that despair and turned it into joy.
At the time I thought it a mere whim of fate, yet now I wonder."

Haldir bounced the rock in his palm. "We do not know what lies in our future. Only the Valar, and I am not always certain they know either. They often seem fickle in their desires."

Galadriel looked out over the flowing water, leaning over to trail her fingers into the swiftly moving stream. "Perhaps. But for what reasons?" Did they wish to aid you in your peril or did they wish your paths to cross with Mairen? As she aided you, did they wish for you to aid her in return? We have spoken of this before, and my mind cannot let go of a nagging sense of something more to come. I know not what it is."

Haldir gripped the stone, and crouched down near the bank of the stream. "Your mirror does not tell?"

"My mirror is fading. My powers to hold at bay this new age wan. I fear to trust what it says, for soon it will tell me nothing."

Haldir frowned, glancing at the elven ruler who had so long controlled the world around them. "When the west calls to you, will you hear it?"

Galadriel smiled, a slight lift of her lips that hinted at sadness. "It called long ago, Haldir, and soon I shall answer. But the world still lies before us, and those paths of which we speak."

Haldir waited for her to continue.

"I am not the only one whose interest lies in the young Rohirran warrior. Rúmil has spoken to me, as well as Orophin. Even Lord Celeborn feels your paths lie closely tied together."

Haldir looked over the stream into the darkness beyond. "I do not know what it portends. All I know is my thoughts turn to her often."

Galadriel sighed. "I fear we have not been near her enough to know what we must do." She stood up gracefully, followed smoothly by Haldir. "Eomer has been betrothed to the Lady Lothíriel and will wed her soon. The lady travels this day to Edoras, with Faramir of Gondor, to stay in Meduseld until the day of her wedding, along with her father. I would send our regards to the new King of Rohan, and at the same time, offer you the chance to renew your acquaintance with Mairen. Perhaps we shall learn more of what our fate decrees."

Haldir touched his forehead, bowing slightly, stepping back to allow the Lady to pass before him. She moved ahead and he paused for a moment to stare at the small stone in his hand, before tossing it back into the roiling stream.


*~*

Mairen sat up, trembling with the overwhelming sense she was in danger, then flew to her feet, drawing her sword from where it rested beside her bed. She waited in the dark shadows of the night, listening, but only silence surrounded her- silence and her own harsh breathing.

What had woken her? Relaxing slightly she moved toward the window, pulling aside the thin curtain to stare outside. The moon lay full, illuminating the street. She laid the sword against the wall and opened the window, throwing the two panes wide as she leaned out into the crisp air. For once the air was still, a rarity in Edoras, for the winds blew fierce on their mountaintop. But tonight everything lay eerily quiet. She didn't like it.

She picked up the sword and returned to her bed, resting it alongside her as she lay down on top of her blankets, uneasiness still making her nerves tremble. What had woken her? She sighed, closing her eyes and the image flashed back into her head with such glaring intensity that she gasped in pain.

It seared her mind, the image of the elves so vivid she covered her eyes with her hand, leaning on her side as a deep sense of despair and anguish flooded into her mind, the battle that raged in what seemed to be a memory blotting out all other thought. It was gone in an instant, but to Mairen it felt like hours, fighting alongside elves she felt she knew, and loved, and feared for. The feelings were so strong she felt nauseated and sat up, clutching her stomach. This was the third time this month. She didn't understand. And she was beginning to fear what it might mean.

She moved to the window and slid down to sit below it, hidden in the shadows. What was happening? Although it was summer, the nights were chill and she shivered, clasping her arms tightly around her knees. She fumbled in a pocket and pulled out the small stone Renny had given her. She gripped it tightly, pressing the smoothness against her forehead in despair. Please make them stop! She struggled to force away the thoughts. The battle was unfamiliar, not of Helm's Deep or any other that she knew.

Nay it seemed old, ancient, the elves different, their armor none that she had ever seen. She leaned her forehead on her knees, fighting the tremors that still swept over her, the fatigue that dragged at her arms. She had not fought in this battle. Why was it now so embedded into her mind?

*~*
"Celeborn? Celeborn, are you ill?"

Celeborn flinched, raising his gaze to Galadriel as she leaned over him, her blue eyes filled with concern. He blinked and lowered the goblet in his hand to his lap, having frozen lifting it to his mouth to drink. "I just had an odd thought leap into my mind."

Galadriel straightened, sliding a hand over his shoulder as he stared straight ahead, his mind still not fully with her. "And what is this thought? You dropped your book."

Celeborn reached down to retrieve the small book that had fallen from his lap, and set both the goblet and book on the table next to him. He rose, sliding his hands into his sleeves, still focused on his thoughts. He moved slowly, and Galadriel followed him, watching her husband as his brows furrowed in concentration.

He turned finally to her, and frowned, the lines marring the smooth expanse of his face. "I heard Mairen's thoughts as if I could read her mind, as only you can. Even as far away as she must be, I felt her despair as if it were my own. She is frightened, Galadriel. I do not know why I suddenly sensed some of her thoughts, but for a brief moment we were connected."

Galadriel moved next to him, sliding her arm inside his. "It is a sign. Since we met I sensed that as we needed her, she too would need us. I do not know why, but I found it disturbing."

Celeborn rested his hand over hers. "Indeed, a sense I had as well. Perhaps when I healed her we gained some minute connection, I know not. But I know only that she is ill equipped to deal with whatever frightens her, so that leads me to believe it is no battle she faces."

Galadriel looked up at him. "A physical battle, no... but I wonder if perhaps one within her mind?"

They sat down on a bench, and Galadriel sighed. "I had wondered if sending Haldir to Edoras would be a good decision, but I think now he must ride quickly. I have a feeling events are already unfolding."

*~*

The day grew late; the setting sun hovered over the mountains to the west of Edoras, pulling the elves toward the lofty city with rays of gold-filtered light. Haldir rode; a rarity for the Lorién elves, but the horse was a gift to the Horse Lord. Behind him Rúmil and Orophin followed, along with four more of his wardens, all of them on horseback.

They galloped over the last rise and then halted before the steep hill leading up into the city. Haldir drew back on the reins of the near white stallion beneath him, and the horse whickered, impatient to continue his journey, aware as such beasts were, of food and shelter ahead.

Rúmil moved to Haldir's side, leaning over the pommel of his heavily carved saddle. "The day grows late, and our weather holds for only a moment."

Haldir glanced at his brother. "Aye. I fear you are as impatient as my steed." He smiled at Rúmil's shrug, but urged his horse forward. They rode across the lower valley riddled with muddy patches from a recent rain shower while hoping to avoid the ones which loomed on the horizon.

The gates opened, the guards recognizing the elves, and they cantered through the wooden portal, ducking slightly the low doorway. They rode into the city, pulling men and women alike from house and croft to view the rare event of elves within Edoras.

Haldir dismounted in a flutter of cloak, landing on light feet before the gilded hall of the King. Two men hurried down the wide steps toward him and he waited, holding the reins of the stallion that pranced nervously beside him.

"My lord, a pleasure to greet those of Lorién." Gamling said quickly, eyeing the elves with surprise and a bit of awe. He bowed as Haldir bent his head slightly.

"We come bearing the regard of the Lady of Light and Lord Celeborn for the King Eomer and his wife-to-be." Haldir straightened and held out the reins of the horse. "We also bear a gift."

Gamling's eyes widened. "A fair gift, my lord. I shall take you to Lord Eomer in all haste. He shall be honored by such wishes." The Rohirran captain bowed, waving Haldir forward up the steps. Haldir nodded and began to climb, the folds of his cloak rippling in the wind, followed closely by the others except Rúmil who waited behind, holding the stallion's reins.

*~*

Mairen shoved the hand away that attempted to rest on her shoulder, the fingers seeming to have a mind of their own. She turned to the hand's owner, only to see he was once again drowning his face in the large mug of ale held in his other hand. She snorted softly, ducking away from him to sit with irritation at the table next to Willem. Unfortunately, her admirer had similar thoughts and plopped down next to her, shoving her tightly against her brother.

"If he doesn't move in the next few moments, I will cut off that hand that dares touch me again." She snapped at Willem, glaring at the wretch from the corner of her eye. Willem laughed, wrapping an arm around her back to pull her closer yet.

"It's the dress, Mairen! For although I cannot see you, the words I hear are all of amazement, I think we've forgotten you are a woman!" he chuckled, ignoring her snort, and squeezed her tightly.

"Aye, and a bad choice it was for me to acquiesce to Eowyn's insistence that I dress formally." Mairen muttered, glancing at Willem who stared at her, his eyes perhaps not able to see, but still riveting nonetheless. " I wish now I had not. If I had my sword at my side, perhaps then they would leave me be."

The Rohirran beside her, ignorant of her growing annoyance, thought to follow Willem's lead and attempted to throw his arm over her shoulder. It was to loud peals of laughter and his own annoyance that he found a sharp elbow shoved into his stomach and his feet pulled from beneath him, so that he fell back with a crash, spilling his ale. He stared in shock at the crowd of laughing faces above him.

Willem stood up, moving beside Mairen as the man struggled to his feet, her brother's face stern with challenge, and the man glared at Mairen but moved away, patted consolingly on the back by a few others. Mairen turned back to the table with a sigh as Willem sat back down.

"I may not be able to see, but I can still scare them away." He laughed, taking another long swig of his ale. Mairen peered into his cup, what was left wouldn't quench the thirst of a mouse, let alone her brother. She called for more ale. The room was loud with laughter, the tables full of merriment and good cheer for Eomer sat at the far table, hand in hand with his bride to be, a wide smile of contentment wreathing his face.

A few moments later, Mairen nudged Willem to gain his attention. "I think Eomer's face will be sore from grinning," she said with a laugh.

"Ah, but if the maid is as fair as they say, I doubt that smile will fade anytime soon." Willem chuckled, waving the mug in front of him, but not toward the object of his words. He belched, and Mairen sighed, standing up from the table.

"Don't go, Mairen. I care naught for the banter of this table, but none will lead me to another. I need you."

Mairen pushed away the large hand on her hip, but Willem only curled it around her waist. "You need to stop drinking or you won't need to go anywhere but under the table."

Willem chuckled and let go. "Nay, I can drink far more than this, dear sister. He bent to take another drink when the doors opened before them, allowing the cool of the night breeze to rush in, flickering the torch flames and stirring the fire in the center of the hall. Voices grew quiet as Gamling thrust wide the doors, and marched in followed slowly by the elves.

Mairen stiffened, gripping the edge of the table with trembling fingers as she stood, completely unaware of her gasp of surprise, or of the violent tremor that ran through her body. Willem felt it and stood slowly bedside her, clasping a firm hand on her shoulder, his sightless eyes drawn unerringly toward the elves.

Eomer looked up, his eyebrows rising in surprise as the doors opened, his conversation to his lady halted by the elves' approach. Gamling bowed, and stepped aside.

"The elves of Lothlórien, My Lord." He announced, waving Haldir forward.

Eomer rose and moved off the platform holding his throne. Haldir bowed at the waist, and then straightened to grip the hand Eomer held out to him.

"Mae Govannen, King Eomer, son of Théodwyn, I bring blessings and well wishes from the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn on your upcoming marriage." Haldir straightened and turned around, glancing at the door, and turned back to the King. "I have also brought a gift." He turned, waving gracefully toward the still open doorway and through it came the beautiful stallion, held securely by Rúmil as he pulled the prancing horse into the smoke filled hall.

Eomer's eyes widened, and then he smiled, slapping Haldir on the back as he moved past the elves to examine the stallion. He gripped the horse's bridle while smoothing a hand over the hair at the stallion's forehead. "A fine gift from such honored elves. I cannot relay my sincere thanks well enough!" Eomer laughed, handing the reins to Gamling, who pulled the horse outside.

"I have heard you like to make grand entrances, Haldir." He remarked, referring to that other entrance at Helm's Deep. "And as before we welcome you with open arms. Come and join in the festivities! Tell us of the news of elves." He guided Haldir forward to his table and the elves were welcomed by cheer and tankard alike.

Becoming aware of her trembling, Mairen could only stare as she sat down, gripping the handle of her mug with extra firmness. Willem sat down beside her.

"You tremble, Mairen. It is he again, is it not? I fear my memories at Helm's Deep were at fault for is he not the one you took back to Lorien?"

Mairen glanced warily at her brother. He sat, his head tilted sharply, waiting for her answer. "Aye, it is he," she admitted.

Willem frowned. "You never told me what happened in that time, and I wonder now what did?"

Mairen took a long swallow of her ale, her gaze dragged back to the elves near Eomer. She did not answer, only stared at the group, her eyes drinking in the one she never thought to see again.

He stood equal in height to Eomer, his frame as broad in shoulder and chest, but the elf held a delicate refinement, one of smoothness and grace that the Rohirran did not possess. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the King, accepting the mug of ale pushed into his hands with a slight curl of his lip and the subtle flicker of an eye toward his brothers. Rúmil and Orophin stood to the side and at his glance moved away into the crowd. Mairen's eyes narrowed, and she watched Haldir closely.

He was dressed in a tunic of bronze that wrapped around his body, the tall collar framing his chin and embroidered in fine detail. His cloak was the color-changing green cloth of the warden's, decorated along the edges with intricate swirls in a gilded ivy design. Haldir sipped the ale with a slight grimace, and then smiled at Eowyn when she traded him a glass of wine. Mairen gripped her own mug at that smile and closed her eyes for a moment.

It was a mistake, for in her mind the darkness grew. Familiar now with the sensation of the oncoming memories she opened her eyes only to fix them upon Haldir and his tunic, the design of his cloak drawing her attention, pulling the memory that was not hers from deep within her mind. She stared at the design, so beautiful, intricate and so familiar...

She stood up, clutching her head, knocking over her ale as she pushed away from the table. Willem's hand dragged at her waist, but she avoided his grasp, stumbling back into the crowded room, her vision growing darker, filled with scenes she had never witnessed.

The shouting was not of the hall of Meduseld, but of a war-ridden plain, dark with fires of ash and smoke, stinking of death and despair. She stumbled, holding the long bladed sword with arms that ached from long use, desperate to avenge the lives so lost, rushing back into the tide of warriors screaming for revenge.

Mairen staggered, drawing concerned gazes toward her, falling against the earlier admirer, knocking his ale once more onto his chest.

Angry at the double insult, the Rohirran flung out his arm, knocking Mairen backwards into the crowd now gathered, drawing angry shouts from around her, but she heard nothing. She clutched her temple, the pain of the memory slashing into her mind like a sharp knife. She staggered back, forcing the crowd of onlookers aside as she gasped in pain and then fell toward the fire that burned merrily in the center of the hall.

She felt the flare of heat as the one in her memory felt the fire of the land around her, burning her eyes, her hair. She could smell the bitter aroma of flesh and burning hair...and then she was pulled roughly against a solid chest, wrapped in arms that lifted her off her feet, the smell of the forest wiping away the pungent odors of her memory and she let go, falling back into the arms in delirium.

Haldir cradled the unconscious Rohirran, lifting her safely away from the fire that still smoldered the long sandy hair hanging over his arm. His icy glare challenged any to deny him his burden and the crowd parted as Eomer thrust his way through, followed closely by Rolfe, Willem and Eamon, Mairen's brothers.


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