Never Say Never - Part Eighteen
*** Caras Galadhon
"Rúmil, Orophin, why are you out here when you should be preparing for tonight?"
"Lord Celeborn!" Both elves spun around to face him.
"We were looking for Rían. Have you seen her?" Orophin asked, his blue eyes filled with concern.
"We have searched all day!" Rúmil threw his hands in the air in obvious frustration.
Celeborn smiled at the antics of his foster sons.
"Did it not occur to you that if Rían does not want to be found, you will not find her?" he queried, his voice slightly teasing. "Have you also been remiss in remembering whose tutelage she was under in Imladris?"
From the looks on their faces, they had indeed forgotten; Lord Elrond's chief advisor and his seneschal. Rían was well capable of making herself scarce if desired.
"But why would she elude us?" this question softly asked by Orophin.
Celeborn knew she was not purposely avoiding them for he had seen her earlier, nestled snugly high in the branches of a tree that stood guard over her parents' burial mound.
Although there were dried tear tracks on her face she appeared content as the mallorn gently cradled the half-asleep elf.
He smiled as the ancient tree told him that she had finally confronted and made a tentative peace with her past. Perhaps now she would allow herself to think more clearly on current affairs!
Still smiling, he left her in the care of the mallorn and continued with his walk.
"I am sure she is not avoiding you deliberately," Celeborn finally answered. "I believe she only needs some time to sort out her thoughts. Coming back to the Golden Wood, no doubt, has her mind spinning with many dilemmas and memories."
"You do not think she would miss tonight?!" Rúmil almost gasped at the thought.
Celeborn shook his head in amusement; these two were so easy to read!! Their intentions were clear; to escort Rían to the feast and show her off as their gwathel...and hopefully word would get back to Haldir of the wonderful time she had with his brothers. The ultimate goal, to show Haldir what he was missing out on by being so stubborn!
"Even if Rían did not wish to, she would still attend as a representative of Imladris; she would not want to cast a poor reflection on Lord Elrond or her uncle. Now...do not worry so. Lady Galadriel has seen to Rían and all you two need do is ready yourselves!" Celeborn smiled and briefly clasped them on the shoulder. "It will be a wonderful evening!!"
Rían pulled the robe around her as she stepped from the bathing tub and stretched languidly. She was still quite relaxed from the time spent in the mallorn but knew now she needed to hurry to avoid being late.
Coming to a stop before the wardrobe, she looked doubtfully at the blue dress hanging before her and wondered, yet again, if it was suitable for the feast. When she had packed for her trip she did not think to bring anything more formal and worried she would look more out of place than usual.
Her fretting was interrupted by a light knock at the door and Rían was surprised to see Lady Galadriel.
"My Lady, please come in," Rían hurried to open the door.
Galadriel's expression was bright as she walked inside the talan. "I hope I am not interrupting."
"Not at all, My Lady, I had only finished my bath and was preparing to dress."
Taking in the wet footprints on the floor and the way Rían's robe clung to her still damp body, Galadriel smiled. She fondly remembered a certain foster son who still had a penchant for not drying properly after a bath!
"Did we not leave you enough towels?" she asked, her lilting voice colored with amusement.
"There are plenty, My Lady," Rían answered, truly perplexed by her question.
Galadriel continued with that all-knowing smile as she placed a small bundle on the table.
"I brought you a gift, Rían," the lady said, her words emanating happiness. "I know you had little notice when you left Imladris and thought you would like this."
Rían felt her breath catch as Galadriel held up the dress. Gently, almost hesitantly, Rían touched the soft fabric as her eyes roamed the gown. It was a shimmering silver-green with long sleeves that tear dropped at the wrist. At first glance it gave the illusion of being sheer, but was not, and when the fabric moved, tiny shots of gold thread sparkled like firelight.
"I-I could not," she choked.
Galadriel laid down the dress and placed her fingers under Rían's chin to raise her gaze to meet her own.
"It is a gift for you, young one. I have heard the mellryn rejoice at your return and have seen the joy rekindled in Rúmil and Orophin. Your life intertwined with the Golden Wood on that horrible day so long ago and whether you accept it or not, Rían...you are family."
Rían looked into those ancient eyes; eyes that had seen so much, probably even into Rían's very soul at this moment, and felt comforted. She knew all she had to do was ask, and the Lady of the Golden Wood would tell her what she knew of her future, for there was no doubt Galadriel knew something. But she would not ask, for she had not the courage to hear of any ill tidings and secretly clung to the small hope that she kept locked away in her heart.
"Thank you, My Lady, thank you for everything. It will be an honor to accept your gift," Rían said with a warm smile.
"You will look stunning! Now, I will leave you to get ready. Do you require further assistance before I leave?"
Rían shook her head. "I was never one for elaborate trappings...I will manage fine by myself."
"I will send Orophin for you later then."
Galadriel gently caressed a wet lock of hair away from Rían's face and bestowed a kiss on her cheek. Once she was gone from the talan, Rían turned back to the dress and felt her heart begin to race with anticipation!
Dropping his gear in a corner, Haldir plopped very un-elflike into the closest chair. His head fell back to rest on the cushion as his eyes closed in exhaustion. For a brief moment, he wondered where his brothers were but quickly decided it was good to have the talan to himself for a time. The quiet of the room wrapped about him like a favorite blanket and he felt the urge to give in to sleep.
Sighing, he stretched out his legs and kicked off his boots, each landing with a soft thud on the floor. He wiggled his toes into the rug and sighed with contentment.
It was good to be home! He mused. So, would it be bath or nap first? Wait...definitely bath he snorted as he got a whiff of his tunic.
After several moments, he uncoiled himself from the chair and began a short search for the wine. He had just poured a glass when there was a knock at the door.
Haldir quickly drank half of it then answered the door where stood one of Lord Celeborn's messengers.
"Good eve, Haldir. I bring a summons from our lord."
"What summons?" he asked, his voice neutral as he felt a knot form in his gut.
"Lord Celeborn requires your presence at the feast tonight for Lady Arwen."
So that's where his brothers were! When he had returned home, Haldir noticed that someone had taken up occupancy in the neighboring talan. No one was there when he came in and quickly surmised the elves in question were part of Arwen's escort. This meant they, too, were probably already at the Common where the feast would be held.
The messenger repeated the summons more forcefully since Haldir appeared to be ignoring him.
"I just returned from the fences!" The marchwarden fought the urge to throw the elf off the stairs, his exhaustion getting the better part of him. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his temper contained. "They have a feast every time Arwen and her brothers visit Caras Galadhon. What makes tonight so different that I am required to be there after so long an assignment on the border?!"
Although Haldir's voice did not betray the fact that he was angry, his grey eyes were ablaze with it and the messenger took a step back upon seeing this.
"I am only to tell you that you are to be there at Lord Celeborn's behest."
The messenger hoped that if he mentioned the Golden Wood's lord enough times, Haldir would either calm or direct his frustration elsewhere.
"Does Lord Celeborn...require...anything else from me?" Haldir asked between clenched teeth.
"Yes! He says to inform you that tonight is formal dress!"
With that, the messenger fairly leaped from the stairs.
Formal! By the Valar!! Haldir cursed and muttered under his breath as he hurried to his room. His other formal clothes were old and worn, he did not want to disgrace his Lord and Lady by having to wear them again so he prayed fervently the new tunic he ordered before his last watch was ready. Throwing open the wardrobe, he sighed in relief upon seeing it shimmering on its hanger.
At least that had gone right!
Still grumbling to himself, he then turned to ready a bath.
"So much for a quiet night," he growled unhappily.
"Rían, you look wonderful!" Arwen exclaimed. "That gown is exquisite."
"Thank you. It was a gift from your grandmother," Rían returned her friend's smile.
"By the Valar!" Rúmil choked. He had spotted Orophin and hurried over only to pause in mid-stride when he saw Rían.
The dress flowed as liquid on her body; the fabric glowed and gently twinkled as she moved. Rían's raven black hair was unbound and danced gracefully at the small of her back when she stepped forward to greet Rúmil.
"Rúmil, stop staring like that," she admonished. "It is bad enough Orophin will not cease gaping like a landed fish."
Orophin thought to deny her words but realized his mouth was indeed slightly open and his eyes still wide in shock.
When he had met Rían at her talan, he froze in stunned admiration. Yes, she looked radiant, even more so than at the feast in Imladris...but there was something else. Orophin looked closer and saw her eyes sparkled with happiness, a happiness that came from coming to peace with oneself.
Had this anything to do with what Lord Celeborn spoke of earlier, Orophin wondered? If so, whatever decision she came to obviously suited her!
Suddenly, another voice draws everyone's attention.
"Good eve! Lady Rían, the Golden Wood has truly met its match in your beauty!" Glennodad said, his bright blue eyes twinkling as he also greeted Arwen then Rúmil and Orophin.
"Yes, the forest shines even brighter with your presence!' this from Aeglironion as he came to stand next to Rúmil.
"I thank you for your compliments," Rían said warmly. "though I fear if you continue I will indeed wonder if there is a hidden agenda."
Glennodad had the decency to look guilty...but only slightly.
"What do you speak of?" Aeglironion asked, feigning innocence.
"You may have riled me yesterday with your baiting and unspoken innuendos," Rían smiled slyly. "But that is a mistake I will not let happen again."
Rúmil laughed and elbowed his friends. "I told you not to engage Rían in such a battle."
"Indeed," Arwen agreed as a servant brought everyone a glass of wine. "Our dear Rían is not known as Erestor-iel for naught. She learned from the best."
"But I thought - " Glennodad began.
Rían could not help but smile at his and Aeglironion's confusion. "I was blessed to have two adars. I lost my first one here but another awaited me Imladris."
"Elrond's chief advisor - "
"Is my uncle," she stated proudly to their stunned looks.
Celeborn and Galadriel watched as Rían talked and laughed with the other elves.
"She is making progress," Galadriel smiled.
"Aye, she is. However, I feel she still has set herself limits...not unlike our stubborn son."
Galadriel nodded. "We can only help where we can as they are elflings no longer. They have been scarred by tragic losses and will only accept this when they are both ready."
"Silly young ones," Celeborn said as he slipped an arm about his wife's waist. "To think they know better as to how they should handle the Valar's gift."
They were silent for a moment, listening to the laughter that drifted to them from across the Common.
"Have you sent for him?" she asked.
"A sentry informed me Haldir arrived at his talan not a quarter hour ago. My messenger is on his way."
Galadriel leaned into the warmth of her husband and smiled.
"You received weapons training from Lord Glorfindel as well?" Glennodad did not bother to hide the admiration in his voice. The more he learned of Rían the more he realized he did not want her as an adversary!
Rían nodded and set down her glass. "My uncle wanted my training to be extensive."
The conversation paused for a short time as everyone's drinks were replenished.
"Rían, you must tell your new friends what else you learned from Erestor," Arwen smiled as she threw conspiring glances at Rúmil and Orophin.
And new friends Glennodad and Aeglironion had become! Once they realized Rían was aware of the previous day's ulterior motive, they called off any further plans. They did not realize their mere presence was all that was required for further antagonizing.
"I learned many things from my uncle, Arwen. You need to be a little more specific, please."
"Walnut dye." Arwen smiled smugly.
Immediately, Rúmil and Orophin broke into wide grins while Rían's eyes danced with remembrance.
"What is so funny about walnut dye?" Aeglironion asked.
""Rían, you must tell them the entire tale for them to appreciate it fully," Arwen smiled at Orophin and Rúmil's twin expressions of horror.
Aeglironion and Glennodad listened, enraptured, as the Imladhel told of Glorfindel stealing a bottle of Erestor's Secondager in hopes Elladan and Elrohir would succeed in getting Haldir and Rían intoxicated.
"Oh, Rúmil," Aeglironion tsked, "tell me you and Oro were not part of that misguided plan."
"No! Absolutely not," Rúmil shook his head once. "We knew nothing of the wine...Elladan asked only for us to stall Rían and Haldir for a short time."
"What?!" Glennodad looked doubtful. "Are you trying to say you were victims also? My childhood friend who helped me put fish in Lady Galadriel's fountain? The same friend who tried to place the blame on his baby brother?"
Orophin stared in disbelief at Rúmil. "That was why Lord Celeborn would not let me go anywhere without a chaperone! How could you?"
Rúmil looked dumbfounded for a moment before he replied with a shrug, "They would not have believed that Haldir did it."
Everyone broke into laughter before Rúmil spoke again.
"We were victims in this debacle!" he insisted, well aware his warden friends did not believe him. "We awoke to find ourselves braided to the Peredhil!"
Immediate silence...then Orophin's shocked gasp. "Ru!"
Their shameful secret was out.
"Oh, sweet Elbereth!! We must hear of this!" Glennodad hooted with renewed glee.
"Rían and Haldir braided his brothers to my brothers after they had succumbed to the Secondager," Arwen smiled widely as she tried uselessly to hold back her own giggles.
Tears pooled in Glennodad's cerulean eyes as he fought for breath. The image of Haldir dragging his unconscious brothers to the floor then braiding them together was too much and the elf braced himself against a table as he roared with laughter.
"Serves you two right," Aeglironion smirked, swiping at a stray tear as he calmed himself. "You should have known better than to attempt to manipulate your brother...and Lord Councilor Erestor's niece!"
Rúmil and Orophin gave great martyr-like sighs. They would never hear the end of this now!
"Rían, where does the walnut dye come in?" Glennodad asked several moments later.
"Well," she began, taking a sip of wine. "My uncle knew that it was Glorfindel who took that bottle of Secondager ----"
Haldir hurried to the Common, praying the whole while he was not too terribly late. He continued to grumble under his breath, long fingers hastily combing through still damp hair as he hoped Celeborn would not require his presence for too long this eve. He tugged his sleeves down into place, lingering over the left wrist for just a bit then entered the Common.
There were elves milling about everywhere, he had arrived before dinner...good! He looked about the area and his attention is drawn to the joyous, almost raucous, sound of laughing. At the back corner of the Common, Haldir saw his brothers, Aeglironion and Glennodad sharing an obviously humorous tale with Arwen.
"Lord Glorfindel's hair was what!?" Aeglironion choked.
"As dark as this," Orophin lifted a lock of Rían's hair to demonstrate.
"He truly looked a Noldor!" Rían laughed with the others but froze when she placed her empty glass on a tray.
Haldir felt his heart begin to race when another dark head was visible in the group he was watching. It was not one of Arwen's brothers, the hair was midnight black, raven.
/NO!/ he gasped. /Was it even possible? Could she truly be here? In Lothlórien?/
The figure stepped slightly away from the others and Haldir felt time stop. The elleth turned to face him and green eyes captured his soul.
Suddenly it was as if a switch was turned! He could feel her presence again, like he had that night when he thought he heard her speak. Even from this distance he sensed the turmoil of emotions emanating from her and knew his were just as turbulent.
By the Valar! She is here!
Rían ignored the stares from those closest to her, aware only of Haldir's gaze piercing straight to her soul. She felt herself trembling minutely as her heart continued to hammer away, uncontrollably, inside her breast.
Eru! She could not believe how her entire being rejoiced at the sight of him!
She drank in his image and realized she never wanted to look away! She committed each detail to memory; the way the light reflected off his golden hair as it hung unbound past his shoulders, the manner in which his tunic fit across his chest, and the fervor that shone in his eyes as he watched her, too.
Rían took several steps forward but stopped as Lord Celeborn appeared beside Haldir.
Haldir's heart leapt in his chest as Rían began to walk toward him. He frowned when she came to a sudden halt before he realized someone was standing next to him. He quickly bit back the scathing remark he was ready to unleash when he saw that the elf was Lord Celeborn.
He bowed quickly to cover up his near slip and did not see the amused grin on his lord's face.
"Haldir, I am pleased you were able to attend on time. Join me for dinner then you can update me on all you have encountered on the borders," Celeborn said, his tone casual, yet firm.
Just then servants began bringing out platters and platters of food as elves took their places at the many tables.
Haldir glanced helplessly at Rían before being escorted to his place beside Lord Celeborn.
"This is odd," Orophin stated as a servant showed them their places.
"It is," agreed Rúmil, holding out a chair for Rían. "Most unusual."
"What is wrong?" Rían asked, noticing the confusion in their eyes.
"Rúmil and Orophin usually sit at the high table with their brother and foster parents," Aeglironion explained as he took his seat across from Rían with Glennodad next to him.
Rían looked to where Arwen was chatting with her grandmother while Celeborn spoke quietly with Haldir. She could sense the marchwarden's displeasure with his predicament; his attention drifted often but she did not fathom the why of it.
When Celeborn looked toward her and smiled she quickly turned her attention to Rúmil.
"I believe I may be the reason for your temporary banishment," she said.
"Why say that?" asked Orophin.
"The lord and lady wanted me to feel at home and what better way than to have you two keep me company?"
She smiled when she saw the confusion lift from Orophin's expression.
"Aye, we know how you dislike being the focus of attention," Rúmil grinned as the three remembered how nervous she had been after the race in Imladris.
"You cannot mean to say you enjoy being around these two?" teased Aeglironion.
Rían shrugged. "They grow on you after a time."
Laughter ensued yet again.
Haldir looked up when he heard more laughing and smiled when he saw Rían and his brothers enjoying themselves. It was clear to him now that Rían was the true reason his brothers had been recalled to Caras Galadhon and it comforted him knowing they had been here when she arrived.
He was glad to see Rúmil and Orophin seated on other side of her, their position speaking volumes to any who cared to notice. He smiled at that thought but seeing the other two elves across from her brought back the frown.
He was not pleased to see Aeglironion and Glennodad present and he felt his jaw clench with suppressed anger. He knew many elleths thought the two very fair and pleasant company...but the idea of Rían entertaining those sentiments set his blood to boil.
"How long have those two been in the city?" asked Haldir, unaware he had interrupted Lord Celeborn.
Lifting a silver brow in amusement, he followed the direction of the marchwarden's glare and smirked to himself.
"I believe they arrived only yesterday," he answered and waited for a reaction.
Only silence as Haldir continued to watch the far table, the expression in his eyes changed from warm to cold and back again in the space of a breath.
Galadriel looked over to her warden and noted his food was untouched and he tugged lightly at his left sleeve cuff, obviously distracted.
"Haldir, how do the patrols go?" she asked.
His grey eyes never left Rían and Galadriel glanced at her husband.
"Do you intentionally ignore our words or are you that preoccupied?" Celeborn questioned, his tone carrying more authority to snap Haldir from his musings.
Haldir felt his face grow hot as he realized how rude he was being to his lord and lady.
"Forgive me," he apologized sincerely as he bowed his head.
"What disturbs you, Haldir?" Galadriel asked gently.
What disturbs you?! Now that was a question! How could he put into words that which he could not name?
As he struggled with a reply, his eyes dart once again to where Rían sat with his brothers.
Arwen saw this and bit back a grin.
"Ada assigned her to my escort at the last moment, Haldir. Elladan and Elrohir are riding with the rangers and Glorfindel could not be spared for such a long trip; Rían barely had enough time to pack a bag," she said, sounding convincingly contrite.
He wanted to snap back that it was none of his business who Arwen had in her escort but knew the others would know if for the lie it was. Instead, he sat back in his chair and took a sip of wine to hide his unease.
"I imagine my brothers were pleased to see her," he said softly. The light in his eyes betrayed that fact that he too, was pleased to see her again.
As the meal ended, Rían watched as Haldir followed Celeborn to a quieter setting within the Common. The older elf obtained them both a glass of wine and began what appeared a serious conversation.
From their posture and facial expressions, Rían knew Haldir was briefing Celeborn on the recent patrol...and it was not all good news. She felt guilty trying to eavesdrop but wanted to know what threats lurked outside Lothlórien's borders. She had only heard rumors before but now she needed to know details!
"It looks like they may be awhile," Orophin said when he saw the direction of her stare.
Rían turned to face him and saw the concern in his pale blue eyes. It was clear to her that he worried she would dwell on any ill tidings that Haldir relayed to Celeborn and worried more that she still fought her feelings for his brother.
She smiled as the music began in the background. She would take his mind of such things, if only temporarily!
"Well! We shall pass the time with a dance then, shall we?" she suggested to Orophin's delight.
It took all of Haldir's self-discipline to give his report to Lord Celeborn without looking back to see what Rían was doing. He caught glimpses of her with his brothers as they took turns dancing and silently berated himself for walking out on the feast in Imladris.
/You could have danced with her then but stomped out like a jealous elfling/ he reminded himself.
Haldir thought he heard an echo of a soft laugh in his mind and quickly looked to see if Celeborn noticed. He did not.
They spoke for several more minutes about the failed raids on the border before his lord dismissed him. As Celeborn walked back to the high table to join his wife, Haldir scanned the Common for his brothers. The music had just ended and Rúmil was walking with Rían toward Orophin and their friends.
Suddenly, Haldir noticed the ellons hovering in the general vicinity of Rían. Each and every elf was polite as they asked her questions about herself, her duties in Imladris, and of her uncle. Deep down, he knew they were only curious about her...but it did not stop the suffocating pressure from building in his chest.
Sensing turmoil, Rían turned to see Haldir making his way toward them. She smiled brightly, still shocked at the realization how deeply she had missed him!
As he reached halfway, several elleths Rían recognized from the training grounds stopped him. They greeted him and expressed their dismay upon hearing of the raids. They were pleased he was able to attend the feast and could not believe Lord Celeborn had left him at his post for so long!
Haldir took a deep breath to calm himself. He wanted nothing more than to just push past them and ignore all the silly questions and comments! But that was not how he was raised. He answered every question he could while at the same time attempting to extricate himself from the lovely, but irritating group.
"Poor tôr," Rúmil shook his head in mock sympathy.
"See, we did not exaggerate too much," Glennodad grinned.
Rían sighed, feeling Haldir's frustration. She knew he would not storm through them, bully his way passed them...he was too noble for that. Yet every moment they delayed him, she grew more agitated, more impatient.
"My guardian," she said under her breath and knew what she must do.
Haldir looked up when he heard the familiar, icy greeting. The elleths stepped back as Rían drew closer, her eyes boring into a temporarily stunned Haldir.
"Imladhel," he answered, his voice just as arrogant, just as smooth as she remembered.
Although their tone was far from welcoming, their eyes held a wealth of emotion. They stared at each other for several more moments as they gathered their composure.
"Forgive me for the interruption," Rían said, glancing at the elves around her. "The marchwarden has not been in the city and I have important matters from Lord Elrond to discuss with him."
The elleths smiled in understanding; they could almost see the tension between these two!
"It must be important indeed to bring this up in the midst of a celebration," Haldir replied skeptically, his eyes darkening to a slate grey.
Was that a smile in her voice? He wondered.
"Well then. Let us not tarry further on such an important matter."
Haldir held out his hand to escort her, like he would any elf-lady, but was unprepared for the fire that raced through him when Rían placed her hand atop his. She shook like a leaf as her fingers circled tightly around his as if to keep herself upright. Their gazes met for a moment and the fire calmed to soothing, comfortable warmth.
Except for the raging emotions in their eyes, they somehow managed to keep their expressions neutral. If it had not been for the faint crackling of energy around them, no one would have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Swallowing hard, Haldir led Rían away from the staring elleths.
"Thank you for the rescue," Haldir said softly, once they were away from the crowds.
"You are most welcome, marchwarden."
Yes, she was smiling! And although she still called him marchwarden...there was warmth in her voice and humor in her eyes.
They came to a stop by the entrance, as it was less crowded and a refreshing breeze danced with the mellryn leaves. Haldir was unaware he still held Rían's hand in a death grip as she turned slowly to face him.
Their eyes spoke of a million things they wanted to say but neither knew where to start!
Rían stepped closer until they stood toe to toe and she could feel Haldir's warm breath on her cheek.
"I have missed you," she whispered, the confession releasing something buried deep in her soul and causing Haldir's eyes to glisten suspiciously.
"And I you, Imladhel, so very much." The name said tenderly as his fingers brushed lazily over her left wrist.
Abruptly, he stopped as he felt something out of place. Rían's eyes widened as he gently brought up her hand and eased back the sleeve. Haldir felt his breath catch and could feel the racing of Rían's heart at his discovery.
Wrapped carefully around her wrist was a golden ribbon...the ribbon they had won in Imladris. Feeling his throat tighten and his soul sing at the symbolism of it, Haldir placed a kiss to the inside of her wrist. Rían gasped at the feel of his lips on her skin and her right hand gently caressed his hair from his face so she could see his eyes; eyes that mirrored her own desires, her own hopes!
"Imladhel-nîn," he said, his voice choked with emotion.
Rían nodded once and Haldir placed her left hand against his chest. She could feel the drumming of his heart and felt her own try to match the rhythm. She took a shaky breath as she prepared to speak when another voice intruded.
"What important matters from Lord Elrond concern my marchwarden?" Lord Celeborn asked, his grey eyes twinkling with mirth.
Erestor-iel --- daughter of Erestor
Tôr - brother