Never Say Never - Part Ten
Upon returning to the pavilion, Haldir and Rían were presented with the winners' official note of station; a golden ribbon threaded through their hair.
Elrond hesitated as he weaved the ribbon quickly through Haldir's braid, already finished with Rían. The vision from last evening flashed briefly before his eyes and he glanced at Rían, the gold shimmering in her midnight locks. The two elves were nervous, being the center of so much attention but Elrond could feel the power between them growing. It seemed to hum through the very air then abruptly ceased.
What did this mean? He wondered silently. Why did he see the vision again? To cover his own unease, he smiles at the two elves before him, congratulates them once more and announces the beginning of the celebration.
Traditionally, the winners of the race are seated at the head of the table, together, and are toasted to and waited on hand and foot for the entire afternoon.
The air rang with applause as the victors are shown to their chairs. Rían felt her stomach drop to her toes as she realized what the next few hours would entail and saw the sickening look reflected in Haldir's eyes.
As they sat down and the cloth of their sleeves brushed together, Rían and Haldir began to pray for another warg invasion. Food and drink is set before them and they look at each other in despair when Glorfindel stands.
Since Elrond had given the awards speech, the Elda hurried to be the first to toast the guests of honor.
"The best of our two realms," he smiled and his azure eyes twinkled with undisguised delight. "May this only be the beginning!"
While everyone cheered, Rían and Haldir sipped their wine to hide their embarrassment. They understood the underlying meaning of Glorfindel's words and hoped the ground would open up and swallow them.
Erestor saw his niece's and the marchwarden's discomfort and silently cursed Glorfindel's thick hide. Could he not see they were not enjoying themselves? This should be a celebration but instead they looked like they were facing Sauron! Erestor carefully weighed his dinner knife for balance when the Balrog Slayer stood to speak. He could hit the Elda easily from where he was sitting but knew he would have to deal with Elrond if he did.
While Glorfindel spoke, the advisor noted the eager looks on the faces of the twins and Haldir's brothers. No doubt they were waiting their turn to say something embarrassing! So when the seneschal regained his chair, Erestor rose gracefully to his feet.
Immediately everyone grew silent, the Chief Advisor tended to have that effect on people. His dark gaze swept the assembly once then landed softly on Rían and Haldir.
"Every obstacle was thrown at you, disadvantages laid before you like traps and yet you overcame those," Erestor's voice held reproach, obviously directed at those responsible for said obstacles. He paused, letting the words sink in and was satisfied to see Glorfindel and the twins squirm. He now smiled as he continued.
"It was indeed a fine race, I have never enjoyed one as much as I did today. Well done, tôr-iel-nin! Well done, Haldir!"
Erestor saw the gratitude in Rían's eyes. No one would dare further embarrass them now that the advisor was aware of the unscrupulous activities. He smiles and raises his glass in salute, happy to see some of the shadow lifting from Rían and Haldir.
The rest of the day went by slowly but calmly. Glorfindel was one of the first to leave as the gathering began to dissipate and Haldir's brothers took the empty seats across from Rían.
"So," begins Rúmil. "What is next on the agenda?"
"Have you not had enough excitement for one day?" Haldir growled, not forgetting Rúmil took part in the race conspiracy.
"You two won; what is the problem?"
Sensing an argument, Rían spoke. "It has been a long day. I was thinking on turning in early."
"Turn in early?" Rúmil's voice hinted at anxiety.
"You were not injured in the fall were you?" Haldir asks.
"No. I have suffered bigger wrecks in the past and that little tumble into the stream only damaged my pride."
As Rían stood, she noted Haldir watched her for any sign of injury. She should have felt indignant but instead felt her face grow warm at the gesture.
"Let us escort you inside then," Orophin offers.
Knowing it would be useless to argue, Rían nods and leaves the pavilion surrounded by Galadhrim. As they topped the staircase, Elladan and Elrohir were waiting on them.
"We wanted to offer our own congratulations and our apologies," says Elladan.
"Apologies?" Rían repeats.
"The entire race was set up from the beginning," Elrohir begins.
"Why?" Haldir asks, his voice eerily calm.
"We wanted to see if the reputed confidence and infamous arrogance you two possess would unravel...it did not."
"We have come to apologize for our childish behavior and to make amends," Elladan says holding out a bottle of wine.
Rían raised an eyebrow in recognition. That was not just any wine! That bottle was part of her uncle's private cache of secondager, the location known only by three people, Erestor, herself, and Glorfindel. It was on rare occasion that Erestor did partake of it and when he did it was only once a year. Upon reaching her majority, Erestor included his niece and she knew well the potency of the wine.
She looked carefully at the twins, trying to discern their current motives. Sensing another plot, Rían turned to face Haldir, her eyes sending a warning as she spoke.
"I would be glad to accept. What say you, marchwarden?"
For a moment, he was silent as he realized they were targeted yet again by the peredhil. But the question remained; why?
"I accept also," he says finally.
"Excellent! Rúmil, Orophin you are welcome to join us also!" Elladan smiles in undisguised relief. "I know of a lovely solar we can retire to."
As the twins and Haldir's brothers lead the way through the corridors, they could not help the grins from showing on their faces. Rían and Haldir shared a knowing glance as they walked shoulder to shoulder, their unease with each other momentarily forgotten.
"Here we are!" Elladan announces as they come to the solar. "I will get some glasses."
The large chamber was situated off a balcony that faced west. It was empty now but normally was occupied by elves playing chess, reading, or just watching the sunset.
Rían walked toward a table that had a small wooden gameboard upon it. The board had cups smoothly carved into it and each cup held several various colored stones.
"Marchwarden, have you ever played?" she asks, inclining her head toward the table.
Haldir looked at the gameboard and back to Rían who glanced at the others as they whispered amongst themselves.
"Yes, but it has been many years," he answers as they sit across from each other.
"Take care of the wine," Rían says softly as she sets up the game. "It is very strong and I do not believe the twins are aware of that fact."
"What are the peredhil and my brothers plotting now?" Haldir replies, his own voice barely audible.
"I know not," she sighs with a slight shake of her head.
"We will just beat them at this game, too."
They smile briefly at each other before Elladan appears with glasses and pours everyone wine.
"Again, please accept our apology," he says as he and the others lift their glasses in a toast.
"To new beginnings?" Rúmil asks, his tone filled with hope.
"Aye, new beginnings," replies Haldir, noting the conspiring glances exchanged between his brothers and the twins.
He and Rían sip discreetly from their glasses, careful not to drink too much. The initial conversation was just rehashing highlights of the race. When the others were not looking, Haldir and Rían were able to pour most of the potent wine into a vase that sat on the floor beside them.
It took the better part of an hour before someone had the courage to approach a more personal subject.
"So," Rúmil sighs, "you are Erestor's niece. Why did you not tell us?"
"No one asked," Rían bluntly answered as she wondered where this was heading.
"I thought I had seen that glare before! Did Erestor teach you that?" Orophin teased.
"Taught?!" Elrohir practically choked on his drink. "Taught? No, mellon nîn, the infamous death glare runs in the family. I am quite sure Rían was capable of that from birth."
"Do you recall how she followed Erestor everywhere; he called her his little shadow!"
On that note, Elladan and his brother launch into endless stories of Rían's life with her uncle.
Rían tried to ignore them as she and Haldir concentrated on the boardgame. While she contemplated her next move, the galadhel used the opportunity to study her a bit closer.
Rían had changed into a simple dark blue dress after their impromptu dunk in the stream and had not bothered to rebraid her hair. Every so often, a strand of her midnight locks would escape from behind her ear and he fought the urge to brush it back into place. Midnight, the same color of the Lord Councilor's, why Haldir had not noticed the resemblance before he could not say. Not only did they share the death glare, as everyone was so fond of saying, they also carried themselves the same; awareness and confidence melded seamlessly with the elegance of the Firstborn. Haldir found himself wanting to watch her all night.
Unbeknownst to the marchwarden, he too was being studied. His normally steel grey eyes were now a warm blue, almost matching his tunic. Rían wondered what caused his gaze to soften, why was he watching her.
"It is your turn," she said softly, feeling her heart begin to pound.
With a curt nod, Haldir resumes the game. Although they appeared to be occupied by the game in front of them, they were always aware of how often Elladan refilled everyone's glass.
The night wore on and it became obvious the twins and Haldir's brothers were becoming quite intoxicated. Rían and Haldir had been careful to limit their own intake but the secondager was very potent and even they were not completely immune to its effects.
"You shoulda seen the look on Glorfin'el's face when he found out Rían had learned that m-move from Erestor -"
"W-wait, wait!!" Orophin slurs, interrupting Elladan. He staggers to the table where Rían and Haldir were sitting. "I have a question for you, gw-gwathel."
Orophin sinks to his knees beside Rían, his blue eyes slightly out of focus.
"What is the question, gwador?" she asked with a smile. Orophin looked so much younger than his years indicated; his expression so open and trusting.
Haldir tried to bite back his own grin but at his brother's next words, both of their smiles disappeared.
"Why have you n-not bonded? Why...why do you not have your very o-own family?"
"Erestor runs off any would be...would be suitors!" Elladan laughs hysterically, falling out of his chair.
"No, no, that is not it," Elrohir adds his opinion. "Everyone is frightened of our dear Rían! What ellon wants to wake up to the death glare every morning!"
The twins are reduced to a pile of drunken laughter, blissfully unaware of a Lothlórien death glare directed their way. Haldir watched them a moment longer before turning his attention back to Rían. She had grown a shade paler and the smile was gone from her fair face.
"Do you not have a beloved one?" Orophin continues, still staring at Rían. "Naneth always said the Eldar were not, were not meant to b-be alone."
Haldir felt his heart clench at the pain in Rían's eyes, pain Orophin's words caused. Yes, he remembered Galadriel telling them that often, especially over the past decade or so. But what made his youngest brother say that to Rían?
"There is too much evil, my dear Orophin," Rían finally spoke, her voice raw with barely controlled emotion. "I would not risk a family, my loved ones, to that uncertainty."
"That is what Haldir says!!" hisses Orophin as he unsteadily gets to his feet. He makes his way back to the couch he was sharing with Rúmil and plops down on it. "I think you both are afraid!"
"What would we have to be afraid of, tôr?" Haldir asks calmly, knowing his youngest brother was more intoxicated than he had ever been before.
"Y-you both are afraid to open your hearts! Your one, your soul mate, could be sitting right-right next to you and you neither one would know!!"
Haldir made a note to keep all future wine away from Orophin. He had never seen his brother this distraught, this upset and it worried him.
"Calm down, tôr," says Rúmil as he refills Orophin's glass. "Do you remember when we lost Lord Celeborn's favorite book and we told him Haldir took it?"
And just like that the four very inebriated elves launch into more story telling, forgetting about their original plan.
Haldir and Rían knew what they were attempting to do and there was not enough secondager in Imladris to undo the walls, the defenses, they had built and kept secure for uncounted years.
Taking a small sip of the wine, Haldir recalled what Orophin had called Rían; gwathel, sister. He had not realized how much his brother cared for the dark-haired elleth. She had only stayed in Lothlórien several weeks those many years ago and Orophin had been barely past the toddler stage. Obviously, Rían had found a place in Orophin's heart, a heart still filled with innocence and hope, a heart not locked away like Haldir's or Rían's.
Another hour passed when the room grew silent; the drunken elves finally succumbed to the wine. Raising a dark brow in amusement, Haldir walks over to make sure they were indeed unconscious.
"What do you think we should do with the evil orclings?" he asks.
Rían stood beside him, her eyes filled with mischief as a plan formed.
"Help me lay them on the floor," she grins. "I have an idea."
As they laid out Rúmil, Elladan, Elrohir, then Orophin, Rían could not help giggling. She tried to stop herself but found that only made it worse. Stupid wine! She glanced at Haldir, hoping he was not going to make fun of her; how dignified was it for an elf her age to actually giggle?! But to her surprise she found him smiling, his grey-blue eyes sparkled with mirth and for a moment she forgot to breathe.
"What shall we do to them now?" he asked, as he stood and staggered oh so slightly from the secondager. "They look too peaceful."
Haldir watched as Rían knelt beside the sleeping elves. She takes a lock of Rúmil's hair and a lock of Elladan's and begins to braid them together.
Hearing a low chuckle, Rían was delighted to see Haldir begin to work on Orophin and Elrohir. So, the marchwarden could laugh!
"Where did you get this idea?" Haldir finishes and sits back.
"On the day I reached my majority, I woke to find myself braided to my bedpost. Arwen warned her brothers I would get my revenge but they never listen."
Haldir observed silently as Rían braided the twins together. He did not know if it was the wine affecting him or what but he found Rían's devious smile truly charming.
"There! That will do it!" she sighs.
As she stands back up, she finds herself swaying. Haldir tries to rush to her aide but he was not too steady either.
"We are a mess," Rían grins in embarrassment. "Some fresh air would do us good."
Rían walks out to the balcony and steadies herself by the railing. She closes her eyes, tilts her face to the moon, and lets the serenity of the night calm her racing nerves.
As the moonlight danced off her raven hair, Haldir gently reached out and briefly caressed a lock with his fingertips. His touch as light as the breeze that floated past them.
"What kind of wine was that?" he asks. "I have not come across a vintage with that kind of subtle kick."
"It is a secondager my uncle keeps for special occasions. I believe I know how Elladan got it and Glorfindel will wish he had not meddled once Erestor finds out," she says with a smile.
"It must have been an experience being raised in this household," Haldir continued and Rían mused she could actually hear him smiling. "Master Erestor and Lord Glorfindel."
"It could not have been too much different than being raised by Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel."
Rían turns, realizing how close Haldir was standing behind her when she felt the warm whisper of his breath against her ear. She looked deeply into his eyes, eyes now darkened by an emotion she did not dare explore but felt her soul trying to answer.
Part of Rían wanted to blame the wine for feeling so comfortable, safe, with the marchwarden; but another part knew the truth...her heart knew the truth and raged at the timing of it.
Why had this happened now when the darkness was beginning to grow again? Sauron's minions were increasing and his influence being felt farther and farther from Mordor.
"If only the evil were gone from Arda," she said softly, not realizing at first she had spoken aloud. "If ---"
"If what?" Haldir gently urges her to continue. Hearing her voice the same desires he harbored caused his heart to pound almost painfully.
"If only we were in Valinor...where everyone was safe, evil could not touch us," Rían continued, her fingertips gently reached up to tuck back a lock of Haldir's hair that fluttered in the breeze. Her words stopped as he turned his head slightly, his lips ghosting a kiss to the palm of her hand.
Once again, they felt the surge of energy between them. It was much stronger this time, warming their entire being, as it demanded they recognize it for what it was.
"Elbereth, what is happening?" Haldir whispered as his eyes mirrored the confusion in Rían's.
They watched each other silently for several more moments before Rían took a small step backward.
"I will bid you good night," she says, the palm of her hand still tingling.
"I will see you in the morning then?" he asks, needing time now to sort his thoughts, too.
"Yes," she smiles. "Rest well, Haldir."
"And you, Rían."
It was not until Rían was gone from sight did he suddenly realize something. He smiled slightly at the memory...she had said his name.
tôr-iel-nin - niece, daughter of my brother
mellon nîn - my friend
gwathel - sworn sister
gwador - sworn brother
ellon - male elf
Naneth - mother
Tôr - brother by blood