Startracer, Starchild - Tale 12--> Homecoming
[Where is the dragon?!]
[Are you blind? Right---] He stopped and tried to peer at the spot where the creature should have been. [. . . there?]
Dirnees grinned widely as streaks of sunlight that broke through the canopy lit on the dragon's hide and revealed it as it moved steadily and silently among the trees.
[It is a shadow beast!] he cried in awed delight.
[A what?] Elladan asked.
[A shadow beast,] Legolas echoed. [You have probably never heard of them as they were thought to be myths. The tale goes that when Arda was young and was not touched by light, creatures of all kinds developed to become one with the darkness. They were not evil at first; they simply took advantage of the lack of light. These were all called morchaint--dark shapes--and later `shadow beasts'. While in sunlight they are completely visible, but when in the dark they are totally invisible to the eye. It is nothing they do consciously, it merely happens.
[Unfortunately, Melkor discovered their existence quickly and captured many of them, bending them to his will. Numerous spiders had adapted this way and he turned them as well as the ancestors of the crebain to his bidding. They were not the only ones, but they were the ones who caused the most concern. Most of the others remained free of his control and existed nocturnally, when they would not be seen by a predator.]
[How do you know all this?] Elladan challenged.
[A great many of the spiders in southern Mirkwood possessed that quirk. We had to know.]
[And?] the prince of Imladris prompted, knowing from the tone of the other's voice that there was more. Legolas muttered under his breath and Elladan leaned nearer, disbelieving his ears. [You what?!]
[I had a few for pets!] the Mirkwood prince snapped.
[Ha ha!] Elladan crowed. [What were they? A pair of night doves?!]
[No!] was the condescending reply. [The first was a hawk that I accidentally shot down while hunting spiders. The second was a panther I rescued from a pack of spiders about to feed on it. The third was an owlet I saved when it fell from its nest. And the fourth was a fox that in its puphood simply chose to follow me wherever I happened to go. I will admit now that it gave me quite a fright on several occasions.]
They came out into a clearing by a stream. There Haldir had collapsed, unconscious, in the arms of a dark-haired figure in a long black trenchcoat. The dragon set Elrohir down and went to lie beside the person, giving the black-clothed figure a gentle nudge. They lifted their head and the long black hair that had cloaked their face fell away to reveal their face, surprising the Elves.
[Krystine!] they chorused, dashing over to her.
"Hi . . . Hi . . . Geez, what's all this for?" she asked as each one gifted her with a hug. "Hi . . . Hi . . ."
Dirnees made a desperate gesture at Haldir and then faked a death. The other three Elves nodded fervently, giving Krystine the vision of being amongst very large bobble-head dolls.
She renewed her grasp on Haldir's far shoulder and gave a slow nod in reply. "I thought so." She mulled over what he had whispered to her before passing out, knowing it had some importance, and then asked, "Lothlorien?"
The four looked around.
[No,] Elladan said immediately. [Not this place.]
[He must have said it to her,] Elrohir replied. [But . . .]
[Perhaps this place reminds him of it,] Legolas put in.
[Yes,] Dirnees put in. [He was the March Warden, after all, so here]--and he gestured to the stream--[is the Celebrant, the trees would be infant mellyrn, and this clearing might be a camping area.]
There was a long silence.
[I did not realize that Haldir had such a wonderful imagination,] Elladan said finally, gazing around at their surroundings again.
Elrohir coughed, trying vainly to keep from laughing. [He had enough imagination to remain here when the rest of us left.]
[That was stupidity, not imagination.]
[It was neither,] Legolas put in.
[Then what was it?] Dirnees queried.
[How am I to be privy to that?]
[Then how do you know?] Elladan pressed.
Legolas rolled his eyes. [We will simply have to ask when he wakes.]
[It was because I sensed it was not yet my time to leave,] came the hoarse answer from Krystine's direction. [Do not try to complicate things with frivolous imaginings.]
The younger Elves looked among themselves and shrugged. Maybe he did have no imagination.
[And as for not having an imagination,] the elder Elf continued, [I did not receive the post of March Warden because I was Lord Celeborn's best friend.]
[Yes you did,] Elladan corrected boldly.
Elrohir turned to him. [You would like to die, would you not?]
Elladan shot back defensively. [It is what Mother said.]
Elrohir rolled his eyes. [She was jesting, Elladan.]
Haldir sat up; already he was looking better. [Before your father was even born I was battling the forces of Morgoth. It required skill of both body and mind and if I had not come up with the invisible flank maneuver, neither of you would have ever existed. Which might not have been so terrible, now that I think about it. These mortals have a saying that hindsight is twenty-twenty and I find that true in this case. Oh the pains I would have avoided . . .]
Dirnees blinked. [The invis . . . You devised that? But it has been used in all the elven realms since . . . Oh . . .]
Legolas nodded to Haldir. [It is a tactic we used often in Mirkwood. Father said you were a genius.]
[Genius under desperation. I never would have thought of it otherwise.]
Elladan fumed. [You would have let Grandfather die if you had known we would have been born?!]
Elrohir snorted. [Stop acting the fool. He would never let Grandfather die and you know it.]
[No indeed,] Haldir put in. [All the times I saved him from his own stupidity and all I got was disrespect from you two. One would think I received enough trouble from my own twin brothers, but no, I am given more from my friend's twin grandsons. Remind me to thank him deeply when I leave here.]
"Excuse me," Krystine interrupted. "Could you please just be quiet for now, Elladan? Papa needs his rest."
Elladan swelled with fury. [Is she ordering me to be silent?]
[I hope so,] Elrohir muttered.
[Well I am---]
[An Elf,] Legolas answered. [Perhaps at one time you were important, but she will hardly understand that and if she does, I doubt that she will be particularly impressed.]
Elladan snorted and bent down to Krystine. [No, you would not be impressed, would you, you little goblin?!]
He went from seeing Krystine's startled visage to seeing the tree tops and the blue sky above. He could not decipher what had happened until his jaw began to throb and his neck to ache. Sitting up, he found himself facing only the beginning of Haldir's wrath.
The elder Elf appeared as though Krystine had never left, as though he had never been ill. He seemed so mighty and righteous in his rage that no one dared to move, too awed by the power rolling in waves from him to do anything other than gawk. The normally tolerant Elf had finally been shaken into a ire and it was something none of them had expected he was capable of.
[The night she ran, I could not sleep. The Valar told me I had failed and I did not understand how until I discovered she had gone! You may think she is the Evil, but I do not and should you ever do so much as breathe near her I will make you rue the day you entered Arda!]
Elladan quailed and looked away, squeezing his eyes shut, attempting to avoid a challenge at all costs. He knew he could not win this way. To his amazement, it was Krystine who protected him.
"Papa . . . Papa, don't! Please, Papa! Please stop this! Please . . ."
There was silence and then a rustle of leathery hide. Finally, the heavy steps of the dragon receded into the trees. He let out the breath he did not know he had been holding. He looked up at the others, who seemed to be undecided on the matter. All but Elrohir, who crossed his arms unsympathetically.
[You are one lucky fool,] he snapped uncharacteristically. [He could have killed you and you would have deserved it, but Krystine pleaded for you and he listened. You owe her your life, I am sure.]
Legolas leaned against a nearby tree thoughtfully. [That is just another tally for me,] he noted. [I have maintained that she was not the Evil and here is my undeniable proof. If she was the Evil, she would crave death and discord. Yet numerous times she has stayed Haldir's anger and this time she has perhaps even saved your life. Where does her baneful nature enter the image, Elladan?]
[He is awfully protective of her . . .] Dirnees mused.
[I believe it is a parental instinct,] Elrohir told him. [Father acted similarly, though not so violently, when Aragorn asked for Arwen's hand.]
[But she is not his child.]
[That would not necessarily be a requirement. He has been her guardian for sixteen years--that is plenty of time for him to become attached to her and act as though she truly was his daughter. And with what happened to her before we arrived, his actions are mostly justified.]
[Then you are lucky indeed, Elladan,] Legolas concluded, [that Krystine successfully begged for your life. He might have gutted you before any of us could have stopped him.]
Haldir shook. That foolish Elfling had so infuriated him that he had nearly lost control of himself. Only the Valar knew what he would have done if Krystine had not stepped in and brought him back to his senses.
He opened his eyes and started at the sight of his sword, the sheath firmly strapped on, hovering in front of him. He looked over and up at Krystine, who held his knives--also with their sheaths strapped on--against her with one hand and the steel tip of the sword sheath with the other. "Krystine . . ."
"Please?" she pleaded petulantly. "I want to see if anything about me has changed."
He gave her a once-over. "Not really."
She smiled and rolled her eyes. "No, I mean . . . Ever since my birthday, the world has been moving a lot slower than normal. I'm wondering if maybe the world hasn't slowed down, but I've gotten faster."
So he took the sword and rose, leading her outside. She checked the straps for the knife sheaths to be sure they would hold and settled into a fighting stance as Haldir did. They stared at each other for several moments and then, on an unspoken signal, lunged toward each other.
Krystine saw Haldir's strike coming as though he was merely showing her how to perform a move and twisted aside, striking his ribs in return with the knives. His surprise was evident as he whirled to attack again, but she once more ducked away and jabbed him quickly in the stomach.
Haldir was bewildered. Never before had Krystine shown such proficiency with a weapon. Certainly he had trained her to use them, but until now she had wielded them as any awkward mortal would. He had always been forced to check his speed and skill to provide her with a fair battle, but now it seemed that he was the one outmatched. [Very well, then,] he thought to himself, [If her skill has increased so much, I will show her what it is like to battle an Elf.]
Krystine quickly became aware that something had happened. Haldir had suddenly become much faster and was now an even match for her in speed. She ducked a slash and thrust a knife upward, but he was already gone by the time she was completing the maneuver. She then saw the sword in the corner of her eye as it swung down to `decapitate' her. She pushed from the earth with her right leg, darting to the side and barely escaping injury.
Haldir closely watched her evade his strike and in the instant he blinked, she had disappeared. He stopped all movement and tuned his ears for her footsteps or her breathing; anything that would tell him where she was. He abruptly became aware of the air splitting behind him and pivoted, slamming his left elbow up into her diaphragm as he raised his sword in his other hand and used the flat of the sheathed blade to turn her head aside, ruining her attack.
She landed on the ground with a harsh thud and the knives fell from her hands as she tried to gasp in a breath. "That was very good, love," he informed her apologetically as he knelt by her, "but not quite good enough, I fear."
A weak smile was her answer. "I'll win . . . one day," she rasped.
At the edge of the forest, the four younger Elves looked among themselves in stunned amazement. [Did any of you see more than the first ten seconds of that?] Dirnees asked in disbelief.
I realize that Haldir's recovery is a tad on the quick side, but attribute it to a temporary adrenalin rush, please, and ignore it.