the hearts song - chapter 2: Gone Awry

Chapter Two: Gone Awry
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When Elienne and the handmaidens arrived in Arwen's wing of the palace, a gorgeously dressed, but very distraught princess met them, immediately swinging their mood from one of bold enthusiasm to meek contrition.

"What is this?" Arwen said, almost in tears. "Are you trying to ruin me?"

"Oh, no..." Elienne said. "Please don't..." she pleaded, studying the tears on Arwen's face, her own heart breaking at seeing she had caused her pain. "We still have time..."

"I promised my father we would welcome the guests as they arrived and help them find their places. Half have already gone into the banquet hall and we are still here... and look at you..." Arwen took her arm and led her to a bath. "It's cold, but you'll have to bear it," she said. Then her eyes grew large and she took Eliennes hands in hers and inspected the dark brown stains of the leather conditioner. "What? What is this?" She looked at Elienne with horror in her eyes.

"I'll wear gloves," Elienne said hopeful. She took back her hands and began to get undressed.

"It is not the season," Arwen said motioning for the handmaidens to come. "Get the solvent in the closet... you know the one."

The water was cold, but Elienne was so full of remorse she dared not say a word. Arwen lifted her hair to keep it dry and she bathed as quickly as possible.

"I am so truly sorry," Elienne said. "You can go... I'll catch up. The others are here to help me."

"No," Arwen said. "It is my duty to ensure you are properly dressed and prepared and..." But she didn't finish her sentence, instead she started to weep softly.

Elienne had caused this sort of reaction in her friend before but was no less moved each time that she let Arwen down. She stepped out of the bath and toweled off. The maidservants dressed her quickly and she sat with her hands out so they could work on ridding her cuticles of the unnatural dark brown color. Arwen began combing her hair and pulled herself together, trying to speak again.

"My grandmother has taught me well and I do not want her to think her lessons were all forgotten as soon as I left the Golden Wood, or that I failed to pass them along... So please, for pities sake, promise me you will behave this evening," Arwen pleaded. She came around to the front of Elienne, placing on her head a bit of beaded work that dangled a small charm in the center of her forehead. She looked at Elienne with her huge brown eyes and instructed, "No mischief... no teasing... be polite and sweet and charming... I know that you can be."

"I will do my best," Elienne said softly. The bustling around her was expertly done and it seemed she had just walked in and was already standing ready and dressed. Elienne looked at the handmaidens who knew her plan to approach Haldir this evening and were probably wondering about the promise she just made to Arwen.

Arwen lifted Elienne's bleached and conditioned hands, tilted her head and gazed again in her face.

"You look lovely... I didn't know if it was possible, but I should have guessed. Now lets go... " she said.

*****************

Once they arrived at the banquet hall, there were only a dozen Elves gathered and a setting for twenty-five was laid out on the large winding table in the shape of an elegant tree. The seating would be the King and Queen of Lorien at the head of the half circle table with Lord Elrond to the left of Celeborn followed directly on the rounded table by King Thranduil and Legolas on the far end. To the right of Galadriel would sit Arwen, Thranduil's Queen and then, on the other end across from Legolas, Elienne. The table then curved into itself a bit and there would be seated the royal kin and their spouses as well as any high ranking officials that had been invited. Among them, Haldir and his brothers, no doubt.

Elienne was grieved that she had caused Arwen such distress, but she was also disappointed that she would not be able to fully enjoy her game with the Guardian of Lorien. She suspected he would notice her, recognize her as the same maiden who had done his laundry and repaired his boots and have a bit of a surprise. But now, for her part, there could not be any gloating or laughing, she would simply acknowledge him and bid his forgiveness. It would be far less satisfying than she had imagined.

Arwen whispered to her, "Stand here and greet those who come in... you know the seating arrangement?"

"Yes, I remember," Elienne said. Arwen nodded and scanned the room with an air of business to her.

"Thankfully my grandparents have not arrived yet," she said. Then looking at Elienne she added, "When they do, whatever you are doing, make yourself available to me. She has been asking for you all day."

"For me?" Elienne asked with a smile.

Arwen smiled at her then floated away to greet an old acquaintance.

Elienne stood by the door, but her eyes were on the men seated at the end of the table. It was not hard to tell that the one with his back to her was Haldir. She had noticed straight away that he was larger than most elves and she could also see his hair was a bit mussed into its braid. She smirked to herself as she watched him and his brothers sitting at the very end of the table. The one called Rumil was looked her way and stopped in mid sentence. Slowly he began speaking again, keeping his eyes on her. Elienne wondered if this would be the moment. But Haldir did not turn around. In fact, he stood, whispered something to his brother and without so much as a glance, moved to the side of the room to speak with a lovely She-Elf from Lorien.

With a small pout, Elienne shifted her position and took a look outside to see who the voices she heard belonged to. It turned out to be Erestor, Elronds chief advisor and someone she guessed from Mirkwood because his clothing resembled that of Legolas.

"Greetings, M'Lord," she said to Erestor. She always attempted to be polite to Erestor, though she had very little to do with him if she was given a choice. He was more fond of watching and listening than entering into any sort of discussion, and she only really knew him from the tedious writing and transcript lessons he was responsible to ensure she learned.

"Good evening, Lady Elienne," he said. "May I introduce to you, Silinde, of Mirkwood. He has come with King Thrandruil and his court."

Silinde did not give her a chance to greet him before he took her hand and planted a small kiss on it. "You are as lovely as I expected," he said, still holding on to her hand.

Elienne couldn't help but blush and said, "I have become acquainted with your sweet Prince and insisted to him the Mirkwood Elves are just as fair as those in Lorien. You are no exception, M'Lord. And better mannered, I might add."

Silinde let go her hand and bowed slightly as he took a step back, looking a bit perplexed.

"What is it?" she asked with a nervous laugh. She glanced at Erestor who took the opportunity to give her a good scold. "Young she-Elves should not presume to flatter one Elf at the expense of another... it is discourteous and difficult to accept for one as modest as Silinde."

"I meant no offense," she said as sincerely as she could.

Erestor looked down his nose at her and led Silinde away towards the table. They were half way across the room when Elienne realized she was supposed to seat them.

"Oh bother," she said turning abruptly away and into someone who had managed to sneak up on her during her confusion. "Oh!" she said and then smiled. "Legolas! You have startled me again!"

"Perhaps it is becoming my habit," he said wryly. "Are you having more trouble with the Guardian of Lorien?" he asked.

"Trouble seems to be something I'm quite good at creating around here," she said. She looked over to where Haldir stood, still speaking with the Lorien She-Elf.

"Will you be too disappointed if your plans fall through?" he asked, his eyes showing his concern.

"I have already resigned myself to the fact that it will be quite a failed plot," she said. Someone from Rivendell entered, but she let her seat herself and continued to focus on Legolas. "You were very right about Arwen," she said sadly. He nodded as he listened. "She has forgiven me but made me promise not to be make mischief. It will take all my energy to do it!"

"However will you manage?" Legolas said with a small smile.

She laughed and said, "I do not know!"

Then something changed in Legolas eyes and he looked over her shoulder. His whole face seemed to light up.

"What?" she asked turning; there before her, walking up the path were the Lord of Lothlorien and Lady of Light... not just a euphemism, but in all reality the very truth. During the day she had not noticed that they glowed. But now, after the sun set she saw that the Lady did indeed illuminate all her surrounding. She drew in a breath and backed up into Legolas, who put his hands on her shoulders and the two took a step back to let the King and Queen enter.

From across the room, Elrond and Arwen approached, as did many of the others, including, Haldir.

"Welcome," Arwen said, warmly embracing the beautiful Elf queen with no reservations.

"We are famished!" Galadriel said. "We have been saving ourselves for this feast with great anticipation."

"As have we all," Elrond said. A small murmur ran through the gathering as he added, "And I am sure the menu will not disappoint."

"No greater place to dine in all of Middle Earth than at the tables of Rivendell," Celeborn said cheerfully. He took a step in towards the table when Galadriel stopped him.

"Is this the Young Lady about whom I have heard so much rumor?" Galadriel said, looking directly at Elienne.

The Queen's eyes were of the brightest blue and Elienne felt as though her knees would give if it were not for Legolas behind her holding her up. Her eyes fell to the feet of the gorgeous Elf and she said, "I am afraid to ask what you have heard."

Galadriel laughed heartily and Elienne looked back at her bright face, remembering Arwen had taught her not to stare away when an elder spoke to her. She forced herself to gaze into the crystal blue eyes of the Queen who had stopped laughing and was now merrily regarding Elienne. As harmless as her intentions it was almost painful to endure her gaze. Then, as if in a dream, she heard the lady speak, but did not see her lips move with the words. "I know what it is you have done... Do not underestimate my Emissary. He is Guardian for good reason."

Elienne blinked and said, "What do you mean?" But Galadriel didn't answer, instead let herself be led by Celeborn to the table. Elrond raised a brow at her and then followed them. Arwen reached out and squeezed Elienne's hand.

"Don't worry... she loves you already, I can tell," she said and then followed the crowd moving towards the table.

Elienne looked around and saw that Haldir was standing close by. He was watching the Lord and Lady with a look of adoration and pride. Elienne took a step towards him, leaning a bit into his view to catch his eye. She put on a large smile when he started to turn towards her, but his eyes, the moment they landed on her, fell down to his feet and he bowed low.

"M'Lady," he said.

He had not even looked her straight in the face, but surely he had seen her when Galadriel had drawn attention to her. Unless, of course, he was as taken by the Queen and only watched the Lady.

"Good evening," she said, standing before him, hoping he would stand straight and look at her and they could be over with this business. But he did not; he remained bowed until it became impossible to stand there any longer without drawing curious attention.

"We should sit," Legolas said, taking her arm and leading her away. He gave Haldir a strangely unpleasant look and led her to her seat.

"That did not go well at all," she said. "He would not even look at me!" The thought of his opinions on Princesses came to her mind and she grew irritated that he would judge her so quickly without even giving her an opportunity to prove she was not what he suspected.

"Consider it his loss, Lady Elienne," Legolas said in a flat tone.

When they reached her seat she turned to him and said, "Wait, I am supposed to be escorting. I should walk you to your seat."

"All are seated save a few," he said. "It would be quite an awkward trip back for you."

Scanning the scene she realized he was right and said, "You are becoming quite a valiant hero to me, Prince Legolas."

As he quickly walked away he looked at her and placed his hand on his heart in the customary acceptance of the honor. Elienne watched him briefly, and then took her seat next to his mother. She was a stunning She-Elf even more so close up with shining almost white hair and gleaming green eyes. When Elienne looked at her, the Mirkwood Queen frowned and began to speak, but her voice was covered by the loud sound of Elrond's call to welcome and begin the meal. While he was speaking, Elienne had a chance to try to catch a glance at Haldir. Unfortunately from where she was sitting she couldn't see his face at all. He was at the furthest seat from her and try as she might to lean in her seat this way or that; it was simply impossible to see him.

Sitting back in her chair, as the first course of dinner was served, she resigned herself to waiting until the recess before desert. Casually she glanced up and saw Legolas directly across from her. He was speaking with Erestor, but looking in her direction. He raised his brows and she smiled at him, realizing he probably knew she was trying to look at Haldir.

"I see my son has taken a fancy to you," the Lady of Mirkwood said with a voice that bordered on warning. Elienne was so taken aback by her tone, she didn't know what to say in response. Fortunately Arwen had over heard and spoke up.

"Who does not take a liking to Elienne? She is the mirth of Rivendell," she said. "Her youth keeps us all young."

"So I have heard," the stolid woman commented as she thrust a fork into a morsel of food. She then carefully placed it in her mouth and began to chew, all the while raising a single brow and fixing her eye on Elienne.

Elienne looked at Arwen with large eyes and pressed her lips together. Arwen leaned back slightly as if she knew what would happen next.

"Elienne, come here, if you can spare a moment from your plate, I wish to speak with you," Galadriel said.

Elienne was stunned at the invitation, but grateful for the chance to slip away and stood up. Arwen stood as well and bringing her own plate, sat down at Eliennes seat. She pushed Elienne's plate forward to make room for her own and then smiled brightly. But the Lady of Mirkwood looked most annoyed about the entire exchange.

"What is it," Elienne asked nervously, taking Arwen's chair.

"You are not in trouble, rest your heart," Galadriel said. She gently leaned back in her chair and placing her delicate hands in her lap gazing down at Elienne. Elienne realized she was almost holding her breath and laughed lightly at the release of tension. "You have had a busy day," the lady said.

"Yes," Elienne said.

In a low throaty voice Galadriel asked, "Do you know why it is you have not seen your father for almost two centuries?"

"Darkwood is in dangerous territory, the Eastlanders are a vicious, barbaric race of mortals who cannot be trusted. My father sent me here for the safety of Lord Elronds hold..." she answered dutifully.

"Is your heart settled with that answer?" Galadriel prodded.

A young Elf came and was about to place something in front of her, but he looked a bit confused. Arwen spoke up and explained, "We've switched seats, dear Olyen."

Elienne returned her focus to the Lady of Light who was waiting for an answer.

"No, M'Lady," Elienne said. She did miss him and wish he would visit but Lord Elrond seemed more of a father to her now. She tried not to think about it and the pain of the memory ached in her now.

"Your heart will mend when you see him again... if you open it to him in forgiveness," Galadriel said.

She clenched her jaw and looked at the food set before her.

"Is that such a challenge?" Galadriel asked. Elienne realized the Elf Queen hadn't eaten anything since she had changed seats with Arwen.

"Are you going to eat, M'Lady?" she asked. "You were so hungry when you came in..."

"I will eat after you answer my question," she said. "And it would do you well to be honest with me." Galadriel was casually leaning back in her chair and Elienne looked at her, knowing she must be several thousands of years old. Elienne was a mere infant compared to her. Yet she did not feel as though the Queen spoke down to her. She felt safe and cared for.

"Yes," Elienne said, ashamed of her answer. "I think it is going to be a challenge to open my heart to my father..."

"It will be for him as well," Galadriel said quickly.

Elienne thought on that a bit and then asked, "Why? What has he to fear?"

"That he has lost your love... it is the great fear of all parents when the trials of life cause them to do less than they would want for their children..." she said. Then she leaned forward, her eyes darting towards the far room. Elienne followed her gaze realized that at the end of the table directly in front of them sat Haldir. He was not looking in their direction, but seemed delightfully engaged in conversation with non other than that same Lorien She-Elf.

But as the Queen's eyes rested on him, the Guardian of Lorien turned their direction and looked at his Queen.

Elienne wondered if Galadriel was speaking with him, as she had done with her earlier. The Lady continued to stare at him, and Elienne was quite surprised when he broke out into a smile and then laughed.

"What did you say to him?" she asked Galadriel in a whisper. It was a most impolite question to ask, but she could not help herself.

Galadriel smiled knowingly and said, "Eat your food, little elfling, before it is cleared."

The Lady herself took a bite and Elienne followed her lead.

****************

By the time the recess before desert came, Celeborn had taken Elienne's attention with several stories about Lorien that she had never heard from Arwen. His descriptions were even more glorious than Arwen's fine tales and Galadriel seemed to be just as enchanted with her husband as Elienne was, though she no doubt had heard the tales many times.

When Lord Elrond bid everyone to stand and move towards the large blazing fire hearth where they would enjoy music and fellowship, Elienne hoped that now would be the time to politely confront Haldir. She followed him with her eyes and watched as he moved to a spot near the fire, thankfully this time across the way from that She-Elf he seemed so fond of. Elienne drifted through the crowd, paying her respects with gentle smiles and hello's until she reached Haldir, speaking with non-other than Rumil, his brother. She approached slowly and waited to be noticed.

As the two of them continued to speak, Rumil gave her a glance and then looking again, left his eyes on her face for quite a while. Haldir continued to talk the entire time Rumil was staring at her and then finally, with a sigh, the Guardian turned and took notice of her.

"Good Evening, M'Lady," he said casually and with a slight bow. "Is there some way the Wardens of the Goldenwood may be of your service?"

Elienne tilted her head and took a step closer. She continued to stare at him directly in the eye and wondered if he still did not recognize her as being the same maidservant who had washed his laundry and restored his boots.

"You seem to have bewitched the Princess," Rumil said in a bored tone. He took a drink from the glass he had brought with him. The music of harps tuning joined the murmur of the crowd and Haldir's eyes looked over her shoulder to the sound.

"Perhaps she is waiting for me to ask her to dance," Haldir said. "Which is a bit premature as it will take a good few more minutes before the musicians are ready." He looked at her again and bowed, saying, "But I am flattered by your notice, none-the-less."

"I believe we have met before," she said slowly.

Haldir looked at his brother who gingerly rolled his eyes and said, "It is at this point I am to excuse myself so that my brother may have the lady to himself." He then turned and left and Haldir crossed his arms and looked down his nose at Elienne.

"Have we?" he asked.

"You don't know who I am?" she asked.

"You are Lady Elienne, the Princess of Dark Wood," he said stiffly.

"Yes, but," she started. She didn't want to blurt it all out and simply just stared at him, dumbfounded that he did not know.

After a few awkward moments, he shook his head and said, "If you can not speak, then I suppose I shall have to be gallant and ask you to dance with me, Princess." He stretched out his hand he then hesitated and said, "If you find me worthy, that is."

She remembered how insecure he had seemed in his room getting dressed. He was afraid he would not be noticed by any of the she-elves. At first she was offended by his rejection of her simply for being a Princess, but she now suspected it was a cover up, for he seemed quite pleased with her attention now.

"Of course," she said with a smile, placing her hand in his.

As he led her to where the other dancers were waiting for the music to begin, Elienne decided that if he did not recognize her as the maidservant, then she would use this time to be seen as the Princess who took notice of him. Perhaps Arwen's charge to her to not create a scene was going to work to her advantage after all. And to his, if she could cure the Emissary of his low self-image and give him a good dose of she-elf flirting.

She smiled most broadly at him as he stood across from her waiting for the musicians. She wondered how someone like Haldir could go unnoticed. He was by far the most handsome Elf in the room. Perhaps it was because he wore natural clothes rather than the finely ornate garments of the royalty. But even so, it did not seem right that he should blend in to the others. Then she remembered the lovely Lorien female. There was one she-elf whose notice he had taken.

"Who is that she-elf you were sitting with at dinner?" she asked as lightly as she could.

"You have not met Muriel? She is the court vocalist in Lorien. Soon we will be dancing to lyrics sung by the voice of liquid diamonds..." he mused.

"Ah," Elienne said. "So she is beautiful and she sings..."

"She doesn't just sing," he said taking her hands as the song began. "She brings music to life."

As he led her around the room in step to the song, a sound eerie and translucent began to stream poetry into the air. It was as amazing and beautiful as anything Elienne had ever heard before, but she could not enjoy it. Because as she danced with Haldir she knew the sweet expression on his face was not the enjoyment of her company, but rather the song of Muriel. She decided to engage him a bit to see if she could regain his focus.

"You are light on your feet, M'Lord," she said.

"Aye," he said, "It comes from much practice with talented partners." It was very clear his comment was not returning the compliment to her. He continued to dance effortlessly and even succeeded in making her feel a bit self-conscious when he began to improvise on the dance steps in increasingly complicated manner. Elienne was nervous and unsure of herself and stumbled a few times before she finally came to a stand still. He moved a bit more and then realized she had stopped.

"Are we done?" he asked.

"I am," she said with a frown, thinking him not only rude, but also insensitive. He gave her a slight bow and turned to go. "Emissiary!" she called, shocked that he would simply leave her in the middle of the dance floor and not at least walk her to the side.

He stopped and turned his head to her and asked, "Yes, M'Lady..."

She walked up to him thinking that perhaps it was his manner with she-elves that put them off. Changing her mind yet again as the game was no longer amusing, she said, "I need to speak with you. Will you go for a short breath of air outside with me?"

"Far be it from me to turn down the wishes of a Princess, but it is most unusual to leave the banquet early," he said with an air of distaste to his tone.

"We aren't leaving," she said. "I just... need to be able to tell you something without curious ears about."

"You do realize, it is not proper," he said sternly. "And it could be considered unseemly."

"You are overreacting," she said. "There is nothing wrong with..."

But he interrupted and said, "Whatever it is you must tell me, you may tell me here, or wait until later."

Despite her training, Elienne looked down at her hands. Nothing about this prank had gone as she had planed. And now, to spite it all, Haldir was growing angry with her. She swallowed and was readying herself to polite blurt it all out and let it settle as it may, when the call came that desert was ready.

"We wait then?" he asked.

"I suppose there is no other choice," she sighed.

"You may approach me with whatever it is you must say either later this evening or perhaps tomorrow," he said politely, but with no hint of personal interest or curiosity. She nodded and headed back for her seat.

Arwen took her chair next to her grandmother and Elienne enjoyed a very pleased look from Legolas mother. The rest of the meal she sat in silence as the Lady of Mirkwood and the others nearby spoke of how pleasant it was to travel and find fellowship again among the royal company.

It was almost time for the final course to end when Elienne looked up to see Legolas across from her. His elbows were ungraciously on the table and he was resting his chin on the top of his knuckles, feigning a good scowl for her. She chuckled at the site of it and returned a forced scowl back at him, which made him smile. As soon as they were wished well and excused by Elrond, she saw Legolas stand and point at her. Not knowing what he meant she lightly touched her chest with her fingers and mouthed the word, "Me?"

"Careful, young she-Elf," his mother quipped as she stood up beside Elienne. "I'm watching you." Her husband came to her side and took her arm and her face changed unnaturally from a frown to a delighted smile. By the time Thranduil led his queen away, Legolas had made it over to Elienne, startling her again.

"You are so quick and quiet," she said breathlessly.

"I suppose I am, but not much more than most Elves who choose to be so," he said. "I only choose to be so more often."

"And why is that?" she asked, putting her hands on her hips. "Do you so enjoy frightening me?"

"No," he gently corrected. He grew shy for a moment and then confessed, "If you don't see me coming, you cannot slip away before I arrive."

The two of them began for the door and she asked, "And why would I do that?" Then the thought occurred to her and she added, "...besides to avoid the wrath of your dear mother... she is most curious in her regard for me. She seems to think I have intention to do you harm."

"It is her way," he said unapologeticly. They walked out onto the path and down into the courtyard.

"It frightens me to even speak with you," Elienne teased. "For she may conceive of some spell to cast upon me to make me hideous to you."

Legolas simply nodded and offered no comment on it. As they walked it grew quieter in the woods as most of the Elves returned indoors. Slowly Elienne realized they were walking in no obvious direction, neither of them probably wanting to turn in for the evening quite yet.

"What will she say if she sees us wandering about by lamp light in the woods?" Elienne jested.

This time Legolas laughed lightly and clasped his hands behind his back.

"She'll think I'm trying to steal your heart and run away with you," she said.

To that he only said, "When you become a mother, I am sure you will understand."

Elienne nodded, realizing her own mother would be arriving in the next day. She had seen her a few times over the last decade, but not nearly often enough. It was odd to her that Legolas was so quiet. She wondered if she was boring him. Then she remembered what Erestor had said about insulting other Elves. He was being very gallant to not correct her for being so impolite about his own mother.

"Oh Legolas, I'm so sorry..." she said, covering her mouth with her hand and searching his face. "I did not mean to engage you in disparaging comments about your mother..."

He closed his eyes and smiled understandingly. "You have every right to feel uncomfortable," he said. "I don't fault you for that... but I hope it will not effect our friendship. She means harm to you no more than you mean harm to me."

"I shall try to befriend her then," Elienne said, trying to make up for her error. "While she is here I will work to curry her favor."

Legolas looked at her sideways and said, "Do not do so on my account. For the task that would take I fear you would have no time for our new friendship."

Elienne smiled and let it go, satisfied that she had not offended him.

"So how did the grand moment go?" he asked. Then in a strangely distant voice he asked, "Was he as surprised and enchanted as you hoped?"

"Oh!" she said, stopping. She looked behind them into the courtyard but Haldir was not among the few that lingered. She looked at Legolas and bemoaned, "He did not recognize me, Legolas! He looked me direct in the eye and spoke with me at length and did not realize it was I who had done his laundry this morn."

"That is a bit of oddness," Legolas said. He grew contemplative as Elienne continued.

"I was going to tell him but the night grew old and he told me to find him and finish our conversation," she said. "So now, instead of being prepared and eagerly anxious for the moment of triumph, I must wait in agony to find a time to uncover my shame. This prank of mine has simply gone completely backwards."

Legolas shook his head slightly and said, "I do not understand why it is so important to you."

"I suppose it is just my pride," she said. Then something struck her and she said slowly, "I owe him his cloak..." Then speaking faster she explained with delight, "Eli, the handmaiden promised to bring it by this evening... I shall fetch it now and deliver it. That should confuse him enough." She started to run away, but remembered her manners and came back, to offer him a parting word. Pausing in front of him she saw in his eyes was a bit of concern. "Do not worry for me," she said reaching her arms around his neck and embracing him. "I am quite alright," she said. He held her gingerly as she finished, "This will be over soon."

He let her go and said, "Let us hope so."

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