Haldir rose from the side of Lalaith’s bed, and turned slowly to eye Thranduil’s son who stood glowering within the open doorway. Legolas’ hands were clenched into fists, his eyes broiling with dark fury within his scowl hardened face.
“Ah, so the princeling returns in victorious triumph.” Haldir muttered in a smooth voice as he strode near enough to flick a small flower petal from Legolas’ stern shoulder. “You must be well pleased with yourself, I trust? For glory and treasure are what you abandoned Lalaith to go after, were they not?”
“What are you doing here, Marchwarden?” Legolas demanded, his voice seething from his lips in a soft warning hiss.
“What do you think, your highness?” Haldir returned, answering the challenge as he too drew a step forward. “Watching after Lalaith while you are off seeking after a pile of dead stones!”
Legolas’ eyes narrowed at this, and he seethed with a half sneer, “Clearly, your watch is somewhat more deficient than you would wish to admit. Have the Lady and Lord of the Golden Wood been informed of your faulty care of their kinswoman?”
“Your mother has sent them word.” Haldir murmured smoothly.
Legolas’ eyes narrowed at Haldir’s caustic tone behind his smooth words before his gaze fell to the sleeping maiden half concealed behind Haldir, and much of the ire in his eyes melted into worry.
“What happened to her?” He asked, the anger in his voice fading swiftly away.
“Spider bite.” Haldir returned, his voice a near mumble, for Legolas’ accusatory words had struck home.
At these words, Legolas’ eyes grew desperate with alarm, and he shoved roughly past the Lórien Elf, and dropped swiftly upon the side of the bed where Haldir had been seated moments before. He snatched up one of her motionless hand, cupping it between his own, before he turned, and lifted his eyes.
“H-how?” Legolas’ voice was suddenly a fervent plea.
“We were in the wood, beyond the bridge on a narrow path. She drew ahead of me-,” Haldir gulped, remembering the details of that day, but feeling no inclination to divulge them.
“How could you be so careless as to allow her beyond your sight?” Legolas barked suddenly, dropping her hand, and shooting to his feet. “You know these woods are not as Lórien-,”
“Indeed, you are right, my lord. They are not.” Haldir smirked, with a twist of his lips that cut off Legolas’ words, and made his blood boil in his veins. “Not at all like the bright Golden Wood, is this dark and unholy place.”
Legolas glowered with heat in his gaze that could have melted steel.
“Such a maiden as Lalaith does not belong in such a dismal wood as this.” Haldir sneered, and though he felt a warning tug within his mind, he did not stop himself, for the glare of growing rage upon the haughty young princeling’s face brought greater satisfaction than he had expected. “She belongs in Lothlórien. For the brightness of the Golden Mallyrn and the beauty of our fair Lalaith complement each other, do you not agree?”
At this, Legolas tightened his jaw, and he snatched the scruff of Haldir’s tunic, glaring at the Lórien Elf across the small space of air between them. Studying Haldir’s confident sneer, Legolas fumed, “You cannot win.”
“Can’t I?” Haldir breathed smoothly, with a low chuckle. “Listen to my laughter, you conceited princeling.”
Legolas’ eyes narrowed as he seethed in a low, heated voice, “You thieving, arrogant son of orcs-,”
“Legolas!” The voice that cried out in alarm and shock brought both their heads to turn toward Lalaith where she had awoken, and now sat up, wavering upon her bed, her gaze filled with awe and shock as her eyes darted between the two men. Legolas shoved Haldir back, though his fuming glare did not lessen.
“What are you doing?” She cried, scrambling desperately out of bed, only to tumble in a weakened heap upon the floor just as a new figure came darting through the door.
Elrohir paused, and his widened eyes flashed between the three of them in frightened shock as his breath came in quick bursts. Having just heard the news that his young cousin had been injured, he had run the whole way. And now, finding the Marchwarden of Lórien and the Prince of Mirkwood standing toe to toe and glowering at one another as if they were near to blows, with Lalaith collapsed in a heap beside her bed, Elrohir’s shock was only added upon.
“Legolas, why-,” he began, only to turn to Haldir, “what hap-,” he shook his head, threw up his hands, and darted at last to Lalaith, gathering her gently up in his arms, like a child.
“Come, Lalaith.” He muttered gently, setting her upon the rumpled sheets of her bed. “Are you alright?”
“I am.” She answered in a shaking voice, as her eyes surveyed Legolas with a hardened glare.
Covertly, Haldir glanced at Legolas beneath Lalaith’s disapproving look. He meant to flash the defeated princely brat a sneer of victory, but Legolas did not notice. His head was turned downward, his eyes focused upon the floor with such an expression of hopeless defeat upon his sorrowing countenance that Haldir’s proud victory suddenly felt hollow.
A stab of regret and guilt gripped him just as two more figures arm in arm, stepped with more sedate calm than Elrohir had, through the doorway.
Haldir gulped at the appearance of the king and queen, and straightened his posture, realizing painfully , that his rank was hopelessly below that of his rival’s. Surely now, Legolas would flout his royal privileges, and see to it that Haldir met with a stern reprimand.
“Lalaith, my dear, are you hurt? What happened?” Aseaiel called out in a lightened tone though her voice shook as she strode across the room.
“I-, tried to stand.” Lalaith cut in swiftly.
“Oh, Lalaith,” Aseaiel murmured in a motherly tone, brushing a hand across the maiden’s pale brow. “You should rest some few days more.”
Haldir shot Legolas a wondering look, for her had been certain that Legolas would immediately disclose the Marchwarden’s many faults, and exercise his power in rank. But the king’s son said nothing.
“No, my lady, please.” Lalaith shook her head. “I may not have the strength yet to stand on my feet, but I can sit well enough to ride.”
Legolas’ eyes took on a silent look of alarm at her words.
“It is time I returned to Lórien, my lady.” Lalaith mumbled, forcing the words out past a wrenching pain that suddenly gripped her heart.