Lothriel caught a ragged sigh in her throat as she continued to ascend the stone steps, her bare feet, though small and dainty, feeling as weighted as her heart. The sad song mourning Gandalf’s loss filtered down from above, and only added to her own feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
Such were the risks of giving one’s heart to another. Haldir possessed her heart, all of it, and cared not at all. He was still clearly infatuated with Lalaith of Imladris, as he had been for years. The fault, of course, was not Lalaith’s, Lothriel knew. The Lady of Imladris loved another, Legolas, the Prince of Mirkwood, and was blessed of the Valar enough to possess his love in return. Though now they were forced to wait, the two still planned to marry after their quest ended, and the One Ring of Sauron was destroyed.
Lalaith had never loved Haldir as more than a friend, and had said she no longer possessed his heart. And perhaps that was true, but then perhaps Haldir had no heart to give away. Lothriel brushed a hand under her eyes, angry at herself for loving one who would never love her back. She had realized this years before, that she could choose either to give in to the hopelessness of her unrequited love, fade away, and eventually pass to the Halls of Mandos as she had seen her beloved mother do, after her father’s death centuries before in a battle with orcs, or she could just accept that he would never love her, and simply be as close to him as he allowed.
She had taken the second course, but this too, hurt her. For although she learned skills that few women did, though she donned the attire of a man, and had grown to repress her fear and revulsion of orcs and other evil beasts, hunting the vicious creatures that threatened the peace of her homeland as the men of her people did, Haldir still didn’t seem to notice her any more than before. He even seemed almost offended by her very presence, going out of his way to ignore her, and avoiding her as much as he could. And now that Lalaith had returned, Haldir, though it was clear to him that she belonged now to another, still seemed to dote on her. He had retained his memories of Lalaith who clearly did not love him, and yet he was barely aware of Lothriel, who loved him enough to die for him, if she was ever called upon to do so.
With another ragged sigh, Lothriel turned off the main path onto one much less used, a narrow, twisting path that meandered through the trees, rough and broken, jutting tree roots blocking her way which she had to step over, lifting her skirt as she did, so as not to tear the hem. Though the night was far later than she was accustomed to, her nerves and emotions were so taut, that she knew she would not be able to sleep for several hours, at the least. Perhaps a refreshing swim would help to relax her, and ease her mind.
The welcome splash of water began to fill her ears as she drew closer to her destination, and a smile came to her lips, her weary heart lifting. Around the trunk of a young Mallorn sapling, the pool came into view, a clear, sapphire blue pool of water, that came from a spring splashing in a water fall down from an ancient tumbled mass of rocks, damp and moss covered. At a far edge of the pool, a stream trickled away somewhere through the trees, eventually to join the Silverlode farther south. This was a place to which she came often to be alone. In earlier years, before Haldir had decided she was no longer good enough for him, they had come here together, when they were young, when they were friends. But now, he never came.
At the edge of the pool, jutting slightly outward over the water, was a flat surfaced stone, one which she used as a platform to dive off of. She quickly shed her gown, leaving on only her white undergarment, and hung it carefully over a nearby branch before she clambered to the top of the stone, inched her way forward to the edge, and there stood poised, on her toes, ready to dive into the pool below her, so clear, that she could see the white sand at the bottom. She smiled, clearing her thoughts of Haldir as much as she could, and raised her arms above her head, preparing to dive.
Haldir stopped suddenly, and glanced around him. This was where Lothriel had turned off. His eyes, trained and keen for tracking, could see the impress of her small bare feet where they turned onto a path, a rarely used trail, one he remembered using when he was younger, one he had gone down frequently, with Lothriel, he remembered, when they were children, and even as they began the gradual ascent into adulthood, ever fast friends until Lalaith had come to Lothlorien, and he had lost himself to her. His love for Lalaith had come upon him swiftly, leaving him breathless and reeling, plagued with constant thoughts of her, and dreams of an eternity by her side. Yet she had rejected him, unable to love him in return, and returned to Imladris, leaving him grieving at her passing. His love for Lothriel however, had come slowly, so slowly that he had hardly noticed it. And when he realized he truly loved her, he found himself unable to speak of his feelings, for fear of a second rejection that would wound him even more deeply than Lalaith’s. Thus, for fifty years, foolishness, pride, and fear had separated him from her, the one he realized now, had loved him as well.
For probably the hundredth time in only a few minutes, Haldir cursed himself, and his stupidity, and for not having noticed her affection for him, sooner. Though he’d lived thousands of years, it took Lalaith, ever a true friend, to point out his folly to him. He had put Lothriel through torment because of his ignorance. But now, he vowed to himself as the musical splash of water came to his ears, that he would make amends to her, and more, if he needed to as he rounded the last tree, and the pool came into view, and the vision of Lothriel, fairest of all maidens, instantly ensnared all of his senses, clad in no more than her thin, white undergarment, standing at the edge of the flat stone he remembered diving from himself when he was younger.
She stood poised on her toes, as a bird ready for flight, a young, brilliant white dove against the dim shadows of the forest, her arms stretching above her head before she hopped lightly, and dove down into the water, her flawless, slender body cleaving the surface with barely a ripple. A moment later, her head emerged, her golden, unbound hair flowing about her in the water, as she took in a quick gasp of air, then turned over on her back and floated lazily, her eyes gazing upward into the trees as a soft, ragged breath pulled at her lungs and she began to hum a low melody bereft of words, but sad, and hopeless in its tone.
Her undergarment reached from her narrow shoulders, halfway down her slender, shapely thighs, long enough to keep him from seeing overly much of her, but now that it was wet, it clung tightly to her smooth skin, revealing her soft, feminine contours, more than she would want any man to see. She had not noticed him, he realized awkwardly, and he glanced discreetly away, knowing that he should give her a measure of privacy, wondering how he should gain her attention, and alert her to his presence without completely frightening her away.
“Lothriel?” He finally called softly, his eyes to the ground, hearing the soft humming instantly cut off.
“My- my Lord.” Lothriel mumbled from the pool, and he risked a glance in her direction to see her, still in the water, but deliberately ducked low enough that he could no longer see any of her, but her face, and her golden hair, still floating gracefully about her. The formal way she addressed him, again tore at his heart. When they were friends, she’d simply called him Haldir. This again, was his fault, he cursed himself inwardly, from the way he’d so unkindly ignored her, hoping to protect his own feelings, while unknowingly wounding her own.
“Please, Lothriel, you need not call me that.” He said quietly after a long moment.
“Forgive me Lord Haldir, please. I did not see you.” He could hear the sound of splashing as she emerged from the pool, tugging vainly at her garment to keep it from clinging so tightly to her. Haldir kept his eyes averted as she scampered to the tree where her gown hung, and hurriedly pulled it over her head, not caring that she was still dripping wet.
“I will go now.” She spouted, turning away. “I did not know you still came here.”
“I actually followed you.” He called after her, lifting his eyes now to see her, his voice stopping her in her tracks.
She turned back to him, her neck bent like a small child about to be scolded. “Why? Have I done something wrong?” She murmured.
Again, her words twisted his heart. That she would think he would speak to her, only if he were angry with her!
“No!” He shook his head. “I only-, I wanted to talk to you.”
Lothriel’s eyes looked frightened, and as Haldir drew toward her, wishing he could calm her fears, she took a step back. “Why?” She asked, her voice low, almost suspicious.
Haldir gulped. When he had told Lalaith that he thought Lothriel was more beautiful than she was, and Lalaith, unoffended, had smiled and told him to tell Lothriel so, he thought it would be easier than this.
“I-,” he stammered, glancing away, “I spoke to Lady Lalaith, after you left.”
“Oh?” Lothriel murmured slowly.
He drew in a long sigh, glanced up into her eyes, and said, “She told me what you told her. About me.”
“Ai.” Lothriel breathed in a voice almost too quiet to hear as a warm blush darkened her fair cheeks. She dropped her eyes, turned, and started to hurry away. “I must go now.” She spouted in a rush, snatching up the hem of her skirt to hurry even faster.
“Lothriel, wait! Please!” He called, rushing after her, and snatching her hand, gently drawing her to a stop.
“Forgive me, my Lord.” She stammered in a voice that shook violently, refusing to lift her eyes. “If I have offended you, I am truly sorry.” She struggled against his hold, and when he would not release her, her voice grew pleading, even frightened, “Please, let me go, and I will leave as you want me to. I will never even look at you again, if that is your wish.”
“Lothriel-,” Haldir managed through a voice choked with emotion and guilt as he caught her other hand within his, and held her firmly, but gently. “Please, listen.”
“No, just, let me go.” She continued to plead as she began to sob. The strength left her legs entirely, and she dropped to her knees onto the ground.
Haldir lowered himself to his own knees in front of her, and studied her agonized face. This, this was all his doing. His fault. Her wounds ran deeper than she had shown to anyone. “Lothriel-,”
“No.” She moaned in a voice thick with pain. “Say nothing, please. I could not live with the words of your dismissal ever echoing in my mind. Just let me go. Let me leave. Pretend that I am nothing, as you always have. Ignore me. I promise I will never be so foolish as to burden anyone, least of all you, with the truth of my feelings again.” She finished in a soft, sobbing voice, “Please, just let me go.”
“Oh, Lothriel.” Haldir choked. A rough breath caught in his own lungs as he pulled her tightly against him.
Lothriel said nothing. She gasped, as if in pain as he drew her close, and now she kept herself stiff, her body tight and unyielding against his, her breath quick and shallow as if she were tolerating some unbearable torture that she hoped would end soon. Her cool, sweet smelling hair was wet against his face. The water that was still clinging to her undergarment, was soaking through her gown, and now through Haldir’s clothes as well.
“Forgive me, Lothriel. I have wounded you, more than I realized. I never meant to.” He murmured against her ear, choking now on his own wretched emotion, wrenched with overwhelming waves of guilt. “I have wronged you. I have caused you more pain than I could ever make recompense for.”
With these words, Lothriel seemed to soften somewhat. But still, she did not move or speak.
Haldir drew back, and took her tormented, tear streaked face in his hands. “I am sorry. I did not know I was hurting you.”
Lothriel’s face softened measurably, and her eyes searched his, though still, she said nothing.
“It is my entire fault. The blame for what I put you through, lies completely on my shoulders.” Haldir said all of this, dropping his eyes, not daring to look up at her for the shame that scorched him. “I have been a blind fool.” He paused, then added reproachfully, “Still, that is no excuse for what I have done to you.”
Lothriel’s gaze searched Haldir’s, her eyes pleading with questions. “What are you saying?” She asked, breathlessness beneath the quiet of her voice.
“I am saying that I love you.” He said quietly, his own voice almost as soft as her own. “I love you.” He repeated reverently. He studied Lothriel’s face, taking on a look of speechless amazement, her long golden hair clinging wetly to her neck and her soaked gown. The sight of her, kneeling before him, her eyes locked with his, made the blood pound thickly in his throat, and caused sensations, emotions and desires he had not felt in many years, to surge through his body.
Lothriel drew away from Haldir, and sat back on her feet. She would not look at him. Her bottom lip trembled as a new tear streaked down through the wetness already shining on her flushed cheek. “Do you know how long I have dreamed of hearing you say those words to me? Though I gave up hope long ago, of ever hearing you speak such words?” She asked not looking at him.
Haldir winced at the sadness lacing her voice, and said nothing.
“When we were younger, just beginning to leave childhood behind, we were here one day.” She answered for him, still keeping her gaze diverted from his. “We were swimming, as we often did, splashing each other, and chasing each other around in the water.” A smile came to her face at the memory, and Haldir smiled as well, remember their carefree days as children, their long days swimming, wandering together through the trees, sometimes finding hidden berry bushes, and messily feeding each other until their faces and clothes were stained with the purple juice. “I broke the rules, and got out of the water, running from you.” Lothriel continued. “And you came chasing after me, shouting about what a cheater I was.” She pointed to a sandy section around the edge of the water. “You caught me right there, and we fell into the sand together.” Lothriel sighed. “I remember the feel of your arms around me, stronger than they had used to be. I will never forget it. And I remember looking up at you, and realizing suddenly that yours was the face of a man and not a boy, looking down at me. It struck me then, with the force of lightning that we were no longer children, and I no longer felt like a girl, but a woman when I was with you. It was then that I knew I loved you, and wished to love no other.”
Haldir gulped and admitted, “I hurt you when Lalaith came to Lothlorien, and I turned my heart to her.”
“Not overly much,” she said gently, “for I’d never spoken to you of my feelings. How could you have known?” Lothriel sighed and shrugged. “I decided that if you did marry her, I would accept it, and you and I would continue as we’d always been. As friends. I knew I could never love another, but the pain was bearable if you were still my friend.” Lothriel’s smooth white brow twitched, and her lip trembled again. “What hurt me, was that I became as nothing to you after she left. It was as if our friendship had never been, Haldir. That is what hurt me.”
“Can I ever be forgiven for what I’ve done?” Haldir murmured, more to himself than to her.
At this, Lothriel looked up at him, tears shimmering in her eyes. “What you did, you did in ignorance. You did not intend to hurt me. I could have spoken as well, at any time during those fifty years, but I never did. You can blame yourself no more than you can blame me.”
“You never ignored me the way I did you.” Haldir protested. “You followed me everywhere. I should have known. I could have seen your feelings for me in your eyes, but I hardly looked at you.”
“I could have said something to you.” She disagreed. “If I had but said something and, demanded that you answer me, we could have spoken. The truth would have come out. But I refused to speak because I was afraid. Just as you avoided me for the same reason. Do not blame yourself, Haldir.”
“How can I not blame myself?” He asked softly.
“We are both of us, guilty.” Lothriel sighed. “And we are both of us, innocent. Neither of us did any intentional wrong. And now, we know the truth. We can leave the past behind us.”
Haldir studied her face, seeing forgiveness and love in her large, tear filled eyes. “I am the more responsible. The more in need of your forgiveness.” He insisted. “How could I ever begin to earn it?”
Lothriel smiled, her cheeks flushing once again, but this time out of shyness as she rose up on her knees and inched forward. “By doing this.” She whispered as she slipped her hands over his broad shoulders, and circled her arms loosely around his neck, leaning her body softly against his as she brushed his lips with her own. She drew back, and smiled into his wondering eyes. “I love you, Haldir, and I know now, that you love me. And that is more than sufficient reason to forgive you.”
Haldir smiled at the responsiveness, the softness now, in Lothriel’s touch, stirring his warmest instincts. “Are you certain it is sufficient, my lissien?” He asked mischievously. His strong, sturdy arms came around her waist, and he pulled her tightly against him. “I was hoping that perhaps, you might need more persuasion.”
Lothriel’s eyes sparkled with delight, and she leaned eagerly into him as he kissed her again. The combination of passion and tenderness in the strength of his embrace, and in the warm taste of his mouth caressing hers, nearly overpowered her, more than making up for the centuries of time they had lost. When at last they finally drew apart, she sighed, and gazed up into his eyes that flickered now with deep yearning.
“Your parents have both departed to the Halls of Mandos, beloved.” Haldir said in a breathless voice, touching a hand reverently to her damp hair. “So, if you ever were to marry, the question of whom you wed would be left entirely to you.”
Lothriel laughed in delight, and the sound rested on Haldir’s heart like the tones of a joyful song. “So it would be.” She smiled teasingly. “As would the preparations for my wedding, if I ever married.”
“How swiftly could such arrangements be made?” Haldir begged hopefully.
“Oh, very quickly, I am certain.” She promised.
“Good.” Haldir grinned, gently smoothing a lock of wet golden hair behind the peak of her dainty ear, and his eyes danced playfully even as they darkened with a hint of desire. “For I long very much to make full amends to you, and I look forward to that chance with great eagerness.”
Lothriel gasped in shocked laughter, knowing what he alluded to. She pushed him playfully in the chest, and Haldir rolled, chuckling, onto his back. She crawled quickly to his side, not caring that her damp dress was clinging now in bits of dirt and leaves, and threw an arm across his chest, holding him down.
“Haldir,” she sighed with a shake of her head, gazing down into his smiling eyes, “whatever am I to do with you?”
“Marry me.” He begged, all humor fading from his voice as he reached up and put a warm hand against her smooth white cheek. Lothriel’s own smile faded as a single tear, now one of joy, spilled over the rim of her eye, and clung shimmering like a jewel, to the end of her lashes, before it fell with a splash onto Haldir’s cheek. Gently, she smoothed it away; her hand’s motion paused as his own hand caught hers in a gentle grip, and drew it to his chest where he pressed it against his heart.
“Marry me, Lothriel.” Haldir repeated in a pleading voice. “And I swear to you, that I will spend all the ages of this world making you the happiest of all the daughters of Iluvatar.”
“And I will make you the happiest of all of the sons of Iluvatar, Haldir.” She murmured, before she bent low, and placed her lips over his, sealing her promise to him with the gentle caresses of her mouth, and feeling the assurance of his pledge in his own warm response, in the tender touch of his free hand against her face, and in the quickened pace of his heart beneath her own hand before she sighed and buried her head against his neck to hide more happy tears.
Haldir pressed a kiss against her wet hair and slowly drew himself up, easing his back against a nearby root jutting from the ground as his arms came around her once again and drew her to his side. Lothriel sighed, snuggling her face into his shoulder, content with the feel of his even breathing as his chest rose and fell, the steady sound of his heart beating in his chest, and the knowledge that he loved her. In this manner, soothed by the security of the other’s presence, and the feel of their arms about each other, Lothriel and Haldir slowly faded into a contented sleep, the soft, musical notes of the waterfall ever murmuring softly in the background.