“The bow you have, it is of Mirkwood design is it not?” Aeglironion asked.
Rían nodded once as she experimentally pulled back the bowstring, testing the tension.
“Did you win it in one of Thranduil’s infamous contests?”
Suddenly, Glennodad was beside them, having caught part of the conversation.
“You *won* that?!” he exclaimed, looking very impressed.
“No,” Rían answered, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. “It was a gift.”
She stepped away to stand beside Rúmil as they awaited their turn on the archery range. She took the moment to scan her surroundings, not admitting to herself she was looking for Haldir.
After the *demonstration* at the close combat ring, they continued silently to their present location. Rúmil and Orophin dared not smile in their brother’s presence but it did not stop Glennodad or Aeglironion, who recently joined them. Haldir had explained that all new guardians’ archery skills were evaluated before assignment and even though he knew her skill, they could not skip this formality. Rían understood and while she readied her bow, he had disappeared.
“So what did you do for King Thranduil to gift you with one of their bows?” asked Glennodad as he flanked her other side.
“Really, must you bother Rían all the time?” Rúmil levelled a glare at his friend, a glare that was ignored.
Realizing that Glennodad was not going to drop the subject, Rían turned to answer his question.
“It was a gift for helping to negotiate a tricky trade agreement…that is all.”
Before Glennodad could ask anything else, he became aware of Haldir standing behind him. He could feel his eyes boring into the back of his head and stepped aside without question.
“Where is Orophin?” Rúmil asked, seeing his brother alone.
“He is speaking with Fionn; he said he would join us later.”
“Fionn just returned with his new wife,” explained Rúmil when he saw the question in Rían’s eyes. “Orophin and he have been friends for years…he is probably wanting to know how the newly bonded couple are faring.”
No one said anything as the air grew heavy with tension.
“Rían, I do hope you will be joining us on our ascension drills,” Aeglironion said.
Ascension drills? Rían lifted an eyebrow at that.
“Tree climbing…basically,” Rúmil said almost sounding apologetic.
“Ah,” Rían nodded. “Of course, I will.”
Glennodad’s eyes sparked with mischief. “I have heard the trees in Imladris are not the stature of our mellyrn. Perhaps a remedial class would be in order before tackling the Golden Wood.”
“A fine idea,” Aeglironion added. “We would not want any harm to come to you. The mellyrn can be quite intimidating to the novice.”
Rían smiled at their teasing and was unprepared for the blue fire in Haldir’s eyes when he turned to face the two younger elves. He stepped closer until he was nose to nose with them, his jaw clenched in barely restrained fury.
“Rúmil!” he snapped. “Find Orophin and have him join us. We will be on our way to the old flet.”
Rúmil quickly raced away to fetch Orophin while Haldir continued to glare at Glennodad and Aeglironion. Taking a deep breath, the Marchwarden turned to Rían.
“Imladhel,” he said, his voice slightly calmer as he inclined his head toward the south.
With an answering nod, she slung her bow across her back and followed Haldir away from the archery range.
“You are very fortunate our Marchwarden has the self-discipline he does. Myself, I would have throttled you,” Glennodad smiled cheekily.
They travelled silently for many long moments and Rían could feel the anger from Haldir give way to concern. She replayed the conversation in her mind and the Marchwarden’s reaction; trying to discern the cause of such an outburst. As they made their way further from the city, Rían grinned.
“You do not want the others to see my first attempt to ascend a mallorn?”
Haldir sighed; relieved she knew the reason for their withdrawal from the archery field. He glanced at Rían and saw she easily kept pace with him but her eyes sparked with questions.
“I do not doubt your ability but I do doubt the other guardians’ ability to keep their mouths shut,” he said. “It is difficult enough to traverse the mellyrn…you did not need to do so with them taunting you to distraction. When you feel more at home in their boughs you may join the exercises if you wish.”
Haldir almost stopped when he saw the grateful smile light up her face.
By the Valar, she is radiant!! he thought, swallowing past the tightness in his throat.
“Thank you, Marchwarden,” Rían said softly; genuinely relieved she did not have to climb with a crowd watching her. At Haldir’s answering smile, she felt her heart begin to pound.
They resumed their trek before Haldir spoke again. “The next mallorn we will ascend. From there we will continue by trees to an old flet my brothers and I built years ago. The way is taxing but not too difficult for your first journey through the mellyrn. I am confident you will handle it as you did the close combat exercise.”
With a daring, teasing glint in his eyes, Haldir began to climb the ancient tree. Rían stopped in shock.
Why you cheeky…her thoughts stopped when he glanced back to her; his grin causing her to smile back despite herself.
She watched Haldir quickly ascend the tree, his movements effortless and graceful. She admired the play of muscle in his legs and arms as made his way higher and higher through the branches. Strength she remembered vividly during their hand to hand demonstration!
Haldir had reached the small platform and motioned for her to begin her ascent. As she nimbly made her way up, she found herself replaying that scene; the feel of him against her, the way they struggled to calm their breathing and felt warmth pool in her soul.
`Do you yield?’ she had asked, wary that the Marchwarden would be angry at losing. She had even prepared herself for some sort of snide remark…as was their wont. However, nothing could have prepared her for his answer, but not the answer everyone else heard.
`But only to you,’ his voice still washed throughout her being, causing inexplicable tingles.
Rían was only eight feet from the flet when Rúmil landed abruptly on the limb right above her. She gasped in surprise then cursed royally for not paying attention as she felt herself fall.
She heard Haldir roar her name and Rúmil cry out in disbelief as she flailed wildly to stop her fall. She managed to grab onto a limb with her right hand but she was falling too fast and she felt her shoulder give with a sickening pop. She continued to fall but at a slower pace as the ground neared.
Through the haze of pain, she tucked her chin to her chest and began to roll just before hitting the grass. The air blasted out of her lungs as she made contact. She heard something crack loudly but forced herself to stay in a tuck until her momentum was spent. She lay flat on her back in the grass gasping for air, her eyes closed against the ache in her body.
As her lungs filled once more with air, she heard two sets of booted feet rushing toward her. Rían groaned as something stabbed her in the back when she attempted to sit up. Suddenly, strong arms caught her and eased her into a sitting position.
“Easy, I have you,” Haldir’s deep voice was tinged with concern and Rían opened her eyes.
Haldir’s grey gaze was filled with fear and worry, as he looked her over for injuries. He carefully removed her bow, which was now in two pieces. That was what had broke upon landing and what had poked her when she tried to move just a moment ago. He lay that to the side along with what was left of her quiver, arrows, and her tattered cloak.
“Are you injured?” he asked.
When Rían took a breath to speak, the movement caused a sharp pain to lance through her shoulder. Haldir saw her flinch and his hands gently probed the right shoulder, searching for the injury.
“It is dislocated I think,” Rían said. Haldir nodded in agreement after a moment.
“We need to make you comfortable before putting it back in place,” he answered, his tone hesitant at what he had to do next.
Rúmil finally moved to help but a glare from his brother stopped him. He watched, feeling so very guilty, as Haldir moved Rían until she was resting against the base of the mallorn.
“This will hurt,” he said, knowing she was aware of that and took her right arm in his hands.
Rían nodded. “It will not last long and the sooner you do this, the better.”
Swallowing hard, Haldir began to manipulate the shoulder firmly, but as gently as possible. Rúmil jumped when Rían choked on a cry as the shoulder slid back into its socket. Her eyes were closed tightly but it did not stop a couple tears from escaping. She sighed after several moments, the sharp pain gradually diminished to a dull throb.
She felt Haldir gently wipe away the tears, his fingertips brushing along her cheek. “Imladhel?”
Sighing, Rían opened her eyes. Haldir looked back at her expectantly, guilt shadowing his features at having hurt her, albeit to help her.
“It is much better…thank you,” she smiled, trying to reassure him.
Haldir returned the smile then stood to face Rúmil.
“What were you thinking?!”
Rúmil fought back the urge to flee! It had been a very long time since he had seen his brother this angry and he knew he had to tread carefully.
“I-I apologize. I did not mean for this to happen. Orophin took Fionn’s place on patrol and I thought you would want to know quickly,” Rúmil’s voice shook as he felt Haldir’s angry gaze pierce him. “I did not look where I was going, I admit it…but I did not want Rían to fall. You must believe me, tôr…please.” [brother]
Rúmil still felt sick to his stomach. When Rían had fallen he had swore part of his heart had died and he realized he was to blame! He deserved whatever punishment Haldir gave him.
Haldir wanted to scream at him, to haul him to the top of the mallorn and pitch him off–
Haldir turned to see that Rían had been trying to get his attention for awhile now. She had called to him several times when she saw his fury was directed at his brother.
“Do not place all the blame on Rúmil,” she said, holding her right arm close. “I was not concentrating like I should and his sudden appearance startled me. The fault lies with us both…or it lies with no one.”
Haldir took a deep breath, calming the remainder of his anger. He looked deeply into Rúmil’s eyes and saw them shimmering with guilt and sadness. No. Rúmil had not done this apurpose. Others he still subjected to his pranks but he would never harm Rían.
Stepping closer, Haldir brushed away a smudge of dirt on Rúmil’s forehead.
“Slow down next time,” he said softly.
Rúmil let loose the breath he was holding and fought back the sting in his eyes. “Yes, tôr, I will.”
He turned to kneel next to Rían and apologized to her.
“There’s no need for an apology. As I said, I had my mind on other things,” she smiled as his eyes followed hers to where Haldir was still standing. “This will heal in a day…no harm was done, Rúmil.”
The younger elf looked about the area at Rían’s damaged weapons and equipment.
“Haldir, I will go and get Rían a new bow and quiver if you wish me to. I will also bring back any other supplies you may need.”
Looking at the broken bow and mangled arrows, the Marchwarden nodded. “You know her height?”
“Aye, Tôr,” Rúmil said getting to his feet.
“Good. Bring whatever else she may need. We will wait here to let Rían rest before continuing to the talan.”
Rúmil quickly gathered the damaged weapons and hurried back to the city; happy to be of use once more.
Haldir watched him until he was out of sight then turned back to Rían. She was clumsily brushing the leaves and grass out of her hair with one hand as her right shoulder had already stiffened up.
Rían was surprised when he knelt beside her and took out her braid. Gently, his fingers brushed through her hair, removing bits of twigs and leaves that had tangled in it during her fall. Her scalp tingled wherever his fingers came in contact and she found herself relaxing at the touch.
Haldir smiled when she closed her eyes in pleasure. Her hair was cool and felt like silk as he combed slowly through it. Even when the raven locks were free of debris, he continued running his fingers through the heavy curtain, not wanting to disturb her rest.
They stayed that way for many silent moments before Rían sighed heavily. Mistaking that as his signal to stop, Haldir deftly rebraided her hair back into its single plait.
“Thank you,” Rían sighed again. She had enjoyed him combing her hair, but it had given her time to replay what had happened and she clenched her jaw.
“Are you in pain?” asked Haldir. He moved around to kneel in front of her and saw humor and embarrassment in her eyes.
“I fell out of a tree.”
Six words. Coming from any other creature those six words would have meant little…but from an elf?!
“I will never hear the end of it,” Rían continued.
Then it was Haldir understood. She had been teased about being from Imladris and lacking the skills to travel by the trees…now this incident!
“I will say nothing of this and neither will Rúmil,” he replied, hoping to allay her fears.
“I know…but somehow Elladan and Elrohir always find out.”
Not knowing how to answer that, as he knew the twins had connections everywhere, Haldir remained silent.
Just then, a dark grey squirrel with tufted ears scampered down the tree and stopped a foot away from Rían’s knee. It looked at her with sympathy and rolled a couple berries toward her. It chattered briefly then ran back up the mallorn and disappeared amongst the leaves.
“Thank you!” Rían called after it, a smile brightening her expression. She picked up the gifts and offered one to Haldir.
He continued to look in the direction the squirrel disappeared, a long lost memory surfacing. His hesitant smile grew wider until he was almost laughing.
“I know my fall was not that graceful but I am not sure it was that funny either,” Rían said in confusion.
At that Haldir did laugh! He saw the growing consternation in Rían’s eyes and thought it best to explain quickly.
“I was not laughing at you, please believe that. It was only…the way you fell, then that little squirrel’s arrival…it reminded me of something that happened to the twins ages ago!”
Rían felt her own lips turn into a smile. She loved the way Haldir’s eyes twinkled with mirth; it warmed his whole being and made her want to draw closer.
“It is a long story, one I will tell you when you are better rested,” he grinned then leaned closer to examine some scratches on her chin. “I will get some water to clean those.”
She watched him take a waterskin that spilled and walk to the stream’s edge. He knelt by the water and began to roll up his sleeves. Rían froze when she saw something catch the sunlight.
It couldn’t be, she gasped to herself. Her heart began to hammer uncontrollably as she got to her feet and made her way toward the stream. She stopped several feet from Haldir, her eyes fixed intensely on him.
Haldir heard a sharp intake of breath and turned to find Rían standing before him.
“You should be resting,” he began.
Suddenly, her left hand reached out and grabbed his and brought them up before their eyes. Her sleeve had fallen back and the sunlight reflected off of two golden ribbons.
They both shook with emotion, Rían’s eyes beseeching Haldir for an explanation. When he finally spoke, it was with quiet reverence.
“I stood on that balcony in Imladris, not wanting any physical reminder of my time there. The memories would be painful enough, those alone would break my heart. I tried to loose the ribbon on the wind…but it flew back somewhere in my room. I knew not where and tried to tell myself I did not care. When I packed to leave, there it was…lying on my bag as if it had been waiting there all along.”
Haldir paused as his thumb feathered gently across her cheek. “I know the fears we both have…and I know the hopes our hearts hold.”
Rían leaned into his touch and whispered,”Beriadiren?” [my guardian]
Rían felt his breath against her lips then the soft caress of his mouth on hers.
The kiss was brief but full of promise as the energy surged through them, settling further into their souls. They both were trembling as Haldir tucked her tenderly against his chest and held her possessively, gently.
The stream babbled merrily along its way and the mellyrn sighed as they heard the silent troths that were pledged.