Haldir did not recall when the water turned cold. He knew he should get out and get ready for the feast but could not bring himself to move. He continued to lay back in the large bathing pool, one arm flung over his eyes as the day’s events raced over and over in his mind.
The wargs had closed in on his position much quicker than he first realized. Just as he prepared for an ugly fight, he felt his entire being come alive as Rían’s voice silently thundered through his soul calling his name; not marchwarden or the snide Galadhrim…but Haldir.
He never stopped to think as he leapt behind her on the mare. He did not remember shooting the warg once mounted or Glorfindel arriving in a hail of arrows. The only thing he remembered was how at peace he felt to have Rían that close. It had felt so right to feel her tucked against him, to feel her heart racing with his…and that scared him.
Haldir sighed heavily. All his life he had dedicated to protecting his brothers, his lord and lady, and the golden wood. He knew first hand of the dangers and the horrors of this world. Each time his brothers were in harms way it took a piece of his heart and he still vividly remembered what had happened to their parents so very long ago. Could he, would he dare open his heart to another?
He sat up suddenly, water sloshing over the edge of the pool and onto the floor. Angrily, he grabs the soap, dunks himself then surfaces and begins furiously scrubbing at his hair.
His life was Rúmil, Orophin, and their home. This world was too harsh, too dangerous to bind yourself to anyone and they both knew it! Why chance the heartbreak, the utter desolation if the unthinkable happened?
As he dunked himself again to rinse, Haldir was slightly calmer. He and his brothers would be returning to Lothlórien soon and all would go back to normal. Feeling much better about the situation Haldir gets out of the pool and pulls on a robe over his still dripping form.
As he enters the main chamber, Rúmil looks up and notices the wet footprints Haldir was tracking through the room.
“They do have towels here,” Rúmil says then returns to combing out his hair.
“Where is Orophin?”
“Since someone was being stingy with the bathing pool here he had to find another.”
Ignoring the taunt, Haldir walks over to his bed where he had laid out his clothes.
“Where are they?” he demands, seeing the empty bed.
“Oh, that!” Rúmil says as he continues to braid his hair. “Elladan and Elrohir had come by earlier to apologize.”
“Apologize for what?”
“It seems as though while we were out a servant came to clean the room and mistook our clothes for being dirty. She took them to the laundry.”
“What?!” Haldir practically roared.
“No need to worry, tôr. Elrohir brought us all something suitable to wear for tonight.” Rúmil finished tying off a braid then walked to the closet and opened it with a flourish.
Haldir stared in disbelief at the silken garments. Two sets of clothes made of the finest material hung before him; one in blues and the other in red and gold. Hesitantly, he ran his fingers over a tunic. He could not remember wearing anything so wondrous. He was a marchwarden; raiment such as this was for noble elves – not for him.
“We cannot accept,” he says turning from the closet.
“Haldir, what will you wear then? You cannot miss the feast and to refuse the clothes would be an insult,” Rúmil appeals to his brother’s honor, trying not to let his panic show. He knew how stubborn his brother could be and Haldir HAD to be at dinner.
What did I do to deserve such a manipulative brother? Haldir wondered, knowing Rúmil was right.
Sighing in defeat, he looked at his brother who appeared thoroughly delighted at his apparent victory.
“There are only two sets of clothes,” Haldir says, hoping he saw a way out of this.
“Orophin took his with him. These are mine!” Rúmil smiles as he takes the blue set from the closet.
Haldir shook his head. Was his brother actually skipping?? What had gotten into him? Before he could question Rúmil’s strange antics Orophin returned, clad in deep green.
“Tôr, why are you not dressed? You will be late,” says Orophin, ignoring his oldest brother’s anxiety.
Only Haldir’s sense of duty forced him to retrieve the remaining clothes and dress.
“We will look like silly peacocks in these,” he grumbles when he finishes.
Rúmil chuckles, “You cannot always go about in those drab greys. Many elves will be wearing their finest tonight and we are to be part of it. We have had a long journey, Haldir, enjoy yourself for once.”
Glancing at his brothers, Haldir had to admit they looked quite good in their new clothes. They would definitely blend in with the other elves as the Imladhrim favored bolder colors than their woodland kin. Rúmil and Orophin watched him expectantly, their eyes filled with excitement.
“At least we will not look like poor country relations,” Haldir sighed, his expression still quite dark.
While Rúmil helped Orophin with his braids, Haldir continued his mumblings when he caught sight of himself in the mirror.
“Who picked these out anyway?” he asked no one in particular, his tone dripped with disdain.
“Haldir!” Rúmil snapped as he turned to face his brother. “Those colors look fine on you!”
“No need to lie, Rúmil, I know it is hideous.”
“You are accustomed to seeing yourself only in your own attire,” Orophin says as he walks to stand beside Haldir. He met his brother’s gaze in the mirror and saw the hint of nervousness in them.
Nervous? Haldir? That was something he thought to never see.
“Brother,” Orophin says with a warm, confident smile. “You truly look fine.”
Seeing the approval in his brothers’ expressions, he supposed he would have to believe them but he still eyed his reflection warily.
The vest and leggings were a deep red wine, a color he thought he would never live to see himself wearing, while the long sleeved under tunic was a brilliant gold. Not a bad combination, he thought but was still glad there were no other wardens to see him thus.
“Thank the Valar they did not bring us robes at least,” he muttered.
Noting the time, Haldir turned to ask Rúmil to hand him his comb when he found the room empty.
Rían hurried down the corridor. Her uncle would not be pleased! He had asked to speak with her before dinner but she had lost track of time while bathing. Erestor was not in his rooms so she rushed to his study, hoping he was still there. She knew what he wanted to discuss but how could she explain what happened today when she had no clue herself?
Distracted and in a hurry, Rían turned a corner and promptly crashed into someone. A moment later, she felt something sticky soak her dress.
“Elrohir!” she gasped in disbelief.
“Are you all right, Rían? I am so sorry! I was taking this to the kitchens…I am such a clod at times!!”
As Elrohir babbled his apologies and wiped uselessly at the black dress now covered in honey, Rían never saw the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. All she could think of was having to change clothes, she would miss the talk with her uncle, and she would be late for dinner.
“Elrohir, El-! It is all right,” she interrupted the elf’s ranting. “I will just go change, it is no big disaster.”
She gave Elrohir a sickly smile and turned back to her rooms. Elrohir grinned in success and swiftly returned to his own chambers to prepare for dinner.
Peeling out of the dress, Rían sighed in dismay. That had been her favorite gown! So what if it was black! So what if the majority of her wardrobe was in blacks, browns, and blues; mimicking her uncle’s. So what if everyone asked if Erestor picked out her clothes! Of which he did not.
It must just run in the family, she thought as she went to search her closet.
The only other suitable gown she saw had been a gift from Erestor. She had yet to wear it, as it was too pretty for wearing around the house. She ran her fingers over the wine colored silk and smiled. She promised her uncle she would wear it but only on special occasions.
“Well,” she grinned, “no time like the present!”
Making sure there was no stray honey anywhere on her, she slipped on the dress. She stood in front of the mirror while she fastened the ties in the back then straightened the bodice. It was a little fancier than she was accustomed to, but she liked it! She would have to thank her uncle again for it.
It was a good thing Haldir knew his way around the house, as it seemed every servant was otherwise engaged. The corridors were empty as he hurried toward the Hall of Fire, hoping Elrond would not be too upset at his tardiness.
As he drew closer to the entrance of the hall, he heard light footsteps approaching. He looked up and came to an immediate halt. Rían. But this was not the emissary he met in Edoras or even the she-elf from this afternoon. Before him was a vision only the Valar could deliver!
He had never seen Rían with her hair unbound before. Except for a strand at each temple tucked behind delicate ears, her midnight tresses hung like a silken curtain to her waist. The deep wine of her dress warmed her complexion and the gold trim made her green eyes sparkle.
Rían had stopped when she heard a quick intake of breath. She looked up and straight into the eyes of the marchwarden.
“Sweet Elbereth,” she whispered under her breath.
Haldir truly look magnificent! She could not deny that. The colors suited him well and the fit of the clothes; especially across his chest,…he looked as regal and lordly as Glorfindel or Elrond!
Mistaking the look in her eyes, Haldir tried to explain about the borrowed clothes.
“No, no, I did not mean to insult you,” Rían said as she walked closer. “You look quite handsome.”
Immediately she felt her face flush. How did that slip out?! She continued walking toward the hall, Haldir falling into step beside her.
“You look lovely,” he says, his voice low and warm.
Rían chanced a quick glance at him and saw he was sincere. They exchanged hesitant smiles as they entered the Hall of Fire, totally oblivious of the scene they were causing.
Everyone was already seated and all eyes fell on the late arrivals. Elrond looked to Erestor. The advisor was at a loss to explain how his niece’s and the marchwarden’s clothes matched. Rúmil grinned and nudged Orophin with his elbow.
“Do they not look wonderful?” he whispers.
“Yes, they do. But if they find out what you and Elrohir -” Orophin stops when he sees the twins looking in his direction.
As Rían and Haldir walked to their seats, Elrond swore he saw a golden thread connecting the two. It was weak at first and then shimmered brightly as it gathered strength. It suddenly snapped and the room plunged into a darkness filled with despair.
Blinking rapidly Elrond took a deep breath to calm the racing of his heart.
“Ada, are you all right?” Elladan leans over and asks, sensing his father’s distress.
“Yes, I am fine,” he answers then sips from his wineglass.
The vision was gone. Elrond watched Haldir take his place by Elladan while Rían sat by Erestor at the other end of the table. He did notice the conspiring winks and grins amongst Elrohir and Haldir’s brothers and Glorfindel, at Elrond’s left, was acting too disinterested. What were they up to? But more disturbingly, what if anything, did the vision mean?
“My apologies for missing our talk,” Rían says to Erestor. “I had to go back and change clothes.”
“What happened?” Erestor knew something had caused his niece’s delay.
“Elrohir ran into me in the corridor and spilled honey on my favorite gown.”
“The black one,” Erestor sighed as he shook his head.
He had tried to get Rían to wear other colors over the years, colors more suitable for an elleth. Even Celebrían and Arwen’s suggestions had fallen on polite, but deaf, ears. Rían favored the more somber neutral colors. After all, she had told him, she was an emissary and a warrior in her own right and the chief advisor’s assistant. She was not some elf maid who had nothing better to do than tend her gardens and pick out clothes!
Erestor smiled seeing what she was wearing now.
“You do look beautiful,” he says. “I am glad you finally wore it.”
“It is exquisite. Thank you again for it, tôr-en-adan.”
As Rían took a sip of wine, she caught the quick look Orophin cast her way. He quickly smiles to cover his surprise and compliments her, too. Rían looked at the two brothers seated across from herself and Erestor.
“You two look dashing tonight,” she says.
“Thank you, Rían. We had clothing problems ourselves but Elrohir was kind enough to find us these wonderful replacements,” Rúmil grins. “Although I believe Haldir would have been more comfortable wearing his uniform.”
Rían saw that Haldir did indeed appear uncomfortable as he stiffly lifted his glass to his lips.
At the mention of Elrohir, Erestor glanced over at the younger twin who was sitting next to Rúmil. His grey eyes sparkled with mischief as he poured himself more wine, all the while pretending to ignore the conversation.
Oh, yes! There was definitely plotting being done!
Feeling an intense gaze boring into him, Elrohir looks up to see Erestor smile knowingly at him. He knew that smile. Swallowing the dread he felt, Elrohir turns his attention to a question his father was asking him.
While everyone ate, conversations were lighthearted, as Elrond did not like to discuss business during this time. Glorfindel did find out how the wargs slipped through the defenses, though. A young elf, barely out of training, was assigned to that particular post in error. He had not the experience for such a dangerous position and in a moment’s lapse of concentration the wargs trespassed.
Elrond did relay that information to Haldir, not wanting him to think Imladris’ borders were weak.
“Other than that I do hope you and your brothers are enjoying your stay,” Elrond says. “Erestor and I should have those replies completed by the week’s end.”
“Our stay has been most pleasant,” Haldir answers absently, his gaze drifting over to see Rían whisper something to the advisor.
When the two smiled, Haldir felt his blood pound in his ears and his fingers clenched tightly around the fork he held.
“Are you well?” Glorfindel asks with a grin. He saw the direction of the marchwarden’s gaze and knew Haldir was still unaware that Erestor was Rían’s uncle. Good!
“I am well,” Haldir replies, his emotions now hid behind a cool mask of indifference. “Thank you for asking.”
With that, Haldir turned back to his dinner but found he had no appetite.
“Rúmil, Orophin, you both must enter the contest tomorrow,” Elrohir says. “It will be great fun!”
“What kind of contest?” Rúmil asked.
“Oh, yes you must enter!” adds Rían with a brilliant smile.
“It is a racing game; both afoot and on horseback,” Elrohir goes on to explain.
Each team consists of two elves and one horse. They begin together on horseback and race to the first post. One elf jumps off continuing on foot to the second post. The horse is left there as the one that had been riding now races on foot. The one who had been running now takes the horse to the third post and they switch. This continues until they reach the sixth, the last post, where a fresh horse awaits. The elf that reaches the last post first must wait for their partner and, as at the beginning of the contest, race together to the finish.
“Sounds wonderful!” Orophin smiles. “Rían, do you participate?”
“I have for many years, I quite enjoy it. It is exhilarating!”
“Perhaps we could sign up as a team?”
“Everyone puts their name in a basket and teams are drawn in that manner,” Elrohir continues. “It makes every year exciting since you do not know who you will be matched with. The horses are drawn by chance also.”
“I will definitely sign up, maybe I will get paired with a lovely elleth,” Rúmil says with an impish smile.
“Many elleths participate in the contest,” Erestor says. “They are very skilled so do not be surprised if you lose to one.”
Rúmil and Orophin laugh good-naturedly at the ribbing, finally able to relax around the chief advisor. It appeared the only ones receiving the death glare now were the twins, Glorfindel, and Haldir, whenever he looked in Rían’s direction.
During the evening, Erestor realized Rían truly liked the younger Galadhrim. They treated her like an older, beloved sister and when the dancing began and Orophin asked, Rían did not hesitate to accept. It was good to see her smile and enjoy the feast. Only when she glanced at Haldir did her eyes fill with confusion and unease.
Ai! Erestor sat back in his chair and emptied his wine glass. When Rían and Haldir had arrived at the hall earlier this evening, he had fought back tears. His niece looked so beautiful! He had seen the glow about her and marveled at it until he looked into her eyes. In those wonderful green depths, so like his brother’s, was a raging storm of confusion, desire, and fear. And it was the fear that touched Erestor’s heart the deepest, for this fear he understood only too well. He could only hope Rían would confide in him and he prayed he could guide her to the proper path.
Haldir was preparing to bid Lord Elrond goodnight when the music began and he saw Orophin dancing with Rían.
“You cannot leave yet,” Glorfindel says as he walks by Haldir’s chair. “The fun has only begun.”
The marchwarden wondered at the unspoken meaning of those words. Before he could ask, the music changed and the Balrog Slayer now danced with Rían. She was laughing at something he said and the sound tore at Haldir’s heart.
Why should it matter? He asked himself. Why should it bother him so much to see her dancing with his brother or her own kinsman? Why does it make a difference if she laughs for others?
Clenching his jaw, Haldir poured himself another glass of wine and sat back further in his chair. His gaze rarely left Rían as she glided about the dance floor with Glorfindel.
/How many millennia are you? Why now do you feel like an elfling with his first infatuation? You have met other elleths over the years, why does this one drive you to distraction?/ Haldir’s thoughts ran rampant.
/Because this one is not like the other elleths! Yes, Rían is fair as all the Eldar, but it was more than that. /
He had seen her fight in Edoras; her skill with a bow and blade an equal with any warrior. He knew she possessed a keen and cunning intellect for Elrond would hot have a weak-minded emissary representing Imladris. And he had felt her strength as she had clasped his hand this afternoon when riding to his aide.
Rían of Rivendell was not one to sit back and let the world go by. She could probably stand toe to toe with Sauron and not flinch!
So why was it they could not meet each other’s gaze for longer than a moment? Why could they not be civil and what drove them to trade verbal jabs at almost every opportunity?
And why was it killing him to watch Rían dance with Elladan now?! He subconsciously slammed his glass onto the table, oblivious to the stares directed at him.
Rían was aware the moment Haldir left the hall. She tried to ignore the erratic beat to her heart and the constant feeling she was forgetting something. Even though Rúmil and Orophin kept her busy with more dancing, talking, and laughing, her eyes kept straying to the door.
“What now? I would have thought they would be on more friendly terms by now,” says Elrohir.
“No problem. They spent too much time apart, no doubt over analyzing everything,” Glorfindel answers. “We will just have to be more creative.”
Tôr – brother
Ada – dad, daddy
tôr-en-adan – uncle, literally brother of my father.
A/N: The contest mentioned is based on a real horseback race called “Ride & Tie”.