*** Back to Edoras ***
Standing outside the Golden Hall Rían hoped to regain her calm. She closed her eyes and let the wind envelop her, praying the same wind would carry away her troubles. For so many years, she had been able to bury the past, bury the pain. Nevertheless, thanks to two wardens from Lothlórien, the peace she had strove so hard for was unmade.
It had all rushed back when Theoden had introduced Rúmil, memories of him and his baby brother, Orophin, following her around Caras Galadhon or sneaking into her room to sit with her when she could not sleep. Their presence had brought her comfort and she gradually shook off the paralyzing hold of grief. The times stolen together were frequent but very brief as their oldest brother often broke up the tiny gathering. Haldir would march his brothers back to the talan or if out in the city he would drag them back to some task or other that needed done. To Rían it seemed as if the marchwarden-to-be wanted her nowhere near his brothers; and there was no doubt he would one day be a guardian. His self-confidence, even at that young age, bordered on arrogance, arrogance Rían remembered in Brithon’s eyes as he detained her at the border.
Were all marchwardens that arrogant? She thought to herself recalling the indifference, the aloofness in Haldir’s gaze.
Thank the Valar they would be gone in a couple of days and once they had left, she could concentrate, as she should on her duties. She could not afford to be lax!
Suddenly she stiffened. Rían knew who was watching her but did not bother to question the how of it.
“Do you spy on all your hosts, marchwarden?” she asks, her voice the perfect iciness of her uncle when he was angered. “Or is it that years in seclusion deteriorate one’s manners?”
“Obviously it is your own manners in question if you mistake spying for checking on one’s well being,” the elf answers, his voice deep, haughty even.
Rían turned to find him not two feet from her, grey eyes glaring down at her. She refused to allow him to intimidate her.
“How so, warden?” she asks, staring defiantly at the galadhel.
“My brother asked that I see if you were well. He did not mean to upset you.”
For a brief moment, Rían was stunned.
“Tell him thank you, but I am well. It had happened so long ago I barely remembered,”
She was lying, Haldir thought. He had seen the abject grief in her eyes, why was she trying to hide it?
Haldir met her gaze and stepped even closer. “You can thank him yourself in the morning,” he says after a couple of long, silent moments. “Theoden thought it a good idea for us to accompany the patrol.”
Before Rían could react, Haldir had turned on his heel and disappeared into the shadows.
As dawn broke, the patrol rode out of Edoras. Rían had been discussing their route with Gamling, trying to ignore the fact that the two Galadhrim were following her. Several minutes had passed when Haldir eased his grey stallion alongside Gamling.
“What of the Dunlanders your king spoke of?” he asks the man. “How far under Saruman’s influence are they?”
Rían clenched her teeth at the condescension in the elf’s voice. Just typical! The marchwardens of Lothlórien cared little for the outside world unless it served their purpose! The only reason these two were in Rohan was to assess any threat to their precious Golden Wood.
Sensing another pair of eyes on her, Rían turns and sees Rúmil watching her. Immediately she let out a sigh, her anger evaporating with it. These two wardens were not at fault for her ire; they had been children, too, when her parents had died.
Rían slowed her mare until Rúmil drew even with her.
“Maer arad, Rúmil, I trust Háma put you in suitable quarters,” she says with a smile.
“Good morning, Lady Rían,” he answers, taken aback at the warm greeting. “Yes, the room is quite comfortable.”
They exchanged brief smiles then all grew silent again. Rúmil tried not to stare, wondering what she was thinking so hard about right now. After many quiet minutes, Rían finally spoke.
“I never thanked you for helping me when I lost my parents,” she said.
“I did nothing, my lady,” he replies bashfully.
“Rúmil, please, call me Rían. I hold no special position and I require no title. You and your younger brother did quite a lot for me whether you remember or not. You two refused to let me be alone. Your presence kept the dark shadows of the grief at bay and for that I thank you.”
“You are most welcome,” Rúmil answered and felt that his heart would stop at her sad smile.
“I even remember you saving treats and we would eat them late at night so no one would know,” Rían grins at the sudden memory.
“Those were not our treats, we stole them. I kept the cook distracted while Orophin snuck them out of the kitchens. It was his idea.”
Rían laughed and to Rúmil it sounded like music.
Haldir had tried to ignore the conversation between his brother and Rían but the words reached him nonetheless. She spoke politely, warmly to Rúmil, even called him by his name! Whereas she had only addressed himself as marchwarden or Galadhrim, the words being spat out as if they left a bad taste in her mouth.
Hearing her laugh, a pleasant, honest laugh, he turned to see Rían and his brother smiling as they continued to ride together. Haldir noticed she was once again dressed as one of the Rohirrim. She wore no helm but kept her midnight hair pulled back in a single, thick braid. Her sword was definitely of Imladris origin but her bow was distinctly from Mirkwood. She looked a warrior but was obviously an emissary; she seemed so cold, so arrogant one moment then the next she was laughing and rehashing old memories. What riddles this one posed!
Haldir guided his horse back to Rúmil’s other side and noted how Rían tensed but continued to discuss horses with his brother. Rúmil had just asked if the mare she rode was from Rohan; she was came the reply.
“Yes, a lovely palfrey she is,” Haldir says as if complimenting an elfling’s first attempt at drawing.
Rían ignored the urge to glare at the marchwarden and addressed her next question to Rúmil.
“Do all of the wardens ride stallions?”
“Most of them,” Rúmil answers, uncertain where this conversation was going.
“Are they attempting to compensate for lack of other strengths by parading around on overbearing stallions?”
Gamling practically choked when he heard the words. Why was Lady Rían so curt with King Théoden’s guests? He had NEVER heard her speak this way to anyone before!
For the briefest of moments, Rúmil thought his brother smiled but it was gone so quickly he could not be sure.
“It is a well known fact that stallions are stronger,” Haldir replies, nonplussed by Rían’s statement.
“Yes, and we all know the only two purposes a stallion has is to protect and mate. Whereas it is the mare who guides the herd to food, water, shelter and it is she who ultimately decides when she wants to receive his attentions,” Rían responds, her voice now held its familiar iciness.
At the end of her words, Rían’s mount pinned her ears and snapped her teeth at Haldir’s stallion. The big grey slung his head out of the way to keep from being bitten, unsettling his rider a bit. Rían pressed her lips together to keep from smiling as Rúmil chuckled briefly. Haldir quickly composed himself acting as if nothing had happened.
Gamling continued to shake his head in disbelief.
An hour later, scouts returned with news of a large group of wild men heading for a nearby village.
“Well Gamling, looks like King Théoden’s guests will get to see what battle in the open is all about.” Rían’s emotions came to a boil at the prospect of the battle, her earlier anger rising to the surface.
For a moment, the poor man did not know what to say. “You would not be required to assist us.”
“If the wildmen of Dunland are indeed allies of the Dark One we will aid you in their destruction,” replies Haldir.
“Be aware, marchwarden, this is not the same as picking off enemies from the safety of your trees,” Rían coldly adds. “You may find yourself fighting face to face.”
Haldir turns his attention to Rían, his grey eyes challenging her. “And what would an Imladhel emissary know of combat, other than the histories of course.”
Rían answered with a smile; a smile that held no joy, only sadness. Without a word, she urged her mare into a lope.
The wildmen thought to reach the village without raising an alarm when the patrol burst into view. Gamling watched in rapt fascination and admiration as the three elves fired arrow upon arrow into the invaders; their horses’ reins long forgotten as they guided them with unseen aides. The Dunlanders froze momentarily as the elves thundered closer, their fair features now dark and fell.
As the patrol drew closer, Rúmil shouted in fear. Rían looked up just in time to see Haldir’s horse stumble. The horse went to his knees and tossed his rider unceremoniously into the air.
With the agility inherent to elves, Haldir continued to spin in midair, landed on one shoulder then rolled nimbly to his feet, his sword already drawn. The galadhel never paused as he killed the first wildmen who thought to take the elf unaware then continued fighting as the remainder of the patrol joined him.
The battle did not last long and any Dunlanders left alive wisely retreated as quickly as they could.
“Well, tôr I can honestly say you have not lost your flair for dismounts,” Rúmil grins, leading Haldir’s horse.
“It is better than falling like a dwarf,” Haldir returns the grin then checks to make sure his horse was not injured. Satisfied that the stallion was indeed sound, he gracefully remounts.
“Your bow, marchwarden,” Rían says drawing to a halt beside him. “You are fortunate it was not broken.”
“Your concern for the welfare of it is admirable,” he replies sarcastically.
As Haldir took the bow from her, his hand inadvertently brushed hers. They simultaneously flinched and Rían jerked her hand back as if burned. The two elves eyed each other warily. Had the other felt the heat? That spark of energy?
They were saved from any further questions as Gamling rode up.
“I heard of your fall, are you well?” he asks Haldir.
“Yes, thank you. I am ready to travel when ready.”
Gamling nods and gives the command to continue.
The remainder of the patrol was uneventful. Rúmil had hoped Rían would come back to talk again but she either stayed beside Gamling or would drop to the rear and check on the few Rohirrim that had been injured. Haldir, too, was not in a talking mood.
What had happened? Rúmil wondered. He had seen the look on his brother’s face when Rían had returned his bow. He had appeared shocked, confused even…but about what?
Rían excused herself after supper, needing to finish a missive from Rivendell. She tried reading it half a dozen times but could get no further than the first line. With a sigh of frustration, she gets up from her desk and pours a glass of wine.
How Lord Elrond and her uncle would be disappointed to see her lack of concentration!
Her thoughts kept going back to when she gave Haldir back his bow. Something had happened in that brief flash of energy; what, she did not know, and each time she tried to push his arrogant, cold stare from her mind she saw that playful smile he gave to his brother. She felt her heart clench and finished off the glass of wine. She left her chamber, not wanting to sit and brood.
Haldir finally left the stable as the sun began to set. He, too, had excused himself immediately after the evening meal, wanting to check again on his horse. In truth, he had needed a diversion from the thoughts tormenting him. Ever since the patrol, he could not stop thinking of Rían: the infuriating, icy, haughty she-elf! The same infuriating she-elf that never missed her target this morning and hacked her way through the Dunlanders as if possessed!
Good thing he and Rúmil were leaving in the morning, he sighed. He did not distractions!
As he topped the stairs to the great hall, Haldir stopped. She was close, he did not know how he knew, but Rían was nearby. A moment later, he heard her and Rúmil talking, reminiscing once more of their time in Lothlórien. Haldir heard the tone of her voice abruptly flatten, her syllables more clipped. She knew he was near.
Sure enough, as Haldir walked around the corner Rían was staring in his direction, her pale green eyes ablaze with anger.
She and Rúmil had been having a wonderful time; why did he have to interrupt? Even back in Lothlórien as children he was interrupting!
Sensing the obvious tension and anger just fueled Haldir’s already grouchy mood.
“Rúmil, do you have everything ready for our departure?” he asks.
“All is ready,” Rúmil answers, warily watching the two elves.
“There you go again,” Rían snaps. “Chasing away little brother before the Imladhel elleth ruins him.”
“What are you talking about?” Haldir asks, stepping closer.
“Everytime your brothers tried to show me kindness or compassion you would show up to hurry them away from my presence,” she answers, walking forward, too.
She stopped, her anger ebbing as she saw Haldir indeed was remembering of what she spoke.
“I thought they were intruding on your grief,” he says sincerely.
Rían took a moment to calm herself. Why was she dredging this up? Why could she not stop taunting the galadhel? It happened so long ago, practically ancient history by human standards.
“You are blessed to have brothers,” she heard herself say, her voice faltering slightly.
Haldir felt his breath catch at the loneliness in that simple statement.
“Yes,” he answers, his voice reaching into Rían’s soul. “I thank Elbereth for them every day.”
They looked at each other, only inches apart, green eyes locked with grey. The tension was so thick it was almost suffocating as the two elves felt again the spark of energy humming between them.
Suddenly they hear a shout at the gate and turn toward the source. Three riders are escorted through, elves bearing the colors of Rivendell. Haldir recognized them immediately, Elladan, Elrohir, and Glorfindel. He was surprised to see that Rían was not pleased to see them.
Rúmil noticed this, too. “Are you not glad to see your kinsmen?”
“They were not to arrive for another two months,” she answers.
Feeling a strange, ugly emotion rear its head, Haldir spoke. “You must be doing well for Lord Elrond to send his sons and his seneschal to *fetch you home*.”
At the cold, condescending tone, Rían turned to face the marchwarden. She did not speak, only glared briefly before turning to Rúmil. Immediately, her visage softened and she smiled.
“Have a safe journey, Rúmil. Navaer.” With that, Rían went to meet the new arrivals.
**************************************************************************************************—– On the way to Helms Deep, the plains of Rohan ————
“We will be ready to ride within the hour,” Eomer says glancing at the activity in the camp.
“Good, we can ill afford to waste time.”
Hearing the pinched tone in the elf’s voice, Eomer knew she was hiding something else. He had caught glimpses of fear in her eyes when she thought no one was looking and she trembled from time to time, always clutching tightly to the cloak she wore. Even now she turned away from Eomer and looked to the south as if searching for something.
Maer arad – Good morning/good day
Tôr – brother
Navaer – farewell