Rían was awake and ready by the time Rúmil arrived at her door.
“A good morning to you,” Rúmil returned her smile and noticed the renewed sparkle in her eyes. “You look as if you rested well.”
“Yes, I did,” she said, omitting the fact that last night was the first time she had truly slept in months.
After the mallorn had shown her Haldir, Rían felt her heart calm, the turmoil cease. She had fallen asleep within the hour.
“Orophin will be here shortly with our breakfast,” Rúmil said, bringing Rían out of her thoughts.
“We will not be travelling by treetop today, will we?” she teased as she remembered his words from yesterday. “If so, I will need to change into more appropriate attire and make sure I have plenty of rope.”
Rúmil laughed. “No tree climbing today. We will save that for another day, when you are more at ease within the Wood.”
Orophin arrived a few moments later with a tray of fruit, bread, and cheese. They shared a light breakfast then headed out into the city.
Although Rían hid her expression well, she was awed. Caras Galadhon was magnificent! She could not believe she did not remember its grandeur…but her last visit had been a long time ago and under less than ideal circumstances.
Shaking off the somber thought, Rían began to notice the polite yet curious stares she was receiving. Orophin saw this and looped his arm through hers.
“The only other dark haired elves the Galadhrim have seen are the peredhil,” he explained with a smile. “You are a unique visitor.”
Chiding herself for being paranoid, Rían returned the courteous greetings and continued on her tour. Rúmil and Orophin showed her everything! The Lórien elves she met were very polite and made her feel comfortable.
Surprisingly, there were elves who remembered Rían from her first visit. They would stop and talk with her for a few minutes. They expressed their sorrow at her loss so long ago and fondly recalled the elfling who had attacked Lord Celeborn for his wardens’ actions. Rían blushed at the memory; how could she have done that! However, the elves only smiled and welcomed her with a brief kiss to her brow, their happiness that she had returned so very evident.
Smiling, Orophin led away a slightly stunned Rían. When it came time for their midday meal, Rúmil disappeared for a few moments to gather their lunch. Winding their way from the heart of the city, Rían was pleased to see where they were heading.
A crystal blue stream babbled musically along the smooth stones and beds of lightly fragranced flowers blanketed its banks while the majestic mellyrn stood as quiet sentinels. Rían closed her eyes for a moment and drank in the tranquility of the place. When she looked around once more, she saw Orophin watching her with a smile.
“You look at peace,” he commented.
“I would not say that,” she answered vaguely, pulling her brown skirts about her as she gracefully sat amongst the flowers.
//But you are…more so here than you were in Imladris. You know the reason…you cannot deny it!// Rían’s conscience whispered.
After spending an hour by the stream, Rúmil and Orophin showed Rían the training facilities for the wardens. Everywhere one looked there was activity; sword practice, archery, and close combat drills. Several ellith, dressed in the familiar grey and black uniforms, nodded or raised a hand in greeting upon seeing Rían with the brothers.
“Ah, sisters of the sword recognize one of their own,” grinned Orophin.
“No, you silly elf, a couple of them were with your escort yesterday. They must have told the others,” Rían explained.
Just then, a voice rose in greeting.
“When did you two return?!” Rúmil exclaimed as two elves approach.
“We were only recalled yesterday,” came the answer from one.
“It did not take you long to reach the city,” Orophin observed.
“What? Tarry and miss Lord Celeborn’s feast? The Valar forbid!”
As the guardians laughed, Rían took a moment to study them. The first that spoke could very well have been close kin to Rúmil and Orophin. His midnight blue eyes were serious as he cast a curious glance at Rían; a glance filled with silent questions.
The second elf surprised her. His long hair had a golden-brown hue to it, quite different from the other Galadhrim she had seen. However, it was his eyes that almost brought a smile to her lips. They were a vivid blue; such a deep hue twinkling with merriment that bordered on mischief.
/The trouble this one must enjoy causing!/ she wondered.
“Forgive my lack of manners,” Orophin said, remembering himself. “Rían, this is Aeglironion, he is captain of the south contingent. This, I am sad to say, is Rúmil’s usual partner in trouble, Glennodad.”
They greeted Rían politely but she sensed the tension in the air.
“Rían…of Imladris?” Aeglironion asked, his expression neutral.
“You are the one!” Glennodad smiled brightly.
“I am the one- what?” she spoke cautiously.
“You – ow!”
Aeglironion elbowed his friend and stepped forward.
“You were the poor elfling that lost her parents on that raid on our borders,” he said smoothly, sincerely. “We all felt your pain that day.”
Rían looked to Glennodad who now looked appropriately somber. Something was not right! She looked at the four males and quickly surmised that Rúmil and Orophin had carried back tales from Imladris. She would have to be extremely careful around them!
“Thank you,” she answered, her voice even. “Orophin and his brother have been kind enough to show me around the city.”
Orophin immediately recognized that Rían was trying to distance herself from the other two guardians. Before his very eyes, she transformed into Imladris’ assistant advisor. Her entire being emanated aloofness, her gaze hard and her voice icy.
He was ready to make their excuses and take her back to her flet when Rúmil spoke.
“We will be escorting Rían to the feast tomorrow night. It will not be as boisterous as the parties Mirkwood holds but we hope she will enjoy it nonetheless.”
“You…will be escorting Rían?” Aeglironion asked.
Why were they talking about her as if she were not present? Rían turned to leave before her anger got the best of her but the next question stopped her.
“You mean Haldir has not returned?” asked Glennodad, his bright blue eyes now filled with confusion.
“Lord Celeborn has not recalled him as yet,” Rúmil answered.
“Odd,” mused Aeglironion. “Haldir never misses the lord and lady’s gatherings.”
Not knowing why, Rían found herself turning back to face them.
“Maybe he has requested to stay on patrol longer,” she said. “Orc raids have increased, so perhaps he feels the security of Lothlórien is more important than a simple party.”
Rían did not know why she felt the need to defend Haldir’s absence. She did admit to herself, however, that speaking her mind felt immensely satisfying…until she saw the knowing grin on Glennodad’s beautiful features.
“I truly do not believe he would miss this feast, though,” Aeglironion continued, ignoring Rían’s outburst.
“Aye, if I had as many ellith requesting my attention as our marchwarden does, I would never miss one,” Glennodad smirked as his eyes sparkled with humor.
Rían was anything but amused.
“It was nice to meet you,” she said between clenched teeth. “Rúmil, Orophin, I can find my way back. You stay here with your…friends….and enjoy yourselves.”
With that, Rían walked away in a swirl of raven hair.
All was silent for many long moments as they watched her.
“You were right, Oro,” Aeglironion sighed. “Her eyes hold the same longing, the same fear as your brother’s. But I must admit that I do not understand what makes them thus.”
“Neither do we,” whispered Rúmil.
“Our dear Haldir is stiff necked indeed to let her slip through his grasp,” added Glennodad, his smile now vanished.
“Which makes our job more difficult,” Rúmil sighed.
“Or more challenging,” this from Aeglironion who smiled slyly.
Rían found herself walking absently through one of the gardens situated close to her quarters. She ignored the beauty of the flora as her thoughts raced out of control.
Why had Glennodad’s words upset her so? It should not matter what Haldir did or did not do!
She had thought the years apart would have distanced her emotions! Alas, the opposite seemed to have happened, if her earlier reaction was any gauge.
Suddenly, she grew aware of another presence.
“Lord Celeborn! Forgive me for intruding,” she apologized as he looked up from his seat on the bench.
“Stay, Rían, you are not intruding.”
Although it was phrased as a request, she knew it for the order it was, albeit a polite order.
“Please join me. You look tired,” Celeborn motioned to the space beside him and set aside the book he had been reading.
Silently, Rían did as she was bid.
Realizing she was not going to volunteer any information, Celeborn knew he had to use subtle tactics.
“I thought to get away from all the preparations for the feast and read for a time. I see you found my favorite place, also,” he said lightly, hoping to put Rían at ease.
“If I had known you -“
“Rían, be at peace. These are not private gardens, all are welcome here.”
Celeborn wondered at the anxiety in her eyes. He had seen her as she entered the gardens, obviously distracted and agitated.
“I do hope Rúmil and Orophin have not dragged you all over the city and over tired you,” he added with a smile.
“We were visiting the training grounds and a couple of their friends had just returned from their patrol. I thought to give them some time to catch up.”
Now that she was talking, Celeborn hope she would continue.
“I heard you met some of the elves who remembered your first visit.”
A tiny smile tried to form on her lips but vanished in the next instant. She thought long on something then turned to meet the Lothlórien lord’s gaze directly.
“I want to apologize for hitting you, for blaming you. I said all those horrible things -“
Celeborn caught her hands in his, effectively silencing her next words.
“There is not need for an apology, Rían. I understand, believe me, you were scared and angry. How could I let such evil creatures so close to my realm? Why did my wardens not come to your parents’ aid? Those were questions I even asked myself.”
Rían felt her face grow hot with shame. “I know now, it if had been in your power, none of that would have happened. But truthfully…the anger I felt was directed at my father. It was just easier to take it out on you.”
She could tell by the elf lord’s expression that he had not been expecting those words! She took a deep breath, knowing now was the time to loose ancient hurts. She had held on to them for far too long now.
“I understood why my mother died; there is only so much damage a body can endure. What I could not comprehend was why my father followed her.”
Feeling her throat tighten, Rían paused, vaguely aware Celeborn still gently held her hands.
“You thought Thalos did not love you enough to stay,” he said, his voice comforting and compassionate. “Yet, you begin to realize if he had, he would have been living a half life.”
Rían tensed as she felt something unseen briefly brush against her heart.
“You are your father’s daughter.”
Rían looked up at the words, a brow raised in question. Celeborn fought back a smile. Here was his chance!
“He, too, denied his heart for too long. Thankfully, Celonë was a patient, wise elleth. We did not have two stubborn elves to deal with.”
Sensing her desire to flee, Celeborn ever so slightly tightened his hold on her hands.
“Celonë had only been here a couple weeks when your father arrived as a courier from Imladris. When you saw them together, you knew they were meant to be! Once Thalos realized this he grew unsure, even frightened. He had seen husbands and wives fade and did not want to, as he said, curse the one he loved with such a doom.”
Rían closed her eyes briefly as she remembered her own words to her father that night.
/”Never! Never would I want someone to hold that power over me! Never would I wish that doom on anyone!/
Celeborn was no longer talking about her parents, of that she was certain! She did not want to listen but her own heart betrayed her, begging her to heed his words!
“If we were mortal this would not be an issue. Their lives are so short compared to ours that they do not hesitate on matters we tend to over think.”
Pausing for a few moments, Celeborn let his words sink in. “This is a gift of the Valar, a gift that only makes you stronger…for to deny it, to remain alone, is to truly doom yourself.”
Seeing the battle warring in her green eyes, Lord Celeborn released her hands and gently brushed back a lock of dark hair. He slowly stood and picked up his book.
“Do not be afraid you will repeat your parents’ tragedy. We choose our own path, our own destiny, pen-neth. Do not let fear control yours.”
With an enigmatic smile, Celeborn left Rían to reflect on this conversation.
As the sun began its descent, his replacement arrived. Thank the Valar! Haldir sighed in relief. He gathered his gear and after a brief exchange of orders, he turned toward Caras Galadhon.
He found himself hurrying for no known reason. Forcing his thoughts to calm, he replayed the past few days as he silently slipped through the forest. Normally, all his energy was focused on his duty to the Golden Wood but the past couple years, things had changed.
Over the last week, he had found himself more on edge than usual. Rúmil had remarked he appeared as if he was anticipating, waiting, on something. Two days later, he and Orophin were recalled to the city and the intense apprehension Haldir felt, disappeared
As he stood his post last night, he had the sensation of being watched. Slowly, he began to recognize the familiar presence, Rían. Since his return from Imladris, there had been many occasions where he felt as if she were with him again. He wondered if it was an overactive imagination or….did he truly miss the Imladhel that much?
Cautiously, he had asked Galadriel about it. She smiled kindly at him and gently confirmed he was not imagining things. Haldir had balked. What he was experiencing only occurred between bonded elves! This could not be happening to him.
/Yes, it can, ion-nîn. You do not see it yet, but the Valar have already blessed you./
Haldir pushed the conversation away and vowed not to let anyone else know if that sensation happened again. He was tired of well meaning elves reading more into this!
But last night, something was different about this episode. He swore that if he turned just a bit he could see Rían! Indeed, he even heard her voice this time! My marchwarden, she said. He smiled at the emotion in those words and as her presence slipped away, he felt at peace.
Unknowingly, the smile returned to his lips as he continued travelling for several more hours. The moon was full in the sky when Haldir stopped for a short time, knowing it would not be until tomorrow afternoon when he reached the city.
After eating a small piece of lembas, he settled against the tree to rest. He felt the tension unwind from being on duty and sighed deeply. He could not remember the last time he had been assigned to the fences for so long! Cursed orcs!
The first thing he wanted when he got home was a nice, long bath; two hours at least! He wanted to get rid of the grime and dried orc blood from an earlier skirmish. Then he would find out what task was so important that his brothers were called back from the borders early. Arwen had probably returned and had requested his brothers as escorts.
Suddenly, he broke into a smile. If Arwen was in Lothlórien, maybe she had letters for Rúmil and Orophin from Rían. It pained his heart that he could not bear to write her, but he did enjoy seeing his brothers devour her correspondence. They like to read her letters aloud and Haldir could hear her voice clearly in his head.
He felt himself drifting off, Rían’s soft declaration of `my marchwarden’ warming his soul, when heard another voice.
/Do not be afraid you will repeat your parents’ tragedy. We choose our own path, our own destiny, pen-neth. Do not let fear control yours./
He sat up abruptly. Lord Celeborn?! Why was he communicating to him in this manner? For a moment, he thought perhaps it was a mistake. No, his heart told him. Your lord is wise; he knows your pain and wants you to hear him.
/Think on my words, Ion-nîn. Do not toss aside what many have died for./
Haldir blinked as the sun’s rays brightened upon his face. What? When did he fall asleep? He had only intended to rest for a few minutes! Celeborn’s message had set loose a tumult in Haldir’s being. He had no idea how long he fought with himself; his heart and soul arguing with his logic and draining his resolve. And even more maddening, he found he was no closer to a decision than he was last night!
Getting to his feet, he stretched out the kinks and sighed in disgust. He would not reach home until the evening now! He shouldered his pack and resumed his journey, promising himself to retire to the bathtub with a bottle of wine and Valar help anyone who thought to interrupt!
He began to feel the tension slowly ebb from his body as he caught the mood of the trees. Haldir watched and listened to them. Curious, they seemed to be playful, almost teasing! He sensed fragments of their thoughts…they had a secret.
/Hurry/ they bid him. /To the city you must hurry!/
Haldir asked what this secret was but the great mellyrn only laughed with delight. He shook his head in frustration, the only thoughts driving him now was that hot bath and bottle of wine.
The trees could keep their secret!
peredhil – half elves
elleth, ellith – elf maid(s)
pen-neth — young one
ion-nîn – my son