*** Imladris – The Last Homely House ***
Looking up from his plate, Elrond watches as Erestor takes a seat next to him.
“Well what?” the lord of Rivendell asks as he spreads jam on his toast.
The dark gaze of the chief advisor never left Elrond as he waited for his answer.
“Make me wait if you must but you of all elves know how patient I can be,” Erestor says his voice calm as he pours himself a mug of tea and sits back in his chair.
There was silence as Elrond gathered his thoughts on how he should explain last evening. He knew he had to hurry as Erestor’s fabled patience wore thin on this delicate matter.
“I do not have to remind you it was your idea to keep me away. You wanted to see their reaction without my presence influencing anyone,” whispered his advisor, the calm taking on a dangerous edge.
“Of course it was my idea!” Elrond had to keep his voice down. “I have seen that murderous glare of yours and it is enough to send a Balrog back to the Abyss. Directed at our visitors would have had them racing back to Lothlórien instead of waiting on my replies.”
“And that would be a bad thing?” Erestor asks innocently until you saw the satisfied smirk on his lips.
Elrond sighed heavily. If what he suspected was true, he knew Erestor would not like it! His niece was his whole life and whatever concerned her concerned him.
For centuries his chief advisor had slept walked through life. Elrond knew his old friend had yearned for death back then but to this day did not know why. Why had the Valar not granted Erestor his wish? Elrond had seen elves fade and he had been puzzled why Erestor was still on Arda.
When Glorfindel returned with an orphaned Rían, oh so many years ago, it all became clear. Life finally returned to Erestor. He cared for and loved his niece as fiercely as her own parents had…maybe even more thought Elrond. Erestor wanted Rían to be happy, he wanted her safe; he would even die for her if need be.
But how do you keep one safe from their own heart? Elrond wondered as he watched his advisor.
“My sons did not exaggerate about what happened in Edoras,” he begins. “Rían was unsettled, restless and if I had not excused the wardens when I did I was sure she would have bolted from the study.”
“I told you she cared not for the Galadhrim,” Erestor replies taking a drink from the mug he held.
“Elladan reported she was most courteous to the two younger wardens, calling them by name and reminiscing as they rode here. It was the captain she drew her bow on and addressed him only as marchwarden, the words said as if they would choke her.”
Elrond watched Erestor for any reaction but of course could detect none. For all he knew his chief advisor was even now planning a kinslaying, but you would never know for the expressionless mask Erestor wore.
“What of the captain?” Erestor finally asks.
“Except when speaking to me, his gaze did not stray far from her. He, too, was restless and wanted to leave the study.”
They both look up as the three Galadhrim enter the dining room.
“See?” Elrond said softly. “Even now he searches for her though he realizes it not.”
Erestor’s eyes narrowed as Haldir indeed scanned the room as he and his brothers approached Elrond’s table.
“Good morning, Lord Elrond.”
“Good morning to you, Haldir,” Elrond returns the greeting warmly. “You have met my chief advisor, Erestor?”
Haldir nodded his head in polite greeting and was thoroughly unprepared for the hostility in Erestor’s eyes when he looked back to him. Dark brown eyes pierced through the guardian, holding him in place with their intensity.
Feeling himself grow angry, Haldir wondered what he had done to offend Imladris’ Lord Councilor. Before he could question anything, Elrond breaks the silence by introducing Erestor to Rúmil and Orophin. Erestor turns and greets the brothers civilly, freeing Haldir from his stare.
“Please, enjoy your meal this morning,” continues Elrond. “Glorfindel will be waiting in the stables when you finish, Haldir.”
After thanking him, the marchwarden leads his brothers to another table. Rúmil and Orophin glance nervously at Erestor than back to Haldir.
“Sauron himself would weep under that gaze,” Orophin whispers in awe.
“The councilor doesn’t seem to like you, Haldir. What have you done?”
“I have no idea,” replies Haldir, his words clipped with anger. “Let us eat and be out of here.”
When they arrived in the stables, Haldir’s mood was still foul.
“Elrond said Glorfindel would be waiting on you,” says Rúmil seeing they were alone.
“I am early,” came the curt response as Haldir readied his horse.
Suddenly, all three golden heads turn towards the entrance upon hearing a commotion. A bay yearling danced about in barely restrained joy while being led inside. The elf accompanying the filly laughed at her charge’s antics and with a gentle touch or word calmed the horse until she pranced obediently at the elf’s side.
Haldir felt warmth pool in his soul at the sound of that carefree laughter; his dark mood vanished. But when he saw that it was Rían his heart threatened to stop.
They saw each other the same instant. For the briefest of moments, Rían smiled but quickly remembered herself and turned to the others.
“Maer arad, Rúmil, Orophin!” she greets brightly as she continues leading the filly to her stall. “Marchwarden,” she says as an afterthought.
“Imladhel,” Haldir answers just as vaguely.
The stable was eerily silent while Rían tended to the horse and Haldir continued saddling his stallion. Although they refused to look at each other, the energy between them was unmistakable.
“I apologize for my tardiness!”
Everyone turns to see Glorfindel entering the stables.
“No apology necessary. I am just ready myself,” Haldir replies.
The Balrog slayer sees Rían and grins widely. “How is the little one?”
“Full of energy and ready to join her kin,” Rían answers, brushing the red coat until it practically glowed.
“What is wrong with her?” asked Orophin as he leaned over the stall door and looked curiously at the young horse.
“Several weeks ago she cut her hip, probably playing too roughly. She needed to be brought in and healed.”
Orophin reached out and lightly traced the faint scar on the otherwise unblemished coat. The filly turned her head and sniffed at the elf’s hand. She then walked closer and nuzzled his chest.
“I think she likes you!” laughed Rúmil.
Rían watched the filly and Orophin. It did appear as if the filly had chosen the young warden as her friend. She found herself smiling as Orophin reverently stroked the horse’s black forelock.
How?! How were his brothers able to connect with Rían? Haldir jealously watched them but felt the ugly emotion melt away at Rían’s smile. Even though she wore a plain brown work dress and her hair once again pulled back in a single braid, he could not remember seeing anything so radiant.
Glorfindel observed them silently, his mind already working furiously on how to get these two to lower their walls.
“I am late because I had forgotten, Haldir, that you would need a new uniform,” he continues.
All eyes turned to the marchwarden as he frowned at the seneschal. “This is what I always wear on patrol.”
“In the Golden Wood those black and grays are perfect, but here in Imladris are not practical,” Glorfindel explains kindly.
Before Rían could rein in her tongue she snaps, “In other words, you would stick out like an orc!”
The two stared at each other in a challenge and everyone else grew silent.
“Come along then!” Glorfindel smiles. “We must leave now if we are to return in time for Lord Elrond’s feast.”
Without blinking an eye, Haldir removes his quiver, cloak, and sword and hands them to Rúmil. As he reached for the grey overtunic, Rían began to panic.
He would not! Would he? Yes, he would! She knew since she had been the one who foolishly baited him she had better not show any weakness now.
The corner of Haldir’s lips turned up in a smirk when he saw the initial panic in Rían’s eyes. But the smile vanished when he recognized the determination as she slightly lifted her chin and met his own stare. He continued changing clothes, the silence practically deafening. In short order he was clad in the colors of Imladris. He throws his discarded clothes at Rúmil then straps on his weapons.
As Glorfindel and Haldir rode out, Rían could feel her heart pounding in her ears. She put a shaking hand to her forehead as she tried desperately to calm herself.
By the Valar, what had she been thinking!!
Seeing that Haldir’s brothers watched her, Rían heads back to the Last Homely House. Erestor was at the top of the stairs, just having come out to look for her.
“You missed breakfast,” he said, taking in her stunned expression.
“I was just coming in to wash up and eat,” she smiles, kisses him on the cheek, and continues inside.
Haldir groaned inwardly seeing the brief exchange between Rían and the Lord Councilor. No wonder Erestor had looked at him this morning as if he wanted to tear off his head; he was courting Rían!
Glorfindel could only grin at the look of dismay on the galadhel’s face. He knew what conclusion the guardian had come to and was pleased this was working out so well! Of course he would enlighten Haldir later…much later.
“Your uncle said you were eating breakfast.”
Rían jumps at the voice behind her, ink spilling across the map she had been working on.
“Look what you made me do, Elrohir!” she snaps as she frantically cleans up the mess.
“Me? You were going to have to redo that map anyway.”
“You have the Anduin running straight through Mirkwood, pen ruthren.”
Looking back at the map and seeing the error, Rían sighs in defeat. She sits back down and puts her head in her hands, completely ignoring Elrohir’s use of the nickname he bestowed upon her when she returned from Rohan. Why had she even tried to work when her thoughts were all askew?
How in all of Arda could one elf make her feel so many things at once!? She felt her face and the tips of her ears grow hot remembering the scene in the stables. She knew, with every fiber of her being, she should not have taunted Haldir. He was not one to back down from any challenge, especially from her. She should have turned away when the overtunic came off. It was not that elves were ashamed of their bodies, but it would have been a sign of respect to give him some privacy.
But, oh no, she had found herself frozen in place; not wanting or able to turn away! Although her eyes never left his, and his brothers and Glorfindel were present, she had never felt anything so intimate!
Elrohir watches Rían and sees the range of emotions flashing through her green eyes. He and Elladan had returned from their patrol and found Rúmil and Orophin discussing the very incident Rían was even now still blushing over.
So! Was the ice princess finally cracking, he wondered. The Valar only knew how many times Elrond’s sons had tried to play matchmaker over the centuries! Failing completely each and every time, of course.
Elladan was still with Haldir’s brothers trying to gather more information on the marchwarden himself, while Elrohir had volunteered to check on Rían.
“You were supposed to be at breakfast?” Elrohir reiterates.
“I was not hungry,” Rían answers, rising to her feet.
Elrohir looked at her again and realized she had not bothered to change clothes. After working in the stables, she always washed up and changed. And he had startled her earlier, making her spill the ink. Was she truly that distracted?
“What were you needing, Elrohir?”
“You know, I believe this would be the perfect time to ask you to show Rúmil and Orophin around. You are not working anymore.”
Rían saw the suspicious twinkle in Elrohir’s eyes and immediately was on guard. What was he plotting? But she would, indeed, like to spend time with Rúmil and Orophin without being interrupted by…HIM.
“That sounds like a fine idea,” she smiles brightly then leaves the study and a startled Elrohir.
“She rode with Elladan and Elrohir for decades killing orcs. She has become quite skilled, quite proficient, at that task,” Glorfindel says.
“Her uncle let her go?” came the bewildered query.
“There was no `letting’ to it, she just went. He tried locking her up on several occasions but Rían just managed to find a way out. Her uncle brought her to me and said `if she insists on going, train her well for I will hold you responsible if she comes to harm because of inferior weapons skills’.”
Haldir could not help but smile at that image; the cold, arrogant elleth sneaking down a trellis to go on an orc killing spree with Elrond’s sons. That same elleth trained by Glorfindel of Gondolin! Now that surprised him.
“What about her uncle? Does he not have a wife to help care for her?”
“No,” Glorfindel sighs sadly. “He has no family except for Rían.”
During their review of guard posts, Glorfindel had taken it upon himself to talk of Rían and he took great care to avoid revealing the identity of her uncle. Haldir ignored the conversation at first but gradually began asking his own questions. This was a good sign, thought the seneschal.
“We will begin to head back. Elrond will have my head if I bring you back late for the feast.”
They traveled for another two hours when Glorfindel stops beside a small stream.
“We will let the horses drink here,” he says with a warm smile.
The two elves dismount and while the horses quenched their thirst, Haldir let himself enjoy the beauty of the valley. He loved his home in the Golden Wood and was fiercely loyal to it, but he could wholeheartedly appreciate Imladris. He closed his eyes for a few moments and let the peace of the forest calm his turbulent thoughts.
Suddenly, Haldir looked around to find Glorfindel and the two horses gone!
Smiling widely, Glorfindel leads away Haldir’s horse. The marchwarden was only three miles from the Last Homely House; this would be a good test!
Haldir was beyond furious! What was going on in Glorfindel’s mind? He would have expected a prank like this from Elladan and Elrohir, but not from Lord Elrond’s respected seneschal! Once he got his hands on that ***ed Balrog Slayer —! Ai! He was too angry to think of a good punishment.
Abruptly Haldir came to a stop. Something was drawing near…something foul.
Maer arad – Good day
pen ruthren – angry one