******* Lothlórien, Caras Galadhon
“I hope you do not mind your quarters are in a talan,” Orophin said as they climbed a staircase.
“No, I do not mind, I think it will be quite nice. It has been a long time since I have been this high in a tree,” Rían smiled, feeling the gentle presence of the great mallorn warm her heart.
“You mean Imladris elves can climb? Surely, I thought you would be earthbound,” Rúmil teased, wondering if he could use that information in the future.
“I cannot speak for all Imladhrim, but I can hold my own,” she grinned back at him.
They walked several more steps before Rían stopped. She appeared as if she were listening to something that no one else could hear. Reverently, she placed her hands on the smooth bark of the tree and closed her eyes.
Rúmil and Orophin watched as the ancient tree welcomed the elleth, Rían’s smile widened ever so slightly. She stayed that way for just a few moments then turned to her escorts with a sigh.
“Well?” Orophin asked, curiously.
“They are glad I returned. They also said they will not let me fall,” she smiled at Rúmil’s guilty expression then turned to continue up the stairs.
“See, tôr, even the forest is watching you,” Orophin chuckled.
With her back to them, they did not see the secret sparkle in her eyes. The mallorn had given her a last message, one she did not share with the brothers.
//Be at peace, young one. He is safe.//
While Rúmil and Orophin gave Rían a quick tour of her quarters, she noticed her bag and weapons had all ready been brought up.
“We will leave you to rest and refresh yourself before dinner. If you need anything, do not hesitate to call,” Rúmil said. “We are in the next flet.”
Rían looked out the window and her lips thinned out when she saw he was not exaggerating. What if she continued to have her dreams? Her nightmares? If she awoke in tears or with a cry torn from her throat, Rúmil and Orophin would surely hear!
What would she do? How would she explain it away? She could not tell them the truth but she did not want to lie to them either! Glancing back at her bag, she remembered the sleeping draught Lord Elrond had prepared for her. He and her uncle were the only ones who knew why the dreams still haunted her and she wanted to keep it that way!
Orophin noticed the tension lines around her mouth and misinterpreted the cause.
“We are not your minders,” he spoke softly as he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Think of us as your own personal guides to the Golden Wood. If our lord and lady do not require your presence we will be more than happy to show you our home.”
Rían smiled hesitantly, hoping it would ease his concern. Orophin watched her for a moment longer before he and Rúmil left her to some much needed solitude.
“So Rían, how is your uncle?” Celeborn asked as they ate dinner. “I do miss talking with him.”
“He is well, my lord. He has been very busy lately,” Rían answered politely.
Although this was an informal gathering, Rían still felt out of place. She did not know why she was invited, but was quickly suspecting Arwen’s involvement. Elrond’s daughter kept casting sly glances her way when she thought the other elleth was not looking then quickly looking back to her grandparents.
//So I was wrong. Arwen is as bad as her brothers, just more subtle. Now that I think about it, she was awfully smug to find me assigned to her escort. By the Valar! Can not the Peredhil leave me alone?! No wonder Uncle had been so upset, he suspected Elrond and Arwen all along!//
Rían sipped carefully from her wine glass and vowed to be more on her guard.
“Actually, I believe it is Erestor who keeps Ada busy,” Arwen smiled. “Everyone in Imladris knows that without Rían’s uncle, Ada would be lost!”
All at the table smiled and laughed before the conversation moved on.
“Rían, I heard a most intriguing rumor that you and our marchwarden were victims of a conspiracy,” Galadriel spoke, her voice filled with mirth as she and Celeborn watched their guest for a reaction.
Rían’s fork clattered loudly to her plate as she momentarily froze at the statement.
“It was nothing, my lady. It was only a race,” she managed to answer, her face hot with embarrassment.
Celeborn raised an eyebrow in amusement while Galadriel concealed her smile behind her own wine glass.
“Tell us of the race,” Arwen urged Rían. “I was not there and would love to hear of it again!”
The look Rían threw across the table was so dark, so intimidating Lord Celeborn fought back a smirk. Erestor would have been proud!
“We can help tell the story,” Rúmil offered.
“You better help since you were an accomplice,” Rían ground through clenched teeth.
“Yes, that sounds wonderful! We would enjoy hearing the tale also,” Celeborn sat back in his chair and leveled his gaze at Rían.
Why did she have the feeling he and his wife already knew the story?
With a defeated sigh, Rían began to recount the race. She stayed to the facts only, no embellishing, and finished the tale in two minutes.
Rolling their eyes, Rúmil and Orophin quickly jumped in with their version.
“You should have seen them work together once they quit bickering,” Orophin said with a grin.
“They should have lost but were too stubborn to cooperate with our plans,” added Rúmil as he feigned disappointment.
The brothers eagerly told how Glorfindel, Elladan, and Elrohir had everything prearranged. Rúmil laughed as he related how angry Haldir was when he found out he had been entered against his will.
“Rúmil,” Galadriel gently admonished. “You know better.”
“He is still breathing,” Orophin chuckled as he elbowed his brother.
Rían relaxed slightly as she listened to them. Ai, how she missed them! But Arwen’s next statement interrupted her temporary peace.
“Ada said they had to postpone the after race ceremony.”
“They fell into the stream!” Rúmil smiled slyly around his glass.
“We did NOT fall,” Rían growled. “We were thrown in the stream by Glorfindel’s demon possessed horse.”
Celeborn looked to Galadriel; both of their faces alight with pleasure. It was good to hear this playful banter again as it had been sadly lacking since the brothers’ return from Imladris. They could tell how much they cared for Rían and it was quite obvious they loved tormenting her as well!
“She landed on our poor brother in the stream,” Orophin sighed dramatically as Arwen giggled softly.
“From where I was standing it looked as if our dear brother was in no hurry to give up his position,” Rúmil grinned wickedly, blatantly ignoring Rían’s sharp glare of warning. “Lord Glorfindel thought it looked as though Haldir was attempting to shield Rían from the jolt of the landing.”
“Glorfindel cannot be trusted any further than one can throw him!” she hissed in reply.
“But, Gwathel, I saw his arms about you as you both fell,” Orophin said gently.
Rían wanted to deny it but could not. She could still feel those strong arms wrapped tightly around her even though she had spent the last two years trying to forget.
“I would have like to have seen that,” Arwen smiled.
Everyone grew silent as they realized how uncomfortable Rían had become. She emptied her wineglass for a third time then sat back in her chair, absently rubbing her left wrist.
Seeing this, Celeborn asked if she was well.
“I suppose I am more tired than I expected,” Rían answered, her voice indeed filled with weariness.
“You do not have to stay any longer on our account,” Galadriel said as she walked to Rían’s chair. “You may retire when you are ready.”
As Rían stood, she heard the compassion in Galadriel’s voice and saw the understanding that sparkled in her eyes.
“We want you to feel at home here in the Golden Wood,” Celeborn added, coming to stand next to his wife.
“Thank you, my lord and lady. You have made me feel most welcome and I do look forward to seeing more of your realm. However, I do confess to feeling drained…I did not realize I would tire so badly on this trip. I am usually much more resilient.”
“Then go rest, my dear. I am sure our foster sons will be eager to show you the city tomorrow,” Celeborn smiled gently when Rúmil and Orophin appeared on either side of their gwathel.
Rían bid them all good night and left the chamber.
//It is her heart that is weary// Galadriel’s voice gently brushed through Celeborn’s mind.
//They fight a losing battle// he silently answered. //I understand what makes them so afraid…but the longer they deny this…//
//We can only pray they acknowledge it and claim it before it is too late.//
Although Rían was tired, she found she could not sleep. Rúmil and Orophin had left a couple of hours earlier and she now found herself on the balcony. She smiled as she recalled their promises to make amends for their behavior at dinner. Truly, they did not think she would mind them telling the story but it had bothered her and they apologized profusely.
She did remind them that if another incident occurred, she had a certain braiding tale she could relate to any who cared to listen.
With twin looks of mischief and embarrassment, the brothers left her to rest.
Sighing heavily, Rían turned her face into the gentle breeze and looked up into the night sky. It was beautiful! The stars sparkled as jewels on a velvet cloth as the leaves danced lightly in the air.
When she had left Imladris, she had not thought to feel so peaceful here! She had thought her turmoil would only increase, but it seemed the closer she drew to the Golden Wood, the more contented her soul felt.
Perhaps the nightmares would stay away? She fervently prayed they would.
Feeling herself drawn to the great mallorn that sheltered her talan, Rían gently stroked the silver bark. Her heart warmed at how pleased the trees were she had returned to Lothlorien. She learned they had wanted to comfort her when her parents died but they also understood a child’s anger and did not hold it against her.
“I am truly sorry I did not notice,” Rían whispered. “I am glad I am here now. Thank you for this gift.”
But before she could step away, Rían was given one more gift.
For a brief moment, she felt her heart stop! She could see Haldir, somewhere on the north fences, as he stood his watch. His body was motionless except where the wind gently teased the ends of his golden hair. He held his bow close as he studied the forest for any threats. His gaze was unrelenting but hidden in those grey depths lurked a deep pain; a pain Rían knew all too well.
She drank in the vision, not realizing until this moment how very badly she had missed him! The ache in her heart she had lived with for so long eased just a bit. She was unaware of the smile on her face as she silently, unknowingly, greeted Haldir.
//My march warden// she thought wistfully.
Just before the vision faded, she thought she saw Haldir’s lips curve into the beginnings of a smile.
tôr – brother, by blood
Peredhil – half elves
gwathel – sworn sister