Silently, Haldir stepped out on the balcony and he smiled as his gaze fell on the talan across the stairway. He and his brothers had bid Rían good night several hours ago but he could not sleep. He glanced back inside and heard the even, comforting breathing of his brothers. How he envied them! After so long a patrol and then required to attend the feast, he should have been able to find reverie quite easily.
Ah, the feast! He had danced the remainder of the evening with Rían, not believing how peaceful his whole being felt. It also frightened him of his need to have her close…and to keep her there.
By Eru, not now! Not when Sauron is gaining power and everything I hold dear is threatened!! Haldir silently raged as he closed his eyes and clenched the railing.
Taking a couple breaths to calm himself, he looked up slowly and saw a faint, tiny glow in Rían’s talan. Either she left a candle lit or she could not sleep either.
//Did you enjoy the surprise?//
Haldir’s smile widened as he turned toward the majestic mallorn. He ran his hand across the tree as he remembered their gentle teasing.
“Yes, I did,” he answered softly.
//She is your one. You must keep her close.//
Haldir hesitated, his heart lurching in his chest.
//She makes you and your brothers happy. Together you are stronger…you know this.//
Suddenly it was quiet again as the mallorn left the Marchwarden to his thoughts.
“Where is he?” Orophin asked Rúmil.
“He said he had to pick up something first.”
They look up as Rían entered the room.
“I’ll only be a moment,” she smiled, sitting down on a chair to pull on her boots.
“No need to hurry. Haldir is not here yet,” Orophin replied.
Rían glanced up at them, her brow raised in question. Last night the Marchwarden told them to be ready early, as training would begin today.
As she stood, Haldir walked into the room.
“And I thought I would be the one everyone had to wait on,” she stated snidely.
“You cannot join our patrol looking like that,” Haldir said, ignoring her previous statement.
Rían glanced at her clothes; clothes she wore whenever she traveled, hunted or patrolled back in Imladris. She looked back up at the Marchwarden, her green eyes full of wariness.
“What, may I ask, is the problem with my attire?” she asked calmly…too calmly.
Rúmil and Orophin looked at each other helplessly. What was going on? They couldn’t possibly be fighting? Not after last night…they couldn’t be!!
“You will stick out like an orc!” Haldir smirked as he threw a bundle of fabric at her.
Rían caught it handily and saw that it was a black, long sleeved shirt and the grey overtunic the Galadhrim wore. She looked at Haldir and noted the challenge in his grey eyes…a challenge she answered with a smile.
Groans came from the two younger elves. Surely, Haldir was not going to subject Rían to changing uniforms as Glorfindel had him do in Imladris! Seeing the determination in his eyes and remembering his words; *you will stick out like an orc*, they realized he would indeed.
When Rían reached up and began removing her overtunic, Rúmil and Orophin panicked. With matching gasps of disbelief and shock, they closed their eyes and spun away from the elleth. [elf maid]
Haldir tried not to laugh and Rían’s lips turned up into a smile as she continued to change her shirts. They were amused because if his brothers would have been thinking clearly, they would remember that all ellith on the patrols or hunting parties wore a third garment. It was a snug fitting, long-sleeved shirt worn next to the skin that assisted in keeping a she-elf’s curves from being so prominent.
It served a dual function as those now suppressed curves would not mark them so blatantly as female. Orcs and evil men were known to go to great lengths to capture an elleth and death was preferable than to endure what they dealt.
Not a word was spoken while Rían pulled on the new shirt then over tunic. Her and Haldir’s eyes remained locked on each other, their expressions an odd mix of mirth and longing.
When she finished, she smiled and threw her old clothes at the Marchwarden. She knew wearing the colors of the Galadhrim was only practical…she just could not believe he used her own words against her!
“I hope this meets with your approval, Marchwarden,” she said tartly but her eyes twinkled with amusement.
Hesitantly, Rúmil and Orophin turn to face Rían. They expected her to be angry, fuming with rage, but she only watched them with a smug grin.
Haldir was not prepared for his reaction to seeing her in their uniform. The grey over tunic magnified the green of her eyes and the black shirt accentuated her own raven hair. Perhaps he should have left her in her Imladhrim uniform!
“Gwathel,” Orophin gasped. “You were born to wear those colors. You look quite striking.” [sworn sister]
Rían’s grin faded when she felt the tension radiating like waves from Haldir. Her body warmed and her heart began to beat faster as they gazed a moment longer at the other.
“Best be going now,” Rían said shakily as she gathered her weapons and headed for the door.
Rúmil and Orophin glanced nervously at their brother then quickly followed Rían.
Haldir waited a few moments to calm himself. Orophin was right…she was striking in their colors! He took a deep breath then smiled when Rían’s scent invaded him. The smile disappeared when he felt himself tense, his body resonating with emotion. He glanced down at her clothes he still held, then ever so gently laid them on the table.
`What do we do now, Imladhel-nîn?’
As they ate a light breakfast, Haldir explained how the patrols ran, how postings were chosen, and what kind of training the Galadhrim went through. When Rían asked of Dol Guldur, he hesitated, briefly, then told her of what they knew. The evil keep was indeed a serious threat…it was only a matter of *when* those forces would attack.
Haldir stopped speaking of it when he felt her unease, her fear for them; him, his brothers and the whole of Lothlórien.
“We will have you watch some of our training sessions this morning,” he said as they continued.
“Perhaps we might convince you to participate,” Rúmil suggested. “Today is close combat drills and archery.”
“Rían does not need to practice with us,” Orophin spoke then.
“Why not?” questioned Rían. “You can never have your skills honed enough.”
Haldir bit back a smirk. “Maybe Orophin is afraid you would embarrass yourself amongst the Galadhrim.”
“Tôr! That is *not* what I meant!” The youngest brother was outraged. “Why do you continue to bicker with Rían?” [Brother]
Rían could hear Haldir’s teasing laughter in her head and snapped back a quick retort. “I know what you meant, Gwador. You are concerned that one Imladhel would make your fellow wardens look like elflings.” [sworn brother]
Rúmil choked, then began to laugh when he saw the look on Haldir’s face. He could not tell if he was amused or insulted!
Green eyes locked with grey in a silent but brief battle. Haldir excused himself; he had a short meeting to attend with the commander of the city’s watch and would return shortly.
“Rían,” Orophin began gently. “Why do you two still argue?
“Argue? I would not quite call it that,” she answered cryptically.
They came to a halt by an exercise ring where elves were practicing hand to hand techniques.
“If not arguing…then what?”
Rían shrugged, watching the elves in the ring.
“Verbal sparring,” suggested Rúmil. “Have you watched them while they argue?”
Orophin shook his head.
“They enjoy taunting each other,” Rúmil grinned. “It is fun for those two.”
Before Rían’s glare could become any darker, Orophin was hailed.
“Ahh, there you are!” Glennodad stopped before them. “I had thought you forgot about our rematch…oh! Forgive me. Good morning, Rían!”
“Good morning,” she replied. “What rematch?”
“Orophin bested me in our last hand to hand practice and I requested another. I believe he may have used questionable tactics,” the younger elf grinned conspiratorially.
“I did not. You are just sore I beat you after all these years.”
“Maybe I am, but we still have a rematch.”
Orophin sighed heavily and took off his cloak and weapons. He smiled at the nod of encouragement from Rían as he followed Glennodad into the practice area.
The two elves faced each other in silence for a couple moments before there was a flurry of movement. It was over in the blink of an eye. Glennodad lay on his back in the grass cursing to no one in particular.
“Aiya! I practiced and practiced and you still beat me!”
Orophin helped the still irritated elf to his feet. “There is no counter for it!”
“Yes, there is.”
Everyone in hearing range turned to see Rían smiling as if she knew a secret.
As Haldir drew closer, he immediately noticed the crowd gathered around a practice ring. They were cheering and heckling good-naturedly but suddenly fell silent. He heard a THUD; as if a body had hit the ground with some force followed by the sound of air forced out from the impact.
Pushing his way through the assembly, Haldir froze when he saw Rúmil flat on his back with Rían on his chest; effectively pinning him to the ground.
“Do you yield?” she asked.
Gasping to draw in breath, Rúmil managed to answer in the affirmative. When Rían stood, he began laughing. Tears were welling in his eyes as she helped him to his feet.
“Stop cackling like a loon,” she said quietly, becoming uneasy at the stares directed at her.
“I-I cannot help myself…may we do that a-again!?” Rúmil asked, still laughing.
Haldir then spied Glennodad and Orophin standing close by. His youngest brother smiled proudly at Rían while the other elf sported a self-satisfied smirk. What made Haldir’s anger rise was their clothes were rumpled and carried fresh grass stains.
He could hear the other elves speaking, recalling the move that the Imladhel had demonstrated on the Marchwarden’s brothers and Glennodad. They spoke with respect and excitement, hoping they too could master the move, for it did not rely on strength alone.
What was going on here?
“Rían, would you show us again?” asked Rúmil. “One more time…please!?”
Before she could answer, Haldir stepped forward.
“If there are any more *demonstrations*, I shall be the one to participate,” his grey eyes challenged any to question him.
He slowly removed his cloak and weapons, then turned to Rían.
“That is if you are not too tired to attempt this once more,” he added with a teasing sneer.
“I am only warming up, Marchwarden,” she returned with a confident smile.
Rúmil stepped back to join his brother and Glennodad.
“He had to interrupt,” Glennodad sighed. “I was hoping to get thrown around again.”
Orophin raised a brow in puzzlement.
“Imagine your brother’s reaction if I had been in Rúmil’s position a few moments ago,” the bright blue eyes glittered with mischief.
“I imagine you would be food for the crows,” Orophin deadpanned. “Little bite-sized bits.”
Glennodad smiled and elbowed Rúmil who could only laugh at the banter.
Abruptly, their attention is drawn to the two elves in the center of the gathering. Rían charged Haldir, having grown tired waiting for his move. They grappled for long minutes, neither able to gain the advantage. Rían gasped when she realized Haldir knew the countermove. Suddenly, she felt him grab her around the neck and shoulders. Rían knew she had just a moment to get out of this before it was finished.
As he swung her over, Rían reached back and locked her hands about Haldir’s neck. At the same time, she pushed off from the ground and held tight. There was so much momentum when she hit the ground they continued to roll.
Haldir did not know when it had happened but he felt his chest hit the ground and a body sprawled atop him. He was unaware of the elbow placed uncomfortably at the base of his neck or of the shocked whispers circulating amongst the crowd. All he felt was the rise and fall of the chest behind him and Rían’s hot breath on his ear. He was grateful he was still lying on the ground for he was certain his legs would not support him.
“Do you yield, Marchwarden?” she managed to ask between gasps for air. She felt him tremble minutely and shivered at her own response.
“Aye,” he answered for all to hear, then silently, but only to you.