Chapter Seven: The River’s Edge
They reached the path and Elienne hesitated. “Look who has come to my rescue,” she said.
It was Sullendry standing before them, his eyes haunted. Elienne wrapped her arms around the horse’s neck and said, “What a good friend…” With her face lying on his soft pelt, she turned to Haldir and said, “Whatever happened to your face? You look as though you’ve been in a mortal’s bar brawl.”
Haldir touched his cheek and felt the wetness of blood. He was still too stunned from the event to be bothered by any pain. Gathering himself together, he spoke to Sullendry. “I believe she has earned a carry back to the picnic?”
“Do you think you could manage it, Emissary?” she asked. “I am a bit heavier with my skirts as wet as they are.”
Despite the tension he still felt, Haldir smirked at her cheekiness. She smiled and pretended as though she just understood. “Ah! The horse… you meant for Sullendry to carry me… But I should not want to be rude and ride alone, can he carry us both?”
“Aye,” Haldir said, “He has done more than that weight for much distance…. But it is no problem. I can walk.”
“I’d feel so awkward and very much like a ‘spoiled princess’ if I was to ride while you walked. I shall walk too,” she insisted.
Haldir did not think her so strong yet and did not want to risk her growing faint. She raised her brows, almost as though she could tell what he was thinking. He could at least give in some to her; after all she had been through.
“It is up to him,” he said, looking at the horse.
Sullendry moved his nuzzle towards Elienne and she stroked the top of it. “I supposed that is a ‘yes'” she laughed.
Haldir sighed and came close to Elienne. He placed his hands on her hips and at first she looked at him strange.
“He is a tall horse, M’Lady,” he said.
She smiled and realized what he was doing and gave a small hop to assist the effort. After she was up, Haldir moved to the front of Sullendry and whispered, “Slowly, my friend.”
He glanced up at Elienne and saw she was touching her bosom sadly. “The flower,” she said, “I’ve lost your flower.”
Though he disliked seeing her upset, especially right after so much trauma, Haldir had no intentions of leading her on any further about his so called ‘feelings’ for her. So rather than take a replacement flower from the path, he simply hopped up behind her and said stiffly, “I’m sure you can find another in the field… we wouldn’t want to dull the path, now would we?”
“No, of course not,” she said with a bit of sarcasm to her tone.
Once upon the horse Haldir realized that without reigns to hold there was very little to do with his hands which felt natural. Therefore he placed them on his thighs and hoped that Sullendry would follow his request so he wouldn’t be poised to give her more reason to suspect anything.
“I have a question to ask you, Emissary, and I would like you to be honest and straight in your answer,” she said.
“Gladly,” he said. “I have nothing to hide… ask.” He hoped because of how he refused her another flower that she was seeking to clear up her misunderstandings regarding him.
“Just after our little ‘game’… you said something to me that has been a source of great pain to me… and I do not know if you meant it, or if it was said in the heat of the moment,” she said.
Haldir wracked his brain to think if there was anything said after the charade that he did not mean. It was possible, but nothing came to mind. He remained quiet, knowing she would eventually continue. And that she did.
“Of all the things you could say to me, that anyone could say to me, it was this that rang in my ears my entire tumble down the rapids… as I faced death, I could not put it out of my mind…”
“Whatever could be so profound?” he asked, suppressing a chuckle. He wondered at her talent for the melodramatic. Despite his finding humor in it he did feel himself concerned at what he could have said. With young she-elves it was always very possible to say this or that wrong and do great damage without the slightest intention. Though as they grew with years they never seemed to let go the notion that Elves were thoughtless, thankfully they learned to forgive the missteps of speech more quickly.
She turned herself slightly, leaned a bit and strained her neck to look him in the eye. He leaned back some to assist in her maneuver. “Do you really mean to keep me out of Lothlorien?”
“Oh!” he laughed. “That is what you meant…” He sighed slightly, but her eyes continued to plead with him as she gently rocked back and forth to the rhythm of Sullendry’s slow gate. “I have very little say in the matter, so do not let my opinion concern you.”
“So you DID mean it, then,” she said in a huff as she turned around. “I’ll have you know that I fully intend to live there some day, and I am much affronted that you think I will spoil your grand golden wood with my immature behavior. You have only seen one side of me, and from what most people say of it, my good humor is not without its value. Perhaps you should learn to lighten up a bit and…”
“Elienne!” he interrupted in a commanding voice.
“…stop taking yourself so seriously,” she defiantly finished. He couldn’t see her face, but was certain there was a very refined pout upon her lips.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
“Well.. yes,” she said. “For now.”
“Lady Elienne, you are taking a mere comment and running in a most peculiar direction with it. I care not one way or the other if you are allowed to live with us in ‘Caras Galadhon’. But I will tell you this; if you do come, do not expect that I will be as jolly at having our peace disrupted as I have been here in Rivendell. As March Warden of the Realm of the Lady of Light, Guardian of the Golden Wood and Emissary of the Galadhrin it is my responsibility to not just do my duties, but to set a proper example for the behavior of all. I cannot afford to risk showing favoritism or encouraging what might be acceptable in small doses but if nurtured and allowed to flourish would distract from the normal state of affairs.”
For a few of the horse’s paces she remained quiet and Haldir was torn between his having been too firm and being pleased that maybe he had talked some sense into her.
“That is quite a set of impressive titles you just ran off there, Lord Haldir,” she said. Haldir could not tell the tone of her voice.
“I am speaking the truth, no more, no less,” he said flatly.
“I believe you,” she said. “And I have learned something else from you as well… without you knowing you revealed it.”
Haldir strummed his fingers on his thighs and said, “And what would that be, M’Lady?”
“That while in my honor you were pretending to be a forlorn unnoticed, self-pitying Elf you were also being truthful.” She said it as if it were the most evident observation one could make. It was the most preposterous thing he had ever heard and would not let it go unchallenged.
“Besides your own creative fantasy’s I can not see how it is possible you came to that conclusion,” he said. “I am very confident in myself and despite your baseless accusation was very much playing a part to gain your sympathy… sympathy I do not require.”
“You sound affected, Lord Haldir. I did not mean to anger you,” she said with satisfaction.
“I’m not angry!” he said. Then, hearing the sound of his own voice said, “I am exasperated at discussing nonsense, as any mature elf would be.”
Elienne swung her head around and glared at him in shock to his inference. He raised his brows as if to punctuate his statement.
“Sullendry,” she said turning back around. “Stop at once. I no longer wish to share a ride with this cruel, rude, improper and most ignoble elf.”
Haldir laughed and said, “Perhaps you forget who was insulting whom first?”
“I did not insult you,” she said. “SULLENDRY!”
The horse continued to move, cued by the slight bump of Haldir’s heels against his ribs.
“Oh, what is wrong with this horse,” she said. “I thought you were smart…” She then crossed her arms and said, “But perhaps you are, only just as rude as you comrade here.”
“I think the horse agrees with me that you owe me an apology,” Haldir said with a tease.
“Alright,” she said, “I will apologize if you can convince me what it is I should apologize for.”
“For saying I am a self-pitying Elf somehow in need of your flattery and attention.”
“I did not say that, you did,” she insisted.
“You…” he said rolling his eyes. “You implied,” he said.
“No,” she said. “I was not allowed to finish… and you misconstrued my meaning.”
“So finish then,” he said, gesturing with his hand.
“I don’t want to now,” she said. “I’m very cross…”
Haldir scratched his head in thought. Perhaps he would have to employ one of his more elaborate Emissary methods. It was a tool he used to reverse the direction of a conversation with an offended ambassador or herald and his best chance at gaining the upper hand in this situation. “Rather than holding your tongue and allowing the situation to go unresolved, speak your peace and prove me wrong,” he said. “If you prove me wrong, I shall be forced to humbly admit it and you will regain your dignity in the matter.”
She sat for quite a while in silence and he was about to give up on the expectation that she had any elements of reason when she finally spoke.
“I was only trying to point out that while you may have been pretending to be self-depreciating, there were other parts of your speech which were true,” she said.
“Such as?” he asked.
“Such as when you said it was a relief to be with someone whose expectations you did not have to live up to. Just now, in your little speech you admitted it again. While here with me in Rivendell either as a Princess or a maidservant, you are able to be, IN YOUR WORDS, ‘jolly’ where as in your own home you would have to forego such pleasures. And I think it has everything to do with the company you are keeping.”
The she-elf jutted out her jaw and looked to be waiting for his response. Up ahead he could see they were heading down hill and around the bend would be the picnic. He had two choices. He could tell her she was right and face her taking that to mean that his enjoyment of her company was what she hoped and not what it was, or he could lie and deny he ever felt the loneliness of his position among his people.
“You are right,” he said, but quickly added, “That is not an insult at all… I was wrong to accuse you and to be so critical of you.”
“Thank you,” she said, completely satisfied. He noted that she did not request confirmation of her supposition and it made him uneasy that she was so confident in it.
“Sullendry,” he called. Just by his tone the horse knew to stop. He hopped off the horse and helped her down. “We will walk the rest of the way. Go on, my friend. You have only a short break more and we will be returning.”
The horse gazed at the two of them and then trotted away.
Elienne looked at him, no longer smug or angry. Rather her face was sweet and Haldir was amazed at how sincere and open she was, even for her youth. But in her eyes was an expectation that he would return the honesty. He smiled, wishing he could take her up on the offer, but there was another matter for which he had to use her generous mood. It was not wise to allow such a moment to pass without taking advantage of it to thwart any future animosity. He predicted that Legolas was going to reveal his eavesdropping indiscretion and from his experience, Haldir knew he stood a much better chance at keeping the peace to tell her himself when she was in such a gracious mood then wait for the Prince to turn her against him.
“I have to tell you something,” he said. She grew even more eager in her countenance. “When we return to the picnic, Legolas is going to be… very angry with me, and rightfully so.”
She quickly said, “I have tried to take care of the misunderstanding between he and I, but I am not sure he will like that you and I have become…”
Haldir shook his head and put his finger to her lips until she quieted. Her mouth smiled under his touch and he pulled his hand away slowly, hoping her perceived affection would soften further his admission.
“No,” he said tenderly. “The reason he is displeased is because I have insulted you both by listening to what was meant to be a private conversation,” he said. “I tell you now both because I want you to know he has every right, as do you, to be put off by my behavior, but also for another reason.”
In her eyes was stunted frustration, as though she was visibly attempting to restrain herself from a thousand questions.
“I heard you when you told Legolas you believe I have feelings for you,” he said.
A strange smile came to her face and she nodded. “Yes, I did tell him that, but not because I really believe it…”
She smiled widely and Haldir felt his pulse begin to race as he said, “Another prank? You knew I was listening?” A wash of embarrassment flooded over him.
She laughed out loud and said, “Oh my dear, dear Emissary, no, not at all…I hadn’t the slightest clue!” She continued to laugh, turning away from him and leaving him feeling most awkward. He put his hands on his hips and watched her. If she hadn’t been laughing at his expense, he may have been tempted to join just from the contagion of it. She turned back to him, put a steadying hand on his arm and said, “Would I have thought of it though… it would have been so deliciously cunning!” She laughed again, this time looking at him with a bit more concern in her eyes. “No… you have been a victim of your own mischief… not mine.”
“So you are clear on my intentions then?” he asked in confusion.
She grew even more considerate in her demeanor as she said, “I spoke thusly to Legolas only to discover if your perceptions regarding him were clear. He is much too bashful to come out and tell me of his feelings. And if I asked him, it seemed much too cruel a set up for his precious heart. I thought by pretending that you had affections for me, I could discover if he did.”
Haldir swallowed in understanding, and despite his own distress, admired her prudence and the method of information retrieval, worthy of his own utilization.
“Oh,” he said.
“Well,” she sighed, “At least there is no harm done. I’m sure you are very much relieved and not in the least bit disappointed?” The last phrase sounded like a small tease or a test.
“Of course,” he said nodding. “We… we should return to the picnic.”
He started to walk and she followed saying, “That should teach you quite well about the gamble of eavesdropping.”
He glanced at her and smirked a bit. Then when he looked away from her he could not contain it and laughed lightly saying, “Elienne, you are a most delightful young sprite.”
They were just at the bend now and the entire company was in view. The company had gathered in the shade tent, including the hunters and what looked like their catch of many large foul. Their mood looked less than grim and Haldir could only guess why. Then he heard in his mind the confirmation. The Lady of the Wood had been keeping a mental watch over him and the young she-elf and had no doubt rested the worried hearts and minds of the picnickers that all was well.
“You have come very close to the waters edge,” she said in his mind. “Stray just a little and you will be rushed away to where you do not wish to go.”
He frowned slightly at the puzzle she had given him, knowing it’s meaning. It was very similar to what she had said at the banquet the previous night. Only this time, he did not laugh, for he could no longer deny her implications.
“Arwen!” Elienne called out as she ran into the field.
The Rivendell princess turned and did not even smile as she ran to greet her friend. The two embraced tightly, Arwen seeming to only be able to relax once she held Elienne in her arms. They were met quickly by Legolas, the children and the others; including the Queen of Mirkwood whose reproach of Elienne seemed to have waned.
Haldir was grateful to go unnoticed by all but Sullendry as they made their way about the area fetching the beginnings of the pack for the horse and the trip back.
“I thought I was going to teach you something about wooing a she-elf,” he said to Sullendry. “But I’m afraid things haven’t exactly gone as I planned. This little Princess, if she knows it or not, is successfully playing me well at my own game…” Then he laughed and asked, “That doesn’t ever happen to stallions, does it?”
Sullendry grunted in a sound that was affirmative, but not a very happy affirmative. Haldir chuckled at the steed’s honesty.
“Perhaps it’s not a species fault then,” he said placing the blanket on the horse, “And has all the more to do with gender.”