“There’s the palace,” Talon the griffon announced as he drew closer to Minas Tirith. Haldir couldn’t believe the fast progress they had made. Was it really only two days ago he was passing through Rohan’s northeastern border?
“Hang on,” the griffon instructed and clutching the feather’s on Talon’s elegant neck, Haldir pressed his body close against Talon’s back as the mythical bird drew in his wings and shot downward in a straight-arrow nosedive. Haldir never did like heights much, and he closed his eyes tightly, forcing himself not to throw-up as his stomach lurched up his throat only to plummet back down to his gut.
Several hundred feet above the castle grounds, Talon unfolded his wings, straightened with the air current and began circling over the courtyard, floating lower with each rotation. The guards and archers looked up at the newcomers, not threatened but extra alert just in case.
Talon landed smoothly in the front courtyard. He began to preen his feathers with an unconcerned air as Haldir slid from the saddle, praying these guards did not notice how green he seemed to be. The Head Guard, a human, stepped forward, an elf standing by each arm. “Who are you, from whence do you come, and what business do you have of Gondor?”
Haldir bowed politely. “I am Haldir of Lorien sent from Lothlorien by orders of Celeborn. My business is for King Elessar alone.”
The Head Guard did not look all that surprised, as if he had expected this answer, and nodded. “Follow me.” As Haldir fell into step behind the guard, leaving Talon in the care of the royal grooms, he happened to look at his elven-kin. There was something disturbing in their eyes, and they stared at Haldir with slight suspicion.
Suspicion? Among elves?
Then Haldir felt it. A great weight upon his heart. The trees whispered a warning Men could not hear. The very balance of nature was flung off course. Haldir understood quite well. After thirty years of peace, a new darkness was approaching.
“Estel, if you do not stop pacing like that, you’re going to wear a grove in the floor. Or make yourself sick. Whichever comes first.”
Aragorn stood still and stared at his wife in astonishment. “You haven’t called me that in a long time.”
“I’ll call you what I wish if it attracts your attention,” Arwen replied. She stood by the door in Aragorn’s office, her arms crossed. “I’ve called you everything for the past five minutes; Aragorn, Elessar, even Strider. And just now I seem to have finally pulled back down to Gondor by calling you ‘Estel’.”
“I’m just so worried, Evenstar,” Aragorn explained in a hushed whisper. “It’s been two days. Where could Serenity have gone?”
Arwen closed her eyes briefly, then opened them as she answered softly, “With Alakolas.”
“I knew it!” Aragorn cried. “I knew that kid was going to cause trouble!”
“Do not blame the son of Legolas,” Arwen snapped in Alak’s defense. “Knowing Serenity and her ways, he probably had very little choice in the matter.”
“But why would Serenity run away from home?”
“My guess would be for the same reason you ran away from home many years ago.”
Aragorn fell silent when Arwen brought up his long ago past, back in the days when he was known as Strider the Ranger.
“Out of all our children, she takes after you the most,” Arwen continued gently. “Like you, she probably left to find out who she really is even though she herself may not know it.”
“And you’re not worried?” he speculated.
“Of course I’m worried!” she cried. “What do you take me for? I gave birth to her, I am overwhelmed with worry! At the same time, though I am living a mortal life, I am still an Elf, and elves do not allow their worries to shake them to pieces like Men do.” Arwen paused as if in thought. “Well, unless you’re my father and you had a son like Elronhir.”
“Oh, let’s not discuss Elronhir,” Aragorn groaned remembering the elf during his ranger days. Elronhir was extremely daring for an elf, and did wild and dangerous things that would kill a lesser being. “But I have lived among elves all my life,” he added continuing the previous conversation.
“That will not change what you are, my dear. Panic is in your nature, as it is in all men.”
“That’s not true!” Aragorn argued. “Well…most of the time,” he added lamely.
Arwen rolled her eyes. “Please, if Men and Elves were to act alike, there would be no difference between the two races save immortality and pointy-ears.”
Aragorn would’ve continued the conversation had he not noticed the Head Guard walking in. “Yes?”
“Haldir of Lorien requests and audience with King Elessar,” the guard announced with a bow. “His message shall be revealed to His Majesty alone.”
Aragorn flashed Arwen a small smile and sighed. This was it. Time to face the music. “Show him in,” he said to the guard.
The Head Guard departed and Haldir entered the room. “Greetings, your Majesties,” he said.
For the next few minutes, proper formalities were exchanged between the three, but Aragorn’s patience was rapidly growing thin. Even growing up in Rivendell, he never really understood why elves dwelled on formalities so much. Being polite is wonderful and all, but good Lord!
Maybe impatience was another one of those humanly nature things Arwen was constantly telling him about.
After all the formalities and “brief” news exchanges were out of the way, Aragorn cleared his throat as a way of speeding things along. “I hear Celeborn has sent you to retrieve Alakolas Greenleaf and escort him to Mirkwood.”
“That he did, sir, and here I am,” Haldir replied.
“Yes, here you are,” Aragorn mumbled under his breath. In a louder tone, he inquired, “But you did not bring a large company.”
“There is a feeling among the elves of an approaching darkness. I thought it best to travel alone.”
Aragorn nodded approvingly and nervously began to fidget a little. Why was it whenever he was around Haldir, the elf always made him slightly uncomfortable? Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to speed the formalities along after all. Aragorn also knew Haldir very well, and thus knew that the elf was not going to take this sudden shift in plans very lightly.
Haldir was also nervous, but he stood perfectly still. Something was wrong. He could sense it. “So, where is the young prince?” he dared to ask, somehow knowing that whatever new problem aroused had something to do with Legolas’s offspring.
Aragorn smiled brightly, a bit too brightly for Haldir’s comfort, and pulled up a chair. “Good friend Haldir,” the king announced, “you may want to sit down for this one.”
The young prince was, at the current moment, still in the forest of Gondor. Two days had gone by, and to Alak, the forest had no end. He and Serenity had covered a considerable amount of distance for they were both of elvenblood and did not tire easily like humans do. Minas Tirith lay miles behind them.
During the time, Alak and Serenity came to know each other better, sharing delightful tales of their childhood. They walked along the trail well into the night, but as she was elf, Serenity was also human and began to grow tired before Alak did.
As of now, they had a small fire going, eating a light supper of wild berries and root while Alak watched Serenity perform the grisly task of gutting a rabbit she shot with an arrow.
“So, having fun?” Alak asked by means of conversation as the meat sizzled deliciously over the fire.
Serenity shrugged, looking around. “It’s going all right I suppose. To tell the truth, a bit boring.”
Alak grinned, taking a sip of water. “Yeah, Gondor seems very peaceful.”
“Peaceful?” She laughed. “Our chances of being attacked by anything or running into any danger of a sort are a million to one.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth, Alak leaped on Serenity, pulling her down onto the ground with him. “What are you doing!?” she shrieked, struggling under the weight of his arm. “Had I known you were one of those freaks who drag unsuspecting girls into the woods to try to–”
“Be still!” Alak hissed. “Look.” He pointed to the tree Serenity was sitting by. Where her head used to be, now a large arrow was nestled in the trunk.
Serenity’s face drained of its color. “Oh,” she mumbled feeling extremely foolish.
“Okay, kids, break it up,” a female voice announced from the shadows. “You are far too young to be using the privacy of the woods for that sort of thing.”
Alak and Serenity leaped to their feet, both blushing brightly, trying to prove to the voice that nothing even close to “that sort of thing” was going on. The owner of the voice stepped forward, and they could see the stranger from the waist up for she stood behind some bushes.
She had light brown skin, her hair as black as ebony, and her eyes glimmered like topaz gems. Her ears were extremely pointed, so Alak at first thought she was an elf.
But then the stranger walked forward into the open, and Alak’s jaw dropped. Serenity gasped.
From the waist up, the stranger looked to be human, but from the waist down…was the dark brown body of a horse. “All right, go on, and stare,” the stranger said rolling her eyes. “It’s obvious you’ve never seen a centaur before.”
“What are you?” Alak inquired in breathless awe.
“I just said. I’m a centaur.” She smiled and winked. “My name is Kairee.”