22. Comings and Goings
His keen eyes roving across the protective forests surrounding Rivendell, Elrohir leaned against a balcony railing and sighed quietly. The afternoon was wearing on and time was slipping past them as evasively as water flowing through a sieve. The march of time could not be helped, Elrohir knew that, but it was still distressing. And in addition to being distressing, it was also raising memories of Celebrían. These memories had already been stirred by Thranduil’s remarks during the night, and now they came to the forefront of Elrohir’s thoughts once more. Those dark days had also been a period of great frustration and waiting, and the ever elusive element of time had continued to roll onward even as their frantic search for Celebrían and her captors became ever more desperate.
Elrohir groaned quietly and shook his head. Memories of the past and of his mother would not help them now. The situation was different and the circumstances had changed. And if it was within his power to do so, Elrohir would see that the outcome of this particular disaster was also different from that which had happened before. He had no wish to relive his mother’s tragedy, nor would he see very dear friends endure what he had endured.
Yet despite out need for haste, we must still play the interminable game of waiting, Elrohir sighed. Would that I had been blessed with Elladan’s patience. A wait upon the eve of a battle I can endure. Or I can lie in ambush for hours if I know that my prey will be coming. But this form of waiting when both the time and the end are unknown and the strategy still a half-formed plan that changes as we are forced to improvise…Valar, but I hate this!
"Good day to you, Elrohir," a quiet voice murmured from behind.
Turning, Elrohir bowed slightly and inclined his head. "And a good day to you, Lord Celeborn," he replied, quickly forgiving himself his lapse in concentration when he saw who had taken him unawares. Celeborn had been known to occasionally catch even Galadriel by surprise, and an elf that could do that would have little trouble in stealing up on a distracted son of Elrond. "You have been rare company these past few hours," Elrohir continued. "I have not seen you since you departed with Estel after we rode up to the main porch."
"I have been occupied," Celeborn answered with typical glibness. "In any case, you should not have been looking for me. You should have been resting."
"My thoughts are too scattered for rest," Elrohir said. "I fear that sleep would only jumble my ideas and memories further."
"That is a possibility," Celeborn said slowly. "However, it is more likely that your wandering mind is desperately in need of sleep and that your jumbled thoughts stem from your exhaustion. What wisdom and what advisor informed you that you should stay awake when presented with an opportunity for rest?"
Elrohir laughed quietly. "I think that none intentionally advised me in this course of action, but it is one my father often took, and Glorfindel and Erestor with him."
"You were surrounded by harmful examples, then," Celeborn surmised. "It is a great pity."
"And I suppose that my mother was not surrounded by harmful examples?"
"Nay, your mother was gifted with exceptional parents."
Laughing, Elrohir turned away and rested his eyes once more on the forests. The memories of Celebrían were still tender, but speaking with Celeborn always had a tendency to set his feelings to rest and Elrohir felt better now. He still did not feel like sleeping, but that was a moot point. There was very little time left in which to rest before they would need to head back for the trail. And they would have to move soon, for if Thranduil was still intent on separating and looking for the Orcs’ stronghold without using the path, then it was best they get there before the searchers split apart.
"I am coming with you."
Elrohir blinked and looked over at his grandfather. "Pardon?"
"I will be coming with you this night. I have spoken with Arwen and she has agreed to take charge of Rivendell in our absence."
"It is not my place to contest your decision and I have no authority to do so, but I am curious at this change," Elrohir said, his eyes narrowing. "My brother mentioned that you might have discovered something of worth in the library. Has this prompted you to join us?"
"That and other things," Celeborn said laconically.
"If I may be so bold, what is it that you have found?"
"Did Elladan tell you aught?" Celeborn asked, turning his eyes toward Elrohir and pinning his grandson beneath the weight of his gaze.
"He told us to think on Amandil and Númenor," Elrohir answered, wondering exactly how Celeborn always managed to turn questions back on themselves. "But as for what he meant, or for what you meant, I do not know."
"What of Aragorn? Had he any reaction to such words?"
"He knew nor more than we."
Elrohir thought for a moment. "I believe he did know something. I am hard-pressed to say exactly what he remembered as he would not speak of it, but I believe your words meant something to the king of Mirkwood."
"If he reaches the same conclusion that I reached, then it is probable that the conclusion is correct," Celeborn murmured, as if to himself.
"And what conclusion would that be?" Elrohir asked, growing weary with this game.
Celeborn sighed and a shadow seemed to pass over his face. "I have no desire to repeat this, and so I would wait until all are gathered to hear. Perhaps when we join the others come evening. If his thoughts parallel mine, then Thranduil will be able to corroborate my suspicions. However," he continued, apparently sensing the imminent protest on Elrohir’s part, "if you would be informed now, go to Arwen. I have told her of my theories. I do not think she believes me, but perhaps that is her way of handling unpleasant possibilities."
Elrohir grimaced. "If you will not tell me, then she will certainly not provide answers. Arwen can be as silent as my father when she is troubled. If she does not like something and wishes to avoid speaking of it, then no words of mine will pry things from her." With a shake of his head, Elrohir rested against the railing once more and watched the afternoon sun as it played upon newly grown leaves. "Do you realize what day it is today?" he asked.
"It would depend upon your reckoning," Celeborn answered quietly. "In the Shire, it is the 24th of March. However, in other lands, it is New Year’s Eve."
"My father would laugh if he could see me now," Elrohir murmured. "Never before has a holiday of this magnitude gone by but what Elladan and I were not creating mischief of some kind."
"The tales of Rivendell’s celebrations and subsequent disasters reached us in Lothlórien," Celeborn said with a slight laugh. "We have our own tales, but they do not quite hold a candle to stories of your own exploits."
"Oh? My father once heard an interesting rumor from King Thranduil, who in turn heard it from Rúmil of Lórien. Was there not one year in which something odd happened to Lady Galadriel’s mirror?"
"A rumor, nothing more," Celeborn answered, but there was a strange spark of humor in his eyes as though memories had been stirred.
"They say that the spring from which grandmother filled her mirror ran blue that day."
"They say many things, but you should know better than to listen to idle gossip."
"Is it idle gossip?" Elrohir challenged.
"I am Celeborn of Doriath, Lord of Lothlórien," his grandfather answered with a sniff that would have done Fëanor justice. "What else could it be?"
"Ah." Elrohir didn’t know quite how to respond to that, so he let the discussion slide. But he made a mental note to seek out Elladan and share this exchange with his brother. Elrond had not been very explicit when relating the tale that he had heard from Thranduil, but the scant details available had been so tantalizing that the twins had chased after specifics ever since.
"In any case, do not trouble yourself over missed opportunities for mischief," Celeborn said, his voice soft and sad. "This particular New Year’s Eve is hardly conducive to celebrations or levity. Save your scheming for the Orcs. They are far more deserving of it." There was a pause, then, and it felt as though Celeborn had more to say, but he fell strangely silent. Glancing over curiously, Elrohir frowned as he noticed that Celeborn had tensed, his sharp eyes watching the grounds of Rivendell closely.
"Some of the searchers have returned early," Celeborn said quietly, pushing away from the balcony and heading for the halls that would lead him to the main porch. Confused and alarmed, Elrohir turned his attention back to the forests, his own eyes quickly searching beneath the thick boughs. It did not take him long to discover what his grandfather had seen, and he gasped quietly. Elves were making their way toward Rivendell with great haste. They bore with them litters and bodies.
Cursing loudly, Elrohir hurried after his grandfather, rushing into suddenly busy corridors and nearly colliding with Arwen, who had also been informed of the returning elves and was likewise rushing to greet them. "Arwen, what tidings?" Elrohir demanded, hoping that his sister had heard more than he.
"Some of the perimeter guards have reported in," Arwen answered. "They say that those returning bear both wounded and dead. Some have been poisoned and others have died upon the way."
"Do they know what happened?"
"Those I spoke with did not, but I fear we shall learn all too soon what befell our kinsmen."
"Is Estel awake?" Elrohir asked.
"He was sleeping when last I looked, but I fear the commotion outside will rouse him," Arwen said, her voice carrying a note of frustration. "And being Estel, he will come to aid us. Valar, he was so exhausted that he could barely speak to me ere I put him to bed! He needs more rest."
"As do you," Elrohir chided gently. "And there will be rest when this is over, that I promise you."
"May your good word hold true, then, for I doubt that anything else will," Arwen sighed as they raced beneath an archway and arrived at the main porch where everyone seemed to be gathering. At that point, Arwen immediately began pulling elves aside and directing some to the sickrooms while others were instructed to procure healing herbs and draughts.
Leaving the care of the wounded and deceased to the queen of Gondor, Elrohir went in search of Celeborn and those commanding this return party. He eventually found him standing to one side and talking with Ithildae and a rather dazed-looking Haldir. "What news?" he demanded, hurrying over to join their conversation.
"We were attacked, my lord," Ithildae reported, bowing slightly as Elrohir stopped beside him. "The darkness hid them from our senses, and by the time we realized their true number, we had already engaged them in battle. They were primarily Uruk-hai, but some of the archers say there were also mountain goblins among them. We believe them to be of the same group who kidnapped Prince Legolas and Meriadoc Brandybuck."
"Are these Orcs still attacking?" Elrohir asked, glancing at Celeborn who seemed to be drifting closer to Haldir.
"They were routed, my lord, yet it was not without cost," Ithildae sighed. "They tipped their arrows with poison. Unfortunately, we did not know what poison was used."
"My brother?" Elrohir pressed. "What of Lord Elladan? And King Thranduil? How do they fare?"
"Both were well when we left. It was King Thranduil who ordered the march of our party. My liege also requests that supplies and weapons be brought when we return to them this evening."
"We shall see that it is done," Celeborn promised, one hand drifting over to rest upon Haldir’s shoulder. "Have you anything to add to this, Haldir?"
Haldir started as though only now realizing he was being addressed. Glancing around the faces that watched him with a mixture of concern and confusion, he cast his eyes down and shuddered. "Nay, my lord. It is as Ithildae has spoken."
Celeborn frowned and looked back to Ithildae, his glance demanding an answer.
"Rúmil was lost in the attack, my lord" Ithildae said quietly in response to the unspoken question, nodding toward an area where some of the dead had been laid. "The dwarf, Gimli, attempted to buy him time to escape, but by then, it was already too late."
"Were it not for the dwarf, he might still be alive," Haldir murmured, his voice fierce and his eyes flashing as he glanced up.
Elrohir tensed, hearing undertones of a fiery rage and a deep hatred in Haldir’s voice. Celeborn also stiffened, apparently sharing Elrohir’s thoughts that more division could be fatal at this point in the game. "What of Orophin, Haldir?" the lord of Lothlórien asked, his voice gentle but firm. "Why is he not with you? Surely he grieves as well."
Haldir blinked and started. "Orophin?" he whispered, his eyes searching the elves now gathered on the porch. "He is not here?"
Sensing that coherent thoughts were currently not a part of Haldir’s mental makeup, Celeborn once again raised a questioning eyebrow at Ithildae. "Know you where Orophin is? He is brother to Haldir and Rúmil. Surely he would have accompanied them here."
"He was in the party, my lord," Ithildae answered, looking around with a puzzled frown. "For the first part of the journey, he was carrying Rúmil. But it now occurs to me that I lost sight of him after Haldir took the body. Perhaps he—"
"I left him," Haldir suddenly breathed, a look of horror filling his face. "I bade him leave, and then he did not follow. I said words…words that should never have been spoken and—"
"Peace, my friend," Elrohir interrupted quickly. He did not know what had been said, but he remembered well his own rage and anger following his mother’s captivity. He had said many things to both his father and his brother that he regretted even now, and he suspected that Haldir had done likewise. "Peace. Your words came from grief. You could not stop them."
"Haldir, seek out your quarters," Celeborn said quietly. "I will send a healer to you and you will take what draughts they give you.
"My lord, what of Orophin?" Haldir protested, his eyes wide with confusion and fear. "I—"
"You will do as ordered and we will see to your brothers. Both of them," Celeborn said, his tone one that would not be countermanded. "Now shall I call an escort? Or am I able to trust you in this task?"
Haldir bowed his head, his shoulders trembling. "I heed your command, Lord Celeborn. I will await further instruction in my own quarters."
Celeborn nodded and Haldir moved away, but something about his walk made Elrohir frown. That had been too easy. Far too easy. It was clear that Rúmil’s death had driven Haldir partially out of his mind. In his present state of confusion, he should not have so quickly and willingly acquiesced to Celeborn’s orders. Haldir had something of his own in mind, but as for what that something was, Elrohir could not say.
"Someone should go with him," a new voice counseled.
Elrohir scowled and sighed in frustration. "Estel, you were sent to rest."
"And so I did," Aragorn answered as he joined the others. The king of Gondor could not quite keep back a wide yawn and he looked exhausted, but he was a marked improvement over the stumbling creature that had returned from a long night of hunting. "And I say again that someone should go with Haldir. Or at least follow him."
"Your counsel is good," Celeborn murmured. "Ithildae, go now and see that Haldir reaches his quarters. After that, procure weapons from the armory. Take others with you and distribute the supplies as needed among those who will be returning." The Mirkwood scout nodded at the instructions, gave a quick bow to those gathered around him, and left.
"At least you bathed," Elrohir muttered with a shake of his head, studying Aragorn’s harried form. "I could barely tell your smell from that of an Orc’s."
"Your own stench would have earned you little renown among the spring flowers," Aragorn retorted. The king looked toward one end of the porch and grimaced slightly as his eyes moved over the bodies. "How many?"
"Too many," Celeborn answered grimly. "Ithildae reported that they attacked what they believed was a small scout group. Unfortunately, they were deceived and learned not the numbers of their enemy until it was too late. I suspect there was great interference from the shadows upon the ground. And if I know anything of Thranduil, he had many of his own elves spread far and wide in an effort to discover something of the movement of Orcs. That would have only made things worse. We are fortunate the death count is not higher."
"There was poison upon the tips of the arrows," Elrohir reminded Celeborn. "The numbers are still climbing."
"That much I knew already," Aragorn said quietly, almost to himself. "I cared for a few of the arrow wounds ere joining you here, but I did not recognize the poison. Perhaps it is some variant of a foul potion concocted by Saruman. That would not seem impossible given that among these Orcs are many of the Uruk-hai. Unfortunately, we can do naught for those injured save to make them comfortable and try such remedies as are already known to us."
"Does Arwen require assistance?" Celeborn asked.
Aragorn shook his head. "Nay, she has things well in hand. Many are helping already, and it seems that the healers were prepared ere this party ever reached Rivendell."
"Then that gives those of us who are yet hale the opportunity to resume the hunt," Celeborn said. "And it is high time that we hearken to Thranduil’s suggestion of leaving the known trail."
"Do you intend to join us?" Aragorn asked, his brow furrowing.
"I do," the lord of Lothlórien answered. "For you shall need all possible aid in rescuing the captives, and once rescued, bringing them home may also prove difficult."
"And from this statement, I judge that you know or guess something of the condition in which we will find Legolas and Merry," Aragorn said, some of the weary look fading from his eyes as he studied Celeborn. "Elladan said as much this morning. When shall the rest of us hear your words?"
"When we are all gathered together," Celeborn answered, giving Aragorn essentially the same answer that he had already given Elrohir. "Elladan and Thranduil are not present to hear our words."
"Then if we are to wait, we must remember to include Gimli, Pippin, and Sam in our discussion," Aragorn warned. "The three of them are as anxious as any, and I fear what Gimli might do should we deny him any information."
"It may be his wish to continue in ignorance," Celeborn cautioned.
"That should be his choice, not ours," Aragorn said softly, but his words were tempered with steel.
"And it will be," Elrohir interrupted, not missing the note of frustration within Aragorn’s voice. For his part, Elrohir did not understand the bond between Gimli and the youngest prince of Mirkwood, but of late, Legolas had become extremely defensive in elven circles whenever Gimli’s name was mentioned. It seemed that Aragorn was taking over that role in Legolas’s absence, which was quite possibly the last thing that they needed. Aragorn was impossible to work with when he became defensive. "Come now, and let us leave the care of the wounded to Arwen and the healers. For ourselves, we must prepare to depart once more. I wish to leave as soon as Ithildae arranges supplies."
"You speak for me as well, Elrohir," Celeborn said, accepting the change in topic. "I counsel that we gather at the stables so as not to interfere here."
"Then I will see you there shortly," Aragorn said, his voice still carrying tones of frustration. "I shall send word of the plan to my men, for since we are now quite near the stronghold, they will also be joining us upon the ground."
"Take care that you keep them in large groups, Estel," Elrohir warned. "The darkness is not to be underestimated, and it seems to be capable of turning friend against friend."
"Well do I know it," the king of Gondor murmured, glancing curiously at Celeborn who seemed to have stiffened at Elrohir’s comment. "I will meet you at the stables, then. And Valar willing, this night will witness the liberation of those who have been taken."
"Valar willing," Elrohir echoed as Aragorn moved away. But he was not feeling quite as hopeful as his foster brother. Celeborn’s earlier comments about problems in getting the captives home kept edging their way to the forefront of his mind, and he could not seem to shake the feeling that liberation was only a small part of the process. They would still have a long way to go before this was through.
* * * *
With multiple thoughts pulling her in multiple directions, Arwen almost missed the small voice that suddenly cried her name. But her hearing, though somewhat dimmed by mortality, was still quite sharp, and the fear in the voice that called her could not be ignored.
Stopping on the edge of the porch and glancing around, Arwen’s eyes soon came to rest on Rosie, who was hovering in a doorway and holding a squirming Elanor tightly. "What is happening?" Rosie asked when she saw that she had Arwen’s attention. Wide, frightened eyes looked around the porch that was still a sea of chaos as elves darted here and there with draughts and healing herbs. Moans from the wounded added to the general confusion of sound and movement, and pity stabbed at Arwen’s heart. This sheltered hobbit had never seen the aftermath of a battle before. She had never seen the terrible cost inflicted by armed confrontation. And she had certainly never seen such a commotion among the elves. It was very much at odds with the quiet spirit of Rivendell, and the peace of the valley had been shattered.
"Our forces were attacked in the forest," Arwen answered quietly, moving over to Rosie and running a gentle hand down Elanor’s face, calming the child with touch and a whispered word in Elvish. "Fear not, though. I have already inquired, and your husband is well, as is Peregrin Took."
Arwen shook her head. "They were not injured and so remained in the forest. But some of the elves who returned saw them reach safety, and all witnesses report that they were unscathed."
A portion of the fear in Rosie’s face died away and she nodded. "Thank you. I…I just needed to know that they were all right." The hobbit turned her eyes back again to the chaos on the porch, and she shifted Elanor on her hip. "How can I help?"
This brought a smile to Arwen’s face as she remembered Gandalf’s words about never being able to truly understand hobbits. It seemed there was always another surprise waiting when one dealt with these small but valiant beings. "Do you remember those leaves we sorted earlier today?" Arwen asked, thinking of a task that would allow Rosie to watch Elanor and yet still be useful. "If you could fetch as many as you can, it will give the wounded some comfort and allow the healers to work."
"Where do you want me to bring the leaves?" the hobbit asked. "You’re not tending the wounded here, are you? Wouldn’t they be better off inside?"
"Some of the wounded must be sedated before moving any further," Arwen said. "Bring the leaves here first and look for me. If I am not here, find a healer and ask for further instructions. Go now, my friend, and quickly. We must make haste."
Rosie nodded hurriedly and rushed off, swiftly vanishing into the main part of the house. With a sigh, Arwen turned around to resume her duties only to walk right into her husband, who had moved to block her path.
"Arwen, I am leaving soon," Aragorn announced, getting straight to the point. "Have you need of any assistance in tending the wounded ere we depart?"
"You intend to go back?" Arwen demanded, studying his harried face. "Have you even looked at yourself? You are only moments away from collapsing!"
"I shall manage," Aragorn assured her, his weary eyes hardening.
Realizing that she had just stung his pride and that further reasoning was probably now a lost cause, Arwen shook her head and moved around him. If Aragorn wanted to dispense with the courtesies, then she would oblige him. "What aid could you provide?" she asked. "You will be gone ere you can do much here. Perhaps it would be best if you removed yourself so that you are not a hindrance. Your stumbling feet and wandering mind can be of no help. You are little better than the wounded themselves in your current state."
"Go now. I have no need for you here."
A soft hiss of breath was the only reaction Aragorn gave to her words, but it was enough to let Arwen know she had hurt him. A pang of conscience began to prick her heart, but her emotions were less than logical at the moment and everything seemed to be pushing its way to the surface. She feared for Elladan, Thranduil, Pippin, and Sam, who were still somewhere in the darkness. She feared for Celeborn, Elrohir, and Aragorn, who now seemed intent on joining them. She feared greatly for Legolas and Merry, especially since she knew now what was happening to them. She had been slow to accept this knowledge, but the truth and conviction of Celeborn’s words could not be held at bay by any wishful thinking on her part.
Someone suddenly took her arm and pulled her to the side, gently but firmly ushering her through a doorway and finding a small corridor that afforded them a measure of privacy. "Arwen, what is this?" Aragorn asked, his eyes filled with a mixture of anger and concern. "Why do you shun my aid?"
"Why do you shun my counsel?" she challenged. "You are not fit to join the others!"
"They are unfit themselves. None of us are truly well enough to return to the darkness, and those within it are certainly not in any condition to stay. But would you leave Legolas and Merry to their fates while the rest of us sit idle? Arwen, we must act. There is no time left!"
"And because there is no time, I would have you release me so that I may see to those who are wounded," Arwen snapped, though she made no move to pull away.
"And I would also see to the wounded. Tell me where I can be of aid!"
"You can be of aid in your own quarters asleep in your own bed!"
"Arwen!" Aragorn shook his head, his face contorting with both confusion and frustration. "Arwen, this is not like you. I have left Rivendell many times in conditions far worse than my present state, and each time was one where my actions were dictated by necessity. This is no different!"
Arwen closed her eyes and turned away, pulling her arm free of Aragorn’s hold. "I fear for you."
"By that, do you mean that you did not fear for me in the past?"
Her anger flashed and she turned back to him, her eyes carrying a look of warning. "Do you doubt my love? Do you question my sacrifice for you? I feared every day you were gone!"
"Then why this scene now?" Aragorn demanded, undaunted by her sudden rage. "You have never attempted to restrain me before!"
Arwen blinked, her anger abruptly dying at the question. Why indeed? Why this scene now? She lowered her eyes, searching her mind for an answer, and eventually she began to understand some of her own reticence and some of her own fear. "I never comprehended mortality before," she whispered at length.
There was a moment of silence in response to this, and then Aragorn caught her face in his hand, raising her chin. "Arwen?" he questioned, his eyes perplexed.
"Aragorn, when you left Rivendell as a Ranger, I feared for you, but I knew I would see you again," she attempted to explain." There was no doubt for I did not believe in death. It was too far removed from me."
"I have always been mortal," Aragorn said, but his voice was gentler now and confusion was giving way to understanding. "That has not changed."
"But I have changed!" she shouted, stepping away from him. "I have changed, and I now understand as I did not before. Aragorn, I now understand the meaning of time. I understand why mortals are so concerned with the passing of years and seasons. I now count the loss of every day and every hour. By Elbereth, even the seconds are precious to me! I know what it means to be mortal. I know what it means to live with the threat of death lingering over every breath I take. I know what you have endured all the short years of your life, and I do not want to face mortality alone!"
"You will not," Aragorn said, his voice soft but confident. Stepping forward, he took her hands and pulled her toward him. "I will return. I promise you that."
"How can you promise something over which you have no control!?" Arwen demanded. "Your life can be taken from you as quickly as it was taken from the elves that died today."
"Hush, Arwen," Aragorn soothed, pulling her against him. She stiffened in the embrace, but her emotions were screaming for solace and she eventually rested her head upon his shoulder. She shed no tears, but she trembled as she began to release the anger and the frustration that had been building ever since Legolas and Merry disappeared. "Peace," Aragorn murmured, stroking her hair. "Peace, and think on the days when you would bid me farewell at the Ford. I would vanish into the Wilds for months and years at a time, Arwen. It is better now. Easier. I shall be gone only days at the most. And while you are right in that I cannot promise to return, I make it my solemn vow to do so. I have faced things far more dangerous than Orcs, Arwen. They shall not take me so easily from your side. Not after all our years of waiting."
Arwen was silent for a few moments and then she nodded, pulling but. "My apologies. I fear I still have much to learn."
"No apologies are necessary," Aragorn assured her. "And your concern is appreciated."
"But it still remains that you are in no condition to pursue Orcs," Arwen protested, her fears once again rising. "When first I found you in our room, you could not even keep your eyes open."
"You are probably right," Aragorn answered. "In all likelihood, I am not ready to resume the hunt and would benefit much from further rest. But I would deny my very nature were I to remain here. You say you understand the perils of mortality now. If that is so, I bid you think on Legolas and Merry. Their danger grows with every moment of delay. Please understand this. Please understand that I must go."
"Then go," Arwen said with a quiet sigh, trying to silence the fears and doubts of her heart. She understood them better now, and in a way, that made them easier to control. They were still present, but they were manageable now. Beyond that, she heard a note of resolve in Aragorn’s voice that she recognized well, and not even her father had ever been able to gainsay Aragorn when he had decided so firmly upon something. "Be safe and be swift," she counseled, caressing his weathered cheek. "Celeborn has told me of his suspicions. I will not repeat them for you as it would be better to hear such things from him, but we face a very great evil, Estel. Take care."
"I will," the king of Gondor promised. "Are you certain that you do not need aid in healing, though?"
"The longer you stay, the harder it shall be to watch you leave," Arwen answered, looking away from her husband.
"Then I will join Elrohir and Celeborn near the stables," Aragorn said quietly. "But ere I go, I have a favor to ask. Rúmil of Lothlórien was killed in the attack, and his brother Haldir is not taking his death well. I ask that you stop and check on him ere you are too deeply involved in other matters. From the bits of conversation I overheard, I think Haldir blames Gimli for Rúmil’s death, though I do not understand how he arrived at such a conclusion."
"Grief is rarely logical," Arwen said.
"Nay, it is not," Aragorn conceded with a sigh. "Moreover, his youngest brother Orophin is now missing and I fear what this may do to Haldir’s mind. We sent him to his quarters, and it is my belief that he should be sedated. Sleep might work many wonders for him."
"I will look in on him," Arwen promised. "And we shall do all within our power to aid him. Now farewell, Aragorn. My blessings and the blessings of Rivendell go with you."
"I will not be long," Aragorn said, drawing her back to him for a quick but rather substantial kiss. "Farewell." And with that, he was gone, moving out onto the porch and disappearing in the crowd.
Deciding that the hustle and bustle of the healers would be too much for her at the moment and knowing that they would have the situation well in hand, Arwen turned away and began journeying toward the numerous guest quarters housed in the eastern wing of her father’s home. She would fulfill Aragorn’s request first and look in upon Haldir. It would give her time to regain her composure, and it might help to focus her attention upon another. Perhaps by aiding Haldir in his grief, she would come to a better understanding of the fears and concerns that possessed her own heart.
Twisting down a winding maze of corridors that Arwen knew so well she could walk them blind, she eventually came to the area where the elves from Lothlórien had been housed. Normally she would have no knowledge of where a particular elf of the Lothlórien contingent would be staying, but Haldir was one of Celeborn’s top captains and had been given a room with three beds so that he and his three brothers might stay together. There were very few rooms with such accommodations, and so Arwen knew exactly where to go.
She passed a few healers in the hallway that seemed to be preparing bedrooms to act as additional sickrooms, and her heart sank within her. She had always sorrowed for the loss of life and the price exacted by war, but now, the emotions were even more poignant. Even the thought of injuries gave her chills, for she knew now the frailty of a mortal body. It could fall prey to infection much faster than an elven body, and disease was a constant concern when tending to injured men. And even though the wounded in this case were elves, the fear did not easily leave her. Perhaps this was why Aragorn became so protective when one of his friends was injured. He also knew the limitations of a mortal frame, and he knew the dangers that even a small wound could cause. And yet despite this knowledge, he was risking his life on the trail of Orcs while his mind was locked in a sleepy haze that—
These thoughts do nothing for me, Arwen furiously berated herself, attempting to pull her mind onto a more productive course. Center yourself, daughter of Elrond, so that you might be of aid to another. You can help none of those around you in this pitiful state. Cease to dwell on your fears and concentrate instead on that which must be done.
Taking a deep breath and making use of a Sindarin meditation technique—a technique that she had learned from Gimli, strangely enough—Arwen closed her eyes, relaxed her mind, and willed the stresses of the day to depart. Exhaling until her lungs were completely emptied, she paused before inhaling and completely cleared her thoughts. Now a bit more centered, she opened her eyes and resumed her journey. She was still frightened and she was still frustrated, but her mind had a crisper focus about it now. That would have to be enough.
Stopping before the room where Haldir and his brothers were staying, she rapped lightly on the frame and called quietly. "Haldir? Haldir, it is Arwen. I would speak with you." The queen of Gondor waited expectantly for a moment, but her only answer was silence. Feeling that something was not quite right, she eased the door open slowly and stepped inside. "Haldir?" she called again, wondering if perhaps he was sleeping. Yet something said otherwise, and as she stepped across the threshold, her instincts were validated.
Haldir was gone. There was no sign of him anywhere. He had certainly been here, for some of his arrows that had been damaged in the fight lay near the bed, but Haldir himself was nowhere to be seen. His quiver, bow, and sword were also absent.
"By the Valar, Haldir, where have you gone?" Arwen demanded, backing out of the room and glancing up and down the hallway. It was entirely possible that Haldir had decided to help the healers, but Arwen knew otherwise. If Aragorn had been concerned enough to send her to Haldir’s side, then Haldir’s state of mind was probably haphazard at best. And now he was missing.
He could not have gone far, Arwen reasoned, hurrying back toward the porch. Someone would have seen him and requested his aid in caring for the wounded, if nothing else. He would have been stopped.
Swinging quickly around a corner, Arwen was forced to suddenly sidestep as she almost collided with an elf wearing the colors of Mirkwood. For his part, the elf seemed equally startled and actually jumped back a pace, nearly dropping the quivers and bows that he was carrying. "My apologies, Queen Arwen," he hurriedly said. "I was not aware of your coming."
Stunned for only a moment, Arwen’s mind flashed with recognition "Ithildae?" she asked, hoping she had the name right. When the archer nodded, she breathed a sigh of relief and continued. "Ithildae, I am looking for an elf named Haldir. He hails from Lothlórien. Do you know of whom I speak?"
"He is not in his quarters, my lady?" Ithildae asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Nay, he is not. Have you seen him in the hallways?"
"I have seen nothing of him since escorting him to his room in the hope that he would find rest," Ithildae answered. "Come, we must make this known and send out elves looking for him."
"You escorted him?" Arwen echoed. "Can you tell me something of his condition? King Elessar seemed concerned."
"He has cause for concern, my lady," Ithildae said, hurrying down the hall and forcing Arwen to match his pace. "I came upon my own liege, King Thranduil, and Haldir of Lothlórien ere we departed with the wounded. Haldir was intent upon seeing that the dwarf paid for Rúmil’s death. He is not thinking clearly, and I fear that he has gone to make good on his threats."
"I was told something of this," Arwen said, thinking rapidly. "But are you certain that he would seek Gimli’s life?"
"He already has. The dwarf lives because Haldir was stopped by my king. Valar, it is that cursed darkness that does this," Ithildae swore softly. "It sets us one against another and dulls our senses. And by the time we realize the cause, it is too late!"
"And Haldir is heading back to it," Arwen whispered. "All evils shall play into our enemy’s hands, this more than any. We cannot afford to be so divided!"
"Moreover, it may be too late to stop him," Ithildae said grimly. "No matter what searchers we send, Haldir is already ahead of us. He knows his course while we must track him, and tracking a marchwarden of Lothlórien is a task I would not wish on anyone."
"We have no other options," Arwen sighed. "Come! Every minute is precious."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.