11. Chapter Ten
The joint company of Lorien and Mirkwood rode swift and silent through the forest, heading for the Old Forest Road. The way was too narrow to ride more than one abreast, so Haldir had sent Celinn to the front of the column, taking the last place for himself. Directly in front of him was Legolas, and Haldir watched his straight back, still unable to believe that so much could have changed in a single turn of the sun. Alert as usual, he scanned the path ahead and the trees around them for signs of any danger, but he could not prevent another part of his mind from fleeing back a long way to the very first time he saw Legolas, nearly nine hundred years before.
2063, Third Age, Southern Mirkwood
In the freezing cold of an autumn dawn, five companies of the Galadhrim stood waiting at the southern edge of Mirkwood. Fully armed and dressed in cloaks of Lorien grey and the forest green tunics of the pellarim, in their absolute stillness they were all but invisible against the bare trunks and deep vegetation of the wood. Here the blight cast by Dol Guldur was evident in the disarray of the seasons: it was barely weeks since the end of summer yet it was as chill as midwinter. Here everything grew blighted and sick, the trees rotting and even the beasts and the water corrupted by the proximity of evil.
The commander of Lorien's forces stood a little apart with his lieutenant, looking with a far-sighted gaze into the darkness of the wood. He was taller than the others, but it was not only this that marked him out from his fellows; there was something in his bearing, some extra spark of vitality which meant that wherever he went, many eyes followed him. He was beautiful, but no more so than the rest of the Galadhrim; although he was never without admirers of both sexes, it was not only his looks that attracted others to him. His eyes as he appraised the disposition of his forces were full of intelligence and even now after a journey of almost fifty leagues he was as alert and fresh as a hound which has just scented its quarry.
'Where are they, Rumil?' he said low-voiced to his second-in-command.
Rumil shrugged and sighed, rubbing his hands together to bring the blood back into his fingers.
'Haldir, they will come. Be patient, brother,' he said.
Haldir stirred restlessly, then disciplined himself at once into calm. It was so cold that he could see his breath in gusts of white vapour drifting away in the dawning light.
'Have Orophin's scouts returned yet?' he asked. Rumil shook his head.
'Perhaps the Lord and Lady were too sanguine about this plan,' said Haldir, so quietly that only his brother could hear. 'Not since the last Age have we taken up arms in the same host as Mirkwood. If Mithrandir hadn't suggested it so forcefully I venture Thranduil would never have allowed the Galadhrim to stand shoulder to shoulder with his warriors.'
'Nevertheless he has done so, and Lorien is ready,' said Rumil, 'and largely because of your efforts. What choice did we have but to answer their summons for help?'
Haldir began to answer but suddenly his hand was on his sword hilt, his body taut as a bowstring.
'Who goes there?' he shouted. 'Show yourselves!'
Silently, like shadows materialising from the mist, a large company of maybe a hundred wood elves appeared from among the trees. A ripple of movement passed through the assembled Galadhrim but Haldir held up a hand and they became still. Unconsciously he straightened his cloak and smoothed his silver-fair hair, his eyes already searching for which of the approaching host might be the leader of the Mirkwood elves.
When they were about a spear's-length from Haldir, the whole company stopped as if they had received a silent command. There was a stir of movement in the middle of their ranks and a tall, rangy elf with dark braided hair stepped out and stood a few feet from Haldir. The two commanders examined one another in silence, Haldir elegant and superb, the other shabby and clearly exhausted. It was Mirkwood who spoke first.
'You are the company from Lorien?' said their commander.
Haldir bowed gracefully. 'We are at your service,' he said.
'You are most welcome,' said the other wearily. 'And we are glad you have come in such numbers. We've been fighting without cease for some months.'
Haldir closed the distance between them and the two commanders clasped hands.
'We are ready to fight, whenever you need us,' he said.
'I am Saelon, leader of Thranduil's forces,' said the commander of the wood elves. 'And that is Faron, my lieutenant.' He indicated a fair-haired elf who stood leaning on his bow in the middle of the company. 'And you are...?'
'Haldir of Lorien, and this is my second, my brother Rumil. Do we march to Amon Lanc directly?'
Saelon smiled. 'You are keen to meet with the enemy, Haldir of Lorien. But we did so only yesterday as we skirted the dark tower on the way to our rendezvous with you. I would let my forces take their ease awhile before asking them do so again, even though Mithrandir will be with us the next time. We invite you to join us at our camp some miles to the east.'
'You would move further away from the dark tower?' said Haldir.
'It isn't wholesome to stay too close. You may see from our appearance that it has already had its effect on us,' said Saelon. And looking closer, Haldir could see that it was something beyond battle fatigue that caused the grey pallor of Saelon's face.
'Of course,' said Haldir. 'We will make camp wherever you direct us, and wait on your orders.'
'I wouldn't presume to give you orders, brother. But maybe you will submit to Mithrandir if not to me?'
'I will,' said Haldir. The commanders saluted one another and Saelon turned and went back to his lines.
'What think you, Rumil?' said Haldir.
'I wonder they're still able to walk,' said Rumil softly, observing the number of injured among their allies. 'Shall I make arrangements with their lieutenant for us to move to their camp?'
Haldir nodded, his eyes roving over the green-and-brown-clad wood elves.
'I had forgotten how fair are our Mirkwood cousins,' he said half to himself, 'rustic though they are.'
'Haldir, this is not the time to think of conquests,' said Rumil warningly.
Haldir raised one perfect eyebrow. 'There is always time for that,' he said.
A week later the companies of Lorien and Mirkwood were established at their camp in the south-east corner of Mirkwood, still waiting to hear word from Mithrandir. Saelon had arranged for tents to be pitched on a low hill a little way off from the main camp for the use of the Galadhrim. As commander, Haldir had his own tent, and he and Rumil were sitting near it by one of the watch fires as the evening meal was in preparation.
'Mithrandir wouldn't delay without cause,' said Rumil. 'Something of import has kept him from us.'
'Mmm,' said Haldir, pulling his hood more closely over his fair head. 'At least we've had time to get to know our allies a little better…'
'Haldir, you didn't?' said Rumil. 'Now, in the midst of such peril?'
'When better?' said Haldir. 'And in any case, it's so cold at night, one would be a fool not to seek a bedfellow in one's tent, if only to keep one's feet warm.'
'I venture it wasn't your feet you were concerned with,' said Rumil.
'No, indeed! And nor would you be if you were less punctilious, brother!'
'Haldir, doesn't it trouble you that others have wished for something more from you than the easing of the body? Do you never tire of pleasure without love?'
Haldir laughed with genuine amusement. 'We've discussed this a thousand times,' he said. 'Love is a word for children, Rumil, or for fools who wish to walk blindly to their own destruction. Why seek love when pleasure is so freely available?'
'Haldir, you are too cynical!'
'No, I'm merely observant. Those who 'fall in love' become mindless idiots who mislay any sense of humour or discernment they might previously have possessed; or else they lose this so-called love, which destroys them. Surely you haven't forgotten Amroth and Nimrodel?' Haldir shuddered. 'Never do I wish to see such madness again, let alone put myself in the way of enduring it myself. Who in his right mind would gamble his sanity, even his very existence on such an elusive outcome? Not I, Rumil!'
'Well, there is one I can see down in the valley who is weighing up the odds on you,' said Rumil, 'and has been for some time.'
'Where? Do you mean the dark one with the limp, by the cooking fire? No, I've spoken to him, he's dull and has no conversation.'
'I didn't think conversation mattered to you, Haldir, if everything else fitted your requirements…' said Rumil, ducking quickly as Haldir aimed a hand carelessly at him. 'In any case, I didn't mean him. Look, the young fair-haired one, with the blacksmiths down by the anvils. Thinks we can't see him looking at you.'
'Oh, Rumil, I don't want him, he's too green! I venture he has never…and now isn't the season to teach him. Wait awhile, though…you're right, he is fair. More than fair. Maybe there might be some sport in this after all.'
'Haldir,' said Rumil, already regretting his words and catching his brother's arm as he stood up. 'Don't hurt him. He's young. Even from this distance you must see he dotes on you- or on what he thinks you are- already. And you don't even know who he is. He might even be the King's son.'
'The King's son? Working with the blacksmiths?' said Haldir, laughing and picking up some skins of wine from beside him. 'You're joking, Rumil. And why would I hurt him? It's only a game!'
'Haldir!' called out his brother, but he was already half-way down the hill, making his way towards the ranks of the wood elves, his quarry in his sights.
The two blacksmiths had set up their gear in a small clearing beside the river, where wood and water were easy to obtain. Even a week after their skirmish with the defenders of Dol Guldur, there still remained a substantial pile of damaged swords, knives and armour waiting to be repaired. The fires were lit day and night, and since it was the warmest part of the camp, many elves took their ease nearby. Haldir strode into their midst with his usual superb confidence and came to a halt a few feet away from the object of his quest.
'Brothers, you must be thirsty after such hot work. Would some Lorien wine be welcome to you?' he said, so that everyone could hear him. Immediately the sound of iron on iron ceased as the two blacksmiths straightened up from their tasks.
'Most welcome,' said the first, wiping his brow with a muscled forearm.
Even in the freezing cold, he and the other blacksmith had stripped to the waist. Haldir looked admiringly at their handsome torsos, gleaming with the sweat of their exertions. A master of the chase, he did not even glance in the direction of the one who interested him most, but with that heightened sense of one so rooted in the pleasures of the body, in that instant he felt the other's awareness of him, heard his quickened breathing and sensed the heat that flushed his cheeks. Yes, Rumil had been right about the young one.
'You're the commander of Lorien's forces,' said the smith, throwing his shirt around his shoulders as he took a long swig of wine.
'I am,' said Haldir. 'And you are…?'
'Hadron.' He indicated the other smith. 'My brother Gornon.' One by one he began to name those who stood by, but out of the corner of his eye Haldir saw the younger elf begin to slip away silently so that he would not be included in the introductions. Pricked with irritation that his plan was not going as he wished, he turned to address him directly but he had already melted away into the trees, and to call out to him now would be to show his interest too obviously, and that was definitely not Haldir's way.
Thwarted in his desire, he told himself the other was no doubt in awe of him, but that would only make his final submission all the sweeter. Never one to brood for long, Haldir sat down beside Hadron and began to converse with the Mirkwood elves about their campaign against Sauron. He was still there an hour later, deeply engrossed in a discussion of the possible tactics to be used in the attack on Dol Guldur when Rumil came to find him.
'You're in danger of going hungry tonight unless you make haste,' said Rumil. 'Shall I ask the cooks to keep something for you?'
'I'm invited to dine with our hosts,' said Haldir.
'And you too, Sir, if you wish,' called out Hadron. 'The meal is nearly ready.'
Rumil accepted and sat down beside his brother, who introduced him to the Mirkwood elves. The conversation resumed on the same subject, and soon those on cooking duty began to hand out bowls of stew made from dried meat and vegetables brought south from the Elvenking's lands.
'It's rare for us to have a hot meal when we're this far from home,' said Hadron. 'We can't eat the game or drink the water in this part of the wood. Everything south of the Forest Road is infected by Dol Guldur.'
'Your rations must be getting low by now,' said Haldir, looking with new respect at the wooden bowl of food which had just been placed in his brother's hands.
'Yes,' said Hadron. 'We know of a spring nearby which so far has always been sweet. We'll use it to replenish our supply. But food will be scarce.'
'Your generosity to us is all the greater, since we're using up your precious stocks,' said Haldir.
Hadron shook his head dismissively, his mouth full of food. Haldir felt a light touch on his shoulder and turning to take the plate that was offered to him, found himself looking straight into the face of the fair elf he had been pursuing earlier. Much to Haldir's surprise there was absolutely no sign of awe in the clear, strong features; in fact the young elf's blue eyes met his with a directness and clarity he had rarely encountered before. For only a moment Haldir was disconcerted, but then he smiled at the other elf, and was rewarded with the sight of a delightful flush of warm colour on the young one's cheeks.
'I don't think we've met,' said Haldir, low-voiced and confidential. 'I'm Haldir of Lorien.'
'Yes,' said the other shortly, and immediately turned and was gone.
Haldir was so astonished that for several moments he stared at the young elf's departing back, his bowl of food tilting at a dangerous angle.
'I'd start eating, if I were you,' said Rumil so that only he could hear. 'Or people will begin to talk.'
Haldir turned a furious face on him. 'Did you see what he did?' he said, just managing to keep his temper under control. 'I tried to engage him in conversation and he turned his back on me.'
Rumil choked on his mouthful of food. Haldir pounded his shoulders until his coughing fit subsided.
'What's the matter with you, Rumil?' he said, under his breath.
'It's just…I thought turning his back on you was exactly what you wanted…' said Rumil equally quietly, suppressing his laughter with his hand.
Haldir gave a gusty sigh and turned away from him, shovelling food into his mouth. The stew was very good, and Haldir hadn't realised how hungry he was. Drawn into the conversation again he forgot the young elf, but later on after he and Rumil had said their farewells and were walking up the hill towards their own camp, he caught sight of him standing on the river bank, his long fair hair pale in the evening light.
'Give it up, Haldir. He's not interested,' said Rumil.
Haldir turned to him, genuinely surprised. 'He is, Rumil. I stood as near to him as I am to you now, and believe me, he is interested.'
Rumil raised an eyebrow. 'If you say so,' he said.
Haldir turned back for a moment to look at the slender, motionless figure by the water, and he felt a flicker of desire.
'This one may prove to be a little more diverting than usual,' he said, smiling, and Rumil could hear a new respect in his voice.
'Hadron gave me a bottle of Rhovanion wine,' said Haldir. 'How about a nightcap?'
'Rumil, are you ready?' Haldir called out, examining what he could see of his reflection in the burnished planes of his shield.
'I've been ready for some time,' said Rumil dryly from outside the tent. 'You're the one we're waiting for.'
Haldir adjusted the gold clasp of his cloak and stepped out into the morning air. 'I have some letters Celeborn gave me for Thranduil and his son. Do you think Legolas has come on this expedition?'
'They say Thranduil is very fond of him, so he might not choose to send him to fight the dark lord,' said Rumil.
'I've never met him,' said Haldir. 'Have either of you?'
'I saw him once, when he was an elfling,' said Orophin. 'I think he'd just fallen out of a tree; he was covered in blood and Thranduil was shouting at him.'
'Orophin, surely you don't mean to attend a council of war in that state?' said Haldir, staring at his other brother, whose mud-spattered clothes presented a marked contrast to Haldir's and Rumil's smart appearance.
'I've only just returned from reconnaissance duty,' said Orophin. 'Can you climb trees and crawl through ditches without getting dirty, Haldir?'
'Get changed,' said Haldir. 'Quickly.'
Orophin dived into the tent he shared with Rumil and minutes later re-emerged, in clean but crumpled clothes.
Haldir sighed. 'I suppose that will do,' he said, turning towards the Mirkwood camp down in the valley.
'Why does he always fuss so?' said Orophin under his breath to Rumil.
Haldir stopped in his tracks.
'Because I don't intend that we should appear before Mirkwood's army like untutored rustics who have no sense of their own dignity,' he said quietly. 'There's more to this expedition than a sortie against the dark lord, vital though that is to all of us. There's the question of relations between our two realms to consider, and after all these years of silence what we do now will lay foundations which may bear fruit far into the future, or else destroy all hope of alliance between Lorien and Mirkwood.'
'And a bit of mud on my tunic will make all the difference?' said Orophin sulkily.
Haldir put his arm round his brother's shoulders.
'Maybe not, but great events have turned on smaller circumstances,' said Haldir, 'and we need not give the Mirkwood elves any reason to judge us ill-mannered.'
'Haldir, they'll be waiting,' said Rumil, and the three brothers began to stride down the hill towards the large tent Saelon had prepared for their first council meeting. 'Of course,' went on Rumil, glancing sideways at Haldir, 'it's always wise to consider the effect one's appearance might have on any admirer who might be looking in one's direction.'
'Rumil, we're going to a war council, not a carnival,' said Haldir shortly.
Behind him, his brothers exchanged a look.
'I'm sorry I've kept you waiting so many days for news,' said Saelon, 'but it was only early this morning that we received a message from Mithrandir.' He leaned over the trestle table loaded with maps in the middle of the tent, a little as though grateful for the support it afforded him. Close behind him, his second Faron and other captains were gathered.
'What does he say?' asked Haldir.
'He's with Curunir, and they're preparing what is needful for the assault on Dol Guldur. He asks us to meet him near the dark tower three weeks from now.'
Haldir nodded. 'Very well. That gives us time to prepare ourselves for the assault. Can you tell me something of your dispositions, and of what you know already of the ways to approach Dol Guldur?'
'Certainly,' said Saelon, rummaging around on the table for something and drawing out a scrap of parchment with some calculations scribbled on it.
'We left Mirkwood one hundred strong. Our warriors fight with sword, bow and spear, but perhaps a quarter of our number are presently out of action,' he went on. 'We hope that they will be fit enough to fight when the time comes, but even if some of them are not, we're expecting reinforcements to arrive from King Thranduil before we leave for Dol Guldur.'
'You've already sent for them?' said Haldir.
'Of course, I did so immediately after our last engagement with the enemy.'
'That is good news,' said Haldir. 'I confess I've been worried about the strength of your forces. They seem to take much longer than usual to recover from their wounds.'
'It's the proximity of Dol Guldur that blights us,' said Saelon. 'It's like a sickness, and under its shadow all hurts takes a long time to heal, something otherwise unknown to us.'
Haldir nodded. 'We have healers among our ranks, if you wish to make use of them,' he said.
'Indeed we would,' said Saelon. 'Precisely how many warriors have you brought with you, Haldir?'
'Five companies, that is, forty Galadhrim, trained in sword, bow and knife. I hope that is enough for your purposes.'
'We are grateful to anyone from Lorien who is prepared to fight with us.'
'Your cause is ours also,' said Haldir. 'Sauron threatens us all.'
'Yes,' said Saelon. Just then the flap of the tent opened and Saelon looked up over Haldir's shoulder at the person who had just entered.
'Ah, Legolas. Thank you for joining us. Haldir, I am sure you must have met King Thranduil's son. Legolas was in charge of our most recent reconnaissance to Dol Guldur. He would be the best one to tell you what conditions are like there so that we can decide how best to deploy your forces.'
Haldir turned to meet the newcomer and found himself once again face to face with the young fair-haired elf. Beside him Rumil made a hastily-suppressed noise of surprise which perfectly expressed Haldir's own feelings, but with supreme self-command Haldir smiled blandly and held out his hand.
'Sir, of course we've met but I confess I wasn't aware you were the King's son,' he said smoothly.
Reluctantly Legolas took his hand. Haldir felt the tiny shock of electricity that passed between them as they touched.
'It's of no importance,' said Legolas, low-voiced. 'I hope my father's cousin Celeborn and his wife are well.'
'Very well,' said Haldir, still holding his hand. 'I'm sorry I have failed to pay my respects to you before now, Sir. But in my defence may I say that since we first met I have seen you engaged in duties which a King's son might ordinarily refuse, and therefore make you more difficult to identify.'
Legolas threw him a glance of annoyance and withdrew his hand from Haldir's. 'This is war, Haldir,' he said. 'Rank matters not at all when there is work to be done. In any case, I'm glad to be occupied: it keeps my mind from dwelling on our troubles. And please, stop calling me 'Sir', will you? You're welcome to use my name.'
Haldir bowed his thanks. 'I wasn't aware it displeased you, Legolas,' he said, feeling the taste of the name in his mouth for the first time. 'I have messages for your father in my tent,' he went on. 'The Lord and Lady of Lorien send you and your father their good wishes and hope it will be possible to meet after so long an absence from each other.'
Smiling, Haldir looked directly into Legolas' eyes, tilting his head slightly to one side. Legolas' cheeks coloured faintly.
'I'm sure my father wishes for the same thing,' said Legolas, returning Haldir's look.
'So you've been close to Dol Guldur,' said Haldir, switching off his powerful gaze and becoming businesslike. 'Tell me what you know of the place.'
'It's well fortified,' said Legolas. 'At a distance of many miles there are orcs and wargs in a defensive ring. Even further out there are foul forest creatures and disembodied spirits. And of course the shadow of the place pollutes everything around it: the trees, the beasts, the earth and the very air itself.'
'What of the one who dwells there?' said Haldir, unconsciously lowering his voice. There was a stir of movement in the tent, and the assembled elves gathered closer to one another, as if for protection.
'We've never seen him,' said Legolas, 'but…we've heard him.'
'Heard him? How?'
'Near the tower there are sometimes…terrible sounds.'
'What sounds?' demanded Haldir.
'I can't describe them,' said Legolas. 'They are…wrong. Sounds that should never be made, never be heard. Sounds of discord that break the harmony of everything that is in being.'
Haldir looked deeply into his eyes, all thoughts of amatory pursuit forgotten.
'And you endured them?'
'Some of us,' said Legolas softly, closing his eyes for a moment. A strange sigh came from the Mirkwood elves. 'Those who didn't are buried in the wood.'
'I'm sorry,' said Haldir, and he meant it. 'And is there a way to resist these sounds?'
'Only to make our own harmonies, and to hold them in our hearts.'
Haldir swallowed audibly. 'Then we'll do that,' he said. 'What else can you tell me?'
'He has magic which we don't understand. Powders which destroy when they are thrown. Fires that appear from nowhere. We hope Mithrandir will be able to match him.'
It was as if a light had entered the tent. Haldir straightened his shoulders, feeling suddenly energised.
'Mithrandir!' said Haldir. 'Of course he'll match him. More, he'll surpass him! You've done well to find out this much, and at such cost to yourselves. But now we will have magic of our own, as the Valar will it.'
'This is our hope,' said Saelon, 'otherwise we fear the shadow will cover all our lands, and then where will we go?'
Haldir looked at him, but made no offer for shelter in Lorien.
'Mithrandir will help us defeat the shadow,' he said. 'Do not doubt it.'
Saelon sighed deeply. He was still grey-faced and tired, but there was a spark of hope in his eyes.
'Let me show you what we know of the lay of the land,' he said, unrolling a battered map. Haldir leaned over it, listening to Saelon's explanations of the territory. His sharp mind gave its attention to the question, but his body sensed Legolas beside him, sensed something he could not understand. There was desire, no doubt about that. Again the young elf's breathing was just a little uneven, and Haldir could feel Legolas' energy flowing strongly towards him as if drawn by a magnet. Yes, I am the magnet, thought Haldir, watching Saelon's finger sketching the contours of Amon Lanc; and yet he will come to me of his own will. But behind the desire which was slowly bringing the young one helplessly towards him was something else: a strength which matched his own, but rooted in something which Haldir could not identify.
Haldir listened to Saelon's description of the fortifications of Dol Guldur, but his body searched for the answer, searched by moving nearer to Legolas, so that their thighs touched. For no more than an instant he felt Legolas respond, gently resting against him, but then just as gently he moved away, without haste but with clear intention. Haldir drew in a soft breath, uncomprehending, and had to ask Saelon to repeat his explanation of the angles of fire from the ground to the dark tower.
Saelon's voice went on, deep and steady, but beside Haldir Legolas was moving away, and Haldir felt it like a cold wind against his skin. Legolas made a small gesture to Saelon who looked up and nodded, continuing to speak without interruption, and then Legolas was turning away and silently leaving the tent. Haldir felt his own energy dragged out from him towards the younger elf, and instantly and harshly willed himself to break the connection. In his mind he saw the threads that for a short while had joined him to Legolas drift lightly to the ground, their ends ragged and torn.
Haldir shook his head as if to clear it of such ludicrous fancies.
'You don't agree?' said Saelon, misreading his gesture.
Instantly Haldir was aware he had lost a few moments of time. With his usual sharpness he brought himself back to the present and recalled Saelon's last words.
'I have my doubts,' he said, covering over his lapse of attention. 'Perhaps we had better wait for Mithrandir before deciding.'
Saelon nodded and straightened up.
'Mithrandir will help to make much clear to us. In the meantime we had better begin some joint manoeuvres to ensure we can work well together when the occasion arises.'
'When do you wish to start?' asked Haldir.
'Tomorrow will be soon enough. In the meantime, take your ease as best you can. There is little sport for us here, but at least your companies may rest.'
'Do not fear for us,' said Haldir. 'We will keep ourselves occupied.'
'What was he doing serving the food and helping the blacksmiths?' said Haldir, incredulous, when they arrived at his tent. He pushed off his hood roughly, reaching for the Rhovanion from beside his pack. 'A King's son! If I were a King's son I wouldn't trouble myself with such tasks.'
'I grant it is surprising,' said Rumil. 'But they are few, fewer still if you count the wounded. It would not endear his folk to him if he were too proud to do his part.'
'True, Rumil, true… but, by the Valar, I looked such a fool!'
'Haldir, you were suavity personified. It's his fault if he wishes to hide his rank: he must take the consequences.'
'And I thought he was so young and green, not long past his majority!'
'His beauty and simplicity belie the true number of his years,' said Rumil.
'Yes; but…Rumil, I don't understand him,' said Haldir, perplexed. 'If he's capable of such meekness, why does he refuse me with such determination?'
'Does he so?' said Rumil slowly, watching the flush rising to Haldir's cheeks.
Haldir busied himself with pouring himself a cup of wine and drained it dry.
'It's no matter,' he said with forced lightness. 'Let the King's son go about his business. I'm sure I have better things to do than wait for him to see what he's missing.'
'Haldir,' said Rumil, reading between the lines, 'Be careful. In these lands you are Lorien, and he is Mirkwood. If things were to go amiss between you, it would touch more than just yourselves. Remember who you are.'
'Rumil, truly it's of no importance,' said Haldir. 'Even if I were to have a liaison with him, we will leave Mirkwood as soon as we've finished with Dol Guldur. Our lands are not close: the chances are we'll never see each other again.'
'Haldir, don't speak so lightly. We have still to survive the encounter with the dark lord,' said Rumil.
'I hadn't forgotten that,' said Haldir dryly, 'but we'll worry about it when the time comes. Now, has the roster of duties been written up?'
Rumil looked at him sideways, but he knew in Haldir's present mood there would be no further sense spoken on the subject.
'Wooding parties, cooking detail, scouts and sentries, all done,' he said. 'And weapons drill. Manoeuvres whenever you and Saelon command it.'
Haldir nodded. 'Very good. Now, will you give me a trial of swordsmanship? I have that within me which can only be eased by a semblance of violence.'
Rumil laughed, and the two brothers went out into the winter air.
Haldir didn't give up his desire for the prince of Mirkwood, but he changed his tactics. He rekindled his dalliance with the Mirkwood elf who had helped warm his bed when they had first arrived in the forest, who happened to be Faron, Saelon's second-in-command. Discreet though Haldir always was, he was not averse to leaning close to Faron or laying a hand on his if Legolas were near, and he was rewarded by signs of disturbance in the younger elf which gave him hope that he would achieve his intention in the end. Haldir had played this game many times before, and he enjoyed the days that followed, finding pleasure with Faron who was as keen as he to avoid any entanglement, while at the same time watching the effect he was having on Legolas.
It was a long time since Haldir had had to engage in any kind of courtship to obtain what he desired, since those he sought were often so much in awe of him that he could have what he wanted easily, for the asking. Deep down Haldir was piqued that even the prince of Mirkwood had not immediately fallen at his feet; but he told himself that this would make the final consummation all the more delectable.
When Haldir felt the younger elf seemed sufficiently chastened by the silent punishment he had been gently inflicting on him, he began to give him more of his attention, showing greater interest when he spoke, looking him more deeply in the eyes, and of course touching him: no more than he touched any other comrade, but gently, lingeringly. Legolas responded with a sweetness that delighted and amused Haldir. As before the prince could not hide the faint colour that rose to his cheeks whenever Haldir was near, and his eyes spoke clearly everything that was in his heart, however nonchalant he tried to be.
But as soon as Haldir felt the prince was becoming too sure of his position in his affections, he would withdraw a little, teasing him gently and turning on him a bored and distant gaze. At first Legolas redoubled his efforts to gain his attention, but after Haldir had done this two or three times, the prince saw that he was playing a game, and bewildered and shamed, now he did all he could to avoid him. Haldir sought him out even more assiduously then, watching him with knowing eyes, silently mocking his adoration, and he was glad to see that rather than dampening down Legolas' desire, his subtle designs seemed only to increase it.
The next step of his campaign, for his warrior's mind could not avoid seeing it as such, materialised without any effort on Haldir's part. One afternoon he was returning alone to the camp after an expedition with the Mirkwood elves to the spring a little distance away, when he found himself inadvertently at the horse lines. Someone was busy grooming one of the horses, a big bay with deep brown eyes and a white blaze, and in his abstracted mood he didn't realise until he was virtually beside him that it was Legolas.
With practised art Haldir hid his surprise but Legolas was more transparent, and Haldir saw his body tense as he drew in a sudden quick breath. However he immediately recovered himself, and Haldir saw him put on the mask of the King's son, trained to hide his feelings behind a courteous façade.
'Well met, Haldir,' he said. 'I hope you are well.'
Always the opportunist, Haldir went in at once for the attack, determined to break through the prince's defences .
'Well met indeed, Legolas,' he said, laying a hand lightly on the prince's back, and was glad to see the faint colour which appeared at once on his cheeks. 'Please, don't let me disturb you in your work.'
As if grateful for the chance to do so, Legolas turned away quickly from him and continued with his grooming. A knot of anticipation in his gut, Haldir took the opportunity to admire the prince's lithe graceful body.
'I didn't know you had horses in the camp,' he said, when he had had his fill of looking, and he reached out to stroke the horse's broad flank.
'Only these,' said Legolas, indicating the one he was grooming and two others. 'The rest went back home with our advance guard. We can't take care of more in this inhospitable part of the forest. Even they are sickening a little.'
The horse whickered gently, and turning, Legolas saw that his hand was clenched in the hair of his mane.
'Orithil, forgive me,' murmured Legolas, unlacing his fingers and crooning softly into the horse's ear, then caressing its neck before pressing his lips to it for a second. At once Haldir felt a ripple of desire as he imagined that hand on his own body and that voice speaking only to him, and he was forced to look away so that Legolas would not notice his sudden uneven breath.
'Haldir, I didn't expect to see you today,' said Legolas, leaving his grooming and turning to face him. 'But since you're here, perhaps I could ask you something,'
'Anything,' said Haldir smoothly, having mastered himself.
'I'd like to hear news of Lorien, and of my father's cousin Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel. I haven't seen them for many years, and the estrangement which exists between our realms saddens me. If at least I could know something of them and of your land, then perhaps in time I could help to draw my father closer to his kin.'
'It's a noble plan, Legolas,' said Haldir, 'although it's known your father favours as little contact with those outside Mirkwood as possible.'
'Well, I would change his mind, Haldir. In these times we can't be strangers to our cousins in Lorien or elsewhere, and I take hope from the fact that my father agreed to ask for Lorien's help in the matter of Dol Guldur.'
'That's true,' said Haldir. 'Although of course Dol Guldur is much closer to our lands than it is to the Elvenking's halls, so we are as keen as you to neutralise it.'
'But Lorien has protection which we lack,' said Legolas, automatically lowering his voice, 'although of course few know it or speak of it. Haldir, please, let's forgot politics: tell me about Lorien. We've had so little news over these last years.'
'What can I tell you? It's eight decades since the Balrog woke in Moria, and since then many of our number have gone south, some to take ship for the Undying Lands. So we are fewer now,' said Haldir, something closing down in his eyes. 'It was after the disaster of Moria that Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel came to settle among us for good and to rule us'
'That was after Amroth was lost, wasn't it?' said Legolas.
A shadow passed swiftly over Haldir's face. 'Yes,' he said curtly, and his mouth closed like a trap.
There was a difficult pause, and then he went on.
'Apart from that, very little changes. We watch our borders, especially the eastern one with Dol Guldur, and we defend ourselves when we need to. We cherish the forest, and make what we can of beauty, and preserve what we are able to of the good things the elves have given to Arda, which would otherwise perish. And we eat, and drink, and fall in love, as do all folk everywhere…'
Legolas looked away suddenly, resuming his grooming of Orithil, and Haldir was glad of his careless turn of phrase.
'Thank you, Haldir,' said Legolas, very busy with Orithil. 'I am glad at last to know a little more about Lorien. I must tell you that you yourself bring honour to your land by the way you lead your warriors, and also by the way you carry yourself. Anyone who looked on you would think well, more than well, of Lorien.'
Haldir heard the message behind the prince's words. Not wishing to lose his chance by acting too hastily, he murmured his thanks and then let silence fell between them, so that the sound of the curry comb against Orithil's flanks was the only thing that could be heard in the stillness of the forest. Legolas had not turned back to him, and Haldir watched the strong movement of the muscles of his linen-clad shoulders as he drew the comb up and down across the horse's back. Haldir moved a few paces closer to him, hoping his proximity might bring about an answering reaction.
'Before I left, Lord Celeborn particularly spoke to me of you, hoping I would see you,' said Haldir, low-voiced and confidential. 'He takes great interest in you and your affairs, an interest which I naturally share.'
'Do you?' said Legolas cautiously. He didn't turn, but the rhythm of his hand on the horse's back faltered a little.
'Yes,' said Haldir. 'Your father and Lord Celeborn are cousins; and here at this time you and I stand for each of our lands. We have at least that in common.'
Legolas nodded slowly. 'You speak truly,' he said. 'We do have that in common.'
'Lord Celeborn wished me to bring him news of you, of your appearance, your mien, your pursuits. He and the Lady were curious as to how you would have changed since they last saw you, when you were scarcely more than an elfling.'
'Obviously I've changed a great deal,' said Legolas, his face breaking into a smile that pierced Haldir with its artless beauty. 'Far more than Celeborn and Galadriel will have done, I venture. So…what will you tell him, Haldir?'
Haldir was sure he must have misheard the subtle note of flirtation in Legolas' voice. He seemed too young, too green to use such wiles, and in any case, Haldir never responded to another's invitation: he insisted on being master in the game, and he would surely be master here.
'I will tell him his cousin's son would make him proud of his connection to him; that he carries himself like the prince and the warrior that he is; and that he serves his people humbly and with love.'
'Haldir,' said Legolas, unable to hide his pleasure 'you do me honour…'
'And that his beauty equals that of his father, and calls forth the homage of all who see him…' went on Haldir, and carelessly laying his arm across Legolas' shoulders, was glad to feel the prince immediately respond to him.
'Celeborn would truly be proud of you,' said Haldir, bringing his face close to Legolas'. Lightly he drew his hand down the prince's hair, then gently rolled the ends between his fingers.
'Such beauty…' he said wonderingly, resting his head against Legolas' for no more than a moment. Under his experienced hand he felt Legolas tremble even at this light touch, and then the prince reached out and covered Haldir's hand with his own.
Haldir felt himself seized by a warmth and tenderness that almost undid him. For a moment he gave himself to it, letting it melt and soften him, but straight away he came to his senses. This was not what he was seeking, and in any case he was certainly not in the habit of letting others control him, however pleasurably.
Gently he moved away, so that Legolas' hand slid away from his. The prince looked at him, blue eyes deeply intent, lips parted. Haldir struggled with the desire to kiss him there and then, but that was not part of his plan.
'Forgive me, I've taken too much liberty,' he said, with a disarming smile.
'No, please, it is not so,' said Legolas, reaching out to him again, but Haldir took a step away from him.
'It is so,' insisted Haldir. 'You must forgive me, I forgot myself. I will leave you; I've taken too much of your time.'
Already he was turning away, glancing sideways at Legolas to gauge his reaction.
'Haldir, there's no need to go,' said Legolas unevenly.
'But I must,' said Haldir. 'Farewell,' he said, and turned towards the forest, leaving Legolas staring helplessly after him.
Once only he heard Legolas call out his name, but after that there was only the sound of the birds in the trees, and the small creatures of the wood moving in the undergrowth around him. Filled with exhilaration, Haldir strode through the wood towards the centre of the camp. Things had gone even better than he could have hoped. The seed was planted, and with a little nurture, soon he would be able to reap the harvest. All he need do now was let the young one come to him. If he timed things right, he would have his desire very soon, or at least before they left the camp for Dol Guldur.
Seeing groups of Galadhrim and Mirkwood elves in the distance, he muted his mood, and when he came out from between the trees and found a space to sit down amongst his fellows, only someone who knew him as well as Rumil or Orophin would have known that his apparently impassive countenance hid a quite different emotion.
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.