19. Chapter Eighteen
All that day Haldir was engaged in being shown round the guardroom and the inner defences of Mirkwood and meeting Saelon's warriors. Faron was out on duty so Haldir didn't have to meet him, for which he was grateful: it was all he could do to maintain the appearance of normality after what had passed with Legolas. Every time Saelon mentioned the prince's name, which was often, Haldir had to force himself to keep his face impassive.
'No, we have no Guardian here in Mirkwood,' said Saelon, in response to a question from Heleghen, one of Haldir's Galadhrim companions. 'Legolas and Thranduil work with me and my captains, and together we devise our strategy for Mirkwood's defence.'
He threw his arm round Haldir's shoulder.
'The stables now, I think,' he said, leading the way.
By late afternoon Haldir was finding it hard to concentrate, and was glad when Saelon suggested they go to the guardroom buttery for a drink. The ale was cold and strong, and unusually for him, soon he was feeling drowsy. Heleghen and his brother Haelon were playing dice with some of the Mirkwood elves, so Haldir left them and went back to his dwelling.
Once he had lit the fire, he flung himself down in a chair by the hearth and within minutes had fallen asleep. When he woke it was full dark, and it was only then that he realised that someone was knocking at the door. He got up abruptly, hoping it was not already time to dine, and opened it. Legolas stood there, his fair face shadowed with misery. He began to talk, rapid and half-incoherent.
'Haldir, I'm sorry, last night I was so slow and stupid, I didn't understand you…did you tell me something about it before? Perhaps you did but I couldn't remember, although I would imagine I would have done but I hadn't realised it was so important to you…'
Haldir pulled him into the house and shut the door. Legolas fell silent and they stood awkward and uncertain, their faces lit only by the tawny glow of the fire. After several moments Legolas leaned back against the door, his hands flat against the wood.
'I'm sorry, Haldir,' he said again, almost whispering, head bowed on to his chest. 'I've kept away from you for the whole day, but I couldn't bear it any longer. Tell me what you want, and I will see if I can encompass it.'
Haldir gave a heavy sigh. 'I've told you,' he said wearily. 'What else is there to say?'
There was a long pause. When Legolas spoke again, it was in a slow tired voice.
'You wish us to meet only in secret, until the day we may be together for good…is that what you want?'
'If that day ever comes,' said Haldir. 'Can you see a time when Mirkwood and Lorien will be one realm again, as they were in the morning of the world? Will your father ever yield a single particle of his authority?'
'But…it will make it so much the harder for us to meet,' said Legolas.
'What else can we do?' said Haldir. 'A lawful binding is one in which the partners join for life and live together. What prospect do we have of achieving that, Legolas?'
'Do you speak of binding?' whispered Legolas.
'No, I do not,' said Haldir curtly, 'for it could never be.'
'But if it could…' Legolas' voice faltered into silence at the look on Haldir's face.
'Do not dare to speak of it,' said Haldir, his eyes as blue and sharp as flints. 'We have conceived a love which we must carry like a burden. Do not add to it by yearning for that which we can never have.'
Legolas let his head sink down on to his chest and covered his face with his hands.
'Haldir,' he whispered. 'You are a joy to me, but this is nothing but pain.'
Slowly he let himself slide down until he was sitting on the floor, his back against the door.
Haldir gazed at him dispassionately.
'It is as I told you,' he said. 'Love is pain. Why do you think I resisted it for so long?'
'No, Haldir, you are wrong!' cried Legolas, suddenly angry. 'You believe it to be so, and therefore you refuse the simple happiness that has come to you, looking everywhere for traps and dangers where there are none. What could my father do to us? What could anyone do?'
'What could your father do? He could destroy any possibility of a covenant between our two realms. He could force you to choose between your home and your love for me. What could others do? They could seek our exile, or worse. Legolas, in all the elvish realms, there are few who are so bound to their duty that they could not bend to encompass love. But we are of those few. There are those who would see us as perverse, choosing a corrupt and unwholesome love in which we can never be to one another what we should: companions, sharing our lives together through the years. And instead what do we have: a few days after twenty years apart. And this is a time of peace, Legolas. If the enemy returns – when the enemy returns, it could be even less than that.'
'You see shadows where there are none,' said Legolas. 'My father is stern but he wouldn't ask this choice of me, nor would he found his policy on a personal grievance. You wrong him, Haldir, and you wrong all those who would look kindly on us. What a harsh opinion you have of your fellows if you think they wouldn't see this love for what it is - what all love is: a gift from the Holy Ones.'
Haldir laughed, bitter and mirthless.
'A gift?' he said. 'Say rather this love comes from the dark powers than the light.'
Legolas stared at him, two bright spots of colour flaring on his cheeks.
'Well, there is surely darkness in it,' he said angrily. 'Two days ago we had not even met, and already we are fighting.'
'That is not my doing!' shouted Haldir.
'Is it not?' Legolas shouted back, getting abruptly to his feet.
'No, it is not,' said Haldir. 'You will not see what is before your very eyes. I've lived longer than you, and I've seen things that you have not seen. On this matter I cannot move.'
'You cannot move? And yet it seems I must. The cost of loving you is deception, Haldir. For years: maybe forever. But you ask it of me as if it were nothing. I am not sure I can do this thing that you want.'
'Then maybe it is best if we part here and now,' said Haldir flatly.
Slowly the colour drained from Legolas' face.
'You will have your way, or we must part?' he said quietly. 'Very well, if that is what you choose.'
Haldir did not reply. They stood facing each other, as still as if they were carved in stone, and as obstinate.
It was Haldir who finally broke the silence.
'Maybe I've been too rash,' he said, looking away from Legolas. 'I'm not accustomed to…this kind of conversation…'
'Haldir, in council with your warriors, you weigh each opinion before giving a fair judgment. Am I not to have the same consideration, merely because we have shared a bed?'
Haldir nodded slowly. 'I ask your pardon,' he said, still avoiding his eyes.
Legolas gave a deep and weary sigh. 'Why must you take us right to the edge of the precipice?' he said gently, reaching out and grazing Haldir's fingers lightly with his own. 'We have so little time together: must we waste it in fighting?'
'But we can't…we can't let it be known, Legolas. It would be too dangerous, for Lorien and for Mirkwood. And…'
'And what, Haldir?'
At last Haldir turned and looked at Legolas, suddenly vulnerable and defenceless.
'And for us, Legolas. If something happened, if I couldn't see you any more, I…I don't know what I would do…'
'How fortunate then that I didn't take you at your word just now, when you proposed that we should part,' said Legolas gently.
Stifling a sound of anguish, Haldir turned away and strode over to the fireplace, leaning his arm on the mantelpiece and looking down into the flames.
'I suppose this is why I…admire you,' he said in a muffled voice. 'You are gentle, and yet you are also as strong as steel. However I try to conquer you, you refuse to yield. It's a balance I have yet to achieve.'
'I refuse to yield?' said Legolas, low and soft, coming to stand beside him. 'Have you already forgotten what we did last night, Haldir? Did I not yield to you then?'
Slowly Haldir turned to him, and at once the same energy he had felt the very first time he had stood near to Legolas flared up between them, and the same warm flush rose to Legolas' cheeks. Forgetting everything but his beloved face, Haldir leaned forward and kissed him, and Legolas' arms came round him, holding him tightly.
'Well,' said Legolas hoarsely when at last they moved apart. 'Is this not better than fighting?'
They sat down together on the hearth, arms round one another.
'For now I will do as you ask,' said Legolas, 'since it is so close to your heart. But you must think on my words also, and we will speak of it again.'
Haldir sighed deeply and leaned against him. 'Thank you,' he said quietly. 'You're generous, Legolas, and I'm grateful to you.'
That night they dined as usual in the King's hall, Legolas at his father's table and Haldir with the Galadhrim, showing no more than distant courtesy to one another. But after moonset Haldir came in secret to Legolas' house, and this time the prince lit no candles except the one in the window to show he had retired, and in the velvet darkness which for now was like the sign of their love, they came together blissfully. And since they had so little time together, quickly they sought to learn the secrets of one another's bodies, and Haldir's heart which had known little of the business of loving another, began to understand how it could be done.
Scarcely more than a week they had together, and then Haldir took his warriors back to Lorien. The pain of parting was as sharp as ever but at least it was familiar, and now Haldir knew with certainty that Legolas loved him, and the knowledge sustained him in the years that followed. Afterwards it became known that whenever Haldir came back from Mirkwood he was sharper and sterner than ever. His warriors said it was because they were never as disciplined in his absence as he would have liked, and that for love of Lorien he would not allow any laxness. But they could not explain why a visit to Imladris did little to change his mood, and mused without cease and without success on this particular question.
Sauron was not seen for almost four centuries, and in that time Haldir saw Legolas nearly a dozen times, and between them there grew a deep and precious bond, both of the body and of the heart. Slowly Haldir learnt to let Legolas come close to him, and was welcomed in his turn, but it was many years before he was able to speak his love openly to him, although Legolas knew it from the first. And though Legolas spoke each time of revealing their union to others, each time Haldir spoke against it, and would not consent.
At last Sauron returned to Dol Guldur as all had known he would, and Haldir was more occupied than ever with the defence of Lorien, and long years passed during which he and Legolas could not meet. And the deeper their love grew, the more difficult it became for Haldir to bear Legolas' absence. And at last it became a torment to him, and each parting became more painful than the last.
2861 Third Age
There came a day in the middle of spring when Haldir was again in Mirkwood. Eight centuries had passed since he became Guardian, and since first he and Legolas had come together. The day when Galadriel would send Haldir and Celinn's company to Thranduil with news of the White Council was almost a hundred years in the future.
But although it was a season for lovers when all things grew and flourished and mates were chosen by the creatures of the forest as well as by the Firstborn, Legolas walked alone in the early morning light in the forest near the Elvenking's halls. The air was full of the delicate scents of the flowers which bloomed in the grass and the tender new leaves unfurling on the trees. But the balmy breeze did not seem to warm him, for he was wrapped up tightly in his cloak, and he looked pale and tired as he made his way aimlessly among the trees.
He had not walked far before something stopped him, something which froze him to the spot. Not many feet away from him, Haldir stood on the bank of the Forest River, re-braiding his wet hair, his shirt slung round his shoulders and his feet bare beneath his loose white breeches.
Legolas said nothing, did nothing, but Haldir must have sensed a presence near him, because his hands paused in their work and he turned slowly. The sight of Legolas seemed to affect him as much as the sight of him had affected the prince. The picture the two of them presented standing motionless and awkward might have been comical if it had not been for the anguish which rippled through the air between them.
It was Legolas who broke the silence.
'Haldir, where have you been?' he said. 'Five days I've searched for you without success. Since the morning you arrived and put me off with your excuses, I've seen no sign of you. What in the name of the Valar are you doing? Do you mean to leave Mirkwood without even speaking to me?'
Haldir looked at him, nervous and uneasy.
'Of course not,' he said. 'It's just…I've been occupied. Saelon had much to tell me, and arranged for us to meet your new captains. I haven't had time…'
'And what did they arrange for you after dark? Am I to believe you've been occupied all night, every night, since you came to Mirkwood? Not once have you been at your dwelling. Haldir, I beg you not to take me for a fool.'
Legolas' voice was strong and calm, but the note of pain in it was clear. Something changed in Haldir's face.
'No, I wasn't occupied at night, but…I was restless, so I've been walking in the forest. I meant to see you before now but…'
'But what, Haldir?'
'Legolas, how do you bear it?' said Haldir, incongruously.
'Bear it? Bear what?' said Legolas, exasperated.
Haldir gave a deep sigh. 'This,' he said. 'Having so little time together. The years apart. How do you bear it?'
Legolas stared at him. 'I don't know,' he said. 'I think of you, I long for you, I burn for you, Haldir…and then I do something to occupy myself. I go out on patrol, or I help build a new corral for the horses, or mend a broken pipe for the water supply. Or I help in the bakery, as I've been doing today.'
'You've been in the bakery?' said Haldir.
'I've not slept either these last five nights,' said Legolas. 'What else could I do but go on guard duty or help the bakers? Who else works through the hours of darkness?' he said.
And now Haldir noticed the rich smell of baking bread coming from the long low building not far away, and he saw also the dusting of flour on Legolas' clothes, and the dark shadows like stains under his eyes.
'You were always keen to work at the servants' tasks,' said Haldir, remembering those first days at the camp near Dol Guldur.
'They're not servants' tasks!' insisted Legolas. 'And do you think I would be working at them if you hadn't worked so hard in your turn to avoid me, Haldir? There are other things I would much prefer to be doing, but you've deprived me of the opportunity. And you're leaving tomorrow. You say we have little time together: whose fault is that but your own?'
'Well, even keeping occupied is not enough for me,' said Haldir, his voice suddenly cracked and trembling. 'I'm not as brave as you, Legolas, you know that. That very first night we lay together you said that in matters of love I was a coward, and after all these long years I must submit that you were right.'
'What do you mean?' demanded Legolas.
'I mean…I mean...'
Haldir sat down on the ground suddenly as if his legs could no longer support him.
'Sometimes in Lorien, there are days when the longing I feel for you begins to overwhelm me, and I can scarcely rise from my chair in the guardroom to go to my duty, or to give commands to my warriors, so deep has my despair become. Sometimes I must endure weeks and months of darkness without hope, and when I'm like that I scarcely care what happens to me or to those under my authority. It is intolerable, Legolas! I am a commander, but this hidden grief makes me unfit for the task. So far no-one has suffered but myself but one day, one day…'
For a moment he looked into the distance, blank-eyed and tormented.
'The times are worsening, Legolas,' he went on relentlessly. 'The dark lord is in Dol Guldur again, and his power is building. Another war is coming. I feel it in my bones.'
'Haldir, you always see the worst…'
'That is because I have seen the worst, Legolas! I fought at Dagorlad when your grandfather died. I was at the Siege of Barad-dur before you were even born. I know what war is like. I can't risk it, Legolas, not any more.'
'What are you saying?' said Legolas.
But Haldir turned away and would not meet his eyes.
'Tell me what I can do,' pleaded Legolas, suddenly terrified. 'Only tell me, and I will do it, whatever it is.'
Legolas' voice broke and the pain in it pierced Haldir to the heart. In a moment he was on his feet beside Legolas, his arms wrapped tightly around him.
'Nothing!' he whispered fiercely. 'You can do nothing. I am at the end of my strength, Legolas.'
'What do you mean?'
Haldir let the silence draw itself out between them, unable to speak the words. But something of his meaning made itself clear, because Legolas said, incredulous and horrified,
'You can't mean...you wish us to part?
Haldir couldn't answer him, couldn't let him go. Legolas struggled out of his arms.
'You do mean it?' he whispered, his eyes so wide Haldir felt he could see right into the heart of him.
'Yes,' said Haldir, the word a mere breath.
Legolas grew so pale that the azure-blue of his eyes stood out as slashes of dazzling colour against his white skin.
'Have you...ceased to love me?' he whispered.
Haldir felt as if a hand had grasped his heart and was squeezing the life out of it.
'Never,' he said, surprised to hear how steady his voice was. 'But this love is breaking me, Legolas. Even the journey to Mirkwood to see you is a dread to me. You know we'll never be together, and each time I leave you is...is like a death. I can no longer hope for something that will never be. Please, I beg you, Legolas…let me go.'
Legolas was silent for so long that Haldir wondered whether he had even heard him, but at last he said, in a voice completely unlike his own,
'Is this truly what you want?'
Haldir looked at him, at his beautiful beloved face, and at his body which he still desired as much as he had on the first time they had made love together, and he could barely say the words. But he could not see a time when he and Legolas could ever be united, and he could not walk another step along this road.
'Yes,' he whispered, 'it is truly what I want.'
Legolas put out his hand and steadied himself against a tree, then closed his eyes very slowly, but apart from that did not react at all to Haldir's words. His breathing deepened and slowed, and at length Haldir wondered if he might be falling asleep.
'Legolas...' he said.
'Go then,' said Legolas suddenly, opening his eyes. 'But go quickly, or I'll throw myself at your feet and beg you to stay, and we'll both be dishonoured.'
'What, now?' said Haldir, terrified now that the moment had come.
'Now,' said Legolas, the word forcing its way out of his clenched throat.
'But I may...say farewell first?' said Haldir in a shaking voice.
'Go, Haldir! Now!' said Legolas, his voice almost a wail of pure pain.
Haldir stared at him, and time seemed to slow down, so that he was able to take in every detail of Legolas' shocked face, from his clear pale brow to the tiny laughter lines around his bruised blue eyes to his beautiful mouth. What Haldir was doing seemed utter madness, and yet do it he must if he and Lorien were to survive. Even now in this moment of ending he thought he felt the energy of attraction kindle and rise between them, and Legolas' blanched cheeks almost seemed to bloom with a little colour. But Haldir resolutely resisted it and without another word he turned and walked away.
At once he wanted to turn back but he forced himself to go on. He felt like he was being torn in two and the pain was appalling, but it seemed the only way that he could get through this and go on doing his duty as Guardian of Lorien. As he walked the smell of baking bread drifted on the air around him, and from that day on and for years afterwards he could no longer endure that smell or eat any kind of bread but hard-baked lembas.
Somehow he lived through the last day in Mirkwood and the long journey home, and then the despair became so bad that he almost lost all desire to live, and many times in the following years was wounded through his own recklessness. Finally he was forced to tell his brothers what had ailed him for so long, and it was they who kept him from losing all hope. Despite his own pain he did not fail in his duty to Lorien and its defences were never breached. But he no longer knew what to do to mend himself: loving Legolas was intolerable so he had tried to stop, but that was even more intolerable.
And at last all he could do to save himself was to blame Legolas for everything: for forcing him to give up his carefree life which had served him so well for so many years, and exchange it for this torment, and for trapping him into an impossible love which could never bear fruit for either of them. He could not think about what Legolas might be suffering, so far away from any comfort Haldir could give him, for that way lay madness. So instead the only thing to do was to hate him, to destroy the love that still burned so strongly in him and turn it cold and hard like a wall of ice around his heart.
And Haldir did all he could to achieve this for almost a hundred years, and then Galadriel charged him with leading the embassy to Mirkwood. Although he was unwilling to go, he thought himself safe from any danger Legolas might pose to him. But deep in the ice of his heart, unknown to him love still dwelt, and now after all that had happened, he rode beside the prince on the way to Dol Guldur with half a company of the pellarim, and the love he and Legolas had kept hidden for eight centuries had been spoken out loud, and he would have to find a place for it in his life again.