7. Chapter Six
In the darkest hour of the night, Legolas lay still on his bed, hoping the sound of the wind hushing through the trees might help him to find the sleep that so far had eluded him, but each time he closed his eyes, all he could see was Celinn suffering in the hands of the enemy, and the face of his cousin Surindel, who had died of the wounds Adanwath had given him.
At last he rose from his bed and, wrapping himself in an old soft cloak, he stoked the banked-down fire and put a pot of water to boil. The warmth of the flames enveloped him and he almost fell asleep sitting on the hearth, but the turmoil in his mind and heart broke through the comfort of his body and he jerked awake, disorientated. Pouring out the water into an earthenware cup, he spilt it and scalded himself, and then he had to run outside barefoot to quench the pain in the freezing water of the Forest River. When he finally went back into his dwelling, the tisane he had prepared was too cold and bitter to drink. After that the only thing that would serve was a volley of guardroom curses, and to strip naked and fling himself into the river and swim until his lungs felt fit to burst with the effort.
Afterwards, his body tingling with cold, he pulled on his clothes and sat outside, succumbing to the desire to punish himself for his error of judgment so many years before. He was still sitting there when Celinn pushed open the door of his dwelling not long after sunrise and stood looking out at the waking forest. A moment later Gwirith appeared in the doorway behind him and wrapped his arms around Celinn's waist, pressing his body against him. Celinn turned, tilting his face towards him, and Legolas quickly looked away, not wanting to intrude on them.
'Legolas! We thought we were the first awake,' called Celinn a few moments later. Legolas made to turn but again had cause to blame himself for his lack of courage as he found he was absolutely unable to look Celinn in the face. His apparent remoteness seemed to affect Celinn, because he said at once,
'Forgive me, you wish to be undisturbed,' and made to turn away, but now Legolas forced himself to stand up.
'Celinn, it is I who should ask your forgiveness,' he said, his voice hoarse with cold.
Celinn and Gwirith looked at him, uncomprehending.
'And I do ask it,' went on Legolas, 'for the part I played unwittingly in how you suffered at Adanwath's hands. You shouldn't have tried to spare me the knowledge of it, Celinn, for I'm to blame. Please believe me, had I known what manner of man he would become and what harm he would do to you and to Surindel, I would have put Madoc to death myself.'
For a moment Celinn looked shaken, and Gwirith moved close to him, one arm holding him firmly round the waist. But then Celinn said,
'My dear friend, it was none of your doing. He chose evil for himself, even when you'd shown him nothing but kindness. You're not to blame for anything he did.'
'Nevertheless, I wish to make what amends I can. I only read the Lady's missive last night, and so have had little time to think on it, but at least I can tell you that my father has agreed to another audience with you.'
'Legolas, you've done a wonder!' said Celinn. 'I scarcely dared hope you would succeed.'
'So Thranduil has listened to his son for a change,' said a cold voice behind them.
Legolas turned sharply to see Haldir standing there, his pack on his shoulder.
'Haldir, what in the name of all the Valar are you doing?' demanded Celinn.
'I was under the impression that we were no longer welcome in Mirkwood,' said Haldir. 'I thought it best to leave as soon as possible, before the snows begin. Haven't you told the others as I asked you, Celinn?'
'Haldir, Legolas has persuaded Thranduil to grant us another audience, which after what you said to him is nothing short of a miracle. Come and break your fast with us, and then we'll prepare ourselves. We can't waste this chance to make our case for an alliance.'
Haldir glanced at Legolas, who looked pale and drained in the strengthening light.
'I've never known Thranduil to change his mind about anything,' said Haldir. 'But since I'm the cause of the breach, I suppose it's my duty to find a way of mending it.' He swung his pack down from his shoulder and as he did so, the sun glinted on something gold and green pinned to the inside of his cloak. Legolas leaned forward, trying to see what it was, but Haldir pulled the edges of the cloth together over it.
'If you would excuse me, Sir,' he said to Legolas, and with a perfunctory bow, turned and went into Celinn and Gwirith's dwelling.
Celinn stared after him in exasperation.
'If he plans to talk to Thranduil like that, we might as well leave straight away,' he said. 'Legolas, you know Haldir; it's said he sharpens his tongue each night straight after he has finished with his sword and his knife, but I've never seen him like this before. With each step he's taken away from Lorien he's become ever more caustic and ill-tempered. The smallest thing has seemed a cause for offence, and he has fought bitterly with us both. I don't know what's troubling him, but he's not himself, and for the sake of our two realms, I would ask you to overlook his discourtesy.'
'I've known Haldir for many long years,' said Legolas slowly, 'and I would endure a great deal from him before I would begin to doubt my friendship for him. I only hope that I may do what I can to help him, if some hidden grief disheartens him.'
'Thank you, Legolas,' said Celinn, putting an arm round his shoulders. 'Your generosity will benefit both Mirkwood and Lorien, if only we can persuade Haldir to speak sweetly to your father.'
'Crawling on his knees to beg his forgiveness was more what Adar had in mind,' said Legolas ruefully.
'Well, we'll see whether we can arrange it,' said Celinn, with a wry smile. 'Would you like to join us for breakfast?'
'Your discussions will go better without me there,' said Legolas. 'I'll see you later with my father.'
Celinn and Gwirith bowed a farewell and went back into their dwelling, but as Legolas turned he heard Haldir's raised voice echoing clearly from inside.
'By Elbereth, why should Legolas care what I say to him? We haven't seen one another for years, Celinn. We're scarcely even friends any more, whatever he may say.'
Celinn must have said something to him then, because he lowered his voice so that his words could no longer be heard. Legolas shivered, suddenly aware of his deep weariness. His scalded hand began to ache, but the pain was nothing next to what he felt at hearing Haldir's harsh and dismissive words.
Thranduil could not see the Galadhrim until late that afternoon, which did not improve Haldir's mood. The place of their meeting also seemed strange: a few miles east of the Elvenking's halls, on the wide grassy plain from which the Lonely Mountain was visible on a clear day. This, however, was not a clear day. The chill mist which hung between the dripping trees on the edge of the plain like a glittering curtain made it impossible to see the horizon, and Thranduil's falconer was loath to unleash the birds in such inclement weather.
'You fuss too much, Iorlas,' said Thranduil, looking from his falconer to the handsome golden-eyed peregrine on his red-gloved wrist. 'Jaelle will find her way, she always does, even in the dark. Go now; I'll call you when I need you.'
Iorlas stooped down in what passed for a bow, then turned away, mumbling to himself. Thranduil looked out at the empty lands before him, giving a deep sigh of contentment.
'Maybe it is living hidden under the ground that makes the open air so pleasant,' he said dryly. With utmost gentleness, he caressed the soft feathers on the crown of Jaelle's head, then chucked her under the chin. 'Are you ready to fly, my beauty?' he said. 'There may be good sport, since no one else is brave enough to hunt today.'
'Or foolish enough,' muttered Haldir under his breath, then gave a grunt of pain as Celinn stepped on his foot.
'I beg your pardon, Guardian, I didn't see you there,' he said courteously, but his face told another tale. Haldir glared at him but made no more sarcastic comments.
Thranduil was wearing a rich cloak of blue and gold and a collar of white and green gems. Although his features were fine and fair, there was something of a likeness between him and the fierce bird he carried on his wrist. A subdued Legolas, walking beside him, seemed much gentler in comparison, but still their eyes were drawn to his beauty.
The Elvenking spoke a word to the peregrine and then cast her up into the air, watching her rise with strong wingbeats into the grey sky, the tiny bells clasped to her legs jingling. He took Legolas' arm and leaning close, began to speak to his son, walking off and leaving the Galadhrim behind. Celinn watched them, admiring their tall graceful forms, so very alike.
'Haldir, wasn't there a time when you and Legolas were closer in friendship than you are now…many years ago, when you first became Guardian of Lorien?'
He glanced at Haldir, but he said nothing, looking impassively into the distance.
'Of course, I remember now,' went on Celinn. 'It was during the years of the Watchful Peace, after the Dark Lord had been defeated at Dol Guldur.
Haldir cleared his throat and adjusted the clasp of his cloak. 'I scarcely remember; it was a very long time ago,' he said dismissively.
'Haldir, you were courted by every elf in Mirkwood! You were the fairest of all the Galadhrim, as well as newly-made Guardian of Lorien. How could you forget such a time?'
Haldir sighed impatiently. 'I have other things to occupy my mind now, Celinn. The past is the past, and dwelling on it is futile.'
'But friendship is not futile, Haldir. I'm surprised you don't value your friendship with Legolas more. He's everything a King's son should be, and yet he doesn't stand on his dignity but is generous and kind.'
'Our lands are too far apart for such a friendship to be sustained,' said Haldir.
'He seems not to think so, Haldir. Why do you turn him away so harshly?'
For an instant a shadow seemed to cross Haldir's face, but before he could answer, Thranduil called to him.
'Well, Guardian of Lorien,' he said, looking up at the sky where his falcon was visible only as a tiny speck high up against the grey clouds. 'Is it possible for us to be civil to each other today, or shall we dispense with the pleasantries and go straight to the duel?'
Haldir bowed deeply. 'Forgive me, Sir. I was belligerent and rude, and your forbearance is a gift I don't deserve.'
'You're right, Haldir, you don't deserve it,' said Thranduil, smiling grimly. 'If my son hadn't pleaded your case, you wouldn't be allowed to enter my presence, let alone to discuss matters of state with me. You owe him a debt.'
Haldir bowed again, and Thranduil could not see his face.
'I'm most grateful to him,' said Haldir smoothly.
Thranduil took Jaelle's lure out of his pocket and started to swing it in front of him. The peregrine gave a shattering cry and stooped, then at the last moment swung away skywards. Thranduil smiled.
'Although I broke her myself, I know she isn't mine,' he said. 'She's the wildest bird I've ever kept; she belongs only to herself.'
'Maybe that is the greatest freedom there is,' said Haldir, in a strange voice.
'No,' said Thranduil. 'The greatest freedom is to give yourself willingly, even though there is no obligation to do so.' He turned to Haldir. 'You've never had a partner, have you, Haldir? Then you won't know this freedom. And I scarcely valued it until it was gone, and I was alone again.'
Beside him, Legolas stumbled suddenly, but Thranduil had already turned and caught his arm.
'Be careful, Legolas. You know my cousin Elion broke his leg hawking in these parts,' he said. 'The land here appears smooth and level, but there are hidden pitfalls everywhere.'
He looked up at the sky and, giving a piercing whistle, raised his wrist in the air. At first nothing happened, but then Jaelle stooped out of the clouds like an arrow and came obediently to his wrist in a flurry of feathers, clinging to the worn leather glove with her strong talons. Thranduil held out a scrap of meat which she seized with one foot and swallowed, staring at him with her bright golden eye.
'Well, to work!' he declared. 'What have you to say to me, envoys of Lorien, that you haven't already said before?'
'Sir,' said Haldir. 'You know what it is we seek.' He looked around him at the empty plain, as if even here hidden ears might be listening. 'For our realms to work as one, to share our resources, personal and military; to gather intelligence about the enemy; to meet often to share such intelligence and to plan our strategy; and to come to one another's aid whenever it was needed; surely we would all be stronger than we are now, divided by old wounds from the past. I say to you again, Sir, we must work together against the threat that faces us all, or it will divide and destroy us.'
'Haldir, you are speaking to one who has spent many hundreds of years defending his realm against just this same evil; but I doubt you will persuade me that in the circumstances an alliance is in the best interests of Mirkwood.'
'I think you've already made that clear, Sir,' said Haldir coldly, but Celinn gave him a warning glance, and he flushed a little and said quickly,
'By your leave, we anticipated your reply, and we have something else to propose to you.'
'Have you?' said Thranduil, raising an eyebrow. 'And what is that?'
'An expedition, Sir. One that would benefit us all, and would both make amends for the offence I gave you and show you on behalf of Lorien that we all strive for one cause.'
'An expedition? To where?'
'To Dol Guldur, Sir.'
Thranduil and Legolas stopped walking and turned to him with one identical movement. Legolas opened his mouth to speak but his father laid a restraining hand on his arm, smiling grimly.
'Haldir, you and I may have our differences, but even I could not countenance sending you unnecessarily into such danger. I've no taste for reckless heroism, in case you were thinking this was the way to enlist my support for an alliance.'
'There is nothing reckless about what we're suggesting, Sir. You yourself have agreed to such a venture in the past, on Mithrandir's advice. He and the Lady are united in thought: when war comes, as it surely will, it would be better if we did not need to defend ourselves against Mordor and Dol Guldur simultaneously. Any intelligence we can gather could help to prepare an attack against the dark tower; and also to search for anything we might find pertaining to the One Ring and its whereabouts.'
'And you propose to do this, Haldir of Lorien? You and half a company of the pellarim?' Thranduil laughed bitterly. 'If you believe I'd accept such an idea, you insult me almost as much as you did yesterday. I'd credited you with a greater knowledge of military strategy, but it seems standards in Lorien have fallen.'
Haldir took a pace towards him, eyes already blazing with anger, but Celinn once again stepped in front of him.
'Naturally our plan is on a smaller scale than Mithrandir's,' he said calmly. 'We will only approach the dark tower as nearly as stealth will allow us, and will bring back to you what intelligence we can about the dispositions of the enemy.'
'And do you think we in Mirkwood can't do this for ourselves?' said Thranduil, soft and dangerous.
'We don't suggest you can't,' said Celinn, ignoring the warning in the King's eyes. 'Only that by going on this journey we could spare our brothers of Mirkwood this peril and be of some use to you.'
'And I would be in your debt, and in return would agree to an alliance, I suppose?'
'Thranduil,' said Haldir wearily. 'It's clear that there's nothing we can say to persuade you to our point of view: so let us do this thing, for the benefit of us all, as a sign of our friendship for Mirkwood, and of our belief that we are one people, divided only by the wiles of the enemy.'
'And you've conjured up this plan only because you offended me, Haldir?'
'No, Sir. It was discussed in Imladris, at the White Council, and Mithrandir concurred. It is too long since any of us has been close to Dol Guldur, and now that evil has returned there we need to know precisely what manner of peril we are facing this time.'
Thranduil sighed deeply, pressing his fingers to the slender bridge of his nose. He gave a sign and his falconer came to him and gathered up Jaelle from his wrist, covering her head with a red leather hood. Her jesses jingled as he carried her away.
'How many warriors would you need for such an expedition, Guardian?' said Thranduil.
'Father, you're not going to consent to this?' said Legolas.
'Only ourselves,' said Haldir, ignoring him. 'We are few enough for stealth and secrecy. Many more would make it difficult to remain hidden. Otherwise only an army could be a match for whatever might dwell in the dark tower now.'
'You five, and no more?' said Thranduil.
'Yes. We would be grateful for whatever intelligence you could give us before we go, and for the replenishing of our supplies.'
Thranduil gazed at him for a long time.
'You know this is madness, Haldir. You have neither Mithrandir's powers nor the Lady's protection, and yet you wish to make a reconnaissance to the most dangerous place this side of Mordor.'
'Exactly, Sir. A reconnaissance. We don't intend to put ourselves in unnecessary danger: only to find out what we can and return with the news.'
'And you ask me to believe the Lady wishes the chief architect of her defences to risk his life for the chance of an alliance?'
Haldir sighed. 'We risk our lives each day; in Lorien, in Mirkwood and in the Wild between. There is no hiding from the threat that grows here and in the East: I'm willing to do this, and so are my companions, to make our final victory more sure.'
Thranduil cast his gaze slowly across the small company of Galadhrim who stood silently waiting to hear his judgment; Celinn, calm and steady; Gwirith, very close to him, tall and forbidding; and Aiglin and Luinil, patiently watching him with untroubled faces.
'And the rest of you are in accord with this?' he said.
Celinn glanced round at his company, then back at Thranduil. 'Yes, Sir,' he said.
Thranduil seemed to come to a decision. 'Very well, you may do this thing,' he said. 'It will take you a while prepare yourselves. I suggest you leave, say… seven days from now. And I promise nothing: however successful this journey, I have not agreed to an alliance. But I will think on it. That is all I can say to you.'
'That is enough, and more than enough,' said Haldir, relieved.
'Father, you can't sanction this!' said Legolas. 'They are too few!'
'It is their wish,' said Thranduil. 'They know the risk they are taking. Why do you want to dissuade them?'
Legolas stared at his father, his normally pale skin flushed with colour. 'Because our brothers shouldn't need to put themselves in such danger to persuade us that we are one people, who should stand shoulder to shoulder against the enemy!'
'But that's not why they are doing it, is it, Haldir?'
'No, Sir. This expedition will meet the needs of Lorien as well as Mirkwood.'
'Then let us send some of our folk with them. I'll go myself!'
'No!' said Haldir and Thranduil at exactly the same moment.
'Well, Guardian, at least we agree on something,' said Thranduil.
'Father…' said Legolas.
'My son, I can't spare you, and we have enough to do defending our own realm without committing warriors to other tasks. And it is as Haldir said: a small party has a greater chance of success.'
'This isn't right,' insisted Legolas. 'Celinn, you see it, don't you?'
'My decision is made,' said Thranduil firmly, before Celinn could speak. 'The discussion is over, Legolas.'
Legolas turned away angrily, his left hand tightening into a fist.
'Well, then,' said Thranduil, ignoring his son. 'We might as well start for home. You were right, Haldir, perhaps it was foolish to fly Jaelle today.'
Haldir blushed fiercely, and Celinn put an arm round his shoulders as they all turned and began to walk back towards the forest.
'Where will we leave the horses?' said Celinn.
'At the last watching post at the edge of the Forest Road,' said Haldir. 'The Mirkwood guards will keep them for us, and we must walk from there.'
They were kneeling on the floor in Celinn and Gwirith's dwelling, surrounded by their belongings and by the supplies they were gradually collecting together. Two days had gone by since Thranduil had given them leave to go to Dol Guldur, and there was still much to do.
'It's fortunate that we brought a bowmaker and fletcher with us,' said Haldir, sitting back on his heels and watching Gwirith sitting on the veranda outside, the pile of new arrows growing beside him. All at once Celinn heard him curse under his breath.
'What is it, Haldir?' he asked, but before Haldir could answer there was a light knock on the door and Legolas stepped into the room.
'Well, brothers, how goes it?' he said. 'I came to see if there was anything I could do to help you.'
Haldir turned away pointedly and began to fiddle with the frayed lace on the side of his pack. Celinn stood up hastily.
'Thank you, Legolas. For the moment we're trying to solve the puzzle of how to fit so much into such small packs. I expect Mithrandir has a spell for it, if only we'd thought to ask him.'
Legolas laughed, but his gaze was resting on Haldir's back.
'Would you object if I had some speech with you, Haldir?' he said. 'There are some things we must discuss before you leave for Dol Guldur.'
'I'm busy,' said Haldir rudely. 'Maybe another time.'
'Haldir,' said Celinn, looking from one to the other, 'Aiglin and Luinil will be coming to help us soon. We can manage without you.'
Haldir threw him a scalding look.
'I'm sorry, but there's too much to do,' he said, his hands still working on the frayed lace.
'Nevertheless,' said Legolas gently, but in a tone of unmistakable command, 'I'd be grateful if you could spare me a few minutes.'
Haldir's long back stiffened, and for a moment Celinn thought he would actually refuse the King's son, but instead he gave a long martyred sigh and stood up. He turned slowly to Legolas, and Celinn was chilled by the look on his face.
'If you wish it, Sir, then I can't deny you,' he said.
Legolas smiled, and the only sign that he had noticed Haldir's brusqueness was a slight tightening of his jaw.
'Thank you,' he said gently. 'Let's walk for a while.' And he turned and went outside.
Celinn seized Haldir's arm.
'By Elbereth, what's the matter with you?' he said, so that only Haldir could hear. 'You treat him as if he were the enemy, Haldir. If you offend him, as you surely already have, his father will drop all thoughts of an alliance and send us on our way before nightfall!'
But Haldir wrenched his arm out of Celinn's grip and strode outside, slamming the wooden door behind him.
Surprised, Gwirith dropped the arrow he was working on and stared at his departing back. Celinn came out and stood beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
'What in the name of the Valar is troubling him?' said Gwirith.
'I wish I knew,' said Celinn, as they watched Haldir's tall angry figure striding into the forest behind Legolas.
Legolas walked in silence for some time, ignoring Haldir's obvious vexation. He seemed completely relaxed, as if there were nothing more natural to him than to enjoy a walk in the forest with a totally unwilling companion. Finally Haldir's already almost non-existent patience ran out and he stopped walking, hands on his hips.
'Look, can't we just end this charade, whatever it is, and go our separate ways?' he said. 'I have a great deal to do, and if you want some tame guest to go on a pleasant country walk with you, I assure you I'm the worst company you could have chosen. So by your leave, I'll go back and get on with my work.' Already he was turning back the way they had come when Legolas said in a voice of steel,
'No, Haldir, you don't have my leave. I wish to speak to you.'
Haldir stopped, rigid with anger. Slowly he turned to face Legolas.
'I may be a guest in your realm,' he said, soft and dangerous, 'but I'm not yours to command, son of Thranduil. You owe me the dignity of my office.'
'And you owe me a duty of long friendship, which you have so greatly abused,' said Legolas, in a quite different voice from the one he had just used.
Haldir's face became if anything angrier than before, but he remained where he was.
'What do you want of me, Legolas? You know I have nothing to give you. I told you that a long time ago, and you accepted it.'
'I accepted it because it was what you wanted, Haldir, but now I no longer believe that you were right.'
Haldir turned away with a sound of frustration. 'If this is why you wanted to speak to me, then there is nothing more to say.'
Legolas gazed at him for a moment, then sat down slowly on the trunk of a fallen tree. His fair hair lifted a little in the breeze as he appeared to take some time to compose himself. Haldir stood bristling with agitation, looking into the far distance, but again he seemed unable to do what he apparently so desired, and take himself away from Legolas' presence.
At last Legolas spoke.
'In four days you are leaving for Dol Guldur, Haldir, an expedition which since you are so few I consider to be foolish and ill-advised. It may prove to be extremely successful; it may lay the foundations for the alliance we both desire. But it may not be successful. You or any of your company may be injured or killed, or worse. Haldir, we may never see each other again.' His voice shook suddenly and he stopped speaking. Haldir looked into the far distance, apparently unmoved by his words.
'That seemed to me sufficient reason to find a way to address you,' went on Legolas, 'however difficult you want to make it for me to do so.'
Haldir turned back to him slowly, his words cold and final.
'We have nothing to say to each other any more. There is nothing between us. Why do you persist in trying to awaken something that died a long time ago?'
Legolas sighed deeply. 'Haldir, what have you become, my dearest one?' he said gently. 'When first I knew you, you were full of joy and laughter, generous and kind to everyone around you, flirting with me from the first moment you set eyes on me; Haldir, you were alive! And now, you are dry, and bitter and scathing…and empty of love.'
'No, Legolas, at home in Lorien I'm not like this. It's being with you that makes me bitter. The pain of it makes me merciless, to myself and to others. Why do you think I take such trouble to avoid you?'
Legolas flinched and bowed his head into his hands.
'You are cruel,' he said in a muffled voice.
'Then you force me to be so,' said Haldir. 'You bring it on yourself, Legolas.'
Slowly Legolas raised his haggard face to him.
'Haldir, you think you can hide your heart behind your brutal words; but if you no longer loved me, you wouldn't seek to hurt me as you do: you would be calm and indifferent. Your very cruelty is a sign of your love.'
Haldir laughed bitterly. 'You may choose to see it so if you will; I've never heard it so described.'
'Then if it isn't so, Haldir, tell me now that you no longer love me.'
'To what purpose?' shouted Haldir, suddenly furiously angry. 'In any case you wouldn't believe me!'
Legolas regarded him calmly. 'You can't say it.'
'I can say it! I don't love you, Legolas. If I ever did, it was so long ago that I've forgotten it. Will that satisfy you?'
Legolas' expression did not change, but his face was a little paler than before.
'Haldir, there is something you have forgotten,' he whispered. 'In the eyes of the Valar, we are already one. The pain you feel when you're near me comes from denying what you know to be true: that you truly love me, and that it's only your fear that prevents you from receiving the love and comfort that I offer you: that I've never ceased to offer you, despite your coldness towards me all these long years.'
'Legolas, that was the past,' said Haldir wearily. 'There was no hope for us then, and there's surely none now.'
'You're going to tell me that there's always hope, but you know that isn't true, Legolas. Our duties keep us hundreds of leagues apart and always will.'
'While we live there's always hope,' said Legolas, but his voice shook treacherously. 'But you won't see it. Would you throw away what we have shared? Would you kill the love that dwells in your heart?'
'I've already killed it,' said Haldir, stony-faced. 'For if I hadn't, it would have killed me.'
Legolas stared at him, white and stricken. Against his will, Haldir felt moved by the sorrow on his face.
'If only you would forget the past, you could find comfort with another,' he said impatiently.
'As you have?' whispered Legolas.
Haldir looked away, defeated.
'Haldir, I haven't changed towards you,' said Legolas. 'Nor will I. Love is not to be spurned like an unwanted gift: we must honour it, however painful. And I will do so. I'll be before you every day until you leave my father's halls, and if you chance to return from Dol Guldur, I'll be waiting for you then, and every other time you come to Mirkwood.'
'Then I will not come again,' said Haldir harshly.
At this Legolas could not hold back a sound of pain. 'Then I'll come to you. And I do this not just for myself, but for you also. Do you think I don't see your loneliness? Don't you know that everyone sees it, Haldir?'
'That's no-one's business but my own,' shouted Haldir.
'Then you're a fool,' said Legolas. 'Love is painful, but turning it away is more painful still, and benefits you not at all. I'll make you see it, whatever it costs me.'
He stood up suddenly. 'Leave, then, if that's what you want. But I won't release you easily, Haldir. I'll fight for you, and I'll make you yield to me, and you'll give the lie to what you said before: your love isn't dead, but only buried alive where you hope no-one will spy it. But I feel it, Haldir, I who am the other half of you, of your soul and of your body.'
Haldir groaned. 'Legolas, enough,' he begged.
Legolas gazed at him. 'You force me to be so,' he said softly. 'You bring it on yourself.'
For the first time Haldir looked him full in the face, but the sight was too much for him and he turned and began to walk and then to run back in the direction in which they had come. In his agitation he must have missed his way because soon he found himself in unfamiliar territory, deep in the wood, surrounded by the joyous sound of birdsong. Exhausted, he cast himself down beside a small glassy lake and washed his face in the icy water, shaken by the turmoil of feelings that Legolas had aroused in him.
'Elbereth, it's finished, it was finished a long time ago,' he whispered to the Starkindler and to the silent woods around him; but deep within him he knew that something was changing, and its power was greater than his.
In the next few days, Haldir ran into Legolas so often that he became unsure whether he was the victim of manipulation or uncannily bad luck. Although he did everything he could to avoid him and indeed everyone else, he found himself constantly waylaid both by his own companions and by Legolas and the elves of Mirkwood.
Celinn wanted to speak to him alone, something Haldir worked hard to avoid, and Cerveth wanted him to plead his case with Thranduil so that he might come home to Lorien sooner than his duty to the King permitted. In addition Haldir was sleeping badly, worrying about the expedition to Dol Guldur and about his brothers back home.
He had hoped he would be safe in the middle of a bout of sword play on the practice ground, but out of the corner of his eye he saw Legolas appear and stretch himself out on the grassy slope that bordered the field. Forcing himself to concentrate, he increased the speed of his thrusts and in a few minutes had disarmed Aiglin, who held up his hands in surrender.
'Guardian, it's only a practice bout,' he said ruefully. 'After so many weeks of travelling, I've lost some of my agility.'
'All the more reason to regain it,' said Haldir shortly. 'Celinn, your turn.'
Celinn got up from the grass and drew his sword. 'At your service, Guardian,' he said, holding it up before his face. At once Haldir leapt towards him and the bout began.
'Haldir, you should conserve your strength,' said Celinn between strokes. 'We have another long journey before us.'
'Just fight,' said Haldir coldly, thrusting forward and nearly getting under his guard. 'I don't need a lesson from you, Celinn.'
Celinn flushed but he kept his composure, pressing Haldir on his weaker left side. Haldir turned him neatly, but Celinn pressed him again, making him give way a few paces. The temperature of the bout rose then, and finally Haldir called a halt.
'Thank you, captain,' he said, beginning to slide his sword into its sheath. 'You've regained all your skills, and it's an honour to cross swords with you.'
Celinn bowed, surprised at the compliment, but then Legolas called out,
'Give me a trial, Haldir. It's too long since we were matched.' He unfolded his long body and walked gracefully to stand in front of Haldir, drawing his sword.
Haldir directed his gaze at the point just over his shoulder. 'It's getting late, Sir. I beg you to excuse me,' he said curtly.
'Haldir,' said Legolas. 'This may be the last time we meet on the practice ground. Would you truly deprive me of this pleasure?'
Haldir's shoulders sagged, but he held up his sword before his face and took guard. Legolas did the same and then they were fighting. The two of them were evenly matched, although Legolas was the more graceful of the two and often nimbly stepped out of reach of Haldir's sword. It was clear that Haldir was holding himself back, fighting like someone going through a practice drill, whose heart is not in the work.
'Haldir,' called out Legolas, 'there's no need to be so courteous. I may be Thranduil's son, but I don't ask for special favours.'
Haldir fought with a little more liveliness then, but he seemed not to wish to look at his opponent. This gave Legolas the advantage over him, so that a few strokes later, Haldir gave a cry and his sword slipped from his hand. At once Legolas flung his own sword to the ground and was at his side.
'Let me see,' he commanded, seizing Haldir's wrist and pressing his thumb to the bleeding inch-long gash his sword had made.
'It's nothing,' said Haldir with irritation, pulling away, but Legolas did not release him.
'It would honour me to assist you,' said Legolas, pulling a scrap of linen out of his pocket and quickly binding the wound with it.
'Sit down, Haldir, until the bleeding stops,' he said, guiding him to the grassy slope without releasing his arm.
'Is this the depths to which you must descend?' said Haldir so that only Legolas could hear. 'Injuring me to give yourself an excuse to touch me?'
'I'll do whatever I must to reach you,' said Legolas quietly. 'I have no pride, Haldir, only love.'
Haldir made a sound of anger and turned away from him. Celinn and Gwirith came over to see what had happened, but Legolas spoke persuasively to them, and soon he and Haldir were alone, their swords fallen one across the other on the field before them.
'The bleeding has stopped,' said Haldir. 'You can let me go now.'
'No, I can't,' said Legolas. 'Look at me, Haldir. Have you thought about what I said to you before?'
'There's nothing to think about,' said Haldir, refusing to meet his eyes.
'Then I won't release you,' said Legolas.
At once Haldir tried to wrench his arm away, but in so doing opened the wound and it began to bleed again.
'There, now we must begin again,' said Legolas, lifting the cloth and examining Haldir's wrist. 'Stay still this time, or you'll have to go to the healers for them to sew it up for you.'
'Then I'll sit here and you may go. Legolas, please, I've nothing to say to you.'
Legolas did not reply. Haldir gave a stifled exclamation, then all at once had no spirit left to fight any more and resigned himself to endure what he could not resist. Silence fell and he and Legolas sat together, Haldir's body turned awkwardly away from him.
'I'm sorry that you suffer so much,' said Legolas gently at last.
'It barely hurts,' said Haldir dismissively.
'That's not what I meant.'
'I don't suffer,' said Haldir, 'any more than you do.'
Legolas smiled sadly. 'You think I don't suffer?'
Haldir laughed mirthlessly. 'Look at you,' he said, glancing for an instant at Legolas. 'You look exactly as you did last time I saw you, nearly five score years ago. Your skin is as smooth, your face as fair, your smile as easy as it always was. Where is your suffering?'
Legolas' fingers tightened for an instant on his wrist. 'If you don't see my suffering, it's because you wished that no-one should know that we had been lovers. Since you turned away from me, I've done everything I can to keep the secret as you wished. But I have suffered, and there are signs of it I could show you.'
'What signs?' demanded Haldir, scornfully.
Legolas' eyes flickered away, then back again. 'Do you truly wish to know? It's difficult for me to speak of it: I've never done so, to anyone,' he said.
'It's for you to choose,' said Haldir coldly. 'It matters nothing to me.'
Legolas turned away slowly, as if he were suddenly very tired. Haldir felt his grip loosen on his wrist, and Legolas' fingers slid away from him.
'You may go now, if you will,' said Legolas, wearily.
Haldir sighed with what sounded like relief, rubbing his wrist gently, but he didn't get up. Legolas sat completely still beside him. At last Haldir said,
'Well, you might as well tell me, if you haven't told anyone else.'
For a long time Legolas didn't move, but at last he reached for the sleeve of his shirt and rolled it up, then tilted his left arm towards Haldir. Hidden in the crook of his elbow there was a deep ragged scar, just to the left of the vein, and badly healed.
'What is it?' said Haldir, uncomprehending. 'What has it to do with me?'
'Sometimes,' said Legolas softly, 'when the pain becomes too great, it's the only way to relieve it. It's a hidden place, so no-one sees what I've done. It feels like a shameful thing, but without it I fear I couldn't…couldn't continue.'
He pulled down his sleeve and stood up quickly. 'So don't tell me that I don't suffer, Haldir. Sometimes when I think of you, I long for death. For your sake I would never take my own life, but I've hoped that death might take me honourably. I've made myself a name for courage, but it's no more than this: that sometimes I want to close my eyes and sleep, and never wake again.'
His voice was steady and quiet, but Haldir felt his words like a sword running him through. Shaken, he leapt to his feet.
'What do you want me to say to you?' he demanded. 'You ask more than I can give! I didn't choose this love: it caught me unwilling in a trap!' He seized Legolas' arm and shoved back his sleeve to expose the scar.
'The way you feel when you have to do that, that's how I felt every moment I was away from you after the first time we were together. When I saw the sun rise on the first morning after we had been together, and knew then that my heart loved you, it was with terror, Legolas! I yearned to be with you again, but each time I had to leave you was torment. I've fought my whole life to keep my heart safe, after what I'd seen others suffer: how the Lady was when she first came to Lorien, leaving Celeborn behind her in Eregion; and how Amroth was sent nearly mad when he was parted from Nimrodel. I swore I would never let love break me in that way, and, Legolas, I swear it still! I can't love you, even if I were to will it, because the day will never come when I can leave Lorien or you Mirkwood, and, however much I sue for an alliance, truly I can't see the day when your father will share his power with anyone, and make Lorien and Mirkwood one. You must give up your love, Legolas. Believe me, it's a trap; a trap for us both.'
He stopped speaking suddenly, breathing loud and fast with emotion. He dropped Legolas' arm. They stood staring at each other, eye to eye for the first time.
'You loved me, Haldir,' whispered Legolas. 'You still do. Maybe I'm the only one you've every truly loved. We've known joy together, many times. For many centuries we both longed for the time we would see each other again, and painful though it was, we accepted the years and the leagues that separated us. We are one, Haldir, whatever you may say, even though we've been through no binding. Where is your courage? Come back to me, and at least we'll have joy as well as pain.'
Haldir stepped back, a look of horror on his face.
'You're not listening to me,' he said in a shaking voice. 'You haven't heard a word I've said.'
Legolas stared at him. It seemed an unbridgeable gulf had opened up between them.
'I should never have listened to you,' said Haldir. 'I should never have come here. I should have told the Lady; she would have understood.'
'Haldir…' said Legolas.
'Please, no more,' said Haldir. 'I can't bear it.'
Legolas bowed his head. 'Go, then,' he said, low and muffled. 'Your fear is strong, Haldir. I can only pray your love is stronger.'
Haldir turned and left him, snatching up his sword as he went, and it was only then that he realised that so engrossed had he been that he had completely failed to notice that night had fallen.
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.