8. Chapter Seven
Haldir ate nothing that night, and, falling into bed, surprised himself by sleeping dreamlessly until dawn. In the morning light it seemed possible to endure the two days that remained before they would leave for Dol Guldur. It shook him to find that the thought of the journey to the dark tower seemed a relief after the time he had spent in the Elvenking's halls, but he resolved to summon all the discipline he had and do his duty as he always did.
The preparations for the journey were nearly completed, and Celinn and Gwirith's dwelling had regained its orderly appearance. Their weapons were ready, polished and sharpened, their supply of arrows replenished. There was food and medical supplies, and maps and scrolls to help them on their way, and some cloaks of skin and fur in case the snows came early. The horses which would take them to the Forest Road were being exercised and checked for fitness, and the only thing left to do today was to meet with those who had some knowledge of the road they would be following.
'You look well, Haldir,' said Celinn, coming onto the veranda with a cup of steaming tea in his hand. 'How is the injury?'
'Healing well,' said Haldir, stroking the small scar absentmindedly.
'Good. Then if you are ready, Legolas is waiting for us in his dwelling.'
'Legolas? Why?' said Haldir.
'He is the one who knows most about the road to Dol Guldur. He has made the journey many times these last years, though not since evil returned there this time. And Aradhil will be there too. Wait for me, I will go and fetch the others.'
The wooden door swung itself shut as he went into the house.
Haldir stood on the veranda looking calmly at the trees, but his hands hidden within the folds of his cloak were clenched tight. He forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply, and gradually the sense of panic within him subsided.
'Elbereth, make me strong,' he whispered to himself, and when a moment later the door opened and the other Galadhrim emerged from the house, he was able to turn and smile at them. Celinn took his arm and Haldir was grateful for it as they made the short journey across the green clearing and came to a halt outside Legolas' dwelling.
In the nine centuries since the Watchful Peace, Haldir had spent many nights with Legolas in secret in this very house, but now it seemed strange and alien to him. It was identical to all the others built in the forest, except for the carving of green-painted beech leaves that surrounded the door, and, now that he looked at it more closely, the slow-growing sapling of mallorn that stood in a green earthenware pot on the veranda beside a wooden reclining bench.
Staring at it, Haldir did not notice the door open and Legolas come out to greet them, and it was only when Celinn nudged him gently that he turned and saw Legolas smiling at him.
'Haldir, that comes from the seed you brought me, three or four centuries ago, I think. But as you see it has scarcely grown; it doesn't seem to like the air here, and it pines for its brothers in Lorien. Next time you must bring me another seed to grow him a mate, so that he will not be lonely any more.'
Haldir gazed at the tree, and its fragile courage touched him, so that he stretched out his fingers and ran them down the small sparse golden leaves. All at once he longed for home, and his other hand tightened involuntarily on Celinn's arm.
'Let's go in,' said Celinn gently, and they stepped over the threshold into the house.
At once Haldir was assailed by a wave of overwhelming memories. 'Elbereth, I am lost,' he whispered to himself in despair, looking around at the wooden boards spread with a rug patterned in red and blue and gold, and the padded bench that curved round in front of the hearth. The cover was new, the colour of ripe wheat, with cushions of purple and blue scattered across it. On the hearthstone stood a gathering of many short, broad candles of ivory-coloured wax, unused, and a little brass snuffer lay on its side next to them.
At the corner of the hearth in which a small fire burned without smoke, there were some cooking implements, and a set of fine blue cups and plates were stacked on a low shelf, together with some cutlery. Everywhere Haldir looked there were familiar objects, and he was torn between the desire to make some excuse, however implausible, to escape from his past, so strongly revealed to him, and the need to do his duty: for his company, for Lorien, and for the whole future of their lands.
The choice was taken out of his hands as Celinn drew him across the room to where Legolas had arranged some chairs around a long beech table on which were laid many scrolls and other documents in orderly piles. Haldir found himself at one end of the table, opposite Legolas, the last place he would have chosen. Directly opposite him the door which led to Legolas' bedroom was slightly ajar, and he could see a glimpse of the bed with its high canopy, curtained in blue and gold.
Haldir's eyes began to sting: a sudden breeze must have sent smoke down the chimney. He sat down and laid his hands flat on the table, calling again to Elbereth for strength. Somehow he managed to listen to what was said in the next hour. Aradhil spoke first, describing the dangers to be found in the Forest, and where they had worsened: black squirrels, great spiders, vampires, disembodied spirits, wargs and of course, orcs, and Valar knew what else dwelt now in the dark tower itself. No-one had been near it since Sauron had declared his power anew two years before.
'We were fools to believe the Necromancer had truly been defeated when Mithrandir forced him out a ten-year ago or more,' said Aradhil grimly. 'We who have lived with his wiles for so long should have been more wary.'
'It is our desire to be rid of him for good that made us wish it were so,' said Legolas.
'Which way would you counsel us to take to Dol Guldur?' asked Celinn.
Legolas rummaged through the documents on the table and found one which he unrolled, then weighted down the four corners with some stones he had collected for the purpose.
'Stay close to the eastern edge of the forest until you reach the Old Forest Road,' he said, indicating the route on the map. 'As you can see, the Mountains are an obstacle in the centre, and the spiders are worst there. Once you have left the horses, continue south along the forest edge until you reach the East Bight. You can go out in the open a little then, if you wish, but when you have passed it, turn south-west towards Amon Lanc. We have found it safest – although of course it isn't safe at all – to approach Dol Guldur from the south, where there is most shelter from the forest.'
'Could we not return by the path we came and take our boats down Anduin?' asked Gwirith. 'Otherwise they'll be lost.'
'You could do this,' said Legolas, 'but that would mean approaching Dol Guldur across the open plain, and you are more likely to be detected.' He removed the stones and let the map roll itself up with a papery rustle. 'Take it. We have others the same,' he said, handing it to Celinn.
They spoke some more then, about the details of the route, and about how the elves of Mirkwood had fared on their journeys south.
'This one here is too courageous for his own good,' said Aradhil, jerking his head at Legolas. 'He takes more risks than anyone, but what he discovers is always a help. Mithrandir praised him highly when he came here last, just before setting out against the Necromancer. I'm glad you're not going this time, Sir. Last time you were out of action for weeks after that wound you took.'
'I only take risks that will be useful to us,' said Legolas, dismissively. 'I was a little careless that time, that's all.'
'Your father still looks at me as if he is minded to send me out alone to fight the orcs,' said Aradhil. 'He blames me, whatever you may say.'
'Well, Aradhil, I'm not going this time, so for the moment at least, you're safe.'
Gwirith asked a question about the horses then, and the conversation began to flow again. Haldir had not said a word during the whole briefing, but despite his distractedness, his mind had grasped the matter, and it was with relief that he began to make calculations in his head about travelling times and stopping places. He reached out to Celinn for the map and, unrolling it, began to question Aradhil about the best places to break their journey. Though dour and inflexible, Aradhil knew his subject well, and Haldir took out some parchment and made some notes about the road which he would read later on.
At last everyone fell silent, and it seemed everything had been asked that could be.
'Well, brothers, food and drink will be most welcome, I think,' said Legolas, getting up and beginning to gather the papers together. 'Celinn, there's a closet in my room where these are kept. Will you put them away for me?'
Celinn let him load his arms with books and scrolls and rolled-up maps, and then Legolas and Aradhil went to prepare the meal. Turning away from the table, Celinn dropped some of the papers, and Haldir stooped to pick them up.
'Bring them, will you?' asked Celinn. 'I can't carry them all.'
Haldir looked around him in consternation, but everyone was occupied and there was no-one to whom he could give the task, so reluctantly he followed Celinn into Legolas' room. The first thing that hit him was the wave of incense that washed over him as he crossed the threshold. Heady and sweet, it could not quite cover the spicy fragrance of the wood from which the house was made, but he remembered how Legolas had loved to burn it, and indeed there was the same glazed green bowl with its coating of syrupy grains on the small table beside the bed.
'Haldir,' called Celinn, and he turned to see him struggling one-handed to open the doors of a large closet which stood against the wall beside the window. Haldir put down his burden and opened it, then waited while Celinn sorted the documents into some order before putting them inside, looking away from the half-open door which led to the tiny bathroom.
The scent of incense made him feel light-headed and he closed his eyes for a moment, willing absurdly that when he opened them he would be back in Lorien, far away from Legolas and everything he had meant to him; but of course he wasn't, and so he let himself gaze around the room which at one time had been so familiar. Legolas' bow and quiver and his two white-handled knives were stored in the corner of the room and some of his clothes were draped across a carved chair. Haldir recognised with a start a leather belt that he had given Legolas as a gift after the belt he had been wearing had been broken when…Haldir closed his eyes again. He didn't want to remember.
There was the miniature of Legolas' mother beside the incense-burner on the bedside table. And something else was on the table, tied up with a scrap of silver ribbon…Haldir recognised a lock of his own hair which Legolas had asked for years ago. He stifled a sound of pain.
'Haven't you finished yet, Celinn?' he demanded. Celinn turned to him in surprise.
'Not yet, Guardian. But don't wait if you would rather not.'
Haldir turned and fled blindly from the room, but at that moment Legolas appeared, carrying a jug of water to the table, and they collided. The jug fell and shattered on the floor.
'Valar, I'm sorry,' said Haldir breathlessly, 'I didn't mean to…'
'Haldir, it's nothing,' said Legolas, holding him by the arms. 'We didn't see each other properly. No harm has been done.'
He led Haldir round the debris on the floor and pushed him gently into a chair.
'Sit here, my dear,' he said quietly. 'The lunch is nearly ready.'
Haldir sat, watching the table being prepared. The cloth was one he had brought from Lorien many years before, and everywhere he looked he could see signs of the past he and Legolas had shared. A pair of candleholders on the mantel; a small painting of Anduin he had made on the way to Mirkwood one year; even the polish on the floor smelt like the one he had brought as a gift for Legolas after he had found it so useful in his own home. He felt torn in two: entranced by the comfort and familiarity of the place, and terrified of opening his heart again to a love which had already brought him so much pain.
Haldir wanted to bow his head into his hands and close his eyes, but instead he pulled his chair towards the table with the others and after Legolas had said a few words of thanks to the Valar, began to help himself to food. He did his best to participate in the conversations taking place around him, listening to Aradhil talking proudly about the history of Mirkwood and the Silvan elves, and Aiglin and Luinil arguing over how many miles one could cover on horseback in a day, but he found he couldn't eat anything, even though all the food was delicious. He helped himself to another glass of Dorwinion wine, wondering whether the Galion he had met in the Elvenking's halls was the same one whose name he had heard in connection with that strange business over the periannath many years ago. If he was, he could understand why Thranduil had not dismissed him; he obviously kept an excellent cellar, if this vintage was anything to go by.
Legolas was watching him, he knew that, but he avoided his eye and drank deeply, wondering how long it would be before he could leave without seeming discourteous. Everything was ready now: the packing was finished, the horses would be ready by the morning of the day after tomorrow, as Thranduil had promised. There was nothing to do but wait for the last hours to pass. He began to count them, and found that there were forty-four empty hours before their departure. What could he do with them?
Sleep, of course. He needed to be alert for the journey. And maybe he could go away: walk in the forest; swim in the river, alone. He couldn't afford to be distracted on the way to Dol Guldur; he must shake off this mood somehow. And soon the hours would pass, and he would be safe, on his way to the dark tower.
The thought was so preposterous that Haldir almost laughed out loud.
Now people were getting up from the table, preparing to leave. Haldir had eaten nothing, but even so the wine had not affected him: he was known for holding his drink. But maybe it had affected him a little, because he was able to say his thanks to Legolas, and even take his hand for a moment, and the pain was tolerable. And then he was out in the green forest light, and he could breathe again.
'I'm glad you don't spend all your time inside those airless caves, Haldir, as you did when we first came here,' said Celinn, as the whole company of the Galadhrim lay stretched out in the forest on the banks of the river that afternoon.
'I wished to be at the King's disposal if ever he wanted to talk to me,' said Haldir. 'Now our task is fulfilled I don't need to be so close to his chambers.'
'Haldir,' said Aiglin suddenly. 'You know we won't get home before winter. Will we stay here awhile when we've brought back the news of our journey, to avoid travelling in the snows?'
'No,' said Haldir sharply. 'We'll deliver the intelligence, and we'll turn at once for home.'
'Maybe it would be useful if some elves of Mirkwood came with us as guides, and then we wouldn't have to make the journey back: they could carry the news home themselves.'
'We're not taking any of them with us,' said Haldir firmly. 'This is our task, and we'll fulfil it.'
They all fell silent then, and after a while Gwirith lay his head on Celinn's shoulder and went to sleep. Celinn was wakeful for a while, but at last he too slept, his arms round Gwirith. Haldir looked up through the canopy of trees at the chill blue sky, wondering how long it would be before the snows came. He began to calculate how many weeks the journey to Dol Guldur would take, and how long it would take to turn back to Mirkwood with the news of what they had found. Maybe he was being too stubborn over the idea of taking a guide from Mirkwood. Maybe Aradhil could come, and then they could go straight back to Lorien from Dol Guldur instead of making the whole journey a second time… No, the Lady wouldn't want it. Let Lorien give Mirkwood this gift, and it might bring the alliance a little closer.
Beginning to think about the journey again, he pushed himself up onto his elbow to ask Aiglin and Luinil something, but to his surprise they were both asleep, tangled up together in the grass. Haldir looked at the two pairs of elves, lost in sleep, their bodies relaxed and comfortable, and he smiled fondly at the sight, especially that of Celinn and Aiglin whom he had known from elflings and had brought up to be warriors. He turned away, and all at once he felt the loneliness that he had held to himself all these long years.
'I have no lover, so I cling to my loneliness instead,' he whispered.
But this was dangerous ground, and soon he could leave these questions behind. Haldir lay down again and looked up through the canopy of trees. He should sleep too: the time would pass more quickly if he did. He closed his eyes and let himself become aware of the breeze gently touching his face. Here in Mirkwood the trees had lost nearly all their leaves, and the branches tapped together lightly. It was a sound with which he was unfamiliar, since the mellyrn kept their leaves throughout the winter. But he had heard it before…when was it?
Behind his closed eyelids an image began to form. He frowned, trying to recognise it… His eyes snapped open and at once he was sitting up. He had heard the wind in the bare trees when last he lay in Legolas' bed, and his closed eyes had seen the view through the window of his bedchamber, green forest light flooding the room like water as Legolas' fair head rested in the crook of his arm, his long hair spread out all around him on the pillow as he slept. Haldir groaned and covered his face with his hands.
'Sweet Elbereth, let me forget him,' he pleaded. But the vision would not leave him, and here in the silence he could not avoid the voice of longing that asked where Legolas was now, and whether he was seeking him, as he had done so persistently these last days. Indeed Haldir had to admit to himself that there was a part of him that wanted to be sought, even if it was to turn the seeker away every time.
'He is right,' he said to himself. 'I am cruel. But it's because I have no choice.'
Slowly he lay down again but this time he kept his eyes wide open, and to calm himself he began to count every breath that he took, and to take each one as slowly and mindfully as he could. At last he felt himself centred again, deep in the channel of his breath, safe in his own being.
Soon afterwards the others woke, and they went back to their dwellings. Haldir was hungry and ate with them, and then he went to his chamber in the caverns underground and, not bothering to light the candle, undressed and lay in the dark, feeling the great hand of the earth pressing down on him, as if he were already dead and buried.
Just before he slept a flicker of pain pushed itself through his stoicism, and he felt tears on his face, but he let it leave him, and resolutely looked into the darkness until at last he fell asleep.
On the last day the Galadhrim spent in Mirkwood, King Thranduil summoned them to him to make his farewells. The meeting was short and unemotional and he had nothing more to say on the subject of an alliance. Afterwards Haldir walked in the forest alone as he had wished to do, and for an instant he thought he heard Galadriel speaking to him in his mind, but he was not sure if he had only imagined it. The sky was pale and empty and he walked without noticing where he went, relieved that in a few hours more he would be gone from this place.
Beside him the river ran strongly, its rippling voice filling the air. Ahead of him it curved, making a little sheltered bay in the distance. Far away there was a flicker of movement, and then Haldir saw that someone was in the water. He walked on, resolving to move away from the shore when he came closer so as not to disturb whoever was taking their ease in the river.
It was only when he had walked many yards further that he recognised the person who was in the water, and he stood immobile, torn again between staying and going.
Legolas was swimming strongly, his hair gathered into a single thick braid which floated behind him. His skin, so long denied the sun, was very white against the bottle-green water, and his movements were lithe and graceful. Haldir told himself there was no harm in him looking at him for one last time, but it was only a few moments before Legolas' beauty reduced him to tears, and he cursed the gods who had given him such a love which brought him so much pain.
Unwitting he must have made a sound because Legolas turned suddenly in the water, looking fixedly in his direction, as still and watchful as an animal scenting the wind. Haldir held his breath, staying completely still, and at length he saw Legolas relax and slide back into the water, swimming smoothly away from him. Haldir let out a ragged sigh of relief, and when he saw that Legolas was emerging from the water and pulling on his clothes he hid himself, hoping to remain unnoticed until the prince had left. But when he was dressed, Legolas turned and began to walk towards him, and after a few moments he stopped just by the place where he had taken shelter.
'Haldir,' said Legolas, deep and soft.
Haldir stepped out from his hiding place and stood before him.
'I wasn't seeking you,' said Legolas. 'And I doubt you were seeking me. It was meant that we should find each other.'
Haldir looked at him, blinking back the tears that threatened to fill his eyes.
'Legolas, don't ask this of me,' he said.
'I ask nothing. I seek to give: to give myself as I did so long ago, until you turned me away. No, Haldir, don't go yet. Let's talk for a while now that we have the chance.' He reached out for Haldir's arm and drew him down to sit on the soft grass.
'I can't…' said Haldir, tormented, but he sat nevertheless, sinking his head down into his hands. 'Only for a moment…' he whispered.
Legolas nodded. 'If you wish,' he said calmly. Quickly he loosened his hair from the thick braid into which it had been gathered, so that the light breeze could dry it, then stretched out, leaning back on his arms, and gazed at Haldir.
'You are still beautiful. There must be many in Lorien who seek you out,' he said.
Haldir shook his head, not looking up.
'I remember the first time we met,' said Legolas, 'when the troubles at Dol Guldur were at their height. I'd never seen anyone so dashing: the founder of the pellarim and the most accomplished swordsman in Lorien…'
'Celinn is our best swordsman now…' murmured Haldir.
'You were the strongest, most resourceful captain of the Galadhrim; and of course the most alluring…. I think my heart was yours from that very first day, Haldir. I was not surprised when Galadriel made you Guardian of Lorien, just before the Watchful Peace began. I was beguiled by you, by the way you looked at me with arrogant, commanding eyes; the way you touched me, just a little longer than you needed to. But then at last I saw that your heart was not engaged, and that it was a game you played with all those who attracted you, nis or ner. I was ashamed of my foolishness in thinking you might have singled me out. I kept away from you then, so that you wouldn't see my shame, and laugh at me for gazing at you with adoration. But you laughed at me anyway, whenever you saw me, teasing me, seeming to offer yourself, then withdrawing.'
'Legolas, enough…' said Haldir painfully.
'I don't know why your heart changed towards me,' went on Legolas, ignoring him, 'but I remember that you were afraid for a long time. Then it was you who refused to come near me, sending others to Mirkwood in your stead. But my body knew you, Haldir. It knew you sought me, even if you couldn't face the knowledge that you were no longer the master, as you had been with all your lovers before. And when at last your longing became too great and you couldn't turn away from me any more…being with you was like coming home, Haldir.'
'Legolas,' said Haldir, broken and weeping, 'I beg you…'
'No, Haldir, you must hear this. My body still longs for you, as yours does for me. For your beauty, the touch of your skin against mine, your passion…but also for your comfort: the way you held me, warmed me…the way you loved me, Haldir. My body is hungry, it is parched with longing. Haldir, without you I'm cold …' Legolas' voice faltered and stopped.
They sat together, the sound of birdsong filling the forest around them, the scent of pine rising from the trees. Haldir continued to weep softly, hands covering his face. Legolas watched him, helpless.
At last Haldir raised his ravaged face. 'If you love me,' he whispered, 'you'll let me go.'
Legolas flinched, but his eyes stayed fixed on Haldir's.
'I lack your strength, Legolas. This love has tormented me: the years I've spent apart from you have worn down my spirit. I'm torn between honour and love. If I break my Guardian's oath and leave Lorien, casting away my honour to come to you, I will be nothing. If instead I give myself to you now and then return home, the pain of separation will be like a bleeding wound, never healing, draining me. Whatever I choose, I'm trapped, Legolas.' Haldir took a heavy shuddering breath. 'I beg you, don't offer yourself to me; don't say there's a way for us to be together. Legolas, I can't…I can't do it.'
Legolas' eyes darkened with pain. Something changed in his face, as if he had finally felt the import of Haldir's words. He sat for a long time in silence, looking intently at Haldir's face as if trying to memorize it. Then he leaned forward and kissed him gently. Haldir tried to resist him but the kiss was too sweet, and he lost himself in it at once.
Finally Legolas drew away. His blue eyes were awash with tears, and he wiped his face roughly with the palms of his hands.
'Goodbye, Haldir,' he said hoarsely, and getting to his feet, he turned and walked slowly away from him, not looking back. Haldir watched him, unable to move or to call out, even to say a word of farewell, until he was out of sight.
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.