14. Chapter Fourteen
"You look like you have seen a Vala."
"I have, Legolas. I have just come from the Lady of the Wood. She kissed... I showed her the locket I keep her hair in. She spoke to me of..." The Dwarf blushed furiously. "Enough of that." His voice turned brusque. "Let us be away now."
"We are waiting upon Loselleth. She forgot something." The Elf looked up towards the talan as Haldirriel quickly descended.
Haldir tried to hide a scowl. How often had he asked the Silvan Elf to call her by her bonded name?
"I am ready," she said breathlessly. "I am sorry for the delay."
Haldir nodded curtly and turned, determined to keep his anger under control. Or was it jealousy? A hiss slipped out. Haldirriel heard and turned with a questioning look. He shrugged and motioned for them to start.
The company set out, following the Marchwarden as he headed north. Legolas rode at Haldir's right hand while Haldirriel rode at his left. The Dwarf good-naturedly rode behind with an Elf on his left. The other ten followed in like manner. The first ten leagues were easy enough through the mighty forest of Lórien; though it was a heartbreaking ride as many Elves came out to watch the company pass; some waved, others ran forward with tokens of hope. All knew Haldir's mission was to find lost Elves. Many in the crowd had family lost during the Battle of Five Armies and other conflicts; many of those lost had never been found. Hope flared, yet Haldir pondered. They were, after all, going solely on a dream.
Finally breaking out upon the grasslands, they rode for another hour, at last making camp at the end of the foot of Fanuidhol. The great mountain peak loomed over them in darkness as Anor set behind it.
The journey of at least one hundred fifty leagues would take them close to nine days to complete and Haldir had hoped to get these first leagues over and done with, but they decided not to tax their horses too much and had only covered about sixteen leagues. "We will cross the Ninglor and then cross the Langflood at the Old Ford," Haldir said as they settled down by the fire. Pickets had been set and the horses tended. "If our timing is good, we may stay the night with Grimbeorn, if that meets your approval. They say he is as great a man as his father before him. I would very much like to meet him."
"So would I. Ever was his father helpful to the Elves of the Woodland Realm. Tomorrow, though," Legolas said, "we should make better time. The ground is flat and firm all the way to the Loeg Ningloron. We should pass west of them. We do not want to get caught in the swamps that lie where it joins the Anduin."
"If all goes well, we should reach the Ninglor in two day's time." Haldir agreed.
"Why are you talking about if all goes well," the Dwarf said gruffly. "There is naught to hamper our way; Yrch are destroyed, the eagles fly nearby, men colonize the area. Cannot you smell the Kheled-zâram? Does not it excite your blood to be so close to it?"
Legolas smiled broadly, pleased that Gimli was comfortable enough to call Mirrowmere by its Dwarven name in front of the Elves of Lórien. "I had forgotten, friend, that we are indeed within smelling distance of that great lake by the Dimrill Dale."
Haldir looked up in surprise. "We are more than thirty leagues from the Dale. How can you possibly smell the waters?"
Turning to his friend, Legolas put his hand on his shoulder. "Cannot you still smell the leaves of the mellyrn though we are now twenty leagues past Lórien's borders?"
Flinching at the touch and the emotions it brought with it, Haldir sighed. "Forgive me, Master Dwarf. I understand."
There was a moment of companionable silence, then Gimli took out a pipe. Haldir's eyes widened. "I had forgotten that ghastly habit."
Legolas ignored Haldir's comment and asked, "When we leave Grimbeorn's lands, could we cut through Eryn Lasgalen? My Adar would send some of our people with us. We know how to fight the Great Spiders."
"I think we should not," Haldirriel interrupted. "I am sorry, Legolas. I know it has been some time since last you saw Thranduil - but I know not exactly where the cave is. We should start where the River Greylin meets the Langflood, go across the foothills of the Ered Mithrin, and then cross the Forest River. If we have not found the cave by then, we must cross to the Withered Heath and search there."
"This will take longer than a fortnight," Gimli groused. "Perhaps I will ride to the Dale now, before we retire for the night, for I could be old and grey before we return!"
"If you would agree, Gimli, I would like to view it myself one day," Legolas smiled.
Looking at the Dwarf in shock, Haldir stood. "It would be madness to go at night and thirty leagues!"
"He teases you, Haldir. You will learn all too soon that a Dwarf likes to tease. Beware," and the broad smile that Legolas flashed at Gimli was rewarded by a nod of the Dwarf's head.
"There are many caves, Haldir," Gimli's voice, though deep, was subdued. "My fathers spent many long lives in those hills. Did not the Lady Galadriel give us some clue as to where we might find this particular cave?"
"She did not," Haldirriel said. "I have seen the caves themselves, in my dreams, but never have I seen the outside."
"Then we will go by smell. Yrch and spiders have their own scent," Legolas spoke as quietly as his friend had. "We will use it against them."
"I smell a more pleasant scent," Haldirriel whispered as she leaned over against Haldir as he sat. He stiffened. "What?" she asked, disconcerted.
"Forgive me. We have a long journey ahead of us." He raised his voice. "We will break camp two hours before first light. Turn in now."
The fire was banked, pickets were changed, and the camp settled for the night. Haldirriel lay in stunned silence.
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