23. Chapter Twenty-Three
Eight hours later, they took their first break. Legolas pulled waybread from his pouch and handed some to Gimli, who looked at him in surprise. "I haven't eaten the stuff since... Well, I was able to swallow it then, I suppose I can do naught but the same now. Just wish we had some ale."
Haldirriel and Haldir never said a word. They let their horses free to graze across the field. Holding his hand as a cup, Legolas let his own mount drink, then allowed the mare to join the other horses. After a full half hour, they whistled, mounted their horses, and rode again southeast.
Another seven hours and Haldir turned to bid his mate farewell. She held him close, his hair brushing lightly against her cheek. It stuck in the tears that she shed, but he returned the embrace gently and quickly. "I must go."
She nodded and let him pull himself from her arms. "Return to me."
"We will wait for you at the border, but be not o'erlong, Haldir," Legolas reminded him.
"Wait here, please. You know not what you will find at the border; they must have guards out."
Legolas shook his head in frustration. "We will wait here, but only one day. If you do not return, we must press on."
"Rest and recover your strength. We will need it, once we enter the wood. I will return before the sun rises. There is a full moon; I should have no trouble finding the path to Lórien. Wait for me." He grasped Legolas' arm tightly. "Wait for me else I do something rash."
Legolas nodded. "Be not late, Haldir. Ride as if the Valar were chasing you!"
With that, Haldir turned his horse's head and rode southwest. He never looked back; never saw the stricken look on Haldirriel's face.
"He will return, for is not the treasure waiting here for him worth his life?"
She turned and clung to him, weeping quietly.
"He will return. Let us build a fire and make a proper meal. It will be our last for many a day, I fear."
Gimli set about picking up sticks and kindling; Haldirriel drew up stones and made the pit, placing a few sticks of charcoal from her pack into the center. Legolas had spotted a rabbit's warren not far from where they stopped; he returned and set up two traps. Before the fire had even calmed, he was busy dressing the rabbits he had caught. Gimli went to the river and drew water into a pan for cooking the rabbits and filled their water flasks. The miruvor Legolas carried would be needed for the wounded, if wounded there were. He shuddered at the thought.
They quickly devoured their meal. Legolas took first watch. Haldirriel wept as she struggled to rest; sleep would not come.
Morning came and there was no sign of Haldir. Gimli smothered their fire after breaking their fast. Haldirriel touched Legolas' arm. "We cannot leave without him."
"He should have returned by now. I told him we would leave."
"You promised him one full day. It is only half that."
Legolas' shivered. "We cannot leave the men at the mercy of the Yrch."
"If we go thusly, with only three to battle a group that enslaved a full patrol of Lórien's best, then we too will be captured."
Swearing wildly, the Elf pulled away from her and stalked towards the river.
"He knows you speak rightly, but his heart is broken. Too many times has he watched those he loves murdered." Gimli sat back against a tree. He pulled out a pipe and proceeded to light it.
Haldirriel grimaced at the strong fumes, but sat next to him. "Tell me of Mirkwood as it was, of his mother."
"I know not much. He rarely shares such things. But his mother's death still grieves him. He was a great soldier for his father. Led many a sortie against Rukhâs and spiders and such. I think he still suffers over those he lost." The Dwarf grinned. "He has a great heart, though he tries to hide it."
"Do I not know that," Haldirriel complained quietly.
"He is worth loving, lady. I am glad you chose to include him in your bond, though how that works, I am at a loss."
She smiled and touched his arm in gratitude. "I myself am unsure of 'how it works' - suffice it to say, I am grateful it does."
"I've become fond of the lad," Gimli said softly. "Very fond of him."
"And he of you. Though we are bound, I do not see him leaving you. I am not sure how we will... how this..." She shook her head in confusion. "He will not leave you, of that I am sure. Mayhap that is why the Valar have allowed the three of us to bond. Legolas can still be free to wander Middle-earth with you whilst Haldir and I keep our talan open for him. It will be bitter having him away from us for extended periods, but I see his heart is 'gull-called.' He will, mayhap, leave for the shores of Valinor before Haldir and I."
The Dwarf drew in a breath. "Soon?"
She smiled sadly at him. "Nay. He will wait until..."
"Until I die?"
"Well, then I best do that soon so he can find some peace," the Dwarf said gruffly. "I won't be the one keeping him from that."
"You have naught to say in such matters. And if he heard you saying you seek death, he would be cross. I do not think you want to see Legolas cross."
The Dwarf chuckled. "I have seen him cross on an occasion or two. It's not a pretty sight."
"Nay. It is not. And what have I to be cross about?"
They both stood and faced Legolas.
His face fell at the look of distress on theirs. "You speak of grave matters, I see. Would you share your concerns? Has some message come from Lórien?"
"We spoke of future decisions," Haldirriel stated flatly. "Things that need not be discussed now. It is time to decide what we will do once we reach Dol Guldur. Do you think the Yrch still live in the tower?"
"Nay." Legolas watched their faces and decided it was not the time for pursuing whatever dismayed his friend and his bonded partner. "The tower was destroyed and all about it."
"Caves below it," Gimli opined. "I'll wager you there are caves below the tower and the Elves did not see them. Probably covered up with a wizard's spell."
"You speak wisely, Gimli," Legolas' brow furrowed. "Though no wizard, but the powerful servant of Morgoth." The Elf spat after saying the name as if his tongue tasted of poison. "None of us were with the party that attacked Dol Guldur after the Ring was destroyed. I wonder...."
"I think your friend speaks true, Legolas. I think there are caves." A shudder ran through her. "I think we go to the very caves that I have dreamt of. They are not north; they are before us. In the shadow of the tower. That is where my brother lies, in torment and chains."
"Oddly enough, that puts my heart at ease, for I was concerned we were not doing the Lady's bidding. Now we are on the right course and I feel on firm ground once again. We will wait for Haldir a little longer, then we will find these caves and route out the vermin that hold our friends captive."
All agreed. Yet, when evening was upon them again, there was no sign of Haldir nor any Elves from Lórien. Uneasily, the three lit a fire and hoped this was their last on this side of the Anduin for many days to come.
"If Haldir does not come by morning," Legolas' voice was strained, "then we must leave here. We will cross the River in the morning, cross the forest quietly and find the entrance to the caves. I do not think we should go to the remains of the Tower itself. I am sure there are 'escape' tunnels further from it. These we will find. Then, we will wait again for Haldir and hope that he comes before we must enter."
Haldirriel nodded in agreement, but in the space of a heartbeat, she stood in delight. "He comes!"
Legolas too felt his bond-mate. "He is near," he whispered in joy.
Gimli rolled his eyes, took out his pipe, and sat by the fire. "Now we wait for the reunion and the rutting to be done with," he mumbled.
Legolas looked at the Dwarf and smiled. "Sadly, there will be no rutting," he whispered. "There are too many about." He gestured and Gimli sat up straight in surprise and looked as the camp filled with over one hundred Galadhrim. "About time," he growled. "Now we can be about saving some Elves and return to Aglarond in time for some feasting!"
Haldir stepped forward and embraced both Haldirriel and Legolas. "We have some planning to do, my friends."
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.