He walked to the stair and met a healer; he told him he would like to go to Lord Haldir and he would eat below with the others. The elf escorted him to the harness, summoned a sentry to supervise his descent and let Prince Théodred to the ground. This time there were no whoops, just grim determination to have no thoughts but for the matter in hand – to return to his Riders, to ride to Minas Tirith – and to ignore the fact that the one he wished above all to see would not welcome him to the White City – perhaps, never again.
He looked for Haldir and was escorted to the table where he had eaten before. A golden-haired elf he had seen before introduced himself as Lórindol, and offered to fetch him something to eat before they left for the river. Lindir breezed in with the rest of the rohir's gear, all of which had been polished and oiled, he noted. Lindir and Lórindol joined him in eating platters of hot, cooked meat and chunks of bread.
"We will leave as soon as Gelmir joins us, he is making our packs up for travelling." said Lindir.
"I thought he was injured," Théo said around a spoonful of meat.
Lindir shrugged, "He can't run, but he can paddle. Better with us than chasing yrch back to Lothlorien."
"There are orcs?"Lindir's mouth was full, so Lórindol replied, "Some. The others will leave later today – when the Ents arrive to carry them." He wiped up meat-juices with his bread and licked his fingertips.
"Ents?" Théo was startled enough to spit crumbs on the table.
Lindir's mouth was now free, he nodded, "For speed - it has been arranged they will carry as many of us as they can to the far edge of Fangorn." He reached for some bread to wipe his platter. "I rode an Ent once before – the motion made me sick to the stomach…"
Gwindor joined them and stole some meat from Lindir's platter, he spoke and the others grinned. Haldir translated as he walked in just behind him. "He said – 'that's because you have a weak stomach' – which is funny because we all know Lindir loves to eat."
Gelmir limped in with another elf. Between them they carried five packs. Haldir nodded approvingly. "Good, you are nearly ready."
"They are to come with me?"
"They volunteered to stay behind and escort you in the boat. They will make their way back here and the Ents will find them, and keep them safe in the forest until they can return to Lorien." said Haldir.
Théodred frowned, "I did not realise they were putting themselves in danger for me – I can take the boat alone…"
"They would be at risk wherever they were, for these are dangerous times – and you on your own would not be able to paddle with sufficient speed to catch the Rohirrim. Alone in the wild – you would perish." Haldir's bluntness nettled him slightly, though Théo could see the truth of it – too many wild men and orc-bands for a lone traveller, still…
"It is their choice to make," Haldir continued, "Come, if you have finished. Lord Celeborn would see you before you leave."
Théodred followed him out into the open and down towards the tumbling stream that fed the pool at the centre of the glade. Lord Celeborn sat on the smooth, dark grey rocks, the long robe he wore over his tunic and leggings shimmered faintly; his feet were bare, ankle deep in the sparkling water. He lent back, his face turned up to the sunlight, eyes closed; his loose silver hair catching the light and the soft breeze so it appeared almost liquid itself. It was only when they stood at his side that he opened his eyes. He gave a deep sigh, stood and stepped forward, his footsteps causing wavelets to splash across the swiftly slowing water with a bright, clear sound. Without speaking, he turned to face them, standing in front of Théodred at the liminal edge between land and water. The elf-lord took him firmly by the shoulders with both hands, though he seemed to look through Théodred rather than at him.
"Close your eyes," murmured Haldir.
Théo was wary, but he closed his eyes as commanded. Celeborn placed his hands on Théodred's temples and lent to kiss him full on the mouth, lips slightly parted. Théodred's instinct was to pull away, but he was held immobile; then he tasted… something indefinable. It was power, and life, and his heart-lifted in a way previously unimaginable to him. As the elf-lord breathed into his mouth he tasted the scent of athelas that Aragorn had crushed onto Boromir's wounds, but so much stronger and sweeter it made him giddy. Haldir supported him as he felt himself reel a little; he could feel the Marchwarden's strength pressed against his back and felt the aura of Celeborn's power sleet through his body like a warm, summer wind. For the first time in days he felt whole, and well… in fact… he felt like he could move mountains! It could have been for an age, or a few lengthy moments, time ceased to move - then the lips and the awe-inspiring presence were gone and he was released. Haldir caught him as he dropped, almost as if his feet had not been touching the ground.
When Théodred blinked his eyes open, Haldir was already escorting him away; he looked back over his shoulder. Lord Celeborn had turned away from them; still standing on the black, earthen shore, his barefeet lapped by the rippling water that tugged at the hem of his robe darkening the cloth - his eyes fixed northwards on some far distant point.
"Do you feel… well?" Haldir enquired as they walked.
Théodred nodded absently, too much aware of every breath of wind on his skin, every leaf's colour on the trees, each tiny sound, the subtle smell of crushed grass beneath his boots… He could smell the deep, enticing richness of sandalwood and heady white flowers… he turned to Haldir, who had dropped his guiding arm from the man's elbow,
"I've never felt better!"
Haldir gave a slight smile and nodded, "Then you are ready to leave."
They rejoined the Elves, who were packed and waiting ready for them, and this time, Théodred negotiated the wind-curtains without a sound. He gathered his gear and put on his leathers, vambrace and collar, the breast-plate and back he would don later. The other Elves went ahead, threading their way out between the banners; before he followed, Théo gripped Haldir's hand and forearm, a warrior's grip. He spoke with quiet intensity,
"I thank you and your lord for what you have done for us – I know I may not have shown it, and for that I am truly sorry…"
Haldir pressed his hand over Théo's grip, shook his head with a smile that said, '…it is forgotten'.
"…I only ask that you look after him for me. And if I am permitted to come again – I will return for him. I promised him that."
Haldir gripped his arm, "I do not doubt you, Prince. You and he will meet again."
Théodred nodded, clapped Haldir on the shoulder in fellowship; then turned and left him standing in the centre of the screening banners. As Théodred threaded his way through them, Haldir heard not a single bell ring out.
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.