11. Leaving Ithilien
Chapter 11 Leaving Ithilien
The morning arrived quickly and the company of Rohirrim began to gather at the gates of the palace. Leodred and Caladwen descended the steps, all eyes watching the new husband and wife as they smiled, laughed and held each other closely. Eowyn stood between Faramir and Legolas, a tear threatening to fall. "My daughter is a woman now. It seems only yesterday that I cradled her in my arms."
Faramir wrapped his arm around her waist. "She begins the next step of her life. I believe these will be her most joyous days to come."
Legolas said nothing and Eowyn sensed his hesitation. She looked at Faramir and he understood her request without needing to hear a word. He nodded to her and kissed her on the cheek. "I must speak to Eomer before they leave." he said and walked away.
Eowyn looked up at Legolas who was standing still as a stone, watching his daughter and her new husband. He seemed not to notice anything else. Eowyn laid a gentle hand on his back. "She will be fine, Legolas. You need not worry for her. Leodred loves her dearly and will protect her."
"It is difficult for me to understand how one so young can already be grown." he whispered.
"It is hard for me too. I know in my heart that she must leave to follow her own path. We have taken her as far as we can. This is her world now. Her choices are her own and we can only hope she will heed our advice. You have taught her well, Legolas. She will use these examples to make her own decisions." Eowyn reassured him.
"She will still falter from time to time. Who will be there for her when she does if not us? She will be the only one of her kind in Rohan. Who will she seek for advice then?" Legolas said worriedly.
Eowyn smiled and remembered what Legolas always said to her. "Trust the Valar. They will be with her. They are always guiding her. They are the ones who have led her to Rohan. She can teach my people much about the ways of the Elves. She brings hope with her wherever she roams. It is her destiny."
Legolas looked at Eowyn. "You always manage to see the good in everything and you have helped me to see too. You once said she did not belong to us alone, that she belongs to the world. I think I understand now. There is no use keeping such a treasure to yourself if you cannot share it with those who can benefit from it. It was selfish of me to think otherwise."
"You love her and you will miss her. That is all you are feeling. I feel the same. It is common for all parents to experience this but we cannot hinder our children. They must make their own way in life. You are correct when you say she will falter. Did you not also make poor decisions in your youth? We learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them. If we were always there to catch Caladwen when she fell, she would never learn to get up on her own."
Legolas took Eowyn's hand and entwined his fingers with hers, needing to feel her warmth. "There are some decisions she cannot change once they are set into motion."
Eowyn understood his concern. Legolas was always afraid of her decision to bind to Leodred without first considering her Deciding Day. If she chose to live a mortal life before he sailed, Legolas would surely fade before his time. "She understands the bond you share and she would not jeopardize that. Besides, I will not let you fade."
Legolas smiled. "I know you would try but it could not be stopped this time. I suppose I am being selfish again but I just want the best life possible for our daughter."
"She already has that. Besides, who else has an Elf Prince for a father and a Shieldmaiden for a mother?" Eowyn laughed and then reached up and kissed Legolas on the cheek. "Come now, let's see her off properly and then you and I will spend the day together, crying on each other's shoulders."
"I would like very much to spend the day with you but I will not cry on your shoulder." Legolas laughed. They joined the others in saying their final goodbyes.
Eowyn went to Eomer first and gave him a hug. "It was good to see you again Brother. Take care of Caladwen. Make sure she keeps up with her swordplay and archery. She has become quite the expert with a bow and could teach some of your men a thing or two."
"Caladwen will be fine, Eowyn. Worry not for your daughter or her husband. He has a bright future with the Riders. He will go far." Eomer said and kissed his sister's forehead. Eowyn then turned to Lothiriel and hugged her. They said their goodbyes and mounted their horses.
Legolas took Eomer's hand in his as he had learned so long ago, and shook it properly. "Until we meet again, Brother. Have a safe journey. You bring back with you a precious gift to your people. Help Caladwen accomplish what it is she was meant to do."
Eomer smiled. "I will support her in any way that I can. She will be fine Legolas. You will come visit us soon I hope?"
"As soon as I can spare, mellon nin [my friend]." Legolas patted Eomer on the shoulder. He looked over and saw Eowyn hugging Caladwen. It was time to say goodbye, one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
Eowyn let go of her daughter and kissed her forehead. "Stay strong, my daughter. I believe you will do much good in Rohan. My people are much more accepting than they once were. Some will still need convincing. That is where your skill will come into play. Teach them to love one another equally. Suspicion has no place in this age."
"I will do my best, Mother." Caladwen looked over and saw Legolas and Faramir approaching them. "You will look after Ada won't you?"
"Of course, pen vuin. He will be fine. Do not worry for him." Eowyn finished speaking just before they walked up to them.
Faramir hugged Caladwen. "Goodbye, Caladwen. You will be fine. Of this, I am sure. Some of the truest blood courses through your veins. I will miss you and look forward to seeing you again, soon I hope."
"You have ever been like a father to me, Faramir. Thank you for treating me as your own." Caladwen said. Faramir stepped back and her little brother walked up shyly, head bowed looking at the ground.
"Elboron, I will miss you so much, even your pestering. Listen to Mother and Father and pay attention to your training." she said.
"I will, Sister. When next you see me, I will be much stronger. Leodred will be proud of all I have learned. He has helped me since he's been here." Elboron turned to walk away but hesitated. He turned back to Caladwen and gave her a quick hug, embarrassed to be seen hugging his sister. "I'll miss you too." he said in a whisper. He released her quickly and ran off to find his friends. She watched as some of the young girls his age smiled at him as he passed by. "He is going to break a few hearts." she chuckled to herself.
Legolas approached his daughter then. "Ai, sell nin [my daughter]. I knew this day would come, just not so soon. You will do much good in this world. I am so proud of you. Remember that I will always be there for you, and your mother. If ever there is anything you need, we will be there for you." Legolas hugged Caladwen so tight she could not breathe. When he released her, she smiled and laughed.
"Le melon, Adar. [I love you, Father.]" she said, as a tear ran down her cheek. "We will see each other soon. I promise it will not be too long."
Legolas stepped back and let Eowyn come forward to hug and kiss their daughter one more time before Caladwen went to join her husband. Legolas and Eowyn then went to Leodred and said their goodbyes.
Caladwen's attention shifted to a familiar glow emanating from beneath a tree. Haldir stood, leaning against its trunk, waiting for his turn to wish her well. Caladwen went to him, fighting back the tears that were already welling up in her eyes. "Well, I guess this is it for now anyways. I am going to miss our lessons. I have enjoyed our time together and I do not regret a single thing. You are very special, Haldir. I hope you find everything you are looking for. Maybe you will even find the love you have been missing. You deserve only the best." Haldir smiled and Caladwen sensed a change in him. He seemed softer somehow. "Something has happened recently. Do tell."
"Nieriel returns to Lothlorien with me. It is not love as you wish I would find, but something just as fulfilling. Soon I will be amongst the mallorns and attending my duty as Marchwarden." He was full of excitement that only Caladwen could see.
"I am so happy for you. Nieriel is wonderful and I am sure you will both be very content. You will let me know if anything blossoms from this relationship, won't you?" Caladwen teased. She knew Haldir would never bind to anyone.
"I promise you will be the first to know, but do not hold your breath." Haldir laughed. He took Caladwen's hands in his and relished in the feel of her touch. His face became more serious as his eyes met hers. "Enjoy your new life. You will do well. I have no doubt. Leodred is very noble and you have chosen well. Love each other with all your heart. It is a precious gift."
Caladwen creased her brow and gazed deep into Haldir's eyes. She saw something there she had not noticed before, a sparkle of some kind. "You speak as if from experience."
"I understand better is all." he said and leaned into her ear. "Na Elbereth veria le." [May Elbereth protect you.] He kissed her cheek.
Caladwen wrapped her arms around Haldir and hugged him tight while tears ran down her cheek. "I Melain berio le." [May the Valar keep you.] She sobbed into his chest. She regained her composure and stood back, looking upon his handsome face. "Until next we meet, Marchwarden." she said with a smile on her lips and sorrow in her swollen eyes.
"Until then, Lady Caladwen. Navaer, pen vain.' [Farewell, beautiful one.] Haldir held her chin in his fingers and kissed her on the forehead. He released her and she walked back to Leodred. He helped her on their horse before he mounted behind her. Eomer called to his company and they rode out through the gate of the palace. Caladwen glanced back to her home one more time to see everyone waving to them. The last one her eyes fell upon was Haldir. He merely nodded his head and she returned the gesture before facing forward once more. Leodred wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck.
"Our new life awaits us, my love. Soon we will be in our new home, just the two of us. We will receive a proper greeting and then left alone for a while. It is custom in Rohan to give the newly married couple their privacy during the beginning of their union."
Caladwen smiled and cocked her head, giving him better access to lay kisses upon her neck. "I cannot wait to have you to myself again. We have much to learn about each other, though I have already learned much after last night, my love."
"It is not only the Elves that have such stamina." he growled into her ear.
"Oh Leodred, I love you so much. We will be so happy together for years to come." Caladwen sighed and turned her head so she could kiss him passionately.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Haldir walked up to Legolas and Eowyn. He bowed to the Prince before he spoke. "It seems my time in Ithilien is coming to an end. I will be leaving for Lorien soon. Thank you for allowing me to reside in your cities, both of you. I have never felt as welcome as I do here."
Eowyn grabbed Haldir and pulled him into her embrace. She felt a slight resistance from him. "I do not care who is watching, you arrogant Elf. Around here, you are not a Marchwarden and have no reputation to uphold. Here you are merely Haldir of Lorien, my friend." Finally, she released him and took his face in her hands. "You take care of Nieriel and be good to her. She will be missed greatly around here. She has done much and I can only hope her replacements will do as good a job. If things deteriorate I will only have you to blame for taking her from us."
Legolas laughed and was thankful not to be in Haldir's position. "You do not want to make her regret our decision to let you take Nieriel with you, Marchwarden. I suggest you heed her warning."
"Thank you for your kind words and threats on my behalf," said a sweet voice. "But I believe this was just as much my decision as anyone else. I merely asked for permission to leave, which my lord has granted willingly." Nieriel approached them in the courtyard. "Haldir will treat me with the utmost respect or he will soon see the reason I was chosen as captain of one of Thranduil's armies." she said playfully.
"Have I no say or must I silently endure the wrath of these females?" Haldir finally said. Then he turned to Nieriel and whispered. "A captain? You must show me your skills."
"You must earn your reward first." she said wantonly. Eowyn could not hear the whispers but Legolas' elf ears heard perfectly and he began to blush. Eowyn noticed the color on his cheeks and reminded herself to ask him about it later.
"When do you plan on departing?" Eowyn asked.
"Just as soon as Nieriel is ready." Haldir answered.
"I have some loose ends to tie up and then we will begin our journey. I think I will be ready in a week. Besides, I know Haldir is anxious to return to his home. I do not want to keep him waiting any longer than can be helped." Nieriel said and took Haldir's hand in hers.
"Things are going to become quiet around here." Eowyn said. Faramir walked up just then.
"Not too quiet. It seems our son has a new interest." Faramir said and they looked over to find Gimli and some of the other Dwarves showing Elboron how to swing an ax. Eowyn also noticed a small group of young girls watching him. "I believe more than one thing will interest him soon." she said as she watched Elboron glance over his shoulder to make sure the girls were still watching him. "I can't say I have ever seen him stand so tall before." she laughed.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Just as they said, a week later Haldir and Nieriel were ready to be on their way. She did not pack much but rather gave most of her belongings to friends. She would not be returning to North Ithilien again. Deep in her heart, she knew from Lorien she would eventually travel to the Grey Havens and sail into the West. There was no need to bring more than a few personal items with her. As they were getting ready to mount their horses, she approached Legolas holding her Mirkwood bow. She handed it to him and smiled. "I will not need this where I am going. Your father gifted me this bow the day he made me a captain in his army during the dark days. I killed many a spider with this weapon. It served me well but I think it is time it went back to its original owner. There is a story that goes along with this bow. Ask him next time you see Thranduil and return it to him. He has not seen it in many years and I think it will bring him some joy to be reunited with it."
Legolas looked at her curiously. "I will give it to him and I will definitely ask him about its story."
Haldir approached Legolas and put a hand on his shoulder. Legolas returned the gesture. "Prince Legolas, it has been an honor to have been a citizen of your fine city. Its inhabitants are joyful and content. You are a strong and noble leader. You have earned the respect of all. I look forward to visiting again someday."
Legolas smiled. "It is Ithilien that is honored by the presence of the Lady Galadriel's Marchwarden, Captain of the Galadrim and protector of Caras Galadhon."
Haldir looked sternly into Legolas' blue eyes. "Do not worry for Caladwen. She is like you in many ways and you have done quite well for yourself."
Legolas crinkled his brow. "How do you mean?"
Haldir explained. "When we first met, when you were traveling with the fellowship and sought safety in Lorien, I thought you were very foolhardy at the time. I know Thranduil and was surprised he sent you on such an important quest. I felt you were too young for such a responsibility. Then years later, when you came in search of Eowyn in Lorien, I saw how much you had matured. You were ready to take on anything the Valar had planned for you. Maybe it was the sight of war or maybe it was your love for Eowyn, but something in you changed greatly and for the good. Caladwen has those same qualities instilled in her. I have no doubt she will stay true to her path."
As Haldir spoke Caladwen's name, Nieriel saw a genuine emotion within his eyes. He loved her. She was not sure in what way, as either family, friend or something more, but love was definitely there. Not even Haldir had recognized it. If he had, he would surely have buried the emotion deep and not let it show in his eyes. At that moment, Nieriel understood where Haldir truly belonged, with Caladwen. The day would come when she would help him understand his feelings for her. Maybe this was her final task before she sailed. Only the Valar knew for sure. For now, however, they were to journey with each other, content with one another's company and companionship. She knew he would stay with her until she sailed but if she saw any sign that Haldir yearned to go his own way, she would not hinder him.
Haldir and Nieriel mounted their horses. With one final goodbye, they rode out from the edge of the woods of North Ithilien and headed towards Lothlorien. At least for now, their paths ran together and she would cherish these final days before she sailed.