1. Partners Journey
Indeed his assumption was not mistaken, for as the sun began to lower in the west, sending light dancing through the golden leaves of the mellyrn, a voice spoke at his ear.
"You are Melpomaen, are you not?"
He stopped moving and replied to his unseen questioner, "I am. And since you know my name, I must have reached Lórindol's company."
The other stepped from behind a thicket of holly. "Near enough; this is the outskirts of our patrol region." He turned his head slightly and gave a call that mimicked a whippoorwill. "There, I have sent out the alert that you are arrived. Follow me and I will lead you to tonight's camp."
Melpomaen fell in willingly enough. He was happy to observe the tricks and techniques the other used to make himself more than silent, to seemingly become one with the forest. After a moment, though, he said, "I am unused to being in company with any whose name I do not know. May I ask yours?"
The other Elf turned around to answer. "I am Haldir. I apologize for my lack of manners, but my mind was on other things. We have had ill-luck these last several months; it seems that every attack has been in the territory we protect, and several of our best warriors have been gravely injured and had to return to Caras Galadon, fit only for lesser services. Hence your presence here, though welcome, certainly, also reminds me of those who have been lost."
"I see," said Melpomaen thoughtfully, and they walked in silence the rest of the way, arriving at the camp well into the night.
There Haldir told Melpomaen to wait below as he climbed to the talan where Lórindol rested. Shortly the captain himself descended, with Haldir following him.
"So you are our newest recruit, Melpomaen. What skills have you?"
He answered honestly, "I can shoot four arrows in a minute, and at least three of them will hit their mark. My skill with a sword is not great, but I am good with a knife. I can move quietly and track well, and easily travel a day and a night without rest."
"Not bad for one so young, but we will have more from you than that," said Lórindol. "In this company we work most of the time in pairs. I will partner you with Haldir, at least for the time being. He will train you further in archery and other weapons, and you will go with him on patrol. But it is late now, and you have been traveling for several days. Haldir, take him to your talan; we can issue his gear in the morning, and you can test his abilities then as well."
Haldir nodded and beckoned for Melpomaen to follow him. "I have spare blankets," he said, "but I imagine you brought your own with you for the journey."
"Of course," Melpomaen replied. "I hope that I do not intrude upon you."
"No, I have always shared a talan with another. My former partner was one of those who was recently wounded and had to leave. But he had not been here long; before that I shared with one who was made a captain and transferred to another company," said Haldir.
They climbed the mallorn that held Haldir's talan and quickly rolled up in their blankets, to rest their thoughts in dreams.
Next morning, as Lórindol had indicated, Haldir put Melpomaen through a series of tests designed to challenge all his skills of scouting and fighting. At the end he said, "You have been well-trained, Melpomaen. You need practice, but then we all must practice. I think you will prove a good addition to the company."
His chest still heaving from his exertions, Melpomaen merely nodded, pleased that he had been judged fit enough for his new station.
For the next months he acted as Haldir's shadow, following the older Elf and learning from him as they took their turns on patrol. The year was turning to winter and it seemed the Orcs did not care for the cold, for they had no skirmishes. He helped to collect the lembas that the company ate from the supply dump along the Silverlode and commented, "Never till I came here did I eat the waybread."
Haldir gave him a look that he could not interpret. "No, it is rare and precious, and now reserved to sustain we who must be away from the rest of our people in order to defend them. Eaten alone, it will bring you greater strength and will than ordinary foods... and it has other properties, as well," he finished under his breath.
Melpomaen wondered a little at Haldir's comment, but inquired no further just then.
Slowly the weeks and months passed. Melpomaen's skills improved steadily, until he was nearly the equal of his golden-haired partner. Haldir complained laughingly about that one day, saying, "Had I dark hair like yours, it would be easier for me to melt into the shadows! Perhaps I should dye it?"
Melpomaen joked in reply, "Nay, for you can lay along a branch of the mallorn and look to blend in with its leaves for half the year."
"True enough. One always wishes for what one does not have, I suppose!" said Haldir. "But come now, it is our turn today to take the northernmost patrol."
So it went on, as the seasons passed from spring to summer, autumn to winter, and then round again. As the two patrolled together, fought together, camped together, they began to act as if a single thought ruled them both. If one was in dire straits against some Orc, the other would immediately be at his side in defense. If one was injured, the other would be there to bind the wound almost as soon as it was inflicted. They were the best partnership in Lórindol's company; even the captain recognized it and held them up as an example to be followed.
After five years, Melpomaen scarcely thought of what his life had been like back in Caras Galadon, until one day in Cerveth (1) Haldir asked him, "Do you not miss your family? I have never heard you speak of them."
"No." Melpomaen looked down. "My parents departed for the West twenty years ago. My father had also been in one of the patrolling companies, and was badly hurt. He decided that he must leave Middle-earth, and my mother chose to join him."
"And have you no other kin or loved ones to think of?" came the gentle question.
Melpomaen let out his breath in a sigh. "Distant kin only. As for the other... well. I had hoped to wed Caranfíniel, but she refused me."
"I see," said Haldir quietly. "I have sorrow for your pain."
"Perhaps it was for the best. I have no lingering ties, now, to distract me from my duties here. Caranfíniel has a reputation for foresight, so she may have seen some reason why we should not wed. It could even have been the fact that I would join you here; she might not have wished to be separated from a new husband," said Melpomaen.
Wishing to speak no further of his own troubles, he added, "And you? What of your family?"
"I am hardly separated from them, as you know! Not from my brothers at least. We take it in turns to visit our parents on leave, so one of us has always seen them lately. I think Lórindol had doubts of the wisdom of enrolling three brothers into the same company, but it has proved to be a good decision. Since Rúmil and Orophin are twins, they chose to partner together once they had enough seniority to make the choice."
Melpomaen nodded. He had known this, but had wanted to turn the conversation away from a topic that he found uncomfortable. Haldir seemed to sense his reluctance, for he shifted to an altogether new subject.
"I think we two are to be sent out on an unusual mission," he said. "Lórindol spoke with me this morning. He received word from the Lord Celeborn that a message needs to be taken to Bard, king of Dale to the northeast, past Mirkwood on the River Celduin. Lórindol asked if I would be willing to make the journey, since I am one of the few in our company who can speak in the Westron tongue. I told him I would speak with you about it. I knew not how you might feel about leaving Lórien."
"I had never thought to do so," confessed Melpomaen. "But we are partners, and if Lórindol wishes you to carry out this task, I will accompany you. You will have to speak for us both, though; I know no Mannish languages."
"As to that, I will teach you a little along the way," said Haldir. "It will be good for me to do so, to refresh my own memory. And if some mishap should befall me, it would be well for you to be able to speak the Common tongue enough to carry out this task, even if you are not fluent in it."
That evening Haldir informed Lórindol that he and Melpomaen would be prepared to undertake the mission, once Celeborn had sent the message to be conveyed to King Bard. A week later, the two set out.
"What is our road?" asked Melpomaen. "I know little of the lands through which we will travel."
"We dare not travel east to begin; that would take us far too close to Dol Guldur. No, we must leave the forests and journey north along the western bank of Anduin until we reach the Men-i-Naugrim, the old Dwarf-road leading east through Mirkwood. From there we may travel along Celduin to the Long Lake, and thence to Dale, which lies before the mountain of Erebor."
Melpomaen listened in wonder. "How long is the journey, then?"
"I am not absolutely certain, but at least two hundred leagues, perhaps more. A month's travel each way, and that with the luck to be pursued by no enemies and turned off-course," answered Haldir. "We have lembas enough for all of the outward journey, I think, but we will have to purchase supplies of food for our return, and likely hunt as well."
"That will be a change," said Melpomaen. "I hardly recall the taste of other food besides the waybread, these days."
"Nor I. I look forward to it," said Haldir. He glanced at Melpomaen. "If traveling across the open plain disturbs you, we can plan to move at night, while we are near to Dol Guldur. It might be safer in any event; the Orcs prefer darkness and if we are both awake our chance to detect and avoid them is greater."
"Whichever you feel is the better course," said Melpomaen. "We are partners, but you have the greater experience in these matters."
"Then we shall travel by night, I think, at least while we follow Anduin. In Mirkwood we must move by day, for even then the light is dim. At night, I have been told, one can scarcely see at all, the shadows are so thick. Let us move on, then."
They spoke little as they walked, staying alert for any sight or sound of an enemy. At times they passed scattered houses and villages of Men, and Haldir noted that on their return journey they might be able to purchase supplies from such folk, if needed. Each dawn saw them halt to make a cold camp, alternating watches through the day.
At length they reached the edge of Mirkwood. Though that night had many hours left, Haldir decided it would be best to halt and rest, and wait for morning to tread the dim road through the forest.
Melpomaen, as was his habit, took the first watch. The moon was nearly at the full, and he had little fear that they would be attacked. To pass the time, he began to practice a series of exercises designed to increase strength and flexibility in sword-play, for the sword was his weakest weapon. As he moved through the sequence, Haldir spoke from his bedroll.
"Your form improves, Melpomaen. Almost I could think you were dancing, not fighting."
Melpomaen stopped, a little embarrassed. "I did not know you were still awake. I did not mean to disturb you."
"I am unused to resting at night, now. And you could not – disturb – me. Not at this time," said Haldir, an unfamiliar note in his voice. "Continue your practice, by all means. In fact, since I seem to be unable to sleep, perhaps I should join you in it."
"By all means. There are several moves that I cannot complete without a partner," returned Melpomaen.
Haldir arose and stood facing him. They moved in tandem, silently flowing from one posture to the next, like mirrored images. Slowly the pace increased, the focus became more intense. Melpomaen could feel Haldir's gaze on him, challenging him to ever greater achievements. At last he had to stop.
"You may be unable to sleep, Haldir, but after that I am more than ready! Will you take the watch?"
Haldir glanced upward, gauging the time from the position of the stars. "Yes, I will watch until dawn. Then we must enter the forest."
As Melpomaen drifted off, he saw Haldir pacing around their camp. Clearly something was bothering his partner, something he was reluctant to share.
Perhaps he is simply worried about the next leg of our journey, Melpomaen thought. It is unlike Haldir to be secretive, but if his mood does not lighten soon I will have to ask what his trouble is.
The next day, though, Haldir seemed to have returned to his usual good humor. The woods of Mirkwood were dark and very different from those of Lórien, but to be amid trees again was a pleasure to both of them.
"There are giant spiders living in Mirkwood, so I have heard," said Haldir. "But I was told that they do not usually venture out of the thickest patches of trees. So we should be careful to camp close to the road while we are here."
Melpomaen heartily agreed with that sentiment. "Do they fear fire?" he asked.
"I would think so. It might be a good idea to have a small fire each night for the watch, as well; as long as we are careful and do not go too far in collecting the wood for it," Haldir said.
That became their pattern as they traveled through the forest: up at dawn, a wafer of lembas, and then walking along a road that seemed unchanging, through the dark unrustling leaves of the trees. As the always-dim green light faded, they stopped to collect fallen branches for their fire and make camp. Another meal of lembas, and then watches through the night.
"I am glad that I am not one of Thranduil's folk," remarked Melpomaen after a week of this. "Though I imagine that his halls are fair to look upon, still I would find this realm dreary to live in."
"There is nothing to compare with the beauty of Lothlórien, that is true," agreed Haldir. "And Thranduil and his people have as many enemies to fend off as do we; they have not Orcs, usually, but spiders instead. Yet I can imagine that if the shadow in the south of the forest were somehow lifted for ever, beauty might return here. I would like to visit sometime; perhaps not on this journey, for our return must be swift, but I have distant kin among Thranduil's folk, and he is said to set a splendid table for guests."
"No lembas, then?" teased Melpomaen.
"Assuredly no lembas at his feasts! I do not think that they use it at all; the Lady Galadriel brought the knowledge of its making to Lórien."
"Speaking of which, it is getting on for dark. We should stop and make camp, have our meal," said Melpomaen. And they turned to their nightly chores.
At length they reached the eastern borders of the forest, and emerged again into the clear sunlight. Celduin sparkled in the distance, their guide north towards Dale.
"Before we reach the Long Lake from which Celduin springs, we shall be able to see Erebor as our guide. And I believe that there is a well-traveled road from the lake to Dale, and commerce between the peoples who live there," commented Haldir.
"Is there no road along the river?" Melpomaen asked.
"Only a little-used path," Haldir said. "The river is the usual road, but we will travel by foot as we have been doing. I have some coin to purchase supplies for our return, but not enough to buy us passage on the river as well."
Melpomaen shrugged. He was happy enough to walk and see the land they passed through more closely.
(1) Cerveth is the Sindarin name for the month of Cermië, or July.