15. New Faces
“Look, there and there,” he pointed.
“It looks to me like the footprints of an Elf or a Man,” said Melpomaen.
“But that cannot be right, either. The creature was nowhere near as tall as a Man, much less an Elf, as far as I could see in the dark, and the prints are too shallow. Odd.”
“Did you want to track it? It’s had hours to get away – but I suppose it could have a den nearby.”
Haldir considered, then said, “No, I think not. If we see it again, perhaps, but it seemed too small to be any real danger, and moreover we are near the king’s dwelling by now – better to go directly there. Perhaps they will be able to tell us something of it.”
To that Melpomaen agreed. They breakfasted quickly on cram and tea and moved northward, alert for any sign of the mysterious creature.
The sun, invisible behind thick cloud, was nearly overhead when Melpomaen stopped and tugged at his partner’s arm.
“Listen,” he hissed, inclining his head to the west.
The thin thread of a cry of grief drifted through the trees.
“Come,” said Haldir, and they passed quickly among the rough trunks and underbrush, seeking the source of the sound.
In a clearing by a small stream they found a rough wooden cottage, clearly built by Man, not Elf. Its door stood ajar, and the anguished weeping of a woman issued from within.
The two Elves looked at each other. “Should we?” wondered Melpomaen.
“We might be able to offer some help. Let us at least see what distresses her so,” said Haldir. He moved to the dwelling and tapped gently on the door before pushing it open.
Over Haldir’s shoulder Melpomaen could see a woman huddled on the floor, her light-brown hair hanging in a tangle, her face tear-streaked. She clutched a small blanket, evidently the cover from the cradle that lay overturned on the floor, but no infant was there. A fresh cry escaped her at the Elves’ entrance, and she scrabbled back away from the door.
Haldir stopped and held his open hands up to show that he meant no harm. He spoke in Westron. “What has happened here, lady?”
The kindly spoken words seemed to penetrate the fog of the woman’s distress. She looked at him and answered at first haltingly, then in a spate of words that Melpomaen had difficulty following. When she finished, Haldir turned to his partner and explained.
“She says that her man is a woodsman; they have lived here for several years, and she bore a son early last spring. Her husband left a few days ago with several others to take a load of timbers down the river to Laketown. She and the boy remained; he was far too young to travel. Last night as she slept, someone or something entered the cabin and took her son from his cradle, leaving only the bloody blankets behind. She is sure that he is dead.”
Haldir’s fair face was grim. He stepped back outside and went to look at the ground below the single loosely-shuttered window. Melpomaen gestured silently. There at the base of the wall was a print of the same unshod foot that had puzzled them that morning.
“Too bad you held back your arrow last night,” he said.
“So it seem. But we could not have known.”
Returning to the woman still huddled inside, Haldir asked, “Can we help you somehow? Have you any kinsfolk nearby we could take you to?”
She shook her head.
Melpomaen whispered in Sindarin, “Do you think King Thranduil would offer refuge?”
“I have no idea, unless her husband is in his service.” Kneeling down, he shifted back to the Common Tongue. “Do you look to the Elf-king as lord?”
The woman nodded hesitantly.
“Then we shall take you there to be cared for, until your husband’s return.”
The idea of leaving roused her to protest. “No. He would not know where to find me.”
“Can he read the Tengwar?”
“Yes,” she said, a brief flash of pride in her eyes at her husband’s ability.
“I will write where you have gone,” Haldir assured her. “With a piece of charcoal, here on the table where he cannot help but see it. You cannot stay here alone, perhaps for weeks, after this.” He moved to a chest that stood against the wall by the bed and opened it. “Gather what clothes and other things you will need,” he urged.
Vida – for so she named herself – walked slowly but steadily, shaking off the Elves’ attempts to help her, insisting that she carry her own bundle. She was able to show them a place where they could all ford the Forest River. Though swift and deep for much of its course, a little way above its mouth a natural ridge of rock had caused the waters to spread wide and relatively shallow. Rafts had no trouble except in the driest summers, but deep-drafted boats had to be portaged.
Once across, a well-traveled path led to the dwelling of Mirkwood’s king. They had gone only a short distance along it in the dimming light of a grey evening when a voice hailed them.
“Stop there, strangers. What seek you?”
Four Elves clad in green and brown stepped from the woods onto the path, two before and two behind the travelers.
“My companion and I hail from the lands south of this great forest,” answered Haldir. “We travel on a private errand, and wished to pay our respects to King Thranduil as we passed near his realm. The woman here, Vida, lives south of your river. Her husband acknowledges your king as his lord. She has had a tragedy, her infant was lost this very morning, and with her man absent on business, she seeks refuge.”
The leader of the patrol looked hard at Vida. “What is your husband’s name?”
“Baldor,” she said. “He is a kinsman of Beorn, to the west.”
The Elf’s face relaxed. “Baldor’s name is known to me. You may claim refuge with us until his return.” He turned again to Haldir and Melpomaen. “If you come from the south, my king will wish to greet you and hear whatever news you may bring. Do you require a healer?” His eyes flicked to Melpomaen’s splinted arm, then away.
“It is probably not necessary, but my skills are limited, so it would be welcome,” Haldir spoke before Melpomaen could reply.
“Come then, all of you, and I will take you to the king.”
The great caverns of King Thranduil were bustling as they entered through the gates. Most of the inhabitants were Elves, but a few were Men who had taken service with the Elf-king. After paying her respects, Vida was led away among them.
Haldir and Melpomaen then stood before the king and bowed. The golden-haired Elf spoke for them both.
“Greetings to you, King Thranduil. I am Haldir, and my partner’s name is Melpomaen. We hail from the lands south of Mirkwood, and have been traveling now for many weeks to pursue an errand in Dale. We had intended to return by the old Dwarf-road, but when Melpomaen was injured, we deemed it safer to take the northern route and avoid the regions near Dol Guldur. We ask your permission to rest here a few days before continuing our journey; in return we can offer news from Dale and the south, or would also be happy to perform any reasonable services for you in compensation.”
Thranduil’s brows had drawn together when Haldir skirted the question of their home, but now he smiled. “If you stay for a day or two, we shall have you all winter. The signs all point to early snows and a harsh season this year; I would be surprised if there is not snow within a week. Unless you are willing to risk being trapped out in the open wilds, I suggest you bide here for the winter. What skills can you offer in return?”
“We both have experience as scouts, and are trained with sword, knife, and bow, and to fight unarmed. I have some knowledge of herblore, and Melpomaen is a good camp cook. We have worked as partners for half-a-dozen years or so, now,” said Haldir.
Bright eyes glanced keenly at Melpomaen. “How came you by your injury? Did you encounter some wild beast in the southern woods, and come off worst?”
A flush stained Melpomaen’s cheeks. “No, sir. A clumsy fall, I’m afraid.”
“I see.” Thranduil arched an eyebrow. “Well, if you learn more caution by it, that will be to the good.” He looked back at Haldir. “Very well. You, Haldir, can join the patrol roster tomorrow, and Melpomaen once he is able. You are both welcome to stay through the winter. I will have one of my sons assign you quarters and explain how matters are conducted here.”
He beckoned, and as a younger Elf came up the steps of the dais, added, “Legolas is my youngest son. His three brothers all captain patrol bands as well; they are abroad just now, and it is Legolas whose company has the home guard duty at this time. He will want to hear whatever you can tell of this creature that has been attacking the families of my sworn woodsmen. And I will hear your news later, perhaps tomorrow; I will send for you when I have the time to spare.”
Thranduil introduced the two travelers and explained their situation briefly to his son, dismissing them to return to his other duties. Legolas grinned cheerfully.
“With us for the winter, are you? I look forward to it. Perhaps you will have new skills to share with us, and we may teach you something as well.” He led them out of the main hall and along a broad corridor with many rooms and other tunnels branching out from it.
“The king said you have been partners for some years, yes? We don’t generally work in pairs, here, more often in fours or larger groups, especially on patrol. The spiders are dangerous for one or two to try to handle, you never know how many you’ll run into. But space is at a premium just now in the caverns; it’s always more crowded in winter when some of our outlying folk move in and the weather is too cold to sleep out.” He considered the matter. “You’re not quite regular guardsmen, of course, so I suppose if you’re not in the barracks it will do no harm to morale, though it might make it harder for you to get to know your comrades.”
Snapping his fingers, Legolas said, “I have it. If you don’t mind sharing a bed – it is a large bed,” he interrupted himself. “There is a guest room very near the guards’ quarters, which is almost never used because of its inconvenient location. It was turned into a guest room originally because there is a little chamber off it that has a natural warm spring, making a perfect bathing pool, but as I say it’s too far out of the way for most people. It would be perfect for you two, though, who are guests as well as guards-to-be. Does that sound as if would suit?”
Careful not to catch Melpomaen’s eye, Haldir answered gravely that it sounded more than adequate to their needs.
“Good, good. I’ll take you there and you can leave your things, then we’ll get over to draw you some gear. You both have weapons already, I know, but since you’ll be in my company and we’re on guard duty this season,” Legolas pulled a face, “we have to have you dress the formal part. I imagine you won’t mind having an extra change or two of clothing, anyhow, if you’ve been traveling for many weeks. And here we are.” He pushed a door open and flourished a bow. “Entirely at your disposal. Wait, take a candle in. There should be a lamp somewhere. I’ll be back in half an hour to show you where to get your dinners, and we’ll see to your clothes after that.”
Melpomaen shut the door as Haldir found the lamp on the table and lit it, blowing out the candle and setting it aside to return to the sconce in the corridor later. The younger Elf sat on the edge of the bed and jounced it experimentally.
“Seems comfortable enough. I suppose the linen for it is in one of those chests.” He cocked his head at Haldir. “What was it you said the other day about a hot bath, a soft bed, and me?”
Haldir laughed. “Mother always told me to be careful what I wished for, because I might get it. Not now, Maen, you know that as well as I do,” he chided, as Melpomaen sprawled across the bed and patted the space beside him invitingly. “I must say that we have had a far warmer welcome than I had looked for. Let’s not risk offending the prince right away by not being ready when he comes back.”
“All right, Dír,” grumbled Melpomaen, rising. “We should probably wash up, though, and I’ll need your help with that a bit.”
They quickly undressed and entered the bathing chamber. It was cunningly designed: the warm water trickled in continuously at one end, filling a natural depression in the rock that was about two feet deep and six feet across in each direction. An outlet at the bottom of the far end let the water escape at the same rate, but could be opened wider to drain the pool of dirtied water after bathing or closed to refill it again.
Standing knee-deep or more, they embraced. Haldir could feel his lover hard against him, and wished that Legolas had said an hour rather than half-an-hour, which time was already half-gone. Kissing Melpomaen on the cheek, he said, “Don’t tempt me now, meldanya. We’ll have plenty of time later.”
Melpomaen put on a mischievous expression. “I will, at least until my arm is fully healed, but will you? Guard duties might keep you awfully busy. . . and Prince Legolas is quite handsome.”
“As if that would make any difference.” Haldir chuckled and reached for the soap. “You know I have only eyes for you.”
“I know – that’s why I made the joke, silly.” He turned to let his lover wash his back.
Once clean, they dried off hastily and put their traveling clothes back on with some reluctance.
“Remind me to ask later what arrangements are available for laundry,” muttered Haldir to Melpomaen as a knock sounded on the door and an immaculate Legolas stepped in.
“Ready? Then come with me.”
Blowing out the lamp and taking the candle, Melpomaen followed the other two into the corridor.
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.