The Fellowship had been resting in Lórien for over two weeks now. I do not know when they plan to set off again, and I still am not decided on whether I should leave their company or not. I haven't spoken to any of them in a long time. They must be making plans as to what they are to do now that Master Gandalf is gone. I know they will continue with the Quest, every single one of them, even though they are fully allowed to withdraw.
Sam, Pippin, and Merry will not leave Frodo, I am certain of this. Gimli, though he is a bit overbearing sometimes, is right about and possesses the Dwarves' endurance and will. And Legolas… Well, he is a kind and dependable friend, not at all the type to abandon a helpless little Hobbit on his way to the most evil lands on this Middle Earth. Aragorn and Boromir both have something they want to protect from the darkness, and that makes them strong, both physically and psychologically.
Men are a strange race indeed. They are mortal, doomed to die no matter what, and have so many weaknesses, yet they can do such great things. I used to wonder if they were stupid for putting so much effort into their lives when they will all eventually perish anyway. But, in some ways, I think now that Men are superior to Elves. Living every single day of your short life knowing that you will sooner or later be erased from the world, I think that takes a lot of conviction and courage. I will never understand such a burden, and so I have found deep in my heart, an unconditional respect for this intriguing race.
The honey-blonde elf sighed loudly and leaned her head back on the trunk of the tree she was sitting again. She gazed up at the swaying, gilded branches high above her before closing her eyes and placing the back of her hand against the lids. As her other hand went slack the diary and quill slipped to the ground.
It was late morning, sunny, fresh, and a bit chilly from the February wind. There was no change to the forest since the day Cress reunited with the Fellowship, and a few rodents, such as squirrels, were playing in the canopy of the woods.
The only sounds were golden leaves rustling gently and the soft, squeaky snore of Rhaw sleeping next to Cress' lap, his little body rising and falling evenly.
Cress slowly opened her eyes and glanced over at the slumbering bunny for a few seconds before exhaling again and carefully scooping the animal into her arm without waking him, gathering her things and began walking back to her flet.
A large yellow butterfly fluttered toward her as she stood, a strange sight considering that the cold of winter was still in Lórien. With somewhat uninterested eyes, Cress watched the insect flit this way and that. She half-heartedly held up a finger next to the butterfly, and the bug flew around it for a few seconds before landing on it. The She-Elf stared at it dully, not moving her hand at all and the butterfly quickly took flight again.
Lowing her hand once the insect was gone, Cress resumed her walking.
It had been seventeen days since she knew of Gandalf's death. But, somehow, things felt oddly normal.
The sun was setting, a large red circle in the west, casting a crimson light on the glimmering tops of the trees of Lothlórien.
Cress was napping against the mallorn that supported her mother's flet and was awoken by the sound of Lainil's footsteps approaching her, the older elleth having just come back from delivering the sheets of fabric she had woven to Caras Galadhon. Cress only lifted one eyelid at the noise before curling up and trying to go back to sleep again.
She had been tired lately, not necessarily sad. Just tired. She had forgotten how easy it was to give in to rest here in this serene, protected land. The She-Elf couldn't remember the last time she had such a satisfying respite. Not even in the house of Elrond did she feel more safe and relaxed.
"Crescent," Lainil now stood in front of her daughter, leaning down a little in order for Cress to hear her soft words.
"Hmm?" the other elf hummed, not opening her eyes.
"Have you been sleeping all day?"
The younger elleth couldn't see, but Lainil's face twisted into a disapproving expression. "You are being very selfish as of late, Crescent," this caused Cress to frown, but she still did not look. "You have not spoken to your friends, the Fellowship of the Ring, in days. Do you think they do not worry about you? Some of them have come to visit more than once, but you refuse to see them. Since when have you become so egotistical that you will not even acknowledge those who care for you?"
Cress let out a breath that held the tiniest hint of frustration, "I've been weary, Mother. Please just leave me be." She did want to hear her mother's lecture at a time like this.
Lainil's jaw set, but she reluctantly did not say anything more on the matter. After gazing in the direction of Caras Galadhon for a moment, she turned back to her daughter, looking highly unimpressed. "Lady Galadriel summons your presence on Caras Galadhon tonight," she informed abruptly.
The younger She-Elf showed a delayed reaction. It took her a minute to open her eyes and blink blankly up at her mother. "Why?" she asked slowly.
Lainil shook her head, "How must I know? Go before it gets completely dark, Crescent."
Exhaling disappointedly, Cress forced herself to get to her feet and dust herself off. She knew that her mother rarely joked, and it would be most unsightly to disrespect the Lady of the Golden Wood by ignoring her call. "Fine, I'm leaving…" she yawned widely into her hand and scratched her back, getting stray pieces of dry grass out from the inside of her dress.
Her mother nodded firmly before leaving with a graceful sweep of her gown, saying nothing more to Cress. She must still be upset about her daughter's lack of thought for the Fellowship.
As Cress made her way to the home of Galadriel and Celeborn, the sky grew darker. She walked along, not paying much attention to the scenery but instead casting her eyes to the ground and absentmindedly kicking a small pebble as she made her way through the woods.
A scowl twisted onto her face soon after she left her mother's flet. She was indeed tired, but she hardly cried any more after the first ten days of knowing of Gandalf's death. She felt strangely normal and though it was a relief on her heart that had ached painfully since hearing the news, the feeling of neutrality made Cress sick in her stomach and head. How can she forget her master so easily? How ungrateful of an apprentice is she to no longer experience great pain about her master's death?
Cress' mother had told her that, given some time, Cress would eventually overcome her grief for Gandalf and after that, she would go on with her life and soon fail to recall the wizard altogether for an Elf's life is long. Soon, she will have more experiences that will make her recollections of her master dull. The younger elleth had stubbornly refused to take in Lainil's words when they were first spoke, but now she began to see the truth in them. She is, exactly as her mother had predicted, slowly becoming less attached to the memories of her master. At the rate that she is recovering from the loss, Cress predicted that she will regain her usual cheerful self again in a few weeks.
Guilt clawed at her from the inside, and the She-Elf violently shook her head. Though she denied it, she knew deep down, far within the reaches of her consciousness that sooner or later, she will forget about her time with Gandalf. This scared Cress terribly.
The pebble the elleth had been kicking when she started her journey had long been abandoned, and with questions and notions still wildly swirling in her brain, she arrived at the base of the elegant stairway that curled around the tree which held the home of Galadriel and Celeborn.
The younger elleth managed to suppress a startled jump at seeing Haldir standing at edge of the stairs. She really shouldn't have been surprised about this since part of Haldir's job is guard duty, but coming into contact with one of her friends that she had recently been avoiding made her feel a sharp stab of guilt in her heart.
But Haldir had already seen her, and Cress had no other choice than to hesitantly shuffle toward him with her head lowered in shame. "Hello," was her timid greeting as she passed him on her way up the steps.
"Cress," the call made the doe-eyed girl stop in her tracks and slowly turn to face her friend. The older Elf studied her face in silence for a few seconds before continuing, "I know you are only here because the Lady summoned you, but it's good to see you finally out of your house."
He did not look angry, and for that Cress was thankful. She forced a little smile at him, "Yes, well, my mother has been unhappy with my behavior lately too. Even if I was not here for a summon, she would have eventually coerced me to get away from the flet anyway."
A brief stillness hung between them afterwards and was broken by Haldir moments later, "Do you know why Lady Galadriel summoned you?"
Cress let out a nervous laugh and crossed her arms loosely with discomfort. "I have an idea," she replied, not meeting her friend's gaze.
With a nod of understanding, Haldir gestured up the staircase, "The Lady is waiting for you on the first level."
The elleth opened her mouth as if to say something more, but closed it again and only settled for a subtle incline of her head in thanks. However, she took four steps up the stairway before spinning back around to face Haldir again.
The male Elf raised an inquiring eyebrow at her while Cress fidgeted a little with the sleeves of her dress.
"Sorry," she finally said, looking down at the ground. There was a pause when Haldir only stared at her quietly, and Cress took the opportunity to keep going. "I was told that you and Legolas came to visit me several days ago. I'm sorry that I did not acknowledge you for doing something so kind. If you see the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring, please give them my apologies."
Haldir blinked at her before cracking a smile, a genuine smile that Cress was very familiar with, and it put her mind at ease seeing it again. "You are forgiven, Cress," he responded sincerely.
For Cress, it was instinctive to smile back when someone else smiles at her, especially if it's Haldir, so she could feel the corners of her lips twitching almost against her will. No more words were needed between them and the more they looked at each other, the bigger both their smiles grew until they had to look away to avoid bursting out in laughter and disturbing the peace of Galadriel's flet.
Cress bounced on her toes, feeling so much lighter, and waved an energetic good-bye to Haldir before resuming her climbing of the stairs.
Haldir had been correct when he told Cress that Galadriel was on the first and lowest level of the flet, and honey-blonde elleth found her sitting on a small ivory bench against the trunk of the tree.
"Come sit with me, Cress," she beckoned softly with a graceful wave of her hand when she noticed the other She-Elf's presence immediately.
Gulping nervously, Cress stiffly walked toward Galadriel and shakily sat down on the bench next to her. She wringed her clammy hands in her lap while wondering if she should say something in greeting. But how does one properly greet a being like Galadriel? Everything that came to Cress' mind seemed far too casual or just plain awkward. She had met Galadriel before, of course, more than once actually before she left Lothlórien with Gandalf, but for some reason she was uneasy this time because, as she told Haldir, she has an idea of why she was summoned and greatly does not wish to speak of the topic at the moment.
"It is a pleasant night, is it not?" The younger elleth twitched with a start when Galadriel spoke to her. The Lady was looking up at the starry sky with longing eyes and a faint smile.
"O-Oh," Cress quickly regained her composure and stuttered out, "y-yes, it is, Lady Galadriel. The stars are very bright tonight."
The sun had set completely some time on Cress' way to Caras Galadhon.
"You know why you are here," Galadriel went on, lowering her gaze from the twinkling heavens to the skittish Elf next to her.
"Y-yes!" she squeaked as a reply. It came out much louder than she had intended. Her back was rigidly straight as she attempted her best not to slouch in front of the Lady.
"The Fellowship of the Ring will leave Lothlórien tomorrow morning," Galadriel informed straightforwardly, and Cress nearly choked on her own spit from shock.
That small piece of information woke her up like a bucket of icy river water. Eyes wide and mouth hanging open in horror, Cress tried to speak but couldn't get a word out as the situation dawned on her.
Why hadn't anyone told her? She would have known to make her decision sooner if she had been aware of how close the date for departure was. It's impossible for her to make such an important choice in one night. She had been putting it off because she thought she had plenty of time to consider, but that was clearly a mistake on Cress' part.
"You must decide whether or not you will accompany them any further," Galadriel went on. "The other members of the Fellowship of the Ring have all chosen to continue the journey, and they only await your resolution now."
Cress clutched her hair and shook her head helplessly. "How ought I to make a decision such as this in merely a few hours?" she demanded, voice going high pitched with emotion.
"This is the best possible time to make that decision, Cress," the older elleth reasoned calmly, causing the other glance at her incredulously. "Making a decision too early gives time for doubt to interfere and the situation might very well change between the time of choice and the time that the choice must be put to action. Now is the most favorable time to decide."
There was truth in those words, but it didn't do much to quell Cress' inner turmoil. Trying to calm herself with slow breathing, she looked at the Lady next to her, "But a reasonable and intelligent decision cannot be made in one night, Lady Galadriel."
"It is a simple question; do you wish to go or do you wish to stay?"
It's not that easy at all… Cress thought bitterly, but then realized that Galadriel could probably hear everything she was thinking. "I only joined the Fellowship in the first place because I wished to accompany Master Gandalf…"
Galadriel nodded encouragingly.
To many older Elves, the relationship between Cress and her master appeared shallow, merely a result of childlike admiration. They, Cress and Gandalf, had only known each other for less than a century after all, not even a fourth of Cress' lifespan so far.
And yet, those years spent travelling with the wizard had been the most exciting years of her life. Though life in Lórien was comfortable and peaceful, it was also somewhat dull after a while, especially after Haldir took up his job as Marchwarden and had been unable to entertain the elleth for decades. She belongs to the most esteemed and heavenly race on the Middle Earth, and her home is in the most beautiful place on the Hither Shores. As a member of the Elven people, Cress also will most likely live forever. She has millenniums of youth and life but if that is the case, then why hadn't she ever felt more alive than when she was away from the Golden Wood, discovering the rest of the world?
Learning things from Gandalf—not just wizardry—and being in situations where she relied on her own strength to get by and feeling physical pain from injury or exhaustion, those were the things that truly made Cress experience what it really felt like to be alive and breathing.
Humans are mortal, and Cress had found an unshakable respect and fascination for them for because of their mortality. Now the elleth understood exactly why she finds them so amazing. With their unbelievable frail and vulnerable body, they feel alive for every second of their life—even if it is a short life. They know and can never doubt that they are living, and Cress is envious of that.
Cress will never know how it feels to be mortal, to be aware that she will die no matter what. On its own with no interference, her body will survive for centuries upon centuries upon centuries but without the possibility of death, how can she be sure that she is alive? Without physical pain and risk, how does she know that she is not merely clockwork designed to tick steadily forever? How?
"I… wish to feel alive," the honey-blonde elleth breathed out. Her hand had reached up to clutch the area on her chest where her immortal heart pumped evenly. "That feeling… of my heart pounding so hard it feels like it will explode, of my brain working and learning faster than any clockwork, of all of my senses being honed in this one body."
She craved that feeling like a starving animal, and the person, who had first shown her how to not simply survive, but live, was Gandalf.
Cress recalled the words of her mother, "There is a reason Mithrandir accepted you as a student, Crescent, his only student."
There was nothing shallow about Cress and her master's bond. An indescribable sense of gratitude and adoration attached her to the wizard, and that attachment had been what drove Cress to go on a quest, one that she was clearly not ready for, just so she could keep Gandalf from harm.
But what had been Gandalf's reason to join Fellowship? Cress had to dig through the old fuzzy memories from the Last Homely House before coming to a conclusion: he intended to protect Frodo, the ring bearer. He died because he was protecting Frodo. Though he perished as a result, the wizard succeeded in defending the Hobbit.
It was still a long way to Mordor, and what dangers there were along the path Cress could hardly imagine. Frodo had many reliable companions, but there was no guarantee that he would make it to the Mount Doom alive. The Halfling's life was one that even Gandalf deemed more important than his own and if it is in danger, then Cress will protect it in her master's place. She will not allow a life her master died for perish so easily.
The young elleth abruptly stood up from the bench, her hands clenched tightly at her sides. She was silent for a long time, just standing there, and Galadriel watched her.
"I have come to a conclusion," Cress said evenly.
The Lady closed her eyes and nodded, "That is good," she did not ask about what the conclusion was. Instead, she got to her feet gracefully also and reached into the sleeve of her gown to produce a flute of creamy colored wood. "You are familiar with this instrument, am I correct?"
Cress blinked in confusion at the older Elf before nodding hesitantly, touching her own flute of dark wood that was tied to the sash wrapped around her waist.
"Come, I will teach you a song."
When Cress left Galadriel's flet, night had fallen for a long time. She was walking down the long spiral staircase, clutching her flute tightly in her hand as she descended the path. She must go to sleep and get some rest.
But as she neared the base of the tree, she heard voices speaking softly—two voices to be exact. She immediately recognized them as Haldir's and Legolas' and though she knew that eavesdropping was a lowly thing to do—she would know since she had been caught doing it before—Cress instantly slowed her pace in order to make less noise and sneakily creeped closer to hear their conversation better.
"…Cress will continue with the Fellowship, I am sure," Haldir was saying.
The elleth's ears perked up upon picking up her name in the discussion. If she is indeed the topic of the conversation, then that made the snooping slightly less shameful. At least that's what Cress convinced herself.
"Where does that confidence come from?" Legolas responded, sounding a bit doubtful of Haldir's claim.
A soft chuckled came from Haldir (Cress assumed it was Haldir) followed by a short silence. Then, he finally spoke again, his tone reminiscing, "You do not know her as I do, Legolas. Cress' loyalty is not so cheap that she would abandon the Fellowship because Mithrandir is gone. I suppose one can say that her loyalty is… transitive."
Another moment of stillness as Legolas waited for Haldir to explain himself.
"Almost anyone could take one look at Cress and tell that she was unwaveringly attached to Mithrandir. And Mithrandir's allegiance belonged to your Fellowship. Thus, Cress' allegiance is transferred through Mithrandir to the Fellowship as well. She will feel a need to protect the thing that the wizard died protecting."
Cress' lips twisted in a pout of mild annoyance. Was she really that easy to read? However, after pondering this for a brief time, the pout softened into a fond smile as she realized that it probably wasn't that she was easy to read, but that Haldir simply knew her too well.
"Does she know that the Fellowship is leaving Lórien tomorrow?" That was Legolas.
"Most likely not, but she has been summoned by the Lady tonight. If she does not know, she will know soon."
A quietness settled over them once more, and it lasted so long that Cress wondered if Legolas had left silently. Just as she concluded that there was probably nothing left to hear and was about to keep descending the stairs casually as if she hadn't purposely overheard their exchange, Haldir spoke again, but his voice was more hesitant and soft.
"I've been meaning to ask…" he started and paused before continuing, "I should have brought it up sooner, but I didn't think it was the right time."
"Is this about Aglareth?" Legolas inquired, though he sounded as if he already knew the answer. His voice also carried a hint of strain, which startled Cress.
The elleth understood enough about the Elvish language to know that "Aglareth" was a feminine name, and she was also aware that the conversation between Legolas and Haldir had shifted away from her, and therefore it is inappropriate for her to keep listening in secret. But the mention of this person that Cress did not know and the strange atmosphere that it created between the two male Elves had the honey-blonde Elf's curiosity hooked like a drug.
"How is she?" Haldir asked after a moment of hesitancy.
Legolas inhaled deeply the chilly night air before giving a short and straightforward reply, "The last time I saw her which was a few months ago, she was well."
"That is comforting to hear."
"She misses you greatly."
Cress thought that Haldir would make some kind of comment that boosted his ego, something along the lines of, "Of course she does; who wouldn't?" But the only thing he said was, "If the shadow in the south spreads to Mirkwood, make sure she is safe."
"You do not need to worry about that, Haldir," Legolas assured.
Cress wanted to know who this "Aglareth" was. A feeling bubbled mildly at the pit of her stomach, and she wasn't quite sure what it was, but she only experienced a sudden unexplained desire to be aware of whom the two male Elves spoke of with such an obscure mood hanging around them.
What was also odd was that it appeared Haldir and Legolas had not just met the day the Fellowship arrived in Lothlórien but knew each other before. Cress wondered what their relationship was.
"You ought to rest, my friend," Haldir suggested after another period of silence. "You will need energy for tomorrow."
The two Elves probably exchanged a handshake before Cress heard Legolas' faint footsteps getting further and further away. She waited for a few minutes just to make herself seem less suspicious and then nonchalantly descended the steps.
"How did it go?" the Marchwarden greeted, referring to her audience with Galadriel.
"Fine," Cress did her best not to study Haldir's face for any hint as to how he felt about the conversation he just had with Legolas.
The older Elf's brows knitted together ever so slightly, "What's that look you're giving me? Is there a bug on my face?"
Cress' body was struck with panic at how quickly her motives were detected. She had to get out of Haldir's sight as quickly as possible before he could have the chance to read her further. "I'll be going back home now. Good night, Haldir." Then she quickly spun around and hastily walked away.
Haldir took a step forward in protest, "Wait, it's pretty dark now. I'll walk you back."
The elleth looked at him with brows raised quizzically, "Don't you still have guard duty?"
"My shift is just about over," he said with a shrug and jogged the short distance between them to stand next to Cress. "Besides, knowing you, you'd probably skip your way back in the dark and end up running straight into a tree or something."
The irritation Cress was supposed to feel from the last comment didn't come and her previous eagerness to get away from Haldir was forgotten for a moment as she was struck with the warmth of the Marchwarden's subtle kindness.
Haldir walked ahead and paused to look back over his shoulder when Cress didn't follow. "What now? Come on, or I'll leave you behind."
The She-Elf stared at him, still blinking with pleasant surprise before a beam lit up her entire face, and she bounced on her toes a little bit before skipping after her friend. "Yes, yes, I'm coming, Haldir."
A/N: I really need to step on it with the updates, don't I? Thanks for reading, and I hope you liked it. Finally we are done with Cress' Mourning Arc and will be getting back on track with the main storyline now. Yay! Reviews are much appreciated :)
Next time: Who could Aglareth be? Soon to be revealed in future chapters! The Fellowship of the Ring takes on the Great River next time so stay tuned with the story!