Disclaimer: Everything in here that sounds familiar is the work of the wonderful JRR Tolkien. Everything else in here that you either haven't heard of or is crap would be mine. *O-o*
Adáriel shivered, and pulled her cloak tighter about her form, cursing as stray strands of hair whipped across her face, obscuring her vision.
Tossing the tresses back over her shoulder with an agitated jerk of her head, she narrowed her dark eyes against the howling sleet-laced wind, so that her crow-feather lashes nearly touched her cheeks.
"Tulion." She whispered in a low voice to her mount, who stood beside her, enduring the foul weather with characteristic patience. The horse snorted, sending out small white puffs of warm breath that were soon lost in the blizzard.
The she-Elf sighed after another attempt to see through the sleet, and reluctantly mounted again, leaning forward to place a hand on the horse's proudly arched neck and give the command.
"Noro lim, Giliath." She requested gently.
Giliath dipped his head in compliance, before picking up his hooves and trotting forward against the wind.
Adáriel hunched her shoulders, and pulled her cloak ever tighter, trying to shut out the unpleasant sting of wet ice connecting with her skin. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed, the sleet was still finding every inch of exposed flesh it could, and she shuddered violently as she felt a freezing pellet slide down the back of her neck.
"Oh, Giliath." She sighed mournfully. "I wish we were back at home."
Giliath bowed his noble head in agreement, closing his generous dark eyes.
Haldir, despite himself, shivered against the bitter cold. There was a serious snow storm on the way - the taste of impending chill on his tongue told him so.
"We are in for bad weather." His fellow guard remarked from across the flet. Haldir said nothing, but continued to stare out over the lower treetops to the thick, grey front of clouds that was drifting silently towards them from the North West - no doubt coming down from Forochel way. His keen blue eyes could just about see the white haze that hung beneath the smoky clouds, indicating heavy snow.
Haldir sniffed, and drew his grey cloak closer about him. Across the flet, the other Elf smiled.
"Cold, Haldir? I didn't think you were sensitive to low temperatures."
"You were put up here to keep watch, Thalion, not to wisecrack." Haldir replied stonily, not even dignifying the guard with a blink.
Thalion's smile widened at his comrade's reaction, but he remained quiet and turned his attention back to the weather front.
Haldir cursed silently.
'That storm is going to make patrols even more difficult - the Enemy are bound to take advantage of this...Aiya! I do not need this inconvenience right now!'
A quiet trill of bird song from the base of the tree below them pulled Haldir from his thoughts.
Thalion quickly whistled something back, before turning to Haldir.
"A rider has been spotted near the borders by some of Siril's patrol."
"Solitary?" Haldir asked Thalion bluntly.
Haldir breathed heavily down his nose, but didn't speak further. He was already angered by having to leave his post. Casting the rope ladder down through the hole in the centre of the flet, Haldir then signalled in short patience for Thalion to put down his bow and quiver.
"It is misfortunate enough that one of us has to leave the post. Having two leave would be sheer stupidity. You are staying here, Thalion."
Haldir shot Thalion a cold glare.
"That is an order." He told his comrade sharply, before disappearing down the ladder.
Adáriel could feel herself weakening. The long ride from home had near exhausted her, though she thanked Valar she had not had the misfortune to encounter Orcs or any other creatures of such like.
On the brighter side, it was now snowing, which, Adáriel's opinion, was better that freezing, wet sleet any day.
Her hair hung about her shoulders, soaked and bedraggled, and occasionally, a drip would fall down the back of her collar, causing her to shiver.
"Salaa diolien lye marth caela." She reminded herself with a weak, long-suffering smile.
Still, let us be thankful for what luck we have.
Beneath her, Giliath continued to ford ahead through the thick snow in his smooth, steady gait, his dark head bowed.
The snow swirled around them in the largest flakes Adáriel had ever seen, like thousands of frozen feathers drifting from the grey sky. Indulging herself in a childhood pleasure, Adáriel stuck her tongue out of her mouth, and smiled as a large white snowflake landed on the tip, biting into her warm flesh with its freezing claws.
Adáriel was travelling from Southern Mirkwood - a place where the growing presence of evil was not unfelt. Rumours told that the One Ring had be found again, others that Sauron himself had risen and taken physical form, but Adáriel was sceptical, maybe even cynical about these tidings. After all, they were only rumours, and the land was full of them, passing from mouth to ear to mouth to ear like the very pulsing of the Earth's blood.
Adáriel furrowed her brow a little in thoughtful concentration, and burrowed deeper into her cloak against the biting blizzard, even as she burrowed deeper into her thoughts.
Northern Mirkwood was safe, she mused, or at least safer. Their Northern kin were ruled by Thranduil, where he lived in the Halls near the East border of Mirkwood, up-water from Long Lake and the human settlement of Esgaroth. Adáriel shuddered. And the Lonely Mountain.
But in Southern Mirkwood, she thought perhaps more bitterly than she meant, things did not fare so well. The evil spirits and beings that were kept at bay by Thranduil and his people in the Northern reaches of Greenwood were manifesting and becoming stronger in the South. Not that Southern Mirkwood had been a safe place previously. Her people existed alongside giant spiders, werewolves and many other hideous creatures, and had long since become adept at defending themselves, in numbers or alone, at close quarters or otherwise with knives and bows. And despite herself, it was a fact that because her people had had to become so cautious and skilled at combat that she was immensely proud, just as many of her kindred were. It was, perhaps, also an issue that sprouted a certain bitterness for their Northern cousins, who lived in such comparative peace and security, but Adáriel could not feel so much resentment towards them; her companion Legolas was prince of the Northern Mirkwood Elves, and her friendship with him meant that she could not feel as hostile to Thranduil's people as some of her own people did.
It was beginning to get dark. The blizzard had subdued somewhat, and now the snowflakes seemed almost to fall nonchalantly from the sky, in no particular hurry to reach the ground. About Adáriel, what bleak Winter light there had been was starting to fade, and with the failing light came failing safety.
Adáriel's routine and instincts dictated that at light-ending, her bow came out, and as she rode she calmly drew an arrow from her quiver and fitted it to the string, the bow resting in her lap.
Giliath ducked his dark head and snorted as a snowflake landed on the end of his soft nose and tickled the skin. Adáriel gave a quiet laugh.
"Giliath." She whispered, her hand briefly leaving the shaft of her bow to pat the horse's proud neck.
Haldir crouched low in the shadows, the misty tendrils of his breath unfurling into the frigid, darkening air.
The Elf allowed his forefinger to stray slightly from the string of his un-drawn bow, to caress the soft white fledging of the arrow. The action, for some reason, brought a little more warmth and comfort to his heart. Not because he was afraid - quite the contrary - but because feeling an arrow fitted to his bow told him that he was doing his duty, to protect the borders of Lothlórien and his beloved Lord and Lady.
All the same, it didn't stop him from feeling angry about having to leave his post. Thalion was a fool, Haldir thought bitterly, and he had little tolerance for fools. He had already dismissed one young idiot from his guard this season, and having to dismiss another would put him in a very foul temper, not to mention in a difficult position. His pride told him that he and his guards were the very best for the job, that they could quite easily surpass the skills and dedication of any other Elven military force of equal number, maybe even larger, but that was their problem. Numbers. Much as Haldir's pride refused to admit the possibility that they were struggling to carry out their duties, his logic told him that it was true - no matter how dedicated and well-trained his guards were, there simply weren't enough of them to cover the entire perimeter of Lothlórien at any one time. It was a concern that had been nagging in the back of Haldir's mind for several months now, but that incurable pride of his told him that somehow, if left to its own devices, the problem would just take care of itself. Or get worse, his logic had warned.
Haldir brushed the thought aside angrily, and threw his full concentration into staring out into the growing darkness, his blue eyes narrowed.
From somewhere to his left, the faint trill of birdsong reached his sharp ears, and Haldir bowed his head slightly as he listened. Pausing for an instant after it finished, he whistled a few well-tuned notes back, before shifting slightly in his position, and beginning to pull his bowstring taught with his fore and middle fingers. A report had just reached him that the solitary rider was approaching his post from a little way back in the direction the birdsong had come from.
'Good' Haldir thought. 'A single arrow should be enough to fell it from its mount.'
Breathing silently, the Galadhrim captain held the bowstring taught in his pull, and waited.
The snow had almost stopped altogether, and through the occasional drifting flakes, Adáriel could see a fringe of tall trees, silhouetted against the dark sky. Common sense told her that this borderline of trees must lead into a larger forest further back, and for this reason, she kept an especially tight grip in her bow, ready for any adversary that might appear out of the crisp dark between the trunks.
The worst of the blizzard clouds had passed over, trailing behind them a thin silver veil that softened the deep blue of the night sky, and through which white, needle-point stars had begun to glimmer.
The snow on the ground looked unmarred and perfect as Giliath walked on, leaving only a trail of light hoof-marks in his wake.
To Adáriel, it could almost have been peaceful, had it not been for her inherited vigilance. A growing combination of fear and excitement told her that something was hidden in the shadows of the forest over to her right, watching her, waiting to attack.
Despite herself, Adáriel was surprised to feel her fingers trembling with anticipation as she began to pull the bow string taught, and her dark eyes flickered over the forest edge, attempting to locate her opponent.
The rider was in sight now. Not quite in range, but in sight. Haldir narrowed his eyes to slits as he raised his torso and straightened his back, pulling his bowstring back ever further, ready to fire.
But as he stared intently at his quarry, he hesitated for a moment, his head moving forward slightly in disbelief. The rider was female. He watched her closer still. And judging by Her build and features, Elven-kind. Haldir's hand faltered on his bow. This changed everything. Should he shoot? Then, on coming to and finding himself relaxed and with his bow and arrow resting on his knee, he gave out a quiet, angry growl and raised them again to aim. He was being a fool. The gender of his target changed nothing. Male or female, there was a good chance that anything unfamiliar that travelled this close to the borders was a servant of the Enemy. He sighted along the shaft of his arrow, and waited.
Adáriel could sense it - there was an incredibly tense feeling to the air in a place along the trees on her right. So tense that she could have split the atmosphere with her knife. More than ever now, she was certain that she was being watched by something close to the edge of that forest.
She kept her fore and middle fingers pulling at the bowstring, all the time scanning the darkness with her keen eyes. Whoever was watching her, she would not let them so much as take a breath before she loosed her arrow. They were a foe - that much she knew, and letting so much as a second pass before she acted could mean that it was the very last of her life.
She was coming closer - any second now, Haldir told himself, squeezing the fledging of the arrow between his fingers. He looked out in the darkness, subconsciously counting down the moments.
Even through the dusk, Haldir could see Her face as she came nearer. She was...fairly attractive. Then Haldir scoffed at his own observation - She was Elven! Of course She was going to be attractive. But wait...She was...more than just fairly attractive...Her hair looked to be of a dark shade, possibly brown or rich auburn - he couldn't quite tell in this light - and hung loose down Her back and about Her shoulders. Her eyes, dark like Her hair, were rimmed with long crow-feather lashes, and the Elven-design of Her riding gear, in its reds, golds, russets and browns fell beautifully from Her form, its flowing sleeves folding back at Her elbows, revealing the long under-gown sleeves which went on down Her forearms, presumably ending just past Her hands. Her skirts rippled down over Her mount's flanks, contrasting with the almost black colouring of the horse - probably a dark bay, Haldir mused - who moved with a proud grace through the snow, his face noble, and his mane long.
Suddenly, Haldir's dark eyebrows bent in scorn, and he drew his bowstring to it's full extent in anger. What was She doing to him? She was playing tricks with his mind. Making him loose his concentration. Haldir let out a low hiss, and glared at his target.
That confirmed it. Adáriel heard a low hiss from within the trees on her right, and instantly her eyes flickered to the source. Her eyebrows raised in surprise. Just about identifiable from the dark of the forest was a silhouette crouching amid the foliage, watching her intently from within the shadows, the outline of a drawn bow brushing the side of its head.
Adáriel turned quickly in her saddle, and Giliath, well versed in his rider's body-language in battle, moved into a smooth, flowing trot, keeping her moving fast enough that it would be hard for an opponent to train an arrow to her from the ground, but legato enough that she would not have too much difficulty in aiming herself.
Adáriel felt the adrenaline pumping into her blood, and she raised her bow and sighted along her arrow to the dark shape.
Haldir cursed. She'd found him. It was only a matter of heartbeats now before She fired. He could clearly see the sleek metal head of Her arrow glinting in the light of the newly risen moon. He sighted.
Adáriel narrowed her eyes, and watched. Her opponent was sighting. She aimed.
Fewer heartbeats still. Haldir aimed.
The time was closer now. Adáriel checked.
Complete concentration. Haldir checked.
Both Elves fired in the same heartbeat. Adáriel barely even saw Haldir's arrow flying towards her, keenly trained on her head, before she deftly ducked and avoided the missile. A matter of sheer luck she reflected, as she straightened up and saw the arrow continue in a magnificent arc before piercing the snow about fifty metres from her.
Haldir, however, was not so lucky. He registered that Adáriel had also loosed her arrow, when he felt a sudden explosion of solid pain in his shoulder. Then it went numb, and a strange sort of throbbing arose, along with a swelling heat. Reaching up to his shoulder, Haldir's fingertips touched a long wooden shaft protruding from his grey tunic.
"She hit." He said quietly to himself. Then he turned back to look at the rider. "My congratulations!" He projected his voice out so She could hear him, and despite his considerable injury, rose gracefully to his feet, his bow still in his right hand.
Adáriel started at the voice that came out of the trees - it was obviously directed at her. Its tone was cool, calm, closed and drawling, and she found herself more than a little curious to meet its owner.
"I mean no harm." She answered. "I was just travelling past this way."
That enchantment the rider had been weaving on Haldir's mind was growing stronger again in his conscience.
'Say something more!' It pleaded. 'Let me hear your voice again!'
"Fool!" He whispered venomously to himself. "Lower your bow." He said then, louder, for Her to hear.
Adáriel, albeit hesitantly, obeyed. The speaker's last words had seemed not merely a request, but more of an order. Adáriel also felt a certain trust in her hidden watcher - there was a lilt to His voice that she couldn't place, but the accent told her, fairly confidently, that he was Elven-kind.
"Yanaa lle? Naa Edhelnoss?" She tested.
Who are you? Are you Elven kindred?
"Úma." Came the short reply.
Adáriel breathed a sigh of relief, and dismounted. She was safe.