Chapter Twenty-one: All good things...
Orophin glanced at Haldir. His brother was always an excellent March Warden, even before he had the actual title. But now, his brother was running himself ragged. He'd only been back on the border for a week and the elf was exhausted. He never rested, and constantly patrolled and barked orders with the ferocity of an orc. The newest gards, who wer afraid of Haldir before wer absolutely terrified. It didn't bode well for the Border Guard if they were more terrified of making a minor mistake than they were concerned for keeping Lorien safe.
Rumil took it upon himself to tease Haldir mercilessly, to try and alleviate the tension that was building. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite effect was achieved. Orophin finally had to hold Rumil under duress and force a promise out of him to stop badgering Haldir. His brother finally agreed, but rather reluctantly.
Still, however, the tension was so palpable that even the normal joking and fellowship was nowhere to be found on the border. It made for a very uncomfortable environment, and Orophin couldn't stand it.
"Brother, something is wrong."
"I've told you, Orophin, I am well. There is nothing to be worried about." Haldir snapped the words without even realizing it. His voice was harsh and grating, and Orophin cringed. It wasn't unusual for Haldir to be strict, but it was unusual for him to be so harsh when no one had even made a dangerous mistake.
"I certainly do not believe you are well, and there is much to be worried about. The other guards are so frightened to so much as speak anything other than work around you, or even with each other for fear you might overhear and bring all kinds of retribution onto their heads."
Haldir's expression was absolutely withering, and Orophin couldn't help but laugh. He had no fear of what Orophin could do to him, but he wondered just how long it took his brother to perfect that look.
"What is so funny?"
"I would say, my brother, that you have a broken heart."
"And you find such a situation amusing?"
"No, I don't. But I find your reaction rather interesting."
"I do not have a broken heart!"
Orophin shrugged, and looked out across the trees. "You surely could have fooled me, Haldir. There are broken hearts, and then there are broken hearts. You, my brother, are wallowing."
"I am not wallowing! How could you even suggest I'm wallowing? I'm working myself to the bone to pick up your slack, and you say I'm wallowing?"
Orophin shrugged again. "There are different ways to wallow. But on a more serious note, Haldir, this isn't good for you. You may not waste away, but you'll kill yourself if you keep up this pace."
"Then maybe that would be better for all of us."
Haldir spoke the words in an undertone, and he had a strangely haunted look behind his eyes, and Orophin realized how serious the situation actually was. He was mostly just ribbing his brother earlier. But Haldir was very far gone over Nindariel, and he knew he'd never recover from the heart break. Orophin's heart leapt into his throat. "Haldir, I-"
"Just leave me alone!" Haldir threw down his sword and his bow. "I'm going for a walk. I don't want these weighing me down. Keep an eye on the guards."
"Haldir, I would have you come back and be happy again."
Haldir leveled his gaze onto his brother, and Orophin felt that strange twist in his heart. He'd originally thought that this whole situation with Nindariel was amusing. His upstanding, tightly laced brother coming undone for this elleth. But things weren't supposed to go this way. His brother wasn't supposed to be dying of a broken heart. For the first time since his parents died, Orophin feared another unprecedented death in his family. He didn't know if he could lose Haldir. Haldir was his overprotective older brother.
He watched Haldir as he walked off, and Orophin knew deep inside that something had to give. Haldir couldn't die. Not in such a pathetic way. Haldir was so strong. The strongest elf he knew. Sure, he'd been a little hard sometimes, and arrogant. But when Haldir truly cared for something, he cared with all his heart.
The hoofbeats startled Orophin out of his reverie, and he collected Haldir's weapons before the approaching horse accidently trod on them. He gasped in utter surprise as he came face to face with Nindariel, and three attendants, all male.
"Why, what are you doing here? Rumil will be-"
Nindariel interrupted him, her voice wavering. "I am being sent to Rivendell. Please do not inform Haldir I'm here."
"I'm sure that won't be something all that easy to hide, unless you suggest sleeping in a hole." Orophin glanced at the attendants. They didn't look particularly troubled, and the leader had this strange secretive smile on his face. Something was up here. Nindariel being sent to Rivendell so suddenly? And with such few belongings?
"Well, then I'll keep out of his way. We're only staying the night to rest the horses."
"So I see," Orophin said. "But I think you should see Haldir."
"Oh, but I don't." Nindariel dismounted. Her words were defiant, but her tone was as heartbroken sounding as Haldir was. Orophin glanced at her attendants, and the leader had a full on grin.
"Well, I'll have a guard take you to a talan to rest. You needn't leave it until you're ready to depart once again."
"Thank you, but I'll find one myself." She handed the reins to one of her attendants and wandered off in the general direction she needed to go to. Orophin turned his attention onto the attendant leader.
"You're not leaving tomorrow, are you?"
He just stroked his horse's mane and smiled. "Oh, that's for the Lady to decide."
"Lady Nindariel or the Lady of Light?" Orophin felt his heart lift. His gloomy thoughts were penetrated by hope and amusement.
"Whichever. All I know now is that we won't be leaving on the morrow. Or, at least not for Rivendell."
Orophin felt a similar grin stretch across his own face. Oh, not with Nindariel and Haldir in the same vicinity. Something was going to give.
Nindariel didn't realize she had missed the talans until she realized she didn't recognized any of the trees about her. She looked around, pulled out of her depressive haze, and sighed.
"Well," she said to the unyielding trees. "I got myself lost. I can't even succeed in leaving this forest in a snit."
She turned around and started trying to find her way back, but somehow she'd gotten herself utterly turned around. It was just her luck. Now the guards would have to come and find her and Haldir would most likely head up the search and she'd have to see and Orophin had seemed eager for that to happen. Was Haldir really badly off? If he was she didn't think she'd be able to forgive herself.
As it turned out, she didn't have long to wait. in fact, she was the one who found Haldir. He was sitting on the ground, scratching the dirt with a stick. He didn't look entirely upset, just distant like she had been. She pondered whether or not to speak and announce her presence. Haldir looked up, and she stepped back instinctively.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, his voice strangely calm and level.
"I'm just passing through. Actually, I'm lost."
"Well, you've found me so you can consider yourself safe."
Haldir looked back down at his stick, and broke it in half. "Passing through?"
"To Rivendell. On an extended stay to broaden my horizon, I suppose. I didn't exactly care to ask."
"Rivendell." Haldir shook his head. "That's a long way away. How do you feel about this?"
"It's not my decision. It doesn't matter how I feel about it."
Haldir laughed. "I didn't ask if it was your decision or not. I asked how you felt about it. You're avoiding the question."
"Haldir, I'm sorry if I upset you before you left."
"It doesn't matter if I'm upset or not, does it?"
"Of course it matters." Nindariel moved closer to him, feeling her heart go out to him. "You're my friend. I care if you're in pain."
"So you say."
"You care about me."
"Yes, you're my friend."
"You care about me but you do not allow yourself to love me."
Nindariel finally understood everything. Haldir wasn't upset that she didn't love him. He was upset that she was being so stubborn about the definition of her feelings. It hit her rather hard, and she felt her knees go weak. She cared about Haldir, a terrible lot. But why wouldn't he understand that she could never love him? Never love him in the way he wanted?
"You do not need to explain yourself. I'll just have to be content knowing there's care, but nothing else. How can I force you to love me?"
Nindariel started to speak, but fell silent. Haldir wasn't looking at her. He was scratching with both halves of the stick, and her anger at everything resurfaced. Anger at having to go to Rivendell, and anger at Haldir's own stubbornness. She sat down, and drew her knees up to her chest, and looked up at the sky.
"Why do you have a tea kettle in your bags?" Rumil asked. He lifted up the saddle bag from one of the elven attendant's horse. "Surely you won't feel the sudden urge to have tea in the wilds?"
The attendant turned from where he was washing his face, and smiled. "It's something Lady Galadriel insisted we bring along. It's for Haldir. She said he'd need it after he and Nindariel see each other. You may put it with his belongings."
"The lady sent his tea kettle? I've heard much about the Lady, but this is just ridiculous."
The attendant shrugged. "I didn't want to ask."
"Nindariel, why is it so hard for you to be in love?"
"It's not hard, Haldir."
"Of course it is! You just refuse to let yourself have feelings for anyone deeper than friendship. Well, I did too. But then I discovered you and now everything has changed. Life was sweeter when there was even the slightest chance that you might be with me. So much sweeter. There is so much love, why can't you just let yourself be open to it?"
"I can't, Haldir!'
"Because you'll leave me like everyone else will!"
"Everyone else? What are you talking about?"
Nindariel felt the tears come. "My parents left me for Valinor, as did my older brother. All that's left for me is my sister, and she left me for Celvandil, though I can hardly blame her for that."
Haldir was taken aback. "I thought your parents died."
"No. They decided that things would be better away from the most beautiful wood in Middle-earth. They decided that they should leave their little daughers behind. And then Dalir left because his love was killed by orcs and left me and Ára all by ourselves."
"Rumil never told me any of this."
"He doesn't know. We didn't become friends until after Dalir left. It was too hard to share everything."
"Why did your parents leave?"
"They never told me. I couldn't help but wonder if it was something I did. Ára told me I was being ridiculous, but I couldn't help it."
Haldir was silent as he regarded Nindariel. She was so vulnerable. Couldn't she understand that as long as she was alive, he would never leave her? How could he, when she was the reason he lived at all?
"Nindariel, I will never leave you unless you want me to. Just say the word and I will stay with you until the world crumbles beneath our feet." He stood up. "Just say the word."
Nindariel couldn't look at him, just at the ground, the world rushing about her in a nauseating vertigo. Her parents were never supposed to leave her, but still they did. How could she trust Haldir? He who had left anyway? But then again, she had brushed him off. Of course he left. She had told him she didn't want him.
"Just say the word." She heard rustling. Haldir, who could move as silently as the grave, was letting her know he was getting ready to turn away and leave her in peace forever should she wish it, unless she said.
She felt a strange pulling in her eart. All she had to do was speak. In fact, she probably didn't even need to speak, just make a grunting-like noise. Anything. She just had to let out the one word she was dying to say but didn't want to admit it.
She could almost hear Haldir's heart plummet to the bowels of the earth.
The rustling came again, and she could hear his footsteps. Slow, significant footsteps. She looked up, and saw his wonderful, wonderful blonde hair, and knew.
She just knew. And with that knowledge came a strange exhiliration. Exciting energy swept through her, an energy she knew she'd never lose whenever she'd look upon the love of her life.
He turned, and was surprised at the creature that flew into his arms. It resembled Nindariel only in dress and hair, but it was moving so fast that he couldn't be sure. She knocked him to the ground, her arms about his neck in an almost stranglehold.
"Haldir you stupid stiff elf I love you!"
Haldir gasped, and tried to pull Nindariel's arms from his neck. "I love ack"
"Ack?" Nindariel pulled herself away, and Haldir took in a breath. "What?"
"Oh for Eru's sake, I love you too. Now kindly remove your knee from my stomach."
It was full dark when they returned, happy, a bit tear stained, and leaves stuck in their hair in a highly suggestive but truly innocent manner. The attendants, who knew all along they wouldn't leave the borders of Lorien, just sat back and caroused with the guards. Orophin and Rumil couldn't help but tease the two mercilessly, and an impromptu celebration started up with flutes, dancing, and singing.
Haldir had a feeling it was more due to his relaxed mood than anything else.
As for Nindariel, she couldn't be happier tucked against Haldir, her arms about his waist. It was incredibly freeing for her to admit that she needed him. And he needd her. And even though he had to go often to the borders to keep an eye on things, he would never leave her. Never voluntarily.
Haldir extricated himself to go find some trinket or other in his things, and Nindariel settled herself in with his brothers, a grin never leaving her face.
"And now, a song for our dear lady!" A young, handsome guard announced, and he and another started singing a beautiful melody about a warrior maiden elf. It had nothing to do with Nindariel, but it was a sweet song nonetheless.
"Orophin? Rumil?" Haldir's voice drifted over the music and the talking. It was strangely concernced, and Nindariel felt her heart skip. Could something be wrong? Could there be something on the borders that wasn't supposed to be there?
Orophin and Rumil looked as feared as well, but when Haldir's voice resounded again, all resumed it's levity. And laughter.
"Why is my tea kettle here, and why in the name of Eru is it dented?"
Author's Note: I'm done. There shall be a sequel someday with a certail elven couple's young daughter. And a certain elf from Rivendell. Tee!
Anyway... dunno what else to say. My life has been hectic. Easter hols, a bad stupid break up, a play that I"m performing in Friday... getting ready to schedule summer classes, stuffing my face with turkey...
I need to write the new story. It'll keep me sane. Thank you all for reading and reviewing! you are my heroes!