A/N: Well, folks, it's the end of the road for this story. Many, many thanks to those of you who have followed ER and given us feedback and reviews. It's been a long haul—far longer than either of us ever envisioned. A lot of outside factors have played a part in the length of time it has taken to write this—job related factors, health-related issues, motivational issues, and RL just taking up time. However, it's finally finished. We hope you enjoy the ending. Feedback is always appreciated. –J & F
The Grey Havens, Haldir thought, was an apt name for the long-standing Elvish port that lay still and shrouded by sound-muffling mist.
He stood at the twilight of dawn upon the cool grey stones of the quay in Mithlond, calmly aware of the intangible call of the sea and the West upon his elven soul. He had been in this place before, though not in many years, and he had almost forgotten its seductive lure. In Lórien he did not feel it, but here in this place, with its soft voice seeping into him, he had a hint of what it must be like for Elanor's parents.
The gulf of Lhûn—the last hurdle before the great expanse of open water—shimmered softly in the early morning light, drawing his curious gaze to the distant and not yet visible meeting of sea and sky. The air was clean and damp, heavy with the smell of salt and kelp, while the soothing rhythm of the outgoing tide lulled his senses into a state of peaceful repose.
He sensed a movement behind him and swung around just as Elanor joined him and caught hold of his outstretched hand. He kissed her lightly, then together they gazed at the sea, each wondering what it would be like to board the ship and sail away, leaving Arda forever.
Today a ship would sail, with Eluon and Iriel on it.
Haldir drew in a deep breath of sea air and squeezed his wife's fingers. "Someday, Elanor, it will be our time to leave, together."
"But not yet," she murmured, sounding content enough to reassure him. Good. He hoped that she would never wish she had sailed with her parents, and would always be glad she had stayed with him.
As the stars faded and the dawn crept up behind them, they watched the sky turn from indigo to plum to pink, slowly pushing back the night. Far out to sea, the faint ringing sound of a tide bell joined the occasional shrill cry of a gull, but for the most part, the pier was eerily silent.
He glanced around to observe the others who had begun to gather in small groups upon the shore. Some he did not know; they had come from other realms to await the sailing of the next ship. Among them stood their own group, divided yet together--except for Lurien, who always seemed apart from everyone no matter where he stood. Elrond and his sons had not yet arrived; they had spent all of yesterday conferring with Círdan, founder and master of Mithlond, the Grey Havens. Iriel and Eluon were there, with what belongings they had brought, with Lana standing near them, looking very pale. The others were nearby— Minden, Telrion and Túre, various other Imladris and Lothlórien escorts . . . and Tarwë, who had yet to speak to Lurien at all.
Haldir's thoughts turned to the journey. In its way it had been difficult, although he considered it rather eventless with regards to danger. Elanor had spent much of the time walking beside her parents, with her sister often trailing behind, lost in whatever thoughts she had, seldom speaking to anyone outside her own family.
Like Lurien and some of the others, Haldir was part of the guard, at hand to ensure the safety of those who traveled. But he had also come along for Elanor, who, like her sister, had chosen to accompany her parents to these shores. During the journey he had often held Elanor's hand, understanding and accepting her long stretches of contemplative silence. He offered what comfort he could while she struggled to come to terms with the knowledge that half her family would soon would be gone, and that it would be a very long time before they were all reunited.
His thoughts were often on other matters. The knowledge that Elanor was truly his still made his heart flutter as though he were once again a youngling in the throes of his first love. It was a wonderful, odd, heady feeling that he reveled in quietly, allowing no one to know the depths of his emotions except Elanor herself. In short, Haldir was happy. He felt like his life was just beginning.
For Lurien, the entire journey had been torture.
He had had no opportunity to speak to Tarwë. Always there had been people around them, she had made sure of that. He could scarcely even catch her gaze, and every attempt he made to arrange a private moment had been denied. Why?
Why would she not at least speak with him? He did not understand. What had he not done that he should have done? What was he not seeing? Most of all, what had she meant when she said he expected her to be the one to yield? How had he not yielded? And what manner of strength did she demand from him? How could he exhibit strength and yield at the same time? What did she want from him?
He was past anger, past frustration. His plan to use the time spent on the journey to convince her to stay had never been accomplished, for she had completely ignored him. Their arrival in the Grey Havens only heightened the black despair that filled his heart. He felt like his life was at an end.
Lana stood unmoving on the stone quay, listening to the rhythmic swell of the waves, the long strands of her hair fluttering in the stiff breeze. The early morning light brushed the grey water with a faint pink, and the majority of the sea birds were quiet, sitting half asleep on the ropes mooring the boats to the docks. A grey Elvish vessel waited silently to take her parents away, with only the slurp of the waves to rock it and give it life.
She knew the time grew near when her parents would step onto the ship and leave her forever. Her insides were shaking. Despite her aversion to traveling, she had come along on this journey out of love and as a way of being with them a little longer. Yet now, as she gazed at the ship that would take them away, she felt utterly desolate and wished with all her being that she had not come.
Unlike Elanor, she had no one to comfort her, no one into whose arms she could bury her face, no one whose strong arms would wrap around her and hold her while she cried a thousand tears. Despite Galadriel's assurances, she feared the future. She was alone.
Alone and terribly afraid.
She refused to even look in her parents' direction, for if she did, she knew she would burst into tears. Even so she had to bite her lip to keep it from quivering. Staring out at the water, she thought of her life and her childhood and her own behavior over the years. She had never set out to be selfish or wayward or difficult; she had just wanted to be important in her parent's hearts, more important than Elanor. Now she knew that had been wrong, but the realization had come too late. They would sail away with the memory of how she had been--rather than how she wished she had been--and that was painful.
The quay was no longer as silent as it had been. Voices murmured around her as farewells were exchanged. Many of those who were leaving seemed excited while others looked apprehensive, but she knew without looking that her parents' faces were solemn but calm. They were waiting patiently for her to collect herself, but she knew that the longer she delayed, the longer they would linger here, and so she dallied. Just a few moments more, she told herself silently.
She flinched when a hand touched her shoulder, bringing her back to the scene she was trying not to see. The hand on her shoulder was Haldir's. "Go now," he said softly. "Bid your parents farewell. They are waiting and must board soon."
Feeling numb, Lana nodded and moved slowly, as if in a dream, to stand before Eluon and Iriel, who were regarding her with somber faces.
"My daughter," Eluon said gravely. "Do not grieve for us. Know that your mother and I will travel safely to a place where your mother will be beyond all harm. Someday you will join us there."
"I do not want you to go," Lana whispered, "but I know you must."
Iriel and Eluon took turns embracing her while she struggled not to cry. While Iriel spoke softly with Elanor, Lana gazed up into her father's quiet, noble face. "I will n-never see you again, Ada," she said brokenly. "Let me come with you."
With a small smile, he wiped away her tears with his thumb. "No, my dear, your life is here. You will see me again, my little Lanaewen, and your mother as well. But for now our paths must part. A new way beckons, and I am told it will be most rewarding for you. You must stay."
She tried to swallow the sob that choked her, blinking back the heat of tears. "I am not that strong, Ada, I do not—"
He caught her shoulders, forcing her to gaze into his eyes. In his gaze she read both love and firmness. "You are strong. Your mother is strong, and you are your mother's daughter. Remember, too, that you have Elanor and Haldir to help you. They will not let you falter. Nor will the Lady of Light, your guardian. She tells me she has much faith in you."
Lana released another small sob. "She d-does?" This was hard to believe.
Iriel turned away from Elanor and wrapped an arm around Lana. "She does indeed, my dear child. And so do I. You will grow and you will prosper and be happy here in this land that we have loved so well."
They spoke quietly, and then another arm came around Lana's shoulder. "Nana and Ada must do what they must," she heard Elanor whisper. "You and I will stand together and be stronger for it. No matter what happens, I will stay with you. You are my sister."
Lana gave Elanor a watery smile and sucked in a breath, finally looking at her mother. "I will miss you, Nana. I love you both s-so much."
Iriel smiled gently, wrapping her hands around first Lana's face and then Elanor's. "And I will miss you both. But this is not the end, my dear daughters, but a beginning for us all. I know you will fare well and live good lives. And when you are ready to sail, we will be waiting for you."
Iriel slipped her hand into her husband's, smiled at her children, and then turned to walk across the quay. She hesitated for a moment before stepping onto the plank leading into the ship, but then moved across it without looking back. Eluon followed.
Unable to hold back her emotion, Lana retreated several steps away from Elanor and began to weep. She half expected Elanor to rush over and hold her but this did not happen; instead her sister was being enfolded in Haldir's strong arms. The sharp reminder of how much things had changed only added to Lana's misery.
She was on her own, and she had no one to hold her. She covered her face, her shoulders shaking, and then she felt someone gather her close and stroke her hair. But it was not Elanor . . . .
She stiffened when she realized who held her.
"I know how it feels, little one," Elrohir murmured. "I bid farewell to my own mother here on these shores. Hush," he crooned, as another involuntary sob escaped her. "All is well. Let the tears flow a moment longer, and then lift your head and smile so when they look back, they will carry away that image in their hearts."
Slowly, Lana relaxed as she realized he had not come to mock her. And for some reason her tears did come to a halt, though in the years to come when they spoke of it as the friends they would someday be, she was never to understand why, although Elrohir would have his theories. But now, at this point in time, she did not stop to analyze; she only knew that perhaps she had been wrong and that things were not as bleak as they seemed. Perhaps things really were going to be all right.
She lifted her head and smiled bravely in the direction of the ship.
Tension and despair clawed at Lurien's insides, shredding any hope he might have cherished that she would turn to him at the last moment. It was Tarwë's time to board. What could he possibly do now to change her mind?
She had refused to look at him as she stood quietly in her grey cloak, waiting her turn, gazing out beyond the ship to the mouth of the bay and the far horizon. The early morning sun lit her silvery hair, glancing off her fingers as she brushed back a long strand from her cheek.
Lurien stood silent and still, his hands clenched so tightly that his fingers were numb. Never had he felt so helpless, so weak, so impotent. He closed his eyes, remembering how wonderful she felt in his arms—her softness, her scent, her smile . . . lost to him forever.
What could he do? Nothing, he wanted to shout.
He despised himself for his failure, yet he did not know what to do. It was as though everything he had ever learned about ellith—about Tarwë—was false and he had no experience at all. He was wholly at a loss.
A part of him wanted to stride right over there, seize her and toss her over his shoulder, but instinct told him this would not serve. Too many times had he exerted control, even forced her to his will, and he knew that this was not the solution. He had always loved her, but until these past weeks he had not known just how much and how deeply. How could he have been so blind? How could he have strayed so far from a path that would have been so right? But he could not force her, nor would any of those present allow him to do so.
No, if she stayed, it would have to be of her own free will. But time was running out; there was now no chance for a private moment.
His agony increased as she took a step toward the ship, intent on following Elanor's parents. She still did not look at him. Sweet Eru, she was really going to do it.
Noooooo, he screamed on the inside.
Strength wears many faces, whispered a gentle voice in his head.
"Please." His voice was a hoarse whisper, but others must have heard, for a few heads turned in his direction.
But not hers.
An infinity of loneliness stretched out before him.
He had to do something.
Suddenly frantic, he shoved his way madly forward, only dimly aware of Minden and Telrion stepping back to allow him passage. He reached Tarwë's side and caught her hand, but instead of forcing her to turn toward him, he stepped in front of her, his back to the Sea.
"For the love of the Valar, Tarwë, do not do this!" he begged. "Do not leave me!"
He could see that she was trembling, her beautiful blue eyes filled with pain and determination. "Lurien," she said quietly. "Do not do this."
Ignoring the stares of those around them, he fell to his knees in front of her, surrendering the last of his pride. "I love you," he said raggedly.
"I have heard those words before," she reminded him. Yet her voice held a strange note, and she looked rather stunned by the spectacle of his supplication.
"My words are true," he said in a low, cracked voice. "Tarwë, I cannot bear to live without you." Again, he thought of the empty years stretching out before him, years without her, and it pierced the last reserve of strength he retained.
"Perhaps I am weak," he went on. "Perhaps I deserve your contempt. But I love you. To lose you is to lose all. You are . . . my all." Tears blurred his vision, but he made no attempt to wipe them away. He was beyond caring if she or anyone else saw this weakness. What difference did it make at this point?
She only looked at him, her beautiful face pale as carved marble. The wind pressed her cloak against the curves of her body while the others around them stood silent and waiting, like grey ghosts in the mist.
"You are everything to me," he pleaded. "Please do not leave me." He knew he looked pathetic kneeling there on the hard stone quay, but he had no other option. He took a deep breath. "Stay with me, Tarwë. Stay here and . . . be my wife. Please, my love. Bind with me."
It was the one thing he had most feared to say, the one thing that had stopped his throat the last time they had spoken, the risk of it nearly choking him. He had been weak before and he was weak now, but he had nothing left to lose. This was what he wanted with all of his being. He had always intended to take her as his wife, but in a vague, 'someday' sort of way. Distrust of himself had always held him back—he had never believed that he was ready, never had the faith he'd needed in himself, the belief that he could be what he should be for her. What she deserved.
But now he did—though it was probably too late. He braced himself for another rejection while at the same time praying as he had never prayed before.
"Oh, Lurien," she whispered. Her eyes held a sheen of tears.
What did those tears mean? Regret that she was about to wound him yet again? His heart slamming inside him, Lurien closed his eyes against the vision of her, knowing if she left him, it would be what he would always remember.
He heard the soft rustle of her cloak and then she was kneeling too, her hands reaching out to clasp his. Wild hope flared inside him.
"Do you mean this, Lurien?" she asked in a shaky voice. "Do you mean this from the bottom of your heart? Or is this just a trick to make me stay? I warn you, I can bear no more suffering."
He drew her fingers against his chest. "Nor can I," he said hoarsely. "This is no trick, but my heartfelt desire. I want you for my wife, Tarwë. I would bind myself to you for all time. My heart is more than ready to make this final pledge." He raised his voice. "And let all who hear my words bear witness."
"Finally, you have shown me strength," Tarwë said softly.
He gazed at her in confusion.
She squeezed his fingers. "You told me you loved me, but I never believed you truly meant it. I did not believe you knew what love was. Not the kind of love I feel for you, the kind of love that will last an eternity. Today you have shown more strength than I have ever seen in you."
"I know what love is, my Tarwë," he said huskily. He drew her gently to her feet and, with a sense of wonder, touched the tears on her cheek, gently wiping them away before tracing the delicate line of her cheekbone with her fingertips. To him, she was so perfect and so precious. "It has been a long and painful road," he admitted, "but there is nothing that could ever make me change my mind. My love for you runs deep and true. I swear upon this land and all that I hold dear that the passage of time will only make me love you more."
Tarwë leaned forward, her forehead resting on his temple. She was crying softly. "Then I will stay with you and be your wife, Lurien. I will not sail."
He drew her into his arms and cradled her against his chest. "You will never regret it, I swear. I will make sure you do not."
Neither of them noticed the smiles of those around them.
And so the ship sailed that day, but without Tarwë of Lórien. Those left standing on the shores watched until the graceful white sails were out of sight, each pondering whatever thoughts the scene brought forth, each involved with his or her own emotions.
Elanor saw with some amazement that Elrohir had remained by Lana's side. She would have gone to her sister after Haldir had held her for a moment or two, but by then Lana had had the comfort of the handsome Peredhel and so she had stayed with Haldir. Odd that Elladan had not joined his brother; they so often were together. Instead, Elrohir's twin stood some distance apart at the side of his father, Lord Elrond. But then perhaps that was not so odd at all; they had their own bittersweet memories in this place.
"What do you think it means?" she whispered to Haldir.
Haldir's mouth curved faintly. "It means that Elrohir has a kind heart. No more than that, Elanor. Elrond's son is not in love with your sister."
Elanor considered this and decided he was probably right. At this point Haldir excused himself and left her side to walk over to Lurien. She watched curiously as Haldir withdrew something from a hidden pocket of his tunic and handed it to Lurien with a few softly spoken words.
When he returned to her side, Elanor could not resist asking, "What was that, Haldir? What did you give to Lurien?"
"Something Galadriel directed me to give him, should Tarwë decide to remain behind."
"Do you know what it is?" She glanced up at him.
"No, but I can guess."
Elanor turned back to study the couple. "Tell me your guess."
"Rings," Haldir said quietly.
Other partings were taking place, for it was time for those journeying to Imladris to continue on, while those returning to Lothlórien would go back the way they had come.
"I know you will miss me," Elrohir told Lana, his small, crooked smile holding a touch of wickedness.
Lana regarded him with mixed feelings; she had disliked him so intensely for so long, but now what was she to think? His comforting arms had been most welcome, and had helped her through an ordeal she had not thought she could endure. "I will not miss your teasing," was the response she settled on.
"Are you so sure?" he asked mischievously. "I think you like the attention."
"I do not like being dangled over the edges of flets! Nor do I like being spanked!"
"It would not have been so bad," he informed her with a naughty glint in his eyes. "You might have enjoyed it."
"Forgive my brother." Elladan was grinning as he joined them. "He has a good heart and is embarrassed because he let you know it. 'Tis more fun for him to show you his outrageous side."
Feeling slightly cross with both of them, Lana looked back and forth between their beautiful, identical faces. How odd that she could so easily tell them apart , and yes, it had always been Elrohir who provoked her the most. She had always assumed it was because he despised her, but perhaps this was not so.
"I would not have enjoyed it," she said with huffy dignity. "However, I admit that when you are being pleasant and agreeable, I find your company acceptable."
"She likes us," Elrohir said smugly. "I knew it all along."
"She likes you better than she likes me," Elladan remarked.
"I know," Elrohir said modestly. "But I fear I cannot stay and woo you, my fair one. I have Orcs to slay and adventures to pursue, and I must take care of my father."
"I do not wish anyone to woo me!" Lana told them, not quite truthfully, but with spirit. "Do not feel sorry for me!"
Elrohir's expression gentled. "I do not feel sorry for you, sweetheart. I feel sorry for the one who is destined to be your mate." He laughed and stepped back quickly as she tried to smack him. "Now, now, none of that, my darling. I have already allowed you to strike me twice, and if there is ever a third time, I intend to defend myself."
Lana decided to let this pass, especially since Lord Elrond had arrived. What he must think of her, she dared not consider. "Farewell, my lord," she said in a small voice. "Thank you for everything you have done for my family."
The twins' father bowed his head politely. "You are welcome, Lanaewen. I wish you and Elanor well. May the Valar see you safely back to Lórien."
Lana bowed her head and touched her hand to her chest. "May the Valar see you safely back to Imladris." Squaring her shoulders, she turned to face Elrohir. "Thank you," she said simply. "You helped me even though I did not deserve it. I do wish you well. Stay safe."
He bowed and then to her surprise kissed her on the cheek. "Behave yourself," he said gruffly, and walked away.
Lana watched him go, reflecting that perhaps he was right and she might miss him . . . just a little.
Nearby, Elanor was saying her own goodbyes to two of her dearest friends as well as Túre, who had become another friend. Telrion and Minden stood before her with their cloaks open and their dark hair billowing in the breeze, looking so handsome and dear that she could feel herself getting quite emotional. As for Túre, she just looked blissfully happy to be with Telrion.
"I will miss you all," Elanor told them a bit forlornly.
Telrion hugged Elanor for a long moment before setting her back a step and flashing one of his irrepressible smiles. "I will miss you too, Ellie, more than I can say, but of course I am very glad for you." He looked at Haldir and then gave Elanor a wink. "I do feel I played a part in this romance of yours."
"We," Minden corrected cheerfully. "We played a part."
Telrion grinned. "Minden and I both played a part, I should have said. We ought to get some credit, do you not think?"
"Yes," Elanor said wryly, a twinkle in her eyes, "you thought Haldir and I might form an attachment to each other. And so we have, but as to the credit, I am not so sure you naughty ellyn deserve it."
"This is a story I have not yet heard," Túre commented, with a glance at Telrion. She wore a daisy in her hair, no longer fresh, but Elanor had noticed Tel tucking it tenderly behind her ear each morning.
"Nor will you," her lover responded, with a tender squeeze on her hand. "At least not without Elanor and Haldir's consent. Even then, you would be sworn to secrecy."
"I think it is a story best left untold," Haldir stated, "for at least another millennia."
"Then suffice it to say that Min and I did a little matchmaking," Tel explained to Túre, who looked mystified but resigned.
Telrion glanced back at Elanor, his smile fading to a more serious look. "But at the same time, Ellie, I never thought it would mean that I would lose you."
Elanor reached out and hugged him tightly, and he hugged her back. "You have not lost me, Tel. We will meet again, many times."
"I know." Telrion glanced at Haldir, who stood by her side, who managed to look like he was guarding her without saying or doing anything. "You will send for us if he makes you unhappy," he said, only half jokingly.
"She will not be unhappy," Haldir informed him firmly.
"Good," interjected Minden. "We will be watching."
Elanor rolled her eyes and gave first Minden and then Túre a hug. "Farewell, dear friends. We will meet again."
"Perhaps with our children," Telrion remarked.
The idea had Haldir lifting a brow. "Most likely long before that," he said dryly.
Elanor only smiled.
"'Twill be some time before I dare return to Lórien," Elladan remarked casually to his twin some hours later. Though there was little chance of danger, they had ridden ahead of the rest of their party to scout the area. All was quiet, giving them ample time to converse.
Elrohir arched a brow at his twin. "Oh? Why is that?"
"It must be something in the water," Elladan said pensively.
"Something in the water? You lost me."
Elladan clicked his tongue at his mount, directing it to stop trying to nibble the passing bushes. "Never have I seen so many betrothals and weddings in so short a span of time. Orophin and Doria, well, that one I suppose I can understand. He's long had his eye on her and she on him. But Rúmil and Nerwen! You must admit that is startling."
"Aye, that was unexpected," Elrohir admitted, thinking this over. "Never would I have anticipated that pairing."
"Nor would I. Now, Haldir and Elanor, that is also an odd mix, do you not think? He is aloof, arrogant, set in his ways, and experienced, while she is young, quiet, and inexperienced."
"I doubt she is inexperienced any longer," Elrohir said slyly.
Elladan laughed. "Nay, I think not. But still, 'tis an odd union."
"Perhaps." Elrohir sounded uninterested. "But they seem well suited and happy."
Elladan glanced back over his shoulder and saw that Telrion and Túre were far enough behind that there was no chance of being overheard. "There is another unexpected pairing," he remarked with a tilt of his head. "Who would have thought that such a sweet elleth existed beneath all that sourness? And since when did Telrion become so discerning? I've always stayed as far away from Túre as possible."
Elrohir shrugged. "So have I. But it seems that love has healed her wounds, whatever they were. What is your point?"
"If you would hearken to me, brother, you would see. Lurien and Tarwë are betrothed . . . or even wed by now, for all I know. Think about it, does that not seem bizarre to you?"
"Indeed it does. I never understood Lurien in the least, nor his appeal to the ellith."
"That is not the point. The point is that in less than one year, all these unions have taken place. There may be even more we do not know about."
Elrohir gave him a quizzical look. "This troubles you, brother. Why?"
Elladan's sharp-eyed gaze raked his twin's face. "You kissed Lana."
"So? It meant nothing. She is like a younger sister to me—one far younger and more irksome than Arwen."
"You are certain of this?" Elladan asked suspiciously. "You see her as a sister?"
Elrohir laughed long and hard. "Quite certain! Why, what did you think? That I was going to go courting in Lórien sometime soon? That little elleth has centuries of growing up to do. Besides, Grandmother told me something about her future."
Elladan stared. "She told you something she did not tell me? When was this?"
"The day after Haldir's wedding. I believe you were much occupied at the time by amorous pursuits. What was her name?"
Elladan brushed this aside. "Never mind that. What did Grandmother say?"
"Not much, really. She told me there is a warden who is destined for Lana, and that she would grow up eventually, and that we should stop harassing her. She did not tell me his name."
"Interesting. She told me something a little different the day before we left for the Grey Havens."
"She did?" It was Elrohir's turn to stare. "What did she say?"
"She said there was something in the water. The water in her mirror," Elladan added when his brother seemed about to laugh. "She told me that little Lana's future was not as certain as she thought. She said the warden would have a rival for her affections." He looked closely at his twin. "I assured her it would not be you or me."
"What did she say to that?" Elrohir demanded. For some indefinable reason he felt annoyed with both his brother and his grandmother.
"She only smiled," Elladan replied. "And that is why you and I, dear brother, will not be going back to Lórien for a very long time. I will NOT have that brat for a brother-wife! Let the warden have her."
Elrohir rolled his eyes. "You talk such nonsense, 'Dan. The rival will be old Hírion, mark my words. I have no interest in Lana."
"If you say so," Elladan said, with a sideways look at his twin.
Tarwë's return to Lórien was met by much surprise and considerable relief from all who knew and loved her. Lurien's return as her husband was, for the most part, greeted with cautious approval. He had expected heads to shake while people wondered what possessed Tarwë to make such a foolish decision, but instead it was the opposite and people wished them well. This heightened Lurien and Tarwë's happiness as they began their new life together as a married couple.
In the weeks and months that followed, Lurien set about to serve and contribute to the good of his people, making himself useful in whatever capacity he could find. His first project was of course his bridge, which he had always expected to have to build completely by himself. However, as his new and more humble ways became recognized, volunteers began to step forward to offer a helping hand, including a few sentinels whose friendship and respect he had thought he'd lost.
Others, too, offered to help, and among these was Rúmil, who bluntly told Lurien that he'd always thought he was a fool, but was glad to know he had been at least partially wrong. Lurien elected not to take offense, for he knew more than anyone just how great a fool he had been. Instead, he gladly accepted Rúmil's offer to help, knowing exactly where Rúmil's talents lay and how to use them. Therefore it was Rúmil who carved the majority of the elaborate floral designs on the vertical posts that would house the urns, although Lurien carved a fair number of them himself. Often seated nearby, watching and chatting while the ellyn worked, were Nerwen and Doria and sometimes Gwirith. As for Tarwë, she seldom strayed far from Lurien's side except when she was busy with her various duties; she and Lurien often exchanged intimate and heated looks that the others pretended not to notice, although they secretly smiled.
And so time passed. Lurien was as content as it was possible for him to be given the fact that he had lost his sword and his official position within the city. Yet he had gained more than he had ever expected—his beloved Tarwë as his wife—and not a day went by when he did not thank the Valar for the gift of her love. Tarwë fussed over him in a way she had never done before (most likely because he had not deserved it) and he found that he enjoyed it far more than his previous freedom to do what he liked with anyone he wished.
When the bridge was finally completed, and the urns filled with blooming elanor and other flowers, Lord Celeborn conducted a dignified ceremony dedicating it to Elanor, who blushed and quietly insisted she had done nothing to deserve such an honor. In his speech, Lord Celeborn stated that the bridge not only commemorated Elanor's valiant effort to save Haldir from danger, it would always serve as a reminder of the importance of following an honorable path. Lurien also made a short speech in which he apologized to all present for his actions and vowed to do better.
Time continued to flow by. Lurien found other pursuits in which he could make himself useful. He undertook various crafts and eventually found himself well pleased with the art of silvercraft, whereupon he settled happily into this niche and created jewelry that met with even Rúmil's critical approval. He spent weeks creating a delicate and complex weaving of fine silver threads that became an elaborate hair ornament for Tarwë, which he gave to her one night under the light of a full moon along with a fervent declaration of his devotion to her.
Life went along, with only occasional skirmishes for the border wardens to mar the serenity of life in Lórien. Elanor and Haldir's relationship continued to be loving and passionate, Healea continued to be Elanor's staunch friend and ally in all matters, Orophin and Doria married, Rúmil and Nerwen married, and Gwirith finally began to attract the eye of Beredain, much to their friends' relief.
As for Lanaewen, under Galadriel's gentle but firm guidance, she began to release the twin burdens of anger and fear that had haunted her for so long. Consequently, her relationship with Elanor changed to one that was more sisterly and loving; beneath her insecurities and jealousy, Lana had an innate sweetness, and she genuinely adored her sister and always had. Little by little, Lana began to fit in and make a few friends, although this did not include a handsome but arrogant and maddening warden named Sarnion. Still, Lana was happy, although thoughts of a certain Peredhel did occasionally flutter through her thoughts. With Galadriel's encouragement, she began a course of study in the art of growing herbs and mixing poultices, finding it relaxing to learn under Hírion's patient supervision. Others might find him pompous, but she liked him because he liked her and because he expected her to do well and praised her when she did. It was that simple.
And then came a day when something happened.
Lurien was called before the same group of council members that had gathered at the time of his disgrace. Only Elrond was absent, but Haldir was present, although not seated as the others were. Unsure what was about to take place, Lurien stood tall and alert, not anxious but not complacent either. The sight of his sword lying on the council table had his heart beating fast with hope.
"Lurien of Lórien," Lord Celeborn said gravely, "much time has passed since you last held your sword. It is the opinion of those present that you have proven yourself worthy of its return. Are you ready to take it back? Are you prepared to use it only for the defense and welfare of our people?"
Lurien bowed his head respectfully. "I am, my lord."
"And do you vow to use it responsibly at all times?"
Lurien pressed his hand to his heart and bowed. "Aye, I so vow most solemnly. Never again will I taint my honor or raise my weapon against one of our people."
Lady Galadriel rose to her feet, and it was she who lifted the heavy sword and brought it over to him. Holding it flat on the palms of her hands, she said, "Take it, my friend. You have earned the right to it once more."
Lurien accepted his sword, knowing she understood the question in his eyes. "My lady?" he said.
Galadriel smiled faintly and nodded. "Yes, Lurien, you may resume your former duties as a Sentinel of Lórien if you so choose. However, there is one here who would make you another offer. Will you hear it?"
Lurien was puzzled. "Certainly. What is it?"
Still with that curious smile, Galadriel lifted her hand in a gesture toward Haldir, who took a step forward.
"Your skill with sword and bow is unparalleled," Haldir stated, his voice low and even. "I would be pleased if you would join me at the Fences as a warden of Lórien. We could use you, my friend."
Lurien stared at him in astonishment. He opened his mouth and then shut it again, unable to believe his former foe would speak such words. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected such an offer to be made.
"I am quite serious," Haldir said quietly. "Your fighting skills would be most valuable. But if you choose Sentinel duties, I will think no less of you."
"I would like to discuss it with Tarwë," Lurien said after a long pause. "This decision affects us both."
Haldir nodded briefly, his manner approving. "That is fair and right. I will await your answer then."
"If you join with Haldir," Lord Celeborn interjected, on a note of mild warning, "you would be serving under his command. Bear that in mind as you consider."
Lurien lifted his chin. "Understood, my lord. But I would like to point out that my skill with weapons is not unparalleled."
Lord Celeborn's brows lifted. "Oh?"
"Haldir's skill is as great as my own," Lurien stated.
"But no greater." Haldir's eyes held a glint of humor.
"It is good to see them both so modest for a change," Lord Celeborn remarked dryly to his lady. "I cannot help but wonder how long it will last."
Galadriel smiled back at him. "Not long, if I am any judge of the matter. But their hearts are true and I have faith in each of them."
"Then let the meeting be adjourned. Lurien, you may give us your answer tomorrow."
"You must do as your heart wishes," Tarwë whispered later that night. They lay in bed, their arms wrapped around each other. "I want what you want, Lurien, though I will miss you should you decide to leave my side."
Lurien was silent, knowing that she had loved him to be here in the city working as a silversmith, close by and safe from harm. Yet all his life he had wanted only one thing—to be a warden. Finally, he admitted it to himself without the strong bitterness and resentment that he had felt for so long. When had those feelings vanished? He did not know.
She lifted her head and looked at him. "I am as strong as Elanor," she told him quietly. "I am as strong as Doria and Nerwen and others who are wed to wardens. If they can part with the ones they love for weeks or months at a time, then so can I."
"You are certain of this?" he murmured, touching her cheek. "I have caused you so much pain already, my sweet Tarwë. I have no wish to cause you more."
She sat up, bending over him so that the fall of her hair brushed his chest. Her eyes locked with his, a serious yet gentle look upon her face. "I could not live with myself if you gave up your dream because of me. All will be well, Lurien my love. I believe in you. I know you will be safe. I know that each time you leave you will come back to me, just as Orophin and Rúmil and Haldir return to their mates." She bent and kissed him on the lips. "You must choose what your heart desires."
And so it was that Lurien became a warden of Lórien. He served in that capacity for many long years, sustaining injuries only twice, which as Haldir would someday say was not at all bad for an ex-Sentinel. Eventually Lurien and Tarwë sailed to the Undying Lands on the same ship that bore away Elanor and Haldir and Túre and Telrion and many others of their friends and kin. They arrived safely in Aman and made new lives for themselves as well as quite a number of new elflings. Haldir and Elanor had two sons and two daughters, while Lurien and Tarwë had three daughters, Orophin and Doria had two sons, and Rúmil and Nerwen had one daughter and one son. As destiny would have it, Haldir's eldest son wed Lurien's youngest daughter, while Lurien's eldest daughter wed Rúmil's only son, so it was just as well that old feuds had been replaced by firm friendship and mutual respect. As for Lana, she did indeed marry and live happily, but which of her suitors she wed has unfortunately gone unrecorded in this history. Perhaps one day a new document may surface that will shed more light on her story.
Long before this, however, a new addition was made to a certain clearing in the Woods of Lórien. Oddly enough, the ninniach-loth plant that had visited Elanor during her convalescence had grown extremely fond of the elanor plant sitting next to it. The two plants had entwined their leaves together in such a way that they made their wishes clear. Accordingly, they were tenderly returned to the one place the ninniach-loth liked to grow, planted side by side in the glade of the ninniach-loth.
So it was that elanor grew and flourished amid the ninniach-loth, the yellow star-like blooms intermingled with the rainbow flowers as if they had always been together, whispering their secrets to the wind. And so it continued for as long as the magic remained.
And that was a very long time indeed.
Again, thank you to all readers! Stay tuned for my next Haldir story, Mari's Song, which I think I will be posting here, although that is not a certainty. If not, it will be posted in my yahoo group.