Battle songs echoed along the corridors, reverberating off the stone walls to sound like a ghostly choir. The cries of the wounded and dying filled her ears. The bridge of Khazad-dum wasn't far now, hopefully the other party had made it to Durin's Door and closed it. How could this happen? Not Moria! Never Moria! Something moved near the chasm to her left. She nocked an arrow and spun to take aim, then nearly dropped her bow. "Balrog!" She shrieked. "Flee now!" The flaming horror stared at her for a moment before taking chase. She swung around a colomn, fired a quick arrow, and turned to run. She saw the last of her surviving party bolt across the bridge and up the stairs. The dwarves fleeing their home, perhaps forever. She made to follow, the Balrog close behind her. The heat of the creature was astounding! Halfway across the bridge she heard the crack of a whip. Suddenly searing pain shot across her back and she cried out. Hot fire shot through her veins, dropping her to the ground writhing in pain. Tears blurred her vision. She rolled over and looked up, right into the Balrog's face. It let out a roar, hot searing breath washed over her prone form...
Azalea sat bolt upright, drenched in a cold sweat. She drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them close. A shaking hand swept through her many braids. It had been almost a century since she'd had that nightmare, more than eleven since she'd lived it. Her back began to throb. The wound that wouldn't fully heal. One she couldn't see, but still felt, most of the time she blocked it out as a dull ache. The dream however made it feel as though she had just received it. She turned and slipped out of bed. Padding barefoot across her talan, she made her way over to her balcony. There was no way she would get anymore sleep tonight. She curled up on a bench to watch Caras Galadhon slowly come to life in the dawn light.
Shortly after dawn a soft knock on her front door brought her out of the light reverie she had fallen into. "Enter." She called. Rumil soon joined her out on the terrace. He smiled gently at her.
"Good morning Zal." He plopped down onto the bench next to her. She smiled and shook her head. He was the only one who called her that. "Did you rest well last night?" He knew the answer of course. The only time he found her out here this early was when she had the nightmare.
"I got enough Rumil. Your concern is truly appreciated, though." She stood and stretched her muscles out. "Have you had breakfast yet?" She stepped back inside. Her talan looked like an irony of sorts. Hanging on the wall above her weapons was a huge dwarven battle-axe crossed with a mithril hammer made in the very forges of Moria. The gem encrusted weapons glinted in the early light. Her Galadhrim bow hung beneath a crossbow, two throwing axes, called 'Dwarven Arrows' by most Elves, criss-crossed the wall above her bookshelf. She slipped into the kitchen and came out with a basket full of fresh rolls. Tossing one to Rumil, she sat down again and began to eat one herself.
"Ready for two weeks at the border?" Rumil asked in a conversational tone.
"Always Rumil. I am ever ready for my turn at the Fences." She took a bite of her roll. "Who all's going this time?"
"Orophin and myself. Haldir is already out there. We go to relieve him. There's supposed to be a group coming in from Imladris tomorrow. He'll escort them back here." He stood up. "I must be going. See you at the gates in an hour?" She nodded. He bent down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. They had been lovers once, but had since decided they were better at being best friends, with occasional benefits when they were drunk. Picking up another roll, he left her talan.
Standing up, she proceeded to dress for duty. There were few female wardens, but it was the only task she could do that kept her 'occupied and out of trouble', as Lord Celeborn called it. Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she fingered the mithril chain around her neck. Her friend Tanja had made it for her at her forge. It was delicate, but strong. Tanja said it was just like her 'crazy elf pal'. A tear slid down her cheek at the memory of Tanja, who had fallen...No, stop thinking about that!...she told herself furiously. She finished dressing and headed out to the gates to meet Rumil and Orophin.
Rumil waved at her when he noticed her approach. Orophin grinned. "About time you showed up. Thought we were gonna have to leave without you." He gave her a playful slug on the shoulder.
"Oh please Orophin. You need me just to protect you from the evil trees!" She laughed and bolted ahead down the path, Orophin close behind, followed by a laughing Rumil.
They raced most of the way to the border, arriving just before dusk. Haldir dropped down out of a tree and leaned against it smiling. "She get you with an insult again Orophin?" He stepped forward, barely supressing a chuckle as his brother nodded. "Right, off to your posts. The group from Imladris should arrive about mid-morning." Rumil and Orophin nodded and slipped away into the trees. Haldir turned to Azalea. "You're with me tonight. We'll greet the group together tomorrow, then you'll take over my post while I escort them to the city."
She smiled. "Fine by me. I'm just ready to get back to duty." She shrugged as they headed to a tree near the edge of the forest. She plopped down and leaned back against it. "You know me, Haldir. I'm happiest when I'm out here."
He sat down next to her. "Yes, Azalea, I know." They played a couple rounds of cards before taking up sentry duty for the night. The night passed uneventfully, which was not unusual. As the sun rose two other wardens came to relieve them so they could rest until the party from Imladris came into sight.
It was exactly mid-morning when they did indeed come within sight of the Lothlorien. She and Haldir met on the main trail and chose trees on either side to wait in. This part was the most fun for her and any warden. Dropping out of the very trees seemed to unnerve most travelers, especially any unfamiliar with the customary greeting. She waited anxiously to see just who had come. Elrond and his sons most likely, probably Arwen as well. She readjusted herself on the branch so she would be able to see them better. It seemed like hours, but finally she heard the horses approaching. She brushed her many braids back out of her face and peered through the branches.
Elrond rode at the head of the column, his expression seren and unpreturbed by the inevitable dropping of elves from trees, he was followed by his twin sons Elladan and Elrohir, who were looking about anxiously, Arwen followed behind with one of her court. A slight quirk to the Evenstar's lips betrayed her growing amusement as they moved further into the wood with, so far, no guide. A blonde elf on a white horse brought up the rear, tiny bells were attached to the saddle gear, and made a merry tinkling sound as the animal moved.
She waited until they had nearly reached their positions as Haldir had instructed, then dropped from her limb. Her feet hit the ground without a sound at the same time as Haldir's. Rising from her crouch she placed her hand over her heart in a gesture of respect to Lord Elrond. Haldir did the same. "Mae govannen, Lord Elrond, Lords Elladan and Elrohir, Lady Arwen, Tirniel, and Lord Glorfindel." He addressed the party formally. "I will be..." Whatever else he said she didn't catch. Her eyes were fixed on the Elf at the rear of the group. The one Haldir had addresed as Glorfindel. Could it really be the Glorfindel? The one who defeated a Balrog? He caught her stare and she turned away quickly.
The dropping out of trees was expected by anyone who had ever entered the Golden Wood. Although the sight of this peculiar elleth he had not expected. Glorfindel looked her over briefly, her golden hair pulled into many small braids instead of the typical warrior-style of the other wardens. He turned as Haldir addressed him and nodded. Something drew his attention back to her, she was staring at him in an almost awe-like manner. When he met her gaze however, she turned away abruptly. His eyes lingered for a moment longer, taking in the sight of her. Ai Elbereth, she was exotic! He watched as Haldir dismissed her and she strode away into the forest. He determined to speak to Haldir about her on the way to Caras Galadhon.
They began moving and he rode up to the front of the column and dismounted, walking his horse beside the Marchwarden. "Greetings Haldir." He nodded to the Lorien elf.
Haldir turned and smiled at him. "Can I do something for you Glorfindel?" He had seen the look exchange with Azalea and already knew what would come next.
"Yes indeed. Although I feel you already know what I want to ask. Or perhaps who I want to ask it about."
"Her name is Azalea, and she is at the Fences for two weeks. If you desire to speak with her you must wait until then. She would be most unaccomadating if her turn was cut short." Glorfindel nodded at this and asked no more. They walked the rest of the way to the city gates chatting idly amongst themselves.
Azalea made her way back to the Fences and took up her post, but the remainder of the day her thoughts were focused on a certain elf. That night she took a lover as usual, but even he had the face of the visitor. Could it really be Lord Glorfindel? She lay awake the rest of the night pondering the possibilities and shivering as she recalled the look they shared.