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Bah! I am SO sorry, guys! Especially to those who had to review more than once! Sandy, Josie, Julia! I'm so sorry!
It's a good thing I stopped the Mage. If you all are wondering why I am nearly THREE WEEKS late in updating, I was called to the 'office' for this editing crap. Been there ever since. I was just now shipped my laptop. Had an issue with that too...America's laws are so confusing sometimes. Really.
So, anyway, enough of that. I really hope you all can forgive me for making you wait SO long. This chapter is 15 pages total...Whew...Enjoy!
Chapter Four: The Roads of Fate
I frowned, rolling over to reach for Ashk only to find an empty side of the bed.
"Haldir, get up."
My eyes cleared only to see my wife tugging on a heavy coat that followed her all the way to her ankles. Glancing at the window I noted it was only just past dawn. I must have slipped away to sleep again only a short while ago.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Giving you a cultural experience. Now get up. We need to go before all the children find out what we're doing."
I sat up rubbing my face blearily. "What are we doing?" I asked as she hopped around into a heavy boot.
"I am taking you coasting."
"Oh, no you're not," I replied, flopping back onto the bed.
"Oh, yes I am," she replied a moment later, grabbing my arm and pulling. I, in turn, grabbed the post of the bed and did not move despite her efforts. She sighed, looking a bit like Moriana did when she was upset, and glared at me. "Haldir! You are going to forbid me the one time I can show you something?"
"Most definitely," I replied and she sighed once again. I chuckled at her before rolling over.
My breath was crushed out of me when she pounced.
I groaned. "It is a child's sport. You said so yourself," I said, ignoring her as she brushed her fingers against the back of my neck. I could not see her of course, being smashed into the bed chest down, but I could only imagine the sinister smile on her face.
"I said for the most part. Besides, how many Elves do you know have been coasting in their lifetime?"
"Oh, I can just imagine Lord Celeborn's glee in it," I mumbled sarcastically. "Stop that," I scolded as she blew a cool breath of air into my ear. She giggled. "You are going to get yourself into trouble if you keep on," I warned.
She laughed again before kissing my cheek. "Come on, Haldir. Come out and play. If you are a really good sport you may just get some kind of reward."
I could not help but smile at her. Ashk's more playful times were enjoyable and were not rare. What was rare was for me to refuse such good moods.
I sighed, pushing off the bed and dumping her off of my back.
"All right. All right."
She grinned in victory as I moved to get dressed. By the time we were literally sneaking down the hallway as though we were a couple of children, I already began to feel ridiculous. However, Ashk's enjoyment in our minor quest brightened her face from the glum it had been in the night before. For that, I did not complain.
Once outside she led me towards a small shed and I skeptically looked around the hodgepodge of various items. The lack of organization was astounding. Piles of this and piles of that scattered and a work bench could not be seen under more scattered items.
Ashk picked her way through everything to a wall. There, she reached up and pulled the strangest looking contraption.
"This is a sled," she informed me as she carefully came back to my side.
I gave her a less than enthused look even as she beamed at me before turning and leading me onward.
"Now where are we going?" I asked.
"To the hill," she replied, not glancing back at me as she tugged me along by the hand.
A cold wind swirled at the top of the hill we reached and Ashk ducked her chin and nose into her scarf. I frowned. The last thing we needed out of this visit to her family was for Ashk to end up sick.
"Perhaps we should do this when it is warmer," I said seriously. She turned to look at me and I tugged her coat closer. "You have yet to become sick in Caras Galadhon and I do not plan on seeing you sick here."
Ashk tugged her scarf from her face and revealed her smile. "Don't worry. I used to do this all the time." Pushing herself to her toes she kissed me with cold lips. "Now, sit on that." She pointed to the sled posed at the crest of the hill.
I looked at her skeptically.
"Go on. Sit on it."
"Can I not stand?"
She seemed to think about it for a moment before tilting her head. "I've...never seen anyone stand on a sled. I do not think you should."
I contemplated this for a moment before glancing around.
Ashk laughed. "Haldir, no one is going to see you. But if you keep delaying we are going to be joined by a dozen teenagers in not too long. Just do it once."
"Just once?" I questioned, slanting a look at her.
"That is all I ask." The glimmer in her eyes was sly and though I did not trust it, I knew I could easily overcome whatever she had planned.
"All right. Fine. Once." Tromping over to the sled I sat on it.
Ashk laughed. "No, dear. Turn so your feet are on those blocks there in the front." I paused before doing so reluctantly.
Nothing happened and I looked at Ashk expectantly. "Is this where the thrill starts?" I asked.
I raised a brow. "Scoot?"
"Yes. Scoot forward and the sled will move down the hill."
"Ashk," I said slowly. "You have known me long enough to be well aware I, March Warden, do not scoot for anyone."
She laughed, walking towards me. "Fine, you poor sport. Don't do it properly." She stood behind me then. "Ready?"
Her foot shoved against the back of the wooden sled and pushed me forward with a surprising ease. The sled skidded slightly before gliding over the snow and speeding down the hill.
"Use your feet!" Ashk called after me as the wind skimmed by, the sound of the gliding coasters against the snow underlying her.
What did she mean use my feet?
"Oh, lean, Haldir! You are going to hit that– "
The sled began shifting to the right and directly towards a giant mound of snow at the base of the hill that had obviously been swept aside from the smoother surface.
"Lean to your left!" my wife shouted.
It was not as though I had the chance to do so. The moment her voice echoed the sled plowed into the snow mound and took me with it.
The first thing I heard was Ashk's hysteric laughing at the top of the hill as I pulled myself out, snow plastered to me and buried in my hair and right ear. Wiping it off my face, I glared at my wife who was leaned forward and clutching her sides as she laughed so hard.
Grabbing the sled, determined to see this otherwise, I stalked up the hill.
"Oh, Haldir," Ashk managed to gasp out. "Are you all right?"
I gave her a look. "Thank you for the concern," I replied dryly. Ashk gave a last giggle before throwing her arms around me.
"Don't get your drawers in a bunch. It was funny! You would have laughed at me," she replied with a bright smile.
"I would have taught you what to do before shoving you off," I replied, smiling at her glowing face. "You are a terrible teacher."
"I am not!" Ashk exclaimed, dropping her arms from my neck with a ghastly look on her face.
I laughed at her before walking towards the discarded sled.
"Now what are you doing?" she asked.
"Proving my original point."
She crossed her arms skeptically. "And what was that?"
"Standing does not make the body so cumbersome. Therefore, my dear, you can distribute your weight as you please."
"Oh, so you're going to stand and sled now?" she asked me, amusement full in her voice.
"It will not be difficult," I replied, glancing at her as I pushed the sled with my foot towards the dipping crest in the hill.
She merely raised a brow and waited.
Stepping onto the sled I pushed off the snowy ground and the coasters glided forward and down the hill with ease.
And, like I had predicted, it was much easier to maneuver the speed and direction of the sled by standing. This time, I most certainly did not end up in a snowbank and instead glided to a stop at the bottom.
Turning, I found Ashk's face a satisfying look of surprise.
She then grinned. "All right - My turn!" she called down to me.
Getting Ashk to stand on the sled a few minutes later was hard enough and I had my doubts about her going down the hill.
"I think you should sit."
"I want to try to stand at least," she replied, wobbling slightly before she grabbed my shoulders. "You did it easily enough."
"I am an Elf," I replied. "You are not quite as balanced as I am."
"I will give you that. But I am just as stubborn. Now, what did you do?"
I looked at her a moment then back down the hill. It was soft snow off the obvious track youngsters had made. She would doubtedly hurt herself on such a trip.
I smiled at her. "I used my feet."
She gave me a critical look before letting go of me. "Fine. Be like that. Go on and let me go."
I backed away and let my foot off the sled as it teetered forward. For a moment she almost lost her balance.
"Bend your knees," I ordered as she swayed.
I laughed as she began uneasily down the hill, her arms flapping this way and that to keep herself upright.
"Stop moving so much!" I called as she veered and nearly lost her balance once again. I could not help but laugh at her concentrating face and stiff body. There was no possibility she would make it to the bottom.
And I was right. A moment later she swayed forward and stumbled onto the snow. The sled kept moving while Ashk staggered before falling with a cry and tumbling down the hill and directly into the snow bank I had hit before.
I moved down the hill, still chuckling, and came to her.
"Are you all right?" I asked as she lay in the snow. Chunks of it were peppered into her dark hair. I smiled at the look she gave me before I dropped to the snow beside her. "I warned you," I told her.
She sat up then and looked to where the sled had stopped at the bottom of the hill. She turned me then. "Well, at least I almost made it," she told me, making me laugh again.
"So, what is my reward for coming out here?" I asked then, curious about any idea she may have.
Ashk gave me a sinister look before she leaned over me. "Oh, I don't know," she said, so near I could feel the coldness of her face against mine. "What would be enough to repay such a debt?"
My smile turned wicked as I tugged on her scarf, bringing her cold lips to mine. Her muted laughter came and went after a moment as her gloved hands framed my face. I shifted and groaned a second later.
She pulled away. "What?"
"Piece of ice went down my back," I replied, making her giggle before closing our short distance once again.
Suddenly, she gasped and flew back.
I frowned as she scrambled to get up. "What?"
"I forgot! Today is the first day of December!" she exclaimed, getting up and pulling me to a stand as well. "We are late!"
My frowned deepened. "For what? I cannot think of something better to do on the first day of December," I replied, locking my arms around her as she began to turn.
"Mphm- " Her words were silenced by my mouth and she gave in for just a moment, victory was within my reach, before she pulled away once again. "Me neither - But it's tradition. Come on."
"Ashk," I growled even as she yanked me behind her, leaving the sled where it was and racing up the hill. "Your debt is building," I warned her.
I was in a minor state of awe as I watched Mari walk down the stairs in a timely fashion with all six of her children in tow. The eldest, Wesslem, was eleven years of age. I had been only fourteen when that boy was born to his nineteen year old mother. And the line went down to the youngest, Milly, at only two years of age in the arms of her sister Molly.
"Sometimes they remind me of ducks," Wessen said fondly, watching his family come down the stairs in an orderly fashion.
Ryn snorted with laughter before Ana hit him in the back of the head.
"Very lovely ducks," Wessen added as Mari gave him a look.
In a small parade, the six children formed a crescent in the common room before us. Mari sat down beside Wessen and, proudly, nodded her head.
Little Molly took a giant step forward and cleared her throat.
"Ahem...Today is December first - twenty-two days until Yule."
Taking a wide bow which we all clapped to, she stepped back into the line of her brothers and sisters.
Darius jumped forward and pulled a cap from his back pocket. "On this day we will play the Good People of Middle Earth and the Bad People of Mordor."
Milly waddled forward beside her brother. "Becwase we should know why wes are free."
The two took a bow and the children immediately scattered.
Haldir looked amused, to say the least. His eyes twinkled with laughter throughout the small enactment - especially when one of the children forgot a line. Wessen was beaming and poor Lyn could not sit still for the life of him.
The short quarter hour display earned a standing ovation as the children soaked in the praise.
Darius frowned then. "Mama, I am hungry." His stomach rumbled as if to second the announcement.
"To the table with you then," Wessen said, pushing himself to a stand as the children cheered and followed him.
"Hmm..They remind me of goats," Mari said, loud enough for her husband to hear. He shot her a look before he went through the door to the dining room.
"Handsome goats!" Mari called and rich laughter replied.
"Can I have a part tomorrow?" Lynile asked anxiously.
"Of course, dear. It is tradition! You have twenty two mornings left to get your addition," Mari told him with a bright smile. Lyn looked to his parents for approval and received it from both.
"Go on and eat," Ana said then. "I know you are just a-dying." Lynile grinned, shooting to his mother's side and kissing her cheek before racing off to the other room.
"Quite elaborate, Mari," Haldir noted aloud.
"Yes, well, I have only seen or done it for the past thirty one years," Mari replied with a smile. "Household tradition. We did it as children," she added, motioning to Ana and I.
"Yes, we did," I replied, tilting my head. "But I always ended up as Sauron or someone else evil."
"That is because you were Evil," Ana replied before I slung a pillow on the sofa at her. She batted it aside with a giggle. "Don't worry. The youngest have their rights to such a title."
I glared at her as she laughed.
Mari's face suddenly grimaced and she gave a minor sigh. "Babe is moving," she explained as we all looked at her. "Yesterday got him a bit riled up."
"Hmph." Ana grumbled to herself, absently knotting Ryn's hair between her fingers.
A creak on the stairs had me turning only to see Mama slowly descending them. Her exhaustion was so obvious it was painful just to see.
"Ma, did you stay up all night?" Mari asked with a frown, moving to get up before Ana waved her back down as she stood.
Mama did not reply spite a shrug of her shoulders. However, when she spotted Ana moving for her she stopped and defiance entered her eyes.
She looked at me. "Ashk, your father wishes to see you."
I recoiled at her voice. Stern and without patience.
Ana turned to look at me, as did Mari and Ryn. I, however, shrank back into the corner of the sofa.
I looked back to my mother before catching a glimpse of Haldir. He was looking at me in a reluctant anxiety, but in his eyes there was a silent encouragement.
Standing slowly, I smoothed my skirts absently before walking to the stairs and following my mother's lead.
There was a loud crash inside just after my hand knocked on the door. Celeborn and I shared a look before we heard the giggling of a child.
The door opened and Rumil stood before us, a toy bow in grasp and a pan on his head.
Celeborn stifled a laugh and I tilted my head as Rumil tipped the pan back to see us.
"Oh!" He whipped the pan off of his head and tucked it under one arm. "My Lord. My Lady." He bowed and I could barely contain my amusement as I spotted Orophin diving over the sofa inside with his nephew clamoring close behind.
"My apologies for the mess," Rumil said then, straightening and offering the open door to us.
"Never mind it, Rumil. I was merely pondering on your coping with the children," I said, carefully entering the home of Rumil and his brother.
"Oh, they are fine."
I raised a brow as Orophin pretended as though he was going to jump upward and jack knife his nephew - the boy squealing with giggles.
"Orophin!" Rumil hissed, giving his elder sibling a deadly glare.
Orophin's face positively blanched and I smiled at him as he hoisted his nephew from the sofa.
"Onduras, say good morn."
The child grinned. "Good morn, Lady Galadriel - Lord Celeborn."
"Well, good morn, little Haldirion. How are you?" I greeted, smiling at the little Elfling as Orophin removed his own helmet.
"Well, my Lady," he said carefully, a bit nervous without the guidance of his parents in my presence and the presence of my husband.
"And where is your sister?"
"In the trunk."
"Ah Ha!" Rumil laughed excessively loud as I looked at him with immediate concern and question. "He says the strangest things," the Galadhrim warden told me, his amusement so fake it reeked on his paled face.
"Where is Little Ana?" Celeborn asked. He then glanced around. "And Nethin?"
"Nethin is with Litia," Orophin told us quickly.
I looked between the two. "And Moriana?"
Rumil cleared his throat. "In my room, my Lady."
"Not in a trunk, I hope," I said seriously, looking between the two brothers.
"Of course not!" Rumil said then, his voice once more a bit too loud before he swallowed. My eyes narrowed on him as I was tempted to seek through his mind for my answer.
Suddenly, a very strange noise came from the long hallway to my right. Rumil's eyes widened and Orophin immediately struck up conversation with Celeborn.
Conversation about the weather.
I turned without permission down the hallway and searched through several doors - Rumil trailing me with muted dismay - until I opened a cracked door to a bedroom. Inside, Little Ana was indeed.
"I know!" Rumil squeaked in dismay. "But she cried when I took it away!"
The puppy was truly the most adorable creature I had ever seen. One ear was dark, as was a patch over it's left eye while the rest of it's furry being was pure white. A pink tongue poked out of a black mouth as it panted, adoring Ana's attention.
"Good morn," Ana beamed, grinning at me.
"Good morn, Ana," I replied, slowly entering the room. "What do you have there?"
Ana patted the puppy's squared head. "Pirate."
"Uncle Rumil said he has a patch like a pirate."
I looked to Rumil as he stood in the door. The Galadhrim cringed under my stare before I looked back down at Ana.
"Where did you find him?" I asked, slowly sitting on the trunk near her.
"The creek. He was muddy and scared."
How a dog managed to make his way into the forest of Lothlorien was beyond me, but I had little doubt it had nothing to do with Moriana Haldiriel. Her habit of calling animals was a well known one.
"Ana, I do not think Ada is going to like Pirate," I said slowly.
Ana looked at me, distraught for a moment before she looked back at the pup. "Ama will," she said, her voice so certain it made me dread her parents' return within the next few days.
She was right, of course. Her mother would like that cute puppy. With it's fluffy white fur and big, brown eyes. Puppy eyes.
"Oh dear," I heard myself say as I reached down to touch the dog. He immediately licked my fingers, his tail thumping against the floor loudly. "Well, is he not just adorable?"
"Galadriel." Celeborn's voice was stiff from the doorway and I looked up at him, drawing the pup to me and into my lap.
"Well, he is. Look at him."
The puppy wagged his tail at the Lord of Lorien.
Celeborn quickly turned away. "I pity your brother upon his return," he said to Rumil, stalking down the hall.
"Can I keep him?" Ana asked me.
Pets were not normal among Elves. The fact that my Warden's family had a cat was enough to provide gossip to half the city. A dog would surely cause chaos.
Yet, it was no law that pets were not allowed in my city. Birds were occasionally about and did not cause problems.
"You must ask your Ama and Ada that, little one," I said then, looking at the Elleth. "If you can convince them - You have earned him."
Ana grinned and the pup, Pirate, wagged his tag once again.
"We will have to keep him hidden until the time is right to ask," I said then to the young Elleth. "I promise if you ask Lord Celeborn very, very nicely, he will let Pirate stay with us until Ama and Ada come home."
Ana grinned at me before pushing herself to a stand and racing into the hall.
"Lord Celeborn! Lord Celeborn!"
"Come, Ashk," he beckoned, his hand limply waving me towards him. "Let me...see you." His voice was breathless and cold to my ears even as my feet followed his command.
I stepped into the candle light and peered into his eyes. They were flooded with red and were clouded with illness. His face was flushed, not the paleness of the day before. And, as he stared at me, I frowned as my heart continued to thunder.
"I am glad you came," he rasped, reaching for my hand even as I leaned out of his reach. He grimaced, coughing briefly as his hand fell back to his side. "My poor girl," he breathed. "My poor Ashk."
I frowned further. "Do not waste your pity on me," I heard myself say lowly.
He coughed, turning his head away and sweat streaked down his face. I swallowed as my stomach turned, my nerves sizzling and boiling my insides to a sickness.
"I..carry a heavy...heart...for what I did," he said then, turning his head to look at me once more. "I am ashamed, Ashk."
"You should be." My voice trembled and sounded weak when I wanted it to be strong. Yet, as he grimaced and his eyes filled with abrupt and sudden tears I trembled. "I did not come here to forgive you," I said then, warning my trembling heart with my words. I looked away from him as I paced at the foot of his bed.
"Please, Ashk..." He coughed again and I found myself shaking my head.
"You have three grandchildren," I told him bitterly, pulling on my anger to suffocate my grief. "Three beautiful grandchildren from me, did you know? Two boys, one girl."
"...How old?" he croaked.
"Two are four...My second son is only five months."
He cleared his throat with a grimace. "You had...twins..then."
"Yes, I had twins," I growled. "Not if you would have had anything to do with it."
"Give me...a chance– "
"You did not give them a chance!" I cried, whirling on him. "You did not give me a chance! Don't you remember, Daddy? Me - That whore daughter of yours. That is what you called me!"
He coughed horribly. "I know, Ashk," he wheezed, his voice sounding as though he were sobbing when I pushed it off as his sickness.
"You don't know," I growled. "It has been five years. You could have asked Ana where I was. You could have done something if you wanted forgiveness, but you did nothing!"
"I was...so..ashamed," he breathed, sweat soaking his hair and reddening his eyes even further.
"Good!" I shrieked, losing my control. "Good! You should be." The volume of my voice dropped and I turned away from him as tears flooded my eyes. "You said you'd always be proud of me," I wept bitterly. "I was your little girl, Daddy, and you exiled me."
He did not reply as I sobbed like a child.
"A parent does not shove their children off! Unconditional love, don't you know what that is?" I demanded, pointing at him like he was a criminal. He tried to say something, but I spoke over him. "And no matter what you think - that you think I am a whore - I could never be more thankful for what I did five years ago. I want you to see that!"
I shook my head as I whirled away. I never should have come here. Not for him. Vengeance came at too high of a cost for me. I was not made for hate and cruelty, it was not who I was. And even though I wanted to so badly, I just couldn't have it.
Sometimes vengeance just was not enough.
The sob in his voice halted me at the door, my hand on the knob of it.
"Please don't go," he begged, weeping terribly as I looked back at him. "Not..again. Please." He coughed, blood spraying onto his hand and shocking me before he fell back into the pillows once more. His breath dragged into his lungs slowly, the wheezing pain tearing at me.
Slowly, I moved forward and took the wash rag from the water basin.
His blood smeared on my hand even as I washed it away. It left a great quake through my body, through my grief stricken rage, and I found myself forced to sit on the edge of the bed.
Lucius's hand took mine then.
"I am..proud of you," he whispered to me. "You and..both...your sisters." He took a deep breath, the sound of it's dragging into his lungs stinging me. "I was a cruel and bitter...fool, Ashk. ...And I...was scared. For you."
I did not look at him even as he spoke.
"Your mother and I...We.."
"I know," I said curtly, but the sting of my voice struck harder against me than him. "I know what happened," I said softly then.
"It doesn't...amend...what I did," he said, squeezing my hand. "I know that." I did not reply for a long moment. "Tell..me...you are happy," he said then, his voice desperate. "Tell me...he makes you happy."
I swallowed past my tight throat and blinked, tears streaking down my cheeks once again. "He makes me happy, Daddy. I love him."
I looked at him then to see him close his eyes, his face that one of peace for just one moment before he looked at me again. The tears in his eyes broke me and my free hand raised to push them away.
"Then...not all...was in vain," he said to me, his hand squeezing mine weakly. "I will...never..forgive myself, Ashk."
I sniffled slightly, brushing away one of his tears. "I cannot forgive you today," I said softly. "Not tomorrow either...But, maybe one day."
His chin trembled and he nodded. "That is...more..than I can ..ask for." He closed his eyes briefly before opening them once more. "I love you, Ashk," he said then. "My...little girl."
I bit my lip before my shoulders shook and my tears ran amuck at his words.
"I love you, too, Daddy."
Like I had when I was just a girl, I leaned over him, resting my head on his chest. Under my ear I could hear the sound of death taking him, and for it, I wept all the harder.
I looked up abruptly to see Ashk at the top of the stairs she had disappeared above nearly an hour before. Her eyes were red and her face a bit pale as I stood, putting aside the book I paged through more than read.
She motioned me towards her and I scaled the stairs quickly to go to her side.
"He wants to see you," she said softly, taking my hand and leading me towards the hall.
I stopped and she turned to look at me, her eyes sending knives into me. My hands rose, cradling her face as I peered at her.
"Tell me you do not weep from a broken heart," I said slowly.
"A little girl weeps for her daddy, Haldir," she replied, her cold hands resting over mine. "He wants to see you," she repeated.
After a moment I nodded and she led me to a plain door before leaving me in it's wake.
A man on the bed turned his head and looked at me.
I recoiled at the sight of him. Death hovered like a shadow under his eyes and the sound of his breathing scraped my ears without mercy.
He cleared his raw throat. "Come closer," he said quietly.
My chin lifted as I moved forward, determined to face this man in light of my wife and not the pity and anger I felt for him.
His eyes, a murky hazel, appraised me without tact. Yet, when I would have perhaps taken offense to it before, I did not now. I was his daughter's husband, an addition to his family, and I was in the place of being appraised and judged.
I knew this only because I dreaded the day I would do the same for my daughter.
He coughed, a truly disturbing sound, before he looked at me again.
"Haldir O'Lorien," he said slowly. "I have...heard of you."
I bowed slightly under the eyes of my wife's father.
"I regret...we nev..never met before...this," he said slowly, measuring each breath and each word.
"As do I," I replied, keeping my distance from the sickly man.
He coughed again for some amount of time and I shifted slightly. However, my discomfort passed as he eased again.
The sight and smell of the blood on his lips made my eyes fall to the floor. I had considered calling a healer from Caras Galadhon within the past few days. However, it was the wise voice of the Lady of Light who warned me against such things. Mortals came to death by all walks of life, and when it was their time by the Gods we had no choice but to let them go.
Her words had left a chill in me I could not shake for some time.
"Ashk ...needs to be...happy, Haldir," he said then, not looking at me but staring into the ceiling. "She needs to always...be happy." His eyes shifted to mine again. "Will you promise...me she..will be?"
"I can promise that," I told him steadily.
He nodded. "And...when you break...each other's hearts...will you not seek..to mend them both?"
"I will," I replied, drawn closer by the man's waning voice and thick accent.
"Marriage, Haldir, is ...one thing. You know this." He looked me in the eye. "Love...is something...different. Something...more important. Do you..understand?"
"Yes, I do," I told him, knowing he spoke to me - an ancient compared to him - in such a way because he was a father before he was a man. And a father's love knew no age and no one could be too perfect, too wise, or too successful for his daughter.
Everyone was not good enough.
"Good," he breathed roughly. "Will..you take...care of her?"
I smiled slowly and only for a brief moment. "As much as she will let me," I told him.
The man smiled with a throaty chuckle. "You know her...very well." His heavy eyes looked to me a long moment before he nodded. "Go now," he said then, turning his head away. "Bring in...my family."
I nodded, backing away slowly before turning and leaving the room quietly.
Ashk, her sisters, and her mother stood outside the door. They all looked so solemn it was heart wrenching for that moment I looked at the four. Silently they walked by me into the room I passed out of. My hand brushed that of my wife's before she walked by and closed the door.
I paused a moment before turning for the stairs silently. Ryn and Wessen were sitting in the common, silent and dreary.
A short time passed before Ryn shifted and glanced at me. "Did he talk to you about love and marriage?" he asked, his voice quiet in the already silent room.
Wessen's hand clamped on my shoulder and I looked at him.
He smiled even past the grief deep in his eyes. "Welcome to the family.
She still stood at the window where she'd been for the last hour as I entered the room once again. I could see the reflection of her face in the glass and I bit back a sigh.
Ashk's father had died that afternoon. It was a strange thing, that silence that fell even over the children at that very moment. Then, the healer Jarhel had slowly come down the stairs with a shake of his head; his silence telling those of us down stairs the news.
The children had been confused and it was a painful thing to see Mari and Wessen trying to explain to them what had happened. The older ones knew, but the younger...Staring at them had been like seeing my own children.
Death was such a vile thing.
Ashk had fallen silent in that hour, no tears racking from her as her sister Mari. She did not even take after Ana who had turned into her husband for comfort. Ashk had only sat in the common quietly before taking her leave to her former bedroom.
I approached her quietly enough now, yet made enough noise to alert her of my presence if she did not already know.
"I used to stand here sometimes when I was younger," she said then, surprising me with the cool resignation in her voice. "When the days are clear and the snow is gone, you can just barely see the Misty Mountains. To a girl with big dreams, those were like a constant reminder of something better. Better than here in this place."
I stood beside her, drawing a lock of her hair behind her rounded ear.
"If he would not have exiled me, I would have stayed here. If he had accepted my children, I would have stayed in this place. Lie about the father to my children. Perhaps he died in battle. I had already thought it all out before I even went to my father."
Her words were painful to hear. To imagine what she would have done - that I never would have known my own children while completely forgetting her as well. It was a dark thought, but it was so possible all that time ago it still stung.
She frowned then. "But he didn't accept them. I was put out on my own." Her voice trailed before she looked at me. "And I found you. It was the only thing I could think of to do. You were an Elf - commanded by honor. ...Yet, I never would have gone to you if Daddy let me stay."
I said nothing, unsure of what roads her grief was taking her down.
"I suppose we owe him what we have now," she said softly. "Each other. Nethin. Our home."
"I suppose we do," I replied just as quietly. "Fate has many turns, Idril. You were given one of the hardest."
Her eyes flickered down at my words before she looked back out the window. "Mama wants to see the children." There was question somewhere in her voice and I smiled sadly.
"Then we will send word for them," I told her.
She nodded and I watched as tears misted her eyes.
"Ashk." What I commanded of her, I did not know. And even though I hated to see her cry so, I knew she had to. She'd held her tears through the afternoon into the evening.
Her hands moved to cover her face before I took them in my own and turned her to me.
And though it crushed me, I let her weep without any way of soothing her.
Death was such a vile thing...
"That is a lot of packing for a short ride," I said, startling him as I spoke.
Mort turned from his horse to see me. He cleared his throat and looked away then. "Bit further than a short ride," he replied, his voice low as it always was when he was upset about something. He glanced at me again. "I was sorry to hear about your father, Ashk."
I bit my lip feeling the prickle of grief for a moment before I nodded. "Me, too."
I strolled forward and walked around his horse. He was a strong sorrel gelding. He sniffed at me in question and I smiled, my hand placing on his warm muzzle.
"Where are you going?"
I nodded. "Back to your family, then?"
He nodded in returned, his eyes avidly avoiding mine.
He paused what he was doing but did not look at me.
I sighed, a puff of air coming from my mouth in the cold morning. "Tell me you are not leaving because of what happened the other night."
"I disgraced myself," he said then, his eyes finally lifting to mine. "And you. And your husband."
"You mucked everything up pretty badly," I agreed. "You should not have said those things to him. None of that was true."
"Five years of anger," he replied softly. The sadness in his voice drew my hand to his cheek.
"I know you think he forced himself on me, Mort, but he didn't." His eyes lowered even as he turned into my hand. "I love him. He is a wonderful person and we have three children. Mort, you should see them. They are beautiful."
He looked at me. "Then they take after their mother, Ashk."
My hand dropped from his cheek slowly and he sighed slightly, catching my hand in his and placing it to his chest. "I always thought you would come back."
I shook my head. "My home is far away from here now, Mort. With my husband and my children."
He looked at me a long moment before letting go of my hand.
"Then I should be happy for you."
I peered at him as he paused.
"Perhaps one day I will be."
He turned towards his horse and as the years of friendship suddenly seemed taut between us, I pulled on his coat and wound my arms around him. It was a familiar, friendly embrace that had supported us both many years before.
"Stay safe," I told him.
He nodded, drawing away. He mounted his horse, looked down at me with the sun bright behind him, then turned and rode away.
I watched him go a moment before the wind coiled around me and shivered down my body. One last look at the man who was the boy I once knew, I turned and walked towards the home of my mother.
Two Days Later
"Look at you! You are just so adorable!" Eira cooed to Onduras, the Elfling giggling at her attention and praise.
I shook my head with a smile. Yet, to see the woman smiling and laughing was a wonderful thing. The burial of her husband had only been the day after his death and she'd looked so miserable.
Now, in what Ashk explained to me as the first of the four winter festivals, she looked almost happy.
Ana was currently dancing with Nethin safely in her arms. The motherly look she was beaming Ryn was obvious.
Ryn, beside me, sighed as he glared into his drink.
"Thanks," he muttered. "Thanks a lot."
I laughed, patting him on the back. "You will truly thank me in the morning," I replied causing the Gypsy to give a sinister laugh as he drank the remainder of his ale.
Huge bonfires kept the chill of the night far away from this little village. And, though the occasional glance was passed my direction, it was nearly a comfortable place to be. Spite all the noise.
"Ada, may I go with the others?" Onduras asked, pointing to several of his cousins waving him to join them.
I smiled and nodded. He grinned, leaping off the table he sat upon to join the others as they dashed off with Mari.
My eyes moved across the chaos of dancing humans to find Wessen twirling Little Ana around, much to her glee.
"You have a fine family, Haldir," Eira said then, looking at me warmly.
"I like to think so," I replied as my wife suddenly dropped onto the bench between Ryn and I.
"Oh, no dear," Ana said then, gently shuffling Nethin into my grasp. "We have a tradition keep up with. We have requests."
"No - Ana! You didn't!" Ashk exclaimed even as her sister grabbed her by the hand and hoisted her up.
"I did. Come on now!" Ana replied with a grin. Ashk gave me a look before she was dragged between a cheering crowd.
With intrigue I watched as many of the younger women of the village joined together amongst the people.
"Mari!" Ana shouted, waving her elder sister to join them as the musicians strummed the first of their strings.
Mari rushed into the group of women as they giggled among themselves as they gave into an obviously well known dance. Turning and spinning and running into each other clumsily, they all seemed to generally know what they were doing spite the few who were intoxicated.
Young girls, daughters, suddenly joined their mothers. I smiled seeing Moriana rush to her mother only to have Ashk pull her into her arms as she danced alongside her sisters. Mari's four girls joined as well, following in the dance they apparently knew.
When the elder women joined, a cheer erupted. Eira joined her daughters and grandchildren and it was a truly warm sight to see.
But, as I looked at my wife and daughter, anyone else faded away. Ana was giggling as Ashk smiled at her, twirling among the other women with wise steps under her feet. And though I knew she still felt the grief of her father's death, I could not help but see she had found some sort of peace among these people as well.
And, for that, I drank to the twisted roads of fate - where ever they may lead.
Well? I hope no one is disappointed. I am pretty happy with how this one turned out, actually. As you all can probably guess, the next installment will be titled: Scallywag. Heh. Haldir + Dog...Hmm...I think we can all just imagine a bit.
Once again, I'm terribly sorry for the delay. I love all of you! In fact, I was bragging on you all and how you can improve a writer's skills at the company last week. No one believed me...but their loss. You'll just be my secret little weapon, heh!
Love you all! Until next time!