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How long?

Chapter 1.

Memories can talk.

You'll love me yet and I can tarry

Your love's protracted growing:

June reared that bunch of flowers you carry

From seeds of April's sowing.

- Robert Browning


A golden-haired Elf turned to her jolly call, and a smile flashed on his face, powdered with road dust. With light steps he moved towards her, leaving behind his fellows who hadn't yet managed to dismount. In a moment she appeared in a hug so intense that it was hard to breathe.

"Beleg, you're strangling me," squeezed out she. The Elf laughed, but loosened the grip a little.

"I'm sorry. I missed you too much," his light-green eyes ran over her face, studying each small feature, "You are growing prettier with every day, my beauty."

"And you are the same sloven," teased she tenderly and wiped away a dirty spot on his cheek.

"Good morning, lady Aerwain!" hailed someone of Beleg's companions, "Your brother longed to see you so much, that gave no rest either to horses or to us."

Aerwain smiled and waved to the laughing Elves. Some of them she recognized easily, others seemed completely unfamiliar, but it didn't matter. The friends of Beleg, Elves or Men, were always her friends, too.

"Greeting only me?" smirked her handsome brother, "There is Haldir with us - didn't he deserve your embrace? You know him from the childhood!"

Haldir, the March Warden? She cast another look at the party and met a reserved glance of the eyes of that unusual, changing blue, which stuck in her memory almost from the first days of her sentient life. The smile slipped off her lips. In Haldir's presence she always felt uneasy. Though, no – there was time when she didn't quail at the sight of this strict, marble-cut profile, this firm line of the lips and the haughty turn of the broad shoulders. There was time when the March Warden, who hadn't been one yet, often visited their house, exercising his rights of her father's close friend, although he was much younger than her parents. She herself wore short dresses then and was only beginning to babble something conscious. The impeccable and manly figure of the Elf, his glistening armour and splendid bright cloaks enchanted her – whenever he called on, she climbed onto his laps with a triumphal shriek and refused to get down till his very departure, playing with his fair hair, asking and telling about some flapdoodle. Tactful Haldir stood this torture with honour. It sometimes appeared to her that he treated her more mildly that he would treat anyone else. From a visit to a visit he brought her flowers or toys, may be, to draw her rapturous attention off his person.

And then came a day when, having stormed into the room where her father and Haldir were sitting, she suddenly fell shy. Something didn't allow her to throw her arms round his neck as she had done it a million times. Instead of it she just made a timid curtsey, and settled quietly in a corner without raising her head. Since then she never spoke to him as to an equal, for they were not, and couldn't be equals.

More years passed, and Haldir almost ceased visiting their house. He was now appointed a March Warden. He more often associated with her elder brother Beleg, than with her parents. With her he exchanged formal greetings and no less formal empty phrases. And only Beleg, who had a sharp memory about everything that had been happening for all those years, bantered her without end, pretending to be sure of her tender and reciprocate disposition for the Warden and convincing everyone else of it. However, his jokes didn't have any special success with anybody – it was too impossible to believe in Haldir's passionate amorousness with whoever there was. Especially because that "whoever", imputed to him, was twice younger.

Having realized that she'd frozen like a statue, mindlessly staring at the bridge of the Warden's nose, Aerwain shook off her stupor.

"Of course, he did," smiled she, approaching the Elf, who declined his head in a bow, and weaving her arms around him for a second, "Good morning, milord Haldir. Everything is all right at the borders, I hope?"

He returned the embrace, barely touching her back. Smooth strands brushed against her cheek easily.

"It is, indeed, milady Aerwain," replied he calmly, "As it is here, I believe."

"I'm glad to hear that," said she with sincerity and stepped back from him, "Will you pay us a visit? Father will be happy to see you."

"Not now, milady. I'm afraid I have some obligations to fulfill."

She didn't insist, shrugging a little instead.

"Aerwain, and haven't parents come to meet me?" her brother was looking around, disappointed.

"They were summoned to the Lord and the Lady," responded she, turning away from the estranged March Warden, "Though they must have returned by now. Let us go, shall we?"

Beleg nodded and took her hand, beckoning a bunch of squires to take care of his foamy horse. In a blink of an eye the adolescents unsaddled and drove away a tired animal.

"Come, my beauty," said he, "to tell the truth, I'm starving."

"Good luck, Beleg!" his fellows weaved their farewell, ready to break up, "Good bye, lady Aerwain! Do not forget us."

"Good bye!" echoed Aerwain with a smile.

But, having made several steps she surprisingly for herself glanced back at Haldir, who was still standing motionless at his snow-white steed, and following them leave.

"I'd be really very glad if you agreed to come, milord Haldir," pronounced she softly, "I hope you can find time for us."

Something elusive changed in the face of the March Warden, but the alteration was so minor, that Aerwain couldn't even say for sure, if she hadn't dreamed of this odd gleam of warmness in the unreadable blue eyes.

"I cannot refuse you, milady Aerwain," he put his hand on his heart and bowed again, "I'll come tomorrow, if you wait for me."

"How can you doubt it? We shall wait for you any day."

"You… You are very kind. Hope to see you later. Good-bye," for some reason it seemed that there were some other words eager to fall from his lips, but he just mounted again and in a breath disappeared from the clearing, as if never having been there.

"It was only you he spoke about," remarked Beleg with a reproach.

"Nonsense," cut off Aerwain, her pensive eyes still chained to where the Warden had vanished. She got already used to such statements on the part of her brother. Though this time a thing strangely close to regret stirred in her… For the first time she vaguely desired Beleg to … to be right. No, that was fairly impossible.

"Come one," muttered she, pulling him by the hand, "I'm hungry, too."