Author's Notes: Dedicated to Elfine, who requested something fluffy for Haldir and Aragorn instead of the heaping helpings of angst and torture I subject them to in my longer tales. It also has the dual purpose as my entry in the August Teitho Challenge: Skills which won first place.
A Beautiful Night for Dancing
The Lothlórien evening was fairer than ever this night. The mallorn branches outside his window bowed to a fragrant wind chasing away the humidity of the last few days and a round moon just beginning to ride the sky lit a silver shaft on the burnished glass, adding its glow to the lantern's on the night table. The figure illuminated paid no attention whatsoever to the night's easy beauty as he surveyed himself in the reflective surface.
His usually haphazard, auburn hair was freshly combed and arrayed about his shoulders. Silver-embroidered, cobalt velvet rose slightly as he inhaled and smoothed the tunic he had borrowed. Quite a change from his preferred, severely weatherworn leather coat and boots Arwen had once insisted he burn. He hadn't had anything appropriate in his wardrobe to suit the occasion.
Aragorn was relieved Legolas wasn't back yet. The Mirkwood prince would probably tease him about his self-consciousness. Thankfully, he and several Galadhrim companions had caught an early hunt across the Nimrodel and hadn't returned yet though the hour of the festivities was fast-approaching.
He finished buttoning up the collar and went upstairs, following the spiral steps that curved up the mallorn trunk's hollow inside. For his brief stay before returning homewards, he sojourned, as he often did, in the talan of the captain of the Northern Fences. He emerged onto a closed-in landing and rapped on a door across the hall to announce his presence before poking his head in.
"Exceedingly. And bored to tears. Come in."
Haldir was already likewise dressed for the occasion: a damask tunic emphasized the broad width of his shoulders and the contrasting color of his eyes. His long, golden hair had been elegantly woven at the back into a thicker braid leaving a fall on either side of his face. Meticulous work, Aragorn was sure, the elf captain—who thought himself perfectly presentable with a simple tail—hadn't done himself. His collar was yet unbuttoned and a silver mantle tossed negligently over the back of his chair was surely accumulating wrinkles. In a last total contrast to the finery, the elf's battered saber and sword belt lay on a chair on the other side of the desk.
The ranger shifted these carefully aside and perched on one of the cushions. His fingers twitched on his knees and with a deep breath, he decided to plunge right in, spare no time for banter. "Do you know how to dance?"
A delicate eyebrow twitched upwards though the elf hadn't looked up from his paperwork. "Are you offering?"
That got his friend's attention. " 'Sort of?' "
Aragorn didn't elaborate quite yet. "Do you know how to?"
The elf captain ignored the question as he surveyed the ranger from obsessively polished boots to sleek head. "Did you…bathe?"
"Yes, I did," Aragorn said a trifle defiantly, smoothing his tunic again to make sure the velvet lay flat. A twitch of his lips betrayed slight chagrin. "And you didn't answer my question."
Haldir set his quill down and pushed the drying document a little forwards so he could fold his hands on the dark wood. "I am an emissary of the Golden Wood. At certain formal engagements, such a thing is customary. Yes, I know how to dance."
Now for the more difficult question. "Will you teach me? Tonight?"
Aragorn knew the elf had heard him perfectly well and waited the appropriate amount of time for him to consider the bizarre request.
Haldir rubbed his brow to give himself time to think. "Raised and tutored by the wisest minds of this realm. Unsurpassed tracker, swordsman and battle strategist of both Thengel of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor for more than twenty years. Even a passable cook. And yet you have never learned how to dance?"
"Please. I ask as a friend and you're the only one I would trust with this."
"A high honor indeed," there was only the smallest glint of gentle mockery in the elf's silver eyes. "Estel, I don't know the first thing about teaching someone to dance. I learned through trial and embarrassing error," he said at last, leaning back in his chair.
"I'm trying to avoid embarrassment as much as possible tonight." Aragorn glanced down at his hands clenching on the chair arms. A ring glinted on the forefinger of his right hand: a silver circle entwined with two emerald-eyed serpents, one devouring the other whose sinuous head upheld a crown of flowers.
Haldir's eyes settled on the emblem of Isildur's house calculatingly. "Is there any particular reason you wish to learn now at this moment?"
Now for the truth. Or most of it. "I wish to surprise Arwen. She has often begged me to dance with her but I can never manage it. Or I am not there," There was a hint of bitterness as he said that. "For the first time in thirty years I am able to be in her company and feel the time has passed as slowly for her as it has for me. I would celebrate our reunion by showing her that even if she leads me onto a dance floor I would not be parted from her."
Haldir had long known of his abiding and unbearable love for the daughter of Elrond and while the marchwarden had his own reservations about the match, for the most part, he restrained his judgement. For which Aragorn was thankful though he wondered if the elf would agree to help him once he knew the true purpose behind his reason for wanting this night to be absolutely perfect.
"And…I wish to ask for her hand."
Haldir's eyes which had been focused on his lap during the man's soliloquy flew up to search his face. "A betrothal?"
"On Cerin Amroth," Aragorn said, warming to the tantalizing vision that had planted and overtaken his mind during the long journey from Gondor. "She loves to walk there through the fronds of niphredil and gold elanor. The silver trees and mellyrn are all in blossom. The night is soft enough for easy comfort and there's a moon bright enough to see by. It is where she feels most at home."
An unusual softness crossed the marchwarden's austere features as he spoke. It was not a look Aragorn often saw but it usually meant he was going to win whatever argument they were having. He schooled his face not to look too eager or apprehensive.
"Very well. But not in here," he sighed and glanced a little absently around the cluttered study. "We'll need more space. Come on. Help me rearrange a few things in the open room."
Aragorn grunted as he lifted his end of the heavy, square dining table and they inched the few yards over to the wall. Setting it down carefully and paralleling it to the wall, he glanced across at his companion.
"Promise me you will say nothing of this? I would never hear the end of it from Legolas."
"Of course. I shall carry your secret to my grave."
Aragorn frowned, suspicion creeping through the lines of his forehead. "You will never have a grave."
"Good point." Haldir dragged chairs back against the wall next to the loft stairs and suddenly bellowed. "Rameil! Estel needs to learn how to dance! Would you come down here if you please?"
"What are you doing?" Aragorn hissed at his traitorous friend.
"Unless you wish to dance in uncomfortable silence, which rarely happens at such gatherings as we are going to partake in tonight, we will need an accompanist."
Right then Aragorn wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole.
Haldir smiled with just a hint of wickedness. "Worry not. Rameil is the very soul of discretion. He keeps my secrets and he will yours as well."
"Oh?" Aragorn questioned with silkily raised eyebrow. "Just the soul of discretion who told Legolas, your brothers and your patrol about that singular greeting you bestowed on me my first time here? The one that nearly ended with my decapitation?" Thinking of their prickly first meeting, he smiled fondly, distracted from his anxiety if only briefly.
"I'll throttle him. Rameil!" When Aragorn winced at his bark, Haldir gave him a threatening look, only half in jest, over his shoulder. "If you would rather humiliate yourself before your lady and all the revelers tonight that can be happily arranged."
Aragorn flung up his hands beseechingly. "All right! All right!"
Haldir's withy subaltern and fellow bachelor appeared at the bottom of the stairs, his hands stained with ink. Obviously he'd been engrossed in the day's paperwork as well and was all too eager to be interrupted.
"What is this about dancing?"
"We need an accompanist."
Rameil's smooth expression did not change. Living with the marchwarden, he had long become accustomed to his commander's and friend's various eccentricities and knew better than to ask questions. Instead, he crossed the room and seated himself on the small harp stool adjacent to the much larger and magnificent instrument that was Haldir's pride and joy.
"If you get that ink all over my strings, I'll cut them off."
"Then you can't play."
"I meant I will relieve you of your fingers."
While Rameil meticulously washed his hands then tuned and warmed up the harp, Haldir bade Aragorn stand beside him so they were facing the same side of the room. "We'll start simple. I'm afraid you won't be able to learn anything overly complicated with the time we have but we'll make due. Try this."
Aragorn watched for a minute then, feeling slightly silly, did as he was bidden. Hands folded in the small of his back, he mimicked the elf's smooth movements, uncertainly at first then with increasing confidence as the harp's melody washed through him. The music Rameil played soothed his nerves and helped him concentrate.
Left-together, up-together, right-together, back-together. It became a rhythmic cadence in his mind as his feet brushed over the floor.
"All right, I think you've got it. That's simple enough," Haldir stopped and Aragorn did as well, wondering what next. "But dances are rarely like that. And would be dull if they were. You just needed to acquire some kind of rhythm before I sacrifice myself to teaching you this."
"Hey!" Aragorn feigned indignation.
The elf held out his hand and when the ranger offered a weak sort of grimace, he snapped impatiently. "You're going to have to come closer. Dancing is usually done with two people. I thought you knew at least that much."
Aragorn had known the elf too long to take offense at his barbed tongue and merely extended his hands awkwardly, palm-up which Haldir grasped and positioned firmly, one against the small of his back, the other cupping his. The ranger was secretly glad Arwen was shorter, easier to clasp though he couldn't help admiring his friend's utter aplomb when his own face felt aflame with embarrassment and awkwardness.
"You've done this before?" he asked, half-teasingly, with a backwards glance at Rameil.
"How else do you think Rameil and I pass the long hours waiting for an orc threat to assail our borders?" Haldir adjusted their grip as Rameil snorted derisively. "Loosen your fingers, I'm losing feeling in mine."
"And don't apologize just don't do it. Relax. This was your idea, might I remind you."
"Play that softer melody, Rameil. Yes, that's it. Now," he turned his determinedly staunch gaze back on Aragorn. "Whatever I do you do the opposite of."
"What?" Barely two steps into it, he collided with the elf's chest as he forgot to step back.
Haldir, a look of longsuffering patience on his face, stepped back again, still holding loosely to the man's hand and shoulder. "Let's try again, yes? You start with a step to the right."
Legolas would make himself ill with laughter, Aragorn thought though Haldir seemed uniquely unembarrassed or at least as far as Aragorn could tell. The marchwarden's face betrayed nothing so it was impossible to gather what he was thinking.
Briefly Haldir closed his eyes, smothering a wince, when the man trod on his toes for the eighth time. "You're letting your hand slide down again."
Aragorn readjusted his grip on the elf's ribs so hastily had his dancing partner been female he would have offended twice in the last minute. "Your pardon!"
"Granted. But Arwen is not as forgiving as I am." There was definitely a wicked glint in the marchwarden's eyes but seriousness too. Arwen was almost another niece to him.
"I'll remember that." He stumbled again and gritted his teeth in frustration. "I'm not getting this at all! I've got two left feet."
"All right, all right. Let's try something simpler then. The simplest I can think of. Let your feet move only ever-so-slightly and gently revolve. I think even you can manage that." Haldir looked rather as if he were enjoying this despite his sardonic tone and original reticence.
To his relief, Aragorn found that, indeed, he could. Spinning in a slow circle, he could just imagine Arwen's delicate, shapely fingers interlaced with his. Her dark eyes that he could melt in staring into his own until the world fell away and nothing mattered: not his kingship, not the dark and twisting road unraveling ahead for both of them, or even his two dastardly left feet. Making her his wife would make him complete in a way he had never dreamed, never missed until he met her.
However, this train of thought must have given him a slightly dreamy look because the next thing he heard was a too-loudly-vocalized-to-be-sincere 'ahem' from the doorway.
He stiffened, mortified, recognizing the voice.
They had acquired an audience.
Haldir's two brothers, Rúmil and Orophin, and Legolas stood on the threshold, staring with mingled astonishment and open curiosity on their faces.
Aragorn averted his eyes anywhere but at Legolas' face. The grand mallorn trunk that passed up through the floor in the center of the room was awfully thick even this high up and the silver bark lay perfectly smooth and flat. A hook in the wood provided a lovely place for a lantern. He wished Haldir would let go of his hand.
The last chords seemed to linger far longer than they should have and dwindled into an even more dreadful silence.
Legolas' mirthful laugh shattered it like a spring stream shaking off winter ice as the captain finally let Aragorn free. "Well, we finished the hunt just in time. We thought you might want to walk down to the festivities together but it seems we have arrived too late—you've started without us."
Even Aragorn, despite himself, managed a grin, then a resigned and rueful chuckle. "If I'd known you would be so eager, Legolas, I would have invited you."
"Estel's a lousy dancer," Haldir added, dodging sharply aside as the ranger whirled to cuff him but Rameil got there first.
"You're cruel. He was doing fine considering he had you to contend with."
"Are you implying that I'm somehow lacking in my instructions?"
"You are cold, adjutant. Very cold."
"Are you going to stand here gabbling like elf women all night?" Rúmil interrupted the good-natured bickering. "You may have a fine dance step, muindor, but Linwen smuggled some of her father's fine blackberry vintage for merrymaking tonight (or so I've been told) that rivals nothing you have here!"
The marchwarden acquiesced quickly enough but had to issue a final caveat to the ranger which, while not exactly comforting, was good advice nevertheless: "If in doubt, let her lead and," the elf grimaced and bent to press against his worn boots. "try not to step on her toes."
"My tunic looks good on you, Estel. I think you should keep it." Orophin, Haldir's middle brother, said as they headed down the long hallway. He straightened a rumple in the velvet shoulder and nodded satisfaction.
A much more critical look scrutinized his elder brother. "Button your collar, Haldir, it's a festival not a carousal. What did you do with your mantle? You didn't let it get all wrinkled again did you?"
"Nag, nag, nag from you—that's all I ever hear. It's the middle of summer, Orophin! I need only my saber to fend off the over-eager," Haldir groused, complying sloppily one-handed with his brother's rider as he steered Aragorn ahead of him.
Green, blue and golden lanterns littered the branches like nets of brilliant, vary-hued stars. Their soft luminescence glittered over the colorful gowns and flashing buckles of revelers and the green sward they revolved around. White cloth pavilions under which rained an array of excellent food and cool, ever-flowing drink had been draped over the thick, argent branches of a circle of trees, shapely and beautiful with their full, emerald boughs casting whirling moonlit shadows over the merry company. Somewhere overhead clear voices sang richly and harps, flutes and other stringed instruments accompanied them.
Aragorn caught his breath as between the gleam of dancers he espied the one in especial he had longed for all night. Arwen's beautiful face brightened as they approached then registered concerned dismay as after greeting him chastely she turned to his companions.
"You're limping, Captain. Are you all right?"
Haldir hid a smile as Aragorn rolled his eyes over her shoulder. Legolas, Rúmil, Rameil and Orophin looked as if they were engaged in some great personal struggle not to laugh.
"I'm afraid I'll be out of the dancing for awhile yet, hiril nin. But perhaps your gallant would like the honor of claiming the first one of the night?"
Snatching the opening, Aragorn with a twinge of nervousness offered his hand and Arwen, smiling, took it. She all but floated into his arms. All his anxiety evaporated as she tucked her head against his shoulder. Ever mindful, he kept his hand planted squarely on her ribs, his other gently cradling her long, white fingers in a caress. This was much easier than he'd thought it would be. As they revolved slowly through the swirling couples, the human grinned at his erstwhile dancing partner, utmost contentment suffusing his face. Over Arwen's raven hair he mouthed hannon le.
The marchwarden tipped up a glass in acknowledgment, allowing the briefest smile of pride to twitch his lips.
It was indeed a beautiful night for dancing.
hiril nin—my lady
hannon le—thank you