Authors Notes: Please forgive the late update. I have been very busy and promise to reward reviewers with a faster and lengthy update next time. Thanks to all that take the time to let me know what they think and I'm thrilled to hear the story is being enjoyed.
Haldir woke late in the morning to the sound of birds chirping and elves singing softly in the distance. He rose reluctantly, not wishing to leave the confines of his greatly missed bed. He sat on the corner of his bed and took in the familiar surroundings, smiling when his eyes fell upon a large pack that he had brought home. In this pack, he had stored all manner of notes, thoughts, and a few surprises for his loved ones upon his return. But the pack held something much more precious than gifts. It held mementos that could never be replaced.
Haldir opened his pack carefully, making sure that all was settled and unharmed. He smiled, rifling through the collected belongings, as each piece represented a part of him, a part of him that had grown and developed over the past year.
Carefully tucking away private treasures that he wished no other to know of, Haldir found hiding places for everything and put them gently into their new home. The gifts he had brought for his brothers lay on his table, which was still covered in unfletched arrows he had intended on making before his sabbatical. He pushed them aside and set down a large wooden box that was engraved along the frame and firmly held a piece of glass in its front, which allowed a view of the inside. Haldir smiled serenely, running his hands over the wood and began to hum a soft tune to himself, pulling the rest of his treasures out of their traveling places.
When he was finished, Haldir hastily changed clothes, chuckling as he pulled a clean tunic and leggings from his closet and noted their fresh smell. It was obvious that Rúmil and Orophin had maintained his belongings during his absence. Pulling a small metal box from his bag, Haldir held it lovingly in his hands, running his fingertips over the beautiful engraving.
Making sure it was unharmed, Haldir pulled out a long sheath that held a dagger with an obscure, faded language inscribed along the hilt. He tucked the dagger into his tunic and shut the door behind him, humming joyfully as he started towards the Lord and Lady's talan.
As Haldir reached the forest floor, he was greeted by a sight that he had not counted on. Rúmil and Orophin were walking towards him, wide smiles and bright faces beaming as they approached.
"Rúmil, Orophin, what are you two doing away from the border? Do you not have watch for the next week?" Haldir stammered.
Rúmil's face took on a guilty look and he muttered, "We are relieved of duty for the next month."
"Relieved? Why?" Haldir asked.
Orophin seemed to have no guilt whatsoever and piped up, "Because we were too eager to return to see our brother. The Lady insisted we take some time to be with family."
"The Lady sent you home because you were distracted?" Haldir asked with a tone of amusement.
Orophin shrugged and laughed at Rúmil's slightly red ears, "So it appears. When we entered the city, the Lady asked us to come wake you. She is keen to hear of your journey, as are we."
Haldir smiled and motioned for his brothers to walk with him as he spoke, "I only brought the gifts for the Lord and Lady, so you two will have to wait until we return home to find out what I have brought for you."
Orophin and Rúmil exchanged excited looks that caused Haldir to laugh, a rich and melodious sound that caught the attention of fellow elves passing by. Many stopped in their tracks, watching the famous warden laugh so openly. They had rarely seen him smile. To see him so joyous made many surprised and shocked at his uncontained mirth.
"I am sorry, Elflings," Haldir scolded, "But you will have to wait until I am finished speaking with the Lady. I do not want to hear any whining, nor any comments about returning home for the simple delight of receiving gifts."
Both Rúmil and Orophin bowed their heads and said with mock hurt voices, "Yes, Haldir. We understand."
"Good," Haldir said, climbing the stairs that lead to the sovereigns' talan, "We have an understanding."
Halfway up the stairs, Rúmil asked with a timid voice, 'Haldir, what did you get us?"
Haldir glanced over his shoulder with narrowed eyes, "If you insist on irritating me over it, then I will not give it to you."
"No fair," Orophin pouted, though his lips were curled into a smile.
Haldir gave an exasperated sigh as he came upon the flet where Galadriel and Celeborn stood. When he noticed the Lord and Lady, he bowed low, "Lord Celeborn, Lady Galadriel, my heart rejoices in your presence once again."
Celeborn exchanged a wry smile with his wife and gestured to an antechamber built into the side of tree, "Come, Haldir. We wish to hear of your many adventures."
Haldir followed the couple into the chamber, closely followed by his brothers who, wore identical grins. When the royal pair was seated on a cushioned bench, Haldir stood before them and presented them their gifts.
"This dagger was a gift from a kind Man that I met during my travels," Haldir said, offering the sheathed dagger for his Lord to take. "I assisted him in thwarting some highwaymen who wished to rob him of his few belongings. Though I asked for nothing in return, when we parted company, he had slipped this into my pack with a note of gratitude."
Celeborn unsheathed the dagger and both he and Galadriel gasped, their eyes wide in wonder and familiarity. Celeborn turned the dagger over and to Haldir's amazement, read the ancient, partially worn inscription, "Asäe Lémass Arís A'seala Telässis Aminné Ó'haseá, Ëas'a'Manwë Ál'solea."
Though the words were unknown to Haldir and his brothers, they felt a strange familiarity with them, and felt the words linger in their souls.
Haldir asked with a hushed voice, "Do you know what it means, My Lord?"
Celeborn slowly raised his eyes to Haldir and nodded, a look of total reverence on his face, "It is the language of the Valar, the first language to be spoken upon Middle Earth. This dagger was forged for Manwë when the world was in its infancy."
"It was held by the Lord of the Valar himself?" Haldir asked respectively in a hushed tone.
"It appears so," Celeborn answered. "'Tis a kingly gift you have bestowed upon me, Haldir. Are you sure you wish to part with such a treasure?"
Haldir didn't hesitate in answering, "Yes, My Lord. As soon as I laid eyes upon it, I knew it was intended for you."
Celeborn sat in silence, turning the dagger over repeatedly in his hands, admiring the craftsmanship and carving along the handle and deadly blade. He mumbled the words over and over as he examined every curve and indentation.
Haldir felt awkward, handing the small metal box to Galadriel. If Celeborn's gift was indeed as kingly as he said, then the small trinket box would pale in comparison. Haldir timidly handed the box over, feeling his ears burn with humiliation that he had not found a more suitable gift for his queen.
"I am sorry I do not have a more appropriate gift, My Lady," Haldir said sheepishly.
Galadriel took the offered box with a grateful smile, "The mere notion that you thought of me is gift enough, Haldir."
"I found it in a cave with a large collection of spoils. I believed it to be a goblin's stash, though very dusty and unkempt. I believe the chamber had been unused for many years," Haldir said with a broken voice. "The treasures inside were passed among the neighborhood village where the pillaging had passed over many years."
Galadriel smiled, "It is a beautiful gift, Haldir. There is no need to feel embarrassed. The thought alone is worth gratitude."
Haldir nodded meekly and added, "I polished it the best I could, but some of the tarnish would not come off. Perhaps one of the smiths would be able to open it for you?"
"I am sure they will, and I am sure I can find something that will give it a good shine," Galadriel smiled and looked at her gift. It was slightly larger than her palm, silver metal, etchings all around the sides and words engraved along one rim. She stopped smiling and furrowed her brow, bringing the box closer to her face for better inspection. Her fathomless blue eyes narrowed as she read the scrolls that were worn and battered from age and misuse.
"The treasure held within,
Is only for Elven kin,
Long thought lost and buried below,
Will evermore guide by its glow
Valinor shall rejoice at the return,
To once again shine on the First Born.
"What does that mean, My Lady?" Haldir asked, his face drawn in confusion.
Celeborn had turned his attention from the admiration of his dagger to the small trinket box held in his wife's hand. He frowned, reciting the words over with a contemplative gaze, "I have heard of this prose before, but from where, I do not recall."
Galadriel ran her lithe fingers over the creases, and said absent-mindedly, "It was said to be a vessel of a great treasure, one that was lost by the Noldorin."
Everyone remained still and silent as Galadriel pressed certain words on the box, and rotated a raised symbol that looked too rusty with age to work. She pressed her tongue between her teeth and concentrated, turning the box in every direction and hitting the right symbols and mechanisms. With a small click, the box cracked around the rim and a bright light filtered through the crevice.
Haldir, his brothers, and Celeborn all flinched from the brilliancy of the light, but Galadriel seemed to find a great surge of desire. She opened the box fully and felt an immediate heat surround her. She smiled, closing her eyes and basking in the luminescence that flooded the flet.
Celeborn, slightly blinded, shielded his eyes with his arm and gazed at his wife. His mouth fell open as he took in her form, bathed in a strange ethereal light and smiling, as she seemed to absorb the light like a benediction. Her face was tilted skyward, the light falling across her bosom and illuminating the quickened breath that escaped her. He felt his whole body become alive, every nerve highly alert and attuned to things he did not realized surrounded him.
Haldir had recoiled from the light, wincing as his eyes watered from the intensity. When he glanced at Galadriel, he fell dumbstruck as the brilliant light engulfed her. Haldir watched, his curiosity peaked and making him forget his blindness, and watched as Galadriel gazed into the box and withdrew a small, shining object, roughly the side of a fingernail and held it in her palm.
Rúmil and Orophin both inhaled sharply, feeling a great swell in their chests as they gazed upon the sight of their queen bathed in the purity of the light. Every fiber of their being was awash with peace, the sensation tingling all the way to their toes. For the eternity held in a second, they felt the strongest connection to all living things, their minds tuning into and easily caressing the gentle embrace of nature.
The jewel instantly dimmed as it was removed from its protective case, though it still had a lustrous blue-white shimmer in its center. The light may not have been so directly beaming from the stone, but Galadriel, upon holding the precious gem, glowing brighter than her natural Elven hue. Her skin seemed to illuminate as if powered by the stars, a heavenly body fallen and residing on the earth in its purest form. Her eyes, usually bright with ageless wisdom, were glittering like diamonds a thousand times over, the world reflecting in their sapphire depths.
All elves stared motionless, save for Galadriel, who lovingly caressed the bright stone and spoke softly in Quenya. The shimmer of the Lady's skin lessened and the jewel burned brightly once more, though not as overwhelming as it once was.
"My Lady?" Haldir asked hesitantly.
Celeborn had leaned over his wife's shoulder and was staring intently at the small stone, "Is that what I think it is?"
Galadriel smiled, "Yes."
"It is a silima? But I thought they were lost?" Celeborn said.
"The Silmarils?" Haldir repeated faintly, looking at the small object in his Lady's hand.
"Not a whole one," Galadriel said sadly. "They are as you said, Husband. They have been lost and were thought to never be recovered, but this fragment has been kept in its safe until one of the Eldar, who knew how to open the puzzle box and who had beheld such a thing before, would be allowed to open it. This is merely a piece of a great Silmaril. You see why they were so precious to the Noldor?"
Celeborn slowly nodded, "If this is but a piece of a great jewel, I can only imagine the power and grace they held when they were whole."
Galadriel's eyes became distant, "That is why so much was sacrificed for their return."
The elves in the antechamber remained quiet, knowing the history of their queen and her exile from the Undying Lands for her part in rescuing the precious stones, only to have one return to Valinor's shores. The other stones were buried and lost, both deep in the earth and at sea. Though the gems had brought great happiness and hope to the Eldar while in Valinor, they caused great grief and dissent, which led to a war and expulsion from paradise for many of the Elven kind. The story was not something that Galadriel liked to speak about.
"It is beautiful," Rúmil sighed in contentment. "I understand the strife that was caused by their taking. They sing to your very soul, and capture a part of something so pure and untainted, that all who see such a thing shall want to keep it protected."
Haldir nodded, his eyes still watching the shiny gem that twinkled merrily in its mistress's hand. Haldir looked at the box again and frowned, "If it is such a wonderful treasure, why hide it inside that puzzle box? Why not bring it to the Eldar? After all, have we not sacrificed much to regain them?"
Galadriel blinked slowly, her gaze tearing away from the bright jewel and regarded her Warden, "Many had lost their lives during the War of the Great Jewels. It was said that they would be lost, but it did not say they would be lost forever. I have held out hope that they may return to the shores whence they came. Though it is not a whole jewel, it is still a symbol of great pride for the Noldor. Much joy will it bring to Valinor when the time comes."
Haldir bowed his head sadly, knowing that as an Exile, his Lady would forever walk Middle Earth, only to return to her birthplace if the Valar deemed her worthy. The many Ages she had lingered had worn heavily upon her shoulders, yet she still held herself with grace and dignity, using her exile to benefit others and guiding them with her wisdom. It pained Haldir to know that though this fragment of Silmaril may find its way home, the mistress that it was gifted to may never see its light shine among the Two Great Trees of Valinor. The thought sent a cold chill down the March Warden's spine, and he shuttered involuntarily. He had vowed, upon taking the oath to his position, that he would follow his Lady to the ends of the world, never to forsake her, even for his own heart's sea longing. So be her fate, so be his.
"That time is not yet upon us," Galadriel said, carefully placing the gem back into its tarnished box. "There is much to transpire in the world before the elves bid farewell to these shores."
Celeborn's face darkened as he spoke, "You have foreseen great suffering?"
"The mirror has shown many things," Galadriel said cryptically. "There is a great evil on the horizon that will strike at Middle Earth's weakest point. If the world of Men will ban together, then there may be hope."
"I have seen much during my travels," Haldir said, shaking his head sadly, "The world of men is too narrow minded to see what lies ahead. They see only their hatred for each other and of others that are different from themselves. They will not ban together, even if it means their demise."
"Perhaps," Galadriel said with a slight smile curving her lips. "But there is a chance for Hope to be born. It may take many years, but there is always that possibility."
"Yes, My Lady," Haldir agreed, his eyes still fixed upon the jewel that nestled contentedly in its box. "Let this Hope be born soon, for I fear that Men grow farther apart with each generation."
"You have learned well, Haldir," Galadriel said with a triumphant look. She closed the box, shielding those in the chamber from its light and casting them into twilight. "Much have you learned, and I would like to hear of some of your adventures, especially how you came about these fine treasures."
Haldir blushed slightly that made Galadriel laugh.
"Come, young Warden. Let us prepare for dinner and perhaps you can entertain us with your adventures," Galadriel said, standing and beckoning all to depart.
Galadriel and Celeborn retreated up a grand staircase that led to their private quarters. Haldir and his brothers descended, each lost in their own thoughts, but blanketed by euphoria that had cast about them when the light from the jewel escaped the confines of its box. So lost in thought were they that Orophin and Rúmil had not remembered Haldir's words of their own gifts. The three brothers had not realized how much time had passed and cast bewildered looks to the sky as the sun sank low on the horizon.
Was it possible that the Similar had slowed time? That one of their great powers was the ability to pull one into their midst, where time and space had no domain? Haldir wondered silently to himself.
Well, you know the drill by now. Click that little button there and tell me what you think. I promise next chapter is going to be much longer and will set up the next two as a flashback. Hope you like!