Title: Growing Pains
Disclaimer: Tolkien owns, I respectfully borrow, and I don't get a penny for my efforts.
Warnings: AU. Romance of the m/f variety, some content not suitable for minors.
Cast: Haldir/OFC, Rúmil, Orophin, Thranduil, Legolas, Celeborn, Galadriel, OCs.
Betas: Jilly, Julie (chapters 1-18, later chapters unbeta'd)
Summary: Filanna is not at all happy when she has to leave her beloved Mirkwood and visit Lothlórien with her father and brother, but she soon realizes that her meeting with the Galadhrim will have a greater impact on her life than she had bargained for.
Behold: a slender arrow sticks fast in my heart,
and cruel Love lives there, in my conquered breast.
Shall I surrender? To go down fighting might bank the fires.
I give in! The burden that's carried with grace is lighter.
I've seen the torch that's swung about grow brighter
and the still one, on the contrary, quenched. (...)
Look I confess! Cupid, I'm your latest prize:
stretching out conquered arms towards your justice.
~ Elegy II: Love's Victim (Ovid's 'Amores', Book I), transl. from Latin by A.S. Kline
Suddenly, from one moment to the next, there they were.
Even though her Ada had prepared her for it, their appearance took Filanna by surprise. She had never visited Lórien before, but she had heard stories being told about the valiant wardens of the border, who knew the skill of camouflage like no other and could pass through a forest without being seen or heard. Now, as if to demonstrate that renowned stealth, they suddenly materialized from between the trees right in front of her party, which consisted of herself, her father and brother, and their armed escort of Mirkwood warriors. The wardens were without exception tall, muscular and handsome, but it was the colour of their hair that caught Filanna's attention above all. Whereas in Mirkwood the warmer shades of blond were prevalent, these elves had hair that shimmered pale as mithril.
Just like Celeborn's, she thought. The Lord of the Galadhrim had visited Mirkwood once during her life, and although she remembered him only vaguely, she did recall how intrigued she had been by his silver, near-white tresses.
The wardens that had appeared looked at the group of riders with kindness and mild curiosity, their bows resting idly in their hands. Even though Filanna and her companions were riding with their hoods up, their clothing and bearing betrayed their elven identities, and the Galadhrim would not deny their kinsmen passage into the Golden Wood.
One of the wardens stepped forward and spoke. "Hail, friends! You wear the colours of Mirkwood, but who are you and what brings you to fair Lothlórien?" He spoke Sindarin, but with a slight, lilting accent that betrayed his Lórien tongue and sounded quite pleasant.
Filanna's father reached up and lifted the hood away from his head, revealing his golden mane and the strong, handsome features of his face. "I am Thranduil," he said. "Your Lord and Lady know of our coming."
The wardens bowed, greeting the Mirkwood King with due respect.
"I am accompanied," Thranduil continued, "by my eldest son, Rínion..." – the elf beside him pulled his hood back as well, revealing noble features that were strikingly similar to the King's – "... and by Filanna, my youngest daughter."
The leader of the wardens bowed his head for Filanna's brother and then looked up at the King uncertainly, one elegant eyebrow slightly arched in puzzlement. There was a silence, and Thranduil glanced at his daughter, whose face was still obscured by the hood. "Filanna?"
She did not hear him. Her eyes had fallen on the longbow the foremost Galadhel held in his hand, and the beauty of it held her so enthralled that she had stopped paying attention to the conversation. It was a mighty weapon, tall and well-crafted, and clearly much heavier than her own slender bow. The wooden surface had a polished shine and her fingers itched to touch it, although she did not fool herself into believing that she would actually be able to handle such a weapon. The process of lifting the bow, pulling back the string, aiming and releasing properly would take more muscular strength than she would ever possess. It was a frustrating thought.
When finally she realized that her father was trying to get her attention, she felt embarrassed for having been caught in a daydream in the presence of at least a dozen of Lórien's finest warriors.
"Yes, Father?" she said guiltily, looking up to meet his eyes.
"Take off your hood, muin-iell. Show yourself to our friends the Galadhrim."
She did as he asked, braving the wardens' surprised stares a few short moments before casting her eyes down uneasily. They had without a doubt mistaken her for just another warrior of the King's guard, or for a second son at best. How could they have guessed that it was in fact a princess hiding under that cowl? She hardly looked the part, dressed in a tunic, leggings and boots, armed with bow and quiver and wearing her hair in a sober, single braid. Her masculine riding style made the illusion complete. Her identity was such a shock to the wardens that they forgot to greet her properly. Instead, they just stared at her.
"My daughter Filanna," Thranduil repeated.
Recovering, the foremost elf bowed his head slightly. "Well met, Your Highness," he said, and the others murmured similar greetings.
Filanna stared at her own fingers as they fumbled with strands of her horse's mane, wishing with all her heart that she were somewhere else. Oh, she hated this, she really did! Once she was back in Mirkwood, she would kill Ameria. And Saelwen and Dineth as well. She would kill all three of her sisters for making their father believe that taking her on this trip to Lothlórien was a good idea.
Oh yes. She would kill them.
"You are going to love the Golden Wood, sister," Dineth had enthused. "It is such a beautiful place!"
"The Galadhrim are very hospitable and interesting," Saelwen, the eldest sister, added.
"And the males are handsome!" This from Ameria, the youngest of the three, who looked up at the sky with an expression of sheer bliss, her hands clasped together under her chin. "Especially the warriors. Handsome and strong and... able." The three of them had gone into a fit of conspiratorial giggling then, and Filanna had mentally yawned. Such silly creatures, those sisters of hers. Thought of nothing but gowns and males, males and gowns, and occasionally of the children they hoped to bear their future husbands someday.
She wanted other things. And quite frankly, hanging around in Lothlórien while her father and eldest brother discussed politics with Celeborn and Galadriel was not even near the top of her list.
This trip to Lothlórien had come up two months earlier, when the entire family was gathered round the dinner table one evening. Her father, who corresponded with Celeborn and Galadriel on a regular basis, had set a date for his next visit to the Golden Wood, and it went without saying that Rínion would go as well. As his father's heir, who had been prepared for the throne ever since he was a child, he accompanied the King on many of his travels.
And all of a sudden Ameria had said, "Why do you not take Filanna with you as well, Ada? She is old enough and has never been outside of Mirkwood. It would be a wonderful experience for her."
To Filanna's horror, her parents had actually liked the idea, and although she hadn't had the heart to protest, she had made no effort to conceal her lack of enthusiasm either. But apparently her opinion was irrelevant. All seemed convinced that this trip was exactly what she wanted.
Even her mother had not understood her unwillingness. Instead, Queen Aeriel had done her best to try and make her youngest daughter see that it was a golden opportunity to expand her view and learn more about one of the other elven cultures, even make new friends. Filanna had listened silently, not believing even for one second that she would truly make friends in that strange and distant realm. Her shy nature was far too great an obstacle. She didn't even have real friends in Mirkwood, but what did it matter? The company of her family and animals was enough.
In the end, the only real comfort had come from the youngest of her brothers, as always. Legolas understood her better than anyone, and while she adored her parents and loved all her brothers and sisters, there was a special place in her heart for Legolas. Born less than thirty years apart, they had been playmates in their youth, and as adults they were still very close, even though Legolas was a warrior and therefore often away, in the field with his company. While she, on the contrary, was supposed to stay at home, behave like a lady of the court and do meaningless things like attending balls and teas, making embroideries and discussing with the other ladies the merits of whatever eligible bachelor had caught their eye this time. Her sisters were naturals, fulfilled that role with grace, but not Filanna. She disliked social occasions in general, had never really learned to handle a needle, and males did not interest her. And the latter sentiment, fortunately, seemed to be mutual. At least no one had ever made an effort to pursue her.
"Cheer up already," Legolas had said, embracing her. "I am sure it won't be as horrible an experience as you think."
"Perhaps, but I wish you could come too," she pouted.
"So do I. But you must promise me that you won't spend your time there sulking around." His blue eyes gleamed with amusement. "It is a wonderful place... with lots of tall trees for you to climb, Filly."
"Do not call me that," she chided him, but she said it with a little laugh. It had always been his pet name for her and he was one of the very few allowed to use it. "And how would you know these things? You have never been to Lórien either."
"All the more reason for you to take a good look around and tell me all about it when you return. There, how is that for an agreement. Do I have your word on it?"
She had sighed and made the promise, albeit reluctantly. And now, sitting astride her horse, she sighed again. All this would have been perfectly bearable if only Legolas could have come with them and kept her company.
"Welcome to Lórien," said the Galadhel who had led the conversation so far. "My name is Rúmil. Since you are expected by the Lord and Lady, we will not detain you further. My brother Orophin will ride with you to Caras Galadhon and lead you before Celeborn and Galadriel."
One of the wardens bowed and disappeared between the trees, to fetch a horse most likely. Thranduil and Rúmil conversed for a few minutes until the one called Orophin returned, leading a horse by the rein. He mounted it in one fluent motion, indicating that he was ready to depart. With the last parting greetings, the Mirkwood elves took their leave of the wardens and followed Orophin deeper into the forest.
Filanna guided her horse to walk beside her father's. "Why do we need an escort, Ada?" she asked him quietly. "Can we not find the way to Caras Galadhon by ourselves?"
Thranduil smiled. "I am sure we could, but the company of one of the border wardens ensures us a swift and smooth passage. No other patrols will stop us when they see that we are escorted by Orophin, so there will be no more delays. We will reach Caras Galadhon before the sun sets, pen tithen. Are you excited?"
She smiled back at him as cheerfully as she could, and hoped that it was convincing. No matter how little this trip meant to her, he genuinely thought he was doing her a favour and she would never willingly hurt her father's feelings or cause him disappointment. "Oh yes, Ada, very much."
It was only a little lie. After all, she had heard much about the capital city of Lórien and was curious if it would truly be as wondrous at the tales suggested.
As Thranduil had predicted, they were not stopped again that day. They rode for several hours without seeing any more wardens, even though Filanna knew they had to be there. She could occasionally hear Orophin conversing with the King and Rínion, but to her relief, he never addressed her. He did look her way a couple of times, but she ignored him and continued to ride alone, not returning his gaze.
When at long last Caras Galadhon came into view, Filanna was, admittedly, awed by the sight. It was a city of trees on a hilltop, and the mellyrn were without a doubt the most majestic trees she had ever seen. Giants of nature, they towered over the approaching group of riders and made her feel tiny in comparison. When the gates opened for them and they entered the city, Filanna had to tilt her head back to look at the many stairs, bridges and telain high above her. She had lived in a forest all her life, but their city could hardly be more different; while the Mirkwood Elves had built their homes on the forest floor, the Galadhrim lived high above it, spending most of their time in the trees rather than under them. Filanna even saw small children running over narrow bridges, engaged in wild play; were the parents never afraid they'd fall?
All stopped their horses and made to dismount. Orophin was on his feet swiftly and took Filanna's horse by the rein, gallantly offering her his free hand, but she ignored it and dismounted by herself effortlessly. She had a lifetime of experience with horses, and was a far better rider than any of her sisters, who were rarely seen on horseback. In fact, she was as good a rider as most of her father's warriors.
If her behavior surprised Orophin, he was gentlemanly enough not to show it. She had not fully realized how tall he was while they were on horseback, but now that they were standing in front of each other, she had to look up to meet his eyes. They were of a remarkably bright grey, but at the same time warm and... friendly. They also held a merry sparkle that reminded her a little of her brother Darwain, who was the jokester of the family. When he smiled at her, she found herself smiling back, until it occurred to her that he might be one of those 'able' warriors her sisters had talked about, and she felt heat rise in her cheeks at the thought. She averted her eyes quickly, looking at her horse instead and taking the rein from Orophin's hand.
"Where are the stables?" she asked to hide her embarrassment.
"They are nearby," he replied. "But the horses will be seen to by the stable staff, milady. The Lord and Lady are waiting."
"May I visit him later?" she asked, stroking her stallion's grey neck. "I would like to make sure he's comfortable."
"Of course, milady." Filanna thought he looked at her a little oddly, but it could be just her imagination. It was not such a strange request, was it? She loved her horse and was used to handling him herself; she did not like the idea of leaving him in the hands of strangers, capable though they may be.
She reluctantly left her horse behind to follow Orophin, who led the way over some of the many paths and stairs that made up the city's infrastructure. They climbed ever higher, winding their way around the mellyrn of Caras Galadhon, all the way up to the hall where Celeborn and Galadriel held residence. The Lord and Lady were waiting for them and welcomed them warmly, inquiring after the latest developments in Mirkwood. Filanna tried to remain attentive as the others talked, but she had heard it all before and her thoughts soon started to stray. Judging from the light falling through the canopy, the day was dwindling quickly. This was a pity, as she was impatient to start exploring. Contrary to what Legolas had thought, she had never intended to spend her time here sulking; she loved being outdoors, and what she had seen of the Golden Wood so far certainly looked worthwhile. And with her father and brother engaged in politics for the next two weeks or so, she would have plenty of time on her hands, that much was sure.
At one point, her wandering gaze crossed that of Orophin, who was still present in the hall as a silent observer. His presence unnerved her, though she could not fathom why. He seemed nice enough, but she wished he would stop throwing her those curious glances. It was getting on her nerves, and made ignoring him that much harder.
Then, for the second time that day, the sound of her name brought her out of her daydreams. Only this time it was Galadriel who had spoken, and Filanna realized with growing horror that all were looking at her expectantly, and that she was about to cut a sorry figure in front of the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim, for she had no idea what had just been said to her.
"My lady?" she said, blushing fiercely. "I am sorry, I was distracted for a moment."
To her very great relief, Galadriel did not seem displeased. Instead, she gave Filanna a kind smile and said, "I thought as much. Surely, our city has many distractions to offer a first-time visitor. Wouldn't you agree, Filanna?"
Galadriel's kindness was so genuine that Filanna felt herself relaxing, for the first time that day. "I confess it is rather overwhelming, my lady. I have never been abroad before."
"We hope that you will enjoy your time here," Celeborn said. "If there is anything you need or want to know, do not hesitate to ask. Any Galadhel, including Galadriel and I, will be glad to help."
Filanna blushed shyly under the handsome lord's friendly gaze. "Thank you, that is very kind."
Turning to all three visitors, Celeborn said, "You will be brought to your guest telain, they have been made ready for you. You are invited to enjoy the morning meal at our table tomorrow, and after that," – he said this to Thranduil and Rínion, winking, "we get to work."
Words of thanks were spoken, and Thranduil, Rínion and Filanna made to leave.
"Orophin," was the last thing Filanna heard Galadriel say before she left the hall, "would you please stay for another moment?"
One of the Lord and Lady's sentinels showed Filanna the way to her talan, a short distance from the main hall. He was about to take his leave when she remembered to ask him directions to the stables. He gave her the information, she thanked him and he departed. Having spent several days on the road, she then took some time to freshen up and put on a clean outfit. Her hair was in desperate need of washing, but since that would take too much time, she settled for brushing it and making a new braid. Once she looked presentable again, she left the talan and made for the stables.
Caras Galadhon was a large city, with many, many paths and stairs that all looked alike, and in spite of the sentinel's directions Filanna lost her way three times before she finally arrived at the stables, a grand wooden complex near the city gates. Her stallion, Mithrenfin, was standing in a spacious box on fresh straw, with food and water at his disposal, and was all in all a very happy and contented horse. He patiently let her pet and stroke him, allowing her to pretend that she was comforting him, while in fact it was the other way around.
"Well, at least one of us is in high feather," she said with a smile. "The pampering is well-earned, mellon; but tomorrow you and I are going for a nice ride, if you are up to it."
He responded by snorting and tossing his head like the proud horse that he was.
Filanna spent a long time in the stables, wandering past all the boxes and talking to the horses, until suddenly she remembered that she, her father and her brother had been invited to attend the 'modest celebration' held in their honour tonight. Inwardly cursing herself for being so forgetful, she turned on her heel and sprinted to the exit, reaching it only a fraction of a second later than the large figure coming from the other direction. With amazing reflexes, the other elf stepped aside to avoid a collision, but she was so startled that she tripped over the threshold with a soft cry. She instinctively braced herself for the impact, but then she realized that she was no longer falling. Instead, she was being set on her feet again and steadied by two hands.
"Easy there," said a deep, male voice, with a hint of amusement in it. "Are you all right?"
Still feeling somewhat unsteady, she turned to look at the one who had caught her. A Galadhel of course, another tall one with silvery hair and grey eyes. Varda, but did all those Geledhil look the same? This one was wearing the grey uniform of the border wardens as well, but she did not think he had been among the elves welcoming her party at the border.
"Yes, I am fine," she said. "Thank you."
He was smiling at her and appeared to be studying her face at his leisure. To her horror and utter indignation, his gaze slid from her mouth to her chin and even further down from there, in a disturbingly male assessment that was far bolder than Orophin's had been. And his hands were still resting on her waist.
"Thank you," she repeated stiffly, "you can let go of me now."
He did so, but because he seemed disinclined to move away from her, she took a step back to increase the distance between them. She was beginning to feel painfully self-conscious, and his boldly roaming gaze irritated her; how dare he look at her like that! He had no right, no right at all.
"Have I seen you before? You do not look familiar," he said pleasantly. His eyes had finally found their way back to her face, but his self-assured smile continued to infuriate her. He was handsome, yes, but he clearly was all too aware of that himself, and she was not charmed by it whatsoever.
"Perhaps your memory is failing you," she said evasively, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She was running late, and Ada and Rínion must be wondering where she was at.
"Perhaps," he said, "but I think not. I have an excellent memory. Are you a visitor here? You speak with an accent."
"Only one of us speaks with an accent, and it isn't me." She glanced over her shoulder, desperate to get away from there, and from him in particular. "Well, thank you again for your help, but I really have to go."
He lifted a dark eyebrow. "So soon?"
Filanna caught herself playing with her braid, something she often did when she was ill at ease. Sarcasm was slipping into her voice when she said, "Indeed, it's been lovely talking to you, but if your memory is truly as good as you say it is, you will remember that I was rather in a hurry before I almost fell on my face."
His lips curved up in a smile. "I do remember. May I be so bold as to inquire where you are going, and if by any chance you would appreciate some company?"
Filanna turned away abruptly, her patience exhausted. "No, you may not. Goodbye." The dismissal was coolly spoken and sounded rather snappish, but she did not bother to rectify. She usually wasn't this uncivil, especially not to strangers, but this elf with his observant, bold eyes made her nervous. She was not going to indulge him by lingering here and allowing him to look his fill.
She was already running up the stairs when he called after her, "You could at least tell me your name!"
She stopped and looked at him. "Why would I do that, when I don't even know yours?"
"Because I like to know the names of ellith who owe me a favour." He laughed and mimicked catching something in his arms, theatrically re-enacting what had just happened.
A favour? She suppressed the urge to cover her mouth with her hand and quickly continued her way up, not once looking back at that overbearing flirt of an elf below. Surely this was the only elf in existence with bad eyesight, to flirt with her- or just one with very poor taste.
The party held in the Mirkwood elves' honour was already in full swing when Haldir arrived. He had bathed and changed into clean clothes, and he felt refreshed and relaxed. To his surprise he spotted Orophin, who was standing by the buffet table and helping himself to the various delicacies displayed on it. It always made Haldir slightly uncomfortable to watch Orophin eat; he had the appetite of a bear and the table manners to match.
Haldir approached Orophin from behind and tapped him on the shoulder, saying in a stern voice, "Shirking your duty, soldier?"
Orophin spun around as if stung by a bee, swearing when he saw Haldir. "Was that really necessary?"
"Necessary, no. Tempting, yes." Haldir grinned. "But in all seriousness, aren't you supposed to be at the northern fences with Rúmil at this time?"
"I was there," Orophin said, "but I was given the honourable task of escorting our royal guests to the city. Have some wine, it's from a good year."
Haldir filled himself a goblet and looked around, spotting both Thranduil and his eldest son. Then another familiar face caught his eye, and he frowned.
"What is that stable maid doing here?" he said, half to himself, half to Orophin.
"Yes, the pretty one with the braid. She seems rather friendly with the Prince." Haldir looked at Filanna, who had not seen him yet as she was engaged in a conversation with Rínion. "I talked to her earlier this evening."
Orophin, who had followed his gaze in bewilderment, turned to his older brother with a quickly growing smirk on his face. "Ah, I see. So you 'talked', eh? That must have been quite the conversation indeed, if she did not even tell you her name."
"Funny." Haldir smiled mildly. "I assure you nothing untoward happened."
"Only because she didn't let you, I'll wager."
"Oh, you have met her? Perhaps even got some cold water splashed into your face yourself?"
"Yes to former question, no to the latter. Allow me to educate you, brother: she is not a stable maid, but Thranduil's youngest daughter, Filanna." It was with obvious enjoyment that Orophin watched his brother's expression change into one of disbelief.
"Oh, you must be joking," Haldir said, looking from Orophin to Filanna and back. "That... that ellon? A princess of Mirkwood?"
"I understand your bewilderment, but it is the truth," Orophin said. "And that is not all. Not only does she dress like a male, she rides like one, too. She arrived on this enormous, fiery stallion which she rode as if it were a docile pony, and with one leg on each side."
"You sound impressed."
"Well, I was. And you would have been, too, if you had seen the horse. It is a ferocious-looking beast." Orophin looked at Haldir attentively, a mischievous smile playing at his lips. "So you think her pretty, do you, Haldir?"
"Hmm." Taking a slow pull at his wine, Haldir observed Filanna from the distance. "Interesting face."
Orophin nodded. "Unfortunately, her face is about all we see of her. Some concealment can be stimulating, I will be the first to acknowledge that, but this is ridiculous. She didn't even change into a dress for the occasion."
"Leggings do have one advantage over a dress, though." Haldir chuckled. "They allow us to admire the shape of a female's legs."
"But skirts can be hoisted up."
"Leggings can be pulled down. Technically, the effect is the same."
Orophin folded his arms in front of his chest. "Are you telling me you find a female in leggings more alluring than one in a gown?"
"No, I have never said that, nor would I ever. I was merely being objective, pointing out the benefits."
"The benefits of trousers on females."
"Exactly." Haldir turned his gaze away from Filanna to inspect the other females attending the party, who were wearing dresses, and pretty ones at that.
"Well... just beware of her, brother." Orophin grinned. "I hear mental alarm bells when I look at this one. Before you know it, she will have turned you into a docile pony, as well."
"Oh, I don't think so." Haldir laughed. "But if she wishes to ride me, one leg on each side, no one will hear me complain."
But Haldir was enough of a realist to know how little chance he had of succeeding with this girl. He had the feeling that she did not think of their first meeting as a positive experience, and the stubborn indifference with which she ignored him the entire evening enforced this impression. Besides, a king's youngest daughter, one who struck him as an innocent, and a prudish one at that... he wasn't sure if he had time to invest in such a challenge. There were easier and less dangerous ways to spend a pleasant night; and he did think he deserved one, after three weeks at the fences. Already several maidens were making eyes at him, so having his lust slaked tonight was not going to be very difficult. But then, it never was.
He did not speak with Filanna again that night. He stayed out of her way just like she seemed to stay out of his; in fact she spoke to few people other than her father and her brother. When at last he and Bereth, the elleth of his choosing, left for his talan, the princess hadn't been asked for a dance even once. She stood all by herself, apparently lost in thought, looking rather forlorn and strangely vulnerable. Haldir felt a strange flash of guilt then, but it faded the moment he rounded the corner, and by the time Bereth sighed in his arms as he skillfully removed her gown, the peculiar princess with the sad eyes was forgotten for the remainder of the night.
Ada = father, daddy
muin-iell = dear daughter
pen tithen = little one
telain = plural form of 'talan', flet
Mithrenfin = mithren (grey) + fîn (hair, tress(es))
mellon = friend
ellon = male elf
elleth = female elf (plural: ellith)