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Envied Mortality Chapter 1: Anticipation and Dread: 2980

Part 1 ~Rumil

For the better part of five days traveling, the three others in company had mercifully left Rúmil to his own disquieted grump. Even so, the closer their journey drew to its demise in Darkwood, the less tolerable he perceived Haldir's bliss. His brother's anxiousness to be joined with his beloved was not remarkable given the fifty years of anticipation, but Rúmil found it unforgivable that he unceasingly set everyone's attention to his obsessive focus.

"I have never been to a bonding ceremony before," Lemor said as he slowed his horse down to ride beside his unwilling target. "What Lord Haldir has described seems like a dream...but you are clearly unmoved. What do say I should expect?"

"To sleep well after," Rúmil murmured, "and perhaps, during, if providence smiles."

Lemor chuckled. "I always sleep well! Will you will submit to slumber too, m'lord?"

Without an answer, Rúmil slowed his horse a touch to discourage more discourse. Lemor did not take the hint and followed suit.

"I know you did not want the duty, but I look forward to your part of the ceremony," the young elf went on. "I have prepared words to offer as well, if I should be given a moment to speak. I lack skill in writing so I have kept my blessing short."

"A wise decision," Rumil said, "Little said is better remembered."

Grinning, Lemor said, "Thank you for the encouragement, m'lord! You don't give it often, but when you do it is well felt and wise."

Haldir looked back from his position in lead and stopped his horse. When all four met him, he said to Rumil, "Take Feldor and scout ahead."

As he and the older of the two brothers dismounted, Lemor did not hide his disappointment at yet again not being selected yet for the task.

"This is the most dangerous leg of the journey, Lemor," Feldor explained softly. "Lord Haldir is staying with the horses to protect them, and he likes to keep you by his side because I am more skilled and can hold my own better if we are attacked."

"Neither of us has crossed swords with men," Lemor challenged in a whisper. "It is not the same as fighting orc... and Lord Rumil is sufficient enough with the sword to make up any difference between our skills... unless you are trying to say you are as superior to me as Haldir is to his brothers?"

As they went on back and forth, Rumil came to Haldir's side and his brother said quietly, "Remember when we used to argue over father's decisions? I never realized until how petty it was."

"At least we had the discretion not to argue in front of him," Rumil grumbled and then walked toward the ridge ahead. "Feldor, come," he said.

"Do you not want my instructions?" Haldir asked after him.

"I am sufficient enough," Rumil called back, endearing a smile from his brother.

"Lemor did not mean anything by what he said," Feldor began. "He does not understand how dear he is to Haldir."

"You are both dear to my brother," Rumil pointed out. "And you both made fair assessments of your skills and ours. It is better time spent hoping we never see such a battle than to argue the point... now fall silent or we may."

Part 2 ~Darimathea

"Dari!" King Bronian called out from across the garden.

Darimathea made like she did not hear her father and quickened her pace around the woody cathedral where a few elves in her path slowed her escape. She smiled as warmly as she could and meeting none of their eyes, she noted they were already primped for the ceremony. Her hope was that they would excuse her rush without attempting to converse, as she, the sister of the bride, was still wearing a sleeping gown.

Misfortune, however, did not loosen its grip on her.

"Look, my daughters," exclaimed Galadir, "our fair princess dashes through the morning as if the sun were chasing her!" She glanced up at his bright eyes and noticed his silver hair had been braided with tiny leaved garland.

Despite her having grown nearly his height, to the laughter of his two daughters, her elder swept her into his strong arms as he was always wont to do at the worst of time.

It was futile to refuse, but once satisfied her return embrace was sincere, he let her go. He looked upon the dirty state of her dress and checked his green silk robe with mock alarm.

"However do you attract filth so early in the day, elfing?" one of his daughters asked.

She folded her hands in front of her and he immediately took them and Galadir soothed, "She does not chastise, dear one, we are merely surprised."

Before she could response, from behind her she heard her father order, "Hold on to her, my friend, she has been running from me all morning!"

Her father's velvet robes swooshed around his legs as he caught up to the small company. First he addressed the others, "My eyes are blessed by the grandeur of this breath taking beauty! You three may very well succeed in outshining our fair Lorien guests!"

"We have done only as you requested, m'lord," the eldest daughter said, "to make ourselves exemplify the glory of our wood."

"We are glad you are satisfied," said her sister, beaming a grin to her own father.

"I am beyond satisfied!" Bronian laughed. To their father he charmed, "The bride may have a challenge to be the center of attention against your daughters, my friend!"

"Shall we mend that disservice and crumple ourselves a bit?" Galadir suggested.

"Do not tempt me to order it," Bronian answered with a wink. During his distraction Dari slipped away, moving quickly as she could down the path.

To her chagrin her father called after her, "Darimathea, for the love of all that is elven, come back here!"

Dari left the path to pass through a thick rose patch where her father's robes would be ruined. Ignored the tiny painful scratches and rips to her silk, she came through and then ran down the path to the baker's and up the porch steps to hide inside. There she was caught off guard by the young apprentice, Elhedel sitting at a butter churn.

His bare, muscular arms glistened as he quickly pounded the wooden rod, creating swishing sound that echoed within the chamber. Noting her presence, the he glanced up and a bead of sweat dripped from his furrowed brow. She had witnessed the slaves of men in the Eastern tribes working with such effort, but it was very rare to see elves exhaust themselves.

As polite as he was industrious, Elhedel nodded a greeting which loosened a wisp of brown hair from its placement behind his pointed ear. Forgetting her haste, Dari stepped cautiously forward. With half a smile she gazed into his chestnut eyes, lifted her hand and gently secured the strand back to its place. She allowed her finger to linger just behind the tip of his point and hungrily studied his uncertainty of her intent. The rhythm of his work slowed to the pulse of a beating heart as his face grew flush.

Dari stared intently, searching his eyes. Elienne had described the elvish sign for attraction as a star which lights in the soul. Her sister had warned her that it could be awakened by either the gentle wooing of love or a sudden arrow of lust. But once it flashed, a bond-ready elf would become beholden to she who captured him.

Breathless Elhedel pleaded with her. "Dari… leave me… or your guests shall have only cream for the wedding reception."

He was so close, she could feel it, she had almost made him hers and his begging made her even more determined to conquer. Knowing the violation of it, she touched and then ran her finger purposely down the edge of his ear watching his eyes widen.

Footsteps on the cottage porch made her jump and Dari pulled her hand back, glancing to see her father. The butter making proceeded with even greater intensity.

"Do you fancy this elf?" her father asked. "Because I thought your wanted nothing to do with courting."

"I fancy his ability to butter my bread," she said defiantly.

Her father's green eyes narrowed at her with sudden judgment. "Then stay away from him," he scolded. To Elhedel he added, "It is a pity your father never taught you to defend yourself from the whiles of silly sprites. A sharp word or a cold shoulder is the only remedy for such seduction. If you ignore her she will grow bored."

As he gave his lesson, Dari rushed to the door and shoved through it into the kitchen.

The chef took a look at her attire and grinned. He lifted a basket from the counter and held it for her. She sighed with a smile and took it. Her heart full with gratitude, Dari kissed the elder on his cheek and whispered, "Thank you."

"You spoil my daughter before my eyes!" her father said coming up behind her. "I would rather the wine be sour, than my daughter encouraged in her misbehavior."

Dari stepped back toward the door as the chef explained, "She comes for Elienne's breakfast, there is no misdeed here."

Her father glanced at her and said, "Why did you not simply tell me this was an errand for your sister?" She said nothing and he sighed and asked, "Will you get dressed after you deliver, or will not at least one day present yourself properly?"

She only glared at him for his hurtful words.

"If I am being too indulgent, Darimaetha I will start punishing you... is that what you want?"

"Heed advice from an elder, my king," the chef said. "Indulging elflings rears generosity, not spoilage. Punishment will only make her more bitter... So much time have you spent with men to have forgotten such simple proverbs from our ancestors?"

"She is of age in a few months!" Bronian argued boisterously, "And if anything, Dari has exchanged her elven ways for that of men. She takes advantage of any kindness given her and behaves as the worst of their brats."

The accusation struck deep and to prove him right, she yanked the door open and then slammed it behind her, shaking the wall of the kitchen so that a breakable could be heard smashing to the floor inside. She cringed and glanced up to see Elhedel still pumping the butter churn, only his eyes had darkened towards her.

"What do I care what you think!" she snapped.

"If you did not care," he said with a smirk, "You would not have touched me as you did. I think you want me to love you."

Dari laughed and said, "I have no interest in you beyond your handsome face."

"So I am handsome?" he asked.

"For a servant," she said.

Stunned, Elhedel slowly stopped churning and then, staring at her, he stood and walked away from his work. She backed up a step as he stopped before her and removed his apron. After he hung it on hook behind her, he descended the steps.

"Where are you going? You have work to do!" she said, following him with her basket.

"No," he said. "You do, if you want your family and guests to have butter for their bread."

Walking after him she asked, "It is your job to do."

"My job?" he laughed. "My efforts today were a gift; your haughty entitlement to it disinterests me in continuing."

"You would do this to Elienne?" Dari asked.

"Elienne will not care," he said walking casually now, "Your father might… You should explain to him how you drove your servant to rebellion, perhaps he will arrest and execute me for starting a revolution."

"Elves don't revolt," she said. "Or execute, that is the way of men."

Elhedel stopped and turned to her. With a strange light in his eyes he said, "So is servitude… and seduction."

His closeness and arrogance overwellmed her and unable to restrain herself, Dari pushed him backwards, over a rock and he fell into the tiny creek that ran beside the path. Instead of becoming angry, Elhedel laughed at her.

"Whatever you said, it must have been a difficult truth, Elhedel," a passer by commented. "Do tell!"

"That is for the princess to know, I would not embarrass her beyond what she does to herself every day."

"Oh, come now, she is young, give her room to explore the paths of grace," the lady said, helping him out of the water.

Gripping the handle of her basket, Dari looked from one of them to the other, envying the kindness between them and feeling ashamed of her own behavior.

"I hate it here!" she snapped at them and turned, running toward her sister's cottage.

Part 3 ~Rumil

"Why would someone so young be left to fend for himself?" Feldor whispered. They were perched on the ridge looking down over a field where what appeared to be a wounded boy struggled toward a village miles away.

"The more violent a people," Rumil answered, "the more need for swift passage into adulthood. Such men's lives are more quickly ended by war than age or disease. They push their young to fill in for their dead fathers."

"Should we not help him so that he does not die by injury?"

"See how his limp changes each stop? The injury painful, but superficial. As his eyes are fixed ahead, he knows his way and is not lost or afraid. Interference is both unwise and unnecessary."

"The healing arts of men are not as reliable as elves. Left untreated, deadly infection may come upon mortal flesh. Even if it does not, with our healing he may avoid scarring or a life-long limp."

"Haldir taught you much about men, but your judgement is not tempbered by experience. We are not going to help, there is no benefit and too much risk."

"If elves availed themselves to the aide of men more often, perhaps there would be fewer battles between our two peoples."

His eyes gave testimony to the purity of his intentions and the determination of his conviction. "You hearts always pound with futile compassion," Rumil quipped, looking away down to the boy.

"Our Lady tells us to follow our hearts," he said. "My heart tells me I cannot walk away. Even if you forbid me, I will aid him. But I would perfer your help."

Galled by his decision Rumil quipped, "Would it suffice if I went alone, or is this a matter of heroics?"

"Truly, I only wish that he be helped, not that I be seen as noble."

Without a word, Rúmil slipped down off the ridge and into the field. He could not speak their language so he would not ask permission. He would overpower the boy, tend the wound and leave him with lembas. At least that was his plan.

Upon seeing an elf approach, the boy gasped, and shouted words strange to him. He shook his head and waved Rumil away, begging, it seemed, to be left alone. Ignoring him, he approached and examined the leg. The boy continued to repeat the words to him, but did not stop his work. His assessment and treatment happened simultaneously and when he was done he pointed to his sword and asked, "Were you struck?"

The boy intuited the question and nodded and then looked around him, repeating the words again and insisting, with more gestures that Rumil leave. The sound of heavy feat coming from the forest in front of him confirmed Rumil's building suspicion that the boy had been warning him. Rumil put his hand on his heart and bowed before turning and giving out the call of a crow to warn his companions to take shelter.

The men followed, but would not be able to catch him on foot. He glanced to see how many there were and called out again to indicate to Haldir it was under a dozen. He took to hiding and hoped that Feldor would stay on the ridge and not bring attention to himself.

Part 4 ~ Elienne

"How is it that today you sleep so soundly when you should be full to the brim with anticipation?"

Dârimaetha's low voice broke into the calm of Elienne's rest as though she were calling from a much further distance than directly into her ear.

Elienne opened her eyes to see her sister's lovely face, their noses nearly touching as she lay beside her.

"Today is here," Elienne said in a reverent whisper. "I cannot believe it!"

Dâri smiled and said, "I brought you something to eat, but I cannot stay to enjoy it."

She pushed off the bed and Elienne sat up and saw she was wearing a worn and stained leather tunic and leggings with holes. Her hair was in unkempt, as was typical and there was a distinctive smell of horse on her.

"Why not?" Elienne asked her. "That was our plan, a final breakfast together..."

"I have decided I would rather take Sully to the border to meet the Lórien guests," Dâri said. "Our March Warden has given me permission to accompany his escort... when we return, I will dress for the ceremony."

Delicately Elienne asked, "Just yesterday we spoke on first impressions and decided you would be formally presented to my husband at the ceremony... what has changed your thoughts?"

"Your perceptive Haldir has already once had a fair princess attempt to hide her true nature from him. If he saw me in a fancy gown he might play along, but I will never fool him." She stuck her finger in the jam and then pulled it out and licked it. "This mess is more who I am than some dolled up princess."

"You are not a mess," Elienne soothed. When Dari looked away, she took her hand and now saw there were blood scratches on her arms. Ignoring it, Elienne went on, "You are as multi-facited as a gem, and it would take even Haldir a century to know every side of you." Dari met her eyes and Elienne added, "The few sides you show me, I love with all my heart, and soon my heart will be joined with his and he will love you too."

Dari swollowed and looked down. "But will he love me enough?"

Elienne could not answer and when Dari looked back up at her, fear returned to her sister's eyes and she quickly pulled away, fleeing out the door into the forest.

Sitting down, Elienne hoped that though it broke her heart, perhaps her sister's rash inappropriate behavior was exactly what Haldir would need to validate her concerns.

Part 5 ~ Haldir

Once the men had given up their search, Haldir led his charges silently forward until they were in the relatively safe confines of Darkwood. It was clear to him that Lemor was as anxious as he to hear what exactly happened. He glanced at his brother and Rumil clenched his jaw before giving his admission.

"We fell for a trap," he said.

"The boy tried to give a warning!" Feldor added. To Lemor he said, "Rumil finished tending the young child's wound just before the men swooped into the field after him! I have never seen an elf run as fast as he did for cover; it was glorious how he left them behind, and then just vanished!"

"You tended what wound?" Haldir asked. When Feldor started to answer, Haldir held a hand up and said, "I would like to hear this from my brother, please." When Rumil refused to speak, Haldir asked, "I thought compassion for men was futile?"

"My compassion was for Feldor not the man child," Rumil argued.

Haldir did not prob further into the incident, guessing his pupil had instigated some sort of charity. He was decidedly impressed, both by Feldor's infectious passion as his brother's softening and tried not to smile too broadly. It had always been a secret hope that the youths would be a kind influence to his brother; and perhaps aid in the healing of his hard heart.

After several hours of traveling and a few songs to lift their spirits, Haldir and company fell silent again.

"Do you know any songs about being lost?" Rumil asked.

Once Lemor and Feldor were finished their chuckling at his expense, Haldir mused, "We are not lost, I am merely not choosing to go back out the way we came... yet."

He was about to give the excuse that the trees here were enchanged, when he heard a sound from above. Haldir pulled his bow and fitted it with an arrow before the figure in front of their party even touched foot on the ground. He was standing up in his stirrups, aiming steadily over the shoulder of Feldor on a horse in front of him.

"Welcome to Darkwood," a low female voice welcomed. "I do hope you decide not to waste an arrow on me." She raised her eyes from Feldor to look at Haldir. "It would not be a good omen to strike down your own sister!"

As soon as she said it, out of the wood all around them came Darkwood elves. Haldir put his weapon away and leapt from his horse approaching her. She stood almost as tall as his brothers and she was indeed as beautiful as Elienne had described. Strangely, her features were hollow; not at all full with the suppleness of youth.

"My sister," he said, his hands on his hips. "Thank you for the rescue, we thought we were lost."

With a flinch of a smile she answered, "Most visitors wait at the border and are not so bold as to enter these woods unaccompanied."

The Darkwood March Warden came beside him and asked in a rather annoyed tone, "I should think being a March Warden yourself you would honor my instructions and wait for our escort where I designated! No one can find their way in these woods unless the trees allow it."

"I received no such instructions or warning," Haldir said. "And there was an attack by men, so I would not risk lingering beyond your boarders, lest we be forced to destroy lives."

A look of fear washed over the young warden's face. "Were any in your party injured?"

"No, of course not," Haldir said. "It was our fault we were spotted, but they may have been expecting us."

The warden glanced at a few of his men and said, "My own brother left us half a year ago to take news safely to you. I know now why he did not return with you... he never arrived in Lorien."

"So you did not receive Elienne's last letters?" Dari asked. Urgently she spoke to her warden, "They fell into the hands of the Easterlings... or the orcs!"

"Likely not orcs or we would have seen a much different trap on our trail," Haldir reassured. To the warden he asked,"Do the men here know our language?"

"They know enough of it," Dari said. She was almost in tears as she lamented, "And now they will know Elienne meant to bring me home with you... they will be waiting for us!" She turned quickly and dashed off into the wood, the warden was too stricken to even watch her go.

Her words stunned them all but Haldir sought to first calm the grieved warden. "I am so sorry for your loss," Haldir said to him. "I could not bear to lose a brother of mine."

The warden took him aside from the others and spoke in a hush. "My terror is more that he may still be alive; these savages have taken our kind for slaves before. They have accepted our proposals of peace, but always with increasingly audacious demands. The state letters from Bronian to Elrond, Celeborn and Thranduil might reveal some of our misgivings to our tactics... Should these men want to know their contents, my brother would not have translated it no matter his own suffering. So if they knew of your arrival from the letters, I cannot imagine what they must have done to sway him. My only hope is there is another explanation."

Haldir's heart ached for the elf, he looked on Rumil and felt his own pain return to him. "I will speak with Lord Bronian on the matter, of a rescue. If there is anything I can do..."

"You can be married, m'lord," the warden insisted. "The ceremony has already been postponed fifty years and now again until tomorrow. I will not have Ellienne's wedding day spoiled with this worry. She is not to be told! My brother may very well have taken his own life before being captured and destroyed most of the letters. Or maybe they killed him. We simply have no way of knowing... Will you respect me in this matter and keep it from her, at least until after you are bonded?"

"What about Darimaetha, won't she say something?" Haldir asked.

The warden grew quiet and then answered slowly. "No one can predict what Bronian's youngest will do... I did not even know she meant to leave with you. If her father finds out it will not be pleasant. Keep that in mind, m'lord, she may cause all manner of chaos while you are here. Most of us have learned to overlook it, but it is an embarrassment to our king for certain. Elienne tried to warn you; I am sorry you did not get her letters."

"It is forgiven, and I shall share in your mourning this evening, if you allow me," Haldir said. The warden nodded and Haldir returned to his horse, his heart heavy with empathy and concern. As they all entered on foot into the mysterious Darkwood, he thought he could feel something odd from the trees here. As if they were watching, only without the anger and contempt of Fanghorn. Here there was decidedly more sorrow and much beauty.

"M'lord is the younger princess really coming home with us?" Lamer whispered to Haldir, loud enough for all to hear.

Haldir did not even acknowledge him, could not bear to explain the inappropriateness.

"M'lord?" he said louder.

"Someone has died," Feldor said to his brother, "It is not the time..."

Haldir glanced at Rumil who stared forward in his own thoughts. Everyone had riled against him for trying to save Rumil, even still some said it was not worth it for how little his brother enjoyed life now... but how a brother could abandon another to death or worse Haldir could never understand.

And in that moment, it occurred to him; how might Elienne be feeling about leaving her sister to the dangers of Darkwood? As that realization came upon him, along with Celeborn's message to Galadir, Rumil turned and met Haldir's eyes. He blinked and looked away, unable to bear the fury he saw brewing in his brother's dark suspicions. Even with the extension the youths had built onto their home, they had no room for another princess and all her belongings; and drama.