Disclaimer: This is a work of transformative fiction, based on the world of JRR Tolkien. I do not own his world; I merely add my voice to his song.
It all began simply, as a trip to the stream for a bucket of water. Celevenel, young, strong, and in the flower of her young womanhood had done it many times before, and this day was no different. True, with so many of the men gone to the war in the south, for seven years now, and her mother so often off hunting, Celevenel had even more duties at home. But it was only a trip to the brook. What harm could befall her in King Oropher's woods?
She had dipped her bucket in the stream and begun her trek back up the path to her mother's talan when she heard the voice. "Girl, oh girl . . ."
She looked among the boles of the oaks and pines for the source and found him. He was no elf, nor was he one of the Woodmen by the look of him, though why any Man should have ventured so far into the Emyn Duir she had no idea. The Woodmen usually kept well to the south, preferring the fringes of the forest that overlooked the great river plain to the depths of the forest. This one looked odd too. His clothing was of a strange cut, his skin of a sallow hue, and the beard on his face a fringe with a long trailing hair on the upper lip rather than the full bushy growth she had seen in the few mortals within her ken. Yet he did not seem unhandsome for all of that.
"It is my comrade, lass," he said in the Common Tongue, strangely accented. "He has injured himself, and we need your aid."
Sure enough, Celevenel peered more deeply into the gloom among the pines and spied another Man lying upon the ground. He looked much the same as the first.
"A drink from your bucket is what we ask. Surely you cannot deny us that."
Indeed, how could she? It seemed only common decency to help someone who was injured, no matter what their race. Celevenel took a tentative step from the path, bucket in hand.
"No, meleth, stop."
Celevenel froze and turned. "Haru?"
There he stood, not in the soldier's uniform he had been wearing when he marched off to the south with the King's army, but in the simple forester's garb in which she had always known him. Her mother's father - her grand-sire. "Run, child. Drop the bucket and run."
"But. . ." The bucket was a fine one, made by the hand of Master Haldhoron himself, and her family was waiting at home for the water. And how could she refuse a mortal in need of help?
"Listen to me, Celevenel. Do it. Do it now."
She let the handle drop from her fingers, and the bail fell, splashing water out onto the first light drifting of leaves that covered the path. She saw the first Man's eyes harden.
"Go. Go now."
She turned and ran. The first Man took off after her immediately, while the second sprang up and followed, quite fit for one who had been injured.
"Keep going, meleth. I will stay beside you. Keep running."
She was young and fleet. She heard the footfalls behind her, but soon they fell away. No Mortal could outrun one of the Laegrim. When she was certain they were far behind, lost amongst the trees, she came to a stop and leaned up against the trunk of a big oak to catch her breath. Haru put his finger across his lips and motioned upward. The two of them leapt into the oak's branches and lay silent against the bark as the two strangers passed beneath, muttering angrily in a strange tongue she did not understand.
"Do not go straight home," her Haru told her when the two had passed out of sight and the sound of their footsteps on the leaves had faded. "You must take word of this to the Regent. These men are a danger to the woods."
"I will, Haru," she replied. She dropped back to the ground and went on with him by her side, bypassing the fork in the trail that led to her own settlement and heading towards Oropher's palace. Over ridges and through trees she went, until at last she saw the sprawling building nestled at the head of a deep ravine. She stopped and turned her head. "You will come with me, Haru?"
He smiled sadly and shook his head. "I have other places I must be. You can do this on your own. Remember this, Celevenel: you will be all right."
She looked dubiously at the palace. She had never been in the King's house before, only to the edge of the courtyard. When she turned her head back, he was gone. Screwing up her courage, Celevenel headed down the steep slope to the main path.
At the foot of the great stone steps, guards halted her, and she told them her story in a soft, timid voice. Soon, liveried footmen came out to escort her to the throne room itself. On the dais, not on Oropher's carved wooden throne, but in a smaller chair beside it, sat a dark-haired woman, Prince Thranduil's new young wife. To the lady's left, as if to emphasize his proximity to the throne, stood a silver-haired man in grey velvet robes. At her right hand, slightly to the rear, stood a man in forest hues, with hair as dark as that of the Princess.
"Speak up, girl," said the one in grey, with an impatient shake of his head, "we have not all day."
Celevenel, hesitated, wondering if perhaps she had given offense to the Regent and her courtiers by not dropping a curtsy, but the smile on the lady's face reassured her. "Go on, lass, we will not bite. The page said you had been accosted by some Men in the woods?"
"Yes, my Lady," Celevenel murmured and proceeded to tell her tale of the two strangers who had made her flee.
"Easterlings," muttered the sliver-haired one, when she had described the strangers' faces and clothing. "Men of Rhûn."
"Or further east," said the dark-haired man, speaking for the first time.
"What would Easterlings be doing in our woods?" asked the first.
"I have no idea," countered the second. "Messengers from the south to the Yrcch of the Misty Mountains perhaps?"
"It seems like maidenly nonsense to me."
The Lady Regent frowned. "They meant her harm, Lord Helegui. Else, what need to feign an illness and then give chase when she ran? Tell me, Celevenel, what made you take alarm?"
"My Haru told me to drop my bucket and run."
The three of them stared at her in surprise until Helegui finally spoke. "Girl, have you been careless about what mushrooms you pick and eat?"
"No, my lord."
"Is your grandsire not Orlos, second lieutenant of the King's pikemen?"
"The King's pikemen are with King Oropher himself in the war in the south, which is raging still, for all I know. We've had no word these past seven years."
A shadow seemed to fall on the Lady Regent's face as she heard those words, and Celevenel felt a pang. There was not a woman in the Greenwood who did not lie awake nights worrying about a husband, father, son, brother or sweetheart. "Forgive me, my lord, but I saw him as plainly as I see you before me. I cannot explain it."
"Perhaps," said the lady, "this is a sign that the war has ended and the armies are on their way home. Messengers from the south would be a welcome thing." She turned to look at the dark-haired man on her right hand. "Or an ill one. Meanwhile . . ."
"I will deal with it, daughter." With a curt bow to Lord Helegui, he left the room.
A footman showed Celevenel out, and a guard escorted her home to her mother, who had been sick with worry when her daughter failed to return from her short errand to the creek. Later that day, they heard that warriors of Tûron's Forest Folk had captured two Men of the East who had surprised yet another young girl in the woods. The maiden was unharmed. Of the two Easterlings, no details were given.
And sure enough, before half a week had passed, the birds and other creatures brought a rumor of an Elven army on the move, heading north. Three days later, Celevenel stood beside the path and watched as Prince Thranduil rode past in the vanguard of what she supposed to be a much longer train, his face haunted. The men who marched behind him looked weary and somber too. She saw her father in the ranks, heard her mother's sigh of relief, and she would have waved, but then she heard the swell of murmuring voices from further down the path toward the rear of the column. "Where . . .? Where are the rest of them?"
Her father returned to them later that day, after the troops were dismissed. He embraced her mother for a long time, and then turned to her. "Ada," she said, "where is Haru?" Surely, she hoped, her grandsire had come ahead as a scout and then returned to the army to march alongside them upon their return.
"Meleth," her father said, "Orlos fell in the first battle alongside King Oropher. So many of us perished on that day. He has been dead for seven years."
Her mother broke into sobs, but Celevenel remained dry-eyed. Haru might be gone, but a part of him remained, and he had given her this one last gift.
Celevenel never saw her grandsire again, but as the years passed she sometimes heard his voice among the trees and on the wind. "Remember, meleth, I love you. You will be all right."
Meleth: Sweetheart, an endearment