Guardian of the Golden Wood

– A tale of mystery and adventure set in around 1300 T.A –

This is Epilogue to Chapter 11. Due to readers’ request, the other chapters will be posted one by one.

Prologue – The Elfling

The tiny little creature curled up into a protective ball. Its hair was matted and full of knots and tangles. It smelled and was so dirty that its skin colour was almost impossible to tell. Celeborn gave a small sigh, then walked over to the cot. Slowly he went to his knees. He doubted the little thing knew it was an elfling.

When he addressed the creature, murmuring soft words in the common speech, it tried to hide itself clutching the blanket and curling up even tighter in a corner of the cot. It trembled like a leaf!

The Lord lifted the blanket and gently pushed a strand of matted tangles to look into the dirty face of the terrified elfling. A pair of storm-grey eyes stared at him in silent terror. Tears running over its cheeks, cracking the grim in places. It bit its lips, so it would not cry out or make any noise.

‘Hush, young one! We mean no harm. You are safe here. Will you allow a healer to tend to you?’ Celeborn’s second attempt to comfort the elfling was to no avail. Its tears flooded freely and it pushed its small, dirty fist into its mouth and bit it.

The Lord of Eregion watched the tiny thing with surprise. He did not remember when in his long life, he had ever instilled such fear in any creature that was not a servant of the darkness or a spawn of the shadows of Morgoth. And suddenly he shook his head and smiled: This little one had perhaps no idea what he was, but could it be…? He repeated his words of comfort in Sindarin and suddenly the elfling relaxed. It gave a deep sigh and nodded its approval.

It was so very young that it was hard to tell if it was a male or a female. Eight, perhaps ten summers… and so small and mangy, that it reminded Celeborn of an underfed stray kitten. A messenger carrying letters from his beloved had found the elfling on his way back from the forest realm of Laurelindorean where the Lady Galadriel was visiting with his kinsman Amdir.

At the edge of the wilderness, east of the Misty Mountains and in a forlorn place where only few were able to scratch a miserable living from a hard and stony ground, the messenger had discovered the smouldering ashes of a tiny farmstead with destroyed cattle. Amongst the ruin was the mangled body of an ancient, grey-haired human woman and, clinging to it for dear life, the exhausted elfling with a vicious cut from a blade across its left shoulder.

At the Lord’s sign, a healer stepped out of the cool shadows of the room and walked over to the bed on which the hurt elfling lay.

‘Now tend to him!’ Celeborn commanded the slender, fair elleth. ‘Be as gentle as you can and please… do not frighten it.’

Then Celeborn turned back to the elfling. ‘What is your name, little one?’ he inquired gently, placing his long, slender fingers under its dirty chin and brushing away its tears with a tender movement of his thumb.

‘Nana called me Fair Child!’ the elfling whispered. ‘But Nana is gone, isn’t she? I tried so hard to protect her. I failed! They were so many of them….’

‘Hush!’ replied Celeborn, ‘You must heal now, Fair Child. Do not worry for the moment. We will talk again, when you feel better.’

He left the bedside of the elfling and returned to the Galadhrim officer who waited further away in the room by a windowsill.

‘Come with me, Orophin. The letters of the Lady Galadriel can wait. First, you must tell me exactly where you found this elfling and under what circumstances.’

The messenger bowed obediently and followed the Lord of Eregion. Together they left the House of Healing and descended the stairs to a soft wooden path that led to the peaceful shores of Lake Nenuial. Only when they were convinced that the hurt elfling would no longer be able to hear their conversation, did they speak again.

‘No Silvan elves dwell so far to the East, my Lord, or so close to the slopes of the Misty Mountains,’ Orophin said, thoughtfully, ‘I do not think he is of Laurelindorean for it would have been known if an Elven child had gone astray.’

The Lord of Eregion shrugged. ‘It does not matter. Now the little one is in my realm, it is my duty to see to his welfare. Tell me everything.’

Chapter 1 – Mischief and Distraction

The dark-haired elleth lifted a suspicious eyebrow when she realized that the quiet visitor to the herbal gardens of Lothlorien did not wear the customary weapons of the guardians of the forest realm nor his customary long, curved blade.

He had been discreetly standing in the shadows of a blooming elder tree for a while now and she had put some effort into ignoring him, continuing with her lecture on the healing powers of some plants to a small group of students. But instead of losing interest and continuing on his way to whatever business of the forest realm of the Lord Celeborn his mught be, the Captain was still there. He observed her with this amused expression that has already driven her mad when she had entered Lothlorien a couple of weeks ago accompanied by a brace of Imladris guards and the Lady Celebrian, who decided to pay an impromptu visit to her parents.

Silraen crossed her long, slender arms behind her back and pretended not to see him or the small wicker basket that sat beside him in the soft grass. A sparkle of mischief glittered in the blue-grey eyes of the Captain. Oh, how she hated that sparkle, those blue-grey eyes and… the distraction! She had desperately hoped that he would be somewhere on the fences, chasing orcs or killing whatsoever dark creatures menaced the peace and calm of the realm of Lothlorien, wished he was somewhere far away from Caras Galadhon… and far away from her.

Celeborn’s captain was the worst distraction she had ever encountered in her long life and a distraction she gave in to all too easily.

Whenever he crossed the mountains to ride into Imladris, her peace of mind and soul was gone: gone was the attention she normally paid to the quiet rooms of Elrond’s renowned library, gone the time she would devote to the countless healing herbs in the gardens of her lord. Also gone, the countless, forgotten hours she spent in the apothecary, preparing potions and salves for the ailing and sick.

She hated that sparkle in his mischievous eyes which seemed so young and innocent. Despite his innocent appearance, she knew that Haldir had been born in the days when Elu Thingol’s hidden realm of Doriath still existed and the Girdle of Mélian protected the Sinda of Nargothrond against the evils of Morgoth and his henchmen. She also knew that she would give in once again and chase away her students and spend another lazy afternoon somewhere in the forests, doing nothing of worth to Elvenkind and idling the hours away with him.

The obnoxious elf grinned and lifted the cotton cloth that covered his wicker basket invitingly.

Silraen frowned and threw a nasty look at her students, who had by now discovered the intruder and were chuckling. Brainless younglings! They should sit and study, not laugh at their elders! She was already thinking how she would give a piece of her mind to the uninvited visitor, and then her group of distracted ellyth when she heard the light moving of feet in the grass.

The soldier, clad in grey and dark green stood half-hidden behind the trunk of the tree, speaking softly to his captain. In an instant, the mischief disappeared from Haldir’s blue-grey eyes and all joy of life left his fair features. He stiffened, his broad shoulders straightened. He gave the messenger a short nod, turned on his heels and hurried away without sparing a second look for her, nor the students, who had suddenly fallen silent.

The wicker basket stood abandoned and lonely under the elder tree and an icy feeling made Silraen shiver despite the bright sun of the forest glade. Something was happening in Lothlorien. Something terrible came their way!

Silraen had known this feeling before; a feeling of doom and loss. It had been a long time since Elrond, accompanied by her father and many brave Elven warriors, had followed Gil-Galad to the barren lands of Mordor where the shadows lain. It had been this very same feeling that she felt now. Her father had not returned from the dark lands. She had never known when he had perished or how. So many had fallen in the struggle that had brought the Dark Lord to his knees and most of her kin to the Halls of Waiting.

Her mother had abandoned her shortly after news of Sauron’s destruction had reached Imladris, sailing to the Undying Lands, else she would have perished from the grief of her loss. Then Silraen had found herself for the first time face to face with Haldir.

But after the slaughter on the slopes of Mount Doom and an endless war against evil, there had been no mischief nor laughter in his eyes. He had been the ghost of an elf, hard and cold and abused by seven long years in the field and too many cruel deeds. In her own grief over the loss of her father and the departure of her mother, Silraen had spent many an hour by his bedside, nurturing him back to health and some semblance of life. When he had been healed from his physical wounds, he had followed his Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel to the realm of Prince Amroth who had taken up the throne of Lothlorien after his father’s death on the field of Dagorlad.

But once or twice every year the captain had found a way to return to Imladris. After a while, he left his memories of the Last Alliance behind and became that lively distraction that she loved, and yet hated, so much. Having the gift of immortality, he took his time courting her. Although she knew deep in her heart one day she would give into his efforts and stay forever in Lothlorien, Silraen was too fond of their elusive games to end his suspense too quickly… Haldir seemed tremendously fond of their game as well. But she knew when the Galadhrim solider had whispered into the ear of her captain that all romantic games between them were set aside.

‘You may take the afternoon off,’ Silraen gave a deep sigh and waved her group of students away.

Once again, Haldir had managed to take her attention from her duties. Slowly, and with heavy steps, she made her way over to the elder tree. She lifted the cotton cloth and glanced into the wicker basket. A picnic including lovingly prepared morsels of food, fresh strawberries in a small bowl, her favourite almond cake, and a bottle of wine with glasses.

Silraen would have enjoyed idling away another afternoon in his company. They would have laughed and joked and he would have dragged her to some hidden, favourite place deep in the forest, somewhere by a spring or a small lake. Then Haldir would have taunted and mocked her until she grew mad at him, as always, until he took her into his arms and kissed away her anger. As usual, she would have given in to him, and they would have made love in the soft grass. Silraen took a small strawberry and turned it thoughtfully between her fingers.

She felt doom and loss lingering not only over the fair lands of Lothlorien, but over him, her captain.

Chapter 2 Galadriel’s Challenge

When Haldir reached Galadriel’s and Celeborn’s dwelling in the heart of Caras Galadhon, he felt uneasy. It was no habit of the Lady to send formal messengers after him, when he resided in the city!

The captain shook his head and took the small silken pouch, he had been hiding close to his heart into his calloused hand. He stared at it gloomily, then he pushed it deep into a pocket of his tunic. Elves were immortal and he had been taking his time to court Silraen, and while deep in his heart he had known for a while that one day she would give in to his efforts and stay with him in Lothlorien, she had been too fond of this little game to speed up things… the trips to Imladris, her delicious little bouts of anger, when he dragged her from Elrond’s apothecary or the herbal gardens, the long afternoons out in the forest, her mischief and the laughter in her eyes, when he kissed her into silence… he had fallen for the dark-haired sprite the very moment he had opened his eyes on that cot, still numb from a battle wound and haunted by seven endless years of war against the Deceiver and his minions…

He pushed away his thoughts of her and the lazy afternoon he’d intended to spend with Silraen at that little forest spring she liked so much and descended the few steps that led to Galadriel’s private gardens.

The last time she had felt it necessary to send for him such a formal and official way, stray orcs and trolls had started to infest the Eastern part of the Misty Mountains and she had wished him to gather first-hand intelligence in order to determine if these bands were under the guidance of some greater power then their very own malice and evil. Since Haldir possessed a strange, natural talent for foreign tongues, he had been her first choice for this mission. He was the one and only elf in the realm of Lothlorien who spoke and understood not only the Black Speech devised by Sauron, but also a variety of rag-tag Orkish and goblin dialects. His early childhood knowledge of Manish and the Common Speech had been an additional qualification for this un-habitual spy work and the only reason why his Lord Celeborn had agreed to send the Captain of Lothlorien for weeks unnumbered into the wild.

The two wardens of the Household who kept the entrance to the waste clearing in the middle of which stood side by side two giant mellyrn trees stepped aside when they saw him. Then a lady-in-waiting hurried him through the gardens down to a beautiful forest quell that fell over several moss-covered stones into a basin.

It was Galadriel’s favourite place: A stone bench stood a few steps away from where the water quelled up. There she sat clad in white on soft, embroidered cushions. A low table with a silver cup full of fruit, two wine goblets and a crystal decanter stood next to a basket of pretty white and deep blue anemones.

She smiled at his arrival.

The Captain gave a courteous bow, placing his hand over his heart.

‘My Lady, what is your command?’

Galadriel signalled to her lady-in waiting that she could leave. Then she turned to Celeborn’s Captain: ‘Pray, Haldir! Let go these stiff formalities. Come and sit with me for a while.’

He felt even more uneasy than when he had entered the garden: cushions, wine goblets and an invitation to sit were not the common ritual for receiving orders or a mission. Neither was the place Galadriel had chosen! Either you came here, because Celeborn’s Lady was in a festive mood and received guests for food and merrymaking or she had had a vision in her ‘Birdbath of Doom’ and she felt contrived to meddle in your very own private affairs and life!

He did not dare to move even a step forward. Instead, he sank to one knee.

‘My Lady, what is your command?’ he repeated in a low, soft voice. He did not face her but looked to the ground demurely.

Galadriel did not reply.

Haldir suddenly felt a warm, slender hand under his chin, lifting up his face. She still smiled, but there was a hint of sadness in her eyes.

‘Are you so afraid of the Lady of Lothlorien, that you will not do my biding and sit with the one who has tucked you in, while still an elfling?’ He heard her murmuring softly inside his head. ‘Haldir, you serve our people well and you have never failed us in more then four thousand years. On countless occasions, you have risked your life and an eternity in the Lands of Valìnor. Do you really believe it necessary to cling like a drowning elf to useless formalities and rank?’

He held her gaze unblinking. He was not afraid of Galadriel. Not at all! She had told him bedtime stories, sang him to sleep and played with him in the meadows on the shores of Lake Nenuial She had held him in her arms, when he had been upset or sad, and she had given him peace and respite, when Celeborn had forgotten that he was young, and fragile and terribly lost in a new world. And once upon a time, she had placed a tiny little elfling in his arms and told him, that now he had a little sister to protect! But he had not and one day Elrond had taken Celebrian away from her family to Imladris. And while his mind and common sense had told him that this was right and good, his heart sometimes still told him, that he had failed the Lady of the Light.

There had been a time, when she had been simply ‘naneth’, although he had always known that -in fact- she was not!

It was only… she was so bright, so shining, and so terribly beautiful. His heart and soul had been completely devoted to Galadriel since the very moment he had first set his eyes upon her and… he was unable to figure out how he could simply sit down next to her on a bench like an innocent elfling… with Celebrian married to Elrond and a bunch of yrch invading their woods! It had been hardly ten days that they had returned from a long and dangerous hunt after the marauding band which had attacked one of the elven villages on the Eastern border and killed all its inhabitants and while Silraen’s and Celebrian’s arrival from Imladris had considerably lifted his spirits, the images of the smouldering ashes of the broken trees and the lifeless bodies of his kinsfolk still haunted him during his nights.

The Lady of Lorien read the dilemma that troubled her husband’s Captain in his mind and could not but laugh with mirth. She bent down and took both his hands into hers, literally forcing his knees off the ground.

‘Haldir, Haldir! When will you ever grow up? We did celebrate your 500th birthday… you remember? You are no longer an elfling! You did not betray my trust, because two grown up elves could not keep their hands off each other and… it was not your fault, that a bunch of marauding yrch crossed the borders of our lands! Even the best defences are not impenetrable to determined wrongdoers!’

The Captain blushed. ‘T’is nothing about Celebrian or Elrond! That was a long time ago and she is old enough to decide with whom to consort…’ He chuckled softly. ‘I do know, that he is not a deceiver of innocent she-elves! It was her own decision… and with three elflings at hand, I can do nothing more to protect her…’

He allowed Galadriel to lead him over to the bench, where he took his place peacefully by his Lady’s side.

‘Now, this is better, isn’t it?’ she said aloud to him, picking up the decanter and filling the two goblets with red wine.

‘I spoiled your afternoon, didn’t I?’ she began and her eyes sparkled with mischief.

‘You did, indeed!’ the Captain replied reasonably and padded the pocket of his tunic. ‘What in Eru’s name made you send this messenger? Silraen had almost finished with her bunch of unruly ellyth and I have spent a whole morning preparing a nice picnic and a rather reasonable speech to tell her, that Imladris is no place to live in for a clever and beautiful she-elf!’

‘Have you finally?’ Galadriel replied matter-of-fact.

She was used to Haldir’s never-ending courtship of the beautiful healer from Elrond’s Haven and had been waiting for the last five hundred years that the Captain of Lothlorien would finally grow weary of their games and make his lady-love stay in their forest.

Haldir nodded and accepted his goblet of wine: ‘I have! I am rather fed up with chasing Silraen around Imladris every time I want to see her. She belongs here! I am sure she will see the reason of my argument!’

Galadriel chuckled: ‘Bully!’ she replied, knowing that it would take some time to lighten his spirits and to take his mind off the yrch, the transgression of their borders and the destroyed Elvin village that disturbed him so deeply.

She had visited this community of Silvan elves several times, trying to talk them into abandoning their place and moving closer to a place, where Haldir maintained one of the permanent garrisons of his wardens along the fences of Lorien. But they had not felt menaced and explained, that in case of danger they could rely on help from the dwarves of Khazad-Dum, whom they befriended and traded with. Dwarves had indeed come to their assistance when the marauders had attacked, but the Naugrim had been slain together with her elves!

Galadriel patted Haldir’s hand gently, trying to lure his thoughts away from the border incident and the bloody hunt through the mountains. She needed his good, common sense and his memory… and she needed him steadfast and willing to go into a terrible danger!

‘Bully?’ Celeborn’s Captain smiled. ‘I think not, Naneth, I am running after this mischievous sprite since the days of Gil-Galad and Isildur. T’is enough! I am only a normal, average ellon and even my patience has its limits. She knows, that her place is in Lothlorien…’ He lowered his head and took a small sip of wine,’ …if only she would finally admit it!’

Galadriel chuckled. That was much better then his gloomy spirit, when he had stepped into her garden and much better then this terrible feeling of loss and doom she had felt in his soul, since he had returned. She needed Haldir in his combative mood, willing to do something completely foolish and… against his better judgement as Protector of their Realm and Captain of Celeborn.

‘Mithrandir has come to Caras Galadhon,’ she said softly, changing the subject. ‘I believe you know this already from your guards on the Southern Fences.’

Haldir shook his head. He had not cared for the reports from the Southern Fences, nor for those from the North, the East or the West, since he had returned to Caras Galadhon. He had -for once- dared to push away duty and service and think only of his very own future and personal happiness and so, instead of brooding over reports and messages of his wardens, he had picked up Celebrian and Silraen with their company and spent the following days exclusively in pursuit of his lady and his ultimate plan to make her stay in Lothlorien for good.

‘You have an odd feeling about this, haven’t you, Naneth?’ He took a sip and nodded again.

‘As usual, you have a very good instinct, Haldir. And you are right to feel uneasy!’

He lifted his eyes and stared at her. ‘Something very evil is going on, My Lady. I feel great dark and doom looming over us. I cannot define it well. It is not precise or clear… it is just frightening. I felt it all the time, when we hunted that band of marauding yrch into the Misty Mountains.’

‘Indeed, my fair child. It is frightening. What do you know of the Rings of Power?’

Haldir almost dropped his goblet. ‘The Rings of Power?’ He took a deep breath and regained his self-control before he replied.

‘One is at your right hand, My Lady. Nenya, the Ring of Adamant! The other -Narya, the Ring of Fire – was entrusted to Cirdan the Shipwright and the third elven ring, Vilya, the Ring of Water, is in the keeping of the Lord Elrond, since Gil Galad perished on the slopes of Mount Doom.’

Galadriel smiled and padded Haldir’s hand. ‘Correct for the three that Celebrimbor had forged all alone. But what else do you know?’

The Captain took another sip from his goblet. Better drink it than spill it! This was most certainly not a check-up on his knowledge of lore and wisdom in order to see if he merited his rank and position in the realm of Laurelindorean. Moreover, he had a dark feeling of coming doom… and he had always distrusted things that held magic, without having a brain of their own.

His memories of Eregion were still painfully fresh, also more then three thousand years had passed.

‘When the Deceiver invaded Eregion to reclaim by force all the rings he had sought to rule by the forging and wearing of the One, he took the Nine Rings and the lesser works of the Mirdain, but the Seven of the Dwarves and the Three of the Elves he could not find. I remember, that Celebrimbor himself gave a ring to Durin and I assume, that one of the seven is today well kept in the Halls of Khazad-Dum. As for the six others… well: there are altogether seven dwarven nations in Arda and I can only assume that each of them has one ring in their keeping; My Lady!”

‘Indeed!’ Galadriel nodded and turned her own ring of mithril and adamant thoughtfully.

‘And what else, my dear friend! What else do you remember?’

Haldir put his goblet down on the table, before he turned to face Galadriel. He braced himself, taking a deep breath. The language he would speak had never before been heard before in this place, but it was perhaps better to get on and over with it.

‘Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.’

Galadriel shivered. For one short moment her eyes widened in fear. Then she nodded, placed her hand over Haldir’s and said ‘Continue, please!’

‘I remember the weakness of men and the destruction of Númenor! I remember nine ships escaping the Downfall and landing in Middle-earth, carrying Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion. I remember their great realms in Middle-earth, and the men-at-arms they brought to march with us against Sauron… and I remember once more the weakness of men and the moment, when Isildur failed and deceived us all. But he did not keep the One for long, for he was set up by yrch on the banks of the Great River, and the Ring was lost in its depths. And there it lays still, for the last thousand and something years or else it was swept into the abyss of the oceans…!’

Haldir gave a sigh. He felt very shaken, now that he told her what he knew about the rings. It was not a very common knowledge, more something to be found with a select few highly educated lore masters. It was most certainly not the habitual knowledge of a soldier, even one so old as he and who had fought the Deceiver not only once, but three times in his lifetime.

Oh, he knew the history of the Deceiver and the Rings of Power… and much more!

Haldir knew things he would rather forget if he could. He’d gladly rip off his sword arm himself with an unsharpened knife if this would made his childhood memories go away forever… memories that still troubled him in his sleep although millennia had passed since and nightmares that had pushed him to pick up sword and bow while his playmates still lazed in the clear waters of the Lake Nenuial, once upon a time in the fair lands of Hollin.

The sheer terror inside his soul had forced the uniform of a soldier upon his shoulders the first moment Lord Celeborn had been willing to hear his oath of loyalty and service. Whenever Haldir drew his blade or raised his bow to kill, it was also an attempt to kill these memories… memories of why he was proficient in several varieties of Orkish and Goblin dialects and even the Black Speech… reminiscences of many hidden underground chambers and vaults far beneath the earth, prison cells and pits filled with creatures of the abyss, faceless and subdued slaves, elves and dwarves and men, dragging along without hope and often simply giving up and willing themselves to death, a dour and barren land surrounded by mighty towers of ash and slag raised above gates of iron and steel… recollections of wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, Angband, the Hell of Iron, the fortress of Sauron, north of Beleriand and built by his master Morgoth to guard against any possible attack of the Valar from Aman!

Sometimes, when he was particularly tired and worn out a flash would appear before his inner eye. He could neither close nor blind this eye: the steel gate of the Towers, the causeway that ran out into the plain of Dor Daedeloth, the Land of the Shadow of Dread. It had been there that the yrch and other creatures of Morgoth lived and bred.

Eight short years, the first years of his life… Nana had told him, that his mother gave her last breath the moment he breathed his first breath deep under the earth in one of Sauron’s forsaken prison cells. She had known his father’s faith, too, but he had never been able to coax a reply from her. It had taken the human female altogether eight years to find a pass way out of the dreadful Hell of Iron, griming his face with dirt and hiding his Elvin ears under untidy, unkempt dangling hair… so that none of the Deceiver’s servants would realize that she kept an elfin child with her… Nana dragging him through the Iron Mountains, and finally over a plateau that connected them with the Blue Mountains Ered Luin… hiding at night and running under the blazing sun or in the icy rain and snow, while the orcs and other creatures of Sauron were handicapped… hunger, cold, despair… Nana hiding with him in a dark cavern, somewhere on the slopes of Ered Luin… Nana promising him that she would bring him out of the desperate wilderness and back to his Elven kin… some short months of bliss and security in a tiny settlement of farmers somewhere close to the borders of the fair land of Eregion… and the night, when they came… yrch, yrch and a nameless and faceless terror!

Tears welled up in Haldir’s eyes. He sat in the middle of the Golden Wood on a bench and close to the Lady of the Light and nevertheless he could see him as clearly as he had seen him then… all clad in black shrouds, iron gauntlets and a ring of iron on his head, his face hidden behind a black veil of horror. Sauron himself! He had seen the Deceiver with his own eyes and still lived to tell the tale.

He started to tremble, unable to control himself any longer. Tears streamed over his cheeks. Nana had given her life to save his during that night of terror! He had failed to protect her.

He still felt the cold and terror that surrounded the Deceiver on his dreadful, black steed, neither horse nor dragon… a kind of worm with stinking breath and long fangs, like blades that shone yellow under the light of a full moon.

Haldir dropped his head on his knees. He spilled all those tears that he had kept at bay for millennia, millennia when he had hidden away his memories from Celeborn and Galadriel, from Orophin the Lorien Warden who had found him and later on become his comrade and friend, from Orophin’s gentle brother Rumil and his wife Anysse, where he had spent so many childhood days of bliss, while Galadriel and Celeborn visited their friend King Amdir of Lothlorien, from his playmates Elrond and Elros, when they were in Lindon and even from Silraen, whom he had loved for ages… pretending that everything was right and well, memories he had held in such a tight check that his blade and bow had become his only form of release. He was always most at peace in the midst of battle with blood dripping from his sword. He was neither particularly brave nor terribly courageous… his peace of mind simply depended upon the quantity of yrch and dark creatures he could slay!

And if there were no yrch at hand, he would do with whatever else… brigands, marauders, way layers and bandits were able to quell his blood thirst for a while. On occasions when he ran short of these, he’d request leave to go for wargs or wolves. Everything that reminded him of those first ten dark summers of his childhood…

He felt Galadriel’s gentle embrace. Her hand stroked his long, golden hair soothingly and she whispered soft words into his ear. ‘Let it go, Haldir! Let it go!’

She had known for ages what tormented him, but she had also understood that there was no good in forcing it out of him. His intellect had always known that he was not to blame for the death of his old nurse Nana. No unarmed elfling can stand up to dozens of yrch or the great Deceiver!

But this was no matter of logic. Never had been. And since Haldir had a constant reminder of this past in the form of a long and ugly scar over his left shoulder blade, it was even harder for him to make peace with events that had happened and could never be changed, even if millennia had past ever since.

When Haldir had no more tears left, they sat together in silence for a long while, Galadriel wrapping her slender arms protectively around his strong frame. There was one last question he had to answer, before she could explain to him Mithrandir’s biding. It was of the utmost importance that he found the courage to speak out the words aloud.

He would be no use to their cause obsessed by the phantoms of his early childhood! He would only sacrifice his life needlessly in a vain attempt to erase memories instead of coping with them and accepting them as part of himself. She pushed him gently away and forced him back into eye contact.

‘Haldir, why did you never open yourself to Silraen?’

She knew the answer, but he had to say it aloud and to hear it.

He brushed his tears away with his sleeve, looking at her thoughtfully.

It was strange. When he had spoken about the Rings, Sauron, Angband, the yrch, the death of Nana and all the rest it had been extremely painful… as if someone tried to skin or burn him alive. But now that the words were said he felt… somehow relieved.

It was like a closure, an end. He was a bit raw and aching, but a silent voice in his chest told him that the next time he’d curl up for sleep there would be no more nightmares to haunt him. As if saying it aloud had chased the terror that was hidden away in his heart and mind for so long. He straightened his shoulders.

‘I remember my mother’s death, Naneth! It is curious, for I was just born, but I do remember the moment, my mother died… but I cannot remember her face. Each and every time I tried to tell Silraen, I saw my mother dead before me… only it was Silraen’s face on the ground, lifeless, her eyes wide open, staring without seeing anymore… I was convinced that it would come true if ever I told her about my childhood and my mother’s death in the dungeons of Angband.’

His voice was firm again, his hands no longer shaking. Warmth had returned to his body and for the first time in his long life he felt truly free.

Chapter 3 The Mystery of the Misty Mountains

Olorin smiled. He had not wished first to go to Arda to vie with Sauron, but somehow the idea of having Artanis, the Man-Maid and granddaughter of Finwe and Olwe as his chief partner-in-crime had made his departure from the Undying Lands more pleasant.

Already when he had known her young and ambitious and radiant in Valinor, she had been the sprite. But now, after many trials and errors in the lands of Arda, she seemed even more mischievous and lively. He had always loved her dearly and he had regretted her leaving of the Undying Lands in such a brawl with his mighty masters. But she had been and still was the most independent-minded free-bird he had ever known.

He pushed his fist into his mouth not to chuckle aloud and betray his presence in her secret garden. It was very entertaining to observe her careful taunting of that straight-laced and honourable warrior, who seemed to be willing to carry all the burdens of Arda on his broad shoulders, if this would be his Lady’s command.

Olorin tried to remember his mother and father… a couple of rather simple Silvan elves, who had had the bad idea to cross the wrong borders at the wrong moment to find themselves entangled in the web of Sauron’s dark creatures. They had hardly spent a century in the Halls of Waiting before Namo saw it fit to release them to the peace and beauty of Valinor. Not even the pits of Angband had made them have a cause with their destiny!

But their son seemed to be a rather more complicate species of the Elven kind. He was clever and hardy and he had not lost his heart and soul in the millennia of struggle and strife against the darkness of Morgoth. But he also had a strange and rather powerful brand of Elvish magic, which was not very common in those who had not seen the light of the Trees… and he seemed to be pretty much aware of the mischief of Sauron, since he had taken the fair form of Annatar to deceive Celebrimbor and the elven smiths of Eregion. Rather uncommon with a soldier, even if that soldier was the highest-ranking warden of Lothlorien!

Olorin listened carefully to the ongoing discussion between Artanis and the brave captain of this Sindar prince from Doriath… Teleporno, or Celeborn, as he preferred to be called.

Thinking back to Valinor, the Istar had never ever thought that the Man-Maid Nerwen from the House of Finwe would be able to give her heart to some simple Moriquendi, whose only attributes in life were a certain amount of common sense and a rather sharp blade, when it came to trouble and strife. But he obviously completed Artanis and he had made her less wild and more… compassionate with lesser beings.

Olorin watched Celeborn’s Captain with great curiosity: He looked solid like a rock, with his broad shoulders and strong frame and he seemed to have a mind to match his body. Normally an average elf, who’d been born under such terrible circumstances and spend his first years of life in such precarity and danger would have gone straight for the Havens and taken the first ship to the Undying Lands. But this one had seen the Fall of Doriath, the War of Wrath, the Sundering of Beleriand, the destruction of Eregion, the War of the Last Alliance and Eru knows what else in his long life and he was still in Arda… and rather bellicose, when it came to the dark remainders of Sauron’s rule. He had seen the same drive in that half-elven Lord of Imladris, Elrond – also that one appeared to be a bit more settled down and less on the edge of his blade. Elrond had spoken well of Celeborn’s Captain! Likewise minds recognize each other!

A broad grin gave Olorin, whose earthly form was that of an aged, frail, grey-haired and grey bearded human male, a rather roughish appearance. There was still another small test to pass, but he felt confident that Artanis could manipulate this honourable warrior into his perfectly foolish plan. Celeborn’s Captain seemed exactly the right travel companion for this little quest… perhaps not an excessively willing companion and most certainly not one with a very nice temper, but… exactly the elf he needed!


Haldir’s eyes met those of Galadriel. He felt terribly awkward. It was not his character to cry on a motherly shoulder.

The Lady of the Golden Wood tucked a strand of his golden hair gently behind his ear. ‘You must never think that it is a sign of weakness to cry, fair child! Memories can break you, Haldir… For how long did you try to hunt down your demons by the sword?’

Celeborn’s Captain shook his head. He had lost the count of his years of service already a long time ago.

‘Would you like me to tell you?’ Galadriel asked with a sad smile.

Haldir shook his head.

‘How often have you been seriously wounded, my fair child? I do not speak of an occasional spent arrow or a slash from a blade… I speak about those times, when you were but a step from the gates to the Halls of Mandos?’

He shrugged his shoulders. He had lost count of this, too. ‘Well,’ he replied wryly, ‘I presume often enough to have you mention it, Naneth.’

Then he looked up straight into her eyes. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to tell me straightforward what this is all about?’ He had spoken respectfully, notwithstanding the brashness of his words. ‘Basically our discussion began with you telling me that Mithrandir has come to our lands and although I admit that I like the old wizard rather well, he is a bit of a troublemaker and never comes on friendly visits without a cause!’

‘My dear Haldir, this is all about a very touchy subject… very touchy indeed!’ She gave him a hard look. ‘Mithrandir came indeed into Lothlorién in order to ask for our help. He wants me to give him our best soldier for an undetermined duration of time in order to send him straight into harm’s way…’

‘What?’ The Captain was surprised. ‘Mithrandir – so much he knew – had come from Valinor some centuries ago, arriving with a brace of other elderly men in Cirdan’s Haven. He had suspected that Mithrandir and the other four were elves or some kind of elvish folk, perhaps special envoys of Ingwe, the leader of the Vanyar and High King of all Eldar, who resided in Taniquetil, ruling their kindred from beneath Manwe, the High King of Arda, and that they had gone into Arda on business of his.

‘What would such a gentle and kind-natured trickster and meddler in the affairs of elves need a soldier for, My Lady? Has he lost some ancient scrolls in Elrond’s library or has his favourite white steed gone astray somewhere in the remnants of Elendil’s old kingdom?’

‘Haldir!’ Galadriel chuckled, ‘Be serious! This is no laughing matter!’

Olorin chuckled softly in his place of hiding. Celeborn’s Captain had a kind of humour, notwithstanding Elrond’s warnings about Haldir’s excessive seriousness and extreme sense of duty.

Very few of Middle-earth’s inhabitants knew who they really were; they did not share their identities and purposes except with a selected few like Galadriel or Cirdan of Mithlond. Most thought they were just Elves or some kind of Wise Men and during the last centuries they had attracted but few questions due to their gentle nature and dislike of direct interference with other people’s internal affairs and policies.

They were meant to not use their natural power as Maiar in fighting Sauron, but to use their great wisdom to persuade Elves and Men of Middle-earth to take the course of action which would achieve their own goals, rather than trying to dominate them with their own.

Olorin had the curious feeling that besides that half-elven Elrond, who had a particularly bright mind and perceptiveness beyond average and to whom he would be obliged to reveal himself sometime soon, there would be probably another elf suspicious enough to see behind his grey-haired and fragile human ‘mask’. Artanis had been pushed into a rather tight corner – to his great surprise. Now the Man-Maid was obliged to give some answers before she could reveal to this soldier what was expected of him!


Haldir rose to his full height looking down at the Lady of the Wood. ‘Naneth, either you now tell me straightforward about this touchy subject and get over with it, or I will drag you from your garden and back to that picnic basket I left with Silraen and you can accompany us for some lunch in the forest! First you send me a most formal messenger, commanding the Captain of Lothlorien to report immediately to you. Then you try to get me into a good mood with questions about my love life and finally you make me pass a test of knowledge concerning the Rings of Power and the great Deceiver… and all this just to tell me that some elderly wizard with a rather curious taste in scrolls, meddling and ambiguous talk has decided to pay a visit to this realm, because he needs some travel companion with soldierly competences. If it would have been only this, why did he not take Elladan and Elrohir? They are quite capable wielding a sword or using a bow, have a rather developed taste for adventures and troublemaking and are hardly overburdened with duties in their father’s realm… and they have much more easy-going tempers then I have…!’

‘Sit, Haldir!’ Galadriel padded the cushion next to hers. There was mischief in her eyes. She had not expected this discussion to be so difficult!

She was pretty much aware of his quick mind and powers of deduction and she had known him long enough to be aware of his natural suspiciousness. She had had no doubts that yrch transgressing the protective powers of Nenya would give him goosebumps, but she had not expected to be obliged to reveal more then necessary to him.

Although Celeborn had always loved his foster-son dearly, he had never been a tremendously cuddly foster-father. From the very moment Haldir had overcome his exhaustion and wound after Orophin had found him and given him into her husband’s keeping in Eregion, Celeborn – completely unfamiliar with elflings and their needs, but already keen for a long time to have a son – had taken Haldir’s education into his very own hands and moulded the young one into a perfect little warrior, giving him bow and arrow and a little sword as playthings, putting him on the back of some small pony for ‘recreation’ and teaching him discipline and obedience. In the world of Celeborn of Doriath there had never been much time for light-hearted distraction and merrymaking! When she had returned from her lengthy visit of Amdir’s realm it had almost been to late to interfere and Haldir had been so attached to her husband, that she had simply let it be, only meddling in their ‘affairs’, when she felt that Celeborn truly went too far with someone so young and fragile.

Until this very afternoon she had never truly measured the influence of her dear husband upon her foster-son! She had been convinced that discipline and obedience, which were second nature to the Captain, would prevail once again over his qick mind and lively spirit!

‘Sit!’ she repeated and Haldir obeyed, as expected. ‘Now, what do you want to know, before we get down to the issue?’

‘You tell me what Mithrandir is hiding under his pointy hat!’ Haldir replied rather reasonably. He had a strange kind of gut feeling, that he would not like the answer very much.

‘Some time ago our friend wandered through the forestlands of King Thranduil and came across a strange rumour. Rumour is perhaps even too strong a word… it was more like lore, a story you tell children at night to frighten them. It was the story of a shadow that has befallen the Amon Lanc. When he went to Thranduil’s capital to see for himself, he came across our kin in a very depressed mood. Many were talking about moving away from the Amon Lanc and further northward and even cousin Thranduil seemed no longer in his right spirit and was thinking of giving up the place, calling his home no longer by its name but simply saying that their place had fallen under the spell of the deadly nightshade.’

The Captain nodded. He had heard of this rumour some time ago from wardens of Thranduil, whom he befriended. And while chasing the marauding yrch they had taken a shortcut on the Old Forest Road where he and his wardens had all had a very nasty feeling that only lifted after crossing behind the rain shadow of the Misty Mountains.

When he thought of it properly: They had not been chasing those yrch into that direction. It was, as if… the creatures had been on the run to a very specific place they considered a safe haven!

‘Why did Mithrandir not ask Thranduil for help?’ Haldir asked Galadriel.

It was rather curious to get yourself some assistance from Lothlorien, when the issue was with the Great Greenwood, more so when Thranduil was not known for his particular fondness of other elves meddling in his internal affairs and least of all, when that other elf was Galadriel, the Lady of Lorien!

‘Thranduil seemed not in his right mind!’ Galadriel murmured softly. ‘…as if he was fading… as if all his folks on and around the Amon Lanc were fading! He would not hearken to Mithrandir’s plea for help, saying that he needed all his wardens to see to the safety of his people and determine what was going on!’

‘I suppose that our friend Mithrandir has already an idea, My Lady!’ Haldir gave a deep sigh, ‘…or else he would not ask for me to help him. He needs someone who understands those yrch and goblin, when they babble between themselves?’

The Lady shook her head. ‘No, fair child! He needs someone with memories of the past. He needs your memories of a particular night and of a very peculiar presence. Although he is very wise and knowledgeable, he fears that he may not be able to see clearly in this specific case.’

Haldir paled. ‘No!’ he whispered softly. ‘This is impossible! This cannot be! Naneth, I saw it with my own eyes, Celeborn has seen it and Elrond and I do not know how many other survivors of that battle. He is no more, he was destroyed!’

Galadriel smiled. ‘Perhaps!’ she replied simply, ‘But the One Ring was not destroyed, only lost.’

‘It could be one of the Nine, My Lady, a shadow of evil and malice whose un-dead existence is bound to the One Ring. Their arsenal of deadly armaments was not confined to physical weapons only, they were surrounded by an aura of terror, which affected all but the most powerful living creatures and their breath was poisonous. Their cries caused terror and despair and their Lord, the Black Easterling, was most notorious for his practice of black sorcery!’

The Lady nodded. ‘It could be, Haldir! And this would be already bad enough, if one of the Nine tried to sneak into the Great Greenwood or Lothlorien to bring despair and fear to elvenkind. Will you go with Mithrandir in order to find out what is happening? Will you lend him your memories and your sword?’

Celeborn’s Captain simply nodded. ‘If this is your bidding, My Lady, then I must go with him. Alas, I have the feeling that it is utter madness and it would be better if old Mithrandir stayed safely in Lorien and let me search after this rumour with a company of stout and battle-hardened wardens!’

‘He insists!’

‘So be it!’


Olorin gave a satisfied grin. He had obtained what he wanted and all the better, if Celeborn’s Captain believed him still to be just a wise, elderly man with some curious knowledge of lore and magic. This would make their quest most certainly much more enjoyable… even if he feared that their final discovery would not give great reason for merrymaking!

Chapter 4 Celebrian’s Premonitions

Celebrian strolled down the path to the herbal gardens of Lothlorien. She felt relaxed, having shared a cosy lunch with a bunch of childhood friends and very much at ease, since all her habitual duties and obligations including her beloved but nevertheless rather demanding husband Elrond had been left behind in Imladris.

From time to time it did her a world of good to leave behind the turbulent Haven, where hospitality was freely given to elves, men and dwarves. Elrond did not only keep an excessively open house, but also an open table and it was expected that she would preside with her spouse over all the meals, which habitually were followed by lengthy social gatherings in the Hall of Fire or merrymaking in their extensive gardens.

Although she thoroughly enjoyed company and meeting new faces, it became occasionally very stressful to be always there for others and hardly have a private life of your own. Then she retreated for a while to her childhood home of Lothlorien and her undemanding family, who allowed her to pursue her own interests and never imposed upon her time.

When Silraen had answered a call for assistance from Anysse the Herb Mistress of Lorien, which was probably nothing less then a hidden plea from her foster-brother, who yearned for his lady-love and tried to hide this yearning behind some silly excuse, that was more then transparent to all those who knew about this rather amusing never-ending courtship, Celebrian had decided on the spot to bid Elrond good bye, discourage her merry brood of three to spoil the fun by joining themselves to the journey and picked up her ever-ready travel bag to accompany her husband’s apothecary.

She chuckled softly: Elrond would be mad with rage, when Haldir finally won his day and made Silraen stay with him in Lorien. She smiled at the image of a dark-haired elven lord whose natural colours were enhanced by bright red cheeks and some swelling veins on his temples. These – she had decided long ago – were definitively neither elven nor Maia heritage but pure and simple human, for Elrond was the one and only specimen of their kind she had ever seen with such special features.

It was always very funny when he threw one of his fits of temper, which were so much in contradiction with his habitual settled and calm appearance. She had some kind of a gut-feeling that the time for her husband’s great show would come very soon: Over the last few days she had observed the apothecary and her foster-brother with great amusement. He was chasing her like a hardly grown elfling and she was running from him like a frightened hare, but they ended up always together and then would disappear for hours in the depths of the forest only to return dishevelled and with slightly un-orderly garb.

She also knew that Orophin had been secretly stocking up his impressive wine cellar with some nice bottles from Dorwinion and her father – although hardly fond of the Naugrim – had sent an elf of confidence to Khazad-Dum with a small pouch full of the most wonderful moonstones she had ever seen. She had tried to nag Celeborn, but he was inhabitually tight-lipped and had only waved away her questions with some non-committal remarks about the fine weather and how sad it was that Arwen had not found the time to accompany her to Lorien.

When she finally arrived in the Herb Garden, she found it desperately empty of Anysse’s girls, as she had expected. So once again, Haldir had won in their little game and mischievously dragged Silraen from her work!

She let her eyes wander over the place lazily and already prepared to return to Caras Galadhon and her friends, when she suddenly realized, that the garden was not altogether empty: Silraen almost perfectly blended in with the environment. Between the dark green dress, her dark hair and the spot of grass on which she sat, she would have been invisible if it were not for the pale blue and white cloth on her lap. Elrond’s apothecary sat like a statue under a blooming elder tree, staring at a wicker basket and looking entirely lost.

Celebrian felt a sudden rush of anger: Her thoughtless bully of a foster-brother had probably messed it up once more, forgetting their daily rendezvous over some boring report from his fences or the complaints of one of his obnoxious wardens concerning their working shifts.

Ever since she had known Haldir, he had been a terrible spoil-sport! At a glimpse of her father’s eye he would abandon whatever he did, bow and run back to his duty like possessed! She loved him dearly, but he had always been the greatest bore in their family, only outmatched by Celeborn himself. And Adar did not count, for he was rather unique; he had been born a spoil-sport!

Celebrian gathered her skirt and accelerated. She had to find out what that great bully had done to poor Silraen. Already after her foster-brother’s last visit to Imladris, the apothecary had been in a foul mood for weeks… Silraen the gay sprite had been brooding for days on end over some completely useless herb lore from the long-lost realm of Elendil, which was so full of faults that Elrond seemed to keep it only for matters of completeness in his library!

She snorted and took a small stone wall like a racing horse, carelessly stomping on several innocent seedlings that asked nothing of elvenkind and only wanted to grow in peace. Haldir would get a piece of her sisterly mind if her suspicions were confirmed. Why couldn’t he simply get down to his knees and ask Silraen to be his till time would end! They were made for each other! Everybody knew it. Even her father, who was not the most perceptive ellon in the lands of Arda!

Celebrian’s run came to an impromptu halt, when Silraen stood up and put the cotton cloth back over the forsaken wicker basket.

‘Would you care for some strawberries and almond cake?’ the desperate elleth asked in a voice that proved that her foster-brother was nothing but a little monster with a curved blade and a heart made of stone.

‘Dear! What did he do this time? What did my awful brother do to you?’ Celebrian gathered her breath and took both Silraen’s arms in a fierce deadlock.

The apothecary looked at her master’s spouse with surprise. Something or someone had deeply upset the Lady of Rivendell. She had come down to the gardens in a run, as if all the minions of Sauron were at her heels.

‘Celebrian! My Lady! What happened? Has someone been disrespectful with you? Did this nasty sprite Orophin pull one of his horrible tricks?’

Silraen had been so absorbed by her thoughts of Haldir and his sudden disappearance together with the soldier and had been pondering what could have befallen the realm of Lorien to make the Lord or the Lady interrupt their afternoon in such a manner, that she had not even listened to Celebrian’s outbreak.

When they had entered these lands together, everything had been as usual… even the Captain’s mischievous grin on the borders. It had been an established tradition for ages that the Lord Celeborn would leave his Captain alone, while she dwelled in Lorien. Everybody seemed to find entertainment in their never-ending courtship and nobody interfered. Some – she had heard – were even placing bets on when the Captain of the Galadhrim would finally win over Lord Elrond’s apothecary. Although their kin could be terribly serious and to the point when need arose, they were – first and foremost – sprite and children of the light!

‘What did my brother do to you this time?’ Celebrian took a deep breath, lifted the cotton cloth and picked a blood-red strawberry to calm her emotions.

‘He left with a messenger, My Lady!’ Silraen replied matter-of-factly, picking the two goblets and the wine bottle and serving Celebrian and herself a good shot of nice red Dorwinion.

‘He came and after a while a messenger came and then he went away without a word, leaving me with our lunch and no explanation. I do not think he meant any harm, Celebrian. It was just pretty strange and I had a very bad feeling about this messenger and Haldir.’

Celebrian gathered her skirts and glad down into the soft grass. Although lunch had been rather generous, she looked with yearning in her eyes on the almond cake. Haldir was a bore, but he had a hand for cakes and tasty morsels! Wonder, if you need to feed that solid carcass of his; she doubted that he lived on spring water and lembas only.

Silraen sat down beside the Lady of Rivendell and took herself a tasty fresh strawberry. They were truly delicious. Once upon a time and when she had been in a fay mood, she had told Haldir that if not for his good character and pleasant being, she’d be rather capable to live with him just for his skills as a cook.

She bit the strawberry and smiled: These First-Age ellons seemed all to be quite capable to look after themselves and take care of a homely talan! If there were more of them left, every reasonable elleth in Arda would try to get hold of one of them and bind them with chains of iron! Clean houses, washed and mended cloths, good food on your table and… no complaints or remarks, when you followed your own tastes and destiny. Compared to their younger brethren, who had not lived through the dark years, they were quite the catch.

‘I believe that Haldir had a very good reason to disappear without a word,’ she told Celebrian demurely. ‘He’s the most considerate ellon, I have ever met, you know.’

Celebrian broke off another piece of cake and took a healthy bit. Haldir was most certainly a bore, but Elrond’s cooks could always take a lesson with him on making delicious cakes! ‘My brother considerate! Silraen, please. He is not. He is obsessed with his job, obsessed with Lorien and obsessed with each and every whim of my father. They are monsters! Have you ever seen Elrond being considerate… or Glorfindel… or Erestor? They are all mad.’

Silraen chuckled and her gloomy mood lifted considerably. Celebrian had a dry sense of humour and when it came to making an audience bark with laughter, you could always count on her. She had always loved the spouse of Elrond, for she was clever, easy-going and unpretentious… and most of all, she had her heart in the right place. She had never understood how some of the guests of Elrond’s heaven could believe that Celebrian was just a spoiled and hare-brained elleth with noble origins and pretty clothes. She grinned.

‘They are all mad, My Lady. You are right. And I presume that I must make Haldir pay for this ‘insult’, even if it is definitively no fault of his…’

‘You must, dear! What was this Manish saying? Beat your wife at least once a day! If you do not know why, she most certainly will! I believe there is some wisdom in these words and… my brother enjoys it, when you are mad at him.’

The Lady of Rivendell took another bite of the cake and another sip of the fine Dorwinion. ‘Alas, I doubt it is really his fault: You said, a messenger arrived! Naneth would never spoil your free time with him without a pretty good reason. She’s the first who’d like nothing better then my stiff-necked brother finally settled with a clever and good-natured elleth. There is something going on in this realm, Silraen. And I am convinced, that you and I must find out.’ Celebrian looked at the diminished bottle of Dorwinion and the empty wicker basket. ‘And since we have finished this nice lunch, I believe that you and I should embark upon a quest. As I see, your students are gone and nobody is waiting for you. Come! Put aside your grief and follow me into the heart of Elvendom on Earth. We shall inquire with my very best sources and we shall be much the wiser when the day ends.’

Silraen pushed some stray crumps of cake from her robes and covered the empty basket with its cotton cloth: Celebrian was right! Someone was hiding something from them. Only determined action and a thorough enquiry with trustworthy sources would shed light on the mystery. And with the wine bottle empty, her afternoon free and Haldir nowhere in sight, what else could she do than follow her Lady’s bidding?

‘You are right, Celebrian!’ She replied with determination. ‘T’is pretty strange and… I do not like this. We will find out together.’

Slightly inebriate, but in a wonderful mood, the two ellith left the herbals gardens of Lorien on their quest for truth and answers.

Chapter 5 Celeborn’s Suspicions

The Lord of Lorien gave a thoughtful look to the reports on his desk. With Silraen in Lothlorien, he had taken it upon himself to see to the defences of his realm and give his Captain some well-merited days of respite. He could not say that managing the wardens was his favourite pastime and that he relished sending out orders to the Galadhrim posted along their borders, but he understood that occasionally it was necessary to let Haldir off the hook and allow him to pursue his own interests.

He sighed deeply. Hopefully they would finally end their never-ending game of hide and seek and Haldir would convince Lord Elrond’s apothecary that Lothlorien was a pretty good place to live and work in.

He liked the elleth: she was good-natured and easy-going, had a bright mind and was pleasant company. And she completed his foster-son and brought a healthy lively twinkle into his usually serious eyes. He had been encouraging Haldir for ages to ask her the decisive question and make her his, but the younger elf -a lthough obviously more than taken with Elrond’s apothecary and deeply in love – had been hesitating. At first sight and to those who did not know Haldir inside out, as he did, the endless courtship may have appeared like a distraction of two sprites, who took great pleasure from a nice little game, taking their time to heighten the suspense for the onlookers. But he knew better: his foster-son was not unwilling to commit himself for selfish reasons! He was simply afraid, that his chosen soldierly profession and the lengthy absences from home would after some time discourage Silraen.

Celeborn stood up, stretched his aching back and went over to the window of his library. He smiled; there had been a time in his long life, when he had known similar fears. Long ago in Doriath, when he had courted a free spirit whom he had named Galadriel, for her golden hair and the gleaming light that hovered over her, he had been convinced that she would be discouraged by his absences on duty for his uncle Elu Thingol!

He had been so wrong. In the end it had been him who had been discouraged, while Galadriel roamed all over Arda in pursuit of her own ambitions and seeking after her own destiny. He had been discouraged but never upset and from time to time, he had even found it entertaining, when the Man-Maiden from the house of Finwe, clad in white and on first sight as fragile as a rose had shown her strength to those who believed themselves to be mighty and powerful.

Celeborn had no regrets about his choice and the elleth, with whom he had shared the last five millennia… apart perhaps from one. And this sole regret was his foster-son and the difficult path in life the younger elf had chosen. He would have been gentler with Haldir, if she had been at his side, more considerate and less rough. He would have understood that destiny had entrusted him with a fragile young creature that needed his love and attention and not his knowledge as a warrior and statesman.

If Galadriel had been with him in Eregion, when he decided to simply keep the elfling that her messenger had found in the wilderness, Haldir would have had an easier childhood, less demanding and less stressful.

Even today, after more then four millennia had passed, he still felt slightly guilty when he looked at his foster-son. He had raised the perfect warrior; devoted to his oath of service and duty, never amiss, always there for those in need and always ready to put himself into harm’s way for the greater good. Instead of toys, he had presented his elfling with a little bow and arrows, and instead of running with him in the meadows, he had taught him how to wield a sword. And he had allowed him to grow up before his time, and to go where no youthful elf should go, and to do what no youth should do. He had always loved Haldir dearly, but he had never been able to show this love in simple terms of tender affection. He had never been able to put an arm around his foster-son’s shoulder and give him some basic fatherly advice.

Celeborn shook his head. It had been so different with their daughter Celebrian! He had not repeated his earlier mistakes.

Giving a short glance to the sun over the forest, he decided to finish his working day early and make some amends. He’d hunt down Haldir and give him that long overdue bout of fatherly advice… at least concerning elleth… and he’d tell him, that it was possible to be the Captain of the Wardens of this realm and have a life of his own!

It was – he felt it deep in his heart – not too late. And Silraen would make a fine addition to their family.

Determined and full of good intentions, Celeborn left his office and decended into the streets of Caras Galadhon. He had ordered a pretty moonstone necklace as wedding gift from the Naugrim of Khazad-Dum and his messenger had returned from the dwarven halls with a promise that everything would be ready for Midsummer Night. Galadriel was very much occupied with that old fellow Mithrandir, who had entered his realm on eagle’s wings a couple of days ago and would not mess up his project. All he had to do, was to find his Captain and talk some sense into the stubborn ellon.

Haldir had been wandering aimlessly through the streets of Caras Galadhon for a while. When Galadriel had dismissed him from her private gardens, he had first intended to return to Silraen and his actual plans of the day. But somehow he felt too tense to impose himself upon an innocent elleth in a good mood and determined to spend a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine.

He knew himself all too well to take the road down to the herbal gardens. What Galadriel asked of him, did not please him at all, but he understood, that it was his duty to do the Lady’s biding and therfore he would accompany that foolhardy wizard on his mad quest.

It was possible that a Ringwraith had found his way into the Great Greenwood, but he believed that it was a complete insult to Thranduil and his Silvan folk, if Lothlorien started to mess around in their affairs. Had it not been for Galadriel, he would have send a messenger to his Greenwood counterpart, advising Thirion that something curious was going on at their borders and then let it be… until the Greenwood Wardens would have made up their minds whether or not some support from Lorien was welcome.

He did not appreciate when outsiders started to mess up his own business or teach him lessons on what to to on his fences! Although he could abide with a good piece of advice or two from Elrond’s Captain Glorfindel for family reasons, he knew exactly how he would react to Thranduil personally messing around in Lorien! Not that he had any cause with the son of Oropher. They even got along very well, compared to the rotten relations between the King and his Lady Galadriel, but nonetheless: Lorien was Lorien and Greenwood was Greeenwood and… no matter what odd feelings some elderly wizard harboured or how strange a bunch of marauding yrch behaved.

Haldir gave a short glance to the sun that was peeping through the Mallorn leaves and decided to take his bad mood straight to the ‘Blooming Appletree’, the favourite haunt of the Lorien Wardens, where warm meals were served at all times of the day and a good pint of Naugrim ale was readily available.

No matter what Galadriel had asked of him and what this dotty wizard wanted to explore, the best thing to appease his mind and get things straight were food and a drink. And then he would find Silraen and make his excuses for his abominable behaviour!

Celeborn had been roaming all over Caras Galadhon without finding even a hint of his foster son. Exhausted and thirsty he decided to stop at the wardens’ tavern and get himself a mug of ale and some sustenance. He was rather confident that one of Haldir’s soldiers would know where the Captain was.

He settled down on a free bench, greeting some of his guards and signalling to the maid that he’d need something substantial. This was the only part of his job as nominal commander-in-chief of Lorien’s impressive forces that he truly enjoyed: sharing a mug and a plate with the wardens! Since the disaster of Mount Doom he was completely disgusted with everything war and he had gladly pushed the safety and security of his realm and his sword into Haldir’s capable hands.

The maid gave him a broad smile and signalled that she had understood his needs. Only moments later a tasty stew and a huge mug appeared in front of the lord and he thanked his salvaging angel. It was not the most exclusive kitchen in Elvendom, but the ‘Blooming Appletree’ always served a good, hearty meal. Celeborn decided to simply sit it out and tuck in in the meantime. The stew was wonderful!

Chapter 6 The Captain’s Confession

When Haldir finally reached the tavern, he saw to his great surprise that Celeborn, instead of doing his job and taking care of Lothlorien’s security, had decided for a late lunch… or rather an early evening meal.

Knowing the Lord’s profound dislike with the habitual administrative drudgeries of a large force of men-at-arms, the Captain felt a quick bout of culpability: Already twice this year… no, in fact three times, if he included Silraen’s ongoing visit to the forest realm, poor Celeborn had been obliged to do his job! And all this terrible inconvenience only because he – a grown ellon of almost five thousand years of age – was incapable of asking a grown elleth of about four and a half thousand years of age, if she could imagine to share his life and talan for good.

He decided to go over to his foster-father, drink a mug of ale with him and make some amends, telling the elder elf, that he had finally decided to make his pledge to Silrean and ask her in marriage. Haldir frowned: his beautiful sprite would not be terribly enchanted, when she would learn immediately after his pledge that before they could make things happen and bind, he’d have to leave her for an undetermined duration of time.

No! He hesitated for a moment, before he continued on his way to Celeborn’s table. He’d first tell her about Galadriel’s orders and then ask her! It was only fair play to give her the choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘nay’ in full knowledge of the cause. It would be bad taste to first lure her and then instantly deceive her! Haldir gave the maid of the ‘Blooming Apple a signal, that he’d take the same as his lord, then sat down in front of his foster-father.

‘How’s going, Adar?’ he asked. There was a hint of guilt in his voice.

Celeborn put down his spoon and smiled. ‘Just the elf I was looking for. I’ve turned Caras Galadhon upside down to find you, son. But you had disappeared from the surface of Arda and I decided to wait here and sit it out with this nice stew and some ale. You want some?’

‘I already told the maid to bring me lunch,’ Haldir replied good-naturedly. ‘You are kept busy by my wardens?’

Celeborn made a dismissive sign with his hand. ‘T’is nothing, son. Just some reports from the fences, some wardens who try to negotiate their schedules, and an unannounced visitor to the realm. Do not worry and enjoy your free time.’

The maid placed a steaming bowl and a huge, ice-cold mug in front of the Captain of the Galadhrim.

Haldir gave her a smile and pulled some coins from his pocket. ‘You get another mug for my adar and the bill is on me tonight. What’s on for dessert?’

The maid pulled a small piece of parchment. ‘I still have apple cake, but you must decide immediately if you want some, and there is blackberry pie and fresh strawberries left.’

Haldir gave Celeborn an encouraging look.

‘The cake, son,’ the Lord of Lothlorien replied matter-of-factly, ‘and if the bill’s on you, I’ll take a sip of apple brandy right away with the dessert.’

Haldir nodded. ‘The same for me, Tary! And some cheese and fresh bread, if you please.’

The maid took notes, gave him a kindly tap on the shoulder and hurried over to a group of freshly arrived wardens, who argued loudly over something and seemed tremendously thirsty.

‘So how are things going, Haldir?’ Celeborn took a spoon full of stew and bit heartily into the crusty bread.

‘Well… until Galadriel decided to spoil my afternoon, adar?’ He tucked in and relished the tasty rabbit, fresh vegetables and brown beer. ‘I was set in my mind, had everything prepared and lured Silraen almost from her duties, when the Lady sent me an urgent messenger and requested my immediate attention! What do you think of that dotty wizard Mithrandir?’

Celeborn gave a deep sigh. ‘The night is still long, Haldir. There’s time to track down your lady, fall to your knees and swear that such a thing will never ever happen again in all the ages of Arda to come… and believe me, she’ll love the show. I did it once with your naneth in Doriath… it worked! That Mithrandir fellow… I doubt he’s what he pretends to be. I have an odd feeling about him and Cirdan has been particularly tight lipped recently. I do not think that he’s of the second-born, Haldir. He has something about him…’ The Lord of Lorien frowned and searched for the right words, ‘…it reminds me of that nasty feeling I had, when your naneth turned up with the blasted ring of Celebrimbor’s. Mithrandir has a strange aura of magic around him. No simple elven magic, like yours or mine… t’is something unhealthy and rather too powerful for a simple first-born. Already when he and his friends arrived in Mithlond, I did not believe that they were simply on some kind of emissary mission from Ingwe. Why should the High King of all Eldar suddenly take an interest in us and send emissaries into Middle-earth? We all made it sufficiently clear that we did not intend to sail to the Undying Lands. And I can hardly believe that he would have send five elderly humans. Have you ever heard of humans in Valinor, apart Elrond’s sire? That is nonsense. There is more to these five then meets the eye. What does Galadriel want?’

Haldir winced inwardly. His Lady had bidden him to keep his tongue and not reveal what she had asked of him and he had promised her to remain silent until further notice. He looked at his mug and then at Celeborn. Did his Lady’s command apply to her spouse, too?

‘I am in a dilemma,’ he answered the Lord of Lorien truthfully. ‘It was requested of me to not say a word to anybody.’

Celeborn chewed and swallowed. ‘Then you must keep your tongue and take your own council, Haldir. If she does not wish anybody to know, this may include me until she decides for herself to tell or not to tell. What about Silraen?’

Haldir looked at his stew thoughtfully. What about Silraen? He would not betray his Lady’s trust if he’d ask his foster-father some manly advice. Silraen and his intents concerning the beautiful elleth had nothing to do with Mithrandir’s project to investigate the mystery of the Amon Lanc and the rather strange behaviour of his bunch of marauding yrch. So…

‘Do you think it is correct to ask an elleth if she’d be your wife, if you had to tell her in the same line, that unfortunately before you could truly commit yourself and make things official you were obliged to leave her for an undetermined duration of time and throw yourself into unknown dangers?’ He took his mug, turned it thoughtfully between his hands and looked at Celeborn.

‘You do not go because this is your pleasure, Haldir! She has known for a while that you have certain duties to this realm and a job. It is not as if she is completely unaware that you are the Captain of Lorien.’

Haldir chuckled. A typical answer from Celeborn; full of common sense. But was common sense just the thing to figure out matters of the heart?

‘Adar, Silraen is not one of my wardens, who either obeys his orders or takes his leave from service.’

The Lord of Lorien smiled, finished his meal and sat back comfortably. ‘No, she is not. I am perfectly aware of the difference between an elleth and a warden and not so heartless as you may think. But take this issue from both sides: you can continue playing games with her, say nothing and simply disappear one bright summer morning without telling her what you should have told her ages ago. And you can trust that she will accept this cowardice of yours and wait for you… to continue this endless game, where you both have left, before you went away. This is the easy solution, the easy way out. You can tell yourself that you have your duties to Lorien and that you swore an oath to do our bidding, and you may even convince yourself that this was the right choice. But deep in your heart you will always know that it was just a lie, an easy way out.

‘The other solution is to be frank with Silraen: tell her, what you can without betraying my Lady’s trust. Explain to her, why you have to leave. Give her good reasons. Reasons she can understand! If after such a long time of knowing you, she still has doubts concerning her heart and mind, she will tell you. You take a certain risk: she may refuse what you propose and return to Imladris with Celebrian. You will perhaps leave these lands with a very heavy heart… but at least you will go and know that you have done the right thing and made the proper choice. It would be pretty unfair to deceive her. She merits better, Haldir.’

Haldir nodded. Celeborn basically confirmed what he had been thinking. He would talk to her and tell her the truth; the truth of his duties as much as the truth of his heart. Then he would go with Mithrandir to find out what troubled the borders of their lands and the Amon Lanc.

After she had dismissed Celeborn’s Captain, Olorin left his hiding place in Galadriel’s garden and joined her on her bench.

‘Now, I think, this went rather well,’ he told her, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. ‘Hopefully, Haldir is willing to leave immediately. I have the bad feeling that with each day that passes, the dark shadow is gathering strength. The yrch you told me about were certainly drawn by him. He will call ever more of their kind from their hiding places and guide them towards these lands. The Greenwood elves with whom I discussed spoke also about other strange creatures been drawn towards the hill and its surroundings. Although Thranduil was in no mood to discuss with me, I got hold of his youngest son for a while. He related that while hunting with his brothers to the south of the Amon Lanc, they have found curiously large spider webs in a cavern from where earlier on a tunnel led into the hill. He spoke to me of the abandoned city of King Durin and the dwarven mines he had explored in his early youth and of the stench that now emanated from this tunnel system.’

Galadriel frowned. Her wardens never ventured so far into the wilderlands on the other side of the Anduin, but some had spoken of terrible howls, brought over the waters of the river by Northern winds. Neither wolf nor hound, did they say, but something dark and unearthly. They had never seen the sources of these noises, but the Lady remembered the werewolves of Sauron in Angband and their fearsome leader Drauglin.

‘Alas,’ she said softly, ‘it was never known if Huan killed them all or if some escaped into the wild and survived the sundering of Beleriand. They may have mated with lesser wolves and created a new, dark tribe that is now travelling towards the shadow.’ She turned the ring on her finger and closed her eyes. ‘I have questioned my mirror for days at end and all it will show me is darkness. It is impossible to tell if the spirit of the great Deceiver has returned from the abyss of nothingness, or if one of the Nine is trying to make himself an abode of shadows. And if it is one of them, he will soon call out to his eight brethren and try to gather them. Did you take council with the Lord Saruman, my friend?’

Olorin shook his head. After their landing in the Havens of Mithlonde Curumo, together with Morinehtar and Romestamo had made his way to the east. He had not known of his destiny for more then two hundred years now and he did not know how to find his old friend.

Galadriel seemed to read his thoughts. ‘So he has still not returned from his eastward quest?’

Olorin gave a deep sigh. When they had come to Cirdan’s Havens and after revealing themselves officially to the shipwright of Mithlond, something most curious had happened; something that not even the Valar may have expected.

Cirdan, wise of many ages, had taken Olorin aside and wordlessly slipped a trinket into his hand. Then he had left the five of Valinor to their own devices, disappearing from everybody’s sight until the five were decided to set out upon their quest. And once more the shipwright took aside Olorin. After a long deep look into the grey wizard’s eyes he bade him farewell and told him that he knew wisdom and greatness when he saw it!

Olorin had been surprised at this uncommon behaviour and also at the rather un-courteous attitude of the elven lord towards the leader of their group, Curumo and his blatant ignoring of Morinehtar and Romestamo. Only to Aiwendil he bade his farewells, telling the brown wizard that he should chose his friends wisely and consider well with whom his loyalties lay.

Curumo had been tremendously upset about the unruly elven lord, when they rode from Mithlond and he and Olorin had parted their ways in an icy silence, for Olorin would not tell the white wizard, what the Lord of Mithlond had pushed into his hand right after their landing!

‘What is it Mithrandir?’ the Lady Galadriel asked softly, opening her eyes. ‘I can feel that something troubles you. Alas my powers are not enough to tell the reason of your distress.’

Olorin stood up and went over to the Lady’s Mirror. He stared into the empty bassin, fighting with his own conscience, if or not he should open himself to the daughter of Finwe. For two centuries and a half he had carried in his heart the burden of the spiteful parting with his friend Curumo and the terrible feeling of guilt over Cirdan’s present. The earthly form of his spirit had many advantages, but also some inconveniences: while he had dwelt in the gardens of Lorien on Valinor, he had been free of such feelings. A mighty spirit he had been, second only to the Valar themselves. But now, clothed in flesh, he was no longer free and felt all the urges, pleasures and fears of flesh and blood as would the humblest of the second-born of Iluvatar. He gave a deep sigh, then he fingered from under his grey robes a small but solid necklace of silver and held its pendant up, so that the Lady of the Golden Wood could see.

When Galadriel overcame her initial shock to see the third elven ring – the Ring of Fire – dangling from Olorin’s chain, the Maiar explained to her how Cirdan had given it to him and how Curumo had resented the secrecy of his dealings with the shipwright and his unwillingness to reveal the elven lord’s gift.

The Lady of Lorien smiled and walked over to Olorin’s side, taking his rugged hand in hers and padding it gently. ‘T’was Cirdan’s to give, my old friend, and it is nobody’s business to whom he wanted to entrust his ring. The Shipwright is very wise and he can see deep into the hearts of elves and men. I am convinced that he had his very own reason to entrust you with Narya. You know the craft of Celebrimbor and Narya the Kindler shall give thee hope in thy quest and hope to all those who will stand by your side. Do not despair, for I heard from Cirdan, that while the first of your order is great in wisdom and lore, he as you feels urges and pleasures and fears. But as thou overcomest thy grief, he shall overcome his and he will understand that Cirdan had only one ring to gift and not five.’

Olorin took her fragile, slender hand into his and blew a chaste kiss on its palm. ‘Wise is the Lady of Lorien and wise are her councils. I shall hearken to you, my dear, and go with peace of mind on this quest and whence we know, with whom we have dealings on the borders of the great Greenwood, I shall ask of my friend Aiwendil to send the birds of the heavens after Curumo and we shall all take council together, with him as our guide.’ He gave a courteous bow to Galadriel. ‘And now, with your leave, I will go and seek out your Captain and tell him that I wish to leave these lands as soon as possible.’

The Lady smiled at her guest. ‘You will find him most certainly with my dear husband, and I believe the best place to look for the two is in the tavern of the ‘Blooming Appletree’, for I feel that before he can go from these lands, Haldir has still a private matter to settle and he will ask my Lord Celeborn’s advice.’

Chapter 7 The Matters of a Wizard

For many an hour the two companions had roamed Caras Galadhon in pursuit of information about any strange events that might have brought upon Silraen’s Captain’s sudden, mysterious orders from his Lady. But now, with the sun settling behind the line of the Mallorn trees and their feet right sore, they had to admit utter defeat. Nothing special had been mentioned; even Rumil’s wife Anysse, who habitually heard the herbs grow, was unaware of any dangers to the Golden Wood, that might necessitate immediate attention from its Captain. She had told Celebrian and Silraen about the hunt after a bunch of marauding yrch which had preceeded their arrival and taken Haldir together with her husband, her brother-in-law and a great group of wardens deep into the Misty Mountains for weeks on end. But the yrch had been destroyed and while some of the casualties were still in the care of the healers, the burned-down village close to the dwarven halls of Khazad Dum was no longer topic for chit-chat or wild speculations.

‘Perhaps her mirror has shown something to our Lady and she wanted to partake her vision with him!’ Anysse had speculated over a cup of hot mint tea, only to dismiss the thought hardly an instant later. Celebrian was of the same opinion: her mother would not bother Haldir over a vision, if this vision did not directly concern the safety of the forest realm.

‘Perhaps she wanted to investigate if you made some progress!’ Orophin had chuckled mischieviously, pointing a long, slender finger at Silraen. ‘She’s a rather solid bet on you two getting finally settled before Midsummer Eve… and our Lady hates to lose bets with me, for it always costs her dearly.’ The evil sprite had even shown his small pocket book with a listing of elves engaged in the nasty little game and Silraen had stormed from his talan in a fit of rage that would have frightened a dragon.

Aeglironion the notoriously chatty and well-informed hoof-smith of the guards had only shrugged his broad shoulders and offered the two curious ellith a cool mug of apple wine and some fatherly advice to try and get hold of Haldir’s second-in-command Aiglironion, who’d be the one best informed about the Captain’s intentions or possible orders for the wardens and Aiglironion had been unavailable for further enquiries, since he had left to the Southern fences of Lorien already eight days earlier, as his surprised wife informed her Lady’s daughter and Elrond’s apothecary. And with a tiny little sting in her voice Allassiel told them, that this ride to the borders and absence of her beloved were tightly linked to a certain arrival in Lothlorien. Then she had hushed the two companions rather hurriedly from her talan, telling them, that with her spouse absent on duty, all the laborious tasks of the household were upon her!

Celebrian and Silraen, sobered by their lengthy hunt and exhausted from climbing up and down the endless staircases of Caras Galadhon finally came to the conclusion that the last spot to retrieve perhaps some concise intelligence would be the tavern of the ‘Blooming Appletree’, where Haldir’s wardens took their meals or lazed around during their spare moments.

When the two ellith reached finally the tavern that wound itself around the trunk of an enormous tree with intricately carved pillars that all depicted apple blossoms and apple leaves, they realized immediately that they had made the right decision. The tavern was not only filled up to the last seat: at a small table in a cosy corner, they immediately identified Lord Celeborn’s silver mane and the broad shoulders of the object of their curiosity. The two ellon sat in companionable silence. Each sipped from a small glass, while their empty plates stood abandoned in the middle of their table.

‘Here you are,’ Celebrian muttered.

‘So it was probably nothing strange,’ Silraen replied with a sigh of relief.

‘Still to be seen,’ the other elleth replied, getting hold of the maid Tary and explaining to her that they would take the same brew as the two lazy ellon in the corner. Then she pushed Silraen through the crowd of rowdy wardens over to her father’s and Haldir’s table.

The Lord of Lorien beamed and patted the empty chair next to his. ‘Join us, Ladies!’ he offered good-naturedly.

Haldir caught Silraen’s eyes and gave her a sheepish smile. ‘I am sorry, love!’ he muttered. Then he stood and offered her the other empty chair. ‘T’was not my intent to give you insult, but…’

She gave him a happy smile, stood on her toe tips and blew a kiss on his cheek. ‘Do not worry; Haldir,’ she whispered softly into his ear. ‘No offence taken. The cake and the strawberries were delicious.’

He took her hand gently into his and held it for a long while, ignoring Celeborn as well as the boisterous Celebrian, who was pouring questions on the poor Lord of Lorien without taking her breath. ‘I must talk to you, Silraen,’ he replied.’ Have you already plans made for tonight?’

She shook her head. It was a silly question: whenever she dwelt in Lorien, her evenings and nights were his. Too few were the moments they could share with each other and too long were the days in between, when she and Haldir pursued their solitary destinies in Rivendell and Lorien.

He caressed her cheek with his free hand, caring neither for the boisterous wardens in the tavern, nor for Celeborn and Celebrian, who seemed to engage in some kind of argument. ‘I had to go with him,’ he explained in a low voice. ‘T’was no silly game, Silraen.’

Silrean put her hand over his and leaned into his touch. ‘I knew, Haldir. I am not upset with you. Will you tell me why she called you? I had a bad feeling, when I saw her messenger.’

Olorin had finally found the ‘Blooming Appletree’. Galadriel’s indications of the wardens’ tavern had been quite vague and it had taken some time to find the place. In the end he simply followed a group of elves clad in grey and dark green, hoping that they would go for a drink and not to the fences of Lothlorien. It was as she had fortold: his soon-to-be companion of misfortune sat together with that Sindar Prince from Doriath, Elrond’s terribly boisterous spouse Celebrian and a dark-haired fay, that could only be ‘the private matter’ the Captain of the Galadhrim needed to settle before he could leave Lothlorien.

Olorin took quick counsel with himself: he could either impose upon them and join them at their table and risk a delay in the Captain’s ‘private matters’, or turn away and leave them alone and pack his small travelling bag to be ready in the morning. He gave a deep sigh; his travelling bag was ready. He did not need time to prepare. After their coming to Arda and Curumo leaving together with Morinehtar and Romestamo for the east, Aiwendil had made himself a home on the Western edge of the Great Greenwood, near the Gladden Fields on the Great River Anduin and hardly one hundred miles on bird’s wings from Thranduil’s capital on the Amon Lanc.

The brown wizard had given this abode the name Rhosgobel and it was not only equiped with all creature comforts but also well fenced. Having been close friends with Olorin in Valinor, Aiwendil had invited him to live in Rhosgobel and pursue their mission from this very convenient base camp. But Olorin had refused Aiwendil’s proposition. He preferred to roam the North and the West of Middle-earth free and unattached, learning about its inhabitants, their traditions and their lore and so after more then two hundred and fifty years he still had nothing more to care for than his staff, his well-worn travel cloak and his small travelling bag over the shoulder.

He slipped into the shadow of a tree, approaching the table of four on tip-toe: Celebrian and the Lord Celeborn were engaged in deep discussion. The spouse of Elrond fired questions at the speed of Galadhrim arrows, while Galadriel’s husband nodded and sipped some honey coloured brew. T’was a bit one-sided, but they appeared both rather happy. Olorin turned his attention to the Captain and the dark-haired elleth. Even his sharp ears would not allow him to listen in on their conversation: he looked at her with yearning in his storm-grey eyes and she smiled at him with utter happiness. They seemed both deeply in love with each other and completely absorbed in a small world of their own. The Istari crept closer. A soft touch of his hand, a gentle squeeze of his fingers, an occasional nod or a smile. It looked as if the ‘private matters’ Artanis had spoken of were well under way. He chuckled. If he left them alone now, the occasion to tell his future travel companion of his desire to leave right in the morning would be lost. Better to make it quick, interrupt them now and give the Captain and the Maiden a last peaceful night together.

With determination and billowing grey robes, Olorin stepped out from the shadows and into the red evening sun.

Chapter 8 Mithrandir’s Torment

Celebrian nudged her father’s knee. The newcomer that pressed his way to the guests of the ‘Blooming Appletree’ was no elf and definitively not a warden of the Galadhrim. And he seemed to come straight for their table.

‘Did you know Mithrandir was in Lorien?’ she asked her sire with a voice that was no longer boisterous and full of humour, but dead-serious.

She had met the elderly wizard on several occasions, when he decided to take breaks from his roaming of the wild lands in their haven of Imladris. Since their very first encounter some two hundred years earlier, she had found him utterly charming and excellent company. But there was something behind these sparkling, blue eyes and carefree behaviour that seemed very odd; almost as if this curious fellow was playing the comedy of ‘Mithrandir the Wise Man and Elf Friend’. She was convinced that her suspicion was not raised by something shadowy or unhealthy laying underneath, hidden deep inside the old fellow. It was more as if he was cloaked in a veil of secrecy and mystery, a mystery that even her most perceptive husband Elrond had not yet lifted. And Elrond agreed with her on the matter of Mithrandir’s ‘fishiness’.

They had tried to worm things out from Cirdan of Mithlond, but the Shipwright was uncommonly tight-lipped whenever the subject came to the five wizards that had arrived in his Haven from Valinor and almost immediately dispersed.

Three of them had gone – as far as she knew – straight into the East, never to be seen. One had taken to the mountains in the North, somewhere rather close to the borders of King Thranduil the ‘Nasty’ and the last – Mithrandir – appeared an untiring traveller with no place he called home.

He was a frequent visitor to all the elven realms of Middle-earth. But Gildor Inglorion had told her that he also took great pleasures in exploring Breeland, Dunland and the Angle formed by the rivers Mitheithel and Bruinen, where over the last couple of hundred years a curious little folk had started to settle down. Originally these little people had lived on the lowest slopes and in the woods under the Misty Mountains and also on the marshes where the Gladden River met the Anduin. But around the same time the five mysterious elderly wizards from Valinor had landed in Cirdan’s Haven, these hairy-footed, small-sized creatures who obviously belonged to the race of the second born, since they were neither elves nor dwarves, had all together decided to undertake the perilous road over the hills.

It was also told that occasionally Mithrandir would venture into what remained of the ancient Kingdom of Arnor. And now he suddenly turned up in Lorien and came straight for their table.

Celeborn gave a sigh and nodded. ‘I knew that he was here, Celebrian. He has spent the last few days in the company of your mother, discussing matters with her which she would not partake with me. I suppose he got bored with Elrond’s endless banquets and merrymaking and is in need of more solid food and drink.’ The Lord of Lorien kept a straight and serious face, but his eyes were laughing at his daughter. ‘Let us invite this unexpected visitor to our table and perhaps we shall be the wiser about his secret designs after a glass or two of this excellent apple brandy.’

Haldir was already very much inclined to take his leave from his Lord and the Lady Celebrian and to lead Silraen away from the boisterous tavern to a more private place, when his well-trained eye perceived billowing grey robes approaching their table with a determined stride.

‘So much could be expected,’ he thought gloomily. ‘Galadriel has set him onto my track the very instant I agreed to go with him on his mad journey.’ He laid his arm around Silraen’s shoulder and pulled the elleth protectively against his solid chest. He would have appreciated some respite in order to speak with her in peace and explain things! The elleth leaned comfortably in and laid her head on his shoulder. She seemed completely unaware of the unwelcome intruder.

‘A good eve to you, Lord Celeborn!’ the wizard greeted Lorien’s ruler cheerfully, ‘And to you, My Lady Celebrian.’ Then he bowed courteously before Silraen. ‘We have not yet been introduced, fair lady, but I saw you some time ago in the lands of Imladris.’

Haldir gave a small sigh, took Silrean’s hand and stood in front of the wizard. Although Mithrandir’s presence was not welcome – at least not with him and at this very moment – his good education and manners won over his personal annoyance. He bowed slightly. ‘Allow me to name the Lady Silraen!’ he said in his best ‘Marchwarden-of-Lorien-on-official-duty voice.’

Mithrandir chuckled and acknowledged Haldir. ‘It is a pleasure to meet you, My Lady.’ He nodded. ‘And you, Captain! For it was you, I was looking for.’

‘I thought so,’ Haldir murmured in a low voice, throwing the wizard a suspicious look.

‘Will you sit with us, old friend?’ Celeborn pointed to an empty chair, welcoming the mage smoothly to their table and saving his foster-son another tight-lipped and potentially undiplomatical remark.

Haldir did not miss his foster-father’s cautioning finger, that motioned him to take his seat and be quiet. They had known each other for ages. Words were unnecessary for the one to understand perfectly well the designs of the other.

Celeborn felt Haldir’s growing irritation with Mithrandir’s presence and suspected immediately that this irritation came from the same source as his earlier unwillingness to discuss the Lady Galadriel’s summons. He decided to take it upon himself to save Haldir and what remained of his self-control and temper with lordly grace and elegance.

The Captain obeyed and took his place next to Silraen without further words. A cool mask of complete indifference settled on his fair face.

‘So what brings you to our lands?’ Celeborn immediately took over and he gave the maid Tary signal to bring more drink and another glass.

Olorin sighed inwardly. That Prince of Doriath was asking the very question he could not answer in a crowded public place. He felt that Haldir had kept his tongue and the contents of his earlier discussion with Artanis from his lord and that the Lady of the Woods had not yet taken council with her spouse. Olorin knew that she had seen darkness rising in her mirror, but unable to interpret the image and unsure if his suspicions concerning a shadow rising close to Lorien and the Great Greenwood was correct, she must have felt it necessary to keep this issue only between themselves. But was this still possible? Olorin accepted the offered drink and tasted it. T’was time won, in which he did not need to answer the perceptive kinsman of Elu Thingol. There was only one clean solution for this dilemma: a cold-blooded lie!

Olorin gave his table companions a winning smile. ‘I came to ask for your help, Lord Celeborn!’ he stated matter-of-factly. He would feed them bits of knowledge they already had, trusting that the Captain would keep his tongue and his expressionless face. ‘As you know, I arrived in these lands with several friends. But I lost the one dearest to me from sight, when I engaged on my explorations of the fascinating little folk that have wandered from close to your lands to the borders of the realm of the Lord Elrond, and I greatly wish to find this friend again. I heard rumours that he – a great lover of nature and animals – has taken up residence somewhere between here and the realm of your cousin Thranduil. And since Thranduil is not aware of his abode, I requested of your lady a guide to lead me into the Misty Mountains. I did not believe it necessary to impose on you with such a humble, personal matter.’ He lowered his eyes. ‘She suggested that I take someone with me who not only knows these mountains, but also may lend hand with sword and bow, for it seems that recently goblins and yrch have been seen.’

Haldir whinced inwardly. The old cheat was trying to deceive his lord, playing the dotty old man of lore and wisdom, who needed a protector. He cast a glance at Celeborn, but the elder elf made only a small sign with his hand, requesting to continue his game of chess with Mithrandir without being interrupted.

‘And you have some indication where this friend dwells?’ Lorien’s Lord asked in his smoothest politician voice, beaming at Mithrandir.

The old fellow shrugged his shoulders. ‘Not really. I will have to seek all over the Misty Mountains and perhaps even need to cross to the other side of the Anduin. My friend -his name is Radagast – is a great amateur of birds. He loves to study them. He is especially fond of large birds of prey.’

Haldir inwardly clapped his hands, recognizing Celeborn’s great craft. He was pushing the wizard into a rather tight corner and Mithrandir would not get out unscathed. Why would you need the Captain of Lorien to simply undig the abode of a bird-loving elderly lore master? T’was not very logical. If for protection only, all his battle-hardened wardens could do it, or even one of the young wardens-in-training. Each of them was able to wield a sword or string a bow and they all knew these lands inside out. They were all ‘sufficient’ protection for an elderly friend of the elves who wanted to set out on a ‘private’ matter!

‘I suppose we can spare one or two of the wardens, Haldir?’ Celeborn gave his foster-son a conspirators’ look, authorizing him to now re-enter the game and attack the enemy from the front.

The Captain let Silraen’s hand go for an instant. He put on his ‘I am at your service, My Lord’ face and even straightened his very broad shoulders. ‘The Lady has already decided that I should accompany Mithrandir, My Lord,’ he replied.

Olorin winced. Sly they were, both of them! And much used to playing very dangerous games together! Now they had him cornered and he himself had given Haldir the possibility of telling Celeborn without betraying Galadriel’s trust or disobeying her command.

Celeborn congratulated himself. Even his daughter seemed impressed with this clever move of his. Celebrian had kept her tongue in check since he had started to squeeze Mithrandir for information. He and Haldir had been a team for ages. Together they were almost invincible. Now he would deal out the ‘coup de grace’ to the wizard.

‘Galadriel decided that you should need the assistance of the Captain of Lorien, just to find an old friend in the mountains? This seems a little bit of an overkill, Mithrandir. We had indeed some trouble with yrch a couple of weeks ago, but they were utterly destroyed.’ He looked at Haldir, turning on his best ‘I am the Lord of Lorien’-mode.

‘Indeed, Sir!’ Haldir replied stiffly, his face still completely expressionless. ‘The were utterly destroyed before they could cross the Anduin and disappear into the Southern part of the Great Greenwood. I informed my counterpart in King Thranduil’s realm of their destruction and received no intelligence of further roaming bands from them.’

Olorin shot the Captain of Lorien a glare that would have smouldered a balrog to ashes. If he’d been of a less gentle and kindly nature, he would have requested that they leave immediately for the mountains, thus spoiling the obnoxious ellon’s last peacefull night with his Fay sprite of Imladris in retaliation for his treacherous villainy.

Haldir refrained only with utmost self control from a smug smile. Now the hour of confession and truthfulness had come. Although he himself would be the first to advise against such an act of honesty in the middle of the ‘Blooming Appletree. But he felt perfectly capable to point out some quiet clearing in the surrounding woods, where Mithrandir could ease his conscience and tell the Lord of Lorien what he suspected so close to the borders of his realm.

Olorin drank his glass of apple brandy, then filled it with another shot. ‘I believe,’ he said morosely, ‘that we should release your Captain and his lady now, my Lord Celeborn. For I wish to leave at the first hour tomorrow morning. And then we others will find a place, where we can talk in confidence.’ He turned to Haldir and sizzled. ‘At the first hour tomorrow morning and not a minute later! Is this understood?’

Haldir acknowledged with a curt nod, bowing politely to Celeborn and Celebrian. Then he took Silraen’s hand in his. ‘Let us go home, love, and leave these three to their own devices. There is not much time left and I must speak with you alone.’

Chapter 9 Galadriel’s Mirror

Only a small iron-wrought lantern lightened Galadriel’s favourite place by the well and her mirror. Celeborn hesitated. The discussion with Mithrandir had been highly instructive, so to say. When they had finally parted, he had been obliged to see his daughter Celebrian to her rooms and sit with her for a while, until the shaken elleth had found some measure of peace, drifting into an uneasy sleep that was more mental exhaustion then bodily weariness. He closed his eyes for an instant, recollecting Celebrian’s pale face: seeing a perfectly healthy elleth sleep with eyes closed had unsettled the battle-hardened warrior prince of Doriath more then all the slaughters and blood-shed he had witnessed over the ages of his long life. And now he found his beloved, lonely in her gardens and crumpled into a miserable heap of white garment and golden hair. The occasional little muffled sobs and the slight throbbing of her shoulders showed the extent of her grief. Celeborn felt a tight knot in his stomach and a pain like an arrow piercing his heart. Softly he trod with his suede boots on the little path that led down to the well, intending not to startle his golden-haired maiden. If not the silver light of the stars over the waste forest of Laurélindorean could assuage her sufferings in this night, perhaps he could. Celeborn glad onto the bench and laid a gently arm protectively around her shoulders. Then he pulled her carefully into his lap, resting her against his chest and covering her with a cloak of warmth from his body. Her head against his heart, he willed her to listen to its strong, regular beating. The Willow and the Oak! Thus had Melian the Maia named them, when he had courted proud, strong willed, ambitious Artanis of the Noldorin in Doriath of old. Many then thought the clumsy efforts of Celeborn, who was considered honourable, brave and rather dull, a matter of laughter, for the fairest flower of the House of Finarfin of whom the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin, had been snared in her. His uncle Greymantle had even straightforward discouraged that younger Celeborn, whose renown lay chiefly in prowess with sword and bow and an overdeveloped sense for duty, calling him a fool to try and reach for the one of whom legend told that her being had first given Feanor the idea to imprison the lights of the Two Trees in the Silmarils. Only Melian had encouraged him: ‘The Willow and the Oak’, she had said, ‘for thou shallst be the strong tree, roots solidly anchored in the earth of these lands that will hold her spirit and body, when those great gifts she has received from the Valar will overcome and bend the Willow to its breaking point!’ And thus it was and always had been and would be till the end of days. Against all odds he had won and claimed the fair flower of Fingolfin’s House to be his and ever since he had been Oak to the Willow. He cooed soft words of love into her ear, stroking her silky hair with one strong, steady hand until the tiny little sobs died down and the slight trembling ceased. And he continued until he felt her slender body relax and mould against his, her arms clung around his waist and it seemed to him that she held on for dear life.

T’was not the disclosures of Mithrandir alone that had brought her to this state. Of this Celeborn was sure, for he had heard the words of the grey wizard too and taken in the full extend of this doom lurching over them. ‘Will you tell me what you have seen in the Mirror, Alatá(1)?’ he asked her gently.

Galadriel’s hold of his waist tightened and she dug her face even deeper into the soft folds of his tunic.

‘Thou knowest, Beloved, that this burden can not be carried by one alone, even if the one is strong and hardy Artanis, that has braved the icy hell of Helcaraxë unflinching and the sundering of Beleriand without a tear in her eyes. How many dooms have we shared, my Nerwen, and how many dangers have we braved together? Let us share this new doom, for I had word with that grey-bearded imp Mithrandir and feel that the awakening of a shadow to which you already stood up with courage in ages past would dismay you so much.’

Galadriel brushed her tears clumsily away and sniffled one last sob into the comforting warmth of her lord’s tunic. Then she allowed his strong hand to lift her chin and look into her eyes. No words he said, for words were not needed, since she could read in the deep blue that sparkled in the lonely lantern light a strength and determination that not even the wrath of the assembled host of the Valar could possibly shake. She pressed her cheek deep into his strong hand, calloused by sword and bowstring and unnumbered toils of three ages. ‘Silver Tree!’ Galadriel murmured softly and drew the strength she would need from his steady gaze. And then she told him of the flaming eye that she had perceived in her mirror. An eye so terrible and wilful, that she shuddered unwillingly in his arms, while she described it for her lord. And she told him of a dark, ethereal presence – bodiless still, but growing in strength with every moment that passed – that put all his force and wilfulness into one single aim; and this aim was to dominate all of Middle-earth as he had done so before his defeat by Isildur’s valiant stroke on the slopes of Mount Doom. She spoke to him of a carved-out hill full of dark and horrible caverns, where the shadow had already set upon breeding creatures of the night that bowed to him in deference and fear, willing to spread terror over all known lands at a wink of his flaming-red eye. And she spoke of a great and frightful battle, such as had not been seen since Gil-Galad had led his forces against Mordor more then a thousand years ago, and of the Galadhrim, all clad in armour running against a force unnumbered of dark, ugly creatures which outmatched them greatly. She told him of the terrible price of blood and of the lives lost and of their bravery and sacrifice and she told him of a lifeless body, buried under a heap of slain foes, his curved blade still in his hand and of a grieving dark-haired elleth heavy with child boarding a grey ship of Cirdan in the Haven of Mithlond and leaving their lands forever for the shores of Valinor.

‘I fear,’ she sobbed, ‘that I have sent him to his doom, Silver Tree and with him unnumbered others of our people will go to the Halls of Mandos.’ Galadriel let the tears run freely down her fair face, looking at Celeborn with such uttermost grief in her eyes, that he thought his heart must break. But he could not allow himself to give in to his weakness and weep with her, for she needed him strong and confident. He willed his whole being into the icy cold of the warrior facing a deadly foe. He gathered her close to his chest and softly he spoke to his love.

‘Many things are revealed in thy mirror, golden one that wanders these lands crowned with a garland of stars – the past, the present and things that may yet come to be. But that which is seen, even the Wise can not always tell and when it shall come, if it comes none can say, but Iluvatar alone, for only he has knowledge of the wheels of time and the webs of destiny. Thou who lovest him dearly as a mother knowest as the Lady of these lands that whoever chooses to live by the sword, takes the risk to die by the sword. Such you have known, when you wedded to me three ages ago and it never weakened your heart; and such he knew, when he bent his knee to me and received his sword; and such she knows, who has given him her heart. T’is a risk, whenever men-at-arms are marshalled for strife, that many of those who leave will not return to those they left behind. In this we are equals with our second-born kindred and with the Naugrim and even with the vile spawn of Belegurth(2)… Do not let your vision disturb you, Beloved, for even if this is Haldir’s doom to fall in battle, it will not make him vie from his path to serve his oath and protect these lands. And even if you tell him straight to his face what you have seen in the waters, he will still go and do what he thinks is right.’

Galadriel made an effort to compose herself, straightening in his embrace and sitting up to face him. ‘Wise is Celeborn, the Silver Tree of Laurelindorean, even if his wisdom is cloaked under the harsh words of Celeborn the warrior-prince of Doriath. Although Galadriel’s heart is heavy with sorrow and gloom, the Lady of the Golden Wood will take the Lord’s council and let things be, but ever hence Galadriel will be weary, when the Lady and the Lord send forth their Guardian to defend their realm.’

(1) Quenya : Radiance
(2) Sindarin : Great Death ; another name for Melkor/Morgoth

Chapter 10 The Parting

Silraen watched the sun raising over the golden crowns of the Mallorn trees. The lands of Laurelindorenan truly merited their name; it was the land of the Valley of Singing Gold. A soft smile lighted her face when one of the sunrays caught in the golden hair of the one she held safely ensconced in her arms. She felt the warmth his body radiated and the slow steady heartbeat under her entwined hands. They had not slept during the night but spoken long and seriously. Haldir had told her that he had received orders from his liege to depart the lands at first sunlight and that he did not know when he would return. He had spoken to her about the fears of Mithrandir and the shadow, he and his Galadhrim had felt themselves only so recently during their hunt over the Misty Mountains and he had explained to Silraen, that as much as it could be nothing, it could be also the worst they might discover together, something that they both had believed defeated, when he had lain under her care more then one thousand years ago in the heaven of Imladris. Silraen closed her eyes for an instant, willing back the memories of those days from the depths of her memory. They had been both in great pain then; she had suffered in her heart, for it had been close to breaking after the loss of both her parents and he had suffered in his body from an almost fatal wound left long untended and so putrid and festering that only his stubborn intent to deny the darkness of the defeated Deceiver another victory had kept him from Mandos’ Halls. There had been days, when the Lord Elrond was tempted to ship them both off to Valinor, with or without their consent. But they had defeated him together: she had healed his body, while he had healed her heart.

‘T’is not the question I want to ask you,’ he had said to her, ‘that makes me uneasy. For my mind was made up already a very long time ago!’

Silraen opened her eyes and pushed her nose deep into the silken strands of his heavy golden crown. She tightened her grip on him and pulled him into an even firmer embrace. It was the moment! He had confessed that he had come to the Herbal Gardens with an intent and that his heart had fought a ferocious battle with his mind after the discussion with Galadriel and his mind had lost! In full knowledge of the situation and with him at the very brink of departure for an undetermined period of time, would she go or would she tarry? Would she hear his pledge and wait for him in Laurelindorean or would she return to Imladris and resume her old life with Elrond in the Houses of Healing? Could she bear to see him go not knowing when or if he would return and still accept his pledge, or would she resent it, as so many of the ellyth did after a while, who had pledged themselves to one of his Galadhrim? He knew that some of them grew despondent and regretted their choice after a while, pressuring their men folk to abandon the service and seek less strenuous occupation in the elven realm. Others became weary and troubled in their hearts and suffered in spirit and not a few had left for the Undying Lands, finding departure easier than to wait until the day when their beloved would not return from the fences.

Silraen chuckled softly into his hair. ‘How often have I seen you off to go and do your duty to these lands, my Captain?’ she asked him slyly.

‘More times then I can remember, Sprite!’ Haldir replied good-naturedly. When he had heard her answer the night before, he had suddenly felt like a very young and very foolish elfling.

‘T’is not the wedding band on yon finger that makes a difference, Haldir!’ she had explained like a very patient school mistress confronted with a very dull youngling. ‘How often have you told me that you had to go into harm’s way and how often have I seen you stitched together, patched up and wrapped in bandages and not in your finest state? Did I ever tell you not to go and did I ever nag you not to return after you were restablished?’

He had shaken his head. She had always understood that she had chosen a warrior and that his way in life was often dangerous… but it was his and she had learned to accept it with good graces, even if she was afraid and feared that one day he might not return.

‘I am not glad to see you off,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘And I have a very nasty feeling about all this. And there is something lingering over these woods that does not bode well for the future. But should we live in fear, because of the dark, or shall we take the time that is given to us and live it to its fullest?’

Haldir threw a furtive glance at the sun, that had now risen to the point where he could not tarry any longer. Gently he disentangled himself from Silraen’s arms. They were both relatively old elves, not untried younglings with butterflies in their heads! Then he offered her his hand and pulled her up into his embrace. Softly his lips covered hers. He relished this kiss and wished it would never end, but Mithrandir was waiting.

Silraen cupped his check with her hand. When it was time for both of them to draw breath, she whispered. ‘I shall be here, when you return, my Captain. I shall be waiting for you on this very spot.’ Then she turned and entered his talan. His travel bag and cloak lay ready on the kitchen table. She crossed to Haldir’s small study and fetched his sword, bow, quiver and sash. Then she hurried back to the terrace.

When he saw what she carried in her hands, he chuckled. His heart was much lighter than the other day. He stretched out his arms to make things a bit easier for her and watched with curiosity, when she wound the blood red sash expertly around his waist. The only female who had ever armed him before was Galadriel and he wondered where Silraen had learned how to fix sword belt, blade, shoulder straps and quiver, and who had told her of this ancient tradition from Doriath that had come with Celeborn to the Golden Wood. For only mother, wife or sister would arm a Galadhrim.

When she was finished he took her hands in his and kissed the tips of her fingers. ‘Will my Sprite tell me who taught her this? For there are no Galadhrim in Imladris and your guardians have different gear and tradition.’

She grinned and shook her head vigorously. She would not tell him, that her source of knowledge was the Lady Celebrian, who long ago had related how shocked the folk of Rivendell had been, when their Lady had come with the Lord Elrond’s weapons into the courtyard of their house to arm her Lord. And even more had they been shocked, when his newly-wedded Lady had accompanied him to the gates of the haven to see him literally off. Silraen gave Haldir a small nod. ‘Now take your cloak and travel bag, Captain, and then I shall deliver you to your temporary ward and see the two of you to the gates of Caras Galadhon!’

Haldir smiled and did as bidden.

Olorin glanced at Galadriel: Her fair face looked strained, as if she had had a very bad night. Under her eyes lay dark shadows, almost imperceptible, and her hands were tensely clasped behind her back. Celeborn spoke to him softly, but the Istari found it hard to concentrate on the words of the silver lord. The whole being of the Lady of the Golden Wood exhaled tension and unease. Rarely had he seen Artanis in such a foul mood. She had hardly acknowledged him, when they had arrived at the rising of the sun to see him and his travel companion off into the wild. Only when she perceived her Captain from afar, strolling hand in hand with his dark-haired sprite through the empty streets of Caras Galadhon and towards their abode, did her foul mood seem to lift for an instant. She smiled, and in her brief smile Olorin read content and motherly pride. Celeborn was outwardly more composed, but his eyes flickered the very instant he saw the pair and he murmured some soft words to himself.

So it seemed, thought Olorin with a hint of cynicism, that the ‘private matter’ was settled, and in a manner of which both his hosts approved. He hoped that his not-so-willing travel companion of the other day would now show a bit more willingness and enthusiasm for their quest.

When the two finally reached the small clearing close to the city gates, the Captain went straight for the Lord Celeborn and placed his sprite’s hand in his. Then he bowed to the Lady Galadriel and said some soft words, which the Istari in his form of an elderly human could not understand. The Lady embraced the broad shouldered warrior, then she laid her slender hand in a gesture of blessing upon his brow. Finally she took the hand of Silraen from Celeborn’s and repeated the gesture, first kissing then blessing the dark-haired elleth. Olorin watched intently. Obviously he was intruding upon a very private moment here, a family moment. But before he had time to ponder upon the nature of the Captain’s ‘private matter’ and the interesting traditions of Laurelindorean, the situation changed and became once again more formal and official.

Still holding the Rivendell elleth close to her, Galadriel walked over to him with Celeborn by her side. The Captain of the Galadhrim stayed back.

‘Anelu I ven, Mithrandir!1 I have seen great evil. It is still formless shadow, but its fiery eye is blazing and it calls upon fell creatures that were once dispersed and shattered. I have seen deep caverns and dwellings under a mountain. Beware, this is where the shadow hides and he is breeding monsters in the dark. Tread carefully, my old friend, for should the shadow become aware that he has been detected by such as you, he will strike hard and swiftly and a great doom will come over these lands.’ Galadriel took hold of the Istari’s frail hand. ‘Beware, Mithrandir, for you are going into a great danger… I fear a danger that is far beyond the powers of your kin or mine. None is prepared to face the shadow, for most believe that he has left the confines of Arda and gone into the abyss from whence he hailed.’

Olorin bowed courteously to the Lady of the Golden Wood. ‘I shall heed thy council, wisest of all the elvenkind, and tread carefully, for I no more then you wish to make the Shadow know that he has been perceived. And whence I return we shall sit in council and debate, what has to be done. The One lies still in hiding and many things that should not have been forgotten were lost. But if my suspicion comes true and I find what I fear, then it will put all its strength of will and malice towards one single aim: it will try and return to its creator.’

Galadriel looked at Olorin pensively, then she turned and motioned Haldir to come to their side.

Silraen, who was still standing by the Lady’s side cast her eyes to the ground. What she had learned from her betrothed the night before had already been frightening. What she had learned now was terrifying. Memories of the darkest days of the last age welled up in her mind. When Haldir stood by his Lord and Lady she straightened and held up her head. No matter how frightened she was and what looming doom she saw in her mind, she would not deceive him and send him forth into peril, danger and darkness with a heavy heart. She would have her time to shake and tremble when he and Mithrandir were seen off and had left the confines of Caras Galadhon. She cast the Captain a glance. He had been left aside, when the Lady had spoken to Mithrandir, but she doubted that it was Galadriel’s purpose to leave him in the dark concerning the full extent of the danger they were now going to face; and she doubted that the Lord Celeborn would allow the one who had called him adar for millennia to leave unarmed. She swallowed; her mouth had gone dry. The Lady had given the old wizard a warning, for she was afraid that he could do something foolhardy, something they all would probably bitterly regret. The dark expression in the wizards eyes confirmed Silraen’s suspicion.

‘Go now,’ the Lord Celeborn said with a grave voice, putting his hand on Haldir’s shoulder. ‘For no one must know where you go. Too much curiosity at the actual state of affairs would be perilous both for you and for the elvenfolk of this realm.’ A silver sparkle lit his eyes for a short instant and Silraen saw how Haldir stiffened. Then a similar silver sparkle lightened his storm grey eyes and the Lord of the Woods gave a curt not. Without further words they saw them through the gates and watched in silence, as Mithrandir and the Captain of the Galadhrim disappeared in the thick woods that surrounded the elven city of Caras Galadhon. When they could no longer be seen, Celeborn took her hand in his and pulled an arm around his Lady’s shoulder, leading them back to the heart of the dwelling.

‘Did you tell him, love?’ Galadriel asked darkly.

The Lord acknowledged with a silent nod.

(1) The road is very dangerous, Mithrandir !’

Chapter 11 A most interesting discovery

After they had left Caras Galadhon in the early morning hours Haldir led Olorin onto a well-trodden path in Western direction. For a while, they shared a simple, companionable silence, and an accidental spying eye would have taken them for acquaintances who took an early morning stroll to enjoy the clean air and bristling wildlife of the Golden Wood with no other purpose than relaxation and entertainment. Against his habits, the Captain of the Galadhrim walked at a leisurely pace, as if he had all the time in the world and no duties to attend to. He was the perfect image of what his kinsfolk expected of him, when Lord Elrond’s apothecary dwelled in their city: easy-going, relaxed and good-natured. Occasionally he would smilingly point out a pretty bird or a grazing deer to the Istari and sometimes he even stopped to pick a few ripe berries to share with his companion. Olorin’s doubts about the willingness and humour of his chosen companion started to dissipate and the servant of the Lord of the Dream Garden of Valinor gave inwardly a deep sigh of satisfaction. He supposed that the other day it must have been first and foremost the Captain’s unresolved ‘private matter’ with the Lady Silraen that had caused Haldir’s rather violent reaction and obvious unwillingness to accompany him upon his quest. T’was surprising, he thought, that an elf who was almost five thousand years old could still show such childish behaviour, more like a pouting elfling who would not receive a strongly desired sweet from his mother’s hand, than the battle-hardened warrior of Lord Elrond’s tales, who during the Invasion of Eriador in the second age since the creation of Arda had led unflinchingly Celeborn’s heavy elven cavalry against the overwhelming forces of the Dark Deceiver, thus driving him off – if only temporarily – in the year 1695. It was hard to imagine that this was the same elf, who two years later stood to the last by Celebrimbor’s side at the gates of Ost-in-Edhil and escaped captivity only because Sauron’s Captain could not fathom that one so grievously wounded was worth taking. And he found it most curious that this seemingly spoilt foster-child of Celeborn’s, who must have had his ways with the silver lord from the very moment when the Prince of Doriath decided that he would make as good a son as any of his own seed, was the same elf who had thrown himself onto Elrond on the slopes of Mount Doom, when Sauron’s strike with his hammer of hell Grond smouldered Isildur and burned Gil-Galad. Patiently the Istari listened to the friendly chit-chat of birds and wildlife and the wonders of Laurelindorean, telling himself that t’was much better to be upon a long road with a companionable, than with a grouchy and stubborn elf.

Haldir threw his charge a short glance. It looked, as if the wizard was now in the right mode to get down to the matter of the subject. His short mental exchange of information with Celeborn had entirely convinced him that the right decision was to take a company of his wardens and leave the old man behind in the safety of Lothlorien. They would travel swift and stealthy, get themselves a handful of yrch prisoners for questioning in their hideouts throughout the Misty Mountains and then – if one of the yrch confirmed what he had felt concerning their forceful drive towards the Amon Lanc – they would continue into the realm of Thranduil and he would talk sense into his old comrade-at-arms. And if Thranduil would not listen, he’d discuss the issue with his sons. Together with their comrades from the Great Greenwood they could mount a small expeditionary force and explore the underground networks of the Amon Lanc and the long-abandoned dwarven halls of Druin’s tribe, which made a great part of that astonishing stone maze. It was much better this way and he would convince Mithrandir to stay behind. Haldir turned from the path into the thick of the forest. Perhaps leading the old man onto rougher ground, where he would stumble on his frail feet, would make him more pliable to Haldir’s well conceived arguments and convincing plan of action. He was so confident that he did not even doubt Thranduil’s reactions. Even if that ellon could be as stubborn as a mule, he had a fine sense of danger and an even finer sense for good action plans… and they had fought side by side so often that great trust existed between the two warriors. Thranduil would hearken his advice!

He thought back to Celeborn’s warning: Galadriel had seen a terrible doom for Lothlorien, that mayhap would come to pass. An impregnable dark fortress on the Amon Lanc that was full of dark creatures and black sorcery. She had seen the Galadhrim fighting desperately against this foe and many lives were lost. Haldir shuddered inwardly! She had spoken of the Galadhrim only and not mentioned the Green Elves of the neighbouring kingdom which would be as affected by a romping evil on the Amon Lanc as his own kin. He cursed the Lady and his friend Thranduil for their never-ending bantering over Eru only knew what age-old distress that the one mayhap had wrought upon the other. She was so wise, and yet so foolish when it came to Celeborn’s cousin, and Thranduil was the same! Haldir had seen many such horrors in his long life and he would do everything in his power to prove the Mirror wrong… and to create unity between his liege and the neighbours. T’was no mission for a frail old man but for an experienced Captain accompanied by at least two companies of reliable and brave warriors. He threw a furtive look at the old fellow; he had adapted his pace to Haldir’s, ducking branches and avoiding serpentine roots. He coped rather well, considering his age and frail stature. There was not a drop of sweat on his brow and his cheeks were the same healthy olive colour as when they had left Caras Galadhon. Surprising!

The Captain accelerated a bit, descending light-footed towards a tiny rivulet and jumping over it with ease. The old fellow followed in his footsteps, down and over without a thought. Haldir perceived a wrinkling of the eyes and an expression of great smugness on the aged face. Damn the wizard! This would not be an easy undertaking to make Mithrandir desist and leave the foolhardy quest to competent professionals!

Four and a half hours later, the rays of the sun at noon were brightly piercing the thick leaves and left joyous twinkles of light on the soft, moss covered ground, Haldir wheeled in and came to an abrupt halt. They had been avoiding all the places where his wardens lay hidden on their daily duty to protect the realm of Celeborn and the Lady of the Light and were now at arrows length from the meeting of Celebrant and Nimrodel, where they would have to cross the waters on a tight rope that the Captain of Lothlorien had brought for such purposes.

‘Stop!’ he exclaimed and threw his travelling bag back to the ground.
Olorin chuckled smugly and bent comfortably on his staff. ‘Are you tired, Captain? Shall we take a rest and restore ourselves on those plentiful provisions packed by loving hands into your bag?’ He was highly amused with Haldir’s exasperation. When they had left the path and started bushwhacking, the Istari immediately understood that his companion, who on the outside had seemed so subdued, was putting up a test… a test of strength and endurance, for he doubted the wisdom of going on this quest with a seemingly aged man inside a frail, spinney body. Olorin had taken up the challenge and followed without complaints. He understood that no words would convince the Captain of the Galadhrim, only deeds.

‘Mithrandir, you and I we must talk. T’is a serious matter and no good for a joke. You are very much aware that my kin hardly needs any rest, most certainly not after a morning stroll into the forest. You have shown me that you can keep up and I do admire you, for I did not expect this from one of your wisdom and age. But will you be able to keep up for days on end, in the mountains, where we must climb to places that make even an elf shudder? Will you cross rivers at a swim or with only a tight rope for your bridge? But I speak not only of feats of endurance and woodman ship, but also of other things that may yet come: there will be yrch! This I guarantee you, and if they should spot us, they must be destroyed, else the shadow you have spoken of may learn that he is pursued. And there will be some to capture in order to extricate intelligence from them. T’is not some cosy chat by the fireside, but rough and ugly, for never will they answer willingly as they know that at the end of the road they shall met their doom.’ Haldir had spoken in a respectful tone and with great seriousness. He had put all his power of conviction into these few words, praying to the Valar that the old wizard would hearken and desist. He pulled his arms around his knees and looked up to Mithrandir, his storm-grey eyes reflecting his silent plea to the higher powers of Arda. ‘I do not doubt thy magic and I am certain that you can defend yourself well, but think: if t’is truly him whom you fear, he will fell this sorcery and he will understand that one familiar with the secret ways is closing on on him. The sorcery of thy foe is as black as the ashes of Mordor. He always knew, when he encountered one whose magic was of the light – be he elf or any other creature under this sky – and always he has put his evil energy into the humiliation and complete destruction of such an enemy.’

Olorin smiled at the Captain of the Galadhrim, then he placed his staff on the ground and sat next to Haldir. The ellon had spoken with great concern and sincerity and what troubled him was truly the safety of one, he knew as a friend of his Lady Galadriel and thus worthy and good. Haldir did not shrink from the dangers of the quest or the terrible foe, may he be the Dark deceiver or only a wraith of his.

‘I hearken thy words, Captain, and I am greatly touched by this concern of yours, but now you must listen to me and accept your fate,’ he said gently. ‘I must go and you must be my companion on this quest. It is so simply and it cannot be otherwise. As thou hast sworn oath and loyalty to the Lord Celeborn and the Lady of the Light, I have sworn oath and loyalty to my Masters. You cannot refuse your Lord’s and Lady’s command, and neither can I.’

Haldir leaned back and looked deep into Olorin’s eyes. For a long moment the warrior sat in silence, searching deep within his companion for the meaning of these words, for he had magic of his own and he had been well taught by a great mistress of the minds of elves and men. No words did he need to speak to living beings, be they two-legged or four-legged, and even in the spirit and thought of trees and plants he could enter, when need arose and counsel was important. Many millennia ago Galadriel had been surprised to discover in her foster-son that ancient magic of the Eldar who had seen the light of the Two Trees. It had been an accident. She had surprised him with Elrond, with whom he had great friendship in silent conversation by the white shores of Lindon. She had kindled that gift in him and in the son of Elwing and Earendil and she had taught the two young Ellyn well. Alas, he could not speak so far as his friend, but Elrond was not gifted with the creatures of the wild and plants and trees. And so they had decided, that upon each was bestowed what he would need most in life and Elrond had gone to become a healer and master of lore, while Haldir chose the sword.

Olorin grinned slyly. That young one was very gifted: he probed here and there, touched his mind gently, like a feather in different places, sneaked silently around obstacles and took cover in the shades of his imagination and fantasies. But he went with great determination towards his goal, never straying from the chosen path. Artanis had done a great job! He wondered from whence the son of two simple, wandering grey elves could have inherited this rare magic… and his looks, that did the finest Vanyar princlings of Elvenhome proud? For a while he humoured him, showing him bits and pieces of his travels in the North and the West, a bit of anguish concerning the Great Deceiver and his return into the confines of their world and some lengthy, philosophical discussions concerning evil and good with Cirdan of Mithlond and Elrond of Rivendell. He smiled, unbeknownst of the intruder, when Haldir tarried with him and Elrond. There was a great and deep friendship between the two Ellyn and a surprising tenderness that came from an almost identical background: dramatic loss of parents and a difficult, dangerous early childhood. Olorin understood much better why Celeborn’s Captain had been so willing to throw his body over the body of the Lord of Rivendell, when Grond had struck on the slopes of Mount Doom… and why Elrond had put all of his skill into the almost impossible task, to recall his wounded friend from the Gates to the Halls of Namo. He also understood – and this idea made him smile with glee – why his companion and Artanis had mentioned the courtship of Celebrian and Elrond in such a funny manner. Considering the Lord of Rivendell almost as a brother, the Captain of Celeborn had found it troublesome to accept a relationship with his ‘so-to-say’ sweet little sister, whom he had held in his arms as a newborn elfling and protected all through his adult life. Olorin gave Haldir’s probing mind a friendly slap, when he decided that they had lost enough time with this little game. Then he took the rogue by the neck, like an untidy cub and threw him out.

‘That’s it, mellon!’ the Istari proclaimed sternly.’ You are gifted and cunning, this I shall say. But never again try to tread upon the paths of my mind or I shall administer to you the worst beating you ever had in your relatively long life.’

Haldir blushed. He had been caught. Caught like an inexperienced elfling who took his first lesson with a master! He felt a rush of shame and lowered his head. This was no wise old man or strange kind of elf. Never before had he been tracked down so skilfully and stealthy. None but Galadriel herself had ever spoken such words to him, not even Celeborn, when unwittingly he ventured too far and wide.

‘What are you, Grey Wanderer?’ he stuttered, ‘…and what do you try to hide from me?’

Olorin stood up and patted the bewildered warrior on his solidly muscled arm. ‘Get up, Haldir! You will know in due time. Now there is a river to cross and I have no intention to wet my feet or robes. So you better take that rope of hithlain and rid yourself of your clothes, for deep and cold are the waters of Celebrant where he meets with his lovely sister Nimrodel.’

Haldir leaped to his feet, snatching his travel bag. Then he made for the slopes of the Celebrant.

‘So far, so good!’ Mithrandir chuckled after him.’ Together we started and together we shall return and you will not get rid of that dotty old wizard… as you secretly call me. For you have been discovered and now you shall do my bidding to the end.’

Olorin heard only a rather grumpy ‘Hrump’ and saw grey woollen cloak, tunic and under tunic fly through the air and onto a heap of carelessly piled weapons. Then a rustle and a splash and off went the Captain of the Galadhrim towards the other side. The Istari watched with great glee, while Haldir’s powerful strokes parted the ice-blue waters. When the Captain touched the other bank he shouted merrily after him. ‘I believe I do not need to trouble my frail old hands with your gear and weaponry… since your kin does not tire easily and hardly needs a rest after an early morning stroll in the forest.’
Haldir shook himself like a wet dog, golden mane flowing over his shoulders. When he heard Mithrandir teasing, he was almost about to wag a menacing fist at the irresponsibly foolhardy and stubborn old brat, but then decided against it, shaking his fair head in despair. He then safely fixed the hithlain to a solid tree trunk and observed with great surprise how lightly and agile the grey-bearded enthraller of elves and ensnarer of honest warriors stepped on the tight robe. He used his knobbled, long staff as a balancing stick and literally flew over the Celebrant.

‘No elf you are and most certainly not one of the Edain!’ grumbled Haldir, before he threw his powerful body once more into the icy floods to reclaim his gear and arms and to untie the temporary bridge over the waters.

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