A long moment passed as Lothirien knelt before her loom, waiting for her husband to answer.
"Haldir?" she asked again softly, when he did not answer.
"Lothirien," he sighed, and her name on his tongue was broken, as if he fought to restrain emotions. "I must go."
"Go?" she asked, turning from her tapestry and rising to her feet. "I don't understand. Go where?" She moved softly toward him, and knelt beside him where he still sat, hunched and weary.
"Haldir?" she whispered, resting a hand upon his knee, and reaching for one of his hands. As her small hand slid into his, he caught it, and clung to it as if to a lifeline.
"Lothirien," he choked, his eyes delving into her own with a melancholy pleading that drove a shiver of grief through her. "You know I love you, do you not?"
"Of course I do," she returned softly.
"And that I will love you for all the ages of this world, and even beyond the life of Arda, for all of eternity?"
"Haldir, why are you speaking like this?" Lothirien pleaded, distressed, gazing up into her husband's troubled face. She could feel tears filling her eyes, but would not let them fall. "Where must you go?"
"Orcs of Isengard are marching upon the Men of Rohan." Haldir answered at last, his voice barely above a whisper. "If we do not aid them, the world of Men will fall."
"You are going to war against the Orcs of Saruman?" she choked in a timid voice. Her head felt suddenly heavy, and she rested it upon his knee, clutching his hand all the tighter.
"I am," he answered in a thick voice as a trembling hand touched softly to her hair, his fingers running gently through it.
"We leave within the hour."
"Haldir," she whispered, shaking her head. "I, I-, oh, Haldir." She could speak no more, for a sob suddenly choked her words from her. Pulling her hand from his own, she covered her face, and continued to weep.
"Lothirien," she heard him murmur as he dropped to his knees as well. His arms went around her, and pulled her close. The armor across his chest was stiff and cold, but she clung to him anyway, burying her face against his neck as she continued to sob her heart out. One of his arms fairly crushed her against him, while the other found its way into her hair. "Lothirien, my little flower. Do not weep for me. I will come back to you."
With her face buried against his neck, Lothirien did not see Haldir flinch at his own words, his frivolous promise. But he found himself willing to promise anything if only to end her heartbroken sobs.
As he spoke, Lothirien choked, and drew back, lifting her swollen eyes to his. "Haldir, I am going with you."
Haldir blinked slowly studying his bride's tear stained, yet determined face as the words she had uttered settled slowing within his mind. And as the meaning of her words came to rest, a cold fear clutched suddenly at him. "You cannot," he said, with a determined shake of his head. "You are not going. You will stay here. Where it is safe."
"No," she protested with a vigorous shake of her head. She drew back and rose to her feet. "I am coming with you, Haldir."
Without staying to listen to his protest, she turned away, and clattered down the steps to their bedroom. A wooden chest that had belonged to her since she was a child, sat against the wall, and she threw it open, before she peeled off the dress she wore, and flung it upon their bed. Out of the chest, she drew a clean tunic and a pair of breeches, and Haldir slowly entered the room to see her clambering into the mannish clothes. He paused, and a reluctant smile came briefly to his face. They had always been somewhat too large on her small frame.
"Lothirien, you cannot come," he protested softly, drawing near. Seeing her in this decidedly unfinished stage of dressing stirred his blood, and his thoughts flashed back to the unforgettable night they had shared. He had an hour. Surely they could give each other a few minutes, at least before he left her for how long, none knew.
"Lothirien," he murmured, drawing close and reaching out for her hand.
"Who are you, to tell me I cannot?" she demanded testily, drawing her hand away from his so that she could push it through the sleeve of the tunic she was pulling over her head.
Haldir stepped back, startled as if doused with a cold bucket of water. "I am your husband, does that not count for something?" he snapped.
"Yes, my husband!" she interjected, turning on him, her hands upon her hips. "Not my father! You are not higher than I am. Yet you demand I stay behind while you know of a truth that I can handle myself well in a skirmish with orcs. You have seen it yourself."
"This is not a mere skirmish, Lothirien!" Haldir exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air, and striding vigorously about the room. "This is a war! The land is open and barren. It is not a small orc patrol we are going against. There are thousands! And there are no trees to flee to. You could die!"
"And so could you!" she shot back. "How do you think I feel? You are prepared to march out to Rohan, to throw yourself heroically to the orcs, yet you demand that I stay behind. You are inconsistent, Haldir. I am as skilled as you, and you know this."
"I am well aware of your skills." Haldir seethed. "But if we were in combat, I would be worried about you. I would be so afraid for you, that I would not be watching my business, and both of us would probably be killed."
"There would be no reason for you to be any more worried about me than Rumil, or Orophin." She snapped. "Why would you not be able to treat us all the same?"
Haldir's eyes flashed. "Because you are my wife!"
"You mean because I am a woman?" she demanded. "Why must you judge me as inferior because I am not a man?"
"I didn't say that!" Haldir retorted. "All I mean, is that I want to protect you! Women are not meant to go to such a war as this!"
"Then why did you not vehemently protest when Lalaith went away?" she demanded, lowering her tone to nearly normal.
"Because I am not in love with Lalaith!" he said through teeth that were crushed together.
"Oh, but did Prince Legolas demand that she stay behind?" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes, her voice rising again. "No! For he knows that she is as skilled as he. I can spar better than anyone in Lórien, except, perhaps, you. I have never used womanhood as an excuse to cower within the safety of our city. I have proven myself time and again against the orcs who have invaded our borders. I have as much right to fight as any man in these woods! As my husband, my equal, you cannot decree what I will and will not do!"
"That is true. As your husband, I cannot." He sighed his voice lowered to almost normal, and then slowly he added with a hint of a smile, "But as the March Warden of Lothlórien, I can decide who goes, and who stays to watch the borders."
She drew in a sharp, angry breath, suddenly realizing he was right, and with that, she sat hard upon their bed, and folded her arms tightly.
"Can you not understand?" she demanded, her eyes furiously burning holes in his face. "I am as afraid for you as you are, for me. How can that be different?"
"What if you are carrying our child?" His angry tone had vanished entirely, and now his voice was soft and weary.
"I have not conceived after one night." she huffed.
"Perhaps," he agreed with a soft, almost sad sigh. "But it is a good excuse to keep you here."
She shook her head, and lowered her eyes from him to show him her displeasure.
"You are angry with me, I see," he muttered sadly. "Can you not find it in your heart to forgive me? To try and understand why I am doing this?"
She looked away from him, scowling hard at the wall.
"No? Perhaps not." he murmured softly, as if talking to himself. "But you will be safe. I at least, have that one comfort."
He turned and sought for the latch to their bedroom door, as if he were groping in the darkness. His expression was one of weary, grey pain, but he finally managed to draw the door open.
But before he stepped out, he paused and looked back. "I am sorry I have made you angry." He gulped in a dry throat, and finished, "I love you, Lothirien. And I will love you forever."
His eyes lingered long over her stiff and unyielding form, then trailed over their shared bed. And then he turned, and went out, and shut the door.
The sound of soft weeping reached her ears as Lothirien, her form enclosed in a sliver cloak against the cool chill of the night, stopped on the bottom of her steps, waiting to alight onto the soft grass of the forest floor. She raised her eyes from the untouched wine goblet in her hand toward the sound, and saw one of her friends, Vanarwen, and her husband, Thalion, whom Lothirien had known since they were young Elves. Thalion was only a few decades younger than Lothirien, and Vanarwen a century or two younger than him. She was due to give birth soon, and Lothirien could see the curve of her belly beneath the silver gown and cloak her friend wore.
The couple were standing a short distance away upon a moonwashed trail; they had not noticed Lothirien yet, and Vanarwen was clinging, inconsolably to his shoulder. He wore armor, and a hooded cloak of twilight blue clasped about his shoulders. Over one shoulder, he carried a bow, and a helmet was tucked under his arm.
Thalion was speaking to her in low tones, running his hands along her arms as he moved reluctantly away from her. "I must go now, Vana. The others are mustering. I must go."
"I don't want you to go." His wife wept, clinging to his hand as he moved away. "What if the baby comes while you are gone?"
"I know. I know. I want to stay," he returned helplessly. "But I must do this, for you," he placed a hand gently against the curve of her stomach, "and our little one."
Vanarwen began weeping bitterly at this, and Lothirien could feel tears pushing into her own eyes as well. The farewell between Vanarwen and Thalion had been what should have happened between herself and Haldir. She sighed unhappily. Haldir only wanted to protect her, yet she had not seen it. In her fear and frustration, she had allowed their disagreement to erupt into a shouting match. And as she remembered their exchange of words, she realized with chagrin, that the greater part of the fault lay with her. Haldir wanted to protect her, not control her. And in the end, he had tried to make peace. But she had not accepted it. Oh, what had she done?
Thalion kissed his weeping wife lightly, and at last pulled himself from her grasp, and strode away, a look of torn grieving upon his face.
"Thalion?" Vanarwen called out, pleading. But though he flinched, an agonized look crossing his face, he did not turn back.
With that, Vanarwen turned and fled the other way, her bitter weeping still echoing through the trees.
Thalion glanced at Lothirien and nodded curtly, muttering a half hearted greeting.
Lothirien could see the raw emotion starkly in his eyes as he strode past. He was not far from weeping himself, she realized. It was perhaps one of the most difficult things he had ever done, to leave his expectant wife, whose muffled weeping still echoed softly through the silver lit trees. She turned to watch after him. He had almost disappeared beyond bend in the path, before she dropped down to the grass at her feet, and scurried to catch up with him, careful to keep the wine in the glass she held from spilling out.
"Thalion, wait a moment," she called out, and the Elf reluctantly stopped.
"What is it, Lothirien?" he asked wearily, turning as she approached him. His eyes spoke clearly enough; she was making this more difficult for him, and he wished to be off as quickly as possible.
"Here," she said without preamble, holding out the wine filled goblet. "For good luck."
He glanced down at the goblet questioningly. "Why-,"
"Just take it. Drink it, and then you can go," she ordered him, shoving the goblet impatiently into his hands.
With a sigh of exasperation, Thalion lifted the glass and downed it in one gulp.
"There. Are you satisfied now, Lothirien?" he asked testily, handing the goblet back to her. "May I go now?"
"No, wait just a moment," she said, and drew in a deep breath.
He rolled his eyes. "For what? I am already late. I cannot-," He stopped midsentence, and blinked his eyes hard as if suddenly confused. He wavered on his feet, and his questioning eyes found Lothirien's.
"For that," she said quietly.
Struggling to understand, Thalion's eyes, though swiftly dimming, grew wide with realization. "You put something in the wine, Lothirien."
"Indeed." She reached out and clasping his arm to steady him. "Come. Sit down here." She guided him like a tottering child to a large stone that sat just off the trail where he collapsed heavily.
"Why?" he drawled.
"You do want to stay with Vanarwen, do you not?"
"That was a foolish thing to do, Lothirien," he mumbled trying to sound angry, though his words were quickly becoming garbled. The sleeping herb Lothirien had put into the wine, was taking quick effect. "Who will take my place?"
"I will," she said pertly, sliding the helmet from his weakened hands, and studying it. It would partially cover her face when she put it on, and hopefully, she would not be recognized unless someone looked directly at her face.
"No." He shook his head angrily and attempted to rise, though he stumbled drunkenly and fell quickly back. "You could be hurt, or worse. I would never agree to that."
"I know, my friend." She sighed, patting his shoulder gently. "That's why I had to resort to this. You wish to stay with Vanarwen, while my heart's longing is to go with Haldir."
Thalion blinked at her stupidly, and clumsily shook his head. "You will be discovered before you have gone ten leagues." His words were so drawled, she could barely understand them.
"Perhaps," Lothirien agreed sadly. "But I could not forgive myself if I did not try."
Thalion blinked at her through eyes that probably saw little more than a blur, now. He opened his mouth to say something more, but it did not come out. Instead, he toppled heavily over, rolled off the stone, and fell into a cushion of fallen leaves beside it.
"Sleep well, Thalion." Lothirien murmured, pulling his helmet over her head as she studied his heavily unconscious face. Then unclasping her silver cloak, she pulled it away, revealing her own armor, and her bow and other weapons slung at her side. Setting her own cloak, and the empty wine glass upon the stone beside him, she finished, "Now, if you will but permit me to borrow your cloak, I will be off."