Lothirien kept her eyes firmly fixed ahead of her, hoping that her countenance appeared more composed than she felt as she drew to a stop beneath the flickering torchlight within the close stone walls of the fortress the race of Men called Helm's Deep. How had she made it this far? The dark cloak and her armor concealed her long hair, and her womanly figure, while the helmet she wore covered much of her face, but not enough to hide her full lips, or her large eyes. Yet by some miracle, no one had uncovered her charade. Not even Haldir, her own husband, who stood not ten paces away, had found her out. Yet.
Lothirien sighed low as she blinked and turned her eyes upon her lover's back, swathed in a red cloak, his golden hair spilling down his broad shoulders. He stood facing the king of the Rohirrim, a Man with lines of care furrowing his noble face, whose expression carried now but little more than dumbfounded gratitude. The expressions on the faces of his men, mirrored his own, and Lothirien was amazed that so many of them were young, only boys, without even the first growth of beard that marked the beginning of their adulthood. Others, with beards of dirty grey, had gone far beyond their youth, and were growing bent with the feebleness that the lengths of years eventually brought to all humans. Yet they were all clad in armor, young and old, clutching weapons, prepared to fight.
"How is this possible?" The king asked as Haldir placed his hand upon his chest, and bowed his head in deference to the king. The king's words were spoken in the speech of Men, and Lothirien strained to understand him.
"I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell." Lothirien smiled at the mildly arrogant tone in Haldir's voice but quickly fought the smile back. "An alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago, we fought, and died, together." As he said this, a rattle of footsteps upon stone clattered down from the steps above.
"We come to honor that allegiance." Haldir finished with a smile in his voice as Lord Aragorn appeared, Prince Legolas no more than a step behind him, trailed by the Dwarf, Gimli. Lothirien strained for a sight of Lalaith. If Prince Legolas was here, Lalaith would not be far away. She glanced eagerly at the archway through which the three had appeared. Surely Lalaith would emerge any moment. But she did not come.
Their faces were bright with wonder, as the king's was, and no trace of grief or despair marred the prince's face, so Lalaith, Lothirien assured herself, had not met some violent end. But where was she?
"Welcome, Haldir." Lord Aragorn greeted, darting eagerly down the steps, and pausing before him. The two saluted each other, before Aragorn, with a grin, lunged forward, and clasped the Elf in a firm hug. Lothirien stifled yet another smile as Haldir stiffened, clearly startled before he relaxed, and returned the hug, clapping Aragorn's back as he did. "You are most welcome." Lord Aragorn murmured again, now in the speech of Men.
Prince Legolas stepped forward then, and clasped Haldir's arm, his own eyes shining in welcome as the Elves about Lothirien, as one body, turned to face the King of Rohan. Startled, she spun, only slightly awkward, and thumped the bow she carried upon the stone beneath her feet as the others did. She glanced discreetly to one side and then the other to see if any one had noticed her momentary lag. But none seemed to.
"Where is Lalaith?" Haldir asked softly in Elvish beneath his breath, giving a voice to Lothirien's own question.
"Safe. Far from here, thankfully." Prince Legolas affirmed with a grin, then added as he lifted his eyes to the lines of cloaked Elves. "And your lady?" His eyes flashed over hers and paused momentarily, his brows knitting, before he glanced back at Haldir.
"Lothirien remains in the Golden Wood." Lothirien could hear the relief in Haldir's voice, and her heart twinged with guilt. "Though she was most reluctant to be left behind."
Legolas nodded. "Then she is much like Lalaith, in mind and in heart." He said, as he once again clapped Haldir's arm, then turned away to stand at the shoulder of his fellow Elf, and face the king.
Haldir returned to the speech of Men as he faced the king and, with a lift of his chin, announced, "We are proud to fight alongside Men once more."
Lothirien smiled, for indeed she was proud to be here. Having seen children, infants really, who were clad in armor and ready to die, she did not regret coming. She drew in a sigh, and lowered her eyes to the stone at her feet, and as she did, she missed the questioning glance that Prince Legolas threw over his shoulder as he turned and glanced back, directly at her.
Lothirien stood alone in the armory of the Rohirrim, hoping her momentary absence would not be noticed. She had removed the dark cloak she had been careful to keep hooded since she had left Lothlórien, and was examining her mottled reflection in a polished shield that lay propped against the wall in the nearly empty room. Her helmet sat beside her upon a wooden table, and she studied the full contours of her face freely. She wondered why she felt so strangely ill in her stomach, but was sure it was due to the fear that pulsed through her at the thought of the coming orcs. Or perhaps because she was separated from the Golden Wood, the trees she loved, where she had been born.
Thankfully, the mild nausea tightening her stomach did not show upon her face, and she turned her attention upon her hair as it spilled about her shoulders and down her back, far longer than it should be, if she were a man. She sighed, berating herself for not having had the courage to cut it to her shoulders before she left. But her sword was sharp enough to do the work now, and so she slowly drew it from its sheath, the soft sliding of the metal echoing loudly in the still quiet until she held it free in her hand.
Drawing in another great breath for courage, she reached behind her neck with her free hand, and twisted her golden hair into one thick rope over her shoulder, as she lifted her blade.
"My lady, that is not necessary."
Lothirien dropped her blade that fell with an echoing clatter against the stone floor, and spun to see Prince Legolas standing upon the stone steps that had been carved into the very rock of the cleft that curved up and around, out of her sight, into the night air.
"My lord, you frightened me." She gasped, retrieving her sword and resheathing it.
The Prince of Mirkwood bowed his head slightly, his eyes glancing away from her almost guiltily.
"You saw me." She said in a low voice. "You saw my face, and recognized me."
"I did, my lady." He said, bobbing his head again, a pained expression upon his face.
"You were easy to see. Your husband and your comrades were clearly distracted by their many other worries to not have noticed you before now."
"Oh, Lord Legolas," Lothirien gasped pleadingly, "you will not tell Haldir, will you? He has enough to worry about, as it is."
He looked down at his feet, shifting uncomfortably, "Forgive me, my lady, but-,"
"It is a bit late to make such a request of Thranduilion, my dear," said a voice from around the curve of the stairs that shook Lothirien to the core of her being as with heavy steps, Haldir came into view. She gulped hard, for never before in her entire life, could Lothirien remember him looking so displeased.
"You may go now, my friend." Haldir said to Legolas through teeth that were set firmly together, not taking his burning eyes off of Lothirien.
Prince Legolas gulped, looking back and forth between the two Lórien Elves before he offered her a nod, his eyes gleaming with apology, then turned and departed up the stairs, leaving the two of them alone.
Lothirien watched his retreating back until he was out of sight, before she turned her eyes back upon Haldir's angry face as he dropped down the last few steps to join her within the empty armory. His chest rose and fell with bridled emotion as his eyes red with displeasure studied her, silent, for long moments beneath the flickering light of the lamps that lined the room until the tension between them was thick enough to slice through with a knife.
"Dare I wonder if that helmet and cloak might be Thalion's, as, I have discovered, he is not here." He demanded, his voice chillingly cold, and Lothirien gulped.
"I tricked him into drinking wine that I had laced with a sleeping herb." She returned, her voice soft in the stillness.
"Then you borrowed them, and took his place, I suppose?" He seethed.
She nodded tentatively.
She fought the urge to cringe as she waited for the outburst. But it did not come. Instead, he stepped further into the room, closer to her, and as he came, the anger that had been flaring in his eyes melted into sadness that only deepened as he drew nearer. Lothirien's heart quickened and she hardly dared move. At last, he stopped before her, so close that the toes of his boots met hers. He lifted his hand, and with a touch that felt gentler that the soft kiss of a breeze, brushed two of his fingers across her brow. Then he lowered his eyes to contemplate the mixture of dirt and sweat accumulated on her skin from their long, strenuous march, and that had come off upon his fingertips, before he brushed it away with his thumb.
"I had hoped to save you from this." He said close to her face, and in a voice that came from low in his throat.
With a gulp, Lothirien raised her eyes to Haldir's, to see compassion as well as deep, wrenching hurt competing to show themselves upon his face.
Lothirien looked into his eyes, wanting to make him understand, but not knowing how. "Haldir, I-," she gulped and quickly lowered her eyes, "I have made you angry. And I have hurt you as well."
"I am not angry, and neither am I hurt." He murmured. "Only afraid. Terrified Lothirien, for you. I wish you had not come."
"I only wanted to be near you." She said softly.
"I know," he whispered, and then fell silent. Lothirien caught a quick breath as she felt the back of Haldir's finger slowly brush her cheek. "And I must confess, it does my heart good to see you, my little flower."
She closed her eyes, and breathed in the warm masculine scent of him, shivering at the memories his closeness stirred as his free arm circled gently about her shoulders and drew her against him.
"Do you remember the night we gave ourselves to each other?" he whispered, his breath brushing soft against her ear as she rested her head against his armored chest.
"It will be in my memory forever." she answered softly.
"With everything that I am, I wish this night could be as that one was." His words were furtive and full of longing, stinging Lothirien's eyes with tears. She felt his hands lose themselves in the cool, unbound tresses of her hair, savoring the feel of it in his fingers, before he whispered, "But, what I want, cannot be. The orcs draw near."
"Haldir, I-, I am sorry I have given you cause to worry." She said, lifting her eyes to his.
"But you are not sorry you came with me." He sighed, his warm eyes seeking hers.
"No." She admitted, her eyes falling away. "Even now, I am glad I came. I wish to fight beside you. I will not be dissuaded."
"I know that. Now." Haldir sighed, and then in a low voice begged, "But will you fulfill at least one request of mine?"
"And what is that request?"
"I do not want you on the wall." His words were strained and pleading. "I want you behind it on the ground. There will be others there, with you. You will be away from the thick of the fighting upon the parapet, but your arrows will still reach the orcs beyond. There is nothing but a small drain there, nothing the orcs could find their way through. You will be relatively safe. Will you do that for me, if nothing else?"
"If it will give you peace, so that you are not so fearful for me." She sighed with a nod. "If it will help you give more thought to your own safety, then yes."
Haldir smiled, but it was a sad, weary smile, as his hands slid beneath her chin, cradling her smooth face with such tenderness that her breath caught in her throat. "Lothirien." He whispered as his forehead rested against hers, and his eyes sought her gaze. "When this is behind us, when the battle is naught but a memory and we have returned to Lórien, I promise to show you a night more beautiful than the first that we shared. Does that please you?"
Lothirien blushed warmly at this, and Haldir smiled again, though more broadly now, for her expression was sweet and timid, yet trusting, like a young girl's. "Yes. It does." She sighed, then murmured timidly, "I will hold you to your vow."
"Good," he said gently. "And until then, let this remind us both that I have promised it." And with these words, Haldir bent his head, and pressed his lips fervently, against her own. Fire raced through Lothirien as his arms circled about her and pulled her against him, crushing her soft body against his solid chest. Her arms circled his neck, and Lothirien found herself answering his mouth with her own impassioned kisses. Her mind was in a whirl, and all she wanted was to forget everything, and give herself to him here, in the armory. But a moment later, Haldir's arms eased, and his mouth released her. A sigh escaped him before he drew back, with great reluctance, seeking her eyes.
"Forgive me," he said, a chagrined smile coming to his face. "I have distracted you."
Lothirien grinned in return, knowing she could not hide her flaming cheeks from her husband. "Do not be sorry," she returned.
"Come, then," Haldir said, picking up her helmet from the table, and offering it to her. "There are orcs approaching that wish to die upon Elven blades. Let us not disappoint them."