Beneath the silver light that spilled from the high talan above, Haldir paced briskly, his hands clenched tightly behind his back, his heart a tumbled mass of jumbled confusion within his chest.
He had seen her again. After over a century, she had come again to the Golden Wood. Her cousins, Arwen as well as Elrond's sons, and others of the Elves of Imladris had made the journey as well, but from the moment he saw her riding like a queen upon her silver white mount beneath his trees, the others of her retinue were all but invisible to him.
Her initial greeting had been cordial enough when he and his detachment had come through the trees to meet them and take them into the city. But it had not been as enthusiastic a reaction as he had hoped.
What had he hoped for? Haldir wondered. For her to leap off of her horse, and fling herself into his arms, claiming his mouth with a heated kiss? A tepid grin crossed his lips at this thought, only to fall swiftly away again. The lady barely knew him, in all truth, he admitted, chastising himself silently. Still, since her last departure from the Golden Wood, he had thought of her every day, dreaming of her often, and wondering if she ever thought of him.
Often had he remembered her eyes, large and bright, and her mouth, expressive and soft, and warm, he imagined, as it had been when he had spoken to her before her departure. The pain and the guilt he had seen in her had wrenched his heart, and the words he had spoken to comfort her had simply spilled from his lips. Perhaps he had spoken out of turn, he thought ruefully to himself. But even now, to think of her as akin to the very stars themselves seemed a thing not out of place in his mind. He remembered the way her sweet young face had flushed to the warm color of a rose. And he remembered also, the glint of steel in the eyes of Legolas of Mirkwood when he had come looking for her, and found Haldir there. But how could that upstart of a princeling have expected him to act otherwise? Could any man remain silent with such a fair vision as the lady Lalaith, when such pain and guilt filled her face?
Haldir narrowed his eyes as he thought of Legolas. A short pang of jealousy shot through him as he remembered the familiarity with which Lalaith and that Mirkwood Prince had treated each other. True, it was to be expected, for they had known each other as long as Lalaith had been alive. Their friendship was no secret. But was he wrong to sense that there may be something more between them, that this camaraderie they openly displayed may not be so innocent as that which existed between himself and Lothirien?
His thoughts of his dear friend caught him off guard, and he came back to his present mission, pausing in his restless pacing and lifting his eyes to the high talan above his head where the lady of his thoughts was housed, the home that would be hers and her cousin Arwen's during their stay. His thoughts had come back to himself none too soon, for as he lifted his eyes the maiden whose arrival he had been awaiting, alighted from the bottom step onto the earth of the path at her feet, having descended the silver lit stairs that wound about the Mallorn without his noticing.
A sliver of a smile touched her lips as she came toward him, moving with the soft grace that had always been hers, making her seem to float over the grass as she crossed toward him.
"Lothirien," he spouted impatiently before he strode forward, and caught her hands within his, "did you speak to her? Did you give her my message? What did she say?"
As swiftly as a cloud blocking the sun, the smile disappeared from her face as she spoke, her voice softly cracking as she spoke in a light tone. "Haldir! Whatever am I to do with you? Come now. I can answer but one question at a time."
At these words, Haldir glanced downward, studying the ground beneath their feet, a rueful smile crossing his face.
"Forgive me, my friend." He muttered, lifting his eyes to Lothirien's as they studied his with fervent intensity, her face sober, almost sad before another smile drew itself across her lips.
"I am sorry." Haldir repeated.
"Of course you are." Lothirien whispered.
"So tell me." Haldir begged. "What did she say?"
Lothirien pursed her lips softly. "The lady Lalaith wishes for me to tell you that she is grateful for your solicitous concern, and that she begs you not to worry for her comfort, for her needs have already been seen to." A silent moment passed. "That is her message." She finished more softly now before she drew her hands from his, turned and started away, no longer gliding as she had seemed to before.
"Lothirien-," Haldir muttered, starting after her. Something in her posture confused him.
"What is it, Haldir?" She asked, turning, her voice suddenly weary.
"I-, uh-," he gulped. "That is the only message she gave you for me?"
Lothirien's eyes fell to the ground at their feet. "Oh, yes," She said softly, "the Lady Galadriel has informed us, her maid servants, that there is to be a feast tonight, celebrating the arrival of the children of Elrond. As the March Warden, I would guess that you will be expected to attend. There will be dancing of course, so you will have the chance you have been seeking with Lady Lalaith."
For a long moment, Haldir stood in quiet, surveying the face of the maiden who had been his friend all his life. There was pain in her eyes, which confused him, for as long as he had known her, she had been a happy pleasant girl, if not very quiet when surrounded by those she did not know.
"And will you be there?" He whispered.
"Only as a servant." She gulped. With those words, she promptly turned away.
"Lothirien, is something wrong?" Haldir murmured, starting after her, his voice little more than a whisper.
"Oh, nothing." Lothirien shook herself, and a forced smile curved her lips upward. "Forgive me, Haldir. I am quite well."
"Are you certain?" Haldir murmured, starting after her, and catching her shoulders within his hands. How small she was, Haldir realized, as he stood over her, the top of her head tucking beneath his chin as he embraced her softly from behind. "If something is troubling you, surely you can tell me. I would do anything to make you happy." He muttered plaintively.
Slowly she turned now as she lifted her eyes to his own, filled with pleading tears. A brave smile came to her face as she blinked swiftly. "Then enjoy yourself tonight. Savor the feast. Dance with your chosen lady until you are fairly exhausted! If you are happy, I will be."
Haldir studied her eyes rimmed with red, and the soft curve of her mouth that trembled as she smiled. He furrowed his brow, unsure.
"You great lout!" Lothirien teased, stepping back and lightly slapping his arm. "Do I have your word that you will enjoy yourself, or not?"
Haldir opened his mouth, finding it momentarily dry before he managed to stammer, "Y- yes."
"Very well, Haldir." Lothirien sighed, then lifting up upon her toes, she leaned close. Her body was warm and soft against his as she pressed a kiss to his cheek, missing his mouth by only a fraction. "Now, my dearest friend," she murmured, drawing back, and lowering her eyes from his, "I will be happy."
Soft music played somewhere in the background, and the great talan where the feast was being held, hummed with the low murmur of voices. And the soft step of feet and swish of skirts as couples began to dance.
"My lady?" The voice, softened and muted by her many thoughts, echoed somewhere nearby, and melted away, forgotten, for Lalaith had hardly heard, not thinking the query was directed at her.
She did not feel hungry as she gazed at her plate, the food upon it barely touched. She was not ill or unhappy, for she loved her visits to the Golden Wood as she always had. But her thoughts were elsewhere. Dwelling, as they often did, beneath the shadowed treetops of the realm of Mirkwood.
It would be winter there, colder than it was here in Lothlórien, for this realm was sheltered ever by the power of Galadriel. How was Legolas? Was he well and safe? He had seemed happy and contented in the last letter he had sent her, yet in the realm of Mirkwood, one often was not sure.
"Lady Lalaith?" The voice she had barely heard before sounded in her ears, and with a start she looked up to see Haldir, the March Warden, standing over her chair, a congenial smile upon his face as he waited for her to notice him. "Your thoughts dwell elsewhere tonight?" He asked, his tone light, though she could sense a hint of concern beneath his words.
"Lord Haldir." She gulped, sitting straighter, and offering him a nod of apology. "I fear my mind has been elsewhere. Please, forgive me."
"There is no apology necessary, my lady." Haldir murmured with a slight bow. "But I would be eternally in your debt, if you were to grant me the honor of this dance."
"I-," Lalaith hesitated. She had no reason to deny him, but for a moment, the words she meant to speak stuck fast in her throat. She glanced beside her for help, but the places Arwen and Elladan had occupied were bare, the brother and sister having taken to the dance floor themselves. And Elrohir, two seats away from her offered her no counsel as he shrugged his eyebrows at her, and tossed a stripped chicken bone to his plate.
"The honor would be mine, my lord." She blurted brightly, realizing suddenly that Haldir could not wait indefinitely for her answer.
Glancing up again into his gladdened face, she willingly slipped her hand into his, and rose to her feet. His hands were large and warm, and slightly calloused, like Legolas' hands, she noted as she allowed him to lead her out upon the dance floor, the spark within his eyes as he gazed at her not dissimilar to that which seemed to rest ever in Legolas' eyes. And, like Legolas, she realized, he was a skillful dancer as his arm, strong and sure, clasped her about the waist, and he began to lead her in graceful sweeping turns, leading her across the dance floor like a pair of swans across the surface of a pond. He, like Legolas, embodied both strength and grace as he moved, though Haldir was taller than the Prince of Mirkwood, his shoulders somewhat broader.
Lalaith bit her lip, realizing suddenly, that every turn, every slight move Haldir made, she compared to Legolas. Drawing in a deep breath, she smiled and made an effort to keep her thoughts focused upon Haldir, for Legolas was leagues away, unaware of her constant thoughts of him, while Haldir was here before her, and more than likely aware, and possibly hurt, by her wandering thoughts.
Lifting her eyes to his, she offered him a timid smile as he gazed unwaveringly down upon her face.
"You are a beautiful dancer, my lady." He murmured softly as their eyes met, and to this, Lalaith dropped her eyes to his shoulder, feeling the warmth rising in her face, and knowing that her cheeks were growing flushed.
"Thank you, my lord." She managed to mutter. "You are a fine dancer yourself."
"Ah, but I have Lothirien, to thank for that." He grinned. "She taught me."
"Indeed?" Lalaith breathed, suddenly lifting her face again to Haldir's. "She is as lovely as she ever was. You are truly fortunate to have her friendship." Lalaith's brow furrowed as she lowered her voice and asked, "I spoke with her earlier, and she seemed happy enough. Is she indeed so?"
"She is." Haldir said, his smile twitching slightly. He nodded toward a dim corner, and Lalaith glanced toward where his eyes beckoned to see one of the serving maids, half enshrouded in shadow, though she could see now, that the maiden was Lothirien. Her eyes, large and luminescent, were fixed upon the dancing couple, and as their eyes found hers, a slim smile drew itself across her mouth.
"I am glad." Lalaith whispered softly, feeling Haldir's hand tighten minutely about her waist. "I feel greater comfort to know that she has found peace."
"She is a strong, brave lady." Haldir whispered as the music drew to a close at last, and the dancing slowed and at last, ceased. "Much like you." He finished, his words but a breath against her hair.
Drawing back from his embrace, Lalaith noted the quick intake of breath that caused Haldir's chest to rise and fall as he stood before her, and wondered at it, for the music had not been brisk, nor the motions of the dance very taxing.
Around the other couples began to file from the floor, and as they did, Haldir grasped Lalaith's elbow gently, and leaning close, murmured, "Would you grant me the favor of a few moments, lady? Alone?"
Not knowing why she should decline him, she nodded her consent, and at her nod, he guided her away, past the tables and through one of the many pairs of doors flung wide to the cool evening air, leading out upon the balcony edged by a delicate, fluted railing.
Leaning against the balcony with a sigh, Lalaith gazed out into the night. Moonlight spilled through a break in the branches above them, the ethereal light filtering down upon the balcony, and filling the forest about her with silver light. Below her, she could see lights from many of the tree borne flets flickering like stars against the shadowed ground. The railing was cool and smooth beneath her hands, and Lalaith smiled thoughtfully to herself, thinking of how fearful she would be without it.
"Something humors you, my lady?"
She turned to Haldir, her smile growing as he leaned casually back against the railing upon his elbows and surveyed her with gentle eyes.
"I was just thinking-," she smirked again, not finishing her thought, as she shook her head shyly, and glanced downward at her hands. "Oh, my lord, no. It is a childish thing, and you would think it rather foolish."
"Indeed, I would not!" Haldir chuckled, shifting his weight to one elbow so that he leaned closer to her as he spoke. "I give you my word."
"Ai, my lord!" Lalaith cried, pushing herself back from the railing as she shot a playful look at the March Warden. "Why must you know? Have we not come out here, for another purpose, but for you to discover how dreadfully I fear heights?"
Her mouth clapped shut suddenly as she realized the truth had inadvertently slipped, and a slow, satisfied smile spread itself across Haldir's face. "Ah." He said slowly with a nod.
With a huff, Lalaith turned away, and pressed one hand to her forehead while the other sought the cool comfort of the silver balustrade as Haldir chuckled softly behind her.
Spinning quickly, Lalaith eyed his handsome face bending close above hers, and darkly muttered, "Will you mock me now, my lord?"
Haldir surveyed her exasperated countenance and with a worried expression replacing his quickly fading smile, he muttered in a low, somber tone, "No, lady. I would not dream of it. Forgive me. I should not have laughed at your expense."
A warmth upon her hand caused Lalaith to glance quickly down at Haldir's hand as it slipped over her own where it rested against the silver fluted railing.
"I would not wish to lose your favor." Haldir murmured.
So gentle and heartfelt were his words that Lalaith could not help but turn again, and look up into his eyes. Blue they were, and deep and passionate, like Legolas' eyes.
"You have not lost it, lord." She returned, gulping and glancing away, imagining that it was Legolas she spoke to. "I could never think ill of one as noble as you. You are ever courteous and gentle, and I would be ungrateful if I did not thank you for your kindness."
Lifting her eyes, Lalaith returned his casual smile, his eyes warming her as the two gazed long at each other in silence. A thought tugged in her mind, troubling her, until she again glanced down, away from the spark that lived within his eyes, and memory again came back to her.
"Ah, my lord," she stammered quickly, her smile dropping as she glanced back up at him.
"What was it you wished to speak of, when you asked me to accompany you out here? I fear I am at fault for distracting us both."
At her reminder, Haldir also dropped his eyes.
"In truth?" Haldir sighed, grasping at the railing, and gazing out over the peaceful flickering lights of Caras Galadhon, set within the silver lighted Mallyrn. "I must confess, my lady, that there was no reason." He shook his head. "I simply had hoped to speak to you alone."
Haldir glanced down at his hands, and Lalaith followed his gaze, seeing his hands clenching the railing rather tightly, as if he were suddenly nervous. "I wished, my lady, to speak to you where the formality of rank and station might not be so relevant as it would perhaps in another setting-,"
Within her, her heart leaped suddenly, and almost painfully as she began to guess at what he might be speaking of.
"I have hoped that-," Haldir muttered, then paused as he gulped audibly, "we might become friends."
A wave of relief crashed over her trembling heart, and Lalaith almost laughed aloud. Instead, she exclaimed, "Oh, my lord, is that the reason?" Impulsively, she reached out, and clasped both of Haldir's hands within hers. Though a moment later, she caught a breath in her throat, and pulled her hands back.
"Oh, forgive me, my lord." She stuttered, quickly drawing her hands back to herself again, and glancing down at the marbled tile of the balcony beneath their feet. "I fear I can be a bit impetuous."
A smile trembled at the corners of Haldir's mouth as she said this. And as she began to lift her eyes, she felt his hands taking up her own again. Her eyes lifted to find his, a warm smile gracing his gentle features.
"If we are to be friends, my lady, you may call me Haldir." He murmured, gently squeezing her hands as he held them.
Lalaith pursed her lips in a smile, feeling the soft pressure of Haldir's hands clasping her own, and with a gentle answer squeeze, she returned, "Then, Haldir," she paused at the informal use of his name without title or surname, before he smiled gently, "you too, may call me simply, Lalaith."
"Lalaith." Haldir said, his eyes glancing thoughtfully away, as if testing the taste of her name on his tongue. His eyes found hers again as his smile grew. "My friend." He whispered, his eyes smiling into her own as he lifted one of her hands to his lips, and brushed his mouth warmly across her knuckles.