"I am entirely opposed to this." Legolas muttered through clenched teeth as he traded a weighted look with Elladan as the two Elves and their companions trotted silently through the forest of Lothlórien, toward the western edge of the trees.
The sunlight filtered down through the golden Mallyrn, lighting upon the path they trod, and giving a mistaken aura of peace to the Golden Wood. Yet Legolas' heart felt heavy. For in spite of Lady Galadriel's assurances when they had first come to Caras Galadhon, he was still unsure.
"Calm yourself, my friend." Elladan answered back, turning and glancing back at the group of Elves from Imladris as well as Legolas' kinsmen from Mirkwood. Arwen and Lalaith side by side, strode easily along with the rest of them, clad in men's garb like their male kindred.
"Arwen is a capable swordswoman in her own right. And-,"
"It is not so much for Arwen that I fear, but for Lalaith." Legolas hissed back.
Beside him, and slightly behind him, Elrohir made a low sound in his throat that sounded like a muffled laugh. "I wonder why that is?" Elladan's twin muttered under his breath.
"Do not jest!" Legolas muttered, somewhat annoyed that Elladan's younger twin had been listening to their words. Had Lalaith also heard what he had said? He wondered, mortified. "Before your father gave Lalaith her knives and her bow, had she any training with such weapons?"
"You said yourself she was a fast learner." Elrohir smirked, his grin askance on his lean elvish face. "She learned in three days what takes many several decades to learn."
"And our father has seen it for himself." Elladan cut in, in a voice that sounded as if he too repressed a chuckle.
"That is why he felt confident enough to allow her to come when she asked permission to accompany us."
"She has never been in combat! She has never slain any creature, good or fell!" Legolas grumbled. "I would save her from the pain of seeing death."
"Then you mean to protect her from life." Elladan answered back, his voice growing serious.
These words silenced Legolas, and his mind spun, thinking quickly of a retort.
"You mean well, but you are not her guardian." Elladan continued, more gently now. "My father is. And as much as he was truly reluctant to let them go, he knows Arwen and Lalaith are as capable as we." A soft smile crossed Elladan's face before it disappeared. "And," he added, "he does not fear so much for Lalaith, with you here."
At these last words, the words of protest Legolas longed to spout fell away into silence, and he turned to glance back at the maiden whose golden hair, bound back in a single plait that hung to her waist, shone as with the light of stars.
As if sensing his gaze upon her, Lalaith glanced up, and her eyes found his. She smiled.
Legolas' heart gave a fierce throb in his chest at the sight of her face, bright and fair, and filled with trust. Until now, she had grown in joy and safety, surrounded by those who loved her within the protected vale of Imladris. With all his heart, he wished she had remained behind.
But Elladan was right. If he truly cared about her, he would not keep her in Imladris, like a wild bird locked away in a gilded cage.
"Welcome, my lords, Elladan and Elrohir." The voice, cool and slightly haughty, forced Legolas to an abrupt stop as he turned forward.
Before him stood two golden haired Galadhrim, dressed in the soft greys of their people, bows in their hands, and quivers of white feathered arrows upon their backs. One of the two, Legolas recognized.
"Welcome, Legolas Thranduilion." Haldir added with a guarded nod to the Mirkwood Elf as their eyes made contact.
"Haldir." Elladan nodded in return. "Alcarion." He added, nodding to the second, whose cheek bore a brush of black orc blood.
"My lords." Alcarion answered with a bow of his head.
"I wondered when you would arrive." Haldir said, his voice smooth and even. His eyes flashed over the new group of Elves, finding the two maidens who stood together, and a twist of a smile came upon his face.
"My lady, Arwen Undomiel." Haldir murmured smoothly, to which Arwen nodded as Haldir directed his attention now at Lalaith who drew a step forward, and offered him a soft, timid smile.
"Lord Haldir." Lalaith murmured softly.
"My lady?" Haldir said, his words more a question than a greeting. "Do my eyes deceive me? My lady, Lalaith Elerrina?"
Legolas narrowed his eyes at the change upon Haldir's face, disliking the expression of wonder and surprise as well as blatant admiration that shone within Haldir's suddenly bright eyes as the Lórien Elf gazed upon the young maiden.
"Indeed, it is I." Lalaith muttered, glancing away from Haldir's suddenly piercing gaze. "Does my presence surprise you, my lord?" She asked, her glance turned downward to the leaf strewn ground.
"Your presence, no." Haldir said with a soft shake of his head and an apologetic grimace. "But you have grown since last you came to the Golden Wood."
"It was but twenty years ago when I came last to Lothlórien." Lalaith murmured. "And I could not have changed, for I have been of age for many centuries-,"
"Oh, but indeed you have grown, my lady." Haldir murmured, his voice hardly above a whisper as he smiled softly and inclined his head toward the maiden. "Much more beautiful than when last you were here."
Lalaith's mouth opened in a silent gesture of surprise at Haldir's open expression of appreciation for her beauty, and her fair cheeks flushed to the color of a soft rose.
"Lord Haldir." Legolas blurted, far more forcefully than was his intent, and the March Warden looked from the maiden to the Mirkwood Prince with mild surprise etching his features. "We have come to drive back the orcs that have come to harass your people. Shall we do so?"
Haldir's chest swelled with a deep breath at Legolas' words, and the muscles of his jaw tightened as he eyed the other Elf. For a moment, it seemed as if a sharp retort were soon to come from his lips, but with effort, the March Warden bit back whatever words he wished to speak, and a narrow, guarded smile turned his mouth upward.
"Indeed, my lord prince." Haldir said with a narrow bow of his head, though his words were sharpened as his gaze shot darts into the Mirkwood Elf. "Your assistance and that of your kinsfolk, will surely prove to be the force that drives these creatures back."
"That is my hope." Legolas answered, his own words equally as sharp, and the Elves eyed each other, a silent though unmistakable challenge passing between the two men.
"It is the hope of all of us." Elladan muttered, his voice betraying his slight exasperation, and bringing the heated gazes of Legolas and Haldir to bear upon him. "Shall we?" Elrond's eldest added, gesturing down the path upon which they stood leading nearer to the eaves of the forest where the orcs had entrenched themselves.
Haldir cast one last glance at Legolas, then drew in a deep breath, as if forcing reason back into his mind, and a slight curve of a smile came upon his lips. "Follow me." He said, then turned sharply, and started down the path from whence he and Alcarion had come.