The first Haldir had heard from Erestor was a note. It was propped up against a vase of fresh flowers, placed where it could be easily seen as he walked into his new rooms. It was cleverly done, and Haldir appreciated the gesture. Otherwise, he would have missed it, distracted instead by the unpacking that needed to be done, something he had now gotten down to a small art form. He picked up the note, curiosity warring with tiredness, and noticed the handwriting, neat and well-formed, with a distinctively masculine slope.
I hope the rooms are suitable, they were picked with you in mind. I have included a floor plan of this level for your convenience as most of the Lorien Company are now housed here, with the understandable exception of Lord Celeborn. Directions for the public baths are on the back of the paper, in case you wish to refresh yourself there before dinner. An open invitation has been extended to join us in the dining hall, but if you find yourself overly inconvenienced at the time of the dinner bell, you will find directions to the kitchens on the paper also.
I look forward to seeing you. It has been a long time.
Haldir turned the note over in his hands before looking at the last line once more as he thought back to how he knew the writer. Erestor was one of Lord Elrond’s staff, an advisor. It was unusual for someone in his position to take care of details like this, arranging rooms for one of Celeborn’s men, but Haldir assumed it was because they were short on hospitality staff. Or perhaps Erestor had volunteered, a thought that briefly tantalized his imagination but was quickly pushed out of his mind. Haldir was too tired to sort through it properly, there were too many questions as to why. Nevertheless, it made him smile.
Yes, Haldir remembered him from the few Imladris visits he had been assigned - long black hair, silver-bright smile, sharp as a knife, and he told a good story as well. All qualities Haldir back then had welcomed. He had been unprepared for the unfamiliar bustling rhythms of Imladris, and found it an uncomfortable place. At that time he was young, with an arrogance coming from his experience in his own lands that was not entirely undeserved, but he had grown that trip, and Erestor’s friendliness had been important to him.
He tucked the note away in one of his pockets and rested his bag on the floor by the bed, the centerpiece of his new rooms. He looked around, making note of the possible exits and entrances, a habit of an Elven lifetime. The rooms were quite larger than he expected, but it figured – Imladris was half empty, otherwise he knew he would have received something considerably smaller.
There was a feeling of displacement, the source of which Haldir had no need to wonder at. He’d picked up and moved on from Lorien after most of the people he had known had sailed, the war over, while the world passed into the age of Mortals. He’d briefly known the life of a new settlement before moving on from that as well. This was yet another stop before the final journey; he had always been told it all ended over the sea on the fabled silvery shores, but that had yet to become more than a tale his mother used to tell him and his brothers before bedtime.
He looked up into one of the mirrors that adorned the walls and sighed. He looked tired, he knew he was, it explained the lack of focus in unpacking. He glanced down at the floor plan and decided he’d best make an appearance at the dining hall, duty called. But, as the glance in the mirror had showed him his travel-stained visage, first a wash.
The dining hall was perhaps the most easily accessible room in the Homely house. Haldir wasn’t sure if that was intentionally planned during the building process, or just because any reasonably sensible person could follow the smells of food and their survival instinct kicked in. Tirithên, his friends and fellow warrior, once joked about needing to leave markers used on trees in Lorien to work their way back after getting lost in Elrond’s home before, but Haldir had noticed that no one had any such stories about the dining hall.
It was a very large room built to hold four long tables, half of which were seated with benches while the sections towards the front of the room had chairs. There was a smaller table situated to overlook the room as well, to seat Lord Elrond, his family and honoured guests. It had been years since Elrond had sat in that chair, but tonight it was filled by his son and heir, Elladan.
On his left, Elrohir was seated with his wife and daughter, and Haldir, to his discomforting surprise, realized that he did not remember their names. It would be important during their stay. Luckily, that was easily enough fixed, though embarrassing. Lord Celeborn was there as well, looking more content than he had seen him in some time. He recognized the elf to Elladan’s right as any elf still remaining in Middle-Earth would; Glorfindel, formerly of Gondolin, now of Imladris, history returned and in the flesh. He didn’t know him very well, they had never had much chance to talk, but what he knew of him was impressive - laid back with a markedly interesting sense of humour, and a damn good soldier. Haldir had always thought those qualities made the best kind of leader.
To his surprise, Glorfindel seemed to notice the direction of his thoughts and looked up before raising his glass to him in a small salute. He didn’t have a chance to respond, however, as he was approached by Tirithên and invited to join the section his company had carved out for themselves at the table. When he had the chance to look back, Glorfindel was already engaged in a conversation with the elf besides him.
He turned his attention back to the group in which he found himself ensconced, and he tucked in, hunger pains starting to make themselves known. Laughter, eased to the front after a long day at the end of their travels, kept the dinner conversation light. The usual jokes were told with words slightly more carefully chosen because of the mixed company. Wine flowed freely enough, the conversations across the tables all blurring into background noise as Haldir finally relaxed, the fish and baked tubers having long since disappeared.
During the evening, he glanced at the head table and found that someone from there in turn was observing him. Even though life had been considerably much harder in the past few centuries, Erestor, the writer of his note, still looked good – hell, more than good. His smile was genuine and as bright as his green robe, and he looked pleased to see Hal. Perhaps they could talk later, Haldir thought, it had been years, after all. But later was not now, so he acknowledged the pleasant look and returned it with a smile of his own before laughing as Tirithên delivered the punch line of his latest joke. If Haldir had paid attention to the conversation, it would have been sincere laughter, but he had not, too intrigued by the thought of later.
Later turned out to be much further along than he expected, as weeks passed before he had the chance to speak more than a few pleasantries to Erestor. It wasn’t for busyness on Haldir’s part so much as Erestor’s, the latter’s new duties now encompassing helping families arrange their passage to the west. It wasn’t a problem - Haldir was patient, and he figured it was not like he or Erestor was going anywhere anytime soon. Previously, this would have been a diplomatic visit lasting months or perhaps a year, so weeks would be important in the grand scheme of things, but now it was different; for all he knew, they had years.
When he was alone one evening, his patience was rewarded in ways not fully anticipated. To his delight, he discovered the balcony he had found on his very first visit to Imladris. The view it provided of the waterfall down the cliff’s face was exquisite, coupled with the sound of the water and the ever-present murmur of the trees. It helped with the fact that it had been a particularly bad day, all things considered.
He had a lingering feeling of uselessness, as it seemed that there was less for him to do here. Before, he had to worry about the security concerns of Eryn Lasgalen and defending their new home from the last remnants of the darkness that had plagued the wood, but now, he and his company were foreigners, trying to slip into the pattern and frame of a haven that had been running for centuries – no simple task. It was easy to feel superfluous, but Haldir figured it would only take a few more years. Imladris had a way of absorbing people.
He was not so deep in his thoughts that he missed the clink of glass and the sound of light footsteps drawing closer from the inside hall. He turned, leaning his weight on the stone railing, to view the entrance. Shortly after, Erestor appeared, wineglasses in one hand, a bottle in the other. There was a noticeable lack of surprise at finding Haldir here, and Erestor smiled, lifting the dark-glass bottle as an offering.
“Care for some company? This must have been bottled around the time we last saw each other. Good year.”
Haldir laughed. “One hopes it would be good then, that was forever ago.” Suddenly the evening looked much more promising.
He pushed off the railing, heading towards Erestor, who set the glasses on a decadent-looking reclining couch. Haldir assumed its original purpose was for sunbathing. “I’m not one to turn down freely offered wine while off duty. Sure you won’t have to run off to take care of another emergency?”
Erestor pulled the cork from the bottle, with an ease that spoke of much use of the skill, and handed a glass to Haldir. “Here, take this. And I cannot make promises,” he grinned, while looking up from under surprisingly full lashes, “but I did try to ensure we’d have time tonight. As long as you don’t have any plans. Do you?”
Normally Haldir would have bristled at the implication and the knowing look on Erestor's face, but this was different so he answered merely in the negative, and Erestor smiled again. “Good. That’d be just my bad luck. Here, it’s full, sit – big enough for the two of us. Unless you feel like moving the other chair over here, which is an awful lot of trouble if you ask me. Come, do I have to ply you with wine to get you to tell me what happened at Eryn Lasgalen, or shall you begin now?”
Haldir sat automatically, then laughed at himself for how he was still conditioned to follow orders. He took a sip of the wine and watched Erestor fill his glass and lean against the back of the chair, facing him, tucking his feet up underneath him, smoothing out his robe and settling. It reminded him of a cat, the neatness, the languid but precise movements. “Is that what you want from me? Information?”
“Well yes, that, among other things. Call it curiosity. Of course I’ve read the reports, who hasn’t, but I find most of them lack perspective, so I am looking for it. Yours, in particular.”
“I always hated the paperwork on the job,” Haldir commented. He resumed, a trifle gruffly. “Not much to tell. We’re here, aren’t we?”
The answer didn’t satisfy Erestor, who simply looked at him expectantly with a calm assurance that yes, he would be told what he wanted. Haldir sighed, finished half his glass, wine warming on the way down.
“The world’s changing. Every one of us knows this. Not a good time to try to make a new colony, if you ask me. Prince Legolas made his own in Ithlien, and most of the people who wanted a new, final adventure went with him. He left precious few for us.”
“Ah yes, Prince Legolas’s colony, the twins also visited it at one point. A different world is around the bend, this is true. And there are the elves left behind, who are not longing for a new adventure, but not wishing to go, either?” Erestor commented, causing Haldir to look up, the knowing tone catching his interest.
“Yes, more of those than I realized. Are you one of them?” Haldir asked, casualness belying the careful look he gave Erestor.
“It’s true enough for many elves here.”
He watched as his question was deflected with the same ease and quickness long fingers pushed back black hair, before they paused, stilling in the strands. Erestor laughed, short and sharp with self awareness.
“That’s not particularly fair of me, is it? Fine, I will answer yours if you answer one of my own, at my own discretion. Does that suit you?” Hair back in order, he filled his own glass once more, raising an eyebrow in a silent question, bottle poised in hand.
“In the interest of fairness,” Haldir agreed amiably. Nothing to hide here, he thought. He held his wineglass out. Question answered, flash of red, dull in the low sunset light. “Well?”
Erestor gave him a sharp look, and he almost regretted the nudge. “Yes, yes. Soon enough. Need to light the torches in a bit, that light isn’t going to last much longer.” He leaned against the seat more fully, resting his head against the back with a sigh. “I stay here for this is my home. Not complicated, surely could not be that different from your own inclination? As soon as I cross over – that world is not mine, I will find a use for myself somewhere, but that’s a boring type of eternity. The most interesting thing going on there perhaps would be the gossip. Can you imagine the drama from all the generations of royal family, all in one place with nowhere to go for that long?”
Haldir was pleasantly surprised. “You sound like my Lady. She said before she left that it would be like a gossiping, pompous gaggle of geese.”
Erestor laughed. “Yes, yes. Priceless, no doubt spot on as well.” He sobered quickly, however, tone turning introspective. “That is one thing I regret. I was not able to see her before she left, or pass on my wishes to her. I had duties, the twins left to see their father depart and people had to remain to keep everything in order. Tell me - how was she?”
Haldir considered a moment before answering. He had not shared his thoughts to anyone on that parting, merely did his duty and observed. He was no gossip, not of his Lord and Lady, but Erestor was different, and this night spoke of confidences shared between two people. He’d have to trust that this friendly, approachable elf knew discreetness, but that was one thing he felt quite sure of. “Almost resigned, if the Lady could ever be such. And resentful.”
Erestor looked as if he was really seeing him for the very first time. “What curious word choice. I’ve heard reports of her departure, but I can assure you no one described it like that. What makes you say that?”
“I believe the only reason she sailed when she did was because…” Haldir paused, searching for the right words, “…she was unwell. Very tired, unlike herself, she looked more fragile than I have ever seen her. Lord Celeborn is staying until all our people and family have sailed. There is no doubt in my mind that she would have as well, had she been able, but her health didn’t allow it. Not after the ring. And she is one lady who was never stopped from doing anything because of her health.”
Erestor had listened quietly to all of this, but at that he smiled, full and wide, before it turned sad. “Yes, that sounds like her. We worked together quite a bit, you know. Particularly when she came here, I never went to Lothlorien as much. Well, it feels odd to say worked together, she as the Lady of Lorien and I as an advisor. But I got to know her quite well, eventually, and it rings true. But how would a border guard know of this?”
“Border guards thinned out after the bands and wandering orcs were dispersed. I moved to get an assignment as one of their personal guards. Took some time, got accepted. I have a good record.” Haldir said matter-of-factly, with an absence of the arrogance which he had been known for. “It was important to me, still is. I will sail when Lord Celeborn does, not a day before.”
“You are most loyal,” Erestor said thoughtfully. He leaned in, resting a palm on the chair cushion, the move small, but adding to the feeling of closeness. “If I might be so bold to ask, why stay? Why tie your life like this? Your occupation, your duty?”
“Yes, and no.” Haldir wondered briefly if he should move back, readjust the space between them, but it felt good, so he didn’t. “I made a promise.”
A finely arched eyebrow met that question, as Haldir knew that it would, but this was something the details of which he could not confide. It was his and his alone, shared with the recipient of the promise. He shook his head. “It’s enough to keep me here, and that’s what matters.”
Erestor seemed to make a decision then, and Haldir prepared himself to be probed and cross-examined, but he wasn’t. Instead he was merely asked, “Staying with Lord Celeborn until he sails – not a romantic promise, is it?”
“No, no, no,” Haldir backed off hastily, looking a bit horrified. “Never! Not like that, I can assure you.” He was about to protest more, but then he saw Erestor’s lips curve into a particularly wicked sort of smile. “Oh, you are terrible, aren’t you?”
Erestor sat his wineglass down besides the chair and stretched his legs out, still smiling. “Guilty as charged, yes. The look on your face was, in a word, priceless.”
“Well, I had never considered him in that way. Galadriel and Celeborn – they are one of the greatest love stories of all time, even now. Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve had such entanglements.”
“Oh really? How interestingly phrased – your entanglements.” He put the emphasis on the last word, his tone very knowing, and Haldir’s brain very helpfully added a picture of Erestor, naked, black hair carelessly draped over fair skin, laughing eyes – and very much entangled with him.
He thought it must have showed on his face, but Erestor said nothing about it. They looked at each other, the air heavy with the feel of something more, very present, just barely out of reach. Haldir was about to lean in, closer, reach for it, when Erestor stood, the black and purple robes falling back into place.
“It’s an early day for me tomorrow, so I must take leave of you, I’m afraid.”
“So soon?” Haldir protested, standing as well, albeit more reluctantly. “Well, at least they let you out of your office long enough for this.”
“No rest for the wicked. Or those who have to go over long lists.” Erestor brushed his hair back and sounded apologetic. “Don’t worry about the glasses or wine, I’ll have someone fetch them. You remember how to get to your rooms, I trust?” he teased.
Haldir stretched, then considered him. “And if I told you that I had no idea where my rooms are and I need your help?”
Erestor threw his head back and laughed. “Well then, I will walk you to them.” he offered graciously.
Perfect, Haldir thought.
Their walk to Haldir’s rooms was mostly quiet, with each enjoying the other’s company, though the silence was broken at times by a comment, followed generally by low laughter. Haldir in reality had no trouble finding his rooms by now, he made a point of learning the layout, but he wouldn’t have passed up the chance for Erestor’s company. They passed people on the way, but it was of little interest to the two of them – Imladris was a world unto herself at night, and it was like ships passing in the dark.
It didn’t take them nearly long enough to reach the door, Haldir felt. He opened it and stepped in, turning around to look at Erestor who stood just outside looking up slightly at him, displaying a small height difference between them. He fished for something to say other than the most obvious things running through his mind.
“You never did ask me that question you wanted.”
Erestor grinned, showing full, white teeth and a smile that he was becoming quite familiar with. “No, that’s right, I never did, did I? Can it wait until next time?”
“I’m good for it, of course.” Haldir leaned against the doorway casually, but not relaxed. The tension – the good kind - hadn’t left between them, not quite yet.
“I’m sure you’re good for a lot of things.”
Haldir straightened, taking a step forward. “I have been told that before a few times.”
“Only a few?” Erestor tilted his head to the side, looking up through those lashes. They were lingering, and they both knew it. Time was running out before Erestor would leave, and Hal knew his window of opportunity was closing.
He moved the extra step forward and leaned down, slowly but very surely, to press his lips against Erestor’s. His mark was a little off, falling more towards the corner of his mouth, but Haldir re-adjusted quickly and swallowed the small hint of laughter Erestor gave. Still, he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t be refused until the moment he felt the warm, full flesh against his and the way Erestor yielded, and they tasted each other, inquisitive and wanting. His hands naturally went around Erestor, and they moved closer still, breath mingling and their bodies forming an entanglement of their own.
Erestor had slid his arms around Haldir’s neck, and when they parted for air, Haldir found himself the receiver of a sensual look. “I have wondered what your lips tasted like.”
More beautiful words had never been spoken, of that Haldir was sure. “Likewise. I’m not totally clear on your taste though, perhaps another?”
“Scoundrel. Pay attention this time.”
They kissed again, and reality was better than Haldir’s fantasy of kissing him. But even reality had to end, and Erestor’s hand slipped down to his chest to give him a firm but gentle push, moving away. He looked absolutely enticing, and Haldir wanted him.
“I was not being untruthful when I said I had that early morning,” Erestor commented ruefully. “I need to go.”
Haldir was hard pressed to think of anything he wanted to hear less just that moment. His body protested the absence of Erestor strongly, and it took some control not to express it with his mouth.
“Very well.” he said, finally.
“I’ll ask you the question owed, next time. Soon, if work allows.”
Erestor looked reluctant to leave but determined, and Haldir knew not to push his luck. He moved towards their banter from earlier that night, relaxing and taking the hint that the night was truly and well ended. “Can I get that in writing? I might need it.”
Erestor turned to go, but looked back over his shoulder, smiling mischievously. “If you wish it, but I always keep my promises.” He left then, and Haldir watched him go, noting the very nice bum presented now that his back was turned. He stayed there, loathe to turn away until Erestor had disappeared from sight.
With a sigh, he turned back into his rooms, not bothering to light the lamp offered, merely stripping down and changing into a fresh pair of sleep pants. He more or less fell into bed, but sleep eluded him at first, and he relived moments of their night in his head. Finally, he fell asleep.
Late in the night, a dream came, aided by a memory, his memory, of being on the road years ago, drawing near to the sea. It was a cool evening with the moon high in the sky, casting its shine amidst the trees, dappling the ground with light and dark leaf shapes. He was up for his round for the night watch. Everyone was tired, it was the last stretch of their journey, and the last was often the hardest.
He heard her before he saw her, finely tuned senses already on full alert picked up the sound of the long skirts of her dress rustling the grass. He watched silently, having heard already of her nightly walks, and he had no intention of disturbing her against her wishes. It seemed she had other plans, however, when she approached him. Long, graceful strides brought her to his side, and he schooled his features to show none of the surprise he was feeling.
“Haldir.” Her voice was low and husky - knowing. “Come walk with me, please.”
“My lady…” He hesitated, knowing his replacement was stealing precious moments of sleep and unavailable.
“No harm will come to us tonight, you may leave, and it will not be long.” She rested her hand on his shoulder, their eyes level, and she spoke with a surety that eased his mind. If the Lady said it was safe, it was. Haldir bowed his head briefly and followed. They didn’t talk; they left the boundaries of the tented camp, moving further into the woods. She seemed like a maiden slipping between the trees, and he had seen many doing such in the past, but never before the Lady. Yet this night, that was how she seemed.
Finally they stopped, entering a clearing with an unparalleled view of the moon and a gently trickling brook. The grass was long, wet with dew, and the air sweet and fresh. It felt as if time had stopped, there was no moment but this one, and it was very important. Galadriel went and perched on a big rock, just near the banks of the brook, gathering her skirts up as she settled. “Come,” she beckoned.
He moved to stand in front of her, feeling as if he should kneel, but knew she would only frown and ask him not to stand on formality to her. This was something more. They took the measure of each other, silently, aided by the moonlight, before Haldir spoke.
“Why, my Lady, do you wish my presence?”
She folded her hands in her lap and seemed thoughtful. He looked at her while waiting for his answer, and the change he noticed in her took him back. The rich blue eyes, speaking of power and the residual light from being born in Aman were not as bright, they were tired and resigned. Her hair was a softer gold than before, slightly faded though only noticeable to those who knew her very well, and her movements were slower, more careful. It was plain to see the ring had taken much from her.
“You have served us for a very long time, have you not?” she said, almost absently, fingers working and twisting something. It distracted him momentarily, and he looked down to see it was a thin band formed of gold, immediately recognizable. Her binding ring, gifted her by Celeborn.
“Yes, my Lady, I and my father before me.”
“Your brothers as well. One of them was taken from us, and yet you are still here?”
His facial features twisted briefly, fresh pain unable to be masked. Orophin. The death was recent, only within the past four years. Rumil had decided to sail, he had left soon after, each sibling dealing with the loss in their own way. In a way, Haldir had lost not one but two brothers. “Yes, Orophin. And it is my job, my Lady.”
She nodded. “It was a great loss.”
They were quiet for a moment, each dwelling on people and time lost, the silence broken only by the night sounds. She adjusted the thickly woven shawl over her shoulders, and Haldir was struck by the awareness that she was cold. He was about to ask if he could build a fire, or do anything to help her, but then she spoke, and he listened.
“When do you intend to sail, Haldir?” Her question was stark in the air, but he was not surprised by it, having been asked as much ever since Orophin was killed, and the brothers three sundered. “When I hear the call, my Lady. But the sea has not sung to me.”
She watched him, eyes never leaving his face, and Haldir wondered if she knew his thoughts. People had shared stories and sworn to that effect, but Haldir had never believed them, his own experience leading him to think it was keen and perceptive observation on her part. But here, under the moonlight, it felt differently. “Do you think it will?”
“Yes?” It came out as a question, which was not what he had intended. He assumed that the day would come, he had always been told as much, and he had seen family and friends depart. It had never been something he had wanted, finding Lorien’s trees his home.
“What must come to pass, will,” Galadriel said softly. “And the path that stretches out before you will be walked. But until then I have a request of you, my most loyal guard.”
He knelt then before her, and she said nothing to the contrary, merely resting a hand on his shoulder. “I want you to stay, until the day my husband steps foot on the western shore, and I am there to meet him. To be my eyes, to watch over him in the way you have watched over us all for all these years. Celeborn is very capable of taking care of himself, I know I will see him again, but I would feel much at ease if I knew you were there also. I know this is a sacrifice I ask of you…” She looked to the sky, her face lit by the moon, softening sharp, beautiful angles, before she stood, urging him to do so as well. “Please, Haldir.”
He saw before him the lady who was strong and determined, who had spent much of the last years using the ring and her willpower and life force to protect their people, asking him a request for her own sake for the first time in his life, and he knew the only answer he had to give. “You have my word and promise, my lady.”
She smiled then, the smile that had captured so many hearts, even that of a dwarf, and he could see she knew a peace then. They parted ways soon after that, Haldir to return to his station, but he looked back over his shoulder at Galadriel, standing in the clearing, and he could not shake the feeling of a bird, unable to fly, heading towards a gilded cage.
He woke up then, shaken, and despite the fact that it was a warm night, cold. He threw the bed covering off of him and got out of bed, unsettled and unreasonably awake. He moved to stand at the window, arms crossed over his chest, a sense of defensiveness coming over him as much as for warmth. He looked up out at the sky, the moon full and glowing, eerily reminiscent of his dream, the stars shining in the dark blue velvet night. The image of her leaving this world stayed with him all night.
Trying to catch time with Erestor was like trying to hold onto watery sand. The harder it was held onto, the more it slipped through the fingers. But, as Haldir found out, persistence paid off – every once in a while, all the water would escape and the sand be left in the palm of the hand. Using this method, he had managed to procure Erestor for a handful of outings, starting with Haldir asking for a personal tour of the grounds around the house, which Erestor had picked up on with delight.
Erestor told him to wait until he had a whole day clear from work, and it took a while, but when it arrived they went all over the place, far more than Haldir had expected. Along with the usual suspects, he was shown the market place, which he had already become familiar with. When he pointed that out to Erestor, he found himself visiting the strangest little vegetable and fruit nooks and shops that held trinkets from regions he had never heard of. He feared for the health of his purse, and begged to leave, after which Erestor grinned at him and told him he was always good with a challenge.
He was even shown Celebrian’s famed rose garden. It was small, near the back of the house, a ways from the waterfall, the grass green and the garden well kept in her absence. It was fragrant with the perfume of every kind of rose. It was said that Elrond would give her rare roses as presents on their special day, and Haldir assumed this to be true as he saw more than a few that he had never once set eyes on. It was a very special moment, the air seemed to be touched with Galadriel’s daughter still, and he said as much when they had finally rested, sitting down on one of the stone benches under an arbor of roses.
Erestor had smiled at that, one of the slow, deep ones that was straight from his gut, Haldir had decided, having made up a little catalogue of all the smiles he had seen from him. “It’s not open to everyone, merely a select few. Elrond made sure it was taken care of after her sailing, and when the twins finally settled after the war, they did as well. But – I thought you would appreciate it, that’s why I brought you here. And you do, so they will not mind. You knew her, did you not? Before she became the Lady of Imladris.”
“As well as one could know someone that great from my station, but Lorien loved her. Weren’t too sure about her mother at first, but she was loved from the start.” Haldir spoke absently, touching very delicately the petal of a yellow rose, exotically dusted with a pinky orange at the edges.
“Do you like roses?” he was asked curiously, and he looked over at Erestor, who leaned his elbow on the rail and rested his cheek against the palm of his hand. “Yes, I do like them, very much. They don’t grow in Lorien. We have the elanors and flowers with plenty of ivy, but – not like this.”
“Could have been perhaps why Celebrian made this – all the roses in the world, as many as she could grow. I wonder if there are roses in Valinor?”
“There had better be, otherwise it’s not much of a paradise, is it?” Haldir said, more sharply than he intended. The loss of his brothers was still fresh, Valinor seemed to be on everyone’s minds and tongue, even his.
“Never thought of it like that,” Erestor said lightly before changing the subject smoothly. “There’s a tradition here in Imladris with this rose garden. Sneaking in and procuring a rose from here, and giving it to your sweetheart as a declaration of intention.”
“Really?” Haldir was intrigued and, as was Erestor’s intention, distracted from his darker musings. “Every realm has a tradition, but I had never heard of this particular one. Lorien’s is finding a leaf from a certain tree. Mirkwood, on the other hand…actually, I’m not sure about that one. The rumour was always about having to drink stag’s blood mixed with wine. But that was more of an accepted humorous untruth.”
“Oh, I have heard that joke. It sounds like a drunk Mirkwood elf started it really – they love their wine, don’t they? But yes. It started long before her sailing, and it continued after she left. There’s just been this unspoken rule to never take more than you need. I think she would love that it carried on after her departure.”
“I like that.” Haldir looked over the garden, listened to the rushing of the waterfall and tried to picture a lover on a moonlight mission for his or her token. His thought was interrupted by the sound of the dinner bell, and Erestor stood. “Come along now. Didn’t show you everything I wanted, but next time.”
Life continued as it was wont to do, and Haldir finally settled into the patterns of Imladris. It wasn’t home, but he had come to think of it quite fondly, not only just because it housed Erestor. Their days always ended with next time, something unfinished, always another reason to meet. Next time became a promise between them, something given after the end of the evening but before their lips met in the lingering goodnight kisses that had slowly become their custom.
They had decided one of their favorite places on some of these excursions was the small duck pond, which sat at the back of the kitchens, only a little ways from the gardens that stocked the kitchen with vegetables. Often they would meet out there, Haldir charming day-old bread from the cooks and waiting for Erestor, who would finish work and change into a loose-fitting shirt and pants and hurry out to meet him.
It was there that Haldir told him about his brothers, about Orophin’s death and Rumil’s sailing, in between breaking off bread and feeding the mallards that were brave or spoilt enough to wander up past the banks. Erestor listened, and that comforted in a way Haldir didn’t know he had needed. He had received plenty of condolences before, but Erestor’s compassion, mixed with his very practical sensibleness was different.
From then on, Haldir carried the weight of their departures more lightly, and something changed in his heart, shifting from curious attraction and liking to something far more romantic. Words hadn’t been exchanged on that account, hanging instead between them, not uncomfortably, but Haldir became increasingly aware of it. He wondered if Erestor felt the same, but all he had were the smiles, the kisses bestowed from full lips, and the continued promise of tomorrow. Interested, for sure, he could tell. But Erestor was mum concerning the rest.
It wasn’t until Erestor had left on a three week long trip to the Havens, co-coordinating his efforts with those working under Cirdan, that Haldir realized how much he cared for Erestor. He became easily irritable, miserable, and Tirithên and other friends told him – some tactfully, and some not – that he needed to sort out whatever was bothering him. So Haldir thought about it until a few days after Erestor had returned. Determined, and aided by a brandied courage, he finally worked out what he was going to do. Swaying only slightly, he sought out Glorfindel.
Haldir had no idea what he was doing. The waterfall was loud, water splashing down noisily to where he stood at the bottom only a few meters away. It wasn’t helping his head a single bit. He looked up the rock that loomed before him and wondered what the hell he had been thinking.
It had all sounded better in his head. When he mentioned it to Glorfindel, asking for the story about the tradition, it had sounded romantic, a grand gesture of love. He hadn’t been laughed at either, though Glorfindel had been quite interested in getting him drinking water, which Haldir had mostly waved off, but eventually took a cup because – well, it was the reborn elf after all. Rude to keep on refusing.
Glorfindel had been very sympathetic to his plight, Haldir thought, providing the details of the secret way into the garden, even giving a few rock climbing tips. And Haldir had smiled and nodded and mostly listened, thinking rock climbing couldn’t be all that different from tree climbing…could it?
The garden was high above him on one of the plateaus situated across from the waterfall, and it appeared that the house had mostly been built around, down and on the rocks near the cliff. It was a sprawling building, Haldir realized, now more than ever; it seemed almost as though it was naturally part of the Valley somehow. All the parts of the house made a chaotic kind of sense, much as nature would do.
It didn’t help that the rock face he was meant to climb looked quite slick, and Haldir had visions of himself slipping, breaking bones and landing in the healing wing and explaining to Erestor that he was only trying to show his love.
Erestor. His doubting mind latched onto the one thing that would motivate him the most. He thought about Erestor’s smiles, about the particular one that he had grown quite convinced was just for him. He was smiling himself, eyes wandering over the rock till he found the path Glorfindel had talked about. There were natural hand holds in a rock face worn deep over time, the journey of countless lovers.
He fought a sense of jubilation, reminding himself that the night was not over yet. He squared his jaw and started to climb, being careful of the slickness. Slow and difficult, Haldir thought grimly, it seemed not a tradition at all but a thorough challenge, but nothing that he couldn’t overcome.
Battered, bruised and a little worse for wear, Haldir considered the benefits to being slightly inebriated. It didn’t help with rock climbing at all, but when faced with a locked door, it helped get rid of the logical concerns of looking like a thief breaking in at the middle of the night, or the self consciousness thereof. He just wasn’t sure how he could do it yet. Breaking down the door was not an option – it was in the early morning, and Haldir was pretty sure Erestor lay in there, sleeping. His mind wandered quickly to what Erestor might look like in bed.
Focus! he chided himself, and then he cocked his head. The locks weren’t like those in Lorien, were they? Back in Lorien they had a few designs in which, hidden discreetly amidst the whorls of decoration, had been a spring button. His uncle had been a locksmith, but it was an understandably closely guarded secret where the button was. He felt around the knob, fingers brushing, seeking. He stopped, disappointed. He had wanted to place the rose by the bed stand, the first thing seen by Erestor when he woke up. If he had been thinking more clearly, he would have reconsidered.
Still, he tried one more time, reluctant to leave when he had gotten this far. It was sheer luck when his fingers this time grazed over a small protrusion. Breath whistling between his teeth, he pushed on it and waited. It took a second that felt like ages before he heard a soft click and the door eased open. He slid inside, closing it behind him.
The room was not as dark as he expected, and for that he was thankful. Moonlight streamed in from the open window and it gave him enough light to see how the room was laid out, where the bed was placed, and – who was on it. Haldir paused, all thought abandoned when he laid eyes on Erestor, dark hair spilled over the pillow, a light-coloured sheet wrapped around what looked to be his bare body. Haldir swallowed – hard, and then, moving closer, reached inside the pouch on his belt to retrieve the rose that had been carefully tucked away to survive the journey back down the rocks.
He made to go to the table by the bed, but was distracted by the rise and fall of Erestor’s chest, and his foot connected with a low, wooden object. He swore before he realized what a precarious position he was in, and Erestor stirred.
In that moment, Haldir suddenly was more sober than he cared to be. He watched with growing dread as Erestor sat up. What had he been thinking? He broke into Erestor’s rooms!
“What? Who’s here?” Erestor’s voice was sharp. He looked first across the room before he twisted over to the side, eyes falling on Haldir and widening. “Hal? What are you doing here?”
Haldir wished the floor would swallow him up, anything would be better than that moment. He realized he still had the flower clasped in his hand, and he didn’t know whether to give it to Erestor or offer to jump off the cliff. “Would you laugh if I told you it involved a fair amount of brandy?”
“Maybe,” Erestor replied, perhaps a touch uncertainly. “I’ve seen a lot, but this…this is new. What are you here for, Hal?” He sounded concerned, and Haldir took a deep breath.
“Here, take this.” He reached out and took Erestor’s hand, placing the stem across the palm. He had removed the thorns from it after he had carefully cut it from the bush and before he stowed it away, and he was a hundred times more thankful now that he had done so. Before he let go of the flower, Erestor’s fingers curled around his, a small touch before he slipped them free.
Erestor explored the rose with his fingertips, leaning over to the other side now, towards the moonlight so that he could see better. Then he looked up at Haldir, rose still held in his hand, which had fallen into his lap. “Hal? This isn’t a joke, is it?”
“No.” It didn’t come out right, his throat seemed dry and his tongue too big for his mouth, so he cleared his throat and started again. “No, no joke, not even a dare. It’s a rose, from the garden.”
Erestor said nothing, and Haldir could have kicked himself. He couldn’t have imagined a worse way for this to go. Then Erestor moved, reached over to the small table and lit the candle that rested atop it. The glow cast shadows in the room, and now they could see each other clearly. Haldir looked down and noticed the one thing that had kept him from his stealth – a wooden stool.
“Not a joke.” Erestor repeated slowly, wonderingly, fingers touching the petals. “Yellow? How did you know it was my favorite?”
“It just – seemed like you.” Haldir shrugged minutely. The air between them felt thick, and it was filled with unspoken words. “I didn’t know how to say it. So I tried to find a way you’d understand.”
“Say what, Hal?” Erestor asked, carefully, and Haldir became more aware of what a picture he made, sitting up, legs curled underneath him, a sheet covering his modesty, all wide eyes and messy hair with an unusual air of vulnerability.
They’d gone this long without the words, but so far this evening Haldir had scaled a cliff face, retrieved a rose, broken into a room at night and made a fool of himself – there was nothing left to lose. “I love you, Erestor. I can’t stop thinking about you. Could you not tell?”
Erestor smiled, his face unexpectedly soft in the mixture of candlelight and moonlight. “Hoped? Dreamed it was so? Didn’t want it to just be wishful thinking.”
Haldir stood there, after all that effort not knowing what to say. But it turned out he didn’t need to, Erestor reaching out a hand for him, saying gently, invitingly, “Come here.”
Only a few steps and he was there, sitting on the bed, Erestor’s hand in his. Not surprisingly once he found himself in this position, he had a better idea of what to do, which involved running fingertips across the length of one slim shoulder. “Do you as well? I don’t need a flower or anything.”
Erestor just looked at him, surprised, before letting out a light giggle. “No, no roses. I’d have to get dressed and you’d have to sit there and wait for me…”
“Fall asleep more like,” Haldir commented dryly.
Erestor sobered quickly, though a hint of a smile still played on his lips. “Oh, Hal…” He reached up a hand to touch Haldir’s cheek, pushing the stray strands of hair back. “Yes. Yes, I love you. From your green eyes, to your smile, the way you laugh. Yes. Silly, of course I do. If I didn’t, I would have had you kicked out and alerted the proper authorities.”
He smiled quite cheerfully at that, and Haldir, to his everlasting surprise, blushed. “All right, so it wasn’t my brightest idea ever.”
“Do you break into all your prospective lovers’ bedrooms, or am I your first?” Erestor teased, then paused. “Exactly…how did you get in anyway?”
“That’s a story for another time. And no, of course not. I was excited about getting the rose and thought this was a good idea. The brandy helped rather a lot.”
“It’s – quite sweet of you. I promise I’ll get you a key though. No need to break into a room where you belong.” That was said less teasingly this time, more quietly serious, and Haldir decided he needed to do what he had spent the entire conversation wanting to do anyway.
Erestor had been prepared to say something else, but it was of no use, not with Haldir leaning in and covering his mouth with his own. Erestor gave up, his arms going around Haldir’s neck, and he shifted closer. Haldir kissed with passion and need, startlingly clearheaded now, even with all his blood going directly toward his nether regions. Erestor slid onto his lap, sheet askew, all pale limbs and dark hair in the low light.
“I don’t suppose this would be a good moment to tell you I have an early morning ahead of me?” Erestor said, quite seriously, but the effect was ruined by him being perched on Haldir’s lap and looking thoroughly and deliciously mussed, while Haldir pressed kisses to his neck.
Haldir paused, groaned and contemplated pushing Erestor off his lap. “You have got to be bloody kidding me. Today?”
Erestor nodded, tilting his neck more to the side, a silent plea. Haldir took in a breath, and tightened his grip on Erestor, holding him captive. “Well, you’re going to be really damn late.”
Two elves tangled together in a fashion as old as time, resting and breathing heavily. Haldir kissed Erestor’s forehead, tasting salt, and Erestor smiled up at him tiredly. It was an unconscious imitation of their first night together, now so many years ago. Haldir reached and gathered the farthest corner of the sheet and wiped them both clean of the stickiness that had resulted from their union. He gently cleaned Erestor’s sex, which was still sensitive from his previous, harder touch, and Erestor let out a low moan.
“Don’t. You’ll wear me out, and then how will I be able to ride?” Erestor asked laughingly, short of breath still.
“Perhaps that’s the idea,” Haldir commented, sheet now abandoned and him lying back on the bed. He grunted when Erestor turned on his side and swung a leg over his, pressing his face into Haldir’s chest. He slid an arm around the slender but tough frame.
“You know I have to go.” Erestor’s voice was muffled by flesh, and Haldir did have to laugh then, amused.
“You’re going to have to speak up, my nipple does not have hearing capabilities.”
Erestor moved back slightly, still within the hold of Haldir’s arm, but face cleared. “I said you know I have to go, Hal. My ship’s sailing in three weeks. It’s my time to go. I feel it. Like your people and the call, but different. Just - a knowing. ”
“The call, the call,” Haldir said, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to sound as bitter as he felt. “I’m well acquainted with this call.”
Erestor rested a hand on his chest, fingertips touching, consoling. “I know you don’t feel it, and I know even if you did, you must stay with Lord Celeborn. I understand, I do. It’s why we have never made promises to each other.”
Haldir covered Erestor’s hand with his, quietly connected. He finally looked over at Erestor, into the deep amber-coloured eyes that he loved so much. “I have a promise to hold, this is true. I do not know what happens after that.”
Erestor nodded, it came as no shock to him. The conversation was not new, and they had talked about as much before. But here normally the discussion ended; this time it did not. “I’ll wait for you. I’ll look for you when the last ship comes.”
Haldir opened his mouth, not sure what he was going to say, but in the end not having the chance as Erestor placed his finger over Haldir’s lips. “But if you don’t come, never had any remotest intention of doing so, you’ll break my heart, Haldir.”
Their parting was difficult, Haldir stood on the docks and watched the ship leave, Erestor standing at the railing and waving with the sad but loving smile Haldir had become all too familiar with. Afterwards the years seemed to move on more strangely than they ever had, curiously fast and yet as slow as tree sap in spring. The world had changed too, far faster than Haldir had ever known it. All traces of the elves had started to disappear, and men were replacing them with an inevitability that was only matched by the changing of the seasons each year.
He visited Lorien with Celeborn one last time. Celeborn looked tired, Galadriel’s departure had been years before, and the absence of his family wore on him. Now the knowledge of his granddaughter’s eventual passing seemed to wear the last bit of energy out of him. But he was strong and determined still to the very end, and Haldir admired that.
Haldir walked through the forest, now overgrown, the home he and his family, his people had lived in for hundreds to thousands of years, and saw that She was taking back her own, Lorien was being woven and transformed back into the natural fabric of the earth. But it was still Lorien to Haldir, he recognized the sound of the trees, even if they were now forgetting him, merely recognizing him as a welcomed presence, the very old friend one never remembers quite as well as one would like.
They went back to Imladris, but from then on it was only a matter of time. To no one’s surprise, six months later Celeborn made an announcement that he would be sailing, and a ship would be arranged, large enough for the remaining Silvan elves. Elladan and Elrohir were staying on until their sister’s passing, and some made the decision to stay with them. There was still a small community there, tough, loving and stubborn, and Haldir felt he had been blessed to be a part of it. He knew he’d be welcomed to remain there if he so chose.
He went with Celeborn to the ship, just as he had with Galadriel, his last duty for his Lord and Lady. He smelled the sea, heard the seagull’s cry, but it still did not have the mystical effect on him that it had for so many other elves. It did not speak to him like his beloved trees did.
He was at a crossroads and he knew it, balancing on the edge of a knife. He could leave his home and sail, or he could stay. Celeborn was sailing, and his promise to Galadriel had been fulfilled. He was free from his duty, free to do whatever he liked.
But a curious thing happened while he stood on the docks and watched the sailors make their preparations for their sea journey. He felt a call. Not of the sea, though it was an altogether mystical feeling, as indescribable and irresistible as they had all said. He thought of Erestor, whom he had missed every day since they parted, he thought of the promise given him, and knew the call of love.
He knew then that he would be leaving his home. He looked back, keen sight searching for the treetops of Middle-earth which he had known all of his life, and said a goodbye. Then, he turned forward to the view of the sea stretching out before him and the grey ship, and knew the only path he could ever truly want.
Haldir smiled, a burden relieved, his future clear. “I’m coming, my love. I’m coming home.”