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Guardian of the Golden Wood
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Chapter 2 - Galadriel's Challenge

When Haldir reached Galadriel's and Celeborn's dwelling in the heart of Caras Galadhon, he felt uneasy. It was no habit of the Lady to send formal messengers after him, when he resided in the city!

The captain shook his head and took the small silken pouch, he had been hiding close to his heart into his calloused hand. He stared at it gloomily, then he pushed it deep into a pocket of his tunic. Elves were immortal and he had been taking his time to court Silraen and while deep in his heart he had known for a while that one day she would give in to his efforts and
stay with him in Laurelindórean, she had been too fond of this little game to speed up things. ...the trips to Imladris, her delicious little bouts of anger, when he dragged her from Elrond's apothecary or the herbal gardens, the long afternoons out in the forest, her mischief and the laughter in her eyes, when he kissed her into silence...he had fallen for the dark-haired sprite the very moment he had opened his eyes on that cot, still numb from a battle wound and haunted by seven endless years of war against the Deceiver and his minions...

He pushed away his thoughts of her and the lazy afternoon he'd intended to spend with Silraen at that little forest spring, she liked so much and descended the few steps that led to Galadriel's private gardens.

The last time she had felt it necessary to send for him such a formal and official way, stray orcs and trolls had started to infest the Eastern part of the Misty Mountains and she had wished him to gather first-hand intelligence in order to determine if these bands were under the guidance of some greater power then their very own malice and evil. Since Haldir possessed a strange, natural talent for foreign tongues, he had been her first choice for this mission. He was the one and only elf in the realm of Laurelindórean who spoke and understood not only the Black Speech devised by Sauron, but also a variety of rag-tag Orkish and goblin dialects. His early childhood knowledge of Manish and the Common Speech had been an additional qualification for this un-habitual spy work and the only reason, why his Lord Celeborn had agreed to send the Captain of Laurelindórean for weeks unnumbered into the wild.

The two wardens of the Household who kept the entrance to the waste clearing in the middle of which stood side by side two giant mellyrn trees stepped aside when they saw him. Then a lady-in-waiting hurried him through the gardens down to a beautiful forest quell that fell over several moos-covered stones into a basin.

It was Galadriel's favourite place: A stone bench stood a few steps away from where the water quelled up. There she sat clad in white on soft, embroidered cushions. A low table with a silver cup full of fruit, two wine goblets and a crystal decanter stood next to a basket of pretty white and deep blue anemones.

She smiled at his arrival.

The Captain gave a courteous bow, placing his hand over his heart.

'My Lady, what is your command?'

Galadriel signalled to her lady-in waiting that she could leave. Then she turned to Celeborn's Captain: 'Pray, Haldir! Let go these stiff formalities. Come and sit with me for a while.'

He felt even more uneasy, then when he had entered the garden: Cushions, wine goblets and an invitation to sit were not the common ritual for receiving orders or a mission. Neither was the place Galadriel had chosen! Either you came here, because Celeborn's Lady was in a festive mood and received guests for food and merrymaking or she had had a vision in her 'Birdbath of Doom' and she felt contrived to meddle in your very own private affairs and life!

He did not dare to move even a step forward. Instead, he sank to one knee.

'My Lady, what is your command?' He repeated in a low, soft voice. He did not face her but looked to the ground demurely.

Galadriel did not reply.

Haldir suddenly felt a warm, slender hand under his chin, lifting up his face. She still smiled, but there was a hint of sadness in her eyes.

'Are you so afraid of the Lady of Laurelindórean, that you will not do my biding and sit with the one, who has tucked you in, while still an elfling?' He heard her murmuring softly inside his head. 'Haldir, you serve our people well and you have never failed us in more then four thousand years. On countless occasions, you have risked your life and an eternity in the Lands of Valìnor. Do you really believe it necessary to cling like a drowning elf to useless formalities and rank?'

He held her gaze unblinking. He was not afraid of Galadriel. Not at all! She had told him bedtime stories, sang him to sleep and played with him in the meadows on the shores of Lake Nenuial She had held him in her arms, when he had been upset or sad and she had given him peace and respite, when Celeborn had forgotten that he was young, and fragile and terribly lost in a new world. And once upon a time, she had placed a tiny little elfling in his arms and told him, that now he had a little sister to protect! But he had not and one day Elrond had taken Celebrian away from her family to Imladris. And while his mind and common sense had told him that this was right and good, his heart sometimes still told him, that he had failed the Lady of the Light.

There had been a time, when she had been simply 'naneth', although he had always known that -in fact- she was not!

It was only...she was so bright, so shining, and so terribly beautiful. His heart and soul had been completely devoted to Galadriel since the very moment he had first set his eyes upon her and....he was unable to figure out how he could simply sit down next to her on a bench like an innocent elfling....with Celebrian married to Elrond and a bunch of yrch invading their woods! It had been hardly ten days that they had returned from a long and dangerous hunt after the marauding band which had attacked one of the Elven villages on the Eastern border and killed all its inhabitants and while Silraen's and Celebrian's arrival from Imladris had considerably lifted his spirits, the images of the smouldering ashes of the broken trees and the lifeless bodies of his kinsfolk still haunted him during his nights.

The Lady of Lothlorien read the dilemma that troubled her husband's Captain in his mind and could not but laugh with mirth. She bent down and took both his hands into hers, literally forcing his knees off the ground.

'Haldir, Haldir! When will you ever grow up? We did celebrate your 500th remember? You are no longer an elfling! You did not betray my trust, because two grown up elves could not keep their hands off each other was not your fault, that a bunch of marauding yrch crossed the borders of our lands! Even the best defences are not impenetrable to determined wrongdoers!'

The Captain blushed. 'T'is nothing about Celebrian or Elrond! That was a long time ago and she is old enough to decide with whom to consort...' He chuckled softly. 'I do know, that he is not a deceiver of innocent she-elves! It was her own decision....and with three elflings at hand, I can do nothing more to protect her.....'

He allowed Galadriel to lead him over to the bench, where he took his place peacefully by his Lady's side.

'Now, this is better, isn't it?' She said aloud to him, picking up the decanter and filling the two goblets with red wine.

' I spoiled your afternoon, didn't I?' She began and her eyes sparkled with mischief.

'You did, indeed!' The Captain replied reasonably and padded the pocket of his tunic. 'What in Eru's name made you send this messenger. Silraen had almost finished with her bunch of unruly ellyth and I have spend a whole morning preparing a nice picnic and a rather reasonable speech to tell her, that Imladris is no place to live in for a clever and beautiful she-elf!'

'Have you finally?' Galadriel replied matter-of-fact.

She was used to Haldir's never-ending courtship of the beautiful healer from Elrond's Heaven and had been waiting for the last five hundred years that the Captain of Laurelindórean would finally grow weary of their games and make his lady-love stay in their forest.

Haldir nodded and accepted his goblet of wine: 'I have! I am rather fed up with chasing Silraen around Imladris every time I want to see her. She belongs here! I am sure she will see the reason of my argument.!

Galadriel chuckled: 'Bully!' She replied, knowing that it would take some time to lighten his spirits and to take his mind off the yrch, the transgression of their borders and the destroyed Elvin village that disturbed him so deeply.

She had visited this community of Sylvan elves several times, trying to talk them into abandoning their place and moving closer to a place, where Haldir maintained one of the permanent garrisons of his wardens along the fences of Lothlorien. But they had not felt menaced and explained, that in case of danger they could rely on help from the dwarves of Khazad-Dum, whom they befriended and traded with. Dwarves had indeed come to their assistance when the marauders had attacked, but the Naugrim had been slain together with her elves!

Galadriel padded Haldir's hand gently, trying to lure his thoughts away from the border incident and the bloody hunt through the mountains. She needed his good, common sense and his memory...and she needed him steadfast and willing to go into a terrible danger!

'Bully?' Celeborn's Captain smiled.' I think not, Naneth, I am running after this mischievous sprite since the days of Gil-Galad and Isildur. T'is enough! I am only a normal, average ellon and even my patience has its limits. She knows, that her place is in Laurelindórean....' He lowered his head and took a small sip of wine,' ....if only she would finally admit it!'

Galadriel chuckled. That was much better then his gloomy spirit, when he had stepped into her garden and much better then this terrible feeling of loss and doom she had felt in his soul, since he had returned. She needed Haldir in his combative mood, willing to do something completely foolish and....against his better judgement as Protector of their Realm and Captain of Celeborn.

'Mithrandir has come to Caras Galadhon.' She said softly, changing the subject. 'I believe you know this already from your guards on the Southern Fences.

Haldir shook his head. He had not cared for the reports from the Southern Fences, nor for those from the North, the East or the West, since he had returned to Caras Galadhon. He had -for once- dared to pushed away duty and service and think only of his very own future and personal happiness and so, instead of brooding over reports and messages of his wardens, he had picked up Celebrian and Silraen with their company and spent the following days exclusively in pursuit of his lady and his ultimate plan to make her stay in Laurelindórean for good..

'You have an odd feeling about this, haven't you, Naneth?' He took a sip and nodded again.
'As usual, you have a very good instinct, Haldir. And you are right to feel uneasy!'

He lifted his eyes and stared at her. 'Something very evil is going on, My Lady. I feel great dark and doom looming over us. I cannot define it well. It is not precise or is just frightening. I felt it all the time, when we hunted that band of marauding yrch into the Misty Mountains.'

'Indeed, my fair child. It is frightening. What do you know of the Rings of Power?'

Haldir almost dropped his goblet. 'The Rings of Power?' He took a deep breath and regained his self-control before he replied.

'One is at your right hand, My Lady. Nenya, the Ring of Adamant! The other -Narya, the Ring of Fire - was entrusted to Cirdan the Shipwright and the third Elven ring -Vilya, the Ring of Water is in the keeping of the Lord Elrond, since Gil Galad perished on the slopes of Mount Doom.'

Galadriel smiled and padded Haldir's hand. 'Correct for the three that Celebrimbor had forged all alone. But what else do you know?'

The Captain took another sip from his goblet. Better drink it then spill it! This was most certainly not a check-up on his knowledge of lore and wisdom in order to see if he merited his rank and position in the realm of Laurelindórean. Moreover, he had a dark feeling of coming doom....and he had always distrusted thinks that held magic, without having a brain of their own.

His memories of Eregion were still painfully fresh, also more then three thousand years had passed.

'When the Deceiver invaded Eregion to reclaim by force all the rings he had sought to rule by the forging and wearing of the One, he took the Nine Rings and the lesser works of the Mirdain, but the Seven of the Dwarves and the Three of the Elves he could not find. I remember, that Celebrimbor himself gave a ring to Durin and I assume, that one of the seven is today well kept in the Halls of Khazad-Dum. As for the six others...well: There are altogether seven Dwarven nations in Arda and I can only assume that each of them has one ring in their keeping; My Lady! "

'Indeed!' Galadriel nodded and turned her own ring of mithril and adamant thoughtfully.

'And what else, my dear friend! What else do you remember?'

Haldir put his goblet down on the table, before he turned to face Galadriel. He braced himself, taking a deep breath. The language he would speak had never before been heard before in this place, but it was perhaps better to get on and over with it.

'Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.'

Galadriel shivered. For one short moment her eyes widened in fear. Then she nodded, placed her hand over Haldir's and said 'Continue, please!'

'I remember the weakness of men and the destruction of Númenor! I remember nine ships escaping the Downfall and landing in Middle-earth, carrying Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion. I remember their great realms in Middle-earth, and the men-at-arms they brought to march with us against Sauron...and I remember once more the weakness of men and the moment, when Isildur failed and deceived us all. But he did not keep the One for long, for he was set up by yrch on the banks of the Great River, and the Ring was lost in its depths. And there it lays still, for the last thousand and something years or else it was swept into the abyss of the oceans.....!'.

Haldir gave a sigh. He felt very shaken, now that he told her what he knew about the rings. It was not a very common knowledge, more something to be found with a select few highly educated lore masters. It was most certainly not the habitual knowledge of a soldier, even one so old as he and who had fought the Deceiver not only once, but three times in his lifetime.

Oh, he knew the history of the Deceiver and the Rings of Power...and much more!

Haldir knew things he would rather forget if he could. He'd gladly rip of his sword arm himself with an unsharpened knife if this would made his childhood memories go away forever...memories that still troubled him in his sleep although millennia had passed since and nightmares that had pushed him to pick up sword and bow while his playmates still lazed in the clear waters of the Lake Nenuial, once upon a time in the fair lands of Hollin.

The sheer terror inside his soul had forced the uniform of a soldier upon his shoulders the first moment Lord Celeborn had been willing to hear his oath of loyalty and service. Whenever Haldir drew his blade or raised his bow to kill, it was also an attempt to kill these memories...memories of why he was proficient in several varieties of Orkish and Goblin dialects and even the Black Speech...reminiscences of many hidden underground chambers and vaults far beneath the earth, prison cells and pits filled with creatures of the abyss, faceless and subdued slaves, elves and dwarves and men, dragging along without hope and often simply giving up and willing themselves to death, a dour and barren land surrounded by mighty towers of ash and slag raised above gates of iron and steel....recollections of wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, Angband, the Hell of Iron, the fortress of Sauron, north of Beleriand and built by his master Morgoth to guard against any possible attack of the Valar from Aman!

Sometimes, when he was particularly tired and worn out a flash would appear before his inner eye. He could neither close nor blind this eye: The steel gate of the Towers, the causeway that ran out into the plain of Dor Daedeloth, the Land of the Shadow of Dread. It had been there that the yrch and other creatures of Morgoth lived and bred.

Eight short years, the first years of his life...Nana had told him, that his mother gave her last breath the moment he breath his first breath deep under the earth in one of Sauron's forsaken prison cells. She had known his father's faith, too, but he had never been able to coax a reply from her. It had taken the human female altogether eight years to find a pass way out of the dreadful Hell of Iron, griming his face with dirt and hiding his Elvin ears under untidy, unkempt dangling that none of the Deceivers servants would realize that she kept an elfin child with her ...Nana dragging him through the Iron Mountains, and finally over a plateau that connected them with the Blue Mountains Ered Luin ....hiding at night and running under the blazing sun or in the icy rain and snow, while the orcs and other creatures of Sauron were handicapped...hunger, cold, despair....Nana hiding with him in a dark cavern, somewhere on the slopes of Ered Luin...Nana promising him that she would bring him out of the desperate wilderness and back to his Elven kin....some short months of bliss and security in a tiny settlement of farmers somewhere close to the borders of the fair land of Eregion...and the night, when they came...yrch, yrch and a nameless and faceless terror!

Tears welled up in Haldir's eyes. He sat in the middle of the Golden Wood on a bench and close to the Lady of the Light and nevertheless he could see him as clearly as he had seen him then...all clad in black shrouds, iron gauntlets and a ring of iron on his head, his face hidden behind a black veil of horror. Sauron himself! He had seen the Deceiver with his own eyes and still lived to tell the tale.

He started to tremble, unable to control himself any longer. Tears streamed over his cheeks. Nana had given her life to save his during that night of terror! He had failed to protect her.
He still felt the cold and terror that surrounded the Deceiver on his dreadful, black steed, neither horse nor dragon...a kind of worm with stinking breath and long fangs, like blades that shone yellow under the light of a full moon.

Haldir dropped his head on his knees. He spilled all those tears that he had kept at bay for millennia, millennia when he had hidden away his memories from Celeborn and Galadriel, from Orophin the Laurelindórean Warden who had found him and later on become his comrade and friend, from Orophin's gentle brother Rumil and his wife Anysse, where he had spend so many childhood days of bliss, while Galadriel and Celeborn visited their friend King Amdir of Laurelindórean, from his playmates Elrond and Elros, when they were in Lindon and even from Silraen, whom he had loved for ages...pretending that everything was right and well, memories he had held in such a tight check that his blade and bow had become his only form of release. He was always most at peace in the midst of battle with blood dripping from his sword. He was neither particularly brave nor terribly courageous....his peace of mind simply depended upon the quantity of yrch and dark creatures he could slay!

And if there were no yrch at hand, he would do with whatever else...brigands, marauders, way layers and bandits were able to quell his blood thirst for a while. On occasions when he ran short of these, he'd request leave to go for wargs or wolves. Everything that reminded him of first ten dark summers of his childhood....

He felt Galadriel's gentle embrace. Her hand stroked his long, golden hair soothingly and she whispered soft words into his ear. 'Let it go, Haldir! Let it go!'

She had known for ages what tormented him, but she had also understood that there was no good in forcing it out of him. His intellect had always known that he was not to blame for the death of his old nurse Nana. No unarmed elfling can stand up to dozens yrch or the great Deceiver!

But this was no matter of logic. Never had been. And since Haldir had a constant reminder of this past in the form of a long and ugly scar over his left shoulder blade, it was even harder for him to make peace with events that had happened and could never be changed, even if millennia had past ever since.

When Haldir had no more tears left, they sat together in silence for a long while, Galadriel wrapping her slender arms protectively around his strong frame. There was one last question he had to answer, before she could explain to him Mithrandir's biding. It was of the utmost importance that he found the courage to speak out the words aloud.

He would be no use to their cause obsessed by the phantoms of his early childhood!
He would only sacrifice his life needlessly in a vain attempt to erase memories instead of coping with them and accepting them as part of himself. She pushed him gently away and forced him back into eye contact.

'Haldir, why did you never open yourself to Silraen?'

She knew the answer, but he had to say it aloud and to hear it.

He brushed his tears away with his sleeve, looking at her thoughtfully.

It was strange. When he had spoken about the Rings, Sauron, Angband, the yrch, the death of Nana and all the rest it had been extremely if someone tried to skin or burn him alive. But now that the words were said he felt...somehow relieved.

It was like a closure, an end. He was a bit raw and aching, but a silent voice in his chest told him that the next time he'd curl up for sleep there would be no more nightmares to haunt him. As if saying it aloud had chased the terror that was hidden away in his heart and mind for so long. He straightened his shoulders.

'I remember my mother's death, Naneth! It is curious, for I was just born, but I do remember the moment, my mother died....but I cannot remember her face. Each and every time I tried to tell Silraen, I saw my mother dead before me...only it was Silraen's face on the ground, lifeless, her eyes wide open, staring without seeing anymore.... I was convinced that it would come true if ever I tell her about my childhood and my mother's death in the dungeons of Angband.'

His voice was firm again, his hands no longer shaking. Warmth had returned to his body and for the first time in his long life he felt truly free.


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