Celebrian nudged her father's knee. The newcomer that pressed his way to the guests of the 'Blooming Appletree' was no elf and definitively not a warden of the Galadhrim. And he seemed to come straight for their table.
'Did you know , Mithrandir was in Laurelindůrean?' She asked her sire with a voice that was no longer boisterous and full of humour, but dead-serious.
She had met the elderly wizard on several occasions, when he decided to take breaks from his roaming of the wild lands in their heaven of Imladris. Since their very first encounter some two hundred years earlier, she had found him utterly charming and excellent company. But there was something behind these sparkling, blue eyes and carefree behaviour that seemed very odd; almost as if this curious fellow was playing the comedy of 'Mithrandir the Wise Man and Elf Friend'. She was convinced that her suspicion was not raised by something shadowy or unhealthy laying underneath, hidden deep inside the old fellow. It was more, as if he was cloaked in a veil of secrecy and mystery, a mystery that even her most perceptive husband Elrond had not yet lifted. And Elrond agreed with her on the matter of Mithrandir's 'fishiness'.
They had tried to worm things out from Cirdan of Mithlond, but the Shipwright was uncommonly tight-lipped whenever the subject came to the five wizards that had arrived in his Heaven from Valžnor and almost immediately dispersed.
Three of them had gone -as far as she knew- straight into the East, never to be seen. One had taken to the mountains in the North, somewhere rather close to the borders of King Thranduil the 'Nasty' and the last - Mithrandir- appeared an untiring traveller with no place he called home.
He was a frequent visitor to all the Elven realms of Middle-earth. But Gildor Inglorion had told her, that he also took great pleasures in exploring Breeland, Dunland and the Angle formed by the rivers Mitheithel and Bruinen, were over the last couple of hundred years a curious little folk had started to settle down. Originally these little people had lived on the lowest slopes and in the woods under the Misty Mountains and also on the marshes where the Gladden River met the Anduin. But around the same time the five mysterious elderly wizards from Valžnor had landed in Cirdan's Heaven, these hairy-footed, small-sized creatures who obviously belonged to the race of the second born, since they were neither elves nor dwarves, had all together decided to undertake the perilous road over the hills.
It was also told, that occasionally Mithrandir would venture into what remained of the ancient Kingdom of Arnor. And now he suddenly turned up in Lothlorien and came straight for their table.
Celeborn gave a sigh and nodded. 'I knew that he was here, Celebrian. He has spend the last few days in the company of your mother, discussing matters with her, which she would not partake with me. I suppose he got bored with Elrond's endless banquets and merrymaking and is in need of more solid food and drink.' The Lord of Lothlorien kept a straight and serious face, but his eyes were laughing at his daughter. 'Let us invite this unexpected visitor to our table and perhaps we shall be the wiser about his secret designs after a glass or two of this excellent apple brandy.'
Haldir was already very much incline to take his leave from his Lord and the Lady Celebrian and to lead Silraen away from the boisterous tavern to a more private place, when his well-trained eye perceived billowing grey robes approaching their table with a determined stride.
'So much could be expected.' He thought gloomily. 'Galadriel has set him onto my track the very instant I agreed to go with him on his mad journey.' He put his arm around Silraen's shoulder and pulled the elleth protectively against his solid chest. He would have appreciated some respite in order to speak with her in peace and explain things! The elleth leaned comfortably in and laid her head on his shoulder. She seemed completely unaware of the unwelcome intruder.
'A good eve to you, Lord Celeborn!' The wizard greeted Lothlorien's ruler cheerfully, 'And to you, My Lady Celebrian.' Then he bowed courteously before Silraen. 'We have not yet been introduced, fair lady, but I saw you some time ago in the lands of Imladris.'
Haldir gave a small sigh, took Silraen's hand and stood in front of the wizard. Also Mithrandir's presence was not welcome-at least not with him and at this very moment- his good education and manners won over his personal annoyance. He bowed slightly.' Allow me to name the Lady Silraen!' He said in his best 'Marchwarden-of-Lorien-on-official-duty voice.'
Mithrandir chuckled and acknowledged Haldir. 'It is a pleasure to meet you, My Lady.' He nodded. 'And you, Captain! For it was you, I was looking for.'
'I thought so.' Haldir murmured in a low voice, throwing the wizard a suspicious look.
'Will you sit with us, old friend?' Celeborn pointed to an empty chair, welcoming the mage smoothly to their table and saving his foster-son another tight-lipped and potentially undiplomatic remark.
Haldir did not miss his foster-father's cautioning finger, that motioned him to take his seat and be quiet. The had known each other for ages. Words were unnecessary for the one to understand perfectly well the designs of the other.
Celeborn felt Haldir's growing irritation with Mithrandir's presence and suspected immediately that this irritation came from the same source as his earlier unwillingness to discuss the Lady Galadriel's summons. He decided to take upon himself to save Haldir and what remained of his self-control and temper with lordly grace and elegance.
The Captain obeyed and took his place next to Silraen without further words. A cool mask of complete indifference settled on his fair face.
'So what brings you to our lands?' Celeborn immediately took over and he gave the maid Tari signal to bring more drink and another glass.
Olorin sight inwardly. That Prince of Doriath was asking the very question he could not answer in a crowded public place. He felt that Haldir had kept his tongue and the contents of his earlier discussion with Artanis from his lord and that the Lady of the Woods had not yet taken council with her spouse. Olorin knew that she had seen darkness rising in her mirror, but unable to interpret the image and unsure if his suspicions concerning a shadow rising close to Lothlorien and the Great Greenwood was correct, she must have felt it necessary to keep this issue only between themselves. But was this still possible? Olorin accepted the offered drink and tasted it. T'was time won, in which he did not need to answer the perceptive kinsman of Elu Thingol. There was only one clean solution for this dilemma: A cold-blooded lie!
Olorin gave his table companions a winning smile. 'I came to ask for your help, Lord Celeborn!' He stated matter-of-factly. He would feed them bits of knowledge they already had, trusting that the Captain would keep his tongue and his expressionless face. 'As you know, I arrived in these lands with several friends. But I lost the one dearest to me from sight, when I engaged on my explorations of this fascinating little folks that have wandered from close to your lands to the borders of the realm of the Lord Elrond and I greatly wish to find this friend again. I heard rumours that he - a great lover of nature and animals - has taken up residence somewhere between here and the realm of your cousin Thranduil. And since Thranduil is not aware of his abode, I requested of your lady a guide to lead me into the Misty Mountains. I did not believe it necessary to impose on you with such a humble, personal matter.' He lowered his eyes. 'She suggested that I take someone with me who not only knows these mountains, but also may lend hand with sword and bow, for it seems that recently goblins and yrch have been seen.'
Haldir winced inwardly. The old cheat was trying to deceive his lord , playing the dotty old man of lore and wisdom, who needed a protector. He cast a glance at Celeborn, but the elder elf made only a small sign with his hand, requesting to continue his game of chess with Mithrandir without being interrupted.
'And you have some indication where this friend dwells?' Lothlorienís Lord asked in his smoothest politician voice, beaming at Mithrandir.
The old fellow shrugged his shoulders. 'Not really. I will have to seek all over the Misty Mountains and perhaps even need to cross to the other side of the Anduin. My friend -his name is Radagast - is a great amateur of birds. He loves to study them. He is especially fond of large birds of prey.'
Haldir inwardly clapped his hands, recognizing Celeborn's great craft. He was pushing the wizard into a rather tight corner and Mithrandir would not get out unscathed. Why would you need the Captain of Lothlorien to simply undig the abode of a bird-loving elderly lore master? T'was not very logic. If for protection only, all his battle-hardened wardens could do or even one of the young wardens-in-training. Each of them was able to wield a sword or string a bow and they all knew these lands inside out. They were all 'sufficient' protection for an elderly friend of the elves who wanted to set out on a 'private' matter!
'I suppose we can spare one or two of the wardens, Haldir?' Celeborn gave his foster-son a conspirator's look, authorizing him to now re-enter the game and attack the enemy from the front.
The Captain let Silraen's hand go for an instant. He put on his 'I am at your service, My Lord'-face and even straightened his very broad shoulders. 'The Lady already decided that I should accompany, Mithrandir, My Lord.' He replied.
Olorin winced. Sly they were, both of them! And much used to play very dangerous games together! Now they had him cornered and he himself had given Haldir the possibility to tell Celeborn without betraying Galadriel's trust or disobeying her command.
Celeborn congratulated himself. Even his daughter seemed impressed with this clever move of his. Celebrian had kept her tongue in check since he had started to squeeze Mithrandir for information. He and Haldir have been a team for ages. Together they were almost invincible. Now he would deal out the 'coup de grace' to the wizard.
'Galadriel decided that you should need the assistance of the Captain of Lothlorien, just to find an old friend in the mountains? This seems a little bit an overkill, Mithrandir. We had indeed some trouble with yrch a couple of weeks ago, but they were utterly destroyed.' He looked at Haldir, turning on his best 'I am the Lord of Lothlorien'-mood.
'Indeed, Sir!' Haldir replied stiffly, his face still completely expressionless. 'The were utterly destroyed before they could cross the Anduin and disappear into the Southern part of the Great Greenwood. I informed my counterpart in King Thranduil's realm of their destruction and received no intelligence of further roaming bands from them.'
Olorin shot the Captain of Lothlorien a glare that would have smouldered a balrog to ashes. If he'd been of a less gentle and kindly nature, he would have requested that they leave immediately for the mountains, thus spoiling the obnoxious ellon's last peaceful night with his Fay sprite of Imladris in retaliation for his treacherous villainy.
Haldir refrained only with utmost self control from a smug smile. Now the hour of confession and truthfulness had come. Although he himself would be the first to advise against such an act of honesty in the middle of the 'Blooming Appletree. But he felt perfectly capable to point out some quite clearing in the surrounding woods, where Mithrandir could ease his conscience and tell the Lord of Lothlorien what he suspected so close to the borders of his realm.
Olorin drank his glass of apple brandy, then filled it with another shot. 'I believe,' he said morosely, 'that we should release your Captain and his lady now, my Lord Celeborn. For I wish to leave at the first hour tomorrow morning. And then we others will find a place, were we can talk in confidence.' He turned to Haldir and sizzled. 'At the first hour tomorrow morning and not a minute later! Is this understood?'
Haldir acknowledged with a curt nod, bowing politely to Celeborn and Celebrian. Then he took Silraen's hand in his.' Let us go home, Love and leave these three to their own devices. There is not much time left and I must speak with you alone.'