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Guardian of the Golden Wood
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Chapter 11 - A most surprising discovery

After they had left Caras Galadhon in the early morning hours Haldir led Olorin onto a well-trodden path in Western direction. For a while, they shared a simple, companionable silence and an accidental spying eye would have taken them for acquaintances who took an early morning stroll to enjoy the clean air and bristling wildlife of the Golden Wood with no other purpose then relaxation and entertainment. Against his habits, the Captain of the Galadhrim walked at a leisurely pace, as if he had all the time in the world and no duties to attend to. He was the perfect image of what his kinsfolk expected of him, when Lord Elrond's apothecary dwelled in their city: Easy-going, relaxed and good-natured.

Occasionally he would smilingly point out a pretty bird or a grazing deer to the Istar and sometimes he even stopped to pick a few ripe berries to share with his companion. Olorin's doubts about the willingness and humour of his chosen companion started to dissipate and the servant of the Lord of the Dream Garden of Valěnor gave inwardly a deep sigh of satisfaction. He supposed that the other day it must have been first and foremost the Captain's unresolved 'private matter' with the Lady Silraen that had caused Haldir's rather violent reaction and obvious unwillingness to accompany him upon his quest.

T'was surprising, he thought, that an elf who was almost five thousand years old could still show such childish behaviour, more like a pouting elfling who would not receive a strongly desired sweet from his naneth's hand, then the battle-hardened warrior of Lord Elrond's tales, who during the Invasion of Eriador in the second age since the creation of Arda had led unflinchingly Celeborn's heavy Elven cavalry against the overwhelming forces of the Dark Deceiver thus driving him off -if only temporarily- in the year 1695.

It was hard to imagine, that this was the same elf, who two years later stood to the last by Celebrimbor's side at the gates of Ost-in-Edhil and escaped captivity only, because Sauron's Captain could not fathom that one so grievously wounded was worth been taken. And he found it most curious that this seemingly spoilt foster-child of Celeborn's who must have had his ways with the silver lord from the very moment, when the Prince of Doriath decided that he would make as good a son as any of his own seed and loin was the same elf, who had thrown his body as a protective shield over Elrond Half-Elven’s on the slopes of Mount Doom, when Sauron's stroke with his hammer of hell 'Grond' smouldered Isildur and burned Gil-Galad to ashes.

Patiently the Istar listened to the friendly chit-chat on birds and wildlife and the wonders of Laurelindórean, telling himself that t'was much better to be upon a long road with a companionable, and not with a grouchy and stubborn elf.
Haldir threw his charge a short, suspicious glance. It looked, as if the wizard was now in a right mode to get down to the matter of the subject. His short mental exchange of information with Celeborn had entirely convinced him, that the right decision was to take a company of his wardens and leave the old man behind in the safety of Laurelindórean.

They would travel swift and stealthy, get themselves a handful of yrch prisoners for questioning in their hideouts throughout the Misty Mountains and then - if one of the yrch confirmed what he had felt concerning their forceful drive towards the Amon Lanc, they would continue into the realm of Thranduil and he would talk sense into his old comrade-at-arms. And if Thranduil would not listen, he'd discuss the issue with his sons, especially with his youngest Legolas, who had a bright mind and loads of common sense.

Together with their comrades from the Great Greenwood they could mount a small expeditionary force and explore the underground networks of the Amon Lanc and the long-abandoned Dwarven halls of Druin's tribe, which made a great part of that astonishing stone maze.

It was much better this way and he would convince Mithrandir to stay behind. Haldir turned from the path into the thick of the forest. Perhaps, leading the old man onto rougher ground, where he would stumble on his frail feet would make him more pliable to a well conceived arguments and convincing plan of action. He was so confident, that he did not even doubt Thranduil's reactions. Even if that ellon could be as stubborn as a mule on a good day, he had a fine sense of danger and an even finer sense for good action plans...and they had fought side by side so often, that great trust existed between the two warriors. Thranduil would hearken his advice!
He thought back to Celeborn's warning: Galadriel had seen a terrible doom for Laurelindórean, that mayhap would come to pass. An impregnable dark fortress on the Amon Lanc that was full of dark creatures and black sorcery. She had seen the Galadhrim fighting desperately against this foe and many lives were lost. Haldir shuddered inwardly! She had spoken of the Galadhrim only and not mentioned the Green Elves of the neighbouring kingdom which would be as affected by a romping evil on the Amon Lanc as his own kin.

He cursed the Lady and his friend Thranduil for their never-ending bantering over Eru only knew what age-old distress that the one mayhap had wrought upon the other. She was so wise and yet so foolish, when it came to Celeborn's cousin and Thranduil was the same! Two royal prats one Noldo and one Sinda!

Haldir had seen many horrors in his long life and he would do everything in his power to prove the Mirror wrong...and to create unity between his liege and the neighbours. T'was no mission for a frail old man but for an experienced Captain accompanied by at least two companies of reliable and brave warriors. He threw a furtive look at the old fellow: Mithrandir had adapted his pace to Haldir's, ducking branches and avoiding serpentine roots. He coped rather well, considering his age and frail stature. There was not a drop of sweat on his brow and his cheeks were the same healthy olive colour as when they had left Caras Galadhon. Surprising!

The Captain accelerated a bit, descending light-footed towards a tiny rivulet and jumping over it with ease. The old fellow followed in his footsteps, down and over without a thought. Haldir perceived a wrinkling of the eyes and an expression of great smugness on the aged face. Damn the wizard! This would not be an easy undertaking to make Mithrandir desist and leave the foolhardy quest to competent professionals!

Four and a half hours later, the rays of the sun at noon were brightly piercing the thick leaves and left joyous twinkles of light on the soft, moss covered ground, Haldir wheeled in and came to an abrupt halt. They had been avoiding all the places where his wardens lay hidden on their daily duty to protect the realm of Celeborn and the Lady of the Light and were now at arrows length from the meeting of Celebrant and Nimrodel, where they would have to cross the waters on a tight rope, that the Captain of Laurelindórean had brought for such purposes.

'Stop!' He exclaimed and threw his travelling back to the ground.

Olorin chuckled smugly and bent comfortably on his staff. 'Are you tired, Captain? Shall we take a rest and restore ourselves on those plentiful provisions packed by loving hands into your bag?'

He was highly amused with Haldir's exasperation. When they had left the path and started bushwhacking, the Istar immediately understood that his companion, who on the outside had seemed so subdued, was putting up a test...a test of strength and endurance, for he doubted the wisdom of going on this quest with a seemingly aged man inside a frail, spinney body. Olorin had taken up the challenge and followed without complaints. He understood that no words would convince the Captain of the Galadhrim, only deeds.

'Mithrandir, you and I, we must talk. T'is a serious matter and not good for a light-hearted joke. You are very much aware that my kin hardly needs any rest, most certainly not after a morning stroll into the forest and even less if the strolling elf is the Captain of Laurelindórean. You have shown me, that you can keep up and I do admire you, for I did not expect this from one of your wisdom and age. And I do not wish to pull rank on you, for t'is most improper with one of your great experience of life. But nonetheless: Will you be able to keep up for days on end, in the mountains, where we must climb to places that make even an elf shudder? Will you cross rivers at a swim or with only a tight rope for your bridge? And I speak not only of feats of endurance and woodmanship, but also of other things that may yet come: There will be yrch! This I guarantee you, and if they should spot us, they must be destroy, else the shadow you have spoken of may learn that he is pursued. And there will be some to capture in order to extricate intelligence from them. T'is not some cosy chat by the fireside, but rough and ugly work, for never will they answer willingly as they know that at the end of the road they shall met their doom.' Haldir had spoken in a very respectful tone and with great seriousness.

He had put all his power of conviction into these few words, praying the Valar that the old wizard would hearken and desist. He pulled his arms around his knees and looked expectantly up to Mithrandir, his storm-grey eyes reflecting his silent plea to the higher powers of Arda.
'I do not doubt thy magic and I am certain that you can defend yourself well, but think: If t'is truly him, whom you fear, he will fell this sorcery and he will understand that one familiar with the secret ways is closing onto him. The sorcery of thy foe is as black as the ashes of Mordor. He always knew, when he encountered one whose magic was of the light -be he elf or any other creature under this sky- and always he has put his evil energy into the humiliation and complete destruction of such an enemy.'

Olorin smiled at the Captain of the Galadhrim, then he placed his staff on the ground and sat next to Haldir. The ellon had spoken with great concern and sincerity and what troubled him was truly the safety of one, he knew as a friend of his Lady Galadriel and thus worthy and good. Haldir did not shrink from the dangers of the quest or the terrible foe, may he be the Dark deceiver or only a wraith of his.

'I hearken thy words, Captain and I am greatly touched by this concern of yours, but now you must listen to me and accept your fate.' He said gently.' I must go and you must be my companion on this quest. It is so simply and it cannot be otherwise. As thou hasth sworn oath and loyalty to the Lord Celeborn and the Lady of the Light, I have sworn oath and loyalty to my Masters. You cannot refuse your Lord's and Lady's command, and neither can I.'

Haldir leaned back and looked deep into Olorin's eyes. For a long moment the warrior sat in silence, searching deep within his companion the meaning of these words, for he had magic of his own and he had been well taught by a great mistress of the minds of elves and men. No words did he need to speak to living beings, be they two-legged or four-legged and even in the spirit and thought of trees and plants he could enter, when need arose and counsel was important.

Many millennia ago Galadriel had been surprised to discover in her foster-son that ancient magic of the Eldar who had seen the light of the Two Trees. It had been an accident. She had surprised him with Elrond - with whom he had great friendship - in silent conversation by the white shores of Lindon.

She had kindled that gift in him and in the son of Elwing and Earendil and she had taught the two young Ellyn well. Alas, he could not speak as far as his friend, but Elrond was not gifted with the creatures of the wild and plants or trees. And so they had decided, that upon each was bestowed what he would need most in life and Elrond had gone to become a healer and master of lore, while Haldir chose the sword.

Olorin grinned slyly. That young one was very gifted and his Elvish magic was strong: He probed here and there, touched his mind gently, like a feather in different places, sneaked silently around obstacles and took cover in the shades of his imagination and fantasies But he went with great determination towards his goal, never straying from the chosen path.

Artanis had done a great job!

He wondered, from whence the son of two simple, wandering grey elves could have inherited this rare magic...and his looks, that did the finest Vanyar princelings of Elvenhome proud?

For a while he humoured him, showing him bits and pieces of his travels in the North and the West, a bit of anguish concerning the Great Deceiver and his return into the confines of their world and some lengthy, philosophical discussions concerning evil and good with Cirdan of Mithlond and Elrond of Rivendell. He smiled, unbeknownst of the intruder, when Haldir tarried with him and Elrond.

There was a great and deep friendship between the two ellyn and a surprising tenderness that came from an almost identical background: dramatic loss of parents and difficult, dangerous early childhood.

Olorin understood much better, why Celeborn's Captain had been so willing to cover the body of the Lord of Rivendell with his own to take the brunt, when 'Grond' had struck on the slopes of Mount Doom...and why Elrond had put all of his skill and strength into the almost impossible task, to recall his wounded friend from the Gates to the Halls of Namo. He also understood - and this idea made him smile with glee - why his companion and Artanis had mentioned the courtship of Celebrian and Elrond in such a funny manner.

Considering the Lord of Rivendell almost as a brother, the Captain of Celeborn had found it troublesome to accept a relationship with his 'so-to-say' sweet little sister, whom he had held in his arms as a newborn elfling and protected all through his adult life.

Olorin gave Haldir's probing mind a friendly slap, when he decided that they had lost enough time with this little game. Then he took the rogue by the neck, like an untidy cub and threw him out.

'That's it, mellon!' The Istar proclaimed sternly.' You are gifted and cunning, this I shall say. But never again try to thread upon the forbidden paths of my mind or I shall administer to you the worst thrashing you ever had in your relatively long life.

Haldir blushed. He had been caught. Caught like an inexperienced elfling who took his first lesson with a master! He felt a rush of shame and lowered his head. This was no wise old man or strange kind of elf. Never before had he been tracked down so skilfully and stealthy. None but Galadriel herself had ever spoken such words to him, not even Celeborn, when unwittingly he ventured too far and wide.

'What are you, Grey Wanderer?' He stuttered ,'...and what do you try to hide from me?'

Olorin stood up and patted the bewildered warrior on his solidly muscled arm.' Get up, Haldir! You will know in due time. Now there is a river to cross and I have no intention to wet my feet or robes. So you better take that hithlain and ridden yourself of your clothes, for deep and cold are the waters of Celebrant where he meets with his lovely sister Nimrodel.'

Haldir leaped to his feet, snatching his travel bag. Then he made for the slopes of the Celebrant.

'So far, so good!' Mithrandir chuckled after him.' Together we started and together we shall return and you will not get rid of that dotty old you secretly call me. For you have been discovered and now you shall do my bidding to the end.'

Olorin heard only a rather grumpy 'Hrump' and saw grey woollen cloak, tunic and under tunic fly through the air and onto a heap of carelessly piled weapons. Then a rustle and a splash and off went the Captain of the Galadhrim towards the other side. The Istar watched with great glee, while Haldir's powerful strokes parted the ice-blue waters. When Haldir touched the other bank of the Celebrant he shouted merrily after him. 'I believe, I do not need to trouble my frail old hands with your gear and weaponry....since your kin does not tire easily and hardly needs a rest after an early morning stroll in the forest.

Haldir shook himself like a wet dog, golden mane flowing over his broad shoulders. When he heard Mithrandir teasing, he was almost about to wag a menacing fist at the irresponsibly foolhardy and stubborn old brat, but then decided against it, shaking only is fair head in despair. He then safely fixed the hithlain to a solid trunk of tree and observed with great surprise, how lightly and agile the grey-bearded enthraller of elves and ensnarer of honest warriors stepped on the tight rope. He used his knobbed, long staff as a balancing stick and literally flew over the Celebrant.

'No elf you are and most certainly not one of the Edain!' Grumbled Haldir, before he threw his powerful body once more into the icy floods to reclaim his gear and arms and to untie the temporary bridge over the waters.


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