|Illustration by Leanan
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Rumil slipped down, arching his lithe body from the crooked limb of the great tree where he'd been sitting. Golden leaves fell around him and he saw them with a heavy sigh. Time was growing weary of elves, it seemed. Autumn came early, and left the trees weeping tears of red and yellow; tears that crackled when you stepped too carelessly, and tears that curled into thin black wisps when burned. His finely pointed ears suddenly twitched... Someone was coming.
From the way the footfalls landed, loud and reckless, he knew that whatever word the person was bringing, it was very important. He called to his archers to draw near. Perhaps it was news of the Galadhrim force that had been sent off to aid in the assistance of the Rohanian people. Middle Earth was on the brink of war once more, and Rumil had feared it.
But not as much as Haldir.
He looked up to his brother, the lead March Warden of the Galadhrim. He could remember at the very start of the impending conflict, his feelings of foreboding...
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"There is danger all around the realms these days... I fear, 'tis the end of an age coming soon..." Haldir sat forward, and the moonlight poured down on him in beams of silver. In his eyes was the wisdom that had accumulated in all his years. Rumil was in awe of it...
It was not the kind of wisdom you'd expect so much from an Elven elder. Not like Elrond Half-Elven of Imladris, nor like King Thranduil of Mirkwood... Or even like Lothlorien's own Lord Celeborn. It was a different kind of wisdom. The kind that was achieved through long years of passing through the trees of a beloved forest. The gradual melding of one's own awareness with nature, so that one could know the way of something just by sensing the subtle changes in the environment around them. Haldir was one of these; he could sense an animal in distress by the scents on the wind. He could feel the flood of the river by its pulse in the very earth... even from miles away.
He'd sat, high on a tree platform gazing out over the hushed woods. Crickets sang under the starry sky; bats screeched against the darkness. Nearby, an owl hooted. Beauty... All around was beauty, and Rumil could sense not a thing wrong. But Haldir's brow was furrowed with worry. "Danger..."
That was before they'd heard news of the war. Two messengers from Rivendell carried the word that the Ring of Power had been found. They need not have been sent; Lady Galadriel already knew.
She had told the MarchWardens to tighten the watch on the Golden Wood. To beware of orcs and traveling strangers, and to let none pass through the borders of the sacred place. Haldir had nodded; his stance was regal and full of loyalty.
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Now Rumil stood in the well-worn path that had been made by the deer who frequented this part of the forest. The Elves knew this run well: they had hunted here for ages. Besides, it was easier to hide one's tracks in those of animals' than it was anywhere else. The footsteps were drawing closer. The messenger was running.
He came into view and drew up close to Rumil. It was a young elf, maybe five or six hundred years old. He was panting, which was highly unusual... He must carry an important message indeed! Rumil reasoned. The young archer clutched his arm with desperation.
"It is news of the league of archers sent to Rohan!" He gasped in one breath. "Please, hurry back by order of her Lady! And worry not of the borders.... Leave your archers behind and follow!"
Rumil's heart leapt. Haldir had gone with them to Rohan... perhaps it was news from Haldir himself! Rumil's leather-bound feet were a blur as he flew off down the path after the messenger. They were back to the tree palace in no time. What awaited him there was not what he had expected. Celeborn greeted him wordlessly and inclined his head. None of the other Elves spoke; they only looked at him with sorrowful eyes.
He was sent to Galadriel's quarters, and proceeded to them. Her study was a great room lined with shelves of books on one side, and with a great hearth on the opposite end. Carvings hung about the walls everywhere else, and the chandelier that hung from the ceiling was great, laden with glowing orbs. Rumil had seen this room plenty of times enough, and had long since lost his feelings of wonder at it. The lady appeared from a doorway, head bowed and eyes downcast. "Rumil..."
At once, he dropped to his knee. "Yes, my lady?"
"I have a thing to tell you...news of your brother, and the Elves he commanded at Helm's Deep."
Helm's Deep? Yes, he'd heard of it before: the fabled mountain stronghold of the Rohanian people, used by them in times of dire need throughout that kingdom's history. He raised his head a little, curious as to what she had to tell him.
But she hesitated. There was conflict behind her eyes, he could see it. Never before had he seen such pain there... It frightened him. He blinked. "My lady?"
She raised a pale, slender hand. "There was a battle at Helm's Deep, the warriors of Rohan against a dark army of Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-hai, sent from Isengard to hasten the fall of that realm.... Aragorn, son of Arathorn was there, as was Legolas of Mirkwood and the Dwarf Gimli. You'll remember them from the Fellowship that departed from Imladris not so many months ago..." She trailed off.
Of course he remembered. How could he forget? His brother's allowal of them to pass into the forbidden forest had surprised him. But Haldir had known what he was doing... He always did.
"The force sent out from here reached them in time before the battle began. Haldir and the other Elves were able to fight beside our human allies to defend their land and homes..."
Rumil listened, his face void of emotion. But, deep inside, there was a sinking feeling that began to envelope his heart. He felt hollow, empty... Something was not well.
"Haldir commanded the archers on one of the high walls. On the second night, the fortress was breached and that position was taken by the enemy...." Rumil's ears began to pound as she continued. "His league was isolated from the rest of the army of Rohan; many Elves fell.... Rumil... Rumil, he fought bravely..." Her voice never faltered but she could not continue. Galadriel lapsed into silence.
He felt as though a black blanket had been cast over his head. Everywhere he looked, he saw only blackness. It seeped into his eyes and his mouth and his nose, down his throat... it threatened to choke him, wrung his lungs so that he could not breathe... And finally, he found his voice.
It was a hollow cry, tortured and broken. Echoes rang off of the curved and flowing walls of the great room. Unaware of his own tears, Rumil shook his head violently. "It cannot be! It cannot....be.... Haldir would not have fallen in battle! Could not have! He is an Elf; the blood of immortality flows in his veins as it does mine!..."
Rumil swung around in surprise at the sound of the soft voice behind him. His heart pounded, the room spun... Then his vision cleared and there was Orophin towering in the door. His shoulders were hunched, and he clutched something tightly against his breast. Lines of red stained his face where tears had fallen until they could fall no more.
He staggered with a shaky step towards Rumil, and that Elf stood to take his arm. "What...What are you saying, Orophin? Our brother... Haldir... You know him, he could not have...." He stopped, the words catching in his throat.
Because he saw now what Orophin held. "Nooo...."
The cape. Their cape. Their father's cape. Long, long ago their mother had made it for their father. And when Haldir was named High Captain of the Galadhrim in his place, it had been gifted to him with all the honor and ceremony that such an occasion befitted. Then, it had been vibrant: red as the lifeblood, starched as a new leaf.
Now it was limp, worn, and faded. Tattered along the bottom hem. Rumil snatched it from the arms of his brother, and let its folds spread. His arms shook.
It was torn. Torn in the back, just under the neck line. And there... There, Rumil saw the dark splotchy stains: dried blood. "Nooooooooo!" Came his plea again. Only this time, it was a low moan.
Haldir! ....His beloved brother... his mentor....
Unconciously, he pulled the cape to his chest and sank to the floor in befuddled shock. Images clouded his mind... memories...
Haldir, teaching him to string a bow. They were elflings then, so young.... The two exploring a strange cave in search of shelter for one night and discovering a litter of baby wolves... That had been such a beautiful memory. They were playful things, little wolves... He and Orophin and Haldir tossing each other into the river he knew not how many times on hot summer afternoons of the past... Haldir bandaging his arm when he broke it during a fight with a rampaging troll... Haldir telling him the old stories by starlight on those long nights of border-watch....
Rumil's body bent under the weight of his grief until his forehead touched the cold, polished floor. His fingers clawed at the crimson fabric. "Why?!" He whispered harshly. "Why?...Why, Haldir?" Then the strong brush of Orophin's arm over his shoulders as he joined his brother in mourning.
Galadriel moved quietly to the door. There was no more that she could do now for them.... It was better off to leave the two together and alone. One pristine crystalline tear slid down her own cheek as she slowly shut the door on the image of the two brothers, huddling on the floor trying to comfort each other over a thing for which there could be no comfort in the world.
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