1. In Dreams
This is set in the year 2160 of the Third Age, and Haldir is approximately fifty years, the equivalent of perhaps twenty in human terms; the end of adolescence. Tolkien himself never ascribed any date of birth to Haldir. At this time the Watchful Peace prevailed, but memories of Sauron in Dol Guldur would not have been distant, especially among the Elves of Lothlórien.
He woke, shuddering. No, not those dreams again, please, please no. The familiar sick feeling of guilt washed over him as he felt the stickiness on his belly. Grabbing a towel, he dampened it in the basin and hastily wiped himself off, then dabbed at the linen sheets.
What is wrong with me?
He knew that many of his friends had woken in the same way, with evidence of their maturing desires tangible. But they do not have the kind of dreams that I have, I am sure of it.
Joining his parents and brothers for the morning meal was almost embarrassing; he felt as if they could tell what had happened. But no. Rúmil and Orophin were busy discussing their plans to explore along a stream with some friends, and his parents were making desultory conversation about the family. Cousin Andúniel, who attended the Lady Galadriel, had just been made one of the women who baked the lembas for the ranging companies that patrolled and protected Lothlórien.
“A high honor,” said his father.
His mother smiled, proud of her brother’s daughter. “You know I once did the same,” she reminded her spouse.
He smiled back and reached for her hand. “Before you chose to wed with me.”
“It was such a difficult choice,” she teased. “Honor, or love! Hardly a choice at all.”
Haldir looked away. “Excuse me, please,” he mumbled, and left, descending hastily from the family’s talan. He had agreed to meet with several of his friends this morning. The triennial festival of First Choosing was only a week away, and everyone was talking about what craft they might train for. Nearly everyone, anyway. To Haldir it seemed a waste of time; he had decided years before that he wanted to join the rangers. As he reminded himself, First Choosing was not forever. Most Elves followed their first trade for a yén or two or three, but then elected to learn a new skill, lest they become overly set in mind. (1)
They had planned to meet where they always did, under a particular mallorn on the edge of the meadows. Walking hurriedly to distract himself from remembering his dreams, he saw his friend Lalvenna and joined her.
“Are you not excited?” she asked him, shifting the bundle she carried to her other hand. Haldir took it from her without remark and slung it across his back. “I am. There are so many possibilities – so many things to consider! We are beginning on a new life, Haldir; we can become anything we want, follow whatever path we choose.”
“I’ve known what I wanted to do for ages,” he said.
She looked up at him through dark lashes. “Have you never thought of anything besides the rangers? They have to be away from the city so much – they have hardly any time to spend with their loved ones. Would you not miss being here with your family. . . and friends?”
“I would miss them,” he admitted.
Lalvenna took his arm. “So you should at least listen to us today with an open mind, Haldir. Maybe something else will appeal to you if you give it a chance. I would like it very much if you decided to join the weavers, for instance.”
Haldir laughed. “You try to get everyone to become a weaver, Lalvenna. I don’t think so. Remember that tangled mess I made when we were children and Tinwë was teaching us the rudiments of it? Even my own mother could find nothing complimentary to say about that piece. I think she used it to wipe off dishes.”
“But that was years ago. I am sure you would be much more able now, if only you were interested.” She gazed ahead across the meadow. “I think I see the others over there already – race you?” Lalvenna took off, running almost as lightly as a squirrel through the rustling grasses.
Haldir admired the economy of her movement for an instant, then dashed after her. She was one of the few maidens who could challenge him this way and hope to win, but the distance was great enough that he was able to reach the tree just before she did. She smiled at him, flushed with the sheer joy of motion, and took his hand to tug him down to sit.
Six of them had gathered there: Haldir and Lalvenna were the last to arrive. Emelin, Alphwen, Barthan, and Angor had already begun discussing their plans, trying to persuade each other to make a late change in their decisions and train with a friend.
“I spoke with one of the silversmiths,” Alphwen was saying. “You all know that I have always favored that craft.” Self-consciously she touched with ringed fingers the elaborate neck-piece she liked to wear, and smiled a welcome to the latecomers.
“I thought that smithing was labor too hard for a maiden,” commented Barthan, idly playing with the ends of Emelin’s long braids.
“He would,” Lalvenna whispered to Haldir.
“Perhaps certain kinds of iron-smithing – I would not want to try to make the giant cook-pots they use for the festival feasts – but certainly not silver-work,” said Alphwen, a trace of impatience in her voice. “The training is long, eighteen years, but I will Choose silversmithing. How about you, Emelin?”
“I do not know yet what I will Choose. What do you all think?”
I am quite sure of one thing that Emelin will choose – she will choose to wed Barthan, sooner or later, thought Haldir, looking at the two sitting so close together. At least then I will not keep being asked about her by my parents. No, just about Lalvenna, and Alphwen, and. . . He sighed, interrupting the flow of joking suggestions to Emelin that she should become a boar-hunter, or a cabbage farmer, or a stonecarver.
“Haldir is bored,” announced Lalvenna. “He is so determined to be a ranger that he thinks anything else pointless even to discuss.”
“That is untrue,” he protested, although it was uncomfortably near the mark. “I have never tried to convince any of you to join one of the companies with me, have I?” And I never would. Why go so far away only to bring my friends with me?
“No. . .” drawled Angor, “but only because you know none of us are mad enough to want to leave Caras Galadon! No, Haldir, you should stay here. Join me in rope-making – you could specialize in the strings for bows. Then you would be supporting the rangers’ work without having to go out into danger yourself.”
“Come, Angor, it is hardly that dangerous.”
“Tedious, then. Out there with just the rest of your company – getting back home only once a year, maybe twice if you are lucky – sounds like a lot of fun,” said Angor.
“And none of these beautiful faces to look at, only trees,” added Barthan, gesturing at the three girls.
At least he has learned to phrase his comments as compliments these days! But I would not really miss the girls, not as he or Angor might. He played along, though, pulling a face of dismay and saying, “Well, then, along with Emelin, I shall have to be persuaded to something else. What shall I Choose?”
“You used always to like to read all those books of history and philosophy – you would not have any chance to do that out in the forest, but if you stayed here you could,” offered Emelin.
“Truly, but that is scarcely a trade I can follow in my First Choosing,” Haldir pointed out.
Emelin blushed and looked at Barthan.
“Emelin is right, though,” said Lalvenna thoughtfully. “I mean, I know that it is important that we have the companies out there to make sure that no stranger passes the borders unobserved, but I still cannot understand why you want to join them so much. You have all the skills, I suppose, but there are so many other things you can do, and like to do, that it seems a shame to put yourself where you cannot do them.”
“I know, but maybe I should do a little living on my own instead of just reading about it. It is not as if it is a commitment forever, Lal. I can come back after a while if I do not enjoy it, or if it turns out I am not as good as I need to be, and cannot get enough better,” said Haldir.
“If you want something more physically challenging, you could become a carpenter with me. It is not an unrisky business, either, when one is up mending a talan in the heights, so I have been told,” Barthan urged him.
“I know you have no interest at all in smithing, so I will not bother trying to get you to come train with me,” said Alphwen, “but what about herbcraft? That can be quite physical too, and it is outside much of the time.”
“You have always had a knack for that,” encouraged Lalvenna, pressing his knee to emphasize her point.
“I know, I know. I will think about it some more. I have not made up my mind for certain, but I think I should really join one of the companies first. It would be good for me to be on my own for a little while. Besides, both Orophin and Rúmil say that they want to be rangers too, and it would be too embarrassing to be junior to my own little brothers, if I waited.”
“Oh, that is a good reason, Haldir. What if they change their minds?” She rolled her eyes. “But I see you are unpersuadable today, so I will say nothing more now.”
“Yes, leave him be – you know he just becomes more mulish if you try too hard to convince him of anything,” Angor said. “Emelin is far less stubborn, and she is completely undecided. What should we encourage her to Choose? Seriously, now.”
“Something that none of you have Chosen,” said Emelin unexpectedly. “The only craft among you I might even consider is weaving with Lalvenna, and she will be so much more clever at it than I could ever be, I would prefer not to stand in her shadow.”
Lalvenna said, “But it is not a competition, you know, Emelin. If you want to learn to weave, my training to do so ought not to hold you back.”
“Oh, I do not especially, just more than ropemaking, or carpentry, or smithing, or herbcraft. And I certainly have no interest in becoming a ranger, even if they allowed maidens to join the guard companies.”
Which it is as well they do not, certainly in Emelin’s case.
“How about teaching children their letters? You have always been good with the little ones,” suggested Barthan.
“That is an idea,” said Haldir. “My brothers always loved it when you were willing to play with them. I think you would be very good at it.”
“Do you all think so?” asked Emelin, looking around the group.
Everyone nodded vigorously, and Alphwen said, “Besides, you may be the first of us to have your own child,” her eyes flicked to Barthan and back, “so best to spend time with other children first, do you not think?”
Emelin blushed, but did not deny the possibility. Barthan grinned broadly. “That is a long way off, yet,” he said, but he was holding Emelin’s hand as he spoke.
Haldir realized that Lalvenna was holding his hand, too, and he gently disengaged his fingers from hers. He liked her very much as a person, but that was all. He did not feel drawn to her as she would wish him to be and he would not deceive her – or anyone else, he thought, noticing Alphwen’s quick eyes upon them.
“Anyone want something to drink?” she said, holding up a flask. “I have cold mint tea.”
“I brought some apples, and bread and honey too,” Lalvenna added, handing them around.
Haldir bit into his apple, grateful that his friends had thought to bring something for their nooning. He had been too anxious to leave that morning to remember anything himself. The fruit was soft from keeping over the winter, but tasted good nonetheless. He thanked the two girls, thanks echoed by the other three. Barthan stretched and said he was going to walk around for a few minutes; Emelin rose to accompany him. Angor sprawled out full-length in the sun, one arm flung over his face to shield his eyes.
Alphwen and Lalvenna began to gossip quietly.
“Sometimes I just cannot imagine what Emelin sees in Barthan,” Lalvenna sniffed. “I have always thought he was very rude.”
“But he is handsome. . . almost as good-looking as Haldir,” Alphwen poked him in the chest, “and he can be funny, while Haldir is always too serious. I am not surprised at all. I think nothing will happen for a good long time though – she has told me that she would not wish to wed before she had spent time mastering her craft, whatever she may Choose. So someone else might be first to wed, after all.”
The two looked at each other for a moment, and then both looked at Haldir. He cleared his throat.
“Her parents, I think, will be pleased enough – I have heard them speaking with mine and saying that they thought Emelin would settle early; her sister did, too.”
Lalvenna tossed her head. “But she has a great-aunt who did not wed until very late. Emelin should not feel she must rush into it.”
“Yes, but few wait as long as her aunt – I think she had nearly three hundred years before she finally found a spouse. I know I would not wish to be alone for so long,” said Alphwen.
Nor would I. But will I have any choice in that matter? I doubt it.
“How do you know?”
They all looked at Angor, Haldir especially startled by the way his friend’s question seemed to respond to his own thoughts.
“How do I know what, that I do not want to live alone? Who would?” Alphwen replied.
“Some evidently do,” began Angor.
“They are peculiar,” said Alphwen tartly.
“But what I meant was, how do you know when you meet your future spouse?” Angor’s voice overrode her. “If I have met mine I do not know it.”
As the two girls each tried to answer at once, Haldir thought about the question, considering each of the girls that he knew at all well and who had not yet made even a tenuous pairing. None of them appealed to him as a potential partner. Perhaps I know them too well? I think of them the same way I think of cousin Andúniel, almost as family. How can I tell if I would like someone if I do not know her, though? Is it not foolish of me to think that a lovely face would spark something in my heart, just because it is a new face, when I know so many pretty maidens already? He repressed a groan.
“You should ask Barthan and Emelin,” he said to Angor. “I see them returning now.”
But the prospective couple were less than helpful. “You just know,” was all that Emelin could say, and Barthan only shrugged.
“Would none of you want to spend time alone,” asked Haldir, “before you wed, think about yourself and learn who you are?”
“How can you know who you are without other people?” said Lalvenna. “And it would seem strange to wait as long as Emelin’s aunt. I suppose if one were not yet ready to have a child, it would matter less.”
“A few wedded couples never do have children,” and Angor mentioned several names.
“I think that selfish,” said Emelin, and Barthan and Alphwen nodded agreement. “I always wonder about those marriages, if they are not overly interested in the physical bond.”
“Or perhaps they are not interested enough in the physical?” Haldir mused. “I have read philosophers who suggested that the ultimate purpose of marriage is the union of spirits, rather than the union of bodies – any animal can achieve the latter. Would it not be a sign of a higher kind of love to never feel the need to express it physically?”
“But without desire and physical union there can be no children,” said Emelin.
Barthan laughed. “And without it what would be the point of wedding at all?”
“There is more to marriage than desire, Barthan,” said Lalvenna. “At least for most of us, and I think that is Haldir’s question. Emelin is right, though, children are an important result. Who would not wish to see our people continue?”
“But which is the greater purpose?” asked Haldir.
“What, spiritual union or children? That seems to me a pointless question, when a wedded couple can have both in the fulness of time,” said Angor.
“I think, for us now, we should think about children first,” Alphwen said thoughtfully. “Not immediately, of course – we are all still too young for that. But once we have made our First Choices and learned our chosen skills. We do that to make a worthwhile contribution to society – and having children is just another part of the same thing.”
“It binds us, gives us a stake in the future,” offered Angor.
“None of us would even be here if our parents had thought that spiritual union was more valuable, Haldir,” said Lalvenna. “But it takes more than just siring or bearing a child – it takes the commitment to raise it, too, protect and teach it.”
“Yes,” said Emelin. “That is why I will Choose to teach the little ones.”
“Older children need teaching too. I think Haldir would be good at that,” Lalvenna said.
“Oh, no,” demurred Haldir. “Looking after my brothers is one thing but trying to cope with a dozen or more together? No, thank you. Plants and trees cannot talk back, at least.” How could I possibly take charge of children when I cannot even seem to control my own thoughts?
“Plants or trees cannot love you back, either. Not that either herbcraft or joining the rangers is an unworthy thing to do, but being out there without many people around seems like such a queer thing to want; so isolating,” said Alphwen.
“Haldir has always been like that,” said Barthan. “His nose stuck in a book all the time, never as keen to play or do things with the rest of us.” He clapped Haldir on the shoulder and added tolerantly, “But we like him anyway, do we not? Even if we think he is a bit mad?”
Laughter and nods greeted Barthan’s comment, and Haldir flushed a little.
“So – we all know what we are going to Choose? Except that we hope Haldir will reconsider and think about staying in Caras Galadon rather than go traipsing around in the forest,” said Angor.
“Yes,” said Lalvenna.
Haldir paused, then nodded reluctantly. He did not really expect he would decide to Choose herbcraft over the rangers, but he might as well not sound too stubborn about it, or they would all pile in on him again.
“There is still a little time before the sun sets – would you like to walk with me?” invited Lalvenna in a low tone.
Politely Haldir declined. She will keep trying to convince me to stay. “I do want to walk, but I need to think alone. I imagine I will see you before the festival, though.”
“Yes, you have to tell us what you will Choose,” said Lalvenna in a louder voice, and the rest of his friends chorused agreement.
“All right, you will know what I Choose,” hedged Haldir, standing and dusting off his clothes. He bade them farewell and strode off quickly before any of them could press him further.
He wanted to curl up in private and think. His family would not be worried if he missed the evening meal tonight – they would assume that he was eating supper with one of his friends, still talking about what they would Choose next week. So Haldir made his way to one of the gardens that his mother helped to tend and sat there, knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs for comfort.
He could smell the new growth of spring all around him as the dusk settled in. He leaned against the smooth silvery bark of the mallorn behind him and tilted his head to look up at the golden flowers that adorned its branches. Inhaling the clean scent, he let himself relax into the peace of the garden, his mind clearing as he simply focused on the quiet of the present moment. When he was calm, he began to think again, back to the dream he had had that morning.
That was no maiden I dreamed of, he admitted to himself. It was some lad. Not one of my friends, though, at least? He thought about it, comparing the half-remembered figure of the dream to Barthan, to Angor, to his other friends. No, it was none of them, and a good thing too. I would not be able to look whoever it was in the eye, knowing that I had such thoughts about him. But next time. . . He clenched his fists and the tears slid down his cheeks. I do not know who it is I am with, in dreams, but I cannot bear it to be this way. I want to be free of these strange desires. No one else is like this – why should I be?
He pondered, unable to decide on any reason why he might be so different from his friends. They all seem happy, not all yet ready to join with a spouse, but certainly thinking about it as the next step after Choosing their craft. Why am I not even interested in finding a lass to wed? Can I make myself think of a maiden in that way, as a bond-partner?
Tentatively he imagined joining with Lalvenna. He had no difficulty thinking of sharing a talan with her, spending time with her, he could even imagine raising children together, but when it came to sharing a bed and siring those children, his mind balked.
Come on, Haldir. Think about it. This is what everyone does, you can too, he encouraged himself. You were excited enough this morning, you know the body functions as it is supposed to, you just need to connect that desire to the right object.
He looked around, then got up and moved to a place behind a tangle of bramble already leafing out, from which no casual visitor to the garden could see him, especially now that the sunlight was nearly gone and only a crescent moon lit the sky. Settling down again, he took a deep breath.
If I am going to try this, I will do it properly. He untied the laces that bound his leggings and loosened the fabric until he could slip one hand between garment and skin. All right. Lalvenna. He felt somewhat embarrassed about choosing his friend for this purpose, but it was too hard to try to imagine some unknown lass. Besides, she will never know; and she might even be flattered, she clearly thinks of me as someone she would like to partner with.
He envisioned her dark hair, clear eyes, light voice – who cares about the voice? oh, well, why not – as he began to touch himself. Encouraged by his body’s reaction, he mentally undressed Lalvenna and imagined her there with him, the two of them, together. We seem to have a bit of a problem here, Haldir. What’s up? Not much. He suppressed a mad urge to laugh at his own bad joke and tried hard to focus on the idea of Lalvenna.
The touching felt good, but thinking of Lalvenna seemed to be distracting him rather than exciting him further. You knew that this would not be easy. If it were that straightforward you would have had no problem in the first place. How about a different position – maybe imagine yourself behind her, so you cannot see her face? Then you can think about her body without worrying about the real person.
Haldir shoved aside the thought that in a marriage he would have to think about the real person – I am practicing, that’s all, just practicing – and imagined how Lalvenna would look from behind, the sweep of smooth skin from her shoulders down to the gentle curves of her buttocks. Ah, that’s better, yes. His fingers slid up and down, pulse pounding unevenly. Then what? Arms around her, I suppose. And enter. . .
As he stroked himself harder and neared his climax, though, he realized suddenly that the person he was embracing in his daydream was no longer Lalvenna. No! Resolutely he re-envisioned her in front of him, but in so doing, his desire ebbed once again.
This just is not working. He stopped moving his hand and rolled over, pressing his face into the fallen mallorn leaves in despair. I am tainted, cursed. Do I even dare to join one of the companies? What if I were to somehow betray myself? What if I were to see the person I have been with in my dreams? What would happen then? And yet to stay might be worse, as the decades went by and it became clearer and clearer to all that there was something wrong with me, never finding a girl or woman I wished to wed. My dreams tell me truly who I am, but it is not the person I wish to be.
He lay there, exhausted by the tumult of his emotions, until he felt composed enough to pull his clothes together and return home with a lying face to his family. And tonight I suppose I will dream again. Please. All I want is peace in my dreams.
To his great relief, he did not suffer from his tormenting dreams over the next week. He spent a good part of those days before the festival walking by himself, wandering sometimes outside the city and sometimes in the gardens within, though there was one he assiduously avoided. As he walked, he contemplated his future.
I do not really know what I want, he decided. All I know is that I need to figure out how I can become in truth what I would seem to be. What path can I take for that? I need time. My trial of desiring a maiden was not successful, but did I try hard enough, really? Should I try again?
The thought depressed him. No, I cannot face that again, not at this moment. So, if I stay and learn herbcraft, my family will be pleased, and my friends, but I will have to accept their interest, their questions – all meant lovingly, no doubt of that, but still painful since I have no answers I would be willing to give. If I join the rangers – as I have long said I would anyhow – I will not have kin or friends near for support, but no one will expect me to find a lass to bond with while I am out in the forest!
Haldir paused, struck by a troubling thought. I wonder if any others among the companies are there because they have the same problem as I, and have sought the same solution? Would that make things easier or harder, if many there bear this same curse? He shook his head. I do not know. But at least, living out there, I should not have so much time to think about it. Thinking appears to be doing me no good, anyway.
He made up his mind. Yes. I will Choose the rangers tomorrow.
When he told them after supper that night, his parents were happy that he had finally reached a decision, although his mother especially regretted that he was Choosing to do something that would keep him from his family most of the time. She had hoped that her eldest son would join her in the gardens.
“I may still do so, someday,” he tried to comfort her.
“Ah, but by then I will probably have gone on to some other craft myself. You must do what you want, though, and what will bring you joy.”
I fear I have little chance for joy – contentment is the most I can hope for.
Rúmil and Orophin were both thrilled to know that their beloved older brother was to become a ranger, and made him promise to tell them all about the life on his first visit home.
“Of course,” he said, hugging them and tousling Orophin’s hair. “And you can practice your archery and show off to me whenever I return.”
His father embraced him and congratulated him on his Choice. “If you are certain about this, I wish you all success in it. We will miss you, of course, but you will be leaving someday anyway, when you join with your spouse and set up your own family. So in some ways this is likely to keep you part of our family longer. Not that you will cease to be our son when you wed, of course.”
Haldir winced inside at his father’s remarks, but said only, “Of course.” He yawned deliberately and added, “I think I will go to bed now – we are all supposed to arrive early tomorrow for the Choosing, and I am tired.”
“Goodnight, Haldir,” his mother said, kissing his cheek. “We are all very proud of you.”
He hurried off and lay under his blanket with his eyes squeezed shut, wishing he could get rid of the feelings of guilt and shame that rolled over him every time his parents or anyone else made such a remark.
They would not be proud if they knew all of my thoughts, the reasons why I am making this Choice.
He cleared his mind and let himself drift off. Shortly before dawn he woke, realizing in despair both that he had dreamed of that same unknown youth again and that his body had responded.
Now, Haldir, here is your chance to try again – you are nearly there, think about being with Lalvenna. Or Alphwen. Any of the maidens you know or have ever seen would do – dark hair or fair, tall or short, anything. He reached down to encourage his desire, but as before when he had made this trial, he found himself softening at the idea of having a woman beside him. Stubbornly he persisted, trying to concentrate on both the sensations and on the image of his pretty friend. The tension in his groin slowly increased as he stroked faster, until at last, panting, he spilled into his hand.
But that was despite thinking of Lalvenna, not because of it, he realized grimly, and rose to splash his face with water before putting on his best clothes. I suppose this shows I am making the right Choice today.
The ritual of First Choosing was to begin at midmorning, and all the youths and maidens making their Choices gathered in a knot at one side of the great talan where the ceremony took place. Their families filled most of the floor, and a representative from each of the major crafts and trades lined up along one side, standing ready to accept their new apprentices. When the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien arrived, all was ready.
Celeborn spoke a few words of welcome and reminded all those present that First Choosing was a time when the young took their place as adults for the first time and began to contribute to their people’s welfare. “A serious commitment, but also a matter for rejoicing,” he added. “Now, if you please, will the candidates come forward one by one to Choose.”
There was no prearranged order for Choosing – each youth and maiden was to make the decision in his or her own time – and it was a few moments before the first lad stepped forth hesitantly. Galadriel smiled encouragingly and gestured him on. Angor bowed to her and to Celeborn, then walked steadily over to the line of waiting craftsmen and craftswomen and knelt before Círyan the ropemaker.
“I Choose to follow your craft, if you will have me,” he said.
“Do you promise to follow all the lawful commands and instructions of those who will teach you, until you have demonstrated mastery of all the skills of ropemaking?” Círyan asked him.
“I so promise,” said Angor.
Círyan raised him up, kissing each cheek, and replied, “Then I accept you into our craft. Welcome.”
Angor stepped to Círyan’s side and turned around to face the silently approving crowd, his face bright with pride.
One by one, the other young Elves each made their First Choices – the words of promise and acceptance varied, but the meaning was the same each time. Haldir stepped forward near the end of the ceremony, when only a handful of others were still waiting their turns.
As he was raised and accepted, Captain Lórindol told him, “You will be joining my own company, Haldir; we will be pleased to have you.”
Haldir smiled in relief, thankful that at last it was over and he no longer had to worry about his future for a time.
The last few maidens and youths made their Choices, and the ceremony of First Choosing was over for three more years. Now it was time for the festivities. Proud families rushed forward to congratulate their children. Few were surprised by the decisions, but until a Choice was made it was never certain. On the morrow they would begin their new lives; today was for celebrating to mark the change.
Lórindol shepherded his three recruits across the floor, collecting their families along the way, and led them down to the tables spread for the feast. Singing and dancing would follow from mid-afternoon to evening, but for now they talked, parents asking about what exactly their sons would do while the lads sat and grinned at one another. They knew they would have plenty of time later to find out everything about their new lives. Haldir was interested to hear that to begin with they would be required to travel alone from the city to their future companies, as a means of testing their abilities. Experienced scouts would trail them to ensure that they would not become too lost, but they would be on their own. I suppose that means the three of us cannot travel together. Well, I wanted not to have to be around other people all the time. Might as well begin as I mean to go on.
Haldir looked carefully at his new captain and comrades, glad that none of them elicited any shock of familiarity. It would have been dreadful if one of them were to remind me of that other I keep seeing in my dreams. I hope I never do meet him. Once we are out there and I meet the rest of the company, I will know that I am safe.
Leaning over, his mother whispered, “You look happy for the first time in a long while, Haldir. I think that this will be the best Choice for you. But if you ever want to change your mind, do not feel that you must stay out there. We will always be glad to have you home, you know.”
“I know, Mother.” Unless I do see that lad among my companions rather than only in my dreams, I will not change. But that is not something I can tell her.
He stood and urged her to come and dance with him. The musicians had struck up their first tune for a ring dance, and most of the crowd were taking places in the circle. They whirled in abandon, alive to the air and the music, to the joy of life, and Haldir cast off any lingering despondency to join with his people.
If I cannot join with another, I can at least be a part of this. And soon I will have the relative solitude of the woods – where I hope to meet that other in my dreams no more, were his final reflections before he gave over thinking altogether for that time.
(1) An Elven week, or enquië, was six days long; a yén was 144 years of the sun.
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