Melpomaen wandered about the room, investigating the furnishings. It was long since he had been in such luxurious surroundings.
"I will speak with the king alone," said Haldir abruptly. "I have only to pass on the message from Lord Celeborn, and answer any questions the king might have for me. Your knowledge of Westron is not yet great enough for you to need to be there, and I do not think there is any reason to fear treachery."
"As you wish," said Melpomaen. "Perhaps I will see what their gardens are like. After the wilds, it would be good to see tended beds."
"A good thought. I doubt the king will have an answer to give me today, so I do not expect our interview to last long. It may be a week before he makes a reply," Haldir said. "So I will come or send to find you, before evening."
King Bard was much as Haldir had expected; a strong man, yet thoughtful. He greeted Haldir civilly and assured him that he and his traveling companion were welcome for as long as they wished to stay. When he had broken the seal and read Celeborn's message, he sighed.
"Do you know the contents of this letter?" Bard inquired.
"I do not, sir, I am only the message-bearer; but I was told to answer freely any questions you might have," replied Haldir.
"At the moment, none. I will have to consider your king's words carefully before I reply, but I am likely to call on you for information. So if you would remain in the palace or on the grounds for a few days, I would be appreciative. And please, both of you join me for dinner. I have never traveled so far south, myself, and would enjoy hearing of your journey," said Bard.
Haldir bowed in acquiescence. "We would be honored, sir."
"Until this evening, then; and do not hesitate to call for anything you may require, after your travels," Bard dismissed him.
The meal that evening was a great change from those that Haldir and Melpomaen had shared for so many days on the road. The red wine of Dorwinion flowed freely at the king's table, which was laden also with venison, fish brought from the lake, and many dishes that neither Elf had seen before. Unaccustomed as they were to such plenty, they nevertheless did full justice to their host's generosity.
Next morning, Melpomaen regretted his lack of restraint. His head throbbed as if Orc-drums were beating inside it, and he shuddered at the very thought of breakfast. Instead he made his way outside to the grassy courtyard he had found the previous afternoon, and there Haldir discovered him lying on a bench, one arm flung over his eyes.
"Too much feasting for you, too?" he said sympathetically, sitting down beside Melpomaen.
"You could say that," came the muffled reply.
"Well, perhaps bound to happen. We'll both know to be more cautious from now on with the wine! Here, rest your head," Haldir moved Melpomaen's head off the hard bench and began to rub his temples gently.
"Ah, that helps," Melpomaen relaxed at his friend's touch. They sat quietly for a time, glad simply not to be traveling for a few days, and to be able to let down their guard against potential threats.
At last Melpomaen stood up and stretched languorously. "You have done wonders for me, Haldir. I feel as if I might live again now. I have never been in a town of Men before; have you? Shall we explore it?"
"I would enjoy that. I must leave word though of what we are doing, since the king asked me to remain available for consultation. I doubt he would object to our looking around his city, but still he should know where to find me," said Haldir.
After speaking with one of the servants of their plans, the two Elves wandered through the city. It was vastly different from the towns of Lórien, which were built into the mallorn trees. Here the dwellings were made of unlovely stone, crowded together and stained with the smoke of hearthfires.
"How can they bear it?" whispered Melpomaen to Haldir, as they stood in the marketplace amid the bustle of daily business.
"Most of them – all of them perhaps – know nothing else. Men are not attuned to Arda the way that we are. They live so briefly, they simply have not the time to learn what we understand," said Haldir. "But we should not pity them. Look at their faces; though times are troubled, still the people here seem content, and happy with their lot."
Melpomaen took Haldir's hand and pressed it. "You are always so wise, my friend. I would not have thought to look from their perspective."
Haldir returned the clasp for a moment, then released it. "Not always so wise, Melpomaen. I simply have had more experience of the world than you have, as yet. Someday you will no doubt outstrip me."
They had been speaking in Sindarin, both for privacy and because Melpomaen's command of Westron was not yet firm. Now Haldir shifted to the Common Tongue.
"Come, let us try one of the local shops. You said that you needed to make a new clasp for your hair; why not buy one here, instead, as a memento?"
"Yes, a good idea," said Melpomaen. They walked along the edge of the street, looking at the displays of goods that spilled out from each open shop.
"Here is one," called Haldir, who had moved more quickly. Melpomaen hurried to see what his companion had found. The clasp was not of wood, as was usual among the companies that patrolled Lórien. Instead it was of silver, smooth and plain except for a narrow band of leaves along the edge.
"This will last longer than a wooden clasp, I think," said Haldir, "and so will remind you longer of this journey."
"You are right," agreed Melpomaen. "But I fear the cost will be too great."
"I will do the bargaining," said Haldir, and beckoned to the silversmith.
Melpomaen listened carefully as the two bargained, but their speech was too fast for him to follow easily. At last they shook hands, and Haldir passed over the coins, receiving a carefully wrapped package in return.
"I do not think he expected me to drive such a hard bargain!" the Elf said cheerfully as they departed. "Do not worry about repaying me now. I know you brought little coin with you, we can settle up when we return home."
Melpomaen shook his head. "You're too kind, Haldir, but I do not like to leave debts unpaid. Please tell me what I owe you."
Haldir resisted, but finally gave in. "It was five silver pennies. I bargained him down from eight."
Melpomaen raised an eyebrow at the extravagance he had just been lured into. He handed Haldir the proper sum. "Remind me never to let you bargain for me again, my friend! Had I but known, I might have stopped you."
"Do you wish to return it?" Haldir stopped in the middle of the street. "I can do that, if you truly did not wish to spend so much. I apologize for my hasty behavior, if I forced something upon you that is not to your liking."
"No, it's all right. I had not anticipated spending such a sum, but the clasp is beautiful and I will be pleased to wear it for many years, I am sure," said Melpomaen.
"As long as you're sure," said Haldir doubtfully. "Very well, then. I have seen enough of the city for today, have not you? I would be glad now of a warming cup back in our room."
"Perhaps one warming cup," Melpomaen said. "I do not wish to feel tomorrow as I felt when I awoke this morning!"
The next week passed quietly. King Bard called Haldir to him several times to answer questions about Lórien's forces and her borders. At last the king reached a decision, and wrote to Celeborn to accept his offers of alliance.
"Though I do not know how much use it will be," he said ruefully as he handed Haldir the letter. "Our two realms lie far enough distant, and the Enemy is so widespread, that it seems unlikely that either of us will be able to readily aid the other. Dale has traditionally allied with the Elves of Mirkwood, and the Dwarves in Erebor, but Lórien is far afield."
"Distant, but not powerless," said Haldir. "And he would be a fool who does not secure allies when he can, even if they seem of unlikely help."
"You are correct, which is why I reply as I do. I assume you will leave tomorrow?"
"Yes, we are needed back in our company, and summer draws to an end. Better to make the journey in fair weather, if we can," Haldir responded.
"Then I wish you all speed, and safety in your travels. Should your king wish to send another message to me, I would be more than happy to see you again," and Bard bowed in courtesy.
Haldir bowed deeply in response, and left to find Melpomaen and tell him that they would be departing the next morning.
As usual, the younger Elf was in the gardens, enjoying the sunshine and quiet. Few of the king's household seemed to spend time here, and he could imagine himself back in a glade in Lórien.
"Thinking of home?" asked Haldir.
Melpomaen looked over. "Of course."
"Well," Haldir said, "you should be pleased, then, to know that we will leave tomorrow. King Bard has decided to accept Lord Celeborn's offer, and I have his sealed agreement ready to deliver."
"That is good to hear. Both the agreement, and that we can leave. I begin to grow restless in this stone city, do you not?" said Melpomaen.
"Impatient, yes. So – we should see to our packing, that we may depart at sunrise."
Their packs were larger for the return journey than the outward one. Bard had given several small gifts to be taken to Celeborn, but most of the increase was due to the food they carried. Their lembas had lasted for the whole of the distance to Dale, but was now exhausted. More ordinary foods were far bulkier than the waybread, and even now they knew that they would certainly have to hunt in order to extend their supplies.
On this last evening, the king again ensured that the meal was a feast, but neither Elf indulged as freely as on the first night. They took leave of Bard with many assurances of respect and friendship between the men of Dale and the Elves of Lórien, and retired for one last night of rest before their journey home.
Up at dawn, Melpomaen was almost dancing with anticipation to be on the road again. He had not realized how uncomfortable he was in the city, amid the crowds, until he knew he would be leaving them behind.
"Slow down, Melpomaen," Haldir called. "If you walk so quickly, you will exhaust yourself before nightfall. A day or two more or less will make no difference in our absence from the company."
Melpomaen slackened his pace at the mild reproof. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I am just enjoying the freedom to move as I wish again. In Dale it seemed that I could hardly take two steps without bumping into someone."
Haldir laughed. "I know how you feel. The first time I was in a city of Men, I had exactly the same reaction."
"But I will walk with you, my friend." Melpomaen took Haldir's hand.
"I would enjoy that, Melpomaen," Haldir told him. If Melpomaen noticed that his partner seemed a little short of breath, he put it down to the lack of exercise in Dale.
They traveled quickly that day, however, fresh from the previous week's inaction. As night drew near, they stopped to make camp.
"One thing about Men's travel rations, they're more trouble than lembas," muttered Melpomaen, who had volunteered to cook the first evening. Among their supplies were dried meats and vegetables; the Elf was attempting to concoct a soup for their meal, with little experience to guide him.
"Just let it simmer for awhile," advised Haldir.
Melpomaen pushed a stray wisp of hair off his face. "I know, I know. I am just so restless for some reason, I cannot sit still." He stood and paced around the perimeter of their camp. "I feel as if there is something happening inside me that I don't understand, and I cannot contain it. It's like – stepping out of shelter when you thought the sky cloudy, and unexpectedly seeing the stars. Surprised and overjoyed at their beauty."
He dropped to the ground beside Haldir and lay with his head propped on his hands, gazing at the fire. "It is more than just pleasure at leaving the city and returning to the free fields and forests. It is as if my blood is learning again how to flow through my body. Do you feel nothing of the sort?"
"I do... but I know what it is I feel, as I think you do not."
"What is it, then?" Melpomaen asked. "You are always so good at explaining things, tell me this."
Haldir was silent for a moment. He leaned over and touched Melpomaen lightly on the shoulder, saying, "Are you certain you wish to know?"
Melpomaen felt the touch like fire running through his veins. And suddenly he remembered the last time he had spoken with Caranfíniel, whom he had once hoped to wed.
I will not join with you, Melpomaen, she had said. There is that in you which cannot turn to me, and I will not be bound to a divided soul. At the time he had thought she referred to his commitment to join Lórindol's company. But now, in Haldir's company, he recognized a different interpretation.
But perhaps I am mistaken, he thought, and said aloud, "I do wish it."
Again, silence from his partner. Then he felt the other's hand move slowly from his shoulder to trail down his side, until it rested above his hip. Haldir repeated, "Are you certain?"
Melpomaen rolled a quarter-turn, so that he faced Haldir directly, but without losing that tentative contact. "I am," he said.
Haldir exhaled a deep breath, then lowered himself onto his elbow, so that he looked Melpomaen in the eye. Melpomaen had never before looked into another's soul as he did then; he saw that Haldir had loved him for years, that the partnership between the two of them meant everything to the other. And he recognized that he returned the feeling. Why did I never see this before, he had just time to wonder, before Haldir kissed him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.