Haldir has suggested a walk along the river before returning to camp. He thought perhaps it would be better if she had some time to think things through before they spent the evening in the company of curious elves, all things considered. She hadn’t said as much, but she was grateful for the suggestion.
Kalî’s feet dragged through the soft grass of the riverbank along with her thoughts. Haldir’s words echoed in her head.
You are an elf.
Two hours ago she wasn’t. She had not been fully sure of what she was, but she was definitely not an elf. However, two hours ago she hadn’t known about Nimrodel.
Nimrodel. That single word had haunted her every step for seven centuries, and for seven centuries it had no meaning. She had never been this close, but had also never felt so very far from the truth.
Was the truth that she was Elvish? And was it Hostith had not known how to tell her without putting her life at risk? It was true that his children would not allow her alone with their father, so his pertinent message had been given under their watchful eyes.
They had always been suspicious of her, how she had looked for all the world a blossoming young woman instead of the eighty year old she was purported to be. They believed she was a witch, and if given the chance she would hex their father into leaving them flat. They would not attack a witch out of fear, but had they thought she was an elf, they would have killed her themselves.
It had never occurred to her as a possibility before.
Haldir kept pace with her as they walked. He wanted to give her as much space as needed to think about what they had discussed by the river, and to be near in case she had any need of him. There had been a companionable silence for nearing on an hour when she slowed her steps and spoke to him.
“How do you know that I’m an elf? No one in all my life has ever suspected as much, why should you?” she asked.
“For the simple reason that I am an elf.” Haldir shrugged. “I knew before I even set eyes on you. I could hear you, smell you. And when I had you in my sight, I knew it in the way you carried yourself, how you moved through the trees. You were the oddest elf I had ever seen, but you were without a doubt-”
“An elf,” she nodded tiredly. She trudged towards the riverbank, and eased herself onto a rocky outcrop. Haldir followed, sitting beside her as she watched the water.
She had not considered that; the grace, the agility, the fortitude, the stamina, the keen senses, and the strength that she had always possessed to the awe of her shipmates. Traits she’d never shared with a single person she’d ever met until she met Haldir. As with her long life, she had always found ways to pass them off as insignificant or irrelevant.
“Not one single person… in 800 years…” she shook her head, at a loss for words.
Haldir glanced at her, admiring, not for the first time that day, her other-worldliness. How decidedly non-Elvish she really looked with her deep tan and silvery scars, a lifetime of violence under the sun leaving their marks on her skin, and so unlike the fair hair of the Silvan elves, her inky tresses, thick and wild, around her head
He laughed softly as a thought occurred, “And in all that time your ears never gave you away?”
He was met with silence. He turned to her, the half smile on his lips vanquished by a dawning horror on Kalî’s face.
He felt a knot in his chest and he swallowed thickly, “Kalî?” was all he could manage.
Her breaths became short and shallow. She paled and the look of anguish she held made Haldir’s chest ache. He reached for her, grasping her shoulders as she pitched forward, covering her head with her hands.
The memory had hit Kalî like a battering ram. Her ears rang, and her skin felt numb. She was vaguely aware of Haldir’s hands on her, his voice rising, tightening with concern. She found she had no voice to answer him.
She was slumped awkwardly against him as he pushed her upright. He covered her hands with his, and held her head up to face him.
She blinked at him, a frown trembled on her lips as she fought against more tears, hiccuping for air.
Her voice was barely a whisper as she uttered, “He cut them.”
Haldir’s stomach dropped like a stone. He stared at her for a moment, his thoughts tumbling with her words. He pulled her hands away from her head, easing them down to her lap. His heart was pounding in his throat as he reached up again and slowly slid his fingers into her hair. She didn’t resist, just closed her eyes against his touch and he felt himself trembling as he slowly pushed her locks aside, exposing her ear.
His breath left him like a kick to the chest. Her ear was rounded, like a man’s, but a closer inspection revealed that the flesh across the top had been shorn, and terrible scarring had pulled it taut, causing a crude curl. Before he could stop himself, he turned her head and pushed away the hair over the other ear, finding it the same. He sighed heavily, pulling her to him and pressing his forehead against her temple.
He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, a torrent of emotions rushing through him all at once. He spoke softly, his breath warm against her face.
“Who did this?” his voice was dark, and it surprised him. Among the feelings of horror and pity was an alien sense of rage. He continued to hold her head against his. He felt her tremble, but she made no move to break away.
“Hostir dragged me out of my bed one morning. He didn’t say anything, he just pushed me to the floor… I was on my belly and he… he sat on me.” Her voice was a harsh whisper and he felt her shaking hands find purchase on his tunic, bunching the fabric into her fists as she spoke. “I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. I cried and apologized, but I couldn’t move. He drew his knife and… he just started to cut me.” Her head turned against his and they were nose to nose. He watched her intensely as she spoke, her head cradled between his hands as she spoke through her teeth, “I started screaming and he hit me… hit my face until I stopped. Then he put the knife to me again. I thought I was going to die… and I remember, he did stop, and I was so relieved he hadn’t killed me that I didn’t realize he had turned my head over, until he pressed my face to the floor and started cutting again… He never said a word to me.”
Tears fell from her eyes, and without a thought Haldir wiped them away with his thumbs that lay against her cheekbones. “No one ever said anything. No one ever asked or even looked twice at me… I put it out of my mind. I never thought about it again…” she trailed off, the silence filling in the rest.
They sat like that for several minutes, Haldir pressing his head against hers as she clung to his shirt like a child. Neither of them spoke. It was a cold comfort to Haldir to know that the man responsible was centuries in his grave, and he ground his teeth as he attempted to center himself.
After a time, he leaned his head back to look at her. They stared at each other in silence, his hands still cradling her head, fingers tangled in her inky locks. She was looking at him, frightened and hesitant, and a welling impulse within him had him pulling away from her, dropping his hands to his sides.
“Let us get back to the post before nightfall. You have had a difficult day, híril nín, and we should rest before making our way to Caras Galadon.”
Kalî blinked up at him as he slowly stood and he offered his hand to assist her in standing. She took it reluctantly, sighing against the weight of disappointment and rejection that she felt pressing on her. She didn’t know why she felt so dejected, it was not as though Haldir had looked upon her with disgust after seeing what had been done to her. In fact, as she had traveled with him, learning more about the elves and their ideas of beauty, as well as having met more of them since reaching the post, she was rather confused by Haldir’s attention to her. These creatures were the fairest beings in Middle-Earth, to be sure. Where they were flawless and perfect, she was marred and broken. She seemed the opposite to them in every way, but Haldir had regarded her as kin immediately and all the while, never once casting her a glance of pity or shame.
She did not want to question it.
Haldir gently pulled her to her feet and looked her over with stony concern. She didn’t release his hand, instead turning her palm against his and lacing their fingers together. She avoided his eyes and the look of confusion and hesitation that they held, and turned her attention back to the forest instead.
Haldir was uncertain how to react to Kalî having held fast to his hand as she did. He realized that she was no doubt unfamiliar with how elves customarily expressed affection, that physical touch was almost exclusively reserved for close friends, family, and more intimate relations. However, he was himself familiar with how mortals showed their regard for one another. He had spent a century enduring handshaking, shoulder patting, back-slapping, cheek kissing, and embracing, among other things… It had taken him months to acclimate to it, and years to accept it without recoil. He had also been bewildered by how hastily they seemed to pair up, taking no time at all it seemed for courting and betrothal, a tradition born of their short lives and need to procreate. There was a sad romance to it all that he came to deeply admire.
His uncertainty did not lie in his discomfort with her touch, but rather his logistical mind needing to interpret and process the feelings and intentions behind the gesture itself. He had just met this elleth that day, and while he would not deny having already found her deeply intriguing and himself emotionally invested in her quest, he struggled to believe that she would be harboring any notions greater than that herself. Though his regard for her seemed to increase by the hour and a millennia of his hard won reservations and self-imposed solitude seemed to crumble like autumn leaves under her feet.
He pushed it from his mind. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and began to walk back towards Lothlórien, with Kalî in tow.