Caras Galadhon was on the other side of Lothlórien, but Haldir was sure that he and Kalî, as seasoned and (relatively) agile scouts, could make it there in less than two days. Traveling light with minimal rest, it was a trek that countless Galadhrim took weekly, as the patrols changed out with fresh charges from the capital. Haldir was sure he could make it back to the city blindfolded from anywhere in the Golden Wood, and he had little reason to doubt that Kalî could easily keep pace with him.
When they returned to the guard post, Haldir took Kali up into the flet under which they had left their things that afternoon. Kali had begun setting up a bedroll and unpacking a few things from her bag when Haldir moved to climb back down the tree.
“Where are you going, love?” Kali asked, hoping he wasn’t expecting her to just sit in a tree by herself for the rest of the night.
Haldir paused, peering up at her over the edge of the platform, “I am going to gather a few things for our journey tomorrow, and to find a place to rest myself.”
Kali felt a twinge of anxiety, she hadn’t considered that he wouldn’t stay with her. She wasn’t used to being alone. Privacy was something one did not come by easily on a ship full of men, especially when one was the only female. A promise of violence and a healthy amount of fear, on their part, granted her the ability to bathe unmolested, but never alone. She ate, washed, and bunked always with her crew. And winter at the Hornburg had been rather cramped and cozy.
Before she could stop herself, she blurted, “Can’t you stay here?”
Haldir blinked at her, still poised halfway off the flet, “I will not retire just yet. When you are settled, you are welcome to roam about the camp. I can find you then, it is likely some of the others would be curious to meet you.”
Kali laughed awkwardly, “No, I mean… could you not just sleep with me?”
Haldir’s brow shot up and, in that moment of surprise, he lost his footing. He managed to hold fast to the platform, his feet scrabbling for purchase against the tree. He quickly pulled himself back up onto the fle, pausing for a moment, perturbed and slightly mortified.
Kali slapped a hand over her mouth. “Are you alright?” she said, moving towards him, “I didn’t mean to startle you, I wasn’t suggesting anything untoward…”
He held up a hand as he collected himself, rising back to his feet, and ignoring the odd pang of disappointment he felt at her words.
He ducked his head, embarrassed, “Please, it is fine. Believe it or not, I would not be the first Silvan elf to fall out of a tree. We may make our homes high above the forest floor, but we are as bound by the laws of gravity as anyone else.”
He smiled then, bashfully, and she laughed, loud and bright. A sense of relief wash over him, despite his humility, at seeing her smiling once more. It had only been a few hours, but the weight of that time was so great that it truly felt like it had been days since the Nimrodel.
After a moment, he continued, “As for my accomodations, it would be most presumptuous of me, not to mention inappropriate, to share this flet when there are others available, and you should have your privacy.”
Kali nodded, “I appreciate that, izrê, but if it’s all the same to you, I don’t mind. I’d prefer the company, actually. Never slept in a treehouse before, and I can make my own privacy should I need it.” She tried to maintain as casual a tone as she could, but felt her voice tighten as her throat did. She was suddenly very aware of how close she was to crossing a line, and while she enjoyed teasing Haldir she did not want to come off as wanton. She had no idea what the next few days held in store for her, but she knew she did not want to do it without his support. She also truly and genuinely liked him, and didn’t want to do anything that might tarnish his opinion of her, whatever that opinion may be.
He faltered a moment, clearly hesitant. The other wardens might find it unusual for him to stay with her, but no more unusual than they found him in general, and it wouldn’t occur to them that such a situation could be used advantageously. Not that they were naive, but because he and this elleth were not betrothed and it was culturally absurd that two elves would engage in such activities outside of a more intimate understanding.
Besides, he knew that there was no chance of anything improper happening, regardless of his increasingly confused feelings on the subject.
He spoke tentatively, “I suppose it could be arranged, if that is what you would truly prefer?”
He watched her in the dwindling light, as something akin to relief washed over her face.
“Burôda dalad-ni,” she breathed, then looked up at him and smiled, “Well then… lovely. Carry on. Sorry to keep you. I’ll see you below shortly?”
He had an odd look of nervous anticipation on his face, but he bowed and gave her a nod. He turned and began to once again climb down from the flet to the forest floor below.
Later in the evening, Haldir and Kalî had settled around a small fire. She had been much subdued after their return from the riverbank, but after their rather awkward conversation upon the flet and as the evening weathered on, she slipped back into her voraciously talkative and mercilessly flirtatious skin.
A few of the off-duty wardens had joined them, fascinated by the strange elleth. They were polite but inquisitive, and Haldir seemed more than content to serve as a translator.
Through Haldir she told them about the Corsairs, leaving out the more depraved aspects of life among them. She spoke fondly of her shipmates, her “boys” and lamented how she left them. Neither she nor Haldir offered more than a vague explanation of her presence in Lothlórien, just that she was here to speak with the Lord and Lady. And since she was being escorted by Haldir, they did not question it.
“What is this mark upon your brow?” one of the Wardens, Ferenril, asked. Haldir translated and she proceeded to explain, pointing to the three black chevrons that tattooed on the center of her forehead.
“This is my rank. Like a lieutenant, though really only the captain and first mate have official titles. I have been with the Corsairs longer than any other, but as I was not born in Umbar, and not born of the sea, I can not command my own ship.”
Haldir dutifully passes her words along in Elvish, and many of the wardens nodded in understanding, chattering amongst themselves.
“She would lie with pigs.” Another warden, looking hard and unimpressed, muttered to the elves beside him. “Like a filthy pet, no pride or dignity.”
Haldir did not translate, but was on his feet in a flash. Kali jumped back in alarm.
“Rimedur!” He barked, and the other elf leapt to attention. In one stride Haldir was in his face.
“Your forked tongue is what lacks dignity.” Haldir towered over him with dark eyes and a frightening scowl. “Return to your post. It would not do for me to see you again before dawn.”
Rimedur withered before Haldir as the rest of the wardens observed the scene in astonishment. The two with Rimedur stood, speaking apologetically to Haldir, and pulled their friend along with them away from the fire. The others were silent as Haldir stalked back over to reclaim his seat at Kalî’s side, while she blinked in confusion.
Haldir glowered in the direction of the departed warden, and Kalî sidled next to him.
“What happened, izrê?” she said softly.
“He was being ignorant, do not trouble yourself,” he spoke through his teeth.
Kalî put a hand on his chin, turning him to face her. She looked at him seriously, “Tell me.”
His face softened, though he frowned, “He had base opinions and other impolite notions regarding you.”
”Impolite, you say?” She mimicked his inflection, then laughed and rolled her eyes, “Well, I can assure you, while I will eat rats what may nest in my hair, my quim does not have teeth.”
She grinned at him horribly.
Haldir’s scowl fell away to shock and he stammered incoherently. She turned to him bodily, “It hasn’t. See, look-“ She made to stand, tugging at her belt.
Haldir’s hand shot out instantly, grabbing her hands, his eyes wide, “Kalî…” he gasped, the deep blush of his cheeks apparent even against the firelight.
She couldn’t hold back her laughter, collapsing back on her behind and freeing her hands from his vise grip, “Fine, I’ll show you later.” She winked, elbowing him playfully and giggling all the while. Haldir huffed and shook his head, smirking at her in disbelief. This elleth would be the death of him.
“There now, that’s better.” She smiled, happy to have broken the tension, but then sighed sadly, “I try to pay no mind to what people say about me, love, they always believe what they like, no regard for truth. I should not be surprised to find it the same of elves.”
Haldir cast a glance over the remaining elves still seated around the fire, who were now watching the two of them with fascination.
They had never seen Haldir even speak to an elleth, let alone engage so casually with one. Haldir was the one marchwarden that stood apart from the rest. He was the strongest of them, the most skilled with a bow and a blade, spoke the tongue of common folk, and commanded the respect of every other warden. They held a deep admiration for him, as well as a sadness. Stoic and solitary, Haldir devoted himself fully to his duty as a Marchwarden of Lórien, never seeking companionship of any kind. Seeing him lash out at Rimedur in this elleth’s defense had been enthralling and a little terrifying.
She followed his gaze, taking in the awkward stares of the others and her smile faltered. She grabbed a stick and began poking at the fire. “Though, I suppose I must be ghastly compared to your women. Like a mûmakil stepped on my face,” she sighed, but smiled warmly at him, “As I said, we can’t all be born lookers. Just no pleasing you elves, I suppose, but as Corsairs go I am quite fetching, thank you very much.”
She tossed the stick into the fire then, a little too roughly to be convincingly nonplussed. She didn’t know what the damned elf had even said, but it didn’t matter now. It hurt to think about how lovely Haldir had been to her all day, only to be reminded of how partial and proud his kind were. Their kind. She shook her head.
Haldir was watching her carefully. He hadn’t considered how the revelation at Nimrodel might have confused how she now perceived herself, especially after he had just that afternoon inadvertently given her the idea that elves were shallow. And now with Rimedur’s obtuse display.
When she thought of herself as a Corsair, she felt confident and brazen. If she was starting to think of herself as an elf, she must feel scrutinized and judged now. Haldir felt a weight in his chest at that thought.
“You are fetching.” He agreed softly, looking once again over the fire at his brethren.
The other wardens had begun to disperse. Kalî nodded curtly at a few who made polite parting gestures to her.
She smiled tightly, and looked at Haldir, “I don’t need your charity, mate,” she said coldly, but she couldn’t hold his gaze and looked back into the fire.
Haldir noticed a knot in his gut. The thought that he had managed to hurt Kalî, even slightly, nauseated him. He shifted closer to her, putting a hand on her shoulder and pulling her attention back to him.
“It is not charity. I can speak only for myself, but I find you to be quite beautiful. And I would never compliment falsely. I know how it feels to be seen as less than, just because one does not fit the mold of an ideal specimen.” He was looking at her earnestly, and despite herself she believed him.
“Because of your brothers?” Her voice had softened.
Haldir bit his cheek, “No, because of me.”
Her brow knit, and she blinked, confused.
He sighed, “My brothers are not, as you put it, the shame of my family, Kalî. I am.”
She looked appalled, “Horse shit.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle, “No. My brothers are fine examples of what is traditionally considered fairness in an elf. And those are traits that they share with most elves.”
She gaped at him and he smiled flatly, shrugging, “You said yourself that you did not see the family resemblance, though you did not understand the context of my response. And I failed to correct you, as I was too surprised by your reply.”
Kalî crossed her arms and looked skeptically at him. Haldir did have a greater frame and a gentler look than any of the elves she’d seen thus far, but she had not found the differences between any of them remarkable enough even to be noteworthy, let alone castigating.
“I don’t understand, love. A few of the lads here tonight were right trolls,” she grumbled.
He shrugged, “It is not as though I am outcast for it, just subject to sad regard and low expectations, despite how far I have come and the life I have made. ” He offered a weak smile, “It is their subtlety that makes it less bearable.”
She looked at him again, heart aching at his resignation. She did not have the upbringing to know what made one elf more or less beautiful than the other, but she did know that a pretty face was no substitute for decency. And to her, Haldir had both.
“Perhaps it means little coming from me, love, but I think you’re stunning. And I don’t mean just what my eyes can see.” She said softly.
“It means a great deal coming from you, híril nín.” He ducked his head shyly, “More than it probably ought.”
Kalî felt a flutter in her chest. She had spent the better part of their brief acquaintance being flirtatious and affectionate, and while he hadn’t been cold or dismissive of her, Haldir had remained rather guarded. This was the first time he had alluded to any feelings that might stray beyond compassion and perhaps even friendship. Her eyes widened, and he avoided them. She edged ever closer to him, her chest now tight with nerves.
He sat with his elbows braced on his knees, looking absently at the fire. Kalî gently eased her arm under his, reaching for his hand & lacing their fingers together as she softly leaned her head against his shoulder.
She took a steadying breath, “Let us leave ‘ought’ for another day, izrê.”
Haldir swallowed thickly before turning his face towards her, his cheek pressed lightly against the top of her head. She smelled like cloves and cinnamon and he closed his eyes, enveloped in it.
“What does ‘izrê’ mean?” he asked softly. She had called him that from the moment they met, and he was suddenly very interested in what it meant.
Kalî bit her lip, “Darling? Sweetheart? It doesn’t translate. What does ‘híril nín’ mean?”
He smiled against her hair, taking another deep breath of her as he squeezed her hand.
“It means ‘my lady.’”
Adûnaic: Burôda dalad-ni…..an expression of profound relief (heavy beneath me)