Ch. 7 KarbiDolgu

Fire.

Smoke.

Screaming.

The clashing of metal against metal. Someone is running, and she is bundled in their arms. It is dark, but for the fire she can see the trees up ahead. She is held so tight, the world around her bounces with each frantic step. She screams into the chaos, panicked and terrified, her eyes burning from the smoke and from tears. She is squeezed, shushed, soothed as they pant and push towards the forest. A sudden stop and she tumbles to the ground, out of the protective embrace. She curls into a ball as a barrage of footfalls and shouting overwhelm her. She tries to see, to find the one who held her, but there are bodies everywhere.

Suddenly, arms grab her, pulling her away while she kicks and flails. Her hand closes over the hilt of a dagger and she pulls it free, waving it wildly as she is dragged away from the burning village. She screams.

“NANETH!!”

Haldir was at her side, his hands on her shoulders shaking her gently as she screamed. When she suddenly drew her knife, he grabbed her wrist before she could bring the blade down on him, and he cupped her head with his other hand,

“Kalî! Kalî, wake up!” he shouted, his voice hoarse and groggy from having been ripped from his rest by her cries.

Her eyes flew open, and locked on his. After a moment, she choked and released the dagger in her hand. The look of terror and anguish on her face had Haldir’s own eyes beginning to sting as he pulled her hand to his chest.

He held her gaze, “Kalî?” he said softly.

She blinked, releasing a well of tears that had gathered in her eyes.

“Haldir?” she said, her voice trembling.

With that word something within him broke, and he realized that it was the first time he had heard his name on her lips. His hands still on her, he pulled her against his chest and wrapped his arms around her. She was shaking, sobbing, her hands twisted in his tunic and pulling, as if desperately trying to bring herself somehow closer.

He clenched his jaw, placing a hand on her head, smoothing her hair.

She had cried out for her mother.

It made sense that the revelations of the last day would have shaken loose some long-forgotten memories within her, and Haldir cursed himself for not considering earlier that this might happen.

She shook in his arms, as his own thoughts cascading when she gasped, “Is that what happened to her?”

He could only imagine what the dream had been about, but he hadn’t the heart to ask her for details.

She could not see his face, but he shook his head,

“I do not know, híril nín. I can not tell you.” He continued to hold her as her breathing slowed and her form relaxed.

He adjusted his seating, moving to lie her back down against her bedroll when she snaked her arms around his middle, pulling him down with her.

The idea of lying with her gave him pause, but he settled himself down beside her. He kept an arm around her as he lay on his side. She burrowed herself into his chest and with his free arm, he pulled his cloak over them. For a time, there was no sound save for their breathing and the crackling of the fire below.

Haldir struggled with his thoughts as their breaths fell in sync. As an elf, he had never been prone to impulsive acts of physicality. He may have comforted his brothers when they were much younger, but it had never come to him naturally.

Yet, he wanted to touch Kalî, to comfort her.

While he had not bothered himself with amorous thoughts in several hundred years, he was not immune to the occasional pangs of longing and loneliness. He had long resigned himself to his solitude, having never found companionship with the elleths in Lórien and been long convinced that none would ever seek it with him.

He wasn’t sure why it was Kalî that changed these feelings within him. Perhaps it was her flirtations and apparent interest, as he was wholly unaccustomed to such attentions. Perhaps it was because she was wild and unrefined; worldly, but with an air of innocence about her. Perhaps it was because she was the only person in a millennia that he could actually talk to. It surely didn’t help that he found her strangely, achingly beautiful.

As they lie in silence, he thought about how she had said his name. How hearing it had jarred him so violently. Since they had met, he had figured her refusal to address him properly was a tactic that she employed to prevent attachments, which made sense, given the amount of death she experienced in her life. He went out of his way to avoid attachments himself, though his reasons were entirely different than what he imagined hers to be. And he had been trying to keep her at an emotional distance since the very moment she accepted his help. Even after everything, he felt things were reasonably under control, until she had said his name…

She drew him out of his thoughts, stirring against him and placing her hands against his chest.

“Stay with me,” she whispered, and he felt her breath on his neck. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calculated breath. He ran a hand through her hair before pulling his cloak up over her shoulder.

“Öiale” he said finally, despite himself.

He had little doubt that she had heard him, but he was sure she didn’t understand what it meant. Regardless, she made no further comment, instead making subtle adjustments to her position to settle herself more comfortably against him.

Enveloped in one another’s warmth, peace returned.

—————-

Haldir stirred, his eyes opening sleepily as he felt a weight against his chest. He pulled his head back slightly to see, just under his chin, a mass of black hair. Kalî. Her arm was wound tightly around his waist, her face buried in the crook of his neck. Against his chest, her breaths were soft and deep.

His thoughts were still cloudy and for a moment he was unsure how he came to be in her spidery embrace, but as he blinked away the haze he remembered her nightmare, and how she had asked him to stay.

Under his cloak he could feel the tangle of roots their legs had become in the night, his feet locked tightly around one of her ankles and her leg draped over his waist. His hands he found with fingers woven into her raven locks and the other hooked over the knee snaked about his hip.

It was a compromising position, to be sure, but he didn’t make any move to escape it.

Haldir considered the last two days. How this stranger in his forest had turned out to be so much more than an interesting distraction, and if she was who he suspected she was, he wondered if this… whatever it was that seemed to be developing between them would end before it had even begun.

Did he even want it to begin?

Did she?

Would she choose to leave Caras Galadhon after meeting with Celeborn, regardless of what was discovered?

And, if so, would he just let her go?

The thought made his chest ache, and he sighed heavily as he drew her closer.

Kalî stirred, pulling her head back and blinking lazily at him. She squeezed her arm tighter around him, burrowing her face back into his neck as she mumbled a protest against the dawning light.

After a moment she sighed, “Let’s just live here.”

In that moment, it was as though they had awoken beside each other for years, and Haldir’s heart went from heavy to feather-light. Her easy comfort banishing his uncertainty and doubt.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

He pressed a kiss against her ear, his fingers scratching lightly against her scalp. His other hand smoothed up her leg, gently kneading her thigh.

Kalî’s eyes shot open and the earth beneath her vanished. She held fast to him, seeking to ground herself against the electricity of his hands on her. Her heart pounded against his chest, and she took a deep breath, filling her lungs with his warmth and scent.

Her eyes fluttered shut and she pressed a soft kiss against his neck.

She drew her head back again, looking at him now with black eyes. She brought a hand his face, brushing her thumb across his cheekbone, and then across his lips.

His breaths were quivering, out of sync with sound of his heart pounding in his ears.

She dragged her fingers lightly along his jaw, delicately tracing his ear, before gently pushing her fingers into his hair. The look in her eyes was heated as she gently pulled him towards her.

He felt her breath against his face as he drew nearer, and his wide, searching eyes fell to her mouth. The thin, silvery scars contrasting against the deep rose of her lips.

They each fell out of focus as they came together, mouths meeting soft, hesitant breaths. The connection was lightning on her skin, and she drew a sharp breath through her nose as she pulled him ever closer.

He moved his lips slowly against hers, his thoughts racing to intercept his speeding heart and his body, aching to get closer, deeper. His hand reached her hip and he dragged his nails across her flesh as she ran her tongue lightly against his bottom lip, drawing it into her mouth.

He groaned, his eyes drifting shut as she slowly released him through her teeth.

“Haldir!” a voice cried from below.

They jumped apart with a start, and Kali lerrr out a nervous laugh at the interruption. Haldir exhaled, tense and bewildered by the shattering moment.

He smiled oddly, blushing, “Um… excuse me, híril nín.”

Still grinning, and just as flushed, she nodded and pulled herself out of his embrace.

He looked her over for a moment, reflecting on the last few minutes before rising to his feet. He leaned over the edge of the flet.

Yes? What is it?” he grumbled at the young warden looking up at him innocently.

Duindir has returned with his report from the western march. I assumed you would want to debrief him before you depart for the capital?” the elf called.

Haldir sighed, running a hand down his face. He nodded at the warden below, who quickly departed. He turned then to Kalî, offering an apologetic look.

“I must attend to some things before we leave. I…” he trailed off, uncertain how to proceed. Kalî sensed his hesitation and spoke.

“Well, I’ll pack up here. And meet you below? We should leave as soon as we can, I get the sense we’ll be gasping by noon.” she said, already feeling the rising heat and humidity in the air. It seemed the weather would be even more unbearable today than it was the day before.

After a beat, she bit back a smile at her innuendo and looked away from the alarmed expression on Haldir’s face, trying not to laugh at his expense.

He shook his head, pawing at his uniform to straighten it, then began his descent.

Once he was out of sight, her composure shattered. Kalî pressed her hands against her face, her heart in her throat, and sucked in a groan.

“Aglâr anÊru!”

————

Elvish Translations:

Öiale…..forever

Adûnaic Translations:

Aglâr anÊru…..”glory of god” used here as a blasphemous expletive (holy shit/oh my god)

KarbiDolgu…..nightmare

Ch. 6 Naru

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.’”

—————

Elvish: Naru…..fire

Adûnaic: Burôda dalad-ni…..an expression of profound relief (heavy beneath me)

Ch. 5 Huznat

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.

————

Adûnaic: huznat…..ears

Ch 4. Duin

When they finally arrived at the guard post, it was early evening. They had agreed they would make camp in the flets that night, after taking advantage of the remaining daylight to explore the Nimrodel, and hopefully satisfying Kalî’s unusual quest.

They dropped off their sacks and skins, as well as the cloaks they’d taken to carrying in the humid afternoon. Haldir brought Kalî to a small clearing beneath a vacant flet, and excused himself to check in with the wardens on duty.

Kalî sat down against the tree and sighed to herself, “What are you doing here, Mîth?”

Of all the ways she considered the day would go, this scenario had never occurred to her. She was so cocksure she could get through Lórien undetected she never considered encountering elves, let alone accepting help from them. She certainly never dreamed that, were she ever to meet one, that they would be as kind and generous as Haldir.

She’d always been told that the elves were proud, self-righteous, and cruel, knowing only hatred, greed, and war. Her marchwarden was nothing like that. He was wise and funny, dutiful and honest. And so very, very pretty.

She covered her face with her hands and groaned. This just wouldn’t do. She had only spent the better part of an afternoon with this person, how could she have come to be so smitten? She’d never allowed herself such a luxury, and had never found it difficult to keep people at arm’s length before. It had always proved easier for her in the end.

She did not like staying in one place for too long. With the Corsairs it was never a problem. They never stayed in port long enough to become involved with the common folk, and she had long established that she would rotate throughout the fleet, never staying on one ship for more than a few years at a time.

Hostir had come into her world very much the same way he left it, a hateful old man, but Hostith she had known from just a boy. Before her eyes he had grown into a man, then into an old man while his children grew tall and grey themselves.

It horrified her.

She had little experience in aging. Death and disease? Absolutely. With the Corsairs men died all the time, either at the end of a blade, or succumbing to fever or starvation. But to see someone just wither away, was entirely foreign and distressing to her. She never wanted to see it again.

Kali had heard about the immortal lives of the Eldar and, now that she was here with them, with Haldir, she was starting to wonder if she would be willing to stay, if they would even welcome a Númenórean refugee into their greatest of cities?

She groaned, and tapped her head against the tree. This was not something she needed to be thinking about right now. Haldir would be back soon, and what would happen when she finally reached the Nimrodel? What would she find there? Why had Hostith sent her here?

Haldir returned and escorted Kalî the rest of the way to the Nimrodel. In a small clearing beside the river, Haldir explained that this was the place where the Lady Nimrodel had lived. Her residence long since fallen to time and disrepair. Kalî approached the clearing, her brow furrowed. She looked around pensively and Haldir let her explore while he continued to tell her about the river. How it too was called Nimrodel, and about the poetry and songs that surrounded the legend of the lady.

When he finished, there remained an uneasy silence while she searched the grounds. Eventually, Kalî sat down on a large tree root that hung over the smoothly rippling water, looking confused and dejected.

“So, who was Nimrodel, then?” she asked softly, taking in everything. Haldir watched her diligently, as she looked sadly into the water, reaching in and letting the current run through her fingers.

“It is a sad tale, híril nín. Nimrodel was the beloved of the King of Lórien. When she fled the Golden Wood, her betrothed set out after her. They traveled to the south, in search of a ship.” As he spoke Kalî sat back and looked at him, her eyes calculating. “Their party was separated. The king reached their destination alone, and perished at sea while he waited for his love to arrive. Nimrodel found herself wandering the White Mountains for a time, before she finally reached the harbour, and found herself alone.”

Kalî blinked, confused, “Then what happened?”

Haldir sighed, “We do not know. That is where our knowledge ends. Nimrodel was lost to time and Lord Celeborn took his brother the king’s place here in Lothlórien.”

She turned her eyes back to the water, silent. He took a deep breath and approached her, kneeling beside her as she curled her legs beneath her and stared vacantly into the river.

“Kalî,” his voice was low, “why are you here?” He kept his head down, but watched her through his lashes. She tensed, and dug her fingers into the moss of the root she sat upon. She turned her head towards him, but not her eyes.

“I was a slave. From the time I can remember until I was grown, I was a slave in the house of a man named Hostir.” She spoke softly, her voice almost lost over the babbling of the river below. He looked up in alarm at her words, but was silent as she continued.

“When Hostir died, I was left to his son Hostith. I had grown with him, and while we were not equals, he was like a brother to me. Hostith was an unhappy child, and a heavy-hearted man. He was always afraid, always suspicious, always sad. The relief he felt when his father passed was great, but it did not ease whatever burden he carried.” She drew a breath and rubbed her nose softly with the back of her hand. “As he lay dying he called me to him. He was distressed, begging my forgiveness, for what I still don’t know, but I gave it to him all the same. He took my hand and held it so tightly that it hurt, and he said, ‘Nimrodel.'” She shook her head, “I didn’t know what he was talking about and I told him as much, but he was in so much pain, he could say no more.

‘Nimrodel.’

That was all he had said. That one word and I don’t know what he meant.” A single tear fell despite her unblinking eyes, her voice wavered angrily, “He died that night. He died, and I was taken by Corsairs soon after.”

Haldir was aware that he was holding his breath, so transfixed by Kalî and her words that he did not dare move for fear of shattering their reality. Finally, she turned her eyes to him, red rimmed but piercing blue. She clenched her teeth, “I do not know why I am here.”

Haldir considered her then, what she had said and what he knew about her, and he thought about the things that he didn’t know. A thought stirred, he pinched hard at the bridge of his nose as he pondered the implications of it. His mind now racing with a thousand questions that all screamed at once to be asked and he drew a careful, even breath as he struggled to quiet them.

He finally spoke with a cautious calm, “Kalî, where were you born?”

She frowned, confused by the question, “In Edhellond.”

He closed his eyes and nodded, “Do you know how old you are?”

The neutrality of his tone was unnerving, but it was clear to Kalî that he was trying very hard to keep control of how he delivered these, seemingly random, questions.

She closed her eyes and tried to think, “I’m not sure… Do you know the Line of Dol Amroth?”

Haldir nodded, he had learned of the princes of Gondor during his stay in Minas Tirith.

“I was about 20 when Galador was born, so… 800 give or take?”

She watched him with a growing sense of unease as he nodded slowly and sagely at her answer.

He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. This was the question that had been haunting him since he met her, and now he had to know.

He took another deep breath, “I am going to ask you one more question, Kalî and, it might be a very stupid one, but please humor me this.” He fixed his gaze on her again.

She nodded.

“You are an elf, Kali.  Do you not know that?” he said softly.

He could barely breath as he watched her, her eyes wide and brow knit, staring at him. She turned her head away and looked back out onto the water, the sun fading far beyond the trees as it set. She closed her eyes and hung her head.

“There are no elves in Belfalas.” She whispered, as much to him as to herself, but the conviction fell flat.

She knew she had outlived every shipmate and captain she’d ever had, but they had rarely died from age, which made it easier to forget that she never seemed to. She never got sick, she healed faster, and she could survive on little to no food or water for weeks longer than her boys. And even though the men of Númenór once lived well past 300, that was no excuse for her long life…

She took a shuddering breath and her face crumpled miserably, unable to find the words to answer him, but Haldir did not actually need her to.

“I told you Nimrodel disappeared after reaching the harbor,” he said softly, “what I did not say was that that harbor was the elf haven of Edhellond. And that Dol Amroth is so named for the elven king of Lórien who died there… 784 years ago.”

She looked back at him, her face a host of grievous emotions. He rose to his knees and reached hesitantly for her, gently cupping her face in his hand, “I think you ought to accompany me back to Caras Galadon, Kalî. I believe Lord Celeborn will be most eager to speak with you.”

—-

Adûnaic Translations

Mîth ….. girl child

Elvish Translations:

Duin….. river

Öiale

Kalî crept along the tree line. It was near dawn and she’d been watching the forest for two hours, having seen no signs of activity from within, at least as far as she could see through the trees. Thenisorn had insisted there would be patrols, but she’d not seen any evidence yet. The Rohirrim warned her that the elves were much stealthier than men and that any trespasser wouldn’t even know the elves were there until they found an arrow between their eyes.

Kalî didn’t pay any mind to tall tales and drunken ramblings, and she was fairly sure these stories were drawn up from the experiences of stupid, bumbling men fumbling through the forest like wild pigs. Kalî was more than confident in her ability to slip through the forests undetected. She was the best burglar in the fleet and a deadly scout, to boot. And besides, if elves were damn clever, their kind shouldn’t have been so easily annihilated in Sutherland.

She had been a Corsair of Umbar for centuries. She joined when she was at the end of her means, and then stayed as a means to an end. For hundreds of years she fought, and plundered, killed and captured. Honing her skills and becoming notorious amongst her people.

However, when the Corsairs sailed for Gondor under the colors of war she decided it was time to leave. Hostith was long dead, but he had been a man of Gondor and, while she’d spent most of her life pirating their coasts, she had no desire to bring war to his kin.

There was also the fact that, over the years she’d investigated and interrogated thousands of leads, and was still no closer to uncovering the meaning of his last words to her. Taking her search inland seemed the next logical step, so she made for the Gap of Rohan as soon as her feet hit the earth.

Leaving the Corsairs had been a serious risk. Desertion was a treachery most high, and if it weren’t for the war and the long winter at Helms Deep, she may have easily been hunted down by her own crew. If they even survived long enough to notice her absence.

It was a Rohirrim named Thenisorn who gave her the most promising lead she’d had in over 600 years; to the north, within forests of Lothlórien, there was a place such as Hostith had described.  And when spring broke, she returned with the people to Edoras, then made preparations to leave immediately.


The Rohirrim tried to convince her not to go, that the elves would not look kindly on her. Thenisorn offered to accompany her, as he at least spoke a little of the Elvish tongue, but Kalî declined. She didn’t know what it was she was looking for or what she might find there, and she had no desire for a companion.

Mostly she didn’t want to explain why she was chasing after the whispers of a dying man.

With the sun rising, Kalî crept ever closer and stepped lightly into the trees. The air around her changed the moment she set foot onto the soft moss and passed into the waning darkness of the wood.

Kalî couldn’t have been traveling for more than an hour, easing her way west along the river, when she felt it. The undeniable sense of someone watching her.

She fell against the trunk of a large tree and froze, searching for movement among the trees. She saw only forest in the early dawn light. The only motion was the gentle dance of the trees amidst the breeze, but that did not assuage her unease. She could hear the soft tickling of the leaves on the wind, the crooning lilt of songbirds in the canopy, and the agitated chatter of creatures on the forest floor.

But there was something else.

She rose, leaping softly from root to root and avoiding the fallen leaves and brambles that may crunch underfoot. She stayed in the shadows of the great trees, and her keen eyes were on guard for any movement.

Kalî could always see farther and hear clearer than any seasoned corsair. And her sense of intuition was overall frightening. Someone was here and watching her, of that much she was certain.

She fell into a crouch between the roots of a large tree. She closed her eyes and breathed as slowly and deeply as she could. Her hands fell to the hilts of her daggers, drawing comfort from the feel of their handles and the chill of the pommels against her palms.

As much as she preferred to not engage with any elves, she began to consider now that it might very well be inevitable. She was being followed, and she was, after all, trespassing. If she couldn’t evade them as well as she thought, a confrontation would be unavoidable. She meant no harm, but she was prepared to fight if she had to.

Leaning her head back against the trunk, she stayed silent and listened.

Just wind. Just leaves.

She slowly opened her eyes. The rising sun had brightened the forest around her, and the light hit her eyes harshly. Kalî winced. For a moment, she considered heading back to town. Even though she liked to think she was more open-minded than her Eldar-hating brethren, she was still highly disturbed by the thought of encountering any elves.

She had never even seen one before. They may as well have been ghosts or dragons to her, she had no idea what she even would do if she found herself in the presence of one. But, whatever it was that was here that was important enough for Hostith to use the little strength he had left to tell her of it… she had to know, and this was the closest she’d been in over 700 years. Elves or no elves.

She took a deep breath and rose to her feet soundlessly. She took a slow, hard look around and stepped up onto the root.

“Mae govannen.” A male’s voice said suddenly.

She swallowed thickly as she heard a soft crunch from behind her.

Speak of the devil…

“Man le carel sí?” He asked.

Kalî kept her head down, raised her hands and slowly turned to face him.  

————————

Mae govannen! ….. Well met!

Man le carel sí? ….. What are you doing here?