The Fall of Night Part 2
The next morning Naurë was sunning herself in the garden, enjoying the warmth on her face and the scent of flowers and greenery in the air when the whisper of footsteps in the grass alerted her to someone’s presence.
Opening her eyes, she saw Haldir fling himself down to recline at her feet, and knew that he’d made noise on purpose, so as to not startle her. In spite of his size and build, he was as silent as a ghost when he wanted to be, and if it had been his intention to sneak up on her, he would have.
“Good morn, Naurë,” he said to her, and plucked a blade of grass.
She nodded to him. “You are well?” she asked, her eyes sharp on his face as she recalled how deeply he’d drunk of Rivendell’s fine wine the previous night.
He slanted her a look, “Of course,” he said at last. “Am I ever less than completely perfect?”
Naurë rolled her eyes. Really, the arrogance of the elf was astounding. “If your head swells any bigger, there will be no room for aught else in this garden,” she told him severely, swatting at him.
He ignored her, as he always did when she was scolding him, and placed the blade of grass between his white, even teeth. “I would know what you and Lord Elrond were discussing so intently.”
“You would, would you?” she asked evasively, settling more deeply into the nest of blankets wrapped around her. Even this late spring day was not warm enough for her old bones. “The breeze chills me,” she complained, hoping to distract him.
Hazarding a glance at him, she sighed—it had not worked. He merely waited, his blue eyes watching her calmly. Elves were known for their patience, and Haldir was known amoung elves for his. He could wait for an age if he had to.
“Very well,” she said grudgingly. To Haldir’s credit, he did not smirk at her acquiescence as she knew he longed to. “Elrond has wagered that his sons can make Lalaith smile and laugh, and I have wagered they cannot.” She peered up at the clear sky, admiring the patterns made by the sunlight filtering through the leaves, so she did not have to meet his gaze.
Haldir discarded his soggy grass-blade and selected another. “I would agree with you, Naurë,” he said at last. “I doubt those two are up to the task of entertaining your granddaughter.” But her smile of satisfaction was not to last long. “If there were ever an elf in Middle-Earth suitable to the challenge, it would be Rûmil.”
“Rûmil?” Naurë searched her mind for some memory of an elf by that name. “I know no Rûmil.”
“My youngest brother,” Haldir elaborated. “And a more mischievous, amusing soul has never walked this earth.” He raised his eyebrows at her blatant skepticism. “Obviously, he is nothing like me.”
She raised a matching eyebrow. “You are plenty mischievous for my taste,” she told him sourly. “Any more mischief from you thirty years ago and I’d not be here to tell the tale today.”
Thoroughly unconcerned with her rebuke, he reclined to lay flat on his back and rested his head on his hands, closing his eyes in bliss as the light breeze caressed his face. “It was your own foolishness that roused that band of orcs,” he replied smoothly. “Had you but listened to me—in case you have forgotten, I have almost four thousand years of experience as a warrior—you would have had more of their poisoned arrows to study than ever you needed, but always have you been headstrong.”
“Wasn’t being headstrong,” she grumbled. “Didn’t want you to get hurt ambushing them.”
Haldir propped himself up on his elbow to stare at her. “So you thought that sneaking alone into their camp in the middle of the day was a better alternative?”
“It would have been,” Naurë insisted, “if you hadn’t come barreling after me shouting like a fishwife.”
“A fishwife?” he repeated, his baritone just a tetch higher in outrage. “Is that how you remember it, my lady? Because my recollection is that you were but moments from evisceration had I not ‘barreled’ in and distracted them.”
“By shouting like a fishwife,” Naurë finished complacently. “And you are certainly not showing much gratitude to the woman who saved your life with her healing skills.”
He snorted indelicately. “My life would not have been remotely endangered had your antics not resulted in me getting shot.” He rolled over onto his belly and pulled up several dozen bits of grass in rapid succession, the only hint to his agitation. “Do you know that it took thirteen years for those scars to fade?”
“The Guardian of Lorien was flawed for over a decade?” Naurë asked mockingly. “However did the ladies—and lords, if rumor be true, my fine elf—recover from that cruel blow?” She leaned forward and tapped a gnarled finger on the crown of his pale-blond head. “Moreover, how did the Guardian himself bear being the possessor of such an imperfection?”
Anger flared in his eyes before they cleared of all emotion, like a window being shuttered. “Your deftness in angering me has not abated with the years,” he said finally, turning his attention to shredding the grass before him. “You remain one of the few who can.”
Naurë flattened her palm on his head, feeling the silken strands snag on her rough calluses. “Haldir,” she said, and smiled at him when he looked grudgingly up at her. “You know how dearly I prize any ability I have in stirring you.” It was the closest she would come to an apology or an admittance of her affection for him.
But before he could answer, a shadow fell upon them. “I see by the way the march-warden is mauling my grass that you are squabbling again,” Elrond commented, a faint smile tilting a corner of his mouth. “Who is winning? You are well-matched; I would say it is once again a draw, is it not?”
Haldir decided to get over his tendency to sulk and pulled gracefully into a cross-legged sitting posture. Snatching up the wrinkled hand that lay on Naurë’s lap, he kissed the age-spotted back of it with aplomb. “As it always is,” he said gallantly, and let his own mouth quirk a little at the arch look she gave him.
Elrond dropped to the ground on Naurë’s other side. “What has you bickering on such a fine morning?”
“Haldir but berates me for the foolishness of my youth,” Naurë said with a laugh. “I was a mere lass of sixty-two, a widowed grandmother, but he would have you think me an untried virgin on her first journey out of the city.”
“And now you are ninety-four, and still not more appreciably wise,” Haldir shot back. “Do you wonder why I—“
Elrond held up a hand and the other elf fell silent. “Haldir, I know how you fear for Naurë’s safety, but do you not see how she is ready to beat you about the head and shoulders?” Indeed, the old woman had a certain glint in her eye that bespoke of great violence to come if only she could lay her hands on a stout cane. “I beg you, let there be peace.”
Haldir smiled a smile of most unconvincing pleasantness. “Naurë,” he said, “You know how dearly I prize any ability I have in stirring you.”
Naurë’s only response was to flounce as best as an elderly woman could while seated and swathed in a half-dozen fuzzy blankets, and turn pointedly away from the blond elf to face the dark one. “How pleasant to see you this morn, Elrond,” she said amiably, dimpling at him.
It was most unnerving, he thought, how she could appear such a sweet, matronly grandmother, so harmless. Only those who knew her well, like himself and Haldir, could know how deceiving appearances could be…”I have come to settle the prize for when I win our wager.”
Naurë smirked. “I think you mean my prize, for when I win.” Haldir rolled his eyes.
Elrond waved his hand airily. “I concede only that you have a chance—albeit, a slim one—to win. I have every confidence in my sons, and the susceptibility of your granddaughter.”
She quirked a brow. “You forget that I know Lalaith her whole life. I birthed the girl, and raised her when that fool of a mother of hers ran off with that silk merchant from Rhûn.” Naurë tilted her head to one side, looking very like an inquisitive, bright-eyed bird. “Not even the most mischievous, amusing soul to ever walk this earth could make her laugh.”
The gleam of competition lit Haldir’s eyes. “You are as subtle as an arrow through the neck, Naurë,” he murmured, finally leaving off his mutilation of the lawn when Elrond eyed him with ire. “What are your terms?”
Naurë grinned; it was a most untrustworthy and actually quite worrying smile. “If your Rûmil can make my Lalaith smile, I will continue my silence about that embarrassing little incident with those dwarves…”
Elrond’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline as Haldir scowled in the fierce way that had frightened many an orc. “I would hear this tale,” the lord of Rivendell declared.
“You and scores of others,” Naurë murmured. “But no, I must have some scrap to bargain with.”
“Then tell me what scandal you hide to wager against me?” Elrond pressed.
“No scandal, fine sir,” she replied, eyes atwinkle. “Merely a few apothecary recipes of which you are less than proud.”
He frowned. “You cannot mean… no! You cannot mean to reveal…”
“The aphrodisiac, yes,” Naurë told him as Elrond blushed furiously.
“You developed an aphrodisiac?” Haldir asked, incredulous. “You?”
“Yes, I,” Elrond practically snarled. “Human physiology interests me.”
“Especially the sexual aspects of it,” Naurë added helpfully. He only glared at her.
“I was interested in what stimulated human arousal, if it were anything like that of elfkind.” Elrond folded his arms across his chest, looking for the world like he was having a grand pout. “The aphrodisiac was developed almost by mistake.”
“Almost,” Naurë emphasized between wheezes as she laughed. “But not quite.”
“You will tell no one,” Elrond told Haldir, eyeing him fiercely.
Haldir only raised a brow and smirked. “You can hope,” he replied genially, to which Elrond frowned darkly.
“Come now,” Naurë said, a hand patting the arm of each elf. “Haldir is the most honourable elf ever born; you know he would not divulge your shameful secret.” Her assurances were somewhat diminished by her most inelegant giggles.
Haldir was not terribly impressed with her words, either. “And now that you have revealed your terms, Lady, I suggest you say what you expect of us.” Under his breath, he grumbled, “Most honourable elf ever born; does she think me stupid? I know she flatters to get her way.”
“Actually, haughty Guardian, she means that; often has she said it,” Elrond informed him, and he looked up to see Naurë watching him with an indulgent smile. “But I agree with Haldir; great is my apprehension to hear what you want of us should we lose.”
Naurë’s smile turned bittersweet, and she dropped her gaze to her hands in her lap. “I am not long for middle-earth, friends,” she said at last. “My last years are upon me. Indeed, this could be my last.” She looked up to find them watching her soberly. “I fear for Lalaith. Her mother is gone this last score of years; her father is dead. My daughter also is gone, and her son is a merchant; ever is he aboard a ship bound to the Corsairs for trade. He could not make a home for Lalaith.”
She took a shuddering breath while they waited patiently for her to continue. “Lalaith is talented in the healing arts, but has none of the demeanor needed to deal with patients. I fear she scares them with her intensity and sobriety. She will not be able to continue my healing practice; she will not be able to support herself. I fear she will simply marry any man who will give her a home, and though she is not a fun woman, she is a good woman, and my grandchild. I would not have her come to that end, in a loveless marriage of convenience and desperation.”
“I would not have that either, meldisamin,” Elrond murmured, his keen eyes never leaving her face. “What would you have us do?”
“I would have you give my Lalaith a home, after I am gone,” Naurë told him, then glanced at Haldir. “Or you, should your Rûmil prove himself best suited to making her laugh.”
“A wager is not necessary to ask this favour of us, Naurë,” Haldir said quietly. “You know you have only to ask it, and we would take her gladly.”
“Ah, but this way it feels less like an imposition and more like a business deal. This way, I can live with my bruised pride,” she informed him, attempting a smile.
“Your Lalaith has a home with me as long as she wishes,” Elrond said. “Even if my Elrohir and Elladan fail.”
Haldir nodded. “And with me, even if my Rûmil fails.” His mouth quirked in a half-smile. “Unlikely as that is.”
Naurë had to turn away, staring fixedly at the waterfall in the distance, to hide the tears that sprung to her eyes. “Much do I love you both,” she whispered. “It pains me deeply to have to leave you.”
“Hide not your tears from us, Naurë,” Elrond said. “For we are pained by it also.” She turned back to see the elves watching her, tears in their eyes as well. She reached out and grasped their hands, squeezing with as much strength as she had. “This promise is made, this bond is forged.”
“It is done,” Haldir agreed, and squeezed back tenderly, feeling the fragility of brittle bones under parchment skin.
“It is done,” Naurë repeated. “I am much eased by it.”
Elrond smiled crookedly. “Then shall we return to the hall? For this outpouring of emotion has quite depleted me; I am starving.”