You’ve probably noticed I changed the name of this fic. I did it because the name didn’t really reflect the story as a whole, and also because I was thinking about it and got a whole new story idea that would be thoroughly entwined with the concept of ‘beautiful’.
The new title, The Fall of Night, is both symbolic and metaphorical, and might possibly become clear to you by the end. If not, I can explain it. I know I have a tendency to be obscure (not to mention easily amused). My nickname’s not ‘Arcane’ for nothing.
On another note, I feel I am helpless against the urge to recommend this fic: To Hesitate, by gelfling. It is found here and is, quite possibly, the best goddamned thing I’ve read in centuries. It’s slash, which usually gives me the wiggins in a huge way, but this is so good I can’t possibly be bothered with my squeamishness. Chapter 11 is quite lemony, so if you can’t stomach that sort of thing, skip it—it doesn’t really affect the overall story. Read it, and be amazed at the knots in your belly at the UST. Be thrilled at the depth of the emotion. Be stunned at the brilliance of the characterization. Be aroused at the honest, genuinely portrayed sexuality and attraction and love.
The Fall of Night, Part 5
The courtyard was a-bustle with activity, for Haldir was not the only one returning home on the morrow. The sun was on the wane in the sky, and the coolness of early evening was upon them. If she was not mistaken, there would be rain that night—she could smell it in the air. Naurë tucked her woolly shawl more tightly around narrow shoulders, and took her time crossing the courtyard; she was in no hurry to see anyone.
She was angry with Lalaith, yes, but more sympathetic to her granddaughter’s plight than perhaps the girl realized. For Naurë, too, had loved not wisely, but too well, so many years ago… her heart still ached for what could not be, what could never be, and tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them away.
“I am a foolish old woman,” she muttered impatiently to herself, treading carefully on the rough cobblestones. “Tis my own fault it pains me still. I was stupid to love him in the first place, stupider still to never put it away from me and leave it where it belongs, in the past.”
“If you ever succeed in talking yourself out of love, Naurë, I would be most grateful if you would tell me how,” said a deep voice from behind her, and she stopped, waiting for Haldir to come around to face her. “For it seems to me a wound that never closes, eternally bleeding.” His eyes were soft, concerned, and she found herself unaccountably irritated.
With a deep breath, she forced it away. “You leave at dawn?”
He took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow, leading her out of the courtyard. “I do,” he confirmed. “Shall Rûmil be accompanying me?” Naurë knew what he was asking; he had seen, as always, her upset and wondered if she wanted to drive apart her granddaughter and his brother.
“No,” she said at last. “I have warned her; there is naught else I can do. Perhaps she will know some way to succeed where I failed.”
Haldir stopped in the middle of the path to look down at her. “Never have I known you to be bitter, Naurë,” he said, ignoring those who huffed in displeasure at having their way blocked by a tall elf and short, elderly woman. “It worries me, to see you in despair.”
An unpleasant smile twitched her lips. “I have learned many things since last we saw each other,” she replied. “Bitterness and despair are but two of them.” She sighed then. “Forgive me, friend. I am maudlin today, and would not spoil our last evening with my harshness.”
“I would know what bothers you, so I can fix it,” Haldir persisted, and she smiled in spite of her sour mood. He would gag in horror to know how sweet she found his concern, as he flattered himself the most stony and aloof of warriors.
“You cannot fix everything,” she told him, patting his arm. “But I thank you for your care.”
He gave up; when Naurë did not want to discuss something, it would remain undiscussed. “And to where did you disappear this afternoon?”
“Elrond’s workshop. Lalaith and I created a gallon of a new remedy I am close to perfecting.”
He arched a silver-gilt brow in interest. “What does it do?”
“Until I have the final ingredient, no more than rejuvenate an already-healthy body.” She eyed him with speculation. “I have not yet tried it on an elf.”
“Hm,” he said blandly, not meeting her keen gaze. “And where might you find an elf so kindly disposed as to become your test subject?”
“I wonder,” Naurë replied wryly. “Know you any?”
“Indeed not,” Haldir told her. “Kindly disposed elves and I do not get on; I keep them as far from me as possible.”
Now it was her turn for a noncommittal ‘hm’. “If you happen across such an elf, give him this.” She withdrew a stoppered phial from a pocket and handed it to him. “Three drops in water each day would greatly refresh him, were he weary.”
Haldir smirked and accepted it, making it disappear up his sleeve before pressing a kiss of gratitude upon her fingers. “Come,” he directed. “Let us make merry this night, and give me something to remember fondly as I take the boring journey home.”
“Boring?” Naurë snorted skeptically as they entered the feasting hall. “I doubt it will be anything less than exciting. Long have I wanted to visit Lorien, but never have I been able.” She sat and tugged him to seat himself in Elrond’s chair beside her. “I do not expect I shall have time to get there, now.”
“I am sure you will live forever, Naurë,” Haldir replied, humour behind his solemn expression.
“No one lives forever,” she replied with a sad smile before looking up at his profile silhouetted in the waning light of the day, her gaze sharp. “You will be careful, as you travel?”
He tilted his head and quirked a brow. “Am I ever anything but careful?”
Naurë smirked. “There was that time with the dwarves…”
Haldir frowned fiercely. “You said you would not mention that.” He glanced around with the faintest hint of unease. Elrond was approaching, looking slightly put out that his seat was taken, and the march-warden stood. Her smirk grew, and she did not answer. How she loved to make the haughty march-warden nervous! He narrowed his cerulean eyes at her before stomping—in a most genteel and elfin way, of course—over to his own seat.
Elrond’s smile was a little weary around the edges, but genuine enough. “And what was that?”
“That was Haldir having a pout,” Naurë replied with a laugh, taking up his plate. “Allow me to feed you for once, sir elf,” she said when he protested, and filled it for him. It was slow going, and not for the first time she muttered an oath of impatience for her old age.
Elrond made no comment, merely watched her with a faint smile, and thanked her warmly when his plate was filled. They ate in companionable silence until Elrohir approached them.
“Father, Naurë,” he greeted them, bowing gracefully, his dark hair sweeping down over his shoulders. Even Naurë’s elderly hearing could detect the feminine sighs of approval, and she grinned. If Elrohir were anything like his sire, he knew perfectly well what he was doing, and just as steadfastly was ignoring it. Lot of mad elves, she thought affectionately, and turned her face up to attend him.
“The meal is nearly over, and Lalaith has missed it,” Elrohir said. “We—“ he indicated his twin, Aerlinn, and Rûmil, “—had wondered if aught were wrong.”
Naurë’s gaze flicked over to that part of the long table’; just as Elrohir said, there was an empty spot beside Aerlinn. Elrond’s keen gaze flicked over his friend’s countenance, and saw she did not want to speak in front of his son.
“Our thanks,” he told Elrohir, who bowed once more and returned to his meal. Then he turned to Naurë. “Will you tell me what is wrong? For I found Lalaith earlier today in my workroom, looking poorly.”
Naurë began to tear a piece of bread into small pieces. “She thinks herself in love with Rûmil, in spite of all my warnings. No,” she said, waving at him when he would speak, “I know that the young cannot be told, that they must do, to learn their lessons. But that does not make it easier to sit idly and watch them make ruinous mistakes.” Disgusted, she tossed the last bit of bread down onto her plate, frowning.
“Would it be ruinous, indeed?” Elrond asked quietly. “Look you at Rûmil.” Naurë did as he instructed; Haldir’s brother was not joining in the laughter of the others, but kept glancing toward Lalaith’s empty seat, his handsome face contemplative. “Does that look like an elf whose heart remains untouched?” As they watched, he stood, made excuses to the others, and left swiftly, purpose written on his face and in every stride. “Even now, he goes to search for her.”
“Argh,” Naurë said in loud, heartfelt tones of exasperation, and put her head in her hands. “My old head throbs. This was easier when I thought he would not return her affections.” Others were watching; she cared not. “There are times I am glad my days are few.”
The flat of Elrond’s hand came down hard on the table, making the plates and goblets rattle. Naurë looked up at him, shock written across her lined face. He was well and truly furious, was Elrond; his grey eyes glacial with anger and for the first time in a long time, she felt herself shrinking against the back of her chair. She was dimly aware of Haldir standing, concerned. “I will not hear those words from you again,” he told her, his voice low and imperious. In this moment, he was every inch the lord of Rivendell and one of the most powerful beings on Middle-Earth.
Naurë felt deep shame at burdening him with her problems, when he had so much more serious matters to attend to. “You have my apologies, sir elf,” she said at last, covering his hand with her own. “Your mind is uneasy with thoughts of war and evil; I would not encumber you further.”
Elrond sighed deeply, and turned his hand over to grasp hers. “Naurë, meldisamin. My friend, my sister. You are not to feel your troubles burden me, for that is not the case. I am merely tired.” He squeezed her hand once more, and stood. “I will retire now.” And he strode from the room, looking neither left nor right.
“Forgive his harsh words, Naurë,” urged a deep voice, and Haldir slipped into Elrond’s abandoned chair. “He does not want to think of such unpleasantness as your death.”
She smiled sadly at him. “But I no longer view it as unpleasant, Haldir. It seems to me a comfort, like going to bed after a long day. My life has been a good one, but wearying. I am ready to sleep now.”
His face was impassive, as usual, but his eyes shimmered with emotion. “We—elves—cannot think of death as anything but an enemy, Naurë,” he said at last. “We accept it as a consequence of battle, but you must realize that we simply aren’t equipped to regard it with anything but horror.”
“I know that, Haldir,” she replied. “But I cannot lie to you or Elrond. You are my oldest and dearest friends. I will not pretend I am overjoyed to linger as I do.” She lifted a crabbed hand to touch a lock of his hair, bright as starlight, that lay over his shoulder. “Elves should not have to endure such ugliness as an untruth. Not from one who loves them.” Naurë sighed. “I am tired, and would not keep you from the dancing.”
He gazed intently at her a moment longer. Then, “I will not dance tonight.”
She allowed a sly smile to flit across her wrinkled lips. “Worried you will not have the strength to begin your journey tomorrow, if you exert yourself tonight?”
“I have untapped stores of stamina, as well you know, you evil woman,” Haldir replied, standing and pulling her to her feet.
“Ha!” she scoffed, allowing him to lead her from the hall. “You were only able to outlast me when we travelled together because of my advanced age, then as now. But had you known me when I was Lalaith’s age… there were none who could continue further than I.”
“The way you boast, one might think you part dwarven,” Haldir drawled, peering skyward at the canopy of stars above them. “And no surprise is it, either, when I recall how that one dwarf was determined to have you to wife…”
“Only because you refused him!” Naurë shot back. “How sad he was to learn you were male!” She began laughing. “Oh, fair maid,” she said, lowering her voice to approximate the deep timbre of the unfortunate dwarf she mocked. “Your beauty surpasses that of the moon! Its pallid gleam serves only to highlight your own splendor!”
“Cease your prattling,” he growled.
“But, fair maid!” she continued. “Your form is so fine, so tall and sturdy! Many bushels of gems could you pull from the earth with those strong hands, many barrels of gold could you mine with those strapping, burly arms and shoulders! Many strong sons could you bear! Be mine, else I perish from thwarted longing!”
“Ai, Valar,” Haldir sighed, and gave in to his laughter, for it was impossible to remain serious at the memory of the lovesick dwarf who’d pursued him so ardently. “How did you manage to convince him I was no female?”
Naurë looked off into the distance, avoiding his eyes. “I do not think you really want to know, Haldir,” she said at last, biting her lip to keep from bursting into laughter once more.
“Oh, yes I do,” he assured her, his tone intent and very, very serious. “Your reaction has made me worry, and you know how I dislike worrying.”
“Do you promise not to kill me?” she said, making her voice quaver most pathetically. “You would not strike an old lady?”
“I would never strike an old lady, and well you know it,” he snapped. “You, however, I would beat to within an inch of life, do you continue to vex me.”
She only smirked at him, knowing full well he would never lift a hand to her. “Well, if you insist on knowing…”
“I do.” His tone brooked no argument.
“I… er… brought him to the glade where you would bathe,” she said at last, eyeing him warily for reaction. “At first he refused to believe it, saying only that you were a fine, strong she-elf, and he cared not that you had no bosom to speak of.” She could feel him stiffen beside her, his arm growing tense beneath her hand, and she rushed to continue. “I made him wait until you left the water, and he could see that you had a pintle.”
Haldir stopped dead, and slowly turned to face her. “Do you tell me that you helped a lovesick dwarf spy on me as I bathed?”
She nodded. “He was quite enamoured of you still, until the end of the bath, and then there was just… horror.”
He looked aghast to have been the lust-object of an amorous dwarf. “And… he saw everything?” His voice was faint.
“Well, it was the only way to make him give up his suit of you,” Naurë told him reasonably. “Can you think of another way? You remember how persistent he was. If I had not, he would likely still be camped on the outskirts of Lorien, composing sonnets about the length of your eyelashes.” She smiled at the memory. “If I recall correctly, that was the best of his efforts. The song he sang in celebration of your childbearing hips… ah, that was terrible. Didn’t rhyme at all.”
“Ai, Valar,” he repeated, covering his eyes with his hand. “I will never rouse again, knowing this.”
“You, Haldir of Lorien, march-warden and guardian?” Naurë burst into laughter. “I have married, I have borne children. I know the ways of men and elves, and I know a lusty one when I see him.” She grinned naughtily at him. “You would not last long in a vow of celibacy.”
They arrived at the door to her chamber, and he seemed quite glad to open the door and usher her within. “Never did I think to feel such relief to see the back of you,” he told her with heartfelt sentiment.
“You will miss me,” she retorted, her head tilted far back to meet him eye-to-eye, and then her gaze softened. “As I will miss you.”
Haldir smiled then, his sweet smile that he reserved only for his brothers and his select few friends. “You have the right of it, again.” He raised her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her fingers. “I will not see you tomorrow, as I leave before dawn.”
“You will be careful, and arrive safely,” she informed him imperiously. “If you do not, I will put you over my knee as I used to do to Lalaith.”
He quirked a brow. “Ever have you been promising that, Naurë,” he purred. “Do not be a tease.”
She threw back her head and laughed, the raspy sound echoing in the room. “Be you gone! For you are a rogue, and doubtless will corrupt me.”
“I have been trying for thirty years, and still do you elude corruption,” he replied, and shut the door behind him after winking lecherously at her.
And Naurë smiled all the way through her toilette, through her undressing, and even as she lay in bed staring out the window at the moon and stars, praying to Eru for her friend’s safety.