Author’s Note: Author’s Note: Haldir’s description of Corinne to Galadriel and Celeborn was inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXX, in
which he explains what she is not. Text of that sonnet at the end of this chapter, in case you’re interested.
Technoelfie made fanart for The Gift of Death! If you want to see it, visit my yahoo group, URL is on my author page (click on my name,
above). Technoelfie writes faboo fanfic as well as being a talented artist, so please stop by and read her stuff! (just do a search for ‘Technoelfie’ here on ff.net).
Without, Part 4
It was almost noon, and they hadn’t gotten far at all. Corinne wasn’t dressed for trekking through the woods, after all. She’d donned fashionable garments that displayed her charms to their fullest, thinking her longest walk would be from the subway station down the street to the pub, and on perfectly paved sidewalks, no less.
Haldir was beginning to get very cross, if the looks he was slanting her way were any indication.
“I didn’t know when I got dressed yesterday that I’d be going on a nature hike, you know,” she snapped after the tenth such glare he’d shot in her direction. “This outfit is perfectly acceptable for an evening of boozing downtown. If I’d known I’d end up slogging after the grumpiest elf in the entire universe I’d have dressed like Lara Croft.”
Haldir did not know of this Lara Croft, but assumed she was known for her practical attire, and moreover he was completely unperturbed by her insult. “I am not the grumpiest elf in the universe,” he informed her calmly. “That honour goes to Erestor. His ill humour puts mine to shame, truly.”
“Then I pity anyone who has to deal with Erestor for any length of time,” Corinne muttered, and tripped over a branch. She fell to her hands and knees, pain shooting up her thighs and wrists, and she knew her pants had torn. Standing, she wished with all her might she were back home in her dorm and could have a shower, a change of clothes, perhaps a mocha frappachino… leaning over to investigate her newly skinned knee, she felt an odd humming in her pocket, and stuck her hand in to investigate.
“Hm,” she said as she withdrew the cartouche. “Wonder what’s—“ But she fell silent when it began to glow brightly. “Uh-oh.”
Haldir’s eyes grew wide, and he threw up his hands to shield his sensitive elven eyes from the piercing light. “Corinne!” he exclaimed, but there was no answer, for when he lowered his arms again she was gone. There was no point searching for her, but he found his head whipping around, gazing frantically through the trees that sounded him.
An utterly foreign sense of panic gripped his chest, followed swiftly by a fury of impotence. That cartouche had taken her away as surely as it had brought her to him in the first place, and there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing. Never had he thought that solitude could bring such pain, but even when he’d been annoyed at her these past few hours for slowing them down in her hideous shoes, he’d felt a completion he’d never even thought to dream of.
And now that she was gone, his chest felt as if it had been rent wide open, leaving a gaping wound. “Corinne,” he whispered, hanging his head.
Haldir allowed himself to mope for a while before straightening once more to his full, proud height. He was a Sindar, a Lórien elf, a march-warden. He had fought in the War of the Ring beside its hero, and was a friend of King Elessar himself. He was the Guardian of the Golden Wood, favoured by the most powerful and learned elves of Arda, and he would not be brought low by a predicament such as this. There must be a way to bring Corinne back.
With this resolution firmly in place in his mind, Haldir turned once more toward Caras Galadhon, able to jog at a quick and steady pace now that he was unencumbered by his little slave to fashion. He had to speak with Galadriel and Celeborn.
When Corinne opened her eyes again, it was as she expected: instead of tall, ancient trees and a tall, gorgeous elf, she saw short, ancient cement block walls painted an unsightly mushroom colour. Fake-wood-laminate furniture of the ‘industrial college’ type known and loathed by college students the world over squatted against various walls in the tiny bedroom. Her computer, which she had once more forgotten to shut down, hummed on the desk, its screensaver displaying the usual flying toasters.
She should have been happy to be home again, and free of the bizarre incidents of the previous day. Her dorm was perfectly normal, perfectly familiar. There was her massive pile of used-but-still-overpriced textbooks, there was the stack of notebooks in which she scribbled her copious notes in tiny, cramped handwriting. There was her mound of unwashed laundry, which she had vowed to take to the launderette this weekend, no more excuses.
But there was no Haldir, and so ‘happy’ was pretty much the last adjective that could be applied to Corinne. Glaring down at the cartouche in her hand, she flung it at the wall with such force that it rebounded with a sharp ‘ping’ and fell to the floor, out of sight.
What had happened? The last thing she remembered was falling over, and then thinking longingly about showers and Starbucks—mmm, chai—and then the cartouche had started to vibrate. “Oh, crap,” she muttered, figuring it out finally. “Stupid tricky thing.” She could apparently activate the cartouche simply by wishing for something, and if she touched it whilst it was activated, she would get her wish. “Have to be more careful from now on.”
What should she do? She slowly began to strip her ruined clothes off, pondering deeply. Here was her chance to pretend her trip to Lórien had never happened, that she’d never met Haldir. If she wanted, she could simply continue with her life as it had always been. A glance at her computer’s clock told her that she’d spent the same amount of time there as had passed here in New York—all she had to do was pretend to anyone who’d tried to contact her in the past day that she’d spent the day dealing with the mother of all hangovers.
But could she do that? Could she forget his kiss, his feel, his taste? Could she forget the experience of sleeping beside him, of waking wrapped in his arms, the warm sunlight dappling them through the leaves? She knew in her heart that it would be impossible. So, then, could she live with the memory, knowing that it could never be repeated? She wadded up her dirty clothes and tossed them into a corner. Just the idea of never touching him again, never feeling the silk of his hair or the satin of his skin against her fingertips made a hollow ache start in her belly.
Could she love him, already? It didn’t seem possible. But then she’d have never thought weird portals would suck her into an alternate dimension, either. Anything could happen, apparently. The only thing that was sure and definite to her was the insistent urge she felt to return to Haldir. It was desire for him, and curiosity about his history and his people, but also an eagerness to see what could happen. She didn’t think she would be able to live with herself if she didn’t investigate the mystery of the cartouche and why it had brought her to Haldir. She’d regret not following her heart for the rest of her life.
Corinne sighed, padding nude to the bathroom, and knew her decision was made. There was no question she’d go back, but first she had things to take care of. There were arrangements to be made with the university, so no one would think she’d been murdered when she wasn’t seen for a few weeks, and she had to pack…
But first, her shower, and then the largest iced cappuccino to be found in the entire Tri-State area.
A few hours later, a freshly-showered and trendily-dressed Corinne sat in the Starbucks on 8th Street, sucking down some frosty caffeine and checking items off a list scratched on the back of an envelope.
Item #1: her plants. Easy—she’d given them all away, stating she’d developed an allergy. The other grad students on her floor had been only too pleased to accept them. Maybe they’d even let her have them back, if she decided to return someday. She was very fond of her Wandering Jew.
Item #2: her friends and family. They all knew she’d been bucking for an assistantship in Cairo… she would tell them she had a preliminary orientation and would be abroad for a few weeks. Her parents would think she was insane to travel to the Middle East, but they’d always thought her weird to begin with, so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock.
Item #3: her fellow grad students. They’d be trickier… they wouldn’t buy some stupid story about Cairo. She’d have to tell them she was returning to Michigan to visit her parents for the remainder of the summer… that was believable.
Of course, she could just tell everyone the truth… she was leaving for an extended vacation to spend time with a guy she only just met, and oh yeah, he wasn’t even human. Corinne snorted into her iced cappuccino. That would go over well. Not.
Item #4: what to pack. She figured all her sturdiest clothes and shoes, of course, but she wasn’t exactly the outdoorsy type—she’d grown up outside Detroit and lived for the past eight years in Manhattan. The closest things she had to ‘sturdy clothes and shoes’ were her work-out gear and aerobics sneakers she used for the Tai-Bo classes she’s signed up for but never managed to attend. They’d just have to do, she guessed with a shrug.
And perhaps she should bring her nice outfits, too. It wouldn’t do for Haldir to think she only ever looked utilitarian. She had a great outfit she’d worn last year to the opera—Rigoletto at the Met, a wonderful night—and thought the black sheath with roses of gold and crimson beads would knock him on his fine elven butt. At least one bathing suit, and a few sweaters, in case it was cold at night… Oh, hell, she thought, pulling idly on her drink. Might as well just bring everything. And then she brightened. That was a great idea. That way, she wouldn’t have to worry about leaving something behind that she’d end up needing desperately.
Item #5: study tools. She fully intended to learn as much about elves as was humanly possible to cram into both her head and the newly-purchased notebooks which rested in a shopping bag at her feet. With them were two boxes of cheap pens in various colours, all the better to organize her notes.
A gurgling noise alerted Corinne to the fact that she’d sucked her cup dry. Standing, she stuffed the list into her pocketbook, grabbed her notebooks and pens, and strode out of the coffee shop to meet her destiny.
Haldir pushed himself hard, and in spite of his slow start with Corinne from the eastern marches, made it to Caras Galadhon in the normal amount of time. He ignored the glances he received from his fellow Galadhrim, surprised to see the Guardian so soon after departing for his post, and made directly for the talan of Celeborn and Galadriel.
“Mae govannan,” the Golden Lady said, answering his summons, her leisurely stroll in direct counterpoint to his brusque banging upon her door. Holding it open, she stepped back and bade him enter. “What can have our severe march-warden returning so early from the Great River?”
He shot her an amused look. “As if you are not already perfectly aware,” he muttered. “There has not been a secret kept from you in this wood for an age.”
“Longer than that, I would reckon,” said another voice from the room beyond, and Celeborn entered. “I have known Galadriel for over five thousand years, and never have I known her to be even mildly bemused by anything.” He shook his silvery head. “It is most disconcerting.”
Galadriel gifted her husband with a sweet smile that promised he would be very sorry later for his teasing—much to his delight—and motioned for Haldir to seat himself before taking up a slender ewer of wine and pouring three goblets-full. He sipped at the wine. As usual, it was exquisite.
“One of Thranduil’s?” he inquired of Celeborn, who was known for his expertise and knowledge of the best vintages. The Silver Lord nodded with a small smile, pleased his friend could recognize the wine’s origin. The three drank in silence a few moments, and Haldir felt some of the tension he’d harboured since Corinne’s disappearance melt away.
It was late afternoon in Lórien, and the fading sunlight fell golden and warm to dapple over them and dance in patterns over the floor of the elegant talan. The air was sweet and fresh, pleasantly moist, and scented with the perfume of the earth and tree-blossoms. Haldir drank the finest wine in Arda, and sat with his closest friends. It was serene, refreshing, and perfect. Haldir was miserable. “How much do you know of what has happened?” he asked at last.
“Only that you have spent the past day not guarding our borders, but dealing with an unexpected visitor,” Galadriel replied with a smile. “So, mellon, tell us more about her.”
“She is not beautiful,” he said plainly. “She is not tall, nor elegant. Her eyes are not like stars, and her hair is not raven, and not gold. There are no bells in her laugh, and she has not the wisdom of the Eldar.” Haldir sighed heavily. “But she is bright and eager to learn, and quick to laugh. She is a scholar, devoting her life to knowledge.” There was a note of pride in his voice that the others did not miss. “And how she looks at me…” His words trailed off as he stared at the wall, remembering how her eyes would glow with some unnamable emotion.
“How does she look at you?” Celeborn prompted gently.
Haldir dragged his attention back to them. “With love,” he whispered. “She does not realize it yet, I think. But she looks at me with love.”
Galadriel and Celeborn glanced at each other. Ever had it been with some of their kind; only a few moments were needed to see the beauty of another’s fëa, and come to cherish it. “She is mortal, is she not, Haldir?” Galadriel asked. “This worries us.”
“And me,” he conceded. “There is much that is unknown about how she came to be here, for she is not of Arda, nor even of Valinor.” He allowed a tiny smile. “In truth, I am not sure where she hails from. The institution of learning she attends is called Enwieyue, I believe.” He heaved a sigh. “And it would seem she has returned there, for we were on our way here to consult with you when she disappeared as suddenly as she came to me yesterday.”
“How is it she came to simply appear?” Celeborn wanted to know, his fair brow creased in confusion.
“She has a talisman of great power,” Haldir explained. “It is from an ancient culture in her lands, many thousands of years old. It gives one his heart’s greatest wish.”
“Her greatest wish was you?” Galadriel teased, smiling when her stern march-warden actually blushed a little and refused to meet her eyes.
“It was true love,” he muttered, embarrassed. “And… that also was my wish. I believe we were brought together because our desires were the same.”
“Then how is it that she is gone now?” Celeborn seemed to be stuck on the matter of traveling in such a manner, and had obviously set his prodigious brain to exploring the matter.
“She was not dressed appropriately for a trek through the woods, no, not at all. She has these unspeakably ugly shoes, and kept tripping…” Now Haldir was smiling. “We were arguing, and she fell. When she stood, the… cartouche, I believe she called it, began to glow, so brightly I could not watch without pain. When I could see again, she was gone. And I resumed my journey here.”
Haldir stared down at the table, peering at the half-full goblet in his hand. “What if she does not return?” He asked more to himself than to them, feeling despair creep into him, and clenched his fist around the goblet’s delicately wrought stem.
“Have you joined with her?” Galadriel asked with diplomatic care.
“No,” he replied shortly. “I did not think it wise, though it pained us much to refrain. But, no.”
“That is, perhaps, for the best,” she said, placing her hand on his forearm. “For whatever pain you feel now would be a thousandfold worse if you had, mellon-nîn.”
“I know this.” He tried to push down the anguish that was rising within him.
“I will meditate and see if there is aught I can learn of this,” Galadriel said after a few tense moments of silence. “For the Valar have not told me of aught concerning it.”
“And I will study the scrolls,” Celeborn offered. “There may be some hint of a remedy to this situation.”
“I thank you both,” Haldir said, rising and bowing formally, then following them out of the talan.
“The day is bright,” commented Galadriel as they made their way down the steps encircling the thick mallorn trunk.
“And growing brighter,” Celeborn added, squinting a little. Indeed, the sunlight shone fiercely this late spring day, and the small courtyard at the entrance to their talan was light up with a piercing, reddish glow. As they descended, it seemed to coalesce at a particular spot in the centre of the courtyard and Haldir caught his breath.
“She returns!” he murmured, and leapt lightly from the stairs to the ground below as elation replaced the sadness that had grown within his chest. He tried mightily not to look away, so he could see the moment she came back to him, but the light was too bright and pained him.
When he opened his eyes again, it was to see her standing before him, her face both scared and hopeful. Did she doubt his joy to see her again? He felt almost insulted for a moment before remembering his own doubt she would return. Whatever was happening between them, it was still too new for them to have complete trust and faith in each other yet. They were still unsure, and indeed neither had ever uttered words of love or commitment to the other.
“Doll-nîn,” he murmured, and strode across the courtyard to her. Relief washed over her, and she visibly relaxed her stiff posture, taking a few hesitant steps in his direction.
“Haldir!” exclaimed the voice he had feared never to hear again, and even knowing he was making a spectacle of himself before his lord and lady, and all the rest of Caras Galadhon, he wrapped his arms around her tightly and buried his face in her hair to hide the fact that he was smiling foolishly.
doll-nîn = my dusky one
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.