Author’s Note: This chapter dedicated to samalcala88, who took the time to email me with a problem he saw in the last chapter. It’s people like you who make my writing better, pointing out what can be improved on! Thanks so much, sweetie!
The end of this chapter is very, very silly. I take no responsibility for any injuries to your optic muscles if you sprain them whilst rolling your eyes.
Without, Part 13
Corinne could barely see through the tears in her eyes as Haldir sat opposite her. “Are you going to lecture me about how much life sucks, too?” she asked with a bit of sulk.
But his answer was not what she expected; instead of anger, or disappointment, or anything else she might have thought possible, he said, “Elves are beings of great power. It is most obvious in Galadriel; she has cultivated her gift over many centuries. But all of us have some latent abilities.” He apparently read Corinne’s confusion on her face, because he explained why he was saying this. “I have been shielding you from the brunt of my mind, thinking you unable to accept such a large amount of information… so many years of memories.”
“I haven’t shielded anything,” she said hesitantly. “Does this mean you know…” she trailed off as horror dawned within her.
Haldir nodded. “I know everything about you; every memory, every thought. No, do not be ashamed,” he urged, pressing her hand between his own as she hung her head, allowing her hair to swing forward and hide her flushed face. “It is what keeps me from being very angry with you at this moment. I know the depths of your despair, and do not fault you for them.”
He lifted her chin with a finger. “But that does not mean I will allow it to continue. I wish to share myself with you, Corinne, all my thousands of years. It will not be easy, nor enjoyable, but I believe you will… gain wisdom from it, and become able to endure this travail.” He paused a moment. “And think not with the desire the cartouche has brought to life within you for me… this is no trivial matter. Will you accept me?”
Corinne struggled to separate her body’s insistent urgings to join with him in every way possible from the pure, cold logic of her mind. Haldir had information and knowledge that could help her; it would be foolish to refuse it. “I’m scared,” she admitted. “I don’t know how much more I can take today.”
“I will not leave you,” Haldir said quietly. “You run always from the pain, you submerge yourself in that which causes none, but pain is ever in the world, Corinne. Better you learn to endure. There is naught wrong with weeping; weep, if you must. Scream, if you must. But to shut yourself from the pain and flee from its cause… ai, doll-nîn, that will deaden you long ere you are deep in the ground.”
Clenching her hands on his, Corinne nodded slowly. “Ok,” she said at last. “As long as you’ll be here with me. Do it.”
Haldir touched her eyelids with a gentle fingertip, then traced her nose to the tip and brushed over her lips. “Be at ease,” he urged in his deepest, most soothing tones. Corinne let the tension flow out of her as she felt the familiar nudge of his mind against hers, as if asking permission. She gave it, and felt the tendril of his consciousness penetrate her own. “Be at ease,” he thought to her, and then the memories began to surge into her, softly, like small waves lapping at the shore.
Haldir as a child, with his mother and father: warmth, comfort, safety, love. His parents, with Orophin as an infant: protectiveness, tenderness. Haldir as a young adult, his martial skill swiftly realized and recognized: pride, confidence, ambition. Orophin as a gangly teenager standing beside Haldir, who carried the toddler Rúmil as they buried their parents: grief, fear, trepidation. Haldir raising his young brothers, making more mistakes than he would have liked: affection, devotion, frustration. His few tentative forays into physical intimacy: satisfactory, but always lacking the singular, essential element of love.
Galadriel and Celeborn making him one of their march-wardens: joy, honour, satisfaction. Haldir fighting in the first war of the ring, watching such stars of the elven world cut down in their prime: guilt at surviving when the likes of Gil-galad had perished, anxiety, victory. Centuries of patrolling the forest of Lórien, gaining intimate knowledge of each tree: familiarity, fluency, expertise. Being named Guardian of the Golden Wood: past the point of pride, now; just deep delight, and knowledge of his suitability for the task.
Haldir finding friendship with the strange mortal woman who fell from the sky, and then pleasure: contentment, but a faintly hollow ache taking root deep within, loneliness. The second war of the ring, and Buffy taking Legolas for her husband: bittersweet joy on their behalf, but faint envy, and the hollowness a bit more pronounced. Haldir requesting a new station on the eastern marches, where he could see the river: restlessness, dissatisfaction.
And then… her. Haldir with Corinne: instant attraction, relief, a sense of completion, but also confusion and fury for his own lack of control. Realizing they were in the grip of some mystic power: profound disappointment, and a longing for his emotions to have been genuine, sadness. His anger, hurt, and chagrin when she blithely told him she would only stay a fortnight, as if he were to be used and discarded when her time was done.
Their first night of sex, such as it had been: blinding pleasure, and deep relief of the gnawing hunger within to sate himself in her body, only slightly lessened by the lack of actual intercourse. The four of them in New York: trepidation, excitement, anger at how Iris and Ives had dared to treat Corinne, impotence at his inability to lash out in retaliation. Resignation that the cartouche’s reach was far beyond his understanding or prevention, unease that it could be a symptom for yet another evil force trying to gain control over not only Arda, but multiple dimensions at once.
Haldir watching Corinne and Buffy scream at each other, and Corinne fumbling desperately for the cartouche, wrenching pain and terror bleeding from her mind to his. Fear she would leave him, the need to console, the urge to subdue her fears with lovemaking, offering whatever comfort that could provide. The realization that lovemaking was the last thing that would work, and that he had to share himself as he had not yet done.
Corinne opened her eyes; her lashes were so sodden they threw little sparkles around her range of vision, making Haldir’s face before her even more of a dazzling vision than it usually was. “You didn’t have to do that,” she murmured in awe. “There was nothing compulsory about it. What you just shared with me… that had nothing to do with the cartouche.”
Haldir opened his eyes then, fixing them on her face, gaze caressing as it always did. “Did it help you?”
She nodded slowly. “I see how foolish and selfish I’ve been… worrying about something so petty, when there’s a much bigger issue at work… so much more than just my own life, my own existence. I didn’t realize…I’m so sorry.”
“It is not to me you should apologize,” he said, and she hung her head once more.
“I know.” It was a whisper of sound, and she couldn’t even be sure she’d said it—perhaps it had only been a thought? It didn’t seem to matter. Haldir knew; he always knew.
And once more he raised her face, and leaned forward to kiss her. It was not a kiss of desire; the touch of his lips, warm and soft, healed her with their promise. “I will not leave you,” Haldir said. “Never fear for being alone. Even if, when we are free of the cartouche’s thrall, you decide you cannot love me, you will always have a home with me.”
Corinne blinked in confusion. What had he just said? Before she could give the matter any thought, however, his lips were on hers again, but this time it was a kiss of desire—probing, teasing, tasting, encouraging. The flames of her lust for him—only ever banked, never extinguished—roared to life and she slid her arms around his neck. She was dimly aware of her clothing being removed, but then her skin was against his and any thoughts she may have had receded into a muzzy grey void where there was nothing but sensation and lust and oh, such devotion and gratitude for this beautiful creature that held her.
Halfway back to Haldir’s talan, Buffy’s sensitive ears picked up on the unmistakable sounds of passion. “Jeez, they’re at it again. That cartouche is like weird evil Viagra,” she complained, spinning on her heel and returning to Galadriel’s once more. Legolas, too, had heard, and with a saucy grin he turned as well. Boromir, Dawn, and Gimli had not noticed anything, but under those circumstances were more than happy to take Buffy’s word for it.
Buffy sacrificed the green and silver sari she’d bought for herself to the cause of placating Dawn, who was delighted with her gift. Against the emerald silk her hair shone like mink, and the glint in Boromir’s eyes indicated that he rather liked it, too. Galadriel, too, was quite pleased, and immediately wrapped the blue and bronze silk around herself. It was a striking contrast to her usual floaty white frocks, and her golden hair and blue eyes seemed even more vivid than usual. After seeing her in it, Celeborn’s lips seemed permanently curved into a mysterious smile the rest of the day.
Corinne offered her golden-yellow sari to Buffy as a peace offering, and Buffy tried it on to model it as Dawn and Galadriel had done, but refused to keep it. “No, Haldir’s panting to see you in it,” she told the other woman. “I couldn’t disappoint him like that. Besides, I have my shoes. I’m good.” She held out one of her legs, proudly displaying the pink daisy shoes that hadn’t left her feet since their return from New York. “Besides, yellow’s not my colour.”
And just like that, the tension between them was over. Corinne was amazed that Buffy was so generous and easy-going; she herself was much more likely to carry a grudge for a while, but just the same, she was pleased to let it go as they had far more important things to deal with.
Elessar and Arwen finally arrived, late one afternoon. Corinne was only just recovering from Buffy’s piercing squeal of joy as she pelted toward the king and demanding a hug, when she caught her first glimpse of Arwen Undomiel, queen of Gondor and Arnor. Tall and slender, impossibly graceful, with dark midnight-black hair tumbling in rich curls past her hips, Arwen was a fantasy come to life.
As for Elessar, he was handsome, and somehow both regal and personable at the same time. There was a light in his eyes that spoke of his deep passion for his land and its people, and she knew he would die for them. A strange emotion she couldn’t identify seized her, and she was almost overcome with the urge to weep. Thoroughly cowed by both of them, she had to be dragged forward by Haldir, and didn’t say a word as he introduced her.
“What’s wrong with you?” Dawn asked after the newcomers had been ushered off to bathe and eat before returning for the big briefing. “You’re acting all weird.”
“I’ve never met royalty before,” Corinne replied through gritted teeth. “It’s… daunting. I don’t know what to do. I mean, I met Ed Koch once, but he wasn’t even mayor at the time, and I just shook his hand and told him I voted for him, but that was a lie because I’ve voted Libertarian for the past ten years. People don’t vote here, or shake hands. They kiss them, and curtsey, and I can’t curtsey because I fall over and look stupid.”
Dawn lifted wide eyes to Buffy, who was watching and trying not to laugh. “That was a babble worthy of Willow. I don’t think I understood half of what you just said,” she told Corinne, turning back to her.
“Me neither,” Corinne replied miserably. “Can’t we talk about the cartouche now? I’ve been waiting patiently all week but if we don’t figure something out soon I’m going to go completely insane and start killing people.”
It was an abject lie; she hadn’t been waiting patiently at all, and had herself been threatened with death on numerous occasions for harassing various people on the issue. Only Celeborn’s time-tested method—plunking a huge book in her lap—managed to distract her, and even now he was coming forward with The First Age: Simply Forgotten, or Does No One Care?.
“You think you can keep derailing my train of thought,” she complained to him. “I’ll have you know—hey, this one’s got diagrams!”
It was just that easy.
When Arwen and Elessar were comfortable and clean once more, Dawn finally relented to tell them what she knew about the Weshem-ib.
“Aker has been unhappy with his status for a good long time, it seems,” Dawn began. “He wants to wreak a bit of havoc, control a few important destinies, but his powers aren’t up to snuff. Doesn’t have the juice for it. So, he created the cartouche. It’s been used for millennia to lure stupid people.” Her gaze flicking tellingly over Corinne, who scowled. “The promise of obtaining your heart’s desire proves to be a powerful one, and many have been wrung dry by it.”
“Wrung dry?” Elessar asked, hand rubbing his chin contemplatively. “That sounds… disturbing.”
“It’s pretty awful for the wringees, but the big picture is worse than that,” Dawn told him. “After the deal has been made—usually with a blood sacrifice—the cartouche has a bond with the user, and it channels the force of the user’s desire to Aker, who—as far as I can remember—stores it somehow. Apparently, once he has enough of this desire-energy, he’s going to use it to… hm, lemme think…”
Dawn frowned, chewing on her bottom lip, sunk in thought as the rest waited. “Corinne, Aker presides over the gateway to the land of the dead, right?”
Corinne nodded slowly. “Right. It’s said he can be fickle about who he allows to pass through…” She paused. “He also controls passage of the sun, and it’s said that when eclipses occur, it’s Aker forbidding the sun from moving across the sky.”
“So… when we had those dark days back during the war, that was him?” Buffy piped up.
Dawn looked thoughtful. “Could have been a sort of dry run for him,” she said slowly, then groaned. “If only I had Giles’ books… or Willow to do a ‘reveal truth’ spell, or Cordelia to contact the PTBs…How are we supposed to figure these things out when I don’t have my usual resources?”
“Could not Gandalf be of some assistance?” Boromir suggested.
“Gandalf! Yes! Honey, you’re brilliant!” Dawn exclaimed, sitting in his lap and planting a noisy kiss on his cheek before turning to the king. “Where’s Gandalf?”
“I do not know,” Elessar replied. “He had mentioned traveling far north, past even the hills of Evendim, and then going to the Havens to take counsel with Círdan, but…” He stopped, and rubbed his chin again. “He mentioned that we should go to Radagast if we had need of a wizard.”
“Would Radagast give us an audience?” Legolas asked. “For his home is Rhosgobel, a mere day’s ride from Mirkwood’s edge, and he has been cloistered within for many centuries.” He smirked a little. “Long has my father wanted his help in battling the dark forces in the forest, and long has he rebuffed every request.”
“And your father’s requests are always so… civil,” Arwen murmured, sliding a sideways glance at her fellow elf. “It shocks me not that Radagast would thumb his nose at the mighty Thranduil.”
“I know nothing of Radagast’s thumb, nor of his nose,” Legolas said gravely, “but my father is ever severe when the wizard’s name is mentioned.”
“Sounds like they had a bad breakup,” Buffy said with a grin. “Did Radagast forget to call the next day, or something?” She pouted when only Dawn and Corinne laughed.
“I know nothing of this Radagast,” Boromir said, his face apprehensive. “If he has not helped Thranduil after so many years, why would he help us, who arrive at his doorstep with hands out like beggars?”
“And it was Radagast who told Gandalf to attend Saruman in Orthanc, before the War began,” Elessar added. “If he could not see Saruman’s treachery; what could his skill be?”
“Gandalf could not see it either,” Gimli reminded the Men. “Was he not confined atop that tower for nearly two months? And it was because of Radagast that Gwaihir rescued him from his prison, and then again came to drive away the Ringwraiths during that last battle, at the Black Gate.”
All fell silent in recognition of the truth of Gimli’s words. Actually, Corinne was silent because she was listening carefully to Haldir’s silent explanation in her mind of what was being said. “Wow, giant eagles?” she murmured aloud. “Cool.”
“Beyond cool,” Buffy agreed before turning to Elessar. “I agree with Gimli; Radagast seems to have done good things for our side during the war, and if Gandalf says we can trust him, I think we can.”
Legolas looked doubtful. “I have seen how Mirkwood suffers because of Radagast’s neglect,” he said. “He is Yavanna’s own, sworn to protect the earth and its animal children, but the great forest of my birth has suffered terribly from the evil that inhabited it so long. How many trees and beasts languished and perished, and there he sat in his home of sturdy bricks, safe from the evil the befell the rest?” He sighed. “I will not gainsay if you decide to see him, but neither will I hope to his assistance.”
“So, is it settled?” Dawn asked from her seat on Boromir’s lap. “Are we off to see the wizard?” She pouted when only Buffy and Corinne laughed.
“It would appear so, sweet,” Boromir told her when everyone else seemed to nod.
“Who will be in our party, then?” Elessar asked.
“Gimli son of Glóin shall be the first name spoken,” the dwarf announced, making Corinne grin. He was a kick, and she couldn’t wait to talk to him about his people.
“Legolas and me, and Haldir and Corinne of course,” Buffy began, counting on her fingers. “Dawnie, you and Boromir coming with?” At her sister’s nod, she ticked off two more fingers. “Elessar, you up for another fun trip?”
“Indeed I am, Dagnir,” he affirmed. “Shall you stay with your grandparents, a’melamin, or journey with us?” he asked Arwen.
She stretched with languor. “I think I shall join you, hervenn-nîn,” she replied, smiling slowly. “It has been long ere I’ve had a satisfying adventure.”
Elessar got a certain glint in his eye and before the others knew it, he and Arwen were making perfectly transparent pretexts in excusing themselves.
“Newlyweds,” Buffy commented, as if she weren’t married only a few months longer than them.
“Are we not still as randy?” Legolas asked with faux concern. “Are you tired of me already? Is it time for me to begin wearing costumes, the better to incite your lust?”
Corinne got a rapid series of bizarre images parading through her mind at that, and began laughing helplessly. “Legolas the Pretty Pirate!” she gasped, slumping against Haldir in a fit of giggles. “Avast! I’m gonna walk yer plank, my buxom wench! Harrrrrrr!”
“Legolas the Dirty Doctor!” Dawn suggested between snorts. “Say ‘ahhh’, Naughty Nurse Buffy!”
Legolas frowned; he hadn’t intended his joke to go this far, and was now fairly certain he was being made fun of. Buffy was laughing so hard she was crying.
“Legolas the Naughty Nazgûl,” Gimli offered, a grin splitting his beard.
“Legolas the Gitty Gollum,” Haldir murmured with a smile. “And Dagnir is his Preciousssssss, who leads him in a merry chase over hill and dale.”
“Legolas the Amorous Orc,” was Boromir’s entry to the contest, and when Celeborn said, “Legolas the Excited Ent,” giving new meaning to the phrase ‘sporting wood’, everyone (except Legolas himself) shouted with laughter.
“I am not convinced this is as amusing as you all seem to think,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning. Everyone sobered, looking a little sorry for teasing him.
But then Galadriel said, “Legolas the Hungry Hobbit. Is that a carrot in your pocket, Legolas, or are you just very pleased to see her?”
And damn, that was just too funny to not laugh at.
doll-nîn = my dusky one
hervenn-nîn = my husband
a’melamin = my love