Author’s Note: The poem included is from the Silmarillion and is the actual song Beren sang for Lúthien, so I’m certainly not claiming it as my own creation (if only).
This is it, folks-- the end, and in honour of it, an extra-long chapter for ya. Thanks so so so much for your suggestions, comments, approval, and all-round support. Could never have cranked out 120+k words without you.
Particular gratitude to houses for letting me yap at length at her, agonizing over plot points, dialogue, characterization, and all the other things that make all the difference in a story. You are the wind beneath my wings, punkin.
Without, Part 37
“Oh, thank God,” Dawn said in a low tone, the relief in her voice whole-hearted as she peered out from under the hand shielding her eyes from the sun. “Think we’ll get there today?” The White City was the merest dot on the horizon, but it beaconed to them alluringly, for it had been a long journey from Rhosgobel in the north.
“Unlikely,” Boromir replied. This was his home, no matter that Elessar ruled it, and none knew better than he the terrain surrounding Minas Tirith and how long it would take to traverse it. “Not unless we wish to push the horses.”
Elessar eyed the weary beasts. “Best that we not,” he said with some regret. “’Twould be late when we arrived in any case, and there would be alarm at such.” He stripped off his leather gloves and flexed his hands. “Never did I think I would tire of the road and long for a comfortable bed, but my days as a Ranger are long past, it would seem,” he said with a small grin aimed at Buffy. “What think you, Dagnir? Have you become too soft as well for such travels?”
Buffy stretched her arms over her head and rotated her head to ease the kinks from her neck. “Every time we get to the end of one, yeah, I think I’ll never get out of bed again.” She slid a cheeky glance at her husband, who smiled knowingly at her. “For more reasons than one. But it never lasts, and before I know it, I’m itching to get out and do something again.”
“I shall bathe,” Arwen said suddenly, her voice dreamy as her eyes took on a faraway glaze at the idea. “Hot water, a froth of sweet-smelling soap… I shall not remove myself from the tub until I am a prune.”
Elessar’s eyes also glazed as well, but for a different reason. “Er, yes.”
Buffy laughed outright at him. She was still smiling when she turned to the silent elf beside her. “I know you’re looking forward to our arrival, too, Hal,” she said quietly, watching his face intently.
He was staring into the distance, gaze trained on Minas Tirith, and she wondered what his keen elven eyes permitted him to see. “Do not call me that,” he said absently before turning to face her. “Yes,” he agreed at last. “I am eager to be there.”
“She’s fine, you know,” Buffy reassured him for the third time that day; it was a habit she’d gotten into whenever she saw his mood droop from ‘normally reticent’ to ‘outright glum’. Never a hugely talkative elf, since returning from Aker’s realm Haldir had been positively taciturn and it proved quite a chore to get him to say much of anything during their trip south.
A ghost of a smile flitted about Haldir’s lips. “I know. I no longer fear for her. It is merely that we did not part well… I declined her offer of love, and it has been long since I have seen her. Corinne may well have reconsidered her rash words, spoken in the heat of the moment.”
Buffy’s eyebrows lifted toward the sky. “Are you kidding? Haldir, Corinne’s the least rash person I’ve ever met. She doesn’t say things in the heat of a moment, and you know it. Especially not about love.” When he remained silent, she continued. “Think about it. There was nothing in the cartouche’s bond that stipulated you had to love each other, only be horny. She’s loved you for ages, and I doubt she’s going to just forget about that now that you’ve been apart for a month.”
Still he did not speak. Buffy slid a sly glance his way. “Of course, Elrond’s sons have been keeping her company… maybe she’s found a replacement or two for you. She was very interested when I told her of the hotness that is Elrohir and Elladan.”
That got a reaction out of him. “Those peredhil would not dare—“ he choked out, glaring hotly until he saw she was teasing him. “Thranduilion,” he said to Legolas, “your wife is in dire need of discipline. It is not wise to goad a march-warden.”
“I agree,” Legolas said, eyes glinting in the late afternoon sunlight as he recalled certain thoughts about the twins his wife had admitted to him one night. “It is best not to mention the sons of Elrond in my hearing. Ever.”
Arwen frowned at this. “What can my brothers have done to earn such hostility?” she asked mildly. “They are ever courteous, and pleasing to the eye as well as valorous in battle. Indeed, their skills with music and poetry are near to unequalled in all of Rivendell, and that place is renowned for its excellence in the arts.”
“Poetry?” At this, Spike perked up. “Your brothers are poets?”
“All elves are poets,” Arwen explained patiently, and smiled at his enthusiasm. “Would you care to hear a song written by Beren for Lúthien? They were my great-grandparents.” At his nod, she began, her sweet voice floating on the air and caressing their ears.
Farewell sweet earth and northern sky,
for ever blest, since here did lie
and here with lissom limbs did run
beneath the Moon, beneath the Sun,
more fair than mortal tongue can tell.
Though all to ruin fell the world
and were dissolved and backward hurled
unmade into the old abyss,
yet were its making good for this—
the dusk, the dawn, the earth, the sea—
that Lúthien for a time should be.
Spike looked enchanted, and to his credit, more at the song’s lovely lyrics than by Arwen’s ethereal voice. “Do you know any more?” he asked, voice atremble, and with a laugh, she launched into another tune.
Buffy and Dawn exchanged a highly amused glance, but Haldir allowed his attention to narrow, and the voices of the others, even that of the Evenstar, to fade away. In spite of Dagnir’s confidence in Corinne, he had great and myriad doubts. Yes, he loved her—freely, completely, and in no way because of that thrice-damned cartouche. He loved her intelligence, her curiosity, her wit. He loved her passion and devotion for him, loved her talent for learning and languages, her clumsy attempts at kindness and the amazing way she’d rallied from her fears to become a courageous and strong woman.
But therein lay the problem: she was a woman, a child of Man, and mortal. In matters of courage, did he have enough to take her to wife, knowing they would have but decades together? Knowing that her lifetime was but a blink of an eye to an elf, and that sooner than was decent she would be gone from him?
What would happen to him after her death, Haldir wondered. There were two options, of course; the first was that he would go the way of most elves after the other half of their heart was no more, and perish. But this was an unacceptable end for Haldir of Lórien; he was a march-warden, and the Golden Wood’s Guardian. The forest was as a living thing, and his destiny was that of its protector, its sword and its armour. How, then, could he follow Corinne to her cold grave?
He could not, and thus there was but a single choice for him: to live on after she had died, to live on with the aching void in his chest where his heart used to live, knowing she was gone and that not even after the Valar granted him his own demise would they be together, for Men were not held in the halls of Mandos, as were elves. Their souls were released, let to roam freely as their gift from Ilúvatar, and so even when he was united with his kin in the noble palace of the dead, Corinne would be gone from him forever.
All they had was this short life of hers, this moment in time. Would she still want to share it with him? After his attempt to rape her in Rhosgobel—no matter that he had not been in control of himself at the time—after his rejection of her love, after violence and violation and manipulation and pain, so much pain… could she bear to spend her life looking at his face?
They made camp quietly, efficiently, and Haldir volunteered for first watch, fully intending not to wake Legolas for the second, but to remain throughout the night with his thoughts. Peace was not to be his, however, for that elf rose, silent as a wraith, from his place beside Buffy to join him beside the small fire.
“She will not refuse you, meldiramin,” Legolas said quietly after a moment. “Never has she been able to hide her feelings. Even after the cartouche was broken, her love for you shone like a Silmaril.”
Haldir’s visage was bleak in the firelight. “I have lived long, Thranduilion,” he said. “I have lived long, and loved but once. How shall I bear her death? Being parted from her this month has made me ache as if from a thousand wounds. Losing her for always will surely kill me, do you not think so?”
Legolas studied the elf before him. “No,” he said at last. “For you will have your children to comfort you, and you will share stories of their mother, and she shall live ever in your heart.” He grinned then. “You must not be cheerless any longer, for the vampire starts to call you Broody Elf.” He shot a narrow glance over at where Spike lay reclining against the trunk of a tree, asleep but protectively close to Dawn and Boromir. “I look for any way to disappoint that one,” he said darkly. “Glad am I that he will live in Minas Ithil; perhaps I can convince Dagnir to move farther north—“
Haldir surprised him by laughing. “Any further north, Legolas, and you shall be making your home in the Wetwang, and Dagnir was not at all fond of the life that teemed in that sodden land, as I recall.” He tilted his head to the side, looking at Legolas consideringly. “Come, cease your tirade, for jealousy suits you ill.”
Legolas slanted him a look. “Healing words from one who suffers the same disease,” he commented dryly.
Haldir only quirked a silver-gilt brow. “Jealous? I? You are mistaken, fair prince.”
“Am not,” Legolas shot back. “I both heard and saw your reaction to Dagnir’s mention of the sons of Elrond—“
“My displeasure was for their daring, not for Corinne,” Haldir interrupted hotly. “Never have I doubted her constancy to me, nor her love.”
Legolas did not answer right away, but when he did, it was with a broad smile on his face. “There,” he said happily. “You have said it yourself: there is naught over which to worry, for you hold her heart, as she holds yours.”
Haldir glared. “You are an orc, Legolas,” he growled. “A tricky Mirkwood orc, and far too smart. You shall pay for that trickery.”
But Legolas only grinned and sauntered back to his pallet beside his wife. “In due time, I am sure, Guardian,” he said. “In due time.”
Spurred by their eagerness, they made excellent time the next day, and the sun had scarcely reached its zenith in the sky when the mighty iron gates of Minas Tirith were flung open for the king and queen of Gondor, prince and princess of Ithilien, and their companions.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Gimli grumbled at the swarm of dwarves that flocked to him as soon as he entered on horseback, all shouting questions at him. “Blast you all, I have but just returned! Hold your tongues until I have recovered from my journey!”
“And how long shall that be, friend Gimli?” Legolas asked out of the corner of his mouth.
“At least a fortnight,” Gimli replied likewise. “Hush, they have the ears of a bat, and I would have peace.”
The people of the White City were thrilled to see their monarchs; Arwen, who had never been convinced that she, an elleth, had been fully accepted by the Men and Women of Gondor, wept openly to see how gladly they waved at her and called her name. Elessar just looked pleased that his wife was happy.
“He’s just a big schmoopie bear,” Buffy commented with a fond smile at her friend as they rode up the tiers of the city to its summit. Elessar turned around on his mount to stare at her, a look of such consternation on his unshaven face that she burst out laughing.
Haldir exchanged a look of great sympathy with the king. “Ever is she calling me distasteful things as well, Elessar,” he said sadly. “’Twill be a fine day when I can return to my forest and not hear her voice shrilling that ludicrous moniker at me.”
Buffy ignored them and leapt easily from her horse to land in the dusty courtyard outside the stables. “Hey, there’s Faramir,” she said when the Steward turned the corner.
Boromir turned and rested his eyes on the Man. “Brother,” he said with relief, embracing Faramir fiercely. “Glad I am to see you once more; now I know that our journey is truly at an end.”
“Has it been a grueling trip, then?” Faramir asked, gasping a little at the force of his brother’s arm around his shoulders.
“In the extreme,” Boromir said in heartfelt tones and with the tiniest sideways glance at Haldir, who pretended not to notice. “Come!” he said heartily. “Where is my son? I would remind him that he does indeed have a father.”
“How’s Éowyn?” asked Dawn as he helped her down from her horse. “She was due about six weeks ago, did everything go okay?”
“It did indeed,” Faramir confirmed. “Her travail was long, but Éowyn is not one to be defeated by trifles. We have a daughter, and have named her Léofa. She has much the look of her mother, to my great relief; sad it would be for a girl to suffer this grim visage,” he joked, his joy at new fatherhood clear.
“So where is she?” Dawn inquired, her stride somewhat compromised after hours in the saddle as she and the rest followed Elessar and Arwen into the palace. “And where’s Mercas?” She shot a teasing glance at Spike. “His Uncle William is eager to meet him.”
“She and Corinne are with the children in the garden,” Faramir answered, oblivious to how Haldir tensed at the mention of Corinne’s name as he led them there.
Reached through a high stone arch, the garden was a spacious area with narrow brick paths winding through neatly tended patches of herbs and flowers. Every tree boasted a bench beneath it, and ensconced in one of them sat Éowyn with one plump breast exposed by the unlaced front of her gown, her daughter’s face pressed eagerly to her as the infant fed with much enthusiasm and noise.
Not far from her walked Corinne in a slow circle around one of the herb patches. In one hand she held a book from which she read with her usual absorption, and the other clasped a baby on her hip, bouncing him gently. The long green gown she wore skimmed lovingly over her curves, enhancing them in a way her modern clothing had never been able to manage, and her hair had grown significantly in the past month. It was wound up in a messy bun with many tendrils straggling free, and it was one of these tendrils that Mercas grabbed in his hand and yanked on, the better to get it into his mouth.
“Hey, no hair-pulling, you little booger,” Corinne told him absently, her glasses slipping down her nose. Trying to push them back up with her wrist so she didn’t have to release the book, she looked past Mercas’ head to see the group standing in the entrance to the garden, watching her. Dawn and Boromir came forward to claim their son, Spike trailing behind with a hopeful look on his face, but Mercas shied away and buried his face against Corinne’s shoulder.
“He’s shy with… um… strangers right now,” she explained awkwardly, achingly aware of Haldir still standing under the arch, his gaze locked on her. Tears came immediately to Dawn’s eyes, and Boromir slipped an arm around her waist. “Hey, Mercas,” Corinne prompted him. “Here’s your Mom and Dad, they’re here to play with you. I bet Daddy’s great with blocks. You can build the biggest castle ever.”
Mercas cautiously peeked at them; Dawn bit her lip. Then he looked up at Corinne, as if for approval. She nodded reassuringly. “Da,” he said then, and now it was Boromir who bit his lip to keep from crying. “Da.”
“Yes,” Boromir said, his voice hoarse. “I am your Da.” He reached out tentatively, and this time Mercas didn’t flinch back, allowing the newcomer to lift him into his embrace.
Immediately, Dawn pressed close, her hand coming to stroke the tiny back as she began to murmur to him, “I’m so sorry we left you, honey. We won’t go again, I promise, Mercas. Never again.”
They left then, Boromir thanking Corinne for her care of their son, wanting to have some private time as a family. Spike stood there somewhat forlornly even after Corinne greeted him, and Buffy took pity on him. “Come on, we’re going to go have lunch,” she said, digging an elbow into Legolas’ side when he opened his mouth to protest.
He snapped his mouth shut once more and said nothing, though Gimli was not troubled to start laughing, and the four of them wandered away to find some food. Elessar and Arwen ambled off with Faramir and Éowyn, the elleth exclaiming over the smallness of Léofa and developing a glint in her eye that spoke of a new addition to the royalty of Gondor in the next year, and then Corinne and Haldir were alone in the garden.
He looked tired, she thought, tired and sad, as if he expected bad news and was resigned to it. “So,” she said, coming toward him, “Look what the Slayer dragged in.” The twins had relayed the message from Arwen that all members of their party were accounted for, so she hadn’t been much assailed with worry for him, but knowing he was safe and knowing he was safe were two different things. “Glad to see you’re still in one piece.”
“And you,” he replied, and his voice was as silken and thrilling as she remembered, as she heard in her dreams at night when the loneliness threatened to strangle her. “You are well?”
"I'm fine,” she said. “I mean, I'm not ‘running around, wind in my hair, the hills are alive with the sound of music’ fine, but..." She dropped her gaze to the tips of his boots. “Is Aker dead?” she asked, desperate to keep talking, suspecting that to let silence fall would be to invite disaster.
“We are not sure,” Haldir answered. “He split into many lions, and we slew them all, but I cannot know if that means He is gone forever.” He paused. “I killed Yinepu,” he added after a moment.
Corinne frowned. “Why?”
“Because he sent you to Osgiliath, instead of somewhere safe,” Haldir said quietly. He thought she looked very fine indeed, and marveled at the grace with which she wore the Mannish gown. A definite improvement over those bizarre garments she had packed from her world; though he had brought them from Rhosgobel, he sincerely hoped she would not wear them again. Especially those hideous shoes.
“Oh,” she replied, mouth a soft O of surprise. “You killed a god for me?”
“I would do anything for you, doll-nîn,” he told her swiftly, eyes blazing silver as he gazed avidly at her. The depth of emotion in them humbled her, striking her dumb for a moment.
“Oh,” Corinne repeated numbly after a while, then reached up to smooth back a strand of his cornsilk hair. Quick as lightning, his hand grasped her wrist before she could touch him, and she wondered with a pang if he were still determined to deny his feelings. Then he turned his head and pressed his lips to her palm, his eyes closing in an expression of absolute relief.
“How I have longed for you,” Haldir murmured. “With each step closer to this place, my heart felt lighter, knowing it was nearer to its home.” He opened his eyes and released her hand; of its own accord it cupped his cheek, caressing the taut, smooth skin. “You know this, do you not, Corinne?”
“That I am the home of your heart?” she asked, staring up at him in part-amazement, part-adoration. “Yes. Just like you’re the home of mine, and have been almost since the beginning.” She slid her hand down his throat to his chest, and he covered it with his own, pressing it hard just over that fiercely-beating organ.
Haldir slipped his free hand around the back of her neck and drew her close for his kiss; she was utterly yielding to him, opening herself to him as his mouth covered hers, just rubbing lightly, a satiny caress that was almost chaste. When he pulled back, he smiled with a touch of his old arrogance to find her standing on tiptoes, eyes still closed and mouth open.
Then her eyes popped open and she adjusted the fit of her glasses on her nose as she grinned at him. “I have a surprise for you. Um, several, actually.”
Haldir was not sure he liked the sound of that. “Surprises?”
She nodded and walked over to a rather steep pile of books stacked on one of the benches. “When I was dead,” she began conversationally, “Seshat explained a few things to me.” She paused, retrieving something from between the pages of one, and he waited for her to continue. “What were the names of the children we had in the dream Heka forced on you?”
Blinking, Haldir had to think a moment. “Ataralassë,” he said at last. “It means ‘father’s joy’.” Then he watched in bemusement as she withdrew and placed in his hand a slightly shriveled but still creamy-pink flower petal. “Earo, the sea.” Another petal. “Cualla… little dove…” A third petal. “Woman, what are you doing?”
She smiled mysteriously at him. “Just tell me the last one.”
He blew out an exasperated breath. “Failon.”
“And its meaning?”
“Generous and just.” He stared down at the four petals in his hand. “What are these for?”
She smiled blindingly up at him. “Hapi gave them to me, to us. A gift, a promise.”
He was beginning to see what she was saying. “Do you mean…” His voice died to a whisper. “Do you mean that we truly shall have those children, of whom I dreamed? All of them?”
Corinne nodded. “It’s been guaranteed.”
Haldir carefully placed the petals in her hand and turned away, shoulders square and chin high. Another woman would have thought he was greatly displeased by this news, but another woman would not have known him half so well as Corinne, and she placed the petals back in their silk wrapper before going to him, sliding her arms around his waist from behind and resting her forehead between his shoulder blades.
“There’s more,” she said.
“More?” He gave a short laugh, his voice tight, and she knew he was having trouble containing himself. It was one of the things she loved about him, his determination to present a calm mask to the world, but the rapid beat of his heart told her he was not as unaffected as he pretended to be.
“In ancient Kemet, various symbols of Seshat’s represented different periods of time,” she said, allowing her hands to wander a little over his chest, feeling the hard planes of muscle under his tunic. Mmmmm. “The palm frond represented years, with each stalk being a century.” One hand slid lower, to his flat belly, while the other moved higher to stroke the fine-suede of his throat. “Seshat gave me a palm frond, Haldir, and it had twenty-seven stalks on it.”
He whipped around to face her. “What are you saying?” he demanded, his face suddenly, alarmingly ashen. “What are you saying?”
She was taken aback by his reaction. “I’m saying that I’m going to be able to live at least another two thousand, seven hundred years,” Then she yelped in shock when his arms locked around her like steel bands, hauling her off her feet to clasp her tightly against him. “Breathing,” she gasped. “Becoming an issue.”
“Elbereth, Elbereth,” Haldir whispered over and over, easing his embrace enough for her to suck in some air. “Thank you, thank you.”
Corinne wound her arms around his neck and held on tightly, inhaling the divine scent of his hair and reveling in the feel of his body pressed against hers, and realized how starved for contact with him she’d been. “So, you’re happy about this, then?”
In reply, Haldir threaded his hand in her hair, dispersing her hairpins and completely destroying her haphazard bun, and held her still so he could kiss her with spectacular thoroughness. “Yes,” he said when he was done ravishing her mouth. “Yes, I am happy about this.”
“Glad to hear it,” she said breathlessly. “What do you say about getting started on Ataralassë?”
Haldir smiled down at her, looking positively angelic, but his eyes gleamed devilishly. “And this time, nothing is forbidden,” he reminded her as she took his hand and led him at a rapid pace toward her chamber. “There is no dire peril to keep us from slaking our needs in all the ways we desire.” Her response was only a moan and increased speed. At one point Faramir stepped out of a room, mouth open as if to speak, but she just rushed past him, Haldir trailing behind her and grinning stupidly at the Man as he followed in her wake.
Then they were in her room, and Haldir barely managed to kick the door shut because she was climbing his tall body like a kitten, clawing and biting her way up.
Éowyn joined her husband where he stood in the corridor, watching the show. “I am glad they have resolved their differences,” he commented to her. There was a loud thud, as if a heavy piece of furniture had just been jolted across the floor, and a smile spread slowly across her face.
“I expect they shall be resolving them repeatedly for the remainder of the day,” Éowyn said slyly, and handed Léofa over to Faramir. “Here, tend to her while I arrange for a meal to be brought to them in a few hours.” She walked off, leaving Faramir holding his daughter.
“You must not ever become as saucy as your mother,” he told the child, who stared guilelessly up at her father with big blue-grey eyes. “I can barely keep up with her, and if you take the same path, I shall be sadly outnumbered.”
Moans began to emanate from the room down the hall, and the distinct sound of a jouncing bed, too. Then another set of suspicious noises started to come from the direction of the royal chambers. “You are too young to hear this, young Léofa,” Faramir told her, frowning.
A third room joined in the amorous chorus, that which Faramir was sure his wife had assigned to Dagnir and Legolas, and if he were not mistaken, was that rather loud groan not coming from the chamber that his brother and sister-in-law always used when in Minas Tirith, now that Mercas had been given to his namesake for tending?
“In fact, *I* am too young to hear this,” Faramir declared with a wince at one particularly enthusiastic yelp of satisfaction, but couldn’t repress a grin as he withdrew into his own chamber, kicking the doors shut and wondering, as he watched Léofa’s eyes shut for her afternoon nap, whether Éowyn would return before their daughter roused for her next feeding…
~*~ THE END ~*~
peredhil = half-elves
doll-nîn = my dusky one