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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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The Empty Vessel
Submitter: Zee Date: 2006/1/2 Views: 1034
The Healing of the very Bad Patient
The Empty Vessel 02/31

The Healing or the very Bad Patient

***
The room is dark and I have cried a bucket full of tears, yet the grief remains, nor does it diminish. The ivories beckon to me, they call my name sorrowfully, but I can not answer. The strings sing sadly, still I can not respond. My throat contracts; however when I attempt to pour the water from the pitcher, the vessel is empty. I set it down and begin to weep anew. I am alone, but I feel the calming presence and her hand upon my shoulder. "Rest. Lay down your head. Change comes. It comes on graceful arrows. He is coming." I fall into grateful oblivion and dream of his tiny voice. "Mama? Mama? Give fower fo Mama. Dun-dun love Mama..."

***

Haldir almost dropped her, stunned at hearing Rumil's humorous gasp.

"They are beauties! Orophin, have you ever seen such a proud set on an Elleth?"

Haldir looked at Orophin, staggered at what he saw. His brother was gauging the size with his hands. Both hands. For one breast. The tip of his tongue was visible at the edge of his mouth. "I have heard it said that more than a mouthful is too much." He tilted his head. "Whoever said that was a Dwarf!"

Rumil chimed in. "Oh, to smother in those!!!"

Orophin smiled. "The masses she could feed!"

Haldir clasped her to him and hissed, "You fools! Have some respect." He looked around and pointed. "Hand me that cloth!"

"Brother, you are going to need more than one to cover those!" Rumil's mirth was evident and Orophin's was close to breaking free, although he attempted to sound serious. "Why cover them? Beauty such as that should not be hidden!"

Haldir glared and reached over for a large sheet. Orophin stopped him and gestured.

"Look. The tips are not rosy. They are-"

"Brown." Rumil finished for him. "They are brown." Rumil yanked the sheet off and unlaced the waist of her leggings. Faint marks showed beneath her belly, and on the tops of her hips. "This woman has borne children." He looked at Orophin. "What has happened to her children?"

Haldir took a deep breath. He rewrapped her gently and laid her down. "Well, that settles that! I cannot care for her!"

"And why not?" All three brothers jumped to their feet. The Lady of the Wood stood in their parents' living area, as she had many times before in their younger years, looking very imperious. She had something white draped over her arm.

"She is a woman, My Lady." Haldir took a deep breath. "It is unseemly that I care for her, when I am so ill-equipped."

"Oh." Galadriel looked at the woman. "You have never seen a female body, Haldir? Never touched one?" She looked at him with sparkling eyes.

"Well, yes...ah...no,..." Haldir yanked on his back braid to clear his thinking. "My Lady, my healing skills are notoriously pitiful. I have other uses than this. She deserves..." he stumbled for words "...better."

"Better." Galadriel repeated. She handed him the white drape and knelt beside the woman. She caressed her face and heard her moan. She pulled back the sheet and pressed on her ribs. The woman cried out in deep pain. Galadriel let the sheet fall.

"She has several cracked ribs. Be gentle with them. It is a battle wound. You have dealt with those. A bath would be nice." Galadriel looked at the matted, encrusted cap of hair on her head. "Wash her hair. Several times. Although she will not be awake, she will be grateful for it." She stood up and looked him in the eye. "If you are in the right frame of mind, you will enjoy it. You will be surprised by her...secrets." She nodded for his brothers to leave. Haldir opened his mouth to protest, but The Lady put her finger to his lips. "She is your responsibility, Haldir. Not theirs. She is yours until I say she is not." She looked around the room and spied the table so many family meals had been taken on. "Lay her on the table. You will find it easier to bathe her there." She unlaced a small bag from her belt. "There are soaps and scented hair cleansing vials here. She would prefer them to what you and your brothers use. You might find some things in her pack that will aid you."

Haldir's shoulders drooped in exasperation. This was not where he wanted to be; it was not where he needed to be.

"I know, this is not what you think you need, Haldir. You have aches of your own to sooth and you would prefer to be out on patrol, where you are in command and you can stamp them down and happily brood in abject misery." His head jerked up, not so much shocked at her boldness, but at her ability to know his thoughts and feelings. "You will never cease to fret if you brood. I know of your decision with Liandrien and the choice you have made is the right one. Quite frankly, it was ages overdue!" She raised her chin in a way only she could.

"When you finish bathing her, put her in that." She gestured to the white nightgown draped across his arm. "It will be cool and comfortable for her." Her eyes become very sad. "She has endured a great loss, greater than even you, our mighty Haldir, have ever experienced. She refuses to remember and therefore refuses to move on and embrace her destiny." And so must you, little one, she thought to herself. Haldir's eyes jerked to the woman on the floor. "Be gentle with her, Haldir. Her destiny, if she can get over her injuries and her past, is one of greatness." Galadriel's eyes dropped to the floor and her thoughts went inward. Nevertheless, her words were spoken out loud. "She must recover. She is the last hope. She is the last Empty Vessel."

"Empty Vessel?" Haldir grabbed his Lady's hand. "What does that mean? Please tell me."

Galadriel looked deep into his blue eyes and folded his hands together. "That will come in time. She has much to go through, much to sort out." She sighed. "She has much to give up and much to walk away from. She also has much to gain." As do you. A clear song rose through the trees outside the talan and the Lady looked out. "Ah, the lament for Gandalf has begun." She looked back at Haldir. "Keep her in bed as long as you can. Keep her quiet. Allow her rest. Listen when she talks. Offer her comfort. Ease her pain. There are also powders in the bag. Mix them in the water or juices and give them to her to drink. It will aid her body's healing."

"Why?" Haldir asked. "We have ways to quicken her healing, our spells and healing gifts-"

"No. What she refuses to remember lurks in her dreams, fighting to be released. Our healing spells would only cure her body and not her mind. They would work too swiftly for her." Or you, our proud March Warden. Galadriel smiled warmly. "My husband will be along shortly. He has brought you books to read while you keep watch at her bedside. For now, you are not to leave her alone for any reason."

He bowed low before her, barely able to hold his disappointment in check. "My Lady, you are too..." he was at a loss for words.

She kissed his brow. "Kind, Haldir. The word is kind." She glided - for the Lady of the Wood did not just walk - and left the talan as her husband was entering. He carried several large books in his hands and waited for his wife to get some way from the door.

"Kind. Not the word I would have used in this matter, Haldir. Would you?" He smiled and held out the books.

Haldir took them from him gratefully. "No, my Lord. Commanding is the word I would have used. Sometimes, I think she should have been born a male." He set the books on a small table. Celeborn chuckled deeply.

"Oh, no! Her power lies in her femininity. I would not be surprised if that Dwarf falls in love with her before this is over! I hope you enjoy the books. They are mostly battle stories and such. There is one insipid love story about how a warrior should gently romance a lady." He grimaced. "It was my wife's selection."

"Not the ones you keep hidden - the back issues of Elf-House? Play-Elf?"

Celeborn actually had the decency to color. He stretched his neck sideways. "Those were...uhm...confiscated by my wife, quite some time ago." Haldir's eyebrow shot up. "They are still around! We have enjoyed them...thoroughly!" Celeborn smiled and could have sworn an almost smile touched Haldir's mouth. Many of the Elves of Caras Galadhon had learned the arts of love from these rare books. He looked down at the unconscious woman on the floor. "You are not going to leave her there, are you?"

"No. I am going to put her on the table, do what I can to clean her up." Squatting down, he put one arm under her neck and the other beneath her knees, lifting her from the floor easily. Her groan could be heard throughout the talan, the sound ripping through Haldir's heart. He laid her gently on the table.

"Do you need help?" Celeborn's voice was quiet, filled with concern. Haldir shook his head.

"Your lady wife made it very clear that this one is my responsibility. And mine, she is." He positioned her so that her matted hair hung over the edge of the table, swinging heavily in the air.

"Liandrien is lurking about. Do not allow her any leeway. She will squirm back into your bed if she can, thinking that she can wear you down."

Haldir nodded solemnly, his eyes not leaving the woman's sheet wrapped body. "Does everyone know my business?"

"Haldir, you are not alone. You can talk to me anytime, about anything. You know that." Celeborn touched his arm.

Haldir reached and placed his hand over Celeborn's. "And for that, I thank you, my Lord."

***

After Celeborn left, Haldir looked at the unconscious woman on the table. The lament for Gandalf was full blown and its beauty touched his heart. He closed everything but one small opening, so the sound just barely filtered through. His thoughts went back to the woman. With everything shut up, the smell from the woman and her clothes was beginning to be intolerable. He removed his layered upper tunics, leaving only his leggings and black waist shirt. He unhooked the finger holds and shoved up the sleeves, baring muscular arms. Covering her pelvic area with a sheet, he loosened the ties underneath and peeled off the tight leggings. He took a large pail for washing clothes and filled it with hot water and the cleaning solvents that he used on his tunics. He set the clothes and the bucket outside for the evening.

Setting a pail on the floor beneath her head, and draping absorbent cloths around the floor, he began with her hair. It was matted and nasty and he would not have been surprised if he had found six legged crawling things in it. He washed and rinsed twice, amazed at the amount of filth rolling from it. It was not as long as his and dark as the caffe he drank on patrol. It appeared to be in many different lengths, not the one length he was used to and it had a tendency to curl around his fingers. Allowing it to drip, he began soaping her hands and arms.

Her fingertips were lightly calloused and the fingernails, chipped. He worked the best he could with the sheet scrunched around her breasts and around her woman's area. As he worked on her legs, he noticed they were well muscled and firm. He pulled the sheet back and noticed the shapeliness and curve of her thighs. She was not built like the females of his kind, long and lean, and yet he was attracted to the femininity and fullness of her body.

His eyes were drawn to the child bearing marks on her stomach and upper hips. Slowly, he lowered the sheet to the spot below where the first patch of hair began and gazed at that which makes a female unique. He had heard that the women of Man bore marks of bearing children and that they wore them as a badge of honor and courage; that they brought their children forth into the world with much pain and blood. He had thought the marks would be ugly and abhorrent to look at, but he was surprised they did not. Hers looked like pale lines, arrows pointing to what would be sweet. Her stomach was supple and rounded. He found his hands stroking her waist, feeling for its softness. His index finger found the indentation of her belly.

"So! The brave knife wielder is a mere woman!" The voice cut through his musings like a blade. Haldir jerked the sheet to the woman's waist and turned in anger.

"I do not remember inviting you in, Liandrien." His eyes smoldered in annoyance. "I have nothing to say to you." He turned back to his patient. Her hair was still dripping dirt, but not as bad as it had at first. He moved to the head of the table and pulled up a stool. He dug a vial of sweet smelling liquid from the bag the Lady had brought and uncapped it. Pouring it generously into her hair, he muttered, "You can leave now." He delved his hands into the wet mat and began to work the liquid through the strands. "That was not a suggestion."

"You could not wait to replace me, could you?" Haldir ignored her. The liquid had bubbled up into a refreshing lather that assailed his senses. It smelled like the flowers in the Lady's garden. He was aware of Liandrien's growing fury. She walked up to the table, peering down her nose at the unconscious woman. Her rant, once started, was endless.

"Haldir! Be reasonable. What can she offer that I cannot? Look at her! She is...short!" Liandrien jerked the sheet back. "She is fat! GAH! Who would want such massive growths!" Haldir smiled a small grin, thinking of his brothers, but he kept his head down, so she could not see. The Elleth could tell she was making no headway with the March Warden. "She is mortal! She will die! And you will waste in death when she does!" She grabbed his arm, her voice pleading, begging, grating. "Please listen to me!"

Haldir looked at his arm, saw where her fingers were squeezing. He looked furiously at her. "Remove your hand." She turned him loose, as if his arm were made of fire.

"Haldir... I..."

He stood up to his full height and grabbed her by the shoulders. He lifted her off the floor as he stepped towards the doorway. "If I decided to become bound with a mortal and die painfully when she did, believe me, I would consider it more enjoyable than spending an eternity with you. You are not welcome here at my parent's talan. You are not welcome at my talan. You are not welcomed anywhere near me. You are to leave me and mine alone. And that includes this mortal woman. Do not darken my doorstep again. I do not wish to even be friendly with you."

"Capische?"

The voice was raspy, barely audible. Both Haldir and Liandrien looked at the woman on the table. Her hair was still foaming with floral scented soaps, but her eyes were open and she was staring at the ceiling. Haldir thrust Liandrien from him and rushed to her side. He tilted her face towards him and spoke in the Common Tongue.

"Woman,...Braun...did you speak?"


Eyes brown as the rich dirt of the Shire (he would have known had he ever been there) looked at him, unfocused, unseeing. He noticed a ring of deep hazel surrounding the depth of the brown iris. Her eyelids fluttered shut and she repeated the words. Haldir turned her loose and looked at Liandrien. She looked as confused as he.

"Kah Peach? What is Kah Peach?"

He nodded towards the doorway. "I meant it, Liandrien. I meant it the other night. And I mean it today."

"And if I refuse?" He remembered when that voice had seemed like silk to him. His eyes slid sinuously up her body.

"You will wish you had already gone into the West."

***

The woman did not speak again. It seemed she had lapsed back into unconsciousness. Haldir rinsed her hair again and gently combed the rinse water out. He sponged down parts of her body again, scrubbing fingernails with a stiff, small brush. He inspected the bruises around the cracked ribs. He got out a salve from his leather pack that he used on injuries and pains and liberally smeared the area with it. Taking the shift from a chair, he sat her up, still working very hard to keep some things covered. He worked the sleeveless soft gown over her head and shoulder and down around her thighs. He realized that if she stood, the gown would be several inches to long. It was tight across her breasts and both nipples were delightfully erect. Once covered, he pulled away the now wet sheets and cloths and after mopping water off the floor with them, kicked them into a pile. After putting fresh linens on it, he carried her to his parent's large bed, laying her in it, and covered her with a soft quilt.

For the first time he looked at her. Really looked at her.

She did not have the ageless look of the Elves. Her ears were rounded small and laid against her head. Her thick brown hair spread out like a fan on the pillow, still damp, but he could see traces of deep auburn red in the depths of its darkness. Her skin was golden, as if she had spent a great deal of time in the sun. There were crinkles around her eyes, where she apparently had laughed a lot once. She was not young. In fact, she appeared to have past the first peak of youth. Although she was not old, she was well into her womanhood. There were dark circles under her eyes and she wore her grief. The lips were full, generous.

"She is really very pretty." Haldir looked up to see Legolas standing there. He had removed his over vest, leaving only a white, high collared tunic, with beautifully embroidered sleeves, fitting for the Prince of Mirkwood "Who would have believed it under all that dirt and orc dung?" He handed Haldir a pitcher of water and the powder. "I saw this next to the table and thought you might need it.

"Thank you, Legolas." He began to mix the powder into the pitcher. "I have never seen the like of her. It is confusing. How did she join you?"

Legolas went to the other side of the bed and sat gently on it. He took her hand and stroked it carefully. "She just appeared. One minute, we had Orcs bursting through the door of the hall and the next..." his voice drifted off, "... the next, there were knives, wicked knives swooping over my head. She was standing on a well, forty feet away. She commanded the knives back to her hands and kept flinging them back and forth. I do not know how many she took down. It was rhythmic. I have never seen any weapon return to its master in that fashion."

"Well, why do we not go to look at these magic knives?" Haldir stood up and went into the living area where he had dropped her pack and her weapons. The knife holster lay on the floor, where he had flung it.

It was a belt made of tooled black leather. It was beautifully worked and upon closer inspection, feminine, with floral designs. The knives were on each side, with a strange metal clasp that snapped shut, and it took Haldir a moment to extract one. He heard Legolas inhale sharply when he slid the knife from its home.

It was made of deep black metal; it was approximately nine inches long, and layered with two shorter blades, one above and one below. It had not been cleaned since the fight. Haldir inspected it closely, turning it from side to side. The handle was grooved, made to fit a specific hand. He could feel it throbbing, waiting to be called. It was not of his world, nor of Man's. He ran his thumb over the tip and slightly depressed the blade. The outer blades sprang open, creating a "W" shaped fork and he promptly cut himself. He dropped it to check on his injured finger and the outer blades immediately returned to their original position before it hit the floor. Legolas picked it up. He grabbed a wad of dirty linen and used it to depress the edge of the knife, forcing it to again show its secrets. It was razor sharp from end to end. "So that is how she did that." He laid it back down.

"Bring me the blade cleaner from my pack over there. They have not been cleaned and they will rust." Haldir extracted the knife's twin and laid it next to its brother. The two Elves quietly spent the next few moments cleaning the black metal. "These are exquisite. Where do you think she got them?"

Legolas sighed. "Who knows. Your guess is as good as mine. She did not know anything about how long she had been there or she was not telling us. Seeing how she was hiding her sex, she might not have been not telling."

"I do not think so." Haldir said quietly. He repeated what the Lady had told him. "She says she is running from something, that she is refusing to remember. Who knows what all that means."

"Well, if I know the Lady, then she will do what is necessary to bring her to heel." The two Elves were quiet.

Haldir looked up and snapped his fingers. "Her roll, her backpack. The Lady said it would show many secrets." He got up off the floor and retrieved it, bringing it over to where Legolas sat. He flipped it over and found the teddy bear that had caused much amusement with his brothers.

Legolas smiled. "Well, hello! Does your brother still have that dog? What was its name?"

Haldir flashed a rare grin. "Fluffy. I know for a fact it lies in the bottom of his travel pack. Poor thing rarely sees the light of day, but Orophin knows he is there." He looked at it closely. "It looks well loved." His attention went back to the roll and he undid the ties and rolled it out.

It was a sleeping sack the likes of which he had never seen. Ingenious, actually. One side had metal teeth with a small handle that opened and shut the side. Rolled inside was a flat head rest, cleaning blocks, a vial of sweet smelling oil, a burgundy velvet dress, caringly laid as to not wrinkle, a pair of matching slippers, a long black woolen sleeveless coat, full length for her.

Legolas picked up a small bag and opened it. "Paint pots. Why do women paint their faces?"

"Because we like it." There was a small book and Haldir opened it up.

It was beyond an illustration. There was the likeness of her. Captured her exquisitely, as if it was she on the paper. He could see the fire lights in her hair; it was thick, with loose curls, and shoulder length. She had short hair over her forehead, to above her eyes. The rest lay loose around her. Her smile was wide and her teeth were white, straight and even. She emanated gaiety. On her lap sat a small child, a boy, who looked just like her.

He looked sickly, pudgy, weak, his eyes set too wide, with a flat nose, but his smile was equally wide as hers and the two together radiated happiness. Legolas slid over to view it as well. One by one, they went through each page, filled with lifelike, colored illustrations. She was holding a stringed instrument, the child was on her lap and she was showing him how to stroke it. Another showed them sitting on a bench, in front of a long black box, with many black and white levers. The boy playing with a ball, the boy climbing on a chair, the boy asleep with the toy animal. The boy at the water's edge...in all the pictures, she and the child were jubilant. Deliriously happy. In the back was a pressed flower, one he had never seen before. It was pink, barely pink and he could smell sweetness still emanating from it. He picked it up and pricked his thumb in the same spot on a thorn. His brother's words came back to haunt him. "What happened to her children?" Haldir lay the book down. "If this is what she is running from, why is she running? Why would she leave him, this child, whom she so obviously loves?"

Legolas looked thoughtful. "Maybe she does not want to leave, did not want to leave. Remember when my parents left me here?" Haldir nodded. " ‘Tis a thought." He looked up as he heard the bed clothes in the other room moving. He stood up and grabbed a small cup from the counter.

Legolas reached the bed before Haldir. The woman was moaning softly, crying, tugging at the quilt. A sheen of perspiration beaded on her brow and face. Haldir reached the bedside and poured a small amount of the medicated water into the mug. He handed the mug to Legolas - "Hold this, for a moment," and with more tenderness than the Prince had ever seen from his friend, gently put one arm under the woman and lifted her up. Supporting her in one the crook of one arm, he sat next to her on the bed and reached for the water from Legolas. "Shhhh. You are safe." he whispered. He tipped the cup to her mouth and managed to get a few drops on her lips.

Her tongue snaked out and lit across her lips. Haldir realized the action interested him on a sensual level and he wanted to experience it again. He became aware of her small hand on his thigh. He tipped the cup up again and she swallowed. Some of the liquid spilt from the crevice of her mouth. He handed the cup back to Legolas and used the quilt to dry her mouth. "No, not too much." He realized he was speaking in his language, not hers. He tipped her up, just a little. Her head drooped forward, her forehead resting on his shoulder. He felt her take a deep breath and a sob broke from her throat.

"Please, don't leave me."

Haldir stiffened. It was her voice. The one that had haunted his dreams for weeks. He looked down at the damp head on his shoulder. "I am not going to leave you."

Another sob broke from her parched throat. Her free hand rose, grasping his tunic. "Duncan! Please take me with you. Let me die. Don't leave me."

Haldir stared at Legolas. "That does not make sense." Legolas whispered. Haldir looked horrified. He leaned her back and looked at her face.

Her eyes were open, darting frantically. Haldir could feel the heat of her through the nightgown, the quilt, and his waist shirt. Her eyes darted around the room. "Why do I live? What was my purpose?" She spoke in a whisper, so fast that Haldir barely caught the words. Her jaw took on an iron set. Her hand, lying so sweetly on his thigh, curled in a fist and she weakly struck him where it had lain. "Ramsey, you bastard! It's your fault! All your fault!" Her eyes flitted around until they came to rest on Haldir. Feverishly, she stared him straight in the eye. And smiled. Her hand, hot and fiery, came to his face and stroked his jaw from the bottom of his ear to his chin. "An angel," she breathed. Her finger stroked the earlobe and Haldir almost lost his hold on her at the tingling sensation that jolted down his spine. She continued to stroke the silken lock of hair that had fallen forward. "Duncan, you sent me an angel. A beautiful angel." She looked into his eyes and he could see faint traces of mirth in them behind the fever. Her voice dropped to a mocking level. "My stern angel. So beautiful." She took a deep breath. "And I look like shit!" She closed her eyes and her head dropped.

Haldir gently laid her down and tucked her in. Legolas handed the cup back to him. "I speak the Common Tongue, Haldir, but what is an ‘angel' and what is looking like shit?"

Haldir placed the cup next to the pitcher. "I want to know who Ramsey is." Haldir was shocked at the fury in his voice. Legolas picked up on its tone as well.

He stood up. "And Duncan. She needs rest, my friend. So do you." Legolas turned to leave, but paused at the front opening. "Haldir, you said you were hearing a voice." Haldir nodded. Legolas leaned over and placed his hand on his shoulder. "So was she." Haldir did not hear him leave.

***
<i>
The room is dark and I can smell myself. I sit at the table, across from where Duncan used to sit, but see nothing but the outlines of furniture draped in gloom. I know it has only been four days since I dropped the petals in the dirt, but it seems like forever. My throat closes, sobs cannot break free and I hiccup and choke on the mucus in my throat. I look down and see the white pills lined up, one after the other, strung like pearls. What is left for me? What was my purpose? Nothing but abject misery. I refuse to continue living like this. I feel tears running down my face, sobs finally breaking free from my voice. I sense the strings, the wood, the keys, all calling to me, demanding me to allow them to grieve. I hear the voice of Patrick Ball's harp on my player, repeating over and over. It has played continuously since I returned from the long walk from the sad place. I pick up the first tablet and place it on my tongue.

"Noooooooooo!" That voice! That damned voice! It whispers its refusal to let me be. I pick up the pitcher to pour the water into the glass. Not a drop is within and I am too tired to go to the faucet. I slam it down and take the pill from my mouth and put it back in its spot. Damned empty pitcher!

"You are the empty vessel." Damn right I'm an empty vessel. My sobs start anew. And I'm too tired to finish what Ramsey started.

"He comes. He comes. Wait. Be patient. Change comes. It comes on an arrow. He comes." </i>

***

Haldir jerked awake. She sat in the bed, straight up, staring at the wall. Her breath came in gasps and her hands were clenched on the edge of the quilt.

"My lady..." he started to reach for her and was startled when she yanked the quilt to her chest and jerked back.

"Who are you? Where am I?" She thought for a moment. "Where are my companions from the...cave?" She immediately dropped her voice and squinted in the darkness.

Haldir stood up. Her eyes widened at the dark shadow that towered over her. She had lain fevered for three days, dreaming fitfully and crying out. Between her pleas to allow her to die, calling for Duncan, cursing Ramsey - she had some choice words for that one - and referring to Haldir as "her angel", he was exhausted. He had bathed her repeatedly and dribbled water down her in small drops. One by one, the members of the fellowship had come to see, pay their respects. Legolas had visited the most and his brothers had come several times. He had carried her twice to the table to wash her hair and she no longer stank. Her fever had broken several hours ago and she had slept peacefully until now, when she had shot straight up in the bed.

"My lady..." he began again.

"Lady?" she hissed. She took one look down and realized she was wearing a gown that was not hers. "You know."

"Yes."

He heard her inhale through her teeth. "You undressed me? And saw?"

"Yes. I undressed you. Cut your bindings. Soothed your pains." His voice was neutral, matter-of-fact and to the point.

"Son of a bitch!"

He had heard that particular curse aimed at Ramsey and he did not like it aimed at him. "If you must know, I have undressed you, bathed you, washed your hair, dressed you back in a gown loaned to you by My Lady, have cleaned and sponged you for the last two days. I have washed your clothes and I have been your nursemaid. I have polished your weapons and cleaned your vomit. I have dribbled water and medicines into you and have not left your side in over three days. I have neglected my duties for you and I do not think a request for you to thank me would be out of place!" He lit a small light next to the bed and illuminated the room.

"You!" she hissed. One elegant eyebrow arched up as he looked down at this angry woman.

"Aye. Me." He shrugged.

"Of all the Elves in the woods, I got the cold one!"

Haldir turned and sat back down in the chair where he had spent the past three days. He picked up the book sitting next to it and propped two booted feet on the end of the bed, next to her legs. "Pity," he mused out loud, opening the book "you were so sweet and charming while you were asleep! Called me beautiful, even." He leered at her.

She inhaled, her chest rising. "I did no such thing!" She flung herself back on the pillows and groaned aloud, grabbing her side.

Haldir dropped his book and jumped to her aid immediately. "You have cracked and bruised ribs. Do not move! Let me see-" He pulled the covers back and started to lift her nightdress.

"What the hell are you doing?" She smacked at his hands, small, stinging blows. He tried to grab them, but she was fast, smacking any part of his person she could land her hands.

He thought he would never catch them. He finally captured her wrists. "Please, do not do that. You will only hurt yourself." Large brown eyes glared into his blue ones, her fire burning into the depths of his ice. He spoke in his sternest and coolest voice. "You have been very ill. You have been brought to Caras Galadhon and put under the keeping of my Lady, the Lady Galadriel, Lady of the Wood. I am her vassal and she has put you into my care. You have been very ill and every time..." she started thrashing and kicking. He grabbed her forcefully and clutched her to his chest. Her legs continued to kick. "...every time you thrash out, you take a chance of re-injuring yourself." He lost his temper. "Stop this before I tie you up!" His breath was heaving. She stopped moving.

"You would like that, wouldn't you?" He looked down at the top of her head in amazement. Her face was buried in his chest and her voice was muffled. He could feel her breathing in heavy gasps. What would she know of that? True, he had entered in many kinds of sexual play as a younger elf, sampling all that was available. He had tried it all, enjoyed as many as he could get his hands on, regardless of gender. His skills were renowned and he had been taught well. The truth was, it bored him now. He was restless and seeking some sort of stability and he was not finding it. Yet the thought of tying this spitfire up and... He shook his head to clear it and would have pulled on his braid if he had had a free hand.

"I am not here to harm you. If I turn you loose, will you promise not to strike me?" He looked down at the dark head. She nodded, affirmatively, he hoped. He turned her loose and stood back up. She looked at him with watchful, angry eyes.

"I had no idea you were a woman when I undressed you. Both of my brothers and I were shocked when we removed your..."

"What? There were three? Three of you?" She lay back on the pillows and closed her eyes. Tears welled up under long, sooty, dark eyelashes. "You've had a freaking orgy on my behalf!" She giggled mirthlessly and wiped her nose inelegantly with the back of her hand. "And I missed it! I always miss the good stuff!" Her words were sarcastic, biting. He responded in the only way he knew how.

Arrogantly.

"There was no orgy. When we discovered you were...female, we begged our Lady to give you to another healer. Despite my pleas, she put you in my protection. Totally. Not I, nor anyone else has ... ah ... sampled your substantial wares." Oh, she didn't like that jab! He sat down, feeling strangely guilty at not being satisfied with the verbal sparring. He sighed deeply. "I apologize. We have not started well. May we begin again?"

She glared.

He inhaled. And tried a different tactic.

"Your friends have been quite worried. They have come in several times to check on you, especially Legolas..."

"Legolas?" Her eyes lit up and Haldir felt a stab of jealousy rip through his gut, a feeling he hadn't felt in several hundred years. Why could she not smile at him like that? "Legolas has been here? To see me?"

"Yes. They- " he emphasized the word "-have been worried. Apparently, you showed great courage and skill and they are beholden to you."

"They are still here?" she asked. "They didn't leave me?"

"No, they are still here, but they are leaving in a few hours. In fact, I must go to see to them-" His eyes grew alarmed as she threw back the covers and swung two beautiful legs over the side.

"They can't leave me here! I need to go..." she stood up, swayed and immediately sat back down. The room was spinning and her stomach with it. Haldir reached her and gently grabbed her shoulders.

"I am afraid you are going nowhere, little one." A new voice came from the doorway. She looked up and saw two regal Elves, a male and female, come into the room. They were richly dressed and the lady... The Lady...glowed. Haldir backed up and bowed, hand over his heart. "I am Celeborn and this is my wife, the Lady Galadriel, Lady of the Wood. Welcome to Lothlórien and the Elven City of Caras Galadhon." He gently took her hand. "And you are?"

The question hung in the air. "I am Braun..."

"Braun? What an awful name for a woman. I find this difficult to believe." This came from The Lady Galadriel. She turned to her husband. "If she keeps this act up, I might have to make her weed my garden." The woman looked at Haldir. His eyes were comically wide and he was shaking his head ‘No' to her. She had a feeling it was an old joke among these three.

"My name is Bronwyn." She looked The Lady in the eye and stated clearly as possible, "and for the record, I think I would enjoy weeding your garden."

The Lady smiled a wonderful smile and nodded. "I would think that you would be pleased getting your fingers dirty and smelling the good things from the soil." She took the hand her husband held. "Maybe, when you are feeling better, you and I can sit there and enjoy its delights." Haldir was shocked. Galadriel never invited anyone into her garden for enjoyment. He had always assumed it had been specifically planted for weed pulling punishment! She pulled the chair up close to the bed, to sit closely to Bronwyn. She did not let go of her hand. "I am Galadriel. Child, we know little about you. What do you recall? What can you tell us?"

Bronwyn looked at the three. Galadriel looked calm, serene, Celeborn, while thoughtful, looked almost jovial. The other... she realized she did not know his name, looked...

Well, he looked downright pissed.

She looked back at the lady. "I'm no child. I'm not an Elf," The Elf in the back smirked as if to say, ‘That's no lie!' "-and I'm not a Dwarf. I don't think I'm a Sorcerer. I'm 38 years old in my time and... and..." Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked onto the compassionate nature of The Lady "...and I'm not from here...and...something hurts. " She put her hand over her heart. "It hurts and I want to just die so it will go away. I don't know how I know what I know, I just know that I know it." She looked at Lord Celeborn. "I'm sorry. That didn't make sense. I just know I woke up in a nightmare and when I awoke again this...this..tall, overbearing person has said he is taking care of me and I don't know who he is or where I am." She gestured to the tall Elf. "The only people I know are leaving and I wish to go with them." She pleaded with the Lady. "I feel so empty, poured out. I need to leave with them." she whispered.

"I am sorry for your distress, Bronwyn. Their quest is not yours. Where they are going, there is much danger and not all will make it to the end. You have other things to deal with and they cannot help you reach your goal." She stood up and turned to Haldir.

"Has she spoken in her sleep? What has she said?" The Lady had reverted to their Elven language and Bronwyn could not understand what was being said. It vexed her. The tall Elf rapidly shot back at The Lady in the same sing-song language.

"Yes, she chatters like a magpie in her sleep. She continually called out to one man, begged him to let her die, let her come with him, not to leave her. She cursed yet another in language that would singe even Sauron's ears!. She fought and kicked and spat. And she would wake up and call me "beautiful". The tall Elf turned his gaze on her. "She is quite lovely when she is asleep." His voice deepened. "Would that she would stay that way!"

Galadriel laughed, a tinkling sound, and turned back to Bronwyn. She kissed her on the forehead. "This tall person is Haldir. He is the March Warden of the Northern Fences, the highest ranking servant in my husband's household and service and is well thought of and beloved. And yes, he is over-bearing." She patted her hand. "Keep him in his place!" She turned and beckoned to Celeborn. "Your friends will come to see you before they leave. I am afraid we will need to borrow Haldir for the leave-taking, but it will only be for a short while. You rest." The two left the talan, like water gently rolling in the brook. Bronwyn looked at Haldir.

"You know, it is considered rude to talk about people in front of them when they can't understand!"

Haldir looked down on her disdainfully. "She said your ears are ugly. I defended you. You should be hungry. I will get you some food." He strode out of the room.

"Liar!"

***

Celeborn held the hand of his Lady Wife as they strode back to their talan.

"You enjoyed holding her hand."

He was not surprised that she had picked up on that. "Yes, I did."


"Do you wish more?"

He smiled and stopped, never turning loose of her hand. "She is not for me, not to sample, not to anything. She is fire and powerful and will take all of her intended's attention to keep up with, which I can not give. Besides, I am happy with our relationship as it is now. At this time, I have no desire to repeat past performances or fantasies with any but you."

His wife smiled serenely at him. "Once she embraces her destiny and Haldir gets off of his brooding rock, they will be consumed with each other and their destiny. The world will fall back into the place it should never have slipped out of."

They resumed their walk. "Besides," he whispered, conspiratorially, "If I DID try anything, Haldir would kill me!" Galadriel's laugh could be heard through out the forest.

***

To be continued...
***
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