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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
Chapter 1 - Demons in the Dark or Yuk it up!
Eyes snap open wide, jolted out of a troubled revere. The warrior awoke, startled being a better word, as true sleep never comes to this wretched smelly place, to voices coming into the hall. Voices speaking a language that was understandable.

"No! No!" A deep, voice roared into the chamber. The sound of several pairs of boots were heard running. The warrior did everything in his power to attach himself to the back of the well, where the skeleton perched, in attempt to make himself as small as possible.

I understand them, he thought to himself. They cannot be like the night creatures that sound like wild pigs.

"‘It is time. You must show yourself"

The warrior shook his head. What if they were aligned with the creatures? What if they didn't want company? What if this place was supposed to be secret? Sacred even? What if the warrior was trespassing? Too many what ifs. He listened carefully. Another voice, an older voice and the sound of dust falling.

"The drums... we can not get out, they are coming."

Aaaaah. An old man was reading from the book that the warrior had not been able to make heads or tails of. Intelligence. That was always a good sign.

"‘It is time. You must show yourself!"

The voice, always that insistent voice. Why does it not cease? The warrior put his hands to his ears in an attempt to block it out. And jumped at the loud sudden bang that went on. And on and on
.
"Fool of a Took!" The old man again. The sound of a book slamming shut.

The warrior forced his breathing to still. No gasping, no gasping you idiot!

"It is time. Stand up. Prove yourself! Become the vessel!"

Drums in the background, the voice was becoming more and more forceful. And then...The nightmare creatures. The warrior heard them, had heard them for days, scuttling like cockroaches, and had hidden and slowly moved forward from room to room in this forsaken cave, never finding a way out. He heard swords being unleashed, he heard a voice call out "They have a cave troll." It was a droll voice, full of sarcastic humor.

"Now. Stand now!" Well, what the hell. Today was just as good as any to die. Deep down, the warrior wanted to die, but dying with a group, fighting for what... well, whatever, was much more desirable than dying alone. The warrior slowly stood up, straightened the dented helmet he had found and turned to face the doorway.

On the other side of the well were four children, curly haired and barefoot. Large bare feet. In front of them, what seemed to be an elderly gentleman in grey robes. Ah, the man who read the book. Three men stood in front, two of them in heavy padded coats and arms and dark, while the third was in leggings and tunic, slender with long blonde hair and...pointed ears. Pointed ears? I remember children's stories that Nana read to me about elves, fairies, and brownies, but they were diminutive...

A ninth being, short, stocky, in heavy armor and an impressive beard stood on the tomb, battle-axe in hand. His voice was guttural and low. Growling like a bear. None had noticed the warrior that stood behind them. A Battle Dwarf... a noble group to die with.

The door had been blocked with several long battle-axes, but the nightmare creatures quickly hacked through it. The blond quickly began to shoot arrows through holes in the door and squeals of pain could be heard. The warrior had never seen anyone move as quickly as the Elf. The doors broke down and swarms of the creatures streamed through. Yelling escalated as the others drew swords and rushed into the fray.

The warrior climbed and straddled the well that the skeleton had just taken its final trip down and balanced on his toes. Eyes narrowed at the chaotic scene unfolding in front of him and his hands went to his hips. There, holstered in black leather, were two black knives. He withdrew them, spun them around his fingers and gripped the handles.

A large creature had burst through the doors, taking out what was left of the door and much of the stone surrounding it. It held a large mallet and immediately made a beeline for one of the children. More of the other creatures streamed through the doorway. The warrior eyeballed one and threw both knives in tandem with each other. They hit, connected, buried to the hilt in the neck of the foremost creature. As they entered, in his mind's eye, he could hear a metal click very clearly, as the sides of the knives opened, widening the knife from one inch wide, to five in a three fork prong, nearly decapitating the creature. As it keeled over, the warrior opened his hands, jerked them back. The knives reversed their path and flew back into the hands of the warrior. They retracted and twirled back around his fingers. The Elf was the first to notice the black clad warrior and saw the knives leave the hands of the warrior a second time, strike a creature, and then withdraw, and again a third time. The warrior was as fast with his knives as he was with his bow. At least he is fighting on our side. He turned his attention from the warrior and continued to pelt the troll with arrows.

The warrior continued to bring down creature after creature, clearing openings for the four children, taking out some that were approaching the others from behind. One by one, the creatures were killed, until all that was left was the troll. It didn't go down easy. It appeared to have killed one of the children before it was finally killed by an arrow from the Elf. The others rushed to the child, one of them calling "Frodo, nooooo." The warrior could feel the grief emanating from the group, as he sheathed his knives again and shouldered his backpack. He walked quietly up behind the Elf. He only came to the chest of the tall blonde and realized he was not much taller than the Dwarf.

"What sort of Wizard are you?" the Elf asked him. The warrior choked.

"I'm no Wizard."

The Elf and one of the men looked at him closely.

"You are no Elf either and yet you have knives that answer your command 50 to 60 feet off. " The man smacked the warrior's dented helmet. "Nor are you a Dwarf !" He grabbed the warrior's chin and looked closely. "They are born with beards!"

The warrior jerked away from the man and peered around the Elf. The child - Frodo - appeared to be just shaken up and was showing his shirt of chain mail. Mithril, it's called mithril. The warrior looked closer. He wasn't a child. Frodo looked young, as in his late teens or early 20's, but he was no child. He looked at the others and realized none of them were children.

More war cries came from the hall. "I supposed it was too much to hope we had killed them all," the warrior muttered to himself.

The Elf looked closely at the warrior, noting his youth and taking in the black padded leggings and tunic, dusty with wear, the studded leather gauntlets and grips, the black holster with the knives slung low and easy to reach. A sword was strapped across the youth's back and slung across a shoulder, he appeared to have a bed roll, bulging with Melkor knows what. "You should not go into battle without someone knowing your name." There was dirt across the warrior's face, masking much of his features. His body odor was foul.

"Bron...Braun." the warrior stuttered, obviously attempting to lower his voice. The Elf looked at the man. " My name is Braun." He looked up at the Elf. "And yours? I would not fight alone."

The Elf smiled and it almost melted the heart of the warrior, in its beauty. "I am Legolas. Thank you for seeing to our backs." His right hand went to his heart and he dipped his head. The man, now behind him, clapped him on the shoulder. "I am Boromir and we need to get out of here! I for one do not wish to die today in this dark place."

The group began to run through the hall and into a large entryway. The warrior could see in swift passing the beautiful architecture as he ran by and was pained that he could not stop to admire the exquisite craftsmanship of the arches. He heard the scurrying of millions of crawling bugs and realized that he was hearing thousands of the creatures, coming from all sides, up from the cracks in the floor, and down the sides of the arches. They scurried like rats and surrounded the small group, tighter and tighter, until there was no way out.

Yes, today was as good as any to die.


But it was not meant to be. For out of the deep, a raspy roar and thud shook the hall. The creatures ran in fear and the warrior could have sworn the dwarf acted like he had everything to do with it. The man - Boromir - approached the old man.

"What new devilry is this?"

The old man muttered several things under his breath that only those close could hear. The warrior began to look for ways out of the hall. All paths seemed to lead deeper into the dark. One of them yelled and another took off. All followed. They ran through another doorway, Boromir going first. Braun went through in time to see him teetering over and edge and the elf, Legolas, pull him back on top of himself.

The old man pointed to his left and Braun could see a natural rock bridge leading to what looked like possibly outside light. The group took off down a steep stair, the Elf jumping effortlessly from level to level. Braun could see a section of the stair missing - about ten feet. It's jumpable, he thought to himself. His breath was short and his chest felt tight. They reached the gap and the band could feel the footsteps of the monster above, rocks falling with every footfall.

The Elf went first, leaping gracefully from one side to the other. Humph!, Braun thought to himself. In my next life, I want to be an Elf! The old man went next, and gestured to Braun to leap. Braun jumped, grateful for the firm grip of the old man. As he moved out of the way, he heard the whistle of arrows. Before he could think, the Elf had grabbed his bow and had shot several of the creatures. Boromir leaped with two of the not-children, Halflings, in his arms. Braun saw rubble fall from the other side of the gap, causing it to widen. Arrows were raining from points all over. He grabbed Legolas' arm.

"Give me your bow." The Elf looked at him, dumbfounded. The man threw another Halfling and Boromir caught him. Braun motioned to the other side. "You catch them, I will shoot. My knives will not reach! I promise not to hurt it! " Braun had raised his voice to be heard over the din. The Elf handed him his bow and a handful of arrows. Braun, began to shoot, not as fast as the Elf, but decently enough, grateful to see a body drop with every shot. He heard the Dwarf yell "Not the beard!" and turned in time to see Legolas holding on to him by just that and to see a large boulder fall breaking away more of the stair, making the gap wider. Another boulder cut off the man and Frodo from retreat, leaving them stranded in the middle of the cavern. It did not look good.

"Today is not their day to die...Braun," the voice said in the warrior's head. As Braun watched, the freestanding podium of rock swayed forward and crashed into where the group was standing. Legolas and the old man grabbed the two and the group took off running. Braun was exhausted and breathing heavily. His side hurt and his chest felt bound. He slowed and waited for Legolas and handed the bow back before taking off running again, following the two men.

Coming around the corner, he could see the Bridge. The group never missed a beat rounding the curve, taking off one behind the other over the narrow walk way. Braun reached the other side and was pointed around the corner to a stairway that showed daylight at the top. He turned to look at his newfound comrades.

One by one, they came across the causeway. Boromir and the other man were across, then himself, three of the halflings, and the dwarf, Frodo, followed by Legolas. The old man came halfway across and stopped. He turned to face the Demon following them down.

Braun had seen all the monsters he cared to see in his short remembrance of life so far and had headed straight to the opening of light. He began to motion the halflings up the stairs. One by one, they looked at him as if he were a ghost, just now realizing he was there. Legolas ran up next to him, motioning him to go, but he was rooted. Legolas turned to look at what had captured his attention.

The old man had lit up the darkness with his staff. One minute he was there, the next, he and the Demon were gone, falling over the side. Legolas shoved Braun up the stairs. "Go! Go!" Screaming ensued, Boromir passed Braun, carrying a struggling Frodo. Again, he heard the whistling of arrows, as Aragon came around the corner ducking flying missiles. Braun took off running, not stopping until he was well away from the cave entrance. He sat on a rock, looking at the devastated party. Apparently, the old man was beloved and cherished.

Just like Duncan. Just like Ramsey.

Braun's head shot up. Unwelcome memories swirled in the back of his head and he did not want to consider them right now. They were not yet safe. The elf and the man began to rouse the halflings from their grief and push them forward. Boromir argued over the seeming lack of caring the man had for the group.

"By nightfall, this area will be fair teeming with orcs. We must get to the Forest of Lothlórien." Orcs. Those creatures have names? A person learns something new everyday. Braun looked to Legolas, hoping to walk with him and ask him questions, but Legolas looked devastated from the old man's death. Almost as if he didn't know or had ever seen death.

"You didn't handle it any better...Braun." While the voice talked, it seemed to be particularly amused when saying his name. Well, it was his name. For now. He trudged ahead, following the group.

The other man walked up to him. "I am Aragorn and Legolas tells me you saved our backs in there." Braun nodded yes. "You are...Braun." He nodded again. He motioned for him to follow and he set off at a quick pace.

"How long have you been in the Mines?"

"I don't know."

Aragorn looked at him from the side. "You don't know? What do you mean, you don't know?

Braun didn't look up; he kept trudging along. "It means I don't know." His stomach began to churn.

"Where are you from?"

A moment of silence. "I don't know."

The Dwarf spoke up. "Well! You're a veritable fount of information, young warrior! What do you know?"

Braun was quiet. He felt tears well up and he was NOT about to lose it in front of these Men, Halflings, this Dwarf or the beautiful Elf. He swallowed hard, tried to calm his stomach. "Not much of anything, in all honesty!" he gritted through his teeth. He stopped and turned and coldly stared the Dwarf down. "I don't know who I am, where I came from, where I've been, who I've been with. I don't know where I got these knives, or why they work the way they do and I don't know where I got these clothes. I don't know when I ate a real meal last. The furthest back I can remember is waking up in that cold, dead, dark place you call a mine and I have no idea how long I was there!" His stomach was doing somersaults

"Stand firm. Become the empty vessel. The water comes to fill you. Stand firm."

"And!..." he raised his voice and leaned towards the Dwarf, "I have this voice in my head that won't shut up and won't leave me alone!" He exhaled and leaned back. "My stomach and side pains me greatly and I'm tired." He stared off at the forest, not seeing the Dwarf take his hands of the battle axe. "And I want to die. I don't know why, but I want to die."

Legolas put his hand on Braun's shoulder. "Don't mind Gimli." He smiled at the Dwarf. "He's...well...a Dwarf. " Legolas looked at Gimli, daring him silently to say another word. "Here, look, you have not met the Hobbits. This is Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo." He pointed to the Halflings...the Hobbits. "We are on a journey. I, for one don't mind if you join us a little ways. I always feel comfortable with another armed man at my back." He looked into the sky. "Aragorn, the sun is moving swiftly and there is restlessness in the mines. We need to move quickly." He set off ahead. Aragorn looked closely at the youth. His face showed no signs of a beard, not even the first scratchings of manhood. Yet, he was tall enough to be one. His voice wasn't right either. There was something about Master Braun and he was going to find out what it was. "Well, until you remember anything, you may journey with us. You may leave our party at anytime and not feel guilty. I join Legolas, in thanking you for your weapon skills." He set off walking next to Braun. "Are you sure you aren't a wizard?"

Braun took a deep breath and exhaled. "Honest, Master Aragorn, I have no idea what I am or even who I am. I just know my name is...Braun...," he had difficulty saying it, " and that I awoke days to weeks ago in that God-forsaken hole. What I wouldn't give for a peaceful night's sleep." The others nodded with him.

They walked mostly in silence the rest of the day, sometimes, jogged. Gimli, the Dwarf spoke to the Hobbits quite a bit, but for the most part, they left him alone with his thoughts. Braun spent the time ignoring his thoughts, squashing them, and trying desperately to quell his gut. Close to sundown, they entered the forest. The breeze was cool and sweet and Braun immediately noticed that even though Legolas seemed on one level to be relieved from being out of the open field, nevertheless, on another level to be more on guard. Braun supposed Orcs had more hiding places in the woods and wondered if that was the case, why they bothered coming into it. Gimli was telling the Hobbits some fanciful story about an Elf Witch. He watched Legolas' eyes roll in exasperation.

"Don't worry, I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox..." and almost impaled himself on two notched arrows.

Braun himself found him facing three archers. He looked closely in the dimming light and discovered they were Elves. Tall, angelic, and blonde, like Legolas. And then heard the coldest voice he had ever heard.

"The Dwarf breathes so loud, we could have shot him in the dark!" Braun looked up into the murky blue depths of the eyes that matched the frigid voice.

He was exquisite. Like the others, he was tall and had the most striking head of hair, Braun had ever seen on a man...male. He had a long, proud nose; his mouth was set in a grim thin line. His eyebrows were high and almost delicately arched. But unlike them, he was filled out, muscular. His arms and shoulders were barely restrained by his tunics. This one radiated sheer power! "You are the vessel. He is the water. Let him fill you..." Braun looked at the Elf with the bow nearest his nose and discovered that he was looking at him in amusement. He blushed and jerked his head down. "He thinks I'm one of those...those..." His stomach jolted dangerously.

The Elf looked up with a jerk and scanned the company. "She is here, hear her weeping? She is here. Fill the vessel. Fill her..." He snorted in disgust. There was no female here. Not unless you counted two of his archers. And he did not count them.

The Elf, Legolas and Aragorn carried on a long drawn out conversation that Braun did not understand. Apparently, Gimli had insulted the Elf and the Elf was mightily rude to Frodo, thinking Frodo had something he should not have. Although most of the elves had stood down, those on the outer edge still had their arrows notched. The one who had looked at him in amusement stood in front of him and asked him a question, his fellow Elves laughing. Braun continued to look down, with his hands clenched around his stomach; its contents rolling unpleasantly. The Elf repeated his question, much to the amusement of his buddies. Braun looked up.

"Sir, please step back. I'm going to be sick." Boromir looked up from his conversation with Frodo. The Elf did not move, so Braun stepped back.

The Elf stepped forward. And spoke again. Sternly. Braun looked up again. He could feel sweat pouring down his face from underneath the battered Dwarf helmet.

"Sir, I beseech you, please step back. I'm going to be sick." Braun backed up again. The Elf scowled and stepped forward. Boromir stood up and started towards him.

And the thing that Braun had fought for hours, happened. He emptied the contents of his stomach on the soft boots of the Elf.

He jumped back yelling, shaking his feet. Three other Elves came to that one's rescue. Braun, in the meantime had fallen to his knees, stomach convulsing, chest and sides tightening. He was aware of someone standing behind him; Boromir?. He- Boromir-had yanked off the pitifully abused helmet and was literally holding him up by the matted hair of his head, to keep him from falling over into his retchings. He was barely conscious. Through a haze, he could see the haughty Elf standing in front of him, just out of spewing reach.

"And what of this one? He did not start with you!" He took the edge of his bow and lifted Braun's face, thick mucused drool dribbling down his chin. "He is a beardless boy. How did you become saddled with him?"

Legolas clutched his arm. "He was lost in the mines. He does not know how long he's been there or who he is. He is lightning with those knives at his side and he protected our backs. He is almost as skilled at the bow as he is with the knives. His skill is neither of Man, nor natural in anyway. Haldir, he saved our lives!"

The Elf - Haldir - looked at Legolas. And sneered. "This pitiful scrap saved your lives?" His voice dropped to a whisper. "Are you losing your touch, Prince of Mirkwood?" He smiled grimly. "Your father would be so disappointed..."

Aragorn touched Haldir's other arm. "He's a boy. Just a boy. His skill is impressive, but I feel he had his first kill today. And he had many. And they were Orc kills. Those would cause a grown man to become squeamish. And he didn't sick up until now. "

Haldir looked at the boy, who was on the verge of passing out, tears running down the grimy face. He looked at Aragorn. He whispered out loud, "A child, playing too dangerous an adult game." He spoke up slightly louder. " I can smell him from here!" Boromir growled. "Damn you, you can smell all of us from there. He was in that tomb for days!"

Haldir looked at the Elf scrapping his boots in the grass and one other. "There is no time to heal him here. Orophin, Rúmil, drape him over your shoulders and carry him." He turned to go. The one that Braun had vomited on began to argue.

"Look Haldir, I do not give a Warg's ass if you are my commander or my brother, but that boy just dropped his stomach all over my boots! And he stinks to the sky! You certainly cannot expect me to..."

Haldir stopped and looked at his brother. "I can expect you to and I do expect you to! You will do as I say. If the stench is too much to bear, make a stretcher for him and drag him behind you." His brother began to argue at the insensitivity and cruelty of that gesture. "I care not! We cannot leave him here. And we have no way to clean him up. He will have to go as he is!" And with that he strode off up the hill. "A healer will deal with him when we get there," he spat over his shoulder.

The party slowly made its way to the fabled city of Caras Galadhon. Rúmil and Orophin, each with an arm draped over the shoulders, literally carried Braun the entire way. The stench was so foul, Orophin spewed twice on the way, while Rumil gagged as well. Orophin's current lover, Alilian, carried the satchel Braun had had on his back.

"It is quite heavy." she confessed to him at one point, staying upwind of him. "It is like he is carrying his whole world in this roll." She turned it over at a resting point. She smiled. "Oh look, Orophin, there's a small animal tucked into the cord here." She turned it to show Orophin and Rúmil the small care-worn teddy bear tucked into the tied strings of the roll.

"What manner of animal is that?" Orophin mused leaning back to get a whiff of fresh air.

"Shades of Hwest!" Rúmil whispered as Orophin elbowed him in the ribs. "He must be younger than we thought." He looked at the boy with renewed respect. "Anyway of getting a closer look at those knives?"

"Absolutely not." Orophin exclaimed. "Every time I get near them, he starts coughing and gagging and I vomit." He looked over to his brother and nodded towards Haldir. "What has got him in a mood? He is normally testy and cantankerous, but this is worse than usual."

Alilian looked at him crossly. "Are you deaf? Did you not hear the wondrous news? He finally took a stand with Liandrien and told her she was nothing more than a bed partner!" Rúmil's eyebrows shot up. "Apparently, she was pressuring him to become her life mate and he..."

"Took offense to it?" Orophin stood up and stretched his back.

"Oh, mightily! Also, apparently, he knows out about the little party the three of you had that time he went patrolling by himself some years back." She smirked at Orophin. "I knew he would find out about that."

"Aye," Rúmil laughed. "But it was so much fun!"

Alilian looked at Haldir sadly. "She is not worthy of him."

Orophin felt a brief attack of jealousy. " You are not attracted or feeling sorry for my brother, are you?" His eyes searched those of his lover. She was the only one he had refused to share and he was becoming very possessive of her.

Alilian looked at her lover. "Me? Attracted to Haldir the Arrogant? Me? Feel sorry for Haldir the Haughty? Not for the Blessed Stones would I want to take on your brother, not even for an hour! His life partner..." she paused in thought, "His life partner, if he ever gets one, will be as strong, as arrogant and as stubborn as he is."

Rúmil stood up and leaned over Braun to pick up his arm. "And Iluvatar help their children!"

Haldir heard his brothers and Alilian laughing over the youth. He knew it was a joke at his expense and he tried to let it go. Deep down, he envied their comradeship and wished that someday, someone would laugh that way with him.

"You are troubled." Legolas looked at him with concern. "No. Why?" Haldir responded quickly - too quickly.

"I have known you too long, my friend. I have been in trouble with you too many times. And you are troubled."

Haldir looked at his brothers again and then down at his friend. "Aye, I am burdened. Changes are coming; you bring evil into our home. So many of our kindred are yearning for the Havens." Legolas sighed. Many of their kin were going home to the Isle and knew it was a matter of time before he would feel it, too. He had hoped his friends would be able to hold out longer and perhaps help in the final battle. Haldir continued. "My parents have been dead for so long. I miss them. My life is in turmoil. I wish desperately for the fellowship my brothers have with their friends and lovers." He looked at Legolas. " I want peace in my life. I wish for my life mate. I want... children."

Legolas laughed. "You want peace and children? Haldir, my friend, you cannot have both, do you not know that? Do you not remember how we were? " Legolas slapped him on the back and turned to go.

"Legolas." Haldir spoke quietly. His friend stopped laughing, hearing the seriousness in the air of his demeanour. "I am hearing voices." He took a deep breath. "I am hearing a voice, Legolas. It is a she, but it is not My Lady. She says "she" is coming. And to embrace the change. Once she said to fill the vessel. I do not know what it means. It frightens me."

Legolas had never seen his friend this agitated, this worn down. "Have you talked to Celeborn?" he inquired.

"And tell him what? That his March Warden is hearing voices? I would be packed off to the West with my hands tied to my sides and two of the ugliest healers to be found as my nurses on the ride back." He ran his fingers through his hair and yanked on his back braid. "No, I have not talked to anyone. Just to you." He walked off over the hill.

As he disappeared from view, Legolas remembered that Braun had said that he was hearing voices too.

The group arrived at Caras Galadhon. There, they traveled up into the reception area of the Lord and Lady of the Wood. Haldir deemed Braun too sick and too smelly to be taken into his Lady's presence and he was left with his brothers at the base of a tree until it was decided what was to be done with him. The Fellowship was dealt with. Lord Celeborn was not happy and the Elves were stunned at the loss of Gandalf. They were sent to separate talans to rest and mourn the loss of the Grey Wizard. Haldir stayed behind as the group moved down the elaborate, curving stairs. Galadriel looked at Haldir and touched her husband on the sleeve. "You are distressed, Haldir." She knew of the incident before he had left and knew more than he imagined about other things. "What do you wish to discuss?" Haldir strained for words - she always made him feel like a child again and he had weeded her garden too many times. "There is another."

"Another?" Celeborn asked. "Nine left Imladris. Gandalf fell and there are eight here. What do you mean there is another?"

Haldir bowed to Celeborn. His Lord, he could talk to easily. "There was another. They found him in the mines. Aragorn and Legolas think he is some sort of wizard, or something not natural. He is a beardless boy with weapon skills not of mere man." Haldir fell silent. For a moment, all that was heard was a single bird in the tree.

"Why have I not met this wonder-youth?" Celeborn asked quietly.

"Because he...he...my pardon, My Lady," he nodded in acknowledgment to Galadriel, before looking back to Celeborn, "My Lord, he is ill and has vomited on Orophin. We have had to carry him all the way." He wrinkled his nose. "He was in the mines for no one knows how long and quite frankly, he reeks of Orc." He bowed to his Lady. "We did not wish to offend..."

"My nose? Haldir! How could you? There is an ill child down there who has shown great bravery and you wish not to offend my nose?" Celeborn raised his eyebrows and stepped back. He had heard this tone from his wife many times before and even been on the wrong end of it a time or two. He did not envy his March Warden. Haldir bowed his head. "My Lady, my apologies, I did not know..."

"You did not know is not an excuse! When was the last time you practiced your healing skills?"

Haldir's head jerked up. "My Lady, it was never my strong..."

"Never mind. You need brushing up! Take the child to your parent's house. It has been empty for some time. That warrior is your responsibility!"

Haldir knew not to argue with his Lady. He looked at Celeborn for some help. He had raised his hands and was shaking his head. "Do not look to me for guidance. She has made up her mind." Haldir knew that he was lost and his mind immediately went to work on how to go about this predicament. He bowed and left the couple.

"My Lady Wife, " Celeborn intoned slowly. "Do you know something you are not telling?" He glanced at his wife.

She glanced back. "That... "warrior"... isn't all he seems to be. That...beardless youth... hides many secrets, even from the true self. That child is Haldir's destiny and he needs to grasp it by the claws and quickly. There is no time."

"No time for what, my beloved?"

Galadriel grasped her husband's hand. "That child is the last vessel. Haldir is the water. They are fire and ice. They will consume each other and live in harmony of sorts." She was quiet for a moment. "Or much knowledge that has been collected and is to be collected will be lost." She looked up into the darkened sky. "It will be a long night for the Fellowship and for our Haldir."

***
Haldir was not in a good mood. He met his brothers at the base of the tree. "This "warrior" is our responsibility. We are to take him to our parent's home and care for him." His voice was clipped, to the point, and brooked no argument. It was very...Haldir.

Rúmil looked at the filthy face. "We cannot put him in our parents bed like this. He needs to be bathed, clean clothes..."

Haldir snorted. "Bathed? He needs to be scrubbed in whiteners and soaps of all kinds and left to soak for a hundred years! We will need sponges and buckets and clean drying cloths. His hair must be washed. We will bathe him, before we put him in a bed. I hope our parents left delouser..."

Alilian watched him pick up Braun's pack and stomp off to the talan, leaving his brothers with Braun. Clearly, she was not welcomed tonight. "Friends, do not let him tie you to this. I was up there. Our Lady said this was his responsibility, not yours."

Orophin looked at her. "I do not mind helping, a little. It is not this one's fault." He lifted Braun and his brother took the other side. Together they carried the unconscious youth to the home of their parents. It was dusty from non-use. The three brothers had not stayed after their parents had died, living first with Galadriel and Celeborn and then upon reaching adulthood, Haldir having his own talan and the two younger brothers were sharing one. They could hear Haldir rustling around in the kitchen, getting the coals warm in the stove and heating water. He looked at them as they brought Braun in. "Put him on the living area floor. I do not want all that filth in our parent's bed." They noticed that absorbent cloths had been piled on the floor. Haldir came into the room and squatted down.

"Well, let us get this miscreant undressed, so we can bathe him." Rumil started on Braun's gauntlets and Orophin pulled off a boot.

"Uh, Haldir?"

Haldir was busy unbuckling the sword and the knives. "What?" He was brusque, short.

"Haldir? Do the males of Man paint their toes?" He looked down at the feet-small, dainty with chipped and battered red toenails.

Rúmil shrugged. "We can ask Boromir or Aragorn. Maybe it is a ritual." Orophin was straining, trying to look at the hands of the youth. They were slender with long fingers. He than began to pull of the other boot. Haldir went to his knees and began to roll up the shirt. It was filthy beyond belief. He peeled it off and threw it towards the door. "UGH! By Morgoth's Chains , he must have slept in that for weeks, it is so rank." He looked down.

"He has been hurt, Haldir. Look." Rúmil was whispering and pointing. Braun's chest was wrapped tightly in wide bands of cloth. The strips went from his underarms to his waist. Haldir looked at his brothers. They were quiet with worry and concern. Haldir whipped his knife out of his boot. "Well let us see how bad this is." He put his arms around Braun, lifted him and propped him up against his shoulder and began to gently slice up the back of the bandages. The boy was not slight, but Haldir was very aware of his immense size in comparison. The bandages fell away one at a time. So intent on his task, he did not hear the gasps of his brothers, as they saw what he could not.

"Haldir." His brother's voice was like a frog croaking. "Haldir... Braun is...Braun is..."

Haldir pulled back and looked at his brother. Rúmil pointed to Braun's chest. Haldir looked down.

And saw two beautifully large, firm, melon shaped breasts.
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