Rúmil hurried down the path from the talan he shared with Orophin and Haldir. He was late for his shift, but that couldn't be helped now. He only hoped that Haldir wasn't too irritated with him. He arrived at the barracks a little out of breath, and quickly changed into the silver-gray uniform of the Guardians. He filled his quiver, strapped it on his back, checked his bow and knives, and grabbed a water skin to fill on his way to his post. He checked the duty roster one last time, silently thanking the Valar that it wasn't his turn in the rotation to serve with Haldir. Well, it wasn't supposed to have been. The duty roster had been changed, Rúmil recognized the heavy hand that had crossed out his name on his regular post and rewritten him into the southern watch, where Haldir himself was posted.
Rúmil grimaced, he should have figured that Haldir would make him pay for being late this morning. To Haldir, this would be one more sign of Rúmil's perceived lack of responsibility. The Chief Guardian would not care why Rúmil was late, only that he was. No, it would not have mattered that Rúmil had spent the last evening in the stable, worrying about one of the new mares. She was about ready to foal for the first time. The grooms and stable hands could have handled it, but the little bay mare was one of Rúmil's favorites. He had spent the night with her, dozing on a clean pile of straw next to her. This hadn't been the first night. In fact, the lack of rest over several nights is the reason he over slept this morning. One of the stable boys had had to shake him awake.
He mounted quickly and set his horse at a quick trot toward the outpost. He was not too far behind Haldir. He knew that because he was almost to the guardian's flet when he passed the two elves he was supposed to relieve. They both gave him sympathetic looks but said nothing. That did not bode well for Rúmil; he knew what Haldir's mood was likely to be—foul. He dismounted and turned the horse loose; it would not run off as the horses of men did. One last lingering sigh, and he climbed up the rope ladder, feeling sure that his doom was near.
Haldir didn't turn around, didn't speak, didn't acknowledge Rúmil's presence at all. Instead, he stood at the edge of the platform, staring south, as if he could see something besides the open plains that bordered the Anduin.
"Do not get too comfortable, brother. You and I are going to venture a bit further today. Lord Celeborn needs information from beyond our borders. We will scout a distance down the river."
"Who will watch this post then?"
"We should be relieved shortly. Get a pack and some water skins ready. We'll be walking."
Rúmil almost protested that he didn't see why they couldn't use horses, but he snapped his mouth shut when he saw the glare being leveled at him. He figured Haldir was already angry enough at him for the day.
As soon as they had packed a few lembas and water, and checked and re-checked their weapons, their replacements had arrived. The two brothers set off, following the river, taking care to be silent and watchful—especially after they crossed the borders out of Lorien.
They walked in silence for a long time. Haldir was still unwilling to tell Rúmil exactly what they were scouting for. They stopped just before nightfall to eat some lembas. There were very few trees around, so they covered themselves with their cloaks, sitting low in the tall grass.
"Haldir?" Rúmil whispered. "Why are we here?"
"Lady Galadriel had tidings of something happening towards Rohan. Perhaps even Isenguard. We will try to ascertain what, if anything is happening. And why were you late today? Rúmil, you know that you cannot continue to be so cavalier in the way you approach your duties. I do not want to remove you from the watches, but I will if you do not show me that you can be trusted."
Rúmil was shocked at how quickly his question changed into another opportunity for Haldir to lecture him. He sighed. "You won't think it's an acceptable reason to be late, so why don't you just think about whatever punishment you want to exact and I'll do it, and we can leave it at that?"
Haldir opened his mouth to say something, but he closed it without speaking. He clearly expected Rúmil to argue. Instead, he got resignation and acceptance. He wasn't sure that he liked that, though to be fair, it also showed some sense of responsibility and of being accountable without excuses. No wonder Rúmil accused him of being hard to please. He wanted his brother to argue with him and stand up for himself, but he wanted the soldier to be responsible. Haldir really shocked Rúmil when he laughed and pulled the younger elf into a hug.
"We'll just consider this little trip your punishment, since you didn't even get advance notice."
Rúmil blinked once, hugged Haldir back and nodded his thanks. They finished eating, then Haldir volunteered to take the first watch.
The second day was much like the first except that the terrain flattened out and the trees thinned even more. Partway through the day, they encountered a wide path of orc tracks, several days old, all seeming to come from Dol Guldur, heading for Isengard. Haldir looked worried for it meant that Isengard was under attack, or something more sinister—Saruman and Dol Guldur were acting as allies.
"We will only travel a bit further south to see if there is increased orc activity in Rohan, then we can go home." Haldir had already confirmed one of the Lady's visions. They really had no need to travel further, but he had a hunch that they would find further evidence of the orcs' origin and destination if they kept going.
Rúmil didn't argue. In fact, he said nothing at all. He was more concerned with the weather than he was with orc tracks, for the moment at least. "Haldir. I think we should look for some shelter. That storm will be upon us in moments. I don't want to get caught here in the open.”
Haldir quickly looked up and nodded. "You're right. That small stand of trees nearer the river will have to do."
Rúmil was not all that thrilled about getting too close to the river right before a storm, but those trees were the only shelter available. They ran for it and reached the copse just before the rain began to pelt down, obscuring the visibility to a bare few arm lengths in front of them. The wind picked up speed as well. As strong as they were, even Haldir and Rúmil found it difficult to stand upright. They both went to crouch down and the unthinkable happened.
A very large branch broke from one of the trees and the gusting wind caught it just right. The branch was being pushed along by the wind and before Haldir could warn Rúmil, he was knocked to his knees, his cloak caught in the smaller branches on the huge limb. Haldir was trying to get to him, to see if he was hurt, but the rain and wind hindered his efforts.
Rúmil tried to stand, but the branch that had knocked him down was still being pushed along the ground by the heavy wind, dragging and bumping him with it. The rain slick ground was making it impossible for Rúmil to dig in and stop himself from being pulled along with the tree limb. He was getting slightly dizzy and disoriented from the constant battering as well. He saw arrows flying out of his quiver as he was rolled along, and he had lost his bow when the tree limb first knocked him off his feet. And he couldn't see Haldir anymore.
Haldir tried to keep his eyes on Rúmil, but the rain and wind made it impossible. He was having trouble just staying on his feet. During a small break in the sheets of rain and wind, Haldir was able to make a little progress towards Rúmil and the tree branch that had captured him. Haldir tried to run, he could see his brother was headed for the high bank of the river, the slick ground and wind making it impossible for Rúmil to get his footing. Haldir started towards the bank when the wind and rain started again, even worse than before.
Haldir bent low, trying to run as the wind whipped around him, the rain making it impossible to see again. He was making some progress, though it didn't feel like it when the wind and rain stopped again. He was leaning, fighting the wind, so that it's sudden absence made him fall off balance. The slippery ground didn't help either. He finally got himself upright again, and spied Rúmil, still caught in the tree branch, right on the edge of the river. Haldir started running. He got there just in time to see the bank give way under the combined weight of his brother and the heavy tree limb.
Haldir heard the splash as Rúmil hit the water. He carefully peered over the edge, but Rúmil was far downstream already, the swift current, swollen by the rain, had the elf firmly in its grasp. Haldir ran along side but realized that he'd never keep up. He called out to Rúmil, who could barely hear him over the rush of the water.
"Rúmil! I'm right behind you! Try to get to the shore!"
Rúmil waved to show he was physically fine,
and that he'd heard. He was calmly trying to get out of his cloak, hopefully
before the tree limb was dragged under water and him with it. As Rúmil
sped out of sight, Haldir ran along the banks, hoping to catch up soon.
< > < > < >
Rúmil was soon out of sight in the fast flowing current. Haldir slowed down and settled into a pace meant for endurance, not speed. Unless something unusual happened, Rúmil would no doubt get out as soon as he could, and where the banks were lower. Haldir was sure he would find his brother sitting along side the river, cursing about his lost bow or ruined cloak. He ran on, fully expecting to catch up to him in the next few minutes.
Rúmil was still being held captive by the tree limb. He finally managed to loose himself from his cloak. He kept hold of the tree limb though, as the current was moving much too fast for him to try and swim for the side. Besides, the banks were still very steep and he would not be able to get out. He wrapped an arm around a smaller branch to keep himself afloat as he struggled to free himself from his broken quiver. He meant to save the straps and buckles, but the quiver itself was ruined. His knives were missing too. He hoped Haldir had picked up his bow at least. If not, the only thing Rúmil had left for weapons was the dagger in his boot. Well, he hoped it was still there.
After he sent the ruined quiver downstream, he started looking for a spot to get out of the water. He knew he could let go of the branch and swim for the side, if only he could find a low enough place to climb out. He was also a little concerned with how far he'd been carried. He hoped Haldir could catch up to him, he wasn't looking forward to being here with no weapons. Rúmil also wanted to get out of the water soon, his legs and feet were numb from the cold.
As the river followed a slight bend, Rúmil saw his chance. The banks were still high, but a tree had been uprooted and it's top was in the river while the roots were still attached to the ground up above. Rúmil had only to steer towards it, let go of his branch, then climb up to the bank. The tree looked to be anchored well by its roots, although the part of it in the water was moving with the swift current. Rúmil realized that he might knock the whole thing loose if he allowed the branch he held onto to hit the floating bridge. He let go, pushing away from it and started swimming for the half-submerged tree.
He reached the tree in a short time but found that it was less steady than it looked from a distance. It was actually just barely hanging on by its roots, and though heavy, it was floating on the top of the water. Rúmil struggled, but almost got on top of it. Then disaster struck. The limb that had started this whole odyssey, which Rúmil thought he'd kicked away, was bearing down on the tree that he was barely clinging to. Of course, Rúmil's boots were slippery and so was the tree. When the troublesome branch hit the floating tree, it knocked Rúmil loose. He hit his head on the waterlogged trunk of the clinging tree, but somehow managed to hang onto the tree.
The branch, having caused it's last bit of mischief, twisted and floated around the hung tree, leaving Rúmil laying along the trunk, trying to pull himself up, just before he blacked out from the knock on the head.
Theodred sighed softly and hoisted his pack and saddle up over his shoulder. He hated to leave his horse here, out in the open, but he was alone and he didn't have even basic tools to bury him or build a cairn. The horse was young, and had spooked at a thunderclap during the storm. Theodred was barely able to keep his seat, but even with his in-born talent with horses, he was unable to stop the horse's terror filled flight across the plain. The animal had stepped into a hole and flipped over, hitting his head, killing him instantly. Theodred was lucky that he'd been able to roll away from the horse so it hadn't landed on him. He marked the place in his mind, hoping to bring some of the warriors back so they could give the animal a proper burial.
Theodred was alone, scouting, when the storm sprang up. His captain, Gareth, had sent him ahead of the Eored to find the spot where the orcs were crossing the Anduin. They planned an ambush, but they wanted to be sure of the path the orcs would be on. He calculated that they wouldn't even start looking for him for at least four days, then two days to reach him on horseback. He adjusted his packs and the saddle and started walking along the river. He could still do the job he'd set out to do; it would just take him longer on foot.
He hiked for the rest of that afternoon then settled on the ground for a quick meal and a light rest. The Riders were a distance out of their territory, but they had need of information, so they had sent a small force out. Once they had the needed information, they would call in reinforcements to ambush the orcs. Theodred knew that when he didn't return in four days, they would come looking for him. He wasn't worried, he had provisions and weapons, and although he would have preferred to have a horse, he could certainly get by without one.
He was walking along the banks when he noticed that a tree had apparently fallen into the river. He walked over and carefully peered over the edge, trying to step lightly since he had no idea if the bank would support his weight. He looked down at the tree and was just about to turn away when he caught sight of a silvery glint coming from the branches. Theodred took a chance and stepped closer, one foot on the bank, the other on the roots of the tree. He could see that it was a person, a woman by the looks of it. Long, silvery blond hair and a slight build. The rider took a deep breath and inched out further along the tree trunk, dropping to his hands and knees, then crawling along on his belly as the trunk narrowed.
The woman had managed to crawl part ways up the trunk, so Theodred thought he could manage carrying—or dragging her back to solid ground. The tree was moving in the still swift current, but it seemed like it would hold. Theodred was able to get a hold on the woman's arms, and he began to pull her up so he could get a better grip on slightly built body. When he had moved her closer to him, he was surprised at how solid she was. She looked small, but from the feel of her, she was quite…strong.
He struggled a bit getting them both back up to solid ground. He took a good look at the woman. She was dressed in a tunic and leggings. Theodred turned her over, on her back to see if he could figure out what attention she needed for injuries. He jumped back when he moved her hair out of her face and saw the pointed ears. Theodred had never seen an elf this closely before. He knew enough about them to realize that this was no woman though, despite the slight build and long hair. This would be one of the elven warriors from Lothlorien. A male elf.
Rúmil groaned as he came to. He felt like he'd been kicked or punched for several hours and he was sure his head needed to explode to feel better. He was lying on the ground, it was dark and there was someone leaning over him. Actually, as he became more aware, he could tell he had his head in the someone's lap.
Theodred smiled down at the drowsy elf.
"No. No Haldir here. I'm Theodred. How do you feel?"
Rúmil was alert enough now to realize that the man had to be from Rohan. Theodred. Surely a common name, for what would the heir to the throne be doing this far from home and seemingly alone? Theodred had rested his hands on Rúmil's shoulders, Rúmil wasn't sure if it was to hold him there or not.
"Uh…sore. And my head hurts. How did I get here? Uh…Where *is* here?"
"We are near the river, in Rohan. You are far from your borders, elf. Why?"
"Scouting." Rúmil decided honesty was the best policy. "The Lady Galadriel has heard tidings of increased orc activity, so my brother and I were sent to check it out. Why are you here all alone?"
"I am scouting as well. The storm frightened my horse and he bolted, stepped into a hole and ended up killing himself and nearly me. Will you be missed soon? My patrol will come looking for me soon but we will not be able to take you back."
Rúmil tried to sit up so Theodred moved his hands, helping the elf to a sitting position. His head still ached and throbbed, but Rúmil felt at a distinct disadvantage lying there, with his head in the man's lap. Theodred waited until Rúmil was sitting up, looking pale but better than he had when he'd fished him off that tree. He was sporting an ugly bruise and a lump on his forehead, but there'd been no permanent injuries as far as he could tell.
Rúmil looked at the young man, and smiled.
"I owe you my thanks, Theodred. The last thing I remember was climbing up that tree then everything got fuzzy and black."
"How exactly did you get *on* that tree? And where is your brother? Um…Haldir?"
Rúmil explained how the storm that killed Theodred's horse had sent Rúmil into the river.
"Haldir should be on his way here. He was running along the banks, hoping to catch up to me at some point. Do you know exactly how far we might be from Lothlorien?"
Rúmil had been trying to figure that out since he woke up resting in Theodred's lap. He didn't travel out of Lorien much, though he'd learned to speak the languages of men and dwarves, due to Haldir's insistence. He was glad of that now. However, he didn't know how far he'd been carried, the speed of the current had disoriented him. It hadn't helped that he wasn't completely sure where he'd been knocked into the water, either.
Theodred shook his head, dark locks just brushing his shoulders. "Not exactly. I've never been there. I would think a few days ride or less."
Rúmil groaned at the thought. A few days ride meant many days on foot. Well, best not think about that until he had to. It was getting dark out, and he was tired. He didn't even have a cloak to wrap up in, but he could handle that. He was more worried now about having to set off across the plains without decent weapons. He startled Theodred when he lunged for his boot, hoping to find his dagger. It was there. He pulled it out to look at it and Theodred jumped up, drawing his sword from its sheath.
Rúmil quickly put the weapon down on the ground and held his hands up, palms facing Theodred.
"My apologies. I have lost my other weapons and wanted to make sure I still had something for defense. I should have warned you."
"Yes, you should have." Theodred sheathed the sword and nodded, sitting back down and pulling the saddlebags to his lap. "I have some food in here, would you like something to eat?"
Rúmil was surprised that Theodred regarded him with so little suspicion. He knew that generally, the men of Rohan had little use for elves, and were slightly intimidated by the Lady Galadriel. They called her a witch sometimes. He was starving though, and nodded. He would have to rely on Theodred's generosity if he didn't want to get stuck here, mostly weaponless, no food and without even a cloak. He tiredly rubbed his eyes, hoping that Haldir might arrive soon.
Rúmil didn't know what the waybread was called, but it reminded him of lembas, only it didn't taste as good. It was filling though, and after a drink of water, shared from Theodred's waterskin, Rúmil realized how tired and sore he really was but he figured he better offer to share watch with the young man.
"Shall I take the first watch?"
Theodred smiled and shook his head no. "I'll wake you later." He rummaged in his packs once more and tossed a cloak to Rúmil. "Here. It's not much, but I'm afraid we'll have to make do."
Rúmil nodded his thanks once more and wrapped up in the cloak before lying down to sleep a little more.
Theodred watched the elf sleep. It was eerie, how he didn't close his eyes, but you could tell when that he was sleeping, or whatever the elves called it. Theodred's hand itched with the urge to touch the soft blond hair. And those lips. If anyone's lips begged for kissing, Rúmil's did. Theodred had nothing against males being with males. He spent most of his time in the company of warriors, and it was nothing new to him. It wasn't something the warriors as a group made public, but when among their own, it was acceptable, even expected. But just because the Rohirrim practiced it, didn't mean the elves did. Theodred couldn't help it though, the elf was beautiful, in a definitely masculine way.
Theodred sat up all night, watching the elf and listening to the night around them. He didn't realize how much he usually relied on his horse to stand watch. He'd have to mention that to Gareth. They should train without the horses sometimes.
When the sun rose the next morning, Rúmil sat up with a groan. He was less pale than he had been, but he still had a nasty bruise above his eye. Theodred offered more of the bread and they both had some water.
"Why didn't you wake me? I would have taken a turn at watch."
"You needed the rest. I can sleep a little today while you watch."
Rúmil looked a little uncomfortable at that. He'd intended to start hiking back upstream, maybe catching up with Haldir sooner. He'd have to borrow food though. And maybe an extra waterskin, if Theodred had one. When he saw how really tired the man was, he thought again. Actually, a day of rest would do him no harm either. He just hoped Haldir wouldn't be too angry.
< > < > < >
Haldir had been hiking downstream for nearly two days. He still hadn't found a place where the banks were low enough that Rúmil could have easily climbed out of the fast moving river. He only hoped that their luck held and they didn't see any orcs. Rúmil was essentially defenseless, as Haldir had been able to retrieve both his bow and his knives; so he knew Rúmil had no weapons save for the small dagger he kept in his boot. Haldir had no choice. He kept walking.
Rúmil stayed the next day and night with Théodred. They talked and laughed and Théodred finished his scouting. He should have started back to his camp, but he didn't want to leave Rúmil out there alone and without decent weapons. He decided to wait until Gareth and the others of his patrol found him. They could even lend Rúmil a horse, give him food and a sword, at least. Rúmil knew he should start walking back upstream, in order to save Haldir some traveling as well. He didn't relish the idea of being practically weaponless; so he let Théodred easily convince him to stay.
They did little besides rest and talk, though they both remained alert for orc activity. Rúmil found Théodred easy to talk to, like his brother Orophin. For his part, Théodred found Rúmil to be understanding of the pressure he was under—despite his young age, he had to be responsible to his soldiers, his father, and his kingdom. He had known, even as a child, that his life would be bound to his people. Everything he did must be for their good. Théodred was glad of this small interlude where he only had himself to watch over. He felt comfortable telling his fears and hopes to Rúmil, who responded in kind.
"I don't know why, but I feel a kinship with you. Perhaps because we share things in common. For I know that Haldir will find some way to blame this on me, or at least, make it seem like I was being his little brother again and did this just to aggravate him."
"Aye. Gareth, the leader of the Éored, he will no doubt make sure that I do not soon forget this. I am just thankful that I will not have to lead these men. I am only second-in-command here, training for the time being. By the time I am in a position to lead them, hopefully, they will not remember all of my mistakes quite so clearly."
Rúmil laughed. "They will if their memories are even a fraction as long as Haldir's. Though you have it worse by far, I would think, being the son of the King. You not only must be a great warrior, but a diplomat as well. And…I would imagine, you must have to look at every woman as a possible wife?"
"I don't even dare think about marriage or children. I wouldn't want anyone to spend her life alone, waiting for me to come back from patrol."
"But your father married. As King, aren't you expected to marry and produce heirs?"
"Of course. Maybe I should say that I don't think about it yet." Théodred paused and looked hard at Rúmil. "Truthfully, I don't think about women much at all." He stopped talking and looked at his hands in his lap. Rúmil saw the faint pink color on his cheeks though.
"I do not think about women either. I have only had one female lover. The others have all been male. And warriors as well."
Théodred looked back up at Rúmil, a little surprised. He didn't know why it would surprise him. Among the Rohirrim, it was not that unusual for two warriors to find comfort with each other. It wasn't something that they flaunted, but even non-warriors understood and accepted the need for it.
"And this is acceptable?"
Rúmil smiled. "Yes. Sometimes, it is even encouraged. The number of males outnumber females 2 or 3 to 1. I don't believe that anyone would wish to doom themselves or others to a solitary life. So yes, males with males is acceptable."
Rúmil paused and looked at the young man. "Théodred?"
"I will be blunt about this, as you are a young man and have no time," Rúmil grinned at Théodred, "Would you like to…take comfort with me? We have done nothing but talk for two days, I think I would like to get to know you more...intimately."
Théodred laughed at Rúmil's not quite innocent face. "Yes, I would also like to know you…intimately." He tipped his face to hide it again. "Though I think you will find me lacking in experience. I fear I will disappoint you."
Rúmil crawled the short distance between them and tipped Théodred's face up with his finger.
"You could not disappoint me. Besides, I owe you something for saving my life. Let me worry about meeting your expectations instead of you meeting mine."
Théodred searched Rúmil's eyes. He read the sincerity there. He licked his lips and smiled. "Then you should consider yourself successful as well."
He started to back away, but Rúmil put both hands on his shoulders to pull him closer and placed a soft kiss on his lips. Théodred leaned into Rúmil, opening his mouth slightly in invitation, which the elf did not decline.
They woke before the sun was too high in the sky, and the cool of the morning air made Théodred press his body closer to Rúmil's under the blanket they had shared. He sat up, startled, when he realized that he had slept the rest of the night; and he hadn't taken his turn at watch. Rúmil pulled him back down for a lingering kiss and a lazy smile. Théodred allowed himself to be covered back up and folded into Rúmil's arms. He questioned the elf though.
"Why didn't you wake me? You did not stay awake all night, did you?"
"You were tired, my love. Besides, I wished to lay here holding you naked in my arms. We have seen nothing of orcs, I thought it safe enough."
Théodred sighed and snuggled closer to Rúmil.
"Gareth will likely be here in a day or so. He'll bring an extra horse, maybe two. I'll give you one, and a sword so you can start back to Lorien."
"I will gratefully accept the sword, or a bow if you have one, but I don't need the horse. I'll likely meet Haldir coming down-river, and he will be on foot, so unless the horse can carry two, I'm afraid it will only create a target for any stray enemies around."
"Yes. Haldir. How could I forget? Well then, perhaps I will send Gareth back for more horses so you can each have one. Have you ever ridden a steed from Rohan?"
Rúmil smiled. He couldn't let this pass.
"Actually, I have. Several times. All last night. He was magnificent."
Théodred blushed and buried his face in Rúmil's chest. "That's not what I meant."
"I know. But I must be honest with you, don't you think?"
Théodred smiled and leaned down to bite one of Rúmil's exposed nipples, causing the elf to gasp and then sigh as he followed the sharp bite with soft strokes of his tongue.
"Well, well, what have we here? Rúmil? I spend DAYS walking, running, worried about you and now I find you lazing about, half-naked….no, totally naked with a….BOY?"
Rúmil sat up, then tried to stand, realized he was still naked, as Haldir had pointed out, so he sat back down again. It wouldn't have mattered much, except that Théodred was still half sitting on his lap. By the time Rúmil sat back down to cover up, Théodred had been unceremoniously dumped to the ground, where he could do nothing but try to hide his face. Rúmil quickly pulled the embarrassed rider back into the circle of his arms and threw the covers back over him.
Haldir stood there, towering over them, his arms crossed over his chest and his fiercest glare concentrated on his brother.
"Well? Have you lost the ability to speak Rúmil? What exactly happened over the last 5 days? The last I saw of you was when you were in the river, half-drowned, weaponless, and unable to get clear of the current. I now find you here, rutting with a human. Answer me!"
"Please calm down, Haldir. I will explain everything—after Théodred and I get dressed. Will that suit?"
Haldir raised an eyebrow upon hearing the human's name. Though few of the Galadhrim traveled, it was well-known who was heir to the throne of Rohan.
"Please, Haldir? Give us a moment?"
Rúmil pleaded again for Haldir to at least turn his back. He finally did so, with a loud sigh to indicate his displeasure. Rúmil and Théodred scrambled to get their clothes back on quickly.
"We're ready, Haldir."
Haldir turned around and kept his arms crossed. He stared hard at Rúmil, making it clear he was angry with him. This time, Rúmil sighed. He reached for Théodred's hand, not really sure who needed the contact more—himself or Théodred. Rúmil related the story of how Théodred had saved him, and why they both decided it was best if they stayed in one spot. Haldir actually saw the sense in that. He gave Rúmil back his bow and knives, though a quiver and arrows would have to wait.
As Rúmil finished his narrative, Haldir did not doubt that he'd left much unsaid. He took a step toward his brother and Théodred, meaning to thank the human for saving Rúmil's life. His grim expression was obviously interpreted as intent to harm or punish Rúmil because Théodred stepped forward, planting himself between the two elves, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.
Both Haldir and Rúmil recognized the move for what it was, Théodred's intention to protect Rúmil, even from his own brother. Haldir's lips twitched upwards, and though he didn't fully smile, the amusement shone in his eyes. He lifted both hands, showing the palms to Théodred.
"I mean you no harm, son of Theoden. In fact, I wish to offer my apologies for having spoken harshly—and my thanks, for saving my brother's life. I hope you will accept both."
Théodred blushed again, he didn't know what he'd been thinking. Haldir wouldn't hurt his own brother. He stammered out something that sounded proper. Rúmil laughed and wrapped his arms around Théodred's waist with a whispered thank you. The three finally relaxed and sat, spending the rest of the day talking of orcs, Saruman, Rohan, Lorien, and horses.
"I've always fancied gray horses. I guess because they're rare." Rúmil almost shyly admitted this to the other two.
"But brown horses blend in better, are more easily camouflaged, especially in the woods, Rúmil. And on the plains as well, aren't they, Théodred?"
"Yes. Though that makes little difference when you have a 100 or more men riding together, as we do. Gray horses are rare—at least in Rohan. Of course, that means they are highly sought. The royal house uses white horses, descended from the Mearas. But if they were to get a gray one, I have no doubt that my father would consider himself blessed to have one." Théodred smiled at Rúmil, then dropped his eyes as he blushed yet again.
As the sun began to set, Haldir abruptly stood. "I'll take first watch." He walked a little ways from the rough camp and turned his back to Rúmil and Théodred.
Rúmil sidled over to Théodred and gently kissed him. "Though I would like to…ride some tonight, I don't think I would be comfortable with Haldir standing guard."
Théodred quickly nodded his agreement, knowing that he wouldn't want Haldir to see anymore than he had earlier that day. Instead, they curled up together under the blankets and spent what would probably be their last night together kissing and holding each other. Haldir woke Rúmil a few hours later for his turn at watch, though he did so reluctantly. He was exhausted from the past few days, and it would be good to sleep a little better, now that he was not alone, but he regretted taking Rúmil away from Théodred. Haldir could see they had become quite close in the past few days. He also knew that they'd probably never see one another again.
Théodred woke Haldir and Rúmil with a smile just as the sun began to rise.
"Gareth will be here soon. I can feel the approach of the éored."
Rúmil cocked his head and closed his eyes. "Yes, I can too. The ground vibrates."
Théodred smiled as he prepared a quick meal for the three of them.
When they finished eating, Haldir announced his intention to go wash in the river. Rúmil and Théodred waited until he was out of hearing distance.
"Rúmil. I don't know that I've ever felt this close to anyone before. I want you to have something of mine, so maybe in a thousand years, you might smile a bit when you think of me." Theodred pulled a silver chain from under his shirt and off over his head. A shiny silver disc hung on it. The disc was stamped with a horse, the emblem of the royal house in Rohan. He hung it around Rúmil's neck before the elf could protest or say anything.
Rúmil blinked back the tears that had come unbidden to his eyes. "And I have something for you as well." He reached under his tunic. Pinned to his undertunic was a mithril leaf. He pinned it to Théodred's cloak. "That is a mallorn leaf, a symbol of Lorien. It will bring you luck—along with memories. You have touched me as well, Théodred. I will never forget you."
Rúmil leaned forward to brush his lips over Théodred's. They stood and turned to face the quickly approaching éored. Haldir joined them just as the horses and riders rode into the makeshift camp. Though the horsemen didn't pull their spears, they made it clear that they were prepared to do so. Gareth stayed on his horse and talked down to Théodred.
"What is this? What happened?" He flicked his eyes between Théodred and the two elves several times. The Rohirrim had heard stories of the elf witch in the Golden Wood and they preferred not to deal with, or think about the elves.
"These are friends, Gareth. Haldir and Rúmil, meet Gareth. They were scouting and the storm trapped Rúmil in the river. I pulled him out. That same storm caused the death of my horse. I knew you would be along soon, so I preferred to wait it out here. Rúmil had no weapons or supplies. Haldir arrived, on foot, yesterday."
Théodred looked over the assembled horses and riders. "Gareth. I would like to speak to you privately."
Gareth's eyebrows shot into his hairline, but he nodded and dismounted.
The two riders stepped away from the group. Though they spoke quietly, it was easy to see they were having a very animated conversation about something—and they didn't agree with each other.
Finally, Gareth threw his hands up in the air and shouted at Théodred's back as he came back to the circle of riders. "Remember, you answer to your King about this on your own!"
Théodred merely shrugged and walked to the back of the éored. He chose two of the spare horses, one each for Haldir and Rúmil; then a third one for himself. He smiled as he handed a dark gray, almost black, mare to Rúmil. Haldir got a dark brown gelding. He turned the horses so they stood between the three of them and the éored.
He dropped the reins of the horses and pulled Rúmil into a tight hug. He lightly touched the mithril leaf pin and whispered to the elf. "I will never forget you. In fact, I may have to visit the Golden Wood sometime. Perhaps when the new crop of foals arrive in the spring."
Rúmil laughed and hugged him back. "I would like that. Until next spring then." Rúmil planted a last quick kiss to Théodred's lips, then he mounted.
Theodred waited until the two elves had ridden out of sight before he saddled his own horse and rode home with the éored.
At first, Haldir was the only one who knew where Rúmil went every spring. Everyone guessed though, when he began bringing back gray foals—horses from the Rohirrim. In return, he took weapons and clothing of the Galadhrim. Every spring for nearly twenty years, they met. The year the fellowship arrived in Lorien, however, Rúmil couldn't get away. He later found out that Théodred hadn't made the trip either.
When Lord Celeborn decided to abandon Lorien in favor of Imladris, Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin went with him. Before they left though, Rúmil rode alone, on a gray horse, to Edoras. He stood alone by a tomb covered with simbelmynë. When he left, he had two of the small white blossoms wrapped in a cloth, pressed close to his heart. In return, he left a silver disc with a horse stamped on it. He hung it next to the mithril leaf pin inlaid in the tombstone.
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