Startled, Legolas dropped to the ground and pressed his back to the tree. He bid the others not to move or speak. The musical sound of laughter floated down from above. Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas was surprised to see tears forming in the girl’s eyes. He had no spare time to consider her feelings, though, as the Elves in the trees called down to him. He and Frodo were to climb up to meet them and hear what news they had, the others were to wait at the base of the tree and stand guard.
Legolas, Frodo and Sam mounted the ladder that was lowered, and started moving upwards, stopping when they reached a flat wooden platform. Here, they were greeted by three Elves who hailed them in Sindarin and in the Common Language. They introduced themselves as Haldir and his brothers, Rumil and Orophin.
“How many came with you to our fair forest?” asked Haldir.
“Eight... no, nine,” Legolas answered, “Myself, Aragorn the Elf-friend, another man, valiant and true, four hobbits and an Elf maiden...” he concluded, with a significant glance at the two hobbits. He had the hope that they could conceal her Dwarvish name a while, as it would raise interesting questions to which they, as yet, had no answers.
“This is all very well, we have knowledge of most of you. Aragorn is well known to the Lady, ” Haldir replied, “An Elf maiden? This news is unexpected, but she will be welcomed here as kin. You have mentioned only eight; you said nine were in your company.”
“The ninth is a dwarf,” Legolas admitted softly.
“A dwarf!” cried Haldir, “ He is not permitted to stay here, Dwarves are forbidden to enter our lands.”
“But,” Frodo protested, “He is a friend of Elrond, and Elrond himself chose him to accompany us... he is faithful and brave.”
At this announcement, the Elves spoke quietly among themselves, and questioned Legolas further. At length, they reached a decision. “Very well,” Haldir said, finally, “though it is against my better judgement, the Dwarf may stay. Provided you and Aragorn watch him closely, and he shall not be permitted to see the forest. He shall wear a blindfold.”
Haldir paused, then continued, “And I would like to know why you travel with an Elf maiden. That strikes me as odd, for many reasons.”
Legolas held his breath, waiting for the questions he could not answer.
“Unfortunately,” Haldir went on, “we have not the time to inquire about her in depth, as your companions are on the ground, and are not safe. You shall all spend the night in the safety of the trees. Tomorrow, we will start walking early.”
Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were invited to stay on the flet, or talan, with the three Wood Elves. The others were asked to stay on the talan in the next tree.
Legolas descended the tree to inform the others of their plans.
Calen had stopped shivering, and she was no longer weary, but she was not comfortable. How did those Elves expect her to sleep on a flat board? She would rather perch on a branch, or, better yet, in her hammock at home. And how could she relax with the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Men watching her when they thought she wasn’t looking? It was very unnerving.
Ignoring the rude stares of the others, she wrapped her cloak and Elven blanket around her body, turned her back to them and feigned sleep. Pretending to sleep, however, did not block out their whispers. Her keen ears caught every word of their muted conversation.
“She is an Elf, did you say, Aragorn?” inquired Boromir softly.
“I believe so,” Aragorn answered, “At least, she appears to be. I have not had the opportunity to question her, but I have no reason to doubt it. Her name is Elven, after all.”
“Yes,” whispered Legolas, “part of it. But what about ...the other half?”
“I do not know,” Aragorn replied quietly, “It certainly sounds like a Dwarvish name. But there may be another explanation.”
The whispers continued for several minutes before Calen sat up and glared at them, “Even though I was taught not to eavesdrop, in this case it is impossible. I was always told it was improper to speak of people behind their backs, especially whilst they are in earshot. I am not in the habit of explaining myself, but I will be more than happy to make an exception to any and all who are interested - tomorrow - provided you let me get some sleep on this worthless plank tonight. I may not be from around here, but where I come from, it is considered courteous to be quiet whilst others attempt to sleep.”
From the other side of the talan came a sincere, “Our apologies, Lady.” Calen nodded, and turned back to once again try to sleep.
A long while later, when they were certain she was asleep, the others resumed their conversation.
“I was under the impression,” Gimli murmured gruffly, on the verge of sleep himself, “that Elves do not require sleep.”
Legolas answered softly, peering through the darkness at the huddled figure, “We do not. Why does she?”
Nenion poked the fire moodily. They had been wandering for over a week, and still had found no clues to indicate in which direction Calen had fled. Though no one said anything about it, and not one of his brothers had looked at him reproachfully, he felt terrible. His last conversation with Calen would not stop ringing in his head.
“You never take anything seriously, Calen,” he said angrily, “and it is going to get you into trouble one day.”
“Your problem,” she retorted, “is that you take everything too seriously. You cannot take a joke, and you are always criticizing me. Why can you not relax? Do you have a stone in your boot?”
“Speaking of which,” he said, reminded, “you have ruined my good boots! Stop acting like a child. Accept responsibility and grow up.”
“Being grown up and being a stick in the swamp are two entirely different things,” she mumbled as she rubbed down her horse, “You need to leave me alone.”
“I wish I could,” he whirled and shouted in her face, “Our family was perfect. And then you came along, Misfit, and became the favourite. Everyone loved you. I would HAPPILY leave you alone! The only problem is - I cannot. You are everywhere I go. Why do you not leave ME alone?”
As soon as he said it, he had regretted it, but it was too late. Trying to retract words is like trying to put a fluffy dandelion back together, once the wind has caught it.
Nenion cringed as he remembered her face: shock, intense pain, tears in those big blue eyes, and then blankness. She had said nothing in response - so unlike her - and had merely finished brushing the horse. Then she curled up in her bedroll and ignored them all. After everyone else was quiet, Nenion was almost certain he heard muffled sobs from her side of the campfire.
In the morning, no one said anything about the crying. Perhaps he had been mistaken. Certainly, there was no sign of tears now. While riding, Calen had been very withdrawn and subdued, speaking only when asked a direct question. Nenion berated himself; he was ruining her adventure. He had tried apologizing, several times in fact, but she had avoided him entirely. He could hardly blame her.
He had been working up the nerve to try again that night when their camp was destroyed by Orcs. Everyone had scrambled for their weapons. In retrospect, Calen should have been taught how to defend herself using something other than her staff. In the ensuing battle, everyone lost track of their niece. Naurion thought he had seen her leap onto the last living horse, and gallop off into the trees, but he could not be certain.
After the fight, they searched the surrounding area. Lindion located her horse, dead, pierced with two or three dozen arrows. Could Calen have escaped? Unharmed? She was not captured, they knew - all the attacking creatures had been slain. Where was she?
Nenion started as a new line of thought occurred to him, ‘What if Calen does not wish to return? Has she used this separation to remove herself from the family?’ He felt sick. What if she was injured, or ill, and thinking he hated her? She was so young, and out in the world, all alone. He would never forgive himself if something happened to her!
Amarion, who had also been thinking, interrupted his thoughts saying, “We are getting nowhere searching for clues. Calen knows how to lose a tracker. If she thinks she is being pursued by those creatures, she will take pains to hide all traces of her journey. We have already searched much of Eastern Mirkwood, and have spoken with several of Mirkwood's guard patrols; neither tactic has earned us news of her whereabouts. Perhaps she ventured to Lothlorien, to see the land of her mother. We will journey thence. If she is there, we will rejoice. If she is not, perhaps our cousins will have suggestions as to where to look. I have sent a message to Thranduil, requesting that he keep an eye out for Calen, and informed him that we will be travelling south.” Brightening, he added, “And just maybe, we will find her on the way.”
Nenion felt strengthened by new resolve; they would look for Calen until she was found. There were no alternatives. He would apologize, and they would all go home. The brothers agreed to begin moving toward Lothlorien at daybreak.