The sun was barely up, and mist was still floating above the ground when the Elves woke the Fellowship. Most of the Fellowship, that is; Calen lay on the talan still deep in sleep, while the rest of the company waited at the base of the trees. Finally, Aragorn decided she would need to be awakened. After the reprimand she had given them night before, and the fact that the hobbits were glad to be out of the tree, no one was eager to volunteer. Legolas was chosen, as he could climb the tree the swiftest.
Since the Elves were eager to be on the move, he mounted the ladder once again. The sound of soft snores met his ears before he reached the top. Mounting the platform, he saw her on the far side, curled away from him. He walked over to her tentatively.
Leaning over the sleeping figure, he rolled her from her side onto her back. He then noticed her face was streaked with dried tears. This was the third time he had noticed tears or their traces. What would cause her enough pain to cry? She seemed so angry yesterday. Was it their conversation last night? Guilt washed through him, and he was ashamed of his behaviour towards this lost maiden. She had obviously been through much already, and the attitudes of the company had not made her feel welcome.
These thoughts gentled his hands and voice as he called to her, "Lady Calen, we must be on our way now. The sun is up, and we have far to go." She did not stir.
He tried calling a little louder, "Mistress, it is time to leave. The others are waiting." And he reached down, gently shaking her shoulders.
Still the woman made no motion. Frustration began to mount. He had no wish to be abrupt, but they were losing time. He sat her up, knelt before her, nose to nose, and shouted, "Lady Calen, wake up!"
Instantly her head snapped up, eyes wide and she jerked out of his grasp, all but falling off the talan. Legolas lunged, and caught her by the hand. As he shifted his balance to pull her back, Calen dangled high above the ground, eyes wide, making no sound. He slowly drew her in, then held her close for a minute, steadying her. Satisfied she was awake enough to balance, he released her. Shaking a little, she stepped back and looked up at him.
"Well," she said with a weak smile, "that is one way to get my attention," leaving it open to question whether she meant the near-fall or the rescue.
Still holding onto his forearm, she leaned cautiously over the edge and muttered, half under her breath, "Why would anyone in their right mind want to sleep up so high? One wrong step and splat" Turning back to Legolas, she said groggily, "I gather it is time to leave?"
At his nod, she released his arm and set about collecting her cloak and staff. Her blanket she folded quickly and tucked into her bag, which she then slung over her head to the opposite shoulder and she slipped her staff between her cloak and her dress, through the belt in the back. She rubbed her face vigorously with both hands, as if trying to clear the cobwebs in her head. Taking a breath, she set her shoulders, mounted the ladder and started her descent. Legolas noticed she did not look down.
When Calen had reached the midpoint, she looked up at him and gave him a half smile. "I forgot to say thank you," she said softly, "and good morning." Smiling in return, he waited till she had reached the ground before descending himself. On the way down a thought occurred to him.
Legolas dropped the remaining three metres and landed silently beside Calen, Merry and Pippin. The two Hobbits jumped at his sudden reappearance, but Calen did not seem to notice. She was too busy looking around at the trees and Nimrodel to pay attention to much else. He tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. She started, and whirled around to face him, eyes wide.
Legolas spoke quietly in her ear, "Lady Calen, I would have a word with you."
Calen looked up at him, saw a deadly seriousness in his eyes, and merely nodded her assent. Glancing around to ensure they were not observed, Legolas began walking away from the group, leaving Calen to follow as she would. She assured herself that everyone was busy re-packing their bags and quietly walked in the direction she had seen Legolas go.
She found him leaning casually against a mallorn tree studying one of his arrowheads. Suddenly nervous, Calen's steps slowed as she approached. Though she made no sound, he looked up while she was still several paces away. Motioning for her to move closer and he put the arrow back in his quiver. She closed the distance between them with an economy of steps, and waited, motionless, for him to speak.
Looking down at her, he was struck anew by her youthful appearance. Her braids were still tousled from slumber and her cheek had sleep-lines pressed in it. She could not be far past the age of majority, yet here she was, alone and lost in the world, not knowing what had happened to her family. He felt the sudden desire to keep her safe and protected. She blinked, and the moment passed.
Regretting that he had replaced his arrow and no longer had something with which to employ his hands, he tensed, took a deep breath and began. "Lady Calen, I do not know who you are. Nor do I know why you are truly here. And," he said, with an abrupt hand gesture, forestalling her explanation, "nor is it my desire to know... at the moment. If you indeed wish to meet with the Elves of Lothlórien, I would give you some advice..." Here, Legolas paused, trying to gauge her reaction. Her face showed nothing but courteous attention. Slightly encouraged, he took a deep breath and said, "I suggest that you keep secret your Dwarven name as long as possible."
Legolas felt both better and worse having said his piece; better because he had finished, worse because of the hurt, then anger reflected in her eyes.
Calen was dumbfounded. She glanced down at her hands and thought hard. 'Would the Elves be so narrowminded as to let a name bother them?' she thought, 'Or, was it what the name represented?' Either way, he was right. She would not mention her name. But it galled her to have the elf suggest that her family was anything less than acceptable. Legolas shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting for her response, but also preparing to return to the Fellowship. Calen shook herself.
Without touching him, avoiding eye contact, she said stoically, "You speak with wisdom, Master Elf. I thank you for the well meant advice. Perhaps we should return to your companions before we are missed?" Without waiting to see if he agreed, she turned on her heel and, as silently as she had come, walked briskly back to rejoin Merry and Pippin at the base of the tree. She did not look back to acknowledge Legolas' presence, but neither did she seem to recognize the others around her.
Legolas stifled a sigh, watching her retreating form. She was angry with him. Regrettable, to be sure, but a necessary evil. She did not realize the full extent of the dangers around her. Pushing down still more unanswered questions about this strange maiden, he shook his head and slipped back to the group unnoticed.
After counting heads to assure himself that everyone was present, Aragorn nodded to Haldir and Rúmil, who led the Fellowship down a path littered with Orc footprints. Soon, Haldir veered off the path and walked to the bank of a river.
"On the other side of the river is another Elf," Haldir stated, "though he is well hidden."
With that, Haldir whistled softly and another grey cloaked Elf stepped out of a grove of trees. His hood was pushed back from his head, and in the sunshine, his blond hair shone brightly. With practiced ease, Haldir tossed a coil of grey rope to the opposite shore. Catching it skillfully, the other Elf secured it around the base of a strong tree.
"The stream, Celebrant, is quite strong, running deep and swift, and is very cold," Haldir continued, "This far north, we do not enter it unless we must. And in these dark days, we make no bridges. We cross the river in this manner."
Having said that, Haldir fastened his end of the rope to a nearby tree and hopped nimbly onto the makeshift bridge. Then, as on a road, he ran to the far shore and back.
"This is all very well for me, and perhaps the Lady, here," Legolas said, "but I am afraid the others have not this ability. Are they expected to swim?"
"No," Haldir answered, "here are two more ropes. We will make them fast; one at waist height and the other at shoulder height. If they hold these ropes, your companions should be able to cross carefully."
Calen looked at the flimsy bridge and wondered if she was awake enough to balance properly. Her head ached slightly and her thoughts moved slowly.
"Oh," she muttered, "I would kill for maltakáno right now."
Having overheard her comment, Merry and Pippin edged cautiously away.
"Merry," Pippin whispered worriedly, "who is Maltakáno?"
"I don't know," Merry answered, eyeing Calen warily, "I am less concerned with who he is, and more concerned with who and why she would kill for him."
Calen laughed softly. "You are most certainly mistaken, little masters," she said with a gentle smile, "Maltakáno is a 'what,' not a 'who.' It is an aromatic beverage, usually served hot. It goes best with hot cakes and sausages, or a sweet cake after supper."
This comment, while it served to alleviate the Hobbits fears, reminded them that they had missed breakfast, and they both fell silent.
While they were talking, the group started across the river, one by one. Boromir gestured politely for Calen to precede him and she nodded her thanks. Taking a deep breath, she put one foot on the rope, and then the other. To her surprise, the action took almost no effort. Pleased with herself, she lifted her eyes from the rope to the opposite bank, only to find herself under scrutiny.
Haldir, Legolas, and Aragorn were all watching her intently, although they tried to mask it with differing degrees of patience. Unused to such attention, she became flustered and nearly lost her footing. Instantly, Haldir leaned over and whispered in Legolas' ear. Without taking his eyes off her, Legolas shrugged slightly in response. Feeling her face flame, she regained her balance and made her way quickly and without further mishap, to the other side.
As she waited for the Boromir and the Hobbits to cross the river, Calen tried to ignore the stares of the others by looking around at the trees. They were beautiful, more beautiful than she could have possibly imagined. She was very much looking forward to the walk to Caras Galadhon.
Once everyone had crossed the river, the elves untied their ropes and coiled the up again; two ropes stayed on their side, and Rúmil, having stayed on the far bank, kept the third with him. With a wave of his hand, he turned to walk back to Nimrodel, to stand guard.
"Friends," Haldir said, "you have entered the Gore, as you call it, it lies like an arrowhead between the Silverlode and Anduin the Great. We call it the Naith of Lórien, and we allow no one to spy on the Naith. We rarely even permit visitors to venture in.
"As per our agreement, we shall now blindfold the Dwarf. The rest of you may walk freely, until we are nearer to the dwellings."
Calen started and stared at Haldir. He knew? How? Her heart started pounding, until she was sure everyone could her it. She said nothing, and soon realized he was looking at Gimli. She felt silly. Why <i>would</i> anyone suspect? She hardly looked Dwarven. She did not have a beard, to start with. She grinned at that thought, and started to relax. She did feel sorry for the Dwarf. Given the chance, anyone would want to see the Golden Wood. Still, she was glad it wasn't her being blindfolded. She repressed a shudder at that thought.
Not surprisingly, Gimli objected. "I made no such agreement," he stated irately, "I refuse to walk blindly, like a pauper or prisoner. I am not a spy. My folk have neither had any dealings with the Enemy, nor have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray your trust than Legolas, Lady Calen, or any other here in this group."
"I believe you," Haldir said, "but such is our law. I am neither the law maker, nor the law bender. I cannot make exceptions, even for you, Master Dwarf. I have done more than I normally would, in letting you cross the Celebrant."
The Dwarf was nothing, if not stubborn. He planted his feet and placed his hand on the hilt of his axe. "I will walk freely, or I will return from whence I came. There, at least, I am known to be a Dwarf of my word, even though I may perish on the way."
"You may not turn back," Haldir said unsmilingly, "Since you have come thither, you must be brought before the Lord and Lady. They alone will judge you and decide if you should leave or stay. You cannot cross the river again, either, for there are secret, unpassable sentinels. You would be dead before you heard the bow string sing."
Gimli pulled his axe from his belt, and the Lórien Elves nocked their bows.
Legolas sighed in exasperation, "A plague on the stiff necks of the Dwarves."
Aragorn intervened by saying, "Come, come. If I am still the head of this company, you must follow my lead. It is unfair for the Dwarf to be singled out in this manner. We shall bid the Elves to bind all of us. Yes, even Legolas and Lady Calen. It will be fair to all, though the trip will be long and dull."
Even as Gimli laughed, Calen started panicking again. She was to wear a blindfold? How would she endure it? And she had waited so long to see the beauty of the Wood. Now she was going to miss it?
Gimli found it amusing to picture the whole company walking in a line like so many blind paupers with one dog. "I will be satisfied, if Legolas will share in my sightlessness."
"But," Legolas said, becoming angry himself, "I am an Elf, and a kinsmen here."
"And I beg your pardon," Calen said timidly, "but I was wondering if I might be permitted to forego the wearing of a blindfold. This is the land of my mother, and I should like to see it for myself."
Aragorn chuckled, "Now, let us call down a plague on the stiff necks of Elves. All of us shall fare alike. Come, Haldir, bind our eyes."
"I shall keep a tally of every stub and stumble," said Gimli as they bound his eyes with cloth.
Haldir said, "You shall have no need. You shall be well led, and the paths are even, level and direct."
Legolas thought it was folly that they were all to be blinded to the beauty around them, but Haldir hastened to explain that the Elves of Lórien had so little trust in the world around them that they were extremely hesitant to allow strangers in. It was based solely on the respectability of Rivendell that the Fellowship had been granted entrance. The Golden Wood had become an island of control amidst a sea of chaos. The Shadow was slowly surrounding the Wood: the westerly mountains grew more sinister, the eastern lands were barren and cold and dangerous, the evil was creeping ever northward, and the great Rivers no longer promised protection. As of late, the Elves spent more time plucking a bowstring than a harp.
"The Havens of the High Elves are believed to exist still," Haldir continued, "but I know only that they lie north and west, beyond the land of the Halflings. The Lord and Lady may know more, but the location of the Havens is not common knowledge here."
"Now that you have seen us," said Merry, "you may at least hazard a guess as to where it is. There are Elf Havens west of the Shire where the Hobbits dwell."
"Blessed are Hobbit-folk, to live so close to the sea," said Haldir, "My people have not seen the sea in a very long time, though we remember it in our songs. Tell me of the Havens as we walk."
"I am afraid I cannot," Merry said, "I have never seen them or the sea. I have never ventured beyond the boundaries of my own land before now. And had I known what awaited me in the great wide world, I don't think I should have had the heart to leave home."
Haldir smiled, "Not even to see Lothlórien? The world is indeed a perilous place and there is much darkness. There is still beauty in the world. And though, in all the lands, love is mingled with sorrow and heartache, perhaps love grows stronger still.
"Some of my people sing that the Shadow will be withdraw and peace shall return, but I think that the world around us will never be the same again. At best, I believe, the Elves will find a truce in which we may cross to the Sea unimpeded, leaving Middle Earth forever. Alas for the Lórien I love. Life would seem less full in a land where no mallorn trees grow. They may grow in the Havens, but none have ever confirmed it."
With that said, Haldir wrapped a cloth around Calen's eyes. As the darkness descended, her heart rate ascended again. Fear was paramount. She felt smothered, stifled and alone, even though she could still hear the conversations of the others all around her.
Someone walked by, brushing her arm. She reached out and clutched at him. It was Haldir. She tugged at his sleeve, and he came closer to her.
"Please," she whispered, "do not force me to wear this."
"Lady," he answered quietly, "I have no alternative. I am sorry." He turned to go.
"No, wait!" Calen pleaded, clutching his tunic, "You do not understand. I do not like small spaces; they make me feel trapped and unable to breathe. Please." Calen tried to sound in control, but she could hear her voice break and it embarrassed her.
"Lady Calen,” Haldir replied, as he took her small hands in his larger, warmer ones, “I am in sympathy, but I am unable to make exceptions to the law. Believe me when I say I wish there was another way for you to travel."
"Excuse me for interrupting," said a voice by her elbow, "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but perhaps I can help?"
"How?" Calen asked, willing to try just about anything.
"Well," continued the voice, "I have a cousin, that'd be my third cousin twice removed on my mother's side, Filibert is his name. Well, he has a problem very much like this and he found that it helped to have someone hold his hand and talk to him, so as to take his mind off the situation."
"Good ole Bertie!" another elbow high voice chimed in, "Remember the time he got stuck in a tree and ripped his trousers and..."
"Not now, Pip," scolded the first voice gently, "where are your manners?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Calen," Pippin said quickly, "Would you feel better if Merry and I held your hands while we walked?"
Calen was grateful for the suggestion. "If you wouldn't mind walking with me," she said softly, "I would appreciate the company very much. Thank you both for thinking of me." Haldir gave her hands a final squeeze, and then placed each into the waiting hand of a hobbit.
Suddenly, Pippin laughed, "Gimli is right! We will look very strange... all three of us, holding hands with no idea where to go."
Once everyone was blindfolded, the Elves ushered them to the path and directed them towards the Elven city. Haldir walked just ahead of Calen and the Hobbits, leading the caravan. She held each onto each small hand tightly. Calen felt pinioned between them, shackled. She concentrated on dividing her thoughts between listening to Merry and Pippin and not giving in to the encroaching panic. The two of them prattled on endlessly about this relation's misfortune with the currant jelly and that uncle's escapade with the angry chickens. They were doing their best to keep their stories light and entertaining.
Because she could not see, Calen was unable to gauge the position of the sun and therefore had no idea how long they had been walking. As she listened to their continuous and amusing stories she found herself calming. Soon, she was able to relax her tense muscles, slackening her vice-like hold on the Hobbits. Only after loosening her grip on their hands did she realise how tightly she had been squeezing them.
'I must have nearly crushed their little fingers,' she thought to herself, 'and yet, they did not complain. Poor dears.'
After perhaps an hour or two, Pippin and Merry exhausted their repertoire of humourous relative stories and moved on to the second subject close to their hearts... well, closer to their stomachs: food. They talked about food preparation, food presentation, and most heartily about food consumption. Roast duck with cranberry sauce, baked potatoes smothered in butter and sprinkled with salt, and plum pudding seemed to be favourites as they cropped up often in the long list of edibles. And above all, mentioned more than anything else, and included in just about every recipe, were mushrooms.
Calen smiled into her blindfold. She was very glad of their company and their amusing anecdotes, but the recipes and constant food talk were reminding her than it was quite a while since she had last eaten. Her stomach was starting to protest her lack of attention. Disentangling her hand from that of "short-one-on-the-left," as she had dubbed him, she reached into her shoulder bag and groped blindly. She was certain she still... aha! There they were. One at a time, she pulled out three apples, offering the first two to her companions and keeping the third for herself. It was not much, but it was all she could manage without the use of her eyes. They both thanked her prettily and set to eating the apples without further demure.
In the ensuing silence, Calen fully expected the sense of panic to return. She waited, but the calm remained. Taking a deep breath, Calen released her anxiety and simply existed, walking in the dark. It was then that she realised it was not dark... yes, she was blindfolded, but if she opened her eyes, she could see a golden glow through the cloth on her face. What was causing the light? The sun? Or something less tangible? She had a feeling it was not the light of the sun; it should be behind her. And as the group made their way through the forest, Calen noticed something else: the silence was not empty. Granted, she could hear the footfalls of some of the others in the caravan, and the chewing of the hobbits by her side, but that was not what filled the air.
The air may have been still, but it was by no means dead or barren. It thrummed with life, vibrant and full. Reaching out in her mind, Calen felt, or imagined she felt the silence welcoming her, surrounding her with a peace she had experienced but rarely in her life. She felt as though she stood still in a slow moving river as the warm currents ebbed and flowed around her. Feeling a smile blossom on her face, she released the hand of "short-one-on-the-right" and walked willingly alone.
Now that she was no longer frightened, Calen noticed the beauty of sightlessness. The birds' songs sounded sweeter, the air smelled fresher and the trees rustling was more musical than she had ever imagined they could be. She thought she could even detect the aroma of crushed peppermint leaves beneath their feet.
The Fellowship, Calen and their escorts walked until the cool of evening. Haldir declared that they would stop and rest on the ground, and that they had to keep their blindfolds on. In that, Calen was disappointed, as she greatly desired to see the stars, but she was cheered greatly by the fact that they need not sleep again on a talan. The idea of sleeping on a board was bad enough, but to climb a ladder and lie on a small platform without sight was terrifying to her.
She could hear all around her the sounds of the others, settling down on the ground, trying to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Tonight though, even after walking all day and having little to eat, she was not tired, nor did she desire sleep. Sighing, she sat down with her back to a tree and rummaged again in her bag. She smiled when she located her hairbrush, and proceeded to brush the snarls out of her hair - no easy task when wearing a blindfold. The brush stuck. Gritting her teeth, she tried to extricate the brush from the ties of the cloth that bound her eyes. Working her fingers behind her head, she sought to free the brush. The stubborn tangle would not loosen. In frustration, she yanked hard on the brush, feeling it give way. The sense of victory was short lived, however, as the blindfold fell away from her eyes, still attached to the brush.
Calen gasped, and found herself suddenly face-to-point with a nocked