Story Downloaded from Open Scrolls Archive (

Title: Heart of a Warden (#820)
Author: aimless
Chapters: 16

Archive: Tolkien
Category: Alternate Universe (AU)
Description: A story of friendship and eventually love between two Wardens of the Golden Wood, Rumil and Elendara.
Published: 17 Apr 2004
Updated: 15 May 2006
Warnings: some violence, some graphic description
Type: Romance
Characters: Rumil; Orophin; OFC

Chapter 1 - Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Sharp Elven eyes scanned the horizon as the sun rose, bathing the treetops of the western border of Lothlorien in its golden light. A lone figure stood on a flet high in the trees in what was one of the most isolated watch posts in the forest. Dressed in the gray and green of the wardens of the wood, with a bow near to hand and a sword sheathed at the hip, the watcher took note of a thin plume of smoke rising in the distance. Unable to think of a reason for the smoke the warden swiftly descended to the forest floor and took off in a ground-eating run towards the source.

Cautiously as the warden drew closer it became apparent that the smoke came from the smoldering remains of several wagons. Disgust and pity etched the features of the warden as it soon became very clear what had happened to the unlucky travelers. Several Orc bodies were lying twisted and broken among the debris. It seemed that the travelers had managed to kill a few of their attackers before they were overwhelmed. Conspicuously absent were any signs of human remains other than pools of blood congealing upon the ground. That was not surprising since the warden knew that orcs had an abominable habit of eating their victims. Sifting through the wreckage the warden surmised that this had been a trader caravan, though why they were in this location was a mystery. Perhaps they had been lost or herded here to ambush.

Approaching the only mostly intact wagon the warden peered inside, it was empty, which was to be expected. Orcs were raiders and scavengers and left nothing behind. What the warden did not expect was a fierce biting pain across her right thigh after she had leaned over to look into the wagon. Crying out in distress the warden stumbled backwards, eyes lighting on a lone orc that huddled in the darkness beneath the wagon. The orc appeared injured and had most likely been abandoned by its brethren. A crude dagger in its filthy hands now dripped red with blood. With a curse the warden drew steel and skewered the disgusting creature before it could swing again. The warden, ashamed and angry to have been caught so off guard kicked the now dead orc and hobbled around the wreckage to ensure of no more nasty surprises.

Once satisfied that the danger had passed the warden sheathed her sword and glanced down at the messy wound. The long, jagged vertical slice had immediately started to bleed and was soaking through her leggings, nausea threatened to overwhelm the injured elf. The warden knew that to get to first-aid supplies and eventual help, getting back to the flet was crucial. Fighting dizziness the warden removed her wool sash and wrapped it around her thigh. She tied the ends and pulled it tight to try and slow the bleeding, the pain was intense as waves of agony washed out from the wound to almost engulf the warden. Black spots danced in front of the elf’s vision; unable to quell the nausea again she fell to her knees and lost what breakfast had been consumed hours earlier. Wiping lips with a trembling hand, the warden staggered to a standing position and limped back towards the wood and relative safety. The wound, by this time, started to feel hot and a tingling numbness started to creep up her leg. She cursed again at the slain orc for his blade had been poisoned. It was now imperative that she reach the flet without delay.

After what seemed like an eternity the warden entered the edge of the wood. She limped to a halt and staggered, falling to the ground and jarring her injured leg. The pain was intense and darkness threatened to close in, refusing to give in to the void the warden rose once more on unsteady feet and grasped the rope ladder. The climb to the flet was excruciatingly slow and the lure to pass out almost too great. The warden heaved a sigh of relief as her head cleared the hole in the floor and she pulled herself inside and collapsed. Panting in exhaustion she took a moment to rest knowing what was to come would be unpleasant.

Levering herself once more to her feet she limped over to the chest that contained the first-aid supplies. The first thing she did was to grab a small corked vial out of the kit. She pulled out the cork with her teeth and downed the contents in one swallow. The antidote, while not being able to completely cure the effects, would at least help purge the poison from her body. She then gathered the herbs, and cloths she would need to clean the wound. She also grabbed a clean bowl and a water skin, and sat awkwardly back down on the floor. She laid out the supplies and poured a generous amount of water into the bowl. She then added a handful of herbs to the cold water, crushing them as she did so, releasing a pungent astringent aroma. The Warden would have preferred to use hot water but she felt too weak to put forth the effort.

She grasped the ends of the makeshift bandage and untied the knot, her fingers fumbling as she struggled to loosen the blood-soaked material. Even though she had clenched her teeth in anticipation of the pain an agonized cry escaped her lips. Fresh blood welled from the long slice, but she noted with relief that it did not spurt out. She had seen someone bleed to death before from a similar wound and thanked the Valar that the orc’s blade, while having bitten deep, missed anything vital.

In order to properly see the wound she had to remove her leggings. First she removed her boots while trying not to bend her injured leg. Then she untied the laces on the leggings and carefully tugged them down her hips. The soft doeskin leggings were caked with blood and adhering to the wound. She carefully peeled the material away from the injury and pushed the leggings to her knees. She used her uninjured leg to push them the rest of the way down. Her stomach gave a sickening lurch as she examined the wound.
The cut, jagged and about 2 hand spans long bled freely. The orc had stabbed the dagger in to the hilt then had drawn the blade downward before pulling it out right above her knee. The wound was also full of debris from when she had fallen. Orc swords were filthy and she was unlucky that the blade had also been poisoned.

Making a pad of one of the cloths she dipped it into the liquid in the bowl, and then pressed it tightly to the wound. Tears streamed down her cheeks as the stinging liquid seeped into the slice. She applied pressure to the wound for a few moments, then removed the cloth and dipped it into the bowl and again pressing it to the cut. She did this several more times till the bleeding slowed to a trickle. The warden used her fingers to pluck as much of the debris from the wound as possible and dug into the bag of herbs to remove some largish furry blue-green leaves. She crumbled one directly into the cut and the rest, with a little of the astringent water, formed a poultice. She used a clean cloth to hold it in place and used bandage strips from the storage chest to tightly bind the wound.

She had done the best that she could, and would have to wait till her replacement showed up in 3 days. The warden mentally thanked Elbereth that she was near the end of her watch rotation. She could not make it back to the city on her own and the next nearest guard post was 4 leagues to the north. She was better off to stay put till help came, plus she did not think she could make it back down the ladder. Also every 5 days an outrider would check the border guards and take any messages of importance back to the city, she would have to rest until either one made an appearance. With her remaining strength she crawled to her store of supplies and grabbed a full water skin, a cup, the rest of the herbs and then made it to her bedroll and collapsed. Her leggings were left wadded up in a pool of blood, along with the bowl of red tinged water and the used cloths. Normally a very tidy person she just did not have the strength to clean up the mess. The warden had barely enough energy to shakily pour some of the water into the cup, take another smaller packet of herbs add it to the water and gulp down the contents. Gagging at the bitter taste she pushed the cup away and lay down. She managed to pull the blankets up and then allowed herself the luxury of oblivion.

Her mind wandered in her reverie, partly due to the strong pain killing herbs and partly due to the stress of the wound. It focused on a time many centuries ago when she was but an elfling.

“Elendara! Elendara! Where are you child?” A voice called out in the midst of a large garden.

An Elven woman stood, hands on hips, looking around for her wayward child. She was blonde and fair as were most of the Lorien elves. She was of medium height and slender build, almost delicate. She wore a dress of homespun wool suitable for gardening on an early spring day. The dress and her hands were streaked with mud from working in her herb beds. A small tousled blonde head popped out of the bushes. The woman sighed noting that her child’s hair was a veritable nest of twigs and leaves.

“Here I am Nana, I was hunting orcs! See I even have a sword.” She excitedly waved a small branch in the air as she leapt out of the bushes.

The elf shook her head at the disheveled state of her only child.

“Just look at you Dara, I suppose it is expecting too much of you to at least stay clean and out of trouble while I weed the herb beds, why don’t you play with your doll?”

“I don’t wanna Nana, I want to play warrior, can I go and play warrior? Please?”

With a long suffering sigh the child’s mother sent her off to play. Admonishing her not to go too far. With a cry of glee the young girl ran to find some playmates. She did not have to look long, for in a clearing were a group of male elves about her own age. They all had mock swords and were playing warrior. The girl ran up to the group eager to join in on the game.

“Can I play too? I want to be a warrior. I want to play orc hunter.”

A larger boy, who seemed to be the spokesman for the group looked at the girl in front of him with a sneer on his face. He stepped up and spoke in an unfriendly tone.

“You? Want to play with us? You are only a silly girl, go play with your dolls. You do not even have a proper sword, just a little stick.”

He then took the stick away from her and broke it into several pieces before dropping it to the ground. “Go away we do not want you here.”

At these cruel words the young Elf’s eyes filled with tears. The boys all started to laugh and taunt her for being weak. With a cry she ran off into the wood and swiftly climbed one of the great trees. Once high up in the branches she gave in to her sorrow, curling up on one of the large branches, and sobbing noisily.

She did not notice that her distress had attracted the attention of a young elf, and curious he climbed the tree to see who was crying. It startled her so much when he climbed up beside her that she almost fell off of the branch.

“Why are you crying? I could hear you all the way across the glade.” Inquired an unfamiliar elven boy.

She looked up at him through tear filled eyes. He had an engaging smile and he looked at her with concern. He had a kind face and his silvery blond hair was braided in the style of most of the male elves, a braid at each temple and a thicker plait in the back. He was dressed in a green tunic and brown leggings.

“Why should you care? I am only a girl.” She responded bitterly.

“Well as to why I care, I hate seeing someone so miserable on such a nice day. Plus your loud sobbing was scaring away the wildlife.” He remarked with a grin.

“Those, those boys would not let me play warrior! They said I was only a silly girl, and should run home to my Nana. I want to play warrior! I do not want to play with dolls, or learn to sew and cook. I want to climb trees, and run through the wood. I want to…well I just want to do everything the boys get to do.”

The words came out in a rush of emotion leaving her panting slightly.

“Just who was it that said these things to you?” the boy inquired.

The girl described her tormentors and the boy’s mouth turned down into a sneer.

“I know who you speak of, the large boy is named Telerin and the rest are his cronies. He is a bully and has tried to catch me alone on occasion. We do not get along. You should avoid him.”

“I do not know anyone else who might play warrior with me or climb trees with me or do all those other things I want to do.” She said plaintively

“I will, if you help me get back at Telerin for being such a toad, I cannot stand that bully.”

She looked at him again a little stunned that he wanted to be her friend.

“You will? I mean..why me? I do not even know who you are.”

“I’m not sure why, you just seem like you might be fun to be around and much better company than Telerin. So are you willing to help me teach that bully a lesson? Oh and my name is Rúmil.”

The girl wiped her eyes and slowly smiled at the thought of getting revenge on the bully who made her cry.

“My name is Elendara, but my nana calls me Dara. So what can we do to teach that rat a lesson? I do not like him either.”

Rúmil outlined a rather diabolical bit of revenge on the boy who liked to torment them both. Their eyes lit with the same glee as they thought of the prank they would pull.

After this incident, which had left Telerin’s skin a bright orange for the better part of a month, they became fast friends and managed to get into much mischief together. Elandara also met Rúmil’s middle brother Orophin and he became the third co-conspirator. Dara spent most of her free time on adventures with the two brothers. She also met the eldest brother named Haldir who already spent most of his time training with the other prospective wardens. She was a bit in awe of him, as he seemed so adult and responsible even at his young age. He was the head of their family since the three brothers’ Mother and Father had been killed when Rúmil was but a very young elfling. Dara could not conceive the thought of ever losing her parents. It was this thought that turned her reminiscing into much darker dreams. She dreamt that her parents were surrounded by orcs and that she was still but a helpless child. She watched the creatures close in on her parents and awoke with a scream.

Chapter 2 - Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Note: See Disclaimer in One

Awareness returned in a pain filled rush. The herbs had worn off and her leg was throbbing and felt hot. She blinked a few times in confusion trying to sort out what had happened. Her mind was clouded due to the drugs and the orcish poison that had yet to be purged from her system. The fog began to clear as the pain from the wound increased in intensity. She looked around, the flet had grown dark and she could barely see the hand in front of her face. She also checked the injury by running her hands over the bandage. It seemed that the bleeding had stopped so she did not unwrap the dressing; the herbs she used on the cut needed time to work. She slowly sat up, and the dizziness she felt upon waking increased ten fold. Gasping for breath she reached for the cup she had dropped earlier.

She filled the cup with water, her shaking hands spilling a fair amount onto the floor. Another packet of herbs went into the water, and then she drank the concoction and slumped back onto her pallet. She was cold and her limbs were trembling, most likely it was her body fighting the vestiges of the poison that the antidote was unable to counter. The drugs took hold and in her delirium she wandered the paths of her memories once more.

The training grounds of the wardens were situated in a large clearing not far from the city. A young elf woman stood at the edge of the trees watching the wardens in training. She took in their every move, jealous that they got to do what she craved. She watched every day, even to the extent of missing her lessons in the healers’ hall. She was expected to follow her Mother’s profession of herbalist. The lessons she took at hall did fascinate her but not to the extent of what she was now observing. She especially loved to watch the archery lessons. Elendara was consumed with envy that two of her close friends, Rúmil and Orophin, were training to be wardens of the wood. She hardly saw them at all anymore and missed the camaraderie.

The brothers were getting to be quite skilled under the direct tutelage of their older brother Haldir. She watched them send arrow after arrow into the targets. They also trained in swords and hand to hand fighting, Elendara watched it all from her vantage point at the edge of the field. She shrieked in surprise when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Whirling around she came face to face with Haldir; she swallowed nervously at having been caught. Knowing she would be sent away she lowered her head and waited for the dismissal. When it was not forthcoming she looked up and to her amazement he was smiling slightly.

“Why do you come here? I have noticed your presence at the training grounds nearly every day for months. What is it you seek?” He looked directly into her eyes and she got the feeling she had better tell him the truth.

She looked at Haldir and tried to decide what to say. He had always intimidated her a bit, and he was always so serious. He had never been anything but polite to her but he had a presence about him that demanded respect. The few times she had ever seen him laugh was when he was in the company of his brothers. With them he was free to just be himself, and not the elf whose shoulders had to bear the burden of all of his responsibilities. Throwing caution to the wind she answered his question.

“I want to train in weapons like Rúmil and Orophin. I want to learn to use a bow and a sword. I want to be a warden and protect the golden wood.” His eyes narrowed as he studied her.

“Why?” He asked, putting so much emphasis on that simple word that she knew somehow, that her entire future might depend on it. Taking a deep breath she thought hard about her answer before she spoke.

“I feel this need to do something besides learn herb craft, or any of the other skills I am encouraged to do as a young lady. I cannot explain it, to put into words what I feel, but I will try. I talk to Rúmil and Orophin and they seem so focused on becoming a warden. I envy them because they will be protecting something they love. With their very lives if it is needed of them. I want to feel that, I want to protect my home. I have this; I guess you could call it a need to…Oh never mind! I want the impossible; I yearn for something I can never achieve. I should not have come here.”

Frustrated she turned to leave. He put a hand on her arm gripping it tightly to hold her in place.

“Why do you think your desire is unattainable? That it is so far out of your reach that you will just settle for what you said was a job you do not wish.”

“My parents would never allow it, there are no female wardens. How could I ever hope to be one?”

“If it is what you truly desire I could speak to the Lord and Lady about allowing you to train. It is not a task to be undertaken lightly. You must be sure this is what you wish. The training will be hard and you will be under close scrutiny. Some will expect you to fail and others will sneer at your choice. Are you prepared to accept this?”

Her heart leapt at his offer. It was what she dreamed of, ever since she was a child.
“It is what I wish, I am prepared to accept whatever hardships are required.”

With those words her life changed dramatically. She recalled standing before the Lord and Lady, with her parents in attendance, as she asked permission to train to be a warden. Her Mother and father objected, and she needed every bit of Haldir’s persuasive skill to be allowed a trial period. If at the end of one year Haldir judged her unsuitable to be a warden her training would cease and she would continue her lessons as an herbalist. Her parents reluctantly agreed and she began training.

Chapter 3 - Chapter 3

Chapter 3
Note: See Disclaimer in One

Determined not to fail she was diligent in her chosen vocation. She was always the first one on the practice grounds and the last one to leave. She pestered Orophin and Rúmil ceaselessly to provide her with extra instruction. During that first year she was the butt of many jokes, was sneered at, or openly ignored by her peers. Haldir's calm and patient teaching coupled with Rúmil and Orophin's stalwart support gave her the strength she needed to continue. Orophin became her confidant; to him she confessed all her fears. It was his shoulder she cried upon when self doubt and recriminations became overwhelming. His calm acceptance of her tantrums and her moods taught her self control.

Rúmil though, was the one she could always count on to make her laugh and the one who challenged her most. He delighted in pushing her to the edge of her abilities and beyond. He was also her fiercest defender when some of the other warden candidates grew resentful of her presence. Gradually she was accepted into their ranks as her skills improved. At the end of the first year she was tested by Haldir and some of his best wardens to determine the level of her skill. After rigorous trials of her sword work, bow skill and hand-to-hand fighting she was considered to be of equal competence to most of the other candidates. The fact that she had accomplished this in a year left no doubts as to her potential. It was decided that she could continue her training.

In the years that followed, in addition to the fighting skills she was also taught how to track and to move through the forest silently and without leaving a trace. Some of the candidates were not able to complete the training and withdrew to pursue other life paths. Seeing others fail just made her more determined. It was all Rúmil could do to drag her away from the practice fields, gone it seemed, was his carefree childhood companion. She had been replaced by a virtual stranger who was obsessed with becoming warden. Elendara realized that her dedication to her training left little time for her to spend with her two closest friends Orophin and Rúmil. She felt guilty for being envious of their skill. All of the things the trainees had to learn seemed to come so effortlessly to the brothers, to the extent that she felt slow and clumsy in their presence. It all came to a head during a sparring match. She was to test her sword ability against Rúmil. During the match he taunted her as usual and had just dumped her to the ground for the third time when her temper snapped. As she was lying in the dirt he could not resist more teasing comments.

"Do you intend to lie there all day Dara? You dreadfully need the practice. I mean you are hardly a challenge as it is, I promise I will take it easy on you." He said with a smile.

His mock insults were just a part of their sparring match. He would insult her then she would insult him, and it would continue till the match was over. So Rúmil was utterly surprised when she grabbed his ankle and pulled him off of his feet. He landed hard on his back, sword flying out of his hand and a stunned look on his face.

She flung herself at him and pinned him to the ground.

"You take that back! I am sick and tired of your comments. I am just as good do you hear me!" She was yelling at this point with her hands knotted in his tunic.

Not being able to help himself one more comment slipped out of his mouth.

"Better than me? I do not think so. Are you going to cry now?"

She literally saw red and before she could stop it her fist shot out and caught him square on the jaw. Her fist was cocked to hit him again when a pair of hands seized her from behind and pulled her away from Rúmil. She struggled to get loose as she realized it was Orophin that had a hold of her. Rúmil sat up and rubbed his sore jaw.

"Smooth brother very smooth, I do not think I have seen her this mad in quite a long time, just what did you say to her?"

Rúmil sat looking a bit perplexed.
"I have no idea, it was just our usual sparring banter. I am sorry if I upset you Dara."

An apology was the last thing she wanted. She stopped struggling and Orophin released her arms. Still very angry she fled into the woods. She stopped near a small stream and tried to regain her temper. She closed her eyes and concentrated in calming herself. After a few moments she got the feeling she was being watched. Elendara opened her eyes and looked up. Standing right across from her leaning casually against a tree stood Haldir. She could tell by the expression on his face that he was angry. She glared back at him, not the wisest of choices, but she was not feeling very wise at the moment.

"Just what did you think you were doing back there? I thought I taught you not to lose your temper in a fight. Maybe I should put you back in the novice class."

Her cheeks flushed red with shame and she tried to stammer out an explanation. His scrutiny made her feel like an elfling again.

"It is not my fault! Rúmil started it, if he had not taunted me I would not have lost my temper."

He raised one eyebrow at her answer, and continued to glare.

"So now we are reduced to making excuses? I thought better of you. A warrior who loses their temper in a fight is as good as dead. When anger takes over you cease to think and begin to make mistakes. I have seen many warriors fall who could not control their ire."

Elendara turned her back on him. She bowed her head; shoulders slumped in defeat. Her anger now completely gone was replaced by guilt.

"I honestly did not mean to explode like that. It's just that I feel so clumsy around the three of you. It seems I will never be good enough. Maybe I should go back to the healers hall."

Haldir, sighing in exasperation stepped in front of Elendara. He placed a finger under her chin and raised her head to look her in the eyes.

"Do you think I have been easy on you? That I have given you an unfair advantage over the candidates that have left? Do you think that I have been lax in your training? That I would even consider advance training If I did not judge you to be ready to handle it?"

"No, no, I do not think you have been easy on me." She stammered. "You seem to be harder on me than on the others. You constantly push me, as do Orophin and Rúmil."

"If it seems we have been harder on you, it is because it is the truth. There are those who would expect you to fail. As your sponsor I have to make sure you are more than ready to face the life you have chosen. Your conduct reflects on us all. Rúmil and Orophan exceed your skill because they have been training much longer than you. You cannot compare your skill to theirs, at least not yet. You do, however, exceed the skill of the other candidates. I pair you with my brothers because the rest of the trainees are not a challenge to you anymore. If you fail to see that then you are blind."

"I feel so foolish, how can you bear to put up with me?" He placed his hands on her shoulders and gave her a playful shake.

"I have known you since you were a child, you have been a good friend to Rúmil and Orophin. Though it is a wonder I survived the mischief of that friendship. As to your abilities, I can tell you that you are skilled but until you actually believe it is true your self-doubt will continue to hold you back. Now shall we rejoin the others? You left Rúmil a bit confused and with an aching jaw, an apology might be in order. Although, from the ease in which you knocked Rúmil off his feet, I would say that your hand-to-hand fighting skills are quite good and my brother's quite rusty."

As they walked back to the training grounds Haldir spoke again.
"Oh yes, I almost forgot. For losing your temper and forgetting your training I will require you to spend tomorrow's rest day fletching arrows in the armory. You can use the time to think about what I have said."

Elendara slowed her steps as they approached the practice grounds. She would have stopped completely if Haldir had not given her a light shove that propelled her into the clearing. The day was growing late and the other trainees had left. Only Rúmil and Orophin remained behind. She approached the brothers and was momentarily at a loss for words. They had all gotten hurt much worse than a sore jaw during weapons training but she had never attacked in anger.

"I am so sorry I lost my temper. I took my anger and frustration out on you and you did not deserve such treatment. I…I was jealous that your skills surpassed mine. I feared I was not good enough."

Rúmil looked at her in surprise.
"Jealous? Why would you be jealous? You are better than the rest of the candidates. You are always practicing, in fact we have to drag you away from here most evenings."

She looked at the darkening bruise on his face caused by her fist.

"Does it hurt much?" She asked lightly touching his face.

Orophin looked at his brother and remarked.

"Oh yes it was quite a blow, he whined and complained about the pain the whole time you were gone."

Rúmil narrowed his eyes and glared at his brother.

"Very funny Phin, any more observations you'd like to make? As for getting punched, it was not so bad. I'd rather get hit by you than by trainee Deleon. His fists are like stone blocks. He was a blacksmith's apprentice before he entered training to be a warden."

Orophin and Rúmil both slung an arm over her shoulders in a comforting gesture since she looked so miserable.

"So did big Brother give you a lecture? Did it help?"
Elendara nodded at Rúmil's question

Orophin added "If I know my brother he doled out some kind of vile despicable punishment for losing your temper today. What was it?"

"I have fletching duty tomorrow at the armory."

Rúmil laughed.

"Is that all? Haldir must be going soft. Our punishments were always infinitely worse and usually very unpleasant. Come lets go back, I I mean appropriated a rather nice bottle of wine from the kitchens. You can have a glass or two with us and tell us all your problems."

They left the clearing arm in arm. Later as they sat around drinking the wine she unburdened herself of all of her worries and fears. They listened and they teased and they comforted her, so by the time she left for her Talan it was with a much lighter heart.

The pain of her current circumstances pulled her out of this pleasant memory and thrust her back into the present. She awoke feeling very weak and sick. It was light outside again and she had no way of knowing how much time had passed. The amount of pain radiating from the injury told her something was very wrong. She threw off the blankets and barely managed to sit up.
Her leg was totally useless now; it was simply too sore to move. Taking a deep breath she unwrapped the bandage. The blood crusted dressing came away in one piece, and what it revealed made her sick with dread. The wound was an angry red color and swollen. Her whole upper leg felt like it was on fire. Infection had set in despite all of her precautions. She vehemently cursed the orc that had stabbed her and its filthy habits. Orcs liked to cause as much pain and suffering as they could. So it was not an uncommon practice for them to, in addition to the poison, further taint their blades, making the recipient of a wound from their hands very ill or dead within days if no medical help was sought. With the supplies she had gathered earlier she made another poultice and wrapped her leg in clean bandages. Even this little effort left her trembling and weak. She hoped that the warden who was to replace her would arrive soon, as her supplies were running low. Elendara grabbed the waterskin and greedily drank what was left, then tossed it aside. She collapsed back onto her pallet as another round of tremors shook her body. The antidote for the orcish poison had done its job; it had kept the toxin from killing her. It did not however, erase the symptoms from the poison or kill the infection in the wound. The herbs she had used had helped as much as they were able, but the gods only knew what had been smeared on that blade in the orc's hand. The last thing she was able to do was to pull the blankets up around her ears as she passed out again. As the day passed into night she was so lost in delirium that only shadows and incomprehensible images flitted through her fevered mind.

Chapter 4 - Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Note: See Disclaimer in One

On the dawn of the third day the elf that was to replace Elendara on border watch made his way toward the edge of the woods. Not a single sound marked his passing as he moved virtually unseen through the forest. He stopped when he got within sight of the tree that held the flet. He whistled a signal to let the warden know of his arrival. The moments went by and only normal birdsong filled the air. He repeated the signal and was again greeted with no counter sign. The elf became a bit alarmed. He stealthily approached the base of the tree. His sharp eyes picked out many rusty reddish brown blotches staining the ground. They led right to the base of the rope ladder and ended in a fairly good-sized stain. The ladder should have been pulled up into the tree as well. He looked closely at the ladder; it too held smears of the same brownish color. He recognized immediately that the stains were blood, and at least several days old. Sick dread caused the Elf’s stomach to clench as he climbed the ladder and cautiously poked his head inside. The smell of blood and sweat washed over him as he looked around.

Scattered about were bloodstained cloths, a carelessly discarded sword belt, empty herb packets and a wadded up pair of leggings. Dried blood also liberally spattered the wooden floor. On the bedroll in the corner a figure was cocooned completely in the blankets. He quickly pulled himself up through the trap door and hastily went to the bedroll and knelt down. He lifted the blankets and there his friend lay shivering and very ill. He looked at her in shock as he took in the pallor of her skin. Her closed eyes and tangled, sweat dampened hair were a good indication that she was very sick. He placed a gentle hand on her forehead; it was burning hot. At his touch she began to thrash around and mutter incoherently. He grabbed her shoulders and held her down until the tremors ceased. He was stunned at her condition and it was imperative that he find out just what had happened. He removed the twisted blankets to see where all the blood had come from. It became immediately apparent when he uncovered her legs. Her right thigh was swathed in a heavy, bloodstained bandage that covered her leg from mid-thigh to just above her knee. Her delirious flailing must have reopened the wound because spots of bright crimson now seeped through the wrapping.

“Oh Dara what trouble have you managed to get into? You are a mess. I only hope I can fix the damage.”

He lightly brushed the hair out of her eyes and with a worried frown he then unwrapped the bandages covering her wound. He hissed in sympathy as he surveyed the damage. It appeared to be a deep puncture wound continuing in a long slice that ended at her knee. The injury was an angry red color and very swollen. Blood seeped from the wound in several places and her knee also appeared to be quite inflamed. His healing ability, while not as strong as his brothers’ would have to be enough. He placed his hands on the wound and murmured in under his breath, warmth from his hands flowed into the wound. After a few minutes he sensed that the injury was as healed as his limited ability could make it. He removed his hands and looked at the wound. It was still red, swollen and raw looking, but at least the bleeding had stopped. He stood and went over to the provisions chest and rummaged through the depleted supplies for more bandages. From his own waterskin he wet one of the cloths and cleaned the wound before bandaging it again.

He had to get her fever down. He looked through the supplies that were left, and the only water left in the Flet was what he had brought with him. There seemed to be plenty of dried food in the storage chest along with some herbs that would be useful in reducing a fever. First he had to get Dara more comfortable. Her tunic was damp with sweat and her blankets were stained with blood. He rummaged through her pack till he located a clean tunic, and grabbed his waterskin and knelt again at her side. He sat a moment and pondered her face. A frown marred her even features and her mouth was drawn down in pain. With a fingertip he traced the frown line as if he could erase it from her pretty face. The fact that he considered her pretty startled him somewhat, he never really looked at her that way before, not really. She was a fellow Warden and one of his best friends. After contemplating the direction his thoughts had turned, he would be lying to himself if he did not admit that she was comely. However, her acerbic sense of humor and sisterly regard of him had dampened his admiration of her as anything else than platonic. He just could not picture her as some vacuous elleth only concerned with clothing and finding a husband. In his mind she was simply Dara. Now that he had rationalized his admiration, he did not hesitate to untie the laces of her tunic and pulled the garment over her head.

He poured water in the bowl and used a clean cloth to try and cool her fevered body. He could not help but admire her sleekly muscular form as he sponged off the dried sweat. He had to remind himself again that this was one of his best friends and he would do this for any wounded comrade. He felt guilty that he was even tempted to stare. She still showed no signs of rousing as he took the clean tunic and dressed her as carefully as possible so as not to aggravate the wound. He took the remaining blanket out of the storage chest and placed it over her. Then he gathered all of the soiled blankets, tunic, leggings and bandages and put them in a basket in the corner. He picked up the empty water skins and swiftly climbed down the ladder and went to a nearby stream. He then filled the skins and returned to the Flet. He placed the water containers on the floor and removed from the stored herbs a packet of powdered dried willow bark. He found the cup she had used and rinsed it out before adding clean water. To the liquid he added a liberal amount of the powder and stirred it with his finger. He sat beside the bed and slid an arm beneath her shoulders and eased her into a semi-upright position. He placed the cup to her lips and let some of the liquid trickle into her mouth. He was relieved when he saw her swallow. He kept forcing sips between her lips until the cup was empty. He could only hope that the fever broke because it was another two days till the outrider showed up and he could get her back to Caras Galadhon. They could not leave the border unprotected and the outrider could take his place, then he would be free to take the horse and return to the city to get Dara the medical attention she needed. He smoothed her matted hair away from her forehead and rested his hand on the side of her face, absentmindedly stroking her cheek with his fingers.

He started guiltily and quickly removed his hand. What in the name of Elbereth was he doing? He berated himself at taking such liberties. If Dara had been awake she would have knocked him silly. As he sat by her side, his hands seemingly not under his control, stole their way back to her face. He lightly stroked her temples trying to soothe her restless dreams. He decided he would stay by her side the rest of the day but on the morrow he would have to try and figure out just what had happened.

He studied her as she slept. She had an oval shaped face, high angular cheekbones and a dimpled slightly pointed chin. Pale blonde brows arched over eyes, that when open, were an extremely pale aquamarine blue ringed with darker cobalt. Her nose was the tiniest bit crooked from being broken during her first orc skirmish as a warden. He remembered that day well.

Chapter 5 - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

They were guarding the northern border when word came in that a band of orcs had been spotted traveling
near the trade road that skirted the forest. Elendara had just passed the trials and had been elevated to full
warden status. She had spent her first 3 months on the border, each month under the tutelage of a different
veteran. The third month had Rúmil as her tutor. The guard duty had passed uneventfully until this particular
watch rotation. He remembered how excited she looked when the word had spread that they would have some
action at last. Her hand was on her bow absently stroking the smooth wood. That bow was one of her most prized
possessions, from the three brothers the day she became a warden.

They had waited till after the ceremony and then retired to Rúmil’s talan to have a celebratory glass of wine. Once
at the dwelling the three brothers excused themselves and left the room. They returned a moment later with Haldir
holding a bow and Orophin holding a tooled leather quiver containing arrows he had crafted himself. She had looked
up in surprise, eyes widening at what Haldir had in his hands. He held the bow out to her and smiled when she reverently
lifted it from his grasp. Haldir explained that when each of his brothers had achieved warden status he had given them a
similar gift. He also stated that since he considered her to be family he could do no less than to present her with a bow of
the Galadhrim as well. The bow, made from the wood of the great mellryn trees was virtually unbreakable. The bow’s
remarkable accuracy was legendary and in the hands of a skilled archer nothing short of amazing. Each bow was a work
of art and hers was no different. Inlays of silver leaves and vines twined along the length of the bow and her name was
inscribed in flowing script.

She looked upon the bow with awe. Most of the wardens used Galadhrim bows but one custom made such as this was doubly
precious and had to have been commissioned months ago. It showed they had great faith in her abilities to pass the trials.
Reluctantly she laid the bow aside and took the quiver. It was made of the finest quality leather and deeply embossed on the
surface was the same pattern of leaves and vines that decorated the bow. She recognized Orophin’s handiwork on the arrows
and was touched, he was one of the best fletchers and his arrows always flew true. Overcome with emotion she flung herself
into Haldir’s arms and had hugged him fiercely. Surprise was evident in his face as he hugged her back, as his brothers had
laughed at his dismay. A moment later Orophin got the same treatment of an armful of excited warden. She disengaged herself
from Phin’s arms and turned to Rúmil. He held out one hand to stop her advance. She looked at him a little confused till he
removed what he had been hiding from behind his back. It was a finely wrought elven longsword. He smiled as he held out
his gift. She took it from him with slightly shaking hands. Orophin and Haldir looked at their brother a moment before Orophin

“So this is what you have been up to. Getting a sword commissioned for our friend and now fellow Warden. You have
managed to one up us yet again.”

Haldir continued his scrutiny of his brother then added a question.
“Very nice blade, Andrinor’s work I believe?”

They all watched as Dara stepped back and drew the blade, it slid smoothly out of the scabbard that had been made to match
the quiver. She swung it experimentally to test the heft and balance of the blade. The light from the lamps glinted on the runes
carved into the polished steel.

Orophin turned again to his brother.
“ It is a fine blade indeed, I too recognize Andrinor’s craftsmanship. Why the extra gift, it must have been very costly. Is there
something you wish to tell us? Some secret you are keeping about yourself and Dara?”

His voice was tinged with amusement as he noted the flush creeping up his brother’s cheeks at his statement.

Haldir also noted his brother’s uncharacteristic reaction and raised an eyebrow at the blush staining Rúmil’s cheeks. He
hastened to reply.

“No! I just thought she would need a better blade. The sword she was using was adequate for a trainee but I wished
her to have something she could depend on in a fight. Andrinor forges some of the finest elvish steel in Caras Galadhon.
The cost was of no matter, it isn’t as if I did not have it to spare. It was a gift to a friend nothing more.”

Dara had returned the blade to the scabbard and carefully set her new sword on the table next to her bow. She turned
back to Rúmil and hugged him tightly. He saw the identical smirks on his brothers’ faces as they noted that he was standing
quite uncomfortably in her embrace. He stepped back and mentioned a bottle a wine he had saved for just this occasion and
had hastened to the kitchen to retrieve it. That had been just under three months ago, and now they stood waiting to engage
in her first battle. He vowed to keep a close eye on her.

The signal to move out was relayed through the trees. He motioned Dara to go ahead of him as they rendezvoused with
Orophin, Deleon and Haldir. They would use the treetops to reach the ambush point. The wardens, seemingly without effort,
moved from tree to tree with the surefootedness and dexterity of long practice. They stopped at a section of the border where
the trade road curved away to the east and viewed their adversaries from the trees. Many orcs were spread out among the
rocky terrain. They were working to conceal themselves so as to catch the next caravan unaware. Sadly this had become a
somewhat frequent occurrence in recent years. The creatures knew not to venture too close to the wood but they figured the
trade roads to be easy pickings. The orcs were just within bow range. A scout had spotted the large group of orcs and had
roused the nearby border guards.

Rúmil positioned himself near Dara and Orophin near Deleon. They readied their bows and waited for Haldir’s signal to fire.
He could practically see Dara quivering with anticipation as she nocked an arrow. Haldir gave the signal to draw and as one
they all pulled their bowstrings taut. A moment later he signaled them to fire. In the same instant the sharp twang of
bowstrings could be heard releasing their deadly messengers. All five arrows buried themselves with unerring accuracy in
the startled orcs. A few seconds later another volley was fired and then a third, all having fatal results. Rúmil noted with pride
that that Dara’s aim was true.

The element of surprise was past as the orcs went to ground and found cover in the rocks. The wardens swiftly descended
from the trees and moved to their intended targets. Haldir hung back and provided cover fire as the others closed in for combat.
They fought in pairs, Rúmil with Dara and Orophin with Deleon. It did not take Rúmil long to lose sight of Dara as he cut down any
orc that crossed his path. Concerned for her safety he glanced around and spotted her a short distance away. She seemed to be
giving a good accounting of herself. Dara used her sword with great skill, parrying blows and thrusting her blade into the weak
points in the enemy’s armor. He was further distracted when he heard her cry out on pain. He looked to her again and saw her
doubled over from a blow to the stomach. He needn’t have worried though, because of the watchful eye of Haldir. The orc that
had kicked Dara now had an arrow in its throat buried up to the fletching with the force of the impact. It toppled over with a
surprised look on its ugly face.

However, Rúmil’s distraction almost proved fatal for as his attention was riveted upon his friend an orc seized the opportunity
to drive a spear at his unprotected side. With a shout, Dara, seeing his peril, flung herself at the orc knocking both of them to
the ground. The orc drove a large armored fist into her face as she tried to draw her knife; both of them had dropped their
weapons upon impact in the dirt. Her vision wavered as she struggled to hold the pinned orc. Just as Rúmil had stepped in
to help she got a hold of her knife and had quickly slit the creature’s throat. She paused a moment to study her enemy then
rose from the twitching body of the orc and bent to retrieve her sword. With a dirty sleeve she swiped at the blood that was
streaming from her nose and ran to rejoin the fight. Rúmil also returned to the battle, as he saw Orophin hard pressed to hold
off four of the creatures, vowing not to become distracted again. He knew Haldir had seen his performance and he could practically
feel his brother’s disapproval. The orcs finally broke and ran and it took several hours to track them back to their lair and deal
with the survivors.

They returned to the battle site and piled the bodies up to be burned. The pyre was lit and they retreated upwind before
tending to their injuries. Deleon had suffered a deep cut on his arm and Orophin had some bruised ribs. Dara seemed oddly
detached during the clean up and was even now wandering through their hasty camp gathering their supplies for their trek
back to the wood. He saw Haldir stop Dara and motion for her to sit. Rúmil had seen the blow she had taken to the face and
moved to sit beside her so he could see the damage. There was dried blood under nose, on her chin and staining the front of
her tunic. Her nose was extremely swollen and crooked. It was definitely broken. Haldir motioned for his brother to move
behind her and she stiffened as he placed his hands on her shoulders.

“You must sit very still, I have to set the break before I heal you or it will not mend properly. Rumil will keep you from
pulling away lest you do more damage. Brace yourself this will hurt.”

He steadied her chin with one hand and with the other he cupped her aching nose. At the first hint of pain she tried to
jerk out of his grasp, if not for the tight hold Rumil had on her she would have succeeded. He applied even pressure to
her nose till he was satisfied that it was aligned correctly. Dara squirmed in discomfort and gasped at the pain. Rúmil winced
in sympathy at her distress. Tears of pain made tracks in the dirt on her face as Haldir lifted her chin with his hand and
assessed his handiwork. Confident it would now heal properly he once more held a cupped hand over her face as he began
to chant softly. She tensed as the throbbing returned but then relaxed in Rúmil’s grip as the pain was replaced by soothing
warmth. He told her to sit and rest a few moments before they headed back to the wood. Then he rose and motioned for
Rúmil to follow him.

Chapter 6 - Chapter 6

Chapter 6
Note: See Disclaimer in One

When Haldir judged they were far enough away he glared at his brother and exclaimed.

“Just what in the name of all that is sacred did you think you were doing out there? You were so busy ogling Dara that you completely forgot that you had several orcs trying to kill you! If it had not been for her I might be burying a brother today!”

“Haldir…. I…I have no excuse for my behavior. I should have paid more attention to the battle. I was just worried about her.”

“I should think you have no excuse. You, a seasoned veteran acting like an elfling with a crush. If you cannot keep your focus than I shall be forced to transfer one of you to another patrol.”

Rumil could not meet the force of his brother’s stare so he focused instead on his boot tips. What he did not see was the fear in Haldir’s eyes at the close call his brother suffered due to his own carelessness.

“I do not think that will be necessary. It will not happen again. You know I only consider Dara as a good friend. I guess I just never realized that she could really take care of herself. I know how good she is when she spars with us but this was different. What if she had panicked? She did not, but that did not keep me from worrying. I was proud of how well she did today and if it had not been for my inattention she would not have gotten hurt. She is my friend and I must remember that she knows the risks, same as we all do. I will not cease to watch her back but I will not allow her to become a distraction again and possibly get us both killed.”

“See that you heed your own advice then. I will be watching. As to her performance in the fight, I am very pleased. It was foolhardy for her to tackle that orc for she lost her sword in the process. But she will learn. I do want you to watch her though. The realities of her first fight have yet to sink in, she still looks a bit too dazed for my liking. A warrior’s first battle can be an upsetting event. I remember your reaction to your first battle.”

“Yes, yes, must you remind me? Afterwards I lost the breakfast I had consumed that morning along with I believe my dinner from the night before. Then shook like a leaf in the wind. At least no one was killed, Orophin lost a good friend in his first skirmish, and it took him years to stop blaming himself.”

“It is what we all must face when we took up the sword to defend our borders. We have all lost friends…loved ones. It is the harsh reality of the oath to protect we all swore. It is a fact that she must become accustomed to if she is going to survive the life she has chosen. Come we must get back to the wood, it is getting late and I must prepare a report for Lord Celeborn about this latest orc uprising. Do not take lightly what I have said; also get her to talk about the fight today. She keeps too much inside and does not speak of her troubles and tends to brood about them.”

“Sounds like someone else I know who is overly fond of brooding. Do you know the elf of whom I speak? He is generally not a bad fellow but he can be most overbearing at times. He is also frightfully cruel to his younger brothers. I do not know how they put up with him. Oh and did I mention that this elf is also….”

“I am sure someone must find your jests amusing Rúmil, I just have not met them yet. Now go on, I’m sure you are quite happy being filthy but I would like to get myself cleaned up.”

“I will keep an eye on her Haldir, she is much tougher than she looks, that was made abundantly clear today. I have learned over the years that while she does brood she does not do so for long. She will talk when she is ready and not before. Contrary to what you might believe, I too would like to get the stench of orc off of me.”

He smiled at his brother and clasped his shoulders. Haldir fondly returned the gesture, briefly allowing himself the comfort of family. As he walked away he turned once more and spoke.

“I have faith in you Rúmil. I will see both of you back at the city when your watch is up. Tell Dara that I am proud of her.”

Haldir joined Orophin and Deleon to speak with them during the walk back to the woods. Rumil found Dara waiting impatiently for them leave. She was absently brushing at her stained clothing. An impressive bruise had bloomed across her face; it was the only evidence of the accelerated healing that had mended her nose. In a few days it too would be gone. He slung a companionable arm across her shoulders and on the walk back to their flet he tried to draw her out of her silence with amusing stories, mostly at Haldir’s expense.

At the border Orophin, Deleon and Haldir left to continue on to their own watch posts as Dara and Rúmil approached theirs. They climbed the ladder and once inside Rumil suggested that Dara get cleaned up first. She looked over at him as she sat on the floor and pulled out her dagger to look at the stained blade.

“No you go ahead, I’d like to get my weapons clean first.”

He hesitated with a worried look on his face and was about to insist.

“Rúmil! I am fine, go get cleaned up. I know you and Haldir are worried about me but there is no need. I do not need a nursemaid. Have no fear I will not sick up all over your boots.”

“Will I never live that down? Ok, I’ll go. I will not be gone long. Then it is your turn. Are you sure you will be alright?”

A glare was his only answer as he gathered up a clean set of clothes, some soap and a scrap of cloth to use as a towel and left the Flet. He went up the trail to where a small stream widened into a shallow pool. He hurriedly bathed, donned fresh clothing and returned to the flet. Dara was sitting cross-legged on the floor cleaning his sword. Hers were lying nearby already cleaned and polished.

“You did not have to care for my weapon as well but it was kind of you to do so. Now go get yourself cleaned up and I will fix us something to eat.”

Dara nodded her head in acknowledgement; gathered the things she needed and climbed down the ladder.
Rumil had laid out a simple meal of cheese, fruit and bread and was rummaging in his pack for a whetstone when Dara returned. She was dressed in fresh clothes and her damp hair hung loose down her back.
He motioned for her to sit then handed her a plate. They sat in silence as he watched her pick at her food. The quiet was driving him to distraction.

“Does your nose still hurt?”

She jumped a bit when his question broke the silence.

“What? Oh, no it does not hurt much at all, just a bit tender. Haldir did a good job healing it.”
She looked back down at her plate.

He continued to watch her as she picked at her food, only nibbling at the cheese and bread. She sighed and then set the plate aside.

“Look I’m not really all that hungry. I am just tired. I think I will turn in for the night.”

She stood up and took her bedroll from where it was stored in the corner and unrolled it on the floor. She removed her boots and sat down on the blankets. She took a wooden comb out of her pack and began to work the snarls out of her long golden blonde hair.

The quiet was beginning to get on his nerves again.

“Look Dara, if you want to talk or anything, I’ll listen. I can tell something is bothering you so if…”

She flung the comb aside and cut off his attempt to talk with a sharp retort.

“I said I am fine! Why does everyone keep expecting me to fall apart? I think I did rather well today. I even managed to save your butt from that orc that was set to skewer you. So do me a favor and leave me be! Ok?”

Then she pointedly turned her back on him and crawled under the covers.

He had given up trying to fathom her mood and put the food away and got out his own bedroll.

“Ok, I’ll leave you alone then, see you in the morning. Goodnight Dara.”

A shrug of her blanket-covered shoulders was her only reply. He sighed in exasperation and lay down in his own bed and watched the flet darken as the sun set.
He must have drifted off to sleep for the next thing he knew a slight noise from above pulled him out of his reverie. He looked around to find the source of the noise. Dara’s bed was a rumpled mess and the flet was empty. Another muffled noise came from above. She must have gotten up and climbed higher in the tree, Rúmil knew from experience that when his friend was troubled she often sought solace in the treetops.

Rúmil got up and pulled himself onto the roof of the flet, he let his eyes adjust to the darkness and picked out a huddled shape on a large branch a short distance above him. With little effort he climbed up to Dara’s perch and sat down beside her. She was sitting hugging her knees, which were drawn up under her chin. Seeing her in this pose reminded him of their first meeting over a century ago. He just sat close to her waiting for her to speak. He waited for quite a while till his patience deserted him. He was tired and this branch was not exactly the most comfortable of perches.

“Dara? Won’t you please talk to me?”

She sighed and for the first time since he sat down she looked over at him.

“I…I know Orcs are evil and an abomination but I have never killed that close up before. It was different when I was shooting them from a distance. They were just targets, I could not see their eyes. The orc that hit me, I could feel its warm blood on my skin when I slit its throat, I could see the light of life leave its eyes. But what else could I do? I was stunned by how much they hated us, by how much they wanted to kill us. I cannot seem to lose that feeling of hatred. One orc I was fighting looked at me with such hunger I shudder to think what it would have done had it gotten a hold of me. I was glad to kill it just to keep it away. How do you cope with battle after battle? Do you get used to the blood? The killing?”

She rested her head upon her knees and her hair fell forward to curtain her face, hiding it from his view. He studied her for a moment before replying.

“How do you cope? I think about who and what I am protecting. My friends and my family and my home, they are what I fight for. You probably do not want to hear this but no, you never get used to the killing. It does get easier, but to get used to it, to even enjoy it, is to become too much like them. I have seen warriors driven mad by their thirst for revenge. After the battle I do whatever I can to forget, at least for a little while. I spend time with friends, and my family. I might even get drunk or do something ridiculous, such as one of my infamous pranks. It is important that fighting does not consume your life. That is why I worry for Haldir; he is consumed by his job of protecting not only the Wood but all of us as well. He feels personally responsible for every injury, for every death. It weighs heavily upon him, his responsibilities. That is why Orophin and I make sure he indulges in other pursuits, and why we tease him mercilessly.”

Dara pushed the hair back away from her face and looked up again.

“I tried to sleep but the images would not leave me in peace. I suppose we should go back inside it looks like it will rain soon.”

She stood and gracefully descended to the flet and went inside, Rúmil followed not sure if his talk had helped much at all.

She had gone back over to her bedroll and had sat down upon it. Her back stiff and her eyes haunted. He lay back down in his own bed and tried to get some rest. He could hear a gentle rain begin to fall on the roof of the flet. He watched Dara as she just sat, after a while he threw back his blanket and gave up all pretenses to sleep.
He got up and sat down behind her, she tensed when he put his hands on her shoulders and moved her hair aside.

“Calm yourself, I could feel your tension from across the room. If I am to get any sleep at all you are going to have to relax.”

With his thumbs he found the knots of tension in her neck and began to knead them away. His hands roamed over her shoulders finding all the cramped muscles. After a while he noticed her posture sagging more and more with the loosening of each sore spot. He smiled when she all but went limp under his ministrations and with a final pat on the back he got up and returned to his own bed.

“Thank you, that really helped. I also want to apologize for snapping at you earlier, you did not deserve that. I took my foul mood out on you.”

She finally lay down and seemed relaxed enough to actually get some rest.

“Think nothing of it, you can return the favor sometime. Now get some sleep you have first watch at dawn.”

He drifted off remembering the pleasant feel of her warm skin under his hands.
That last thought startled him out of his reminiscing….

Chapter 7 - Chapter 7

Short chapter.... next one will be longer.

Chapter 7
Note: See Disclaimer in One

What was wrong with him? He was remembering the times when his regard of her had shifted a bit further
away from friendship. Those feelings whenever they had surfaced had been ruthlessly shoved back to friendly
admiration. He figured that seeing Dara helpless was triggering all of his protective instincts.

Elendara had shifted on her bedroll and had thrown off her covers. He checked the wound, which seemed to
be as well tended as he could manage, then covered her again. She was still hot to the touch so he laid a cool
cloth upon her forehead and made her as comfortable as possible. Yawning widely he got his own bedroll and
put it on the floor right next to Dara’s. He ate a little dried fruit and some lembas then lay down to get a bit of
rest. Worry and the long trip from the city had made him weary so he decided to get a nap while he could. He
took her limp hand in his and drifted off into a light reverie. His contact with her would let him know if she stirred.

He managed to rest for several hours and woke when Dara pulled her hand from his grasp. She was still fevered
and her eyes were closed as she tossed restlessly. He prepared another cup of willow bark tea and forced her to
drink it. She drifted in and out of consciousness; so delirious she did not even realize he was there. Periodically he
would put a cool cloth on her fevered brow and bathe her flushed face. Mostly he just sat watching her, wishing he
could help Dara fight this battle.

Unable to relax, he decided to further put to order the mess the flet had been left in. He discarded the used
bandages and picked up Dara’s sword belt from where it had been dropped on the floor. Curious, he drew the
blade; it was stained with a dark substance that was greenish black in color. He knew without a doubt it was
orc blood. He needed her awake so he could find out just what had happened.

He checked her other weapons, he retrieved her bow off of the floor and propped it into a corner and then he
examined her quiver. It was still full of arrows so the orcs she encountered had not been too great a number.
They were taught to kill as many from a distance as they could before closing for combat. He carefully cleaned
the sword and then the scabbard before re-sheathing the blade. Whether she was better or not at first light
he would track her movements back to the site of the skirmish and to where she had gotten injured. Dusk was
approaching so he prepared himself some food, ate and then made sure Dara drank some more water. He lay
back down beside her to get what rest he could before his impending scouting mission the next morning. As before, he
kept one hand in contact with her prone form so he would be instantly aware of any change in her condition.

At one point during the night a loud cry jolted him back to awareness. Elendara was struggling and calling out as if in
the throes of a horrible dream. He sat up and took her in his arms to try and calm her so she would not re-open her wound.
She was scorching hot to the touch and her eyes were open and unseeing. Her fever had spiked unbelievably high and she
was fighting to breathe. Rúmil grabbed the two full water skins that he had left on the floor near the beds and soaked Dara
and the blankets in an effort to cool her raging fever. He felt so helpless, and having done all he could, simply held her tightly
and willed her to resist the call of the Halls of Mandos. He did not allow himself to even consider the possibility of her dying. In
his arms her body trembled and shook. He murmured words of comfort in her ear and tried to lend her his strength to fight the
inferno that was determined to consume her.

Near dawn her shaking increased and she thrashed wildly in his grip, her back arched and her body gave a great heave as
she labored to get air into her lungs. Then suddenly as they had started the tremors ceased and she went totally limp in his arms.
Dara was so still and he could detect no signs of life. He gathered her close and bowed his head in grief. His eyes filled with tears
as he rested his face against hers. He sat with her in his arms for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality were only moments.
He was stunned when she gave a deep shuddering breath. His heart leapt with joy; he had been so sure she was dead that it took
him a while to realize that her face was cool against his cheek. He raised a shaking hand and checked the pulse in her neck; it was
steady and strong. She was alive and her fever seemed to have broken. He gave a delighted laugh and hugged her tightly, almost
giddy with relief.

Now she was a sodden mess and her bed was soaked as well. Once again he needed to get her warm and dry. He lay her
down on her bedroll and went in search of a dry garment. She seemed to have no more in her pack so he chose one of his.
They were almost the same height so it would not be too bad of a fit. He pulled the damp tunic over her head and replaced
it with his dry one then changed the bandage on her leg. The wound was still red and puffy and her knee was very swollen.
He then placed her on his bedroll since it was the only bit of dry bedding they had left. She seemed to be truly resting now.
It disconcerted him a bit that her eyes were closed but he knew that extreme stress or a serious injury would make an elf
sleep thusly. The sun had not yet risen and birdsong heralded the new day. He lay back down beside her and drifted into a
light sleep, his senses tuned to wake at the slightest noise.

Chapter 8 - Chapter 8

Chapter 8
Note: See Disclaimer in One

Awareness was slow to return. Random thoughts drifted through Dara’s mind as she struggled back to consciousness.
Her head ached and she felt groggy and disoriented. She was so weak it was all she could do to open her eyes. Even that
small feat almost proved to be too difficult. She blinked a few times, the pre-dawn light seemed harsh to her eyes and her
vision was blurry and unfocused. She was somewhat amazed that she was still alive and wondered just how much time
had passed.

Another fact made itself apparent as she lay quietly. She was not alone. There was a warm presence pressed up against her
uninjured side and an arm was draped across her abdomen. She looked down at the arm, it was male and the sleeve was the
grayish green color of the wardens. The hand, which was resting palm upward, had slim tapered fingers and the distinct calluses
of one who used a bow. So her replacement had arrived. What she could not figure out was why they were sharing a bedroll.

Just what had happened? She remembered getting sicker and then taking the last of her pain killing drugs and then nothing. She
just remembered vague images and shadows. She froze when she felt a warm breath across her cheek, whomever she was sharing a
bedroll with had scooted closer and had their face pressed against her neck. She could not think what to do, she was not used to being
in such close proximity with someone else. She tried to move away and gasped as the ache in her leg awoke in a sharp piercing wave. It
was her sudden movement and her sharp in-drawn breath that awoke her companion.

Rúmil was quick to awaken when he felt Dara move. The last vestiges of elven sleep faded from his eyes as he came to full awareness.
He realized several things right away. The first thing was that Dara seemed to be awake and the second, was that he was holding her
close with an arm thrown across her stomach and his nose buried in the crook of her neck. He was a bit alarmed that he had been betrayed
by his own sub-conscious. The dreams he had about Dara, much to his embarrassment, had been more than friendly. He tried to rationalize his thoughts yet again. He convinced himself that his dreams of her had been triggered by her close call with death and his relief at the outcome.

He hastily pulled himself away and sat up. She looked up at him and tried to get her mind to form a coherent thought. She opened her
mouth to speak but no words came forth, her throat and mouth were too parched to form them. After a moment she tried again, this time
with more success.

“Rú….Rúmil? Wha happened? How… long have you been here?”

“I arrived yesterday at dawn, you gave me quite a scare. How do you feel this morning?”

She closed her eyes again and used a shaky hand to push the hair away from her face. Then rested the hand on her forehead.

“I feel thirsty, weak, tired. I hurt, but I am glad you are here.”

“Well the thirst I can take care of.” He took the remaining waterskin and poured some in the cup that he had been using to give
her the herbs to reduce her fever. He slid one arm behind her neck and slightly lifted her head and placed the cup to her lips. She
drank deeply and when the cup was empty he lowered her head back to the pallet. She was still dizzy and closed her eyes hoping
the room would cease to spin. “Feel a little better now?”

She nodded and lay still for a moment then opened her eyes and looked up at him. He did not like the pallor of her skin and the dark
circles under her eyes; she was still far from well. He laid a gentle hand on her cheek; it was still cool to the touch.

“Can you tell me what happened to you? I saw the orc blood on your sword. I must know what happened.”

Slowly she recounted the events that led to her getting wounded. She had to stop a few times to try and order her drug and pain
hazed mind to remember all of the details.

“Were you able to tell which way the orcs had come from?” He hated questioning her so soon after she had regained consciousness, but
it was vital that he know the details. He needed to determine if this band of orcs would prove to be a significant threat.

“It seemed that they had come from farther west, anymore than that I did not have time to find out before I was injured. Oh Rúmil, you
would think I would know better by now. To be wounded so easily, I do not deserve to be a warden. I was careless. To be so grievously
injured by a lone orc, a wounded one no less.”

She closed her eyes and turned her head away ashamed by her admission. She felt a hand cup the side of her face and turn her
head back.

“Dara, open your eyes,” She did as he asked. “ What happened to you was not your fault, it could have happened to any one of us. You
had no idea that orc was hiding under that wagon. The fact that it is dead and you are still alive is a testament to your skill. Also that you
managed to make it all the way back here and still be able to tend to yourself is proof of your determination.”

“Well I suppose I should be glad it was you that found me and not Haldir. I do not think he would have been so kind in his assessment
of my performance. He would have given me that glare of his and then gone on to lecture me on everything I had done wrong.”

“Dara you underestimate my brother, I do not think he would have found fault with your actions. He is not as infallible as you believe. Do
you think you‘ll be all right here by yourself for a few hours? I really have to go check out the site where you were ambushed.”

“I’ve survived this long, another few hours should not make a difference. I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere while you are gone.”

“I’ll refill the waterskins before I leave. Would you like to try and eat something?”

Dara’s stomach knotted with nausea at the thought of food.

“I do not think I could keep it down. Some more water would be appreciated though.”

“Then I shall fetch some, I will be right back.”

She watched him leave with the empty waterskins and shifted on the pallet to try and get more comfortable. It was proving to
be impossible, every time she moved a wave of pain washed down her leg making her gasp. Gathering what little strength she had
Dara pulled back the covers to look at her leg. It was encased in a fresh bandage and did not seem to be bleeding anymore. She was
shocked when she looked at her knee; it was grossly swollen and very red. She attempted to bend her leg. Sweat broke out on her
forehead, and it felt as if a red-hot poker had been applied to her leg. She lay back down gasping for breath. Dara looked up as she
heard someone ascend the ladder, it was Rúmil. He dropped the now full waterskins to the floor when he noticed her pale sweat
dotted face.

“Tell me you did not try and move?”

“Ok I Won’t tell you. How bad is it? I can barely bend my leg at all now. I did not think it was possible for it to hurt any worse, but I was

Rumil sat down beside Dara and took her hand.

“That bad huh? I wish I could go back and kill that filthy orc again, much slower this time.”

“Dara I won’t lie to you, your injury is infected and I am afraid that the infection has spread to your knee. I was able to stop the bleeding
but I do not have the healing talent that Haldir or even Orophin possesses. You also lost a lot of blood. We have to get you back to the city. We cannot leave till the outrider shows up.”

“I suspected as much, oh and before I forget why did we happen to be sharing a bedroll? If I am not mistaken you seemed to have
been using my shoulder as a pillow as well.”

She looked at him curiously waiting for an answer. She was also amazed to note that a flush had crept up his cheeks painting them red.
He was blushing!

“Well… you see, during the night your fever rose so high I was afraid you would do yourself harm. I had to hold you down, and then I
soaked your blankets with most of the remaining water to try and get you cool. Dara…you almost died last night. Right before your fever
broke. You even stopped breathing.”

She saw the worry in his eyes; She had not realized that she had come so close to dying. It was all still a jumble of fevered dreams and
confused images in her mind.

“You were a mess when I found you. I looked at your wound and then re-bandaged it and changed your dirt and blood covered tunic. When
your fever broke you were as soaked as your bedding and were out of clean clothes, so I put you into one of my spare tunics then into my
bedroll to stay warm. I was tired and worn out as well. I had to stay close in case you worsened again. I did not think you would object.”

She glanced down at herself and sure enough the tunic she had on was not one of her own. It was slightly longer and colored a soft
green. She had never been uncomfortable in Rúmil’s presence before, but knowing that he had dressed and undressed her several times
caused a flush to creep up her face. As Wardens she had been in close proximity with males before. Even though they had given her as
much privacy as possible, there was no room for modesty when you were guarding the borders. Dara did not understand why the simple
act of him caring for her wounds unsettled her so much. Even though they were friends she had always maintained a bit of a distance, only
on rare occasions did she instigate physical contact. It was always Rumil or Orophin who was the first to hug or sling a companionable arm
around her. She did not shrug off their friendly gestures, but most of the time she just did not initiate them.

“No I do not object. I am just not used to waking up with someone beside me. I did not know what to think. Although I am glad it was
not Amros, he has been flirting with me for centuries. Had it been him I might have punched him in the nose. I neither want nor need that
type of attention.”

“Yes I remember how hard you punch, I thought you had dislocated my jaw that one time. Your brawling skills have much improved over the
years so getting hit by you now would be infinitely more painful.”

“I do not think you have a lot to worry about, I am so weak right now I would have trouble fighting an elfling.”

Dara lay back against the blankets again and closed her eyes. What little she had exerted herself had taken its toll. She began to lose her
fight to stay awake. Rumil knelt at her side and straightened the blankets and tucked her in.

“I have not had anyone tuck me into bed since I was very young. I want to thank you again for being here.”

“You are my friend it is the least I could do. I have to go; I will be back before dark. I hate to leave you here but we both know my duty is
to see to the safety of the wood. I will leave the water and cup near by and I will leave some food out in case you get hungry. Try and rest
as much as you can, I will be back before you know it.”

He brushed Dara’s hair away from her forehead and rested his hand there checking again for any sign of fever. It was an effort for Dara
to open her eyes again; she was so tired she just nodded her head in assent. He tucked a few errant strands of her hair behind her ear
and she grasped his hand in her own before he could pull away. She rested their joined hands against her cheek and smiled at him as she
drifted off to sleep. He felt a wave of tenderness wash over him as he looked at their joined hands. These feelings left him confused and
unsettled. Reluctantly he pulled his hand from hers and before he could talk himself out of it he placed a light kiss on her brow. This was
not the Dara he was accustomed to, if she had not been sick she would have not allowed such intimacies. He studied her face once more
then got up, grabbed his cloak and left the shelter. He needed this time away from her to try and sort out his jumbled feelings.

Chapter 9 - Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Note: See Disclaimer in One

It was easy to follow her trail back to the ambush site. It was as she described. There were a few orc corpses scattered about, not even the creatures that habitually dined on carrion would touch a dead orc. He also found the orc that had injured Dara in front of the ruined wagon. He saw the evidence of the attack in the marks upon the ground. The weapon that the orc used to stab her was lying close to the corpse. He bent over and picked it up. It was stained with her blood and several other unnamed substances. With a growl Rúmil flung it away from him and kicked the corpse. It took him a moment to compose himself and return to the task at hand.

He picked up signs of the Orc band and followed it for quite a distance. The trail led into the hills to a large opening in the rock. He knew better than to go inside, these hills were riddled with caves and the raiding party he had been trailing had been a good sized one. A larger force would be needed to exterminate this group of orcs. It was getting late and he had been hunting the foul beasts for hours. It was time to head back; he stopped at the ambush sight and piled the few orc corpses into a heap and set fire to the small pyre.

Rúmil stood staring into the flames. He tried to sort out his feelings. He thought about his relationship with Dara. He did not want to jeopardize the friendship they shared. Finding her so desperately ill had triggered every protective instinct he possessed. Feelings he had thought long buried were brought back to the surface to be scrutinized. He had always felt closer to her than any other female; she actually challenged him like no one else ever had. She listened to him when he talked and laughed at his jokes. Dara did not just look on him as just another conquest. Most of the elleth he had spent time with over the years had somewhat jaded him. All they were concerned with was his status, looks and physique.

Dara had taken the time to actually get to know him, something only his brothers had managed to do. She had all but said that she had no interest in a relationship. Rúmil could not ever recall her showing any favor to one particular elf. A few had pursued her, but it was more for the novelty of her station and not for herself as a person. She had also mentioned to him during one of their evenings together that she would never pick a lover from among the wardens. She had worked too hard to earn their respect and even now she still had one or two critics just waiting for her to make a mistake. Besides not many of the elves that he knew would like to be with someone who could best them two falls out of three.

She was not soft and meek. Dara was almost as tall as him. She was sleekly muscular from her many years of training and her stride was long and purposeful. She did not back down in a fight and was not hesitant in voicing her opinion. Rúmil laughed, thinking that trait had gotten her into trouble on several occasions. Most found her intimidating and as for the other elleth, he had seen them treat her as if she were an oddity. He could not recall the last time he had seen her in a dress. She was either in uniform or dressed in tunic and breeches. For him it did not lessen her appeal, it was who she was, minus the artifice that the other elleth donned like face paint. In fact they should be envious of her accomplishments; she was out guarding the borders while they lived virtually care free in the city. He knew Dara had learned long ago to shrug off their sly comments but they still made him angry.

The fire from the small pyre had all but died out and his retrospection was doing nothing more but adding to his discomposure. He would have to content himself with their friendship no matter the feelings that were plaguing him. Having resolved nothing, he left the ambush site and headed back to the wood.

Dara woke out of her light sleep and looked around the flet. She did not see Rúmil so she assumed that he was still on his scouting mission. She hoped he did not run into any trouble and that he would be back soon. His presence was a comfort and she had been glad that he was the warden that showed up as her replacement. Dara was not used to being fussed over and had it been anyone else tending her wounds and fever she might not have handled it well at all. Her sleep had not been a restful one, the pain in her leg made comfort impossible. She shifted again on the pallet trying in vain to find a position that did not aggravate her injured leg. Dara did not like being idle, but there was nothing she could do to ease her restlessness. She was too weak to even stand on her own even if her leg would have supported her weight.

Dara was also frightened; it was a feeling she was not accustomed to. Her leg was not healing properly and something was terribly wrong with her knee. She could not bear the thought of her injuries taking her away from the sworn duty that she loved. Dara’s fierce dedication to the protection of the wood had earned her the respect of the other Wardens. Her duty was her life, it was a life she freely embraced and had for decades. It amused her to no end that there were now several elleth training to be wardens. She had, on occasion, helped with the teaching of said recruits. They were a bit in awe of her skill; she could understand their feelings.

It was how she used to feel when training with Rúmil and Orophin. Constant practice had raised her skills over the years so she no longer felt like a stripling when facing the two brothers. Dara was still not quite their match with a bow, and she could not, to this day consistently best Rúmil with a sword. In hand to hand fighting though, she knew no equal. Her fluid grace and wiry strength gave her a distinct advantage in this form of combat. At least that is how it used to be, before that thrice cursed orc drove it’s poisoned blade into her leg.

Left to her own thoughts Dara dwelled on her future. As she lay there sadness and depression hit her like a fist in the gut. She could not stop the tears that pooled in her eyes and spilled over her lashes. Angrily she brushed the tears from her cheeks, she never cried. To do so now would not help matters, that thought was of little comfort and it did not stop the tears of self-pity that wet the blanket under her cheek. Eventually weariness claimed her again and she slept.

Rúmil got back to the flet just as the sun was setting. He was anxious to see how Dara had managed in his absence so he fairly flew up the ladder. He immediately went to the pallet and checked on her. He noted with relief that she was sleeping and her breathing was deep and even. His hand brushed her forehead and found it cool to the touch. It looked as if she drank some of the water he had left out but had eaten none of the food. It worried him that she had not eaten in close to four days. He would have to make sure that she did before too much longer.

He sat down beside her and peeled back the blankets to check her leg. He did not like the looks of it at all. It was badly infected and he had run out of things to try to combat the pernicious malady. Rúmil thanked the Valar that the outrider would be there by mid-day tomorrow at the latest and he could get her back to the city. Rúmil also saw the tear tracks on her face and gently traced them with a fingertip. He wished he had been here to soothe them away. She was still far too pale and her face was lined with pain. Reluctantly he got to his feet to fix them something to eat.

He needed to heat some water to make a broth for Dara to drink. He grabbed the things he would need and climbed down the rope ladder and swiftly built a small fire. He heated some water in a cooking pot and added dried meat and some herbs and stirred it till the meat was soft and falling apart. He took the pot of broth and carefully climbed back up the ladder and poured it into two bowls. He drank his portion and moved to Dara’s side laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Dara, wake up you need to eat something. It will help you get some strength back.”

Her eyelids fluttered a bit and she opened her eyes. She smiled up at him.

“You are back. Did you run into any trouble?” She tried to sit up a little and grimaced in pain.

“Here let me help you, if you promise to drink all of this broth I will tell you how the scouting mission went.”

He set down the bowl and grabbed his pack for her to use as a backrest. With an arm around her shoulders he assisted her to sit up and slid the pack behind her. Then carefully leaned her back against it. The only indication she gave that she was in pain was the hissing indrawn breath as he sat her up. Dara’s head swam dizzily and she closed her eyes willing it to pass. Rúmil picked the bowl back up and held it to her lips. With her eyes closed Dara negatively shook her head.

“Dara you must eat. I will pour it down your throat if I have to, but you will eat.”

Dara opened her eyes and stared at him, her mouth set in a stubborn line.

“I am too nauseated to eat anything. I will not be able to keep it down, take it away.”

He hastily pulled the bowl away as she tried to swat it out of his hand.

“I would not do that again. I can be just as tenacious as Haldir to get what I want, you know. Push me far enough and you will find out. Now open you mouth.”

She glared at him but did as he bade. At the first sip her stomach knotted up and she tried to turn her head away. A stern look from Rúmil made her take another drink. As she drank more of the warm broth her stomach relaxed and she realized that she actually was hungry and drained the bowl.

“Now will you tell me what you found? Thank you for the broth, I hate to admit it but you were right I was hungry.”

He set the bowl aside and made himself comfortable beside her. Rúmil sat on her left side and rested his back against the pack as well. Bringing their shoulders and legs in contact with each other. Rúmil enjoyed the sensation of being so close and Dara did not seem to mind either. She had been lonely when she had awoken and accepted his nearness without complaint. Dara had never minded being alone before but her injury and bout of self-doubt had left her feeling insecure.

“I went the direction you said, it was pretty easy to follow your trail. I found the ambush site and tracked the orcs farther west, at one point it looked like they joined with a bigger contingent. Their trail led into the hills to a very large cave. The Orcs will have to be flushed out and dealt with. It is a large number, I will have to inform Haldir and come back with a sizable force to deal with them. Right now our only concern is to get you to the city and to the healers. Why don’t you see if you can get some more rest.”

Dara fidgeted on the pallet. “I am tired of resting, I am tired of my leg feeling as if it is afire. I wish this had never happened.” Dara crossed her arms over her chest and decided to sulk. Since it was the only thing she felt she was capable of doing at the moment.

“Well it did happen and we will deal with it. I will help you.” He tried to put his arm around her but she shrugged it off.

“How can you possibly help? I fear there is not much that can be done. I had a lot of time to think today and I do not have much hope for a positive outcome.” Anger tinged her voice as she answered him.

“How can I help? I can keep self-pity from eating you alive for one thing. Dara, this is not like you. Where is the young elleth who would let nothing stand in her way to become a Warden? Who would train to near exhaustion to be the best she could be? Where is the Warden who would defend the borders with her very life? She had spirit and determination and let nothing hold her back. Where is she?”

“I fear she is lost and cannot find her way back.” Dara looked at Rúmil and laid her head on his shoulder as she had done in the past when terribly upset. “Help me find my way back?” She whispered.

He rested his chin on the crown of her head and whispered back. “I will help you in any way I can. You can lean on me Dara and I will support you. Now try and sleep it will not be an easy day tomorrow.”

“Thank you” She simply said as she snuggled into his side and drifted off to sleep. The fierce headache and some of the fogginess she had been feeling had lessened considerably after she had eaten.

He placed a light kiss on the top of her head and sat there savoring every moment that she clung to him. It was exquisite torture to have her so close. She had spoken of being lost, but Rúmil was the one lost, lost and floundering in the newly awakened feelings he had for her. He sat there long into the night watching over Dara as she passed a very restless night, her injury making it near impossible to fall into a deep sleep.

Morning dawned and he was still sitting there holding Dara. Sometime after midnight exhaustion had finally pulled her under and at last she slept deeply. Rúmil was stiff and sore and the arm Dara was leaning against was numb. He suffered it gladly if it meant he could hold her that much longer. He fell into a light reverie and did not stir until he felt Dara pull away from him. She was awake and trying to extricate herself from his arms and sit up. He helped to steady her and shook his numb arm till he got feeling back.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked as he studied her sleepy expression.

“Much the same, although not as tired. I am a bit hungry though.”

“Do you think you can manage some solid food?”

“Yes, My stomach is not as unsettled as it was yesterday.”

He nodded and got up and fixed them some food from the stores that were left. Some way bread and dried fruit and some cheese made up their breakfast. He brought the food over to the pallet and sat down beside her. They shared the simple fare. She did not eat as much as he would have liked but it was a start. When Dara declared she could eat no more he set the plate aside and placed a hand on her forehead. To his dismay she felt slightly warm again.

“You Feel a bit fevered again, how badly off are you?”

“I do not think it will get as bad. I do feel flushed but not terribly so and my mind is clear. My leg is about the same perhaps a bit worse, I cannot tell anymore. It just hurts, the pain lessens for a bit then flares back to life again.”

“I will have to change the bandages, there are just enough supplies to do it. Is there anything left in the healer’s kit that I can use?”

“I think there is still a pot of salve used for minor cuts and scrapes. It cannot hurt and has some astringent properties. I pretty much used everything else.”

Rúmil got the supplies he would need and laid them out close to hand.

“Are you ready? I do not have to tell you this will hurt.”

She closed her eyes and her hands fisted at her sides. “Just get it over with.”

He took a deep breath and pulled back the blanket. She flinched when he placed his hand on the bandage. Rúmil took his knife and cut the linen. He peeled the bandages away to reveal the ugly wound. The slight smell from the wound was not a good sign; it had begun to fester. Dara’s inborn healing ability appeared to have been overwhelmed. She steadfastly refused to look, her eyes remained tightly shut and she bit her lower lip to keep from crying out. He cleaned the wound as best he could and used all of the salve in the small pot to thickly coat the wound. By the time he had finished Dara was shaking and ashen faced. Her fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles were white.

“Dara? Are you all right? I’m sorry if it hurt.” He disposed of the soiled bandages and returned to her side. Her eyes were still closed and she had leaned her head back against the pack that was propping her up.

“I will be, just give me a moment.” Dara took several deep breaths and opened her eyes. They looked a bit glazed. “Don’t bother telling me how bad it looked, I can guess.”

“The healers will take good care of you. I am sure they can make it right. The outrider should be here soon, why don’t we get you dressed for the trip. I think if we cut the leg off of one of your pair of leggings they should go on no problem.”

She watched as he rummaged through her pack and pulled out a buff colored leather pair and took out his knife.

“No! Not that pair, I just got them. There is a worn gray pair in the bottom of the pack, use those.”

Rúmil chuckled. “Dara I have never known you to be overly concerned about your attire before.”

She frowned at him. “I am not, it is just why waste a brand new pair when my old gray leggings will suffice as well?”

“You are right, they Gray ones it is.” He found the mentioned article of clothing in the bottom of her pack and pulled them out.

Rúmil was glad for the distraction of getting them ready to leave. He had been too preoccupied of late tormenting himself with a situation with which he had no control. His sharp knife made short work on the threadbare material of the leggings. He had cut them off just about mid-thigh and took them over to the pallet to help her dress. Dara sat there with a sullen look on her face. She muttered something that not even his sharp hearing was able to catch.

“What was that Dara? Did you say something?”

“I said this is embarrassing. Having to dress me like this.”

He stood there frowning at her. “Are you able to dress your self?”

“Well no but….”

“Do you see anyone else here that will help you get dressed besides me?”

“Again no, but that does not keep….”

“I fail to see the problem then, I do not understand this modesty you have developed all of a sudden. You need help so I will help you. End of discussion.”

Dara scowled at him. “Just help me with the one leg and I can manage the rest.”

“We’ll see, now just sit still and I’ll be as careful as I can.”

He kept her injured leg as still as possible as he eased the garment up her legs. Rúmil tried to stay as impartial as possible but the sensation of the smooth skin on her legs brushing his fingers caused an involuntary shudder to course through him. He was glad she did not notice his reaction to touching her. He was sure she would have recoiled in alarm. Dara finished pulling the leggings on and tied the laces. Rúmil stepped back to put a bit of space between them.

Dara then let out the breath she had been holding and waited till the fierce pain of the wound subsided to a dull ache.

“Well that was unpleasant, you moved away awfully quick. I was not going to bite you.” Dara frowned at him as he stood with his back to her.

A sharp whistle from below interrupted any answer he might have had.

“That must be the outrider, I will go down to meet him.”

Rúmil gave the counter sign and climbed down to inform the rider of the current crisis.

Chapter 10 - Chapter 10

Heart of a Warden

Chapter 10

Rúmil stood waiting for the outrider to approach. It did not take long for him to see the rider heading through the trees. He felt an overwhelming sense of relief that Dara would soon be under the care of the healers. All he had to do now was get her safely back to Caras Galadhon. He recognized the outrider right away he was a warden by the name of Erundil. He was a veteran and had guarded the borders for a millennium. The rider dismounted and hurried to speak to the other warden.

“Rúmil have you any word of warden Elendara? She was due back in the city and never showed up. I searched a bit on my way here but found no trace of her.”

Rúmil clasped hands with Erundil and led him towards the flet.

“She is still here, I found her wounded and sick with fever. I have to get her back to the city to the healing halls.”

“I could take her; this was my last outpost before heading back to the city.”

“No! I have to be the one. I mean, I am her friend and would see her safely back if it was agreeable to you. I believe she would be more comfortable with me as an escort.”

Ah, so that was the way of things Erundil thought, as he observed Rúmil’s panic at the thought of not being able to see Elendara safely home.

“Then I will take your place on the border. Tell me, how was she wounded?

Rúmil sighed in relief and told Erundil how Dara was wounded.

“So this band of orcs that you followed; do you think they will be an immediate threat to the border?”

“It is a sizeable force and we will need to eradicate them as soon as possible. Once I return to the city, I will make sure it is taken care of. Haldir will want to know of this and he will see to gathering the forces needed.”

“Let us see to our wounded Warden then and you and she can depart.”

The next few hours were ones that Dara would prefer not to remember if she had a choice. Erundil and Rúmil returned to the flet and the outrider also checked her wounds. She was tired of being fussed over and wanted to just get it all over with. Rúmil’s soothing words and Erundil’s calm acceptance of the situation only irritated her more.

Rúmil gathered their belongings and took the packs to the waiting horse. Erundil made sure that the horse was cared for and ready for the return trip. It took both of them to get Dara down the ladder. They lay her down on the soft grass beneath the tree. Dara was ashen faced and she had bitten her lip to keep from crying out. She grabbed Rúmil’s hand and pulled him down to her and through clenched teeth exclaimed.

“I can’t...I can’t do this. It hurts too much. I fear in my present condition I will not be able to ride.”

“Dara this is the quickest way back; I wish there was some other way, but there is not.”

Dara thought for a few moments and came to a decision. It was the only way she would be able to make the trip. “I may know of a way I can make the trip easier on myself. There is a plant that grows near the pool where we bathe. It has fern like leaves and dark blue bell shaped flowers. It is the roots I will need. It will make a sleeping draught that should render me unconscious for the trip.”

Rúmil looked at her in consternation “Are you sure it is safe? You are weak and still sick. I am not sure it is a good idea.”

Dara grew a bit vexed at his hesitation. “Will you trust me? I have had herb lore and I know what I am doing. It will send me to sleep for the duration of the trip back and no more than that.”

“Very well, I would not have you suffer unnecessarily on the trip back. We will do what you think is best. I will go and find the plant you spoke of.” Rúmil then left and headed into the wood.

Dara wearily closed her eyes and rested a hand on her forehead. Her closed eyes did not keep her from noticing Erundil’s approach. She opened her eyes and looked at him as he crouched beside her. She knew him only vaguely and had stood border watch with him on only a handful of occasions through the years.

“You wanted something Warden Erundil?”

“You play a dangerous game with your health, I know of the plant of which you speak. It is a potent drug and its use should not be taken lightly.”

She frowned at him. “I know this, but I also know it is the only way I can think of to be able to bear the stress of the journey. I am aware of the risks and I accept them. Please do not tell Rúmil as he will never agree to use the plant if he finds out about the potential dangers.”

“It is against my better judgment but I will acquiesce to your request. You are an elf long past your majority, so if you deem it your only choice, who am I to argue? I wish you well and will ask a blessing for your recovery.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze and then rose to his feet to await the return of the other Warden.

Dara rested as much as she was able to and looked over as she heard Rúmil approaching. He had several of the plants in question, roots and all.

“I have the plant you asked for. Now what do I do with it?”

She looked at the plant and made sure it was the one she had requested.

“Take the roots and score them with your knife, a milky fluid will drip out. Gather this fluid and add it to some water. I guess...oh, about twenty drops for a cup of water should do it. Then I will drink it, the amount should be sufficient to keep me asleep for the entire trip.”

“All right, I just hope you know what you are doing.”

Rúmil did as he was instructed and knelt down and held the cup to her lips. Dara quickly drank the bitter liquid before she thought better of her plan. Soon she felt a great torpidity wash over her and she fell into a deep slumber. Rúmil watched over her till she succumbed to the drug.

Rúmil secured the packs to the horse and climbed into the saddle. “Hand her up to me and I will be off, I will be sure and deliver your border reports to Haldir as soon as I have seen Dara to the healers.”

Mindful of her leg they got Dara settled in the saddle in front of Rúmil. He had one arm firmly around her waist and nestled her head on his shoulder. He took a moment to place his hand to her neck to check her pulse. It was a bit too slow for his liking but he figured it was due to the drug.

“Safe journey to you Rúmil, I know you will take good care of her.”

“Thank you Erundil, guard the border well. A force will return soon to dispatch the orcs.”

They nodded to each other and Rúmil grabbed the reins and they rode off towards home as fast as he dared.

Dara remained totally limp in his arms, unaware of the journey or of her companion’s ever growing worry. She had developed a slight fever again and he feared it would develop into the raging inferno that had almost claimed her life. He rode fast and hard and blessed the Gods for the stamina of an elvish-bred horse. Even so he was forced to rest the beast half way to his destination. He did not allow himself the same luxury; he did eat a little way bread and drink some water. His friend was still deeply unconscious and though her fever grew no worse, he greatly feared for her safety with each passing moment. The second half of the trip varied only in that he had to rest the horse more frequently the closer they got to their goal. He had never, in all of his years, ridden a horse to the point of foundering, but he came close as the city finally came into view. It was with a profound sense of relief when he rode through the gates. He left the poor exhausted beast with the stable master and swiftly carried Dara to the halls of healing. The journey had been a long one and his nerves were frayed and his heart ached.

Rúmil felt a keen sense of loss as the healers took Dara from his arms. They assured him she would receive the best of care. He slumped against the wall, staring out of the bank of windows that let in the late afternoon sunlight. He was weary beyond belief since he had not had any real rest for almost four days. He wanted to be in there with her and the wait was almost more than he could deal with. He was seriously contemplating barging into the examination room when he heard the door to the outside open and someone step into the room. Rúmil glanced at the newcomer who had joined him at the window. It was his eldest brother Haldir.

He did not look up as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“I was informed that Dara has been injured, tell me what has happened.”

Rúmil continued to stare out the windows. He felt another hand on his opposite shoulder and he was turned around to face his brother.

“Rúmil, talk to me. I need to know what happened. I can see that you are upset, but you have to put aside your feelings for now and make a report.”

Haldir was a bit alarmed to see the pained expression in his brother’s eyes; he wondered just what had happened since he had left for the border. He guided his brother over to a bench and made him sit.

Rúmil took a deep breath and spoke.

“I arrived at the watch post on the second day after I left the city. Dara did not answer so I climbed up. She was delirious with fever and there was a large knife wound in her thigh. I saw that her sword was stained with orc blood. I cleaned and checked the wound but I could not bring down her fever.”

Rúmil rested the heels of his hands against his eyes and rubbed at the grittiness. Then continued his narrative.

“ I stayed with her all through the day forcing liquid down her throat and trying to keep her cool. When night fell I slept nearby and towards dawn…. She got so terribly sick, her fever was burning her alive. I did what I could…but was not enough, Dara stopped breathing. I was so afraid she was dead…”

Rúmil’s head dropped to his chest. It discomfited Haldir greatly to see his normally carefree brother so distraught. He put his arms around him and held Rúmil like he used to do when he was an elfling. They both looked up as Orophin burst into the room. He saw Haldir with his arms around a very upset seeming Rúmil and feared the worst.

“Dara, Is she…I heard she had been hurt. I got here as quick as I could.”

Orophin sat on the other side of Rúmil and embraced him as well. Rúmil, comforted by the nearness of his brothers continued his tale.

“She is still alive…. at least I think so. She was when I brought her in. She did not fare well on the ride to the city. The healers have not been back out, they will tell me nothing!”

Haldir gave his brother a reassuring squeeze and bade him to continue his report.

“I am sure she will get the best care, they would have told us if she had worsened. Tell us the rest of what happened.”

Rúmil, closing his eyes at the memory, once again began talking.

“As I said, I feared Dara had died, I felt as if a sword had entered my guts. I could not think. It took me a moment to realize she yet lived. Her body had finally managed to conquer her fever. I made her comfortable and we both slept till past sunrise. When she awoke I was able to get the story of what happened. She had spotted smoke and went to investigate. She found the ruins of a caravan, traders most likely. A lone straggler that had been abandoned by the other orcs wounded Dara. It took her by surprise. The blade was poisoned. She managed to make the trek back to the flet and see to her wounds before she passed out.”

“Were there any signs of survivors? Could she tell how big a force ambushed the travelers?” asked Haldir with a frown.

“No survivors, she was wounded before she got the chance to do much scouting. I made her as comfortable as possible then I went and check out the ambush site. It was as she described. The orcs were easy to track into the hills; it seemed to be a pretty sizeable raiding party. I stopped when I got to a network of caves it would have been unwise to go inside. The hour had grown late and I wanted to get back and check on her. The next morning Warden Erundil arrived. He helped me get Dara down to the horse. She was in so much pain she suggested some herbs to send her to sleep. She was out for the whole trip. I have a bad feeling that what she told me to give her was not the best choice. Erundil stayed behind to take my place on the border.”

“We will have to go back and hunt the orcs down, we cannot have them raiding and multiplying so close to the western border. Can you lead us back there?”

“Of course I can Haldir, I would like nothing more than to see those orcs dead. What is taking them so long? I’m tired of waiting, I am going in there!”

Haldir and Orophin laid restraining hands on Rúmil’s shoulders as he attempted to get up and barge into the room where Dara was being treated.

Orophin had never seen his brother this unsettled. They all cared about Dara and were concerned about her injuries but Rúmil seemed obsessed. He wondered if something else had happened. He looked at Haldir and noticed the same troubled expression was mirrored on his brothers’ face. He too knew that there was more to Rúmil’s distress than met the eye.

“What else is troubling you brother? It is easy to see you are very upset, can you not tell us?”

Haldir and Orophin did not stop Rumil from getting up this time and watched him as he went to the window. He looked out for a moment and then with a weary sigh he rested his head against the window frame. They waited until he decided to speak.

“You are right Phin, I am troubled about something. I am hesitant to speak of it. I am not sure I even know my own feelings.”

Haldir studied his brother but had no idea as to the nature of Rúmil’s turmoil. He went to his brother and rested a consoling hand on his shoulder.

“You can tell us. We will help you in whatever way we can. This has something to do with Dara, does it not?” Haldir asked.

Rúmil nodded affirmatively and contemplated what he would tell them.

“I really do not know how it happened, I mean I’ve always held her in the highest regard. You know that. There have been times over the years when those feelings passed beyond friendship. Oh, I was quick to rationalize them away and was content to let our relationship stay as it was. Until three days ago. Something changed; I tried to ignore what I was feeling, I really did. Dara almost died in my arms; in fact I thought she had. I’ve never felt pain like that before. It made me realize that she was precious to me. I guess this has been building up for some time. I do not know if I can go back to being just her friend.”

Orophin did not look too surprised at his brother’s confession. He had been suspicious of his regard for Dara for years. Haldir did look a bit stunned at the news; he had always thought they were just the best of friends. He had some questions he needed to ask his brother.

“ Does she know how you feel? Have you told her?”

“ No, I have not. It seems she is not looking for that type of a relationship. She told me of Warden Amros’s advances over the years and clearly stated her lack of interest.”

“ I cannot help but think that your having feelings for Dara is unwise. If, as you say, she has no romantic feelings for you Rúmil, you are setting yourself up for heartache.”

“You think I do not know this? I had a lot of time to think about it on the ride here, I cannot help how I feel. I decided to avoid her at one point, but I cannot do that to her. She is still my friend even though I wish it were more. I will just have to deal with it; I will not abandon her because my feelings have changed.”

“Nor would I expect you to, but will you be able to work with Dara and keep your feelings hidden? Or will your feelings for her serve as a distraction?” Haldir asked.

“I do not see that I have much of a choice. I will not let this jeopardize our statuses as Wardens.”

Orophin looked at the miserable expression on Rúmil’s face and contemplated his brother’s future happiness.

“Do you think you have no chance with her? Are you not even going to try?”

“I do not want to wreck our friendship. You have seen how she avoids Amros. I could not stand for her to treat me that way.”

“It is not like you to give up brother. What if there was a chance that she could see you as a suitor? You are friends already, which could be a mark in your favor. She seeks you out more often than me it seems. In fact whenever the both of you are in the city, usually she can be found in your company. Could it be that Dara just does not recognize an attraction for you? Perhaps I should tell her.”

“You do and I will string you up naked from the tree in the middle of the marketplace with a “For sale cheap” sign hung around your neck.

Haldir looked at both of his brothers and sighed. He did not think they would ever tire of arguing.

“I think that is quite enough. Let Rúmil handle this in his own fashion. It is his choice to tell Dara or not. Right now all we need to be concerned about is her health.”

“Very well Haldir, I will let Rúmil deal with it his way,” For now. He added to himself.

All three brothers looked up as the door to the examination room opened.

Chapter 11 - Chapter 11

Into the room walked one of the senior healers. Haldir kept a restraining hand on Rúmil’s shoulder as he tried to rush over.

“Peace brother, let the healer have his say without accosting him.” Haldir approached the healer. “Ah Healer Ervadhor what news have you about my Warden?”

The Healer inclined his head in a gesture of respect. “March Warden, she fares as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

This time Rúmil did step forward bristling at the healer’s condescending tone. “Just what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means Warden that not only did we have to treat her injured leg and fever we also had to counteract the drug that sent her to sleep. You brought her in was this your doing?” Ervadhor asked accusingly.

Rúmil felt the distinct urge to throttle the elf when an intervening hand again halted his forward progress. His brother Orophin had grabbed his arm and led him away from the healer. They went over to the window and Orophin spoke quietly to his brother. After a few moments they returned to speak to the healer. Rúmil seemed calmer when he replied to Healer Ervadhor.

“I only did what Warden Elendara asked me to do. She ensured me that it was the only way she could make the journey. I did not know at the time what the effects would be. It was not until after we had left that I began to worry. She should have known better.”

“That may be the case but the fact remains that we almost could not counteract the herbs that she had taken. It was a close thing. Had she taken but a little more there would have been nothing we could have done.” Ervadhor stated.

Rúmil was visibly shaken by this news and at the same time he was angry. How could she have done this to him? She had to know how dangerous that herb was. He began to pace and mutter to himself. Haldir watched his brother traverse the length of the room. Rúmil seemed perilously close to losing his temper. He could not remember the last time he had seen his brother so agitated. He still needed to know the full extent of his warden’s injuries.

“Healer Ervadhor I would know the rest of your report as to the condition of Warden Elendara if you would care to tell me.” Haldir asked.

Ervadhor glanced at Rúmil disdainfully before answering. “Of course March Warden. As I have stated we have treated her fever and counteracted the sleeping draught. As for her leg injury, usually an injury of this nature is not crippling but the wound itself coupled with the orcish poison and what ever tainted the blade caused a massive infection she was not able to fight. The blade sliced her knee as well and we had to reopen the wound to drain and treat the infection. The damage was considerable and we have to hope the infection does not return. With luck and time she might get back most of the use of her leg.”

Upon hearing this Rúmil approached the healer and backed him into a corner. “What do you mean might? Are you saying she is crippled? Do you have any idea what this will mean to her? Do you?”

Haldir caught Orophin’s eye and nodded in Rúmil’s direction. Orophin went to his brother and pulled him away from the flustered healer.

“How soon will you be able to tell if Elendara will make a full recovery?” Haldir asked with a frown.

“That is hard to say, we have to wait for the swelling to go down. Then we can accurately ascertain the extent of the damage. It is a matter of waiting to see how she responds to treatment.” Healer Ervadhor stated.

Haldir really did not like this healer’s pompous attitude but he was the best the halls had to offer despite his lack of bedside manner. He would just have to keep his distraught brother from getting his hands on him. Orophin was keeping Rúmil on the other side of the room but it was clear that he would not be able to hold him there for long.

“When can we see her? When can I go in?” Rúmil asked from across the room.

The healer looked at the young warden and shook his head at his impatience. “She will sleep for sometime yet. It will take a few days for the drugs and the rest of the orcish poison to work itself out of her system. Elendara will suffer from bouts of weakness and the possibility of her fever returning if she overexerts herself is likely. The infection has taken a toll on her body and her ability to fight it off is compromised she should rest undisturbed for the rest of the afternoon. If you insist upon seeing her make your visit a brief one. Now if you will excuse me I have other patients to attend to. If you have any more questions speak with one of the assistants. Good Day.” He did not even wait for a reply before he swept out of the room and was gone.

Rúmil moved past his Orophin and walked to the room where they had put Dara. Haldir and Orophin joined him. He hesitated outside the door.

“Why do you not go in? I thought you wanted to see her?” Haldir asked as he stood behind his brother.

“I am afraid. I want to be with her so badly but I fear I am only fooling myself. What will she do when she finds out the extent of her injuries? You know what will happen. It will destroy her. Should I walk away now?” Rúmil sighed as he also wondered where the carefree elf he used to be had disappeared to.

“Rúmil I do not think you could walk away if you tried. You wear your heart on your sleeve. You were ever the elf who would moon over a different Elleth every other week and end up heartbroken for days after she left. Are you sure what you feel for Dara is not just another infatuation?” Orophin asked as he remembered his brothers many assignations and subsequent heartache.

“This is unlike anything I have ever felt before. It hurts so much not to be with her and yet I find myself thinking of reasons to stay away. I cannot get her out of my thoughts. You think I want this kind of pain? The other Elleth I pursued were a pleasant diversion and when I fell out of favor it hurt for a little while. It pales in comparison to what I feel now. If I have to be satisfied to only being her friend to stay near her then that is what I will do. I cannot seem to help myself.”

Haldir shook his head in pity for his youngest brother. Rúmil had always seemed to feel things more keenly than other elves. He was quick to laugh and quick to anger. He was also quick to forgive and to defend. He went through life with a great amount of zeal and ardor. He was a joy to have around and so it was with great pain that Haldir observed his brother’s distress. Trust Rúmil to fall for the one Elleth who did not share his regard. If there was a difficult way to do something count on Rúmil to find it. This was one instance where he was at a loss as to what to do for his brother.

“Come let us go in, she is sure to be sleeping. I think you would regret it if you did not at least ease your mind about her welfare. I wish for you to lead a patrol to the cave the orcs are using for a lair. I want us to leave at first light before the orcs move on.” Haldir opened the door and pushed Rúmil inside by the simple expedient of placing a hand in the small of his back and lightly shoving. Then he followed him into the room. Orophin was the last one in the room and shut the door behind him.

Dara was deeply asleep in one of the beds. She looked so small lying there. Her face was very pale and even sleep could not erase the signs the pain she was in made on her face. She was covered with a light blanket, all except her leg which was elevated and swathed in heavy bandages. The bandages covered her leg from her upper thigh to well below her knee. In one place a small amount of blood had seeped through. Rúmil approached the bed followed by his brothers. He tentatively reached out and grasped her hand which rested above the blankets.

Haldir and Orophin watched Rúmil, whose attention was completely focused on the injured Warden. Rúmil seemed unaware there was anyone else in the room. It was then that Orophin decided that he would do everything he could to help his brother win the warden that had claimed his heart. He knew how stubborn Dara could be and it might take a few rude shoves to get her moving in the right direction. The more he thought about the more he realized how well suited Rúmil and Dara were. Haldir on the other hand could have wished his brother had never fallen for a fellow warden. Haldir was fiercely protective of his youngest sibling and hated to see him so upset. He knew Dara had never done anything to encourage Rúmil’s affection. She was painfully naïve about relationships and even went out of her way to avoid them. He knew Warden Amros had been quite persistent in his pursuit of Dara. She in turn had made it a point to avoid the warden who wanted her affection. Haldir had thought he would have to intervene on Dara’s behalf. Before he had the chance Amros had gotten a bit too forward one evening, after an evening drinking with some of the other off-duty wardens, and had surprised Dara with a kiss. She responded with a punch in the face. Haldir did not allow any discord between his wardens and had disciplined the both of them. That incident had served to cool Amros’s ardor and turn any of Dara’s would be suitors to easier targets. He had not noticed her garner any interest since. But if that was where his brother’s heart truly lay who was he to gainsay them? Haldir tapped Orophin on the shoulder and nodded towards the door. Before they left Haldir clasped Rúmil’s shoulder.

“Rúmil we leave at dawn, try and get some rest. You look worn out and I would prefer you are rested and ready to fight. You did well and Dara owes you her life, whether she will regard you as anything but a friend remains to be seen. Know that you have my blessing if she accepts you as a suitor. I would advise that you not rush her though lest you drive her away. You have time and she will be long in recovering from her injuries.”

“You are right Haldir. I do not need to hinder her recovery with my foolish admonitions of love.” Rúmil replied dispiritedly.

“That is not what I meant as you well know! Think this through, to admit your feelings now would only frighten her. She has no experience in matters of the heart. You have to take that into consideration. I must go I have to prepare for tomorrows raid. Be at peace brother.” Haldir then turned and went to the door.

“You will win her over little brother, I have faith in you.” Orophin added as he too joined Haldir at the door.

“Thank you both I do not know what I would do without your support. It means a lot to me. Do not worry Haldir I will be ready to leave at dawn I just wish to sit here a little while.” Rúmil replied as he smiled at his brothers,

“Very well till tomorrow then.” With those words Haldir and Orophin left the room and closed the door.

Rúmil sat with Dara for the better part of the afternoon and released her hand when she started to wake. Dara blinked a few times and looked around confused as to where she was. She was still groggy from the herbs she had taken. Also her leg felt as if it had been dipped in liquid fire. She looked around a bit panicked. Rúmil noted her distress and grasped her hand once more.

“Dara you are at the healers. We made it back to the city and you are going to be all right. I am here and will not leave till you are fully awake.” He said in a quiet voice.

She looked over at Rúmil and smiled. “We made it? I am so tired. Why does my leg hurt worse? What happened?”

“The Healers had to open the wound and drain and treat the infection.. They did a good job you are going to get better.” Rúmil replied somewhat evasively.

Dara’s head was becoming clearer by the moment as pain burned off the rest of the drugs. “Rúmil tell me the truth how bad is it? Will I lose my leg?”

He knew Dara would not accept anything but the whole truth so he decided to give her what she wanted. “Very well, the healers said that what ever had tainted the blade that injured you caused a massive infection. Your knee was also injured. They treated the wound as best they could but will not know the full extent of the damage until the swelling goes down.” He waited for a reaction and was a bit alarmed at how sedately she took the news.

“I see. Is that all they said? I mean I will walk again. I know I will.” Dara said completely calm.

“I know you will as well. I have faith in you. Dara do you know how dangerous those herbs I gave you were? I mean I could have killed you. Had I given you a little more of the liquid you drank they would not have been able to wake you.” Rúmil hated bringing up how close they came to losing her but he could not help himself. He was still angry she had not told him of the risks.

“Yes I knew and I am sorry. I could not think of another way.”

“I could have sleep spelled you. There would have been no risk in that.” He replied and could not keep the anger he felt out of his voice.

Dara bristled at his tone. “It would not have worked you know how I resist that spell. It would have kept me under for only a small portion of the trip. I had to weigh the risks and I decided to use the herb. I took responsibility for my actions so I take the blame.”

“How could you do that to me? You should have told me the risks! Then we could have decided together what to do.” Rúmil retorted angrily.

“Since when do you decide what is best for me? It was my body and my choice!” Dara could not understand why he was attacking her and was getting angry as well.

“Since I almost killed you! Plus I outrank you so you were required to tell me of any decision. That is why.” He said through gritted teeth.

“Well then as my superior I will make sure and tell you of any more decisions I decide to make all right?” She shot back sarcastically.

“Fine!” He yelled

“All right then!” She too yelled.

Rúmil crossed his arms in front of his chest and glared at the object of his frustration. “I leave at first light to lead the hunt for the orcs you discovered. I will be back in four days!” He was still angry and practically shouted this information.

“Be careful!” Dara replied heatedly.

“I will!” Rúmil snapped

“If it is all right with my commander I would like to get some sleep now. Unless of course you think I am not capable of making that decision.” Dara would have been surprised at the waspish tone of her voice had she not been so irritated.

“Do as you like I have to go and get some rest before the raid.” He said as he stormed out of the room. As his one courtesy he did refrain from slamming the door.

Dara lay there stunned. She could not figure out what had just happened. She looked up as the door opened. She was hoping it was Rúmil. Disappointment colored her face as a healer’s assistant came into the room instead. He held a cup in his hands and he approached the bed. He felt her forehead for fever and then checked the bandages on her leg. Dara hissed in pain and gritted her teeth.

“I was to give you this for the pain and then you must rest. You are still weak and slightly fevered. Drink it and close your eyes.” The healer’s assistant handed her the cup and Dara drank the bitter liquid.

She lowered her head to the pillow and waited for the draught to numb the pain. The healer left the room and promised to check on her later. As she lay there Dara wondered just what had caused the argument between her and Rúmil. Dara could understand his concern over her decision to use those herbs to send her to sleep. But he had never pulled rank on her before nor treated her with such disdain. It left her confused and a bit lonely. She had always valued his companionship and missed the closeness they had that seemed to be missing now. The medicine she had taken was starting to take effect. The pain diminished to a dull but manageable ache. Dara was still very tired and her body had been taxed beyond its limit and needed much time to heal. She truly hoped the raid went well and prayed for the warden’s safe return. Reverie claimed her and she fell into a deep healing sleep.

Rúmil stormed out of the healing halls and did not stop until he was at his own Talan.

He leaned against the wall and stood there with his head in his hands. What on Arda was wrong with him? Why did he have to pick a fight with Dara just when she had woken up? The healer’s accusing words and the realization that he was almost a party to Dara overdosing herself for the trip had shaken him profoundly. He had not meant to take it out on her; he should have calmly told her that what she did was wrong instead of accusing her. He could not seem to stop the heated words from pouring out of his mouth and he had succeeded only in getting them both angry. Rúmil was tempted to go back over there and apologize but what Dara had done was wrong and even if it was the only way he should have been informed to the dangers as well. Wearily he pushed himself away from the wall and headed for the bathing chamber.

He left his clothes in a heap on the floor and filled the deep tub with warm water. He ached all over from the ride and the lack of sleep. He was grateful to the cisterns located in the branches of the great trees that held the water warmed by the sun. He sank into the water with a contented sigh and leaned his head against the rim. Unbidden his mind turned to thoughts of Dara. Her face, her smile and her tough no nonsense demeanor all had managed to captivate him. Her spirit and stubbornness were also equally fascinating. Dara’s lithe trim body also had him aching to feel her in his arms again. Rúmil cursed as his body responded to his thoughts of the Elleth who captured his heart. He groaned in frustration and briefly considered taking matters into his own hands. It was no use that was not what he wanted. Rúmil sat in the bath and attempted to will himself back a modicum of self control. As the water cooled so did his ardor. Rúmil washed and stepped out of the tub and pulled the plug to let the water drain down the cleverly concealed pipes that ran down the tree. He grabbed a drying cloth and dried his skin and hair. Not bothering with night clothes he went into the bed chamber and collapsed onto the mattress. Sleep eluded him and he tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable position. His thoughts would not let him rest and when dawn finally arrived he had gotten precious little sleep. He knew Haldir would be gathering a patrol to hunt the orc raiding party so with little regard to his protesting body he got out of bed.

He dressed then combed and braided his hair. Rúmil belted his sword around his waist and shouldered his bow and quiver. He left his talan and was joined by his brother Orophin.

“You look awful brother did you get any rest at all?” Orophin noted the dark circles under Rúmil’s eyes and the slump of his shoulders.

“I got enough, do not concern yourself over me I will be ready when we have tracked the orc to their lair.” Rúmil glared at his brother as Orophin continued to appraise him as they walked to the stables.

“Oh and I love your bedside manner. I suppose yelling at Dara is your way of speeding her recovery?” Orophin could not resist heckling his brother a bit.

“How did you know about that?” Rúmil asked a bit surprised.

“My dear brother you should know by now I have ears in many places. Actually, I know an Elleth who assists the healers. She heard you yelling at each other. You were not actually quiet and she thought to tell me since you sounded upset.” Orophin felt guilty for his teasing as Rúmil seemed to look so dispirited.

“I do not know what got into me, one minute I was glad she was awake and the next moment I was yelling at her. I did not think love would make me so unhappy. It is nothing like the tales or ballads.” Rúmil sighed.

“Never fear brother I will help you sort it all out, now we must hurry as Haldir is sure to be waiting and we dare not tarry.” Orophin laid a hand across his brother’s shoulders and steered him towards the stables.

“It is your help that I am afraid of.” Rúmil retorted.

They were met at the stable by a squad of twenty elves. Rúmil and Orophin’s horses were saddled and waiting. Haldir sat in the saddle of his horse eager to be off. He looked towards his brothers and noted immediately that Rúmil still looked wearied. He would have to keep an eye on him during the upcoming battle. Haldir’s brothers mounted their horses and Haldir gave command to move out.

Chapter 12 - Chapter 12

Heart of a Warden Chapter 12

The raid had been a veritable slaughter. Haldir and the others had left their horses at the forest edge and continued on foot to the cavern that Rúmil had indicated the orcs had chosen for their lair. The elves had waited patiently for their foe to emerge as the sun set. Several volleys of arrows had killed most of them within moments of their emergence from the cave. The rest fled back inside. The elves had no choice but to follow. It was not their favorite way to fight since in the confines of the cavern the orc had the advantage. Haldir led them to the entrance and they split off into several groups to search out the fleeing enemy.

The only remains of the caravan that had been found were some broken crates and discarded torn clothing. It was as they expected orcs did not typically take prisoners and if they did the captives generally tended not to survive very long.

The search proved to be a difficult task. The cavern was full of side passages and nooks all perfect for concealment. Their bows would serve little use here so all of them drew sword or knife to complete their grisly mission. It was a lengthy job to scour the cave of its foul host and the lack of rest Rúmil had gotten over the last five days had taken its toll. It fogged his reflexes and made him less than cautious. So it was he did not even see the orc when it leapt upon him nor did he bring his weapon to bear quickly enough as he was violently slammed into the cave wall. His sword fell from his hand as pain shot down his arm. The orc raised his sword and Rúmil frantically groped for his dagger knowing he would not be in time to halt the downward swing of the rusted blade. Resigning himself for the bite of the blade upon his flesh, he was surprised when the blow never fell. The orc stood gaping in amazement at the four inches of elvish steel protruding from its chest. Black blood bubbled from its lips as it fell sliding off of the blade that had impaled it from behind. Rúmil scrambled out of the way of the falling corpse and looked upon the frowning countenance of his brother Orophin.

“That orc should not have gotten the drop on you, had you been paying more attention you would have seen it crouching in the rocks. How badly are you injured?” Orophin helped Rúmil to his feet. The sounds of fighting were dying down as the elves ferreted out the last of the vermin.

“Shoulder hurts, arm too, down to my fingertips and across my back.” Rúmil said through clenched teeth. He held his arm tight to his body and there was a large lump on the back of his shoulder.

“Haldir will see to you and any of the other wounded. Come let us go outside, I dislike it in here.” Orophin picked up his brothers sword and sheathed it for him and then helped him to the cave entrance and out into the clear night. They both breathed a sigh of relief at leaving the close confines of the cave.

It was not long before the rest of the hunting party joined them. Rúmil’s injury was the worst. A few of the elves had minor cuts and bruises and one was recovering from a stunning blow to the head. Haldir immediately went to his brother when he saw him holding his sword arm close to his side and took in his sweat dotted brow and pale mien. He gently examined the injury. Rúmil tensed and drew in a shuddering breath as even the slightest movement caused a river of burning pain to course down his useless arm. Orophin stood close by and helped support his brother. Orophin quickly related the details of the injury as Rúmil leaned on his brother.

Haldir looked upon his brother in sympathy. “Rúmil you have popped your shoulder out of place. I am going to have to put it back in. It will most likely be extremely unpleasant.” Rúmil nodded his assent. “Orophin help him to sit, I have to get this done before it swells overmuch.”

Once Rúmil was sitting Haldir placed one hand on his shoulder and the other firmly grasped his arm. He pushed on Rúmil’s shoulder as he raised his arm. Rúmil bit his lip against the searing pain as he endured Haldir’s ministrations. At first nothing happened and then suddenly with an audible click the joint was pushed back into place. He sagged back against his brother as the biting ache spread across his upper back. Again Haldir placed his hands on Rúmil and this time he felt a gentle warmth seep into the muscles of his arm. After a moment Haldir removed his hands and stood up.

“I have done what I can, your arm and shoulder with be sore for several days and you should take care not to overtax yourself lest you undo the healing. Now as for why it happened in the first place. Orophin tells me that you were careless, that Orc never should have gotten near you. Rúmil you have got to pull yourself together. I do not want to but am forced to take you off of the duty roster until you can devote your full attention to your duties. You leave me no other choice. Either come to terms with your feelings or tell Dara how you feel about her. Even if she rejects you at least you will know and be able to move on.”

“But Haldir I…” Rúmil was cut off mid tirade as his eldest brother knelt in front of him.

“I am not speaking to you as your kin but as your commander. You are officially off active duty until you are no longer a danger to yourself or those around you. When we return I order you to get some rest even if you have to resort to a sleeping potion. Now come, we have a long ride ahead of us.” Haldir helped his brother to his feet and they walked back to their horses. They all mounted up and headed for home, eager for a hot bath and some well deserved rest.

Rúmil dozed in the saddle, exhausted from his trip to the border and then back again to lead the elves to the orc lair. He shifted uncomfortably and jarred his sore shoulder. Cursing he tried to find a position that did not make it ache. It was still several hours before they reached the outskirts of the city and Rúmil was more than ready to collapse in his own bed and sleep.


The first day in the healing halls Dara spent drifting in and out of consciousness. When she woke she was given some broth to drink, some water and then another dose of one vile kind of medicine or another. Then she would sink back down into oblivion. On the morning of the second day the fog from the medication was starting to lift and when the assistant healer came with his tray she drank the fortifying herb laced broth but refused the draught that would send her back to sleep. Her leg ached constantly but she did not want to be drugged again. She hated feeling so helpless and the medicine made it hard to think. The assistant stood indecisively beside the bed vial in hand. He had been told by senior healer Ervadhor to make sure the patient took her medicine he was not prepared for her to refuse.

“My Lady you must take this, Healer Ervadhor deems it necessary for your treatment.”

Dara pushed the assistant’s hand away as he tried to get her to drink the contents.

“First of all I am a Warden and you will address me as such and secondly I am not an elfling to be ordered around. If my leg hurts so be it. I consider it a fair tradeoff for not being so muddleheaded after I drink what is in that vial. So I refuse. I will deal with the pain.”

The assistant tried once more to put the vial to her lips and again she pushed it away. “My Lady…I mean Warden I have my orders.”

“I am sure you do, now go away.” Dara crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the flustered elf till he left.

She looked around the room she was occupying. It was nice enough she supposed but for someone who was unused to being idle it was claustrophobic and confining. Dara experimentally moved her leg in an effort to sit up. Fiery pain shot up her leg making her gasp but she ignored it. Slowly she pulled herself up till her back rested against the head board of the bed. Well that was not so bad she thought to herself. Actually if she were to be brutally honest she would have to admit that the pain was almost unbearable and she really did not feel like moving again any time soon. It embarrassed her at how quickly she had used up what little store of energy she had left. The door to her room opened and there stood and elf she did not recognize. He had a stern countenance and moved with brisk efficiency. His mouth was turned down in a frown and the severe unadorned cut of his dark blue robes did nothing but enhance his general air of unpleasantness.

“I am healer Ervadhor. Now why have you refused to take the medicine I ordered?”

Dara stared right back at the frowning elf. “I did not take the potion because I do not wish to be any more incapacitated than my injured leg. I did not like the way it made me feel.”

“So be it. I cannot force you to drink. Understand this though, I am senior healer here and I will be obeyed. If you wish to get better you will abide by my rules. Though that is debatable considering the mess you have made of your leg. You should never have been out protecting the borders. I have no idea what the Wardens were thinking letting an Elleth join their ranks. You would have done better following in your mother’s footsteps. An herbalist is an honorable profession much more suited to a female. It was your father I am sure that convinced her to go along with the folly of you training to be a warden. She was a most tractable Elleth before she met him.”

Dara stiffened at his derogatory comments. “How dare you! I have a place among the wardens because I earned it! As for my mother and father you have no right to speak of them like that. They both supported my decision to enter training. As for my proper place that is up to me to decide. I may have to put up with you as my healer but I do not have to listen to your disparaging remarks.”

Dara watched him sullenly as he changed the bandages. Despite Ervadhor’s low opinion of her the healer took care as he tended the wound. His actions were competent and gentle. It was his brusque and disdainful bedside manner that proved to be so infuriating to Dara’s already frayed nerves. She stayed silent and when he had finished he admonished her to take care and not stand or try to get out of bed without help. If such help was needed there was always someone within calling distance. His face stayed in that perpetual frown all through his lecture and Dara was much relieved when he left the room. She did not see him again that day. Several of the female assistants helped her with a sponge bath and they even brought in a large bowl and several pitchers of warm water and washed her hair. It felt glorious to be truly clean again and she dozed on and off, waking briefly to eat.

By the morning of the fourth day Dara thought she would go out of her mind with boredom. Even the books brought to her by a kind hearted apprentice healer held little appeal. She realized how few friends she really had. Dara had many comrades but few close friends. Just Orophin and Rúmil and occasionally Haldir spent any time with her outside of her duties. Only a few of her fellow wardens had stopped by to see how she fared but they did not linger. By her estimation the hunting party should return sometime today and even though they had argued she was eager to see Rúmil again. She was left pretty much alone and did not see the irritating head healer more than once a day when he came to check her wound and change her bandages. If she stayed here any longer Dara would hurt someone. She was in a foul mood and felt that the walls were closing in on her. She listened carefully and could not hear anyone in the halls outside her room, then carefully swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She gritted her teeth against the inevitable stab of pain but did not let it stop her. Dara then carefully slid off of the bed and stood. She put all of her weight on her left leg and hung onto the bedpost. Hobbling very carefully she made her way to the doorway. Any weight she put on her injured leg caused it to ache with a fierce intensity Dara gritted her teeth and glanced out of the door. The hall was empty and it was only a few steps to the outside door and onto the balcony. She could almost taste her freedom, so intent was she on her escape Dara did not stop to think that the flimsy cotton night rail she wore was inappropriate attire for an outside stroll. She took one more look down the corridor and limped to the door.


The hunting party entered the city and Rúmil sighed in relief as he left his horse at the stables and gathered his belongings. He was going straight to his talan to bathe and then collapse. His forward progress was halted by his eldest brother Haldir.

“I want you to go to the healing halls and have them check your shoulder. Then I want you to get some rest by whatever means necessary. I do not want to see your face outside of your talan till tomorrow late.”

“But Haldir my shoulder is fine and I…” Rúmil got cut off in mid sentence.

“That was not a request.” Haldir looked sternly at his youngest sibling as if expecting further argument.

Rúmil truly hated when his brother pulled rank but he had little choice in the matter. “Was that my superior or my brother speaking? Very well, since I will get no peace if I do not do as you wish, I will see the healers. I would like to check on Dara as well.”

“As to who was ordering you about let us just say that rank has its privileges and so does being the eldest. Visiting Dara would be wise; you did not leave on the best of terms.”

Rúmil rolled his eyes. “Does everyone know of our argument?”

Haldir had to laugh at the exasperation in his brother’s voice. “Only the ones Orophin has told.”

Rúmil sighed theatrically “I think my brother has a very big mouth.”

“So you are just now figuring this out, come now Rúmil I thought you were a bit quicker than that. Orophin is not happy unless he knows what is going on around him. Sometimes he gossips worse than an Elleth. Enough talk though, you need to get some rest. I will see you later.” Haldir relieved Rúmil of his gear then turned his brother to face the path and gave him a light push in the direction of the healing hall. Haldir walked off towards his own talan to get a bath before making his report to Lord Celeborn.

Wearily Rúmil walked up the steps to the entrance to the healing halls. Near the top he hurried his steps, eager to get his shoulder seen to so he could rest. At the doorway he was totally unprepared to meet someone lingering there so he ran into them full force and they both tumbled to the floor. Rúmil managed to grab the person he ran into and rolled so he would not fall on them. As a result he hit the floor with his sore shoulder and hissed in pain. The reason he fell was sprawled on top of him also groaning in pain and cursing such vile oaths that it would have shocked him if he had not recognized Dara and knew she had learned all of those words from him and his brother.

He had reflexively tightened his arms around her when they hit the floor and despite the throbbing pain in his shoulder he held her tightly. Rúmil noticed that she was pale and shaking. It was too early for her to be out of bed and the effort of getting to the door and the fall had exhausted her.

“Let go of me Rúmil! I have to get back to my room before he catches me.” Dara pushed against his chest in an effort to get him to let her go.

“Before who catches you?” He did not let go and was reluctant to do so. Rúmil had missed her and was glad to see her much improved since he had left on the raid.

“ Senior Healer Ervadhor, my jailor and if he catches me he will no doubt place me under the watchful eye of one of his annoying assistants and pour vile concoctions down my throat. Now let go!” Dara’s struggling only jarred her leg and made her curse again.

Also having Dara sprawled out on top of him was causing a rather predictable reaction one that under the circumstances he did not want her aware of so he let her go. Dara sat up and gently prodded her injury and winced. It ached with a fierce abandon and she thought that is was not wise to have left her bed. She tried to get her traitorous limb to obey her and get to her feet but it was no use. She had overtaxed herself and now needed help getting back to her bed.

Rúmil sat up as well and surveyed his friend. He could not help but to look. All she wore was a thin cotton bed gown and during her tumble to the floor it had slipped off of one shoulder. He could not take his eyes off of the pale skin revealed by the garment. Her honey blonde hair was loose and in wild disarray around her head. The most frustrating aspect of this whole fiasco was that she had no idea what she did to him. She just sat there grumbling and massaging her thigh as her gown slipped further. He had seen her completely unclothed before but she had been so ill and he did what had to be done to treat her wounds. This was different, entirely different. His injury was completely forgotten as he had to clench his fists in an effort not to reach out and brush the hair away from her face. Instead he opted to get to his feet and then hold out his hand for her to grasp.

“You are right the floor is no place to sit in your condition, I will help you back to bed.”

As much as she hated to appear so helpless she knew she could not possibly get up without his help. She grasped his hand and tried to lever herself up using her good leg for balance. Dara overestimated her strength and her balance as she got to her feet. The room spun dizzily and she grasped Rúmil tightly to keep from falling.

“I’m sorry, I am dizzy. Give me a moment.” Dara had her eyes closed and her arms around him.

Rúmil stood there immobile. He tensed in her embrace, part in pain from her tight grip on his injured shoulder and part in pain of an entirely different sort. He desperately tried not to think of her pressed up against him wearing only her thin gown. Dara opened her eyes and looked at him. They were almost the same height and she could look him right in the eyes. Uncharacteristically she looked away first and became aware of what she was wearing. Rúmil was amazed to note the tinge of red to her cheeks, she was blushing. It had now become imperative that he get her back to her room before he completely embarrassed himself. Rúmil ignored the burning pain in his upper torso as he lifted her in his arms and carried Dara back to her room.

“Rúmil put me down I can walk, well mostly.” Dara protested. She did not know why he had made her uncomfortable. He was her best friend and had been for a very long time. Also to her distinct dismay she had actually blushed. All she wanted to do now was to get back to her room and crawl back into bed. Dara did not like being confused. She liked her world neat and orderly and not cluttered with feelings she could neither fathom nor explain.

Rúmil gently sat her on the bed and tucked the covers around her.

“I am not an elfling Rúmil. I was perfectly capable of covering myself.” Dara said with a tinge of anger.

As far as Rúmil was concerned he could not get her covered fast enough. Her gown had slipped to the point of revealing the upper swell of her breast and he was in danger of doing something that was sure to get her fist in his face. He stood up and winced as his shoulder throbbed intensely.

Dara frowned as she observed his careful and pained movements. “Rúmil were you hurt in the raid?”

“Much to my acute embarrassment, I let an orc sneak up on me. If it had not been for Orophin I would not be standing here. I got knocked backward and popped my shoulder out of place. Haldir put it back in but said I needed to get it checked at the healer’s.” He carefully sat in the chair beside her bed and held his arm close to his body so as not to aggravate the injury.

“Remind me to thank him then, for without his timely assistance, I could have lost my best friend. I’ll bet Haldir gave you a lecture.” Dara then proceeded to do a credible imitation of Haldir in lecture mode that had Rúmil laughing despite his weariness.

It was nice to laugh again with her. Rúmil was afraid that he had lost that part of their relationship. “Dara about that argument we had before I left, well I just wanted to say I am sorry. I do not agree with what you did but I could have found a better way to tell you.”

“I am sorry too; I never should have taken those herbs without your knowledge. We never should have fought about it. I am glad that you are alright. Now tell me about the raid. Was anyone else hurt? Did you kill them all?”

Rúmil told her all about the raid and they discussed in detail different strategies and fighting techniques. He once more felt a strong surge of emotion as they talked. Dara was like no other female he had ever met, one he could be himself around and not worry about offending. He truly could not stand the giggling flighty Elleth he had been around thus far. Oh they were beautiful to look at but that is as far as his interest went. They continued to discuss various battles they had been in and training techniques till Rúmil could no longer hide his yawns. The past week had finally caught up with him and he wondered if he could even move from the chair.

They both looked up as the door opened and in walked the bane of Dara’s existence. Healer Ervadhor and he was carrying a tray. It was time to change her bandages. The healer looked at Rúmil in displeasure. The young warden, according to Haldir, had been injured and should have been seen to by now. He had also been instructed to administer a sleeping draught if the elf did not get some rest. Ervadhor should have known he would be in here bothering his patient.

“You should not be here Warden Rúmil. Healer Alar is waiting to tend to your injury. He has many duties to attend to other than waiting for when you deign to make an appearance. I need to treat my patient so if you will excuse us.” Ervadhor turned his back on Rúmil clearly dismissing him and readied the items on the tray. “That was not a request Warden.”

Rúmil could clearly see why Dara disliked the elf so much. In fact, he did not like him either since Ervadhor had all but blamed him for nearly killing Dara with the herbs she had told him to use. With a sigh he left the room and sought out the healer who waited to attend him. Alar was a young healer new to his craft. But he had a gentle touch and was quite competent. He examined Rúmil’s shoulder and applied a soothing ointment that eased the burning pain. He was told not to overuse the arm for at least a week and not to draw a bow for at least two. Healer Alar also handed him a small vial and was told to drink it before bed. It would ease more of the aches he suffered and also help him to sleep. He was also handed a note along with the bottle. It was short and to the point.

You are to take the sleeping draught the healer’s have prepared for you. I will check on you later and if I have found that you did not heed my wishes I will sit on you and pour it down your throat myself like I had to do with your medicine when you were an elfling.

Rúmil chuckled and tucked the note away and took the pot of salve for his injury. Then he thanked the healer and went back to Dara’s room. He peeked inside and found Dara propped up in bed and Ervadhor no where to be seen. Dara saw him lurking in the doorway.

“Rúmil come in, it is quite safe, the dreaded Head Healer has gone for now. He raked me over the coals for getting out of bed and trying to escape. He has spies everywhere it seems. I strained my wound and pulled a stitch or two which earned me another lecture and a foul potion as well. He is not happy unless I am drugged insensible.” Dara yawned and her head lolled a bit as her eyes lost their focus.

Rúmil sat in the chair beside her bed again. “It must be some potion you are almost out already.” He gave in to temptation and tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. Rúmil’s heart sped up as he was rewarded with a sweet smile.

“Thank you.” Dara murmured sleepily.

“For what?” He asked curiously.

“For saving me, for being there when I needed you. For being my friend.” She then fell asleep pulled under by the strong sleeping draught. Dara still had a lot of healing to do and her little escape attempt had not done much to speed that process.

Rúmil stood up and leaned over Dara and placed a lingering kiss upon her cheek and was rewarded with another smile as she snuggled further into the covers. He vowed to make Dara see how he felt about her, he just did not know how without alienating her completely. With a sigh he left the healing hall and walked home. The distance seemed twice as far to his tired legs and he was vastly relieved when arrived a t his own door. It was times such as these when he questioned his logic at picking a Talan so far from the others. He went inside and straight to the bathing chamber. Rúmil took a hasty bath and donned a light pair of cotton leggings to sleep in. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the bottle in his hand. He knew Haldir would literally pour it down his throat if he did not take it so he uncorked the bottle, and drank the contents in one long swallow. Rúmil lay back on the bed and soon he could feel the effects of the draught.

Some hours later Haldir let himself in Rúmil’s darkened talan and went back to the bedroom. He was gratified to see Rúmil lying on his back, eyes vacant with sleep. There was an empty bottle on the bedside table along with the note he had written. He covered his brother with a light blanket and sat on the edge of the bed. It was towards his youngest brother he felt the most protective. It was ever Rúmil’s way to rush headlong without looking into most situations. He had been like that as a small elfling; Haldir was always getting him out of one mess or another. He had no idea how to help him in this situation however. It hurt Haldir to see Rúmil in such turmoil. Rúmil seemed to feel things twice as intensely as most elves. His brother had lost his focus and nearly died as a result, Haldir’s heart had nearly stopped when Orophin had related how close that orc had come to killing Rúmil. He wished he could go to Dara and make her love his younger brother; to command her to love him. It did not work that way and he feared that if she rebuked Rúmil it would do irreparable harm. He stroked the hair out of his brother’s face, it seemed like only yesterday Rúmil had been a chubby cheeked toddler now he was an elf grown and long past his majority yet he still seemed so much like the elfling Haldir remembered.

“Oh Rúmil this is one mess I do not know how to get you out of. I only hope you find a way yourself.” Haldir kissed his brother upon the brow then left to seek his own bed and a much needed rest.

Chapter 13 - Chapter 13

True to his word to Haldir Rúmil did his best to come to terms with his feelings about Dara. He visited her every day during his convalescence and helped her to put up with the rudeness of the senior healer. He had also done some inquiring as to why Ervadhor held Dara in such disdain, what he had found out had surprised him. The healer had once pledged his troth to Dara’s mother and had been politely and firmly rebuked. Ervadhor made no secret of his dislike for Dara’s father and his feelings that Dara’s mother had married beneath her. Since her parents had not long ago sailed for Valinor it was easy to see why he treated Dara as he did. She was a constant reminder of what he had never achieved. It did not excuse his rude behavior but made it easier to understand.

The two wardens had reestablished their companionable camaraderie and to Dara it was as if nothing had changed. For Rúmil he hid his feelings deep and only when by himself did he let his longing for her come to the surface. It was Rúmil who helped Dara keep her sanity and kept her from treating the healers who tended her too disdainfully. To put it mildly she was a very bad tempered patient.

Within a week Dara was getting out of bed for short periods of time under the watchful eye of Rúmil and the other healers. She chafed under the constant supervision but until she regained her full vigor they did not want to chance the return of any infection or fever. She had so overtaxed her system that even now her natural healing ability was somewhat weakened. Rúmil had also, with his façade of friendship to Dara, managed to convince Haldir he was fit for border duty again. So his brother assigned him courier duty till he was positive of Rúmil’s complete recovery. He spent most of his free time with Dara or Orophin and one afternoon both brothers carried Dara to a secluded little forest glade for an impromptu picnic. Even though she had protested being carried about like a sack of grain she had enjoyed the outing and it had brought a smile to her face, something the young warden had not seen grace her features for some time. After that Rúmil and Orophin made it a point to include Dara in many outings as she regained her strength. She insisted in pushing herself in the hope that it would hasten her recovery and she never lost faith that she would recover. It was hard to ignore the pitying glances from the healers though and some doubt began to creep in as the weeks passed.

Ervadhor had at last declared Dara healthy enough to not warrant constant monitoring. She had healed as much as she was able and her body had recovered from the debilitating poison and subsequent fever. Now it was just a matter of time to see how much of her mobility she regained. Dara was encouraged to use her leg as much as possible. The injury slowly improved and eventually she did not need a walking stick any more. She did, however, walk with a pronounced limp and either did not see the sadness in the eyes of her former companions or chose to ignore it. Even at the best of times Dara could not seem to manage all of the steps that led to her talan so she chose to stay in one of the larger convalescent rooms in the healing hall. It was situated at ground level and even though she missed her tree top home her new dwelling was much more practical. Privately Dara hated it with a passion.

Dara pushed herself to exhaustion more often than not and took no heed of Rúmil; Orophin’s or even Haldir’s pleas for her to slow down and give herself the time to slowly get back what she had lost. Her skill with a bow returned quickly once she was up to full strength and not weak from her long illness. Dara was tired of being coddled and pushed from the practice ranges after only a few hours. She could only do so much while practicing her sword work against inanimate targets and needed a live opponent to truly test her skill. It was frustrating that no one would take her challenge. It had been months since she had been injured and everyone still treated her as if she would break. So one afternoon she sought Rúmil out and goaded him into sparring with her.

Dara picked up a practice blade and took up a stance opposite of Rúmil. They saluted each other and the complex dance began.

“Are you sure you are ready to do this? You have not been long released from your sick bed.”

Dara ignored the fierce throbbing in her leg as she put her full weight on it.

“Just be quiet and defend yourself.”

They circled each other carefully. Rúmil watched Dara intently and brought his sword in low trying to get in under her guard. She easily deflected his attempt. Before he could get his sword back up she lunged forward and scored a hit on his upper right arm. He briefly rubbed the stinging welt that the blunted blade had raised on his arm. He noticed that her stance was not balanced and she rested most of her weight on her uninjured leg. I should never have agreed to this, he thought as she attacked once more. Without any effort he brushed aside her attack and ignored a chance to strike a blow as she had left herself wide open. He pressed forward forcing her to retreat out of the reach of his blade. She ducked to get under a sweeping slice and felt her leg crumple under her weight. Unable to regain her balance she landed on her side in the dirt.

He reached out a hand to help her up. She grasped his hand and he pulled Dara to her feet. He waited in the ready position till she regained her balance. Sweat dotted her forehead and he could see her jaw was clenched tight.

“Dara I do not think this is a good idea, why don’t we quit and go back to the healers.”

She looked at him, her eyes blazing.

“I am fine, lets do this. If you do not spar with me I will find someone else who will.”

“Very well but I still do not think it is a good idea.”

With little warning she lunged for him, he had no trouble bringing his sword to bear and deflected her rather clumsy attack. Her balance was way off, why could she not see this? He wondered as he took up a purely defensive posture. He refused to press his advantage and merely kept moving around parrying all of her attacks.

Dara growled in frustration.

“Will you attack I will not break! Fight me!”

“As you wish.” He looked at her pale, sweat-streaked face and decided to end this fiasco.

Rúmil went on the attack this time and within moments Dara was once more on the ground with his sword tip at her throat. She angrily batted his sword aside with her own and struggled to get to her feet. He saw as she stood that she now held her injured leg off of the ground a bit with just her toes just touching the dirt. He stepped back and lowered his blade.

“You have had enough, this has gone on too long. I will not keep torturing you like this. You can barely stand.”

With a frustrated cry she brought the practice blade up in an overhand swing. Rúmil quickly brought his blade up and stopped it before it came anywhere near him. She slid her sword along his with a metallic hiss and readied another strike. With a subtle twist of his wrist he neatly disarmed her and sent her blade winging to the ground a short distance away. She broke away from him and limped to retrieve her sword. Once again her traitorous leg gave way as she leaned over and she fell to the ground. She sat up and stretched her fiercely throbbing leg out in front of her. She panted with the effort not to cry out as the pain in the months healed injury brutally flared up.

Rúmil felt her pain as if it were his own. He crouched down next to her and tentatively touched her shoulder. She pulled away from him and buried her face in her hands and bowed her head. His heart ached as he watched her fall apart. Her shoulders began to shake and a tear filled voice came from behind her hands.

“Please go away…. Leave me. I wish to be alone.”

Rúmil wanted so badly to take her in his arms

“Why? Why do you wish me to leave? I thought I was your friend.”

“I do not want you to see me like this. I do not want to be weak, to be afraid. I am so tired, tired of hurting. Tired of being scared. Please just go.”

She hid her face from him and slumped to the ground. Seeing her like this was more than he could take, he sat beside her and gathered her into his arms. She stiffened in his embrace and tried to pull away. When he did not let go she angrily pushed at him and hit his arms with her fists.

“Let go! Leave me! I do not want your pity! I do not want anyone’s pity!”

“Cease your struggling or you will do yourself harm, I will not let you go. You are my dearest friend. I do not pity you, I just want to help.”

She looked up at him with tears streaming down her face. His look of kind concern was her undoing. She lowered her head once more, turning away from the intensity of his blue-gray eyes.

“I hear what the healers whisper when they think I am asleep. That I will never heal properly, that I will always be weak in my injured leg. Why would you want to be friends with a cripple? I’ll never be a Warden again.”

There she had done it; she had voiced her worst fears. All of the pain she had held in for so long broke free and she began to sob, horrendous gut wrenching sobs that shook her whole body. Rúmil did the only thing he could, he held her while she vented her pain.

Her tears seemed to come from the depths of her very soul; she trembled in his arms and cried out all of her fears. Rúmil rested his cheek atop her head and rocked her back and forth. He did not offer any consoling words for he knew they would not help. Dara just needed to be allowed to grieve for what she had lost. He too shed tears, tears for the pain she was in and tears for the helplessness he felt as he watched her fall apart. Dara cried herself into exhaustion, and utterly spent she went limp in his arms. She needed to rest and she needed some peace away from prying eyes.

Rúmil stood and carried her away from the training grounds to the one place where she would not be questioned or prodded by healers. His Talan. Dara did not readily show her emotions and she needed a place to be allowed pull herself together. His talan was somewhat isolated so he had no trouble getting there without being stopped by the curious. She was totally quiet in his arms and only the occasional sniffle let him know she was not asleep. He climbed the stairs to his dwelling and pushed open the door. He carried her back to his bedroom and gently placed her on the bed. She curled on her side facing him. Her pale blue eyes were red rimmed and unshed tears sparkled on her lashes. She spoke in a very small tired voice.

“Why did you bring me here?”

He reached out and stroked her damp hair off of her forehead and sat beside her on the bed.

“I thought you might like some privacy away from prying eyes. I wanted you to get some undisturbed rest. I know how the healers’ endless questions annoy you. I did not feel you were up to the tongue lashing you would get when they found out you had been sparring.”

She reached out and grasped his hand.

“Thank you.” She simply said and started to drift off to sleep.

He waited a few moments and started to pull her hand from his. He needed to inform the healers of her whereabouts before they sent out someone to search for her. Dara’s eyes regained awareness as he removed his hand. She looked at him and asked plaintively.

“Please stay with me? I do not wish to be alone.”

He smiled at her and once more took her hand. Right before she fell deeply asleep she murmured.

“Don’t leave me.” Reverie claimed her and her hand went limp in his.

He bent down and kissed her forehead.

“I won’t leave you Dara. I will never leave you. I love you….”

Rúmil settled on the edge of the bed; his hand tenderly stroking her cheek content to watch her sleep. His fingertip traced the line of her strong jaw and touched the dimple in her chin. The pad of his thumb gently stroked the fullness of her lower lip. He could feel her warm breath on his hand and he longed to taste her slightly parted lips. He almost gave in to the temptation to place a light kiss on her warm mouth but did not for fear of her waking. He wished he could tell her his true feelings and not just whisper them to her as she slept. He sighed and grasped her limp hand in his as he made himself comfortable against the headboard of the bed and waited for her to awaken.

It was sometime later when he heard someone approach his Talan. Who ever it was did not even bother knocking but came right inside. The loud voice of his brother Orophin called out from the other room.

“Rúmil are you here? Do you know where Dara is because……”

He stopped when he got to the bedroom and halted in mid-sentence as his brother frantically shushed him.

“Phin will you be quiet she just got to sleep!”

“What is she doing here asleep in your bed? Did you finally tell her? So overcome was she that it put her to sleep? I had more faith in you brother.”

Rúmil glared at his brother’s callous statement.

“No I did not tell her! Can’t you see she is exhausted? She realized just this afternoon that the chances of her fully recovering are slim. It destroyed her Phin I watched her fall apart. I think it was the hardest thing I have ever had to witness. I do not know what to do.”

Orophin looked at the abject misery in his brother’s eyes and instantly regretted his teasing comments. He approached Rúmil and hugged him tight.

“I am sorry little brother, I had no idea. I wish I knew what to tell you. It makes me hurt as well. To Dara being a Warden was her whole life, to have that taken away… I cannot even comprehend what she must be going through. I fear my news will not help any. Haldir was looking for her; I think he was going to tell Dara that he was intending to take her permanently off of the duty roster.”

“He cannot! It was the only hope she had left. The fact that her name was still listed among the wardens made her feel as if she might get better. This will crush what little spirit she has left. Please talk to him, ask him to wait.”

“I will ask, I am sure once Haldir knows the situation he will let her name remain on the roster.”

“Thank you, it means a lot to me. She needs that one shred of hope.”

“I must go, I will tell the healers that Dara is here with you. They were beginning to look for her when I left. I will also talk to Haldir. Try and get some rest yourself, you look worn out.”

Orophin placed a light kiss on the crown of his brother’s head and left the room. Rúmil smiled and thanked the Valar that he had his two brothers to love and support him. Dara was all alone here. She had no siblings and her parents had sailed to Valinor just a decade ago. They had sailed because her mother had become weary She had sought solace in the undying lands and Dara’s father, who could not bear to be parted from his wife, had sailed with her. Dara had been extremely saddened by their choice but knew it had been for the best. She would not have wanted her mother to pine away.

She had coped by immersing herself in her work, taking extra patrols and helping to train recruits. Haldir always placed the most egotistical of these recruits under Dara’s tutelage. She had the ability to train even the most stubborn and sometimes all it took was for her to thoroughly defeat them in the sparring ring. Thus proving that their surmises that she did not belong in the wardens or as a teacher were totally false. Rúmil smiled as he thought of several such matches where a surprised recruit found themselves flat on their back with her sword at their throat when they thought they would have an easy match fighting an Elleth. Dara was also an uncanny hand to hand fighter. She was able to size up her opponents weaknesses and use them against her sparring partner. It saddened him greatly to realize that those days were over. Oh she could still teach Rúmil was sure of that, but he knew Dara would not want to instruct those in what she could no longer fully do herself.

Rúmil took some small comfort in lying beside Dara while she rested. He had no idea what he would say to her when she awoke or what state of mind she would be in. But for now she slept peacefully in his arms. What a mess his life had become and he truly did not know how to fix it. He let his mind drift and revisited the many pleasant memories that he and Dara shared during their long friendship. So he did not realize at first that she was now awake till she tried to pull away and sit up.

At first Dara did not recognize where she was or who was holding her and she tried to scoot away. The arms that held her did not let go and the incidents of that afternoon returned in a rush. She was mortally embarrassed to have broken down in front of Rúmil and heartsick at the acknowledgement that her injuries would most likely prevent her from returning to the borders. She felt trapped and wanted to be alone.

Reluctantly he opened his arms and allowed her to put some distance between them. Once she had moved to the far side of the bed she looked at the elf that had been her friend for generations. She did not feel comfortable around him anymore and she did not know why.

Rúmil noted the sadness and confusion so evident on her face and wanted to pull her back in his arms. He knew it was a futile wish as she would not permit it in her current state of mind. “How are you feeling Dara?”

“Can you please help me back to my room?” She hated to ask for the help but the little sparring match had stiffened her leg up to the point she was not sure it would support her weight.

“I though perhaps we could talk, I know you are upset and maybe there is something I can do to help.”

“There is nothing you can do. I just want to be alone for a while.” She levered herself off of the bed and wavered where she stood.

Rúmil got up and steadied her and did not like the fact that she stiffened in his arms. “Dara stay for a while, come we can sit in the other room. We have to talk.”

“If you will not help me back to my room I will make my way on my own. There is nothing more to say!” Dara used the wall to brace herself as she moved away from him.

Rúmil started to get upset by her flare of temper and thought it best if he did help her home. Dara was silent the whole way and did not even say goodnight before closing the door in his face. He returned to his own talan and opened a bottle of wine. He sat and brooded as the level in the bottle lowered with his mood.

Over the next several days Dara refused to see him and he finally gave up in frustration. When a month long border assignment came up he was the first to volunteer and did not even bother saying goodbye to her when he left. Rúmil did ask Orophin to watch over her even if she did not want the company. Also he had decided that upon his return he would keep their relationship to strictly friendship if she even desired that any more. He too looked for the solace the wood that was his home could provide and perhaps the time on the border could help him put his feelings into perspective.

Chapter 14 - Chapter 14

It was good to be going home again. The month he had spent on the borders
had been unaccountably lonely and his thoughts were often with the elleth he
had left behind. Rúmil had been careful to make sure that his feelings did
not cause a distraction to his sworn duty. Although night time was the worst
as he laid in his flet high in the treetops his thoughts strayed as he tried
to rest. His mind lingered on the years they had known each other and their
close friendship. He could remember every nuance of Dara's face and her dry
wit and hearty laughter. The memories of her toned body and silken hair
caused him to toss and turn restlessly. When he did manage to dream those
dreams turned unbearably erotic as his subconscious supplied images of her
wrapped around him in amorous embraces that had him waking in a state that
he had not been in since his adolescence. Maybe seeing her again would put
some of these fantasies to rest. His eagerness to reach home transferred
itself to his mount and his horse increased his pace as he neared the city.

The few brief letters he had gotten from his brother Orophin had stated
that Dara had done her best to avoid him or any of the other wardens who had
tried to visit. That did not deter Orophin in the least. He still made it a
point to spend a part of each day with his old friend. He could not get her
to talk about her breakdown that day nor did she want to hear about any news
regarding the other Guardians of the wood. So he put up with her stoic and
brooding silences until he managed to draw her out of her self imposed
isolation. He spent their daily visits chatting about all the day to day
events of many of the inhabitants of Lorien. It seemed that Orophin's true
vocation should have been as a spy. He seemed to know about everything that
went on in his home. The only other person who knew more about the comings
and goings of the denizens of the Golden Wood was Lady Galadriel. Orophin
thrived on gossip. Since Rúmil had asked his older brother to keep an eye on
her he was gratified that Orophin was proving to be such a good companion in
his absence.

Rúmil regretted leaving without saying goodbye. He felt as if he had
sneaked away like a guilty elfling. He would rectify the situation as soon
as he saw her. Even if she did not return his feelings it would be enough to
simply be near her. He reached the stables and left his mount in the capable
hands of the grooms and gathered his equipment. He would drop them off at
his talan and then seek out Dara in the healing halls. On the way to his
destination he spotted Orophin.

"Phin wait for me!"

His brother turned at the sound of someone calling his name and his face lit
up with a smile as he saw his younger brother approaching him. He ran to
Rúmil and laughing swept him up into a hug.

"Enough, enough, leave some ribs intact! Let go you orc!"

"You look well for having been on the border for a month, run into any

"Not a whisper, tell me how is Dara?"

"Oh I see how it is, I do not even rate a hello Phin you are looking well,
or Phin how have you been? I see where I stand. I who have been your
brother and constant companion for centuries; I feel so unloved." He
remarked with a pout.

Rúmil put his brother in a headlock and they both tumbled to the ground.
The casual passerby looked on in amusement. It was not unusual to find the
younger brothers of Haldir engaged in an impromptu wrestling match. It was
not long before Orophin gained the upper hand and soon had his brother
pinned to the ground. Rúmil could not move, his arms were held immobile and
his older brother sat on his legs holding him down.

"Let me up you ill mannered warg. Get off!"

"Not until you give me a proper greeting due your elder brother."

"Oh very well! Oh Phin you are looking well, tell me have you done something
different with your hair? Oh and how have you been? Read any good books
lately?" Rúmil mocked sarcastically.

Orophin rolled his eyes and sighed theatrically.

"I suppose that is the best greeting I am going to get. I knew we should
have taught you better manners. We should have left you in the woods as a
babe for the squirrels to raise. But no, Haldir insisted we keep you. I told
him you would be nothing but trouble. As usual he did not listen. I guess I
had better let you up to cause more trouble."

He extended a hand and pulled Rúmil to his feet. Both brothers spent a
moment picking leaves and twigs out of each other's hair and brushing off
the dirt their scuffle had caused.

"Now can you tell me how Dara has been during my absence?"

"I would have to say she is a bit better. We have a new healer, he has
returned from Imladris. Lord Elrond himself tutored him. He completed his
training and returned home. You remember him, his name is Tirinvo."

Rúmil thought and tried to put a name to the face. He seemed to recall a
skinny bookish young elf, who had left a long time ago to foster in

"Tirinvo? Was he a shy, skinny, meek sort of fellow? Didn't talk much, liked
to read all the time?"

"That would be him, but I think you will find him much changed. It seems
that fostering in Imladris agreed with him. Oh he is still somewhat skinny
and has his nose buried in a medical text. He is much more confident now and
actually quite pleasant to talk to. Anyway, he has been overseeing Dara's
therapy. He considers her to be the first real test of his skills. He is
always nearby when I visit her. He arrived here right after you left for
border patrol. In fact he is probably with her now."

"I see... well I should go meet him then. I will see you later, we can have a
drink together."

Rúmil absently clasped his brother's arm in farewell and walked towards the
healing house deep in thought.

Rúmil was grateful to this new healer that was trying to help Dara. He
really was, but he could not help feeling envious that Tirinvo was getting
the majority of her attention according to Orophin. He hastened to Dara's
room in the patients area of the healing hall. He paused outside her door
when he heard laughter, feminine laughter. He could not remember the last
time he had heard such a sound coming from her. He pushed open the door to
look at whom she was with. There was an elf sitting next to Dara on the bed.
He was tall even by their standards and lean. His skin was pale and his knee
length hair was an almost luminescent pale silver and was tightly braided
into one thick plait so as not to get into his way as he worked. When the
stranger turned to look at who entered the room Rúmil noticed that his eyes
were a startling shade of green, as light as the new grass in the spring. He
was dressed in Healer's robes, this must be Tirinvo. Although this elf bore
little resemblance to the awkward youth he remembered.

Rumil also looked at Dara; She seemed much better now than she had when he
had left for border duty. Her skin had lost its pallor and she had lost the
gauntness associated with a long illness. Her honey blonde hair hung in
loose waves down her back and to his amazement she was wearing a dress.
Granted it was a plain sort of a dress with a square cut neckline and
sleeves that fit tight to the wrist. Its only decoration was a bit of
embroidery at the neck and hem. The dress was a dark green; a color he
thought particularly suited her. Seeing Dara dressed like this made him very
uneasy, this was not his Dara. She looked so soft and vulnerable sitting

Her leg was bared to the upper thigh and he could see the ugly half-healed
scar. The healer had his hand on her knee and seemed to be stroking it. The
sight of another elf with his hands on Dara caused his stomach to burn and
uncharacteristic anger swamped his judgment.

Dara looked up when the door to her room opened, she had been laughing at a
comment the new healer made about his training under Lord Elrond. His twin
sons were known as quite the pranksters and as a newcomer to the house the
young healer was often the target for their mischief. It was one such story
that had lightened her mood. When she caught sight of Rúmil she welcomed him
with a smile. It looked as if he had just gotten back. He was still in his
warden uniform, which looked quite travel worn. Her smile faded when she
noticed the scowl on his face.

She could not understand why Rúmil looked so angry. Dara hated the fact that
he had seen her break down. It had embarrassed her to lose control in front
of him and as a result she had pushed him away. Dara realized now that he
had acted out of concern for her and she showed her gratitude by ignoring
him. Orophin had mentioned that he was due back from the borders today and
she had been anticipating his visit. The new healer had been working on her
leg for almost three weeks and she was excited by her progress and wanted to
share the good news. Then Dara noticed where Rúmil's gaze lingered and she
felt heat creep up to her cheeks. He was looking at the healer's hand on her
knee. Dara whispered a comment to Tirinvo and he removed his hand. Dara
rearranged her skirts and greeted the warden.

"Rúmil come in please I have missed you." Dara scooted to the edge of the
bed and smiled once more. She hoped it would dispel the disapproving expression on her
fellow warden's face.

Tirinvo stood up to greet Rúmil and was also surprised by the hostile
expression on the elf's face. "Rúmil how nice to see you again. I do not
know if you remember me but...."

His polite greeting was cut short as Rúmil strode into the room.

"Dara I need to talk to you outside now!" Rúmil really tried to control the
anger he felt at seeing another's hands on the elleth he loved but it was to
no avail. He had to know what was going on and he had to know this instant.

Dara narrowed her eyes at his commanding tone. Nevertheless she felt the
need to have a few choice words with him on his recent behavior. "I will
join you and I have a few things to say as well Rúmil."

Tirinvo helped Dara to her feet and Rúmil nearly growled when he thought the
healer's hands lingered too long on her arms. He stalked out of the room and
slammed the door. Dara looked apologetically at her new friend and then
limped out to confront one of her oldest friends.

Tirinvo looked speculatively at the closed door. He had a pretty good idea
why the warden had acted thusly. It was evident to the observant elf that
Rúmil had feelings for his patient and he knew from talking to Dara that she
had no clue as to the regards of her best friend. She was painfully naive
where intimate relationships were concerned. It would have been easy to see
Dara's charms if one took the time to get to know her. Tirinvo privately
admitted to himself that he was somewhat interested as well. He did not
pursue the matter for it would damage the trust he had built to allow him to
treat her. The previous head healer Ervadhor had not made his job easy. His
atrocious bedside manner and brusque approach had made Dara an uncooperative
patient at first. So Tirinvo had taken the time to get to know her before
beginning treatment. To step beyond the realm of propriety would undo all he
had accomplished. He sat in the bedside chair and waited for the fallout
from the coming argument. Most likely he would have to calm Dara so they
could continue her therapy. He sighed as he could hear the first shouts
through the closed door.

Dara caught up with Rúmil halfway down the hallway near a bank of large
windows. He stood silhouetted in a patch of sunlight with his arms crossed
over his chest and a dour expression on his face.

"Just why did you have to drag me out into the hallway Rúmil? If this is the
way I am to be treated whenever you come to visit perhaps you should not
bother!" Dara was heartily upset over his behavior and felt no qualms
letting him know. If it took a raised voice to get through that thick skull
of his then so be it.

"Why did that elf have his hands all over you? For Valar's sake Dara your
skirts were hiked up nearly to your hips! Since when did you start wearing a
dress? You have changed much I scarcely recognized you and I do not like these changes. Are you now
throwing yourself at Tirinvo out of gratitude?"

Rúmil could not seem to reign in his tongue. All of his frustrations over
the last month and seeing Dara laughing with that healer just fueled his

Dara got right in his face, eyes blazing and spat back. "That elf as you
call him is a healer and my friend. You have forgotten it seems just what it
means to be a friend. He has helped me, I am getting better. You have no
right to come in here and accuse me! I choose to wear skirts because it
makes it easier to treat my wound. Tirinvo had his hands on my leg massaging
the muscles not whatever your lurid fantasies conjured up!"

"Now wait just a minute!" Rúmil began

"No I am fed up with waiting for you to come to your senses! You have been
acting strange since you brought me back here. I am sick of it! You pick
fights and now you are attacking the one person here who has been able to
help me. There is nothing going on between us Rúmil. Tirinvo is doing his
job and I am grateful. I do not understand why you are treating me like
this." Dara stiffened as he grabbed her upper arms.

"You are right you don't understand. You have no idea what you have put me
through. I am tired of talking. I am tired of trying to control what I feel.
You want answers? Here is your answer!"

Rúmil backed her up against the wall and slammed his mouth down upon hers.
The kiss was meant to punish, to show her of his frustration. Instead it
ignited his desire. He groaned into her mouth and slanted his head to allow
him to deepen the kiss. Dara was wide eyed with surprise and stunned into
immobility and her involuntary gasp of surprise allowed him access into
her mouth. She had never ever been kissed like this and honestly did not
know what to do.

Rúmil let go of her arms and cupped her face in his hands. His lithe
muscular body was pressed up against hers and she was very aware of the
contact. New and confusing sensations bombarded her and it did not occur to
Dara to push him away. She could have easily hurt him badly had she been
thinking rationally.

At the first brush of his tongue against hers Dara moaned in protest and
tried to pull away from where he had her pinioned to the wall. That small
noise and her halfhearted struggle was enough to catapult Rúmil back to his
senses. He looked into her eyes and could see fear there mingling with other
emotions he could not identify. Horrified at what he had done he let go of
her and backed away.

Rúmil had not meant for their first kiss to happen this way or at all. She
looked at him with scared confusion and it tore a hole in his heart. He
turned and nearly ran out of the room.

If Dara had not been leaning against the wall she would have fallen. So
great was her surprise it took her long moments to regain her wits. She was
breathing as though she had just run a race and her heart was pounding
furiously. Dara's lips ached and she could still feel the warmth of his body
where it had molded itself to her. She raised a shaking hand to her face and
felt the heat radiating from her flushed cheeks.

Dara did not know what to think. This was Rúmil, her oldest friend, her
confidant. He was like a brother to her. Dara chose to do the only thing she
could think of, to forget about the incident as if it had never happened.
Slowly she made her way back to her room and entered the door. Tirinvo stood
and helped Dara to the bed. He looked at her flushed face and bruised lips.

"Dara are you all right?" Tirinvo noted her confusion and did not like to
think that the warden had forced himself on her.

"I..I think so. Rúmil was yelling at me and I was yelling back. The next
thing I know he is kissing me. I did not know what to do. I still don't. He
is my friend.or at least he was. I am so confused. How could everything have
gone so wrong? I want my friend back I am not ready to deal with him any
other way. Please I wish to be alone." Dara sounded so dejected that he was
tempted to stay but decided that some time to think would be the best thing
for her.

"I will leave you in peace. If there is anything you require do not hesitate
to seek me out. I will have a supper tray sent in later." He smiled at her
and patted her shoulder then left Dara to the solitude she desired.

Chapter 15 - Chapter 15

AN: I am so sorry it so long to update. Ny muse died and when I sent for another one from
Instamuse they sent me Grima by mistake. It took forever to get him back in the box.

Heart of a Warden 15

Rúmil fled from the healing hall all the while berating himself for a fool.
How could he have lost his temper like that? He knew he had startled and
quite possibly frightened Dara with his abrupt kiss and now he was afraid he
had lost her friendship as well. With no thoughts to his promise of joining
Orophin for a drink he stalked off through the wood till he came to a spot
he had often fled to in the past. A stream tumbled over some largish rocks
and fed into a pool below a small waterfall. Rúmil sat on a flat topped rock
at the edge of the pool and tried to let the sound of the water soothe him.
He pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them and rested his chin
upon his knees and stared out over the water. The tranquil glade did little
to settle his thoughts. He should not have kissed her but the feel of his
lips on hers and the first tentative brush of her tongue against his had
pushed all reason from his mind. It was only when she had protested and
tried to pull away had reason returned. He thought he could control himself
around her. He thought he could just be friends. He was wrong. Rúmil would
be satisfied with nothing less than Dara as his life mate and lover. He just
had no idea what to do next. His mind kept circling back to the moment he
took her in his arms. The feel of her pressed against him was enough to
reawaken his desire which caused him to groan in frustration. While his mind
had been quite appalled by his impetuousness his body had been quite happy
with the situation.


Dara lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Her mind was unsettled and surprise
still mingled with shock at the actions of her best friend. Never in her
wildest imaginings did she think Rúmil felt that way about her. They had
been the closest of friends and other than that Warden that she punched for
kissing her Rúmil was the only other elf who had taken such a liberty. Rúmil's
kiss had been nothing like Amros's so many years ago. When Amros had
kissed her Dara felt nothing but intense dislike and a need to push the
drunken sot away from her. Rúmil's kiss had been fierce and wild and shocked
her to the core. When he had held her against the wall she had been aware of
every hard, lithe plane of his body as he leaned into her and placed his
mouth over hers. She just could not see him as anything other than a friend
but why did that make her unhappy? Why did his kiss awaken something in her
that she chose to ignore? Why did she wonder what it would be like if he did
it again? She was so afraid she had lost one of the best friends she had
ever had. Dara got little rest that night as her thoughts would grant her no


Rúmil's imaginings had left him in quite a state. He was aroused, angry and
frustrated. Thinking perhaps a swim in the cool water of the pool might calm
him somewhat he stripped off his clothes and waded into the water. He swam
the length of the pool, then back again. Rúmil kept up a relentless pace
hoping the physical exertion would drive thoughts of Dara out of his mind.
It did not take long for vigorous exercise to tire him out since it had been
a long ride from the border. He made his way to the edge of the pool and
looked up. Orophin was seated on the rock he had recently vacated and was
grinning at him. The water of the pool had the desired effect so when he
climbed out his body was more under his control even if his mind was not.
Rúmil paused to pull his leggings on over his wet skin and then sat beside
his brother.

"I thought I might find you here. When you did not show up for the drink you
promised me I went to the healing halls looking for you and ran into
Tirinvo. He told me you had a rather interesting encounter with Dara."
Orophin watched his brother squeeze the excess water from his silvery blond
hair and slick it back from his forehead.

"I ruined everything, I am sure Dara hates me. She cannot help but to
loathe me. Phin I forced myself on her. I was angry and jealous and could
not control myself. What did I ever do to deserve this heartache?" Rúmil
placed the heels of his hands against his aching temples.

"She does not hate you Rúmil. You are her best friend and I would see you
happy." Orophin placed a companionable arm around his shoulder.

"I do not want to be her friend anymore. I want more. I cannot be around her
without wanting more than she is willing to give me. I should leave. Go back
to the border." Rúmil berated himself mercilessly.

"I knew you were many things brother but a coward was not among them. Until
now." Orophin snarled.

Stunned Rúmil lifted his head to look at his brother. "What? I am no

"Oh really? What would you call running away then?" Orophin grinned so
smugly that Rúmil felt like wiping that expression off of his face for him.

"I am not running! Why stay for a hopeless situation that only causes me
grief?" His petulant response made his brother grin wider.

"Rúmil you are an idiot. How do you know it is hopeless? Did Dara slap you
when you kissed her?"

"Well no but....."

"Have you tried to win her affection? Or did you just stumble blindly along
and hope she would fall into your arms? Make her love you." Orophin almost
felt sorry for the lost look on his brother's face.

"How in the name of the Valar do I make her love me?"

"By showing her that you are more than just a warden, more than just her
friend. Perhaps the reason she has not taken a mate yet is that she is
waiting for someone she did not know she wanted. Perhaps that someone is
you." His declaration did not clear up the confusion he saw evident on Rúmil's

"I ask again how do I do that?" Frustration was returning along with his

"Well you can hardly rectify the situation by ignoring her. In this case
absence does not make the heart grow fonder it just adds to the confusion.
Try and find out how she feels about the fact that you kissed her. Look, you
did your border rotation and do not have to go back to the fences till then
end of the season. Spend that time with Dara. Quit running and start
pursuing. Now, I believe there was the mention of a drink made earlier. I
happen to know that you have a very fine bottle of wine you borrowed from
Haldir. Why don't we go and open it and celebrate another return from the
borders with you in one piece." Orophin stood up and extended his hand.

Rúmil took the proffered hand and got to his feet and they walked
companionably back to his talan. The wine was opened and they settled
comfortably in two padded chairs with their feet propped up on the railing
looking out at the night dark forest. As the evening wore on they shared the
aforementioned wine and several bottles of cordial the Rúmil had picked up
at the last summer festival. Rúmil was content to brood and eventually
Orophin grew tired of wringing monosyllabic answers from him and bid his
brother goodnight. He blearily wandered back to his own talan. Rúmil sat
staring up at the stars contemplating what he should do next. Finding no
easy answers he went inside and lay down on his bed.

The room spun dizzily around him and Rúmil thought that perhaps it had not
been wise to drink as much as he had. The vast amount of alcohol had done
its job though and all the confusion he felt was muted to a bearable level.
He would worry about the consequences in the morning. He rolled over onto
his stomach and found oblivion in inebriated slumber.


Dara woke with the sun streaming in her window. Slowly she got out of bed.
Her leg was so stiff in the mornings that it took a bit of maneuvering for
it to support her weight. Dara limped over to the washstand and peered into
the small mirror. She was gratified to see that she no longer looked half
dead and the dark circles were gone from under her eyes. She washed in the
basin and plaited her hair. Dara got dressed and then looked at the simple
gown a bit ruefully. It was not something she ever imagined she would wear
on a regular basis. At first Dara had insisted on donning her old clothing
but the leather leggings were initially uncomfortable on her injured leg.
Plus the therapy for the injury had to be done several times a day so she
would regain a lot of her former mobility made wearing leggings

Dara did not want to face Tirinvo this morning. She needed some time alone
to think. She wanted to be out of the healing hall by the time he showed up
for her morning session. The night had passed slowly and it had been hard to
sleep. She went from being angry to confused then back to angry. Why did
Rúmil have to kiss her? Dara was content with their friendship the way it
was. Why did he have to ruin things? She had to get out of the healing halls
for a while. She found the room depressing and stifling. Dara was irritable
from lack of sleep and Rúmil's actions the day before. She grabbed her
walking stick and hobbled out of the building and into the wood. Even that
did not bring her the peace it had in the past. Dara did not consciously
head in a particular direction and was surprised when the ring of steel on
steel caught her attention. She was near the practice grounds. A place she
had studiously avoided since her disastrous sparring match. Still she could
not resist approaching and lingering at the edge of the field to watch the
wardens and recruits being put through the paces. Dara watched with a kind
of melancholy that could not be assuaged. While she was assured by Tirinvo
that her recovery was progressing better than could be expected she knew
that she would never recover enough to resume the arduous duties of a border
warden. Indulging in a bout of self pity Dara mourned for what she had lost.
After watching the elven warriors for a while some of her old resolve crept
to the surface. Dara mentally berated herself for sulking about something
over which she had no control. Making a decision Dara limped to the building
where the weapons were stored. She grabbed a bow and quiver and made her way
to one of the most remote targets on the field. She was less likely to be
disturbed way out here. This was exactly what she wanted.

Dara strung the bow and looked at it critically. It was a decent bow as
practice bows went but nowhere near as fine as the one that had been gifted
to her when she became a warden. She had not the heart to touch it after her
injury and subsequent illness. This was the first time she had touched a
weapon since that day months ago. Dara smoothly nocked an arrow and paused a
second and then let it fly. It hit the target with a satisfying thunk near
the center of the painted circle. This simple action brought Dara some
measure of peace. She fit and released another arrow and it landed much like
the first. Over and over she repeated this exercise till the quiver was
empty. Dara limped over and retrieved her arrows from the target and
returned to her starting point and let them fly again. She did this well
into the afternoon till the muscles in her arms burned and sweat rolled off
her face. Her leg ached terribly from the stance she was in but she did not
want to stop. This exercise allowed her to disconnect from her surroundings
and concentrate only on the target before her.

Dara reached back for another arrow and found her quiver empty again. With a
sigh she lowered her aching arm and prepared to limp back out to the target.
With each trip the distance seemed to grow further and further. She was
totally unprepared when a hand landed on her shoulder. She let out an
undignified shriek and spun around dropping her bow. Dara's traitorous knee
chose at that moment to buckle and she would have fallen if strong arms had
not caught her and held her upright.

"Orophin you nearly scared the life out of me. If there had been a blade in
my hand I might have skewered you." Dara frowned at him embarrassed that her
leg had betrayed her again.

"You have yet to best me with a sword so I think I would have been quite
safe." Orophin smiled at the scowl on her face. He had been subjected to her
many moods in the past and her anger did not phase him a bit.

"Well there is little chance of that now! Let me go!" Dara began to

Orophin grimaced at his unwitting reminder of what she had lost. He set Dara
on her feet and stepped back a bit. "I am sorry. I meant no harm."

Dara limped over to a bench and sat down heavily. She massaged her aching
thigh and gritted her teeth till the muscle spasm eased a bit, then sighed.
"It is not your fault Phin. I am out of sorts and feeling sorry for myself."

"Your leg, does it still pain you greatly?" He asked concerned. Orophin sat
down on the bench beside her and wished she had never been hurt.

"Yes some days I fear it will never stop hurting. I hate taking the pain
draughts they leave me dizzy and nauseous. Tirinvo has helped me a lot
though. I do not know what I would do if he were not here." Dara sighed as
the cramp eased. She leaned back against Orophin and laid her head on his
shoulder. It was on rare occasions that she allowed herself the luxury of
leaning on others but she felt so adrift and needed the contact.

"So you like Tirinvo?" Orophin dreaded her answer but felt he needed to ask.
The young healer was an attractive elf and spent a lot of time with the
warden for companionship as well as to treat her wounds.

"Of course I like him. Why wouldn't I? After all he did not run off to the
border like a certain elf who shall go unnamed. Tirinvo is gentle and sweet
and he makes me laugh." Dara replied without thinking.

With every word she said Orophin's heart sank a little deeper. She had
feelings for the healer who was taking care of her. What would he tell
Rúmil? "Dara are you sure? I mean you never showed much interest before and
now all of a sudden you like this healer. "

"Phin what are you babbling about?" Dara was getting irritated at his
disapproving expression and odd questions.

"Do you love Tirinvo?" He asked bluntly.

"Love him? What are you talking about? I like Tirinvo he is my friend. That
is all." Dara rolled her eyes. Orophin was acting weird and she wished she
could figure out why.

"Well that is a relief. I mean it is good you are making friends. So
anything interesting happen lately?" He asked nonchalantly.

"No not really. I have my therapy every day. I am bored out of my mind. I
want my life back. The usual. Oh and Rúmil got mad and kissed me. Does he
normally go around kissing those that he is mad at?" Dara tried to ask the
question as innocently as possible.

"So why do you think he kissed you?" At last she brought up the subject he
had been dying to talk about since he found her out here.

"I honestly do not know. He has been acting so on edge since he brought me
back from the border. We have fought before and made up but it has never
been like this. I mean I have seen him kiss other elleth and he seemed so
gentle and careful with them. He was so angry with me. His kiss was to teach
me a lesson I think, like he was punishing me." Dara bowed her head and
rubbed at the sore muscles in her shoulder.

"Here sit up a bit." Dara did as he asked and Orophin turned sideways on the
bench and placed his hands on her aching shoulders. He began to knead the
taut muscles to try and relieve some of the tension.

Dara stiffened up when she felt his hands on her shoulders. "Phin I am fine
honestly. You do not have to do that."

"Relax Dara do not worry so. It is not as if I was going to try and kiss you
or anything. This is just a simple massage between friends." He waited until
he felt her relent and then began seeking out every knot and kink.

Dara had to admit his hands felt good and she had way overdone it with the
bow today. Her fingers were raw along with her aching leg and burning neck
and arms. She also wondered what it would feel like if he did kiss her.
Would it feel the same as when Rúmil had done it?


Earlier that day the sun shining in the window of another talan only served
to irritate the occupant. He rolled over with a groan and peered blearily
about the room. It had to be after noon sometime. Otherwise the sun would
not be lighting up his room with intolerable brightness. Unable to get back
to sleep Rúmil sat up and wished he had not. His head ached fiercely and his
stomach roiled. He placed his aching head in his hands and waited for the
room to quit spinning. Why in the name of the Valar had he drunk so much
last night? It felt as if Dwarves with mallets were trying to mine their way
out of his head. Rúmil staggered to his feet and held onto the wall for
support. He made his way into the bathing room and poured the entire
contents of a pitcher of water on his head. Some of the bleariness cleared
away and he groaned as he went to the medical kit to get a powder for his
headache. Rúmil irritably pawed through the box, spilling half the contents
before locating the packets of dried willow bark. He added the contents to a
cup of water and drank the bitter tonic. It was sheer force of will that
kept it in his stomach.

Rúmil stumbled back into the bedroom and fell into bed. It was not till a
few hours later that he felt well enough to move. The headache had subsided
to a barely manageable level and his sour stomach demanded he put something
in it. He got up again and ran his fingers through his slightly damp tangled
hair. He went to the larder and pulled out a half loaf of bread and a wedge
of cheese. Carefully he took an experimental bite and when that stayed down
he began to eat with more enthusiasm.

He wanted to find Orophin and apologize for being such a poor host last
night. Then suggest they have dinner together. Haldir was a fair cook and
they knew that if they descended on Haldir's talan at suppertime extra
plates would be set out for them. Rúmil grabbed a clean pair of leggings and
a not too rumpled tunic and hastily braided his hair. He located his boots
and pulled them on. His head still ached and he had to lean against the wall
so he would not overbalance and fall to the floor. He knew he looked like
death warmed over but took no care with his appearance. He honestly did not
feel like impressing anyone today, least of all Dara.

Rúmil knew his brother would most likely be at the practice ranges so
squinting at the bright sunlight he left his talan and headed off to find
his brother. He stopped to watch the sparring recruits and winced when he
saw one youth take a hard hit to his sloppily unprotected side. Haldir did
not baby his recruits and he helped the young elf up, corrected his stance
and came at him again. It was always a pleasure to watch the March warden in
action. Rúmil was proud of his brother. He had been the youngest warden ever
inducted and had steadily risen through the ranks to attain the title of
Captain. The youngest of the Lorien brothers watched the match and after
Haldir sent the lad off to work with one of his classmates did he turn to
his brother.

"Rúmil I am happy to see you. I gather your stint on the border was
uneventful?" Haldir hugged his baby brother and was glad that he was home

"Very, it was so quiet I had plenty of time to sit and watch the trees
grow." Rúmil slung an arm over Haldir's shoulder and they walked to one of
the benches that ringed the field and sat down.

"So have you seen Dara? She is making a very satisfactory recovery under
Tirinvo's care. He is a very skilled healer." Haldir took a long drink from
a nearby water flask and waited for Rúmil to answer. Dara was the reason for
his month long absence from Lorien and Haldir wanted to know if the distance
had dampened his brother's attraction to the warden.

"Yes I saw her yesterday. It was a disaster." Rúmil said miserably.

"What happened now?" Haldir was getting a bit exasperated at the whole mess.

"I walked in to see her and that healer was with her. She was laughing and
talking and wearing a pretty dress. Her hair looked different too. Softer
somehow. Tirinvo had his hand on her knee. I lost it Haldir, I got jealous."
Rúmil closed his eyes at the memory.

"Rúmil what did you do? Nothing foolish I hope?" Haldir sighed and did not
look forward to the answer.

"I yelled and made her come out into the hallway. We yelled some more and.."
Rúmil hesitated.

"And what?" Haldir's impatience was starting to get the better of him. Only
his brothers had the power to vex him like this.

"And I kissed her. I was angry and I slammed my mouth onto hers like she was
a possession I had to have. The only other kiss she had ever had was with
Amros. I treated her no better than that drunken sot. I ruined everything."

Haldir saw how unhappy his brother was and he could almost dislike the
elleth who he had acted as a mentor to for what she was doing to his
sibling. It was not her fault though and Haldir knew that the blame could
not be thrust upon her shoulders. "What did Dara do when you kissed her?"

"She was shocked and hurt I guess. I do not know I left before she said
anything. I really messed things up. I should not have forced myself on her
but I could not help it. The sight of her with another elf made my blood
boil. I could not think straight." Rúmil stood up and began to pace.

"What are you going to do now?" Haldir asked.

"I have no clue. After I left I met up with Phin and we went back to my
talan and had some wine. I drank myself into a stupor and went to bed. Phin
said he would help me figure things out. I need to find him. He was supposed
to be here." Rúmil scanned the training grounds searching for his brother.

"I saw him head towards the far archery targets. You might try there. Rúmil
you have to resolve this one way or another. You cannot go on as you have.
You are miserable." Haldir stood up and faced his young sibling.

"I know Haldir I just do not know how." Rúmil clasped his brother in a
fierce hug and Haldir wished he could help him. He was at a total loss as to
what to do and he did not like that feeling at all.

Rúmil pulled away and smiled. "Thank you for being here for me. I need to
find Phin. We will be over for dinner tonight."

Haldir nodded and watched Rúmil walk away his shoulders in an
uncharacteristic slump. Then the Captain of the guard rejoined his recruits.


Orophin's hands ceased their massage and with a sigh of regret Dara turned
to face him. "You never really answered my question Dara. How did Rúmil
kissing you make you feel?"

She thought a moment and tried her best to answer. "It made me feel scared
and confused and warm all at the same time. I did not want him to do it..and
yet I had never felt anything like it. Amros' kiss made me want to hit him.
It was repulsive but I did not like Amros anyway. Maybe kisses between
friends are different." Dara looked at Orophin quizzically.

Orophin did not like the way Dara was studying him and knew he would not
like what she had to say next. "Dara what is it? Why are you staring at me

Dara licked her lips nervously. "Phin will you....will you kiss me?"

Orophin scooted back in surprise and got up. "What? Dara I cannot. You are
not mine to kiss."

Dara too stood up and began to get angry. "Not yours to kiss? Just what is
that supposed to mean? I am not a thing to be owned. Am I so hideous that
you could never envision kissing me? Do I repulse you?"

"Dara no never. You are one of my dearest friends. I would never hurt you."
Orophin stepped closer to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You
are beautiful and strong but you are just my friend." He could see the hurt
and confusion in her eyes.

"I want to see if I feel the same when you kiss me as I felt when Rúmil did
it. As a friend. Please? I need to know." Dara beseeched him.

Orophin could not stand the uncertainty he saw on her face and he did not
have the strength to deny her request. "All right." He whispered. He placed
his thumbs beneath her jaw and tilted her head.

Dara closed her eyes and jumped slightly as she felt the first brush of his
lips on hers. Orophin deepened the kiss as he leaned closer. His kiss was
nice but she did not feel the tingling warmth and utter confusion that was
present when Rúmil had slammed his lips down onto hers. Orophin's kiss felt
comfortable and friendly. Dara was relieved that his kiss was different from
Rúmil's. It made her want to find Rúmil and let him kiss her to see if it
generated the same muddle of feelings that the first time had.


Rúmil walked out to the far ranges and followed the sound of muted
conversation. He came through the bushes and upon a sight that made him reel
with disbelief and his blood run cold. There was his brother holding his
beloved and kissing her. Even more stunning was Dara. She was not resisting
at all. Anger flooded him like a wave and before rational thought could
assert itself he ran into the clearing and grabbed his traitorous brother
and spun him around. Orophin looked at the hatred on his sibling's face in
shock. Rúmil drew back his fist and hit Orophin squarely in the jaw knocking
him to the ground stunned.

Dara looked on in horror. Then Rúmil began to yell.

"How dare you! You are my brother! You knew how I felt about Dara! You knew
I loved her! Did that mean nothing to you? Were you waiting for your chance
hoping that I would fail to win her affection? Or were you seeing her all
along laughing at me behind my back? Well brother dear you can have her! I
am through with the both of you! I want to see neither of you ever again!"
Rúmil's heart had cracked in two and his words tasted like ashes in his
mouth. He turned and ran off into the wood knowing that try as he might he
could not outrun his pain.

Orophin looked ill. He was shocked by what had happened. "Oh Valar what have
I done." Was all he could think to say.

Rúmil loves me? Dara thought incredulously. How could I have been so stupid?
She wondered. She did not know how she felt about his admission of love but
she did know he was hurting terribly. She had to find him. Dara took several
steps out of the clearing and her leg trembled with another spasm. There was
no way she could catch him. What was she going to do?

Haldir strode into the clearing after hearing his brother shouting. He took
in the scene before him. Orophin lay upon the ground with a livid red mark
on his jaw and a split lip that was dribbling blood upon his tunic he looked
ill and in shock. Dara was a short distance away on the verge of tears and

"Just what in the name of the gods happened here?" He shouted for an

Dara's gaze latched onto Haldir with relief. She could tell him what
happened and he could find Rúmil. Haldir was unmatched in his tracking
ability and she was sure he could find his youngest brother and explain what
happened. She limped over to Haldir and grabbed his tunic in her hands. He
could help straighten everything out. At least she hoped he could.

Chapter 16 - Chapter 16

After a very long absence I have found my muse and have finally written chapter 16. Sorry for the extremely long hiatus. Due to a few really kind e-mails I decided I owed it to them and myself to finish this.

AN: Be kind I self beta'd this. The girl I had reading over my stuff probably thought I'd died.

Heart of a Warden Chapter 16

Haldir stood waiting for an explanation. A fierce scowl decorated his handsome face and Dara approached him hesitantly. Orophin scrambled to his feet and wiped the blood off of his chin with the back of his hand. He looked as if he were about to burst into tears. Never had Rúmil spoken that way to him not even during some of their worst fights. Orophin glanced into the woods where his youngest brother had disappeared and longed to go after him. He knew that would be a disaster, Rúmil was too angry to be reasoned with. He looked beseechingly at his eldest brother.

“Rúmil caught me kissing Orophin. He attacked him and then said some awful things. Oh Haldir I ruined everything. Rúmil hit Phin because of me. I do not know what to do.” Dara fisted her hands in his tunic frantic for him to tell her what to do. If she could take a step back and look at herself she would be appalled. For this Dara was a clingy, emotional, confused wreck.

Ever since her accident they all treated her differently. She wished that things could go back to the way they had been before. Although a part of Dara wondered if she could have more and what she had missed in her life. Now she feared she would never know. Rúmil hated her and Haldir did not look too pleased either.

“Why did you kiss Phin? Do you care for him?” Haldir scowled. He hated that his family was in such turmoil and that Dara was in the middle of it.

“Haldir I meant no harm. I wanted to see if it felt the same as when Rúmil kissed me. I was so confused. I do not know what I feel anymore. It was so much simpler when we were just friends. I love Phin like a brother and Rúmil showed up unexpectedly and jumped to the wrong conclusion. He left before I could explain anything.” Dara lowered her head and wondered when she had become one of those weak and weepy elleth she despised so much.

“You are not going to ask me to kiss you now are you?” Haldir asked suspiciously.

“No, never.” Dara stammered.

“Are you saying that I am not kissable?” Haldir smirked as he looked down at his flustered former warden.

“I… what has this got to do with anything? It is Rúmil I want to kiss again not you, or Orophin.” Dara blurted out.

“So you are saying that you feel strongly enough about Rúmil to want to kiss him again?” Haldir questioned with a slight smile.

“I am… Wait! You tricked me! I did not mean to say… that is I had not made up my mind.” Dara at this point was at a complete loss. She let go of Haldir’s tunic and wandered over to a fallen log to sit down. Her leg ached terribly and she had the beginnings of a major headache.

“It seems to me that you have made up your mind to explore the possibility of pursuing any feelings for Rúmil. That is why you tried experimenting on Orophin. It was unfortunate that my youngest brother came upon your little tryst. Now you are upset, Phin is upset and Rúmil is most assuredly upset. What do you intend to do about it?” This was not the voice of her friend and mentor but of her commanding officer.

Dara sighed as she rubbed at the thick scar on her leg. She had overtaxed herself badly and would need to use the muscle relaxing salves the healers had left for her. Everything was such a mess.

“I need to go after him and tell Rúmil that it was a mistake.” Dara was not looking forward to that approach but her only other option was to head home and sulk.

“My brother is stubborn and when angered difficult to deal with. Do you think you can handle him?” Come on Dara take the bait. Where is the fiery elleth I trained? The one who would never even think of giving up if there was something she wanted.

Haldir watched as his protégé sunk her face in her hands. He sighed and shook his head. It was not like Dara to give up so easily but her injuries had placed a heavy burden on her spirit. Truly he did not know if she would even try. Dara clenched her hands into fists and raised her head.
“I will go after Rúmil and explain what happened.” Dara replied adamantly. Ah… there was the determination Haldir expected from someone he’d trained.

Haldir raised one finely arched brow. “And if he will not listen?”

“Then I will pound his head into the nearest tree repeatedly until I knock some sense into him and he is willing to listen to reason.” Dara groaned a bit in pain as she awkwardly got to her feet.

“Try the pool near the falls. It is his favorite place when he wishes to be alone. The large tree that overhangs the water is where he likes to perch. Don’t disappoint me Dara I do not like to see my family in such turmoil.” Despite his gruff tone Haldir lent her a steadying hand and then pointed Dara in the right direction. He then turned to Orophin to soothe his middle brother’s hurt feelings.

Dara also paused to look at one of her dearest friends. It hurt her to see Phin so despondent. She really needed to go after Rúmil but she also had to mend things with Phin first.

“I’m so sorry that I used you to try and figure out my jumbled up feelings Phin. Can you forgive me?” Dara bit her lip and waited for a reply.

Orophin took a deep breath. Even though his youngest brother’s words had hurt him he knew that Rúmil would not hold a grudge for long. At least not against him. He truly wished the whole incident had never happened but he really could not fault Dara for being curious. She had missed out on the romantic games the other elleth played when looking for a mate. Instead she had been protecting the borders against danger. In fact his friend was really quite socially inept and bound to make mistakes.

“It’s all right Dara I don’t blame you for being curious even though kissing you was like kissing my sister. Well if I had one that is. Plus if it helped you to figure out where your affections truly lay well then the punch in the jaw was worth it. Go to him Dara. He really loves you and it hurt him deeply to think you did not care for him.” Orophin walked up to his friend and wrapped her in a warm hug.

“I am still not sure what I am going to do Phin. I’ve never loved someone before. I’m not sure what it is supposed to feel like. How am I supposed to act. What if I screw it all up? What if I hurt him again?” Dara rested her head on the elf’s broad chest soaking in the comfort he offered.

“Dara just give him a chance. Give yourself a chance too. Let him show you how much he cares.” Orophin stepped back a bit and held Dara at arms length.

“I’m afraid Phin.” Dara’s confidence waned the longer she hesitated in going after her would be suitor.

“You afraid? I’ve seen you take on a half dozen orcs with nary a tremble. Now you balk at facing someone you’ve known most of your life? Go to him. Fix this before it is too late. The longer Rúmil has to sit and brood the less forgiving he will be. Now scoot.” Dara yelped when Orophin’s hand came down on her behind with a sharp smack. He grinned at her unashamedly.

Dara glared at him for a moment then limped off into the woods to make amends.

Haldir approached his brother and examined his bloody lip.

“I thought I taught you how to duck.” Haldir remarked as he slung an arm around Orophin’s shoulder.

“Will they work this out? I hate the thought of Dara and Rúmil being so miserable.” Orophin was truly worried about the future of his best friend and his brother.

“It has to Phin. I simply will not put up with the both of them moping for the next century. I’m not above locking them in a room together until they get it all sorted out either. Valar willing the two stubborn idiots will have it all squared away before the end of the week. Rúmil is one of my best archers and this distraction is impairing his ability.

“Hey what about my shooting ability?” Orophin replied indignantly.

“Well you could stand some improvement.” Haldir smirked at his brother’s incensed glare.

“Care for a little contest brother dear?” Orophin’s pride had been pricked and he was not about to let his older brother get too insufferably smug.

“Only if you’d care to wager that bottle of wine I know you have stashed under your bed.” It was a vintage that the elder elf quite coveted ever since his middle brother had managed to “acquire” it from Celeborn’s private stash.

“Wait how did you know….” Orophin’s tirade was cut short by a hand over his mouth.

“I have my sources so do we have a wager or not. Or is your skill with a bow not your only shortcoming? Must we add overweening pride in your miniscule skill too?” Haldir hissed and pulled back his hand when it was unexpectedly bitten. “I see we can also add vicious to your list of failings as well.”

“Shut up brother and we have a deal. Although If I win you have to confess to Galadriel that it was you who thoroughly ruined her favorite rose bed when you rode through it on a horse you had appropriated from the stable master without his knowledge.” Revenge would be sweet Orophin thought when he bested his brother at the archery range.

“I was an elfling when that happened! You are delusional if you think I will confess at this late date.” Haldir rolled his eyes at the audacity of his sibling.

“Now who is afraid? I see your protests must mean you find your own skill with a bow sorely lacking.” Heh…if that would not get him nothing would. Orophin thought with a grin.

“Lacking? I’ll show you lacking. You have a deal!” Haldir almost dragged his brother along in his haste to prove him wrong on the ranges.


Each bit of uneven ground and tangle of underbrush seemed to go out of its way to trip Dara as she made her way through the woods to find Rúmil. The walking stick she was supposed to use lay forgotten back at the training ground. She didn’t care though and grit her teeth against the stabbing pains radiating from her hip all the way down to her ankle. She was a Warden, even though not on active duty, and as such was trained to endure hardship. It was something she’d forgotten during her convalescence. To be brutally honest she was not sure she’d ever be fit for duty again. It was a realization that Dara had tried to avoid thinking about. If this short hike was beyond her abilities then how was she supposed to defend Lorien’s borders?

She shook her head to try and get rid of this line of thought. It was not important any more. Being a Warden was once the focus of her whole life but now that goal seemed hollow and bleak without Rúmil to share it with. Either as a friend or a lover. Dara just needed time to sort out how she felt and to do that she had to find the elf that seemed intent in tying her emotions into knots.

It seemed as if Rúmil had decided to trek clear across the wood to find solace. Just when Dara thought she could not take another step, despite her determination, she heard the sound of rushing water. She breathed a sigh of relief and mopped her sweat dotted forehead with her sleeve. The dress she’d put on this morning was ruined so it hardly mattered. It was snagged, torn in several places and stained with dirt from the fall she’d taken while trying to scramble down a weedy slope. The plait she’d confined her hair to this morning also had its fair share of leaves and twigs snarled within its honey colored tresses. It would be a miracle if her appearance did not frighten Rúmil right out of his romantic thoughts in her direction.

The clearing that her friend used as his own private spot to brood was just as Haldir described. There was a small waterfall cascading over jumble of rocks ending in a good sized pool. A massive oak grew right at the water’s edge and dominated the whole space. The area was beautiful and Dara could understand why Rúmil sought peace here.

Trying to fight down the urge to flee back to the safety of the healing house Dara called out to her friend.

“Rúmil? Can I talk to you?” For the space of a few minutes there came no answer. Maybe he wasn’t here after all.

“Go Away!” A voice drifted down from somewhere over her head.

Dara looked up and could barely make out the object of her search perched high in the tree on one of the huge branches.

“Are you going to come down here so I can talk to you?” Dara was getting a crick in her neck staring up into the tree.

“No. Leave me alone.” Rúmil sounded like a petulant elfling and Dara started to get angry.

“Look I did something foolish but you have me so confused. You were the only one to ever kiss me like that. Well… at least that I did not want to punch. I needed to know if someone else that I trusted kissed me if I would feel the same way. Orophin did not want to kiss me but I asked him and so he did.” Dara felt like she was talking to the tree for all the response she got. “Rúmil come down and talk to me damn it!”

“I’m not coming down and I do not feel like talking.” If possible his tone was even more insulting.

“All right if you will not come down to me I’ll climb up to you. I swear you are acting like a spoiled brat.” Dara did not expect a response so she grabbed the lowest branch and swung herself onto it.

So far so good Dara thought as she reached for the next branch. I can do this…ignore the pain. Even though her leg refused to support her weight the elleth ascended with the grim determination of a former student of Haldir’s. Now she could clearly see Rúmil as he sat with his back to the trunk of the oak. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was determinedly not looking her direction.

Dara knew she had screwed up but that was no excuse for him to treat her so callously. Her first instinct was to punch him right in the face when she got close enough…if she got close enough. Her arms were trembling with fatigue, her leg was one pulsing fire of stabbing pain and her fingers were raw and sore from pulling a bow string all afternoon. Really it should not have been a big surprise when Dara reached for the next branch a horrid cramp seized her leg and she lost her grip. An undignified shriek was torn from her lips as she plummeted downward.

Rúmil looked down in horror as the elleth he professed to love fell from her tenuous perch and landed with a loud splash in the pool below. By some miracle she landed in the water and had not hit any of the larger branches on her way down.

“Dara! Oh Valar! Dara!” His heart seized in his chest as Rúmil climbed down as fast as he could unmindful of his own safety. He looked into the water and the only sign of Dara’s fall was a widening series of ripples. She had not surfaced. Panicking he dove into the pool and tried to catch some glimpse of her.

Eventually Rúmil had to surface or risk drowning himself and still there was no sign of her. Now frantic with worry he called her name over and over. The elf was on the verge of hysteria when he felt something grasp his ankle and he was pulled under. Totally unprepared for such an assault Rúmil sucked in a lungful of water. He rose spluttering and coughing to see the person who had made him lose control treading water right in front of him.

Her long hair was plastered to her head and she was scowling at him. With no thought to the consequences Rúmil grabbed Dara and pulled her into a tight embrace.

“Don’t ever do that to me again! You nearly scared the life from me. I thought you’d drowned.” He spent a moment just savoring the feel of her in his arms before drawing back a little and shaking Dara. “What were you thinking? You never should have climbed that tree. What if you had broken your neck?!”

Dara knew that it had been a rotten trick she’d played on the stricken elf in front of her. He’d made her angry and she was not above a little petty retaliation. But now the look on Rúmil’s face made her see just how upset the elf was.

“I’m sorry but it made me so mad when you would not even listen to me. It’s so frustrating to not be able to do anything. Not climb a tree that even a small elfling would have no trouble with. What am I supposed to do?” Dara, feeling sorry for herself, pushed out of Rúmil’s grip. She swam away and started to get out of the water.

Every muscle protested and her leg simply refused to support her weight. Dara sat on the muddy shore and cursed. Rúmil was quite astonished to hear her creative use of the language. He could not bear to see her in such distress though and joined her on the shore.

“Do you need any help?” The frustration on Dara’s face was a difficult thing to witness. Rúmil wished there was more he could do.

“I’m fine. I can get up myself.” Her sullen tone was totally inappropriate considering he was only trying to help.

Dara tried to prove it by getting her good leg underneath and trying to get to her feet without any help. Stubbornness did nothing to aid her rather clumsy attempt. It was only Rúmil’s arms around her that stopped Dara from going face first into the mud. So without even asking for permission the elf scooped her up in his arms and started to walk back towards home.

“Hey! What are you doing? Put me down!” Dara struggled and Rúmil only held her tighter.

“I will not. You have done too much today and could not even walk if you tried. Haldir would have my head if I let your stubborn streak injure you further. Now be a good elleth and accept my help.” Rúmil could not help but enjoy feeling her in his arms and he also could not resist glancing at the way the wet fabric of her dress clung to every curve.

Dara subsided with a huff crossing her arms under her breasts which only served to push them against the wet fabric. Rúmil could not help looking again and nearly walked into a tree.

“What is your problem? I might be safer on my own. What has gotten you so distracted?” Dara noticed what he was looking at and resisted the urge to cover herself. Her bodice was almost transparent and she berated herself for acting ridiculous. They had seen each other naked before. It was inevitable while on the borders especially if a comrade was injured. Privacy was a precious commodity and modesty had no place in such close quarters. But this was different. Rúmil was looking at her with such intensity that a flush crept up her cheeks, she felt warm all over and had a weird sort of fluttering in her stomach.

“Dara… you are beautiful.” Rúmil could not help commenting as the blush painted her cheeks pink as she looked up at him.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous. I am wet, covered in mud and my hair is a mass of snarls and leaves.” He was still looking at her and Dara was at a total loss as to what to do.

“I mean it Dara. You are the most beautiful elleth I have ever laid my eyes on.” Rúmil knew he was making her terribly uncomfortable but he was tired of hiding his feelings.

Now she knew he was lying. All the other perfumed, fluttery, vapid she elves with their filmy gowns and coy smiles were so much more appealing than one scarred, half drowned former warden. “I’m nothing like the other elleth. How can you possibly find me attractive?”

Rúmil thought for a moment and smiled. “I was drawn to you from the first time I saw you. The determination you had to not let anyone stop you from reaching your goals was admirable. You are strong, witty and patient when dealing with new recruits. Your smile can light up a room and your laugh is heartfelt and genuine. It is not at all like the silly twittering that the other elleth think is fashionable. You are not afraid to speak your mind and to stand up for what you believe in. You are a fierce fighter and will not hesitate to defend your comrades. You are as attractive as any other female, even more so because you are a genuine person who does not hide behind the artifice of propriety. I want you Dara. No one else and will not give up until I’ve convinced you of that fact.”

She looked at Rúmil in amazement. To actually hear how he felt about her put into words was almost overwhelming and altogether frightening. “I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything right now. Let me show you how I feel. I want to protect and take care of you.” He stopped at the stairs of a familiar talan.

“Why are we at your home Rúmil? Why not take me back to my room at the healing hall?” Dara felt more than a little apprehensive at his choice of locations.

“Because I am selfish, because I missed you. Dara I want to pamper you and let you rest somewhere with no interruptions.” Rúmil sensed her unease and hastened to reassure her. “You are still my dearest friend and I would do nothing to hurt you. Nothing you did not want to happen. Do you trust me?”

Rúmil’s entreaty was sincere and after all she had practically grown up with this elf. There was hardly anyone else on Arda she trusted more.

“I trust you Rúmil. I really do and I know you will not try and do anything I am not comfortable with. I’ve missed you too.” It was the complete truth. Dara realized she had nothing to fear from him.

He could not resist. Rúmil lowered his head and claimed her lips in a soft kiss. He did not try and deepen the contact or touch her in any way. It was the simple pressure of his mouth on hers. He was overjoyed that she did not stop him. Rúmil kept the contact brief and when he ended the sweet kiss Dara looked up at him more than a bit stunned.

“Are you all right? Did you like it?” Rúmil chuckled at the wide eyed look she gave him.

“I think so…I mean I’m all right. I mean it was nice.” It had been more than nice and that fluttering feeling was back in her stomach. The emotion present in his eyes when he looked at her made Dara feel safe, secure and eased the loneliness that had been present since her parents sailed west. She took a chance, guided partly by instinct and partly by what she had seen other elleth do, brushed her knuckles along his cheek and cupped his face in her hand. Her first spontaneous gesture of affection made Rúmil’s heart beat a little faster and had him believing that she cared for him after all.

Rúmil turned his head and kissed the palm of her hand and smiled. That smile and the feel of his mouth on her hand made Dara tingle all the way to her toes. As he carried her up to his talan she wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest. Dara found she liked being held and did not want the moment to end.

Printed from Open Scrolls Archive ( on Sun May 31, 2020 2:46 pm