Disclaimer: I own nothing, except the plotline. Even Gildor Inglorion isn't mine--Tolkien had him first.

Warnings: None except that it's slash. A faithful reviewer, Melanie, asked so nicely for this that I couldn't refuse. For anyone familiar with my previous work, this has a very different tone. Melanie wanted a tender, romantic little fic that discussed Gildor's and Haldir's relationship, so that's what this is.

Archiving: OLAS and anyone else who wants it, just let me know.

A/N: This is a continuation of my previous Unspoken story arc (Unspoken/Revelations/Changes.)

One Last Time

Part 2

By Rune Dancer


Third Age, 180: Imladris

The leggings followed the tunic into a shredded heap by the bed, and Gildor lay exposed to Haldir's concentrated gaze. Considering what they'd already done in the cabin, Gildor didn't know why he was so nervous as those hot eyes swept over him, but he felt himself going red nonetheless. It was always his lot to be blushing around Haldir, although at least this time it was the attention paid to himself that was cause.


Second Age, 3121: Lorien

Gildor was having a very bad night. For one thing, he kept expecting to fall off his talan at any moment, as, unlike the sensible balconies of Imladris, these had no railings. Every time he almost fell asleep, he felt himself sliding in one direction or the other, and woke up, clutching desperately at the wood under his hands. He could swear the things were slanted downwards, as no position in which he arranged himself was at all satisfactory.

Another problem was the noisy party going on beneath him, and throughout much of Caras Galadhon, that night. The festivities seemed to be a natural part of the market day tradition, and Gildor had fully enjoyed them, up to a point. He and Aikanaro had been set free to amuse themselves as their elders were off somewhere in another meeting with the Lords of Lorien. The two younger elves wandered about from party to party, as virtually every tree and glade seemed to have their own personal festival going on, to which all comers were welcomed with mead and wine, bread and fruit, and only asked to contribute a story or song in return.

Lanterns had been hung in the lower branches of the trees, and well tended fires burned brightly here and there, around which happy revelers sang and danced. Aikanaro had soon met up with some old friends, and, feeling a bit out of place, Gildor wandered off on his own. Not yet quite ready for bed, he took a walk amongst the darker glades farther from the city center, finding a strange beauty in the Lorien night. Few stars were visible, as the trees grew thick at the heart of the Golden Wood, but the mallyrn seemed to exude a dim glow all their own, giving light enough to see by. It had allowed him to make the discovery that was the third reason he was finding it impossible to sleep.

In a dark meadow far from the night's revelry, Tuor of Imladris lay, once again, face down on the ground at Haldir's feet. "Let me up, you infernal . . . I'll have your position for this, and your head!"

Haldir laughed, a sweet sound that echoed through the forest almost like a song. "Oh, not my position, I think, cousin, although feel free to try, but the other . . . well, if you ask nicely, we may be able to arrange something."

"So you're debauched as well as dangerous!," Tuor spat, twisting around in a futile effort to free himself.

Haldir gracefully sank to the ground, straddling his captive's thighs and running an appreciative hand over his firm bottom. "Debauched and dangerous," he mused, inserting a finger just under the top of Tuor's leggings and beginning to softly stroke the skin of his lower back. "I rather like the sound of that. Perhaps you would be so good as to spread the tale about? It would do me no end of good in certain quarters."

"I'll spread you about, in little pieces all over this glade!," was the reply, and Gildor saw with alarm that Tuor's hand had almost reached the knife on his belt. Haldir observed the motion, however--indeed, from his lazy action in removing the scabbard and tossing it several yards away, it might almost be thought he had expected it.

"No blades. Not this time," he told Tuor, with less amusement in his tone. "I do not know what rules there be at Imladris, but here, kin do not slay kin."

"I would not slay you, you stupid elf!," was the reply. "just teach you how to properly treat honoured guests."

"By trying to stab me this morning, and again just now?," Haldir asked in obvious disbelief, as he quested lower beneath the elf's leggings, running a hand over the tense muscles he found there.

"No! I would not have harmed you. I simply intended to get the knife at your throat, then make you apologise. The only injury would have been to your overbearing pride! However," and Gildor shuddered at the venom lacing through Tuor's tone, "if you don't stop groping me, I may change my mind."

"Groping you?," Haldir seemed genuinely amused. "Oh, no, cousin, THIS would be groping you," he commented. Gildor was not sure if it was Haldir's tone, which had mockery saturating every syllable, or the hand he slipped under Tuor's still struggling form, but a howl of pure outrage echoed through the forest from the Imladris elf. A second later, and the two were rolling around the glade, engaged in what looked like serious combat.

Gildor was caught in a quandary, not knowing what to do. If he intervened, Tuor would know that he had seen him bested once more, and might well never forgive him. On the other hand, if he did nothing and let his mission leader be injured, how would he explain himself to Valandil? And the thought of Haldir being hurt was even worse, causing a sick feeling to puddle in his stomach. He decided to wait for the outcome, and only interfere if it looked like serious harm would otherwise be done.

It had been, he reflected as he tried once again to find a safe position on the cursed talan, one of those plans that seem like a good idea at the time. In reality, he would feel much better if he had simply walked away and left them to it. Instead, he had stayed to see the blows turn into caresses and the curses into whispered endearments, as the fight changed slowly into something else. Haldir once again emerged on top, but this time, Tuor seemed much less inclined to argue. Gildor had thought in silent sympathy of the elf maid Haldir was supposed to meet, who was doubtless somewhere wondering what had happened to him. Gildor had almost left then, heart heavy with seeing Tuor's haughty blond looks make this particular conquest, but something held him in place.

"You are beautiful, cousin," Haldir murmured, as he slowly relieved Tuor of his clothing. "So beautiful . . . and yet so proud . . . and so quick to anger, even against those whom you should esteem." The light, almost singsong voice continued, as the last piece of the elf's attire was tossed aside. "You speak about teaching me a lesson," Haldir whispered, running his hands along his captive's arms, slowly guiding them over his head, "but I think it is you who needs instruction."

Tuor gazed up at him from half closed eyes, "Then educate me, Guardian," he said seductively.

Haldir smiled, and something about the expression made Gildor suddenly bite his lip in worry. "I thought you'd never ask," he commented softly, as the rope he had slipped so unobtrusively about the darker elf's wrists was pulled tight, and simultaneously thrown over an overhanging branch. As Gildor bit back a startled cry, Tuor was raised from the ground in one swift movement and hung suspended in the air. Haldir looped the rope around his captive's flailing legs, then tied it off far out of his reach. After gagging him with a handkerchief, Haldir surveyed his handiwork, while running a hand down Tuor's bare back to cup one of his hips. "You know," he remarked conversationally, "I think I rather like you this way. You are so much more attractive when you aren't talking."

Haldir bent and scooped up the scattered clothing, throwing what looked like a genuinely regretful glance at the trussed figure before him. "I would stay and complete your instruction, but I am afraid I have a previous engagement this eve, so I bid you good night." He walked to the edge of the glade as Gildor stood, surveying the scene in astonishment from his hidden position. "Oh, and don't worry, Tuor of Imladris," Haldir threw back over his shoulder as the Imladris elf, finally realising Haldir actually meant to leave him like that, began struggling wildly, "I am sure someone will be by to release you . . . eventually." And he walked away, humming what sounded like the same song from that afternoon.

Gildor watched as Tuor struggled against his bonds, but Haldir had used good Lorien rope and Tuor's knife was far out of reach. Gildor knew his leader's self-importance would be seriously affronted to be found by some wandering Lorien elf, hung up like a freshly killed deer. He really ought to go release him, and he momentarily fingered the knife at his waist, but the almost savage look in Tuor's wild-eyed gaze made him pause. It was perfectly possible that he would be blamed, not thanked, if Tuor suspected that he had seen even a part of that night's activities.

Gildor had stood in indecision for some time, listening with far more pleasure than he wanted to admit to the muffled sounds of impotent rage escaping from the bound and struggling figure in the glade. He then turned and, with his quietest tread, made for the narrow talan he had been assigned. So it was that he passed the night, feelings of guilt assailing him along with fair elvish music from the many campfires ringing him round. Finally, sometime near dawn, he managed to slip into sleep, with the image of a pair of laughing blue eyes merging into his dreams.


Second Age, 3121: Mirkwood

Glorfindel took one look at Thranduil, King of the wood elves of Mirkwood, and decided that perhaps his diplomatic assignment was not going to be quite as dull as he'd imagined. The audience hall of the king was a huge room hollowed out of pure stone, with long tables lining either side and an impressive number of silken banners fluttering high overhead. The throne was the most ostentatious Glorfindel had ever seen, making Elrond's elaborately carved perch seem like an ordinary chair by comparison. But it was not the throne that interested Glorfindel, but rather the impressive elf currently slouched on it, looking as if he needed cheering up. Glorfindel specialized in spreading good cheer, especially when it came to gloriously handsome elves.

"Lord Glorfindel of Imladris." As the herald announced him, Glorfindel passed along the narrow passage left by the seemingly thousands of elves who had crowded in to see the meeting, which most assumed would be memorable.

"My Lord Glorfindel," Thranduil said, looking suddenly more interested in the proceedings, "Had Elrond sent anyone else, I would have been hard pressed not to order my archers to shoot him on sight. The famous Balrog slayer, however, I wanted to see for myself. I would hear about your famous battle over dinner tonight."

Glorfindel repressed a wince and instead kept a broad, diplomatic smile on his face. Elbereth, but he was sick of telling that tale, even the highly expurgated form that he usually used on such occasions. Why did people assume that anyone would LIKE recalling the moment of their own extremely painful demise? Elrond had long ago made it clear that his seneschal was not required to reopen old wounds just to entertain curious visitors to Imladris, and, for the most part, Glorfindel was able to avoid the avid requests from passing guests by amusing them instead with libidinous stories from his somewhat disreputable past. Anything was better than dredging up that hoary old tale again. But it would, he knew, be difficult to ignore Thranduil's request, especially as it was the only thing keeping him from being unceremoniously escorted out the door. He knew, of course, that the king was bluffing--he wouldn't really harm any emissary Elrond chose to send--but he was also not obligated to receive them, and there was certainly no love lost between the two Lords.

Of course, he thought, eying the dark emerald eyes, fair features and waist-length silver hair of the vision on the throne, given a little time and Glorfindel might be able to give the King of Mirkwood another reason for keeping him around. Ah, Elrond, he thought as he bowed gracefully in assent, what I do out of loyalty!


Third Age, 180: Imladris

Haldir slowly drew a finger along the vein on the underside of Gildor's straining length, smiling to see his companion begin to move in his need. "Look at me," Haldir said softly, and Gildor obliged him, although a handsome blush suffused his features as their eyes met. Haldir smiled at the sight, a number of possibilities for increasing it running through his mind. He had not had a partner who blushed for . . . well, come to think of it, he did not think he ever had. Of course, that could be because his tastes had never run to innocents, with most of his partners being as experienced, or more so, than himself. Blushing was a rarity among his friends. Of course, now that he thought about it, there had been that little elf in Lorien, long ago . . . in fact, Gildor rather reminded him of the young one, whatever his name had been . . . it escaped Haldir at the moment, but memory of their actions was much clearer.


Second Age, 3121: Lorien

The large meadow was filled with golden, star shaped elanor, which showed up well against the deep green of the grass. The Silvan elves that dotted it seemed from a distance as moving flowers themselves, their pale hair almost the same colour as the shy elanor and their garment s every hue of the rainbow. Many of them reclined among the grasses, on blankets and beside picnic baskets, attired in their festival best and in high spirits because of the coming competition. Haldir lounged on the sidelines between his two brothers, who were waiting impatiently for their moment to shine. Rumil was almost certain to take first honours in the wrestling matches, as, although he was lighter than most of the competition, no one was faster. Orophin was looking forward, as was Haldir himself, to archery, as they tended to trade off the top prize from year to year. Haldir had won it the last two years in a row, however, and Orophin was itching to best him. Haldir knew his brother had recently traded off some of his duty shifts to allow him to spend more time in practise, and would no doubt be a formidable opponent.

The sun was too bright, the birds sang too sweetly and Haldir was too mellow from a fine lunch to care very much. If Orophin should beat him, well, there was always next year . . . as long as neither of them lost to one of the haughty visitors from Imladris! Haldir watched them as they milled about, looking out of place among the crowd of Silvans. Even Tuor, with his blond good looks, had hair too brassy and bulked too large to ever be mistaken for one of the tree dwellers. His companions stuck out even more, with dark hair and eyes such as was seldom seen in Lorien. The elfling was the worst and Haldir watched in idle amusement as he twisted his rather battered bow around in his hands, looking thoroughly nervous at the thought of competing amongst so many strangers. His messy braids fell forlornly about his dimpled cheeks, and his wide brown eyes surveyed the assembled throng with mingled fascination and dread. Despite his scruffy appearance, Haldir found him the only halfway likeable one among the group; although, if he was truly as helpless as he appeared, it was a wonder he had been included on the delegation. Was Imladris so lacking in decent agents these days that it must use children?

Haldir was distracted from his thoughts by the first trumpet blast, signaling the beginning of the day's events. Almare and Turelie, the twin daughters of the legendary Nolwe, who had never lost a race, won the foot races. Their mother sat atop a slight rise, beaming as the victor's crowns of niphrodil were placed on their shining heads, her cheeks rosy from the strawberry wine she had been imbibing. Varyar won the wrestling competition, much to Rumil's disgust, and Haldir refrained from telling his competitive little brother that second overall was not a bad day's work. The other events seemingly flew by, and soon it was time for the test of archery skill.

Haldir joined Orophin on the long, flat piece of ground selected for the main event. Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel sat in the shade of several nearby mallyrn, waiting to start the event as soon as everyone had taken their places. The crowd shifted in their direction, for archery was most elves' favourite sport. Haldir noted that the competition was much as usual, mostly Galadrim with a few other hopefuls thrown in and, this time, the guests from Imladris. All four had apparently decided to compete, and he briefly wondered about their skill, but soon the two who looked so much alike were eliminated, having given fair performances but nothing more. Haldir saw the tallest of the elves, who had also shown himself to be the wisest on their first meeting, pull the elfling aside and whisper something in his ear before leaving the field. Whatever it was, it made the child blush brightly, and seem to straighten up slightly. Some words of encouragement then, Haldir supposed, and he found himself hoping the little one would perform at least adequately before being eliminated.

Haldir, as usual, made no mistakes, his six allotted arrows all finding their marks in the dead centre of the targets. Of course, this was the simple round, he reflected, as Orophin easily matched him. Eight others also managed perfect scores, including the proud Tuor, who gave Haldir a scathing glance as he passed him, causing the Galadrim to briefly wish he'd tightened those ropes a little more the night before. Oh well, dodging whatever mischief Tuor was planning would provide a bit of amusement until the annoying Imladris foursome went on their way. To Haldir's surprise, the youngest Imladris elf also managed to hit all the targets cleanly; that old bow of his must be a better weapon than it looked.

The next two rounds eliminated most of the remaining competition, leaving, as usual, Haldir and Orophin shooting against each other. Less usually, two other elves had made the final cut, and it was much to Haldir's annoyance that they were the ones from Imladris. He was not about to be out shot on his own ground by any foreign elf, especially not that Tuor! Haldir exchanged glances with his brother and knew that Orophin was thinking the same thing--as long as one of them won, Lorien's reputation, and that of the Galadrim, was intact.

For this last stage, the targets were suspended on three cords hung between two of the taller mallyrn, with about a yard of space between them, one on top of the other. Each cord had eight small disks attached to it, which were released by elves high in the branches on either side of the supports. There were six elves, one for either side of each rope, holding four disks that they could release whenever they chose. Sometimes, two or three would go at once, making it all but impossible to hit them all. The elves were blindfolded so that they could not see who was competing, nor what their fellow target holders were doing. The distance from the target and the fact that the ropes swayed in the almost perpetual breeze in the tops of the mallyrn, made this final selection the most difficult of all the day's events. No one had ever hit all twenty-four disks, and indeed, it was considered a very respectable score to manage half of them. Haldir hoped to improve on his personal best of 19, which had won him the tournament the previous year.

A shrill whistle sounded as Tuor, who drew the white pebble from the sack that Celeborn held, was allowed the privilege of shooting first. He nocked a grey fletched arrow to his bow and waited for the next signal. Haldir had to admit that, if he was nervous, he did not let it show. As soon as the short note sang over the trees and the first disk was dropped, it was obvious why; annoying the elf might be, but he was talented. Haldir stood by impassively as disk after disk came to rest in the middle of the rope, cleanly shot through with one of Tuor's grey arrows. "Eighteen," the call rang out over the field, a total that won a round of surprised applause from the watching elves. It was especially impressive as the wind had picked up halfway through, making it likely, in Haldir's opinion, that Tuor would have tallied up several more hits if it had remained calm.

Orophin selected the bluish pebble, giving him the next attempt. It was in a tense silence that he stepped up to the line, nocking one of the Galadrim's white fletched arrows to his bow as he did so. The crowd was unusually quiet, with no shifting and rustling of food wrappers, as all held their breath to see if Orophin could outshoot the Imladris visitor. His brother was seemingly calm, but Haldir knew he must realise he was shooting under a disadvantage. The wind was now whipping the thin grey ropes back and forth unpredictably, and, although Haldir suspected Celeborn of deliberately stalling to give the gusts a chance to die down, they were still strong when the whistle blew. Despite the handicap, his brother did well, hitting seventeen cleanly and only barely missing another. Still, that left Haldir with a job to do as he selected the reddish hued pebble from the bag.

Celeborn sent him a look that clearly said, "Beat him," and Haldir gave an almost imperceptible nod in reply. The wind was still high when the whistle sounded, but Haldir was lucky and received good throws, with most of the disks sliding along the ropes cleanly and coming at regular intervals. He missed one that was whipped sideways by the wind just as his arrow reached it, and two more because, near the end of his turn, five disks were released all at once making it impossible to hit them all in the few seconds he had. Still, it was his best effort ever, and, at 21, a new Lorien record. Haldir only noticed the trickle of sweat that had run down his back when he stepped away from the line and Orophin enveloped him in a huge hug. "I've never been so glad to lose," his brother hissed in his ear, and Haldir gave him what he hoped was a confidant smile in return. In reality, he would have very much liked to sit down for a few minutes.

"Wait, wait," Celeborn was saying, holding up his hands for silence as the applause, laughter and babble of relieved elves had risen to a crescendo. "We still have another contestant," he reminded them, and the crowd, now sure of a win for their champion, obligingly settled back down.

Haldir felt true sympathy for the youngster, who bravely stepped up to the line but swallowed as he surveyed the ropes, now whipping in a high wind. It was by far the worst condition yet, and Haldir could only be thankful that he had shot when he did. Still, he hoped the elfling would somehow manage a halfway decent showing, or else there was a good chance that Tuor, glowering at the field from the sidelines, would make his life difficult. The young elf nocked an arrow, a rather strange one, Haldir noticed, with a black body but fletched with bright gold, and waited on the signal. It was barely audible over the sound of the wind, but he heard it and began releasing arrows.

At first, Haldir thought the child had lost his nerve and begun shooting wildly, as he was releasing far more arrows than there were targets; indeed, Haldir had scarcely ever seen anyone shoot so many so quickly. After a few seconds, however, he realised what the elf was doing. Having had time, he supposed, to watch he and Orophin battle the elements, and learning from their mistakes, he was compensating for the shifting ropes by shooting arrows two at a time spaced slightly apart, to allow for sudden changes in wind direction. To Haldir's surprise, it was working. Although many of his arrows went wide, many others found targets, with a few targets even hit twice. There was just one problem with the plan, Haldir realised, as target after target was pierced; he was almost certain to run out of arrows. Not having anticipated the need to shoot doubles, he had not brought enough to allow him to finish. Haldir doubted that the elfling realised his predicament, as his whole attention was focused on the now wildly whipping ropes and the tiny disks that slid so quickly along them.

Without thinking, Haldir reached into his own quiver and drew out the four arrows he had yet to use. As the elfling's hands reached back for another arrow, and encountered only air, Haldir slipped two into his searching palm. The fact that they were white and not gold, and silver mallyrn fair instead of black, did not apparently register on the elfling's focused mind.

"Orophin," Haldir whispered, extending a hand. His brother gave him a startled look, but after a brief hesitation, handed over his five remaining arrows. They were slipped into the elfling's quiver without his noticing, and proved to be just enough to do the job.

"Twenty-four," Celeborn called out, disbelief in his tone, and the crowd erupted into unrestrained shouts and cheers, the thrill of the skill and ingenuity they had just seen displayed canceling out all other considerations. "I'll talk to you later," Celeborn informed Haldir shortly, and Orophin, giving his brother a cheeky grin, slid away before the annoyed Lord could catch him.

The elfling, Haldir noticed, was looking in surprise at the white fletched arrow he had just unnocked from his bow. He looked up at Haldir in amazement. "I don't understand."

Haldir laughed and ruffled his wind swept hair. The child was not handsome, but he certainly had talent. "No one ever made a perfect score; I wanted you to have the chance," he told him, "Now come and claim your crown."


That evening, despite the bad weather that had blown up in the afternoon, parties of all types were held anyway, as those who had come to town for market day were to depart on the morrow and did not intend to miss a last chance for socializing. Haldir stood inside the Lord and Lady's great talan and watched the rain drip from the roof. The calm blue twilight, which was as close to darkness as Lorien ever managed, should have been peaceful, but he could still hear Celeborn's scathing comments ringing in his ears. Despite appearances, his Lord could be quite competitive. He had not been happy to have the match thrown, as he had phrased it, to an Imladris elf, and one scarcely past his majority at that. It had not helped that Tuor had had a number of pointed comments to make about the skills of the Galadrim that afternoon, which Haldir thought was fairly raw as he had, after all, been beaten by one of those Galadrim himself.

He noticed now the unhappy face of the afternoon's winner, and wondered if perhaps he should have let the child run out of arrows, after all. He certainly did not look like he was enjoying his victory, and Haldir wondered why. Approaching the elf, whose niphrodil crown was beginning to wilt somewhat, he smiled and settled himself onto a large knot in a tree growing a few feet from the edge of the talan. The overhanging branches kept most of the rain off, and allowed him to sit at much the same level as the elfling, who was seated at the edge of the talan, and staring out morosely at the night.

"Why so glum, little one? Did you not triumph today?"

The child looked up at him as if surprised anyone was addressing him.

"Where are your friends; do they not wish to congratulate you on your victory?"

"I . . . I think Aikanaro is somewhere about . . . he has old friends here and they are leaving tomorrow so . . . "

"And what about the others in your company?"

The elf twisted about, "They were here, earlier," he said, but Haldir noticed that he did not look sorry to have lost them.

"Then I am in luck," Haldir commented, "as it seems I have you all to myself."

The child looked up from contemplating his hands, and caught Haldir's eye. He blushed as prettily as a maiden, and quickly looked elsewhere. Haldir had meant to have only a short conversation, to perhaps cheer the elf up, as it seemed ridiculous that he, of all people, should be unhappy this night. But that blush was enchanting, and Haldir was now remembering a similar expression he had seen on the young one's face when first they met. I am getting old, he thought in amusement, if I cannot spot a crush when it is so obvious. Ah, well, why not? He had nothing else to do that evening, as his previous night's diversion had left that morning to be in time for another fair elsewhere.

"I think the rain has stopped," Haldir commented, holding out a hand, and indeed, although the leaves still dripped, the sky itself was clear. The clouds had moved away from the moon, which was visible this close to the treetops. "Walk with me," and the elf obligingly took his proffered hand, allowing him to lead him across several of the high suspended bridges and through the trees to a much smaller talan a good distance away from the Lord and Lady's.

After shedding his damp cloak and outer tunic, and helping the elfling off with his, Haldir pulled him down on top of him and drew him into a deep kiss. The elf seemed taken aback, and almost immediately drew away looking flustered. Haldir laughed, "What's this? You do not want your victory prize?," and pulled him down again. This time he went slower, and was more gentle, and the elf melted against him as Haldir once more slipped in between his sweet lips. Oh, this felt nice, he thought, slipping a hand under his companion's silky hair to draw him even closer. A few deft movements and the elf's shirt was gone, allowing Haldir access to a very tempting torso. He had just begun to explore a tiny pink nipple when a laugh echoed through the room.

"Well, at least now I know why I lost five good arrows today!"

Haldir looked up to see Orophin and Rumil, the latter with a lighted lantern in hand, standing in the doorway with identical grins on their faces.

"I think it is MY night in the talan?," Haldir pointed out, and considering that he had had to make love to Idril in the back of her tiny covered wagon the night before, he was not happy to see his brothers now.

"We do most heartily apologise, to you both," Rumil said, bowing formally in their direction, "we just needed to pick up a few things . . ."

"Don't let us interrupt," Orophin added, leering good-naturedly at the elfling, whose face was glowing bright red in the dim lantern light.

"We won't," Haldir replied, trying to resume where they'd left off, only to have the elf jump to his feet and stumble backwards, clutching his shirt to his bare chest and looking mortified.

"I . . . I really have to go . . .," he said, refusing to meet any of their eyes, and fled from the talan as fast as his feet could carry him. Haldir called after him, but the young one was too quick and almost immediately disappeared into the night.

Haldir turned to glare at his two siblings, who at least had the grace to look somewhat abashed.

"Sorry," Rumil muttered, before making his own quick escape.

Orophin smiled sheepishly at his brother. "I suppose our timing could have been better?"

Haldir, who had participated in the many toasts drunk in his honour that night, sighed and let his slightly swimming head fall back against the cushions of his pallet. "You could say that, brother," he replied, before giving up on the day and succumbing to slumber.

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