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Much later, after the sun had set and the quarter moon rose in the east, Haleth made her slow, reluctant way to the Hall of Fire. It was bad enough being completely out of her depth, she had humiliated herself and bled all over Rivendell in the process. Compared to her wounded pride, the pain in her nose and sinuses was minimal.
She would have much preferred to sulk in her room, but she had to obey Elladan. She could choose the manner in which she would obey, though.
Haleth slipped into the Hall of Fire in the middle of a song. The singer stood by the fireside. The flames cast a golden light upon his face. The song told the tale of Thingol and how he had been mesmerised by the beauty of Melian so long ago. As she glanced around the room looking for Inglor, Haleth could empathise with Thingol's reaction.
The Hall was emptier than Haleth had ever seen it, the elves scattered about in the twilight in small groups or alone. Inglor did not seem to be present. She selected an out of the way corner, far removed from the fire. She seated herself upon a wide bench, her knees drawn beneath under her chin, and listened to the music.
"I am sorry for what Guilin did to you."
Haleth jumped. Daewen sat down beside her. "He always has enjoyed practical jokes."
"It was just bad timing," said Haleth. "There's no reason to apologise."
With nothing more to say to each other, they listened to the singer.
"You're not falling asleep?" Daewen suddenly asked.
"No," said Haleth. "Am I supposed to be?"
Daewen laughed. It sounded like the soft peal of silver bells. "Most mortals fall asleep while listening to elvish singing."
"Maybe because the songs go on for so long?" Haleth speculated. "Most of us don't have the attention span to listen to stories with three hour introductions. We simply don't live that long."
Daewen laughed again. "You may very well have something there. I shall have to mention it to Elrohir when he returns."
"He's away?" Haleth asked. She had never heard of the sons of Elrond doing anything separately before. But Elrond now walked the other side of the Sundering Seas. They had more responsibilities.
"He and Elladan normally take turns patrolling the area," Daewen said. "There are fewer dangers, but also fewer protections for Rivendell. I think they just use patrolling as an excuse to ride into the wild. They are very restless." It was plain from the way she spoke that Daewen did not understand this part of the twins' natures.
A dark haired elf beckoned to Daewen from across the room.
"Excuse me," she said, leaving Haleth to lurk in the shadows.
"So this is where you've been hiding," a familiar voice said.
"If it can be called hiding when I'm in plain view," Haleth said sourly as Inglor seated himself next to her.
"Lord Elladan wants to speak with me tomorrow," he said shortly. It was implicit that she was not wanted at the discussion.
The music flowed around them, a stream of silver and golden sound. It was all too pleasant to sit next to Inglor and allow herself to be carried away by the current of song.
"How long are you planning on staying here?" Haleth asked Inglor.
His answer was interrupted by Elladan, who stood and spoke in a voice that reached the furthest corner of the hall.
"We have a guest tonight in the Hall of Fire. It is our custom to ask guests to sing a song or recite a story of their home. Haleth, would you favour us with a song?"
All eyes were turned to a woman who had essentially been invisible for decades. Haleth ground her teeth in frustration. If this was a custom, it was a new one. Elrond had never bothered her with it. She suspected it was an excuse to get her away from Inglor. But it would be foolish to be overtly rude to the Master of Rivendell. With great reluctance, she slowly rose to her feet.
"I am afraid that my singing is not fit for the Hall of Fire," she said. "But I can tell a story from my home. It is a very old story, even by the reckoning of the Eldar.
"Once, long ago, there was a great lord who lived in the forest wider than the sea and wilder than the empty lands to the east. He had many men who looked to him as their leader.
He was accounted by all to be a great hunter. His closest companion was a hound. Now this hound was the fastest, bravest and fiercest hound in all of the forest, but he was very ugly to look upon. But the lord loved him dearly and fed him from his hand. And the hound ever coursed at the front of the hunt while the horns blew and the horses' hooves rumbled like thunder.
One day, the lord took a wife. She was not of the forest people. She hated the hound because he was ugly and because he stood so high in her husband's favour. She spoke against the hound, and, in time, she succeeded in forcing her husband banish the beast from the house.
In time, a baby was born to the lord and his lady. One day, the lady heard a terrible snarling and baying from the baby's room. She ran outside, crying to her husband that their child was being killed by the ugly, evil hound in a jealous rage.
The lord ran into the house and, taking his sword, bounded up the stairs and through open the door of the child's room.
It was just as the lady had said. The hound stood over the upturned cradle, his muzzle red with blood. Believing his son had been killed by the hideous hound, the lord cried out and ran the animal through with his sword.
Just then, the baby began to cry beneath the overturned cradle. The lord pulled up the cradle and found his son, unharmed. Next to the baby was the body of a warg. The hound had ripped out its throat.
The lord looked into the eyes of his dying hound and found not blame and condemnation, but understanding and forgiveness.
He never hunted again."
Haleth ended her story. The only sound was the crackle of the fire. The elves watched her, expressionless.
"Now if you will excuse me, fair folk, I am merely a mortal and need to take some rest. I bid you all good night."
Echoing silence followed her down the hall.
Haleth lay in bed and stared at the dark pattern of the ceiling, mentally kicking herself. Annoying and embarrassing the elves was never a good idea, and she had just done both in their home. She resolved to remain in her room for as much time as she could and hoped that Inglor would decide to leave soon. Eventually she fell into a light sleep.
She awoke some time later. The moon was covered by the clouds and although she could not see, she knew that someone was in the room with her.
"Who's there?" she called, sitting up.
"It is only me, lady," a familiar voice said. There was the sound of tinder being struck and Elladan's features appeared within a small circle of candlelight.
"Please forgive my intrusion," he said. "Welcome to Rivendell."
Haleth reflected that Elladan must be getting forgetful. Unless, of course, this was his brother.
"Thank-you, Lord Elrohir," Haleth said on a guess as she gathered the blankets under her chin.
His grey eyes studied her carefully in the lambent light. She was just beginning to become nervous when he began to speak.
"Who are you, Lady?"
'Why is everyone suddenly asking me that?' wondered Haleth.
"I am the same person I was the last time I was here, Lord Elrohir. A bit older and more worn but none the wiser."
"That I have heard," he chuckled. Then he became serious again.
"Do you know who Inglor is?" he asked.
"I will tell you what I know of Inglor if you promise me one thing," she said gravely.
"You have but to name it."
"Once I have told you, you will let me sleep."
He chuckled again. "You were right about being no wiser," he said. "Tell me what you can."
"He simply appeared one day," Haleth said. "I was in Laketown on business of my own when he arrived. I tried to escape, but he would find me. Every time I turned a new corner or bend in the road, he was there, waiting. Eventually I accepted his presence because it took far less energy than trying to avoid him. Beyond the name he gave me, I don't know who he is, where he came from or who, if anyone, sent him, but he is still determined to follow me.
"At least he was," she said truthfully. "Now I seem to be following him."
"I see," said Elrohir in a tone that meant he did not see at all.
"Lord Elrohir?" Haleth said when he did not move. "I know that things have changed, but is it now the custom in Rivendell to walk uninvited into guests' rooms at night?" She left 'your father never did this' unsaid. The silent accusation hung in the air between them.
"No, lady, but this weighs heavily on my mind. I had hoped you could be of more help."
"I am very sorry, Lord Elrohir," she looked significantly at the door.
"I bid you good night, lady," he stood, bowed lightly and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
Haleth extinguished the candle and once more dropped into an uncomfortable sleep.
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