EDITED: Note, as of 5/6, this story has been edited. I decided I did not like the rude way Haldir and his father were speaking and changed it.
Author's note: This is a prequel to my other story Heartsong. It takes place in Lothlorien, very early in the third age... when Haldir is only 130 years old. (Rumil is 100 and Orophin is 80)
Part 1 ~Muriel
Standing under the canopy of the performance stage in the golden wood Muriel did not make conversation with any of the minstrels who came and went around her today. Her voice lesson was over and choir rehearsal was not until evening, but she could not tear herself away from the carefully carved harp at the center of the stage.
As her finger traced the ornate golden leaves she remembered the careful hands that had held the carving tools and was lost in her sadness until she sensed a presence approach from behind. She pulled her hand back, forcing a smile on her face as her mother had urged her. None in Lothlorien should be made aware of their desperation or depression; keep cheerful and their welcome would be extended.
She turned to see a slender elf with a lute in his hand. He was fairly tall with dark brows and a handsome chin line; she recognized him at once. His voice was tender as he asked, "You have been at that harp since I arrived to have my mother's instrument tuned. Why have you not begun playing? It belongs to your family, does it not?"
"Yes, my father created it, but I never learned to play," she fibbed.
He looked at the double rows of strings and pedals and said, "Seems simple enough."
Murial let out a laugh of disbelief and his warm smile allowed her in on his meaning to tease her.
"I am Rumil," he said. "And you are?"
"Muriel, and I know who you are. Everyone knows your family..." As soon as she said she remembered her mother had told her to pretend not to be interested in potential suitors. "Your father is a great guardian," she explained. "And your mother a wonderful hostess... the most gracious in the wood, some say."
"Not gracious enough if we have neglected the company of a new family in Lorien," he said. "Come, she is just outside; I know she will remedy it at once given the opportunity."
Muriel's heart skipped and she put her hand in the crook of his extended, bent arm, allowing him to lead her through to one of the outer gathering place.
"Nana," he said, unexpectedly calling her as a young elfling might. "Look who I have here!"
When she turned, she seemed younger than an elder of her age should, for her smile was whimsical and her hands were lifted and light under laced sleeves. She turned her attention from her company that departed them and gave it first to her son. She drew his face down to hers and kissed on his cheek. "Thank you, my dearest. We shall have songs tonight!"
The lovely lady then cast her light gray eyes on Muriel and it was as if the moon itself gazed on her. "You are Muriel, the daughter of Gildwyn and Murfindel! We have been hoping for a time to make our home open to you... Is it too quick of a notice to invite you to come now? I have just had a cancellation of a visit by a few friends and you look in need of some cheer and cakes."
Her breath caught in her throat and Muriel could not think straight. Was she actually being invited into the home of Haldir by his own mother? It was not as her mother had said it should be; he must be lured into courting her. But it had been fifteen years since she first laid eyes on him in Rivendell and after nearly a year in this wood, he had barely acknowledged her existence. This was the first hope she had to ever speak to him directly!
"I will say yes, of course," Muriel said with a slight courtesy, "If I may but fetch my mother who awaits me lonely in our borrowed flet." It had come out so pitiful that Muriel wanted to take it all back for shame of their situation.
"Please, bring her! I wish I had thought to mention it first. Rumil and I will make ready for you both, do you know our home?"
Of course she knew it; Muriel walked by it at least three times a day trying to catch Haldir's comings and goings!
"Is it the third tree past the bakery?" she asked.
"Oh no, that's our neighbor. We are four down, near the armory."
"Ah, yes," she feigned remembering. "So that Lord Halron can keep an eye on the foundry."
The smile on the lovely lady stiffened and yet she gave a nod and glanced at her son. Rumil continued with his knowing smile as he said, "Hurry on now, m'lady. I should like some time to entertain you before my brothers return."
Part Two ~Rumil
When the young songbird ran off quickly Rumil's suspicions were confirmed. "I finally found her," he said to his mother, who took his arm as they walked home. "He won't like what we're doing, or that we figured out where he's been spending his time at night."
"Yes, I know," she said a bit snippy. "Oh his woe of having too many admirers! It is about time Haldir finds one special enough among them and sets the others to silence!" Rumil chuckled as she continued. "I sometimes wonder if he should be training to be an actor on the stage instead of a warrior." That made him laugh out loud.
"I am serious, Rumil!" she said, chuckling herself now. "If I had a house full of lady elves just come of age I would have less drama than what Haldir gives me..." As usual, she had a sudden change of heart and amended, "I suppose I cannot blame him completely, though; being led on by ladies sometimes five times his age is hardly fair. I should know; that is what I did with your father! But I followed through. With poor Haldir, I fear they have awakened desires in him far too early for an elf of his passion to manage without a mate."
Rumil held his tongue until they passed by some friends from above them on the stairs. Then softly he said, "This Muriel does seem rather sweet and lonely, not at all the type to change her mind the first time he unknowingly embarrasses himself."
"I hope so," she sighed. "If he wasn't so tall and handsome he wouldn't likely have this problem. Everyone expects more from him, I think. For someone who only eighty years ago wanted to do nothing but play games with you and chase horses, it must be a terrible burden to have grown up so fast... if only he'd matured as gracefully and quickly as you have, Rumil. I feel I may have instructed you almost too well for how you handle the ladies. Woe be to she who catches your eye, my love. She shall not stand a chance!"
He had made it clear on many occasions he was content as he was, so he was glad she dropped the awkward subject as they entered their flet. They rearranged the furniture for a smaller gathering and sat to wait. Time seemed to pass very slowly before Muriel and her mother finally arrived and when she did, the younger lady's embarrassment was clear.
Given the way she did not meet his eyes and continued to clench her hands uncomfortably he guessed her change of dress to a formal gown was not her own idea.
Gildwyn, her mother, entered as if she had been close friends with his mother for centuries, going on with a myriad of compliments as if to outdo her gracious host. He could see his mother found it heavy handed, but endured her with smiles and offers of questions to keep her talking about herself.
Rescuing the spooked singer, he drew her with a gesture to the cakes. She complied easily to fill a plate, but only nibbled.
"You did not need to change your dress; this was an informal invitation..." he said. When she tensed he added, "I know you know that, I am only confirming it to you." He glanced with her to her mother and said, "She loves you very much to be concerned over your presentation to families she considers important. I assure you, though; we do not see ourselves as such. You are welcomed here as an equal."
Muriel let out a sigh of relief and said, "Thank you for saying it. I would not have come at all after her demands were made, save I did not want you to be waiting."
"My mother says, giving in with grace can gain you more ground than holding what little you have. But my father has always taught us, a promise kept under duress is the makings of great character."
She hardly seemed as impressed by the wisdom as he was, and so he spoke to her less on ideas and turned the topics to her own comings and goings.
"We've taken my father's death to make the best of our light habits and plan to visit Mirkwood next," Muriel explained softly. "The harp he made is the only one like it in all of Middle-earth, and we are happy to share it with all the realms, if they will accommodate us."
Rumil read right through what she was saying; they had no trades of their own between them and were looking for a caretaker husband for Muriel. Haldir's potential as a powerful guardian would make him an ideal match; if only his desperate brother would behave, he could have what he wanted so easily!
When Orophin and his friends returned from their hunt, the usual business of their home filled the air with chatter, laughter and tales of the day. He kept an eye on Muriel, who seemed fairly comfortable around everyone but her own mother and when Anaria arrived she was especially cheered for a familiar face. He learned they knew each other from Rivendell and was annoyed with his brother when Orophin took his friend's hand and led her away. Once he was gone and his other hunting friends were fed, the house cleared save the four of them again. As he and his mother straightened the room he overheard their awkward conversation.
"Should we not go, mother? It is late..."
"Not yet," she said from the central seat in the room. There was a small disagreement about if Muriel should offer to sing, and then low, booming voices traveled in from outside.
Rumil watched Muriel's mother jump up and whisk her daughter from where she stood, into the seat of honor. He glanced at his own mother who chuckled discreetly and took a tray into the kitchen area.
When his father entered he barely noticed the two new faces; as was his custom to ignore 'busybodies' his mother entertained. He walked in, unfastening his weapons as he continued to speak to Haldir who followed behind him.
"...it is a matter of speed and weight ratio, Haldir. I could have a larger sword made for you, and you could certainly lift it and fight well with it. But the importance of speed is not just in the swinging, but of retrieving your weapon from your sheath." He hung up his sword he added, "And you don't want your equipment to hang so low that you trip over yourself."
"I could practice drawing it," Haldir argued, oblivious to the guests. "And what I have in mind is not that much longer than the design of the warrior swords, it's merely thinner so that I could carry it on my hip."
Their father gave a low rumbling grumble as he tried to ignore Haldir's pleas. Rumil could read their father as well and Haldir but his brother did not stand down even among company.
"I will make an example from wood and show you," Haldir said.
"If you want to work with wood, then make yourself a flet and move out of your parent's home like other elves of your age!"
With defeat, Haldir looked Rumil's direction. Giving him a raised brows he made a double point in front of him at the lady guests in their mother's chair.
When Haldir saw them and realized they had heard the exchange, he froze for an instant and then turned away, going silent. Unfortunately for them all, their father noticed his reaction and turned to look himself just as their mother entered from behind Rumil.
"New company you have brought to us, Rumil!" he said. "Is this her?"
"I believe so," Rumil said, glancing at his brother, still turned to the wall, his ears glowing red in his embarrassment. "The widow and daughter to Murfindel, the harpist."
"He was not a musician," the elder lady corrected, "But an instrument builder... and this is Lady Muriel; a vocalist studying directly under the greatest tutor in Caras Galadhon and a soloist in the choir." She placed her hands on the back of the chair as proud as any mother should be of the beautiful lady she had birthed.
"...a songbird with a voice of diamonds?" Their father turned to Haldir with a smirk. "She's very beautiful too."
Haldir hung up his sword and turned, his face still slightly pinkish. He gave Rumil a wicked glance as if it was somehow his fault Haldir had picked an argument with their father.
"These ladies are here as my guests," their mother said. "We've had a lovely afternoon. We were waiting for you to return so you could enjoy a song accompanied by my newly tuned lute."
Their father looked at Haldir and teased, "You sent your mother to invite her?"
That mocking disappointment had done it. Haldir took one look at the awkward, dolled up lady sitting there with her eyes on her lap and covered his nervousness with a laugh.
"I did no such thing...These busybodies have put together a scheme on their own to have me seduced by that voice of hers. It will not work, mother. I enjoy the singers of songs only as much as I do frivolous fruit cakes... they are a pleasurable distraction from duties, but not for considerable consumption by training guardians."
Rumil closed his eyes in shame and for the pain this would bring their guests.
"Haldir," their mother started, but their father broke in with a good laugh at his son.
Muriel was up with a jerk from her mother pulling on her arm. "My daughter and I were flattered by your invitation, m'lady," she said. "But I can see the level of our welcome has fallen with the arrival of your husband and eldest. We will intrude no further. Good day."
She then dragged her daughter out in hurried steps.
Rumil gave Haldir two moments to decide what he should do and then guessed it was hopeless. On his way to the door, their father snapped at him.
"Let them go, Rumil," he said. "Even if Haldir was interested in that flighty little sprite, we do not need any more overly sensitive types in this house; you are plenty enough for your mother to pamper."
Rumil turned to his mother who said to him, "Go make it right, if you can."
As he left, Rumil heard his father chastise her in desperate defeat, "Fieniel! Why must you always undermine me?"
He caught up with the two ladies at the bottom of the stairs and it was clear Muriel was as broken as her mother was humiliated.
"Please wait," he called when they rushed away from him. Muriel stared at the ground while her mother darted her eyes into him as if challenging him to apologize well enough.
"My brother is ignorant, but he does not understand how cruel his jesting can be." He then directed his comment to the weeping one. "He has taken notice of you, Muriel." She lifted her eyes to him and he said, "He will be livid with me for saying it, but until tonight he thought his interest only went one way and is not accustomed to being the pursuer. He has only ever been pursued. I hope for his sake that you can forgive him?"
"Of course she does not," Muriel's mother said; though the light in her eyes betrayed that she spoke in empty threats. "And after today he will have a lot of making up to do if he wants to earn it!"
"If we invited you again, would you come?" Rumil asked, looking only at the young lady. She shook her head and her mother led her off.
After that, Rumil determined himself not to dignify Haldir's behavior with any sort of correction. He had lost out this time, it was his own fault and Rumil was tired of being tutor to a tool. For three days he refused to speak to his eldest brother and his mother never once urged him to forgive; neither did Haldir ask for it.
But then something most wonderful happened... his brother actually had to face the unpleasant consequences for his behavior!
He came home from his late night excursion and drew near to where Rumil was already resting in the loft.
"She quit! She's stopped singing, Rumil. I asked the choir director and it isn't just practice she has stopped going to, but her lessons as well! Do you think I did that? I did, didn't I?"
The tragedy of it struck him only slightly next to the enjoyment of hearing his brother suffer over it.
"You have to help me make it right... it isn't fair to her! Or to any of us who enjoy her!"
Rumil opened his eyes and turned to see his brother was sincerely grieving. Had he actually found something he cared about more than himself; and had he actually learned something?
"Please," Haldir said. "Forgive me and tell me what to do..."