Lalaith's Younger Years - Chapter 20

Chapter 20

A grey mist low upon the eastern horizon, heralded the dawn that was still some few hours away as Legolas walked slowly back and forth before his father's tent where it sat within the center of camp. The green banner of the realm of Mirkwood set on a high standard before the door, fluttered and snapped softly in the morning breeze that flowed through the quiet camp. Beyond the flap of the door, he could see a light burning inside. Gandalf, thank the Valar for his timely arrival, would be counseling Thranduil and Bard on the best course of action to take if Thorin did not agree to the final terms of exchange in concerning the Arkenstone.

"Stop pacing, Legolas." Muttered Elrohir where he sat beside a waning fire, absently twirling a broken stick through his fingers, and occasionally cracking bits of it off here and there to toss into the fading flames. "You're making me nervous."

Legolas cast a glowering grimace at Elrond's youngest son, and continued with his pacing.

"A plague on the stiff necks of Dwarves!" Legolas grated, spitting out the last word as if it were something vile and bitter in his mouth. "A curse upon all their stunted, vile race! What have they in their heads, aside from the dead rocks that they dig?"

A soft grunt of a laugh parted Elrohir's lips, but Legolas continued as if he had not heard.

"Never will I look upon a Dwarf with the least measure of favor!" He continued heatedly as he remembered Thorin's continued stubbornness. "If Mithrandir had not been among us, and his voice had not stayed Thorin's hand, the vile, greedy Dwarf would have thrown Bilbo down from his stronghold onto the rocks, when he realized it was he who had given us the Arkenstone!" Legolas clenched his jaw, remembering the events of the previous day with harsh distaste. "The fool acted as if we meant to steal the jewel, not trade it for what is rightly due to the Men of the Lake. Cursed Dwarf!"

"Watch." Elrohir muttered with a wry grin, tossing another bit of stick into the fire that cracked and snapped in the heat of the flames. "One day, one of your most cherished friends will be a Dwarf, and you will find yourself taking back all your words."

Legolas clenched his jaw, realizing with a short glance at Elrohir's twisted smirk, that he was mocking him.

"I doubt that, Elrondion." Legolas muttered through his teeth as Elrohir continued to chuckle.

But his laughter was cut swiftly off by a cry from the far end of the camp, and a young man, one of the Men of the Lake, came darting through the tents toward Thranduil's tent.

Elrohir, all humor wiped in an instant from his face, leapt to his feet as the young mortal stumbled to a stop. Only a young man he was, with dark hair, and only the shadow of a youth's beard upon his face. His eyes were wide with fear.

"My lords-," he gasped in the tongue of the Men, as he bent low, his hands pressed hard against his knees, betraying his exhaustion. "The Elvenking, and Bard. I must see them."

"Ah, and what is the news you bring?" Gandalf came stooping beneath the tent door, followed by Thranduil and Bard, and last of all, little Bilbo, blinking, and wrapped in a ragged blanket.

"My lords." The young man gulped, straightening up swiftly. "There is a host of Dwarves coming. They appeared around the eastern spur of the mountain, and are now hastening toward us. Dain and his Dwarves from the Iron Hills, that Thorin summoned by the aid of his ravens." The youth drew in a harsh breath here and blurted, "My lords, they come clad as for war."

********

"Good morning, Lalaith."

Lalaith's eyes rose to those of the Marchwarden of Lórien as he came slowly toward her where she sat alone upon a great upturned root beside the narrow path that wound its way through the beeches. The morning sounds of creaking insects, and the distant hush of moving water reached their ears, but did not sooth the awkwardness she suddenly felt at his approach.

She gulped softly, and dropped her eyes once more to the needlework that sat upon her lap. The twining roses that were not yet finished.

"Good morning, Haldir." She muttered to her lap.

Her breath came in a short quick spurt as she felt him sit down beside her, and reach tentatively for her hand.

"Lalaith," he began in a plaintive voice, "I did not mean to offend you last night, nor did I wish for you to think that I meant in any way, to be dishonorable."

"I know, Haldir." Lalaith glanced up again quickly, her eyes finding his penitent gaze. "You are a true and good friend, Haldir. I would trust you with my life."

At Lalaith's steady gaze and her open hearted declaration, a cautious smile came slowly to Haldir's face. One which Lalaith tentatively returned.

"That is good." He breathed softly, his hand lightly holding her own as it rested in it, his thumb trailing softly over her fingers as he gazed down at her hand as if in deep pondering. "I would never wish to lose your trust, and your good graces, Lalaith."

"You are one of the most honorable men I know, Haldir. You will never lose my trust." She assured him in a low voice, turning back to her needlework, and busying herself with the silver green leaf that was forming upon the cloth beneath her needle.

"Lalaith?"

His voice bore a dejected tone, and she stopped her work, and slowly looked up into gentle, plaintive eyes.

"Yes, Haldir?" She asked, her heart catching on a beat.

"Is-," Haldir shifted his weight, suddenly pulling his hand from hers as his eyes darkened. He leaned his elbows upon his knees, his hands clasped together as he his gaze trailed far and away, "is your trust all that I-," he drew in a ragged breath and rapidly finished, "all that I possess?"

Lalaith caught a hard gasp in her throat at the question, and closed her eyes bowing her head. She knew what he asked. But she could not answer him as he wished. Or even answer him with the words he feared to hear. But as Haldir's hand once again touched hers, his caress light, and unobtrusive, her eyes came open, as a breath came swiftly into her lungs. And slowly, she managed to speak.

"My trust, my friendship, my respect." She glanced downward at the twining roses upon her cloth. "Everything Elladan and Elrohir have, you do. Though perhaps you have a bit more, for you have never dumped frogs into my bed."

At this, he laughed softly, though his smile did not reach his eyes.

To this, Lalaith could do no more but sigh, and turn her eyes once again, upon her needlework.

********

"Halt!"

Wind whipped about the figure that had thrust itself suddenly in front of the army of Dwarves that had been advancing beneath the blackening sky, their mail glinting as they rushed forward in the swiftly waning light. The voice carried easily in spite of the harsh wind that whipped about Legolas as he stood beside his father, his gaze set, his bow clenched within his fist as he waited the coming enemy. Anger had been burning in him, all he had ever been taught of Dwarves came back to him now, and he had been steeled for a bloody battle. But now, he gazed upon Gandalf between their armies, and his rage ebbed to a warm unsurity within his chest.

"Halt!" The figure that was Gandalf called as he stood between the angry, battle ready Dwarves, and the armies of Men and Elves that staunchly waited for them. His arms were upraised, the wind whipping fiercely about him as it came even harder and bitingly cold now. The sky had taken on an unnatural grey tone, a sickly color that caused a hard knot to form in the pit of Legolas' belly as the billowing black clouds grew at a fierce pace.

The staff that was in Gandalf's hand blazed forth with a flash like white lightening over the fuming armies, bringing the angry Dwarves to a sudden and baffled halt.

"Dread has come upon you all!" His broad voice carried over the rising wind, strong and unbending as he cried. "Alas! It has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming, O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! The bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!"

Bats? Legolas' eyes shot to the sky, as did the eyes of the Dwarven army, and the Men of the Lake, and all the Elves. And as surely as Gandalf had said, he saw it now.

Beneath the great rolling cloud of blackness above the mountain that swirled forward on the biting winter wind with sharp and ragged lightning, came another cloud. Though this came not with the wind, for it came down from the north, whirling forward like a vast cloud of great birds at the first, a mass of swiftly beating black wings.

Legolas gave a glance to his father, who stood beside him. A gleam was in his father's eye as he gazed out upon Gandalf. Like his son, Thranduil wore no helm, nor armor, for the Dwarves had come upon them more swiftly than they had expected. Yet still, Thranduil's bearing was noble and fearless, and among his people, though he stood unadorned among them, none could mistake that he was their king. All that moved about him was his golden hair which whipped over his chest and about his shoulders in the swift wind. His eyes that had been fixed with a burning light upon the Dwarves now rested on Gandalf before he offered a momentary glance to his son. Thranduil nodded as they traded a look which Legolas understood, no words passing between them, though all about them now were cries of amazement and confusion.

No matter his dislike for Dwarves, goblins and orcs were the foes of all the free people of Arda. And Legolas saw in his father's eyes that these Dwarves had now, by the common hatred they shared with them of the vile spawn of Morgoth, suddenly become their allies.

"Come!" Gandalf called, raising a hand to beckon the Dwarves forward, not in battle now, but in invitation. "There is time yet for council. Let Dain son of Nain come swiftly to us!"

With these words, the Dwarves, with weapons lowered, came forward now, in a slow mass, flashes of lightening glinting off their thick helms and shining armor. This was not the first time Legolas had seen a Dwarf, but it was the first time he had seen so many, and so close. Their hair and beards were thick, their hair the color of either red, rust or brown, plaited and thrust into their belts. Though their statures were small, their limbs were thick and brawny, their faces stern and grim as they came slowly toward the line of Elves and Men that awaited them.

"Come!" Gandalf repeated urgently, leading them ever closer. "The time grows short!"

The foremost Dwarf among them had a short, squat face, his eyes shifting suspiciously between Gandalf and Thranduil. A small twist of a smile crossed Legolas' face at this. Even the Dwarves knew his father was king, though none had told them. The leader's thick, plaited beard was dark brown, almost black, and within his leather gauntleted hands, he held a heavy mattock, which he shifted to one hand, and lowered to his side as he and the line of Dwarves at his back drew ever closer. He glanced one last time at Gandalf, as if seeking for some sign of reassurance before he drew ever closer toward Thranduil, and with a gruff, reluctant snort, glanced once at the darkening sky, at the sinister, undulating cloud that drew ever closer from the bleak north, then as his eyes shifted back to Thranduil, he held out his hand

And as Thranduil reached out and clasped the Dwarf's proffered hand, a low murmur swept acrossed the masses of the three gathered armies.

"Ho, Elvenking." The Dwarf uttered in a low growl of a voice. "I am Dain. Son of Nain."

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