Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 34

Chapter 34

"What was I thinking, Lalaith?" Pippin whispered softly as the Hobbit and Elf maiden sat together upon a wooden bench sheltered on the edge of the great hall, beyond the marching row of black marble pillars. Pippin was quite fine-looking, Lalaith thought with a smile, clad in his small hauberk and jerkin of black and silver, his furry bare feet suspended above the floor, while Lalaith's slippered feet rested firmly upon the marbled tiles. The lengths of the gown Éowyn had given her, trailed down the creamy white of her skirt, shifting softly in the eddying breezes that stirred within the great hall.

Lifting a hand, Lalaith rested it upon his small shoulder. "Your offer of service in payment of Boromir's sacrifice was a noble one, Pippin," she reminded him.

Pippin sighed, and glanced at her pleadingly. "But what service can a Hobbit offer such a great lord of Men?"

"It was well done," the echoing voice of Faramir came from the small doorway to their left, leading to chambers beyond as the steward's son came striding through, a generous smile of warm greeting curving up his bearded lips. Lalaith quickly stood, and beside her, Pippin hopped swiftly to his feet as well as Boromir's younger brother came striding near. "A generous deed should not be checked with cold counsel."

His friendly gaze flashing from Pippin to Lalaith, and back again as he approached, his eyes alight with approval, resting now upon Pippin. "You are to join the tower guard."

"I didn't think they would find any livery that would fit me," Pippin muttered sheepishly, to which Faramir traded a brief grin with Lalaith before his eyes fell again to the Hobbit's.

"It once belonged to a young boy of the city," Faramir offered. "A very foolish one who wasted many hours slaying dragons instead of attending to his studies."

Lalaith smirked broadly, understanding dawning upon her now as Pippin too, brightened.

"This was yours?" the young Hobbit queried cheerfully.

"Yes, it was mine," Faramir returned, reaching a hand out, and straightening the shoulder of the jerkin. "My father had it made for me."

"Pippin seems somewhat taller than you were then, my lord," Lalaith smiled cheerily, to which Pippin smirked, laughing softly.

"And I'm not likely to grown anymore," the young Hobbit added. "Except sideways."

Lalaith chuckled softly at this, and the men too, laughing quietly at Pippin's words, though Faramir's soft laughed faded quickly.

"It never fitted me, either," he agreed with a smile. "Boromir was always the soldier."

Lalaith's own smile faded at the mention of his brother as a wave of brief pain cast itself across her heart. As if sensing her emotion, Faramir lifted his eyes, and met her gaze.

"They were so alike, he and my father," Faramir continued, the corners of his mouth turned up in a quiet smile, though his eyes had grown somber. "Proud. Stubborn even. But strong."

The light in his eyes dimmed slightly at this, and Pippin was swift to notice.

"I think you have strength," the little Hobbit offered. "Of a different kind. And one day your father will see it."

Faramir grew thoughtful at this, and Lalaith spoke quickly. "You denied yourself the One Ring," she offered gently. "And to do so, takes great courage, and strength of will, my lord. More than many other men of your race have possessed."

He blinked thoughtfully at this, his eyes searching hers, and he smiled gently, sadly at her as he did.

"The Hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, told me that my brother tried to kill Frodo for the Ring," he muttered softly.

"Boromir was tempted by the Ring," she returned quietly, trading a brief glance with Pippin. "And yes," she sighed quietly. "He tried to take it from Frodo, but-,"

She shivered as she remembered that day, the fury in Boromir's eyes when she let Frodo escape. When he had come close to striking her-, But he had not. He had come to the edge of the Abyss, but he had not fallen in. He had drawn back before the last, and had wept at her feet at what he had almost done, begging her forgiveness-,

"He stumbled, but he did not fully fall," Lalaith murmured softly, and Faramir's face grew soft at these words.

"He redeemed himself in the end, my lord, and died as he lived," she continued. "An honorable, valiant warrior, who gave more thought to the safety of others than to his own."

Faramir's eyes grew moist at this, and beside her, Pippin glanced downward, nodding silently. "I assure you, lady, it was an honor for him to die that he might spare the life of a maiden so fair as you," he offered her, his voice choking softly as he did.

Lalaith's cheeks colored at this, and she dropped her eyes.

********

"Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor-,"

Pippin's soft lilting voice, slightly taut with nervousness, echoed through the hall as Lalaith stood near her shoulder almost brushing Faramir's arm. Her hands were clasped before her as she watched the small Hobbit who knelt before the dark stone seat of Denethor as the Steward looked on the Hobbit's bent head, his golden brown curls, with a curiously humored expression. This was the first time since she had first met him, Lalaith realized, that Denethor bore the slender impress of a smile upon his usually troubled face. A slight smile touched her own face. More like Boromir he now appeared, the way he must have been as a younger man, before his wife had died, before the strain of his office, and of whatever other evils that had befallen him, had claimed him.

"In peace or war," Pippin continued, reciting the words he had memorized, "in living or dying-, from-," he stammered to a stop, his eyes closing as he struggled to remember. "From this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me."

"And I shall not forget it," Denethor returned rising from his seat, his voice gentle and generous as he stepped forward, offering his ringed hand toward the Hobbit. "Nor fail to reward that which is given."

Hesitantly, Pippin pecked a brief kiss to the ring the Steward bore, and Denethor's hand came beneath his chin, lifting Pippin's face so that their eyes could meet.

"Fealty with love," he spoke, before striding away toward the long table that had been set for his noon meal. "Valor with honor."

Denethor cast a meaningful glance toward Faramir, and a hardened glance at Lalaith, to which she shuddered briefly as his lips twitched as if with reserved anger. "Disloyalty, with vengeance."

The soft metallic shift of mail echoed softly as Pippin rose, his sweet Hobbit face written with an expression of unsurity at Denethor's caustic words as he shot a glance at Lalaith.

Beside her, Lalaith could sense the brief shifting of Faramir's muscles at his father's glance as Denethor seated himself, and began to gather various morsels of the fare that was before him onto his plate.

"I do not think we should so lightly abandon the outer defenses," he began in a deep, casual tone, not even glancing at Faramir. "Defenses that your brother long held intact." He shot a caustic glance at Lalaith, "Perhaps you might remember him somewhat, my lady? My son, Boromir?"

Lalaith shuddered at the veiled anger within Denethor's eyes as Faramir, his own gaze unsure, took a short, protective step forward, and offered in a softly broken voice, "What would you have me do?"

"I will not yield the river in Pelennor unfought," Denethor answered sharply, though his eyes did not look up. "Osgiliath must be retaken."

Lalaith's brow furrowed at the casual tone of the Steward's voice. Did he know nothing? Osgiliath was swarming with orcs! It could no more be retaken by the forces of Minas Tirith, than the whole of Mordor could be successfully overrun and conquered!

"My lord, Osgiliath is overrun," Faramir answered, his own voice lifting slightly echoing the trepidation that Lalaith felt within her heart.

Denethor glanced up sharply at his son at this. "Much must be risked in war," he answered crisply.

"Is there a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord's will?" he demanded swiftly.

Faramir shot a glance at Pippin's open face, and then glanced sideward at Lalaith who stood beside him. His eyes were wet, though they softened for a moment, before he glanced back toward his father.

"You wish now that our places had been exchanged," he asked quietly. "That I had died, and Boromir had lived."

Denethor's eyes, dim, glazed, gazed ahead. "Yes," he whispered, his lower lip trembling. "I wish that."

Lalaith's heart grew cold at the harsh cruelty in his soft words, and she turned her eyes to Faramir, whose eyes had grown moist. Had Boromir been in Faramir's place, he would have fretted and fumed at such words. And though Lalaith would not have faulted him, still a touch of tender admiration overcame her that Faramir merely murmured through barely withheld tears, "Since you were robbed of Boromir, I will do what I can in his stead."

And with that, he offered his father a stiffened bow, and turned away, walking swiftly toward the door before he stopped briefly, and turned back.

"If I should return, think better of me, Father," he muttered, his voice so like a timid child's seeking approval, that a hard lump formed in Lalaith's throat.

"That would depend on the manner of your return," Denethor muttered curtly to his back.

Faramir did not turn back as he continued on toward the door.

Lalaith watched him go, though she felt Denethor's eyes upon her, and she turned back to him.

"And what do you intend to do, my lady?" Denethor asked curtly when their eyes met. "You have made no oath of service as your friend Master Peregrin has."

"Whether I have spoken an oath to you or not, the duty I owe to your people because of Boromir's sacrifice is engraved deeply upon my heart," Lalaith returned, her voice swift and curt to which Denethor's lips drew into a tight line.

Denethor harrumphed. "Boromir's sacrifice-," he muttered to himself. "It gained me your loyalty, perhaps, though it was not enough for my son to gain your heart."

"My heart is another's, my lord," she returned. Her hand lifted of its own volition, touching the cloth of her gown beneath her throat where the medallion rested, a cool circle of metal against her flesh. "This I have told you, already."

"And what of my second son?" Denethor muttered, his lips pursing tightly he nodded toward Faramir's back as he reached the iron doors, which the guards drew open for him. "Is he mighty enough a warrior," Denethor scoffed upon the words, "that he could draw your heart away from your precious Elf prince?"

Lalaith caught Pippin's furrowed, worried look out of the corner of her eye, and her eyes shot to his briefly as the doors at the fore of the hall boomed shut behind Faramir's back.

"Faramir is a noble man, but nothing will take my heart from him whom I love, and who loves me," she returned. And her voice though it quavered briefly, bore a strength in it to which Denethor scowled.

She could feel tears rising in her throat, and she wished for nothing more than to escape. "And as I have no formal duty to you, my lord, I will now take my leave."

She glanced at Pippin, shooting him a fraught look of apology. Leaving him here, with Denethor, she almost felt as if she were abandoning him. But Pippin's look in return was gentle, and softened with understanding.

She smiled briefly to the Hobbit, then turned and hurried away, half running in her haste toward the great doors, drawn open to her, issuing in the weak light that filtered through the thick clouds that roiled over the sky.


"My lord, Faramir!" As the doors behind her clattered shut, Faramir stopped at the bottom of the steps and drew himself up, his back stiff though he did not turn.

"My lord, please, do not do this," she cried, flitting to the bottom of the steps to join him as he turned, his sea grey eyes turning upon her own as he smiled weakly in welcome. "Your father's order is folly. You will die if you heed him."

"I am a soldier of Minas Tirith," he answered gently, his gaze soft as he reached out and squeezed Lalaith's arm gently.

He said no more as if those words alone, were explanation enough. He released her arm and moved to turn away before she reached out and caught his arm tightly, drawing him to a stop, and coming about him to block his path.

"My lord, no," she grated.

"Lady Lalaith," Faramir murmured gently, his tone and the look in his eyes almost reminding her of Legolas for a brief moment as he shook his head, his eyes deep, and delving gently into her own. "Minas Tirith is the city of the Men of Númenor, gladly will I die to defend her. To defend-," a flush darkened his bearded cheeks. "To defend you, Lalaith."

"No!" Lalaith cried suddenly, caring nothing that her voice echoed off the stones about her. "You have more to live for you cannot-, you do not-,"

"Lalaith," he grated softly, his lower lip trembling like a child's. "Since I was no more than a boy, I have dreamed of a woman-, a woman I know I have loved, though I had never met her. When I saw you standing at the balustrade, clad in your white gown fashioned in the manner of a maiden of Rohan, your golden hair catching in the wind, it was if I had-," he furrowed his brow and shook his head. "But I had always imagined another face-,"

His words faded as he drew in a thoughtful breath. "Whether this dream maiden is truly more than a boyish fantasy, I shall never know, now. But I will fight to defend you as if you were her, for she is not here." he breathed quietly to himself as once again he turned away, and started toward the stables.

"Faramir!" Lalaith called to his back, but he did not turn.

And with tears rising in her eyes, Lalaith spun away, catching up her skirt and rushing across the green sward toward the shadowed down slanting tunnel in search of Gandalf, somewhere about on the lower levels.

********

"All has turned to vain ambition!" Gandalf steamed as he hurried down through the streets of the town, Lalaith catching up her skirts to hurry after him as he strode along, his staff tapping rapidly over the stones as he descended narrow alleys and steep steps to reach the lowest level of the city. "The Steward of Gondor would, in his madness, sacrifice his only remaining son! Mindless cur!"

Lalaith sighed, her own thoughts in agreement with the wizard, though her heart felt a mute pity for the aged Man. He did not have an aura of evil about him. He did not seem to have willingly given himself to darkness.

"Denethor has not always been this way, has he?" Lalaith asked softly from behind him as Gandalf hurried along.

This question, quietly offered, seemed to cool Gandalf's ire, and though his pace did not slacken, the edge upon his words was dulled.

"I think," Gandalf murmured quietly, "that his descent into this madness that has taken him, may have begun with Finduilas' untimely death. For he loved her truly, as he has loved little else. Excepting perhaps, for Boromir."

"The night he sent for me," Lalaith returned, "when he spoke to me of Boromir, he told me that Faramir is more as his mother was."

"And indeed he is," Gandalf answered back with a thoughtful sigh. "Perhaps that is why Denethor has always seemed to resent the younger of his sons. For Faramir is ever a constant reminder of she whom he lost. But no matter his pain, this foolishness is beyond reason, or allowance."

Gandalf cast a somber glance at Lalaith as they passed beneath a low archway, and came out upon the crowded street of the lowest level, the people crushed to one side and the other as mounted soldiers, following in ranks behind their captain, clattered slowly past, their faces written with the somber acceptance of their fate. Their sable banners etched with the image of the white tree caught in the slight wind that stirred, flicking morosely, as if with sadness of their own. Women, their eyes swollen with tears, cast flowers before the feet of their horses or offered them into the hands of the soldiers. Here and there, among the crowd, was heard the soft sound of someone weeping.

They were going to their deaths. Lalaith could see it upon the faces of the men, and her eyes grew misted at the sight.

"There he is," she pointed quickly to Faramir at the head of the column, mounted and clad in armor now, his honey brown curls trailing down his armored back from beneath his helmet. And Gandalf wasted little time in pushing his way through the crowd toward the Steward's son.

"Faramir!" he cried out, pushing his way through the crowd and into the street as Lalaith hurried behind him. "Faramir! Your father's will has turned to madness. Do not throw away your life so rashly."

Faramir, from upon his mount, looked somberly down upon the wizard, and then his eyes darted toward Lalaith, his look mournful, and briefly accusing, though there was no sharpness in his eyes.

"Where does my allegiance lie if not here?" he returned, his voice gentle, yet firm in its tone. "This is the city of the Men of Númenor. I will gladly give my life to defend her beauty, her memory, her wisdom-,"

His words trailed away as he rode on and past. And though Lalaith moved to run after him, Gandalf's hand coming to rest upon her narrow shoulder, bid her to stop.

Armored soldiers drew the great arching gate open with an ominous creak, and the horses clattered through, the faces of the soldiers grim and resigned.

"Faramir!" Lalaith called, though Gandalf drew her back as the last of the column filed through, but the young captain, at the head of his men, did not turn. And slowly, with a grim echo, the gates boomed shut.

********

The sun brushed like a warm soothing hand upon her skin as Lalaith clenched her skirt in her hands and hurried along the wall, seeking for an opening along the crowded parapet. There was none that she could see, and as she scurried along, she sought in vain, to peer over the shoulders of the Men of the city, armor clad soldiers, who stood like somber stone statues, or the women weeping and heavy eyed who strained to catch a last glimpse of their husbands as they rode out to their doom.

"My lady," a voice called above the soft, grieve heavy hum that stirred along the walls.

Lalaith lifted her head to see a man clad in a dark cloak drawing near her. His face, framed by warm brown hair, the color of Faramir's, was beardless, all the more easily for Lalaith to see the tight line of his lips as he stopped before her, and offered her a quick bow.

"My lord," she returned, offering him a small curtsey in return.

"You are the great Elven lady from Imladris, of the House of Elrond, the lady Lalaith, who came with Mithrandir?" he asked her somewhat breathlessly, his eyes deep and troubled as they flittered over her face and the pointed tips of her ears.

"I am, my lord," she returned.

"I am Imrahil," he returned, again offering a quick bow. "A kinsman to-," he swallowed swiftly before he regained his composure. "To Faramir." He drew in a shuddering breath. "Come."

He turned quickly, nodding to her that she follow him. "Make way," he commanded, and to this, soldiers drew to the left and right, and as he squeezed his way toward the balustrade, Lalaith followed him until she found the stones of the parapet beneath her hand, rough and cool, her eyes finding the mounted soldiers in the distance, galloping ever nearer toward the broken remnants of Osgiliath.

"You remind me much of my daughter, Lothiriel," Imrahil murmured as he moved to stand in silence beside her, his mouth smiling, though his voice choked raggedly as he spoke. "She would have come, had I given her leave. Fearless and free spirited she has always been, climbing trees like a boy, riding horses bareback in the surf-," Imrahil chuckled softly to himself. "How my sweet Lothiriel loves horses, almost as if she were born to dwell in Rohan-," His expression faltered as he continued, "Glad am I, that she remains in Dol Amroth. Though if the fighting here goes ill-,"

He said no more. And Lalaith was content to let the silence remain as she gazed out over the grasses, finding Faramir at the head of his men.

"I pray that it will not, my lord," she murmured quietly.

Imrahil drew a shuddering breath inward. "Your elven sight is sharp and clear, my lady," he muttered, his attempt at lightness faded. "What of Faramir?"

Lalaith nodded, her eyes finding Faramir's helmet, his honey brown locks curling from beneath it. "I see him."

"Tell me when he falls," Imrahil murmured softly. And to this, Lalaith nodded as a hard lump formed in her throat.

The riders were drawing nearer to the western edge of Osgiliath, and among the ruins, Lalaith could see the darked mottled shapes of heads emerging to watch the approaching riders. Like a seething sea of ants the orcs appeared as they rose to meet the riders.

The mounted soldiers had not yet reached the ragged eaves of the shattered city, when the first hail of arrows flew from the bows of the orcs, and struck them, half of them falling from their mounts as they did. Faramir wavered in his saddle, but did not fall as on their rode, the blades of the men remaining flashing in the sun as a host of orcs swarmed at them.

Another hail of arrows smattered into the host of Gondorians, and a cracked sigh broke past Lalaith's lips as Faramir wavered, dropped his sword. His mount shuddered and stopped, half turning, as if unsure and in that moment, Faramir toppled from the saddle, and disappeared from her sight.

"My prince, Faramir has-," Lalaith choked, and could say no more, though Imrahil dropped his eyes, and nodded heavily, understanding her words.

His horse, sidestepping, as if dragging a weight upon one side, skittered fearfully across the grasses, unguided. But her eyes were no longer on Faramir's frightened mount, for the poor creature's master was dead now, and an empty hollow within her, pulse with pain. Her eyes, heavy though they were, trained upon the remaining soldiers who had formed a wedge, driving like a blade into the orcs that had come out to meet them. Their bright swords flashed in the waning light, and many orcs fell before them, though the wave of dark mottled forms did not withdraw at the brave stand the Men made, and came incessantly, fearlessly wave upon wave from the broken cracks of Osgiliath's ruins. Orcs fell swiftly, but Men fell as well, their horses' legs cut from beneath them, the riders swamped by dark bodies as they went down.

Like a black tide overwashing a mound of earth, the small island of men shrank, until one last standard bearer remained, young and fair of face, his dark hair curling from beneath his shining helmet weilding his bright sword with one hand as he held his flag high with the other until his mount collapsed under him, slain by an orc's blade, and his shining armor disappeared in a wave of dark bodies.

Lalaith could not see him, but she watched his banner, quivering like a straight reed above a flooding wave, all that remained of the Gondorians, but for a single stray horse, riderless and unmarred by the arrows of the orcs, trotting confused, upon the grasslands. She payed it no heed, her eyes drawn to the single remaining standard. The men and all the other horses were fallen, but for that one banner that remained above the surging sea of orcs. Until it shuddered, as if in a sudden pain of its own and slowly it began to tilt downward, drooping as if with its own fading life, until it too, was caught and dragged down by eager orcish hands, to be trammelled into the dust.

"They are all fallen," Lalaith whispered, to which Imrahil uttered a shuddering sigh, and fell upon his elbows on the balustrade.

In that moment, down from the high wall as above them, in the higher circles of the city, a slow bell began a somber, echoing toll that echoed long, and seemed to hang in the silent, heavy air.

********

Beside the path on which Calassë slowly walked, the stream laughed and gurgled as it trickled over rocks dancing merrily on its way to join the Silverlode. She could see her visage cast up at her from the undulating surface, and everytime her eyes turned upon her reflection, her heart leapt within her. She could not fathom why her own image would captivate her so, and she chided herself inwardly for her vanity. For truly, her companion, strolling along beside her, unhurried, clad in tunic and breeches of warm silver, a cream white cloak cast about his firm broad shoulders, was far more entrancing to gaze upon, she thought, than her own slight reflection.

She turned her eyes upon him at this thought, studying the chiseled lines of his his face softened in a contented expression, his deep grey eyes trained upon her own, unwavering, as if he had been silently hoping she would glance his way. He had seemed content not to speak during their leasurely walk but merely to watch her, offering her a shy smile now and again, as she lifted her eyes to meet his. Her heart grew warm now as their eyes met, unable to comprehend the warm weakness that stole over her limbs at the sight of him. Through his eyes, she saw the child Eärendil whom she had cared for so many centuries before. She had been his nurse, his protector. But now, he seemed in her eyes to be the elder, no longer in need of her protection, no longer a child. Indeed, Calassë thought to herself, feeling her cheeks warming with a light flush, he was most assuredly no longer a child.

"These woods have healed well since the orcs came, now these centuries past cutting down our trees," he murmured at last in a pleasant tone, nodding at the bright golden trees about them. "The last skirmish, happened not far from here, though now, one could not tell." His pleasant smile faltered suddenly and faded briefly at a new thought. "Your friend, Lady Lothriel, lost her father, the noble lord, Alcarion in that battle."

Calassë frowned softly, a troubled look coming over her face as a brief memory, stirred by his words, flitted across her thoughts. Softly, she whispered, "My father-,"

At her voice, though softly spoken, Elrohir's heart leapt suddenly, and his eyes darted to her face where she had stopped upon the trail beneath a beam of light that streamed through the parted branches overheard, falling over her hair and about her face, bathing her in an almost Valaric glow. Her head was bent downward, her fingers twined together as a soft breeze caught her golden hair, flitting it almost playfully about her head. Her eyes were lowered, her face, half turned from him, written in an expression of troubled confusion.

"Calassë?" he queried, leaning nearer to her, his hand coming to rest upon her small frail shoulder. "What of your father? You are beginning to remember?"

His heart grew heavy as her expression darkened, all that was in him, wishing that he could bring light to her eyes.

Without glancing up, without the slightest move, Calassë murmured in a lowered voice, "My father fell in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, for he would not retreat as the lord Huor commanded the Elves of Gondolin to do, but chose to fight beside him, and the Men of Dor-lómin. My mother died of grief not many days after the survivors returned. And I cannot remember her name, nor my father's, nor-,"

A single tear sparkled upon Calassë's lashes before it fell, trailing a line of wetness down her cheek. Elrohir watched its path, his heart pounding heavily within his chest. Could it be the Last Alliance the maiden spoke of? Surely it was that, her memory distorted from her time among the orcs.

"Glorfindel-," she breathed, a light flaring in her eyes before it faded and was gone, her misery returned, "held the rearguard of Turgon as they retreated-, he saw my father fall, an arrow in his throat where he stood beside your own grandsire, Huor-,"

She stopped, her voice grown tight with tears. Glorfindel, her mind echoed. That she could remember his face more clearly, her heart asking itself empty questions.

"I am sorry for you, Calassë," Elrohir whispered softly, drawing the maiden's lithe form against him, where she rested her head against his shoulder. "Many good men, of both kindreds, fell in-, in that great battle."

"Indeed," Calassë whispered quietly.

"Calassë, what else do you remember?" Elrohir murmured quietly, lifting a hand and touching her flushed cheek. Her eyes remained downcast, and he sighed, wondering if perhaps were he to speak of names she would recall, that her memories would turn from where they had strayed.

"Do you remember the High King, Gil-Galad, and Elendil, the king of Men who were slain also in that battle?"

"Ereinion Gil-Galad? The son of Fingon?" Her eyes lifted suddenly to his, and Elrohir smile a brief smile before he noted the stricken questions in her eyes. "But he did not fight in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Eärendil! His father was slain, but not he." She shook her head. "And who is Elendil?"

Elrohir sighed long, and dropped his eyes. Was her memory so lost? "Gil-Galad became High King of the Noldor after the fall of Gondolin, when Turgon was slain," he explained patiently, watching her eyes for some glimmer of recognition, though he could see none as she watched him, her eyes pleading and childlike. "He fell in the Last Alliance, slain by Sauron, before Isildur cut from Sauron's finger the One Ring that dark lord had forged, and defeated him-, for a time. Isildur was the heir of Elendil who was slain as well, the king of the exiles from Númenor. Do you not remember?"

"I remember nothing since the night Gondolin was overthrown, Eärendil," she murmured, her eyes bearing an almost frightened look in them now. "My memory of all that occurred between Gondolin's fall, and when my friends, dear Lothriel and her lord Haldir found me-, it is all black and void!" Her voice grew distressed. "You do not count me as wicked for this?"

"I do not!" Elrohir blurted swiftly, reaching for her, and catching her trembling shoulders in his hands. "Forgive me, forgive me, Calassë. I wished only to help you remember."

"I cannot remember that which I have never seen, my dear one," she choked, and at her distress, Elrohir pulled her against him once more, feeling the warmth of her trembling body pressed softly against the firm strength of his own, and he shuddered quietly at the quiet urgent warmth that stirred within him at the touch of her. "I know nothing of Elendil, or of Isildur or this Númenor of which you speak. I know nothing of any ring forged by that wicked servant of Morgoth. And I-, I did not know that such a great lord as Gil-Galad had been slain by that vile creature! You have seen it all, but I have not. How long has it been, two hundred, three hundred years since the fall of our city? And so many evil things have befallen our people? It is a wonder that any such lovely place as this Golden Wood can still flourish."

"It is because of the power of my grandmother that these woods remain golden and pure-,"

Once again, Calassë's eyes faltered, and she drew back again from his embrace. "Your-, grandmother? But the lady, Elenwë, and the lady Rían were both dead ere you were born-," her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. "My friend, the lord Haldir told me that-, this golden wood is guarded by Naneth's power-," she faltered, her face flushing, embarrassed. "I mean to say, by the power of Lady Galadriel."

Elrohir swallowed softly. "Indeed it is," he muttered quietly, depleated, realizing that his unintentioned ruse was suddenly lost. Would she despise him now for not speaking the truth at first? Would her trust in him die?

"And Lady Galadriel is cousin to your mother," Calassë whispered thoughtfully, and sighed. "Of course. She is kin to you. It is no wonder that you would call her grandmother. It is no wonder that her wisdom lies within your eyes."

With a sigh, she moved back into the shelter of his arms, and though his heart was heavy, Elrohir eagerly drew her to him and bent his head over her own as she buried her head against his shoulder.

"There is much I do not know, Eärendil," she breathed, and the softness of her words washed his neck, sending trails of warmth shivering through him. "I do not know when I will remember all that I have forgotten. My father's name, my mother's name-, all that I cannot recall, that I see only as through a shroud of mist. But with you, here in your protection, I am not afraid." She sighed brokenly, and once again her breath washed his flesh, trailing deep through his sinews like warm sunlight upon his soul. Her fingers slender as sticks, pressed hard into his shoulder blades, her arms shivering as they tightened about his torso. "Do not let me go."

"Ai, my fair Calassë," he murmured, tightening his arms about her soft slender body, exulting in the pleasure of her soft form pressed so tightly against his own firm strength. Timidly, he bent his head, and pressed a gentle kiss to her brow as he whispered, "I could never let you go."

********

"Please, my lady, I beg of you, try at least, to swallow a bit more of this broth-,"

Ithilwen, blinking through her worried tears, sat at Arwen's side where Elrond's daughter lay upon her couch. Arwen's face was pale as death, her dark hair tumbling about her upon the pillows. Ithilwen's arm was beneath Arwen's head, tilting her up slightly, and the dark haired maiden, weak though she was, lifted her weary eyes toward Ithilwen's a look of deep sympathy in them as she swallowed obediently at the spoonful of weak broth lifted to her lips. But even that motion was taxing, and she shuddered, growing limp.

"No more," Arwen pleaded. And swallowing stiffly, Ithilwen drew her arm away, her lips trembling to see the maiden's weakness.

"Do not weep for me, dear friend Ithilwen," Arwen breathed, a tear touching the corner of her eye. "For it tears my heart to see your pain."

"It tears my heart to see you weakening, my lady," Ithilwen choked in return, shamed that Arwen's words of pleading only brought more tears to her eyes.

"It shall not be much longer," Arwen whispered, her voice sad, apologetic, her breath but a soft hiss upon her lips as her tear slipped from her eye. "I wish I could have seen him-, one last time."

"You shall see Lord Aragorn again, my lady!" Ithilwen cried, dropping to her knees and catching Arwen's cold hand, so very cold, within her own. "Please, I beg your, for his sake, endure this! For the sake of Lady Lalaith, to whom you have for so long, been sister and mother to! Surely it will not be long before the Ring is gone in the fire. Your strength will return to you, then. For the sake of those you love, my lady, please-,"

Ithilwen was weeping now, her forehead fallen against the bedside, against the rumpled folds of cool silk that lay there. She continued to clutch Arwen's cold hand as the other maiden's free hand, weak and frail, touched comfortingly against her golden tresses as the royal maiden, even in her weakness, struggled to offer her servant comfort.

"Lord Glorfindel must have found great favor in the eyes of the Valar to win the heart of so noble and lovely a maiden as you." Arwen cooed wearily.

Ithilwen lifted her eyes, her vision blurred with tears, though she managed a trembling smile as she sought the other maiden's pale face through her tears. A tired smile came to Arwen's face as the golden haired maiden touched a hand to Arwen's cold cheek.

"And Lord Aragorn is greatly blessed to have your love," she returned softly. "You shall see. This darkness will pass. He will become a great king of men. You shall become his bride, and your love will be as great as that of Beren and Lúthien of old."

Arwen smiled tiredly up at her, and closed her eyes in weary sleep. Ithilwen shuddered as more silent tears slipped down her face. Only in great sickness, or terrible weariness would an Elf sleep thusly.

"My lady, Ithilwen."

She turned quickly at the sound of Elladan's voice to see the elder of Elrond's sons, standing in the doorway beside Miriel his betrothed who stood beside him, her auburn hair caught back in a twined circlet of gold, their hands interwoven, their faces both written with weary anxiety.

"She is as before, my lord," Ithilwen returned, rising, and offering a short nod to the silver tray at the head of Arwen's bed. "No better, no worse. She took a bit of broth, and fell again into a deep sleep."

"Your unwearied care of my sister is to be commended, my lady," Elladan offered with a weary though thankful smile. "I shall not fail to speak of this with my father."

"You need not my lord," Ithilwen muttered, feeling color rise in her cheeks. "I have not done it for reward, but because she is my friend, and a noble lady."

"Nevertheless, your deeds have been most unselfish," Elladan returned warmly, his voice slightly broken with emotion. "Lord Glorfindel is greatly blessed to have won your gentle love."

Ithilwen smiled timidly at this, that Lord Elladan too, would speak of her beloved as if he, like his sister, could somehow sense the loneliness in Ithilwen's heart, though she had not spoken of her aching longing for him to return to her.

"Take some rest my dear friend," Miriel murmured now, coming forward, and pressing her hand as she offered Ithilwen a slim smile. "We shall sit with her for a time."

Nodding wordlessly to this, Ithilwen bowed her leave, and stepped out the door, making her way along the airy passage until she came to the pillar lined veranda that edged the great Homely House. Dead leaves skittered here and there over the stone tiles, and far below her, she could see the arching gateway where so long before it seemed, the Fellowship had departed, the lady Lalaith going as one of them, unwilling to be separated from her betrothed. Well did she understand now, the longing of Elrond's ward to remain near he whom she loved, Ithilwen sighed to herself.

The air seemed colder when Glorfindel was not near. The world bleaker, her tasks more wearying. Surely, she chided herself, as she stole softly along the portico hugging her arms to herself over her cream white gown; it was only because of her added worry with Arwen's waning strength.

She wished for nothing more than to see him again. To find herself once again wrapped in the tender strength of his arms, to taste the passionate caresses of his mouth, and revel in the promise that one day, he would be her own, when the world was brighter. He would seek her father's favor as he had promised, and then they would wed. And her flesh shivered warmly at the hope in their love.

A movement below her, beneath the gate, caught her eye, and her gaze flew downward, her heart catching on a beat at the figure that strode through, his bearing straight and unwearied, though an unmistakable longing rested in his eyes as he lifted his searching gaze.

His eyes found her own, and his chest swelled with such pleasure that Ithilwen felt her legs suddenly growing weak as he bounded across the courtyard, disappearing beyond the foliage that grew beneath the veranda where she stood. But she could hear his steps pattering swiftly up the steps that rose to the high porch. She had only begun to turn when Glorfindel appeared around the corner of the porch and stood at last before her, golden and beautiful as a young Vala, and her body trembled, warming at the sight of him. Long and free his golden hair hung about him like a mane, his flesh bearing the warm familiar glow it ever did as his broad chest rose and fell with exertion, and emotion as well, the firm muscles evident even beneath the cloth of his robe.

"I have been to the sea my lady," he breathed, a smile teasing at the corners of his sculpted lips. "I have seen our kin off, and now I have returned to you."

"My lord," Ithilwen breathed, and suddenly the tears began to flow. "I am glad of that. The lady Arwen has been unwell since her return, and I have been so-, weary and-,"

Glorfindel's face fell into a somber worried look at this, and he drew a step forward.

"I have missed you so, my dearest," she choked, struggling to regain her composure.

"Ai, Ithilwen," Glorfindel breathed. And suddenly she found herself enveloped in the warmth of his arms, her soft form fairly crushed against the strength of his firm, warm body. His lips pressed against her brow, and her own fingertips found the honed edges of his firm jaw as she lifted her face eagerly, finding the furtive warmth of his perfect mouth.

"Glorfindel, " Ithilwen sighed, gasping his name between his tenderly eager kisses. "Glorfindel, do not leave me again, do not let me go."

"Never again, my beloved," Glorfindel murmured, shuddering slightly as he leaned back slightly, only enough to catch her face in the gentle strength of his hands. "From here to Valinor, I will not let you go."

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