Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 36
Éowyn stared into the empty dawn that had not yet risen, her arms folded tightly as the soft morning wind tugged plaintively at her hair and the flowing sleeves of her dress. Her heart felt empty, void of feeling. Nothing but a hollow shell, now that Aragorn had spurned her.
Had Aragorn been harsh in his rejection of her hinted admission of her feelings for him the night before, it would have been easier to bear. But the kindness that he showed her, when he, so gently touched her cheek, the fingers warm against her flesh, and murmured, in such, soothing, brotherly words, "I have wished you joy since first I saw you," felt like a dagger in her heart, even now.
Joy? Éowyn wondered inwardly. What joy could be had, now? Indeed, how could she ever feel joy again, now that he had so gently yet undeniably rejected her? He, who had come to her in her darkest hour, when she had thought she would go mad with helplessness, her brother banished, and her uncle bent and warped by Gríma's poison? He had brought light with him, and powerful allies, the wizard Gandalf not the least of them, who had drawn her uncle, as well as the entire country of Rohan, from the black clutches of Saruman. She had felt something from her first sight of him. A hope that had long been dead within her. It had only grown warmer as she came to know the noble man he was, one who would one day be a great king of Men. Already, he led well, by his own courage, for he was the first into battle, the last to leave-, fighting boldly and selflessly for her people, though they were not his own kin. Who could not help but love such a man as he? But he did not love her back. And now her uncle and brother were going away, most likely, to die, Éowyn had no joy within her.
She felt a movement behind her, and then the solid, sturdy warmth of her uncle moved near her arm.
"I have left instruction," he murmured quietly, striding past her, his own eyes focused upon the slowly rising dawn. "The people are to follow your rule in my stead." He paused long, and turned at last to her, his hair caught in a halo against his head in the golden light of the hidden sun. His eyes were immeasurably gentle, reminding her so of Aragorn's gentle eyes. "Take up my seat in the Golden Hall. Long may you defend Edoras if the battle goes ill."
Éowyn drew in a low breath, the air cool within her lungs. "What other duty would you have me do, my lord?" she murmured numbly, shamed now, that tears were pricking her eyes.
"Duty?" her uncle whispered, his fatherly eyes narrowing with concern, and with a shake of his head, he stepped nearer to her. "No," he whispered as he drew near, and took up her hands, so small and pale within his, Éowyn thought to herself.
She watched her uncle's face, so familiar to her, as he studied her limp, cold hands, warming them between his large, calloused palms.
"I would have you smile again," he whispered softly, lifting his eyes to meet hers. Éowyn shivered quietly at this, her lips managing a faint smile as he gently squeezed her hands. "Not grieve, for those whose time has come."
Her eyes fell slightly at this, her mouth opening, though she could think of nothing to say. So easy it was, for one riding to his probably death to tell her not to grieve, when she would be left behind, bereft of those she cared so very much for.
"You shall live to see these days renewed," Théoden hissed, his voice deep, and laced with painful hope. He drew his hands from hers, and her arms fell limply to her sides as he reached up, and took her face between his hands, pressing his brow gently to her own. "And no more despair," he breathed softly.
No more despair, Éowyn wondered to herself. Could such a thing ever be? The words her uncle spoke, almost made her believe that a day could come, when she awoke in joy and hope, to a golden dawn. But she could not see it now.
Especially now as she felt her secret thoughts forming within her mind, her resolve only hardened by Aragorn's rejection. The sword and the armor she had brought, hidden, the leather headguard that would cover Windfola's brow, and hide the star her kinsmen would recognize-, She could only pray secretly that her uncle, thinking she would remain safe, behind, could one day forgive her for what she had resolved to do.
The cliffs, covered in sparsh brush, rose high and white and ragged on either side of their small party, calling to Legolas' mind the brittled bleached bones of some vast creature long dead. There was little sound in the narrow crevace through which their horses wound on the path, aside from Gimli's stifled breathing behind him, and the soft clomp of hooves upon stone.
Softly, Gimli shifted his weight behind him before muttering in a tone one of fearful reverence, "What kind of army would linger in such a place?"
"One that is cursed," he returned softly. A cold wind sifted about them as the stony path led deeper into the shadowed caverns. It smelt of age and mold, and dead things. He could feel eyes upon him, unseen, watching as if from behind the walls of the stone cliffs as they drew farther down the path.
"Long ago, the Men of the mountains swore an oath to the last king of Gondor, to come to his aid. To fight. But when the time came, when Gondor's need was dire, they fled, vanishing into the darkness of the mountain. And so Isildur cursed them never to rest, until they had fulfilled their pledge."
The words he had spoken with Lord Elrond when they had met the night before, came back to him now. The words of Malbeth the Seer in the days of Arvedui of which he had been taught as a boy, that Lalaith had often read to him, from the books in her uncle's study, returned powerfully to him now, and softly, in a voice deepened with weight and great import, he spoke the ending lines of the prophecy:
"Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the north shall he come, need shall drive him:
He shall pass the Door into the Paths of the Dead."
Long his words hung in the chill of the air, the cold wind hissing about them as if those silent ones who watched from behind the stones stirred in thought at the words.
Behind him, Gimli shuddered softly. "Ogh," he muttered softly. "The Paths of the Dead. It is a foul name, and little to the liking of one who yet desires to draw breath. Can the living use such a road, and not perish? Dark ways we take, I do not doubt."
"You need not follow, Gimli," Aragorn called from Brego's back, ahead of them. "Only of your free will would I have you come, for you will find both toil and great fear, and maybe even worse."
"I will go with you, Aragorn," Gimli called out, his voice braver now, as if encouraged by Aragorn's words, though his gloved fist tightened about his axe. "Even on the Paths of the Dead, and to whatever end that may lead."
"I also come willingly," Legolas added with a slim smile.
"Though this path takes you further from Lalaith?" Aragorn asked, casting over his shoulder a briefly humored glance.
"Though it may delay me for a time, it will, in the end, bring me to her," Legolas found himself answering swiftly. "And we will come to Minas Tirith with greater aid than we otherwise would have."
"If the Dead will be freed from their curse," Gimli grumbled. "If not-,"
He said no more, though his unfinished words hung long in the chilled air over them, which grew all the more cold as Aragorn, turned Brego's head down a shadowed, rocky cavern, edged by several scraggled, and long dead trees.
Legolas did not wish to think of the Dead refusing Aragorn's call for them to fulfill their oath, and free themselves from their curse. Without their aid, the corsairs who were coming in their black ships, persuaded by Sauron's wicked bribes, would sail, unchecked, up the Anduin to Minas Tirith, by then, wounded and bleeding from its wounds inflicted by the orcs, and would drive the death blow into her heart. The courageous Rohirrim, the Men of Edoras with whom he had struck friendship, Men easily moved to much humor and whimsy, yet their hearts were also noble and couragous-, they would all of them, be cut down in the plains before the city. And all within the circling tiers of Minas Tirith would be slain soon after. He could not think of failing them. He could not think of failing her. Legolas shut his mind to the thought, and turned it upon his task, now. For fearful though it was, it held no such pain as the thought of failing Lalaith, held for him.
Around a jutting stone set like a finger of doom in the center of their path, the shadowed arch of a doorway at the base of the cliff moved into their view. The horses whinnied and stopped, refusing to pass the rock, and the three riders swiftly dismounted then, Legolas catching Arod's reigns in his hand, and whispering a few Elvish words to the frightened beast as Aragorn led Brego past the imposing knife of rock, and he, with Arod's reigns in his hand, and Gimli hurrying beside, followed the ranger nearer to the yawning, black doorway. Set within the great stone lintel, were several ancient skulls, and piled in crevaces upon one side and the other to the shadowed doorway, were piled other skulls, unnumbered. But to these, Legolas' eyes were not drawn. Rather, his eyes lifted to the worn and ancient figures scoured in black, above the doorway as their small group dismounted.
His throat tightened briefly at what he read there as he led Arod on by the reigns, his bones chilled within him as Gimli muttered, "The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away,"
Legolas well understood the Dwarf's whispered words as he drew ever closer to the darkened doorway through which seemed to emit a bitter cold.
"`The way is shut,'" he murmured aloud, reading now, the black etched pictorgraphs above the doorway. "It was made by those who are dead. And the Dead keep it. The way is shut."
As if in answer to his words, a chill breath air, carried upon a cold wind, moaned through the doorway as if it seeped from the throats of ghosts unseen.
Brego and Arod snorted in fear at this, and Arod reared upward, as Brego did, wrenching his reigns from Legolas' hand.
"Hey, Arod!" Gimli cried beside him, but neither horse heeded the cry as they bolted down the shadowed cavern, and disappeared around a bend of rock.
"Brego!" Aragorn called, but his faithful companion was already gone.
Legolas let out a sigh as the clatter of their hooves faded back the way they had come. His brow furrowed as he glanced down where Arod had disappeared. Legolas could not deny that he felt somewhat hurt by the horses' abandonment of them, but he could not be angry, for he well understood their fear. And truly, they need not come with them upon the peril of the Paths of the Dead. In truth, Legolas was glad now, that Lalaith was not here. For though it was unseen, perhaps they now faced greater peril than she did.
Setting his will firmly, Legolas turned back toward the door as Aragorn and Gimli did, also.
Beside him, Aragorn's jaw was firmly set against the chilled fear that seemed to seep from the very stones about them.
"I do not fear death," Aragorn seethed fiercely. And with these words, the hilt of Andúril clenched within his fist, the Man strode into the cold wind of the darkness, and disappeared.
Legolas only hesitated a moment longer. For Lalaith, his heart breathed. And with his resolve set, he strode into the darkness after Aragorn, and it swallowed him up.
"Well, this is a thing unheard of!" he heard Gimli moan from behind him. "An Elf with go underground, where a Dwarf dare not! Ooh. Oh, I'd never hear the end of it."
At the sound of Gimli's boots scuffing over the chill of the stone threshhold, Legolas turned within the chilled, shadowed tunnel of rough uneaven rock, toward the bright slash of light behind him, awaiting Gimli as the frightened Dwarf stumbled closer, still somewhat blinded by the shadows his eyes had not yet grown accustomed to.
"Courage, Gimli," he offered gently, his hand coming down upon Gimli's shoulder as the blinded Dwarf began to stumble past.
"Oh!" Gimli cried out, his voice humorously shrill for a brief moment before he noted the shadow of the Elf standing beside him.
Legolas was glad Gimli could not see his teasing grin as Gimli eased at the sight of his friend.
"Come my friend, let us hurry on toward Aragorn." Legolas nodded ahead, some space down the rocky, uneaven corridor where a light had been struck. "Aragorn has lit a torch. That should give you some comfort."
"Comfort?" Gimli grumped. "Pagh! I'm fine."
"Would you rather I crush the torch out then?" Aragorn asked lightly from ahead of them, flashing Legolas a bemused half grin, which the Elf could see through the shadows, though Gimli could not, yet.
"Ah, wha- no, no. That's not necessary," Gimli was quick to sputter out as he jogged noisily toward the torch bearing Man, and Legolas came striding behind, thoughts and memories of Lalaith giving him courage to face whatever lay ahead of them, down the mist filled tunnels.
"Ho, there, Master Hobbit," a youthful voice called amist the noise and flurry of the morning as warriors girded their armor about them, and saddled their anxious horses.
Standing before his small white pony, Stybba, whom he had grown mightily fond of.
Turning his head, Merry glanced up in surprise at the young man who came striding near, long yellow hair tumbling about his youthful face. A boy he was, in truth, taller than Merry, but not by much, and not yet bearded.
"Hullo, there," Merry muttered, turning to greet the smooth faced youth. The boy wore no armor, but a rough, workaday tunic, and dusty breeches. "What's your name?"
"I am Haleth," the boy greeted with a terse grin, stopping a few paces before him. "And you are Meriadoc, the Hobbit."
Merry's eyes darted over the boy's plainly clad form. "You're not going to fight?"
"Alas, I am not old enough," Haleth returned with a short sigh. "I fought at Helm's Deep, but that was only in great need. I came only to aid the warriors, and then I will return to Edoras with Lady Éowyn, and the few others who will remain to take down the tents, and break camp. There, we will wait for-," Haleth gulped, and his smile fell briefly. "I will fight there, if the battle does not go well for the elder Men."
"I'm going Minas Tirith," Merry murmured hopefully, patting Stybba's nose.
Haleth furrowed his brow, glancing over the small Hobbit's armored form in an expression of humored disbelief. "But you're small even, than me."
"But I'm older," Merry was quick to shoot back. "And surely the king will let me." He straightened himself importantly. "Théoden King made me an esquire of Rohan. So surely he will let me go to fight."
Haleth shrugged wordlessly, his mouth twisted in a silent smirk though his expression grew more still as the king, mounted upon his own horse, Snowmane, came trotting near, flanked by his nephew Éomer, and several guards, bearing standards that, whipped in the air above their heads.
Haleth offered the king a short bow and drew a step back as the king drew near, and turned his gaze down upon Merry.
"Little Hobbits do not belong in war, Master Meriadoc," Théoden said gently, though the words stabbed Merry's heart.
He glanced up into the king's face, anxious now. Surely he would not be left behind?
"But all my friends have gone to battle," he protested swiftly. "I would be ashamed to be left behind."
"It is a three day gallop to Minas Tirith," Théoden returned, his words still kindly, though his voice now carried a tone of unbending authority. "And none of my riders can bear you as a burden."
Merry shook his head. This could not be! "I want to fight!" he argued.
The king pursed his lips, his demeanor still gentle, though his words were ever more stern. "I will say no more," Théoden finished at last, and he turned his head away, nudging Snowmane into motion. Down the slant of stoney earth Théoden's mount trotted, Éomer near upon his heels, and then he was gone.
Behind the small Hobbit, Haleth let out a low sigh of sympathy. The small man, full grown though he was, was not taking easily to being left behind like a young boy, he could see as Merry took a step forward, watching the king's retinue clatter away down the sloping path. But what else was there to do? The king had given him and order.
"Come, Master Hobbit, you may help me with my tasks," Haleth offered, turning away to gather up a hastily dropped cloak, discarded in haste, by one of the riders. Behind him, several warriors were clattering past, the small gasp of surprise from the Hobbit lost amidst the hurried clomping of hooves. "I am to help strike the tents, and see to Lady Éowyn's orders-,"
Haleth's words stopped upon a heartbeat as he turned back, thinking he would see the Hobbit still standing there beside the small pony, Stybba. But he was gone. And as Haleth glanced one way and then the other, seeking for him, he could see him nowhere, as horses continued to clatter past.
"Master Meriadoc?" he called, but no voice answered him.
Dank, the tunnel was, moist and chill, and filled with aged silence as Legolas followed near behind Aragorn down the misty passageway, lined here and there, with the dried skeletons of Men long dead, laying within hollows upon the wall. Gimli's breath was sharp and fierce as he came stumbling behind, hurrying to keep up with the Man and the Elf. Down one narrow corridor, lay a thick layer of skulls upon the floor, but that was not their path. Beneath the silence, Legolas could hear an endless whisper of voices all about him, a murmur of words in no tongue he had ever learned. And all about him, behind them, and before them, just beyond the reach of the torchlight, Legolas could see shadowed forms, forests of spears-,
"What is it?" Gimli hissed, sensing somehow, Legolas' heightened apprehension. "What do you see?"
"I see shapes of men," he hissed back beneath the whispering silence. "And of horses."
"Where?" Gimli demanded, glancing about himself, furtively, seeking in vain for the misted shapes beyond the damp clouds that swirled about them in the torchlight, shapes that with his own Elven sight, Legolas could barely see, himself. They gave way to the torchlight, fading back into the rock, only to return as the torchlight past, swelling the numbers that followed behind, like the whispering feet of leaves before a cold wind.
"Pale banners like shreds of cloud," Legolas continued, seeing the misted shapes in the distance, bits of ragged haze clinging in tatters of mist to dim standards as the ghost men rode before and behind them beyond the torchlight upon their spectral horses. "Spears rise, like winter thickets through a shroud of mist."
To this, the hiss and murmur of the misted shapes behind them, seemed to swell like the voice of a chilled breeze.
"The Dead are following," he murmured, his brow furrowing at the chilling thought. "They have been summoned."
"The Dead? Summoned?" Gimli's voice cried out from behind him as Legolas strode on after Aragorn. "I knew that."
Legolas, in spite of the chill that touched his heart, met Aragorn's turned eyes at these words the Dwarf tried to speak so manfully, and nonchalantly, though the fear was still beneath his tones.
"Very good," the Dwarf muttered. "Very good-, Legolas!!" he cried suddenly, realizing only now, how far behind he had fallen, and his boot feet came sprinting suddenly near, drawing closer toward the flickering torchlight.
But what was this misty, unearthly place they were moving through now? Legolas had never seen such a mist as this, ghostly spectral hands groping upward at them, as if they wished drawn them down into the stones where the bones of these ghosts rested. And now, as a soft crunch fell beneath Aragorn's foot, Legolas glanced down, seeing the floor littered with dried skulls.
His own boots trod lightly over them, leaving the bones he passed over unbroken, but the bones beneath Aragorn's feet and Gimli's crackled with each step.
"Do not look down," Aragorn commanded from before him, to which Legolas turned, seeing Gimli paused, his mouth drawn open in a small circle as he blinked, painfully, then, as Legolas guessed he would, glanced down toward his feet, nonetheless.
Gimli took a painful step then, flinching as the bones crunched beneath his heavy boots. Another step, and another crunch followed as the Dwarf staggered painfully forward until at last, he gave up on his struggle to walk noiselessly, and simply broke into a jog, flinching as he trotted, crunching and crackling over the bed of dried bones, rushing to keep up with Legolas who beckoned swiftly to him as Gimli's eyes glanced pleadingly toward him.
"Come, Gimli," he murmured encouragingly as the Dwarf drew near, and clapped a hand upon his friend's shoulder, hurrying him ever faster.
"How is it, that they don't break under your feet?" Gimli moaned. But to this, Legolas could only manage a brief smile.
At last, the bed of bones beneath their feet ended, and the floor of the narrow cavern once again became smooth.
A look of undeniable relief came over Gimli's face, and Legolas' comforting arm fell from his shoulder as he hurried on behind Aragorn as the Man rounded a sharp corner, and suddenly found himself within a vast chamber. The shadows whispered more swiftly than before, here in this great empty space. Away to the left, something glittered in the gloom. A skeleton, as the others had been, lay supine in a corner between the jagged wall and a jutting ledge of stone beside which a set of ragged steps let up to a great arching doorway of stone, shut fast. But unlike the others, this skeleton was clad in mail, and still his harness lay there, whole. A notched and broken sword lay by him.
To their right, a deep and hollow crevice fell into blackness, where mist swirled in its dark empty depths.
"Who enters my domain?" a voice echoing through the vast emptiness, demanded above the whisper of speechless voices about it.
And spinning, Legolas turned toward the ragged steps where a shadowed figure, faint at first, slowly formed from the shadows, and came clear. A man, clad in cloak and armor and crested helm, grinned fiercely at them, his eyes but hard beads of light within an empty skull.
"One who will have your allegiance," Aragorn breathed.
"The Dead to not suffer the living to pass," the skeletal spectre seethed in return.
"You will suffer me," Aragorn hissed fiercely toward the shadowed ghost.
A laugh, discordant and harsh, echoed from the spectral throat, growing in power as it echoed through the dark chamber, and now, echoing voices, harsh in rasping laughter echoed the first from beyond the black chasm. Legolas spun, Aragorn with him, as the far wall grew in a green glow, outlining misted arches and doorways, steps and paths unseen before, the dead that had followed them through the corridors now drawing out of the stone of the wall, wafting toward them, nearer and nearer, across the empty chasm. From Aragorn's sharply drawn breath, and Gimli's soft grunt of muted surprise, Legolas could tell now, that they could see them as well.
"The way is shut," the spectral king hissed, echoing the words Legolas had read upon the lintel of the skull etched doorway. "It was made by those who are dead. And the dead keep it."
To these words, even more ghosted shapes of warriors seeped from the stones of the walls, marching forward, toward the three men.
"The way is shut," the helmed ghost seethed, drawing nearer, a sinister grin upon his empty face. "Now, you must die."
Legolas heart leapt in him at these words. Die? Here, where light could never reach, where hope would fade black into the abyss at his feet? Where Lalaith was not? No, it would not be so! With this, he raised his bow, snatching an arrow from the quiver, and releasing it into the spectre's face. It parted through his head as through a mist, leaving the ghost unhurt, his seething grin drawing ever closer as Aragorn dropped the torch he had borne to the stone at his feet.
"I summon you to fulfill your oath," the ranger continued, undaunted by the chill that only increased as the ghostly army drew its noose tighter about the three.
"None but the king of Gondor may command me!" barked the ghostly king, striding near as Aragorn lifted the blade of Andúril which shone in the gloam like a beacon of hope.
The ghost's spectral blade swung, met with an echoing clang by Andúril, halting its deadly blow, and spinning the raised blade downward.
"That line was broken!" the ghost barked.
Aragorn's fist shot out, catching the spectre by his throat, clutching as if upon something solid, though the dead bones and hanging flesh had not been halted by Legolas' arrow.
"It has been remade," Aragorn returned with furious calm before he thrust his undead foe back toward the line of his misted comrades.
"Fight for us," Aragorn continued, his eyes scanning the misty assemblage, that stood back now, looking on through hollow eyes, silent and unsure, not that their king had been bested by one of the living. "And regain your honor." He stepped forward, nearer to them, fearless. "What say you?"
He strode through their silent midst, glancing from one empty face to another. "What say you?" he repeated.
"Agh, you waste your time, Aragorn," Gimli called out. "They had no honor in life, they have none now, in death."
Legolas' eyes turned to glance at the Dwarf, seeing him through a line of transparent soldiers. Many ghosts stirred silently at Gimli's caustic words, but none dared draw near the Dwarf. The dead dared not to hurt them, now. And at the thought, a wave of hope washed over Legolas' heart. Would they then submit their wills to Aragorn's lead? Would they fight for him?
"I am Isildur's heir," Aragorn continued. "Fight for me, and I will hold your oaths fulfilled." Turning toward the ghost king, upon whose empty face a humorless grin still clung, Aragorn cried, in a voice that echoed long through the chamber, "What say you?"
The helmed ghost said no words, though he laughed again, the same harsh, dissonant laugh as before as he and his men faded back into the stones from which their spectral shapes had emerged.
"You have my word!" Aragorn cried, though they continued to fade. "Fight! And I will release you from this living death!" The laughter continued, and the ghostly soldiers seeped back into the stones. "What say you?!" They were gone.
"Stand, you traitors!" Gimli shouted, fuming.
A cold wind, chill and dank, swept the mist from beneath their feet as the stones beneath them began to tremble.
His heart caught upon a beat, and the hope that he had allowed himself to feel in the moments before, faded as he spun toward the high doorway as the stone walls upon either side of the high carven doorway broke away, and a vast avalanche of boulders and dried, cracked skulls came tumbling downward.
"Out!" cried Aragorn, but Legolas was already in motion. He grasped Gimli's arm, pushing him ahead of him, just as the cascade of skulls, struck them, dried and musty with the dust of untold ages stirring in the air above them as they tumbled over the edge of the chasm into the depths below.
Was the fate the Dead wished for them, to be pushed by their own dried bones into the distant depths below? For what other purpose was this sudden fall of stones to be meant for? Legolas did not think longer on this, focusing his thoughts only on reaching the far door as the three of them struggled through the dried and musted river of skulls.
"Legolas!" he heard Aragorn's voice call from somewhere ahead as Legolas struggled behind the stumbling Dwarf, pushing him ever onward, before him. And at last they were free of the tumbling bones, though the stones continued to crack and fall about them. The cave was collapsing, and they needed to escape.
"Run!" Aragorn cried, echoing Legolas' own thoughts, and darted down the tunnel through which Legolas could see light, bright unbroken sunlight, and smell the distant tang of-, he could not place the scent, but it was a welcome one as he paused, realizing Gimli was not before him. A heavy jagged edged boulder tumbled before his path. In a distant corner of his mind, he realized he would have been crushed, had he not glanced back to see to his friend's safety but Legolas did not pause to realized how close he had come to death as he pushed Gimli on ahead of him, and they sprinted toward the blessed sunlight, and the sweet tang wafting in on the breeze that plucked strangely at the strings upon his heart.
The warm, tangy scent hit him full in the face as they staggered out at last, into the sunlight, upon the high ledge of a great mountainside, and Legolas paused to catch his breath, turning to ensure himself that Gimli was still coming behind him, and he was, puffing and wheezing, and staggering into the sunlight.
Below them, off the feet of the mountainside upon which they stood, there sat a high hill, upon which was a black domed rock. The Stone of Erech, which Legolas remembered of from his lessons as a youth, and the books Lalaith had often read to him, from her uncle's study. Beyond that, in the dim distance, was a wide river. The Morthond, which flowed down from the mountains. But were it the Anduin-, Legolas shuddered at the thought, drawing in a breath of despair, the weight of the failure settling now upon him as the heat of their flight from the cave faded from his veins. Were it the Anduin, he would see the black ships of the corsairs, sailing up its wide course, toward Gondor, toward Lalaith, bringing death with them.
As if plagued with the same haunting image in Legolas' mind, Aragorn fell heavily to his knees, his eyes fixed upon the river below.
Wordless, Legolas drew up behind him, and clapped his hand upon the Man's shoulder. His heart sank in his chest. What was he to do now? What were they all to do?
A distant sound, recalling to Legolas' mind the sound of fluid seeping through rock, hissed at them from behind them growing steadily louder until Aragorn detected it too, and rose, a look of wonder upon his face as the green mist of the helmed king of the oath breakers seethed out of the very stone behind him, and strode forward, his cold, glowing gaze fixed fiercely upon Aragorn's face.
Once again, hope unlooked for, leapt within Legolas' heart, and he drew in a swift breath as the spectre stared into Aragorn's eyes and hissed, "We fight."
Twilight within the sheltered wood of Lothlórien had never seemed so fair a place to Elrohir as he walked upon a smooth earthen path, Calassë's slender arm looped through his as they strolled in companionable silence. The silver lamps of the many flets filtered down through the leaves of the trees, alighting upon her face, and bathing her in gentle radiance. Her hair seemed etched in lines of silver, and her very flesh seemed to glow. Her soft lips were curved upward in a slight smile that set Elrohir's heart to pounding, their eyes meeting now and again as they shared a brief smile.
"Have any memories been returning to you at all, my lady?" he asked, breaking the silence at last, to which Calassë sighed long.
"No more than that which I spoke of with you, before," she murmured, tipping her head so that it rested upon his shoulder, her slender form straining nearer to him as if for comfort as the path they trod, dipped down a shallow rill, and the lights of Caras Galadhon faded through the trees behind them. "Strange that I can remember so much, yet I cannot remember my father or mother's names, or who my kin could be-,"
"Well, one day, when the world is safe once again, I shall take you to meet Lord Glorfindel," Elrohir offered, his arm willingly circling about her shoulders, and drawing her every closer to him as the silver shadows grew warm about them. "He will doubtless, know who you are, and perhaps meeting him will help you remember more."
Calassë said nothing, though she nodded, and sighed, her own arm tightening across his back.
"Until then," Elrohir murmured softly, "I have you all to myself."
Calassë seemed to sense the unspoken emotion in his words, and drew to a stop, lifting her eyes to his.
"And I am glad of that," she breathed, ducking her head. "It has been but few days since our first meeting in these woods, but in truth, I have never forgotten you, my dearest, beloved Eärendil-,"
"I am-, beloved to you?" Elrohir queried softly, the still warm air of night seeming to shimmer between them with unspoken emotion as he drew nearer to her, and lifted a hand, touching her cheek with his fingertips, gently lifting her face so that their eyes once again met.
"Of course," Calassë offered, laughing lightly. A laugh which Elrohir could not help but join in on. Oh, how he wished to make her happy!
"You have been treasured in my heart, all your life, my dearest," Calassë breathed softly. "I have loved you truly since the day you were born, loved you in many ways. I did not forget you, even during my time among the-,"
Her words came to an abrupt halt, and a troubled look crossed her face.
Elrohir tightened his hands upon her arms to reassure her. She was beginning to remember again, he realized from the look upon her face. Her captivity, and all that had befallen her-,
The voice shattered the quiet like a stone cast into a quiet pond as Rumil came dashing suddenly through the trees, gasping hard, his eyes fierce and wild.
Calassë gasped at the suddenness of his voice, and darted behind Elrohir's shoulder before his hand grasping hers, reassured her, and she came ducking from behind him to study Rumil with chagrin in her eyes.
"Forgive me, my lady," Rumil gulped, noting the fear he had caused her, to which she nodded her forgiveness.
"Rumil, my friend, what is it?" Elrohir burst in return.
"A host from Dol Guldur has invaded the eastern edge of the forest!" came the quiet reply. "Your grandfather bids you come to him."
Elrohir's eyes darted swiftly to Calassë's, his heart wrenching at the sudden wild fear that claimed them.
"They are coming for me," she hissed, her eyes like those of a fearful child's. "They will take me away again! They will-,"
Ragged pain flashed across her face, her eyes widened and her face grew taut with a sudden pain, a look of terror mingled with wrenching misery.
"No, Calassë, they will not hurt you, I swear it," Elrohir burst swiftly, drawing one arm about her, and squeezing her shoulders gently. He shot his eyes toward Rumil who stood, waiting with bated breath, for him to follow. "I shall take you back to my grandmother. She and the lady Lothriel will watch after you until my return."
Calasse shook herself, her eyes focusing now upon Elrohir pleadingly as she clung to his hand as to a lifeline. "You-, you will return?" she grated quietly.
His heart caught upon a fierce beat at the ragged look of pain in her eyes. "I will, Calassë. I promise you. Come."
And with that, he turned, and tugged her along behind him as he rushed upon Rumil's heels, back toward the lights of Caras Galadhon.