Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 58

The glade was awash in morning sunlight, the mood bright and merry as Elrohir and Pippin strode through the trees side by side, their eyes seeking out Calassë in a flock of laughing women who sat upon the wide steps leading from the glade up to the portico of the house, busily twining flowers in long roped garlands. Elrohir's gaze was bright and eager, and Pippin glanced up at the Elven lord through trouble eyes, wishing he had reason to be carefree and merry as well.

The soon to be bride was easy to see, her golden hair catching in the light as she sat in the midst of the other women, for her face fairly glowed as never it had before, listening with a smile, to the furtive whispers of Arwen who sat beside her as they worked.

Calassë's eyes lifted as she listened to her future sister in law's girlish whisperings, and her gaze met Elrohir's across the space between them. Little changed in her countenance, but Pippin was certain her face seemed to glow all the more brightly as her gaze met Elrohir's.

"Ai!" a dark haired maiden shrieked, though her voice was merry as she cried. "He is here! Calassë! Hide!"

Several maidens pushed passed a laughing Arwen to pounced merrily upon Calassë as if to save her away from certain danger, and several others leapt to their feet as if they meant to accost the newly arrived men, and bodily carry them away when a voice behind them stayed them.

"Come now, let them be!" Galadriel commanded with lightness in her voice.

"Indeed!" Aseaiel agreed, laughter in her voice. "I am of your mind, Galadriel. Allow the lad his freedom."

"But my ladies!" one anxious maiden protested. "He is not to see his bride until the feast-,"

A surprisingly ungracious guffaw choked from Galadriel's throat at this, stopping the maiden's words.

"That is a rather inane tradition, I have always thought," the Lady of the Golden Wood confessed.

Shocked silence followed her words, overlaying a quiet tittering that escaped Aseaiel's throat, and Lothriel's who sat near behind Galadriel, running fingers over the slight swell of her belly, a contented, matronly glow upon her face.

"Come, come!" Arwen cut in, rising to her soon to be kinswoman's defense as she shooed away the anxious maidens about Calassë, and helped her to her feet. "As you can clearly see, my friends, my dear brother, has even brought a chaperone with him. He is not so awful a rogue!"

Still, Arwen imposed herself smiling between the betrothed pair as she led Calassë to the foot of the steps, and lifted her brows at her brother, playfully awaiting an explanation of his presence.

"Um," Pippin chirped, and Arwen's gaze fell to his, her smile faltering now at the anxious look in the Hobbit's eyes. "Actually, it was me. I wanted to talk to Calassë."

Calassë turned her smiling eyes now from Elrohir's long enough to see the somber cast of the Hobbit's features, and her lighthearted expression faded as well.

"What is it, Pippin?" she queried gently, coming around Arwen, and addressing the Hobbit. "Come, let us sit down over here-,"

Almost as if she had forgotten the presence of her betrothed, she led the Hobbit by the hand as if he were a child, toward the edge of the glade where the trees swayed in the wind, and gestured him to sit down upon the grass as she did.

Elrohir, hesitant, followed after with a nudge from Arwen, who looked after him, her mouth pursed, then went to join her grandmother and the others on the steps, weaving the long ropes of their garlands. All eyes trailed now and again from the work in their hands to the young Elven lord as Elrohir seated himself on the grass on the other side of Pippin.

"What is it Pippin?" Calassë asked the clearly troubled Hobbit as she traded a look with her betrothed, whose face had grown somber himself at the bent head and deep sighs of the small Hobbit between them.

"Well, perhaps I'm just over worrying. Perhaps they were right," he gestured with his head, without looking, toward Elrohir beside him. "But-, I remember what you told Lalaith and me in Minas Tirith about your time-, you know, in Orthanc." Calassë pursed her lips at this, her brow furrowed, but she nodded. "You heard all that she said, too, m'lord," Pippin glanced briefly at Elrohir who nodded tersely. "And I think-, I think-, she's here, Calassë."

The warm sun upon her skin seemed suddenly cold as the Hobbit said these words.

Calassë shivered. Elrohir's hand upon her own helped to still her sudden trembling, and lend courage to her fearful heart as she forced herself to speak, the word coming out in a soft whisper, "Who?"

********

Elladan, seated in a carven wooden chair in his father's wide empty study, and pretending to be deeply absorbed in the book he was reading, jerked slightly, his heart catching on a beat as Miriel, a cluttered sheaf of papers tucked under one arm, darted into the chamber, and set the rumpled sheaf upon a nearby desk.

"Miriel," he murmured, setting aside his book with a half grin as he rose to greet the flushed, gasping maiden. "I am glad you could come-,"

His words cut short as he dipped his head, brushing his mouth eagerly against her own as his arms began to circle about her, to draw her closer to him. But then he stopped. Miriel did not return his embrace with her usual warmth, and he could feel the hurried pounding of her heart as he held her against his chest.

Furrowing his brow, Elladan drew back to meet her eyes which, as he studied them, were troubled. And indeed, frightened!

"What is it, Miriel?" he queried. And to this simple question, Miriel burst into sudden tears.

"Miriel!" he gasped, catching her slender shoulders which shook as she wept. "What is it? Why are you crying?"

"I-, don't know! I don't!" Miriel sobbed, plunging suddenly against his shoulder.

Elladan circled his arms about her, putting a hand against her soft auburn tresses, hushing her softly as he stared, confused at the floor.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" he asked gently.

"Ithilwen," she gasped, drawing back a little, though she didn't raise her eyes to his. "I saw Ithilwen on the portico. She was-, She wasn't herself. There was something-," she broke of, shaking her head.

Elladan's brows furrowed, and he glanced away toward the sky beyond the high fluted windows where a cool spring breeze wafted through. Soft clouds sparse and white, floated lazily across the blue expanse.

"There was something wrong with-, with her eyes, Elladan."

His heart was suddenly tight with an inexplicable urgency which he could not yet fathom, and his eyes shot back to Miriel's.
"Her eyes?" he queried, and she nodded to which he drew in a deep breath as the warning in his heart grew and swelled. He did not understand it, could not understand why this warning sounded so loudly in his mind. But he knew suddenly, what he needed to do.

"Come with me," Elladan murmured, and caught her hand within his.

********

A womanly shadow moved quietly and unhurriedly along a shaded pathway, alone with her cold and darkened thoughts. The halls of this fair Elven house were empty, and she was glad for that. Elves of this fair realm it seemed, were all elsewhere, merrily occupied with varied preparations for some feast that was to take place tonight or busying themselves with whatever childish escapades humored their kind, leaving her quite comfortably alone as she made her way along the maze of porticos and steps that rose and fell, and the endless rooms she passed, making her way toward the mountain, hoping she might find some narrow path leading up toward the small white cottage tucked like a little bird's nest, on a jutting outcropping of the cliff wall.

"So Legolas belongs to Lalaith now?" her pursed lips muttered softly. "That shall not be for long."

She smirked to herself as she recalled the fair golden haired Elf the little red haired maiden had called Glorfindel. She had seen him from the distance where she had crouched upon her belly in the undergrowth. He had been upon the high veranda, lost in thought, a sickeningly sweet smile upon his lips as he strode purposefully toward some destination. He had not even glanced toward her, for which she was glad, for she had still been shaking from her near discovery by that cursed little Hobbit she had recognized from so long ago. Yet her one sight of the Elf man had been enough for her to sense the thoughts of his mind, drink in the image of the woman he was thinking about, and draw it into herself. She was so much stronger now, than she had once been, as if the power the old broken wizard had ever withheld from her was suddenly released, and belonged solely to her now. Why she suddenly felt this way, she could not begin to guess, but did not care, anyway. All she knew, was that now, she held within herself, the power to change her form entirely, having saved herself from the wolves by focusing upon the beasts' thoughts, and becoming one of them.

Foolish creatures. They had seemed so lost, so confused, when the scent of the human woman they had hunted, had ended in an empty pile of ragged and dirty cloth, where tracks of a single wolf led away.

She had watched the pack from a rill above them, her chin upon her paws as they pawed the ground about her abandoned dress, and howled at the sky in their frustration. She would have laughed aloud if her furry, elongated muzzle had aloud such sounds. Yet she had managed a soft gurgled growl at the stupidity of the beasts before she rose, turned away from them, and trotted onward toward her destination. Four legs faster than two.

She smirked, recalling the first time she had ever used the gift the old wizard had bestowed upon her, his hope having been that she might gain a queen's crown, and help seal his hold over Rohan.

Poor sweet, simple Ceorl, she thought to herself with a muffled laugh, remembering the handsome sentry at Meduseld she had watched often. Handsome though he was, he had not been as comely as the king's son, nor any of the other hapless young men she had ensnared. Perhaps she had wished for him because she was bored. Rumors of her were becoming known, to all others aside from the king, and young men no longer wished to court her. None wished to fall into the net of her sweet lies, and false promises, trusting in her assurances that she loved them, and would wed them afterwards, though she never did. Or perhaps it was simply because the hunt was so much more difficult because he was already married, and deeply in love with his wife.

Poor honest Ceorl had already rejected her once, before the wizard gifted her the power that she might ensnare the king's son. His words had been to ensnare the prince as quickly as she could, yet she had not wished to, not yet. For Ceorl's usually slender, lovely wife was far gone with child, large as a house, and clumsy as an old cow, and weary, night and day, with the burden of her child. How could such a woman please her husband any more? Surely now, she was certain, with but very little persuasion, Ceorl would give her what she wished before she ensnared her prize, and became queen of Rohan. Still, Ceorl remained steadfast to his wife, spurning her with greater disgust and vehemence than before, even to speaking to the king and all the court, of what she had done. Yet her brother had viciously denounced Ceorl as a cruel liar, and the king, under his counselor's influence, had done nothing to punish her, leaving Ceorl without recourse. And though she hated Ceorl now, she had merely waited and watched, patient as a little spider in the shadows, all the while, discovering the true strength of the power that she held.

For the power did not simply enhance her beauty in the eyes of the king's son, but made her appear in the fairest form any man wished to see. She simply found that by training her thoughts upon the mind of the man she chose, she could draw the image of the woman he loved into herself, and become as that woman appeared. She had found over time, to her amusement, that she could peer from her bedroom window upon the crowd below, and become even as a small girl, were she to focus on the mind of a boy who had a liking for a little maid, or she could appear as aged and bent as an old crone, whose husband of many decades still doted faithfully upon her. She had rejoiced in her new power, waiting patiently until one night, confused by drink, and struggling to make his way home alone, for he had left his friends early to return to his wife, Ceorl had stumbled across her, where she waited for him, upon the path. She had taken on the form of Ceorl's cherished little wife as the woman had been before she had grown large with child, and lured the poor fool into a shadowy, deserted stable by the gate. Befuddled by drink and forgetfulness, and thinking her to be his own dear wife, he at last, gave her what she had long sought for.

A smile of cold humor touched her face as she strode along. For she would never forget the look upon poor, poor Ceorl's face, when he woke up in the straw with her in his arms, and not his little wife! Oh, he'd wept like a child, she remembered, stifling a laugh behind her hand, recalling his hopeless sobs as she's donned her garb and blithely left him behind to his own pathetic sorrow. She had returned hurriedly up the hill to smile like a shy maiden upon the king's son, and offer him a few light words, pretending to be ignorant to his coldness, and then shield herself behind the king's mumbled words and the decrees issued from the lips of her brother as she awaited Ceorl's coming. For Ceorl would surely come, fuming in his wrath, to demand retribution. Or perhaps his wife would come lumbering in womanly rage to demand reprisal on her.

And she had waited there, nervously beside the shriveled form of the king, and her brother, silent upon the king's other side. But neither Ceorl nor his little wife had come. It was not until later, when Ceorl had failed entirely to arrive for his time of duty, that another soldier had come striding swiftly into the hall, distraught. Ceorl's body had been found, the man said his eyes wide with shock and bewilderment, hanging from the rafters of a deserted stable. The very stable where he had unwittingly spent the night with her, she realized.

She had felt nothing. Nothing beyond a faint nervousness that others would discover that she had driven the fool to his death. But naught had ever come of her fears. Why Ceorl took his own life ever remained a mystery to all but her. It had been but a few weeks later when Ceorl's little wife had, in her grief and confusion over the loss of her dear husband, gone into the labor of birth far before her appointed time. The baby boy, small and weak, had barely lived, though his mother had not been as fortunate, passing beyond the bonds of life, to join her slain husband.

She sniffed loudly to herself. She had again taken the news with an empty heart. Fools they had both been, worthless fools to be so weak.

Weak as the pathetic, creeping men, her thoughts grew bitter, the old ragged wizard, and her pale, angry brother. Entrapped with them, she had had nothing to do but wait, for death or release. And during the long dragging days, she had sequestered herself in empty echoing rooms away from the cold eyed wizard and her simpering brother as she slowly taught herself the tongue of the Elves from the wizard's old, musty books.

The portico down which she strode so swiftly, curved sharply about a corner, and fell suddenly down a set of stone steps to an stone paved circle surrounded by trees where several earthen paths conjoined about a small, clattering fountain in the center where a stone Elf maiden with a frozen smile poured an endless stream of water from her pitcher into the basin at her feet. Tentatively, she dropped gradually down the steps and paused at the fountain, glancing about herself. The other pathways, twining through the trees and the thick undergrowth, disappeared quickly from her view, trailing off to uncharted places of this Elven realm. But only one path caught her eye, branching up a low hill through the trees, and toward the rising cliff beyond. Cold glee touched her heart, yet she did not smile. For away and down the slope of the hill, she could hear distantly, bright laughter and many merry voices joined in whimsical song. Elves, she realized, her teeth clenching in irritation, but what set fear crackling along her veins, was the sound of a woman's voice bright with laughter, followed by a man's, their footsteps coming quickly nearer along the portico behind her. So near, that in only a moment, they would come within sight of her.

With a stifled gasp, she darted quickly down a small, narrow path, little used it seemed, that carried her down a steep rill and away from the house.

The voices were nearer now, and she turned nervously about just as the trees broke around her, and she stumbled to a halt in a level, open space.

"Ai! We are well met!" a man's voice behind her speaking in the tongue of the Elves, caused her to spin, and she came face to face with a smiling Elf man who stood within the ample clearing before a table beside a glowing forge. He was a metal smith, she surmised, and remembered now, hearing the musical ringing of a smithy's hammer as she had been trotting through the trees earlier, but had thought nothing of it. In his hand was a candle stick, newly made, and upon the table behind him, was its mate. A long, slender knife rested there as well. Its hilt was elegantly crafted, but its blade was slightly notched, and tarnished. It waited for repair perhaps, though the smith seemed in no hurry to attend to the task, intent as he seemed, on the two candlesticks. And indeed, the knife looked like a tool of war, for which there was no longer an urgent need. She smirked. Or so the Elves thought. His blond hair had been bound back with a strip of leather, and he wore a thick leather apron as well. Leather gloves he had worn, but had set aside.

The man's smile grew as he turned fully toward her, setting the candle stick down beside its mate. "This is a surprise, my love. I thought you were down in the glade with the Lady Galadriel, and King Thranduil's queen, readying everything for the wedding of Lord Elrohir, and his lady, the fair Calassë. Would that I could have aided in that merry endeavor, but my final duties, finishing their gifts, have kept me here. Your gown. It is new?"

Her brows shot up, and she glanced down at herself. Red hair fell about her shoulders now, instead of golden as before, and she glanced up again at the man, her eyes traveling over him as she smiled slowly.

"Fair indeed is the lady-, Calassë," she agreed in the tongue she had painstakingly studied, drawing several steps nearer to the man, "but not as fair as I."

The man's brows raised, "Let it not be said," he laughed softly, "that Aewien, the wife of Arphen, and mother to fair Miriel who claimed the heart of Lord Elrond's eldest, is less beautiful than any other woman of the Eldar." he agreed, and a half grin came to his face as he stepped forward, catching her hand within his own. She drew in a quick breath. His hand was warm, soft in spite of calluses, and possessing gentle strength, like Legolas' hands. But the moment his hand touched hers, Arphen's countenance changed. A look of troubled confusion cast itself across his fair face. He dropped her hand as if it were hot, and stepped back, studying her face as if for the first time, his eyes delving deep into her own, his face no longer smiling.

His brows knit together as a look similar to the red haired maiden she had met came over his face, and she cursed the Elf inwardly as she fell back against the table where he had stood a moment before, causing the candlesticks to rattle slightly, her hands ducking behind her back.

"Lady-," he began softly, his voice one of gentle confusion as she set her jaw, shifting her weight slightly.

"My friend, Arphen," a deep and gravelly voice called suddenly from behind her, and Arphen glanced away from her, missing the look of abject terror that claimed her eyes at the sound of the voice.

Gandalf smiled as he stepped into the clearing where the Elven forge stood, and leaned upon his staff as he smiled upon Arphen who stood in the center of the clearing, looking slightly dazed and confused, his eyes trained with a pleading look upon the wizard.

"Mithrandir," he murmured, stepping forward and offering the wizard a short bow. "I am honored."

He said nothing more, but Gandalf pursed his lips. There seemed in the manner of the Elf, to be something that troubled him. And the air in the clearing seemed to linger with a sense of coldness and unease, though nothing, at first, seemed out of place.

"The ringing of your hammer ended quite some time ago." Gandalf smiled, "There is one who thought to come and see if you wished for any refreshment. Something compelled me to come along as well, though perhaps it is only your dear Aewien's skill at cooking that brought me along," Gandalf kept his voice jovial for the Elf's sake, though Arphen hardly smiled at his words.

"I-," Arphen glanced behind him toward the table where sat a pair of candlesticks. He glanced toward the cooling embers of his forge. "Where is she-," he turned back to Gandalf, a look of depleted confusion cast across his face before a voice behind him, caused a deep breath to swell within the Elf's lungs.

"Arphen!" Aewien, his wife, clad in a merry gown of crimson hemmed in gold, came hurrying from the trail behind Gandalf, bearing a small basket over one arm to stop suddenly, smiling like an eager maiden, a few steps in front of Gandalf. The wizard grinned at this, but more at the look of relief that rose in the face of the Elven smith as he rallied, and grinned broadly at his wife, whose auburn tresses matched so well, the gown she was clad in.

"Aewien," he breathed, and stepped forward, catching his wife's hand, and turning it over in his own, as if seeking for something. He glanced up, searching her eyes, and smiled at what he saw.

"We thought to bring you refreshment," Aewien offered, holding out the basket in her arm, laden with several apples, a warm loaf of new bread, two small crocks of honey and butter, and a fat bunch of grapes.

"You gown is crimson," Arphen observed curiously, ignoring the tempting basket, and glancing between his wife and Gandalf with silent questions in his eyes. "It is not cream white, with silver upon the hems."

"Indeed not," Aewien laughed, glancing over her shoulder at Gandalf who smiled upon the Elven couple. "I have worn this since I rose, this morning. You were gone before I-,"

"Who was here a moment ago?" Arphen cut it, suddenly insistent. "Scant moments ago! Surely you saw her as you came, Master Mithrandir?"

Gandalf drew a step forward at the Elf's agitation, trading a look with the wide eyed lady.

"No one was here when I arrived," Gandalf returned gently.

"Then she fled?" Arphen wondered. "A woman who, in all appearance, looks no different than you-," he glanced pleadingly toward his wife, his grip upon her hand tightening. "Only in the touch of her hand, could I discern she was not mine-, And in her eyes I noted a darkness that is not in yours-,"

A shadow fell across Gandalf's heart as Arphen spoke these words. But darker still the shadow grew as Arphen turned away and paused, studying the candlesticks that stood side by side upon the table.

"Lady Lalaith's knife," he muttered, his voice heavy as if he were suddenly sickened. "It was here-, damaged slightly by one of the Nazgûl, she said. She wished it repaired by Elven hands, but she told me there was little need for haste. I had meant to see to it, when the weddings were all fulfilled-, but-, it is gone."

Gandalf drew in a deep sigh at this, and glanced long between Arphen and his wife before he spoke softly, "Of course it is gone." He gulped, hating the words he knew he must speak. And I know who has taken it."

********

Oh, she hated Elves! She fumed to herself as she pushed her way through the heavy undergrowth, struggling to find a path that would lead her toward the mountain. She unconsciously rubbed at a small scar upon her forearm. It never disappeared, no matter what form she took upon herself, and she thought dark thoughts of Lalaith who had given her this scar, so long before. Oh, she hated that wench! And that cursed little Hobbit who had been with the Elf woman that night, the troublesome little beast who had seen her in her wolf form as she trotted through the shadows of the trees. It seemed as if everyone she hated, was in this little Elven valley! That wretched Hobbit, Lalaith, who now lay claim to Legolas, and even Gandalf! Cursed wizard!

A lock of red hair brushed her cheek, and she only frowned all the more deeply.

Despite herself, she groaned aloud as she pushed it aside. Red hair! By all the dead, she hated red hair! For it recalled to her memory a little frail little boy in Edoras who clung to his grandmother's skirts and met her gaze with large accusing eyes, so like Ceorl's. For his hair, was red. Like his father's.

Clenching her jaw, she closed her eyes, recalling the memory of the Elf called Glorfindel, training her thoughts on him, and she smiled as she felt the change crackling along her veins. Opening her eyes, she sighed, satisfied at the golden hair that spilled again about her shoulders.

She reached into the voluminous sleeve of the dress she wore, and touched a hand to the pommel of the knife hidden there. And at the feel of the smooth haft, she smiled silently to herself.

********

Lalaith felt nothing but happiness and absolute contentment as she strolled slowly along beside Legolas, her arm linked through his as they made their way along a shaded path that snaked beside the foot hill of the mountain. The thickly twined branches above their heads were shot through with spears of golden morning light that lighted in mottled patterns upon the earthen path before them. Legolas sighed softly beside her, reaching with his free hand, and caught her fingers where her arm looped through his. He squeezed gently and she eased nearer to him, resting her cheek contentedly against his shoulder. They had not gone directly down to their kin, but wandered here along these joining, twining paths, beneath the peace of the trees, knowing that soon, they would join their kin, yet content, for the moment, with each other.

She smiled softly to herself, recalling their leisurely morning earlier in their little cottage upon the cliff, savoring the sweet intimacy which their new marriage and their solitude afforded them. They had risen from bed only after the morning had grown late, and eaten breakfast at an unhurried pace as they had every morning since their wedding. Yet knowing that this was the day Elrohir and Calassë were to wed, they had with mixed reluctance and gladness, donned their festive apparel, and left their cherished little haven to join their kin at last.

"A lovely day this is becoming," Lalaith murmured softly.

"Lovely indeed, for the Lady Arien made it so," Legolas returned, a teasing smile upon his face as he glanced askance, at his wife. "She knew you would be walking beneath her light today, and wished to pay obeisance to your beauty."

"Ai, my husband," Lalaith scolded softly, though she smiled as she did, and snuggled more closely against him as they walked. "Shall you never grow weary of praising my beauty?"

"No," Legolas quipped with a chuckle. "Though I could speak of other things, if you wish for me, too.

"For," Legolas continued, "I could speak of your valor, of your courage undaunted in battle. Or I could speak of the gentleness of your heart, of your kindness, and compassion. And your true, unwavering friendship."

Legolas drew to a stop and reached for Lalaith's hands, turning her so that she faced him.

"I could speak of many things," he breathed, his hands squeezing her own gently. "For I love all that you are, Lalaith nin."

"I have faults, Legolas," she murmured, ducking her head like a shy maiden. "This, you know well-,"

"Yes," he cut in gently, lifting a hand and touching her chin, tilting her gaze upward, to meet his own. "I know it. And you know that I too have faults, yet you still love me." He smiled warmly and breathed, "Any small weakness you have, Lalaith, is nothing compared to the goodness that is your very essence."

Lalaith sighed softly, studying her husband's eyes, the light that shone in them, and the soft curve of his mouth drawn up in a boyish smile.

"And shall you still adore me so, when we have been married for hundreds of years, when I am large with child, and cry inconsolably over nothing?" she returned teasingly, studying his smiling eyes.

Legolas' smile curled upward as he gathered Lalaith to him, and held her close. "I shall only love you more, then," he breathed against her hair.

Lalaith blushed at the sincerity and passion with which her husband spoke. She smiled against his chest and murmured, "You make me so happy, Legolas."

"And you make me happy, Lalaith. More than can be expressed in any tongue."

Lalaith sighed contentedly, and nuzzled against the warm strength of his chest, quietly contemplating the steady beat of his heart.

"Your soul is a part of mine," Legolas murmured, his hand smoothing softly over her hair, "as mine is a part of yours. Ever will we be one until Arda is unmade, and surely, even beyond that-," He stirred slightly, and she drew back to peer up at his eyes.

"We complete each other Lalaith," he sighed warmly. "We strengthen each other. We are as all those who have truly loved through the ages. As Beren and Lúthien, as Melian and Thingol," he smiled briefly. "As Aragorn and Arwen-," His forehead came to rest against hers, and he hissed with soft passion, "Glad I am that I make you happy, Lalaith. For nothing else brings me greater joy."

Lalaith smiled, and tipped face upward, her mouth seeking his, before a sound unexpected, broke through the silence surrounding them, the sound of soft laughter and of light feet hurrying toward them along the trail behind them.

Glancing at each other in silent question, they broke apart as a breathless woman darted suddenly into sight around a bend in one of the branching trails, her eyes raising suddenly to find theirs.

Lalaith smiled at the sight of her, and Legolas too, grinned at the maiden's surprise.

"Ithilwen!" Lalaith greeted with a laugh.

********

"Father," Elladan called out, raising a hand in greeting as he strode swiftly across the green sward toward Elrond where the Lord of Imladris stood back beside Celeborn as well as Aragorn, King Thranduil, and Haldir. Gimli and four of the Hobbits stood near as well, a number of young Elfling lads scattered among the Pheriain. Peregrin, Elladan noted with a furrowed brow, was seated upon the grass off on the edge of the wide meadow, between Elrohir and Calassë. Though the Hobbit was clearly not playing the part of the diligent chaperone between besotted lovers, for the three of them were somber faced, the head of the Hobbit and the maiden were near one another as they spoke in furtive whispers as Elrohir hovered near, listening in grave seriousness to their words, the three of them entirely ignorant of the festive air in the meadow before them. A group of bright eyed maidens, with Arwen, Galadriel and Queen Aseaiel twined braded ropes of flowers up the railing that edged the stone steps leading down into the garden, singing a lilting song as they did. Bilbo was sitting upon a chair beside one of the tables, and the other three stood nearby, their coats shed, and the sleeves of their little homespun shirts rolled up to their elbows. The Elflings stood about Gimli and the Hobbits, vying for their attention, the loose sleeves of their tunics humorously rolled in the same manner as the Hobbits' shirt sleeves. The Elves and Aragorn likewise, wore no robes but rather rough, plainly woven tunics. For all of them had aided in the moving of many tables and chairs earlier onto the grassy meadow in anticipation for the evening's ceremony and festivities.

"Elladan!" Elrohir called out in welcome as he turned, and nodded toward his son, and Miriel, hurrying along at his side. "Miriel. It is good to see you both." His eyes twinkled with a merry light, and Elladan's heart smote him that the purpose of his mission had need to be so grave. "Are you so soon finished with your-, ah, work in my study?"

Elrond paused, studying the troubled look in his son's eyes, and his smile faded. "What is it, my son?"

"There has come a matter of some urgency, father. One which I must speak of with you, as well as with Master Peregrin, and with Lady Calassë."

Elrond's brows furrowed, and he gestured toward the sitting trio, bidding his father in law a short farewell as he and his son, with Miriel, started toward the two Elves and the Hobbit who were seated away from the others, upon the grass.

"Does it concern the wolf Master Peregrin claims to have seen?" Elrond asked in soft tones. "Erestor assured me, there was no wolf. That young Peregrin was-, mistaken."

Elladan traded a grave look with his betrothed. "And I am certain that Erestor is correct," he agreed. "But-,"

"But there is still a danger here, my lord," Miriel cut in urgently. "A danger far more deadly than a wayward wolf."

Elrond seemed slightly taken aback by these words as he glanced toward his future daughter in law.

"And what would that danger be?" he asked, his voice deepened, and somber, to which Miriel and Elladan glanced toward each other, at a loss.

"I saw her change, occasionally," Calassë's soft words answered in response to something the young Hobbit has asked her as Miriel with the two lords beside her, stopped before the Hobbit and his companions. Elrohir glanced up at his father and brother, and rose to his feet nodding a silent greeting, but neither the Hobbit nor the golden haired maiden noted them, so engrossed were they, in their conversation.

"But she only ever changed into the image of Lady Éowyn to mock her brother, and then only briefly," Calassë continued. "Never did she appear as anyone-, or anything else while she dwelt at Orthanc. For she could not even take upon her the form of an orc. I know, for she tried, but could not do it. Only the Children of Ilúvatar, close kin to her, mortals and Elves, could she imitate-,"

"But I saw her eyes!" the young Hobbit continued earnestly. "They were hers, Calassë!" the Hobbit released a noisy sigh as his arms rose and fell in restrained frustration.

Calassë sighed as well, her eyes worried, and shrugged in silent helplessness. "If you are right, Pippin-," she muttered, her words breaking off into ominous silence.

"Calassë," Miriel muttered softly, squeezing Elladan's hand as the words the two spoke, weighed down upon her heart. Calassë turned her eyes up toward her friend, and her already worried expression grew only more so at the look upon Miriel's face.

"My lord," she murmured to Elrond as she rose to her feet. But Calassë's eyes did not leave Miriel's as Pippin too, stood, dusting himself off, his soft little face troubled and tense.

"You speak of a woman who can change her appearance, Calassë? An ally of Saruman?" Miriel murmured softly in the Common Tongue, that the Hobbit could understand. She felt herself trembling, and Elladan at this, tightened his grip upon her hand.

Calassë nodded, her face grown unsure.

"She's from Rohan," Pippin offered.

"She could see into the very heart of a man, and change into the image of the woman he finds most beautiful," Calassë offered wearily.

Miriel's face crumpled into her hand at this, recalling the words of the woman she had met upon the portico, the smug victory in her eyes when she had spoken of seeing Glorfindel upon the veranda.

"But surely-," Calassë glanced pleadingly down at Pippin, "she was slain by wolves as Saruman said, and even if she lives, her power has died-,"

"If only that were so."

The warm gravelly voice behind her was filled with wistful sympathy, and Miriel turned to see Gandalf striding near with her parents arm in arm, behind him. Her eyes fixed upon her father, whose face, still slightly smudged with soot, appeared slightly stricken, her mother glancing at her husband in attentive sympathy.

"For I am afraid that the little spider is indeed, quite alive, and more poisonous than ever."

"Forgive me, Master Gandalf," Miriel offered, bowing her head toward the wizard. "Who-?"

"Her name, my dear," Gandalf sighed deeply, "is Greta."

A soft choking cry broke quietly from Calassë's throat at the sound of the name, and Gandalf turned sympathetic eyes upon her as Elrohir moved near, sliding an arm about her shoulders protectively.

Gandalf sighed as he murmured, "Greta has come to Rivendell."

********

"Legolas?" Greta called, her voice low and sweet as she pushed the door of the small cottage open, and stepped into the warm shadows of the fore chamber.

"Legolas?" she called again, her voice echoing in the silence.

With a low sigh, she shut the door behind her, and stood alone a long moment, her eyes closed, as she drank in the scent of the room. Legolas. She could remember him well, the warm rich scent of him as she stood so near to him in the stable in Edoras, his mouth hovering so near her own. Would that she had spoken the tongue of the Elves then, Greta lamented, opening her eyes, and drawing near the table where two trays sat, the remnants of breakfast growing cold on two plates. She would have convinced him then, that she was indeed the woman he wished her to be. She would have achieved her desire, then. Two goblets sat upon the table as well, both still half full of sweet fruity wine, and one Greta picked up, drawing it to her lips. This had been Legolas' cup, she sighed to herself remembering his scent as she ran her tongue over the cool metal of the rim before tipping the cup, and draining the sweet contents.

With a quick breath, she clapped the goblet down, and glanced at the other one with a twisted half smile before her hand shot out, slapping the goblet over with the back of her hand. The goblet's crimson contents splashed like spilt blood from a sudden wound across the table as the cup itself rolled in a slow arc toward the edge of the table where it teetered, then tipped, falling over the edge with a clank to the stone floor below.

She smirked to herself as she turned away, and rose up the steps into the wide bedchamber fixing her eyes upon two wooden trunks carved with intricate designs and set with wrought metal. The sat near one wall, and slowly Greta dropped to her knees between them, lifting up the lid of the first.

Women's clothing, Lalaith's, Greta realized with a sneer. She snatched the neckline of a dark blue gown, and whipped it out, holding it up to the late morning light. The throat had been delicately embroidered with gold thread, as had the sleeves been, which tapered to fit against Lalaith's slender wrists. Surely it was one of her favorites, to be folded with such care, and laying at the top.

With this thought, Greta snatched the Elven knife folded in her sleeve, and drew it out. With a cold laugh she stabbed the helpless gown, punching through the cloth and shredding through it once, twice, and again, and again, until the fabric hung in limp ribbons. She cast the ruined gown aside, and it crumpled like a slain enemy to the floor as she snatched the lid of the second trunk and threw it open greedily, laughing aloud in delight at the sight of Legolas' garb. With wild fervor, Greta began digging through the piles of cloth. Beneath a layer of finer robes, she noted the green and brown jerkin she remembered he had been wearing when they had first met. Pausing in her feverish search, she sighed and drew the thick garment out, bringing it to her face hungrily drinking in the scent of him as she closed her eyes.

"Legolas," she breathed aloud. "I should have been yours. I wanted you. You should have loved me-,"

Her words failed her as her eyes drew open, and strayed up to the bed. A wide, magnificent bed of polished wood with high posts, and delicate gossamer curtains hanging about it, wafting softly in a gentle breeze that stirred the air in the room.

Greta's jaw grew tight as her eyes strayed the length of it, and anger grew hot in her belly at the renewed realization that Lalaith had claimed him, and she had not.

Cursing Lalaith aloud, Greta slammed the lid of Lalaith's trunk roughly shut and with an angry grunt, she grasped the wooden trunk by the fine, ornate handles on both sides, and hoisted it up in her arms. Hefting its weight, she made her way around the dais the bed rested upon, and through the billowing gossamer curtains that bordered a balcony overlooking the valley.

Cool wind washed her face as she hefted the small wooden trunk with a grunt to the sturdy stone balustrade, and with a satisfied smile, glanced over the side, peering downward at the rocky slope below her, carven white stone interspersed with trees and shrubbery clinging to the steep slope.

Without further hesitation, Greta let the trunk tip, and with a loud scrape, it slipped from the stone, and hurtled downward through space until in a shattering crash, the trunk smashed upon the slope of jutting white rock below. Shards of wood and colorful fragments of cloth spilled down the cliff, fluttering into the silence of the wind brushed trees that clung to the sides of the steep slope.

With a satisfied sneer at the scene below her, Greta dusted her hands free, and turned away, her grin falling away into a gasp of shock at the sight of the fair Elf woman before her clad in a loose gown of light weight cloth of sky blue bound beneath her breasts with a ribbon, and hanging over her body in loose folds. Her golden hair hung loose about slender shoulders, and her blue eyes were wide in disappointed shock.

"Ithilwen!" the Elf woman gasped. "I was gathering water from the fountain below for the ladies, and I saw you-, Why did you come here, to the private dwelling of Lalaith and Prince Legolas? Why have you treated Lalaith's things thusly?"

"Because I hate her!" Greta grated fiercely through her teeth. "As I hate you all!"

The Elf woman fell back a step, her eyes searching Greta's deeply, cold fear drawing across her expression as her gaze pierced the shadows of Greta's soul, and a hand flew in a protective gesture to her stomach, which Greta noticed for the first time, was swollen slightly. She carried a child within her, and at this realization, the cold sneer began to return to Greta's face.

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