Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Epilogue
And also in memory of Cynthia, our own Erinhue's sweetheart who was taken home in these last few weeks.
A warm, sweetly scented fragrance of late summer flowers wafted from the high snow-tipped mountains to the east as Lalaith stood at Hasufel's head, stroking his copper brown neck slowly, listening to the soft whisper of flowing water as the Bruinen slipped by them, down the long sloping bank from where their company stood.
The horse, a gift from Rohan, was fully saddled, and a warm riding habit of midnight blue was cast about her shoulders for the journey she would make with her husband and the retinue of Elves from Eryn Lasgalen and Lothlórien as well as the king's company of Gondorian knights, Men and Elves all clad for travel with their horses beside them. Here, upon the knoll above the ford in the river where Arwen had once held off the nine wraiths of Sauron to save a weakened Frodo, the Hobbits would part from their company. The Hobbits' path would take them now down the hill to the ford of the river and up the bank again away into the trees and to the lands beyond, while she and her company would turn south, following the road that twined along the foothills of the Hithaiglir that stretched away to the south, their lofty heads still brushed with white as wisps of cloud clung to their peaks like white fluttering banners marching away down toward the gap of Rohan where their company would part ways again, the Elves and Gimli riding northward toward Lothlórien and Eryn Lasgalen, Gimli keeping his promise to explore Fangorn with them, and the Men on to Gondor riding on through Rohan toward their own homeland.
Haldir and Lothriel stood side by side among the others, Lothriel's hand upon the growing swell of her stomach as he husband's hand cupped her small shoulder in a supportive gesture. Lalaith glanced at Lothriel briefly. The glow of motherhood rested brightly upon Lothriel's countenance, and as their eyes met, the two women traded a warm, sisterly smile.
Legolas stood also at Lalaith's side, a light brown riding cloak about his own firm shoulders and, Rana's reins clutched lightly in his hands. Gimli stood a short space away, Arod at his side as the Dwarf humphed softly and shifted his weight glancing at the ground, and moving a gloved hand to dab lightly at the corner of one eye. Elladan and Elrohir with their young wives, gentled eyed Miriel her golden red hair twined in a plait and sweet, beautiful Calassë with her own golden hair left freely hanging, stood near Lalaith also. And now and again, Lalaith traded glances with her two kinsmen, though none spoke. They stood somber and silent, having already given their farewells as they watched Aragorn and Arwen bidding farewell to Elrond, as Galadriel and Celeborn stood back, their countenances somber as well, and drawn down.
Near to the bank where the path dipped down toward the placidly flowing river stood the Hobbits, the four younger all clad in rich cloaks gifted to them by the Elves, and with ponies, two, Frodo's and Pippin's, gifted to them from the Men of Gondor, which they would ride upon as they journeyed back to The Shire. Sam stood near the head of his beloved Bill, and Merry was brushing gently at the nose of his own pony, Stybba, a gift from Rohan, as Hasufel was, though his eyes, as the eyes of the other Hobbits were fixed upon the riders of Gondor soon to depart. Bilbo stood beside Gandalf who was leaning thoughtfully upon his staff, the wizard and elder Hobbit slightly apart from the younger four. Bilbo would be remaining in Imladris while his kin rode away to the Shire, Lalaith knew. And as she studied the small aging hero, Bilbo's eye caught hers. The dear little Hobbit smiled at her glance, and for a moment, she smiled as well.
Yet her heart grew heavy again as she turned her eyes back and watched Elrond embracing his daughter Arwen, making no effort to hide his tears, the words between them quiet and unheard, drowned in the soft whisper of the Bruinen as it slid, glinting golden in the sunlight down and away toward the west and south.
"Though we bid you farewell Lalaith, it is not so painful a thing, for we know that we shall not be bidden to offer you an everlasting farewell one day. Shall we ever see Arwen again, after she is-, gone to that which awaits the souls of Men?" Elladan muttered, his voice heavy, his eyes down, his face tight with pain at the scene before him. "Shall there be any hope that one day our family will be together always?"
Miriel moved nearer to Elladan at this, and slipped her slender arm silently around her husband's waist.
"I believe we will, one day," Elrohir answered softly, though his own face, turned to his brother, reflected Elladan's pain. "Elves and Men would not be made so close kin were there no reason for it, were there no glory to be shared between our kin beyond the end. When Arda is remade, and Elves and Men and all that are good, dwell together in the bliss beyond bliss."
Elrohir turned his eyes upon his beloved at this, his gaze grown tender as he drew Calassë close to himself, and pressed a tender kiss to her smooth brow.
"Such hope Finrod spoke of," Elladan sighed, a soft catch in his voice.
"Estel we called him once," Lalaith murmured, her eyes fixed upon Aragorn as Elrond with visible reluctance, and poorly concealed pain, drew back from his daughter, and turn to the Man who had claimed her love.
"Care for her well," Elrond commanded gently, his voice strong and deep as ever, though it shook a little as he spoke. "Make her happy. In all that you do, honor her."
"I will, my Lord, Elrond," Aragorn promised, bowing low before the noble son of Eärendil who had fostered him from infancy. But such a farewell was not enough for Elrond, and he stepped forward and drew the King of Gondor into a close embrace which they held for a long moment before drawing back from each other, tears in both men's eyes, their hands clapped firmly upon the shoulders of the other.
"And hope he brought," Lalaith continued, feeling her jaw setting tight as Galadriel and Celeborn stepped forward to bid Aragorn and their granddaughter farewell.
"To whom?" Elladan choked softly.
"To Men," Lalaith answered, "And Elves. To both kindreds. To Dwarves and the Pheriannath, to all that strives for good in Middle-earth." Her soft voice was furtive as she touched Elladan upon the arm, her face uplifted to his, as his eyes, pleading and pained, met hers. "That we cannot yet see beyond the end, does not mean there is nothing there. Such is the purpose of estel, Elladan! That we can love mortals, that they can love us, that such friendships as we share with them can form between us, there is a reason! Raw hope is all that we have, but it is enough, is it not? We shall see her again. We shall see both of them again, beyond the ending of Arda. I am certain of it."
Elladan said nothing though he sighed, and placed his hand upon Lalaith's shoulder as Arwen, her hand in Aragorn's cast a final glance at her brothers. Sadness and joy danced behind the surface of her eyes before the Queen of Gondor turned away, and gracefully swung into the saddle of her cream white horse. But her husband did not immediately mount his own horse. And with the reigns of Brego, his own faithful mount in his hands, Aragorn's own gaze came to rest upon the Hobbits. He nodded briefly to his queen and the waiting riders and turned away from them to move slowly toward Frodo and the others.
Wordlessly, Elladan dropped his hand from her shoulder, and with a grin and a nod to their mortal kinsman, both he and Elrohir and their ladies stepped back as if they sensed this farewell to be for Lalaith and Legolas as well.
Aragorn's eyes met her own and grew soft as if he could sense the deepest of her thoughts as Lalaith and Legolas, stepped forward toward him and the Hobbits.
"Namárië, mellyn nin," Frodo murmured with a sigh, his warm blue eyes looking up into their faces as they paused before him.
"Navaer, gwedeir nin," Lalaith returned, her eyes finding his before a soft sound caused her to look up. Gimli, as well as Gandalf had drawn nearer to where the three stood though Bilbo had held back, and as Lalaith gazed about upon the dear, familiar faces of her friends, especially when her eyes trailed over the four Hobbits who stood side by side in their gear and traveling cloaks and came to rest upon the sweet gaze of Pippin, a heavy lump formed in her throat that seemed to push its way upward until it dissolved into wetness, and spilled out her eyes in tears.
Behind her, from among the group of Elves from Eryn Lasgalen and Lothlórien, Lothriel shifted her weight slightly, a soft sound came from her lips, and she whispered something furtively, joyfully to Haldir though Lalaith did not turn her head.
"Well," Gimli grunted at last, breaking the silence between all of them as he harrumphed softly in his throat and brushed a glove furtively across his eyes before slapping it noisily at his side. "Here we are."
"Indeed," Gandalf returned, leaning upon his staff and smiling over their group, his twinkling eyes meeting Lalaith's. "Here we are at last, when all danger is past, and the purpose of our Fellowship fulfilled. And everything we set out to do, has come to pass, and there is reason for joy. Why then, these tears?"
The last question was asked as a gentle sigh, for he as all of them, knew the answer. And Lalaith, as she glanced about her, from her beloved Legolas, to Gimli, across the Hobbits, and to Gandalf and Aragorn, their eyes as well, were all dimmed with mist. Beyond them, but not far, she caught Bilbo's eye where he stood alone, his cane in his hand, and he smiled softly, sadly to her. She dipped her head to the ground, her heart too full to speak.
"Is there no purpose for this bond of love that has formed between us all, if it is to be severed forever after this brief hour of life passes, and never formed again beyond the world? Gandalf sighed softly, and Lalaith lifted her eyes, her heart twinging strangely at his words.
"Ah, my friends," Gandalf sighed and gripped his staff, tipping his head as his smile traveled over them, his gaze lingering upon the stalwart Hobbits for whom he had always felt such esteem. "I shall not say we should not weep, for not all tears are evil. Though sad is our parting, there is reason to hope."
No more was said, but light rested upon her heart, as warm as sunlight upon her skin. The four Hobbits studied Gandalf with lightened countenances and trembling smiles, and Gimli ducked his head toward the ground softly harrumphing as he mopped a hand across his face.
Gandalf sighed then again, and smiled once more upon them all before he squared his aged shoulders, and drew back.
"Well," Gandalf called out, his voice merry now, and carrying over the Elves and Men about them. "The sun is growing higher, and you all have far to go!"
Elrond at these words, strode near to Gandalf, a taut, though kindly smile upon his face glancing between the companies of travelers, the four small Hobbits who were to follow one path, and the Elves and Men who were to go another.
"Our people wish you a fair journey, and may Elbereth's stars shine gladly upon you," Elrond spoke, his voice carrying over them all, though his eyes rested gently upon Frodo and his three companions. Here, he lifted his head, his eyes trailing away from the Hobbits, and rested warmly upon Lalaith for a moment.
"And may we meet in joy, again, one day."
These last words he spoke as his eyes trailed to Arwen before his voice broke, and he contented himself with a brief bow to the companies, his hand upon his heart in blessing and fairwell which gesture all present returned.
The Hobbit's turned to their horses at this, with sighs and dragging feet all around, each bidding farewell to Bilbo, Frodo lingering a long moment on his uncle's shoulder, before they mounted their ponies and urged their small mounts away from Bilbo, clopping down the fork in the trail that led slowly down the bank of the river. With a soft splash, the hooves of Frodo's pony, christened Strider, entered the water followed by the others, all of them waving back now and again as their ponies picked their way across the shallow ford of the Bruinen.
Lalaith, feeling a gentle pull upon her heart, caught up her skirts and hurried to the edge of the rill the more easily to watch them as their ponies picked their way across the placid stream. After a moment, she felt a presence at her side, and turned, seeing Lothriel beside her, smiling as she linked her arm through Lalaith's. Legolas stood a pace behind the women, Rana's and Hasufel's reins in his hands.
"I felt something," Lothriel murmured in Lalaith's ear as the Hobbits' ponies splashed out of the river onto pebbled bank, their hooves clattering softly upon the stones that grew dark and dappled with the silver spray cast up by the ponies' careful steps.
For a brief moment, Lalaith turned, and Lothriel's eyes were filled with a bright secret.
"I felt my little Halmir move, Lalaith!" Lothriel whispered. "Only just a moment ago!"
Lalaith's eyes grew bright at this, and she reached her hand across, clasping her friend's hand before she turned her eyes back to the Hobbits as they made their way in single file upon the backs of their patient little ponies up the low trail that eased between the high ledges where the trees stood in stately rows as soldiers, standing guard to honor their passing.
Frodo, at the head of the small column of four, glanced back at the last moment before the trees swallowed him, and met her eyes.
Dear Frodo, Lalaith murmured softly as she raised her hand in farewell, and smiled at the Hobbit's gentle grin. The stalwart little Ringbearer, who had passed through so much, and sacrificed so greatly to defeat evil.
A ragged sigh broke past her lips as Frodo, his eyes ever upon her, faded away into the trees. And with that, Lalaith turned her gaze upon the honest faced little Hobbit riding behind him who had come so long ago through the gates looking frightened and unsure at Aragorn's side, seeking news of his injured friend, Frodo.
Faithful Sam, she mused. Without him, Frodo could never have achieved all that he had, and the good that had been brought about, would not have been. Before his own faithful pony Bill slipped into the trees, Sam too, turned and briefly met her eyes, casting her a fleeting grin before the trees blocked her view of him.
And sweet Merry, she sighed again, who had suffered so much with her as prisoners of the Uruks, and had so fearlessly ridden to Gondor with the Rohirrim to find Pippin and her. Merry too turned back, caught her eye and grinned. He lifted his hand and waved merrily before he too, was swallowed in the trees at the crest of the small ridge.
And brave, blessed Pippin. True hearted friend. Her heart quavered with a bittersweet pang as Pippin with whom she had passed through so much turned his sweet face toward her and met her eyes. But he did not slip into the trees right away as the others had. For a moment, he drew his own pony to a halt and paused, his eyes upon her where Lalaith stood, her hand raised in farewell. Almost he seemed ready to turn back to her as he gulped, tears wet upon his cheeks even as he smiled bravely to her.
"Go, dear Pippin," Lalaith whispered under her breath, her hand waving now a little. "Go back to your kin and friends who have long been bereft of your light heart. There is joy and gladness there waiting for you. Go. Be happy."
And as if he heard her words, Pippin drew in a deep breath, nodded to her one last time, and urged his pony gently one. And then-, he was gone, nothing more than the soft damp tracks of four small ponies marching up the bank into the trees to show that they had ever passed that way. A wind wafted softly down the river valley, stirring the green branches of the trees, and flashing the leaves in scattering shades of sunlight.
At Lalaith's side Lothriel gave her arm a squeeze, and drew away, turning back to Haldir, who smiled at his lady's approach.
Lalaith turned as well, and met Legolas' eyes where he stood, smiling warmly upon her. Her dearest friend, her trusted companion, her husband, her lover, the whole of her world.
A smile drew up the corners of her mouth as well as she turned and made her way to where he stood, waiting for her, a small grin drawing up the corners of his mouth. Drawing Hasufel's reins into her own hands, she smiled up into the warm, adoring eyes of her beloved.
"Let us go home to Eryn Lasgalen," she murmured softly. And to this, Legolas smiled gently and nodded as he reached for her hand, and clasped it warmly within his own.
"And thus it was. A Fourth Age of Middle-earth began. And the Fellowship of the Ring, though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended." ~Frodo
To my dear TORC friends: Thank you so much for following this story for the past two and a half years, and thank you for thinking well enough of my writing to award me with the Inkling Award in the White Council Awards. You are marvelous people, and I am honored to know you. Though I know in writing this story I have not been strictly faithful to the story Tolkien wrote, I hope that I have done justice to the essence of that great man's work, and the values and messages that he taught. My intent has always been to write in such a way that those who read my work might stand a little taller, treat others a little better, and be a little happier because of what they've read. I hope that I have done that for you. I am truly grateful for your faith in me, for your comments, and your encouragement, your insights and suggestions that have all helped make my story and my writing better. Because you have all truly helped me to improve as a writer, and as a person, and for that, I cannot thank you enough.
Though I know in writing this story I have not been strictly faithful to the story Tolkien wrote, I hope that I have done justice to the essence of that great man's work, and the values and messages that he taught. My intent has always been to write in such a way that those who read my work might stand a little taller, treat others a little better, and be a little happier because of what they've read. I hope that I have done that for you.
I am truly grateful for your faith in me, for your comments, and your encouragement, your insights and suggestions that have all helped make my story and my writing better. Because you have all truly helped me to improve as a writer, and as a person, and for that, I cannot thank you enough.
I Melain berio le. Ná Elbereth veria le. Ná elenath dín síla erin rád o chuil lín.
The Valar keep you. May Elbereth protect you. May her stars shine on the path of your life.