In a moment, her whole world plunged into a black void of nothingness. And before her, encompassing all that her vision took in, was an eye, a great, burning slit of an eye. She remembered seeing it once before, for a brief moment, those many months before at her uncle’s council in Imladris. When Frodo had first presented the One Ring to the Council, and Gimli had struck it with his axe, she had seen, for a brief moment, a vision of this great burning eye.
But now it was before her, raging, and real. Taking up all that she saw, and she could see not escape it. No refuge was there for her, from its blazing gaze. Within the empty blackness of the slitted eye, she could see, almost as if it were a reflection of what the eye could see, a vague image. A high white city, it appeared to be, and within the city, a tree, dead and dried as a white bone, in a stone courtyard. Though its image was surreal and transparent, reflected against the nothingness that was within the eye. In a moment, the vision was gone, washed away like dust before a great wind. For now, the empty slitted eye had turned its focus upon her.
Naked she felt before its gaze, unsheltered, friendless in the black void that had swallowed her world.
It surveyed her, briefly, before a black wave of furious surprise rippled out from the eye.
“So,” a voice growled low in a weak though hate filled hiss that seethed from the eye, “At last, we meet again, young one. Long have I wondered where you had fled. Long have you eluded my servants. And now, you dare to show your face to me once more? Insolent child. Tell me your purpose. Tell me of the small one I saw. The Hobbit, he called himself. Has he my ring? Where is it?” She could feel a blackened will prying at her, as if struggling to know her mind. To force her to reveal her thoughts. But she steeled her heart, and fought the evil will of the eye. It could not know of Frodo, and the lonely quest to Mordor that he and Sam had taken. For were she to reveal her knowledge, all would be lost.
“Think you that you are beyond my reach?” The voice from the eye hissed, vile and angry that she would not so easily open her mind to its will. “My ring will yet return to me. As you will. You cannot escape your doom, fairest child of the stars.”
A man’s voice nearby cried out suddenly, and the black nothingness of the void that had surrounded her, and the searing, wretched pain of the blazing eye vanished.
She found herself kneeling upon the stone floor, sweat soaking her limbs, her body drained and limp, and she would have fallen, but for warm, firm hands at her shoulders, that steadied her and held her up.
Pippin, shivering and pale, and damp with sweat, lay flat upon his back before her, staring blankly up at the ceiling and gasping.
Aragorn knelt weakly beside her, and Lalaith realized he had been her savior. He had wrenched the stone from her hands, but he had managed to loose it. The palantir was now tumbling away rumbling as it rolled from them over the stone floor, almost as if seeking some way of escape. But its tumbling ended abruptly as Gandalf strode near, and cast a cloak over it, halting its flight.
“Lalaith,” another voice murmured her name. It was Legolas’ voice, she recalled wearily, and she realized it was he she felt kneeling at her back, his hands cupping her shoulders, firmly, yet gently, his solid touch stilling the wild pounding of her heart and the fear that trembled through her body at the memory of the blazing eye, and the city within its sight, the city she knew could only have been Minas Tirith, and the white tree of the king that Elrond had taught her of.
As if from a distance, she could hear Gandalf tromping near, his stern voice scolding the yet inert Hobbit, but she hardly heard as she felt Legolas turn her about, her weak form complying easily as his face, etched with worry, came into her view.
“Are you hurt?” He demanded softly, and to his question, she lowered her eyes to her hands, half expecting to see her palms charred and blistered. But they were not, though they still trembled, cupped upward as if they still held the palantir between them.
She shuddered, and said nothing. Her tongue felt heavy within her mouth. And all of her body felt weighted, as if from a long trial that had wracked her endurance to the utmost. Even with the uruks on the Plains of Rohan, she had not felt so exhausted. The will of the great burning eye had taken much from her. And its horrific image, as well as the words it had spoken, still washed her mind in fear in spite of Legolas’ nearness, and the protective care she saw within his eyes.
Nearby, Éowyn had lowered herself to her knees before Aragorn. Her hand rested gently upon his arm, and she was studying him with as much tender concern in her eyes, as Legolas held in his own gaze for Lalaith.
Lalaith blinked at Éowyn’s tender expression, but was too weary to wonder what it meant.
“Lalaith?” Legolas continued, when she said nothing.
She looked up at him, her eyes pleading, for the hateful staring eye still burned through her memory. And heedless of the many eyes watching, Legolas lowered his head and pressed a tender kiss to her cold brow.
“Say something-,” He murmured, drawing back.
The warm touch of his lips against her face brought her again to reality, and she shuddered, suddenly needing his reassurance, and leaned into him, grateful to be folded into his more than willing arms.
“Don’t let him find me. Don’t let him take me.” She whimpered. Her voice was small and fearful, and she felt a pang of shame.
But Legolas seemed not to care, for she felt him nodding, his chin against her hair. “I won’t.” He whispered.
“Who Lalaith?” Another voice asked, and she knew it was Aragorn, recovered from his brief touch against the palantir.
She felt his hand upon her arm, and she glanced at his familiar face at his furrowed, worried expression, and beyond his shoulder, Éowyn, who sat back upon her feet. Théoden’s fair niece was no longer looking at Aragorn. Her hands were folded in her lap as she glanced, almost sadly, away. Beyond Éowyn, Gandalf knelt over Pippin while Merry hovered at the wizard’s shoulder.
Pippin was pale and his movements were weak where he lay against a pile of robes, but he was breathing, thankfully and speaking as well, though in soft broken words. His words were weak, and Lalaith could not hear him.
“Who wants to hurt you?” Aragorn asked again, softly, gently squeezing his hand upon her arm. “Who did you see?”
Lalaith flinched at the memory Aragorn’s murmured words had brought back, and she shuddered again. Legolas’ thumb drew across her cheek, bringing her a measure of courage, and she muttered, “Him, I saw him.”
“Him?” Legolas queried softly.
Comforted by the touch of his warm arms about her, she quietly muttered, “I saw Sauron.”
“Ai,” Legolas breathed, and she felt Aragorn shifting his weight beside her, though the brotherly touch of his hand did not leave her arm.
“He asked me of the Ring.” She gulped. “I told him nothing. But-, I think he believes Pippin has it.”
“Sauron thinks that, does he?”
The abrupt voice came from above her, and she lifted her head to see Gandalf towering above, gazing at her with a stern, though gentle expression upon his face. Beyond him, Merry was kneeling at Pippin’s side, the younger Hobbit sitting up, somewhat recovered, as his older kinsman, having been given a cup of something, offered him slow sips. At Gandalf’s words, Merry glanced over his shoulder, and gazed somberly at Lalaith before he turned back to Pippin again.
She nodded. “He spoke to me of Pippin. He did not say his name, for I do not think he knew it. He asked if he had the Ring.” She drew in a breath, and leaned slightly back from Legolas, and he let her go a little. “But I told him nothing. Not even of Frodo.”
“Good.” Gandalf shook his head, and a smile turned at his lips as his wrinkled eyes studied her own. “We would have been lost, had you weakened. Your strength of will overcame Sauron’s. You did well, my dear.”
She smiled at the praise she saw in Gandalf’s eyes, and felt a surge of strength in herself again. But remembering the last words that had seethed from Sauron’s eye, her thoughts grew troubled and her smile faded.
“Oh, but Gandalf-,” she stuttered, drawing herself from Legolas’ sheltered embrace, and looking plaintively up at the wizard whose expression grew to match her own as he awaited her next words, “Sauron knows I am the daughter of Elbereth,” she drew in a tremulous breath, her voice filling with worry, “Mithrandir, he knows who I am.”
At this, Gandalf’s face became grave, and he drew in a deep, heavy breath.