“There was no lie in Pippin’s eyes.”
Lalaith sighed somberly as Gandalf’s grave tones echoed through the great hall, her eyes following him from where she stood as the white robed wizard strode thoughtfully before the fire within the center of the room. The gown Éowyn had gifted to her, hung limply from her shoulders in the warm, still air, the long flowing sleeves hanging against the skirt like the wilted leaves of a flower as her hands clasped each other.
Behind her, Legolas stood motionless, his hands cupping her shoulders lightly, a simple gesture of protectiveness, bringing much needed comfort to her heart as Aragorn and Gimli stood on either side of the two Elves, their eyes riveted, as were hers, upon the wizard. Théoden stood near the fire, watching the wizard, a thoughtful look upon his worn, pensive face. Across the room from her were the two Hobbits. Pippin, swallowed up in the wooden chair upon which he sat his feet dangling, carried a timid expression of dejection upon his sweet face while Merry stood faithfully nearby.
“A fool-, but an honest fool, he remains.” Gandalf murmured, casting at Pippin, a glance of gentle forgiveness. “He told Sauron nothing of Frodo and the Ring. Nor did our dear Lalaith.”
As Gandalf’s gentle gaze turned toward her, Lalaith smiled briefly as beside her, Gimli let out a quiet puff of air.
“We’ve been strangely fortunate.” Gandalf’s voice carried a lift to it. “Pippin and Lalaith both saw in the palantir a glimpse of the enemy’s plan. Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith.”
Lalaith blinked wordlessly at these words, remembering the many tiered city of Men she had seen within the thoughts of the great burning eye-, the last bastion of hope against the might of Sauron’s evil. Were Sauron’s minions to succeed in destroying that high, white city, then they would be free to march across Middle-earth, unchecked, crushing all in their path. Neither the Shire, nor even the Elven realms of her people would be safe, then. A low ragged sigh caught within her throat as Boromir’s dearly cherished face flashed into her memory, and then just as swiftly, faded. How he had loved that city.
“His defeat at Helm’s Deep showed our enemy one thing.” Continued Gandalf, casting a meaningful gaze at Aragorn. “He knows the heir of Elendil has come forth. This he saw, also from the palantir. As he saw that the daughter of Manwë lives, a great threat to him still, though she does not yet bear the power her people wield.”
Lalaith shivered involuntarily at these words and dropped her eyes. And as she did, she felt Legolas’ hands tightening gently where they rested upon her shoulders.
“Men are not as weak as he supposed, not with such allies as the kin of Valar.” Gandalf’s eyes strayed over her, and she lifted her face to his gaze. A look of gentle, almost sympathetic compassion rested in his eyes.
“There is courage still, strength enough perhaps, to challenge him. Sauron fears this.” Gandalf turned his earnest eyes upon Théoden, whose own eyes took on a troubled, thoughtful look at the wizard’s unbroken gaze. “He will not risk the peoples of Middle Earth uniting under one banner.”
Lalaith’s jaw tightened softly as Gandalf’s words took on an urgent tone. “He will raze Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees a king return to the throne of Men.” She glanced sideward at this, to see Aragorn’s eyes fall slightly as his hand rose to rub thoughtfully against the stubble of his jaw. She knew him well enough to sense the thoughts roiling in his heart, more troubled now, perhaps, than she could imagine. Though at her gaze, he turned his eyes slightly, flashing her a brave sliver of a smile.
“If the beacons of Gondor are lit,” Gandalf continued in earnest, his eyes remaining unmoving upon Théoden, “Rohan must be ready for war.”
“Tell me,” Théoden’s firm, graveled voice was edged with a hint of bitter question, “why should we ride to the aide of those who did not come to ours?”
Lalaith’s eyes shot to the face of Rohan’s king.
“What,” he added cynically, “do we owe Gondor?”
She knew both from dreams and from what the others had told her, of the bitter battle against Saruman’s uruks. Pinned against the wall of the mountain, the Rohirrim, with the help of the Elves who had come timely to their aide, had barely fought them back, long enough for Gandalf, and Lord Éomer to arrive, and thrust the final wedge into the battle. There had been bitter losses, for both Elves and Men.
Gondor had sent no aid, either in ignorance, or from its own dire need. And she could only imagine the sense of abandonment Théoden surely felt. Still, the fate of the war depended upon his willingness to forgive the injury, and Théoden’s words shivered darkly through Lalaith. He was only speaking in a moment of bitterness, she hoped. For what she knew of him, he was too good a man to hold such anger close for long. To do so, would canker the noble soul that was his.
In a voice, even and sober, Aragorn spoke, “I will go.”
“No,” Gandalf returned with a swift glance at the ranger.
“They must be warned!” Aragorn countered.
“They will be.” Gandalf assured, him, turning toward him, and striding slowly nearer, until the wizard stood at his shoulder.
“You must come to Minas Tirith by another road.” Gandalf murmured, half beneath his breath as he glanced askance, up into Aragorn’s thoughtful face. “Follow the river and look to the black ships.”
Lalaith pursed her lips thoughtfully at these words. Black ships-, upon the Anduin? Black ships bearing mercenaries of Sauron perhaps? Sailing past Tolfolas, and up the Ethir Anduin to Osgiliath? A cold shiver drove through her heart at this. What did Gandalf know that she did not?
She drew in a soft breath, and pressed back slightly against the firm warmth of Legolas. Wordlessly he responded, tightening his hands upon her shoulders, and tucking his chin against her hair. Where Aragorn went, her love would go, and where Legolas went, she would go. No matter the danger. She would face it at his side.
“Understand this,” Gandalf spoke, his voice lifting for all to hear as he turned once again and moved away from Aragorn to face them all, “Things are now in motion that cannot be undone. I ride for Minas Tirith.”
He paused, turning meaningful eyes upon Pippin, and murmured, his voice now lowered and thought, “And I won’t be going alone.”
Lalaith drew in a quick breath at the meaning of his words. She would be losing dear Pippin. After all that she had gone through with him and Merry, they were to be parted.
But when the white wizard paused, and turned meaningfully toward Lalaith, casting a sad reluctant smile toward her, her heart caught upon a beat, and a reluctant shiver trembled through her.
She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Legolas’ voice echoed softly through the hall, “Gandalf, no.” And his hands drew her closer against him, tightening as if he almost expected the wizard to wrench her bodily away.
“I am sorry, Legolas. I do not like it any more than you do.” Gandalf sighed, shaking his head and heaving a heavy sigh, glancing with apologetic eyes at Legolas over the top of Lalaith’s head. “But now that Sauron knows she is here, it would be best that she come with me. For everyone’s sake.”
“But to Minas Tirith, where Sauron means to strike first?” Legolas’ voice had grown almost pleading, and slightly broken.
Gandalf’s eyes drooped, and he shook his head sympathetically. “I cannot leave her here. I do not doubt that you would defend her with your life, but there is a limit even to your strength. You cannot fight every foe Sauron sends for her.” He paused, gazing pointedly at Legolas. “And he will send them. For she is too great a threat for him to ignore. Her presence here may jeopardize Rohan, whose help Gondor desperately needs in this dark hour.” At this, Théoden pursed his lips, his eyes growing thoughtful at Gandalf’s quick glance to him before the wizard turned back again to the Elves.
“Then I too, will ride to Minas Tirith.” Legolas pressed, to which Gandalf sighed, and shook his head wearily.
“Aragorn will have need of both you and Gimli before this tale is played out.” Gandalf sighed. “And his path, for now, lies elsewhere.”
He leaned upon his staff as if suddenly weary as he studied the sobered faces of the two Elves with empathetic eyes. “What an unpleasant task it is, to tear lovers apart.” Gandalf sighed, almost as if to himself. “But it will not be so hard in the bearing, if you trust the will of the Valar. They have not forgotten her, son of Thranduil.” Gandalf’s gentle smile was directed at Lalaith, though his words spoke to Legolas. “They have not forgotten any soul who struggles for good in this world.”
Lalaith’s eyes fell at Gandalf’s kindly words, and slowly, she drew away from Legolas’ hold, his hands falling reluctantly away as she turned to face him, lifting a sad gaze to his, her heart growing weighted as she saw the melancholy shadows within his eyes.
“Did we not agree when this quest began that we would trust the Valar?” She murmured softly, to which his throat softly tightened with bridled emotion.
At her words, his hands reached for hers, gathering them softly into his own. “We did.” He breathed.
Beside them, Gimli shifted his weight grunting slightly, but neither Elf noticed, as they gazed long into the eyes of the other. Until after what seemed many minutes, but had only been a few moments, Legolas stepped back, and willingly, but with aching reluctance, let her hands go.
“Well, I-,” Lalaith murmured, fighting to keep the quaver from her voice, “I should change my garb into something more suitable for swift travel.”
And with one last glance into the somber eyes of her beloved, she turned away and with steps that grew suddenly swift, made her way toward the maidens’ chambers so that the men could not see the tears that were quickly filling her eyes.