Lalaith was just pulling on her second boot, when the door of the maiden’s chambers creaked open, and Eowyn entered, her eyes flustered, her hands tightly clasped.
“Lord Aragorn told me you are riding to Gondor.” She murmured, her eyes somber as she approached the Elf maiden.
Lalaith sighed unhappily as she stood from the cot on which she had been sitting, slung her arms through the sleeves of her jerkin and pulled it taut over her tunic. For within Éowyn’s confused tones she heard an echo of her own emotions.
“You’re going-, now?”
“It is what Gandalf thinks best.” Lalaith murmured, snatching her long hair over her shoulder, to braid it back in one long plait. “And I must hurry, for he means to leave immediately.”
“Here,” Éowyn sighed, grasping a nearby brush from a shelf against the wall, and bidding the Elf maiden to sit upon a cot before her. “I will do that, for you.”
Lalaith complied without complaint, and sat before Eowyn who began to draw the brush through her hair with long brisk strokes. The two women were alone in the maidens’ chambers, for the other girls were about in the hall, doing their own daily tasks. Their empty cots lined both sides of the room, blankets and coverings folded neatly upon shelves of rough hewn wood against the walls. Aside from their stay in Lothlórien, she had been without the company of other women on this long quest, and Lalaith would miss the maidens here, most especially Éowyn.
Her hands were not so fine, nor her strokes as gentle as Arwen’s, but something about the mortal maiden seemed to remind Lalaith of her cousin as she worked, smoothing her hair with the stiff bristles of the brush in her hand, and then plaiting it carefully into a single golden rope. She added no intricate twists or adornments as Arwen might have done, but her work was still flawless as she knotted the end, and stood back.
“There, you are done.” She said in a breath of finality, and Lalaith slowly rose to turn to her, seeing in the mortal’s eyes a touch of lonely despair.
“Éowyn, what is it?” Lalaith sighed as she caught up her Lórien cloak, and slung it about her shoulders, fastening it with her leaf brooch. At her name, the mortal maiden pursed her lips, wetness suddenly shining in her eyes as she bowed her head, blinking harshly at the tears she was too proud to let fall.
“How I envy you, Lalaith.” She choked. “How I wish I could fight for those I love.”
“You will.” Lalaith murmured, catching her breath on the words, and wondering silently at the wild thrill that shot through her heart at her own words as if she foretold something even she knew not of. She lifted her eyes and smiled at the mortal maiden.
Eowyn said nothing to these words, though her somber mouth twitched in the beginnings of a hopeful smile.
And to this, Lalaith could only lean forward, and embrace the mortal maiden silently, briefly, before a hard, impatient rap, Gandalf’s staff no doubt, shook the door, and she drew quickly back.
“We will meet again in Gondor.” She said quickly, uncertain why she did, knowing only that it felt right to say.
At this, Eowyn drew in a ragged breath, and a single tear, in spite of her efforts to restrain it, fell from the rim of her eyes, and made a wet trail down her cheek.
“Yes we will.” She agreed with a lift of her chin as she swiftly wiped the tear from her face.
The tapping came, harder and more swift now, and Lalaith snatched up her small bundle, the gown Eowyn had gifted her, and turned toward the door.
“It is about time!” Gandalf crowed at her as she snatched the latch and drew it open. Behind him, stood Merry and Pippin, fidgeting, and at his shoulder, stood Théoden, bearing something in his hands, though what he held was half concealed behind Gandalf’s long robe. “Bless you, Lalaith, why ever Treebeard could think you and the Hobbits hasty, is beyond me!”
Merry muffled a guffaw beneath his breath at this, but Lalaith only smiled, to which Gandalf could only smile as well.
“But come now, my dear.” He added, his voice calming. “Théoden King has a parting gift for you.” And at that, with a turn of his shoulder, Gandalf withdrew a space, and the king of Rohan stepped forward, a slim smile beneath his beard, and a kindly look within his eyes that somehow reminded her of Elrond’s gentle eyes.
He lifted what he bore and she saw now at last, that it was a quiver. Laden heavily with arrows of Rohan. Her bow also, had been set in a space afforded to it, as did her knives, the hafts resting side by side.
“My lord-,” she murmured, dropping her head slightly at his approach.
The quiver was clearly the making of Rohan, and it been used before. The leather sheaf and the strappings were darkened and chafed with age, the metal clasp tarnished, and the tooling rough and uneven compared to what she was used to. Yet it was of durable workmanship. It would serve her well. And from the look within Théoden’s eyes it was a thing well cherished.
“This is a most thoughtful gift.” She murmured, tentatively reaching for the quiver and taking it as he pressed it into her hands. “Thank you.”
“You need not thank me, my lady.” Théoden smiled. “It is due more to the concern of your betrothed, Lord Legolas, that you go not to Gondor without your own weapons. This quiver-,” his voice caught a moment, but he quickly recovered, and smiled tersely again. “It has no owner, now, and-, I thought to give it to you.”
A soft gasp of recognition came from Eowyn behind her, and the realization struck Lalaith suddenly, humbling her with the thought as she murmured, “It was-, your son’s my Lord. I-, I do not know what to say.”
“Say nothing.” Théoden murmured as a ragged sigh caught in his throat, and he smiled again. “Théodred would be proud to know it was borne now by you. You would honor his memory greatly if you wore it.”
“My lord, it would be my honor.” Lalaith murmured low as she slipped her arm through the belts, and fastened tightly, the tarnished metal clasp. It felt good to have the solid touch of a quiver at her back once again.
Théoden pursed his lips into a taut smile, and in a gesture that was more of a gentle father, than an aloof king, placed a hand upon her shoulder, and smiled. “Go, with all the blessings of Rohan and our people, brave maiden. May you live to see light come again to these lands, and find joy in the peace that you have fought for.”
The sun shone with an almost mocking cheeriness as Lalaith strode down the steps from the Golden Hall a step behind Gandalf as Merry and Pippin scampered along behind them, their thick leather feet hitting the ground with soft thumbs though they were not swift enough to match Gandalf’s rapid pace.
“Of all the inquisitive Hobbits Peregrin Took, you are the worst!” Gandalf spouted impatiently over his shoulder at the two lagging Hobbits, the palantir, the source of all her woes, safely bundled in his arm as his high white staff thumped the ground rapidly. “Hurry, hurry!”
Lalaith glanced over her shoulder at the two Hobbits, trotting desperately to keep up with the longer legs of the Elves and the Wizard. She lifted her eyes toward the great Hall of Meduseld. Théoden the king stood within the doorway, regal and unmoving, with his niece Eowyn at his side. But Lalaith could not see Legolas anywhere Where had he gone? Her heart felt small and abandoned, for he had been absent since she had emerged from the maidens’ chambers, and she had hoped he would see her off.
“Where is Legolas?” She murmured to the wizard at her side.
“Ah, he’s around here, somewhere.” Gandalf muttered to the maiden beside him his pace unslackened, to which she could think of no reply. For her heart was covered over with too many shadows.
Where was he? Where had Legolas gone? Would he not see her off?
But when the shadows of the stable closed over her, her worried questions faded.
For within the musty air, beneath the swirling dust motes that danced within the beams of sunlight that pierced through to the straw strewn floor stood Legolas, his hand upon the brown mane of a copper coated horse, already fully saddled and bridled, and he was speaking softly to it, as if giving him a whispered admonition. Gimli, stood near, as did Aragorn, their expressions both flitting between confused smiles, and wondering awe. Some distance apart from them, stood Gamling, the king’s aide.
At the entrance of the wizard and the Elf maiden, the four men looked up.
“You have come.” Legolas said, a heaviness within his voice as he turned toward Lalaith, and came near the reins within his hand. The patient copper horse followed his lead toward the maiden, his hooves clomping softly upon the ground as he came. “But only to leave.”
“This is Hasufel, Lalaith!” Gimli grunted, his voice lifting easily within the still air of the stable. “He was with us before, but he went with the Elves after Helm’s Deep. But now he’s back!”
“He came through the gate but a moment ago, my lady.” Gamling added quickly, drawing a step near. “Saddled and bridled as you see him now, and as rested as if he had not come on such a journey as he surely must have.”
“He is meant for you, Lalaith,” Aragorn added reassuringly. “There are few others who can match Shadowfax step for step from here to Gondor. His coming was guided by the Valar.”
“Ah,” Gandalf smiled, drawing a long breath. “Now Shadowfax need not bear the three of us, and our flight will be all the more swift. Come Pippin,” these last words he spoke to the youngest Hobbit who had come through the stable doors on Merry’s heels, looking suddenly unsure and frightened.
Shadowfax stood nearby, and to him, Pippin slowly trotted at Gandalf’s hurried gesture. Merry followed slowly, a sad, unsure expression upon his dear little face.
Without preamble, Gandalf snatched the youngest Hobbit beneath his arms, and lifted him to the bare back of the great white horse. Following his lead, Lalaith reluctantly gathered in one hand the warm leather reins Legolas silently offered her. With his hand, warm against her back, she lifted her foot to the stirrup, and hoisted herself lightly to Hasufel’s back.
She kept her eyes upon the tooled saddle horn in front of her. For she hardly dared to glance down into the eyes of her beloved, fearful of her own mounting weakness. His hand, still upon her own that rested upon her knee was warm and soft, in spite of the slight calluses it bore. She turned her hand, silently weaving her fingers through his own. She had always loved his hands. So gentle they had always been, for as long as her memory could reach. Their touch grown only more dear as her feelings for him had blossomed from friendship to love. His hand tightened within hers, but she dared not look. If she did, she would weep.
“How far is Minas Tirith?” Pippin asked, his voice small and unsure. She turned slightly at his voice, wishing she could offer him comfort, to see him out of the corner of her eye, perched alone and forlorn upon the silver back of Shadowfax.
“Three days ride as the Nazgûl flies.” Gandalf blustered, brushing Shadowfax’s mane with a gentle manner that belied his brusque, impatient demeanor. “And you’d better hope we don’t have one of those on our tail.” The wizard stepped back as Merry drew a step near, holding out a small leather packet to Pippin. The last of their beloved pipeweed, Lalaith realized with a broken sigh as the two Hobbits began their mournful farewells.
“Lalaith-,” Legolas soft voice lifted above the Hobbits’ and her eyes fell at last to his. She sighed brokenly at the melancholy shadows upon his eyes as he lifted her hand within both his own, running his thumb softly across her knuckles. Suddenly she was as weak as a child. She didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to leave him.
“Legolas-,” she breathed in the tones of their own speech, as she leaned over him, finding the firm warmth of his jaw beneath her hand, “how can I go? How can I leave you again?” She was ashamed for her sudden weakness, but neither Legolas’ eyes, nor those of Aragorn or Gimli who stood behind him, or even those of Gamling who stood a space away, his gaze turned somberly downward, held any hint of reproof.
“You are strong.” Legolas sighed, his brows twitching as he lifted his free hand, and cupped her cheek. “You will find the strength to endure until we meet again in Minas Tirith, Lalaith nin.”
“I will watch for your coming.” She returned, her eyes finding his.
“And I will come as swiftly as I can.” Legolas assured her, his eyes delving softly into her own.
“I know.” She murmured in a quiet breath. “I love you.”
“And I love you.” He returned, his jaw tightening with repressed emotion. “No matter what may come, remember that. And-, remember this-,”
Sweet and lingering was the kiss he pressed furtively against her mouth. Neither cared that others were near. Her hand slid from his jaw into the smooth, golden strands of his hair as Legolas’ fingertips ran softly over the lines of her cheeks and lips, eager to absorb every detail of her. If only this moment could never end-,
“Run Shadowfax.” Gandalf bid, his words parting them, and they drew abruptly apart. “Show us the meaning of haste.”
With silent, plaintive eyes Legolas stepped back from her, Aragorn’s comforting hand coming to rest upon his shoulder as Gimli harumphed, and leaned thoughtfully over his axe. Legolas touched his hand to his heart, where the necklace Galadriel had give him, rested. And she touched her own hand to her jerkin, beneath where, the medallion she saved for him, lay warm against her skin.
“Merry!” She heard Pippin cry as Shadowfax leapt from his pen, and pounded through the stable, past Gimli and the Men, and between her and Legolas. And without her bidding him, Hasufel leapt, like an arrow from the string, and through the stable doors, his hoof beats pounding swiftly beneath him as he followed the great silver horse.
Legolas was gone in an instant. The stable fell behind them, and the path turned to plunge down the hill. Her face whirled forward, tears drying before they touched her lashes, and she bent low over the saddle horn, giving Hasufel his head. Naught but a step behind Shadowfax he flew, both horses scattering dust beneath their flying hooves, as the sharply slanting roofs of Edoras flashed by. The wind, cool with the scent of morning dew still upon it, whipped past her face.
Moments later, the high gate appeared, and the path leveled. Its shadow flashed over their heads, and was gone as swiftly as it appeared, falling rapidly behind them as the horses turned their heads to the east, strides drawing out long, into a smooth, full gallop.
As if upon eagles’ wings the two horses flew over the ground, their hooves barely skimming across the earth. Down a low rise they plunged, and splashed noisily through a shallow stream scattering drops like so many brief diamonds upon the air, before they leapt out, and burst up a low rise.
Here, Lalaith turned back, glimpsing the high mount of Edoras as it fell swiftly behind them, its picket wall falling swiftly below the hill.
Upon the highest turret of the wall, two dear faces watched the fleeing horses. Merry, peering out at them through a low gap in the balustrade, and Aragorn beside him, his rugged face somber and thoughtful. But to them, her gaze was not drawn, so much as it was to the figure who stood high above them, upon the terrace of the Golden Hall, the morning wind catching gently at his golden hair. His chest was heaving slightly from his hard sprint up the hill that he might watch her as long as he could from this vantage. Pensive was his gaze, and pleading as he watched her flight.
Our hearts will never be far apart-, the thought echoed in her mind, as a solemn promise spoken to her soul from his.
Her soul was a part of his, Lalaith knew, her heart swelling anew at the thought. Formed for each other in the deeps of time, their souls were fashioned, each for the other. Long before either of them had been born, their fates were entwined. And surely the Valar would not create souls with such a bond, if the ending of their struggles would be in vain, if all their longings came to naught?
It could not be so. For Ilúvatar was too good. The Valar were too merciful. And to such thoughts she clung, desperately, hungrily as the rise fell behind them, obscuring at last, even the Golden Hall of Meduseld, and Legolas’ beloved visage disappeared from her view.