Hasufel grazed leisurely upon the rich, moist grass, huffling contently to himself as he nibbled at the rich grazing he’d found since coming to this lovely paradise. Though tall trees, higher than his craning neck could see, covered this new land where he found himself, they did not seem to block out the light. Light came from everywhere in this land, among this kindly gentle people, who smelled of age and wisdom beyond recall, yet seemed not old. The grazing here, was rich and good, yet the horse found himself wanting something. He missed Rohan. He missed the wild, windy plains, the sweet, musky scent of Men, and the thrill of battle charges.
Though this blessed land was peaceful and safe, Hasufel could taste a tang in the air, whenever the wind changed. His home was still in danger, Hasufel knew it, and he wanted to return. But he would not go, he promised himself, unless the fair, sad lady to whom he had pledged his service, did not need him anymore.
Greetings, my friend.
Hasufel lifted his head abruptly at the gentle greeting spoken to his mind, and turned to see someone, one of the men of these kindly people, standing before him, a smile upon his face, and a wise light within his eyes. He seemed to have a golden aura about him as he stepped forward, and placed a gentle hand upon the horse’s nose. Warm his hand seemed, like a touch of sunlight, and Hasufel’s heart gladdened as he nickered happily, and stepped forward to nudge his new friend in the chest.
His new friend laughed softly, and spoke again, his words echoed gently in the horse’s mind. I am Haldir. I have come to thank you for you faithful care of my lady.
Oh? He was her mate, then? But she had said he was gone. That she would not see him again, on this side of the great water. But he was here all the same, and Hasufel was glad, for he had sensed the lady’s sadness was because her mate had gone away.
I have come to release you, to send you back home, for that is where you heart longs to be, does it not? His new friend Haldir said gently as Hasufel felt a bit slide gently into his mouth.
It was indeed, Hasufel found himself agreeing silently, sliding his tongue experimentally over the bit, as the weight of a blanket and a saddle settled upon his back.
You are needed there. Haldir admonished him. An Elf maiden, Lalaith, will require your aid. I want you to go to Rohan, for she will be there. Seek her out, and help her, as you can.
Hasufel tossed his head eagerly. That was a task he could happily carry out.
There. You are ready. Haldir stepped back, smiling as Hasufel turned to him, and surveyed his bright countenance, his wise, bright eyes gazing somberly into Hasufel’s. May the Valar protect you, noble creature. At these words, Haldir bowed slightly, to which Hasufel lowered his own head. Then with a lift of his head and a toss of his mane, he turned and cantered away. He knew his way, for he would follow the wind, that would lead him upon his path and take him again, to Rohan.
Lothriel stirred, and came slowly back to an awareness of the waking world, wondering detachedly where she was for a moment before her surroundings came into focus, and she found herself in her own room, within her own bed. She sighed and stretched lazily, smiling up into Haldir’s eyes as he lay beside her, propped upon an elbow, evidently waiting for her to awaken.
“Good morning, meleth nin.” He whispered softly as her eyes at last focused upon his.
“Haldir.” She murmured, gulping swiftly in an effort to quell the sudden tears that threatened to surface at the sight of him, alive again, warm and real, and here with her. His flesh still carried a glow to it, not so bright as he had appeared when they had first been reunited, but still warm and steady as of sunlight shining through a light canopy. “How did I get here?”
“I carried you.” He answered. “I thought our bed would be softer than the earth where we fell asleep together, and as you’ve become a rather deep sleeper-,”
“Oh,” Lothriel groaned, “Forgive me. You must think me a dull old matron, now.”
Haldir snorted. “Hardly.” A gentle smile warmed his features as he continued, “Our little Halmir is taking much from you.” He touched a hand gently against the cloth covering her stomach, still narrow and flat, “You’re living for him now, as well.”
“Halmir?” Lothriel smiled, covering her husband’s hand with her own. “That is the name I chose, for our son. How did you know?” She drew in a slow breath, her face beginning to turn a rosy shade of pink. “You did not bring any new powers back with you, did you?”
Haldir smiled again, “You talk in your sleep.”
She sat up swiftly, pressing a hand against his face as he smiled mischievously. “You are real? Not a dream?” She demanded, somewhat breathlessly as his smile grew. “And you’re not going to leave? You’re staying here? With me?”
“I am staying with you.” He assured her with a smirk. “I’ll not leave you and Halmir, again. Although I did send your four legged friend back to the lands of the Horse Men.”
“Oh, Hasufel.” She sighed, nodding reluctantly. “Yes. He will be happier there.”
“Lalaith may need him, now, I feel. More than we can imagine.”
“Lalaith?” Lothriel asked.
Haldir sighed a long moment, before he admitted, “When I reawakened, my memories of how, or why I returned were vague, and faint. Yet one undeniable thought, was given me. Lalaith, who is soon bound for Rohan, will be vital in this struggle against darkness, and that before this war is over, the servants of the dark lord will give her much to grieve over.” He finished thoughtfully, “But that is all Lord Mandos saw fit to give me to know.”
“But if Prince Legolas is with her, she will have the power to endure it, yes?” Lothriel sighed, a sympathetic look filling the deep pools of her eyes.
Haldir smiled, studying the gentle look that rested in his beloved’s eyes, loving her all the more for the great compassion of which her gentle heart was capable. “They love each other, that I know, as deeply as you and I love.” He swallowed softly, lifting a hand, and touching his fingers lightly against his wife’s face. He drew in a long breath as she smiled, turning into his touch. “And with such love, nothing the powers of darkness can hurl at them, will ever overcome them. Not lastingly. They will conquer in the end.”
“As we have.” Lothriel sighed.
“Indeed.” He agreed quietly. And with this, Haldir smiled, bent low, and pressed a tender kiss against the warmth of his wife’s soft mouth.
A quiet tumble of rocks overhead, caused Aragorn to lift his head, in eager anticipation as Legolas slid, with the characteristic grace of his people, down the steep rock face, and drew to an effortless halt beside the two Hobbits. Lalaith, however, Aragorn realized, a touch of mild bewilderment brushing across his thoughts, was not with him.
His eyes shot instinctively toward Gandalf’s, whose face bore concern and wonder, no less than Aragorn’s.
“Well, is she coming?” Merry asked, voicing Aragorn’s unspoken question as he and Pippin lifted their eyes again to the ledge above them.
“These are yours,” Legolas muttered, ignoring the Hobbit’s question, his voice barely his as he plucked their sheathed daggers from where he had kept them within his quiver, and handed them to the two Hobbits. “I’ve long hoped I could return them again.”
“Oh, Galadriel’s presents!” Pippin chirped as he and Merry gratefully took back the daggers they had dropped at the battle upon Amon Hen when the orcs had taken them.
“We thought we’d lost these!” Merry crowed, his uplifted eyes bright with gratitude as he and Pippin slipped them back into the sheaths that they still wore upon their belts. “Thank you!”
“At least in this, I have been useful.” Legolas returned, his eyes dark and somber, a vast contrast from the cheery Hobbits as he leapt lightly down from the rocky gouge, and strode toward Arod.
Again Aragorn glanced with concern at Gandalf’s wise eyes, then turned and cast a look of confused apology at Théoden and Éomer. The faces of Rohan’s king, and of his nephew were blank questions as the Elf, without preamble, swung again to Arod’s back, the muscles of his jaw were taut, his mouth a straight, unsmiling line, and his eyes like a clouded, stormy sky, flashing in one moment with anger, and the next with confused misery.
“Who is this lady we are to meet?” Théoden asked, his voice one of innocent query.
“She is the lady, Lalaith, of Imladris.” Gandalf said in a thoughtful murmur, his eyes lifted upward. “The ward of Lord Elrond.”
“An Elf maid?” Éomer asked, his tone as his uncle’s had been.
“Does she mean to come down soon?” Théoden murmured softly, craning his neck to gaze upward.
The words had scarcely left his mouth when another face appeared above, a pale face, with eyes that were drawn down and weary. With a cloud of dust and a scattering of rocks, Lalaith slid to the bottom, stumbling slightly as she came to a stop beside the two Hobbits, whose hands shot quickly out to steady her.
“It’s alright Lalaith, it’ll be fine.” Pippin muttered, and Aragorn puzzled a moment over the youngest Hobbit’s compassionate tone.
“Mithrandir?” Lalaith’s voice, choked and ragged, glowed for a moment with a touch of gladness, as her eyes, wet and reddened, came to rest upon the wizard. “So you are alive after all?”
“Indeed I am, my dear.” Gandalf returned warmly. “And I must say, it is good to see you.”
Lalaith drew in a ragged breath at this, and her eyes fell to the stones beneath her feet.
Aragorn’s brow furrowed. What was this? She appeared steeped in the deepest misery he had even seen her in, as Legolas too seemed to be, though after so much time apart, he had expected them to be rejoicing. Moments before, Legolas had seemed to have much the same thought, when he had so eagerly darted up the wall. But something had happened between them up there, to drive a heavy wedge between them.
“Then perhaps it was not simply a wishful dream.” Lalaith mumbled to the stones beneath her feet. “Perhaps there was more to them all, as I believed, all along.”
“Lalaith-,” Pippin chirped, tugging gently upon her hand, and indicating helpfully toward Théoden and Éomer. “They’re new.”
“Yes, of course.” Lalaith gulped, rallying herself with what appeared to be a great effort. “My lords, forgive me.” She stuttered, offering the two a broken attempt at a curtsey.
“You are of-,” she choked, bitter pain filling her eyes as she muttered, “of R- Rohan?”
“I am Éomer, sister-son of Théoden, King of Rohan, my lady.” Éomer said, his bold voice breaking the silence as he bobbed his head at his uncle.
“Then I must ask again, your forgiveness.” Lalaith repeated, with a low bow of her head. “‘Tis shameful of me to behave so unseemly before such noble Men. I would dare to believe that you, and the greater part of your people are good and honorable.”
A furrow of confusion wrinkled Aragorn’s brow at this statement as Lalaith hopped down from the gouge in the wall, and without a word asking his leave, strode near to Brego, and leapt lightly up behind Aragorn, fastening her arms about his waist, and hiding her face, like a child, against his back.
“I am glad you’re here, Aragorn.” She whispered in the tones of her own tongue, her voice broken with hidden tears. To this, Aragorn had no answer, but with a hand upon her own, he conveyed his concern, and she released a shuddering sigh at his touch.
“Well come then, Peregrin Took. We haven’t all day.” Gandalf muttered, as Shadowfax stepped toward the wall, and the white robed wizard held up his hands, beckoning to Pippin, who grinned like a child, and leaped eagerly down into his arms, happily settling upon the saddle before Gandalf.
“I will bear the third.” Offered Éomer, nudging his own mount nearer, and glancing up at Merry with a veiled expression of uncertainty.
“Ah, thank you, my lord!” Merry cried, leaping down, spread-eagle, and flopping stomach first, across the shoulders and neck of Éomer’s mount.
“Here then, noble-, Hobbit.” Éomer offered, his expression bewildered as he struggled to help the flailing, half drunken Hobbit to a sitting position upon the saddle before him.
“Thank you.” Merry gasped, finding himself at last, upright upon the saddle.
His antics brought a smile to Aragorn’s face, though only a small one, for Lalaith, her face buried against his back, moved not at all, when, at another time, she would have been laughing merrily at the little flailing Hobbit.
Aragorn drew in a low breath, his mouth drawn in a tight line, as Brego picked his way carefully through the murky quagmire that sloshed about his knees, following carefully behind Shadowfax as their company waded toward the high black tower that was Orthanc, stabbing harshly at the sky.
His eyes followed the white horse Arod, his eyes fixed upon the taller of the horse’s two riders. Legolas’ eyes filled with painful questions were fixed his passenger, mounted lightly behind him, but by the press of her cheek against his back, Aragorn could tell that her face was turned away.
Lalaith was speaking to herself, her voice muffled, and Aragorn pretended not to hear, though he could not help but listen as she muttered softly to herself in her own tongue.
“She lied. She lied.” Lalaith was whispering beneath her breath, seeming to be not aware that Aragorn could hear. “I know it. Yet why would he turn and leave me with no explanation? Why?“
“Lalaith,” Aragorn whispered, half turning his head, and the Elf maiden fell silent. “Tell me what happened upon the wall. Why this distance between you and Legolas?”
“It is nothing you can help me with.” Lalaith mumbled dejectedly, and fell silent.
Aragorn’s jaw tightened, as his blood grew warm with frustration. This Elf maid’s frail, flighty emotions would be the death of him, to say nothing of what she was doing to Legolas’ heart. Would that she had never left Rivendell!
But when he heard her melancholy sigh, ragged and unhappy, Aragorn repented of his annoyance, and smiled softly, covering her hand with his own, where she clung about his waist. Who was he to judge what had caused this? He did not know the pain that filled her heart, and could not presume to.
“Lalaith, mellon nin.” He murmured in the softened tones of elvish, “My little cousin. Your friends have not forsaken you. And nothing is insurmountable, if you let Legolas face it at your side. He is ever true to you, Lalaith.”
“He is?” Lalaith asked, the question catching Aragorn off guard, and he half turned, glancing back at her red rimmed eyes. Need she even ask such a thing?
“Walk carefully,” a high voice called from Merry, above the sloshing feet of the horses, causing heads to rise, and glance at him where he rode upon Éomer’s mount, perched upon the saddle before Théoden’s nephew. “There are broken wheels, and rocks just under the surface, and loose slabs that can tilt up and throw you down into a pit if you don’t take care.”
“Lalaith and I had our share of tangling with this mess last night!” Pippin was quick to call out in agreement from where he rode before Gandalf, upon Shadowfax as their group neared the base of the steps that led toward the doorway above them, dark and foreboding.
“You did?” Merry called out loudly.
“Well, yes.” Pippin shouted in return. “While you were sleeping, and while Treebeard was off on some errand, we went to fetch her lost blanket. It was way up on the steps of Orthanc, but oh, what a mess that was!” He cheerfully finished, “We met an orc!”
Aragorn tensed at the very word, turning to glance over his shoulder at Lalaith as she released a soft moan, and the riders of their small company almost as one, brought their horses to a standing halt.
“That is enough, Pippin.” Lalaith called, her voice timid and broken, and Aragorn sensed her shrinking, as if in an effort to disappear.
“It very much is not enough.” Gandalf insisted, as the rhythmic sound of sloshing water quieted as the group came to a halt. “What are you talking about, Peregrin Took?”
“Ah, it wasn’t just an orc we met.” Pippin continued, eagerly as Shadowfax wheeled slightly, so that Pippin could see the bewildered faces of those coming from behind.
“What? You meet Saruman, too?” Merry gasped, his eyes like saucers, glued to Pippin’s face.
“No worse!” Pippin cried, his eyes rolling impatiently. “We met a-,”
Above them, a sound as of a fluttering of robes, cut Pippin’s words off, and all eyes shot upward to the balcony above the doorway beneath where they had paused. No face could be seen, though a voice that made Aragorn’s blood curdle, echoed down at them.
“Who is it?” The simpering voice called. “Who makes such a din in my master’s courtyard? What do you wish?”
“I know that voice.” Théoden seethed, and Aragorn flashed him a glance as a deep breath swelled in Théoden’s chest, a hard look coming over his eyes. “And I curse the day when I first listened to it.”
“Go and fetch Saruman, since you have become his footman, Gríma Wormtongue!” Gandalf called back vehemently. “And do not waste our time!”
A fluttering of robes marked Gríma’s exit, though no living soul could be seen through the shadowed darkness beyond the window. And then, as upon silent wings, something brushed near the window, but did not come out into the light of the sun.
“Well?” It said with gentle question.