The day was grey and somber, and a thick mist hung over the fields far below them obscuring distant Osgiliath in a somber fog that doubtless allowed barely more than an inkling of light through the haze. The sky was overcast above them as well but it did not smell of coming rain. The air was dry, smelling of distant ash and laced with a touch of bitter brimstone as Lalaith only half listening to the wizard, followed behind him and Pippin who scuttled along upon the tail of the wizard as the three of them hurried through the maze of streets and tunnels of Minas Tirith. His words after all, were directed at the Hobbit. Lalaith’s eyes were fixed about her, upon the faces of the mortals they passed, and at the brave city that seemed to wait in patient mourning along with its children, for the doom that was coming. Her eyes especially were drawn to the high pinnacle of stone upon the mountain above the city, higher even than the silver tower of Ecthelion. She could see a pair of soldiers guarding the mound of wood and tinder that had been stacked up there at the beacon, for the time when Denethor would call for its lighting. She shook her head to herself. That such mortals could dare to be up there, made her knees quiver.
“Peregrin Took my lad, there is a task now to be done.” Gandalf was muttering as he, with Pippin on his heels, passed into a narrow alley, edged by carts and baskets of vegetables and fruits, doubtless hoarded there in preparation for the coming dread that Mordor threatened. Lalaith followed behind, flashing a small smile at a mother and her baby who stood in a shadowed doorway watching their passing. The baby’s eyes were large and curious in its plump little face, while the mother’s were filled with worry and sorrowful fear.
At Lalaith’s smile, the woman gave a terse nod, and looked away as Lalaith ducked into the alley behind the Hobbit and Wizard, wondering now why Gandalf had asked her to wear her traveling clothes. He still had not given her any profoundly difficult task that would require the wearing of breeches and her light Elven cloak, rather than a dress. He was still speaking to Pippin.
“Another opportunity for one of the Shire-folk to prove their great worth.” Gandalf added as Pippin and Lalaith came squeezing past carts and baskets behind him, and the alleyway bent and widened into a small cluster of stone walls cut into the high cliff face that rose above them. Their little nook was void of any of the worried faces of the Gondorians they had left moments ago, and the three of them were alone.
“Do you see the beacon upon that high pinnacle?” Gandalf queried, his eyes bearing a look of heavy concern rested upon his two companions as he gestured with his head to the high rock above them.
“Mm,” Pippin nodded, and Lalaith drew in a breath, nodding as well, wondering what task Gandalf would now appoint to the small Hobbit.
“The beacon must be lit, if this the sun of this world is ever to rise beyond the coming shadow.”
Pippin gulped and nodded, and Lalaith glanced at the determined expression that was setting upon the small Hobbit’s face. She guessed now at what Gandalf meant to ask of him, and her hand lifted, setting upon Pippin’s shoulder as a gesture of encouragement.
“You must climb to the beacon, Peregrin, my lad.” Gandalf continued, his eyes flitting now and again to Lalaith as Pippin gulped, and snatched at Lalaith’s hand holding it as if seeking for comfort. “There is a basin of oil and a small ever burning lamp suspended above the piled wood. You must pour the oil upon the kindling and then set it to fire with the lamp.”
Pippin nodded wordlessly.
“And you must not be seen.” Gandalf finished, his eyes focusing hard now upon Pippin, now upon Lalaith, lending a look of utmost importance to his words. “You cannot take the path. You must climb the rock face itself.”
Pippin gulped hard it this, but again nodded with no word of question or complaint.
“Now Lalaith, see to it that he does not fall.” Gandalf added with barely a breath as he rose, his gaze now fixing unmoving upon the Elf maiden as he withdrew a length of coiled rope from beneath his robe that she had not noticed before this moment, and handed it to Pippin.
“Watch his every move.” The wizard continued urgently as if he did not notice the look of cold horror that had come over Lalaith’s face. “Do not let him make a misstep. The future of all this Middle Earth rests upon you both.”
She hardly heard his words, for a sickening dread had cast itself like a heavy pall over her heart. Gandalf expected her to climb that great cliff? Surely not? He had known since she was a child how deathly fearful she was of such things.
Lalaith had always known at the fore of her mind, that such fear had no true place in her, for she was as lithe of foot as any other Elf. But the terror branded upon her heart at the memory of the river of boiling lava deep in the abyss beneath the bridge that had passed from Barad-Dur had never been entirely defeated. Surely Gandalf knew that? Surely he knew she would be of no use to Pippin? If anything, in her fear, she would lose her grip and fall, dragging the helpless Hobbit with her.
“Mithrandir?” she managed to mutter in a soft, pleading voice, to which the wizard’s eyes softened ever so slightly.
“Ah, my dear Lalaith.” Gandalf sighed gently in the softened tongue of the Elves, leaning upon his staff, and surveying her with the patience of a gentle father. “You know in your heart that you can do this.” His eyes softened sympathetically. “The doubts that linger in your heart, are no more than lies. To heed them, is to let evil defeat you. And you are too strong to allow that. Think not of the cliff, but of what you must do.” He smiled again as Lalaith lifted her eyes to the high stone pinnacle, and squeezed her shoulder so that she glanced once again at the wizard.
His words seemed to infuse her with a newfound energy, and she stepped back, nodding quickly. The fear had not entirely passed away, but a spark of courage had taken light in the midst of the black shadows of her fear.
Taking up the free end of the rope that Pippin had tied about his waist as the wizard had talked, she bound it now swiftly about her own waist as Gandalf let out a satisfied breath, and smiled proudly.
“”You must not fail me.” The wizard urged to the two of them, and with a quick nervous smile at one another, Lalaith and Pippin hurried away from Gandalf, Pippin scampering ahead, up a low set of stone steps to the base of the high wall of stone.
Without pause, the brave young Hobbit started up, catching at the ragged cracks upon the face of the rock as he went.
Lalaith gulped hard as she followed him with her eyes up the climbing pinnacle, and a black cloud of fear began again, against her will, to roll over her heart.
She glanced back once at Gandalf who stood watching them, and the wizard smiled. Think not of the cliff, but of what you must do. His words echoed in her mind.
Light the beacon. She murmured in her mind. Bring Théoden, and the Rohirrim to Gondor’s aid. For without their coming-,
She thought of the woman she had seen moments ago, with the small baby in her arms. She glanced up at Pippin, whose Elvish cloaked dangled behind him as he clambered for another handhold, and with that she drew in a ragged sigh, she caught a ragged lip of rock in her hands, and setting her boot in a low crevice, she hoisted herself off of the level stone of the alleyway, and began slowly to climb upward.