Lalaith stood alone within the great hall, beside the black marble pillar nearest to the great iron doors, her hands folded quietly before her, motionless, as one of the stone carved statues that guarded the center of the hall before her. How she wished she could be one of them, she thought to herself, unfeeling, unmoved. For then, she would not feel this bitter wrenching loss within her heart. She had not known Faramir long, yet the pain of his sudden, senseless death wrenched her within. Her shoulders shook slightly as a silent spasm of tears jerked within her throat as Denethor, seated upon his carven throne blustered for a moment at one of his counselors who stood before him with clasped hands, mildly taking the Steward’s curt insults, Denethor’s mind seeming to be beyond the reality of what he had driven his one remaining son to do.
Pippin stood near Denethor’s throne, silent, his hands folded before him, his sweet face wane and pale. Though at a look from her eyes he lifted his head, and smiled briefly.
“My lady, is there aught I can do for you?”
The voice caused her to turn her head as she watched Beregond step near from his place beside the door.
“Forgive me, Lord Beregond,” she muttered, wiping at her tear streaked face. “I-,”
“There is nothing to forgive my lady, all the city mourns,” he sighed quietly. “The lord Faramir, was beloved of us all. Bergil fairly worshipped him.”
“Bergil?” Lalaith asked.
“My son,” Beregond returned, a brief smile touching his lips. “A lad of but ten summers, though already he thinks himself a man. Would that he had gone with his mother and baby sister to stay with kin in a village north of Lebennin, but-,”
Lalaith glanced at Beregond, seeing a thin shimmer of wetness within his eyes as his stalwart jaw trembled a little.
Denethor’s voice quipped from the head of the hall, and she looked up quickly.
“Did I give you leave to consort with the door wardens?” he demanded, rising slowly from his throne, and glaring across the hall at her with daggers in his eyes. “Leave him to his duty.”
Beregond glanced at her swiftly, apology in his eyes. “Forgive him, if you can. Our lord was not always as he is now,” he murmured quickly, before he returned to his post beside the door.
“Come, my lady,” Denethor ordered, lifting a hand and beckoning her forward as if she were an impudent child. “Come here.”
Lalaith could think of nothing to say to this, and so she silently complied, moving down the row of silent pillars who watched her passing through unseeing, stone eyes.
Beregond could remember the days when Denethor ruled with wisdom and prudence, she realized to herself as she drew closer to his throne. And Beregond and the others who knew him then felt sadness, and tragedy at Denethor’s descent into this madness, as at the loss of something of great worth. Though for herself, Lalaith could feel nothing for Denethor now, aside from anger, and a pathetic pity.
“What is it, my lord?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice mild, though she could hear the hint of insolence beneath her soft tone.
“This Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who is a friend to you, dear as a brother,” he muttered, his eyes narrowing at her as he hissed the words. “He is betrothed to your kinswoman, is he not?”
Lalaith’s mouth dropped open slightly and she began, “How do you know-,”
“Why is it,” Denethor cut in, stifling her words into silence, “that this-, this ranger is worthy to mingle his blood with that of Elves, and yet my sons, the sons of the House of the Stewards, faithful to Gondor, the sons of my Finduilas, who carried in her own blood, the blood of Elves, are not worthy of the same honor?”
Lalaith drew in a deep breath, her glance shooting to Pippin who stood beside the Steward’s dark robed counselors, silent, their eyes drooping in quiet shame at their lord’s curt words. Pippin gulped and gave her a helpless look before she shot her fierce gaze back to Denethor.
“Is this why you have been angry with me that I did not love Boromir in return?” she breathed, her voice soft, though spoken through gritted teeth. “Why you asked me if I would take Faramir over my own betrothed? Because you wish to prove that the worth of your House is greater than the line of the absent kings? Is that why?”
Denethor said nothing, though his lips curled into a snarl.
Against her will, her voice came out in a harsh bitter laugh. “Have your sons ever been any more than pawns to you, to gain you power? Did the inner workings of your sons’ hearts ever mattered to you? What of their own choices?” In her mind, she finished bitterly, But that is no matter any more now, as your sons are both dead.
“Boromir chose you!” Denethor wailed, his eyes aflame. But Lalaith held her ground, refusing to retreat even a step, and at her bold countenance, Denethor dropped his eyes as the echo of his angry voice faded in the hall. “He loved no other!” he finished in a weak, bitter cry.
“He did love me, my lord!” Lalaith spat back fiercely. “But to him, I was more than a-, a trophy to flaunt! He held no hidden desires for political gain beneath his caring for me. He knew I held no deep love for him, and he honored my wishes! And Faramir!” She choked upon the name. “Dear Faramir did not love me at all. And yet you spoke of-,”
Her heart leaped in her throat, cutting off her words. Faramir had not loved her, and the thought struck her with sudden, jarring clarity. He had admitted his love for another before they parted for the last time. He loved the dream maiden he had spoken of-, but-, Lalaith sighed long, and glanced down at her hands, clasped before her to still their trembling, ignorant of Pippin’s open, worried countenance, and Denethor’s narrowed eyes. But that did not matter, Lalaith reminded herself, for Faramir had died all the same. None of the other men who had ridden with him to take back Osgiliath had been passionately in love with her, yet they were all dead with him.
A brief flurry from near the door drew Denethor’s gaze as the great iron door creaked open, and one of the guards from the outer steps shot through the door, trading a brief flurry of words with Beregond before Beregond lifted his head and cried in a cracking voice, “My lord! Prince Imrahil has sent word ahead-, your son’s horse-, came back through the gate, dragging your son by the stirrup. They are bringing him now!”
Lalaith’s gaze shot to Denethor’s once again, her frame stiffening as a sudden look of wild clarity came upon his face as if for a brief moment he realized the magnitude of what he had ordered his son to do.
Flinging himself from his throne, he dashed forward, shoving roughly past Lalaith as if she were not there.
“Faramir!” he cried, his voice broken and ragged as Lalaith snatched up the hem of her skirt and turned after him. With Pippin beside her, she rushed behind Denethor, out the door into the sunlight, her heart pounding painfully in her throat as she saw Imrahil drawing near, leading a group of four armored soldiers bearing a wooden stretcher between them as four more strode behind.
“Faramir!” Denethor fairly wailed as their group hurried near.
The soldiers set the bier burdened with Faramir’s motionless form beneath the white tree as Denethor scrambled near. Lalaith struggled not to weep at the ragged shafts of orc arrows that had punched through the armor in his side, and beneath his arm.
“Say not that he has fallen!” Denethor whimpered pathetically, dropping to the head of the bier as he looked upon the motionless face of his son.
Lalaith drew in a hard breath at this. What care he showed now to his son, that he did not show before, now that Faramir was beyond heeding the caring words of his father!
“They were outnumbered,” Imrahil murmured, a quiet anger seething now below the surface of his words. “None survived.”
A series of mournful cries, sickened with misery, mingled with the distant mocking laughter of orcs reached Lalaith’s ears from far below-, but she could not heed that, her own emotion too fixed upon Faramir’s motionless form as Denethor staggered to his feet
“My sons are spent!” he whimpered as he stumbled away. “My line has ended!”
Taking his absence at his son’s side as silent leave to take the empty spot Denethor had vacated, Lalaith rushed forward, skirting Prince Imrahil’s cloaked form as Pippin pattered along beside her, the Elf maiden and Hobbit dropped to their knees beside him, her gown billowed about her as Lalaith caught Faramir’s hand in one of her own, and touched his still face. Pippin’s own small hand touched Faramir’s brow.
But his flesh was not stiff and chill with death as it would be if he were dead. Heated it was, as with a fever, and Lalaith could hear the hushed and weak draw and release of his sparse breath through his nostrils. A wild hope leapt within her heart.
“But he is still alive, Pippin,” she whispered as her eyes met the worried grey eyes of the small Hobbit beside her. Pippin’s eyes grew round, and he gasped softly, feeling the heat of Faramir’s fevered flesh, even through the leather gauntlets upon his hands.
“He’s alive?” Pippin hissed, and lifting his voice, he cried out once more, “He’s alive!”
“The House of Stewards has failed!” Denethor cried as he continued to stumble away.
“My lord, he is not dead!” Lalaith called over her shoulder.
“He needs medicine, my lord!” Pippin added in an urgent cry.
“My line has ended!” Denethor wailed in the background as if he had not heard.
“My lord!” Pippin cried, though again, the Steward did not turn, or pay any heed to either Lalaith’s words, or the Hobbit’s, his gaze suddenly fixed beyond the balustrade, his frame stiffened with horror. And then Lalaith heard it, a low distant roar, many voices, champing in rhythm, countless feet tramping near-,
Leaping to her feet, and catching her skirt within her hands, Lalaith darted away from Faramir’s side to join Denethor at the balustrade, her heart falling into ashes at what she saw, the dark lines of orcs spread below her across the plains.
“Rohan has deserted us,” Denethor whimpered at her side.
“No, my lord, they have not!” Lalaith choked back, reaching out and catching his robed arm within her grip. “He will not abandon me-, they will not abandon us!” she corrected herself swiftly.
“What?” he muttered sadly. “You think your beloved Elf lord with come with the horse lords of Rohan?”
“He will come-,” Lalaith returned, though she jerked in fright as great stones hurtled from catapults, vaulted from among the orc horde, to drive smashing into the walls of the lower levels. Screams erupted from below her, and her eyes shot downward.
“Then why is there such fear as I see within your eyes, my lady?” Denethor whispered sadly, pityingly. “Boromir loved you. He would not have betrayed you, but your Elf lord has.” A bitter look drew itself across his face as he shuddered in anger and grief. “And Théoden has betrayed me!”
A shaft of wrenching despair lanced through Lalaith’s heart at these words, while below them, as if to add upon Denethor’s despairing words, another volley of stones shot from the catapults over the walls. Stones crashed in the lower levels, screams echoed up. The screams of women, men, and-, and children-, all was in chaos.
What was she to do? Who would give the soldiers courage to fight back against the black terror gathered against them?
“Abandon your posts!” Denethor wailed, his voice carrying out over the lower levels of the city. “Flee! Flee for your lives!”
Lalaith shot a look of astonished rage at the Steward. Was this how far he had fallen? He was of little use to his people now! And with that thought, she straightened, and with all the force she could muster, brought her fist, with a sharp crack, into the center of Denethor’s face.
For a brief moment, his eyes register a look of stupefied shock before they glazed over, and he tumbled to the ground in a senseless heap, as Gandalf’s white clad visage came into view behind his collapsing form. Beyond Gandalf’s shoulder, Denethor’s guards stood in befuddled amazement that a maiden would do such a thing, too surprised to move, their faces blank with shock, though Gandalf, wielding his staff as if he too had meant to strike Denethor, set his staff once again upon the ground, and shot a pursed look of somber approval at Lalaith as she clenched her stinging fist once again to herself.
With pursed lips, he nodded briefly to her before he strode to the balustrade, and cried out, so that his voice carried down to the chaos stricken lower levels, “Prepare for battle!”
Lothriel’s voice, followed by a soft rapping upon the wood of her chamber door brought Calassë’s head up from where she sat upon her bed, her knees drawn in close to herself, hugging the small silver blanket she had carried with her from her first day in the Golden Wood, her face turned away from the door, though she glanced up as the two women entered, Lothriel bearing a silver tray laden with a small bowl of steaming soup, and a slice of warm, fragrant bread upon a platter beside it as Galadriel, tall and stately, glided in behind her.
“It has been a full day since the men left,” Lothriel murmured as she set the tray upon the bedside table, and straightened, running her fingers thoughtfully over her yet slender stomach. “You have not come out of your room at all, and we have worried for you.”
“Dear Calassë,” Galadriel murmured, coming near, and sitting beside her, touching a hand to her hair, and smoothing it back behind the delicate peak of her ear, though Calassë would not meet her eyes.
“It is more than fear for his safety that keeps you hidden away from us, is it not?” Galadriel soothed. Calassë knew, though the lady did not speak his name, whom she spoke of. The one whose safety her heart prayed ceaselessly for, he in whom flowed the blood of both Elves and Men. “Your heart is troubled greatly, for memories begin to return to you.”
Calassë looked up briefly into the lady’s penetrating eyes as Lothriel stood beyond, watching in silence.
“I am afraid to face them, Nana, these-, memories-,” Calassë whimpered. And to this, Galadriel leaned near, drawing Calassë to her, like a child.
“You are strong,” Galadriel soothed softly, rocking the maiden’s golden head against her shoulder as Calassë sagged wearily in the lady’s arms, trustingly, as in the arms of her own mother. “And you have overcome much. Much more than I can yet see.” Her hand reached out, and touched the cloth of the small blanket Calassë held, with a thoughtful hand, the fabric glittering like stars beneath the touch of her fingers. “These memories, painful as they are, are as poison drawn from a wound. Pain will come, but with it, cleansing.”
“I want him to come back, nana,” Calassë breathed. “I do not want him hurt. I will die if he is slain, for I-,”
Her face flushed as she spoke, and her voice faded into quiet, her words unfinished, but Galadriel’s eyes grew moist and thoughtful as a small smile tugged upon the edges of her mouth as she let the cloth of the small blanket run through her fingers.
“I see now, his purpose in coming here,” she murmured to herself, and softly kissed Calassë’s brow. “And I am glad of it.”
Screams echoed in the streets below the window of her chambers as Lalaith, clad once more in her breeches, her tunic and jerkin, buckled the strappings of the worn quiver Théoden had gifted to her, across her back, laden thickly with new arrows, and her two knives set in the leather quiver and strappings that that which had once been his own son’s, Théodred. Her hair she had bound swiftly back in a single plait, which flicked back and forth across her back as she ran, a long, glittering rope of gold.
“Hurry men! To the wall! Defend the wall!”
Gandalf’s voice, several streets below her, was swift and frantic, yet courageous as well above the cries and the screams amid the explosions of rubble and stone as the boulders flung from the catapults of the orcs pelted into the city. In spite of her own burning dread, Lalaith’s heart took courage from Gandalf’s valiant words as she snatched up her bow in one hand from a carven wooden table beside her small bed, and hurried through the house, thinking only of her frantic need to descend to the lower levels, to help Gandalf and the Men of Gondor.
Wrenching the door within the forechamber open, Lalaith was ready to launch herself out the door, though she stopped short, and fell back several steps at the imposing shadow that stood within the doorway.
“Lord Denethor,” she gasped, glancing past his shoulder, and wondering why he had come, unaccompanied.
“Many of the tower guards have been called down to fight. Your young Hobbit friend was among them.” He said as if in answer to her unspoken question.
“And what of Faramir? Have you found a healer to attend to his injuries?” Lalaith whispered hopefully.
“Finduilas would have loved a daughter,” he muttered as if he had not heard her query, his eyes deep and sad as he entered the narrow forechamber uninvited, shutting the door behind him, so as to block her departure. He lifted his eyes briefly and studied her face with a tender expression, much as he had, the first night he had called her to him to speak of Boromir. Her heart beat swift and fast, wanting for nothing else but to dart past him, and fly down to the lower levels to help the Men.
“My lord, if you would but let me pass-,” Lalaith hissed anxiously.
“My son was loyal to Gondor. Of all Men, he was worthy to join his line with the noble race of Elves.” he muttered as if to himself, lowering his eyes, his imposing form still blocking her path. “But he died for love of you-,” his voice choked, “and my second son has gone to join him, gone to wait beyond the stars, with all our fathers who have gone before, to await the ending of the world.”
“No, my lord,” Lalaith grated, reaching out, and clapping her small hand upon Denethor’s darkly shrouded arm. He stiffened, but did not look up at her.
“If you listen to nothing else I say to you,” her fingers tightened, “I beg you, my lord, somehow understand that Faramir is not dead! He is in need of medicine, a healer-, someone to tend to his wounds-,” Denethor trembled slightly, but did not lift his eyes.
“There is no victory against this evil that has come upon us,” he whispered fiercely. “We will all be slain, and you with us! Better for you to die swiftly, my child, than to be taken by the orcs, and tortured, before they devoured your flesh. Had Finduilas borne you, were I your father, I would not let you go down. I would keep you here, safe.” His eyes glanced up at her, at last, dark, impenetrable. “Forever.”
“My lord,” Lalaith blurted at last, her urgency mounting, confused at his rambling words. “I must go down to help Gandalf, and your people. They will have the use of my bow and my knives, and whether I live or die, they will see that none of the children of Elrond’s House are cowards.”
With that, she pushed her way past him, her fist tight about her bow as her other hand reached out, seeking the door latch. But as she did, Denethor’s hand came darting from behind her, and caught itself over her mouth, covering her nose and mouth with a cloth that had been hidden in his hand, and which bore a wretched, evil smell.
His other hand caught her neck, making it impossible for her to pull away, and Lalaith could not even scream or wrench his hands away from her mouth before the noxious fumes filled her lungs, choking her, drowning her in a thick pulsing haze as her bow fell to the stone tiles with a hollow clatter that echoed long in her ears.
“Forgive me, my-, my daughter,” Denethor’s voice was near weeping, though it echoed strangely, as if across a vast chasm, deep and black and she felt herself grow limp, falling-, falling, though arms, strangely gentle, caught her and bore her up before she struck the floor. Clouds of oblivion swirled about her, and she was lost to all thought.