Lalaith pursed her lips, feeling obviously out of place and sensing the eyes of many upon her as she looked down into the wooden cup she held in her hands, at the frothy mead she had barely touched. These plain, yet generous Rohirrim had never seen an Elf woman before, she guessed as she lifted her eyes and smiled timorously again into the many glances filled with awe and wonder that were cast her way.
Most eyes, however, were fixed upon Merry and Pippin, and their sprightly antics.
The two jolly hobbits stood atop a wooden table, singing the delighted clapping of the onlookers, their furry little feet dancing in time to their words.
Lalaith glanced away from the Hobbits, and into the eyes of Éomer, the king’s nephew who stood near her, a slim smile on his youthful, bearded face as he bobbed his head slightly toward her.
“My lord.” She returned, nodding her own head toward him.
“I am glad to meet you at last, unscathed, as you are. For I led the band of riders that slaughtered the uruks who had taken you and your small companions captive.” He pursed his lips, his brow wrinkling in a gesture of apology. “We did not see you. I am sorry.”
“All is forgiven, of course my lord.” She said, offering him a reassuring smile. “We are well and safe now.”
“Much also to the relief of your betrothed, I do not doubt.” Éomer said, lowering his eyes for a moment before bringing them up to bear upon her again. Lalaith swallowed softly at his words. “I witnessed the unquenchable love of which Elves are capable, the day I met him. For when he thought you might have been killed-,” he pursed his lips thoughtfully, “it was as if he faced his own death.”
“Oh?” She murmured, hearing a slight catch in her voice.
“But I am keeping you. Please forgive my manners, my lady.” Éomer bowed stiffly, and with a thin smile, he turned and was gone.
“Ah,” a voice, gravely and deep drew near, and she turned, smiling softly at Gandalf who drew near, his sparkling eyes fixed contentedly upon the Hobbits. “After the tragedy of Helm’s Deep, `tis a blessing to see these people with something to smile about.”
Lalaith looked up into Gandalf’s eyes that danced and twinkled with merriment, and she smiled softly. “They are a good people, these Horse Lords.” She agreed, nodded toward the lady Éowyn, Éomer’s sister, who stood before Aragorn, some distance away from the Wizard and Elf, her face radiant as she offered the Ranger a carven goblet of mead. “Éowyn insisted that this was a gift. She said she had another like it.”
“Indeed?” Gandalf asked softly, his gazed fixed thoughtfully upon the golden haired motal maiden and the destined king of Gondor as Aragorn took the cup from the lady, and sipped appreciatively, before giving it again into her slender white hands.
“Yes,” Lalaith sighed, turning slightly away from Gandalf, so that the soft white cloth of the gown shifted about her body. Its fabric was a little heavier than what she was used to, and slightly more coarse, but still it was lovely, delicately embroidered with golden thread about the throat and shoulders, and with sleeves that fell open at her elbows, trailing down, like a bird’s wings. “Yet when she took me to her rooms to change, I could see that the fine gowns within her wardrobe are already very few.”
“She has a good heart, though yet a bit confused.” Gandalf agreed, lifting his cup of mead, and taking a small sip as Aragorn offered the king’s niece a grateful bow, then turned and strode away, his steps bringing him across the hall, and toward the Wizard and Elf maiden. “What she feels is but a shadow and a dream.” Gandalf sighed almost to himself. “Aragorn has made his choice, and he knows where his heart lies.” He sniffed, almost casually and finished with a soft lift to his voice, “As does Legolas.”
Lalaith lifted her gaze to the wizard whose mischievous eyes nodded to the side, and she turned her head, following Gandalf’s gaze. Legolas stood near a pillar, watching the merry making with a half veiled smile, one hand folded over the other as Gimli, with strains of frothy beer trailing through his beard, sat upon a bench beside him, banging his mug upon the tabletop in time to the singing, and the dancing feet of the Hobbits. Several yet unclaimed mugs rested near his hand, their contents frothing about to the pounding of his mug. Lalaith smiled and drew her eyes away from the Dwarf to see Legolas’ eyes upon her. As their gazes met his eyes grew warm, studying her own with a gentle question.
Upon a table between them, Pippin, singing drunkenly off key, stumbled dancing to the edge of the table, and with a squawk, began to tumble over the side, but for one of Éowyn’s young maids who stood near, and caught him by the shoulders as he fell.
“Careful, Master Hobbit!” The girl laughed, righting him again upon the table top.
“Why, thank you!” Pippin chirped, turning to her, and flashing her a beaming smile as she nodded, and glided away. Pippin’s smile quickly faded though, swaying where he stood, and the dancing of his feet stilled. “Oh-,” he groaned, shaking his head. “I think I need a drink.”
Clambering down off of the table, he staggered away, plopping himself gracelessly beside Gimli, nodding his thanks as the Dwarf handed him one of the brimming mugs. “My, it’s nice to see that not all women from Rohan are like that barmy one Lalaith and I met at Orthanc!”
“Oh, yes.” Gimli grumbled under his breath, his voice so soft that Lalaith doubted she would have been able to hear it beneath the din within the hall had she not been an Elf. “You must mean Greta. Is that the one who tried to choke Lalaith?”
Lalaith swallowed hard. Gimli and Pippin were clearly unaware that she and Legolas also, could hear their words beneath the din. She could see Legolas in the side of her vision gazing at her with increased concern, but she dared not look at him, and instead kept her eyes focused hard upon the Hobbit and Dwarf.
“Mm.” Pippin nodded, taking a sip before he added brightly, “and I saved her!”
“I’m not surprised the rotten strumpet went crawling back to her master.” Gimli continued with an eager nod as he took another gulp, foaming golden liquid spilling down his beard as he did. “Banishment was too good a punishment for her, if you ask me. Ghrr Wretched wench. I’d like to get my hands around her throat.” The Dwarf leaned slightly forward and muttered conspiratorially, “It’s said that a goodly number of the young men in this city fell victim to her-, ah,” Gimli shot a sideward glance at Pippin’s youthful, innocent face, the young Hobbit’s brows lifting as he waited for the Dwarf to continue.
“What? What did she do? Kill ’em?” Pippin breathed, agast.
“No, she-, ah, well, ’tisn’t important.” Gimli gruffed, and fell silent as he tilted his mug up, and drained the contents.
Lalaith’s eyes had fallen to the floor as Gimli had spoken, the din of the room fading to a dull roar within her ears. She felt her face flushing warmly as her own heart throbbed loudly in her ears.
A warm hand touched her shoulder, and she lifted her face, gazing plaintively into Gandalf’s warm eyes. Aragorn stood at Gandalf’s shoulder as well, gazing at her with gentle concern.
But they could not help her. With that thought, she pulled away from his touch and hurried away. Skirting through the crowd, she hurried quickly toward the great carven oaken doors. Straining her shoulder against the rough inlaid wood, she pushed through, and stumbled out onto the broad stone veranda that reached round the outer walls of the Great Hall, washed over by the chilled night breezes. The door fell shut with a clatter behind her. And she was alone, for even the door guards were absent. And as the noise beyond grew faded she hugged her arms to herself, and strode to the ledge. She shuddered at the steep drop as the wind swirled about her, catching at her hair and her gown, but she steeled herself, and did not move back. And instead, she turned her gaze outward, and over the city.
Edoras fell swiftly away beneath her feet, yellow lights flickering here and there amongst the darkened houses that marched down the steep slope below the Great Hall. Beyond the pickets of the city wall, the darkened vale stretched outward, a vast flat plain where grasses danced to the silent music of the wind. And in the darkened distance, like silent, watchful sentinels, rose the high, snow capped mountains, touched silver by the faint light that filtered from the sky.
Lalaith drew in a hard shuddering sigh, following the lines of the mountains upward until her eyes found the stars. She gasped in quick gulps of air as the wind soothed gently through her hair like calming fingers, cooling her flushed face, and floated her gown about her.
Slowly her thundering heart calmed as the light and noise within the Great Hall faded behind her, and Lalaith gazed upon the bright flecks of diamonds that littered the sky above her. The stars she had always loved, their steadiness, ever unchanging, ever faithful. Unlike myself. She thought darkly. Losing my wits and my reason at the first foolish whim. When will I ever learn? One would never believe that she could be the daughter of the one who had kindled them.
A quiet noise from the great oaken doors went unnoticed as she lifted her hands, running them through her unbound hair as she gulped another ragged breath, drawing the cool night air thirstily into her lungs. And soft feet moving over the stone behind her remained unheard as her hands fell heavily to her sides.
“Lalaith nin.” A voice behind her caused a delicious shiver of warmth to trail over her limbs, and then gentle hands cupped her shoulders as a soft kiss was pressed against her hair. “The light of your mother’s stars rests in your hair.”
“Oh, Legolas.” She murmured softly and turned slowly, lifting her heavy eyes to his.
“Why did you leave the Hall?”
Lalaith shivered. His words were not demanding, simply a gentle question. Still, she felt a stab of guilt at the questions in his voice.
“I had to be alone, after what Gimli said-,” Lalaith murmured, dropping her eyes, “Away from the people, and the noise. But I am glad you followed me.”
Lalaith drew in a deep breath and lifted her face, her heart aching at the warm look of compassionate adoration that deepened Legolas’ gaze now as he looked upon her. His jaw was tightening softly as the corners of his lips twitched with the faint hope of a smile, and a sheen of unshed tears touched his eyes.
“I followed you, for I do not wish our fate to be as Aldarion and Erendis before we are even wed.” He said at last, his words cracking softly as he spoke. “I could never give you up, so easily.”
“Nor would my heart permit me to let you go without a word to stay you.” She sighed tremulously, searching his eyes as they gazed pleadingly down into hers. Her heart pounded raggedly within her at the warmth that emanated from his nearness. And silent prayers flew on swift wings as she begged the Valar to guide her words that this time, she could make her heart known. “Yet-, I have-, so many questions.”
“Then ask them of me.” He gently breathed.
He murmured a reverent breath as his lips twitched hopefully, and he reached out, offering her his hand, his brow furrowing with aching hope as he waited for her response.
Slowly, as if time had drawn to a crawl, she lifted her hand, placing it lightly within his own, and a sigh escaped her lips as the lean warmth of his fingers closed over her own. And a smile, as gentle as moonlight itself, touched his face.
The story of Aldarion and Erendis, can be found in the Unfinished Tales.