Sunlight spilled in slanting spears of golden light through the high windows of the throne room, bathing the chamber in a warm glow that Lalaith had not noted in the days before the great battle had been won as the great doors boomed shut behind her and she strode briskly across the marble floor toward the men, gathered at the foot of the throne. The skirts of the white gown Éowyn had gifted to her, whispered about her legs, and she sighed softly, grateful to be back again in women’s garb. Gandalf was pacing slowly about clearly awaiting her arrival. Aragorn stood some distance away from the wizard, his arms crossed, his eyes bearing a thoughtful mien as they turned from one of the statues he had been gazing upon to meet her eyes. A brief smile touched the ranger’s face at the sight of her, which she returned, glad for her friend’s comforting presence, for though yet uncrowned, he already bore about him, the air of a king.
Legolas stood near the Steward’s throne with Éomer at his shoulder while Gimli was smoking nonchalantly upon his pipe, seated casually in the seat that had once been Denethor’s, Faramir’s now that the duties of the Steward had passed to Denethor’s surviving son. She drew in a breath, long and deep, tasting in the air that stirred within the great throne room, a scent of young flowers. Spring was bursting upon them at last, as if in sudden fearless, now that the shadow had been pushed back. The scent of spring had wafted through the airy windows of Éowyn’s room as well, Lalaith remembered, in the Houses of Healing she had left but a few minutes before, when Imrahil had come for her, bidding her to follow him to the great hall at Gandalf’s summons.
With Pippin ever at his side to cheer him, Merry had been in glad spirits, Lalaith recalled, a smirk playing across her lips. Well did she remember how Ioreth, the stern but gentle handed Chief Matron of the Houses of Healing had scolded Pippin for keeping the wounded Hobbit from his rest. But Merry was indeed healing quickly, and would be released from the Houses, soon.
Éowyn had been well, though when Lalaith had sat briefly with her in the rooms she had been given. The slender lady of Rohan had seemed wistful, sad even, as the two maidens stood at the window of Éowyn’s room as she studied the wrappings about her left forearm, and had in soft words questioned Lalaith on Éomer’s health, and the plans for her uncle’s return to Rohan, and burial. Tears had touched Éowyn’s eyes as the Elf maiden had answered her concerning the latter, and Lalaith had ached for her, knowing how deeply she would grieve herself, were she to endure Elrond’s death. Yet somehow, Lalaith had sensed that this was not all that grieved the courageous maiden from Rohan. For Éowyn’s eyes had borne a distant look bereft of hope, a grief beyond her sadness for the fallen, and Lalaith could not tell why.
But then Faramir had come, a loose tunic drawn over the bandages wrapped about his chest. Éowyn had turned at his coming before Lalaith had, somehowsensing Faramir’s presence before the Elf maiden had. And even now, Lalaith’s limbs tingled with gladness remembering the way Faramir’s gentle eyes had fixed past her, and lighted upon Éowyn, adoring her as if no others were near.
It was then that one of the matrons of the House had come bearing a torch, and had bidden Lalaith to come at Prince Imrahil’s request. Willingly, Lalaith had followed her out, leaving Éowyn and Faramir standing alone, an endearingly awkward, yet tender silence hovering warm in the air between them.
Lalaith drew in a long contented breath, these thoughts fading to the back of her mind as Imrahil drew to a stop and held back, though Lalaith continued on, and drew nearer to the dais as Legolas glanced up at Éomer’s side, his gaze finding her own. Such a soft gaze, much like the way Faramir had looked upon Éowyn, that Lalaith could not help but flush with pleasure as she drew near to him, her hand reaching out, and slipping eagerly into his own hand, extended in offering. He offered her a slight bow of his head, ever courteous before the others as he drew her to his side. Yet his eyes, and the corners of his mouth, twitching in a brief, mischievous grin, spoke easily enough of his desire to cast decorum aside, and greet her as he had upon the battle field, once the danger had passed.
At Legolas’ shoulder Éomer shifted his weight and cleared his throat softly.
“My lord,” Lalaith offered courteously to Rohan’s young king.
“My lady,” he murmured in a low greeting, casting his eyes to the marble tiles, clearing attempting to ignore the way Legolas subtly drew her closer against him.
“Gandalf has only just summoned us,” Legolas murmured near her ear. “What he means to speak of, we do not yet know.”
“Lalaith, I thank you for coming,” Gandalf added, his gravelly voice echoing in the long hall as he turned to her, and inclined his head slightly.
“Indeed, it was no trouble,” she returned. “Prince Imrahil bid me come from the Houses of Healing, though he for himself, had other duties among his men.”
“I trust my sister is well?” Éomer muttered softly.
“She is,” Lalaith returned, offering him a bow of her head in return. “I left her in the able care of Gondor’s Steward, who was wounded upon the field of battle, but yet lives, and is returning to his own health as is she.”
Éomer cocked a brow at this, but said no more as Gandalf sighed, and began slowly to pace about, as Aragorn turned away, gazing studiously up into the face of the statue he had been considering before.
“My lords,” said Gandalf slowly, before he glanced at Lalaith, and with a brief smile and gentle nod added, “and lady-, listen to the words of the Steward of Gondor before he died: `You may triumph on the field of battle for a day, but against the power that has risen in the east, the can be no victory.’ I do not bid you despair as he did, but to ponder the meaning of his words. For though spoken in madness, they bore a small measure of truth.”
Beyond Gandalf, Aragorn drew in a deep breath that lifted his shoulders before he released it, and they fell again, though the ranger said nothing.
“The Stones of seeing do not lie, and not even the Lord of Barad-Dûr can make them do so. He can, maybe, by his will choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds, or cause them to mistake the meaning of what they see. Nonetheless it cannot be doubted that Denethor saw great forces arrayed in Mordor.”
Gandalf paused in his slow pacing before the steps of the dais, his gaze grown deep and thoughtful. “And Frodo,” he murmured, heaviness in his voice, “has passed beyond my sight.” He slowly strode away across the floor.
“The darkness is deepening,” he breathed.
“If Sauron had the Ring, we would know it,” Aragorn cut in, speaking at last now, though he did not turn.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Gandalf murmured, turning toward Aragorn’s back. “He has suffered a defeat, yes. But behind the walls of Mordor, our enemy is regrouping.”
“Let him stay there!” Gimli crowed, popping his pipe briefly from his mouth. “Let him rot! Why should we care?”
“Because ten thousand orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom,” Gandalf returned, turning toward the Dwarf and stepping nearer a pace, his eyes heavy with the weight of the worry he bore. He sighed heavily and glanced away. “I’ve sent him to his death.”
“No,” Aragorn cut in, his voice mild though firm as the ranger turned about to face the wizard. “There is still hope for Frodo.”
Lalaith drew in a long breath as Aragorn’s voice gained in strength and surety. “He needs time. And safe passage across the plains of Gorgoroth. We can give him that.”
“How?” Gimli demanded, his voice a gravelly tone.
“Draw out Sauron’s armies,” Aragorn returned, turning toward the Dwarf as a brightness lit the ranger’s eyes that caused a spark of pride to take hold in Lalaith’s heart. “Empty his lands. Then we gather our strength and March on the Black Gate.”
Lalaith blinked at this, her mouth falling open momentarily while at her side, Legolas stiffened imperceptibly. In the Steward’s throne beside her, Gimli choked and wheezed in his own sudden shock.
“We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms,” Éomer cut in swiftly, stepping forward, his erect stance speaking of his own alarm at Aragorn’s words.
“Not for ourselves,” Aragorn returned, his voice twined through with mildness and strength. “But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron’s eye fixed upon us.”
“Indeed,” Lalaith offered quietly, her eyes falling as she regained her thoughts lost briefly at Aragorn’s unexpected suggestion. “If we march against him, we shall bring his gaze upon us, and blind him to all else that moves. Frodo will not be so easily detected.”
Aragorn glanced at her as she said this, and nodded tersely.
“A diversion,” Legolas added with a lift of his chin, understanding now entering his eyes as well, though he cast a brief, questioning glance at Lalaith after the words were out of his mouth.
“If we march against him?” he queried, returning her own words to her beneath his breath.
Lalaith pursed her lips at this, and met the eyes of her beloved steadily, to which he furrowed his brows and glanced away, though he said nothing.
“Certainty of death,” Gimli chortled loudly, his pipe clenched between his teeth, “small chance of success-,” he nodded, waving his free hand about as he concluded with brash Dwarvish sarcasm, “what are we waiting for?”
“Sauron will suspect a trap,” Gandalf murmured, drawing near to Aragorn. “He will not take the bait.”
“Oh, I think he will,” Aragorn murmured back, a smile claiming his face as a light flashed within his eyes.
And in that moment, Lalaith’s heart leaped within her, for in his certainty, she found strength, and eager willingness to join this new quest to aide Frodo how they might, from beyond the lands of Mordor.
Yet at her side, Legolas had turned his eyes down, a gentle, yet fixed frown upon his lips as he quietly contemplated his own secret thoughts.