A light tapping at her door turned Lalaith’s head from the mirror in the antechamber of her rooms where she stood, plaiting her hair in a single rope over her shoulder.
“Come,” she called, casting a quick glance at herself in the mirror her eyes flashing over her tunic of soft grey, her leggings and jerkin of darker blue, and her boots of twilight blue bound comfortably about her slender calves, all the soft warm tones that reminded her of home in Imladris.
Her bow and quiver with her arrows and knives, were across her back, the belts of her quiver roughly tooled that had once been Théodred’s, were strained and twisted after the quiver had caught upon the beam across the mûmak’s back. But still the quiver was serviceable enough for her needs, and Lalaith did not wish to be parted from it.
The small voice, a boy’s voice, close and nervous, followed upon the soft creaking of the door, and Lalaith smiled at Bergil, the young son of Beregond who stood before her.
He studied her face, her mannishly clad form, and then he ducked his head. His cheeks flushed warm as he shifted his weight, his hands held behind him.
“Good day, young one,” she returned, a smile coming to her face as she studied the lad’s endearingly shy features, the light etching his rumpled little head. “I trust you will be well while your father is away with us?”
“Ioreth, the chief matron of the Healing Houses, is a distant kinswoman of my mother and she has agreed to care for me until my family has all returned again,” he returned quietly.
“I am glad to know it,” Lalaith answered. “She is a fine lady.” She studied the boy’s downturned head, and smiled softly. “Was there perhaps a reason such a fine young lord as yourself, has blessed me with a visit?”
Bergil offered a timid smile at this.
“I wished to return this to you,” he offered as he drew his hands from behind his back, and Lalaith’s smile softened at what she saw cradled in his hands, though it quickly returned, her heart leaping with joy. “It looks Elven made. I asked Pippin if it was his, but he said it is not, but that it looked familiar to him, and that it might be yours-,”
“Where did you find this?” Lalaith gasped gratefully, snatching the small sheathed knife from his hands, Galadriel’s gift to her, before they had left the Golden Wood. “I thought it had been lost. It was not in my boot after Pippin saved me and Faramir from the burning pyre. I did not know what became of it.”
“It was found by Lord Denethor’s servants, among his belongings in his private chambers, my lady,” a breathless voice came from the door as Ioreth’s slender shadow appeared, her gaze fixed upon Bergil, her expression one of affectionate scolding. Her face, framed by a clean white cowl, was lovely in spite of the years furrowed upon it. Bergil ducked his head as Ioreth flashed a glance at Lalaith, smiling as she drew into the fore chamber. “It was found in a small box of baby girl’s clothing our lady Finduilas made long ago, in the hopes that one day, she might have a daughter.”
The matron of the Houses of Healing sighed and shrugged her small, capable shoulders dismissively at the thought.
“I am glad Lord Beregond’s young son found its owner,” she continued, placing a hand about Bergil’s shoulders, and studying the boy with a raised eyebrow. Bergil blushed at this, though he smiled when he saw Ioreth’s eyes twinkle gently. “Though he must needs be reminded not to dart away, when he is assisting the Healers in their duties.”
“Yes, my lady,” Bergil muttered softly, to which Lalaith’s heart grew warm, and she reached out, ruffling the boy’s hair in her fingers as he blushed and grinned.
“In truth, my lady, I am glad I had this excuse to come here before your departure,” the mortal woman offered with a gentle smile. “I wished for you to know that I too, have seen how well the lady Éowyn heals under the nurturing care of our good lord, Faramir.”
A smirk made its way across Ioreth’s thin lips at these words, and Lalaith could not help but return the grin, her heart leaping in joy at the look of understanding within the mortal woman’s eyes.
“And Lord Faramir, I do not doubt, returns to strength as well, more swiftly, perhaps, because of the lady’s company.” Lalaith returned.
“So he does,” Ioreth answered, her voice laced with a hint of joy. “When your host returns at last to Minas Tirith, perhaps there will be glad news concerning our dear Steward, and the fair lady of Rohan.”
Lalaith grinned broadly. “I shall look forward with joy then, to our return.”
“As will I,” a new voice sounded from the doorway, Lalaith’s heart leaping to hear it as a flush darkened her cheeks. She turned her head, seeing Legolas’ shadow etched in the light of the doorway.
“Ah, young Bergil,” Ioreth sighed loudly, tightening her hand about Bergil’s shoulder. Ioreth cast Lalaith an approving smirk over the boy’s head as she turned him away. “Shall we return to the Healing Houses?”
“Yes, my lady,” Bergil replied in an amused tone that betrayed his understanding at the warm flush upon Lalaith’s cheeks.
“Come along, then, we both have many duties to see to.”
Ioreth led Bergil to the door, casting a smile toward the Elven prince.
“May all go well with you, my lord,” Ioreth offered politely as she and Bergil passed him.
“And with you, noble lady,” Legolas offered her a short bow as Ioreth and Bergil passed into the sunlight beyond the doorway before he turned forward again, his smile softening as his eyes rested upon Lalaith’s.
Drawing inward, he closed the door softly behind him, his features growing more distinct in the faint light.
“What is this?” he asked softly in their own tongue, stepping near to study the knife in her hands. He sighed softly, bidding her with his eyes, to which she offered the small weapon into his hands.
“The Lady’s gift,” he murmured, his eyes unreadable as he drew the short blade out a space and then clapped it softly back into its sheath. “You had feared it lost.”
“It was found among Lord Denethor’s belongings, and the child Bergil brought it to me,” she added softly, her blood warming at his nearness. “It may yet prove useful in this last great battle before the Black Gates.”
Legolas sighed again, his eyes silent and sad before he offered, “Then allow me-,”
To this, he lowered himself one knee before her. Lalaith turned her eyes down, watching his golden hair falling about his sturdy shoulders. His hands brushed over her right calf as he tucked the sheathed blade into the outer edge of her boot.
Even through the cloth of her breeches, Lalaith could feel the warmth of his fingers against her leg, and her breath quickened as he lifted his eyes to hers and slowly rose before her, the warmth of him reaching out to her across the narrow space between them.
“Lalaith nin,” he sighed softly, his breath warm against her face as he towered above her once again, and took her hands within his own. “Is there naught I can say to persuade you to stay rather than to take the journey with us to the Black Gate?”
Lalaith sighed softly at these words and squeezed his hands softly with her own, saying nothing.
“Lalaith!” Legolas breathed softly, drawing her hands near to his face, cradling them as he bent his head, gently caressing her fingertips with the barest brush of his lips. “You know that this mission is without hope of victory!”
“I do,” Lalaith returned, closing her eyes against the sight of his blinding gaze, her hands finding the stiff cloth of his jerkin. Her fingertips could feel the tautness of his muscles even beneath the cloth.
“Our numbers are too few,” Legolas breathed, his arms falling from her face, finding her shoulders, his fingertips unconsciously kneading the soft muscles as his voice took on a pleading, persuasive tone. “If Frodo cannot find a way to the mountain, if the One Ring does not fall into the fire in time-,”
“I am coming with you,” Lalaith breathed, her voice cutting off his as she opened her eyes, and lifted her gaze to his. “Do you not remember our words in Imladris before our departure upon this quest?”
“I remember,” Legolas sighed as he withdrew a step, his eyes glazed in defeat, though his hands tightly clutched her own. “Well do I remember. You spoke of the evil in your past, that you must come upon the quest, to fully defeat Sauron’s hold upon you.”
“Sauron once tried to destroy me, and though I escaped, his shadow still lingers upon me,” Lalaith returned, her voice sad. “I cannot fully defeat it, until I face him. I must face him again Legolas, I must face him fully, and let him know that I am no longer helpless before him. Only then, can I truly defeat him, and cast off the last of his shadow.”
Legolas sighed at this and pulled her to him, his body taut and warm beneath the cloth of his garb as he tucked his jaw against her hair. “Would that I could do all things for you,” he breathed.
Lalaith burrowed her face against his neck, drawing in the warm musky scent of him, greedily. That she could stay here, like this forever-,
“Will you forgive me?” he asked softly.
“For what?” Lalaith asked, lifting her head suddenly to find his eyes.
Legolas smiled as their gazes met, and lifted a hand, touching his fingers to the rope of her hair, letting it slide absently through his fingers.
“For my weakness, Lalaith nin,” he gulped softly, his eyes meeting hers. “For my wish to shield you from that which you must face.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” she returned gently. “And even so, you are easy to forgive. You fear for me, because you love me. That is not a fault.”
“You will not face him alone, you know this, do you not?” Legolas gulped softly. “I will not be far from you.”
“I know,” she returned.
“Come,” he murmured at last, drawing back, and seeking for her hand. His fingers wove comfortingly through her own. “I have already seen to Hasufel. Your mount is ready, and waiting for you beside Arod.”
The dark blue mantel Faramir had given her, embraced her slender form, sheltering her from the chill of the air about her, though it did little to ward of the pain within her heart as Éowyn stood upon a high wall, watching Aragorn’s host wending their way slowly out of the city.
Her friend Lalaith was riding with him, she and her lover, Legolas, as well as dear Lord Gimli-,
Éowyn heaved a deep sigh, running her fingers unconsciously over the wrappings enshrouding her left arm as it slowly healed. A part of her heart wished to be riding with him as well, beside him, fearless and ready to face danger beside him. But yet, much of her heart was glad to stay behind, not out of fear, but rather because-,
A sound behind her, as if it complied with the secret wishes of her heart, sounded in her ears, the familiar scuff of soft boots, and she felt his presence as he approached.
“The city has fallen silent,” she murmured softly as Faramir came to her side, the very air seeming to warm slightly at his approach. “There is no warmth left in the sun. It grows so cold.”
“It’s just the damp of the first spring rain,” he offered softly.
Her very soul stirred within her at the sound of his voice, and Éowyn turned, lifting her eyes to his.
His gaze met hers, tender and adoring. “I do not believe this darkness with endure,” Faramir breathed softly.
Her heart grew warm as he spoke, his voice a tender caress. She felt his fingers against hers, warm and lean and strong, seeking her own hand. She slipped her own cold hand into his warm grip, and he gently tightened his hold, comfortingly, protectively.
How well her hand fit within his, she thought, as if it had always belonged there-, as if-,
Her heart fairly swelled at the sudden emotion that grew within her. In all her longings for Aragorn, in all her hopeless wishings and desperate pleadings, she had not felt such a sense of belonging, of rightness, of sweet and tender devotion as she felt for Faramir. All that she had felt for Aragorn seemed no more than a child’s day dream, now. And as this understanding drew itself over her heart, she began to smile slowly, her lips trembling as she did. And Faramir, oh, dear Faramir seemed as if to drink in the warmth of her smile as a thirsting man drinks water. And she could only adore him more for it.
Suddenly wanting no more than his strength, his comfort, and the warmth of his closeness, Éowyn leaned in nearer to him, and bent her head, resting it upon his shoulder as she closed her eyes contentedly, basking in the warmth of him. His free arm circled about her then, drawing her tenderly against him as his cheek came to rest upon her hair.
Calassë lay awake in the silver darkness of her chamber, restless, unable to sleep as she stared up at the arched ceiling. She could not tell what watch the night had passed into, but she was certain it was but a few hours from morning.
She shuddered, pushing the bedclothes back as she rose, the floor smooth and cool beneath her bare feet as she padded softly back and forth, her fingers running swifly through her unbound hair. What were these thoughts churning within her mind? Why could she not cease to think of him? Surely he would return soon, but-,
She drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and pressed a hand against her heart. She longed with all that she was, to be near him. To see him, to speak to him. To feel his arms about her, to feel the swift rise and fall of his breath in their embrace-,
Never could she remember feeling such wild stirrings as she felt now, and knowing that he could be in danger, these new sensations were scewered through with twisted barbs of pain, turning tender anticipation into sorrowing fear.
Calassë drew in a shuddering breath.
“Unwise as this wish is, I want to be with you. I would know your name from your own lips, my dear one. I would know everything from you, and I would not fear the newness of it all, if I am where you are,” she whispered into the darkness.
“I want to be with you,” she ended in a soft, breathless whisper, feeling a sudden determination steeling slowly over her heart, and growing now into a firm resolve.
“Naneth, forgive me,” she breathed softly. “Foolish as I am, my will is set. I must do this.”
Galadriel came awake upon her wide bed unconsciously reaching out for Celeborn, aching for the comfort of his arms, only to find the sheets empty as she slowly rose from the bliss of her dreams.
She sat up, shivering, alone in the silver darkness. Galadriel sighed softly before she rose, and cast a robe about her slender form, rising to cross the room.
The door drew open at her touch as she descended the steps from her chamber, seeking the doorway to Calassë’s room.
The maiden was gone, she knew. She had sensed Calassë’s departure even in her dreams.
The mother in her had wished to stop the maiden, to go after her and call her back. But a whisper of peace had stayed her rising.
The doorway into Calassë’s chamber, the room that had so long before belonged to Celebrian, stood slightly ajar and drew open easily at her touch.
Galadriel stepped across the threshhold and studied the room with a heart that was heavy, yet warm with a peace that lingered even at the sight of Calassë’s empty bed.
The bed clothes had been tucked neatly, the room in perfect order as it had been the day Calassë had come. The small silver, star woven blanket was gone from the end of her bed, as was the fruit that had been set in a basin upon a nearby table. A small bit of parchment rested upon the maiden’s pillow.
Gliding softly forward, Galadriel caught it up, tears pricking her eyes at the words etched upon the page.
“Dearest Naneth, I have gone to find him. I wished to wait for his return, but my heart biddens me to hasten. Forgive me. I do not wish to cause you to fear for me, but I must go to him.”
Galadriel heaved a deep sigh, and sat heavily upon the bed.
“Dear Valar, give her strength,” she murmured softly. “For all that she has yet to face.”
Elrohir moved silently along the narrow aerial pathway, the sturdy, interwoven branches of the Mallyrn, his feet lightly finding their way from one branch to another even as his eyes remained fixed upon the shadowed line of trees across the Anduin. The faint lanterns upon the talan behind him were growing fainter as he and Rumil moved through the shadowed canopy. And the lights upon the distant flet before them, grew nearer, outlining the shadows of several Elves, rigid alert, awaiting attack.
Elrohir brushed a sweating hand across his brow, shifting the pouch of rationed lembas against his hip that hung on a strap of leather over his shoulder. The wait was growing long as the Galadhrim waited for the forces of Dol Guldur to attack them once again. And Elrohir grit his teeth silently as he with Rumil upon his heels, leapt deftly from one branch to another as their eyes scanned the shadowed undergrowth beneath them, feeling the chafing impatience he often did when he was forced to wait in such nervous silence as this.
His merry, playful, often mischievous nature did not take well to such unending, infernal inaction, and the weighted, ragged silence would surely drive him entirely mad if he had not Calassë to fix his thoughts upon.
Calassë, he thought to himself, and he offered himself a tentative grin, imagining her slender form seated before a mirror, a brush moving through the tresses of her golden hair, and a silent sigh broke past his lips.
Ai, but she was beautiful-,
“Lord Elrohir!” Rumil’s hushed voice sounded near, and he felt Elf’s hand clapped upon his arm.
Elrohir turned to glance at the yellow haired Elf who nodded downward, his eyes fixed away through the shadows from behind them. And Elrohir heard the sound now, a rustle moving through the undergrowth upon the forest floor moving from the west, near toward their high perch.
“Orcs?” Rumil hissed softly, drawing a slender arrow from his quiver, and fitting it to the string. “And only one? Yet it moves eastward. Away from Caras Galadhon.”
“Summon your brother, my grandfather and the others,” he ordered swiftly, his hand tightening upon his bow.
“What of the danger? Should I not-,”
“Go!” he ordered.
“Yes, my lord,” Rumil returned swiftly, and darted away, the branches barely creaking beneath his feet.
Elrohir turned his thoughts toward the shadowed figure upon the ground, that had drawn almost directly beneath him.
Sucking in a swift breath, he scampered and leapt from one twining branch to the other, down nearer toward the ground. His footfalls fell silent upon the branches as he went, though his heart pounded noisily in his throat. Perhaps his instincts had been wrong. Perhaps he should have bidden Rumil to join him. But he would not let himself think on this as he brandished his courage. With swift footfalls, he skirted about the stumbling figure, an until shadow stumbling in and out of the shaded undergrowth until he pounced at last from a low branch to the forest floor, in the path of the unseen shadow, his arrow to the string, his bow drawn to his cheek just as the figure came scrambling out of the heavy undergrowth and drew in a sudden gasp at the arrow trained upon her face, her eyes meeting his, at last.
His hammering heart thundered to an abrupt halt within him as her eyes, large and soft in her fair, dirt smudged face, met his.
“Calassë?” he demanded breathlessly, swiftly lowering his bow.
“My lord,” Calassë returned, catching a gasp in her voice as a small pack upon her shoulder slipped and fell to the ground in surprise.
“Why are you here, in this place of danger?” he demanded gently.
“Do not be angry-,” she breathed softly, her eyes large in her dirt smudged face, her countenance one of endearing, apologetic submission.
“Ai, Calassë,” Elrohir’s heart caught upon a fierce throb at these words and he strode to her, catching her slender form in his arms. “I am not angry-,”
His voice trailed away at the sudden stirrings that rose within him at the soft press of her soft, warm body against his own.
“I am not angry, Calassë,” he breathed as she sighed within the circle of his arms, and nestled her head against his neck, pressing herself all the more softly against him, which served only to send his blood pulsing all the more heatedly through his veins. “But I fear for you. You should not be here. The forces of Dol Guldur-,”
“I know of Eärendil, my lord,”
Elrohir stiffened at these words, a shaft of fear lancing through his heart. Slowly, he drew back, his hands finding Calassë’s narrow shoulders as he turned his eyes down to study her own.
For a long moment he studied her face, fair and soft beneath the smudges of dirt that were streaked there.
“You-,” he stammered, seeking her eyes for a hint of anger, or reproach. “You know I am not he?”
“I found a book-, I know of Elwing, of the Silmaril-,” Calassë sighed, and Elrohir’s jaw tightened at the look of quiet sadness that claimed her face. “I know he has sailed away, and I have lost him. I wish that I could have seen him again. I wish I could have kept my promise-,”
“Forgive me, I did not intend to deceive you, Calassë,” he began in a swift murmur. “I longed to tell you, but my grandmother wished-,”
“Hush, my dearest,” Calassë whispered softly, a slender cool finger against his lips silencing his hurried words. His lips trembled at her touch. “I understand.”
Elrohir gulped hard at the warmth in her eyes, the sweet smile upon her lips as her hand slid from his lips, and brushed lightly against his jaw.
“Calassë,” he murmured, lifting a hand to cover hers where it rested against his cheek. “Can you forgive me?”
“There is nothing to forgive, my dear one,” she returned, her voice bearing a tender tone.
“Then why have you come?” he queried softly. “Glad as I am to see you-,” she smiled like the sun at this, to which he could not but smile as well. “Glad as I am, this is a dangerous place.”
“I know,” she returned with a sigh, drawing back, her eyes lowering, though she smiled again as Elrohir reached for her, catching her hands in his own as he turned and began guiding her back toward the high flets where the other warriors waited. “And for that, I am in need of your forgiveness. But I wished to be near you again, to hear your voice, and-,” she looked up at him again, her gaze as plaintive and innocent as a child’s. “And I wished to learn your true name.”
Elrohir released a deep breath at this, and smiled. “My name is Elrohir,” he whispered, and her soft liquid blue eyes grew warm at his name. “Elrohir, the son of Elrond, the son of Eärendil.”
“Elrohir-,” Calassë breathed softly, and the sound coursed through his soul like the strains of a soft hymn. “Your name is beautiful.”
“As you are, Calassë,” he murmured.
A soothing warmth pulsed swiftly through his veins as an allurring flush coloring her cheeks, and she ducked her head.
“Oi, What’er we `ere?”
The harsh voice speaking in the Common Tongue, gravelly, and close, shot a shard of alarm through Elrohir’s core, jarring him painfully from the sweet cloud within which he and Calassë had been enwrapped as their footsteps drew to a sudden halt. He released her hand and whipped toward the sound, snatching an arrow from his quiver in the same motion, only to have the weapons wrenched fiercely from his hands as two mottled, muscled forms pounced upon him from either side.
Orcs! The forces of Dol Guldur were returning again!
“Calassë, flee!” he shouted, his voice ragged as he grappled with the two snarling creatures who struggled to force him to the ground.
But Calassë did not obey him. Rather, she rushed forward, snatching the arm of the nearest orc, struggling to pull the muscular beast off of him.
The orc, with a howl, turned and struck her hard in the face with the back of his gnarled paw and she tumbled to the earth only to be wrenched upward again, as another orc stomped over her, and snatched her hair in its pinching, merciless grip and lifted her to her feet, a knife’s blade touching her throat in a silent threat as his gnarled paw snatched her slender arm.
She shuddered at the touch of the blade, and Elrohir winced for her, his eyes glaring at the bent mottled creature that held her, wishing he was free so that he might wrench the orc’s limbs from his body.
“Take care, Elf!” scoffed a ragged voice, scratchy, and obviously female, as the other orcs about brandished their weapons at him, snarling their anger. “Else your little tart dies!”
A scrawny gnarled creature clad in rags, shreds of hair lingering over a patched and ragged scalp had spoken to him. The female orc, armed with a wretched looking blade in each hand, and clearly the leader of this small party, eyed Elrohir with a dark sneer.
He glanced toward Calassë. Tears were upon her face as she studied the faces of the orcs about her, her gaze trained more upon the face of the she-orc who strode back and forth, a grimace of self importance upon her mottled face.
“But you’re a pretty one, aren’cha?” the female orc turned toward Elrohir as the several male orcs who surrounded him, stripped his quiver from his back and tossed it roughly away. ” `Aven’t seen one o’ you alive, in a long time. Not since we barely escaped the drowning of Isengard, and found our way across that wretched river to our kin that serve the necromancer beneath the shadow trees.” The orc stepped nearer toward Elrohir, and the tip of one of her blades touched him beneath his chin, forcing his face to tip upward, his gaze meeting her coal black eyes as they traveling over him as if surveying a cut of meat.
“What a pretty little toy you are,” she purred almost gently, her rancid breath washing over his face. “I could keep you alive if-,”
“Leave him alone, Skessa!” Calassë cried, and the cruel, piercing stare of the female orc shot back to her.
The orc called Skessa sneered darkly at Calassë, baring cruel fangs in a wide mouth as the other blade she held, lifted, softly scraping the side of Calassë’s face, drawing a tiny bead of blood as it nicked the line of her jaw.
With a growl of fury, Elrohir twisted his face away from the she-orc’s blade and struggled forward, but the two orcs, one on each side of him, snatched his arms in iron fists, and he could not break free.
“Oo `er you?” The orc Calassë had called Skessa demanded harshly. “Ow’d an Elf woman know me?”
Calassë blinked her eyes, tears coming freely now to her cheeks. “It does not matter, let him go!” she cried.
Elrohir gulped hard, seeing the tortured look upon her face. Had these very orcs perhaps, been her captors?
“Tell me `ow you know me, and maybe I will!” the she-orc scoffed.
Calassë’s eyes shot toward Elrohir, grief and pleading in her eyes before she glanced again toward the she-orc.
“Kul-izg Burza,” she muttered softly. Her eyes dulled of light, met Elrohir’s.
Elrohir’s heart gave a ragged throb, and his very soul could not help but weep at the abject shame that washed over Calassë’s face as Skessa snorted viciously, spittle flying from her lips as she squeeled in laughter, joined soon by cruel laughter of the male orcs. “Little Burza, the star gazer, with flowers in her blood turned `erself into an Elfling, and found `erself a pretty little toy to play with!”
“Now, let him go!” Calassë cried. “Let him returned to his people unharmed, Skessa, I beg you!”
“Stupid Burza!” Skessa shrieked with laughter. “You were always too trusting!” At these words, Skessa glanced toward Elrohir, a murderous gleam in her eye and his heart pounded wildly in his throat as she raised her free blade, ready to slice it down into his body. He would die in a moment. His mind accepted that knowledge numbly. But what of Calassë? His heart wrenched. What would they do to her?
But before the blade could fall however, an angry cry, hardly Calassë’s voice, shattered through the trees, and the maiden swatted the harsh blade from beneath her chin with strength that surprised Elrohir as well as the orc that held her captive. Breaking like an angry warg from the orc’s hold, Calassë lunged forward, and caught Skessa’s fist about the raised blade, and pushed the she-orc harshly back.
Skessa stumbled a pace before she regained her balance, and glared at Calassë with a look of black fury.
“Ukh-latu kraat, âdhn-latu tul!” Calassë wailed. “Narnûl-latu golug!”
“Az-izg lat agh lab golug!” Skessa shrieked back.
With a wild roar, Skessa spun, swinging her blade at Calassë’s head, the maiden ducking only in the last instant.
Reaching up, Calassë caught the orc’s swinging arm, and shooting again to her feet, she twisted, until Elrohir heard a great crack, and the she-orc screamed, lunging away from Calassë, one arm dangling at her side, bent at an odd angle. The curved blade had dropped to the earth from her open, twitching fingers, and Calassë hurriedly snatched it up.
“Az-latu ta!” Skessa shrieked to her comrades.
“Nar-!” wailed Calassë as the orc upon Elrohir’s left side chuckled darkly and shoved away from him to march a space away, the remaining orc catching both Elrohir’s arms in a pinching, crushing grip that he could not struggle from as the first orc snatched a great iron blade from one of the smaller male orcs who stood by grinning, and turned to eye Elrohir with a wretched, wicked gaze.
“Az-latu golug rad!” screamed Skessa as she raised her one remaining blade, her burning gaze fixed upon the Elf maiden. But instead of raising the dropped blade she had snatched up to defend herself, Calassë turned away and swung it with all her strength at the orc that held Elrohir in his iron grip. The beast, too surprised to react, could only grunt in shock as the blade flashed over Elrohir’s head, slicing with a sickening chunk into the creature’s thick throat in the very moment that Skessa, with a shriek of victory, slashed her blade across the Elf maiden’s unguarded side, slicing through the maiden’s muddied gown.
The beast behind him tumbled away with a dying gurgle, but Elrohir took no note of this as Calassë’s wide and startled gaze, met his own, and then her eyes glazed and she crumpled like a fallen doll, to the ground.
The world in that moment, turned into a haze of flame. Thought left him as Elrohir plunged to his feet screaming in mindless fury. He snatched Calassë’s fallen blade and swung the curved weapon at Skessa’s head, severing it from the she-orc’s shoulders in a single blow. The large muscled uruk and the smaller males roared their disapproval at this, and lunged toward him, though they never reached him as several arrows came zipping out of the undergrowth, and struck the snarling creatures, which fell with wild groans, to lie dead and still upon the shadowed grass.
Reality returned then. Pulsing, merciless, his soul crushed beneath its bitter waves. The blackened weapon dropped to the earth as Elrohir’s heart tore asunder and a bitter sob wrenched from his lungs.
“Calassë!” Elrohir wailed as he tumbled clumsily to the earth beside the crumpled maiden, scooping his arm beneath her head and tipping her up, his hand brushing furtively over her face. Her eyes were closed. Blood soaked her gown on the side the orc had slashed. But she was breathing. Though shallowly, faintly, she was still breathing.
The cloth of her gown was slit just above the slight curve of her narrow hip, the wound, a deep sliced upon her the pale flesh, visible through the torn cloth.
Scrambling furiously, Elrohir stripped his thick Lórien cloak from his shoulders, and knowing no other recourse, wrenched his own tunic off, stripping it swiftly over his head to press against the wound.
The air brushed chill against his bare chest, but he took no note of it as he clutched her close to him, bending low above her quiet face.
“Calassë, Calassë!” he moaned. “Awaken, I beg you!” And a spark of hope took hold as her eyelids flickered and drew open.
“The blade-, forged in Mordor, I-,” she muttered. “I am not strong enough-, not good enough-, Elrohir, I-,”
She shuddered, her head tipped wearily against his bare chest, and Elrohir stiffened at the sudden changed that moved over her. Her once fair skin flickered, as if an unseen flame danced over her, marring the fair flesh, turning it dark and mottled as an orc’s skin, even her hair changed, the shimmering gold replaced by ragged patches of black and grey.
Calassë glanced wearily down at her hands, mottled and clawed, and closed her eyes again, gasping. “I remember all that passed from the time I was taken, until I found myself beneath your golden trees. I remember the darkness, and-, my part in it! The poison of the darkness cannot be drawn from my wounds. For I am the poison, my lord! I am the darkness!”
“No, Calassë,” he tried to chide gently, though his words were marred by tears.
“Have you not wondered, my fair, gentle lord?” Calassë gasped, pleading with him through eyes dark now as a moonless night. “As you have learned the truth about me, have you not wondered, how I could have been so long a captive in the darkness? I have not been a prisoner of the Evil One for these many centuries uncounted, held in bonds, or dungeons,” she sobbed weakly, despair in her voice. “I-, I-, I have been one of them! Narkul-izg narfik golug! Kul-izg uruk! Ulkûrz uruk.!”
“Elrohir!” Celeborn’s voice cried from beyond him as the Lord of the Galadhrim, flanked by Haldir and his brothers as well as several other warriors emerged from the shadows of the undergrowth into the clearing behind Elrohir’s kneeling form.
“You must go,” she breathed softly from the circle of his arms, starting at Celeborn’s voice. “You must leave me here to die. I am your enemy, Elrohir! You cannot let Ada see me thus, he will hate me, also!”
“No,” he returned, clutching her limp form all the more closely to himself. “Adar loves you as his daughter. And I love you as the sky loves the wind! My heart is in your keeping.”
“Ukh-lat kraat, narfik golug!” she sobbed. “Narkul-izg tor! Kul-izg kûf!”
“Hush now, Calassë,” he murmured.
Cradled in Elrohir’s strong arms, Calassë struggled through her pain to understand why he would not leave her with the slain orcs, changed and misshapen as she was now. Through the haze of her agony, she could see her hands, mottled and twisted as they had been before the clear silver stream so many days before, as the memories of the centuries in Mordor pulsed painfully through her mind, Barad-Dûr, Orthanc, Greta’s cruelty, the fair Elf and her small companion, the mercy the Ents had shown her-,
“I am Burza, the orc, I am ugly,” she breathed, tipping her head, feeling warm, supple flesh against her cheek, unable to understand why it should bring such pleasure through her pain. “I am no longer beautiful to you.”
“You are Calassë, the fairest maiden of Gondolin,” Elrohir soothed gently, his voice somewhere above her as his fair face swam in and out of her vision. “You will always be beautiful to me. I will never cease to love you.”
She could feel tears pricking her eyes.
“Elrohir-,” she breathed, wishing she could speak more as a sweet sense of peace washed through her. He loved her beyond her beauty, beyond all that had befallen her. He loved her. Warm oblivion beckoned to her, sweet light filled her mind.
“Calassë!” Elrohir begged, his voice carrying a harsh note of sudden alarm, “Calassë, stay with me! I beg you!”
But the lights swirled upward in her mind enveloping her, and she fell into oblivion.
Ithilwen’s slippered feet made no sound as she moved along the pillared portico. The soft whisper of the falls surrounded her, soothing her as she returned to the kitchens with Lord Elrond’s breakfast tray, barely touched, she noted sadly. But well she understood the great lord’s distress, his daughter upon the edge of death, his youngest son absent, while all about them, the world lay in turmoil, its fate uncertain.
Her head hung down, her eyes lowered as she passed from the pillared corridor into an open bay where a fountain clattered softly.
Her eyes shot up, her heart catching wildly at the sight of him, seated upon the lip of stone surrounding the clattering water.
“Glorfindel,” she murmured, glad of the sight of him as her feet changed their course and moved to where he was. She set the tray down upon a nearby plinth, and dropped to the stone beside her beloved, smoothing her skirts beneath her as she took his hand in her own, and studied his troubled eyes.
“What is it?” she murmured softly, wondering if this quiet distress she saw within his eyes could be traced to the old, unforgotten grief he had spoken of in his sleep not many days before.
“Ai, Ithilwen,” he murmured, lifting her hand and kissing her fingertips almost absently before he dropped their clasped hands into his lap with a weary sigh.
“I see grief in your eyes,” she continued gently. “Why is it?”
“Ithilwen,” he murmured gently, his glance turning upon her, adoring her quietly. “I would not wish to trouble your heart with my pain-,”
“My heart is in your keeping, Glorfindel,” she murmured quietly. “Your pain is my own. Will you not speak of it?”
“Truly, beloved, I cannot say why this grief has come to me,” he murmured quietly. “I can only say that a part of my heart is bleeding, and in pain, and I cannot say why.”
“If perhaps you had another, more worthy woman to love, she would be strong enough to draw away this grief from your heart,” Ithilwen murmured softly, casting her eyes down.
Glorfindel’s eyes shot up. “Ithilwen!” he gasped. “Why do you speak thusly?”
Ithilwen dropped her eyes, suddenly ashamed. “I should not have-, forgive me-,”
Flustered, she began to rise, only to be drawn back down by Glorfindel’s hand as he caught her fingers within his own.
“Please-, stay, Ithilwen,” he murmured plaintively.
She sighed, allowing him to draw her down again beside him, her eyes meeting his, her gaze timid and apologetic, though a small smile managed to find its way to her face as he smiled warmly upon her.
“Ithilwen,” he murmured softly. “Do not feel needless guilt because you cannot take all the pain of Arda away from me. I love you. I want no other but you. In your love, I have healing. You sooth me as a salve upon a wound, and I would not be without you.”
Ithilwen gulped softly. “Do you love me even more than-,” But she could not bring herself to finish, seeing the boyish pleading in Glorfindel’s eyes.
“Am I a comfort to you as well, Ithilwen?” he asked softly. “Is my presence as soothing to you as yours is to me?”
The question, so plaintive, so pleading, melted Ithilwen’s heart, and tears sprung to her eyes. His hands, warm and comforting, cupped her face then, and she tipped her face his shivering in soft delight as his parted lips met her own, the soft caresses of his mouth soothing her to the core of her being.
“Ithilwen,” he breathed as he drew back, his breath warm against her face. “I love none but you. Never think yourself unworthy of me.”
“Glorfindel,” she sighed. And she she went into his arms, burying her face against the golden warmth of his neck.
Translations of the Black Speech:
Kul-izg Burza.– I am Burza.
Kul-izg-, uruk.– I am an orc.
Ukh-latu kraat.– You all go away.
âdhn-latu tul. – you all leave here.
Narnûl-latu golug.– Do not hurt the Elf.
Az-izg lat agh lab golug.– I kill you and your Elf.
Az-latu ta!– You kill him!
Az-latu golug rad!– You kill the Elf now!
Narkul-izg narfik golug! Kul-izg uruk! Ulkûrz uruk.– I am not a good Elf! I am an orc! An evil orc.
Ukh-lat kraat, narfik golug. Narkul-izg tor! Kul-izg kûf. – Go away, good elf. I am not beautiful. I am ugly.