The tramping of orcs’ feet throbbed through the very stones beneath her as Lalaith stood beside Gimli and Legolas, watching with lowered eyes as the orcish army encircled the army of Men as a slow, deadly tide.
“How is your shoulder?” Legolas murmured over Gimli’s head where the Dwarf stood between them, brandishing his axe and glaring at the snarling tide of orcs. The Elf lifted his hand, brushing it lightly over her back, a caress that sent a chill of pleasure down her spine even through the raw fear that gripped her.
“It still hurts, but it is bearable at least,” she returned, turning to him and offering him a reassuring smile. Legolas returned her smile, and let his hand fall once again to the string of his bow.
“Good, that’s good,” Gimli offered, and she glanced down at him as well, returning the grin that turned up his cheeks behind his thick beard.
Lalaith turned forward then, her jaw tightening as she met Sauron’s naked gaze across the vast space between them, the brand upon her shoulder throbbing in time to the marching feet of the orcs as the hordes drew about them, a black oily tide washing about a lone isle in the midst of an angry sea.
“Hrmgh,” Gimli humphed softly as he drew in a low breath. “I never thought I’d die fighting side by side with Elves. Two Elves, at that.”
“What about side by side with friends?” Legolas offered, casting the Dwarf a well humored grin to which Lalaith could not but smile at as well past the throbbing ache upon the back of her shoulder.
Gimli gulped softly, glancing up between Legolas and Lalaith, his eyes shimmering with what appeared to be a brief sheen of wetness.
“Aye,” Gimli muttered softly, his voice slightly broken. “I could do that.”
The candle upon the small table beside Calassë’s bed fluttered in the dim shadows as Galadriel opened the door and stepped into the chamber. Nothing but the dancing flame moved within the room, the faint light outlining the two dim figures upon the bed.
Calassë, still as death, lay sleeping beneath the coverlet, her eyes closed, and beside her on the edge of the bed, curled upon the top of the coverlet, lay Elrohir, awake, watching Calassë’s every faint breath as he clutched her hand, running his fingers over the mottled knuckles.
“Elrohir,” Galadriel soothed, moving near the bed, and touching a hand to Calassë’s brow. Though mottled and changed, Calassë’s face bore a sweet serenity that seemed to shine through her rough, ragged flesh.
“Grandmother,” he returned, his voice hollow and thick with misery. “She is fading.”
“I know,” Galadriel returned with a sigh, lowering herself to her knees beside the bed, and gathering up Calassë’s other hand. She kissed her lips softly against the thick mottled skin that felt surprisingly soft against her lips before she drew back and sighed low.
Elrohir’s pain was a palpable thing, lancing through Galadriel as bitterly as a heated blade.
“How is Grandfather?” he asked in a broken voice.
“He sits alone in our study, the veils drawn,” she answered quietly, her voice hollow. “It is for him, I think, as painful as when your mother was taken.” Galadriel sighed again, helpless.
“As it is for you?” Elrohir murmured, sitting up, and reaching a hand across Calassë to touch his grandmother’s hand.
Galadriel glanced across Calassë’s sleeping form, the coverlet barely moving with her breath to meet Elrohir’s eyes.
“She has become as a daughter, to me, Elrohir,” Galadriel whispered. “I love her no less than I love your mother. But-,” she reached out, touching a hand to her grandson’s face, feeling the taut muscle beneath his jaw. “For you, the pain reaches to the core of your being, I think.”
“It does,” Elrohir sighed, deep and long. “For I love her, grandmother.”
“Elrohir,” Galadriel murmured as she rose and came about the bed to sit beside Elrohir. And Galadriel’s heart ached at the pain she saw in his eyes.
“I love her!” he choked again, moving into his grandmother’s willing arms like a child seeking comfort. “From our first meeting, her eyes ensnared me, innocent as a child’s, yet wise as a woman’s, and now, my heart is hers. Forever, no matter what may come.”
Galadriel sighed, her hands smoothing over Elrohir’s hair as her eyes trailed to Calassë’s sleeping face, the maiden’s breath faint, and ever, ever, fading. In the quiet shadows, the mottled shade of her skin seemed faded, and Galadriel could see again, the outline of her face unmarred, the maiden of Gondolin she had ever been. Galadriel sighed raggedly, and closed her eyes.
An eerie quiet had fallen over the wide vale, over the armies of Gondor and Rohan now that the tramping feet of the numberless orcs had stilled, surrounding them upon their small isle like a black tide.
The orcs faced them, unmoving, hordes upon hordes of snarling creatures, black banners catching the air among them, eyes red and filled with hate.
Lalaith stood beside Gimli, Legolas upon the Dwarf’s other side while Aragorn stood a stride before them, his stance tall and undaunted as the heavy silence grew thick upon them.
The voice entered her consciousness, soft, and almost soothing, though there was a hissing, darkened undertone beneath the quiet of the voice.
Lalaith narrowed her eyes, and drew a step forward, her eyes trained upon the distant blazing eye atop the distant black tower.
Lalaith blinked softly.
Pulling her eyes away from Sauron’s burning gaze, she glanced to her side to see Aragorn, her friend having taken several steps forward, as she had. Though he too, was studying her in quiet wonder as if he had also rallied from the dark whisperings of Sauron.
“Lalaith,” he murmured before he grinned, reaching out and clapping her shoulder before they both turned back to see the others, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, the small Hobbits. She swallowed softly at the look of quiet worry that was only now fading from Legolas’ face.
She smiled, and he returned it.
“We do this, for Frodo,” she murmured softly and Aragorn’s hand tightened upon her shoulder before his grip dropped away.
“For Frodo,” he agreed.
And then, tightening his fists about the hilt of Anduril, he turned, and with a cry upon his lips, broke into a run toward the line of orcs.
Two small shouts went up from behind her, and a moment later, Pippin and Merry flew past her, their legs whirling beneath them as they sprinted after Aragorn.
Fire sprang up within her at the sight of the fearless Hobbits, and tightening her fist about the haft of her bow, she darted after them as a great cry erupted from the others at her back, and the air became filled with the thundering of running feet.
Legolas was at her shoulder in a moment, snatching arrows from his quiver as quickly as she and afforded her a hasty grin as they ran together, loosing their arrows one after into the surging tide of orcs.
Nearer the black tide of surging orcs drew on, nearer, nearer, until with a mighty crash, as waves upon rock, the armies collided, and Lalaith, after striking down a hunched back, squealing orc found herself face to face with another one, a fat, hairless orc with its nose gouged away, and a scar across one blinded eye.
The beast roared its fury at her, and swung its curved blade, though Lalaith ducked swiftly, and straightened again, shoving her bow into her quiver once again as she snatched forth her two knives, spinning them in her fists as she stabbed the blades home in the creature’s unexposed side.
“Lalaith!” Legolas cried, and she glanced in the direction his voice came from. Legolas was a wide space away from her, battle raging between them. His eyes were fixed upon her, fearful at their sudden separation, and he was fighting madly, using his bow as a staff, striking down orcs as he struggled to make his way toward her though the mad swirl of battle that surged ever more between them, shoving them even further apart, and she lost sight of him.
“Legolas!” she screamed in return before she felt a hand suddenly snatch her arm.
“Lalaith!” Aragorn cried at Lalaith’s shoulder before spinning away to drive Andúril’s point into the throat of a screeching orc that had pounced near her.
“Come, Lalaith, Legolas has Gimli beside him,” Aragorn commanded. “Let us watch out for each other.”
Lalaith nodded, turning her eyes on the battle nearest her, grateful to have Aragorn at her back. Thought left her as she ducked swinging blades, stabbing and slashing with her knives as wave after wave of orcs, raging and mindless, crashed upon them, and the Men about them. A raging, endless sea upon a stand of rocks. The Men who were flanked about her and Aragorn, Men of Rohan, and of Gondor, fought valiantly, cutting down the orcs about them as swiftly as she. Though as water slowly tears down the rock face it beats against, here and there, a man would fall among his comrades.
How long could this battle last, though they fought with all their strength? The numbers that came at them, seemed endless.
Had Sauron spoken the truth? Lalaith wondered in the back of her mind as orc after orc came at her, hate and loathing in their eyes before she cut them down, one after the other. Were they all indeed doomed? Perhaps, she admitted as she blocked the blow of a howling orc with one blade while she stabbed it through the throat with her other. She had known the battle itself could not be won, when they left Minas Tirith.
To think they could prevail by their own strength, was folly. It was in truth, as futile as fighting back the waves of an angry sea. No matter how many blows she blocked, no matter how many foes fell about her feet, more came. On they came, fresh and full of hate, her shoulder throbbing again, as if flame had engulfed it.
Sauron’s voice once again, came unbidden to her mind.
Fair young Valië, mighty one, come, come to me, and you need not fear defeat. This battle is folly. You will suffer agony and death if you stay. But I-, I have the power to save you.
As if on a silent command only they could hear, the orcs before her, drew back, their weapons lowered.
Do you see, my fair young goddess? I can stay their blades if I wish.
Lalaith shuddered, her knives, dripping with black blood, trembling in her fists. “I cannot leave my friends,” she muttered aloud.
At her back, Aragorn paused in a brief lull, and turned. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see his face filled with worry and wonder.
Leave them, or die with them. You cannot defeat me.
Aragorn’s voice sounded as if it came from across a vast chasm. A chasm over which Lalaith was peering, into the empty blackness of an unspeakable doom.
Come, young Valië, it soothed. Leave the weak rabble to their hopeless doom, and come to me.
Lalaith’s mind was lost in a fog, Sauron’s every word seeming to be a soothing admonition of wisdom. But-,
Lalaith glanced toward Aragorn. He had turned once again away from her, his attention occupied upon the orcs about him, who seemed to have gained a fury they had not possessed before, though the orcs about her, had drawn back.
Come, fair and mighty one! Leave them to their deaths! Usurpers of power that is not theirs. Unworthy of you, wishing to enslave and subdue you, a Valië! They are the enemy! Sauron’s voice hissed in her mind.
She swallowed hard, fighting the black rage that seemed to seep into her very soul. The enemy? Who was the enemy? Who sought to usurp power that was not theirs?
Lalaith shuddered, her mind aching as though her soul, blinded and lost, struggled through a mire, to recall-, recall what? Faces floated before her vision even as a black fog clouded her mind. The faces of the Hobbits, dear, honest little friends, faithful even in the darkest depths of Moria-. Gimli, who, beneath his gruffness, was in truth, a soft hearted, steadfast friend-, Boromir, who had loved her enough to die for her-, Gandalf who had sacrificed himself for the sake of their quest, and returned again to see it fulfilled. And Legolas-, Lalaith swallowed hard. He to whom her heart belong, whom she loved above all, who had been at her side, though evil had striven to sunder them. And Aragorn nearest her, whom she had loved as a brother from their first meeting. Was he not-, not her friend? Was he a vile tyrant who wished only to enslave and subdue? She turned her eyes upon him, struggling to see him through the black haze that clouded her thoughts.
He was fighting fiercely now, for-, what? And these Men about her, their cries echoing across the vast chasm beneath her feet-, and Legolas, he to whom her heart’s thoughts turned, lost somewhere in this surging tide-, what was the purpose of this struggle, their forces so outweighed? Why come here, with numbers so small as this?
“We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms,” Éomer’s voice resounded in her mind from a time that seemed long ago, when her mind had not been reeling in this mist of darkness as it was now.
“Not for ourselves-,” Aragorn’s voice had returned in answer.
Lalaith’s soul caught hold upon these words. She clung to them desperately, and would not let go.
“Not for ourselves-,” his voice echoed faintly in her mind. “Not for ourselves-,”
As a beam of light piercing a black cloud, the words struck home in her heart, and Lalaith lifted her eyes, meeting the gaze of the blazing eye across the distance.
Liar, she breathed softly. And the flame atop the dark tower in the distance, quavered briefly. These men, my friends, seek for no other purpose but to serve others. To bring them hope. You are the one who wishes to enslave me, and all of Arda, Sauron. But I am not your slave. And never again, will I be.
Come to me! Sauron’s voice raged across the distance. Or die!!
“The I will die!” Lalaith cried aloud, so fiercely that the orcs swarming about Aragorn stumbled suddenly back in shock, and he, for a brief moment, lowered his sword, gasping in deep breaths of air as he turned a wondering eye upon her.
“You are the enemy, Servant of Morgoth!” she cried, lifting a fisted blade in challenge toward the Black Gates. “And I am your slave no longer!”
“Lalaith!” Aragorn shouted, snatching her shoulder, and spinning her to him, shaking her. “Lalaith! What-?”
His eyes filled her vision, his cherished face, dear as a brother to her, and she snatched upon his arm, gaining strength from his closeness, remembering now the young beardless lad he had been on their first meeting, gentle eyed, eager to please. “Estel!” she cried wildly. “Aragorn, forgive me!”
“Forgive you?” he cried. “There is nothing to forgive! But-, what happened? A moment ago-,”
The orcs, with a howl, were surging back upon them both now, and they both spun away, their blades once again flashing as they drove into the waves of orcs that came at them.
Lalaith gulped, her senses returned to her now, her limbs heavy, her throat grown hot with thirst and emotion. It would not be much longer before she weakened, before an orc found an unguarded spot, and she was crushed beneath the ceaseless waves. Yet Sauron’s voice no longer echoed in her mind, the blackness of his words no longer weighed her down. She had faced him, fully as she had known she must. And she had defeated him at last.
And at that thought, she realized a strange thing. Her shoulder no longer pained her. Strange as it was, surrounded by hosts of raging orcs, the brand did not even twinge in the least.
And in the midst of the chaos, with Aragorn flanked all about by the enemy, she managed a small smile.
A wretched screech of fury rent the air, and her smile dropped away as she spun, seeing over the gate, the black shapes of the Nazgûl upon their mounts swooping near, claws outstretched.
She snatched her bow and an arrow as she shoved her blades back into their sheathes as the claws of the nearest beast reached out, sharp and cruel. The string grew taut against her cheek and she released the arrow, striking the nearing beast in the breast. It screached furiously though it did not change its course, hungering madly for the blood of its prey as on it came, the black of its eyes upon her, the flames of rage burning beneath them. This is how she would die, her mind realized heavily. She would not submit to him, so he would send his servants to crush her.
A flash of gold, a rush of wind-, and suddenly the sight of the winged monster was blocked from her sight by great golden wings as a bright, avian screach filled the air, and Lalaith staggered back into Aragorn’s solid frame, gasping at the sight of the great eagle who had dived out of the clouds, and swooped between her and the Nazgûl’s mount in the last moments before it struck her, catching the winged beast in the air, and shoving it upward and away as the bird’s mighty wings sent a great wind pulsing down upon the earth about her.
“Eagles!” a voice cried from the midst of the mêlée, a voice she knew well, Pippin, his voice bright and filled with hope. “The eagles are coming!”
And even as Men glanced up in hope, orcs in despair, shill cries, bright and long, trembled across the sky, and out of the clouds, dove many more great golden birds, their claws gleaming in the wane light as they began a fierce, airborne battle with the mounts of the Nazgûl.
How-? Lalaith turned again to her task here upon the ground as an orc, furious at this turn, lumbered near, swinging its curved sword.
Lalaith blocked the angry orc’s swinging blade, and using her bow as a staff, brought it with a crack into the creature’s face. It fell back upon the ground, twitching, though there were more orcs pouncing near, eager to take its place. Aragorn slashed Anduril across the belly of a howling foe before turning to Lalaith’s side as the orcs continued to come at them. On the battle continued, tides of orcs about them where they fought upon the island in the midst of the sea of enemies.
Through the Black Gate, Lalaith could see the flame of Sauron’s eye upon the black tower while beyond it, against the far horizon, sat Orodruin, a black cone with fire at its crest, red tongues lapping at the slate of the sky.
Frodo, Lalaith thought. Dear Frodo-,
She could tell why her heart caught suddenly upon a beat. Why it felt, for a moment, that a dart had pierced through her-, but she knew, somehow, suddenly, that something wrong had happened. And in that moment, the blazing gaze of Sauron darted from her, the beam lashing across the black land to come to rest upon the side of the mountain in the distance. What had changed his gaze? And then, like great wretched bats, the remaining mounts of the Nazgûl wheeled in the air, abandoning their clash with the eagles, to beat their wings south and east, away from the battle, racing faster than the wind, toward the mountain.
“Frodo,” she breathed softly, her heart heavy. And she wondered before the battle surged about her again, and she turned back to her exhausting, bloody task.
A flat faced orc with a hunched back and heavy shoulders lumbered near, its sharpened axe raised to split her skull, though she raised her bow, catching the weapon upon the heavy haft, and twisted it away, flinging the heavy weapon harmlessly to the ground. But the orc with a howl of fury, snatched her bow and wrenched it from her hands, flinging it away where it disappeared into the surging throng of Men and orcs.
Ducking the creature’s massive arms, she snatched her knives again into her hands, and plunged them to the hilts in the beast’s abdomen. It shrieked and fell forward, writhing to the ground, forcing her back several steps just as a heavy boom shook the hard earth beneath her, causing the loose stones to rattle about her feet.
Aragorn stood nearby, finishing off an armored orc, but he raised his eyes to meet hers as a furious shriek rent the air. Together they turned at the sound, to meet the deep set eyes of the troll that towered above them.
Lalaith’s throat tightened at the sight of the troll’s vast bulk, and the long sheet of sharpened metal, the massive sword and the great spiked mace it held in its fists.
With a deep rumble in its throat, the troll thundered near raising its sword. Aragorn without glancing at her, snatched her wrist and pushed her behind him before he met the heavy blade of the troll with Andúril, the blades clashing noisily as he fell back a step.
“Aragorn!” she cried as the beast wailed once more and their blades crashed, forcing her friend further back. The beast would kill him!
She darted forward, beneath the troll’s spiked mace, ignorant of Aragorn’s voice wildly crying out her name as she slashed her knives into the troll’s thick hide beneath the plates of metal strapped across its chest. The troll cried out its fury at this, dropping the mace in its hand with a heavy thump and before she could react, she felt a vice grip about her waist as the troll’s massive fist snatched her, wrenching her upward with a mighty roar. Her blades, snagging against the troll’s armor, were flung from her hands, and clattered to the stony earth as she was swung high into the air, defenseless, her arrows flinging from the quiver, and scattering wildly through the air.
“Lalaith!” Aragorn’s voice cried out from below her as the beast continued to battle Gondor’s king with its free hand while another voice echoed Aragorn’s from a distance away.
“Lalaith!” Legolas’ voice fairly screamed out as she swung about, helpless in the troll’s crushing grip that forced the air from her lungs as stars danced before her eyes.
She caught a brief glimpse of him, an expression of horror upon his face as he fought his way through the surging tide, barely seeing all that passed around him as he struggled to fight his way to her, and Aragorn.
“Lalaith!” he screamed again, but she barely heard. The troll’s grip was crushing her all the more tightly as the beast roared, the crashing of its feet vibrating through her limp frame.
Where was Aragorn? She struggled to think as her thoughts became all the more fragmented, her vision blurred, the crescendo of battle becoming a dim echo in her ears. A brief spot of a crimson cloak caught her eyes upon the ground, and she struggled weakly as the troll in whose grip she dangled, like a lifeless doll, lifted its heavy gnarled foot crushed it down upon Aragorn’s chest, knocking him to the ground.
The beast roared in fury as Aragorn plunged the blade of his curved Elven knife into the troll’s massive foot, but Lalaith knew nothing could be done. How helpless she was, so cursedly helpless! Her lungs burned for air, her vision fading rapidly.
Aragorn-, her friend-, that she could do something-, but the troll’s grip was too strong, her lungs were crushed, and her strength was spent.
Legolas her dry lips murmured, though no sound came forth as the last of her strength ebbed from her. Vaguely, she was aware of the troll lifting its massive blade over Aragorn’s helpless form as the last of her senses faded.
She felt light, ethereal, even as her feet, bare somehow, felt soft, warm dust beneath them. She was in a cavern, the air blisteringly hot as the scent of brimstone whipped wildly through the air about her though the white gown she found herself clad in, did not whip about her in the fierce wind. She stood upon a thrusting tongue of stone arching out over a river of lava that boiled below her, and upon the very lip of the stone, lay a Hobbit upon his stomach, reach down over the edge toward something below him.
Sam-, her thoughts whispered. Dear Sam-, How long it had been since she had seen his sweet, honest face-, But where was Frodo?
“Give me your hand!” Sam cried out. “Take my hand!” He strained, grunting, as if reaching desperately for something.
He caught at something, but his shoulders jerked as whatever he reached for, slipped away again.
“No!” he cried, wild desperation in his tone.
Scrambling forward, she knelt at the Hobbit’s side, and placed a hand upon his shoulder, though he seemed unaware of her there, beside him. And as she peered over the edge, her heart caught within her.
“Don’t you let go,” Sam pleaded to the Hobbit dangling by one bloodied hand from a jutting crack of stone. “Don’t let go.”
“Frodo!” she tried to cry, though no sound came yet still the wide blue eyes of the dangling Hobbit trained on her.
“Lalaith?” Frodo choked.
“Reach!” Sam cried, straining ever closer to Frodo.
“Come, Frodo!” Lalaith added, laying herself flat upon the stone, and reaching down. With his wide, fearful eyes upon hers, Frodo obeyed, and swung his arm up, catching Sam’s hand as Lalaith clasped her hand around Frodo’s slender wrist, caring nothing for the blood that spouted from the stump of a severed finger as she held onto Frodo. Below her, deep upon the river bed, a small circle of gold glowed, floating upon a small, cooled bed of molten stone. It seemed to gaze at her, abject hatred and despair seeming to seeth from the metal, the letters carved upon it glittering wildly before the bed of floating stone crack and broke apart, and the ring, Sauron’s One Ring, disappeared below the surface of the liquid flames.
Turning her eyes from the surface of the suddenly tempestuous river of fire, Lalaith pulled along with Sam’s sturdy strength, straining with all the might between them until they drew Frodo’s weakened frame back over the edge of the stone lip and he rolled, gasping, onto the dusty surface of the stone tongue.
“Lalaith!” Frodo gasped as Sam bent attentively over him unaware of Lalaith standing behind, though Frodo’s eyes did not leave hers. “Lalaith-, she-, she’s here. She helped-,”
“Come on, Mister Frodo, you’re seein’ things. And we got to get you out of here,” Sam answered, his voice rising above the roaring of the rising, boiling fire. And flinging one of Frodo’s arms around his neck, he wrenched him up to his feet.
Lalaith moved to help, but then-, a wild light burst in her mind, and she was once again in the troll’s grip, limp as before though of a sudden, the grip of the troll loosened, and she tumbled wildly to the ground, landing with a jarring thud that rattled her frame. She hardly noted the pain as she sucked wild draughts of air into her starved, aching lungs, and pushed herself up on her trembling, aching arms.
“Lalaith!” Aragorn gasped roughly, scrambling to her side, and catching her by the shoulders as they both staggered to their feet, barely noting the shuddering of the stone as the wailing troll dropped its massive sword and fled away from them, as the orcs fled screeching, lost now, unmastered.
“Aragorn,” she gasped, clinging fiercely to her friend’s solid strength. “Frodo and Sam-,”
“Look, Lalaith,” he gasped. His arm slipped about her shoulders, his face filled with fierce emotion as their eyes turned toward the black tower where Sauron’s eye quavered wildly as its own flamed consumed it. And wonder flooded through her as the tower beneath began to tip and crumbled beneath its own weight, carrying the blazing eye down with it as it went.
The eye seemed to diminish as the tower fell, burning up on its own flame, when suddenly it sparked and faded into nothing only to explode outward in a burst of silent energy, the sound taking a moment to reach them across the vast expanse before an echo of cracking stone and a wave of energy washed over them. Wearied, Lalaith fell back a step, though Aragorn held her up.
Away beyond the mounded hill where they stood, orcs, screeching and wild, struggled to flee as the sound of cracking stone only grew louder, a chasm slicing through the earth between the black hills where the gate stood, cracking the very hills, and bringing the gate down, the high black towers shattering in a deafening cacophony into the widening trench. Fleeing orcs fell, screeching to their deaths as the gulf split, earth caving down into the widening trench that arched around the hill where the Men of Rohan and Gondor stood, leaving them untouched upon the mounded hill.
“Sauron-,” she mumbled softly, her legs trembling beneath her as Aragorn hitched her higher. “He is-, gone, and his Ring.”
The word shivered through her as Aragorn uttered a soft half laugh even as tears wet his eyes. “Indeed,” he murmured softly, at a loss to speak more words.
“Lalaith!” a voice fraught with relief cried out from beside her, and she turned from Aragorn’s arm that loosened at Legolas’ approach and surrendering her willingly into the arms of her beloved.
Legolas’ strong arms circled about her as she fell into his embrace and he pulled her close against himself, the warm scent of trees and growing things against his skin as she buried her face against the warm flesh of his neck.
“Legolas-,” she choked as he caught her face in his hands and drew back enough that she could see his jubilant face. “He is gone-, his Ring-, gone.”
“And we have won the victory!” he cried, half laughing, though she could see tears upon his cheeks.
“Frodo! Frodo!” Two triumphant little voices cried from nearby, Merry and Pippin, their swords raised in victory as they faced the mountain, and cried out his name, though when the top of the black cone blew upward into the sky, fire vomiting forth only to splash back to earth, slathering the black slopes of the mountain, the faces of the Hobbits fell into disbelief, and sudden, heartbreaking grief.
“Frodo!” Pippin sobbed, falling suddenly to his knees, his cry turned into a mourning gasp.
Lalaith herself shuddered, though her heart would not fall into despair, remembering, if indeed it was a memory, and not a fragmented wish, how Sam and she had drawn Frodo from over the edge of the abyss. Surely-, surely there had been a reason for her being there-, surely they had not been consumed in the fire?
A rush of wind brushed near, a golden shadow darted over her head, and one of the eagles landed lightly upon an open spot of earth, its round eye turned toward Gandalf who drew forth from the crowd and bowed before it, to which the great creature returned a bob of his proud, stern head.
“Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friend,” Gandalf said with a smile, though his eyes ever glanced south and east toward the mountain, blazing in its death throes. “Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing. You will not find me a burden much greater than when you bore me from Zirakzigil where I slew the balrog, and where my old life burned away.”
The majestic golden eagle drew in a long breath that sounded as a deep sigh, then from his throat, issued a voice, golden and deep, “I would bear you,” spoke Gwaihir, “whither you will, even were you made of stone.”
“Then come!” Gandalf called. “And let your brother go with us, and some other of your folk who is most swift! For we have need of speed greater than any wind, out matching the wings of the Nazgûl, if we have hope to save the heroes of this great tale from the fires of Orodruin.”
“The North Wind blows, but we shall outfly it,” said Gwaihir. And as he spoke, he lowered his golden chest nearer to the ground in invitation as Gandalf swung nimbly up, upon his broad, feathered back.
And then, in a rush of air, Gwaihir pounced off of the ground, his great wings outstretched beating fiercely against the air, and he rose swiftly into the sky, crying out in his high avian tongue to the other eagles that circled above. At his call, two of them dipped away from their companions, and joined him, the three beating their wings swiftly toward the great black mountain in the distance as Lalaith drew in a deep sigh, and looked on. Imagining the land, dark and ragged, passing swiftly below them, the wind whipping Gandalf’s hair back, hot and swift as they passed over the broken, lifeless vale of Udûn and the wide ragged plain of Gorgoroth speeding beneath their outstretched wings as the mountain drew swiftly nearer until they were faded even from her Elven sight.
The shadows within the hastily erected tent were muted and soft where Lalaith knelt beside Pippin, smoothing the last of the two small bedrolls he and Merry had given up, in the hopes that the eagles would not come back with empty claws.
“Could anything so close to the mountain have lived after that great blast?” Pippin wondered quietly, setting a rolled bandage upon the tray at the head of the bed where the water and the precious medicines had been set in hopeful anticipation that they would be needed.
“I do not know,” she returned with a sigh. “But surely the Valar would not have abandoned them to such a dreadful fate after all that they have sacrificed. Surely they were mindful of Sam and Frodo, and made a way for their escape.” She swallowed softly, and placed a comforting hand upon Pippin’s shoulder. “That, at least, is my hope-,”
Her words were cut off by a sudden shout as of many voices from outside the tent. And she and Pippin leapt to their feet as Merry burst through the tent flap, his face eager and bright.
“Eagles, eagles!” he stammered rapidly, his small hand waving frantically skyward. “Eagles! The-, the-, the eagles!”
“The eagles are returning,” Legolas spoke softly as he dipped through the tent door, and met Lalaith’s eyes, his own gaze growing bright at the sight of her.
“Ahh!” Pippin cried, and plunged out of the tent door after Merry as Lalaith stepped forward, and caught Legolas’ hand in her own.
His fingers wove through her own, lean and strong, his firm, warm body close to hers. She shuddered slightly, and he smiled.
“Are Frodo and Sam-,” she breathed, catching her breath, not daring to continue.
Legolas’ lips drew up in a quiet smile. “Come and see, Lalaith nin,” he murmured, and stepped back out the door, drawing her into the light of a full moon, its silver light filling the sky, clear and bright as a black opal specked with unnumbered flecks of starlight as the eagles drew near and circled once, two bearing small limp figures in their talons before they landed in an open space before the tent.
Pippin and Merry dashed forward beneath the shadows of the eagles, their hands lifting eagerly as Gandalf slid from Gwaihir’s back, and came toward the eager Hobbits, smiling his understanding at their impatience as he lifted Frodo’s limp form out of the eagle’s gentle claw. Aragorn with Éomer beside him, came near and lifted Sam from the gently curled talon of the second eagle. The third great bird looked on in approval as his companions willingly surrendered their limp charges to their earth bound allies before at a cry from Gwaihir, the three once again stretched out their powerful wings, and took to the sky again, turning with their companions toward the distant mountains in the north.
Gandalf, with Frodo sagging in his arms, turned toward the tent where Lalaith stood beside Legolas, her heart aching at the ash and dust caking the Hobbits’ still bodies.
“Come,” she murmured with a gulp as Gandalf hurried forward, his robes swishing about his legs in his haste as Aragorn followed behind. “Bring them in. We had been hoping-,” she met Gandalf’s eyes with a smile as he passed into the shadows of the tent. “Hoping that we would have need of these.”
“And we do,” Gandalf returned with a breath of relief as he set Frodo down upon one of the bedrolls.
Lalaith was immediately at Frodo’s side, snatching the vial of water from the tray at his head, and moistening a cloth.
“His hand,” Gandalf murmured at her side, and she glanced down, a lump of pain tightening in her chest at the blood upon his hands, the severed stump of his finger-,
It had not been a dream. She had been there.
Swallowing hard, she turned swiftly upon the task of washing his mangled hand, taking special care of the bloodied stump.
“Aragorn,” she murmured quietly as Aragorn set Sam down upon the low bedroll opposite Frodo, and he turned quietly to her side, taking up Frodo’s limp hand, and studying it with a quiet expression before he turned toward the tray at the head of the bed, reaching for the bandaging cloths, and the medicines as Lalaith left him to his task and turned away, focusing her attention upon Sam’s quiet face, the low, though steady rhythm of his breathing.
“Dear Sam,” she murmured quietly, cupping his round face, and running her thumb affectionately over the ash dusted cheek. “How glad I am to see you again.”
The eastern sky bore a brush of amber light hinting at the distant morning yet some hours away as Lalaith knelt wearily between the two Hobbits who were still unconscious, though in their sleep, they had both taken a little broth, their breathing already deeper and their color returned.
Lalaith was drawing the last of the ash caked cloths she and Aragorn had cleaned them with, away in a small leather pack. Smouldering fires outside the tent were flickering against its walls. Few had slept that night, the elation of their victory cheering the Men as they sat about the smouldering fires, their unlooked for victory giving release to long stifled emotions. Easy were they to merry laughter as well as long held tears. And plentiful about the fires, were the tales of the bravery of their kin, those who lived yet, and those who had fallen.
Lalaith lifted her eyes as the flap drew aside, and in the wane light, she drew in a quick, sudden breath, her heart catching upon a beat as Legolas’ silhouette moved through the door, a cool, sweetly scented breeze wafting in about him, before he let the flap fall shut once again.
“Legolas,” she breathed softly, rising to her feet. His mouth curved upward in a mischievous, boyish smile for a brief moment before it faded into a warm, plaintive look of tenderest longing.
“Lalaith,” he murmured as he drew near, seeking her hands in the warm shadows. His eyes grew warm as he bent his head, and rested his brow against hers. “Your bow and knives have been found among the fallen orcs. Pippin is keeping them for you.”
“I am glad for that,” she returned quietly. “Thank you.”
A long moment passed, and Lalaith smiled coyly, saying nothing as she sought his eyes through the soft shadows.
“Are you well?” he asked at last. “Are you weary?”
“I am well,” she assured him. “We have all of us, taken little rest, but my heart is light. As if a weight has been lifted from it.”
“And you are happy?”
“Very happy,” she returned softly.
“And soon,” his whispered in the soft darkness, “I shall make you happier.”
His arms drew her tenderly to him in the sweet darkness, and she went eagerly into his embrace. His mouth brushed hers in a soft caress before he drew back, his eyes meeting her own as sweet secrets passed between their eyes.
“I promised you I would marry you in Imladris in the spring,” he whispered softly.
Lalaith drew in a broken sigh before she spoke. “The winter has faded,” she murmured. “And spring has come, at last.”
With these words, she circled her arms about his shoulders, and buried her face against his neck. Legolas held her close, and uttered a contented sigh as he pressed his cheek against her hair.
Elrohir could not tell what caused him to lift his head suddenly where he lay beside Calassë in the shadows of her room, an arm cast across her as if to keep her spirit from fleeing away. A futile wish, he had confessed to himself, but now, as he stirred beside her, and felt her move softly in response beneath the coverlet, the pulse of her heartbeat stronger now in her throat, he started, and sat up quickly, blinking, startled, in the darkness.
“Calassë-,” he hissed softly to the shadows, wondering at the new sensation that had come over his heart. And then he understood. A burden was gone. As if a heavy weight had been lifted from his heart, and his very soul felt lighter, the world, though her room was bathed in soft shadows, seemed brighter, somehow.
The light beyond her shuttered window suggested that dawn was not far off, and he swallowed hard.
“Calassë,” he murmured softly, his hand seeking her own as he watched the rising light beyond the shuttered window. “My beloved. Night has passed. Dawn is coming and something-, something wonderful has-,”
He stopped, startled at the feel of her hand upon her silver blanket that lay upon the coverlet. Her hand, smooth, warm, no longer rough as it had been-,
He jerked toward her, a hard gasp catching in his throat as he saw her now, sleeping in innocent, restful peace, her face fair and unblemished, her hair full and golden, pillowed about her like a shining cloud shot through with rays of sunlight. Her eyes were open now, unfocused, gazing dreamily upward as a soft smile played upon her lips.
“Calassë!” he breathed, touching a hand to her face, marveling at the soft warmth beneath his palm.
She sighed softly, and smiled, nuzzling her face into his palm.
“Mmm,” she whispered quietly in her dreams. “Glorfin-,”
She shuddered softly, the faint dream fading from her eyes as they grew bright and focused, turning upon him as a soft breath caught upon her lips.
“Elrohir,” she sighed, her breath coming in soft gasps as she pushed herself up, studying his face in wonder, and reaching out for him, like a child, catching his proffered hand. “I have not-, not faded-, I am yet with you-, I-,”
She paused, gasping softly as she caught sight of her hands clasped upon his own.
“Elrohir!” she cried, clutching his hand all the more tightly for reassurance.
Elrohir smiled broadly even as his jaw trembled, and tears pricked his eyes. “What has happened? I am as I was-, and-, the heaviness, the weight of the shadow-, it is gone!”
“Their quest is completed. They were victorious,” he murmured, and rose from the bed, though he kept Calassë’s hand within his own.
“What has happened?” she queried, turning to push her feet over the side of the bed. She gazed up at him as he towered above her, her shining eyes large and wondering.
“The One Ring is destroyed, and Sauron’s power has vanished,” Elrohir sighed softly before another thought brushed lightly through his mind, and he smiled again.
“I have something to show you, Calassë. Will you come with me?”
Nodding, Calassë rose, her bare feet, small and delicate, alighting upon the floor. She smiled at him, her eyes following his every movement as he drew up a light dressing robe folded upon a nearby table, and smoothed it over the thin sleeping dress that graced her slender form, before claiming her hand again.
“This shall keep you warm, where we are going,” he murmured softly, and she smiled in return.
The light robe hanging loosely about her, shifted slightly about her legs as she clutched his hand tightly, following him trustingly as Elrohir led her through the doorway of her room, and up into the light of the forechamber of his grandparents’ talan.
The great room was empty, and peacefully silent as he guided her from the chamber and through an arching doorway that led to an upward spiraling staircase twining round a high branch that rose ever upward, through the high golden green leaves of the forest’s roof.
Calassë, her eyes softened with trust, never left him even as the twining staircase broke through the treetops, and ended at last, upon a small platform edged with a silver fluted railing, the canopy of Lothlórien spread about their feet like a shining cloud of green and gold. Cerin Amroth rose beside them, bathed in silver mist, awash in the golden glow of morning, the sun moments from rising above the far horizon.
Calassë blinked in the morning light, and shivered slightly at the soft, sweet wind that blew here, catching at her thick, unbound hair spilling about her fair, flawless shoulders, and the edges of her robe that shimmered about the soft curves of her young body like a nimbus.
“Calassë,” he breathed softly drawing her up beside him from the last step, and guiding her near to the silver banister. “Do you see that star?” he murmured, pointing to the far eastern sky.
Her eyes left his own, following his finger where it beckoned to the bright star that hung aloft in the morning sky in the midst of the threads of light.
“It is beautiful, Elrohir,” she murmured softly at last, turning her liquid gaze onto his own.
He drew in a low breath and murmured, “That star is Eärendil, Calassë. My grandfather. My father’s father aboard his ship, Vingilot, with the Silmaril upon his brow, watching you, even now.”
“Eärendil?” she murmured softly, pleading. “My dear little Eärendil?”
“The very same,” he breathed quietly, moving to her and touching her hand upon the silver railing. He rested his brow against the sweet scent of her hair as her eyes gazed upon the star, silver tears trailing down her cheeks. “Your oath to him that you would see him again when the morning dawned-, it is fulfilled, Calassë.”
A soft shudder moved through her frail body, and Elrohir leaned nearer, drawing her to him as she came willingly into his embrace, crying soft, sweet tears.
“The shadow is gone, and these lands are safe, at last,” he murmured softly, touching a hand to the gold of her tresses, his fingers sliding through the warm, silken strands. “I shall take you to Glorfindel, as I have promised, and all your memories of Gondolin of your father and mother, and all that you were, will come again, to you. None will ever harm you again. You shall only ever know joy.”
“You have saved me, Elrohir,” she breathed quietly. “In more ways than I can ever say.”
“As you have saved me, Calassë,” he breathed against her hair. “I was incomplete before I met you, and now, here with you, I have found what I have sought, all my life.”
Her body was soft and warm, trembling like a leaf against him as she clung to him, and his heart could not contain itself any longer.
“I love you, bright maiden,” he whispered breathlessly. “I long to share all that I am, with you. To be your husband, to have you as my wife. To sleep beneath the stars with you in my arms-,”
Calassë’s soft body shuddered at these words, and her quiet tears stilled. “Elrohir-,” she breathed, her voice ragged, her face turned against his chest.
“Will you be mine, Calassë of Gondolin?” he hissed softly. “Will you dwell with me in the fair vale of Imladris until our time comes to sail into the West, together?”
He touched a hand beneath her chin, tilting her face upward toward his before he paused and drew slightly back at the suddenly troubled look that had darkened her face as if she struggled to remember something.
“Ca- Calassë?” he queried gently.
Elrohir’s heart quavered within him, and he dropped his eyes, drawing a step back, his eyes fixed upon the silver banister beside him.
“I wish only for your happiness, Calassë,” he breathed softly, his voice a choked whisper. “Do not let your heart be troubled if I do not have your love in return-,”
At her soft voice, his words faded into silence as the light of morning rose higher in the sky before a soft hand touched his jaw, and he swallowed, lifting his eyes to meet her own. Her face glowed in the light of the morning sun as the first golden sliver peeked above the horizon, and washed across the treetops of Lothlórien.
He drew in a low sigh, his breath paused in his throat as her fingers tenderly traced the strong line of his jaw.
“My dearest one-,”
She smiled, and her lips trembled softly as she eased nearer to him and breathed, “You have my love.”
She was in Elrohir’s embrace in a moment, his arms clutching her soft, supple body against his own as he had never held any other woman. Her lips were soft and responsive as his mouth eagerly claimed them, returning Elrohir’s silent implorations with a fervent hunger that both surprised and delighted him.
Such yearnings, new and raw and beautiful, stirred within him now, that Elrohir wondered how he had ever lived all the centuries of his life without her. He drank in every detail of her face, the soft flesh warmly and alluringly flushed in pleasure, her open mouth moist and yielding as she ardently returned his deepening caresses, her eyes, her cheeks, the wild pulse beneath the fair flesh of her pale throat, her swift, eager sighs-, All of his life seemed drawn into this one moment, and he knew it was meant to be. The Valar themselves had wished this, had willed their meeting as they had willed the meetings of Melian and Thingol, of Beren and Lúthien, of all the lovers down through all the ages of Arda.
Now he understood why Beren would seek to obtain a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown, why Arwen could so willingly set aside her immortality, or why Lalaith would walk with Legolas into certain danger. Elrohir had been born to love Calassë, and no other. And now, he exulted within himself, he knew she loved him as well. She was his, Elrohir thrilled at the joyful thought. And she always would be.