“Oh, Uncle Elrond, I have missed you, these past months,” Lalaith murmured, struggling not to show her tears as Elrond’s arms circled about her, and held her close, her head against his sturdy chest, the soft warm, fatherly smell of him filling her nostrils.
“And I you, dearest child,” Elrond returned, his voice hardly his own through the tears that clogged his voice. “I have paced nights these past months, unable to sleep for thinking of you, and praying to the Valar for your safety. And to my great joy, they heeded my prayers.” He pushed her back slightly, and looked down into her eyes through his smiling, though tearful gaze.
“Your grandmother told me what you saw in her mirror,” he said, and touched a hand to her cheek. “All this while, I have harbored a child of the Valar. Though now that I know it, I am not surprised. I always thought your beauty rivaled that of Varda’s.”
Lalaith smiled at his words, and dropped her head as Elrond lay a gentle kiss upon her fair brow.
The frantic voice of Glorfindel echoed across the courtyard before the gate of Minas Tirith, and in the quiet of the night, sounded amplified as the Elves lifted their heads toward the golden haired Elf who strode forward, the hands of two Elf maidens clutched in each of his own.
Lalaith wondered at the tears upon Ithilwen’s cheeks and her troubled eyes as if she had only just been weeping as she clutched tightly to Glorfindel’s right hand, her face leaning wearily upon the Elf lord’s sturdy shoulder.
And Lalaith wondered also at the intensity with which Glorfindel held the hand of Calassë, the maiden she had met only minutes before in Elrohir’s merry company. She was his newly betrothed, Lalaith recalled, though she clung now, with childish possessiveness to Glorfindel’s other arm.
Lalaith furrowed her brow, wondering at this strange new puzzle.
“What is it, my lord, Glorfindel?” Elrond asked, his voice caring a note of alarm in it at the frantic pain upon Glorfindel’s face as he drew back, and Legolas left his parents where Thranduil and Asaiel stood a short distance away. He drew near, claiming Lalaith’s hand within his own, a look of concern on his face as he listened to Glorfindel’s hurried words.
“Where is Elrohir? Has he come down to you?” Glorfindel pleaded. “We must speak with him.”
“No, he has not,” Elrond returned, trading a questioning glance with Lalaith and Legolas, though both shook their heads.
“We thought he was with you,” Lalaith offered softly.
“Would that he were,” Calassë murmured, her eyes cast down and troubled. “But he-, when I-, when we-,” she sighed brokenly, and finished amid quiet tears, “he left us-,”
Her words trailed off as she glanced guiltily away.
“In any case,” Glorfindel sighed swiftly, “We must find him. And soon. There is something he must know.”
The sun was warm and bright upon his face, the silver and black banners about the pinnacle of stone slithering swiftly through the eager morning wind that washed across the jutting spur of the great mountain.
Elrohir did not heed the eager crowd about him as he stood at the balustrade, looking over the city that fell away beneath him, and the open plain beyond it. This was indeed a beautiful land, and his eyes gazed over it hungrily as if seeking for something lost, something that would ease the ragged pain of his heart broken into painful shards within his chest.
Elrohir glanced down at his hands, his firm, strong hands that had oft wielded blade and bow against his enemies. Now, they lay resting upon the balustrade, weak, trembling a little.
Calassë-, his shattered heart breathed. Calassë. She was lost to him. And the pain-, the sheer agony that ripped through his soul anew as he thought about the tragic irony, the interweaving muddle of her ancient love with Glorfindel mingle now with his heart, and with poor, gentle Ithilwen’s. Ithilwen’s pain above all, made his very core to tremble in misery as he thought of the poor maiden, bereft and alone, the rift in her heart beyond repair, as his was.
“My lord?” the voice, nearer now, caused him to at last lift his head, and he fought to put a passably pleasant expression on his face as he turned to face a young mortal maiden who had drawn away from the rest of the crowd, and stood smiling at him, a look of curious greeting upon her face.
“Good day to you, my lady,” he offered, turning fully about now, and offering her a bow.
“Good day to you as well, my lord,” she murmured in return, brushing back a long lock of curling yellow hair that had strayed before her face, soft hazel eyes, like new leather, dancing above her smiling mouth.
She was of noble blood, Elrohir guessed, for she was clad in a fine silken gown of warm yellow, her visage and bearing as of one who was high born, as if she were a tiny fragment of the sun, herself. Yet her eyes were not proud. Her features were delicate and finely drawn though her skin was a shade darker than he would have guessed of a maiden of her class as if she spent much time in the sun, and her delicate little nose was sprinkled over with a light scattering of freckles.
She drew in a soft little sigh, studying his features, a glance of curiosity upon her face. Elrohir could see that she sensed something to be amiss with him, and he was grateful when instead of speaking on his melancholy, she smiled again, and pertly stated, “You are one of the Eldar, my lord.”
“I am, my lady,” he returned evenly.
The maiden smiled politely, though her brow furrowed at the heaviness within his voice.
Elrohir sighed and turned his eyes away from the pert little maiden as he glanced through the crowd of mortals to the shadowed entrance to the high battlements where the path from the high pinnacle led down through the heart of the rocky outcropping. There his kin stood clad in silver and white, the white and gold banners of Imladris, and of the realms of Lothlórien and of Eryn Lasgalen catching in the dancing wind.
He had not seen any of them since his tragic realization the night before, and had instead chosen to stalk blindly through the streets until dawn, lost and alone in his measureless grief until the crowds mounting the streets to the Citadel had drawn the heartbroken Elf along with them. He both wished to be here, and wished to be gone, for upon this day, the hand of his sister would be placed in Aragorn’s hand, and that, if nothing else, kept him here.
He could see his sister where Arwen stood near the back beside their father. She held one of the banners in her own hands, her face slightly downturned, though glowing with anticipation and Elrohir swallowed hard as his eyes studied his father’s expression. Elrond’s hand was upon Arwen’s shoulders, and his face bore the look of one resigned. This was costing his father greatly, Elrohir understood, and he ducked his eyes. Elrond was behaving most admirably though, he admitted to himself, where he could have grown embittered and miserable. Now and again he would cast a smile of reluctant encouragement at his daughter. And Elrohir wished he could go to her, as well. He wished he could slip his arm teasingly about her shoulders, and whisper his blessings into her ear as she grinned pertly beneath the curve of his arm. But he could not. His heart was too heavy. And he could see Glorfindel tall and golden, standing a step behind his father. He knew he could not bear the great lord any ill will, for what was his crime? He had merely won Calassë’s heart first. But to see him, with Calassë upon his arm as Elrohir did not doubt she was though he could not see her for the crowd, he would lose his hold upon his already precarious emotions, and he did not desire her pity. He could not endure to have her see him so broken.
Taking his troubled thoughts from the golden haired lord, his eyes trailed toward the fore of the gathering where Legolas stood, tall and regal, a circlet of woven silver upon his brow. And Lalaith stood at his side, clad in a white gown that shimmered in the sun. A silver circlet adorned her fair brow as well, marking the maiden as one of the royalty of the green wood of Eryn Lasgalen, no longer Mirkwood now that the shadow had been driven out. Like a queen Lalaith stood beside her betrothed, and Elrohir could have wept at her beauty, and her happiness.
All was as it should be, Elrohir sighed. For everyone else but for him and poor tender hearted Ithilwen.
“My lord?” the voice of the pert little mortal maiden shook him again from his thoughts, and he glanced down at her, a tense, worried expression behind her glowing smile. “What is your name?”
Elrohir sighed at the girl’s innocent curiosity, smiled patiently, and murmured, “I am called Elrohir.”
The girl’s brows raised in surprised awe. “Lord Elrohir? The younger of Lord Elrond’s mighty sons?” she breathed.
Elrohir grinned wearily and nodded. “Though I would hardly call us mighty,” he muttered softly.
“Forgive my awe, my lord,” the maiden returned with an apologetic smile. “I have been taught of you and your father’s house from my childhood. My name is Lothiriel of Dol Amroth. Prince Imrahil of whom I am sure you have heard, is my father.”
“Indeed?” he asked, straightening slightly, and studying the maiden more closely now. “Why then do you linger here upon the edge of the crowd?”
She sighed softly, eying him with an appraising look. “Why do you?”
Elrohir glanced away at this, releasing a heavy breath. “I-, I, uh-,”
“My lord,” the maiden’s voice brought his head up again, and he glanced at her, seeing kindness in her eyes, and discernment, and gentle wisdom belying her young years.
“I am more used to open spaces, and the waves of the sea,” she offered gently, as if she sensed his discomfort at her inquiry, and understood his reluctance. “I am a rather wild maiden, or so my father says. Rough I suppose, for a girl of my birth, for I would rather be upon the back of my horse, straddle legged and barefoot with my gowns gathered about my knees, riding in the surf or upon the grasses of the plains, forgetting that I am a princess.”
She grinned unashamedly and with a small shrug of her narrow shoulders lightly finished, “I am unused to such crowds as this.”
Elrohir smiled upon the maiden, a swell of gratitude rising above the torn shards of his heart at her bold, unabashed confession, and her quiet, unspoken understanding at his own silence.
“Then perhaps we are good company for one another, you and I,” he offered with a short bow of his head, and she smiled.
“Perhaps,” she returned with an endearingly demure curtsey, graceful and poised for all her admissions of wildness and roughness.
A reverent hush had fallen over the crowd about them, and Elrohir with Lothiriel at his side, turned their gazes toward Aragorn who stood upon the crest of the stone steps, his midnight blue cloak flowing down behind him, paused in a weighted quiet. Gandalf, standing before him, drew with measured care, the crown of the Kings of Gondor from the cushion which Gimli the Dwarf held, and lifted it aloft.
Elrohir swallowed stiffly. At his side, Lothiriel sighed softly, but aside from that gentle sound, there was no noise. Even the rippling of flags had stilled in the calmed wind as Gandalf gently lowered the crown down upon Aragorn’s dark hair.
“Now come the days of the king!” he called over the throng, his voice carrying easily through the quiet air. He let the crown rest, and stepped back, offering the crowned king a smile of encouragement.
“May they be blest while the thrones of the Valar endure,” the wizard murmured gently.
And with these words, Aragorn rose the last step. His shoulders heaved with a deep sigh, and he turned to face the people at last.
Lothiriel joined in the applause with the others of the crowd as Elrohir looked on, glad for their happiness, but unable to share in their joy. The maiden at his side cheered their new king along with the others, but a moment later Elrohir’s eyes darted to her in shock as a shrill whistle erupted from her lips, bringing the heads of several others about to bear upon them in surprise.
“Ah, oh,” Lothiriel muttered softly, seeing the gazes of the others, and turning to glance at Elrohir’s shocked expression. “Ah, forgive me. I forgot myself, I-,”
She cleared her throat, gazing over the faces of the folk about her, who were frowning, though in a most bemused way at the free-spirited maiden before they turned forward once again, for Aragorn had begun to speak.
“This day does not belong to one man,” Aragorn called out as the cheering died. “But to all. Let us rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace.”
The cheering rose again, and Lothiriel laughed amid her clapping as soft, pink flower petals, flung from the higher bulwarks of the hall, floated down over the crowd. She reached her hands outward, catching a handful of petals, like a small child might, and glanced, as if for approval, toward Elrohir who offered her a reluctant smile as the crowd once again stilled, and Aragorn began softly, to sing.
“Et Eärello Endorenna utúlien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn’ Ambar-metta!”
“Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come,” Lothiriel translated softly to herself as she opened her palms, and let the breezes lift the petals up and away again, floating them over the side of the balustrade, down upon the city below. “In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.”
“You speak the tongue of the Elves, my lady?” Elrohir murmured softly, for the maiden had only spoken the Common Tongue to him all the while.
Lothiriel ducked her head at this, her cheeks coloring prettily. “A little,” she offered softly and brokenly in his own tongue. “My father taught me.”
“You speak well,” he returned.
She shrugged again, her blush only darkening. “Thank you, my lord.”
The crowd had grown hushed again, for Aragorn was drawing near to the Elves, down the wide aisle before the White Tree, blossoming now, where it had not, before.
“What is happening?” Lothiriel asked at his side. “The king is no longer on the steps.”
“He is coming down now, to greet the people, to pay respect to his allies, the Rohirrim, and the Elves.”
With a slight, impatient huff, Lothiriel clambered swiftly upon a stone seat beside the balustrade, giving herself a wider view over the crowd, her head coming even now, with Elrohir’s
All about Aragorn bowed as he came, the Steward, Faramir, and the fair lady clad in yellow at his side, Éowyn she must be, the brave shield maiden of Rohan, who had slain the Witch King.
Beside him, Elrohir felt Lothiriel suddenly stiffen, and her hand snatched suddenly upon his shoulder as Éomer drew forward from the ranks of his men, his cloak drawn about his broad shoulders, his eyes stern though gentle as he bowed at Aragorn’s passing. The king of Gondor returned Rohan’s king a bow of respect in turn. Lothiriel drew in a swift and sudden breath.
“Who is that fine-, that fine-?”
“That noble lord?” Elrohir asked, noting the sudden breathlessness of her voice. “He is Éomer, my lady,”
“Ah,” Lothiriel murmured softly, contentedly. “Éomer,” she repeated softly. “The king of Rohan?”
“Yes,” Elrohir added.
“My father knows him,” she breathed softly. “He spoke of him to me upon my arrival from Dol Amroth with my ladies. I did not know he was so young. And yet so-, so-,”
Lothiriel uttered a low sigh. “So kingly,” she murmured reverently at last, her eyes fixed almost worshipfully upon the man. And a soft, contented smile came to her lips.
Elrohir could only purse his lips and drop his eyes at this. His heart wrenching all the more. All about him, in this bright new world, joy was springing, and hearts were growing warm in the light of the new hope that bathed them as sunlight upon new spring flowers. But what hope was there for him?
Lalaith drew in a long breath as Aragorn approached. Her comrade, her trusted friend, no longer clad in the garb of a ranger, but of a king.
As he drew nearer, she and Legolas, side by side, stepped toward him with the rest of their people, and stopped before, him, their eyes exchanging silent looks of greeting and triumph before Aragorn turned to Lalaith, and reached out, touching her face gently.
“My cherished cousin,” he murmured softly, leaning near, and pressing his brow to her own. “As a sister to me you have always been.”
“I wish you joy, my dearest Estel,” she breathed.
He smiled, softly, sadly at this, and Lalaith released a soft breath at his expression, understanding his hidden thoughts. Soon, soon, she promised herself.
“And I wish you joy, Lalaith,” he murmured at last. “As I have since our first meeting.”
With that, he drew back, his eyes shining with wetness before he turned now to Legolas. The two men stood before one another for a long moment, a gaze of understanding passing between them before Aragorn reached out, and clasped the Elf’s shoulder. Legolas returned the greeting, neither speaking with more than their eyes.
“Hannon le,” Aragorn said at last.
And though Legolas did not speak in return, he gestured with his glance toward the Elves behind them, and Aragorn turned.
Lalaith’s heart caught within her as she glanced between Arwen as she slowly peered out from behind the banner within her hands, and Aragorn as his gaze grew wide at the sight of her, his breath stilling in reverent astonishment within his throat.
“She did not sail as you thought,” Lalaith breathed softly, and to her words, Aragorn neither spoke nor glanced toward her, though he drew in a deepening sigh.
Lalaith turned, clasping Legolas’ hand as the king of Gondor and the Elf maiden drew nearer to each other. Legolas glanced toward her as she did, and smiled, weaving his warm, lean fingers through her own.
Aragorn and Arwen drew nearer together, neither speaking as they paused before each other, and Aragorn drew the banner out of her hands, setting it into the eager hands of a young mortal woman who stood by. Lalaith blinked briefly at a figure beyond her shoulder, his face only just visible above the heads of the mortals in the crowd. His eyes were upon Aragorn and Arwen, his gaze heavy, though a sad smile managed to tug upon the corners of his mouth as he gazed upon his sister. Lalaith sighed low, her breath one of relief. Elrohir had indeed come, as they all had hoped.
Silence lingered over the wind swept pinnacle as Elrohir, with heavy eyes, watched Arwen as she bowed her head before the king. Before her, Aragorn, touched her chin with gentle reverence, tipping her face up to meet his own. And for a brief moment that lasted the space of an eternity, their eyes held each other. The shards of his heart wrenched within him as his mind recalled the morning Calassë had awakened. The morning he had taken her into his arms and-, The memory, achingly sweet, was shattered when Aragorn dipped his head, and caught Arwen’s mouth in a sudden kiss.
Bright laughter broke into enthusiastic applause as Aragorn scooped up his beloved, and spun about with her in his arms. But Elrohir ducked his eyes, crushing his eyelids shut. He wished to be happy for his sister. Indeed he was, but the unbridled joy that fairly glowed from the beings of the two reunited lovers, only brought his own wretched state more starkly to the fore of his thoughts. His very knees quavered from the pain.
“My lord?” Lothiriel queried gently, her soft hand resting comfortingly upon his arm. “Are you well?”
At the maiden’s worried gesture, Elrohir shuddered, and opened his eyes, drawing what strength he could from the girl’s gentle touch. He put a brave expression upon his face, and lifted his gaze to the maiden, smiling in assurance, though he was certain she could see the raw agony in his eyes.
“I am well enough, my lady, do not worry-,”
“But-, but my lord-,” she offered, her voice sweet and sympathetic. She pursed her lips, her eyes unsure.
“My friends,” Aragorn’s voice rose above the softly murmuring crowd, and Elrohir’s eyes turned away from the maiden’s finding the king once more, now with Arwen beside him, standing before the four small Hobbits standing in the center of the high battlement who had brought about this new age of hope. The four small folk had bowed stiffly before the king and his betrothed, though now, their innocent faces written with looks of unsurity, looked up again.
Aragorn smiled. “You bow to no one.”
And with this, the king of Gondor and Arnor, lowered himself to one knee before the four Hobbits, and his betrothed knelt beside him as well.
About them, the people slowly dropped to their knees as well, and with a sigh, Elrohir bowed his head, and lowered himself to one knee, his eyes fixed upon the stone tiles at his feet as a rustle of skirts indicated that Lothiriel had hopped down from her perch, and knelt beside him as well.
“Forgive me for my boldness, my lord,” Lothiriel whispered softly at his elbow. “I have seen the pain in your eyes, and I have wondered perhaps if it is more than the resignation of seeing your sister wed to a mortal.”
He sighed at this, turning his face partway toward the maiden though he did not glance away from the stones upon which he knelt. “It is, my lady,” he murmured. “But-, there is little you can do for me.”
Lothiriel gulped softly, and her eyes drew on a look of sorrow. She reached out and rested her hand upon his arm. “I am sorry-,”
“Do not be,” he ordered gently, stilling her words as he touched her hand gently where it rested upon his arm, and squeezed it softly. “You are goodly, and compassionate, and for all your admissions of wildness, the nobility in you is clear to see.” He managed a heavy smile for her sake, and Lothiriel brightened a little.
The king had risen now, and the folk about them were beginning to rise to their feet. At the soft rustle of the crowd about them rising, Elrohir stood slowly, his hand helping the maiden to her own feet as well.
Slowly now, like a gradual tide, the people of Minas Tirith began to file away, their footsteps echoing softly down the porthole toward the levels below, though the Elves, and the warriors of Rohan remained behind. Elrohir stood beside the balustrade unmoving, wishing to join those departing, to leave his kin, and to nurse his wounded heart alone, without pity. But as his eyes found Éomer across the distance as the Dwarf Gimli greeted Rohan’s king, a sudden throb of determination shuddered through the broken fragments of his heart, and courage he had not known he had, swelled within him.
“My lady?” he queried, and Lothiriel glanced swiftly at him. “Do you wish to meet Éomer?”
Lothiriel’s eyes shot wide, and her countenance fairly glowed with joy. “My lord?” she breathed softly. “You would take me to him?”
Elrohir smiled, and offered her the crook of his elbow. And she eagerly slipped her arm in, following his lead through the departing gathering.
Éomer stood with half bowed head, his face drawn in an expression of stern attentiveness as he half listened to Gimli’s words. He nodded now and again in agreement as the Dwarf spoke, struggling to remained focused upon his words. Faramir with Éowyn beside him who had joined them moments before, seemed entirely engrossed by the Dwarf’s words, of his animated retelling his meeting with the fair lady Galadriel of Lothlórien whom he had just spoken to for the first time since he had departed the Golden Wood. The lady was indeed as fair and wise as the Dwarf claimed, he admitted to himself. And unbending in adversity as well, he did not doubt as the Lady Lalaith was, whose courage he had seen for himself. His sister too, though a mortal, was a woman of strength and fearlessness, but how many other women were like them? Surely there were other women in these free lands who could do more than weave and embroider, who would not stand in lovely, awkward bewilderment if she were ever bidden to saddle her own horse. Surely there were-,
Éomer shook himself quickly, and straightened his shoulders. His mind was slipping into daydreams again, he chided himself as he struggled to keep his expression interested, the crush of the crowd and the weight of drudging formality having drained him. Would that he were upon the wide plains of Rohan again, upon the back of a horse, with the wind in his face. And perhaps, he pondered to himself, with a woman riding beside him. A woman he mused, who was in no way sisterly. A beautiful, free-spirited woman with the sun in her unbound hair, and laughter upon her lips as she rode barefoot, straddling her horse, with her skirts tangled about her smooth, shapely legs-,
Against his will, a low plaintive sigh escaped his lips before he could catch it, and he glanced furtively toward his sister, meeting Éowyn’s eyes as she stood hand in hand with Faramir. Her eyes met his, and danced teasingly at his brief glance of pained worry. She shook her head, smiling. None but she had noticed, and Éomer shot her a covert grin of relief.
“Hail, Éomer King!” a man’s voice sounded behind him over Gimli’s rumbling tones, one of the sons of Elrond, he guessed by the timbre of it as Gimli’s words trundled to a polite halt at the approach of the Elven man.
Stifling a yawn, Éomer turned, forcing a smile to his face as he prepared himself to greet the Elven lord with the usual formalities, the forced smiles and stiff bows that decorum required.
But as his eyes came to rest upon the maiden who drew near upon the Elf’s arm, Éomer froze, his muscles grown suddenly stiff, thoughts of drudging formality and decorum flitting away upon the wind. He stood still, blinking, his jaw half fallen open as he struggled to comprehend the fair vision that stood before him, clinging to the arm of the somber eyed, dark haired Elf.
The maiden smiled as her eyes met his own, the scattering of freckles upon her pert little nose crinkling adorably as she boldly met his gaze. How like his own sister, she seemed, her gaze bold yet soft, her hair golden and freely hanging, playing in the slight wind like Éowyn’s was oft to do. Yet-, Éomer gulped hard, feeling a strange new warmth stirring wildly within him, how truly unsisterly she was, indeed.
Her young body was lithe and slender, like a honed blade, and pleasingly feminine beneath the warm yellow silk of her gown. And there was strength and boldness in her eyes; hazel eyes that were flecked with gold and green that seemed to see into the very depths of his soul. Éomer swallowed stiffly, wondering if the hot pulse of his blood was coloring his face.
“Hail, Éomer king,” Elrohir offered, with a short bow. “May I present to you, Lady Lothiriel, of Dol Amroth.”
At this, the maiden released the Elven lord’s sturdy arm with a brief glance of thanks, and drew a step forward, her gaze fixing again upon Éomer’s.
“It is an honor, Éomer, king of Rohan.” she greeted, breaking her gaze with his at last as she lowered herself in a graceful curtsey.
Éomer stood as one struck suddenly mute, his hands hanging heavily at his sides. This fair creature was Lothiriel, the daughter of his friend Imrahil? He had imagined her to be Elven fair, and yellow haired like her father, bold and brave as Imrahil had so proudly claimed. But Éomer had not imagined such beauty as this. Such that the very breath was stopped in his lungs.
The maiden paused in her graceful bow, lifted her eyes, glancing up at him in question.
“Éomer?” Gimli grumbled, his voice bearing a hint of annoyance that Éomer would not return the maiden’s obeisance as beside him, Éowyn nudged him, jerking him from his trance.
“Eh,” he stuttered, chagrined, and offered a hasty bow in return.
The maiden, rose again, and drew a step nearer to him, her eyes sparking as she smiled. “I believe that you know my father?” she breathed, and Éomer gulped for breath, finding himself suddenly drowning within the maiden’s bright gaze.
“He helped to save my life,” Éowyn offered, and the maiden turned her eyes upon the shieldmaiden, brightening.
“And you are Lady Éowyn, Lord Éomer’s sister!” Lothiriel gasped, making no effort to hide her pleasure.
“I am,” Éowyn offered with a quiet smile, drawing near to Éomer, and giving him a gentle, yet firm shove, pushing him nearer to the maiden.
His heart caught upon a beat within him as he stumbled to a halt before the young woman, noting the quickened rise and fall of her breathing, and the flush that crept over her sweetly formed face at his sudden nearness. He gulped hard. She could breath very well, he found himself thinking stupidly as he felt the warmth of her across the space between them. And were he to reach out, Éomer realized, he could touch her-,
His throat grew dry at the thought, and Lothiriel smiled softly, almost as if she sensed his thoughts. And her eyes grew warm and inviting as she waited. Éomer wished to speak, to say something witty that would make her laugh, that would endear her to him forever.
“I-, I, eh, do you-,” he muttered slowly before he blurted, “do you have a liking for horses?”
Éomer could have died of self loathing in that moment. He gulped, and cursed himself inwardly. Of all the foolish things to blurt out of his mouth, that had to come spurting forth!
But rather than being taken aback by his words, Lothiriel smiled, and stepping forward, caught his hand in her grip, strong for a maiden’s. Her touch sent a wave of warmth through his flesh from where her fingers boldly wove through his own.
“I do,” she breathed softly.
“Eh,” he stammered again, struggling to comprehend the warmth that seeped into his heart at her words. “Oh, yes, as-, as do I.”
He could feel the eyes of Éowyn and Faramir, and of Gimli and the Elf lord upon him, but he had no desire to look away from the eyes of Lothiriel, lost in their depths as he was.
“Shall we go find my father?” Lothiriel asked quietly, gently turning him toward the crowd of nobles where her father stood in the midst. “And then perhaps-,” her cheeks flushed again, and she ducked her head briefly. “Perhaps we could go riding together, upon the plains.”
Éomer’s eyes widened at this, and a grin came to his lips. Drawing in a breath that swelled in his lungs, he gallantly offered the maiden his arm.
Grinning like a child, she took it, and though it seemed a bold move, she seemed pleased when Éomer covered her hand with his own where it rested in the crook of his arm, and started toward the crowd where her father stood.
“I think we shall become good friends my lord, Éomer,” Lothiriel murmured softly beneath her breath.
“Indeed, I am certain we will, Lady Lothiriel,” he returned to her, his voice grown even and strong. He turned to glance at the maiden beside him, drinking in the glowing smile upon her face. And he grinned back.
Elrohir sighed heavily and watched the beaming maiden strolling away upon the arm of Éomer. Her pleasure was easy to see, and he was glad for her. But as he saw the lady Éowyn lean conspiratorially toward the Lord Faramir and whispering a bright secret into his ear concerning the departing pair before glancing brightly toward him, Elrohir offered her a brief nod and turned away. He did not wish to be drawn into the lighthearted speech of lovers who could not understand his pain, wanting only to be alone, now.
“Elrohir,” a maiden’s voice behind him brought his head up again, however, and he forced a smile upon his face, turning to greet Lalaith.
“I saw you through the crowd,” she began with a worried smile. “Lord Glorfindel and his lady have been seeking you most desperately all night-,” Her words fell silent at the taut expression upon his face at whom he saw over her shoulder.
“Elrohir-,” Glorfindel began, moving forward, a hand outstretched as if to bid him to be calm. He felt a soft hand squeeze his own in farewell, then the light clip of Lalaith’s steps moved away, leaving them alone.
“How is Ithilwen?” Elrohir blurted suddenly, heatedly, his words sharply taut. “She is not fading, is she?”
Glorfindel smiled sadly at these words as he studied Elrohir’s face with a look of compassion.
“It does not surprise me that you would think to ask of her, before you spoke of your own pain,” Glorfindel murmured, his voice fraught with compassion as he came forward yet another step. “But before we speak of Ithilwen, may we first speak of Calassë?”
Elrohir dropped his eyes, defeated.
“I do not know what it would accomplish,” he muttered wearily.
“Do you trust me, my friend?”
Elrohir choked softly at this. Of a certainty he had always trusted Glorfindel. The man had been as a second father to him for as long as he could remember.
“Y-yes,” he managed to grate through the hard lump of tears forming in his throat.
“Then come with me,” Glorfindel commanded gently, and with a brotherly hand upon the younger Elf’s shoulder, turned him away from the bright chatter of the fading crowd. With meek obedience, Elrohir followed the elder Elf lord’s guidance back toward the balustrade that overlooked the city below, and the wide plains beyond.
“Elrohir,” he seethed softly, once they were alone. Glorfindel jostled his shoulder, pleading for him to look up, but Elrohir could not. “I wish for you to allow Calassë to speak to you. There is something she alone must tell you of-,”
“Forgive me, Glorfindel, but I fear that I could not endure that,” he cut in swiftly, his eyes crushing closed. “Surely you are pained as well by this terrible entanglement we four have found ourselves in.” He could feel tears pressing from beneath his closed eyelids, and could not look up into the face of his long trusted friend, his face heated in shame.
“You love Calassë, do you not?” Glorfindel’s words were spoken with gentle strength.
Elrohir drew in a shuddering breath, and upon his shoulder, Glorfindel’s hand tightened, lending him much needed strength. “I love her, yes,” he choked softly. “Enough to freely relinquish her to you, for the sake of her happiness, as I know Ithilwen has willingly given you back to her. But-,”
A sudden tightness in his throat choked his words. He struggled through the sudden tears that rose in his throat.
“Do not let Calassë forget me,” he pleaded softly. “Love her well. Make her happy and-, forgive me my-, love for her.”
Lifting his heavy head at last, he gazed into Glorfindel’s eyes to see them also filling with tears.
“And do not forget Ithilwen,” he begged through his choking tears. “She is far more gentle hearted than I, and the pain could destroy her, if you are not mindful of her. I beg you, Glorfindel.”
“Elrohir,” Glorfindel choked, his voice hardly his own, and the hand upon his shoulder tightened in unspoken compassion. “I have never known a truer, more selfless heart.”
Glorfindel, his jaw grown taut with emotion, turned away then, glancing with softened eyes toward two figures drawing near. Before now, in his blind grief, Elrohir had not seen them. And following the elder Elf’s gaze Elrohir drew in a short breath of surprise.
Ithilwen, her face calm and eased of pain, though drawn in compassionate sorrow, stood beside Calassë whose eyes were lifted, large and shining with tears, waiting in patient silence for Elrohir to look at her. The two maidens’ hands were joined as if in shared worry.
Within Calassë’s golden hair the same small yellow flower he had given her the night before was carefully tucked behind the delicate peak of her ear once again. He sighed brokenly at the sight of it. She had picked it up. The thought made his heart, though torn and ragged, to pulse with a sudden throb of longing. And when Calassë’s eyes found his, such adoration lit her face that Elrohir’s entire body grew warm in sweet agony. He shuddered, his limbs suddenly weakened, though Glorfindel’s hand upheld him.
“Elrohir-,” Calassë sighed, her voice but a breath of air upon her lips as she left Ithilwen’s side and came to stand before the two Elven men.
“Calassë,” Elrohir managed to choke out, struggling not to weep before her though his eyes filled with tears.
“Calassë has something you must hear from her lips alone,” Glorfindel urged gently, gathering the maiden’s hand up in his free hand.
Elrohir flinched at the tender gesture between the two, and shuddered, dropping his eyes.
“Elrohir,” Calassë choked again, softly, her voice barely audible, though her achingly sweet voice had the power to lift his heavy gaze up to meet her own. “You left so swiftly last night-, we sought for you, but-,”
She choked softly, wretched pain in her eyes, and tears upon her cheeks that he wished with wrenching agony, he could kiss away.
“Elrohir, forgive me!” she pleaded. “I was so overcome when I saw Glorfindel, and so suddenly remembered him-,”
“There is nothing to forgive, Calassë!” he choked, shaking his head, searching her bright, tear filled eyes as his heart throbbed in wretched misery within him. “You have done no wrong. I freely release you to Glorfindel’s care, as you wish for me to. And you have my blessing, as Lady Ithilwen, I do not doubt, has given hers. Be happy together, that is all I ask.”
“But-, but Elrohir-,” she choked softly upon a soft sob, looking to Glorfindel for help.
“Elrohir,” Glorfindel cut in, catching his limp wrist, and raising it up until it was level with Calassë’s small hand he held within his own. “You have my blessing. I am honored beyond words at her choice.”
Elrohir’s heart all but stopped in his chest as Glorfindel placed Calassë’s small, cool hand within his own.
Smiling adoringly upon Calassë, Glorfindel bent and pressed a kiss to her brow before he withdrew a pace to Ithilwen’s side. Elrohir’s numbed thoughts struggled to comprehend as Glorfindel gathered the other maiden’s hand into his own, and lifted it to his lips as he slipped his free arm about her shoulders, their eyes trading a deep and tender expression.
“Elrohir-,” Calassë breathed, and his eyes turned back to hers, drinking in the sight of her, hardly daring to breath, hardly daring to comprehend the weight of all that was happening.
She sighed out a long held breath, and smiled as if the light of the sun had been capture in her very soul. She caught his larger hand in both her small ones, and softly, sweetly, breathed, “Elrohir my dearest one, my beloved-, Glorfindel is my brother.”