The morning was soft and blue, the tree shrouded rills about her swathed in a layer of soft mist as the water of the Bruinen splashed brightly about the legs of the horses, flinging drops of water about, like a cascade of diamonds. Several drops struck her gown, seeping through onto her legs, but Lalaith could barely feel the cold of the water, for her head was lifted, her bright eyes drinking in the dearly familiar sights about her, her ears tuned to the distant sound of singing washing over them from up the valley as Hasufel with a loud clatter of water and crunching pebbles, surged up bank, the path growing level again as it continued on its way through the trees, ever nearing her home. The distant whisper of the falls, echoed down the valley like a sweet memory, and Lalaith’s heart swelled with sweet emotion.
She closed her eyes with a soft shudder, letting the sweet gladness enwrap her like the soft, warm cloak Legolas had gently draped about her shoulders earlier that morning after they had broken camp beneath the soft blue light of distant dawn. So many months it had been since the Fellowship set out, and yet it seemed as if she had not left. So many things had happened, yet so much was still the same! She could feel the tears in her eyes pressing from beneath closed lids as Hasufel trotted along, following his own head up a low rise.
“Lalaith,” Legolas’ voice reached her, soft and reverent, yet fraught with strength as well, and she lifted her eyes, to his, blinking past her tears.
“Look,” he urged gently, gesturing with his head toward the crest of the ridge they were rising, and she blinked her eyes swiftly, turning her head forward as the valley of Imladris cradled by high green mountains, came into her view, bathed in the golden light of the morning that spilled over the eastern ridges of the mountains. Sprays of sunlight and washed the high peaked roof of the Last Homely House in a shower of gold, and at the sight of it, a throb of emotion caught in her throat.
Lalaith shivered, blinking her tears swiftly away at the beloved sight. “Ai, Legolas-,” was all she could choke out as he caught her hand within his, and squeezed gently.
She turned, meeting his gaze, and saw in his eyes, his shared joy. “Come,” he urged her softly, and side by side, they rode on, their hands clasped as the feet of Hasufel and Arod clipped over the arch of the stone bridge, the endless roar of the frothing river beneath as it plunged downward, joyfully welcome in her ears.
Lalaith turned away from greeting a fellow maiden to turn to smile down upon Sam’s dear little face as he came trotting near her as dear Bilbo, trundling slowly, with a wide smile upon his wrinkled face, came up behind him, leaning heavily upon his cane. The two Hobbits had come from the direction of the stables, and Lalaith tipped her head, wondering at the bright, flustered look in Sam’s eyes.
“Um, beggin’ your-, your pardon, but Bilbo’s just shown me-!” Sam blustered, unable to speak clearly from the excitement in his voice, and Lalaith wondered at the spattering of happy tears upon his cheeks.
“Come, come!” the stout little Hobbit ordered her.
“What’s the fuss, Sam?” Frodo queried, as he with Merry and Pippin turned away from Gimli who was chatting amiably with Calassë and a small number of other maidens who were chirping enthusiastically over the new maiden.
“It’s, it’s-!” Sam stammered, and Lalaith and the three other Hobbits glanced to Bilbo for an explanation.
“Go on with Sam before the poor lad bursts,” Bilbo laughed merrily, shuffling near, and catching a gnarled hand to Lalaith’s.
“Go on,” The aging Hobbit urged her, squeezing gently. “Let him show you.”
Lalaith smiled down upon Bilbo. Of all those who had remained in Imladris, she had most looked forward to seeing him, as had Frodo. She had remembered the warm joy that washed through her as she passed beneath the gate, and saw again his smiling eyes as he stood in the midst of the waiting Elves who sang a song of return and welcome. She had started in brief surprise at how quickly he had aged in only a year, but she had cast the feeling aside quickly as she leapt from the saddle, and lowered herself to her knees that she might embrace her old friend.
Lalaith pushed away the aching grief that returned for a moment, and simmered in her heart as she studied his wrinkled hand, spotted with age. Quickly though, she pusehd it away and chose instead to focus on the merriment in his eyes.
“Go on!” he ordered again, and with a last squeeze and a glad smile, she released his hand and turned away, hurrying down the path toward the stables where the four Hobbits had already gone, Sam stammering incoherently the whole way.
“Look Lalaith, look!” he demanded, gesturing to one of the wooden stalls as Lalaith ducked into the warm shadows of the stable, and her heart warmed at the sight of the brown little pony that stood there, contentedly munching on a manger of oats.
“Bill!” Sam choked between tears rising in his eyes as he opened the stable door, and went in, touching a hand to the pony’s neck. Bill whickered softly, and nudged Sam companionably in the shoulder. “Bill came back here! He came back here to Rivendell! He’s alright!”
Pippin let out a soft whistle.
“So he didn’t go back to old Ferny,” Merry murmured softly.
“Smart horse!” Frodo commented with a grin, to which Pippin and Merry nodded in agreement.
Lalaith merely smiled. She glanced down, trading a glad look with Pippin as Sam suddenly lost himself to joyful tears. The stout little Hobbit flung his arms about the pony’s neck, and buried his face against Bill’s furry shoulder.
Lalaith sighed softly as she strolled quietly along the pillared portico of the Last Homely House, her mind filled with warm memories, as she made her slow way to her own chambers. Her hand trailed lightly over the balustrade as she moved, her eyes half closed as she drank in the familiar scents of her home, listening to the quiet, familiar whisper of the falls surrounding Imladris wash over her, soothing her soul. Lifting her eyes to the sky, she studied the dark blue dome that faded gradually to a line of lighter blue in the west, where streaks of red and yellow clouds bid farewell to the departed sun. In the west, Eärendil winked down as other stars here and there began to prick the night sky.
Aside from the distant chirp of night birds, she was alone. And though she was weary from the flurried activity of the day, she did not wish to sleep. Not yet.
It had been a week since her return to the sheltered valley, and the time had passed, as in a blur. Never before had the vale of Imladris been filled with such flurry of activity! But, Lalaith smiled to herself, never before had there been so many weddings in preparation so near to each other. But at last, all was ready, now.
With a low sigh, she paused, pressing both hands to the balustrade, and gazing out into the cool blue shadows of twilight. Her gown was beautiful, white as pearl and ivory, and Lalaith smiled to think of it, the feel of the cloth, soft as cloud her fingers. And Legolas’ robes, though she had not seen them yet, were no less exquisite the seamstresses had promised her their eyes dancing, and laughter upon their lips even as they worked, weaving and sewing with little rest.
Lalaith hugged her arms to herself, gazing pleadingly up at the night sky. How she wished the night would pass swiftly, and the morning would come!
As she gazed upon Eärendil, as the star winked and shimmered across the vast distance, a mild sensation, as a faint warning, trailed across her heart. It was nothing like the hot pain that had knifed across the back of her shoulder whenever evil was near as they journeyed on their quest, yet Lalaith wondered if it did not have a purpose, for it seemed to trail down from the stars themselves, a faint admonishing whisper.
Mother, what do you wish for me to know? her thoughts pleaded, but no gentle words came into her mind as often they had, before.
She sighed, and her eyes trailed over the innocent night shadows of the sleepy vale, at the river that glimmered and sparkled away through the trees. Perhaps it was no more than her imagination. But perhaps-, she drew in a chilled breath. Was something evil still out there, far away in the shadows of the night, watching the lights of Imladris from afar, and wishing evil upon those who dwelt there? She shuddered at the cold thought, a fragmented, childish fear though it surely was. How she wished Legolas was-,
As if in answer to her unspoken desire, two arms drew silently about her from behind, and two warm hands covered her own where they rested upon the silver railing. She shivered at the warmth of his firm body against hers
“Legolas,” she breathed, closing her eyes, and leaning back against his firm shoulder as she drew her arms to herself, letting him circle his arms about her all the more securely.
“Morning will come sooner, my lady, were you to take your rest,” he whispered softly against her ear, his breath washing across the peaked tip of her ear, and sending shivers of warmth pulsing hotly through her slender frame.
“Then why are you not at rest yourself, my lord?” she replied, her voice light and teasing, though her body trembled in warm weakness at the touch of him.
Legolas laughed softly at her words, and circled his arms all the more firmly about her. “I must confess, I am as you are, for I do not wish to rest, though I ought to.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “I cannot sleep, for thoughts of youLalaith nin.”
He swallowed softly, his voice hushed with wonder, “For before Eärendil shines down upon us from the western sky again, we will belong to each other. All need for decorum and restraint between us, will be-, gone.”
Slowly, Lalaith turned within the circle of his arms, to meet his eyes as he towered above her. His gaze was soft and shadowed, even as his eyes caught the light of the stars in them, warm with tender adoration.
Releasing a low sigh, she leaned in near to him, resting her head against the warmth of his shoulder, her face turned outward, gazing down the long shadowed portico, empty and silent as starlight spilled in through the pillars.
His arms about her, strong and sure, and the warmth of his hot flesh through the cloth between them, addled her mind, and she could not think, did not wish to, and she struggled to rise from the warm thoughtless bliss she longed to fall into.
“We should part,” she murmured.
“Yes, we should,” Legolas agreed in a whisper even as his arms drew more tightly about her.
For a long moment, they stood thusly, both knowing what they must do, though neither was willing to leave the other.
“I want to kiss you,” Legolas hissed huskily into the darkness, “more than I have ever wanted to. But I dare not.”
“If you were to kiss me,” Lalaith gulped softly, “neither of us would wish for it to stop.”
Legolas nodded against her hair, saying nothing as with a sigh of deep reluctance, his arms loosened her, and he stepped back with visible effort. Lalaith pressed back against the balustrade, catching her hands behind her against the cool metal, her fingers tightening as if to restrain herself from following him. Their eyes fixed intently upon each other as they each struggled to subdue their swift breathing.
The space between them fairly pulsed with quelled passion, and Lalaith shuddered, her heart wrenching in sweet agony as Legolas forced himself back another step.
“You must go, now,” she breathed.
“Yes, my lady,” he returned, his soft voice fraught with endearing humility, his brows furrowed in sweet torment above eyes that shone in the starlight.
“We are indeed well met, dear friends!” A man’s voice fraught with bright enthusiasm echoed along the portico, and both Legolas and Lalaith turned toward the approach of two Elves as Haldir with Lothriel upon his arm moved softly along the shadowed portico. Their eyes were brimming with mischievous understanding as they drew nearer, the tiny swell at last visible beneath the cloth of Lothriel’s loosened gown where their infant grew within the protected silence of her womb. She and Haldir fairly glowed with the contentment of coming parenthood, and Lalaith drew in a swift breath of pleasure at their undisguised happiness.
“Greetings to you both!” Lothriel called out merrily, her fingers running lightly over the small curve of her belly.
Legolas nodded respectfully at Lothriel’s approach. “My lady,” he offered politely. “And my lord, Haldir.”
“Prince of Eryn Lasgalen,” Haldir greeted with a lift of his brows, his tone bearing the dear familiar haughty tones it always had, though there was warmth as well. And at the blessedly memorable arrogance of his knowing grin, Lalaith flushed and ducked her head, as Legolas shifted his weighted, and studied the Marchwarden of the Golden Wood, his brows raised as he waited.
Lothriel stifled a soft giggle at the men’s expressions, and she and Lalaith traded a humored glance before Haldir finally ducked his head, laughing in self consternation.
“Might I have a word with your betrothed?” Haldir offered, again, more meekly, now.
Legolas traded a glance with Lalaith at these words. His eyes were tender as before, his smile tugging upon the corners of his mouth. “Of course, Lord Haldir,” he offered, drawing one more reluctant step away from Lalaith as a sigh drew up from his lungs.
“And might I have the pleasure of your company, my prince, Legolas, if there are no other duties you must see to?” Lothriel queried casually. “My little Halmir, I am afraid, is drawing much strength away from me. Where once there was only the warm promise of coming life, his dear little fëa has arrived, and there is much fire in him!” She traded a pleased look with Haldir at these words, and finished softly, “It is time I return to our chambers, to take my rest.”
“It would be my honor, my lady,” Legolas returned agreeably, offering the lady his arm, which she gratefully took.
Lalaith glanced up into Haldir’s dancing eyes as Legolas led Lothriel away on his arm, and she grinned as Haldir offered her his arm in turn.
“So,” she began, as he turned her away, and began to lead her in the opposite direction away from Legolas. She glanced back over her shoulder, to see the Prince of the Green Wood glacing pleadingly over his shoulder even as Lothriel busily led him away. “What was the matter so urgent which you wished to speak of, with me?”
“Ai,” he sighed aggrievedly as the portico turned round a corner, and Legolas’ plaintive backward glances were lost to her. “There was no urgent matter, I must confess. It was only a ruse that my lady and I quickly devised, when we saw you-,” he cleared his throat with effort, and Lalaith ducked her head, coloring.
“We had no intention of doing anything contemptuous, Haldir,” she stammered softly.
“I know, I know!” Haldir laughed, though his voice was gentle, mindful of her discomfiture, and his voice grew soft. “Our last parting the day before our wedding, was rather-, difficult as well, Lalaith,” he sighed sympathetically. “And we wished to ease the pain for you.”
Lalaith smirked at this confession, and with her hand upon his arm, drew him to a gentle stop.
Haldir turned to her, a question in his eyes, as she smiled up at his dear, familiar features.
“Thank you, Haldir,” she murmured softly. “Not only for this, but for all that you have done. You and Lothriel, both. From the beginning of our friendship until now.”
“It was the least my lady and I could do for you.” He cleared his throat softly. “For I am yet indebted to you.”
He studied her eyes a moment longer, seeing the questions in them, and gently offered, “I remember very little of my time in the Halls of Mandos, but as time passes, faint recollections return more and more to me, and I remember now, that my return was due to great sacrifice on your part.”
He turned forward again, and began to walk but Lalaith’s steps were heavy beside him.
“How?” she queried softly drawing back upon his arm, until he stopped again. “I would not have had a hand in your return. It was the will of Eru, and of the Valar. And I have not been in the Blessed Realm since I was an infant. I remember nothing-,”
She paused, as faint, misty faces passed through her memory, gentle, kindly faces, Namo Mandos, and Vairë the Weaver, as well as another face, a boyish face, strangely familiar to her. They had been speaking to her-,
Lalaith sighed and furrowed her brow. Such a memory she did not know she had, hidden in the depths of her thoughts. Haldir began to walk slowly again, and this time, she did not protest as he led her onward, toward the door to her chambers, where a lamp, lit and waiting for her, shone through the latticework above her doorway.
As they went, Haldir softly murmured, “There is little one remembers at the first, after returning from those great halls, whether one returns to life as Glorfindel did, and I, or for those fëar who are-, reborn-,”
She turned again to him as he paused before the door of her chambers, and drew it open for her, warm lamplight spilling out on them. But she did not go in immediately.
“Would it not be a marvelous thing indeed, if one of the great Elven lords of old, were reborn as your son,” she sighed. “Gil-Galad himself, perhaps, or Beleg Cúthalion.”
Haldir let out a short breath at this, shaking his head.
“It would only be right, for such a fëa to be born to parents who have both been fearless warriors,” Lalaith assured him, placing her hand upon his arm. She smiled. “As well as faithful friends.”
He met her eyes, his smile growing to match her own.
“You are a valiant and gentle lady, Lalaith Elerrina,” he murmured softly. “And as dear as a sister to me.”
“And you are as dear as a brother, Haldir,” she returned as she stepped through the door, and turned to face him. “I am honored to know you.”
“May you and Legolas share such joy as Lothriel and I know,” he offered softly. “And may the blessings of the Valar rest upon your union, for all the life of Arda.” His smile softened as he finished in a near whisper, “And beyond.”
“Thank you, Haldir,” she murmured gently.
“And thank you. Lalaith.”
He touched a hand to her face, his fingers gentle in spite of their calluses. And then with a final smile of farewell, he stepped out into the cool shadows of night, and shut the door behind him.
She turned away and fell against the wood of the door as the latch fell into its place. Haldir’s footsteps echoed softly away down the veranda as she studied her room, lit in the steady flame of a glowing lamp of silver and crystal one of the servants had left upon the small table beside her bed, and her eyes trailed slowly about the chamber, flitting over her divan, her dressing table and the small silver chair beside it, her wardrobe, the thin curtain that led back into her bathing room, and again to her bed and the small table-,
She swallowed at a lump forming in her throat at the sight of the silver flower still within the small vase on the table beside her bed, dried now, though no less beautiful than the day so long ago now, when Legolas had given it to her, and had first declared his love for her.
This was the room that had been hers from childhood, that had heard the secret whispers of her maiden dreams-,
With a sigh, she glided over to her bed and sat wearily upon it, studying the small flower once more beneath the flickering light of the lamp that sat beside it, reaching a finger out to delicately touch a crinkled petal. And as she did, her eye caught sight of the crumpled, dusty remains of the flower that Boromir had given her the day of her uncle’s-, Lalaith stopped herself with a smile, the day of Ada’s Council. The dust of the flower had remained untouched from the departure of the Fellowship, for none had come into her chambers, and since her return, she had not had the heart to brush the dust of the flower away into oblivion. And so she had left it unchange where it had crumpled, yet-,
On a sudden impluse, Lalaith scooped her hand beneath the rim of the small table, and with her other, brushed the crumbled dust into her cupped palm. Rising carefully, she moved with swift though level steps to the door, and drew it open, the light of her small lamp spilling out into the purple shadows of the night.
She moved to the railing, and with the fingers of her free hand against the cool smooth balustrade, tipped her cupped palm, so that the dust, like a soft silver mist, riding upon the still cool air of the night, flitted downward in a haze of silver dust. Small new flowers were pressing up out of the soilbelow the balustrade, and the dust of the crumpled flower as it settled on the new young flowers, seemed to shimmer like tiny diamonds upon their leaves, and upon the rich brown earth about them. Lalaith smiled, the sight of it somehow comforting to her.
“May you find light dear Boromir, wherever you are,” she whispered to the soft night shadows. And with a sigh, she turned, and moved back into her softly lighted room, shutting the door behind her back. With a light heart, she moved to her wardrobe, peeling her gown over her head, and laying it across the back of a nearby chair as she drew off her underwrappings as well, and reached for a thin, white sleeping gown hanging against the side of her wardrobe beside her dresses.
Her heart beat quickened as she pulled it over her head at the cool touch of the thin cloth against her flesh. And she shivered slightly as she returned to her bed, and drew back the covers, slipping wearily beneath the cool sheets.
She reached over, puffing out the flame of the small lamp beside her with a soft breath, and settled back against her pillow as she turned her gaze to the cool blue shadows of her ceiling with a sigh, willing herself to fall into her dreams.
Tears touched her eyes briefly as she studied the arching ceiling above her head, the dear familiar features of this room that had been hers since she had been little more than an infant.
The walls, draped in blue shadows, wavered and grew faint as her weariness washed over her. The memories of her maidenhood, all that had occured in her life, from childhood until now, passed through her thoughts, this sheltered valley where she had grown from child to woman, where she had felt her first heart stirrings for Legolas-, All of it would be a dear and cherished memory to her, forever.
“But now I go on, to even greater joy,” she whispered quietly to the stillness. “He is mine. And I am his. He loves me! And I love him. I love him-,”
Her words faded in the silence as she sighed and faded into a realm of sweet sleep. The soft vision of her dreamscape filled her mind, and all was bliss but for a shadow in the distant corner of her sleeping thoughts. Something was coming, something that hated her, that wished to see her come to harm. But the shadow was distant and faint, and her sweet dreams were full of hope and life. And Legolas waited for her beneath a bower of flowers, and she forgot all that troubled her.