Lothriel narrowed her eyes at the woman who stood before her, like Ithilwen in appearance, but now as she studied her eyes, she could see a darkness there that did not live in the eyes of the maiden who had gained Lord Glorfindel’s love. Her feet were bare, Lothriel noted now, and caked in mud as if she had walked barefoot for some distance.
“You are not Ithilwen,” she murmured, drawing back a step, and the woman grinned at this, and came forward, the gleam of a knife shining in her hand. Lothriel’s heart leaped.
“Indeed not,” the woman hissed darkly, and before her eyes, her appearance changed, her features shifted-, a face Lothriel did not know appeared, her ears rounded, her hair darkened nearly black now, yet her eyes remained cold and cruel.
“You have yourself a man, clearly,” the woman’s gaze flashed to Lothriel’s belly, and back again to her eyes, as she spatted the gossamer curtains aside and advanced on her as Lothriel continued to back away through the room. “Tell me,” she demanded as a twisted smirk came to her lips, “are Elven men as fiery when they are unleashed as I imagine them to be?”
Lothriel scowled in disgust at the impious query. “What are you doing here, in Imladris?” she barked. “Who are you, and why have you come here, to Lalaith’s dwelling of all places?”
The woman smirked. “Such things, you shall never know.”
And with this, the woman lashed out with a snarl, her face twisted in fury like the faces of the uruk-hai Lothriel had faced at Helm’s Deep.
Her instincts screaming, Lothriel twisted to the side as the knife slashed past, snatched the woman’s wrist and twisted with one hand, striking the woman hard in the mouth with her other fist as she did, so that the blade flew away from the woman’s loosened grip, spinning through the air, to land with a clatter, several paces away.
The mortal howled in rage at this, and wrenched away from Lothriel’s hold as her fist flew out, catching Lothriel on the cheek with a jarring crack, her strength surprising for a slender mortal woman. Lothriel twisted as she fell, her side taking the brunt of her fall as she landed roughly upon the stone tiles. The woman was already scrambling away from her, across the room to where the knife lay. And were her thoughts not focused upon her small one and his safety, Lothriel would have done so as well in the hope that she might reach the blade before the mortal. She knew how to fight. Haldir himself, and the other warriors of Lórien had taught her. And she did not fear for her own life, or doubt her skill. This woman clearly wished harm upon Lalaith, though what Lalaith could have done to incite such murderous rage, Lothriel could not guess. She wished to protect her friend, but Lothriel could also feel the the soul of her little one within her, slowly so slowly, awakening, and she glanced up, seeing the main door through the sitting room still blessedly ajar, late morning light spilling in. She would carry him away from here. She would not risk his precious life. And with that, she leapt to her feet, and darted away, bounded down the steps into the sitting room in one jump, and fled out the door, flying down the steps with the speed of a frightened bird fleeing the deadly talons of a hawk.
Lalaith laughed aloud, her arm linked through Ithilwen’s as the two women tripped lightly along the trail that led toward the open glade where Elrohir’s wedding was to be that evening. In her other arm, she carried the empty food basket the betrothed pair had brought back with them, the light weight of it swinging about on her arm as the two women fairly skipped along in mutual giddiness.
“You jest, Ithilwen, surely!” she gasped amidst laughter. “The squirrel landed right in your lap?”
“Indeed it did!” Glorfindel offered, cutting in on the women’s conversation as he and Legolas followed behind, smiling at the merriment of their ladies. “As we were there, eating on the grass. The little creature dropped down from a branch, just above her shoulder. My lady was startled enough that she screamed as if the sky was falling down upon our heads!”
Legolas laughed aloud at this as Lalaith smiled, squeezing her hand as Ithilwen rolled her eyes.
“Glorfindel!” Ithilwen protested merrily, casting him a bright eyed glare over her shoulder but her betrothed ignored her. “You exaggerate! I gasped out a little, is all. And it was so sweet! It was after a small nut that was on the grass near my knee. It jumped from the branch above into my lap, and promptly caught up the nut, then took its leave. Startled though I was, I was not afraid!”
“Nor was our little friend, the squirrel, it seemed,” Glorfindel returned, stepping forward quickly to plant a quick kiss on the back of his beloved’s head. “It could sense your inner sweetness, and knew you were no danger to it.”
The four of them paused as the trail opened up into a small clearing bordered on one side by a set of steps leading up to the high roofs of the house. A small clattering fountain sat in the center of carved paving stones in the circled clearing where several paths led in different directions. A small silver pitcher sat abandoned at the feet of the smiling stone maiden from whose pitcher poured an endless stream of water.
Ithilwen turned to look up at the face of her betrothed, a smile touching her lips as she did before her eyes turned toward a sudden sound as of feet running down one of the several trails that meandered through these shaded trees, and Lalaith’s mouth opened in a soft expression of surprise that the sound was coming down the trail that led up to the cottage on the cliff.
Even more surprised was she, when a woman came into view. Lothriel, a dark bruise upon one cheekbone, and confused pleading in her eyes, skidded to a stop on the flagstones at the sight of them.
“Lalaith!” she cried out, breathless, and darted forward, snatching her hand swiftly, and glancing again over her shoulder as if she expected pursuit
Lalaith, taken aback, trading a confused glance with Legolas, though he had no more understanding than she did.
“Lothriel, my friend!” she exclaimed. “What is it?”
“There is a woman here!” Lothriel gasped, looking at Ithilwen with a deep glance, before seemed to be satisfied at what she saw.
“A mortal woman, come to Imladris,” she continued. “She was only now in your cottage-,”
A shudder wormed its way through Lalaith’s body at these words, and thoughts, frightened and formlessly dark, swirled in her mind. No, it could not be.
“A mortal woman, my lady?” Glorfindel queried, his eyes, and those of Ithilwen written with confusion. “None of the guests in our realm are mortal, but for men, Lord Aragorn, Master Gimli, and the Pheriain-,”
Lothriel shook her head, her brow furrowed with worry. “Yes, my lord, I know that! But she has come from far away, and in secret. And she can-,” Lothriel’s grip tightened upon Lalaith’s hand. “Ai, you will think me mad if I told you, but this I do know: She has come to kill you, Lalaith!”
At that moment, the crunch of several boots upon earth found their ears as well as voices as five figures came into view, striding up one of the twining paths that led from the meadow below. Erestor Haldir and Elrohir held naked blades within their hands. Calassë walked slightly ahead of them with Pippin beside her, a small blade in his hand as well.
“The danger is but one mortal woman,” Erestor was murmuring. “Why must we send out sundry patrols armed as we are to seek her? How deadly can she be?”
“My lady knows this threat greater than any other could. And I trust Gandalf’s judgment,” Elrohir returned.
Erestor sighed at this, and nodded. “As do I trust the judgment of them both,” he returned, though his eyes held a hint of confusion in them, yet.
“Lalaith!” Calassë’s voice echoed out, as she noted the group of Elves in the glade beside the fountain. Pippin looked up as well and brightened as they increased their pace.
“Oi, Lalaith!” Pippin huffed in relief. “We’re glad to find you! We’ve got some bad news-,”
Pippin’s smile faded at the bruise upon Lothriel’s cheek, which Haldir had already noted, and was trotting forward, a look of concern upon his face, to join his wife.
Lothriel, a weary longing aspect upon her face, turned toward him, and opened her arms as he came near, falling in a weary heap against her husband’s chest as Haldir gathered her against himself.
“What happened?” he breathed, lifting a hand that hovered over the bruise upon her cheek. “Who did this to you?”
“Greta!” Legolas seethed, disgust heavy in his voice, and a heavy, dark weight of sudden understanding drove like a ragged shard through Lalaith at the word.
“You know of her, Prince Legolas?” Erestor questioned, surprised.
“We both do, my lord, Erestor,” Lalaith answered. She could hear the quaver in her voice. “She was once a woman of Rohan, taken into Saruman’s service.”
“We have both done battle with her, in one form or another,” Legolas added, his eyes downcast for a moment.
“And each time, she was defeated,” Lalaith added, to which Legolas glanced up, and cast his wife a soft grin.
“I found her in the cottage Lalaith and her lord have dwelt in, this past week.” Lothriel glanced back toward Lalaith, her eyes almost apologetic even as she huddled like a child seeking comfort against Haldir’s chest. “She has a knife, Lalaith, one of your own, it seems, and after deflecting the first of her blows, I fled from her, rather than choosing to fight. I-,”
“And you did as you should have,” Haldir insisted, catching his wife by her shoulders, and studying her eyes with a sharp gaze, though there was tenderness in it, also. “For Halmir’s sake, it was right to flee.”
“But where shall she go now in this fair realm? What harm shall she do?” Lothriel queried.
“Ada!” a bright sound, cut through the heavy air about them, light and free of care like the cheerful call of a bird from the crest of the steps that bordered one side of the clearing, and all eyes glanced up at the merry smile of Wilwarin, Erestor’s daughter, where she stood perched at the crest of the steps.
“Have you found the wicked wolf yet, Ada?” Wilwarin called down cheerily as she began to hop with both feet down from one step to another, her smile brightening at the sight of Pippin beside Calassë where they stood nearest her.
“Peregrin the Pherian!” she called with a wave. “We are well met! Do something silly! I like the funny faces you make, when I talk!”
Pippin returned her greeting with a mute wave of his free hand, but his face bore a worried look.
“Wilwarin,” Erestor scolded gently. “You were told to stay in the house with your mother until the danger is past.”
“Yes! I remember. Nana sang me to sleep in my bed, but then I awoke again when she shut the door, so I climbed out through the lattice! Nana thinks I am still abed!” Wilwarin chirped as she continued to hop down as her father pursed his lips and shook his head. “And I am yet in someone’s house! I am in Lord Elrond’s house, for I have not left the steps-,” She glanced with a smile toward the Hobbit as she hopped down toward the last step before the flagstones began.
“See me, Peregrin?” she said as she hopped backward up to the step behind her, then hopped back down again, repeating the motion as she hopped back and forth. “See what I can do?”
Lalaith smirked at the child’s antics in spite of the heaviness within her heart. She turned her eyes toward the Hobbit then, his face written with a worried smile, and as she did, her eyes caught a fleeting movement flitting through the thick trees that bordered the stones near the base of the steps.
A soft warning cry had not even broken through her lips before the shadowed figure, with the form of a woman, yet with fearfully unnatural strength, darted from the trees beside the steps, pounced over the low stone railing, and seized the Elfling up beneath her arms before Wilwarin could utter a strangled cry of fright.
“Stand away from my child!” wailed Erestor in a sudden panic, and with his sword in his grip, darted forward as Wilwarin fought the hold the creature held about her in vain.
“Wilwarin!” shouted Pippin, and started to dart forward, before the knife in Greta’s hand came to rest against the struggling child’s throat, freezing Pippin and Wilwarin’s father where they stood.
“No!” Erestor wailed. “My daughter! Let her go!”
“If you come nearer,” Greta gasped, her voice thick and heavy, like a wolf’s low growl, eyes gleaming with wicked satisfaction, “the child will die.”
“Let her go, Greta!” Lalaith cried, striding a step forward.
But this only elicited a cry from Wilwarin’s lips as the blade pressed more firmly against the frightened child’s throat.
“Stay back, you filthy trollop!” Greta barked, sudden fury in her voice, and as she did, her countenance changed, as a candle snuffed out, the gold of her hair flickered to the dark tones Lalaith remembered, her face again as Lalaith remembered, fair and sharply drawn, her ears rounded, marking her race.
At the fear and the unsurity that came suddenly upon Lalaith’s face, Greta drew in a long, slow breath, and smiled again.
“Now I am the one with the blade,” she murmured, her voice soft, as if she were speaking a happy thought to none but herself.
“Ada!” Wilwarin sobbed pathetically, her arms outstretched toward her father, though Erestor, tears streaming unashamedly down his face, glanced at Greta’s sneering face, and dared not to move.
“Peregrin!” Wilwarin pleaded to the Hobbit where Pippin stood, his blade trembling in his hand. “Peregrin, save me!”
“Peregrin?” Greta seethed poisonously, glancing toward Pippin where he stood. “Is that your name, my brave little Hobbit? Glad I am to know it, at last, for I remember you well.” She laughed softly at the look of bridled anger upon Pippin’s face. “But this is different than when we met upon the steps of Orthanc is it not? Now, I am the one with the power, and not your Elven masters.” She glanced over the Elves, before her taut, like drawn bows, though fearful to move, for Wilwarin’s sake. She smiled, a cold, humorless smile.
“Cast your weapons away from you,” she demanded, nodding toward the men whose weapons hung heavily in their hands. “Far away, if you wish the child to live. You as well, dear Peregrin,” she murmured to the Hobbit, her voice mockingly soothing.
“This is my fault,” Lothriel murmured in the heavy quiet, for even the merry clatter of the fountain had grown muted. “If I had not-,”
“Shh,” Haldir murmured, pressing a soothing kiss to her head, even as he cast a hard glare at Greta, and cast his blade away into the shadows of the trees with the others.
“Ithilwen,” Glorfindel murmured to his betrothed, his eyes boring holes into Greta’s face as his empty fists opened and closed, “go to Lord Elrond, and tell Master Gandalf of-,”
“No!” Greta barked as Ithilwen began to turn away, and the maiden froze and turned back, glancing toward Glorfindel with a hopeless look. “If any of you leave, she will die.”
“You wretch,” Elrohir ground out as Erestor’s sobs only increased. “Let the child go, and I swear to you, you will be released from this realm, unharmed. What do you think you can gain from this?”
Greta cast Legolas a twisted grin, and Lalaith swallowed stiffly as Greta’s countenance changed again, her hair glittering suddenly as if taken afire by a golden flame as it grew suddenly yellow, her face becoming the image that Lalaith knew in the mirror.
“Legolas,” she murmured tritely, now in a voice that sounded as Lalaith’s, her tone sweet, her Elvish words slipping from her tongue like sweet honey. She glanced toward Lalaith’s husband where he stood with a look of bridled fury upon his face. His chest rose and fell swiftly. “You will come away with me, won’t you?”
A sound of ragged disgust broke past Legolas’ lips.
“Oh,” Greta sighed softly, lowering her eyes briefly. “I had thought you might agree if-,”
Wilwarin stiffened suddenly, and a soft cry broke past her lips. “Ada,” she gasped.
“By the mercy of the Valar, let my daughter go!” Erestor shrieked. He moved to fly forward, but Greta drew in a swift warning breath, and pressed the knife more firmly against the child’s tender flesh and he staggered wildly, like a drunken man, to a halt.
“Ah, yes,” Greta sighed absently as if the little girl’s cry had brought her back from mundane thoughts. “Your ada, my little one. Is it not a blessing that he can be here, to watch you die?”
Legolas shot a glance toward Lalaith. The air had become entirely still. the distant song of birds was gone, and even the fountain’s clattered had grown muted, intensifying the silent, motionless battle that raged here. A small whimper from Pippin’s lips seemed intensified in the heavy quiet. Lalaith traded a long glance with her husband, both their eyes speaking of the hopeless they felt. Legolas, his jaw taut in anger, turned his eyes again to Greta.
“If you hurt this child,” he seethed softly, his voice low and dangerous, “woman that you are, I swear I will kill you!”
Greta trembled at these words, her face looking as if she would cry before she steeled her face, and smiled gently. “I shall let her go freely, of course, my beloved,” she purred. “If you come away with me, and be mine.”
“You are mad, Greta,” he growled.
Greta offered a tittering laugh at this as if he had offered her a flattering complement.
“Greta,” Lalaith began softly, drawing forward a few steps before a harsh sneer from Greta, and a soft sob from Lothriel stopped her in her place.
“I said stay back, you selfish, wretched thief!” Greta shouted, her eyes shooting sparks of wild hatred toward Lalaith, her voice half a sob. “Do not speak again, if you wish this brat to live!”
Lalaith stayed where she was, though her entire body trembled in helplessness at the rage in Greta’s face, and the fear upon Lothriel’s, the tears that wet her fair cheeks.
“Greta, daughter of Gálmód, please,” a new voice spoke out amid the heavy quiet, and Calassë stepped forward, side stepping Elrohir’s extended hand to draw her back, ignoring the sudden, pleading fear in the eyes of her betrothed, and also of her brother’s. Calassë’s own eyes were wide with fear, but she drew slowly nearer to Greta, and Lalaith could see the vague recognition dawn upon Greta’s gaze, the unspoken questions, until the mortal’s cold eyes narrowed, and at a soft gasp from Lothriel, Calassë stiffened, and stopped, near to where Pippin stood.
“Let her go,” Calassë pleaded softly, her hands outstretched in an imploring gesture. “Will you not heed my lord? You will be released from Imladris unharmed if you do not hurt the dear child.”
Greta’s countenance trembled a little at this as her eyes trailed over Calassë’s features.
“Who are you?” she demanded roughly, though Lalaith could hear a new tremor in her voice.
“She is Calassë of Gondolin, a daughter of The House of the Golden Flower,” Elrohir offered from behind, his voice firm and angry. Elrond’s son moved as if he meant to march forward to stand at Calassë’s side, but his footsteps were arrested by another soft cry from Wilwarin dangling in Greta’s arm as the knife her other hand twisted slightly.
“Your name is Calassë?” Greta snarled, her eyes fixed now upon the Elf maiden. “I do not know you. How do you know me? How-,”
Greta’s eyes narrowed, and a strange look came over her face, almost a look of worried concern it seemed.
“Where is my brother?” she demanded, her voice almost a stammer. “Have you seen my brother, Gríma?”
“He is dead, Greta,” Legolas offered, his voice lowered, though still guarded, watching her with careful eyes. “Both he and Saruman.”
An unreadable look crossed her face at this, a look that Lalaith almost interpreted as sorrow before an angry expression banished it.
“Good!” she wailed. “I knew his foolishness would slay him in the end!”
“Let little Wilwarin go, please,” Ithilwen pleaded softly, clinging to Glorfindel’s side.
“No!” Greta cried out, like an angered child as Wilwarin stiffened further and drew in a sharp breath of pain as a small bead of blood appeared at the point where the knife touched, and snaked down her fair little neck. “Only if Legolas agrees to depart with me!”
“He does not love you!” Calassë cried in return.
“But I love him!” Greta wailed in return, her eyes studying Legolas with a wild, pleading expression where he stood in mute, helpless anger.
“No, you do not!” Calassë shot back, pleading in her ragged voice. “You do not love him any more than you loved Prince Théodred. You were glad to hear of his death, and laughed of it, in memory! Were you to cost Prince Legolas his life, you would not grieve. You know not how to grieve but for your own pain.”
Greta gulped, her mouth ajar. Her eyes flashed from Calassë to Gandalf and back again. “How do you know-,”
Greta froze, and understanding, cold and furious entered her eyes.
“Ha!” she scoffed, laughing bitterly. “Worthless dirt! You are Burza the orc!”
“So you called me once,” Calassë murmured softly with a nod. “But Calassë has ever been my true name.”
“Foolish wench! You’ve turned yourself into an Elf, and found yourself a pretty toy! Yet you dare to tell me to leave what I wish for?” Greta growled, gesturing toward Elrohir who stood back, helpless with the others. “If you have gained such a prize, why can I not have all that you do?”
“My lord and I are joined by love,” Calassë murmured pleadingly, her voice aching for Greta to understand. “But how can you understand such a thing, Greta? You cannot love another, for you do not love yourself! Please try to understand. We will let you go unharmed if you let little Wilwarin go, unhurt.”
“I love Legolas,” Greta ground out, her words a harsh, pathetic whimper, though the grip she held upon Lalaith’s knife did not loosen.
“No, you do not,” Calassë returned, her voice achingly gentle. “If you understood what love is, you would not demand him, when he wishes to be with another, and she with him. You would not threaten a child, who has done no evil to you. You would let him go, that he might be happy with his chosen one, and allow your own heart freedom to heal.”
Greta’s eyes seemed to soften for a moment at this as within her, her heart seemed to be struggling with Calassë’s words. But it lingered for only a moment before her gaze hardened again. And a swell of despair rose in Lalaith’s heart. She would not let Wilwarin go. She would not.
Beside her, her husband Legolas stood with a bent head, his chest rising and falling with ragged emotion. What am I to do? his thoughts pleaded despairingly as he glanced up, meeting her eyes. Should I let the child die to save my honor? Should I agree to her demands to save the little one?
Trust the Valar-, Lalaith returned, knowing her words sounded weak and helpless, though there was little else that could she could answer with.
Erestor, weeping openly now, had sagged helplessly to his knees even as Pippin in tearful voice, softly choked in softened Elvish tones, “Wilwarin! Wilwarin, mellon nin!”
Something seemed to awaken within Wilwarin then at his words.
“Pippin, mellon nin!” she gasped as a light lit her eyes, a sudden determination mingled with desperate hope. And with a spurt of sudden energy, she cocked her small arm and swung it back, catching Greta suddenly in the ribs with the sharp point of her little elbow.
Greta gasped at this in sudden pain and surprise before Wilwarin wriggled desperately out of the mortal’s momentarily weakened grip, and ran, flying toward her father, screaming for him.
Greta, with a muffled grunt of pain, lunged after her small fleeing prey with murder in her eyes, her knife ready to slice down into the fleeing child’s back.
The numb helplessness that had weighed upon her for the last few moments, was suddenly gone as a shard of fierce protective rage tore through Lalaith’s body, and she leapt forward despairing, noting vaguely that the glade had erupted in a flurry of noise and motion.
But Pippin, nearest the mortal woman, reached her first, and snatched desperately onto Greta’s hand which held the knife, wrenching her to a stop as Wilwarin flew beyond her reach, leaping safe, into Erestor’s arms. Deprived of her kill, Greta screamed in unearthly fury, and turned her rage upon the Hobbit clasped upon her arm, her free fist striking Pippin in the face with such demonical power that the Hobbit crumpled like a lifeless doll before she lifted the blade she held to slay the helpless Hobbit. But Calassë, even with a gasp of fear upon her lips, was upon Greta, throwing herself into the mortal woman, and pushing Greta back away from Pippin.
And then-, in a splintered fragment of time that seemed to last an age-, Calassë’s fair face twisted into a look of pain and surprise as Greta stabbed the Elven forged blade through the cloth over Calassë’s narrow stomach, piercing halfway to the hilt.
Greta wrenched the blade cruelly out, as Elrohir’s voice, mingled with Glorfindel’s shredded the air in a mingled cry of rage and despair. She reached down with her free hand, and with strength to rival an uruk’s, wrenched Pippin’s small, unconscious form over her slender shoulder, then with a look of wild victory leapt with unearthly strength away from her foes closing about her, turned and sprinted away and up the trail that led toward the mountain.
“Calassë!” Elrohir cried, entirely forgetful of Greta’s flight as his betrothed staggered into his arms, her hands clasping over a wound that suddenly gushed crimson blood through her slender, white fingers.
“Calassë!” Lalaith gasped, reaching her, her hands outstretched toward her friend as everyone gathered breathlessly about the wounded maiden. Lalaith wanted to gather her into her arms, to weep inconsolable tears over her, but staggered back quickly instead, making way for Glorfindel to catch up her limp hand, his eyes wide and wild as the maiden’s weight sagging in the arms of her betrothed as Elrohir fell sagging to the stone steps cradling her, his face written with wild, unbelieving grief. Ithilwen, choking back fierce tears of disbelief, dropped to Glorfindel’s side, stroking Calassë’s hair, and speaking soothing words to the maiden through her sobs. Lalaith was vaguely aware of Legolas at her side, his hand upon her shoulder. And Haldir cradled Lothriel behind them. She was weeping inconsolably, quietly blaming herself for all that had befallen, and Wilwarin was sobbing in her father’s arms, Erestor crumpled weakly against the side of the fountain, clutching his little daughter against himself.
Lalaith’s heart was torn raggedly, so desperately she wanted to stay. To do her part in comforting Calassë, to will her to live in spite of her wound, yet-,
“Stay with me! Stay!” Elrohir’s pleading sliced through her thoughts, his voice a dejected, agonized plea. “Do you remember the orcs in Lothlórien? This is no different. We defeated them! You healed. You will heal now, as you did then. You will-,”
“Elrohir-,” Calassë murmured.
“Calassë?” he choked wildly.
“Pippin-,” she answered in return to this.
The name of Lalaith’s sweet, fearless little friend ricocheted with sudden clarity in her mind like a wasp wakened suddenly in a wild fury, and she knew now what she must do.
And though her heart wrenched to turn away from Calassë, tearing as never it had been before, strength surged in her legs, and Lalaith with a fierce breath of sudden determination, sprinted up the trail in the direction Greta had fled, and naught but a pace behind her, came Legolas.
Greta cursed the weight of the small Hobbit upon her shoulder as she ran along, trees flying by her at a speed that astounded her. Never had she borne such power as this. It was as if she were one of Saruman’s uruks.
A cold smile touched her lips at this thought. But then Saruman’s power, that small portion that he had given her, and had ever kept a jealous rein upon, was fully hers now. Saruman’s spirit had faded and failed. He was no longer her master.
She laughed aloud at this, and the Hobbit stirred up her shoulder.
She cursed him, and jostled him roughly. His nose was dripping blood from where she had struck him, and it fell in a steady drip onto her shoulder.
By all the dead, she hated this little wretch! She’d taken him for but one purpose, and when it was fulfilled, she would no longer have need of him.
The trees broke, and the stairs that led up to the high cottage came into her view. But she did not wish to take them. There was but one way up, and one way back from that wretched little hut, and she wished to be gone when her purpose was fulfilled, and never return to this accursed valley again. The high cold mountains would shelter her well enough, she decided as she turned upon a ragged ledge of stone that rose along the steep side of the mountain, a ledge wide enough to serve as a narrow pathway that led up between a steep canyon where a high foaming fall plunged down, disappearing into the thick green trees in the canyon’s narrow base. Away and up the uneven ledge stretched along the side of the white stoned cliffs rising gradually climbing until it topped the ragged peaks.
This was her way of escape. She would find caverns and crevices, hidden secret caves-, And she would find servants again Greta promised herself. Remnants of Sauron’s minions who had hidden away in the shadowed, deep caverns of the Misty Mountains, leaderless and defeated. She would find them, and command them, and then she would wield the power that Saruman had once possessed, and then so foolishly lost. Just as she had always dreamed she would, one day. And then she would return, and crush this cursed valley beneath the heel of her power.
Chortling under her breath, she hitched the Hobbit upon her shoulder, tightened her fist about the haft of the knife she held, and trotted from the trees toward the rising mountain. Free of the shading trees, the winds, smelling sweet with the faint mist of the falls about the valley, and faintly like the soft scent of simbelmynë, washed about her, catching at her blood stained dress, and her snarled hair as she started in a slow climb up the ledge that rose away from the forest floor, pausing when she had climbed several paces, then turned and waited.
A gleeful smirk peeled her lips upward as she saw two Elves, only two, but the very ones she hoped would come, Legolas and Lalaith, darting through the trees, and pausing suddenly side by side, breathless, when their eyes found her.
A snort found its way out her nose. Though Legolas bore a sword, the long blade the dark haired Elf man had dropped when she had stabbed the foolish golden haired maiden, Lalaith had not even thought to bring a weapon! How easily that selfish thief would die!
“Greta!” Legolas cried out, his face fearful and unsure. His voice was a ragged plea, and Greta smiled. How it pleased her to see him helpless to watch him beg! “Let the Halfling go! He is of no use to you! Be gone, to wherever you will, but do no harm to him!”
“Do you want him, Legolas?” Greta queried sweetly. “Then you must take him from me!”
With that, she turned and fled up the ever rising cliff wall, and smiled as she heard the sound of pursuit behind her. As she rose higher, she slowed slightly, the valley falling away below and behind her. The ledge curved along the cliff wall, often narrow, often wider, and as it darted around a corner of jutting stone, Greta glanced back. Legolas ran before Lalaith, the sword in his hand, his back half bent with effort as he raced up the ledge, oblivious to the steep drop that fell swiftly away beside him in his fixed resolve to reach the mortal woman and her captive.
Her heart trembled at the determination on his face, the grip of the elven sword in his fist. Would he truly slay her as he appeared intent to do? The fair, flawless Elf who had not left her deepest thoughts from the moment she saw him from the veranda of the Golden Hall, all those months ago?
Fury boiled in her heart at the thought. Turning about, and setting her jaw hard, she sprinted on up the ledge, higher and higher it climbed, nearer to the roaring waterfall that cascaded near. Here and there, scattered in the small trees clinging to the cliffside above her and below her, and here and there upon the ledge, scattered over the stones, and the brush that grew here, she saw shreds of cloth, and bits of shattered wood. She glanced up for a fleeting moment, seeing above her, the jutting balcony where she had flung Lalaith’s trunk, no more than an hour before. She laughed to herself, imagining the look of dismay upon Lalaith’s face behind her, to find her things scattered thusly, and on Greta ran. The air was moist and filled with mist, and the rocks were growing slick, but still, she ran on. On, until her lungs burned, and her legs wobbled beneath her, and she could hear the clatter of stones as Legolas slowly, steadily, gained.
Then at last, with a snarl of rage, she turned about to face him, a look of furious victory upon her face as she wrenched the lifeless Hobbit from her shoulder, and clutched him as she had the Elf child, her knife pressing against the soft, though steady pulse in his throat as his head, his nose dripping blood, lolled against her shoulder.
Legolas slid to a halt, his chest heaving in a way that sent the blood pulsing hard through Greta’s veins as pebbles scattered from his sudden stop clattered away, dropping over the side of the ledge, and spinning downward, glancing off the white stone that sloped steeply toward the valley below and disappearing at last into the foam of the white falls that thundered near, cascading down into a deep blue pool edged by a curve of sandy white beach surrounded by trees.
“Legolas, we are well met,” she gasped. How fair he was. How perfect. And how desperately she wanted him. Even now. Yet he had never done as she wished him to. He had never even kissed her, not even the briefest brush of his soft, perfect lips against her own. But neither had Théodred ever kissed her, and he was dead, cut down those months ago by Saruman’s uruks. As dead as Ceorl, and so many others of the men of Edoras who had fallen victim to her.
How many of them had died at Helm’s Deep or before the gates of that distant White City the Ent had spoken of? Greta wondered this fragmented thought as the little Hobbit dangled lifelessly in her straining arm. Doubtless many of them, though they mattered little now to her. Indeed, she was well named the little spider, as that wretched wizard Gandalf had called her. And now, even her brother, and Saruman were dead.
“Greta,” Legolas gasped, and at her name upon his lips, her heart leaped, and she smiled. “Give him back.”
“Will you come away with me?” she called out, her voice a high plea, that she might be heard above roar of the falls nearby.
Legolas set his jaw at this. “Daughter of Gálmód,” he grated through his teeth, “you care nothing for me! You care nothing for anyone! Indeed, you have perhaps slain a noble lady, much beloved of her lord! I will not do as you bid me!”
Deep within Greta, within a hidden corner of her heart, something twinged, something that she had not felt for years, and a tear touched the corner of her eye.
“I want to be loved, Legolas!” She wailed, her voice wrenching from the shadowed core of her very soul.
To this, the Elf’s eyes softened briefly, though his guarded look did not change, nor did the grip upon his sword loosen. “As do I, Greta,” he called out. “And Lalaith loves me, fully, truly. And I her. I am more than-,” he swallowed hard. “More than brief pleasure to her. She will not use me up, and then cast me aside. She is all that I desire, and I wish to be with no one else. I beg you, give the Halfling back-,”
Her swift motion stopped his words in his throat as she wrenched the Hobbit by the front of his bloodsoaked, homespun shirt, and thrust her arm out, dangling him lifelessly over the ravine below.
“It is too late, sweet prince,” she seethed, and with that, she let the Hobbit’s weight go, The blood streaked cloth slithered through her loosened fingers, and he fell away, plummeting downward.
Greta smiled in detached amusement as Legolas, his eyes wide with a sudden wild fear, uttered a strangled cry, and dove over the rim of the ledge.
“Legolas!” a voice cried from behind him, as Lalaith, her long skirts torn and snagged from her swift flight up the mountain, skidded to a stop as she watched her husband hurtle over the ledge, her countenance, fraught with wild terror before the fear upon Lalaith’s face melted into a look of tentative relief.
Greta frowned. Following the Elf woman’s gaze, she edged near the rim, and peered downward, her jaw growing taut and hard at the sight of Legolas some length down the ragged stone wall, clinging by one hand to a jutting stone that protruded from the cliff, his feet struggling to find purchase in the white stone of the cliff. Greta’s lips curled in a snarl over her crushed teeth, her anger made double by the form of the Hobbit that hung limply from Legolas’ other hand.
The Elf, at least was weaponless, she noted, for she could see a brief glimmer of his sword far below tumbling through space before it disappeared into the mist of the falls.
Cursing aloud, she snatched up a loose stone the size of her fist that lay against the cliff wall, and lifted it above her head, to fling it down upon Legolas.
“No, Greta!” a voice cried beside her, and Greta turned just as Lalaith’s form hurtled into her, knocking her off balance, and grappling for the rock that Greta had meant to knock the Elf man and the Hobbit from the cliff, with. The Elf woman, entirely forgetful of the knife in Greta’s hand in her anxiety for her lover’s safety, had left her side exposed, and with a cry of enraged delight, Greta stabbed the blade out, feeling the blade punch through soft flesh. And with a harsh gasp, Lalaith released Greta and staggered back. Greta tumbled upon her knees, gasping, the stone still in one hand and the knife in her other, though wet again, with new blood.
Lalaith staggered away from Greta and fell back against the cliffwall crumpling against it among small huddle of leafy brush where a shallow bay curving into the side of the cliff widened the ledge slightly. A deep crimson stain was swiftly spreading across the soft cream of her gown just beneath her ribs, crimson wetness oozing between her fingers clenched over the wound.
Lalaith’s gaze, fair and bright though glazed with pain, met Greta’s as the mortal grinned and rose to her feet, smiling as the Elf woman shuddered in pain from the ragged wound. Lalaith too, struggled to rise, but fell back as a sharp hiss of agony broke past her lips.
“Lalaith!” Legolas’ voice cried from beneath the ledge. Greta glanced over her shoulder. She could hear from labored tone of his words, that Legolas was climbing up, as swiftly as he might, though the weight of the limp Hobbit and the lack of hand and footholds hampered him. Were he a mere mortal man, he would surely have fallen, already. He may yet, Greta mused to herself. She smiled.
Greta turned back toward the helpless Elf woman, a smile peeling across her face. “Ah, now I am the one with the blade, and you are not,” she mused softly, then laughed, a harsh, sharp laugh, and moved to stand over her helpless prey. “That walking tree bragged so of you. A daughter of gods, it said you were, and one of the greatest warriors in the battle against Sauron.” Greta laughed sharply. “You do not look so mighty now, that I am soon to slay you!”
She sneered darkly and added, “And once you are dead, I shall slay your lover as well, and the Hobbit, Peregrin, if they have not yet fallen from the cliff.”
Lalaith shuddered, and struggled to back away from Greta and the knife glinting in her hand. It was her own blade, Lalaith noted almost absently. She pushed herself against the cool rough stone of the cliff, her eyes seeking escape, though there was nowhere to go. Her right side beneath her ribs was filled with cruel fire that bit sharply at her with every small movement, blood ever oozing from the piercing wound. Perhaps her fate was already set, Lalaith wondered wearily.
She could hear Legolas crying out her name as from far away, but her voice was too weary and choked to answer him.
With her trembling left hand, she struggled to push herself away, to melt into the stone at her back which she caught to, and clung furtively against.
Mother-, she cried in her mind, reaching out pleadingly, plaintively to the west, seeking comfort, seeking guidance. But no calm, soothing voice answered her call. She was alone. So alone. She would die alone.
And her left hand slid down the rock face falling limp within the soft leaves of the brush beside her, coming to rest upon-,
Lalaith stiffened slightly at the unexpected touch of soft leather beneath her hand. One of her boots-,
She had seen shreds of cloth, torn remnants of clothing scattered here and there as she’d darted up the mountainside, yet in her anxiety she had not paid heed. Yet here was one of her own boots, the very ones she had worn so long upon her quest. Perhaps-,
Greta laughed, tossed the rock in her hand aside with a clatter, reached down, and seized Lalaith by the neck of her gown. With one hand she wrenched Lalaith up as with the other, she raised the knife above her head, her fair face twisted in orcish glee. And as she did, Lalaith’s hand slid trembling along the length of the boot, found the mouth, and plunged inside, pleading, hoping silently as the blade descended in a silver blur.
With the last of her strength, Lalaith pitched to the side, hearing the jarring scream of the blade as the knife wildly struck rock where her head had been even as her hand shot out of the boot and shoved fiercely up into the center of Greta’s chest.
And then, for a moment that lasted the length of an age, all the world stood still.
Greta staggered suddenly back from the wall, confused at the strange sensation that spread outward from the middle of her chest as she gazed down upon the wounded Elf woman, wondering why the wretch was not yet dead. The knife Greta had clutched with such determined strength moments before fell from her trembling fingers to the ragged stone at her feet, for her fingers she could no longer feel.
Lalaith pushed herself up upon one hand, watching her as Greta staggered back another step, confused that she should feel suddenly so cold, and numb. And gradually, her eyes lowered, and fixed upon the small gilded hilt of the Elven forged knife that lay embedded in the cloth of her gown between her breasts.
“Oh,” the word, soft and weak, broke past her lips.
Greta’s eyes lifted again to meet the gaze of the woman who possessed everything she had ever wanted, but had never quite grasped her fingers upon. Happiness, friendship, the unwavering devotion of a man. Saruman had made promises of all these things. He had promised her Théodred, he had promised her wealth and treasure beyond her imaginings. But none of those things had she ever received. Men she had had, aplenty, but the pleasure she had gotten from them was fleeting, for they had swiftly bored her. She possessed nothing lasting, nothing of true worth as this woman did. Greta’s stare into Lalaith’s eyes deepened, and her thoughts took a strange turn as she staggered back yet another step. Could she have possessed true happiness, she wondered, if Théodred had indeed given in to her as she had wanted, or if the fair Elf Legolas had? In the last furtive beats of her heart, Greta faced the truth, and understood it for all its stark bleakness. They would have become like the others, as naught but cast off toys she had grown bored with when she had finished with them, for she truly loved nothing and no one, seeing beauty only for the momentary pleasure it could bring her, wanting something only until she received it.
Her heart staggered raggedly upon a beat. She felt it quaver within her. And then a cold stillness spread through the hollowness of her being. Darkness shrouded her vision, and the world fell away, plunging her into a wild, ceaseless roaring.
A quiet numbing sadness washed over her as Lalaith watched Greta’s eyes cloud in sightless death even as her stiffened body tipped over the ledge, and fell, tumbling downward like a limp shred of torn, dark flag, fading into the silver mist of the ever roaring falls.
“Legolas,” she whispered furtively to herself, and ignoring the sharp pain lashing her, she struggled to her knees and crept toward the rim of the ledge, where she fell again upon her side, the urge to wince at her wrenching pain fading beneath a trembling smile as Legolas’ face appeared above the ledge, hoisting his small unconscious charge to the safety of the ledge, and rolling the still form away from the rim.
Sweet Pippin-, Lalaith reached out and touched a hand to the Hobbit’s pale, still face. Was he even yet breathing?
“Lalaith!” Legolas gasped, as he scrambled to the ledge now himself, and caught Lalaith in his arms, lifting her from the hard points of stones into his lap, his eyes filled with disbelief and fear.
“Lalaith, stay with me,” he commanded gently as she melted wearily against him, her heavy head lolling against his shoulder.
“Stay,” he repeated softly, pressing his hand against the bleeding and bent over her, his warmth seeping into her as he pressed soft kisses against her face.
“Greta will not hurt you now, Legolas,” she returned, nuzzling her face weakly against his shoulder, and drinking in the warm, alluring scent of her beloved.
“Yes, I saw-,” he breathed softly. “Yes, she is gone.”
“Calassë and Pippin-,”
“Hush, Lalaith nin,” he breathed, his lips brushing her cheek. “All will be well.” She glanced up at him. His voice was broken and sorrowful, his eyes above her own, so blue and beautiful-, though wet with tears.
“I am so weary, my love, and so-, so sad,” she breathed softly as she lifted her hand, so heavy it felt to raise, though she wished so desperately to touch his face-,
It fell back to the stone beside her, the effort too great, yet he caught it, and lifted it up, pressing his lips furtively to her palm, and she sighed at the warmth of his supple flesh.
“I love you, Lalaith nin!” Legolas’ voice breathed even as a sob wrenched from him as she closed her eyes and sank into a void of darkness.