“Lalaith! Hold on!” Pippin, his strength almost spent, shouted out over the roar of the flood pouring in a thunderous crash down into the gouged earth like a waterfall, hardly more than a few paces further than the ragged boulder thrusting above the flood where Pippin’s one free hand had caught a providential handhold within a ragged crack in the stone. The wedge shaped boulder as high as a Hobbit hill, thrust up out of the water, its pointed edge splitting the torrential flood that crashed and hissed in protest as it was flung one way and the other around the ragged point of the boulder, only to collect almost calmly on the blunt side away from the force of the torrent where the boulder’s flat surface dipped down into the water, giving the exhausted, waterlogged Hobbit a chance to scramble weakly up onto its slick, sloping surface.
And then he turned, wrenching up on the back of Lalaith’s soaked Elvish cloak and the nape of her jerkin, struggling to yank her out of the flood her grip upon his wrist almost pinchingly tight, though she was clearly oblivious to everything, her limp body rising above the flood only to fall beneath it again like a shred of flag in a swift wind. She was pale, as pale as death, and she hung heavily, dragging at him, but Pippin didn’t care. If she had not had such a tight grip on him, they would probably both have fallen over the edge of the precipice and been battered to death by the falling water upon the jagged rocks in the cavern below.
“Come on, Lalaith!” Pippin ordered her as if she could hear him, and wrenched on her jerkin.
“It’s a good thing Elves aren’t very fat.” He muttered to himself, his words wrenching out of him with each tug as he slowly dragged her out of the rushing current and upon the slick tilting surface of the rock. “You’re heavy enough as it is.” First her torso came as Pippin continued to pull her limp form up onto the rock, and then finally, her legs, all of her soaked and dripping, as he was.
“There they are! There they are, I see them!” Merry’s voice high and panicked, rose above the rush of the water, and Pippin glanced up for a moment to see through water bleared eyes a number of Ents, wading near, striding through the flood as easily as a Hobbit through a gurgling stream. Treebeard was at the head with Merry blanched white with fright, perched in his branches.
“Come on, Lalaith. Breathe!” Pippin shouted to make his voice heard above the rushing of the water, waving with one hand to the approaching Ents as he patted Lalaith’s cheek with the other. “Come on, breathe! Don’t die on me, now! Just think of Legolas! You don’t want to be leaving him behind, now, do you?”
In answer, the unconscious Elf drew in at last, a fierce, ragged breath.
Lalaith felt life in herself. She was cold and wet, and weak, laying with heavy limbs upon a hard stone surface. In the distance, she could hear Pippin’s voice, cheerful and calming, and beyond him, growing closer, she could hear Treebeard’s slow calm tones, with Merry’s voice beside his, shouting something excitedly, though she could not hear anything any of them were saying.
What was all the excitement over? Oh, yes. Pippin had fallen into the flood. She had dived in after him. But what had happened after that, was a blank. She could remember nothing between then and now.
Her limbs were heavy, too heavy to move, but beneath her tunic, against her skin, she could feel the medallion Galadriel had given her for Legolas, and upon that, she focused her thoughts, seeking for some sign of him. Something hopeful. She could not remember why, but some forgotten memory seemed to sing through her mind, like the calming voices of the Valar, cheering her, and giving her hope.
Away her thoughts flew again, far beyond Isengard, beyond the forest of Fangorn and over the plains of Rohan to the high cliffs she remembered seeing before. The sun was rising over the ravine in which the great fortress stood where Legolas and the others had taken refuge. Great numbers of horsemen were there, crushing down, and cutting through the last ranks of orcs that had made battle against the walls of the fortress.
Gandalf was there, Lalaith saw, with a rush of joy. She had last seen him when he had fallen from the cracked bridge in Moria into the abyss. And yet, here he was alive, clad in white, the sun streaming from behind him as he and the mounted Rohirrim drove and crushed the scattering remnants of the orcs before them. The battle was won.
Lalaith searched desperately over the warriors of the battle, at last finding Legolas among the riders, weary and bloodied, but still alive, and she felt herself smile. How very becoming he looked in the armor of the Rohirrim, she thought to herself. And she saw another mounted Elf, as well, wielding a sword bloodied with orc bile, her long once golden hair streaked with dirt and blood. Lothriel? Could it be? But her eyes were grim, and grieving. Not sparking and bright as they had once been.
But before Lalaith could discern the cause of her friend’s fierce grief, she found herself being pulled away again, and not of her own choice now, her thoughts flying far over the mountains toward the east where a great shadow dwelt, a city set upon the banks of the Great River, Osgiliath, she guessed, from what Elrond had taught her of the cities of Men. There, the forces of Mordor had taken the entire eastern side of the city, and were giving fierce battle to the Men entrenched stubbornly upon the western bank. A winged Nazgûl wheeled in the sky upon its wounded steed, pierced with an arrow. The city was broken, and as good as taken, but this, Lalaith guessed, was not what she had been brought here to see. Her guess was confirmed as the sight of her mind flew low over the city, and into a broken grotto of stone, to find Frodo and Sam huddled away from the fighting, frightened and weary, and a shriveled starving, nearly naked little creature with them. Gollum, Lalaith thought, her first reaction one of disgust until she saw the creature’s bonds, and the fear in its eyes, and felt a strange twinge of pity for it.
Frodo sat upon the ground, his back pressed against the stone wall. His little sword Sting, lay beside him upon the ground as if he had just dropped it, and the One Ring lay against his shirt, visible to all, upon its chain. Sam was sitting up off the stone beneath him, as if he were recovering from a backward, tears making tracks through the dirt that caked his face.
“I can’t do this Sam.” Frodo muttered, his voice small and weak.
“I know.” Sam moaned in a heavy tearful voice, sitting up. “It’s all wrong.” With effort, the stout, faithful little Hobbit rose weakly to his feet. “By rights we shouldn’t even be here.“
Sam staggered to a ragged archway in the torn, stone wall, his tearful eyes watching the retreat of the Nazgûl, and its wounded mount.
“But we are.” He muttered in a small voice.
He took a breath, and a measure of strength came into his weakened voice. “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.” He sighed, his voice ragged. “The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end its only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Came Frodo’s soft weak voice where he sat beside the broken wall.
At this, Sam turned to him, a light gleaming in his brave little eyes through the tears. And he came to him, grasped him beneath his shoulder, and helped him rise to his feet.
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo.” He answered plaintively. “And it’s worth fighting for.”
As Sam finished these words, the eyes of both Hobbits rose, for a Man, a bow in one hand, and the emblem of a white tree emblazoned upon his chest, approached, and dropped to one knee before Frodo.
So very like Boromir in appearance this Man was, that Lalaith found herself catching a choking gasp in her throat. There was no other thought in her mind, but that he had to be near kin.
His eyes were stern, yet there was kindness within them as he looked upon the Hobbits, and spoke in a voice of quiet strength, “I think at last we understand one another, Frodo Baggins.”
Lalaith coughed, coming back to herself, and her eyes focused suddenly on a cheerful, smiling face above her head. “Pippin?” She groaned, sitting up, and glancing about. She was dripping wet. They both were, and perched upon a wide, flat boulder, surrounded by the roaring floodwaters that the Ents had released.
“Come back up here!” Merry scolded from above them, and she glanced up, blinking her eyes. Treebeard stood above them, with Merry perched in his branches. “You scared us nearly out of our wits!” Merry cried, though she could see that he had never been more glad than he was now.
“Here we go, now.” Boomed Treebeard’s sonorous voice. And with his long branching fingers, the Ent reached down and picked up the two, settling them once again, safely in his branches.
“You alright Lalaith? Pip?” Merry asked, gently now, no longer annoyed, the concern evident on his face and in his voice.
“I’m fine.” Pippin chirped, settling back against one of Treebeard’s branches and shaking out his dripping curls as casually as if he had simply walked in out of the rain.
Lalaith glanced down at her hands. “I think we’re all doing fine. All of us.” She said thoughtfully, still warm with the hope the vision that lingered in her mind had given her.
But a moment later, the warmth vanished. A cold chill, not from the cold of the water shot along her spine, and her eyes instinctively lifted to the high black tower that was Orthanc. Great hewn steps carved as if out of one solid stone, led upward to a high doorway, and higher above this, was a wide balcony through which Lalaith could see only darkness. Or could she? A fleeting glimpse of a face caught her eye as it disappeared back into the shadows, the face of a woman with long dark hair flowing about her, and a face that was exquisitely beautiful, yet at the same time filled with malice, stark and cold, and bitter, wretched hatred.
“At least for the moment.” Lalaith added thoughtfully.
She dropped her eyes away from the balcony, suppressing a shudder to face the two Hobbits. And as her eyes found their cheerful faces grinning at her full of glad relief, a hopeful smile at last curled up the corners of her lips.