Lalaith paused at the base of the steps that descended down through the trees passing beneath overarching roots, and into the grotto surrounding the Mirror of Galadriel, her breath coming faster as she and Legolas grew closer to the basin where the Lady of the Galadhrim stood, tall and regal, pouring a clear, steady stream of water from a silver pitcher.
Lalaith glanced at Galadriel’s face as she drew her pitcher back, and retreated several steps, smiling her encouragement, and nodding to Lalaith. With a deep breath, Lalaith drew near to the Mirror, wondering what she would see this time. She rested her hands gently at the edge and peered down into the water, still rippling faintly, and into the eyes of her reflection, seeing a face that was sober, and expectant, but which softened as Legolas’ reflection appeared beside her own, and smiled gently. Legolas’ hand cupped her shoulder, and she reached up, taking it into her own, comforted by the feel of his warm fingers clasping hers.
Lalaith’s heart caught on a beat as the reflection in the water shifted and changed, darkening to a night sky above a green plain. Once again, as she had seen before, she saw the dark shape of the horse, Rorin, his nostrils flared in terror, as he raced across the plain, her nurse upon his back, the old woman’s face twisted with the agony of her wounds, but still clutching Lalaith’s tiny infant body against her own as the five orcs and their wolf mounts came galloping behind them.
One drew level with them, and the black shaft of the arrow from its bow flew through the flesh beneath the horse’s foreleg, entering Rorin’s heart, the poor horse dead before he hit the ground. Though she had seen it before, Lalaith caught a sob in her throat, and quickly gulped it down as the scene continued, her nurse, using her own mortally wounded body as a shield, still clutching the baby to her as she staggered, and tried to run. Lalaith could sense, as she had before, the mortal woman’s fear and hopelessness. The woman had been certain then, that her tiny charge would be killed, but she would not let her be taken without giving all she could to save her.
And then, as before, out of the night, the vision of Legolas appeared, his bow strung, his arrow flying true into the heart of the first wolf, that crumpled, then rolled, and crushed its orc rider. Beside her, Lalaith felt his hand tightened upon her shoulder
Within a matter of only a few moments, the other orcs and the wolves they had ridden upon, were dead, scattered across the grass of the plain, and the image of Legolas stood alone, his white knives in both his fists, his chest heaving with exertion, his countenance fired with indignation.
But as he turned and darted to the woman’s side, his face, just as quickly, took on a look of tender compassion as he replaced his knives, and his bow.
Lalaith drew in a long sigh, and she felt Legolas’ hand slide to her waist, steadying her as the woman smoothed the cloth away from the face of her tiny charge, and the image of Legolas in the mirror saw the infant’s sleeping face for the first time, so tiny, and helpless, but also so beautiful.
The baby who had been Lalaith stirred now, and opened sleepy eyes, seeing him. Lalaith could almost remember this moment, buried in the recesses of her memory, his hands cradling her tiny body, were strong, yet so gentle, his face, his eyes, so captivating.
The mortal woman spoke, though Lalaith could not hear her words.
“‘Her father, mother, dead. Rivendell, kin.'” Legolas said quietly, reciting the woman’s final words from his memory. “‘Elrond.'” Within the mirror, the woman’s silent lips formed the words that Legolas spoke, “‘Lalaith.'”
The response Legolas gave was silent, but seemed to content the woman who nodded wearily, and lay her head down upon her arm, closing her eyes.
The image faded, blurred, and the mirror grew dark, reflecting only the faces of herself and Legolas as they peered down into the water.
Lalaith sighed. This was where it had ended, so many times before. She almost released the edge of the basin, almost stepped back, when something happened. Bright light erupted from the mirror, white and blinding, and enveloped Lalaith within it. She gasp, and tried to stumble back from the mirror, when she realized that the mirror was no longer there. She was not even in Lothlorien, any more. She peered about her, seeing that Galadriel, and Legolas were no longer with her, but that she was surrounded by light, white and penetrating. Fear gripped her heart, but faded as a kindly voice spoke nearby.
“Do not be afraid, young one.” It was a male voice, and Lalaith turned to see what appeared to be a young elf near her, the only being she could see in the midst of the light. He was clothed in blue robes, flowing as the waves of the sea. His hair was long and dark, almost black, but his eyes were blue and bright, and kindly as they looked on her.
“Where am I? Where is Lady Galadriel, and Legolas?” Lalaith asked quietly. “And who are you?”
“You are in a dream created by the Vala Irmo, the master of visions and dreams.” He explained gently. “The Lady of the Galadhrim and your love are still beside you, for your physical form is still within Lothlorien. They are seeing all that you see, but only through the mirror. And I am Ossë.”
“Ossë of the Maiar, the servant of Ulmo, the Vala of water?” Lalaith breathed quietly, her mind rushing, as she wondered what his appearance meant.
He smiled, and nodded, extended his hand. “My master, at the bidding of your father, has sent me from Valinor, and I have come by way of the rivers and the streams here to the waters of Lothlorien to be your guide.”
“My father?” Lalaith asked, slipping her hand into his. “But he is dead. His spirit resides in the Halls of Mandos. So said the mortal woman who saved me as a baby.”
Ossë smiled gently and shook his head. He was leading her, and she was walking beside him, but the light about them did not change. But for the movement of her feet, she would not have known she was going anywhere at all. “Well meaning that she was,” Ossë said, “the daughter of the Secondborn of Iluvatar, was mistaken. Your father lives, as does your mother. Indeed, they cannot die.”
“How-,” Lalaith stammered, “how is this possible? For even Elves can be slain in battle, or we can pass to the Halls of Mandos if our hearts grow too weary or pained to endure the length of our lives.”
Ossë nodded sagely as Lalaith spoke, listening with the patience of one who knew much, before he answered her, slowly. “You were born graced with the form and the life of one who is of the Firstborn of Iluvatar, and you have lived long, and found happiness among their race. You have even found love among them, as was foretold of you, and with all of this, your parents are pleased. But that is not the race to which you were born.”
Lalaith sighed deeply, but did not speak, waiting instead, for Ossë to continue. He took his eyes away from her own, and looked ahead, indicating with his free hand that she look also, and she did, the white light clearing, brushed back, like fog before a gentle wind, to reveal a circle set upon ground, encircled by a ring of fourteen glittering thrones. All of them but one was occupied by a personage, each one the image of an Elf, though they clearly were unlike any elves she had ever seen, for they glowed brighter than the sun.
“The Valar.” Lalaith’s voice was but a breath. “And these are their thrones within Mahanaxar, the Circle of Doom.” And Ossë nodded and smiled.
“They cannot see us, for this is but a vision of the past.” He said quietly. “Do you know them, young one?”
Lalaith drew in a breath, astonished that she did. Elrond had taught her well of the Valar, but Lalaith, as she gazed upon their faces, realized that she knew them somehow. They seemed familiar to her, as friends she had known and loved once, but had forgotten, and only now remembered.
“Manwë, King of the Valar.” she said quietly and nodded at the first Vala, the one directly to the left of the single empty throne, the brightest of the Valar, clothed in robes that appeared in the colors of the sky, shining in grays and purples and blues. He had golden hair that shone brightly, and his face was youthful, yet wise beyond Lalaith’s understanding. “And Ulmo.” Lalaith continued, nodding to the Vala seated left of Manwe. His appearance and dress were like Ossë’s, but his brightness and the wisdom of his countenance nearly equaled that of Manwe.
“Yavanna and Aule.” She nodded at two Valar, their thrones set near one another. Yavanna, Giver of Fruits, wore a gown of green that glittered brighter than young leaves beneath the sun, the Vala who was ever mindful of things that grow, and her husband, Aule, the smith and master of crafts, forger of gems and gold that lie deep in the earth, the creator of the race of Dwarves.
“Namo Mandos, and Vaire.” Lalaith continued, pointing out the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and his wife, the master weaver who wove the veils that clothed the ever widening halls of Mandos.
“Este and Irmo Lorien.” Este was the gentle healer of hurts and of weariness, and though clothed in gray raiment, her visage was still bright. Her husband, Irmo, the younger brother of Namo, was the keeper of dreams and visions.
“Nienna.” Lalaith said, focusing her gaze on a Vala, her throne set near Este’s, the sister of Namo and Irmo, upon whose fair face was a look of sad, but compassionate endurance, the one who felt the pain of the world, and would teach pity and hope to any who hearkened to her.
“Tulkas and Nessa.” Lalaith nodded at two golden haired Valar, the male being the only bearded Vala among them, both husband and wife fleet of foot, swifter than any creature that ran, Nessa being one who loved to dance and Tulkas, her husband, one who delighted in wrestling, and other tests of strength.
“Orome and Vana.” Lalaith noted the great horn at Orome’s side, the Lord of Forests, and of horses and hounds, the hunter of monsters and other foul beasts. His wife, Vana, the younger sister of Yavanna, seated beside him, had a face that though wise beyond measure as the other Valar, also possessed the youthful look of a girl, she being the Vala who caused flowers to spring to life at her passing, and whose very presence inspired birds to sing.
“But where is Varda?” Lalaith asked when her gaze had traveled around the circle, and came to rest on the empty throne, “The one my people call Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, and maker of the stars. Would she not be beside Manwë?” But Osse held up a hand, gently silencing her.
“Listen, young one. You will learn, now.”
Into the circle now, between Manwë’s throne, and the throne left empty, stepped a female figure, and Lalaith knew her suddenly. Somehow, strange as it was, her face, inexplicably beautiful, was as familiar to Lalaith as her own. She was Varda, Manwe’s Queen, and Fashioner of the Stars, beloved of the race of Elves, called Elbereth by them, praised by them in song and legend. Her hair was golden, like her husband’s, but longer, hanging freely to her waist. She was dressed in a gown of midnight blue, sparkling with the light of diamond stars, and flashed in colors of gold and red, like an aurora, as she gracefully seated herself beside Manwe. Within her arms she bore something, swathed in a blanket that seemed to be woven from the very light of the stars. She smiled down at it, and as she did, her countenance seemed brighter than the sun, yet as gentle as starlight. The seated Valar gazed at her burden with great interest, and Varda, with the air of an indulgent parent, turned the bundle to them, and the face of a sleeping infant came into view, fair of skin, and golden haired.
Lalaith gasped, and swayed on her feet, Osse’s hand touched her arm, helping to steady her. It was her! The child in the arms of the Star Queen, was herself, Lalaith!
“Elbereth, my mother?” She whispered. “I am the daughter of the Star Queen?”
“And of Manwë, King of the Valar and of Heaven, and all of Arda.” Ossë added with smile. “Think on it, young one. They dwell in halls set above the snows at the peak of Oiolosse, highest tower of Taniquetil, taller than all the mountains of Arda, also called-,” he paused and smiled, giving her a chance to finish his words.
“Also called Elerrina, Crowned with Stars.” She said quietly. “The same name that Uncle Elrond gave me. But how could he know-,”
“He did not know.” Ossë smiled. “But Lord Irmo, in accordance to the wishes of Lord Manwe, put the thought into his mind, in a dream.” Ossë then put a finger to his lips indicating silence, for the Valar began to speak.
“What shall she be called?” Vana asked, the first to raise her voice, beautiful and musical beyond anything within Lalaith’s memory, but again familiar to her.
“She must be called something great.” Laughed Tulkas, looking to his wife for approval.
Nessa nodded her agreement with a smile. “For she is the first born of the Valar not created of the thought of Iluvatar.” She said cheerfully.
“Elerrina, her name shall be.” Manwë said, the tones of his voice rich and deep, but soft as well.
“For she was born in the mansions of Ilmarin, at the peak of the mountain, whose name she shall bear.” Varda smiled, turning her eyes down upon her child.
Lalaith knew her voice, and it took her no more than a moment to remember that she had heard it in Lothlorien, when she had woken upon the talan, and had looked upward to see the single star between the plaited branches. This was the voice that had spoken peace to her mind. Her mother’s voice. Tears sprang to her eyes, and Osse glanced at her, smiling kindly as she brushed them quickly away. Ever had her parents known of her, and loved her, though she had not known of them.
“What shall her gift be?” Yavanna asked. “How shall she, as we have, bless the Children of Iluvatar?”
Manwë smiled upon Yavanna, and spoke. “I see that this is asked by thee, Lady Yavanna, because thy wish is to teach her of thy love of the olvar, most chiefly, the trees which thou dost hold dear.”
Yavanna smiled in answer to Manwë. “It is true.” She said with a nod.
“Fear not, dear Lady, for she shall learn from thee to love the olvar, but not that alone. She shall learn to love the kelvar as well, the beasts and birds of Arda, those that exist in peace with the will of Iluvatar, and to hold dear all of our creations, all those things made of the Valar, and shall possess all that we the Valar have under our dominion with which we bless the Children of Iluvatar.”
“But she was in form and body, born, in the likeness of the Firstborn.” Aule said quickly, his voice, though filled with grace as the others, also carried within it, concern. “The Firstborn of the Children of Iluvatar have forgotten their friendship with the Children of my making.”
“She shall learn friendship for thy Children, Lord Aule.” Manwë assured him. “For we shall be her teachers.”
Aule nodded his head, satisfied with Manwe’s answer.
“How shall we teach her?” This was the voice of Nienna, a low, somber voice, poignant and compelling. “For there is only so much we can teach her with our words. Can I, here in the Blessed Realm, teach her fully to feel the pains of others, and how to give them comfort in their grief when she grows knowing only joy and nothing of the pain and weariness we have endured because of Morgoth and his servants?” She gestured gracefully to her brother, Namo. “How shall she learn of death, knowing only life?”
Manwë did not answer Nienna at first, and glanced toward Varda who drew in a breath, and clutched her baby closer. “I know not all the will of Iluvatar, Lady Nienna, no more than thou.” Manwë said at last, turning back to her. “But he has revealed it to us, that she shall learn,” he glanced at his wife again, and they traded a worried look before he finished, “somehow.”
“We have agreed that she shall go into the east, into Arda.” Varda spoke now, though there was great reluctance in her voice. “There, she shall see the work of our hands, learn of life and death, of joy and pain. All of you shall teach her, each in thy own turn, of those things which you bestow upon the Children who dwell within Arda.”
“If she is in the likeness of the Firstborn, she can die as they.” Irmo said, concerned. “There are perils in the East that do not exist here, my Lord and Lady.”
“That is true.” Manwë agreed gravely. “But it is the only way she will truly learn, as we have.”
Nienna looked as if she wanted to speak, but quickly glanced to her brothers, Namo and Irmo, and at Vaire and Este, their wives, and settled back into her throne, though her countenance was troubled greatly.
“Because the Lady Yavanna is so eager, she shall take her first.” Added Manwë, his voice growing brighter.
Yavanna’s eyes brightened, and she rose quickly to her feet, the green of her gown flashing shards of light as leaves of the forest glitter in the sunlight. She crossed the Circle quickly as Varda arose, not so eagerly, and passed the infant from her own arms into the arms of Yavanna.
“Fear not, my Lady.” Yavanna smiled in response to the worried look Varda gave her. “I shall be as careful with her as thou wouldst be.”
Varda gave her a smile, though it was still worried as Ulmo stood. “Come, my Lady.” He said to Yavanna. “By my waves, thou shalt be carried across the Great Sea to the Lands of the East.”
“Didst thou hear that, my little one?” Yavanna asked the cooing baby in her arms as she, with the baby, and Ulmo, disappeared from out of the Circle. “We shall see Arda! I will first take thee to see the great shepherds of the trees. And thou shalt meet the greatest and wisest among them! He shall be pleased to meet thee.”
The white light of the vision obscured Lalaith’s view of the Valar, and she turned to Osse, a troubled look on her face. “I do not understand it. Why was I left in Middle Earth?”
“You were not left by the choice of Yavanna, young one.” Ossë smiled gently. “For all the Valar love you, Yavanna nearly as greatly as your own mother.” Osse indicated back the way they had come, and with her hand in Osse’s, she followed him through the light.
“Stay near me, young one.” His voice, though still kind, was filled with gravity, and his hand tightened gently about hers. What you will see next, will be painful for you to bear.”