“You have grown so beautiful, these last seventy years since we have been to the Mirkwood, Lalaith.” Arwen purred as she pulled an ivory handled brush through her younger cousin’s golden tresses. Lalaith sat before the gilded mirror in the ariea that had been prepared for them by the maids of Queen Aseaiel for the two cousins, her eyes closed, her chin resting on her hands as she listened to the soft tones of her cousin’s voice, and felt the gentle pull of the brush through her flaxen hair. “When the prince sees you, he will be stricken speechless.”
Lalaith slowly opened her eyes as her cousin said these words to look up at Arwen’s reflection. Arwen smirked a secret thought to herself as their eyes met, and went back to her work of brushing Lalaith’s glistening golden tresses, expertly twisting locks of hair about a delicate golden circlet set with a single sapphire which rested against her forehead.
Arwen’s eyes did not meet the younger elfmaid’s glance again, but the soft smile did not leave her face as she worked, and Lalaith turned her eyes onto her own reflection, wondering what it was about Arwen’s words that had troubled her so.
Behind her, she could see the rest of their circular chamber, perched high in the misty branches of one of the mighty, ageless trees of the forest. The ceiling was a woven growth of branches and leaves, and the walls were of pearlescent gossamer, billowing at the slightest breath of air.
The memory of their journey from Imladris was but a faint memory now, though they had arrived but hours before. She had bathed, washing the dust of travel from her skin and hair, and had donned a fresh gown of silvery sky blue, open at her throat, her sleeves flowing down in swaths of cloudlike silk at her elbows, giving her the appearance of a small, frail bird.
“But Legolas has seen me since we last came here to the Mirkwood.” Lalaith answered at last, feeling a strange need to counter Arwen’s words. “He has been to Imladris,” she counted on her long, tapered fingers, “seven times.”
“Ah, yes.” Arwen smiled, keeping her eyes on her work.
“As an emissary for his father.” Lalaith hastened to add.
“Yes, of course.” Arwen readily agreed with a nod.
Of course, Lalaith acknowledged in her mind, the last time he had come to Rivendell, he had spent far more time with her than he had on whatever task he had claimed his father had sent him to perform. She could still remember the long rides they had taken on Rána, his grey-white horse, her arms wrapped tightly about Legolas’ lean waist, her chin on his shoulder as she laughingly implored him to urge Rána ever faster. And the afternoons in the green gardens of her Uncle’s house, her skirts gathered beneath her as she sat on the cool grass, reading aloud from one of her uncle’s many books as Legolas rested his head in her lap, his eyes closed, smiling whenever Lalaith would touch his face or smooth her fingers through his golden hair, teasing him about falling asleep.
Lalaith pressed a hand against her heart and glanced down, troubled with potent feelings. Of course there was no reason she should be distressed so, she counseled herself within her mind. She and Legolas had been fond of each other since before she could remember. After all, it was he who had slain the orcs to save her as an infant, and had brought her to her Uncle Elrond’s house. And two hundred years before, in the skirmish with the orcs near Lothlórien, it had been her arrow that had caught the orc in the throat before it could cut Legolas down from behind. It was natural that a strong bond of friendship should develop between them.
But Lalaith frowned even as the thought came to her mind, for she knew that over the past several centuries, her own feelings of friendship had been gradually changing to something more than the childish camaraderie she had felt for him in the first millennium of her life. The truth, she could no longer deny in her heart, was that she longed to be with him, to see his face, his smile directed at her, to feel his touch. The very sight of him was purely intoxicating. But her heart wrenched when she remembered the reality of who she was. Who she was not, she reminded herself. She was the ward of Rivendell, Elrond’s charge only because he had taken her in to raise as his own child. She was, in truth, an unknown orphan, unworthy of the attentions of such a great prince as Legolas.
“I should be the one combing your hair, Arwen.” She sighed, gazing up into the other elf-maiden’s beautiful face.
“Why?” Arwen smiled. “The one I love is not here in Mirkwood to see me.” She laughed lightly at her own words as Lalaith dropped her eyes, feeling her face growing warm.
Lalaith could think of nothing to say to this, and was grateful when the queen, Aseaiel, appeared on the stairs with one of her maids at her side. Aseaiel’s generous smile seemed to embrace the two elf-maidens, her gaze resting longer on Lalaith, as she announced, “Supper is ready, and I have come to bid our honored guests to share our table.”
“Has Prince Legolas arrived home, yet? Will he be eating with us?” Lalaith blurted, rising quickly to her feet before she could stop herself.
“Alas, no. And I must beg your pardon for his behavior. He should have been at his father’s side to greet your contingent upon your arrival.” Queen Aseaiel answered, seeming to be pleased by the question as she traded an amused glance with Arwen.
“May I humbly beg your leave then, your highness?” Lalaith pleaded. “I am not hungry, and it has been far too long since I have last paid homage to the tomb of the mortal woman who saved my life.”
Queen Aseaiel did not seem disturbed by her request, but rather, by her smile of quiet delight, seemed pleased. “Your devotion to her memory is admirable. Of course you may go.”
“I thank you, your highness.” Lalaith said, scurrying to the stairs. “Please give my apologies to your husband, and household.”
The queen nodded, her eyes dancing in happiness as the elf-maiden brushed past her, and began to descend the circular steps as quickly as decorum would allow. Behind her, Arwen had joined the queen at the top of the steps, and she thought she could hear Aseaiel whispering delightedly to her, “I foresee a union between the houses of Thranduil and Elrond, think you so?”
Lalaith sighed brokenly once she reached the floor of the forest, and turned onto the trail she knew as well in the muted light of the forest night as she did during the daylight.
She paused along the well worn trail to stoop and pluck a handful of delicate blue flowers growing in a bunch at the foot of a tree. She had taken this path countless times over the many years of her life, and though the night was wane, she knew her course well through these trees. She felt as safe and protected within the shelter of these woods as she did in the vale of Imladris.
The path dipped and turned through the rills of the forest, through striations of light and dark, and came at last to two stone monuments. The first to her left, was a square block with a figure of a horse carved in relief into its surface. Beneath the image, the single word, “Rorin” was carved in the letters of the common speech.
“I owe you many thanks, brave Rorin.” Lalaith whispered, placing half of the flowers upon the carved horse, and stepped away to the second tomb. The monument for the old mortal woman was a near replica of the tomb in Imladris of Aragorn’s mother, the Lady Gilraen, and it pleased Lalaith that they were similar, for Aragorn’s mother had been kind and benevolent, as this mortal woman also must have been. It was a carved image of a human woman with a sweet, lovely face, seated, her arms outstretched as if beckoning a small child into her lap. The words at the feet of the image carved in elfish characters read simply, “Nurse of Lalaith Elerrina, Lady of Imladris”.
Both tombs showed the inevitable wear of time, but there were no vines creeping over them, as she had expected.
Even the ground around the monuments, was clear of vegetation. Someone had been caring for the graves. Lalaith smiled in gratitude, reminding herself to ask Queen Aseaiel who it was.
“Thank you.” Lalaith murmured simply, speaking in the common tongue as she set her bouquet of flowers into the still, stone woman’s lap, hoping that somewhere, this woman could hear her, and understand. “I am alive because of you, and I do not even know your name.” She could feel tears pushing into her eyes as she gazed up at the time worn face. “There are so many things I do not know that I wish I did. I wish I knew who my parents were, who you were,” she dropped her eyes, and murmured, “who I am.” She looked up, her glance apologetic. “Forgive me. I do not wish to be ungrateful. You were able to tell Prince Legolas so very little before you died, but I know you told him all you could. What you felt was of greatest importance. And you must have loved me very much.” A tear fell from her eye, and splashed against the edge of the stone. “I wish I knew why.”
Gathering her skirts beneath her, Lalaith knelt at the feet of the stone statue, and pressed her forehead against the cold, unyielding stone as more tears came, streaming down her cheeks. They were tears not only for the mortal woman whose remains rested beneath the stone, but for herself as well, for the answers to her questions that had died with the old woman.
A lithe shadow paused behind her on the trail, one who had been following her since she had reached the base of the tree at the bottom of the steps. He had not alerted her of his presence at once, wanting instead, to simply watch her as she walked, marveling at her grace of movement, the shine of her hair in the muted light, the perfection of her maidenly form, and the achingly exquisite beauty of her soft face.
It was hard to believe that this beautiful maiden could have once been the laughing child for whom he had once braided flowers into royal crowns for her golden little head, the devoted little playmate he had once loved to toss into the air, listening to her silvery laugh as he caught her again. Indeed she had been, at one time, in centuries now gone. But she was no longer a child. And with that change, the ways in which he had loved her, had changed as well.
His devotion to her had remained constant. His desire to protect her, and fulfill her happiness had continued unchanged as well. But his love for her, which had once been no more than friendship, had deepened as she had made the transformation from child to woman, a change as gradual and as natural as the dark of night slowly gives way to the golden light of morning.
His heart ached now, to see her this way, grieving as if her heart was broken. He had heard the words she had whispered, and knew that it was not only the old mortal woman for whom she mourned, but for herself as well, and this added to his own pain for her.
She seemed so small, kneeling at the base of the stone monument, so frail, though he knew she possessed skill and bravery to equal any other elven warrior. Still, the sight of her as she was, made him long to take her into his arms, to give her his reassurance and protection.
With tentative steps, he began to approach her, hesitant to interrupt her reverie, but still wanting to comfort her, to give her a warm shoulder instead of cold stone to cry against. If that was what she wished.