Recap: Eolyn has just escaped Barad-Dur with the baby on the horse. The vision ends this chapter!
The vision blurred, and changed again, the scene growing into focus showed a night sky above a grassy plain. Eolyn sat before a fire, the baby upon her lap, a cheery fire crackling, with a newly caught rabbit roasting over the fire, already stripped of half of its meat. Rorin stood at the edge of the firelight, munching contentedly on grass. In her disguise, Eolyn had passed through Mordor unchallenged, and made her way over the ashen northern mountains. Gondor would be west of Mordor, but Eolyn felt the need to return the child to her people first, and Rivendell, if her memory was not failing, was north. Somewhere. The horse, Rorin, was a trusty mount, and managed to carry them across a vast, mirky land of swamp and bogs, without getting them lost and trapped. In the darkness of the mists, Eolyn had seen strange floating lights that seemed to beckon to her, and had she been afoot herself, might have been tempted to follow them. But Rorin, her faithful friend, had barely seemed to notice them.
But then had come another range of razor edged mountains. Eolyn had almost despaired. How could she, with a baby, and them both dependant upon the horse, find their way across the backs of these broken mountains? But again, Rorin had somehow found a way, almost as if he was being guided by some unseen hand. And then, at last, they were across them, and the Great River had come into her sight, glittering welcomingly like a ribbon of silver. Eolyn followed its course northward, the land gradually changed from broken and scarred rocks, black and lifeless, and nearly barren, to grassy plains. This was the first time in many days since she had found anything to eat, satisfying enough to fill her stomach or the baby’s, and Rorin had eaten little more than scrub grass as well. Thankfully, the elf baby had greater stamina than Eolyn had expected, though the child was obviously famished. Whatever spell had been cast over Eolyn as she lived in Mordor, seemed to have left her, and she was beginning to feel the weight of age now, and as she touched a hand to her face, she could feel the beginnings of deep wrinkles forming there, and her hair, which had once been a nut brown, was turning slowly to a dirty, iron gray. But her euphoria at freedom was so great, that Eolyn did not care. She was only grateful to the Valar that she was at last free, and that the baby, the sweet, beautiful golden haired baby was free as well, and alive, and even the burn scar on the back of Lalaith’s little shoulder was slowly disappearing, fading as they grew farther away from Mordor.
The lay of the land had changed a little in two thousand years, and Eolyn had no map to direct her. But still, she knew that as long as they traveled away from Mordor, she would find friendly allies, soon enough, be they human or elf. It did not matter, as long as Eolyn could find friends willing to care for Lalaith.
“Oh, I wish I had more for you than this.” Eolyn moaned through her own hungry chewing, though it was a cheerful, good natured complaint as the baby, nestled in the crook of her arm, sucked greedily, hungrily on Eolyn’s fingers that were covered in rabbit grease and bits of meat. “But this is all I have, my dear little Lalaith.” Eolyn kissed her golden little head. “But do not worry, my sweet one. When we find your people, there will be women tripping over each other, for a chance to be your wet nurse. You’ll have more than you can possibly eat.”
At the edge of the firelight, Rorin stopped his munching, and lifted his head, perking his ears, his neck suddenly straight and alert.
“What is it, Rorin?” Eolyn asked, almost absently as she glanced over her shoulder at the horse.
Far in the dark distance, she heard it now, the cold, piercing wail of a wolf. It was coming at them from the west, closer to the Great River. Eolyn scrambled to her feet quickly, and strained her eyes out at the darkness beneath the sliver of a moon. With her passage unchallenged since crossing the mountains, and now, the grassy fertile surroundings instead of the imposing black of Mordor around her, Eolyn had been feeling more and more secure, and less afraid that anyone would bother to pursue them now. She had even cast aside her wraith’s cloak and gauntlets days before, simply dropping them onto the ground, no longer caring to be burdened with them any longer. And suddenly, the thought that perhaps she should have been more wary gripped her heart like ice. The baby Lalaith, started to cry now, and stiffened in pain as she had the day the orcs had branded her, as if the burn of the heated iron was returning.
“Oh, my little Lalaith. Hush now, hush.” She said, bobbing the baby in her arms as she kicked dirt over the fire, stifling the flame into darkness, so that she would be hidden from unfriendly eyes, and that her own eyes might grow accustomed to the dark.
Another howl came again, this time closer, and from the south, and the baby only cried more. Rorin tossed his head now, fearful, and cantered up to Eolyn, nudging her in the shoulder as if beckoning her to mount him. She had removed his saddle and bridle and they sat a short distance off, but she did not bother to retrieve them, and instead, gripped a handful of his mane, and swung herself, unaided, onto his back, the baby, wrapped in her shawl, still tucked into the crook of her arm.
No sooner had she done that, than she heard a sound which caused the blood in her heart to freeze. The warbling shriek of an orc thirsty for blood. Eolyn gasped. The thump of warg paws thrashing through the grass were coming closer, almost upon them, completely unseen in the darkness!
At that, Rorin fairly shrieked, and began in a sudden gallop northward. Eolyn did not protest, for that was the only choice she seemed to have, now. The wolves, and the orcs riding them, were coming from the south and the west, cutting off any retreat in those directions, and Eolyn would choose death ever before she turned her feet eastward again.
“Fly, Rorin!” Eolyn urged, shouting into the wind that whipped about her, and risked a glance over her shoulder. Her eyes had slowly adjusted to the night, once she had extinguished the fire, and she could see them now, five black shadows of huge wolves, mounted by the hideous, hated shapes of orcs, lolloping after her, squealing in bloodlust and anger. They were armed with bows, quivers of arrows across their backs. One drew back the string of its bow, and the string uttered a sharp twang moments before Eolyn felt a sharp, burning pain splinter through her back. She gasped, as the agony coursed through her, and nearly fell, but Eolyn managed to stay mounted, knowing that to fall would mean certain death for both herself, and the baby.
“Faster, Rorin!” She pleaded, even as another arrow struck her, this time in the shoulder, piercing clear through. Numb now, from the pain of the first arrow, Eolyn looked down in detached awe at the head of the arrow that pierced her shoulder, and hearing the whimper of pain in Rorin’s labored breath, glanced back to see numerous arrows protruding from his haunches. But still he was managing to stay ahead of their pursuers, for the moment.
Before her, beneath the light of the stars, Eolyn could see a dark line. A forest of thick trees lay ahead of them, and Eolyn made this her goal. Friendly Elves lived within woods like these, and she forced herself to hope for this, even as another arrow cruelly struck her from behind, though she barely felt it.
“Oh, Lalaith, don’t be afraid.” She gulped as the baby wailed, frightened. Eolyn could taste blood in her mouth as she spoke, and more blood filled her throat with each breath. She would not live to see the sun rise again. But by the Valar, she promised herself, the baby would. Lalaith would see sunrises uncounted in her limitless Elven life, and she would be happy. Eolyn set her teeth hard, and clutched the whimpering baby to herself, ducked low on Rorin’s back, and cried into the wind for Rorin to run ever faster.
But Rorin was exhausting quickly from his own wounds, and the wolves were drawing closer. Eolyn flinched as the dark laughter of an orc came at her from near her shoulder. A wolf had managed to approach close, running even with Rorin, and its rider drew back on its bow, and let fly, the arrow piercing Rorin’s ribs just beneath his front shoulder.
Eolyn cried in terror as Rorin stumbled heavily and fell. She felt herself fly from his back and tumble through the air, hitting the ground hard on her shoulder. She tucked the baby in close to her as she rolled, the arrows in her back jerking, and cracking, and tearing even more lifeblood out of her, but Eolyn managed to keep the frightened, whimpering baby protected from the fall.
Eolyn staggered up. The trees were too far. Unreachable now. The wargs were pounding up behind her. They would trample her, and kill the baby. They would both die. Tears stung and blinded Eolyn’s eyes as hopelessness weighted her heart, but still she struggled on. She would not let them take the baby while she lived. But then a shadow appeared before Eolyn, foggy and blurred from the darkness and her tears. She could see only that it was also armed with a bow, an arrow set to the taut string. The arrow, though, was not aimed at her, strangely enough, but the wolf that was bearing down on them. The shadow released the string, and the wolf yelped, and crumpled, rolling and crushing its master. Eolyn glanced back, stumbling to a confused halt. The first orc was dead, as was the wolf upon which it rode. She glanced ahead at the shadow, fearful and confused.
The figure must have seen Eolyn’s fear, for he called to her in a soothing voice, “I am an elf of Mirkwood, an ally.”
Eolyn blinked her eyes. Indeed he was, she could see now. A fair, young looking Elf, though surely older than she could guess, with handsome, flawless features that were at once both child-like and ageless. His eyes were filled with compassion, and a willingness to help her, and hope surged within Eolyn’s heart.
“Please, I beg of you, help us.” Eolyn pleaded as her legs lost what little strength was left to them, and buckled beneath her. She stumbled to her knees. “I have not the strength-,” Eolyn could not finish for blood filled her throat.
Without further words, the young elf darted past her, and strung another arrow as he ran. Eolyn collapsed heavily, exhausted, onto her side, unable to go any farther. She could hear the sounds of battle behind her, and marveled within her fogging mind that a single Elf could fight so bravely and well, and she prayed that the Valar might be with him, and that the orcs would be defeated. For if a single orc were to live, the baby was doomed.
And then the flurry was past, the night once again silent. Eolyn heard the sound of feet now, rushing to her side, and the sight of the young Elf, nearly unscathed, but for a brush of black orc blood on his cheek, came once again into her view.
His face, once alight with the fire and fury of battle, softened instantly with compassion as he rested a warm hand on her cold, trembling brow.
“What of my brave Rorin?” She whispered, barely possessing the strength to lift her head.
The young Elf took on a look of sorrow at her question, and shook his head. “I am sorry-,”
Eolyn sighed brokenly, saddened, though she had known when the arrow had struck him that her friend Rorin was dead. She closed eyes in grief for a brief moment, before she opened them and relaxed her hold on Lalaith. She pushed the small warm bundle toward the young Elf.
“Take her.” She murmured, with a shudder.
The eyes of the young Elf widened in amazement. Clearly, he had not been expecting to see a baby in her arms. But his hands were just as gentle with the child as they had been with her. He softly scooped up the bundle, wrapped in Eolyn’s shawl, and lifted the baby tenderly.
“Do not worry, brave lady.” He murmured, a finger reached out, and stroked her wrinkled cheek gently. “No harm will come to your child.”
“Not mine.” Eolyn whispered, shaking her head. She put out a trembling hand. Her limbs felt so heavy. The effort seemed almost too great to bear as she brushed the cloth from Lalaith’s face. “Elf-child.”
Eolyn watched the Elf’s face as he and the infant studied each other with quiet intensity, before Lalaith opened her tiny red mouth, and cooed softly, as if trying to speak to him. At the sound, Eolyn smiled, and tears shone in her eyes. Lalaith was no longer crying, cradled so gently in the Elf’s strong hands.
“Her father, mother, dead. Rivendell, kin.” Eolyn murmured. Her lungs were filled with blood, but she lacked the strength to cough it up. In only moments, she would be dead. Eolyn knew this, but the thought did not bring her sadness. Only peace, for Lalaith was safe now. “Elrond.” Eolyn drew in a breath, trembling with the effort of it, and murmured, “Lalaith.”
The Elf warrior nodded, and offered her a sad, though comforting smile. “I will see to it that she is taken to Rivendell.”
Eolyn nodded wearily, satisfied. Lalaith would be returned to her kin, she would be where she belonged. She would be happy and safe, and loved. Eolyn lay her head down upon her arm, closing her eyes.
It was strange how painless it was now. She felt weightless, free, like air itself, and she knew she was dead. Where was she? She was no longer on the grassy plain. Lalaith and the young Elf holding her were gone. She was surrounded by light. And then someone spoke to her. Someone she knew.
“Eolyn.” Her eyes lifted, and Eolyn smiled, for she recognized him.
“Anarion.” She gasped, and then smiled, for she noticed that Rorin stood beside him, bright eyed and nickering, tossing his mane happily. “And Rorin too!”
“This is a fine horse you’ve befriended, my love.” Anarion said, patting Rorin’s neck appreciatively before he approached her with a smile, and gathered both her hands into his own. “I have been waiting for you.” He leaned toward Eolyn and kissed her gently, and she smiled. “A very long time.” It seemed now, as if they had never been parted.
“Come.” He said with a laugh, stepping back toward Rorin, and swinging up onto the horse’s bare back. He offered Eolyn his hand, and when she gave it to him, he hoisted her easily up behind him.
Eolyn laughed as she wrapped her arms around Anarion’s waist, and rested her chin on his sturdy shoulder. “Where are we going?” She asked delightedly.
“I’ll show you!” He said turning to place another kiss on her smiling lips, then with a gentle nudge into Rorin’s sides, the horse began to run.
The scene faded at last, and Lalaith, her legs weak, her cheeks wet, found herself once again surrounded by the cloud of white, clinging tightly to Osse’s firm hand.
“Eolyn, Lady of Númenor, and of Gondor, dwells now in the Halls of Mandos, young one, and with great honor.” Osse murmured comfortingly. “For she loved you well.”
“And died for it, according to Sauron’s curse.” Lalaith sniffed, wiping at her eyes.
“The curse that Sauron uttered, brings him no satisfaction.” Osse reminded her gently. “Few of the Secondborn will love you enough to die because of that love. And those who do, will rest well in the Halls of Mandos, far from where Sauron can hurt them again.”
Lalaith though, was little comforted, and she glanced away, thinking one word in her mind: Boromir.
Lalaith glanced back at Osse’s face, and struggled to return his encouraging smile.
“Lord Elrond Peredhil is held in high honor among the Valar, and will yet received many abundant blessings for his care of you.” Osse said. “You have found great happiness in Imladris, because of him, and his kin, young one.”
“To Uncle Elrond, I have always been a daughter, a princess, in his eyes, no less than Arwen.” Lalaith said thoughtfully. “He taught me to call him Uncle only because he did not wish to take the honor he felt was due to the father of my birth, though he knew not whose child I was.” Lalaith sighed, furrowing her brow. “Now I know that I am a child of the Valar.”
Osse heard the tone of her voice, and touched her shoulder gently. “Something troubles you, young one?”
“I am glad to learn of my birth, and my parents. But-, Lord Osse,” Lalaith bit her lip softly. “I have no wish to sound ungrateful-,” Osse smiled encouragingly, giving Lalaith the reassurance to continue. “But am I not still of the race of Elves? What am I? I-, I do not want to be any more than who I am.” She finished quietly and lowered her head, “Who I was. One of the Eldar.”
“You are now just as you were before you learned this knowledge.” Osse said with a gentle smile. “You were born in the likeness of the Firstborn, in form and body, at least. And but for the knowledge you have gained, you have not changed.” Osse touched her chin, and lifted up her face, his searing blue eyes studying her own intently. “But do not forget that within you, you bear now, as you always have, the blessings of all the Valar.” He smiled now, his countenance growing sympathetic.
“Your friends are true, young one.” Osse was gazing at her, speaking slowly as if he wished for her to understand and remember all that he was saying. “And he who possesses your heart, bears love for you that is deep and unending. Remember that in the dark days that are coming.”
At these last words spoken by Osse, many questions arose in Lalaith’s mind, but the chance to ask them never came. For with a last, sympathetic smile from Osse, the white light surrounding her faded, the Maia’s image along with it, as if sucked in a whirling vortex, back into the mirror, and Lalaith found herself standing, as she had been before, beside the basin of the mirror, with Galadriel standing near, and Legolas beside her. The basin itself was empty, save for a damp steaming sheen, for all the water had evaporated.
Burdened now with the weight of all that she had seen, the light vanished, and Osse gone, no longer lending her strength, Lalaith felt suddenly limp, drained of all energy. Weakly, she glanced at Legolas, whose own eyes met hers, and she smiled tiredly. But there was something else now that, along with the echoing memory of Osse’s last words, troubled her. His eyes, filled with the love and devotion that had always been there, now also held, distant, worshipful reverence, and sadness.
“My Lady, Elerrina of the Valar.” He said gently, his words soft and deferential, but in a tone that made Lalaith realize he did not wish for it to be so. He lowered his eyes humbly, placed his hand over his heart in a gesture of obeisance, and bowed his head as he dropped to one knee.
“But what-,” Lalaith murmured, looking to the Lady of the Galadhrim, with a pleading look. “My Lady, why-,” Galadriel looked at her kindly, but there was also a look of sympathetic dismay upon her fair features, and she offered no words before she dropped into a deep curtsey, and bowed her head too. Galadriel, the Lady of Light was bowing to her!
“No, no, dear Grandmother, no, Legolas, my love.” She protested weakly, her mind reeling, now from the shock of what she was seeing, as well as the strain of the vision she had just endured. “Please do not bow to me. I am not-,”
Legolas’ gaze lifted, just as Lalaith succumbed to the weakness and the shock that had been pulling at her body and her mind. He stood then, and in one deft motion, reached out and caught her gently by the waist as she fainted into the soft, welcome light of happier dreams.