Lalaith could not tell how she sensed that he was there. There had been no sound, no change in the air about her, but somehow, she had felt a warmth, a welcome presence behind her, and she turned.
“Legolas.” She murmured, hurriedly wiping the streaming tears from her cheeks, and rising quickly to her feet.
Her heartbeat quickened as her gaze greedily drank him in, as one would drink water after a long thirst. He wore the traditional garb of a Mirkwood Elf, tunic and leggings of green and brown, soft leaf etched boots to his knees, fashioned for walking lightly, and in silence. As always, the hair was pulled back from his high forehead in two thin braids just above his ears, with another trailing down the back of his head. The golden hair he left hanging freely, spilled lightly over his shoulders and onto his chest, which rose and fell softly, as if with reserved emotion. His eyes were keen and blue, and bore into her own with quiet intensity.
“Forgive me, dearest mellon.” She whispered. “I must be a terrible sight.”
Legolas smiled softly, and drew closer until there were mere inches between them. A hand came up, and cupped her cheek, his thumb softly brushing the remaining tears away. “No, for you are always beautiful, Lalaith.” His words were no more than a whisper of air from his lips, but they had the power to stir her heart, igniting emotions which she both welcomed and feared.
She lowered her eyes shyly, and was relieved, but also disappointed when Legolas drew in a breath, and stepped back.
She looked up, and he smiled, his eyes studying hers as he spoke. “I am the one who should ask your forgiveness. I should have been with my parents to greet you and your cousins when you arrived. But I wanted to wait for the coming of the night to give you this.” He held out his hand, and Lalaith saw for the first time, that he held a flower. She knew it well, though such flowers were known to be rare. In the soft green of daylight in Mirkwood, its petals were white, growing to a soft pink near the center. But under the light of the moon and stars, the flower, not merely the petals, but the stem and leaves as well, glowed a mithril like silver.
“Oh, Legolas.” She breathed, glancing from the flower to his shining eyes. His face, youthful and innocent, yet bearing the wisdom of millennia, waited in pained expectancy. “Thank you.” Slowly, she reached out, and took the flower into her own hands, shivering as warmth trailed along her skin from the point where his hand touched hers. “It is lovely.” She reached up, and with trembling fingers, tucked the flower into her hair.
Legolas drew in a deep breath as he watched her motions, her slender, flawless hand deftly sliding the stem of the flower into the hair just above the point of her delicate ear. The radiance emitted from the flower seemed to lend her fair face a soft glow, and his heart gave a fierce throb as she offered him a trembling smile, her shining eyes lifted to his. It took all of his restraint in that moment, to keep himself from drawing her into his arms then, and confessing all that he bore for her in his heart. Instead, he stood back, drawing in and releasing another long sigh, and offered her his hand. “Will you come with me? There is something I have been hoping to show you.”
Biting her trembling lip, she nodded wordlessly, and slipped her smaller hand into his own. So many countless times throughout her life, she had given him her hand when they walked together. But now, as his warm, lean fingers wove through hers, she knew, looking up into the deepening gentleness of his eyes, that this was different. For him, as it was for herself.
He guided her silently through the trees, back the way they had come, but before they came to the softened glow of lamps lighting the Elves’ woodland city, the path split, and he turned down a less used trail. One that Lalaith would have overlooked, had Legolas not been leading her. This path was narrow, and seemed to wind downward as Lalaith followed behind him, wondering, helplessly, why simply gazing at the back of his head, the way his braids trailed through his freely hanging hair, would enrapture her so.
The trail at last leveled off, the trees surrounding them thicker than any others. Even with her elven eyes, it was difficult to see the path ahead. Legolas paused here a moment, and turned to look at her, smiling mischievously, almost like a little boy.
“Lalaith, close your eyes.” He whispered excitedly. “I have a surprise for you.”
She furrowed her brow and frowned at him, loving his playful grin.
“Please. Trust me.” He pleaded.
“Very well.” She conceded, and closed her eyelids as he bid her. She felt him take both of her hands into his own, and tentatively followed as he slowly guided her along the path, faithfully keeping her eyes closed, even as she detected a strange glow against her eyelids.
“When can I open them?” She murmured.
“Not yet.” He whispered eagerly, gently squeezing her hands with excitement.
She sensed the trail opening up about them, and realized from the change in the air and sound, that they were in a clearing. There seemed to be no one else near, but the glow seemed brighter now, as if they were surrounded by hundreds of lamps. Still, Legolas continued to lead her forward. She was walking over a carpet of something now, thickly covering the floor of the forest that whispered as her feet brushed past. Grass, perhaps, she guessed.
At last Legolas stopped, dropped his hands, and stepped back. “Very well.” He said. “Now.”
Lalaith opened her eyes. Her gasp was instantaneous. Never before had she imagined such a lovely place as this, though she had been to the Mirkwood countless times in her life. She stood in the center of a sheltered glade, the tall trees surrounding her on all sides forming a near perfect circle of sky above her head. And all about her, causing a soft gray glow to reflect off everything their light touched, was a seemless carpet of silver, glowing flowers.
“Oh-,” she breathed, unable to say more.
“Do you like it?” He asked hopefully, his eyes shining as he came to her, and once again took her hands into his own.
“Oh, Legolas.” She murmured, at last finding her voice. “Never before in my life have I seen anything as beautiful. It, it is-,”
Her voice trailed away as Legolas drew ever close. Lalaith dropped her eyes shyly, afraid to look up at him, though she wanted to. The air between them quivered with unspoken emotion. A hand came up and Lalaith shivered warmly as his fingers gently caressed her cheek, and stroked her hair, as softly as the brush of a bird’s wing. “This is nothing more than a token, compared to you. For never, in all the centuries of my life, have I seen anyone as beautiful as you, Lalaith.”
She shivered and dared to look up into his eyes now, which glowed with devotion. Almost of its own volition, her own hand came up, and touched his smooth face. She shivered deliciously at the warmth of his flesh against her palm and fingers, and the subtle movement of his jaw beneath his skin. Legolas closed his eyes, and leaned into her touch as her thumb brushed slowly over his lips, supple and warm.
“Lalaith,” he whispered, turning back to her, and opening his eyes.
Lalaith trembled at what she saw in his shining eyes, love, unlike any she had seen before, and longing, tender and pleading. And though she knew she was not worthy of such devotion from this wonderful, faultless prince, she could not stop herself as she leaned into him, resting her hands against his chest, aware of the movement of his breath beneath the soft cloth against her fingers as his arms slowly encircled her waist, gently pulling her close.
Her heart fluttered as she tilted her face toward his, and closed her eyes. She felt his warm breath against her face, and a moment later, his warm mouth gently covered hers, causing a rush of heat to surge through her blood. As his lips tenderly plied hers, her mouth softened, becoming more yielding, and for the first time, she tasted the intensity of his emotions. She began to answer his implorations with a warmth all her own, never wanting to leave this magical glade, or the shelter of his embrace.
After what seemed ages, Legolas’ mouth released hers, and he buried his face in her hair to whisper, “Im melin le, Laliath Elerrina. I have lost my heart to you.”
She shuddered, and her eyes shot open, suddenly remembering herself.
“My parents adore you, beloved, and I know if I but speak to Elrond, he will give us his blessing-,”
“Wait.” She gasped, pushing backward, stepping suddenly away from him.
“What is it?” He whispered, his face questioning her.
“I- I cannot.”
“Lalaith-,” Legolas stepped toward her, concern furrowing his brow.
“No, please.” She blurted, taking a step back to increase the distance between them.
“Have I frightened you?” He asked gently, remaining now where he stood. “Forgive me. I have no wish to cause you to fear me.”
“No.” She shook her head, feeling tears spill from her eyes as she did. “It is not you I fear-,”
“What is it you fear, beloved?”
“No.” She blurted. “Do not call me that. I am unworthy.”
“What?” He inquired, his face a mask of confusion.
“You are the Prince of Mirkwood!” She cried, hearing the sudden agony in her voice. “Do you even know who I am?”
“You are Lalaith Elerrina, fairest lady of Imladris.” Legolas answered immediately, confidently, and finished in a softer tone, “Fairest maiden to ever shine her grace upon the lands of Middle-earth.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You do not know who I am, as you think you do. I do not know. I am not Elrond’s daughter, nor even his kinswoman! I am no one’s daughter. We could never wed. I am unworthy of you.”
“I do not care who your parents were.” Legolas shot back, his voice almost angry. “You could be the offspring of Sauron himself, and my feelings would remain. You are kind, and good, and brave. It is you I love!”
“You cannot love me! You are the son of a king!” She sobbed. “I am nothing! I am no one!” She turned away, and started back the way she had come, when Legolas’ voice stopped her.
“Lalaith, do not leave me.” His voice was begging, heavy with grief.
She stopped, and turned. The agony on his face tore her heart.
“Please.” He whispered.
“Forget that you even loved me as you say you do.” She murmured, her head hanging heavily. “Forget that you brought me here, that you-, that you ever kissed me.”
“I would try to forget my own name for your sake, if I knew that somehow it would bring you peace.” Legolas answered, his voice choking. “But I will forget nothing that passed between us here unless you can look into my eyes, and tell me that you have not also grown to love me in the way that I have grown to love you.”
Lalaith raised her head, and gazed into his beautiful, tortured face for a long moment. She had never lied to him before in her life, and though, for his sake, she wished she could now, she could not.
“Farewell, sweet prince, my dearest mellon.” She whispered, then turned and walked away.
“Oh, Lalaith.” Elrond said, his brow furrowed, his soul aching for the poor maiden who clung tightly to his shoulder now, sobbing.
“He hates me. He hates me now.” Lalaith choked between sobs.
“No, no Lalaith.” Elrond took her by the shoulders, and pushed her back to gaze into her swollen, reddened eyes. “He cannot hate you. You are too good.”
“I am evil.” She shook her head. “I am worse than Sauron, or that vile ring. I have-,” her voice trembled, “I have broken his heart.”
“And you are pained, because you return his love.” Murmured Elrond.
Lalaith looked startled. “But I never said-,”
“Ah, but you do.” Elrond smiled. “Your grief is more than that of a friend mourning for a friend’s pain. You love him as well. You wanted to pledge your troth to him that night, your promise to wed him, but your feelings of unworthiness stopped you.” Elrond furrowed his brow, and gazed into her eyes until she glanced down. “Am I speaking the truth?”
Lalaith drew in a long, shaking breath, and exhaled it slowly before she pulled away from him, and stood. “I have selfishly taken too much of your time, Uncle Elrond.” She murmured, straightening herself primly, and turning to take up her silver tray. “And I have duties to see to.” With that, she turned and strode down the hall, her skirts flowing about her, the image of maidenly reserve.
Elrond watched her until she disappeared around a corner, aching for her, for Legolas, and for the pain they both shared, and sat where he was for long moments, thoughts of the One Ring pushed, for a time, from his mind.