Lalaith was relieved to find that she was not as late as she had feared she would be when she mounted a short set of steps, and arrived at the circular terrace where her uncle’s Counsel was to be held. A semicircle of seats had been placed around a round stone plinth, where, she assumed, the One Ring would be placed at the appropriate time. She shuddered inwardly, not anticipating the sight of it again.
Before the stone pedestal, a high backed, stately chair for her uncle had been set, with smaller, less decorative seats beside it.
Boromir left her side immediately when he saw his fellow Gondorians, standing together in a small group, speaking in hushed tones. Lalaith sighed in relief, ashamedly admitting to herself that she was not unhappy to lose his company. Entirely too uncouth and impetuous for her comfort, she thought to herself. A group of dwarves, summoned for the counsel, were already seated, and looking impatient for the meeting to begin. One especially, a dwarf who looked relatively younger than the others, with a thick brown beard lined with plaited braids, was shifting in his seat and grumbling under his breath, as if he was unaccustomed to waiting so long. The elves of Mirkwood were seated as well, appearing more collected and composed than the dwarves, and her glance found the gaze of Legolas, whose eyes held hers with a silent intensity that made her catch her breath. He was dressed as his fellow Mirkwood elves, in light brown robes, his golden hair spilling over his shoulders and onto his chest, and Lalaith’s heart beat faster.
Glancing at his hands, she saw instantly, her ring, which had always fit her largest finger somewhat loosely, as it rested on the smallest finger of his left hand, the only finger small enough to fit it.
“Lady Lalaith Elerrina.” He said quietly, rising, and bowing formally. “It is a pleasure to see you. I had heard you would be attending, and I was looking for your coming.”
She curtsied in return, her eyes never leaving his. Because of the company and their surroundings, Legolas could not greet her as he wished to, but she could see his desire in his eyes, and it was enough for her.
“Lady Lalaith.” A deep, gentle voice said to her left, and she turned, seeing Gandalf seated on the chair second from the end. He rose in respect, leaning heavily on his tall cane.
“Mithrandir.” She returned, grateful for his comforting presence.
Arwen had told her that she would be placed beside Gandalf, on the other side of Frodo, and so with a last adoring glance at Legolas who nodded in farewell, and returned to his own seat, she took the empty chair between Gandalf and an elf whom she recognized from Mirkwood, leaving the space on the very end empty for Frodo who had not yet arrived. She glanced up at her uncle Elrond, who stood before his chair, dressed regally in solemn robes of dark hues, his hands folded in front of him as he spoke in low undertones with another elf, Erestor, the chief steward of her uncle’s house. She glanced across the circle to the opposite side, and noticed Aragorn in the last chair on the end, seated beside other elves, some of Rivendell, and others she did not recognize, perhaps from the Grey Havens.
Aragorn offered her a slight smile and a nod, though he seemed preoccupied, and glanced away again.
Was he thinking of their dilemma with the One Ring, or was he troubled with the same thoughts Arwen had been earlier? Lalaith could only guess. She knew a very little of Aragorn’s own internal struggle. He loved Arwen, and wanted her as his own, but because of that very love, he did not want her to become a mortal any more than her father Elrond, did.
Lalaith glanced sadly down in her lap, noticing only then that she still held the small flower Boromir had given her. With a sigh of consternation, she tucked it over the fold of her belt, not noticing the eyes of Boromir across the circle from her, watching her. He frowned softly, and glanced away.
A movement at her shoulder interrupted her thoughts. Frodo had arrived, looking about him, first at Gandalf, then at Lalaith. She offered him a quick smile of encouragement, and he returned her smile timidly before he glanced around the circle at the other faces solemnly gazing at him.
“Here, my friends,” Elrond said, coming forward, and placing a hand on Frodo’s shoulder and addressing the gathering, “is the hobbit, Frodo son of Drogo. Few have ever come hither through greater peril or on an errand more urgent.”
He smiled kindly, and motioned Frodo to the seat beside Gandalf as around the circle all those not seated, quickly took their places.
Elrond, however, did not take his own seat. He moved back to his place, and remained standing as his eyes solemnly scanned the gathering.
Frodo seemed even smaller than he was when he was seated in the chair, the back arching high over his curly brown head, the seat too high for his bare feet to reach the ground. He looked timid and shy, and a little afraid, the only hobbit in the company, and Lalaith’s heart filled with compassion.
“Are you feeling well?” Lalaith whispered across Gandalf to Frodo.
Frodo gulped and nodded. “Well enough, my lady.” He answered, though his voice shook a little. He lifted his head to look at her, and tried to smile bravely.
Lalaith returned his smile, admiring the sturdy little hobbit, who had come so far with the Ring, having already been through much more than he ever should have. Soon, she was sure, he would no longer have to endure the Ring’s presence. Lalaith scanned the solemn group, the air heavy with anticipation, waiting for Elrond to speak. Soon the Ring would be another’s duty, someone who was strong enough to bear the responsibility. Someone here, she thought. Herself? The idea was laughable. If she was the ringbearer, it would drive her mad in a matter of minutes. Of that she was certain. Of the humans, there was only one she could think of, who might bear the ring without becoming corrupted himself. But Aragorn would never take it, too fearful that he would repeat the mistakes of his ancestor, Isildur, so many millennia before. None of the other humans, Boromir especially, could stand the power of the ring without succumbing to the temptation of its power. Nor the dwarves, she thought, glancing over them, her eyes pausing on the younger dwarf she had noticed earlier with the braids in his beard. They were entirely too selfish, too preoccupied with digging in their tunnels for the shiny baubles the earth offered up. One of the elves, perhaps, could take it. She glanced at Legolas, whose eyes were fixed intently on Elrond, waiting, though they flashed momentarily to her. Could he-? It was possible, but the thought filled her with fear. Even elves were not entirely unsusceptible to the seductive power of the ring, and if it were to take him as it had taken Isildur, it would be worse than losing him to death.
“Strangers from distant lands,” her uncle’s sober, commanding voice brought her head around sharply to him, “friends of old, you’ve been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor.” He spoke slowly, a heaviness in his voice underlying the weight of duty which they, as members of his Counsel, all bore. “Middle earth stands upon the brink of distruction. None can escape it.” A chill shivered along her spine and she glanced at Legolas who returned her gaze with a somber expression. “You will unite, or you will fall.”
Lalaith glanced across the circle at the dwarves, and found the eyes of the younger dwarf watching her with a frosty stare, his thoughts seeming to mirror her own. Unite with Elves? His mind seemed to be thinking. Ridiculous! “Each race is bound to this fate.” Her uncle continued. “This one doom.” Elrond paused and glanced at Frodo who gulped nervously. “Bring forth the ring, Frodo.” He said, gesturing to the stone pedestal.
With a sigh, Frodo hopped off of his chair, and walked slowly to the center of the group, extended his hand, and placed the small, golden ring in the center of the stone’s circular surface.
Lalaith cringed, and edged back against her chair, but the Ring was, for the moment, silent. Frodo turned and came back to his chair, settling in it with a sigh, almost of release.
“So it is true.” Lalaith’s eyes shot across the circle, focusing on Boromir who had spoken in a soft whisper. She drew in a long breath and released it as Boromir slowly rose to his feet.
“In a dream I saw the eastern sky grow dark.” He said, rubbing his head softly with two fingers. “But in the west, a pale light lingered. A voice was crying, `Your doom is near at hand. Isildur’s bane is found.'” He began walking toward the Ring, almost as if in a trance. Lalaith sat up quickly in her chair, and shot a glance at her uncle who was watching Boromir with as much concern written on his own features. “Isildur’s bane.” Boromir repeated to himself, extending a hand as if he meant to take up the Ring for himself.
Elrond shot to his feet and commanded, “Boromir!”
“Ash nazg durbatuluk.” Lalaith jerked in her chair, and stared in alarm at Gandalf who had risen to his feet, and was leaning heavily on his staff, advancing slowly at Boromir.
Was he speaking the same Black Speech she had heard coming from the ring? “Ash nazg gimbatul.” A heavy, sick feeling washed over her, and she shuddered. Her limbs felt suddenly heavier than lead, and freezing cold. Her uncle had collapsed into his own chair, a hand rising to his head as if to ward off pain. The brown haired dwarf, however, bounced in his seat, as if eager for a fight, and snatched at an ax that had been leaning beside his chair. Was it only Lalaith’s perception, or had the sky actually grown darker? She glanced at Legolas who shuddered and closed his eyes against the misery the words created. “Ash nazg thakatuluk.” She glared up at Gandalf who had driven Boromir back to his own chair. What was he thinking to accomplish by doing this?
“Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.”
As the words faded from Gandalf’s lips, so did the heaviness in her limbs, and the blackness shrouding her heart. She straightened in her spine, questioning Gandalf with anger in her eyes, but his glance did not meet hers.
“Never before has any voice uttered that tongue here, in Imladris.” Elrond hissed at last, his own strength beginning to return.
“I do not ask your pardon Master Elrond,” Gandalf returned, breathless himself, “for the Black Speech of Mordor may yet be heard in every corner of the West.” He glared at Boromir before turned back for his own seat. “The ring is altogether evil.”
“It cannot be handled, nor even touched by one who cannot resist its evil.” Lalaith added in a murmur, finally meeting Gandalf’s eyes, who nodded his agreement, and offered her a momentary glance of apology as he sat.
“Nay, it is a gift.” Boromir breathed, once again rising to his feet. “A gift to the foes of Mordor.” He turned to address the gathering. “Why not use this ring? Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay.” He slapped his chest, his face furrowed with emotion. “By the blood of our people, are your lands kept safe.” He gestured, almost accusingly, at the seated assembly. “Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him.”
Did this foolish whelp never learn? Lalaith asked herself in frustration before she spoke. “You cannot weild it. None of us can.”
Boromir turned to face her, his jaw working beneath his beard, but before he could return an answer, Aragorn spoke in her defense, “The Lady is right. The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master.”
At Aragorn’s words, Boromir spun on him. He did not hesitate as he had with Lalaith, to retaliate. “And what would a ranger know of this matter?” He demanded scornfully.
“This is no mere ranger.” Lalaith’s eyes shot to Legolas. He had risen to his feet, his shoulders square, his gaze fixed steadily on Boromir. “This is Aragorn. Son of Arathorn.” His voice was soft and melodious, yet commanding. Lalaith lowered her eyes, smiling to herself, gently biting her lip. “You owe him your allegiance.”
“Aragorn?” Boromir asked, turning back to appraise whom he had thought of as an umkempt ranger. “This is Isildur’s heir?”
“And heir to the throne of Gondor.” Legolas murmured firmly.
A pained look came over Aragorn’s face, as he waved Legolas back to his place. “Havodad, Legolas.” He said gently.
Legolas continued to glare at Boromir, but obeyed Aragorn.
Boromir, however, did not yet take his seat, and instead turned and glowered at the Prince of Mirkwood contemptuously. “Gondor has no king.” He growled, then turned toward Aragorn as he fell gracelessly back into his seat. “Gondor needs no king.”
“Aragorn is right.” The clear, wise voice of Gandalf sounded welcome now, to Lalaith’s ears, alleviating the previous tension. “We cannot use it.”
“You have only one choice.” Elrond added gravely. “The ring must be destroyed.”
“What are we waiting for?” The brown haired dwarf demanded, leaping from his seat. He snatched up his ax, and before Elrond could command him to stop, had jumped at the stone pedestal, bringing his ax squarely down on the Ring. An image shot through Lalaith’s head, a flame encircled eye flashing for an instant, into her thoughts in the same moment that a loud, splintering crack exploded through the air, sending the dwarf hurtling to the ground, flat on his back.
Lalaith shuddered, even after the image was gone, at the frightening memory of it.
Shards of the dwarf’s broken ax lay on the flat surface of the pedestal, scattered about the One Ring, which lay unmoved, and unmarred in the spot where Frodo had placed it.
Beside her Gandalf, had turned to Frodo, concerned, and Lalaith glanced over at him, her brow knitting. His head had fallen into his hand. He seemed stunned, but otherwise unhurt. Perhaps he had had the same vision she had.
“The ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Gloin, by any craft that we here possess.” Elrond said to the bewildered dwarf, glancing about at the members of the group. “The ring was made in the fires of mount Doom. Only there, can it be unmade.” His voice grew more solemn as he continued. “It must be taken deep into Mordor, and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.” He paused, and his eyes roved over the seated Counsel before him. “One of you must do this.”
“One does not simply walk into Mordor.” Lalaith bit back a sigh of exasperation, for Boromir was again speaking. “Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there, that does not sleep. And the great eye,” his hand formed a circle with his fingers to illustrate his words, “is ever watchful.” He waved his hand, and continued. “`Tis a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust. The very air you breath is a poisonous fume. Not with 10,000 men could you do this.” He released a hopeless breath, shaking his head. “It is folly.”
“Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said?” Legolas demanded, once again rising to his feet, his eyes shooting darts at Boromir. Lalaith smiled, her heart swelling with pride. “The ring must be destroyed!”
“And I suppose you think you’re the one to do it?” The dwarf, Gimli, growled, hopping to his feet, and glowering up at Legolas.
Lalaith scowled and gripped her armrests tightly, refraining from bounding across the space between them, and slapping the insolent little dwarf in the mouth for addressing her beloved in such a contemptuous way.
“And if we fail?” Boromir demanded of Legolas, ignoring Gimli. “What then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?”
Equally ignorant of Boromir, Gimli shouted, “I will be dead before I see the ring in the hands of an Elf!”
The elves of Mirkwood were instantly on their feet, enraged. The humans too, and had Gandalf not placed a gentle, calming hand on Lalaith’s she would have shot to her feet as well. She glanced at him, and he shook his head gently.
“Never trust an elf!” Gimli shouted above the sudden arguing that had exploded around him.
At last, Gandalf himself rose to his feet, and approached the melee. “Do you not understand?” He pleaded, his voice hardly audible in the din. “While you bicker among yourselves, Sauron’s power grows.”
Lalaith at last, rose to her own feet. “Do you not understand?” She repeated, addressing Boromir, who had turned on Gandalf, and was arguing animatedly with him. “Have you heard nothing?” She came to Gandalf’s shoulder, and faced Boromir who stopped his ranting momentarily to stare down at her. “It is not like a sword or an ax, subject to the whim of the one who weilds it. It has its own mind. It would use you as its own tool for evil. It would take your free will from you. Can you not understand that?”
Boromir frowned at her then, and gestured to the Ring, shaking his head. “One who is wise enough, strong enough, could bend the power of the Ring to his own will.” He insisted.
Lalaith groaned in frustration as Gandalf shook his head. “It cannot be used for good.” Gandalf insisted. “It is infused with Sauron’s evil. It must be destroyed, or it will destroy us all.”
Through the din, a small voice sounded, “I will take it.”
Lalaith and Gandalf heard and turned, though few others had heard him yet.
“I will take it.” Frodo was upon his feet, moving slowly forward his large, soft blue eyes glancing up at the crowd, timid, yet determined. Angry voices stilled as heads turned, surprised, to listen. “I will take the ring to Mordor.” Silence reigned now, as every eye looked on him. “Though,” he said in a quiet voice, “I do not know the way.”
Without hesitation, Gandalf stepped toward him. “I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins,” he said with a pat on his little shoulder, “so long as it is yours to bear.”
Aragorn rose from his chair then one of the few to stay seated, and came forward, kneeling before Frodo. “By my life or death, if I can protect you, I will.” Lalaith smiled softly at the look of gratitude on Frodo’s face at Aragorn’s vow. “You have my sword.”
Lalaith looked up and smiled at her uncle who drew and released a breath of relief.
“And you have my bow.”
Her head shot around. It was a voice she had not expected to hear. Legolas strode past her, his hand brushing her back momentarily before he took his place at Gandalf’s shoulder.
“And mine, as well.” She added quickly, moving to stand beside him.
Legolas glanced down into her eyes, surprise written on his features. He shot a glance at Elrond, as if expecting her uncle to protest, but Elrond said nothing, simply nodding somberly at Lalaith as she turned his eyes to his, silently asking him for his permission.
“And my ax.” Came the gravelly voice of the dwarf who marched forward, and planted his feet beside Lalaith. He glanced up at her and Legolas disdainfully, and she shook her head and glanced away.
“You carry the fate of us all, little one.” Boromir murmured, coming forward, his eyes fixed on Frodo. He looked to Elrond. “If this is indeed the will of the counsel,” he sighed resignedly, “then Gondor will see it done.”
“Hey!” A voice, unexpected and close, came from behind Frodo as Sam darted into view from behind a tall, grassy plant where he had been hiding, apparently having watched the entire proceeding. He darted under Aragorn’s arm, and skidded to a stop at Frodo’s side, folding his arms determinedly. “Mister Frodo’s not going anywhere without me.”
“No, indeed.” Elrond said, his eyebrow lifting, as a sparkle of humor lit his eyes. “It is highly impossible to separate you, even when he is summoned to a secret counsel, and you are not.”
“Oi!” Another small voice, Pippin’s voice, shouted from behind Elrond’s throne, and down off of the steps of the veranda. “We’re coming too!”
Lalaith smiled delightedly as Pip and Merry scampered into view, and up the steps.
“You’ll have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us.” Merry insisted as the two young hobbits came to Frodo’s side, and turned to look up into Elrond’s startled face.
“Anyway,” Pip said importantly, “you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission. Quest.” He paused, then lamely finished, “Thing.”
Merry glanced at Pippin in irritation. “Well that rules you out, Pip.”
Pippin glared back at Merry.
Lalaith stifled a laugh, and patted Pippen gently on the shoulder. He turned, forgetting his annoyance at Merry, and glanced up at her adoringly.
“Ten companions.” Elrond said, his eyes scanning the group standing before him. His eyes rested momentarily on Lalaith, and he paused, his face taking on a worried look, working over thoughts in his mind, before he nodded, and spoke. “So be it.” His voice rose, adding power to his words, as he concluded, “You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring.”
“Great!” Pippin piped in then, rocking back on his heels. “Where are we going?”
Legolas stood in the shadows of the Hall of Fire, leaning against a pillar, content to do no more than gaze down away from the house and into the moonlit garden where Lalaith was as she sat alone with the hobbits, clapping and laughing delightedly to the songs and poetic recitations of Merry and Pippin as they competed to outdo each other for her attention. Sam, Frodo, and Bilbo, sat nearby, but did not add much to the conversation. Bilbo had already been on his share of adventures in his life, and saw the impending undertaking of the younger hobbits with less than idealistic excitement. Frodo, as the ringbearer, undoubtedly felt the pressures of his task, and Sam, who was ever watchful of Frodo, must have sensed his disquiet, and thus, remained appropriately calm.
The hall behind him was filled, with other guests summoned for Elrond’s counsel, listening as the Lady Arwen sang the Song of Luthien as she sat beside her father, Aragorn hovering nearby, entranced, but no more attentive of her, than Legolas was, of Lalaith. He stood in awe, fascinated with her slightest change in movement, each expression of her face a new study for him. The light of her eyes sparkling as she laughed, her clear, glistening laughter, almost like a song itself, caught his own heart up in her joy. A hand moving to brush a lock of shining golden hair back from her face seemed to him the embodiment of grace itself. She was truly the most beautiful maiden of Imladris, indeed of all Middle-earth. And she loved him! He smiled at the thought, and continued with his tireless study of her.
Merry and Pippin had just finished a rousing hobbit drinking song together, when Lalaith, laughing, begged, in the silvery, melodious voice that made Legolas’ heart swell, “Someone, please, sing something else.”
“No, no!” Pippin cried. “We’ve done our share! We’re all sung out! Now it’s your turn, Lady Lalaith! You sing something!”
“In Elvish!” Merry added eagerly.
“Oh, I am not very good-,” Lalaith smiled, shaking her head.
“Nonsense!” Bilbo called, speaking up at last, and pounding the point of his cane into the ground to emphasise his point. “I’ve heard you singing. You and your cousin Arwen put even the sweetest songs of the birds to shame!”
Lalaith bowed her head shyly, smiling gratefully at Bilbo, before she sighed, and nodded her consent.
Merry and Pippin sat down beside Sam, their round hobbit faces beaming with anticipation. Legolas himself stepped forward onto the path leading down from the Hall of Fire to the place where she sat, to hear better as Lalaith drew in a breath, gave a last shy smile, and began, filling the night with her smooth, silver voice:
“A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna miriel
o menel aglar elenath!
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aearon!”
“Bravo!” Merry and Pippin cheered, as they and the other three clapped appreciatively. Lalaith, flushed with pleasure, smiled her thanks.
“What was it about?” Sam asked.
“Queen Elbereth, of the Valar. The Star Queen. Beyond the Great Sea.” Lalaith smiled.
“Whatever you said as you sang, it was beautiful.” Frodo smiled.
“As beautiful as the singer herself. Would you not agree?” Legolas said, coming into the group.
Pippin and Merry brightened when they saw him, and chuckled under their breath, nudging each other with their elbows as Lalaith colored, and stood, self consciously brushing the front of her skirt with her hands.
“Oh, my!” Merry yawned suddenly, stretching his arms above his head in exaggerated motions. “I’m so tired from all this singing!”
“We didn’t realize how late it was getting!” Pippin added, his words artificially loud and drawn out.
Sam and Frodo merely glanced at each other and laughed, seeing through the charade.
“And you youngsters are going to be getting an early start, tomorrow.” Bilbo added, rising to his feet with a grunt. “Come along, let’s go to our beds.”
He shooed the younger hobbits before him with his cane, and the five of them, waving merrily to the two elves, traipsed happily down the garden path, Pippin and Merry’s professed weariness suddenly forgotten as they energetically sang,
“The road goes ever on and on
down from the door where it began-,”
before their voices faded away among the trees.
“The pherian are very fond of you.” Legolas murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind, and reaching over her shoulder to kiss her cheek.
“Well, I am fond of them.” Lalaith answered, snuggling back against his shoulder.
“Merry and Pippin are quite smitten with you.” Legolas continued, kissing her brow. “Though I cannot blame them. They are not so unwise as they seem.”
“Then I fear their sweet little hearts are doomed to be broken.” Lalaith laughed, turning in his embrace and gazing up into his eyes. “For my heart belongs to another.”
Legolas smiled, almost sadly, and brushed her cheek gently with the tips of his fingers, suddenly morose. “I wish you were not going, tomorrow.” He murmured. “The journey will be filled with peril.”
A troubled look came over her face, and Lalaith glanced away. “Do you not remember my vow? That I would stand beside you? I would not let you fight alone? I am as skilled with bow and blade as you. You know this.”
“Yes, but I fear the danger for you.” Legolas whispered helplessly. “This is no mere skirmish with orcs.”
“And I fear for you.” Lalaith breathed, turning back to glance up into his worried face, her expression plaintive. “Have you not thought of what would happen to me if you were hurt or-,” she shuddered, and Legolas tightened his grip on her, “killed, because I was not there, beside you? Legolas, I would die of a broken heart.”
Legolas furrowed his brow, his emotions torn.
“Do you remember what you said?” Lalaith pressed. “There is something evil from my past.” Lalaith’s eyes searched his, pleading. “Something that hates me. Whatever it is, I must face it, eventually. You cannot do it for me. Not alone, at least.”
Legolas sighed, and nodded, then bowed his head, defeated.
“Legolas.” Lalaith begged. “Evil is not the only power in the world. Good is stronger.” She pressed close, gently kissing his jaw, and murmured, “Love is much stronger.” Lalaith sighed brokenly, touching his face, lifting his eyes to meet hers. “I am meant to go with you in much the same way that Frodo is meant to be the bearer of the One Ring. The Valar have not forgotten us.”
Legolas gave a vague smile as he said quietly, “Then by the Valar, we will see the Ring destroyed, and whatever evil haunts you, defeated.”
Lalaith smiled gratefully as he said this, and drew close, tucking her head beneath his chin.
“But if I sometimes forget, and take a few steps ahead to protect you, you will forgive me, will you not?” He asked, smoothing his fingers through her glittering hair.
“Of course.” She sighed. “You are easy to forgive.”
Lalaith felt him bending down toward her, and lilted her face upward, finding his lips in need of warmth, and gladly pressed her mouth against his own.
A shadow watching them from the doors of the Hall of Fire shook his head in resignation, and Boromir turned back inside. He had not understood their Elvish speech, but he knew now, undeniably, how they felt for one another. “Fool.” He muttered under his breath. “Fool I was, to have ever thought-,” He shook his head again, and did not finish his words.
The morning was cool, and the air was clear, the calls of hundreds of birds accompanied by the endless rush of water over the falls surrounding Rivendell, as they had for uncounted ages of time. But this day was different from any other, Lalaith reminded herself as she made her way slowly down the steps of her uncle’s house to join those who would be her companions. Gandalf, the young dwarf called Gimli, and the hobbits were waiting in the courtyard before the great stone gate, but the others had not arrived yet. She smiled as she approached, seeing Sam stroking the nose of his faithful brown pony, Bill. That the horse would be going with her, somehow gave her an added measure of comfort.
“Pagh, here’s the elf-girl.” Gimli grunted upon her approach, clearly less than enthusiastic to see her.
She ignored him, focusing rather, on Gandalf’s happy but subdued greeting, and the hobbit’s cheerful cries as Merry and Pippin called, as if racing each other to greet her first, “Good morning, Lalaith!”
“You look-,” Pippin began cheerily, then stopped in midsentence and frowned, biting his lip as if thinking, strenuously, of what to say.
“Like a boy?” Gimli offered him sarcastically.
Lalaith scowled at the dwarf, but could not completely disagree when she glanced down at herself, clad in a tunic and leggings of various shades of blue and grey, soft boots of twilight blue bound to her legs, reaching nearly to her knees. Her bow and quiver with her arrows and knives, were across her back, belted, criss-crossed, across her chest. Her hair, used to being left hanging freely about her shoulders, was bound and plaited in one long rope of gold, spilling over her left shoulder.
“Like a Vala, an angel.” Came a soft but powerful voice behind her.
Lalaith turned, her eyes brightening as Legolas skipped, almost silently, down a small set of stone steps, and approached the group, his stride smooth and lithe, and commanding at the same time, as he stared the dwarf down until Gimli dropped his eyes, and took several steps backward, grumbling under his breath, “One elf is bad enough, but two? Agh.”
A pair of boots, at first distant, but clomping nearer, told Lalaith, even before she saw him, that Boromir was coming. She sucked in a breath, forcing herself to look calm and pleasant as Boromir came into view around a vine woven pillar, and looked over the gathering group with something akin to apprehension written on his bearded face.
“Hail, Lord Boromir.” Lalaith greeted him with a slight nod as he came nearer. She remembered having risen that morning, and glanced at her bedside table. The silver flower Legolas had given her, so many months before, still sat in its cup, as well preserved as always, but the flower Boromir had given her, had withered away, crumpling into dust at the very touch of her finger. A fearful premonition had come over her then, but she put it behind her, trying to forget it.
“My Lady.” He said, nodding back, and then glanced at Legolas looking him up and down before he turned to the others, and nodded terse greetings to them.
“Very good, you have all arrived.” Came a somber voice from behind Gandalf. All eyes turned to see Elrond approaching, Aragorn, a half step behind him, drawing nearer to the assembled Fellowship.
Aragorn seemed subdued and somber as he took his place beside Gandalf, and Lalaith wondered if it might have to do with him having come from the direction of his mother’s grave. She offered him a slight smile of encouragement, and he returned it with a nod.
Elrond drew near to Lalaith, and gathered her hands up in his, his eyes shining with unshed wetness as he squeezed her hands gently.
“My child-,” he began, his voice heavy with emotion. “I cannot lie to you, and tell you that I am glad you are choosing to journey with the Fellowship.” Lalaith swallowed hard, feeling a hard lump forming in her throat, and tears filling her eyes as Elrond gently squeezed her hands. “Until you return, my days will be filled with unease, and my nights will be sleepless. But I will let you go, because I know it is what you must do. And I am proud of you.” He smiled, even as he blinked his eyes feircely.
“Uncle Elrond-,” Lalaith managed, before emotion overcame her ability to speak, and she threw herself into his arms to hide her weeping against his shoulder.
He held her tightly to him for several moments, before they drew apart, and he took her hands again as he focused his eyes on Legolas, standing only a step behind her.
“Your first duty, Legolas Thranduilion, is to the ringbearer.” Elrond said gravely, his gaze steadily fixed on the younger Elf, “But I give you an extra charge as well, to watch over Lalaith. She is no less my daughter than were Celebrian to have borne her. She is dearer to me than all the treasures of Middle Earth.”
“Do not fear, Lord Elrond.” Legolas said steadily, inclining his head in a silent pledge. “For I had already taken that charge upon myself.”
Elrond drew in a breath, and smiled gratefully at the Prince of Mirkwood before he released Lalaith’s hands, and stepped back.
Elves were beginning to gather, silently assembling around them, and Elrond, with effort, took on the somber look of authority once again.
Arwen arrived, with two of her maids beside her, having come silently through the trees, and pausing several steps away, to Lalaith’s right. Elrohir and Elladan stood nearby, their faces solemn, and expressionless.
“The ring bearer is setting out on a quest of mount Doom.” Elrond said, scanning the members of the Fellowship, his eyes resting on each one as he spoke, though his eyes lingered for a moment longer on Lalaith, his expression silently conveying tenderness and concern for her. She smiled at him momentarily, wanting to assure him one last time, then looked away, her glance fixing on Arwen. Arwen’s eyes were filled to near overflowing with tears, her gazed fixed unmovingly on Aragorn.
Lalaith frowned softly, her thoughts suddenly troubled. Arwen’s tears were more than those of a maiden saying farewell to her beloved as she saw him off on a perilous journey. There was sadness, and hopelessness in Arwen’s eyes, as if she somehow believed she would never see him again. Lalaith tried to give her comfort with her eyes, but Arwen would not look away from Aragorn.
“And you who travel with him, no oath nor bond is laid to go farther than you will.” Her uncle’s words continued somber, sedate. “Fare well. Hold to your purpose. May the blessings of Elves, and Men, and all Free Folk, go with you.”
Elrond pressed his right hand against his chest, and extended it outward in an elven salute, which Lalaith, Legolas, and Aragorn returned.
“The fellowship awaits the ringbearer.” Gandalf’s voice was measured and calm, belying the immensity of the journey they were about to undertake.
Frodo gulped then, and turned, his eyes filled with the knowledge of the weighty task before him, and took the lead, moving past Gandalf and Aragorn, and through the gate of Imladris.
“Mordor, Gandalf,” Lalaith heard him whisper urgently as he surveyed the split path before him, “is it left or right?”
“Left.” Answered Gandalf, pressing a hand gently against his small shoulder.
Lalaith fell into step beside Legolas as they passed with the others under the gate. An involuntary shudder gripping her unexpectedly as the shadow of the gate passed behind them. The realization that she was leaving all she loved, her family, all that was familiar and safe, behind her, settled heavily onto her as they turned onto the southern path. But as Legolas’ hand reached over, and encircled her own, firm, solid, and comforting, she felt better, lighter of heart. She turned to look up at him, and he smiled down into her eyes his own blue eyes filled with warmth and devotion.
Not all that she loved was behind her. She reminded herself, and returned his smile.