“Good morning, Lalaith.”
At the sound of Legolas’ voice, Lalaith groaned softly, and held the book within her hands closer to her face. For though she had bathed and dressed, now in a gown of soft, pearlescent cream, she remembered her antics earlier, and knew Legolas remembered them as well. She could feel a deep crimson blush washing over her face, and crushed her eyelids closed as she felt Legolas draw closer to her, and seat himself on the opposite side of the stone garden bench upon which Lalaith rested beneath the fragrant trees spilling over with brightly colored blossoms of pink.
“What are you reading?” He asked in a voice that she could tell he forced a lightness into.
“Fëanor, and the making of the Silmarils.” She mumbled against the musty, sweet pages.
“He must be someone you find terribly interesting.” He sighed.
“Fëanor was a petulant old goat.”
She heard a soft chuckle find its way past Legolas’ lips at the words that had so easily clipped out of her mouth.
“It is part of my lessons.” She continued, speaking as before, to the warm pages of her book.
A long moment passed. Lalaith could hear the ever rumbling falls that poured about Imladris, and in the distant trees, a bird was singing a bright, twittering song.
“Lalaith?” Legolas voice asked, and she could hear the pleading within his voice. “Do you mean to ignore me all day?”
At these words, Lalaith let the book flop into her lap, and she glanced away, her eyes falling upon the blue and white flowers that littered the ground as thick as a carpet about the base of the trees.
“I feel like a fool, Legolas.” She whispered. She could feel his eyes upon her, but could not look up and meet his eyes. “And in truth, I am surprised that you are still here, speaking to me. That you did not turn straight around and go home after my childish behavior-,”
“Lalaith,” Legolas offered gently, his tone smooth and patient. His hand, warm and steady, reached out, and rested with gentle weight upon her shoulder. “That doesn’t matter to me.”
She clapped her book shut, pushing it from her lap onto the stone seat beside her as she stood. Swiftly she strode several paces away and stopped, pressing her hands against her burning cheeks.
“But it matters to me!” Lalaith cried, suddenly near tears. “I wish I had known you were coming. I could have prepared. I wanted to be ready for you. I wanted to be-, pretty for you.”
“Nothing could make you any less beautiful than you already are.”
At Legolas’ soft, plaintive tones, Lalaith could not help but turn and glance timidly over her shoulder as Legolas retrieved her forgotten book, dusting it carefully as he stood and made his way to her, his eyes deep with sympathy.
“Do not make the mistake of believing that I think less of you, simply because I have seen the liveliness of your nature, Lalaith.” His words quavered through her as he stopped, only a breath of air between them as his eyes delved furtively into her own. She felt the stiff leather book between them, and her fingers closed over the proffered tome, though involuntarily, for she was aware of nothing else but Legolas’ gaze, silently assailing her own.
“Lively, you say?” Lalaith muttered, feeling a slow smile coming to her lips. “Elladan and Elrohir would perhaps choose the word terrifying, I believe.”
As a grin drew across Legolas’ face, Lalaith’s own smile grew as well. “Now you are the Lalaith I know.” He grinned. “I have been worried about you since Lothlórien. You were quiet for so long. And it is a relief to see your playful side again.”
Lalaith’s eyes fell away as his hand lifted, and she felt the touch of his fingers against her brow, brushing a glittering golden lock of hair behind the delicate peak of her ear.
“That is why you returned so soon?” She asked, lifting her eyes again, and studying his.
At Legolas’ nod of affirmation, Lalaith sighed, and turned away from him, taking several steps before she turned, and offering him a tentative smile, teasingly quipped, “Perhaps I should make you worry about me more frequently.”
At this, a light danced within Legolas’ eyes, and he grinned. “Perhaps I should worry more often, so as to have the excuse to see you more.” His grin melted away and his eyes grew warm as his light steps brought him once again to within a breath of her as he finished, “For that is what I would prefer.”
Lalaith’s own smile faded, and she glanced swiftly away, reminding herself that he was a prince, and she was no one. Only an unknown foundling. It would be folly for her to ever hope-,
“Yet you have your duties as your father’s son.” She returned, drawing in a quick breath, and biting softly at her lower lip as she drew a deliberate step backward. “It would be selfish of me to keep you to myself, would it not?”
“And selfish of me, as well.” Legolas agreed, his eyes silently questioning her as to why she had retreated from him, and his brows twitched in a moment of mild confusion. “I miss you, when we are apart.”
Lalaith gulped, and glanced down, feeling the sudden wild pounding within her as if her heart had suddenly become a smithy’s hammer. Did Legolas truly know what he was doing, when he looked at her like that, she wondered, through eyes that were innocent and soft like a child’s, yet also wise and warm, bearing within them, the wisdom of centuries. Deeper within the secret recesses of her heart, secret even to her waking thoughts, moved something, deep and poignant, and beautiful, when his eyes were upon her. She shook her head to herself, and turned swiftly away, willing the incessant pounding within her to still. Of all the turmoil he caused within her, Legolas was blissfully ignorant. And should remain so.
“Ah, Legolas.” She sighed, closing her eyes, and drinking deeply of the sweetly scented air that drifted about them, washing past her face, and playing with cool fingers, through her hair. “‘Twould be a wasted day, sitting about, doing nothing but reading of our dear Fëanor, and his treacherous little trinkets. Come with me. I want to show you something.”
She smiled and held her hand out to him, as he with unveiled enthusiasm came toward her, and took it, his fingers weaving easily through hers. How easily her hand fit within his, she marveled silently as she led him up the path toward the steeply sloping roofs. As if a sculptor had designed them, each for the other.
Legolas could not help but steal glances at Lalaith as she led him up a stairway as it branched away from the main house, and up along the side of the high cliff that encircled the vale. The steps were carved of the cliff face itself, and were edged by a row of marching pillars, arched over by a fluted roof. Above them, the steps ended at the door of a little house upon a wide ledge, built in the manner of those lower in the valley, though it was smaller, and its walls, aside from a generously wide balcony that gazed out over the gardens, and the whole of Imladris, were more enclosing, affording whomever occupied the picturesque little dwelling a good deal of privacy.
As much as Legolas wondered about this place, and why Lalaith was taking him here, he kept the greater part of his focus upon her. Her cheeks were colored to the hue of a soft rose, though now with excitement, and the exertion of the climb, rather than by shyness, as they had been before. And wispy strands of her hair had been twisted back behind her head, with tiny white flowers tucked in here and there, no doubt placed there by her doting cousin Arwen. Her gown was one he had seen on her before, fashioned of creamy pearlescent cloth woven in Lórien, a gift from Lady Galadriel, he remembered. The sleeves hung open at her elbows flowing downward, while the scooped neck of her gown, embroidered at the edge with silver threads of mithril, hung loosely from the edges of her narrow, sculpted shoulders. And, he observed, as he often had in the past, that the gown fit her slender, youthful body perfectly, like a glove. He glanced away from her, falling back a step and turning his eyes over the gardens below him, that now he was up so high, seemed to veritably spill over with the soft young greens, and the bright colors that marked springtime in Imladris. The high climb, he had noted a moment before, was causing Lalaith to breathe more rapidly, and the sight of the rise and fall of her deepened breathing beneath the smooth shimmering bodice of her gown, suddenly made his insides feel as if they had been tied into a jumble of tangle knots.
“What is this place?” Legolas asked, by way of taking his mind off of his suddenly confounded emotions as they at last drew to the top of the long steps, and the stoop before a white arching doorway.
Lalaith pushed upon the unlatched door which squeaked softly before it gave way beneath the pressure of her fingers.
Legolas’ brows drew together in a silent question as the room bathed in cool shadow came into view, empty but for the dark wooden bed with its high polished posts, upon the raised dais.
“These used to be the chambers of my aunt and uncle.” She sighed, indicating to the smooth, barren walls, and the smaller rooms branching off into shadow. “Before Aunt Celebrian sailed to Valinor.”
“Ah.” Legolas said, nodding slowly as understanding grew upon his face. The coverlet, the pillows, all were there, but lay untouched as they had for centuries within the aged, crinkled veil that hung low from the high banisters.
“Come, Legolas. The view of Imladris is breathtaking from here.” Lalaith said as she swept through the high ceilinged chamber toward the wide balcony where the light of the late morning spilled through. She paused at the aged and graying veils that hung before the balcony between several slender columns, and slipped softly between the delicate curtains to lean with a sigh, against one of the fluted pillars.
She had become a warm shadow to Legolas now through the ragged edged veils, a shadow etched in gold from the gentle light of late morning that washed the balcony around her. With the golden sunlight falling around her, shining through her gown as through the silver mist of a cloud, and dancing off of the star washed highlights in her hair, she looked as he imagined one of the fair Valiër might look, and he smiled at the thought.
“For the first fifteen years of my life, I slept in a little trundle bed beside theirs.” She said softly, barely turning as he came onto the balcony beside her, and caught a stray lock of hair that lifted in a soft breeze, feeling the cool silkiness of the errant lock between his thumb and forefinger before he released it, letting it continue to float about in the soft breeze that lifted up the side of the cliff swirling gently around them both as it continued to rise in the morning’s warming air.
“I remember sometimes, climbing into bed beside them, when I could not sleep.” Lalaith continued, her voice filled with wistful memories, to which Legolas smiled. “Aunt Celebrian’s hair was so soft against my face, and she would hold me close, and sing me back to sleep with lullabies she had made for me.” A light laugh came out of Lalaith’s lips as she continued, “I was their baby, she would sing, as cherished as the children she had carried in her womb. But I, she said, was a special blessing, a gift from the Valar themselves.”
“She was a wise woman, your aunt.” Legolas soothed, allowing his hand to stray again to hers, and caught her fingers lightly within his own.
Lalaith glanced over her shoulder, her eyes plaintive, and shimmering with tears that she would not allow to fall. “I still miss her, sometimes.”
“You still have your uncle, and the others. And they all love you.” Legolas declared, his voice soft, though there were furtive tones beneath the quiet. “As I do.”
“Legolas.” She murmured, her tone suddenly timid and childlike, as she studied his eyes with a shimmering gaze. “Forgive me. I-,” she brushed her hand under her eyes, and her smile came swiftly back. “I brought you here, so that you could see all the valley as it is, in the springtime.” She indicated a hand at the wide vista spread below them. “Something to make you happy. And instead, I end up crying to you about things I cannot change.” She offered a rueful laugh.
“Lalaith.” Legolas muttered, drawing close and slipping his hand into hers, his tone one of gentle chastisement. “Trusting another enough to show him the hidden things in your heart, is not a weakness. Nor is missing one you love. Lord Elrond, I do not doubt, has many such moments as this.” He paused, before swiftly adding, “When you and I are apart, I miss you with an ache that is so great, it is like a physical pain. And you are not even in Valinor.”
Lalaith looked up at him as he said this, her eyes soulful and deep, shimmering like two sapphires. What her eyes could do to him, he sighed to himself, she would never know. Set within such a face as hers, her skin smooth and warm, her pert little nose that had a habit of crinkling when she laughed, and her mouth, full and expressive as it was-,
“I have yet to show you all the hidden things that I bear in my heart.” She said, her voice quavering as she spoke.
“Perhaps someday, I will earn enough of your trust, that you will show them to me.” He returned, his own voice barely above a whisper.
At his words, Lalaith bit softly at her bottom lip and glanced downward, her cheeks once again taking on the hue of a soft rose.
He took a step nearer to her, his heart leaping wildly in his chest and she stood as she was, pressed against the smooth pillar at her back. His fingers released her own, and his hand slid slowly up her arm, his fingers lightly trailing over the curve of her shoulder, and to the flesh of her throat. “Lalaith,” he breathed, tipping her chin up so that her eyes lifted to his as he drew even closer to her.
“My uncle would want me to finish my reading before the festival tonight.” Lalaith suddenly gasped in a tremulous voice as she pulled her face away from his touch, and stepped from between Legolas and the pillar at her back. The book she had carried within her other hand, was clutched in trembling hands.
Gulping, Legolas drew a step backward, his eyes falling away. Why had she pulled so swiftly away?
“Come, then.” He said, forcing a light smile upon his face as he nodded toward a carven stone bench against the balustrade. “I will read to you, if you wish.”
He extended his hand for the thick tome, but Lalaith smiled, amused, shaking her head as she did. “No, my friend.” She laughed softly. “For unless I am the one to read, I will most assuredly fall asleep.” Her familiar, easy tone had returned, and she reached for his hand again, guiding him toward the bench, where she sat, and drew him down beside her. “I will read aloud, for both of us.”
“Very well.” Legolas returned easily. At this, he turned, letting his feet hang over the side of the bench lengthwise, the toes of his boots barely touching the polished stone of the floor at their feet, as he folded his hands across his stomach, and settled his head comfortably in her lap, closing his eyes.
“Ai, Legolas.” Lalaith sighed, brushing her free hand across his brow, eliciting a smile upon his face. “So you will sleep, then?”
“By the Valar, no, lady. I cannot sleep with my eyes closed. I cannot dream when I do that.” Legolas cracked open one eyelid and glanced up at her teasingly. “And I would not be so dishonorable as to force such a fair maiden as you to suffer through her tedious studies alone.”
“Ah, sweet prince, you’re so gallant.” Lalaith giggled, placing a hand softly against his throat, and brushing her thumb along his jaw.
Both his eyes opened as she did this, and the smile faded from Legolas’ face, for he knew that her touch was meant only as the familiar touch of a friend. Yet to Legolas, the light brush of her flesh upon his, sent shards of flame through his body, and set his heart fiercely pounding.
Quickly, he closed his eyes again, and forced his casual smile back, hoping she would think nothing of its momentary disappearance. “Read on, fair lady.” He bid her, with an air of mocking importance, to which she giggled again, then drawing the soft touch of her hand away from his throat, she settled her arm casually across his shoulders as, with her other, she let the book fall open within her palm, allowed its pages to settle, and with a soft clearing of her throat, she began to read.