“Dearest Lalaith,” the letter began as Lalaith settled her chin in her hand, her fingers running lightly over the surface of the crisp yellow parchment that bore the bold yet graceful characters that had flowed from Legolas’ pen, “As I write this to you, I am sitting upon a high ledge near the summit of the highest peak of our mountains here in my father’s realm. The sun rises as I put pen to paper, setting the world beneath my ledge, in bright relief.”
Lalaith smiled at the image his words conjured as her breakfast of fruit and fresh wine before her remained untouched. Her cousins had left several minutes before to go riding, though she had barely noted their departure as she sat alone upon the arching ledge of her balcony built upon a low branch that hung near to the ground. So low, that thick trailing vines had found their way up, entwining their flowering limbs through the fluted railing.
“Beneath this windy mountainside the green of the forest melts away toward the south, giving me a clear view to the distant horizon. The cold autumn air above the treetops is sharp and clear, and I can see the distant black peak of Dol Guldur, swathed as ever in shadow, towering above the mould colored trees that spread about its base. The sight would be altogether eerie and sobering, but for the distant, almost invisible silver ribbon I see that is the Anduin, sparkling brightly to the southwest, and beyond that, against the horizon, I see a low glimmer of gold. It is naught but a touch of color at the point where earth meets sky. But I know that it is the bright sheen which is Lórien, and I am comforted to know that you are there, beneath the golden trees. It is almost as if I can see you again. I can picture your face as clearly as when I saw you last, your eyes and your smile when I said farewell to you that spring morning, and turned my back to Imladris. It has been nearly a century and a half since that day, in spite of my promise to myself that I would visit you more. I hope you are not angry with me, and I pray that my letters have been enough.”
Lalaith sighed at the poetic words, smiling as she pressed a hand to her heart in an effort to still its sudden leaping. “Almost enough, dear Legolas.” She muttered to herself.
“Within my hand, I hold your last letter to me, and I am glad that you are happy. You speak much of the March Warden, Haldir, and of your growing friendship with him.” Here the writing became slightly strained, the letters thickening somewhat, as if he were pressing the pen with greater strength into the paper, and Lalaith wondered if he were withholding some furtive emotion. “I am pleased to know that through his help, your skills at sparring and archery have improved. I only wish I had the courage-,” the last word was so thickly delved into the paper that it seemed as if he had fairly hacked his quill into the parchment, “-to come to you and teach you such things myself, as I once did.”
Again the touch of his writing changed, becoming light and hurried, as if he wished to speak out a thought before it was lost to him.
“Soon, Lalaith, our autumn festival will be upon us once again, and my hunger to see you is greater than it has ever been. I dream often of seeing you here, as you have been before, garlanded with a crown of red autumn leaves, dancing beneath our trees, and bringing light, if for but a short time, to the shadows of this place. Would you consider coming to my father’s realm for a short time? For your presence would give me even greater reason to celebrate. I hope that your answer is yes, though if circumstances prevent you from coming, I will understand. I remain your friend forever, Legolas”
Lalaith furrowed her brow at the question, sensing a vague shadow of anguish beneath his words. Laying the letter back upon the table, Lalaith pushed her chair slightly back and glanced up again, her thoughts awhirl within her mind.
But no sooner had her eyes turned away from the parchment, than her thoughts were caught up in something else.
“Lalaith!” The voice brought her instantly to her feet, smiling in recognition. With a flurry of skirts, she darted to the edge of the veranda, and pressing her hands against the cool metal of the vine entwined railing, peered over to see Haldir standing beneath her, his head tipped upward, and his eyes glinting with a hidden smile.
“Oh, good morning, Haldir!” She cried lifting her hand in a wave.
“Good morning, Lalaith.” He answered in return, his voice more subdued, though still warm.
“My cousins have only just left.” She called out cheerfully. “Were you seeking Elladan or Elrohir?”
“No, you, actually.” Haldir returned, glancing down at his feet, the gesture almost shy, before he looked upward into her eyes again. “I wondered if you might wish to practice your skill with the bow again.”
“Oh, ah,” her heart gave a stolid thump of warning in her chest before she answered in return, “of course! Will you not come up for a moment, then?”
She waved toward the stairs not far away from him, which twined up round the great tree toward her chambers, but these Haldir ignored.
She stepped back with a sudden gasp of surprise as Haldir stepped just beneath her ledge, and with motion that seemed effortless, clambered up along the thick trailing vines like a ladder until at last he reached the precarious edge of her balcony. With casual ease, he threw one leg over her railing as he plucked a bright red blossom from the vines twining through the smooth silver balustrade.
“Haldir!” She laughed and took the flower he gallantly offered her, then stood back as he flung his other leg so that he stood at last, firm footed, before her. “Is such behavior becoming of the March Warden?”
“I simply did not wish to disturb you by forcing you to walk all the way through your chambers to answer my noisome knocking.” Haldir gasped, his smile twitching as she raised the gifted blossom to her face, and inhaled its sweet fragrance. And as her eyes were down turned to the red blossom, Haldir’s eyes traveled appreciatively over her, taking in the light, unadorned dress that clothed her slender form. It was a soft yellow, almost white garment that bore no intricate embroidery or vast lengths of cloth, its neck scooped simply, with sleeves that would have been long to her wrists, but that she had casually rolled to her elbows.
“How thoughtful of you.” She grumbled, lifting her eyes, and offering him a reproachful shake of her head.
“Ah, but what’s this?” Haldir breathed in, striding past her, and surveying her untouched breakfast. “You haven’t eaten? How can you keep up your strength? Archery is quite taxing, after all.”
“Oh, you arrogant fool!” Lalaith pursed her lips and glared at him. “You are as bad as my uncle! I was just distracted for a moment.”
Haldir’s eyes flashed over the letter beside her plate, and a glazed look washed over his eyes as he touched the parchment lightly, just beneath the salutation. “`Dearest Lalaith,” He muttered to himself, then louder, “From Prince Legolas?” He asked, looking up at her, the spark fading from his eyes as he spoke, now in a flattened tone.
“Yes.” She answered with a sigh as she stepped nearer to him, dropped her flower casually upon Legolas’ letter, lifted a juicy slice of fresh peach from her plate, and popped it into her mouth. “See? I am eating. Are you happy now?”
“He writes often?” Haldir asked again in low tones.
“Very often.” Lalaith answered as she chewed and swallowed. “At least once a month, if not more.”
“And you write to him?”
“Of course. It would be terribly inconsiderate if I did not.”
“Oh.” Haldir muttered, glancing down.
His sudden despondency thoroughly confused Lalaith. And in a sudden effort to cheer him, she stepped toward him, spatted him quickly on the arm so that he looked up in surprise, and as he did, she declared, “Look! I’m eating Haldir! I won’t wither away! Are you happy now?” With that, she snatched up a bunch of grapes from her plate and bit off several, chewing rapidly, unaware that one small grape had been jarred away from the rest, falling again to her plate.
The vague look of hurt upon his face wavered and disappeared into a smile at her exaggerated chewing motions, and he shrugged noncommittally.
“I am beginning to be.” He grinned. “But perhaps you need a bit more.”
At this, he plucked up the fallen grape from her plate, and stepped near.
Lalaith’s brows twitched at the warm, dark look that drew across Haldir’s face as he stepped near, but she did not question him, and simply opened her mouth in acceptance of the tiny fruit he offered her.
Haldir, she saw, smiled lightly as she did this, and a moment later, she felt the smooth, cool skin of the tiny grape against her lips and her tongue, and she closed her mouth, lifting her eyes again to Haldir’s as she chewed.
His fingers though, lingered at her lips even after she swallowed, his touch warm against her mouth. His fingers carried light calluses, as would be expected of such a warrior, but his fingers bore a gentle touch, achingly soft as they smoothed slowly across her mouth. Lalaith drew in a low breath, surprised to find herself wishing that it was Legolas whose warm, lean fingers traced softly over her lips, rather than Haldir’s.
“Haldir,” she began chokingly, “I-, I should not-,”
“My lady,” the creaking of a door, followed by a girlish voice entered her thoughts, and Lalaith’s eyes shot through the doorway into the warm shade of the interior as Lothriel continued to speak, her voice and her light footsteps drawing nearer as she did, “Lady Arwen has gone riding with her brothers, but she said that you were still here alone, and I have come to see if there was anything you needed-,”
Lothriel’s words ended in a sudden gasp, and Lalaith turned to Lothriel who had appeared in the doorway onto the veranda and whose eyes now rapidly darted back and forth between Haldir and Lalaith.
“Lothriel! It is a pleasant surprise to see you this morning!” Haldir declared, starting toward her, and reaching out as if he meant to take hold of her hands. “You are beautiful, as always.”
“Oh, forgive me, Haldir, my lady.” Lothriel said nodding to the pair in a voice that suddenly shook as she jerked her hands from Haldir’s touch. “I have-, just remembered something. Something important that I forgot. I must-, I must go.” She spun away, and rapidly disappeared from their view.
“Lothriel?” Haldir called after her, but she was already gone.
“Hm.” Haldir muttered thoughtfully gazing at the now empty doorway. “She is one of the most careful maidens I know. Not often does she forget anything.” He shook his head thoughtfully one more time before turning to Lalaith once again with a smile.
“Shall we go, then?” He said, offering his arm to her.
“Of course, my stalwart March Warden.” She returned, slipping her arm through his, breathing a silent, relieved sigh that all was as it was before.
Lifting a smile to his face which had regained its cheerful brightness, the two friends made their way into the interior of her flet toward the outer door and the stairway that led downward to the ground.
Gentle forest noises echoed around them as Haldir and Lalaith came to a stop in the grassy clearing where many paces across, sat a great round wooden target.
“Remember, keep your body taut, yet relaxed.” Haldir offered helpfully, handing her his quiver of arrows and his bow. He moved a few paces away and sat on a mossy stone to watch her.
She tested the feel of the bow in her left hand as she fitted an arrow to the string. She drew the string back to her cheek, and after sighting down the arrow’s shaft, released it. It struck the target with a sharp crack, but well out of the faded circle at the center.
Haldir rose to his feet, and came again to her side. “Remember the flight will carry it up a bit.” She felt the gentle pressure of his hand at her back.
She nodded, and took another arrow. Fitting it to the string, she drew it back to her cheek.
The string sang as the bow sprang back into shape, and Lalaith smiled as her arrow struck true, still quivering in the center of the red circle.
“Well done.” The quiet tone of his voice, as well as his hand at her back confused her, and she pulled gently away, turning to him.
He was smiling again, his mouth curled shyly. The warmth in his eyes had softened.
“Haldir, what is wrong? Does something trouble you?” She asked.
“Nothing at all.” He assured her, his eyes studying hers.
“Then-,” her mouth twisted into a smirk. “What is it?”
“I only wanted to say, you look well, Lalaith.”
A smile turned the corners of her mouth up. “I look well?” She inquired.
“Yes, and happy. You are at peace with yourself. It was not so, when Alcarion and his wife died.”
“My life is happy.” She agreed. “My friends are numerous, and good, yet-,”
Haldir’s hand against her back, his fingertips soothingly trawling one way and then the other across her shoulders was terribly distracting.
“Every time I see Lothriel, it is as if I see renewed pain in her eyes as if I am doing something once again to hurt her.” Lalaith muttered, fighting to keep hold on her thoughts. “I do not know what it is, and it is horribly frustrating to not know, for if I did, I would do all I could to stop her pain in an instant.”
“Lalaith, you have a good heart. As good a heart as Lothriel’s, and I know no better maiden.” Haldir breathed softly, edging closer.
A thud of warning shivered painfully through her heart, and she pulled away, keeping her eyes focused away from Haldir.
“I am going to Mirkwood for a time, Haldir.” She managed to choke. The utterance of the words brought a wave of sadness mixed with soothing peace to her mind, though why, she could not tell.
Behind her, a heavy silence lingered for a long painful moment.
“How long?” The words at her back seemed to wrench from deep within Haldir, and twisted her heart as they came forth.
“Not long.” She sighed softly, turning back to him, and smiling. “Legolas invited me to come to their autumn festival. I will return here when it is over.”
“Let me go with you.”
Lalaith started in surprise at the ragged emotion she heard in his words.
“No-,” she choked, “It would be best if you stayed here.” With the utterance of her words came another honey tipped shard lancing through her heart. Sadness, she felt, for she knew that somehow she was hurting him, yet relief as well, for she knew in her heart, that it was what she needed to do.
“I will take Elladan or Elrohir, and perhaps both, if I must, for safety.” She stammered when the silence behind her grew too great. “Do not worry, my friend. All will come about as it should. And I will see you again when I return.”
“Then may that time be soon.” Haldir’s voice said near her ear, and she turned as she felt his warm hand slip into hers, to see him standing above her, gazing down with warm, sad eyes. “I will miss you.”
“And I-,” Lalaith stopped awkwardly upon her words. She could not make herself tell him she would miss him, for it would not be the truth. She would notice the loss of his company, and his friendship to be sure, but for her to speak the entirety of the truth she felt, would be to say that she anticipated seeing Legolas far greater than she felt pain at separation from Haldir.
“I will-,” she struggled for words, wincing at the pained look that grew across his face at her hesitation. “I will look forward to seeing you again, Haldir.”
She managed a small smile, and felt a shred of relief to see him return it. Though, she noted, it was weak, and bereft of hope.