Lalaith sighed, and paused at the crossing of two corridors that conjoined, glancing one way and then the other. She had to admit it to herself, for she could deny it no longer. She was lost. And since she had left Elrohir, she had seen no sign of any other Elf, not even a child from whom to ask help or directions. Her frustration had finding no help was only increased by the news that Elrohir had left her with, that Haldir, whom she had always thought of as no more than a friend, wanted to be closer to her than she wished. She had always thought of him as handsome to be sure, but her heart was empty of tender feelings for him, and she had always believed that he had no deep feelings for her either. Especially with the way he always spoke of Lothriel. He had always called the other maiden his friend, but there had always seemed to be more-; a ragged sigh broke through Lalaith’s lips at the intrusion of a new thought. That is always how she spoke of Legolas, she realized. As her friend.
“What an idiot Haldir is, to not notice Lothriel. Following me around everywhere, instead of being with her!” Lalaith mumbled to herself as she shuddered, the last thought falling away into the deep, forgotten wells of her memory. “The wretched fool!”
Wringing her hands in agitation, she turned down the right hand corridor, for lack of a better choice to make. Surely Thranduil’s halls could not be entirely empty. At some point she would come across someone. It was inevitable. But still, it was confoundingly frustrating that she had met no one yet.
The hall, lit brightly by red torchlight did not go far, before it split again, into two sets of steps, one going up into yellow flickering torchlight above, the other going down, lit also with torches. Neither staircase could she see the top of, for both bent around, blocking her sight of what each path led to. But perhaps-,
Lalaith bit her lower lip, remembering what Thranduil had said about the Dwarves in his prison. And that Legolas had been down there.
Lalaith had no idea where dungeons would be in Thranduil’s palace, but she supposed they would be down, deeper in the darker and colder parts of the caves.
And so steeling herself, Lalaith tentatively began down the first of the steps. She had gone down only three stairs before she heard a jingling sound coming from below her. A sound that reminded her much of the clinking of keys together.
Ah, someone else at last! She thought to herself with a smile. And aloud she called out, “Hello? Hello, is anyone down here?”
The keys, for that is what the sound seemed to originate from, continued clinking and clattering as Lalaith continued. Her brow furrowed as she made her way around the bend in the stairs and descended softly into a long hallway at the bottom of the steps, it was cool and dark, though she could smell the distant hint of water, and nearer at hand, a scent that was the distinct smell of fruity wine, causing Lalaith’s mouth to water slightly.
“Hello?” She asked again. She had heard a noise. Of that she was certain. As she stepped farther into the hall, a small alcove came into view, a wine cellar, she realized by the barrels set and stacked against the walls. Within this room, was a wooden table with benches beside it. And upon one of these benches, seated side by side, were two Elves.
Lalaith recognized them both, for they were both persons of some great importance in King Thranduil’s palace. One was the chief of the guards, and the other was the king’s butler, Galion, if she remembered his name correctly.
But the hope that was growing upon Lalaith’s face faded into a grimace of disappointment. Neither man was in any sort of position to help her. For both of them were drunk as stones, half sprawled across the table top, two great flagons resting beside their limp hands as both snored and snorted softly in their drunken vertigo, twisted smiles upon their faces as their eyes stared unseeingly off at nothing.
Beside the chief guard’s other hand, rested a silver ring strung with many keys. So that had made the noise, Lalaith decided. Perhaps in his drunken slumber he’d jostled them.
A soft, derisive sigh escaped her lips as she looked over the two drunken Elves. Pathetic fools. She thought to herself as with a shake of her head she approached the table, and reached out, lifting one of the great flagons, half filled from beside the hand of the king’s butler, lifted it to her face, and tentatively sniffed at the contents. Its color was rich and red, catching in the light of the torches about her like liquid ruby. And its scent was heady and sweet, this particular wine no doubt from the vineyards of Dorwinion, if she guessed properly.
“King Thranduil’s best wine, even.” Lalaith muttered disapprovingly as she set the flagon back down again. “I think I shall tell Legolas you have been snitching his father’s wine.” She threatened, glaring between the two unconscious Elves. “What do you think of that? It will serve you right for behaving like a couple of dirty, rude Dwarves.”
The comatose Elves answered her not at all, though the king’s butler, nearest to the edge of the table, gurgled softly and grinned in his sleep as a trickle of drool dabbled from his mouth to the wooden surface of the table.
Lalaith cringed at the distasteful sight of one she was used to seeing as the model of decorous elven behavior. “Perhaps you should spend some time in the Golden Wood with Haldir.” She grunted. “He is as great a rogue as you two, and the three of you would get on quite well, I think.” Snorting angrily, Lalaith plopped herself down upon the rough wooden bench beside the chief guard, completely uncaring that the two Elves were oblivious to her, and picked up the keys he had left so carelessly beside his hand, playing absently with them for a moment before she stopped, holding her breath softly as she listened for a half unheard sound. Was that-, breathing? Coming from under the table? But no one else was here. She shrugged. It was no matter.
Setting the ring of keys down again, she glanced hesitantly at the flagon set near the chief guard’s hand. It would be no harm, she assured herself, to taste it. After all, she was a bit thirsty. And it would not harm anyone to ensure that this was indeed the best wine. Lifting the great flagon in both her hands, she took a tentative taste of the sweet, heady liquid. And then another.
Before Lalaith knew it, she was gulping thirstily. Since this morning, she and Elrohir had taken only a little water, and until this moment, Lalaith had not realized how truly parched she was.
“Ah yes, this is indeed the best wine.” She muttered, pausing in her hurried gulping to catch her breath. “Not meant for such great flagons, I’m afraid.”
She shook her head to herself, wondering why her voice seemed to echo so noisily off the walls about her. The stone of Thranduil’s caves had not seemed to have such resonant qualities before.
“Awful pest he is.” Lalaith mumbled again, nudging the unresponsive chief of the guards. “Follows me everywhere-,” she paused, lifted the nearly empty flagon and took another deep gulp, the wine slipping sweetly down her throat as it went, “not that I hate him, mind you. I just do not love him, you see. And he seems to be completely blind to poor Lothriel. And she is so lovely. Why doesn’t he notice her?”
Lalaith shook her head to herself, then lifted the flagon again to her lips, and drank until at last, the last precious drops of the lovely ruby liquid slipped from the edge of the flagon onto her tongue. She sighed in regret. But it was just as well. Somehow, the great pitcher had grown heavier as she held it. She set it down upon the wooden table with a rattling thump, just as a great belch, loud and entirely unexpected, burst past her lips.
“Oh, dear me.” Lalaith muttered, smacking her lips together as she rose shakily to her feet.
Blinking slowly, Lalaith turned her thoughts upon other concerns as she glanced downward. The floor was made of stone. So how was it that it seemed to rise and fall, as a leaf upon the tide of a river? But it was not a frightening thing, really. As long as she did not fall down, it was quite entertaining. Much like being on the deck of a great ship, she guessed. She smiled at the table top, and picked up the keys she had left there as she stepped awkwardly upon the wooden bench, then again up to the top of the table, swinging the clinking keys about in her hand as she did.
She had to pause a moment to gain her balance as she stood here, towering over the two unconscious Elves that lay sprawled below her. The table bucked and swayed beneath her, and she grinned. It was much like riding a horse, she thought, only standing up. What amazing balance she had, she thought to herself with a congratulatory note. Such great balance, that she could easily skip about up here, without falling over.
And with this thought, she began to clip lightly from one end of the table to the other, humming softly to herself before with a soft sigh, she began to sing, swinging the keys upon her finger in time to her music, making her words as she went,
“Oh, what do I do
with an unwanted suitor,
when he that I’m loving
is only my tutor.
And thinks that I’m wild,
and only a child.
While he is the son of a king!
Oh tra la la lally, I come from the valley,
and I should return there, I think.”
A loud bump, from beneath the table resounded in her echoing ears, and Lalaith stopped, frozen, but not so much from the unexplained thump from whatever it was beneath the table, as much as it was from Legolas’ voice suddenly near.
“I have been searching everywhere for you, Lalaith!” Called Legolas’ voice bright and glad. Lalaith gulped hard. “My father told me you arrived this morning. I thought you were in the Golden Wood.” Legolas’ voice grew louder and closer until he appeared in the doorway, a smile, achingly hopeful upon his face. He was adorned in fine robes in anticipation for the coming feast. But as his eyes came to rest upon her where she stood upon the table top, the drunken Elves snoring at her feet, the corners of him mouth fell away into a gape of astonishment.
“Oi, Legolas!” Lalaith choked, seeing no escape for herself. “You did not hear me singing, did you?”
“Vaguely. I heard your voice. Not your words,” Legolas said dismissively, his brows furrowing with questions before he demanded, “What are you doing on the table?”
She grinned and unable to think of any other retort spouted, “Oh tra la la lily, Lalaith’s being silly!”
“You’re drunk!” Legolas exclaimed, his eyes darting between the two other Elves whose vacant eyes stared off at nothing as they snorted and snored in their drunken stupor.
“Most assuredly, I am!” Lalaith cried in agreement. What else could she be, after all? She’d drunk a half flagon of Thranduil’s best wine!
Legolas shook his head disapprovingly as he drew near, reaching his hands up, and clasping her around the waist as he lifted her carefully down from the table.
She smiled gratefully, and leaned heavily against him, the only solid, stalwart thing, in a room that was fast beginning to spin about her.
“There’s a little imp under the table, Legolas.” She announced, gesturing toward the wooden table where the king’s butler and the chief of the guards were sprawled across. “He has been breathing rather noisily the entire time I have been down here. And when you called my name, he jumped and bumped his head on the underside of the wood.”
Legolas’ brow furrowed as he glanced between her and the wooden table, disbelief showing clearly upon his face. Still he left her swaying on her feet, and for a moment she was alone in the ever spinning vortex that swirled around her, with her at its center. Vaguely she saw him lean down and peer under the table, before he straightened again, and just in time before Lalaith’s legs buckled. His arm, warm and sure, caught her about the waist as she fell, and held her up straight again.
“Yes, a rather invisible imp, I should say.” He muttered.
“I think he’s come to free all those nasty Dwarves you father locked away.” Lalaith added.
“Yes, well, I’m sure he’ll need these, to let them out.” Legolas agreed, and with that, he pulled the ring of keys from her hand, and tossed them again upon the table beside the limp hand of the chief guard with a rattling thump.
“Come, then.” Legolas’ voice ordered from somewhere in the echoing distance as, with a soft huff of air, his arms gathered her completely off her feet, and she felt herself tucked protectively against his chest. “I’ll take you up to my mother. She’ll find a bed for you to sleep this off.”
“In the trees,” Lalaith exclaimed.
“I know. In the trees. More like Lórien.” Legolas released a reluctant sigh. “Where your dear Haldir dwells.”
“I don’t love Haldir, Legolas.” Lalaith protested, regretting in her fogging mind that she was not sober enough to explain herself properly. “Why do you think I asked Elrohir to escort me here?” She knew her words were slurred, and she hoped he could understand. “I wanted to come be with you, for a short time at least, before I go back to the Golden Wood and have to endure Haldir’s stifling attention again.”
“Why, is there someone here you have fallen in love with?” Legolas teased through the echoing fog.
“No one that I could ever deserve.” Lalaith sighed sadly, hoping again that her voice sounded lucid enough to be discernable. “I am not really anyone, Legolas. You know that, for you are the one who found me and my wounded nurse when I was a baby. All she could tell you was my name, and that I belonged with my uncle Elrond, but she could tell you nothing more before she died. But Elrond is no more my uncle than he is my father. I’m just a foundling.”
“That doesn’t matter to me, Lalaith.” Legolas’ echo assured her warmly. “Surely you know that, don’t you?”
Lalaith tried to respond. She lifted her head, but the effort was too much, and she fell back against his shoulder, falling into a colorful delirium of odd, though cheerful dreams.
“My mother will know how to help you, dear, beloved Lalaith.” Legolas said sadly, shifting Lalaith’s weight in his arms, which in truth was hardly a burden at all as he stepped out of the room, and started slowly back up the torch lit stairway. This was not the first time the chief of the guards and his father’s butler had drunken themselves into a stupor. They would awaken no worse for their imbibing, and he gave them no more thought.
He gazed ruefully down into her sleeping face that gazed blankly up at him as he mounted the steps, and he smiled as he remembered what she had said. About not loving Haldir. Hope twined tightly, nearly painfully, about his heart as her words echoed again through his mind. Did he have reason then, to think that perhaps all that his heart had truly ever longer after, could yet be his?
She had come to see him as he had hoped, in spite of his fears that his requesting of the maiden to come to him, might have seemed ill-mannered and ungentlemanly, or perhaps too forward, especially after all the time they had been apart. But he had dared not go to Lothlórien himself. Perhaps it was his manly ego, but he had no wish to face his rival Haldir, upon the Marchwarden’s own ground. A foolish thing, perhaps, he admitted to himself.
Yet still, she had submitted to his request, and had come, defying all his worst fears. She was here. In his arms, of all places, though she was unaware of it, as she was unaware of everything.
She did not know he loved her. Perhaps she did not even care. But now, as he walked with her through the torch lit halls of his father’s palace, gazing down into her fair face, filled with innocent trust as it always was, he knew his heart was lost to her. He had lost it long ago, though he had never been able to admit it until that cool spring night, when he had come to Imladris, when they sat together, and she had fallen asleep against him beneath the sweet fragrance of new blossoms.
“I love you, Lalaith.” He found himself whispering to her as he gazed at her sleeping face. “I am yours, forever.”
But Lalaith responded not at all except to nuzzle his shoulder, and sigh.