“Good, Lalaith!” Legolas praised, stepping back after having disarmed her for the fifth time that morning.
“What do you mean, good?” Lalaith moaned, cradling her still stinging hand against her. Moments before, Legolas had deftly clipped the haft from her hand, spinning her knife away into the bushes of the glade where they practiced not far from one of the many roaring falls. They were so near the falls, that the spray from the pouring water hung about them like an ever present silver mist that lingered eternally in the air.
Lalaith glanced down, seeing a bright spot of red on the tip of her thumb. Legolas had inadvertently cut her, though it was only a small wound, and she knew it had not been what he intended. He would be mortified if he knew what he had done, so she clenched her fingers around her wounded thumb, hiding it within her fist.
“You have disarmed me every time we have practiced, ever since you came here three days ago.” She continued. “And I know you are not using full strength against me.” Of course, she admitted to herself, he was exerting himself more than he had that first day. She could tell by the swift rise and fall of his lean, muscled chest beneath the thin cloth of his tunic.
Watching the way his chest rose and fell with each breath, made her heart flip about like a newly caught fish, and she shook her head to herself, glancing away.
“You have improved much since my arrival the day before yesterday.” Legolas countered with a grin. “That is what matters.”
He replaced his knives, spinning them with graceful finesse as he resheathed them in his quiver before he added, “And in only two days, your bowmanship already rivals mine.”
“Ha!” The laugh burst out of Lalaith’s throat a little more forcefully than she had intended, and she turned quickly away, making an effort to seek out her lost knife instead of allowing herself to become distracted by Legolas’ every move. Of course, even turned away from him, she could still see in her mind’s eye, the grace of motion that was his as he instructed and demonstrated various moves and tactics with his long white knives. Perhaps she would not have been disarmed so quickly, she reprimanded herself, had she had an eye for Legolas’ technique, rather than for Legolas, himself.
“What?” He asked to her back, laughter in his voice. “You do not think so?”
“It will take me centuries, Legolas, before I can even hope to rival you with either my knives or my bow.” She asked, pretending to glance about in the bushes for her knife, though she was ever aware of him near her back. “You have been doing this for millennia. And I-,”
“You are a quick learner.” Legolas cut in swiftly, though gently, and she turned to see him standing near, his fists resting casually on his hips as he watched her with a slender grin and warm eyes. “Though you could improve your concentration.”
She straightened, and turned swiftly toward him, feeling a warm flush rising to her cheeks. “What do you mean by that?” Had he guessed that the greater part of her concentration was indeed focused on something other than the skills he was trying to teach her?
“Well,” Legolas’ grin widened as he rubbed his smooth, firm jaw with a finger, “first of all, your knife flew over there,” he chuckled softly and pointed over his shoulder across the clearing, “not there.” He nodded at the bushes she had been absently searching through.
“Oh.” She said, her voice suddenly very small. She could feel a warm red blush creeping over her face now. Without looking at him, she crossed the clearing, immediately finding the shining haft of her knife sticking up through the plaited branches of a low, leafy bush and drew it out, hefting its weight in her hand before she replaced it in the quiver upon her back. She did not immediately turn back to face him, though, and instead glanced down at her still fisted hand. Seeing the playful grin on Legolas’ face made Lalaith wonder if he had somehow guessed why it was difficult for her to concentrate, and was amused. She was just a child to him, a little sister, and nothing more. She would never be anything more to him. He was a great prince after all, and she was no one. It was true she was treated like a princess, having been raised in Elrond’s house, but she was not Elrond’s daughter by blood, or even his niece, as he called her.
“Lalaith?” Legolas asked, his voice suddenly sober as he eyed her unturned back, and listened to her cool silence. “Did I injure your feelings? I did not mean to. I should not have laughed at your expense.”
“You did not hurt me.” She protested glancing quickly up at him. “I was just thinking-, about something else.”
“What about?” He asked drawing a step nearer, and seeking her gaze with his eyes.
Lalaith bit her lower lip softly, and glanced away. She did not dare to tell him truly of what she was thinking! He would laugh her to scorn. At the least, her feelings would not be shared by him. But still, she could not outright lie to him. She had never done so before, and she would not now.
“About-,” a smirk grew across Lalaith’s face, “how very old you are.”
“Old?” Legolas choked, feigning offense, though his grin had returned once again to his face.
“Well, yes!” She spouted defensively as her smirk grew. “You are more than fifteen hundred years older than me, Legolas! That’s older than I am, now!”
“Ha! As if age should matter between us, you green little sprout!” In two strides Legolas reached her, and without giving her time to protest, he had caught her by the waist in both his hands, and lifted her easily up into the air as if she weighed nothing at all.
“Do you remember when you were a little Elfling, and I would toss you up in the air?”
“No no no, Legolas! Do not throw me about! I am much too big for that now! You will drop me!” She cried in a high voice, though there was laughter in her protest. “Put me down, or I will tell my Uncle Elrond!”
Legolas however, did not heed her threat, and threw her lightly up into the air, laughing as she shrieked in protest, and catching her easily again as she came down. He tossed her, screaming and protesting a few more times, until his eyes caught the spot of red upon her hand where he had nicked her. As she wailed and thrashed her arms about in protest to Legolas’ tossing her, she had forgotten to keep her injured thumb hidden.
“Lalaith,” he said, his voice growing instantly serious as he again set her down. “What is this?”
Breathless, Lalaith glanced at her thumb, still bleeding, though more slowly now. Her palm was covered in a sticky sheen of red, but the tiny wound hardly hurt her.
With immeasurable gentleness, Legolas cradled her hand within his own, and ran a finger lightly along her slender wrist as eyes laden with concern lifted to hers. “I did this?”
“Legolas, it is nothing. A mere cut. It barely hurts me.” She assured him with a shake of her head.
“Still-,” The concern did not leave his eyes at her reassurance. “Come here.” He ordered, taking her by her uninjured hand, and leading her toward the misty pool where the water from the fall above them collected. In the deeper center of the pool, the water mixing with that which poured from above, was ever white and churning, though at the edge it was calmer. Here Legolas knelt, drawing Lalaith down beside him. He dipped his cupped hand down into the cold, clear water, and then with great care, smoothed his wetted fingers across Lalaith’s bloodied palm, soaking the dried blood, and brushing it away. Then with equal care, he drew his sleeve across her palm and her fingers, drying away the remnants of water and blood until there was no sign of injury, but for the tip of her thumb where the wound was already beginning to close over.
“See?” She said gently. “It is naught but a scratch. It is not even bleeding any more.”
Legolas eyes still were heavy with concern as they lifted to hers, almost like a child’s they were, seeking forgiveness for some deplorable wrong. She had to smile at his expression, so wise and ageless, yet so child like.
“I am sorry.” He muttered.
“Legolas,” she smiled softly, shaking her head. “You are the easiest to forgive of all I know. And it was nothing, as I said. It barely hurt. In truth, I would not mind allowing you to give me such a slight, insignificant wound again if it encourages such a remorseful look upon your face.”
At this, Legolas chuckled softly and glanced down. “Oh, I see. So I do not look so old when I am writhing in the agony of guilt?”
“Oh, Legolas,” she breathed, ever conscious of the touch of his hand encircling hers, and the brush of his fingers along her wrist, “you are not so very old after all.”
At this, Legolas lifted his eyes, and a slight smile curved the edges of his gentle mouth.
Lalaith lowered her gaze at the look she saw within his eyes, knowing that the gentle emotions she imagined could not truly be there.
“Lalaith?” Legolas murmured in a voice that caused her heart to leap, and she dared to lift her eyes to his. His eyes gazed long into hers while neither of them spoke, and the mist from the ever roaring falls surrounded them, weaving about them, leaving them within their own world where no others dwelt but them.
At last, Legolas lifted a hand, though his other remained cradling Lalaith’s, and with a soft brush of his finger tips, he stroked her cheek. “Nor are you so very young any more.”
Lalaith’s eyes again fell away. He could not mean what she wanted him to mean. He was a prince. She was a mere foundling, a ward of Elrond, not his daughter. Legolas ought to be courting her cousin Arwen, or some other fair, noble lady. But he had never shown any more than friendship for Arwen, fair as the Evenstar was. Whenever he had come to Imladris, the only maiden he spent any significant time with, was Lalaith. Could it possibly be because he felt more than friendship for her? Lalaith studied his eyes, expressive and wise, and her heart skipped a beat at what she saw there. But it could not be. She was not worthy of such a prince as him-,
“Legolas!” A voice from the path that led down from the glade where the two Elves knelt, split through the quiet and the soft peace that had grown between them, ending the delicate spell that had woven itself around them.
Elladan’s voice was filled with angst, and Lalaith and Legolas both leapt to their feet as Lalaith’s dark haired cousin appeared through the silvery mists, ever the younger vision of his father, an expression of worry etched upon his usually well humored face.
“Elladan, what’s wrong?” Lalaith demanded, a stab of fear gripping her at the look upon his face.
“A message from grandmother.” Her oldest cousin blurted. “A host of orcs attacked a patrol on the edges of Lothlórien. Greater than usual, Lalaith. They bring axes and fire, and they are felling the Mellryn on the borders of the forest. These foul orcs are not giving up so easily. A contingent from Imladris is needed to drive them away.”
“You will have use of my bow, Elladan, and those of my kinsmen.” Legolas said, his voice strong and even, no longer containing any hint of the soft tender tones he had been speaking with before, when the two of them had been alone within the mist of the falls.
“Your help is accepted, and with thanks.” Elladan said with a furrowed brow, and a glance of gratitude to Legolas as Lalaith blinked, wondering if all of that before had been naught but a dream.
Perhaps it had been, she sighed to herself. And the thought at once brought her both relief, and misery.