The forest was quiet, with naught but the night noises of Lorien as Haldir paced along the edge of the flet. All was peaceful, but for the trouble that still roiled in his heart.
Glancing over his shoulder, he could see the cause of his unease, and though he cursed himself for lacking the ability, he could not turn and go to her, where she stood speaking with Thalion, and Rumil, their voices soft beneath the whisper of the wind.
Why had she chosen to leave Galadriel’s service and come here, with the men? She was capable enough, Haldir knew, for he had been the one to teach her.
Now, though, he partly regretted it, for her being here, so close to him, only salted the already aching wound he carried. She didn’t love him. She couldn’t. Not after what he had done.
He could see the moonlight shining upon her hair where she stood with the other two, and his heart flopped in his chest at the sight of her. Even clad in men’s garb, she was more fair than any one he had ever known. Even Lalaith, in Haldir’s eyes, could not compare to Lothriel.
Sensing his eyes upon her, Lothriel glanced up, and at the sight of her gaze, he ducked his head, and looked away, as if in fierce concentration, through the trees. So he did not see the vague look of hurt that crossed her face before she steeled herself, and glanced back at Rumil, pretending to be deeply interested in what he was saying.
Haldir. At the sound of Galadriel’s voice, soft in his mind, Haldir straightened.
My lady? He returned in his thoughts.
My faithful Marchwarden, do not let your pain become your master.
Baffled at her words, Haldir could not respond in his thoughts.
You have always been slow to follow your heart, young Marchwarden. Galadriel’s voice continued in his mind. But do not despair. One day, you will find the courage to follow where it leads.
“What do you mean?” He wondered, suddenly realizing, only after he had spoken, that he had uttered the words aloud.
“Should it not be obvious Haldir?” Rumil asked, his voice somewhat perturbed.
“What?” He asked, spinning.
“I just said Lothriel is at an advantage, more than the rest of us, so it is good that we have her skill.” Rumil said, with a roll of his eyes. “She is female thus, she is lighter, so she can climb higher, to see all the farther. That is what I mean.”
“Oh.” He muttered lamely, and cast a glance at Lothriel, but she had lowered her eyes, and would not meet his.
Say something. His heart urged, but a pang of fear struck him, and he could not obey.
One day you will find the courage to follow your heart. Galadriel’s words echoed in his mind, and though he turned away, plagued with troubled thoughts, the vague hope they brought him, seemed as a cooling salve upon an aching wound.
“Ah, Estel,” Lalaith sighed as she walked arm in arm with the young mortal beneath the waving branches of the trees of Imladris as the sun grew low in the sky, and filled the sky with a profusion of gold and crimson. “Estel, Aragorn, you seem somewhat troubled by the news my uncle gave you.” She lifted her heard from his shoulder, and drawing up his large, calloused hand within both her small white hands, she studied the ring of Barahir that rested now upon his finger.
“Would you not be?” Estel, who was Aragorn, sighed, running his fingers over her own, before he pulled his hand away, to examine the ring for himself as if he were still surprised to see it there. “What would you think, were you in my place, Lalaith?”
“I think I would be as overcome as you are, now.” She returned gently. “I am sorry I kept the truth from you, for so long. It was my uncle’s wishes that my cousins and I not tell you who you were, until you were ready. For the Enemy has been seeking you.”
“Ah, it was just as well.” Aragorn released in a huff of air. “All is forgiven.” He shook his head, and offered a mischievous glance at Lalaith. “But in truth, my heart does rejoice in knowing of this high lineage. For now, I feel somewhat more worthy of the friendship of such a fair Elven maiden as yourself.”
Lalaith scoffed at this, and spatted his arm softly, though she felt a hint of truth in his words, behind his teasing tone.
“In truth Lalaith,” he continued, his words growing somewhat serious, “you are very fair, as I have said. I have never met a maiden more lovely than you. If you could but see it for yourself, you would not question what Legolas feels for you.”
At these words, Lalaith blushed furiously, and ducked her head from Aragorn’s eyes.
“I met him, Lalaith,” he pressed, giving her hand a gentle squeeze before he took a step ahead, and lifted an overhanging branch that dipped low above their path so that she could pass underneath, “during my travels with your cousins. And I spoke to him of you.”
“What did you tell him?” Lalaith cried, lifting her eyes, and gazing into the young mortal’s with a sudden fear.
“Nothing you would wish for me to withhold.” Aragorn shook his head with a gentle smile, and pressed a hand to his heart with a slight bow to her. “For you have not even admitted to me, what you feel for him, though I have guessed.” Aragorn smiled. “But I did tell him you thought of him often.”
At his reassurance, Lalaith released a breath of relief, and smiled at him. The evening was slowly dimming, and the path they wandered aimlessly upon, was trailing through trees that were growing thicker over their heads as they walked. Ahead, some distance, it led to an open glade, but it was still far ahead of them, and not yet visible through the trees
“But he does deserve to be told, someday, do you not agree?” Aragorn asked gently, though his words were firm.
“Told what?” Lalaith muttered quietly, lowering her eyes. “After all, he is a prince, and I am only-,”
“A princess!” Aragorn groaned. “For it does not matter that you are not kin to Lord Elrond by blood!” He drew to a stop, turning her so that she would face him. “In truth, Lalaith, if you were not a maid, and if you were not my friend, I think I would pummel you to the ground for your stubborn blindness!”
Lalaith huffed and glanced away at this, but at a gentle touch from Aragorn’s hand upon her arm, she looked reluctantly back at him.
“Please, Lalaith.” He continued on a more gentle vein. “When I met Legolas, and spoke to him of you, you should have seen his eyes.” Aragorn’s gaze pled with hers, and she sighed at the beseeching look within his face. “He did not speak of it, but I think his feelings for you, are as yours for him.”
“You would think so, for he and I have been friends for as long as I have been alive.” She sighed. “He has a fondness for me, I am certain, but that is all, for I am unworthy of him.”
“You truly think he does not love you?” Aragorn moaned and rolled his eyes, a gesture that brought a reluctant smile to Lalaith’s face. “You who are more fair than Tinúviel of old?”
Grasping her hand within his, he continued walking, and as they moved beneath the woven branches of the trees, Aragorn smiled, and began to sing,
“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadows shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.“
Lalaith smiled at his words, and his efforts to cheer her, leaning her head against his shoulder, and closing her eyes as he sang.
“There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold-,“
When Aragorn’s words cut off suddenly, Lalaith lifted her head, and her eyes opened in silent question. But his eyes were not upon hers, and the gentle smile he had favored her with, had faded to a look of wonder as he gazed ahead of him as at a fair vision.
Furrowing her brow, Lalaith turned her eyes to follow his gaze, and when she saw the object of his attention, within the grassy glade beyond the trees ahead, her eyes lit up.
Arwen! Arwen was home! No word had been sent ahead of her return, but there she was, strolling alone in the grassy glade beneath the softened light of the moon that had just risen above the eastern hills, clad in a mantle of silver and blue.
Lalaith was near to bounding out into the glade, and crying out her welcome at her cousin’s unexpected return, but at a touch of Aragorn’s hand upon her arm, she stopped.
“Do you remember,” he breathed in a voice much changed from moments before as a breath swelled his chest, and his eyes remained fixed upon the dark haired maiden before them, “when I told you of how I often felt as if I missed someone I had never met?”
She gulped, and wordlessly nodded, for she could bring no words to her mouth.
“Lalaith,” he whispered solemnly, not moving his eyes from the maiden in the glade, “I have found her.”
A surge of sudden emotion bubbled in Lalaith’s blood at this confession, but whether she felt dread or joy, she could not say. So Lalaith said nothing as Aragorn gave her hand one last squeeze, and leaving her standing in the shadows of the trees, he strode into the clearing toward Arwen, calling out to her, “Tinúviel! Tinúviel!“
Lalaith gulped her sudden rush of emotions back as Arwen turned with a look of mild surprise upon her face at the appearance of the young mortal who walked out beneath the silver moonlight toward her. Through Lalaith’s mind tumbled many thoughts, fears and questions. But when Arwen’s bright eyes alighted upon Aragorn as he drew near to her, Lalaith’s unease faded at the look of quiet trust that overcame her cousin’s gaze, as if she too, had found the one for whom she had been seeking all her life.
“Who are you?” Arwen asked in a soft, nearly breathless voice. “And why do you call me by that name?”
Lalaith drew in a low sigh as Aragorn came to a stop before Arwen, and the two began speaking to each other, now in tones too low for her to hear. Lightening bugs flitting through the glade, and a solemn air seemed to surround the pair as Lalaith watched from the shadows. And as Aragorn smiled, and reached for Arwen’s hand which she willingly gave into his own, Lalaith saw in her mind, the first meeting of Melian the Maia, and Thingol the Elf, the two lovers who had found each other so many ages past, in as fair and silver lit a glade as this. Solemn and sublime had been their first meeting, their hearts soothed with the quiet knowledge that their two souls created for each other, had found one another at last.
Lalaith sighed, hearing the ragged catch in her voice as her mind looked ahead to the years that were ahead, and saw what would come of this fated meeting. But when she brought her thoughts back to the present, and felt the joy that seemed to glow from the very skin of the lovers whose souls had been aching for each other, she felt a surge of happiness for them both. Perhaps if these two were meant for each other, then perhaps she and Legolas could one day-, she sighed and put the thought to rest in a corner of her mind.
Understanding their need to be alone, Lalaith turned away with a trembling smile, and not without a tear touching her eye as she cast back toward them a silent blessing, and made her way back the way she had come.