Lalaith watched with forlorn eyes from the edge of the gathering as the bearers of Alcarion’s body set the bier upon which the Lórien warrior’s body lay, within a narrow tomb dug between the roots of a towering Mallorn. The funeral procession had not been long, but Lalaith was weary. Legolas stood near her, his arm slipped about her waist to support her, in much the same way that Haldir held up Brethiliel, Alcarion’s widow, who fairly sagged within the younger Elf’s arms. Both she and her daughter, as well as all the women of the company, wore somber gowns to reflect the prevalent ambiance of sorrow that seemed to throb through the realm of the Golden Wood like a death knell, unheard. But unlike her mother, the fair maiden Lothriel remained unveiled, her golden hair unbound, and falling to her waist like a river of gold, her wide shimmering eyes dropping tear after tear as she stood sedate and calm beside Haldir as he supported Lothriel’s mother who had hidden her face behind a shroud, transparent as a wedding veil, though a dark violet gossamer, to conceal her insatiable grief for her lost lover. Still, Lalaith could see her shining, tear filled eyes, beautiful and terrible in their grief, and hear the woman’s soft weeping.
Lalaith shuddered and bowed her head, wishing she could not hear it, for it made her heart only heavier.
At her movement, Legolas’ arm tightened about her, and he drew her closer to himself, tipping his head to press a soft kiss against her shivering brow.
“I am here, Lalaith.” He murmured against her hair for her alone to hear. “Always here.” And she shrank closer to him, letting his embrace envelope her, grateful for his presence.
Lalaith did not see the Lady Galadriel who stood but a pace from her beside Lord Celeborn, glance her way. And though she did not smile, for grief was heavy upon them all, a light danced within the Lady’s eyes as she looked upon the youthful pair. But when a soft clatter of stones met her ears, Lalaith again forced herself to look up.
Stones were being laid over the entrance to the tomb by the somber faced Elves who had born his body here, and were slowly covering the dark opening through which Lalaith could see Alcarion’s still form, his long bow clutched within still hands, and his sword and quiver lain beside him.
“No-,” The soft, tremulous word came breaking from Brethiliel’s lips, as she tore herself away from Haldir, and dropped to her knees before her husband’s tomb, stretching her hands out helplessly as if to bid him return. But at last the entrance was covered, and as the last stone was place, Galadriel, the Lady of the Golden Wood began to sing.
After a moment, Arwen’s tremulous voice joined hers. And slowly, other voices began to join her as the women of the company began to add their voices to the song. Brethiliel remained upon her knees before the tomb of her beloved, and continued to weep, but Lothriel’s voice at last rose up, tremulous, yet brave and strong to join in. And this at last gave Lalaith the courage to draw away from Legolas’ sheltering embrace and step to Arwen’s side. Closing her eyes, she drew in a breath and lifted her face up, allowing her own voice to weave into those of the others.
Rising and falling as a soft breeze, and ever weaving through the air about them, rose their mournful song of farewell to the fallen hero. Long the haunting, echoing notes endured, as the light of the forest slowly faded, and grew to a muted silver. Their voices faded at last, with the day that had gone, and Lalaith drew in a breath, listening to the silence that grew about her as their lament faded away into silence, and she knew that the westering sun had fallen beyond the mountains.
“Lalaith, come.” She felt his firm hands upon her shoulders, and felt Legolas’ soft breath brush the tip of her ear. “You are weary. You must rest.”
Lalaith did not resist as she allowed Legolas to guide her away. But as he led her from the glade with the others, she turned her head. Brethiliel had lain down upon the earth beside the grave of her love, one hand resting upon the stones that had sealed his tomb as if she wished to pull them aside, but lacked the strength to do so. How pale she was!
“Mother-,” Lothriel’s voice, plaintive, and like a child’s murmured softly, but Brethiliel did little to acknowledge her daughter’s pleading, but glance up at her child with eyes that grieved not only for her dead husband, but in sympathy for her child as well.
“Go with Haldir, my dear one.” Brethiliel murmured, her voice soft. “Let him care for you. Do not wait for me.”
Lothriel did not heed her mother’s words, and stepped forward, placing a hand upon her shoulder. “But mother-,”
“Take her away from here, Haldir.” Brethiliel ordered, turning her face away from her daughter.
“Yes, my lady.” Haldir’s tone was sober as he stepped forward, and gently drew Lothriel’s hand into his own. “Come, my friend.” He murmured gently to the maiden.
“We cannot leave my mother here, alone.” Lothriel protested weakly between her tears as Haldir drew her away from the tomb where her mother knelt, willingly bearing much of her weight as her own feet stumbled, too weak to bear her up any more.
“I will come back for her later, Lothriel.” Haldir assured her. “First, though, I will see to your needs. I am always here for you, my friend.”
“Oh, Haldir.” The maiden sighed, and as her tears began to come more freely. “Thank the Valar for you.” Haldir paused, and turned to her, drawing her close as she began to weep into his shoulder.
“Lalaith, come.” Legolas urged gently, and Lalaith came back to herself, turning away quickly, sensing that she ought not to intrude on such an intimate scene between the two life long friends.
“Yes,” she stammered, swallowing at a hardened lump that had formed within her throat as she leaned heavily against his arm, and allowed him to follow the pathway that wove away through the trees, back toward the silver lights of the city that twinkled mutely between the silver Mallyrn.
Lothriel sighed between the ragged breaths that were all that remained of her weeping as she fell heavily upon her bed within her moonlit room of her parent’s flet, and bent her head into her hands.
With a deep release of breath, Haldir lowered himself to the bed beside her, sheltering her frail shoulders within the curve of his arm, and surveyed his friend’s tear streaked face as she lifted her eyes and gazed into his, the exhaustion stark within her once shining eyes. He felt powerless to help her, and he chafed at the feeling, hating how helpless it made him feel. There was no other woman in all of the Golden Wood, in all of Arda, whose eyes he wished more to see filled with happiness. But would he ever see it again in her eyes?
“Haldir-,” She breathed, her voice filled with a soft breathlessness as she lay her head upon his shoulder. Her ragged breaths were quieting, though still, he knew the pain wrenched her apart inside, as it did him.
“Haldir, what would I do if you were not here, for me?” She continued, her tears flowing ever down her smooth cheeks, soaking through to his shoulder, though he did not care. “I am forever in your debt.”
“No, it is I who owe the debt to you.” He murmured, lifting a hand to brush his finger across her cheek.
“Why?” She asked in a tone of pleading, lifting her face. “What have I done for you?”
“What have you not done?” He returned easily. “You are my friend. In spite of all my faults, still you stand beside me. Always you have done this.”
“What faults? I have yet to see one.” Lothriel sniffed, a sliver of a smile briefly crossing her face.
“You have but to speak to any other Elf of these woods my naïve friend, and they will enlighten you of them. I am informed, more often than I wish to be, that I am far more assured of myself than I ought to be. That I am over conceited, and arrogant-,”
“In my eyes, such things only make you all the more adorable. You are not truly so arrogant as you act.” Lothriel sighed, and nuzzled ever closer into his chest. “For you are not behaving that way, now. With me.”
Another ragged breath wracked her frame, reminding Haldir of how exhausted she was.
“You need your sleep, my friend.” Haldir whispered, and she sighed and nodded, brushing again at the tears that coursed her cheeks. Gently, Haldir lowered her unresisting, nearly limp form to the softness of her bed, wondering at why his heart suddenly caught on a beat as her head settled upon her pillow, her hair cast about her head like a shimmering cloud of gold, and she looked up at him through eyes that were, for the moment free of tears, wide and trusting as they delved into his own, as if seeking his heart’s secrets.
Gulping in a throat that was suddenly dry, Haldir drew his arms away from about her soft warmth, and straightened again, drawing in a calming breath, and shifting his gaze to her slippered feet.
“Your sleep will be more restful, if your feet were bare.” He murmured, his fingers slipping over her slender ankle. Deftly he drew her first velvet slipper of twilight blue from her slender foot. A soft sigh of pleasure escaped her lips, and as he drew her second slipper away in his hand, he glanced upward toward her face, finding himself half hoping to see her watching him, a smile upon her soft lips. But it was not to be. She already slept, tears still spilling one by one from her open unfocused eyes as they gazed upward toward the fluted arch above her head.
“Sleep well, Lothriel. The grief that will find you again upon your waking, will come too soon.” Haldir murmured, finding the silken coverlet at the end of her bed, and drawing it over the slender length of her slumbering form. “I will see to your mother, now.”
With a careful hand, he drew the coverlet about her shoulders, then brushed his fingers softly over her pale brow. He moved to step away, but paused and glanced back, studying her slumbering face beneath the light that spilled through the screens above her head. Her face was one he had grown accustomed to over the millennia of their lives, unchanged since they had reached maturity. She was dearer to him than anyone he had ever known, her friendship and her faith in him ever unfaltering. How was it then, that before this moment, he had never truly noticed how beautiful she was?
Haldir studied her slumbering features a moment longer before he turned away, stepping softly out of her flet, and made his way down the spiraling stairs and onto the ground below, stowing the thought within the recesses of his mind as he made his way toward the glade where the Lady Brethiliel had remained behind, mourning at her husband’s tomb.
The night was cool and dark, though his path was lit from overhead by the gentle silver lamps that marked his path, and eerie music still seemed to linger about in the trees, following him as he went, somber, sorrowing music as a distant, intangible echo. There would be no celebration feast now, since one of their number had fallen. His thoughts turned away from the path he trod, and carried him away into the higher reaches of the Mallyrn where the lady Lalaith and her kin were staying.
Lalaith had indeed grown very fair since she had last been here, Haldir admitted to himself, as he thought back upon the first moment he had seen her upon the path. He recognized her from her past visits, but she seemed so different, somehow. But for the grief of Lothriel and her mother, and his own which sat like a stone upon his heart, perhaps he could have spoken again to her. He had slain more orcs that that whelp of a princeling, Legolas. She would have been his at the feast, at least at the first-, Haldir caught himself. Angrily, he cursed himself inwardly for his selfishness. Why was he allowing his thoughts to dwell upon the fair, exotic maiden Lalaith, when Lothriel and her mother needed him so much more?
The path he followed had darkened, for he had left the lights of the city behind him. It dipped downward sharply, passing through the shadows of aged Mallryn, until he saw the first glimmers of moonlight ahead, and knew that he was drawing near to Alcarion’s tomb where Brethiliel yet kept her vigil. Sure enough, as he stepped past the last tree, he saw her there, a beam of moonlight resting upon her where she lay on the slope of ground beneath where her love had been lain.
“My lady, come.” Haldir said softly, drawing near to her still form. “The night is far gone, and Lothriel will worry.”
Brethiliel made no move to acknowledge his presence, nor to dismiss him. But she lay still and silent.
“My lady?” He said again, his voice but a breath upon the air. Drawing near to her form, he knelt, and reached out, placing his hand over hers where it rested upon the stones that sealed the tomb of her love. It was stiff and unresponsive; ice to the touch.
Rapidly, he pulled his hand back, a sharp breath of horror breaking from his lips.
“She is gone.” A voice behind Haldir, sad and resigned, brought his head sharply around, and he saw the Lady standing there, as if she had followed but a few steps behind him, and had been watching him, silent and morose.
Haldir stared hard at Galadriel, seeing in her eyes sadness, but not horror at something unlooked for, and unexpected.
“She has joined her love.” Galadriel whispered softly, gliding a step nearer. “Her time upon Arda is finished.”
“Did you know this would happen?” Haldir blurted, his voice sounding harsh and demanding in the quiet of the still night.
“I suspected it.” Galadriel admitted, drawing in a small sigh.
“Why did you say nothing then, my lady?” Haldir blurted. “Why did you allow us to leave her behind? Were I to have known this would happen, I would not have left her alone!”
“She did not wish to come with us-,”
“We could have forced her to come back with us! To return to the light of the city, with her daughter, with others who care for her! Lothriel would have nursed Brethiliel back, she would have returned to her mother a will to live-,”
“Brethiliel was determined to join him. Nothing would have prevented her.” Galadriel murmured in a smooth, even voice, wise and eternally patient. She drew near to Haldir, and placed a hand upon his stiffened shoulder. “Whether here, or at her daughter’s side, her heart would have beaten its last, this night.”
“But she was alone!” Haldir choked stiffly.
“No.” Galadriel whispered, and through her sadness, a soft smile shone. “She was not alone. He came for her. They have gone now, to the Halls of Mandos, together.”
“But what will I tell Lothriel?” Haldir muttered, pleading.
Galadriel breathed softly, her eyes taking on a look of deep sympathy. “What you must tell her, tell her gently. She will take it best, coming from you. And she will need you now, more than she ever has.” Galadriel lifted her hand, indicated back the way Haldir had come. “Go to her, now.”
“Yes, my lady.” Haldir said, then upon numb legs, he rose from beside the body of Lothriel’s mother, and began back the way he had come.
Soft, morning sunlight pierced through the darkness of her dreamless sleep, bringing the waking world into focus. And Lothriel blinked her eyes, once, then sensing a near presence, lifted her head quickly, to see Haldir seated beside her bed, his elbows resting upon his knees in an attitude of terrible weariness. His head was down, and he had yet to notice she was awake.
Lothriel drew in a soft, silent breath, watching him, realizing now, that he had spent the night beside her. Her heart melted within her, and in spite of her lingering grief, a glimmer of hope rose within her heart.
“Haldir.” She whispered softly, and at his name, his head lifted, his eyes dark with grief and fear found hers. His face had borne griefthe night before, but had not reflected such pain as when her father had been buried. “What is it?” She asked softly, rising up upon one elbow.
“Oh, my friend, Lothriel.” Haldir choked, and fell to his knees beside her, catching her hand within his, and pressing a fervent kiss against the back of her hand. Lothriel sighed within herself, for it was a kiss of caring, and friendship. Not of that which she wished Haldir would feel for her. Still, he was clearly devoted to her as a brother would be. She was grateful enough to the Valar for that.
“Lothriel, forgive me.” He choked, his voice heavy. “But-, there is something I must tell you.”