The new day had come with the usual noises of rising morning beneath the Mallyrn of Lórien, the soft silver light of the night having given way to the cool golden shadows of day.
Lalaith walked slowly upon a winding path, garbed in a grey gown woven warm and sturdy for travel, and a riding cloak, knowing that soon, she would be expected back, for their return trip to Imladris was to begin soon. But for the moment, she wanted to be alone.
Within one hand, she held her quiver by one belt strap, her hand hanging low at her side, the loose belts dragging over the soft earth of the path beneath her feet, and trailing behind her. She did not care. Occasionally, she would lift her quiver, laden with its weapons, and study the flying bird embossed upon the leather, the plaited vines trailing upward. How excited she had been, when Elrond had first given it to her. How proud to know that he thought her a woman now, capable and independent. And she had felt so. She had believed herself wise, and mature, proud of her new gifts, and excited and eager to think that one day she could use them. But now she had. She had seen death, not only of orcs, but of her own people. One moment Alcarion had been alive, guiding her through the trees, telling her of his daughter as they went, and the next, he was dead, slain by the arrow that had been meant for her. From what she had seen within the cold, murderous eyes of the orc whose death she had hastened, and then nearly mutilated, she understood even more, that such battles with the spawn of Morgoth’s evil were ever a necessity. But no longer did the need for such sacrifice ignite the fire in her that it had once done. Bright idealism had turned to grim need, and Lalaith mourned the innocent child she had once been, and was no longer.
Against her will, Lalaith looked up, dreading the face she would see, for she had recognized his voice. Haldir stood near, just off the path, as if he had just dropped from one of the trees overhead, and she wondered if he had been trailing her for some time, and had come silently around, to meet her.
“Lord Haldir.” She sighed, drawing to a reluctant stop, wishing she could turn and flee from his presence. He had been Alcarion’s friend. And Haldir knew that it was because of her that he had died. “Have you told your friend Lothriel that it was my fault?”
“Your fault? What could be your fault, my lady?”
Lalaith sighed, dropping her eyes away from his. His gaze was intense. Almost painful. “Alcarion is dead because of me, and thus, his wife as well.” She blurted bitterly. “It is my fault, and you know it, else you are a fool.”
Haldir did not seem to take offense at her heavy words, and only drew ever closer. “My friend Lothriel knows of all that happened. She does not blame you. Nor do I.”
“The lady, Lothriel, is truly a great lady, then. You must feel very blessed of the Valar to possess her friendship.” Lalaith breathed, conscious of Haldir drawing ever closer to her.
“I do.” Haldir added with a thoughtful sigh, and he paused a moment. Lalaith sensed his thoughts had carried elsewhere for a moment, before she once again felt the pressure of his gaze returned to her.
Haldir’s words grew soft and warm, and he drew closer as he spoke, close enough that he could reach out and touch her, which, to her chagrin, he did, resting one hand softly upon her narrow shoulder. “I grieve for the loss of Alcarion as well as his wife, and I am pained for the grief of my friend, Lothriel. But I am glad, my lady, that you yet live, to shine your gentle grace upon this strife torn Middle Earth.”
Lalaith bit her bottom lip softly, keeping her eyes ever upon the ground.
“I think that perhaps your words are misplaced.” She muttered, ever conscious of his hand upon her shoulder, warm through the thick cloth of her gown and cloak. “I bear no great importance. I am not Elrond’s kin. Not truly.”
“That, I knew already, my lady.” Haldir countered, a hint of pain in his voice. “Truly you do not think you are of less worth, because you are not of the blood of Eärendil and Elwing? Or of our Lady, Galadriel, and her Lord, Celeborn? Surely your dear prince, Thranduilion holds you in no less esteem because Elrond is not truly your father. I am not of high, noble blood. Think you that I am mere rabble?”
Lalaith lifted her head at last, wondering if somehow, she had wounded him. “I am only saying that I am not so great as you seem to think, my lord.” She whispered, her lips drooping into a frown. “I meant no insult to you.”
Turning away from him, she started away, but had made only a few steps before he darted in front of her again, halting her progress. “I take no insult from you, my lady.” Haldir spouted, his eyes penitent. “For even the sharpest of glances from your eyes could never be thought of as an insult.” He gulped hard, and Lalaith drew in a quick breath, seeing the deep pleading in his eyes. “Your worth, my lady, is greater than the very stars.”
Lalaith drew in a quick breath, and glanced away again, her jaw set hard. What was he trying to gain from such words? How could she, a mere daughter of the Firstborn, be of greater worth than the stars Varda herself had kindled?
“Those are high words, and surely spoken in passion and haste.” She finally managed to whisper, almost to herself. “For only one of the Valar could truly be of worth greater than the creations of the Lady Elbereth’s making.”
With a smile that she meant as a kind dismissal, she edged past Haldir, watching him all the while until at last, she was beyond him. Then with a nod, she turned away from him and continued up the path. She could hear voices, muted and soft, ahead beyond the next Mallyrn, and recognized Elladan’s voice as well as Legolas’ among a mix of others.
“But as wise as the Valar are,” Haldir protested, his voice almost desperate, “then surely they see your greatness, as do I, and I do not doubt that Elbereth herself would value you above her own stars.”
Lalaith stopped again, withholding a sigh of exasperation. “She is of the Valiër, who are of greater beauty than one such as I could ever dream.” She murmured, turning again to face Haldir who watched after her with such a wistful gaze, that almost against her will, a warmth touched and softened her heart, smoothing away the hard edge it had gained since Alcarion’s death. “Of what value am I,” Lalaith asked, her voice misty with pleading, “a mere, fallible maiden, in her eyes?”
“You are of great value to me.”
At these words, so tremulous and soft, Lalaith’s heart skipped a beat, and she studied Haldir a long moment, seeing the vulnerability in his eyes, and the pleading. “Of greater value than your dear friend, Lothriel? I doubt that. For you barely know me, yet you have known and loved her, all your life. Perhaps you should go seek her out. It has been less than a week since she lost her parents. Doubtless, she still needs you.”
At these words, Haldir’s eyes fell, his face suddenly written with shadow, and unsure.
For a moment, Lalaith wondered if she had hurt him with her words, but she was not given the time to discover whether this was so or not, for behind her, came the soft, nearly inaudible sound of footsteps.
She turned at the familiar, well loved tones of Legolas’ voice, and managed a brave smile for him as he stood before her on the trail, his eyes flashing back and forth between her and Haldir.
“Is all well?” He asked, his eyes also falling to the quiver hanging at her side, and almost forgotten.
“It is, my friend.” She answered, wondering at the guarded look Legolas flashed over her shoulder at Haldir.
“We are ready to depart. Is there anything you have yet to finish here?” Legolas asked. He drew a step closer, gathered her quiver up into his own hands, and offered her his arm.
She took it readily, grateful for the strength his touch seemed to lend to her, yet she turned one last time, and glanced back at Haldir.
“Thank you, my lord, for your kind words. We will meet again, when next I come to the Golden Wood.”
“May that day be soon.” Haldir returned. “Farewell, Lalaith of Imladris.”
“Farewell, Haldir of Lórien.”
Lalaith turned away from him at last, leaving him standing erect and unmoving upon the trail, for Legolas’ urging had become minutely insistent as she had bid farewell to the March Warden of Lothlórien.
“Is all well, Lalaith?” Legolas asked again as the trees fell behind them, and the party of Elves ready to depart the Golden Wood appeared. Arwen was mounting her own horse, having just left Galadriel’s farewell embrace, and raised a somber smile to Lalaith as she and Legolas drew near.
“Yes, it is, Legolas.” She returned. “Did I not say as much, before?”
“Of what did you and Haldir speak?” He asked again, the fraught worry unmasked in his voice.
Lalaith paused, turning to her friend who stopped as well, and she offered him a twisted smile, wondering at the worry and the insistence within his questioning gaze.
“Very little, Legolas.” She sighed resignedly. Why, suddenly, did she feel so weary, as if the two men were trying to pull her in entirely opposite directions? “He merely wished for me to understand that Alcarion’s death, and his wife’s were not of my making. For I have been blaming myself, and he noticed it.”
“Ai.” Legolas muttered, a guilty expression suddenly crossing his face, and quickly, he began walking again, guiding Lalaith to the waiting Elves, and the horses who were to bear them away. “I had thought it was something else-,”
“Why?” She asked, her brow furrowing. “What did you think he spoke of?”
But Legolas did not answer, for they had come at last to their waiting companions, and Galadriel was drawing near, to give Lalaith a final embrace before bidding them a safe journey.
“Grandmother.” Lalaith sighed, letting herself be enfolded in Galadriel’s gentle embrace. She smiled against Galadriel’s shoulder, breathing in the sweet scent that she had known from infancy. So comforting and wise was the Lady of Lothlórien. One glance into her wise, yet ageless eyes, and Lalaith felt as if Galadriel knew her thoughts to the very core of her mind. Yet she sensed also, that the Lady would judge kindly what she found there.
“Safe journey, my dear one.” Galadriel entreated, drawing back, and offering her a gentle smile. “I will await your next visit with anticipation.” Turning, she gazed at Legolas levelly, and enjoined, “Watch after her, my young Prince.”
“I will, my lady. Always.” Legolas said, his warm words spoken with the air of a solemn promise.
“Oh, my dear one.” Galadriel sighed, again turning back to Lalaith as Celeborn drew near. “What difficulties lie ahead for you, only the Valar know.” A troubled look passed over her face, and Lalaith pursed her lips softly, unconsciously gnawing at her lower lip. Before Galadriel seemed to shake herself, and focused her gaze upon Lalaith, a troubled smile touching her lips. “Do not stray from the path where your heart leads, my dear one.”
“I-, yes, Grandmother.” Lalaith returned obediently, though her thoughts were confused as to what Galadriel’s meaning could be.
“Farewell, little one.” Celeborn added, now stepping forward, and warming her with a smile of his own. “Safe journey.”
“Thank you, Grandfather.” Lalaith smiled, reveling in the warmth of their affection and acceptance as she had, when she had been a child. It mattered little now, that they were not her grandparents by blood, for they loved her as their own, as they always had.
“Let me help.” Celeborn added, catching Lalaith about her narrow waist, and lifting her easily to the back of her cream white horse that had moved near, obediently awaiting her to mount him.
The others, she noticed now, were all mounted, for Legolas too, was just swinging to the back of his own mount. And at a word from Elladan, the company began to move out.
“Remember,” Galadriel called after her, almost plaintively as Lalaith turned, “follow your heart’s path. It will not lead you astray.”
“Yes, Grandmother. I will.” Lalaith assured her, feeling a strange stirring of wonder within her at why Galadriel had repeated her words. Without understanding why, she turned her head, glancing over at Legolas who rode near her, so close, that if she wished, she could reach out, and take his hand within hers.
He smiled at her, a tender, encouraging smile, and she slowly returned it before glancing again over her shoulder at Galadriel and Celeborn, who watched after their departure, Galadriel’s smooth white hand raised in a farewell.