"Look!" Pippin chirped. "There's smoke to the south."
Lalaith lifted her head at Pippin's exclamation from where she was perched on a gnarled growth of branches behind Treebeard's neck. The little blanket Treebeard had returned to her, she had folded tied it over her hips. Beside her, clinging to a branch as Treebeard swayed back and forth with each step, sat Merry, and Pippin below them, had chosen the branch that Lalaith had decided was Treebeard's right shoulder as his roost.
Sure enough, as her eyes scanned the distant sky, there was a mist of thick black smoke rising high as Pippin had said, like a sinister apparition, clawing at the air beyond the trees south of the path Treebeard was taking. It filled Lalaith with a fearful premonition. Such a sight could not bode well.
"There is always smoke rising," Treebeard wheezed in his deep, slow voice, "from Isengard these days."
"Isengard?" Merry spouted, his eyes fixed intently on the distant haze of smoke.
"For what purpose?" Lalaith wondered out loud to herself. "What is Saruman doing?"
"I do not know." Treebeard breathed slowly. "But there was a time when Saruman would walk in my woods. And now, no more. He has a mind of metal and wheels."
Unsatisfied with Treebeard's answer, Lalaith scrambled to her feet, and hopped up to his topmost branches to peer out over the tops of the trees into the valley that led away from Isengard. Following her lead, Merry and Pippin clambered up too, clutching carefully at each branch, and swaying from side to side with Treebeard's every step.
"He no longer cares for growing things." Rumbled Treebeard wistfully.
As they came, Lalaith reached down and clasped Pippin's hand to help him. His foot slipped a fraction, and Lalaith tightened her grip on his arm, holding his weight as he found his balance again, and stepped up beside her where he wrapped his arms firmly around a branch, smiling his thanks at her.
She returned a grin, her eyes flashing over the Hobbit for a moment, wondering to herself if his increased stature she noticed was not in her imagination. Merry too, she thought, as she glanced at the other Hobbit, seemed taller. She was certain of it. As tall as Gimli, or perhaps taller, if that were possible. But how could it be? Bilbo had told her that he'd never seen a Hobbit in all his days who could equal a Dwarf in height. Hobbits made up the difference in brains, he'd told her jokingly. So perhaps it was just her imagination.
She turned her eyes back onto the valley, to see a distant mass that looked at first, like a great dirty river, flowing slowly along. But as her elven eyes flashed along the great mass, she could see now, armored uruks, brandishing a great forest of spears. And now, as the wind changed, she could hear the rhythmic tramping beat of many thousands of marching, iron shod feet, and smell, too, the bitter acrid scent of evil.
"Uruks." She muttered, her voice flat, belying the fear she felt at the sight of them, even from this distance. "Thousands of them. Like the large ones who captured us."
"It's Saruman's army." Merry muttered, his voice low, though filled with anxiety. "The war has started."
Lalaith drew in a ragged, broken breath. Straining her eyes, she could see the foremost edge of the long river of orcs, uncountable, marching away, and toward the lands of Rohan.
Where in all that vast land, was Legolas? Was he, perchance in Rohan? Did he know of the danger that was coming?
Lalaith sighed brokenly to herself, and reached into her tunic for the medallion, which she drew out, and fingered thoughtfully, closing her eyes, and letting her mind carry her away.
An image formed in her mind, a deep ravine, set back within the wall of a ragged cliff. And within the cliff, as if it had been carved from the raw stone itself, sat a great fortress. A great oak gate led out onto a narrow bridge, over which a band of ragged, weary looking humans, were plodding into the fortress. And as her mind's sight carried her over the stone walls and into the fortress, she could see at last, Legolas. He was alive, though weary, as he dismounted a proud looking cream colored horse, much like Rána in appearance. Gimli was there, too, and the two, though they were clearly in unhappy spirits, they seemed to be well. Around them, wounded men were being lifted off of horses, and limped, or were carried away, perhaps to have their wounds treated. But neither Gimli nor Legolas seemed to have been hurt in whatever battle they had been engaged in.
Gimli stood, leaning heavily upon his axe beside a slender young human woman, fair skinned and pretty with long golden hair, who was seated upon a woven basket, staring at nothing. The poor thing seemed to be in shock, her eyes red rimmed, shone with tears that would not fall, and Lalaith felt a surge of pity for her.
But at least Legolas was well, and alive, safe at least for now. Lalaith opened her eyes, dropping the medallion back beneath her tunic, where it rested cool, upon her skin.
But then her smile fell away as she gazed out over the slowly moving river of orcs that rolled along like a seething, poisonous river. Aragorn, she realized now, with a touch of alarm, had not been with Legolas.
"Aragorn!" She gasped out loud.
"What was that?" Merry asked.
"Aragorn, where are you?" She demanded to the air, pressing a hand against her head.
Pippin and Merry glanced at each other. "Isn't he with Legolas and Gimli?" Pippin answered quietly, but Lalaith simply ignored him.
"Nana, where is he?" She pleaded, changing her tongue to Elvish, and peering out into the distance beyond the line of orcs wending into the distance as if she fully expected to see Aragorn somewhere out in that vastness where even her elven sight could not reach.
"My dear one, thou fearest for the life of one who is but a mortal?" The voice resounded in her mind, and Lalaith knew it was Elbereth, her mother.
"He is also my friend. And a good man." She pleaded to the air as Merry and Pippin beside her, traded a confused glance. "I have loved him like a brother for as long as I have known him. And my cousin Arwen has given him her heart. She would be lost without him. Where is he? If he is in danger, or injured, can you not spare him?"
"My dear daughter." Elbereth's voice resounded in her mind, filled with happy pride. "The thoughts of Arwen, daughter of Elrond have been with him as well. And his mission is not yet complete. Thy heart is well placed, and I will do as thou hast asked."
The voice of Elbereth finished in an almost playful tone, "There is little that thy father and I could deny thee, if what thou wishest is also the will of Ilúvatar."
Lalaith smiled as the voice faded away, but jumped with a start of surprise as Pippin's hand shot to her face and touched her forehead.
"Who on earth were you talking to?" He asked, as her eyes focused on his worried little face. "You're not feverish. That's good."
"Oh, Pippin. I am not sick." Lalaith sighed, then uttered a short laugh as she leaned forward and planted a kiss on the Hobbit's smooth cheek. "But you are sweet to worry."
She turned forward then, focusing her eyes away from the ominous river of orcs disappearing into the distance, and upon the green tops of trees along the path Treebeard was marching. His wooden feet struck the ground with low, steady, sonorous beats toward their destination.
Legolas sat despondently upon a great wooden chest outside the great hall where the king was sitting in council with Gamling, and others of his men. Perhaps he should have joined them, Legolas thought with a touch of chagrin. But for the moment, he could not bring himself to think of the cold realities that surrounded him. He could only stare at the delicate necklace of the Evenstar in his hand, and wonder how he could ever tell Elrond's other daughter that her lover was dead. And how would he tell Lalaith? She had loved Aragorn like a brother, and the news would be a painful blow. But would he even live long enough to give them such bitter news? Would he ever see Lalaith's face again outside of his own memories? It was a very real possibility that he might die before he ever saw her again.
Death he did not fear, but what he would not have if death claimed him, did frighten him. His thoughts strayed to Lalaith, glad, for once, that she was not with him, and safe away from all of this. He closed his eyes, and pictured her face in his favorite memories of her, scenes from her childhood, when he had been a friend to her, and as she had slowly grown and become a woman.
He remembered vividly the first time he realized fully that she was more than a child, and that his feelings for her had grown into something more than friendship. It had been many centuries before when he had come to Imladris to see her. It was a cool spring night, and they were walking alone in the gardens surrounded as ever, by the silent whisper of the falls.
He had arrived in the morning as the sun rose into the sky, and they had spent the day together, sometimes in talk, but most often in contented, companionable silence, simply happy to be together.
There had been a feast and dancing later in the evening, and the two had been inseparable, eating side by side, and dancing only with each other.
The night had grown late, far into the early morning hours, and he could tell she was weary as they walked along, arm in arm beneath the stars that seemed to shimmer even more brilliantly than usual, for she walked close to him, her fingers woven tightly within his as her head rested against his shoulder.
"Come Lalaith," he had implored at last, drawing her toward a stone bench set beside the path. "Come and sit. Rest a moment."
She had not argued as he drew her down beside him, and gently eased her head against his shoulder, marveling at how contented her presence made him feel. Her soft, sky blue gown had whispered quietly as she settled beside him, and her long unbound hair, garlanded with a cheerful crown of new spring flowers brushed cool against his cheek.
"Oh, Legolas," she had sighed, "I will never fully understand why you are so kind to me. But I suppose I need not understand. I am simply glad you are my friend." She smiled a weary, sleepy smile up at him. "I love you." She had yawned, before settling again against his shoulder, and fading quietly into her dreams.
He had sat long, staring down at her, perplexed as to why her words had caused such a wonderfully confusing sensation within him. How many times in her life had she told him those very words in friendship and sweet childish gratitude? He could not count them all. But never until now, had the utterance of such words caused such a joyful disturbance to his mind and heart.
As he remained beside her, his arm about her shoulders, gazing down into her star speckled eyes that gazed contentedly off at nothing, a realization settled quietly upon him. It came as gently and as expectedly as the gradual sunrise that he knew would come in only a few short hours.
"Lalaith," he murmured softly, but she did not stir. Brushing her smooth brow with his lips, he drew her closer, and whispered, "I love you, too." And knew he meant it.
"He's alive!" A woman's startled voice accompanied the clatter of horse's hooves upon stone, lifting up from the crowd beyond the pillared portico where he sat, jarring him from his memory. Legolas' eyes rose to see a Man, dirty and disheveled, a ragged red wound upon his shoulder, slide from the back one of the horses they had thought lost in the battle. Brego was its name, he remembered. But the Man-, Legolas leapt to his feet as he heard Gimli's muffled voice coming from beyond the packed stand of humans.
"Where is he?" The Dwarf grumbled. "Where is he? Get out of the way! I'm going to kill him!"
Legolas grinned as Gimli burst out of the crowd, before Aragorn, his squat, dwarfish face aglow with joy. "You are the luckiest, the canniest, and the most reckless man I ever knew." He crowed happily, stepping forward, and throwing his arms around Aragorn. "Bless you, laddie!"
"Gimli, where is the king?" Aragorn asked, his voice as always, calm and subdued.
The Dwarf, his face still beaming, nodded through the portico toward the great doors, and with a thump of gratitude on Gimli's shoulder, Aragorn stepped away, striding straight toward Legolas, though he did see him yet, for his head was down as he fumbled with his sword belt.
Legolas watched Aragorn approach, smiling as he came to within a pace of him before Aragorn sensed someone, and drew to a surprised stop, his eyes lifting at last, to find the Elf before him.
"You're late." Legolas informed him, his mouth pulling into a restrained grin. His eyes again flashed over Aragorn's disheveled appearance, and his torn ragged shoulder, and changing his words into those of the Common Tongue, added, "You look terrible."
At this, Aragorn's mouth drew up into a smile, and the two friends chuckled, clapping each other firmly upon the shoulder.
"I have something of yours." Legolas continued, reverting again to Elvish. He sensed movement to his left, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lady Éowyn drawing near. But she stopped as the necklace of the Evenstar slipped from his hand into Aragorn's.
Aragorn opened his hand, and the shining jewel caught in the light. Legolas grinned as the Man clenched his jaw, repressing his emotion at having such a valued gift returned at last, when he had surely feared it lost.
"Thank you." He murmured, and Legolas nodded his welcome.
"The king will be glad to see you." Legolas said with a grin, and stepped to the side, nodding at the great double doors where two helmeted soldiers stood guard.
Aragorn clapped Legolas' shoulder gratefully, and continued on toward the doors, but Legolas paused a moment, and lifted his eyes toward the lady. Éowyn's face was bright with happy relief as her gaze followed Aragorn. But there were tears shining in her eyes, and hint of sadness in the smile that pulled at the corners of her mouth.
Legolas wondered at the conflicting emotions that played across the lady's countenance, but could not interpret them. And so at last, he turned, and followed after Aragorn.