Lothirien heard him approaching from behind her, but she did not glance away from the mound of newly turned earth beneath where her love lay. Carefully, she smoothed the moist earth around the small yellow flowers she had planted upon the mound. It was mere luck that she had found them where she did, growing bright and golden in a patch of rich earth that had settled in a protected cleft of rock, a small patch of color in an otherwise grey cliff of stone. Here upon Haldir's grave, they were only two brave little spots of gold, but she hoped they would increase, perhaps someday growing to cover the somber line of newly turned mounds that lay here side by side, along the base of the high grey cliff.
"This was his name for me, you know," she said, nodding to the two slender little flowers that waved bravely in a delicate breeze. "Little flower."
"It was well given." His voice heavy with sympathy sounded behind her, and at last she turned.
"Mithrandir," she murmured softly, nodding a small greeting. "We meet at last." Her clothes were battered and dirty, and her hair hung long and unbound about her, stringy with dirt and orc blood. But Gandalf hardly seemed to notice as he studied her face with wise, sorrowful eyes.
"I would that it could have been at a happier time, Lothirien, my dear." He murmured, striding near, and settling himself tiredly upon a ragged stone beside where Lothirien dejectedly sat upon the ground.
"I saw you." She muttered, lowering her eyes to her hands. "Briefly while you were in the Golden Wood. I suppose I could have met you then. We could have spoken. I am sorry."
"Do not be sorry, my dear." Gandalf sighed. "You were soon to be married. You had other things on your mind. You were in love."
"I still am." She whispered.
"And you always will be." Gandalf added with a gentle nod.
"This pain will not decrease." She said softly. "I will not recover."
"I suppose not." Gandalf sighed softly.
"But you have come to tell me that I must return to the Golden Wood." She glanced up at him, and studied his deep, wise eyes.
"Your kinsmen Rumil and Orophin are very concerned for you. They mean to take you home."
"All I want to do, is to lay down and die beside him." She whispered, catching a choke in her throat.
Gandalf drew in a long deep breath, and sighed, "But you must think of your son, my dear."
Lothirien's back grew stiff at his words, and her eyes dropped to her flat, narrow stomach as if she expected to see some sign of what she thought only she had suspected.
"A son?" She whispered, her voice barely audible. She glanced again at Gandalf. "A baby?"
Gandalf smiled warmly at these words, and reached out to place a warm, weathered hand against her cheek where the scar was already beginning to fade. "Haldir's son." His brows twitched in compassion at the pain that crossed Lothirien's face at the mention of her lover's name. "Would he not want you to endure? For your child's sake as well as your own?"
Lothirien sighed jaggedly at this, but could bring herself to say nothing for a long moment. "Then I will live. For the baby's sake but not mine." She glanced sadly away from Gandalf's compassionate eyes. "When he is delivered of me, then I will return here, and lay down beside my love. And I will never rise again."
Gandalf's face twitched with pain as she said this. But he said nothing, and instead, he stood, offering her an outstretched hand, which she took, and rose as well.
Lothirien leaned heavily upon his arm as they walked in silence toward the others; the Elves of Imladris and of Lothlórien their numbers much smaller than when they had marched into the fortress, stood at attention further down the ravine. But Rumil stood near, beside Hasufel who was already saddled.
The king sat mounted high upon his steed, his bearing proud and kingly, though his eyes watched Lothirien with a soft, humble compassion that only served to cause tears to rise in her eyes. His nephew Éomer, and his servant Gamling were mounted beside him with Aragorn, Legolas and the Dwarf Gimli nearby, seated upon their horses as well, with Shadowfax standing near, waiting for Gandalf to mount his unsaddled back.
"Up you go." Gandalf urged her, his hand ever within hers as, without argument, she climbed upon Hasufel's back, and touched a hand to his warm, brown neck. A gift he was to her, from the Rohirrim. Perhaps she could use him again, she thought to herself, when she returned here. He would go free then, she promised him in her mind, for she would have no more use for him after that.
The grass waved beneath Hasufel's striding feet as she rode slowly beside Aragorn out of the ravine and up a grassy knoll. She had little to do for herself, for Rumil walked beside her, guiding Hasufel by the reins, and she felt like a child, helpless. But then perhaps, she was. Her heart was in tatters, her will to live existing only because of the child she knew now grew within her.
Upon the crest of the knoll, the others stopped, though Hasufel continued. Yet still, she glanced back at them as she continued north, and Aragorn and the others turned to face away eastward toward the distant, thundering glow of angry red against the low bellies of the clouds that blanketed the horizon.
"Sauron's wrath will be terrible. His retribution swift." Gandalf's words, though in the common tongue, came to her ears clear in their meaning, and gravity.
"The battle for Helm's Deep is over. The battle for Middle Earth is about to begin." As Lothirien drew even farther away, she watched as Gandalf and Aragorn traded a weighty glance. "All our hopes now lie with two little Hobbits somewhere in the wilderness."
Lothirien turned forward. He spoke of Frodo the little Ringbearer, and his companion, Sam. Their journey continued, scarce of hope, no doubt, and wearisome. Yet hope, what little there was, did remain for the Ringbearer and his ever faithful friend. While for her, hope except for what lay within her child, was forever gone.
Lalaith felt air about her.
Bright cold air, and she opened her mouth to draw in a gasping breath, only to find that she felt no need for breath. For one who had been submerged as long as she had, she did not feel the hunger for air that she had expected.
Her eyes burst open, and she glanced quickly around for some sign of Pippin. Or Merry and Treebeard. But she saw nothing familiar at all.
Nothing of her surroundings looked at all like the ring of Isengard, or even of the nearby country side.
She stood in a vast, twilit landscape, void of grass, or trees upon the edge of a rocky bluff overlooking a great, blue body of water. The sea, she realized. Above her, the sky wheeled with stars, night and day flashing by in alternating striations of light and shadow, each taking less than an instant to pass.
How very strange it seemed to her, yet expected, and she felt oddly unsurprised as she felt herself lifted, as if by a great wind, and found herself flying with speed she had never imagined before, out across the ocean. Land disappeared quickly behind her and stars wheeled all about her now, as she flew through them, toward a great mist, which flew at her with dizzying swiftness, closing suddenly about her, and as quickly as she entered, she was through, finding herself now above a sparkling sea down toward which she flew. For a long moment, all she could see was the ocean, and the sky above her, until within the distance, an immeasurable sheet of land appeared, stretching from horizon to horizon. A palace, more vast than any building she could ever have imagined, rose up upon the land, its walls rising like great white cliffs stretching off into the unseeable distance, up and down the coastline as its towers and turrets, its great arching domes and roofs as vast as an unending landscape, stretched off before her to the horizon.
Lalaith, her mind numb, unable to comprehend what this could mean, found herself slowing as she floated weightlessly downward, nearing a high arching gateway within the white cliffs of the walls, white pearlescent gates set within the archway. Steps of white stone drew down before it, great white pillars marching along beside the steps, almost to the edge of the water.
Two figures waited before the doors, a man and a woman, and seemed to Lalaith's relief, to be vaguely familiar. And as she alighted on the bottom most step, the two began to descend the stairway toward her. The woman had dark hair black as jet, flowing long and unbound to her waist, and was clothed in a gown of somber, unadorned brown, but it shone with bright, hopeful brilliance, giving her no need for further adornments. Her male escort, his hair dark as hers was, was arrayed in a dark blue robe as brilliant as the woman's. They appeared both as if they were Elves, but their countenances were so much brighter, that Lalaith quickly guessed that she was in the presence of two of the Valar. Was she having another vision? What could this mean?
Dropping her head in obeisance as the two drew closer, she realized suddenly, that she was adorned as they, though her gown was white, almost blinding.
"Young one, thou hast no need to bow to us." The man said in a kindly voice as he and the woman drew near and stopped.
At his words, she lifted her eyes, and as her eyes met his, he smiled a welcome, though sad smile. She recognized them now, and a breath caught in her throat as she wondered what their appearance meant. The woman smiled as well, though through eyes that shone with sorrow for the pain of all of Arda.
"My Lady, Nienna." Lalaith breathed with a gasp, again bowing her head. "My lord, Namo-, Mandos."
The two brilliant Valar bowed their heads to her, before the woman lifted her eyes and spoke.
"It has been far too long, my child." Nienna's voice was clear and somber, mournful as well, though there was a hint of gladness beneath her ever sad tones. She came down the steps, and took one of Lalaith's hands within hers as her other went beneath Lalaith's chin, and lifted her face up. Her touch felt like cool fire. And her dark eyes, deep with endless sorrow, shone also with courage and compassion as they gazed into Lalaith's. "Thou hast grown as beautiful as thy mother. The years have treated thee graciously."
"Thank you, my lady." Lalaith murmured.
"Doest thou know where thou art, young one?" Namo asked softly, the smile that was once in his eyes fading to a somber look.
"The Halls of Mandos." Lalaith breathed, gazing at the look that passed between the two Valar. "Have I been given to see another vision?"
Namo whose task was to be the caretaker of the Firstborn who died in battle, or from the weariness of their hearts, looked upon the young maiden with sympathy growing in his eyes. And slowly the realization of what had happened to her, came to rest slowly upon her mind.
Lalaith's eyes fell away, unable to endure the pained gaze of the Doomsman of the Valar. Death had always seemed a strange thing to her, little had she thought of it, being immortal, but when she had, it had seemed as a strange, evil, unnatural thing. Before she had gazed into Lady Galadriel's Mirror, she had known little of Lord Mandos, and cared to learn little, save that he was the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, the summoner of the spirits of the slain, and that he dwelt in Mandos, which was westward in Valinor. As a child, she had pictured him as a sinister, greedy being, eager for the deaths of Elves, so that he might gather to himself more subjects. How wrong she was, she realized now, as she lifted her eyes and gazed once again into his fair, kindly face.
"Am I-, dead?" She asked in a choking gasp of disbelief. "What of the Hobbit, Pippin? Has he died? Has his spirit flown to dwell beyond the stars?"
"I cannot tell thee." Namo said in a voice that spoke of regret. His brow knitted painfully, understanding the pain he was causing her by telling her these words. "Not yet."
Lalaith gulped hard, and dropped her eyes away again, ever conscious of Nienna's comforting arm about her shoulders. "But what of my beloved?" The numb shock she had felt at the first, was slowly giving way to grief and panic, realizing all that she had so suddenly left behind her, unfinished. "If I am gone, what shall become of him? Will he die as well, or will he be strong enough to endure without me?"
"Dear little one." Nienna murmured quietly. The sadness that was deep within the Valië's soothing voice brought a measure of comfort to Lalaith, and much of her fear was calmed in Nienna's gentle words.
"Wilt thou come now, with us?" Namo asked slowly, holding out a proffered hand, and gesturing toward the high arched doors of polished pearl.
"No." Lalaith whispered pleadingly. "I want to return. To my friends. To my love."
"Doest thou trust us?" Nienna asked softly, her arm slipping from the Elf maiden's shoulders to grasp her hand.
"Yes." She answered in a timid voice. "But I do not want this. I do not want what should be."
"How doest thou yet know what should be?" Nienna urged rising up a step, and slowly guiding Lalaith forward.
Through the grief and mourning that rested ever within Nienna's eyes, a ray of gentle hope shone through, glowing upon Lalaith like a warm ray of glad sunlight peering hopefully through the somber covering of a forest's canopy. And Lalaith found herself allowing the Valië to lead her upward, toward Namo, where the Lord of the Dead took her other hand, and between them, they led her carefully as if she were a small child, up the long white steps toward the great doors, which, with a mere touch of Namo's hand, swung silently open.
As the door drew wide, a vast, golden hall opened to her view, wide as the vale of Imladris itself. The stone beneath her feet was tiled with great blocks of polished marble. Great tapestries of gold and silver, woven with bright images of great battles, and quests, as well as the simple tasks of daily Elvish life, hung between high pillars, floating softly in a gentle breeze that wafted through the vast high arching hall. Before her, beyond the arching domes of several marching pillars, sunlight streamed through a great opening in the high ceiling above a courtyard wide and vast, its opposite edge barely visible in the distance. Tall trees much like Mallyrn in appearance, grew here, their branches arching upward toward the golden sunlight streaming through. And to her right and left, vast corridors stretched away into the shimmering vastness of the Hall.
Not far away, beyond the curve of a pillar, and nearer to the courtyard than where she stood, the soft, steady rhythmic clatter of a loom found its way to Lalaith's ears. And toward this sound, Namo and Nienna led her, another of the Valië soon coming into view round the curve of a wide pillar.
Her visage was as bright as the first two, her raiment shining as if it were silver as she sat before a loom fashioned of pearl and gold. Her own silver white hair had been twined into many braids as it lay long against her back. She was Vairë, Namo's wife, and the weaver of the airy web-like tapestries that lined the many vast corridors that made up these the Halls of Mandos.
Her skillful hands moved rhythmically, passing a burnished silver shuttle back and forth through the threads upon her loom, drawing a thread through that gleamed silver, now, gold, and again crimson, then black, the colors changing as an image slowly appeared within the cloth of her weaving. The gauzy image forming upon the loom, Lalaith realized, was a picture of a battle, orcs laying siege to the very fortress she had seen in her mind where Legolas and the others had taken refuge. But the orcs were being driven back, defeated, by a figure who seemed to be Gandalf, though this figure was clad in a bright, white robe, and mounted upon a white, cream colored steed, with many countless horsemen at his back.
Lalaith allowed her eyes to drift away from the work upon the Valië's loom to a young boy who sat near her shoulder. The two were conversing softly as Vairë worked, and for a moment, Lalaith wondered perhaps, if he were Vairë's son, the offspring of Valar, as Lalaith was.
But she quickly realized that this was not so, for when the child addressed Vairë, he called her My lady, and spoke in the common tongue of Arda as one of the Race of Men might, and with far more formality than even a dutiful son would when addressing his own mother. In fact, the child's manners were as impeccable as a grown man's.
Sad, Lalaith thought to herself, for if the boy was not the son of Namo and Vairë, then somehow a child had been slain, somewhere. A tragedy, Lalaith thought sadly, for his grieving parents, wherever they might be, for the boy could not have even been a half century old.
"Vairë, my love." Namo's voice gently penetrated the soft clatter of the loom, and at his call, the motion of her hands, and the soft rhythmic clatter of her loom, ceased.
Vairë turned toward her husband with a smile of greeting, the boy turning as well, his eyes lighting with a mixture of surprise and shyness upon Lalaith. Still, he leaped to his feet, as Vairë stood, and followed a half step behind her as she came forward to greet the three.
"How beautiful thou hast become, young Elerrina." Vairë greeted, extending both her hands in welcome, and catching up Lalaith's hands in her own as she drew close. "Like thy mother. Thou art also called Lalaith now, yes?" She smiled at the maiden's slow, reluctant nod, for in spite of the Valië's kindly welcome, Lalaith did not wish to be here. She wanted to go home with a desire so desperate, that her heart ached painfully in her chest, eased only slightly by the gentle touch of Nienna's hand at her shoulder.
Lalaith's eyes darted now to the boy's. He smiled shyly as her gaze rested on him. Somehow, he seemed familiar, but she could not understand how. His hair was a golden brown color, like warm polished wood, rare for an Elf. There were a few Elf children with whom she was acquainted, but this boy was none of them. Still, somehow, he seemed to know her.
"You do not recognize me, do you?" The boy asked quietly, in the tongue of the Men of Gondor, his voice shy as he took a timid step toward her.
"Forgive me." Lalaith said, with a penitent smile, and a shake of her head.
The boy sighed, a hand self consciously rising to tweak the pointed peak of his ear, and then run along the line of his smooth jaw as if both qualities of his face were new and unfamiliar to him. And then the realization struck her suddenly, and she gaped, "Boromir?"
At the name, the boy's flush deepening.
"But you're only a child!" Lalaith gasped.
"This is how I would appear, had I been born an Elf instead of a Man." He explained softly.
A small breath escaped her as she looked upon him, at last recognizing his features, now more youthful and finely drawn, and the tragedy of his death settle more heavily upon her.
"Oh, Boromir." She muttered softly, and at the softened tones of her voice, the boy's mouth twitched. "You were only a child."
"But I do not regret what I did, Lalaith." The boy said, his voice and face a child's, though the look within his young eyes reminded her of the Boromir she had known, the Man who had confessed to her that he loved her, in spite of the knowledge that it would eventually kill him. "And in truth, I am not the one who deserves your mourning. I was only the first of many-," here his words trailed away.
At her shoulder, Namo spoke somberly, taking up where the boy had left off. "The battle that my lady weaves upon her loom has been won, only at great cost." His eyes resting upon the lad, he spoke, his voice ringing clearly in the common tongue of Arda, "Lord Boromir, will you show her?"
"Yes, my lord." The lad nodded, though reluctant, and reached out for Lalaith's hand, which she gave readily to him as he led her toward the bright courtyard, away from the three Valar who followed behind but at a distance.
"There were Elves at Helm's Deep, Lalaith." The boy who was Boromir said in a low voice. "Elves from Rivendell. And from Lothlórien." His words again faded away, though what he did not speak, Lalaith guessed.
She sighed, hearing the heavy tone in her voice. The golden-green glow of sunlight through leaves grew brighter as they drew closer to the courtyard, and now, the welcome whisper of wind through trees met her ears, and even the cheerful calls of birds, songs she recognized from birds of both Lothlórien, and Imladris.
"Many of these Elves you knew," Boromir said softly, and in a voice that was almost inaudible, "and one-,"
"Legolas?" Lalaith cried suddenly, cutting him off, her heart leaping in her throat. "Legolas is here?" As much as she missed him, and hungered to see him again, she wished achingly that it would not be here where they would meet again.
"No." The boy said, a look of resignation flashing through his young eyes at the mention of her beloved's name. Glancing away and to the edge of the trees, he nodded.
They had reached the edge of the marble tiles, and stone steps led away, down to a winding earthen path that led off through the trees. From deep within the trees, Lalaith could hear faint music, and singing as well, but nearest to them, an Elf sat by himself upon a twisted tree root. And it was this figure toward whom the young Boromir nodded.
As she glanced at him, her heart sank. He was facing partly away from her, his eyes upon one of Vairë's tapestries. The gauzelike tapestry hung low, swaying gently between two of the pillars lining the courtyard. Upon it, were woven the images of three Elves, a man, a woman, and a small boy-child, upon his seated mother's lap.
"No. It cannot be." Lalaith breathed softly.
At the sound of her voice, the once proud march warden of Lothlórien turned, and his eyes, swollen from unashamed weeping met Lalaith's.
"My lady." He muttered, composing himself enough to turn toward her and drop to one knee, bowing his head.
"Haldir," Lalaith protested. "Do not bow to me! Do you not recognize me?"
"You are one of the Valiër." He muttered his head down.
"No, Haldir, it is me! Lalaith!"
His head shot up, surprise now intermixed with the abject grief written upon his features. He slowly stood.
"Lalaith?" He eyed her glowing form, more bright even, than Namo or Vairë, or Nienna, and slowly, he shook his head. "I don't understand. Why is it that you bear the glory of the Valar?"
"Elbereth is my mother. And Manwë my father." She said softly. "I discovered it when I looked into the Lady's Mirror when last I was in the Golden Wood. And I did not tell you or Lothirien, for I did not wish you to think differently of me-, as Legolas did at first."
"Have you the power to pass back and forth freely between Arda and Valinor, then?" He queried.
"I have not before now. I-," she faltered, the words feeling strange and heavy on her tongue as she spoke them, "I believe I am dead."
"You have come as well, then." He said, in a low, resigned voice, and slowly sat again, upon the curving trunk. "Never to return back across the sea." He shook his head, and lowered his eyes, eyes that were swollen with misery. "Legolas had thought you safe." Lalaith's heart wrenched at the desolate tone in his words. And tears sprung to her eyes as he continued, his words all the more bitter, "Your loss will tear all reason from his mind, and all joy out of his heart, Lalaith. If it does not kill him as well."
"Haldir-," Lalaith gasped, a ragged sob catching in her throat.
"Lothirien watched me die, Lalaith." Haldir blurted, a wretched agonized gasp tearing painfully from him. "She was there upon the wall with me. She held me until the last."
The dark look of hopelessness in his eyes filled Lalaith with a sense of Haldir's misery, thick and impenetrable. Gnawing her lip, she went to him, and sat beside him. The boy Boromir seated himself upon a stone, a fair distance from the older Elves, watching them through sad silent eyes, thoughts of his own unfinished work, and abandoned loved ones trailing through his head.
Tentatively, Lalaith reached out, and place a hand gently upon Haldir's arm, wanting to give him peace. But at her touch, Haldir broke at last, and began to sob heavily, crushing his head into his hands. "I promised her we would return to the Golden Wood together. And now, that promise will not find fulfillment! I have broken my vow! I have destroyed her!" He sobbed as the maiden watched him through eyes heavy with her own misery. How terrible a thing it was, to watch one who had always been so strong and stalwart in her eyes, to break and crumble as completely as Haldir was breaking now.
"My young one?"
Lalaith looked up, almost startled to see Lord Namo, Vairë beside him, with Nienna standing behind the pair. She had heard no one approaching.
"It is time." Namo said gently.
"Time, my lord?" Lalaith asked, glancing up toward the three Valar.
"For thee to return."
Lalaith's heart caught on a beat, and she lunged to her feet. She gasped, as hope, unlooked for leaped in her heart. "To return to Arda? Am I to go back?"
"Indeed." Namo smiled. "Thy friends are calling thee back. Life still lingers in thy earthly form."
Lalaith glanced brightly at Haldir, who lifted his swollen eyes, and gave her a half hearted smile of sorrow. His own grief quickly stifled her sudden joy.
"My lord-," She stepped away from Haldir and drew nearer to Namo and the two Valiër.
"Lord Mandos," she pled in a low voice, "my mother-," she hesitated, but at Namo's encouraging glance, she continued. "My mother once told me that there was little I could ask for that I would be denied, if only it-,"
"If it were the will of Ilúvatar." Namo finished for her with a gentle nod.
"You have a boon to ask of my brother, do you not?" Nienna asked, her voice weighted with sorrow, yet ever courageous and strong floated like a gentle sigh to Lalaith's ears.
"I do." Lalaith admitted. She glanced over her shoulder at Haldir, broken and weak with grief where he sat, watching the exchange between Lalaith and the Valar with swollen eyes. "Though I hesitate to ask. I do not know if it be Ilúvatar's will, or no-,"
She paused and a long heavy silence passed, broken at last by Vairë's gentle encouragement. "Shall you ever know if you do not ask it?