"My home lies deep in the forest," a slow voice, breathy and deep, boomed above her, "near the roots of the mountain."
Lalaith sighed in the peaceful sleep of her dreams, listening to the deep soothing voice from where she lay upon what felt to be a soft bed of leaves.
She was rocking, ever so gently, as if she was being carried, and a resonant, though gentle thump followed another soft thump, in a slow steady rhythm as of something heavy walking over soft earth. It seemed familiar to her, as a voice she had heard in centuries past, or in the soft, forgotten shadows of her dreams. And though she could not place a face to the voice, she somehow knew that it was a friend. With a contented sigh, knowing she was at last safe, she shifted, snuggling deeper into the soft bed of leaves.
"Oh, look, Merry!" Came Pippin's friendly voice, also from above her. "She moved!"
Ah! Pippin! Her warm descent back into her dreams was stalled. So they had defeated the orc. They were safe, too.
Raising his voice Pippin chirped out, "Lalaith!"
"Hush, Pippin!" Merry's voice scolded. "She hasn't slept in days, and the arrow wound Gandalf fixed is still mending. Don't wake her up!"
"Ah, yes." The slow deep voice said. "Sleeping like an Enting. Let me carry her like this a while longer, for I have waited for this, many a year. You will have your chance to speak to her once we reach my home. It is safe, there."
The deep, sonorous voice sighed, and continued, "I told Gandalf I would keep you safe. And safe is where I'll keep you. The trees have grown wild and dangerous. Anger festers in their hearts. They will harm you if they can."
Gandalf. Lalaith smiled in her half-sleep. She had dreamt of Gandalf. That he had found her in the woods, and had lifted her up and carried her to a bed of leaves. That he had pulled out the broken arrow, somehow without any pain, and bound her wound. But it had only been a sweet dream, for Gandalf, she reminded herself sadly, was gone.
"There are too few of us now." The voice softly boomed above her. "Too few of us Ents left to manage them."
Ents. Ents. She had heard the word before. Where had she heard it? Oh, her mind was still too tired, and the soft rocking motion too soothing to allow her mind the discomfort of thinking. So instead, she snuggled ever deeper into the soft cushion of leaves, and returned to the realm of her dreams.
She woke at last, feeling deliciously rested, not sore as she would have expected from days of forced marching and no rest. And she had but to move slightly to realize she was still nestled upon a soft bed of green leaves before she slowly sat up, and looked about herself.
Her bed seemed to be perched on a large table of stone lifted up above the floor of a shallow cave, which was little more a hollowed bay, and she thought curiously, should have been dark. But on the end of the table sat two large stone vessels that seemed to be filled with water but were emitting glowing light. One shone golden, and the other green giving the air of the cave an appearance as of sunlight shining through young leaves. A gentle sheet of water came clattering down in front of the cave entrance, and as she looked beyond the softly laughing water, she could see the star littered night sky beyond, above a slope of green grass, bordered by trees.
On the right side of the cave there was what seemed to be a great bed on low legs, not more than a couple of feet high, covered deep in dry grass and bracken, and upon it lay a long, gnarled tree whose roots, it appeared had been ripped up out of the very earth. This was a strange wonder in itself, but what was most curious, was that the Hobbits sat beside it on pillows of grass. And it appeared that their attention was focused entirely on this uprooted tree, and they were talking to it. Lalaith shook her head vigorously and sat up straighter. Either she had gone completely mad, or they had.
Merry was, at the moment, speaking to the thing, describing in a bright animated voice, the country of the Shire.
"It is a lovely land, with wide rolling hills-,"
"We built our houses under these, you know." Pippin interrupted cherrily.
"Yes, Pippin. Thank you." Merry scolded, then turned back to the horizontal tree and continued. "Anyway, as I was saying, it's lovely in the autumn. You'd like it there. With ripe apples ready to fall right off the trees-,"
At this, Pippin smacked his lips noisily, and at the mention of apples, Lalaith felt a rumble in her stomach, reminding her that she had eaten nothing solid, in days.
"And it doesn't get terribly hot in the summer." Merry continued, casting a glance of annoyance at Pippin.
"Or in the winter!" Pippin cut in.
"Of course it won't get hot in the winter, Pippin!" Merry sighed, exasperated.
"That's not what I meant!" The youngest Hobbit chirped, then continued rapidly, "I meant that in the winter, it rarely gets bitterly cold. And the snow is so lovely, the way it covers the ground. And the ponds freeze over. Wonderful to slide on! And even when the north wind does get brisk, we have our lovely little Hobbit holes to tuck ourselves away in."
"Oh, and spring!" Merry cut in quickly. "You would love it in the spring! With flowers popping up everywhere, and newly turned fields-,"
"Hm hoom." Came a voice, an echoing voice filling the bay, and Lalaith glanced around, fully expecting to see someone nearby, a man, large and tall from the sound of the voice, until her eyes came around back on the tree, and with a sudden thump of her heart, realized that the voice had come from the tree itself. "You never see any, hm, any Ents round there, do you?" The voice from the tree spoke again. "Well, not Ents, Entwives I should really say. They would like your country, I think."
As it spoke, the tree stirred a little, and sat up, and Lalaith gaped. It had a face with deep set gentle looking eyes, a crooked knot of a nose, and a long beard of what seemed as moss, hanging down from what would be its chin. What Lalaith had first thought of as branches and as a split trunk, were actually long wooden arms ending in branching fingers and long gangly legs with splayed root toes.
An audible gasp burst forth from her lips, catching the attention of the Hobbits and of their tree-ish companion, who focused his large golden eyes upon her as what could have been taken as a smile curved upon a slit in its bark where its mouth would belong. She could no longer think of it as a tree or log, but what word to place with it, she was not yet certain.
"Lalaith!" Pippin cried, leaping to his feet with joy. "You're awake! Wonderful!"
"Are you thirsty?" Merry asked eagerly, bounding quickly up.
"Hm hoom." The tree-ish creature muttered in a contented voice, and rose slowly, hardly bending as it did, and strode near until it stood over the table upon which Lalaith was perched. It smiled down upon her as she lifted her face and studied its kindly golden eyes.
"Don't be afraid, Lalaith." Pippin cried as Merry dashed to the back of the bay, retrieved something, and then came scampering back, his small feet scuffling over the hard stone floor as he came, holding a stone bowl in his hands.
"Yes! This is Treebeard." Merry added, breathless as he hurried. "He is a friend."
"Yes, I-, I know." Lalaith murmured softly, not taking her eyes of the smiling golden eyes as the creature bent woodenly, lifted the two Hobbits and set them on the table where they promptly sat down beside her. For somehow, she did know he was a friend. Somehow, those golden smiling eyes struck a chord in her somewhere, stirring up a distant, and still forgotten memory.
"We," the creature called Treebeard boomed as Merry handed her the stone bowl filled with what looked like water, "have met before."
At this, Merry and Pippin took their turn being surprised as they looked back and forth between the tree creature and Lalaith.
"Really?" Pippin asked.
Lalaith glanced away at last from Treebeard's golden eyes, and turned her attention to the bowl, for she had had nothing to drink since the orc had forced the swallow of orc-draught down her throat days before. She had no clear memory of such a meeting as the creature had spoken, but again the words struck a chord of truth in her mind, and though she was unsure how, she knew that the creature was right. She took a sip from the bowl, and as the cool taste washed her tongue, she gulped eagerly, draining the bowl until it was gone.
The drink was like water, and yet there was some scent or savor in it that reminded her of a distant wood borne from afar by a cool breeze at night. She felt the effect of the draught immediately. Her body seemed to tingle pleasantly, and grow warm with infused energy, especially at the spot where the arrow had struck her, as if the draught's effect centered there to cure the wound.
"Really?" Pippin repeated. "You've met him before, Lalaith?"
"I believe-," she murmured quietly. "Long ago-,"
"You were but a sprout," Treebeard boomed in a slow contented tone, laying a wooden finger softly upon her shoulder, "when last I saw you. Pretty little Vala you were." His wooden face smiled contentedly as he said this, but furrowed slowly into an angry scowl as he continued speaking, his slow, breathy voice deepening. "I sought you long in my woods," he grumbled, "looking for that cursed spider. Worse than an orc, it was, burárum." He uttered a deep rumble of disgust.
"But-," Treebeard's voice grew tame again, and he spoke, "I was contented at last, when your uncle came to me from along the Entwash, and told me you were rescued, and you were safe in the lands of the Elves. Still-," His wooden finger lifted from where it had touched her shoulder, surprisingly gentle for such a large creature, and groped into a hollowed place in the truck of its midsection where its belly should have been. "I never could return what I promised I would. For though you were with Elves, those I take most kindly to, the ways of Ents and Elves had parted long before you came to this world. But I always hoped that someday you would return to my woods, and I could return this to you." His hand withdrew from the hollow in its belly, and extended to her two branching fingers draped with a cloth shimmering as if it had been woven from the light of the very stars themselves.
A sharp gasp caught in Lalaith's lungs as she reached tentatively for the small blanket. "I remember." She whispered, her fingers closing over the cloth, softer than the touch of a cloud. She had seen it in Galadriel's mirror, and she could also remember a distant fleeting memory, herself lying upon this very blanket in a field of waving grass, Treebeard watching her with his kindly golden eyes as Yavanna, clad in shimmering green, sat at his feet. "You promised Lady Yavanna of the Valar that you would return this to me when you found me. And you-, are an Ent."
Treebeard released a deep boom of contentment, and nodded with a smile.
Slowly, Lalaith drew the blanket to herself, and pressed her cheek against it, drinking in the smell of it. Faces flashed before her mind as she held a breath, savoring the sweet smell of eternal springtime, and the ripe tang of ever blooming flowers. Two faces she recalled the most clearly, a man's face and a woman's, and she knew they were Manwë and Varda, her parents. Her once tiny hands clung to someone's neck, her little face buried against sweet smelling, golden hair as a lullaby as beautiful and clear as the stars soothed her to sleep.
"Nana." She whispered beneath her breath as tears began to sting her eyes. "Ada."
"What is that?" Pippin asked softly, and Lalaith lifted her face from the cloud soft cloth, and glanced at her Hobbit friends who were watching her with reverence in their wide eyes.
"My blanket. From when I was a baby. From Valinor." She sniffed, and uttered a short laugh, scrunching the cloth into her lap where she sat. "I must seem so silly, crying over such a thing."
"Not at all." Merry murmured gently, and grinned. "Fancy that we should run into someone you met before you even remembered meeting him, and he had something of yours."
"It seems almost lucky now, that the orcs took us." Piped in Pippin. "They were taking us to Isengard. To Saruman. Did you know that?"
"Hm hoom." Treebeard boomed thoughtfully as a sharp light flashed deep in his otherwise golden eyes. "Saruman." He muttered, and the word did not sound favorable as he spoke it. "That reminds me. We have long to go, in the morning. And I must sleep. Where will you stand to sleep?"
"Well, we usually lie down to
sleep. Like Lalaith." Said Merry.
"Hoo, hoom!" Chortled Treebeard. "Ah, of course you do! I was forgetting that you are not young Entings." Grasping a Hobbit in each of his hands, he lifted them from the table where Lalaith still sat upon her leaf bed. He turned stiffly to carry them to the low bed he had lain upon, and set them gently upon the soft grass and fern.
"But what about you, Lalaith?" Pippin asked, settling down upon a bed of green grass. "You've slept quite a while. You can't still be sleepy."
"Well, I feel much better than before, but I am still a little tired. I think I could sleep some more. At least until morning." Settling back against her bed of leaves, she plucked one up and examined it thoughtfully. It was a soft new green, round near the stem, its smooth edge curving to a point. "This is what Legolas' name means." She could hear the wistfulness in her voice, and knew that the Hobbits would tease her, but she didn't care.
"What's that?" Merry muttered, stifling a yawn from where he had lain down upon the soft fern.
"Greenleaf." She murmured, tucking her soft blanket beneath her head, and clutching the leaf close to her heart where she could feel the gentle weight of the medallion Galadriel had given her beneath her tunic. "That is his name in the Elvish tongue."
"Mmm," muttered Pippin softly. From the murmur of his voice, he was fast growing sleepy. "Diamond from Long Cleeve came to Bilbo's party. It seems so long ago. She came with her brother all the way from Long Cleeve."
" Estella Bolger was there, too," yawned Merry. "And she was the prettiest lass on the dance floor."
"I wish we hadn't been too busy causing mischief to dance with them," muttered Pippin. "At least once."
"You'll get to dance with Diamond, Pippin," Merry said gently, "when we get back to the Shire." He sighed and rolled over, turning his back to Pippin, and soon, by their even breathing, Lalaith could tell that they were both asleep.
Lalaith looked away from the Hobbits, and lifted her eyes to the arched doorway of the bay where the waterfall fell in a constant laughing clatter. Beneath the splash of the water, Lalaith could see Treebeard standing, motionless, with his arms raised above his head. The bright stars peered out of the sky, and lit the falling water as it spilled onto his fingers and head, and dripped in hundreds of silver drops on his feet.