Lalaith's Younger Years

Chapter 17

Legolas stood alone in the small, dark clearing, two stone monuments, his only near companions.

He stood at the feet of the stone woman who sat with outstretched hands as if beckoning a small child to her lap. Her stone visage bore a gentle, benevolent expression, but hardly did justice to the mortal woman whose remains lay beneath the stone that marked her memory.

He wished he could have known her name, who she was, where she was from, if any of her descendants yet lived in the lands of Men. She must have been a mother herself, a grandmother, for only a mother's love could have spurred such a sacrifice as she was willing to give for the baby she had died saving. The baby who had been Lalaith. The debt he owed her for such a selfless act could never be repaid, for he had Lalaith because of her.

His brow furrowed as he remembered that night, now more than a millennium past. When she, mortally wounded, had pushed the warm little bundle of life into his hands with the choking, fragmented instructions she had been able to give him, before she had breathed her last.

With a sigh, Legolas glanced down at the twisted, greenish black vines within his hands, the black oily vines that had been twining round the stone monument like black wicked snakes when he had arrived minutes before, and that he had torn away, almost vindictively, for their insolence. To care for her tomb the way he did, was the least he could do, to thank the mortal woman for what she had done. For the baby whose life she had saved, who had grown into the maiden he now loved, more than his own life. Lalaith, the one toward whom his thoughts were always turned, and the one he wanted as his for the rest of eternity.

Almost as if thoughts of her had conjured her near, a soft voice, Lalaith's he knew, came floating down the path he had come upon, singing softly to itself accompanied by the soft swishing of her skirts. He glanced sharply up, tossing the torn vines from his hands into the thick undergrowth as he did, hastily dusting his hands just as she came into view around a bend in the path.

Her eyes were down, studying the path at her feet, and she had yet to see him. Her hair was unadorned, spilling unbound about her shoulders. Her dress was of white linen, bound with a sky blue ribbon beneath young breasts. Within one hand, she carried a small handful of flowers, and she moved toward him with a litheness and grace that made his heart beat faster.

He called her name, "Lalaith."

Immediately, her soft singing stopped, and she looked up. Her smile of pleasant surprise seemed to fill the shadowed glade with sunlight as she came toward him, beautiful and slender, and stopped, paces from him. Her neck was bare, and he could see the beating of her heart in her pale throat.

"I did not know that I would find you here, Legolas." She said softly at last, her voice breaking through the spell that she had cast upon him with her coming.

Legolas blinked and gulped, "I come here, sometimes. Like you, I have much to be grateful to her for."

A warm flush darkened Lalaith's cheeks at this, and Legolas wondered if she guessed the meaning behind his words. But she said nothing. Instead, she glanced at the stone near her hand, engraved with the image of a horse, and upon the stone, she laid half her handful of flowers before she ran her fingers reverently over the carved image before she looked up again at Legolas. "I had to come here, at least once, before Elrohir and I return again to the Golden Wood."

"You are to go back?" he asked plaintively.

Her eyes lowered to the ground at their feet and her smile faded, giving him her answer. "Tomorrow," she returned in a voice that was near a whisper.

At this, Legolas released a low breath, feeling suddenly depleted.

Lalaith sighed as well as she placed her remaining flowers upon the stone woman's lap, then gazed sadly up into her sightless eyes.

"I wish I knew your name," she murmured in a voice that was suddenly so bereft of merriment, that Legolas could not help but step behind her, and place his hands comfortingly upon her shoulders. "I wish," Lalaith sighed, "I knew who I was."

"Lalaith," Legolas whispered gently, a tone of gentle chastisement in his voice as his hand slid slowly down her arm, seeking her hand and gathering it within his own.

"No, Legolas, you must face the truth as well as I," she protested, drawing from beneath his hands and turning to him to see his face scant inches from her own. "Long your father sought, as my uncle Elrond did, for some fragment of news as to who I could be, but none was ever found. Nor was there any clue as to whom my nurse could have been, though you sought her kin through all the lands of Men." She shook her head and glanced away. "Were I anyone of note, anyone of equal rank to you, you would have found my origins, or hers. Every time I see her face, I am reminded of that."

She lifted her eyes, to his own, and saw the pain and worry there, and she smiling softly, her eyes penitent. "But I have had a wonderful time here, Legolas."

"And I have enjoyed every moment that you have been here," he returned, reaching for, and taking her small hand within his.

Lalaith studied their clasped hands a moment, before she muttered, "Even when you found me in such a state as I was, in your wine cellars?"

"Oh, there was no harm done." Legolas grinned, squeezing her hand gently in comfort. "And you were quite-, ah, adorable, standing there on that table."

"Ah, Legolas." Lalaith muttered with a small laugh, though her laughter did not show in her eyes that only glanced at him for a moment before they dropped away. "I suppose you must think me terribly childish, once again. The last time you came to Imladris, I was racing about after my cousins in my night dress, and now at our first meeting after so many years apart, I am as drunk as a dirty old Dwarf. Why do you even still consider me your friend?"

"Lalaith, why should you think that such small things would make me care any less for you?" he demanded softly, laying a hand against her cheek, and turning her face toward his own.

"I am just-," Lalaith gulped, drawing back from him, and Legolas suddenly realized how near she was to tears. "too much of a child, Legolas. And so far beneath you, that I-,"

"What?" He teased lightly, hoping to bring a smile again to her face, "Do you mean to remind me again of how much older I am, than you, Lalaith?"

"No." She grinned, shaking her head. "I just-, I sometimes wonder-," her lips parted slightly as her eyes fell again to the ground.

"Wonder-," he repeated, "what?"

"Ai, it is not important," she muttered.

"Of course it is." Legolas insisted gently. "If it is something you have wondered, then it is important to me. For perhaps I have the answer."

"Well," she began reluctantly, her eyes remaining steadfastly upon the ground as she murmured in a barely audible voice, "often I've wondered why you've never married-,"

His heart caught upon a beat in his chest as he pondered her unexpected question. "Because-," he began, his word fading into silence as his own eyes fell suddenly to the ground.

He felt her eyes upon him, and glanced up again to see an alluringly timid smile touch the corners of her soft mouth.

"Because I have been waiting," he finished softly, his eyes delving into hers, pleading silently for some sign of understanding and acceptance.

"For what?" she whispered, the plaintive notes of her voice enough for hope to take root in his heart.

One of his hands reached out, his warm, lean fingers lightly slipping through her own.

"Legolas!" The cry that burst forth from a source nearby, sent an almost physical wedge suddenly between the two, and Lalaith leapt back, her eyes jerking toward the sound that had been Elrohir's voice. And sure enough, he appeared before them, round the bend of the trail, stumbling to a wearied halt, his chest heaving from what had been a hard run.

"Elrohir, what is it?" Lalaith asked, her eyes searching her cousin's with unspoken questions.

"Legolas, come. Your father is sending for you." Elrohir urged, fighting his breathlessness. "Smaug. Smaug the great dragon." He gasped.

"What of Smaug?" Legolas demanded, starting forward.

Lalaith's heart caught within her chest. She had heard of the terrifying dragon Smaug in whispered rumors, the dragon who lived under a far, desolate mountain, selfishly guarding the horde of long dead Dwarves.

"He attacked Esgaroth." Elrohir gulped. "But-," he added, with a wave of his hand to assuage the fear that was growing upon Lalaith's face. "It is said that Bard, one of the Men of the Lake, shot an arrow though the one weak point upon his scales." Elrohir paused to draw in a deep breath, letting the news sink in as Legolas and Lalaith exchanged a weighted look before Elrohir grinned broadly and finished, "Smaug is dead!"

"That is good news." Legolas said with a nod, though his eyes bore questions of their own. "So why-,"

"Come!" Elrohir burst. "There is not time to explain now. There is a journey to make. You must go to your father, now."

"Is there danger?" Lalaith asked, her voice ragged edged as she spoke, groping for Legolas' hand before she realized what she was doing. "Surely, if the dragon is dead, there is very little?"

"I would rather you stayed." Elrohir said, with furrowed brows and apology in his eyes. "But I will bring you back a surprise." Glancing at Legolas, a low smile touched his face and he finished, "That is, Legolas will bring you something."

"But where are you going?"

Elrohir grinned widely at her question, and returned, "To the Lonely Mountain."

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