Lalaith's Younger Years

Chapter 22

Legolas stood upon the windswept southern spur of the mountain, beside the elite of his father's guards. He, like his comrades, was clad in the elven armor of Mirkwood; a shining breastplate etched with the designs of twining vines and leaves, and a helmet that glistened in the dark, covering his hair, and much of his face. The hilt of a slender sword rested within his hand as he watched the darkened sky swirling above them, and drawing ominously closer. He glanced down at the shimmer of the blade he held within his hand. He would have preferred the feel of his bow within his hand, or the hafts of his knives. But he was the king's son, and his kin looked to him to lead the charge into the midst of the fray. His bow he still carried upon his back, as well as a quiverful of arrows, and his knives, if the time were to come when he would need them.

A heaviness settled within his stomach as he gazed over the lands before the Mountain's feet. The land itself seemed to be crawling toward them with a thick multitude of dark, surging bodies, countless banners, red and black, as their hordes came on in seething, heedless disorder. Orcs, the hideous slime of Morgoth, and their snarling, rabid wargs. They were as yet far distant, but his fingers instinctively tightened about the hilt of his weapon.

"Uh, m'lord er, um, Sir Elvenprince?" A small voice chirped at his side as Bilbo the Hobbit , pointed off the steep mountain spur and across the vast span of air that hung between them and their foes as the dark bodies of their enemies swirled like a fierce eddying current, round the spur's end, and came lunging into Dale. "Your eyes are sharp, aren't they? What do the goblins got coming at the front of their vanguard?"

"Wolf-riders," Legolas answered in a soft hiss. He glanced down at the small shivering Hobbit, who held the small sword he called Sting within one hand, and offered him a sad look, void of comfort. "The swiftest." The Hobbit gulped, and pityingly, Legolas offered him a slim smile. "And to my friends, I am called Legolas."

And as he spoke, the air across the distance between them, was rent with their howls and warbling cries.

From his vantage point, Legolas could see a thin line of Men strung before the forerunners of the orcs, meaning to make a feint of resistance, and as the howling wargs rapidly devoured the distance before them, Legolas clapped a hand upon Bilbo's tiny shoulder, and pointed.

A small gasp and a muttered curse broke from the Hobbit's lips as the surging line of wargs struck the slender line that the Men held, followed a moment later by the echoing crash of their impact, as the booming crash of thunder swiftly follows upon the heels of a lightening flash. Cries of men, and wild howls of great wolves echoed up from the valley as the line wavered, and then broke. Bard's kin, those who had not been torn in their teeth, or crushed beneath the feet of the wargs, fled one way and the other up toward the spurs of the Mountain, and the great wargs, their shrieking masters upon their backs, surged into the valley, as the rest of the howling goblin army came rushing in after them.

"Bilbo," Legolas breathed, feeling the young Hobbit's shoulder shiver beneath his hand as they watched the army coming, "your presence in this battle is not needed. If you wish, you can fall back-," his words cut short in surprise as he looked down, seeking the small Hobbit, to find his place empty. But his hand still felt cloth beneath it, and a bony shivering shoulder beneath that. Furrowing his brows in disbelief, Legolas jerked his hand back, and turned once again to the swirling goblin army that was thick in the valley below them, black and roiling, like a cesspool of boiling ooze. He could waste no more thoughts on little Bilbo.

Glancing behind him at the arches that stood on a higher shelf, watching eagerly for his signal, he raised his sword, and cried in a voice that seemed to ring off the hills, "Fire your arrows!" And the wisp and hiss of bowstrings released, and the whizzing departure of many countless arrows followed.

Away an arching shower of arrows fled, flickering as if they were sparks of fire, to fall stinging and burning into the midst of the goblins. Loud shrieks of pain and warbling cries of fury bubbled up from the orcish army as the arrows fell hissing among them.

"Come, my kinsmen! Let our blades be first to spill the blood of the spawn of Morgoth!" Legolas cried with fury as his voice carried over the lines of elven spearmen. "Charge!"

And as his words echoed and faded off the hills about him, Legolas leaped down from the high ledge of rock upon which he stood, barely pausing as his boots struck the slanting earth, and with ever increasing swiftness, he flew down the steep slope of the spur, with a tide of Mirkwood Elves surging down the hill at his back.

Closer drew the hunched, snarling shapes of the orcs, their black bladed weapons, brandished in their clawed hands. Their eyes shone in the gathering darkness with a light that was cold and fierce, their green lips drawn back from teeth cruel and sharp as the nearest goblins among them hopped and scrambled forward eagerly to engage the descending Elves. Legolas' eyes locked upon the foremost orc, a thick limbed and brawny beast, wielding a massive scimitar with a cruel, serrated blade. Its eyes found his as well, and the creature grinned, a hideous bloodthirsty grin, green lips peeling back from ragged teeth. For a moment Legolas felt a twinge of fear, an urge to hold back, but then as quickly, the thought of Lalaith's soulful, haunting eyes filtered across his memory, and his courage returned in a nearly overpowering wave. This was for her.

Legolas lifted his blade, and with an echoing shout, the lines of orcs and Elves collided.

His footsteps echoed eerily in the long, torch lit corridor as Haldir paced one way and then the other glancing up once again at the oaken door beyond where Lalaith lay beneath the ministrations of the queen, and several of healers. His body was somewhere beyond exhaustion, but he did not feel it. His knees felt weak, his stomach sick. A carven chair sat beside the door for him, but to remain still, he could not do. His nerves were fraught and ragged. It had been hours since he had lain Lalaith upon the narrow bed within the small room, then bidden to wait in the hall while the queen and the matron healers, tight lipped, and somber, prepared to administer to the stricken maiden.

His patience had worn thin long before, but Haldir's repeated knocking had gone unanswered, and so he resorted to pacing in his anxiety and fear. How was she? Was there hope for her? Was she even yet alive? None of the questions found answers, though they ricocheted about in his brain like angry wasps.

Crushing his teeth together in his frustration, he cast an angry eye at the oaken door as if it were the source of his ire.

"Cursed Mirkwood Elves, and their abominable arrogance," he grumbled, running his fingers through his hair as he had, uncounted times in the past hours. "Were this Lórien, I would not be relegated to the lowest rungs like mere rabble, doomed to wait out here for word of her condition, as if she means nothing to me. Is it because they think him more worthy of her?"

This thought burned through his brain, and Haldir curled in his fists until his knuckles crackled. His jaw clenched as he stormed toward the door, his patience exhausted, determined to pound upon the door until his request for admittance was answered, or until he had reduced the vile barrier to gristmill sized particles.

He was but a step away from the door, when it uttered a squeak of protest and began to draw open. Haldir's hands fell to his sides as he looked up. The queen appeared, her golden hair drawn back from her face in a loose knot, her eyes red and her face drawn down in exhaustion. She cast a cursory glance at him, taking in his hair loose and wild from his hands running through it too many times, his eyes fatigued and red, and his pleading gaze.

"I had wondered if you would still be out here," she sighed.

"Surely you know I will not leave until I know how she is," he asked, his voice barely concealing his deep ire.

"It is too soon to say," the lady muttered, running a finger over her furrowed brow. "Perhaps it would be good for you, if you took some rest. I will send you word if there is any change."

She set her hand upon the latch, but paused as Haldir's hand fell upon her own.

"Please, my lady, you must understand," he ground out. "I cannot rest, not with her safety unsure as it is. I want to help her."

Aseaiel clenched her jaw, and a hint of frustration shone through her weary eyes as she muttered, "You would be like a bull, trying to help piece together broken pottery, Haldir of Lórien! If you care for her, you will leave her healing in the hands of those more capable than you."

She pulled her hand away from his, and with a cold look, pushed the door open, only enough for herself to pass through, without giving Haldir a view of the room's interior.

"Please, my lady I beg of you. At least let me be at her side."

At his tone, Aseaiel paused. Bereft of the conceit it had carried before, his voice now bore nothing but raw, fervent pleading.

Legolas' mother glanced back, her red rimmed eyes meeting the Marchwarden's.

"Would you condemn your son to waiting out here, my lady, were he to be in my place?"

"My son is not so presumptuous as to think he can steal from another, something he does not deserve," she breathed softly.

"My lady, please." Haldir's voice was at a near whisper, unaffected by her cold words. "As one who holds Lalaith dear, can you not see that I want simply to be near her, as nothing more than a friend who cares for her, for now?"

Aseaiel glanced at the floor at his pleading words as she pondered his question. Then slowly, she lifted her eyes, studying his red worried gaze for a long moment, before she pushed the door open with a soft creak, and gestured toward the shadowed bed.

Haldir moved into the room with subdued, reverent steps, drawing in a short quick breath as his eyes alighted upon Lalaith. She lay on her chest upon a narrow bed, a linen sheet thrown over her slender body from the middle of her back down to her feet. He could hardly see any of the rest of her through the crush of women gathered about the bed, but her face upon a white pillow, was turned toward his own. Her eyes were closed, her face and lips pale.

"Lalaith," he whispered.

He felt gentle pressure upon his arm, and glanced down to the queen. Her hand had touched his arm as she offered him a sorrowful smile.

Aseaiel sighed at this. "I am sorry, Lord Haldir," she breathed, her eyes speaking volumes that her words did not.

"May I-," he swallowed, hesitant. "May I sit beside her, my lady?"

With a sigh, Aseaiel nodded before she moved away from him, and joined the other women.

"My lady," one of the healers muttered at the queen's approach, "we have drawn out much of the poison, but it is still coming. How much saturated her blood, it is difficult to say."

"Well, we will work until we can draw no more out," Aseaiel returned gently, "and then we must leave the rest in the hands of the Valar."

"It is a fortunate thing, my lady," another healer added in a whisper, "that she was wearing the Lórien Lord's cloak. For that, and her quiver, is what kept the beast's fangs from entering further, and severing her spine."

As she said these sobering words, Haldir crossed the room, pausing at the head of Lalaith's bed, largely ignored by the women who worked over her. Her golden hair was splayed across the pillow where he head rested, slightly damp. At the base of her neck, above her bared shoulder blades, as one of the healers drew away a folded cloth, now saturated with a black substance, were two small, seemingly insignificant puncture wounds, still oozing a mixture of black tar-like poison, and blood. Harsh purple marks, like elongated bruises, trailed out over her otherwise fair skin from the wicked wounds, and Haldir found himself unable to withhold a ragged gasp as he dropped slowly to his knees beside her.

One of Lalaith's hands had fallen over the side of the bed, hanging limply, her slender fingers trailing near the stone floor. Haldir studied it for a long moment, her long smooth arm clean and slender, as pale as her face. At last, he reached out, lifting her cold, unresponsive hand into his own, cradling it as if it were a jewel of infinitely precious worth. With his other hand, he slowly traced the slender lines of her limp fingers, wondering how it could be to hold this hand as it responded to his touch, and returned an answering squeeze.

"Lalaith-," he whispered again, pressing a kiss against her cold knuckles, and drawing closer to her bed, enough so that his shoulder touched her bed linens, and his face rested beside her own. "Come back, please. Come back to me."

Beside him, one of the women healers glanced down at him, but at a gentle look from the queen's soft eyes, said nothing.

"Lalaith, do not be afraid." Haldir continued to whisper. "I am here. I will not leave until you wake."

Not until now did Haldir realize how drained he was. His emotions and his fear had thoroughly depleted him. Here, beside Lalaith, with her hand in his, he found himself, and he was content. Pressing another kiss to her knuckles, he reached out to her, touched her face gently, and with his head resting beside hers, his breath mingled with her shallow breathing, and he faded into the realm of his dreams.

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