Lalaith's Younger Years

Chapter 23

The sounds of battle raged in his ears as Legolas, his armor bloodied, his helmet having been torn away in the battle several hours before, sidestepped the slashing axe edge of his snarling goblin foe before he sliced the blade of one of his knives through the creature's thick gullet. The creature stiffened, with a wail cut short in a gurgle of death. It fell twitching, only to be hurdled by another hunched creature, screaming its wrath at Legolas as it came, whirling a heavy scimitar above its head. Its blade came crashing down, cutting through the air with a hiss as it rang with a harsh metallic scrape, and a scattering of sparks, against Legolas' crossed knife blades he had lifted above his head in the last moment. The blow forced the elven prince down to one knee. His enemy grinned, sensing its advantage now, and Legolas wished vainly, for the sword he had lost, shattered long before, against the iron collar of an orc.

"Legolas!" He could hear Elrohir's cry of alarm from somewhere nearby, but the son of Elrond could do nothing to reach his friend, engaged in a death struggle of his own, with a fearsome, one-eyed warg, with blood matted fur, slather spurting forth from between its ragged jaws. The rabid beast had Elrohir trapped against a high outcropping of rocks, and only Elrohir's bright bladed sword kept the beast at bay.

Putting all its weight behind its scimitar, the seething goblin pressed down, forcing Legolas to bear the weight of its anger upon the blades of his white knives as the goblin's black blade drew closer to Legolas' face. The massive goblin's breath fumed through its grinning, uneven teeth, reeking of death and rot as its blade pressed closer toward Legolas' face.

But then, inexplicably, the creature shrieked in sudden terror and pain, staggering back from Legolas, giving him respite from their duel. Legolas leaped to his feet, his eyes fixing with fascination upon a wound that opened, as if sliced there by the air itself, in the creature's belly. The wound grew, slicing across the goblin's abdomen. Legolas stood, his chest heaving, his eyes fixed in wondering awe as thick blood, sticky and black, spilled from the wound that had been torn by nothing. With a low groan, the creature toppled forward onto its face like a felled tree, and did not move again.

"All right then, Legolas?" a small voice chirped from nearby. A voice that sounded much like Bilbo the Hobbit's voice. "Well then," Bilbo's voice came again, followed by a short huff, as one clearing his throat, "I'm off to see what I can do about that dirty old dog that's got your friend trapped. Good luck."

Tiny feet unseen, scampered away, and Legolas followed the sound with his eyes, though he could not see its source. All he could see was the melee in which he and his father, and Elrohir, with others of the Mirkwood Elves had been caught, pressed up against the southern arm of the Mountain by the screeching goblins and howling wargs that swirled in the valley, clambering up the slopes at them with blood-hungry eyes. Warbling screeches echoed down from the heights of the mountain above, as more goblins came scaling over the rills of the mountain like so many black armored beetles in a rush so swift, that here and there an orc fell screaming from the cliffs. The losses of a few of their fellows did nothing to slow the reckless rush of the others as the mass of screaming beasts lurched down the mountain like an ooze of black mould, toward the great spurs to attack the Elves, and the Men and Dwarves from behind.

His heart grew black in his chest. There were not enough of them to stem the tide of the enemy from all sides.

An unearthly screech behind him drew his attention away from the horde streaming down from above and he turned, ducking as a large bat, ragged-winged, its eyes red, and sharp teeth like small needles protruding from its razored jaws, swooped over his head, hissing and spitting as it missed its strike. It turned, wheeling in the air with a wild howl as it made another dive at him. But this time, one of his knives caught it across a leathery wing, slashing sinew and cracking bone as the flying beast spun flailing into the ground. The wailing creature struck with a thud, and staggered up upon its clawed talons, hissing its furry at Legolas before one of his white knives flashed out, and sliced through the creature's body, pinning it to the ground.

Legolas gasped, wrenching his knife out of the earth, and flinging the twitching bat carcass from the blade before his eyes shot up again toward the mountain where the host of the goblins poured downward toward the spurs in a rushing black tide.

He drew in a long ragged breath. There were too many, he admitted to himself beneath the blackened sky, listening to the furious sounds of battle that raged around him, and the growing screeches of the goblins that rumbled ever closer. A wave of bitter acceptance washed over him. Their alliance with Bard and his Men and the Dwarves of the Iron Hills had only held back the vile tide for a moment, but their effort had been as futile as trying to hold back an encroaching storm. He would not see Lalaith again, not on this side of the Great Sea. And he would never know if she returned his love. He would never realize the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her mouth beneath his own, or the ecstasy of her touch.

The warbling screams grew ever closer, and Legolas tightened his jaw, gripping the hafts of his knives with renewed strength. Though there was no hope, he would not be slain without fighting to his last breath.

Suddenly, there was a great shout, and from the gate above, came a trumpet call.

Thorin! His mind suddenly cried, and a great breath of hope rose in his chest. They had forgotten Thorin, and his Dwarves. His eyes lifted to the wall of Thorin's stronghold, just as it fell outward, with a crash, and out of the shadows, leapt the King under the Mountain, Thorin, and his Dwarves. Clad in shining armor they were, their countenances grim, with fire in their eyes, and their king at their head. And in the gloom and the dark, the Dwarf Thorin, gleamed like gold.

Haldir sat crumpled beside Lalaith's sickbed, unaware of all that passed around him, sleeping the sleep of one emotionally exhausted. His head rested against the side of her bed, her limp hand still clasped in his own against his chest. And as his thumb unconsciously brushed over her cold, unresponsive fingers, he dreamed.

The golden Mallyrn of Lórien once again surrounded him as he walked beneath their bright boughs upon a path he knew well. The clatter of water filled his ears as his path drew nearer to its end. And at last a wall of tumbled stones appeared, down which a small waterfall poured into a pool as blue and clear as a sapphire.

A maiden clad in a soft white gown sat upon the sandy edge of the shining pool, her back to Haldir, her golden hair spilling to her slender waist as the soft breeze that filtered through the glade caught it, and teased it about. One hand reached out over the water, dancing lightly across the surface and creating shimmering delicate ripples as it went. Haldir's eyes trailed adoringly over her, and though he could not see her face, he knew he loved her.

She had not heard his approach, for she did not turn at his appearance. So smiling, he stole softly up behind her, knelt at her back, and reaching from behind, softly covered her eyes with his hands.

"Guess who?" he murmured, his lips lightly brushing the delicate peak of her ear.

The maiden laughed softly at this. "I need not guess," she whispered with a smile in her voice. "It could be no other, but you, Haldir."

With these words, she turned to him with a soft flurry of skirts, her mouth finding his in an eager kiss as her fingers trailed up and through his hair. His own arms slipped about her waist, drawing her slender body against his own as he eagerly returned the hungry caresses of her moist mouth.

"Haldir," the maiden gasped, drawing back, though her mouth lingered against his own, "How I have pleaded to the Valar for this. To meet you like this, even if only in a dream."

"I have always been yours, even before I knew I was," he returned, teasing her mouth with a brush of his lips as he spoke. "I could never love any other. No other but you, Loth-,"

He paused at the name he had almost spoken. Why had he nearly just said-? Curious, he drew in a breath, and began to draw back so that he could, for the first time, take in the details of his beloved's face.

"Arwen? Arwen! Arwen!"

His dreamscape vanished like a puff of mist upon a wind at the weakened, frightened voice that had drawn him from sleep.

"Lalaith?" he gasped. His weariness vanished as he scrambled to his knees, and turned to see Elrond's ward struggling to sit up upon her sick bed, swaying slightly as if still weak. Her face was flushed with consternation and confusion as she lifted her free hand as if with great effort, and gazed at the fierce trembling of her fingers as she turned her hand over before her eyes. At last her hand flopped back to the bed as if burdened with a heavy weight. She lifted her gaze then, her slightly accusatory eyes flashing over his own. She wore naught but a light shift beneath the thin sheet, and at this realization, Haldir dropped her hand, his eyes darted swiftly away as he rose to his feet, turning from her.

"What? Haldir? Where am I?" she asked quietly. "What has happened?"

"Do you not remember the spiders?" he asked, gazing at the wall where candles, burning low, flickered within wrought candlesticks, casting mottled shadows against the walls.

"Spiders?" she breathed. Her voice was small. "Oh-," her voice grew all the more quiet. "In the forest. I was-, bitten."

Haldir heard the soft rustle of cloth, and half glanced over his shoulder to see her settling back upon the pillows. She lay on her side, her back turned to him, the neck of her shift partially exposing her slender shoulder blades as well as the back of her neck where the spider had struck, a white bandage fixed across her wound.

"You saved me," she murmured softly to the air. "I am in your debt, now."

"No," he muttered, softly shaking his head, and crossing his arms over his chest as he turned away facing the wall once again, "the queen and the healers saved you, Lalaith. I only carried you back."

"You slew the second spider," she countered softly, though her voice was insistent. "The one that bit me. Had you not come when you did, I would be dead. I owe you my life."

"I was glad to do it, Lalaith," Haldir returned. "You owe me nothing."

Lalaith sighed as if she were about to respond, when the door squeaked open.

"Lalaith!" A breathless voice burst from the doorway in a tone of breathless delight as the queen with several of her maids behind her, rushed into the room.

"Oh, my dear Lalaith." Aseaiel repeated, her voice thickening with emotion as she darted past Haldir, and seated herself at the edge of the maiden's bed, catching up her hand, and and touching the maiden's head with a motherly carress. "You are awake. At last. How do you feel?"

"Well enough, your highness." Lalaith sighed, a note of happy relief entering her voice. "Very weak, though. My limbs are heavy. And my neck is tight and sore-,"

"It will pass." Aseaiel soothed. "Though you will remain weak for many days. So it will be best if you stayed abed, until your strength returns."

Haldir, his back to the bed, tightened his jaw and glanced at the floor, for the queen spoke to the maiden as if to her own daughter. Aseaiel was no fool. She knew why he was here, and what he wanted. And she was determined that he would not achieve what he sought.

"Yes, my lady." Lalaith returned in a softened voice.

"Haldir of Lórien?"

He turned his head at the queen's voice, though not quite glancing at her where she sat at Lalaith's side.

"You may go now," she said, a gentle smile behind her voice. "You have stayed faithfully at Lalaith's side all this time, and I do not doubt but that rest would do you good."

This time, Haldir did not argue. He had no reason to. Lalaith was beyond the danger, and it would be best for her now, if she stayed in the queen's care. His duty to Lalaith was fulfilled.

"Yes, my lady." He nodded with a stiff bob of his head, and, without turning, he strode out the door, and into the flickering light of the torchlit corridor.

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