Though the bright, starry glade was filled with many Elves, their music and laughter filling the air, Legolas felt alone. Bright fires set about the clearing celebrating the return of the Mirkwood warriors, cast sparks heavenward toward the stars, whose bright twinkling only served to increase his loneliness. Smiling faces lit by the dancing light of the fires, chatted merrily as Elves feasted upon the succulent fare spread out over the many tables, or danced within the center of the clearing. Legolas tried diligently to keep his eyes off of the dancing couples, for that, along with the bright glint of the stars overhead, only reminded him more than ever, that Lalaith was gone. Instead, his eyes remained upon the small pouch of jewels in his hand that he, in his distress at her leaving so soon, had forgotten to give her.
"Your thoughts are troubling you, my son."
Legolas glanced up quickly. So occupied was he with his own misery, that he had not heard anyone coming.
"Would you speak of your pains with me?" His mother continued as she drew near, her eyes studying her son with gentle pity.
"Is it not clear, what troubles me?" He asked, not unkindly, though his words were stilted.
"Only a fool would not know." Aseaiel sighed, dropping down upon the gnarled root where Legolas sat alone, and morose. Her hand, small and soft, touched his shoulder, and Legolas moved into her embrace as he had since he was a small child and sought comfort. "You are languishing over Lalaith's departure."
"I could not control my anger, and said harsh words to Haldir that I should have bitten back." Legolas grumbled, dropping his eyes, and wishing the bright merry music to which the couples danced in the glade, would come to an end, for the cheerful notes did not match his melancholy mood.
Legolas sighed, miserable in his hopeless thoughts. "And for that, I fear I've lost her. She is gone. With him."
"Legolas!" Aseaiel protested, running a finger down her son's smooth cheek. "Lalaith is a wise maiden, and one who bears a kind heart. She is not one who seeks to feed her vanity by watching men fight over her, for she cares very much, for you both. That is, perhaps, why she chose to leave so quickly after your return. She meant to protect you and Lórien's Marchwarden from-," Aseaiel paused and smirked softly, "each other."
At these words, Legolas' brow furrowed, but he said nothing.
"And leaving with him and Lord Elrond's son as her escorts, does not mean that she has cast you aside." Aseaiel continued. "She is as easily able to forgive you of your small faults, as you are able to forgive her of hers."
"But she is gone now." Legolas sighed. "And I miss her. And all the words I wanted to say to her, have gone unsaid. How will I live for all the rest of the ages, if I can never even let her know? What if Haldir claims her love before I have that chance?"
"She cannot give her heart to Haldir, my son, for she has already lost it to another." Aseaiel sighed.
Legolas' eyes shot up at his mother's words. "What?" He demanded breathlessly. "Has she-,"
"No, she has said nothing. But she does not need to." Aseaiel soothed gently. "I can see beyond her eyes, my son. I see her woman's heart. Though she may not know it herself, her heart, as yours, was given, long ago." Aseaiel smiled softly, seeing a glimmer of hope return once again to Legolas' eyes. "Do not accept defeat so easily, for she would not wish it."
She glanced down at the small pouch he still held within his hand, and holding out a hand, asked, "May I?"
Legolas inclined his head, and lay the small bag in her hands.
With a gentle tug, she loosened the top, and six small gems clinked softly together as they rolled onto her palm.
"Lovely." Aseaiel murmured softly. "Sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds. Two of each. From the little Pherian?"
"He said it was a gift for Lalaith."
"Mm." Aseaiel smiled, and drew in a deep breath of the cool night air that surrounded them as she slipped the jewels back into the leather bag, and returned it to Legolas' hands. "Then perhaps, you should take it to her."
Lalaith sighed, falling once more back into her chair beside Arwen as the last strains of music filtered away. Much of the meal before her had remained untouched, for though her strength was swiftly returning, she still felt weak. And now, after the rather lively dance steps that Rumil had led her through on the dance floor, she was unsure she could even crawl back to her own flet. Her legs were shivering slightly now from the strain, and she glanced up, feeling her cousin's sympathetic eyes upon her.
"You seem weary." Arwen sighed, touching Lalaith's hand. "Do you need to rest? I would be happy to walk with you back to our chambers, if you wish."
"I will be fine." Lalaith assured her, then added with a smile, "As long as I am not required to dance any more." She turned her eyes and glanced out the doors that led to the night shadowed balcony. Perhaps if she went out there into the cool night air, and caught her breath, she would feel better.
She stood up, casting a side glance at Haldir where he sat across the hall from her. But his eyes were not on her. He had hardly looked at her all evening, and he had not even attempted to dance with her. At the moment, he was standing, lingering near the spot where Lothirien stood, clad in an unadorned serving maid's gown. The two seemed to be emerged in deep conversation, and Lalaith smiled to herself. Perhaps Haldir was coming to his senses about Lothirien at last.
Releasing a short sigh, Lalaith turned away from the table, and walked slowly out through the great fluted doors, thrown wide to the night air, and onto the wide veranda. The night was dark, and pleasantly cool as she made her way to the balustrade and leaned her hands upon it the cool, smooth metal. A gentle wind that filtered through the high branches of the Mallyrn teased through her hair, and she smiled softly and closed her eyes, wishing she were still in Legolas' wood with him. But she could not have stayed. Not when she had woken to find Haldir and Legolas near to ripping each other apart, as they were.
The thought still infuriated her, even now. Haldir behaving arrogantly, she could understand. But why Legolas? He had no need to act in so irrational a manner. Whatever could it have been, that had set them so at odds with each other? She shook her head, not caring to know the answer.
Haldir had seen her go out of the corner of his eye, and the smile upon his face fell, and the account of his adventures in Mirkwood that he had been relating to Lothirien faded from his lips.
"I dare not look," he muttered to Lothirien in a hissing whisper. "Has she left?"
Lothirien's fair, gentle eyes that had been bright with wonder as she eagerly devoured the tale of his journey, seemed to fall at this, and her once bright smile failed.
"She's gone. Out on the veranda." Lothirien murmured, lowering her eyes meekly.
Haldir's brows furrowed at the sadness obvious within her voice, and he touched her hand gently, forgetting Lalaith for the moment. "Lothirien?" He urged.
"Forgive me." She sighed, rallying as she lifted her eyes to his. "I simply missed you while you were gone." She smiled bravely. "But think no more on me." She nodded toward the doors that led out into the cool shadows of the night. "Go to her."
Haldir grinned at her, and nodded a farewell. The Valar bless her. Haldir thought to himself as turned away. No questions, nothing to keep him from this moment with Lalaith. She had simply nodded her blessing to him, and allowed him to depart.
He made his way across the room, unaware of Lothirien's eyes ever upon his back, lingering upon him as he crossed the threshold, and found himself enveloped in a breeze that washed across the veranda, smelling sweetly of distant blossoms. He lifted his brows and smirked to himself, remembering the dark shadows of Mirkwood, and the hint of age and mould that the wind carried upon it whenever a breeze managed to filter its way through the thick of those knotted grey trees. Such a place, Legolas could not hope to bring a bride like Lalaith. Surely Lalaith preferred this wood to Legolas' realm.
With that thought, he glanced about, to see Lalaith at last, standing, her smooth white hands upon the balustrade, gazing out over the darkened city. Above them, the branches of the Mallorn upon which the great hall was perched, disappeared into darkness. And below them, night washed the ground, hiding it in gentle shadows.
Beyond the doors that edged the balcony, the sweet strains of music and cheerful voices echoed from the feast celebrating the return of Lalaith and Elrohir. But here, they were alone.
Lights perched at various levels within the branches of the Mallyrn gave Haldir the sublime sensation that he, and Lalaith with him, existed, within a sphere of stars. And they dwelt here, alone, the soul master and mistress of the universe.
Lalaith's back was turned toward him, she seemed not to notice him, and Haldir paused, bowing his head and gathering his thoughts. His heart pounded within his chest, and he bowed his head, going again over the words he had rehearsed so many times uncounted, in his mind.
Drawing closer with silent steps, Haldir at last reached out, and rested his hand upon her own.
She turned with a small breath of surprise, and upon seeing his face so close to her own, her own eyes lowered, her cheeks flushing with color.
"Haldir, your tread is very light."
"Did I startle you?" he murmured, pressing a gentle kiss to her knuckles.
"A little." Lalaith muttered, a heaviness entering her voice as she tried to draw her hand away. "Perhaps I should return inside,"
"Lalaith, please." Haldir pleaded, keeping his hand firmly enclosing her own. "Could you spare but a few moments? I have a matter of some great importance that I have been meaning to speak of with you, for some time."
"Oh, I-," Lalaith glanced away, and Haldir's heart trembled at the hesitancy in her gaze.
"You have resettled well, since our return yesterday, I trust?" He asked, his words light and trivial as he led her, numbly following, toward a fluted silver bench some distance down the veranda.
"Yes, thank you." She murmured, her words barely above a whisper.
Haldir studied her eyes, bent toward the ground, and he ached to see them gazing into his own.
"There were so many times that I wanted to speak of this to you in Thranduil's kingdom," Haldir gulped, slowing as they reached the long silver bench, "but the chance never came."
Lalaith said nothing, as she fell heavily upon the silver seat, her hands clasped in her lap, with her eyes gazing off and away as Haldir continued to stand before her.
"Lalaith, I-," Haldir gulped as he gazed at her shyly averted eyes. "Have I done something to offend you?"
"Of course not." Lalaith sighed, lifting her eyes to his at last, and offering him a shake of her head. "How could you? After all you have done for me? You saved my life, Haldir. For that, I am eternally in your debt."
"Then Lalaith," Haldir begged, suddenly overcome with longing that he dropped to his knees before her, and caught her hands between both of his own. "Why will you not tell me what heart feels? What is it that I must do to gain your lasting favor? I would do anything."
Lalaith's eyes fell to her lap, and she shut her eyes tightly, feeling the sudden pressure of tears rising to the surface.
"Why will you not give me the answer you know I seek?" Haldir begged. "Why must you draw out the agony for me?"
"If I have done anything to hurt you, I did not mean it," she choked, trying to draw away her hand from his hold, but his own grasp was too tight. "I have no wish to cause you pain, Haldir."
"I know you do not intend to." He returned in a voice that was gentle, yet edged with a ragged pain. "But I would rather you reject me entirely, than to say nothing at all."
Lalaith crushed her eyelids shut. "Haldir, please-,"
"I must know, Lalaith." Haldir's voice suddenly ragged, begged her from beyond the darkness that her clenched eyelids had brought to her in a vain attempt to shut the world out from all that she was.
"I beg of you, tell me if I have any cause to hope." His voice continued, weak with pleading. "I have but to think of you, Lalaith, and I can see no other face. Your image haunts my dreams. I would-, I would make you mine, if I could. My wife. To dwell with me forever, wherever our paths take us."
Lalaith opened her eyes to study Haldir's earnest gaze, hardly realizing that several tears escaped her eyes, shining like many small jewels in the wane light as they trailed wet lines down her smooth cheeks.
"Oh, Lalaith." Haldir's word was only a soft breath of air. He reached out, and caught a tear upon one finger, studying it closely before he brushed it away with his thumb. His heart ached that he had caused such tears. "I love you."
"Haldir, what would you have of me?" She blurted, her eyes pleading with his.
Haldir's heart fairly melted at the soft tones of her question. His first instinct was to beg her to marry him, to give her his promise that any doubts she held, would fade in time. But his heart shrank from the thought. He could only be happy with her as his own, if she wanted him in return.
"I would have you tell me how you feel for me, honestly," He murmured at last. And though his heart ached at the words, it also felt a distant echo of peace, as well as he added, "I would have you follow the path where your heart leads, Lalaith. I want you to be happy. Even if-"
Lalaith's heart shivered at his words as they trailed off. Her eyes dropped again to her hands, and a memory of a day more than a century past, returned to her in a rush. Her heart had been heavy that day, for Lothirien's parents were only recently dead. And she had felt partly to blame. The day she and her cousins left the Golden Wood. Galadriel's farewell words to her, had been almost as Haldir's words were, now.
"Do not stray from the path where your heart leads, my dear one." Galadriel had urged, that long ago day. And though Lalaith had not fully understood her meaning, she understood it, now. As much as it tore her heart to reject him, her heart did not lead her to him. There was another face she saw in her mind, another whose touch she hungered to feel. She drew in a breath at this somber realization.
"You are so noble and good, Haldir," she began to speak, hearing her voice almost as if it were the voice of a stranger, "and I am- I am far too fickle and childish to be-, to be anyone's wife. Especially yours." Lalaith moaned, her words coming in little more than sobs now. "How I wish I could spare you this pain, but I cannot give you the answer you seek. It would be unfair to you, and to both of us if I consented to marry you when I-," her breath came out in a ragged sob as she managed to blurt, "when I do not love you in return."
The wretched, raw pain that rippled across Haldir's countenance at these last words that rang of finality, tore Lalaith's heart within her. She could bear his gaze no longer. Tearing her hands from his now weakened hold, she scrambled to her feet, and dashed away, half blinded by her tears, though the high doors that led into the great dining hall.
Clinging to the shadowed corners at the edges of the hall she hurried. She spoke to no one, hoping that none would notice her wiping briskly at her tears as she scurried in her rush toward the open doors that led out and down the steps that twined round the great Mallorn.
But there was one who noticed.
Lothirien saw Lalaith's hurried escape, the tears upon her cheeks, and she guessed with an aching heart, what had just transpired between her dearest friend, and the lady of his hopes.
With hurried but sedate steps, she retraced the path Lalaith had taken, through the doors, and out onto the balcony, silent in the shadows of the night. She saw him immediately, still kneeling before the silver bench where Lalaith must have been sitting only moments before. His back was bent, his head hanging in a forlorn manner.
"Haldir?" she whispered.
He barely turned his head.
"Oh, my dear Haldir." Lothirien choked, rushing to him, and dropping to her knees at his side. "My dearest, Haldir."
She gathered his face into her hands, and studied his misery filled eyes.
"Come." She urged with a tender, encouraging smile. "Come here."
"Thank the Valar for you, Lothirien. My friend." He breathed in a choking voice as her gentle embrace drew him close.
And he needed no more urging as he drew his own arms around her, and buried his face within the soft fragrance of her hair.