"Ai, Estel!" Lalaith groaned as a breeze wafted gently through the golden air of the early evening, and sifted passed the two companions as they walked arm in arm along a path beside the whispering flow of a small river as it meandered slowly through the vale of Imladris. She brushed a hand against the dampness that had collected beneath an eye, and smiled. "I can not understand why I miss Bilbo so. Do you think he will ever return to visit us?"
"How could he not?" Estel laughed, scampering ahead toward a tree where a vine entwined rope swing hung low beside the river. He hopped upon it, and swung in a wide arch out over the water, before he leaped again to the ground and rejoined her. Pressing his forehead close to hers, he whispered furtively, "With you here? Surely he'll return one day. He grew very attached to you, and you to him, if I am not mistaken."
"Pah, Estel!" Lalaith laughed as she pushed her hands against his chest, shoving him a step backward. "He and I could not even understand each other! I am surprised he seemed so interested in me."
But secretly, Lalaith was pleased at Estel's words. For in truth, she could not remember meeting, even among the Elflings of her people, a creature so beguiling as the little Hobbit she had met her first night upon returning home.
With her appearance, and her cousins' in the Hall of Fire, there had been a joyful disruption of noise in the already gathered crowd. Elrond, with Gandalf at his side, had risen to greet them, and she had met them with great enthusiasm. She had not realized, until her return, how terribly she had missed her uncle, and had only narrowly avoided crying before everyone when she found herself enveloped in Elrond's embrace. And then Gandalf had greeted her, in his cheery, grandfatherly manner, his gnarled hands yet strong and warm as they caught hers within them. Bilbo had not stood to greet her, but it was only because he was half drowsing already.
Lalaith had felt great fondness for Bilbo from the first appearance of him, half asleep upon a window seat, his head lolling upon the sill. His head was covered in a mop of wood brown hair, his pudgy frame clothed in a great coat over a small shining shirt. Mithril, it seemed, while breeches that reached only halfway down his calves, exposed large hairy feet.
And though he had not understood her, nor she him, yet he had seemed to like her immensely from their first meeting, and they had formed a close friendship in spite of the short time he had spent in Rivendell. It had been with a lump in her throat that she had bidden Bilbo the Hobbit and Gandalf farewell, that very morning as they had departed out through the gate of Imladris, to return to Bilbo's home in the far away Shire.
"You shall teach me of the tongues of Men, will you not, Estel, so that when Bilbo comes again to Imladris, I can speak to him?" She asked, tentatively sitting upon the seat of the rope swing, and pushing herself lazily about with the tips of her feet. She ran her hands appreciatively over the vine entwined ropes, remembering who had hung it here for her, in centuries now past, when she had been only a child.
"I shall." Estel promised, grasping the ropes, and gently swinging her back and forth. "But by then, I do not doubt, Bilbo will know your tongue, as well, Lalaith."
She sighed at the thought of Legolas, hardly hearing what her friend had said in return, and grew suddenly despondent, the rhythmic creaking of the swing and the settling noises of birds and the clatter of water lending itself to her sudden melancholy.
"Why, Lalaith." Estel breathed gently, drawing the swing to a stop, and resting a hand upon her shoulder. "Why this sudden despondency?" He asked at her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Legolas. He is a prince in Mirkwood. The son of King Thranduil." Lalaith sighed. "I miss him."
"Why so sad, though?" Estel asked, rotating the swing so that she would face him.
"We did not part well, when I left Mirkwood, and it was my fault." She sighed.
"Is he your love, then?" he asked in his forward, youthful manner, his eyes wide with innocent curiosity.
At the word Lalaith had been skirting for years when she thought of Legolas, her heart nearly stopped in her chest.
"Ah, oh, well, that is-,"
Estel smiled at her sudden discomfort, and did not press her. "I think I know somewhat of how you feel." He sighed, drawing back as she rose to her feet, and slipped her arm once again through is as they continued upon the path they were upon. "Sometimes, when I am alone, and I find my thoughts wandering, I find myself-," he sighed in a low growl. "Oh, you would think me a fool."
"No I wouldn't." Lalaith insisted, half turning to look at him.
"Well," he sighed low, and continued, "Would you indeed not think me a great fool, Lalaith, if I told you that sometimes I feel as if I miss someone I've-, never met?"
At the words he had used, Lalaith stopped suddenly, and turned to gaze at him fully, so that she could better see his expression. Sad he seemed for the moment, lonely, but not entirely hopeless. And it suddenly struck her, his expression was like Arwen's had been, that night long ago, when she had confided in Lalaith, the same emotion.
"No, not at all." She breathed thoughtfully. "Not at all, Estel."
He studied her eyes, and she grinned as his despondency grew slowly back into a smile again.
"I am glad I know you, Lalaith." Estel sighed, clasping his fingers through hers, and pressing an affectionate kiss to her brow. "We have not known each other long, but it seems as if we have known each other forever. You are like the sister I have never had."
"And you have become as a brother to me, my dear Estel." She returned, smiling with a sigh as she tipped her head, and rested it upon his sturdy shoulder as they continued upon the path together beneath the slowly reddening sky of evening.
High above their heads, upon a spacious veranda that looked down upon the path they strolled unhurriedly along, Elrond stood watching, his hands pressed tightly against the balustrade, his eyes stern and unsmiling.
His eyes narrowed as he saw the youthful Estel press a kiss to the maiden's smooth brow, and with a sudden burst of energy, pushed himself away from the balustrade, and strode swiftly away.
"Yes, Uncle Elrond?" Lalaith asked, only half listening as she set the wine glass she had been sipping at, down before her plate, and began absently stabbing at slices of spiced apple upon her plate. Lifting her eyes she glanced at the studied gaze of the lord of Imladris. He did not look happy, and at his countenance, the young maiden straightened quickly, turning the full of her focus upon his.
Lalaith bit her lower lip, wondering if she had committed some infraction that she could not remember. "What is it?"
At her worried look, Elrond slowly smiled, a gentle, though somewhat sad smile as he studied the golden haired maiden who was as a daughter to him.
"Will you come with me a moment?" He asked, rising to his feet, and offering her his hand. "I have a matter of which I must speak with you, alone."
Lalaith nodded, feeling her heart hammering as she accepted his hand, and allowed him to help her to her feet. Gnawing her lip nervously, she followed Elrond's lead as he led her through the high arching pillars out of the airy dining hall, and onto the veranda.
"You and Gilraen's son, have grown close, this last week since you have been home," he murmured as they reached the balustrade.
Lalaith glanced away at his words, back through the line of carven, vine entwined pillars that edged the balcony, and to the young mortal, Estel. He sat at the table near her empty place beside his mother, the Lady Gilraen, a soft eyed mortal woman, whom Lalaith had grown to like almost as much as her son, Estel. She was gentle hearted, and lovely, in spite of the lines that were beginning to furrow her fair face, and the touch of grey that was beginning to lace itself through her dark hair. At Lalaith's glance, Estel raised his eyes, and smiled, lifting his glass in a silent salute to the Elf maiden.
At the gesture, Lalaith heard Elrond draw in a low breath, and she turned back to him, seeing a stern light sparking in his eyes, as his jaw tightened slightly, and he turned to look over the valley below, bathed in the silver shadows of night.
"We have grown to be good friends, uncle." Lalaith confessed. "It is as if we are kindred souls, somehow."
She spoke these words with a soft smile, but this only served to tightened Elrond's jaw all the more, as his fingers dug into the stone of the railing.
"You are not growing too close to him, are you, my niece?" he hissed.
Lalaith frowned slightly as Elrond spoke, taken aback by the impassioned tone of his words. But she understood well the meaning behind his words. Elrond's father and mother, of mortal and Elf kind, had long before, passed beyond the borders of the world. And his own brother Elros, in centuries long past, had chosen mortality over eternal life. He had given his love to one of the daughters of Men, and though his children lived on in the Men who were of the blood of Númenor, Elros had been dead these many millennia.
"I have seen too much loss in my own life. I do not wish to endure it again!" Elrond murmured in a fierce whisper, turning his gaze swiftly back to her own.
Lalaith gaze at her uncle, unblinking as she absorbed his words. His face was stern and unsmiling, yet his eyes still held a touch of tender concern for her.
"Oh, uncle." Lalaith sighed, reaching out and resting her hand upon Elrond's. She sighed as Elrond smiled softly, and gently squeezed her hand in return. "You need not worry for me. Estel has become as a brother to me. Nothing more. Though I know of a surety that the maiden who is destined to hold his heart, will be blessed indeed. For he is noble and good. Estel is young, but there is greatness in him. I can see it."
"Young Estel is his father's son." Elrond murmured, his voice once again returned to a thoughtful tone.
"And who was his father?" Lalaith asked, her curiosity suddenly piqued. For though she had met the lad's mother, the Lady Gilraen, a fair and noble woman, no word had been given her, on who his father could ever have been.
At this question, Elrond looked again upon Lalaith, his gaze again stern and grave. "Perhaps I shall tell you," Elrond began, his words low. "After all, your cousins both know. Though I must beg of you to speak of this to no one, most especially to Estel himself."
Lalaith gulped and nodded, searching her uncle's fathomless eyes.
"Estel's true name is Aragorn." Elrond murmured in a grave voice that held great import. "His father was Arathorn, son of Arador."
Lalaith's eyes narrowed at the list of names. They seemed familiar to her, but why, she was not certain.
"Arathorn was the chief of the Dúnedain. He went riding against the orcs years ago, when Elladan and Elrohir left Lothlórien for a time to ride with him, and he was slain in battle."
Lalaith sighed and nodded. She remembered now, from the tales her cousins had brought back to her and Arwen, in the Golden Wood. "Aragorn is his only child." Elrond murmured.
"And that would make Estel," Lalaith paused, "that is, Aragorn, the-," she gulped as the weight of what Elrond had told her settled firmly upon her mind.
"Is he the heir of Isildur?" She breathed, suddenly awed at the thought of it.
And as Elrond slowly nodded, Lalaith gulped and drew in a long, weighted breath.