The Fall of Night, Part 3
The workroom was large and airy, quite unlike any other Lalaith had seen. Tall windows with scenes in coloured glass filled the space with light, and the high, arched ceiling made her voice echo most pleasingly. It would be a delightful venue in which to sing, she decided. If only her throat could produce a sound that was not like that of a very sickly raven…
Lalaith sighed, and set to work. She stood before the large table, a wicked-looking pair of shears in her hand, trying to decide which of her gowns would be first to get the chop. Aerlinn stood beside her, her gaze alternating between the gowns on the table, and her new friend, who was eyeing the gowns in a rather predatory fashion.
“You are not nervous about ruining them?” Aerlinn asked. “We are not seamstresses.”
“Indeed not,” Lalaith replied, and selected the green one, which had previously been identified as the least ugly the night before. “Money is ever tight with Nana and I; we are always remaking our clothes to get another year’s wear from them.” She ran the shears up a seam, parting the front from the back, and sighed. “And it is not as if they could get any worse.”
“That is for certain,” Aerlinn agreed, her voice quiet as she accepted the piece of fabric and began to run an iron over it, smoothing out the wrinkles and creases left by the seams. “We shall make a masterpiece of it! None shall be able to resist you!”
Lalaith glanced at the elf, and removed a sleeve from the gown. “My grandmother is always saying the same, that none can resist me, and yet here I stand, unwed and a virgin. You will forgive my skepticism, I hope?”
“Well,” Aerlinn ventured, “You are somewhat… forbidding… in demeanor. Little do I know of Men, but much do I know of Elves, and laughter and a smile go far in attracting them.”
“Men are much the same as Elves in that respect, then,” Lalaith said. “But Nana is to blame for it, as she has ever told me to be myself, and never to change who I am to please a man.” She turned to Aerlinn, hands filled with fabric. “This is who I am. Humorless, serious, with never a smile. Perhaps there is someone who will not me me as I am; perhaps not. I will not wait for him.”
Aerlinn took the dress pieces with a sigh. “I hope there is, for it pains me to see my ne friend alone.” She ironed in silence a long moment while Lalaith started dismembering the brown dress. “I wonder… perhaps we could dye these, and improve their colour.”
“Think you I am not aware of your change in subject?” Lalaith asked wryly. “I am; but I will go along. This brown is a most disgusting colour.”
Aerlinn eyed it for a long moment. “I do not think there is aught we can do to salvage that one,” she sighed at last. “Unless you will wear black. But this,” she said, and lifted a light blue gown from the table. “This, we can put into a bath of brighter blue. Your hair and skin can take the colours of jewels; these pastel tones will do naught for you. The green, as well; we shall dye it the colour of an emerald.”
Lalaith’s eyes lit with excitement. “Let us begin!”
Aerlinn left the room to arrange for the dye baths, and Lalaith tossed the remnants of the brown dress over her shoulder and began to cut apart the blue gown.
“I cry mercy!” begged a laughing voice from behind her. “What have I done, to merit such a missile sent my way?”
Lalaith spun around, huge shears held threateningly in her hand, to see an elf in the doorway, a piece of brown skirt draped over his shoulder while a sleeve fell over his head, covering one eye. The rest of the hideous gown lay in a heap at his feet. “I am sorry,” she told him, and set the shears down before coming to pluck the offending bits of material from him.
“Quite alright,” he told her. “If a lovely woman does not fling something at me at least once a day, I count my time poorly spent.” He followed her into the room, watching as she folded the discarded bits of dress and dropped them onto the seat of a chair.
Lalaith surveyed the elf before her. He was tall and slender, like most elves, with pale hair and blue eyes, also like most elves. But those eyes were sparkling at her with a truly formidable amount of humour and mischief. She was usually greatly alarmed by men like that; she felt no differently with this elf.
Last evening’s meal with Elladan and Elrohir had been an exercise in discomfort for her, as they had spent the whole of the night laughing and joking and smiling, and expecting her to do likewise. Their disappointment in her was palpable, and she had been glad for the meal to end so she could escape to her room. Lalaith had no doubt she would disappoint this elf, as well, and turned sadly to the table.
“I am Rûmil,” he said, and she looked back at him. He held out his hand, and she placed hers in it. He brushed his lips over her skin, and Lalaith felt a shiver of heat travel from where his mouth had touched up her arm and down her spine.
“I am Lalaith,” she replied, then blushed at the breathless sound of her voice, knowing he had noticed. Embarrassed, she pulled her hand from his light grasp and turned back to the table. There was only the smallest tremor to that hand as it picked up the shears and parted a sleeve from the bodice.
“Do you know where Haldir is?” Rûmil asked her after a moment. “I seek my brother, and was informed he is likely with Naurë, who I am told is your grandmother.”
Lalaith looked up to find him watching her carefully, and she set the shears down before she could destroy the dress with her trembling. “She told me at breakfast that she would sit in Elrond’s garden until lunch, and after that meal, would be working in his study with him.” Oh, his eyes were so very blue, like forget-me-nots, and fixed so intently upon her…
“If she has spent any time with Haldir, she is doubtless ready to drink a bottle of wine all by herself,” Rûmil said, grinning, revealing even white teeth.
Lalaith nodded. “Nana is always saying that he is the only elf that could drive her to drink.”
Rûmil laughed. “Many is the time he has made Orophin and myself take to the bottle,” he agreed.
“Our other brother, and the eldest.”
“Are you the youngest?” Lalaith thought he looked younger than most other elves she’d seen.
“I am,” he confirmed. “One of the youngest elves in Middle-Earth, actually. Only the Evenstar is younger than I.”
Lalaith cocked her head to the side as a memory swam its way to the surface of her mind. “Nana told me once that she and Elrond were studying the fertility of elves,” she mentioned, and cut the faded, ragged trim off the bodice of the blue gown. “It fascinated them how few and far apart elvish offspring are.” She glanced up at Rûmil. “You have two brothers; Elrohir and Elladan have a sister. Families of three are rare in elves, and considered quite large, are they not?”
“Too large, if you are one of them,” Rûmil replied. “I have ever longed to be my parents’ only child.” He sighed dramatically. “At least I can console myself with the knowledge that their first two sons were merely practice, and that they achieved perfection with their third attempt.”
She, of course, remained silent, merely watching him, and after a moment, his smile faltered. But there was no disappointment on his face. “You are a serious one,” he said at last, and flicked a fingertip over her cheek, brushing an errant wisp of hair behind her ear. “No matter; I am silly enough for two.” He held out his elbow. “I think Aerlinn has deserted you, fair one. Will you let me bring you in to lunch?”
Her belly chose then to voice its opinion, and grumbled noisily. She blushed again.
“Yes, indeed, sir stomach,” Rûmil said, bending slightly to address Lalaith’s midsection. “We attend to your needs right away.”
“You are very silly,” Lalaith informed him as they left the room, her hand tucked firmly into the crook of his arm.
“It is the bane of my brothers’ existence,” he admitted. “But I consider it my duty, as they are both somber, responsible, and restrained at all times.”
They continued chatting as they made their way to the feasting hall, unaware of three pairs of eyes watching their progress. Naurë’s were speculative; Haldir’s smug; Elrond’s somewhat grumpy.
“There you are, Lalaith!” exclaimed a feminine voice, and Aerlinn joined her friend and Rûmil at their part of the long table. “I am sorry I did not return, but—“
“I distracted her with my looks, wit, and charm,” Elrohir said from behind the elf-maid, darting a kiss on the side of her neck before plopping himself onto the long bench. Aerlinn blushed faintly and sank down beside Lalaith.
“Or what you think passes for looks, wit, and charm,” Rûmil retorted. “I confess myself unaware you possessed any of these.”
“But you are renowned for your obtuseness, cousin elf,” Elladan said from across the table. “A balrog could roost on your head and you’d think it a fetching hat.” He filled a plate with the choicest bits from the platters and handed it with a flourish to Lalaith, who nodded her thanks.
Rûmil only arched an elegant golden brow. “Tis only jealousy that makes you say such things,” he replied with false hauteur. “You begrudge me my escort of this lovely maid to our meal.”
Elladan heaved a dramatic sigh. “The child speaks the truth,” he admitted. “I ache with envy that ‘twas not my arm she had.”
“Child?” Rûmil inquired, playing up his outrage. “I am over a thousand years old, Elladan; hardly am I a stripling.”
“A mere babe,” Elrohir declared with an elegant wave of his hand. “I am surprised Orophin and Haldir permit you to leave the nursery.”
“Indeed,” Elladan agreed. “They either have great confidence in your ability to keep yourself alive—which I doubt—or else they are supremely uncaring if you manage to get yourself killed. Knowing your brothers, I find this last infinitely more likely.”
Rûmil heaved a great sigh and turned to Lalaith, who had been watching their banter with wide eyes. “Do you see, fair one, what a pitiable state one can be brought to? Their advanced years make them senile; their humour is weak and feeble, as are their intellects. Truly, it is a sad day.” And he smiled angelically at her.
She blinked at him, quite unable to speak. “I think it is time for us to eat,” she said finally, at a loss for anything else to say.
Elrohir, Elladan, Rûmil, and Aerlinn all laughed, to Lalaith’s amazement. “She is a harsh taskmistress, is Lalaith,” Rûmil said at last. “But we have been given our orders. It is time to eat!”
Across the hall, Naurë frowned into her goblet. She was well acquainted with the expression on her granddaughter’s face; it was infatuation, pure and simple, and it was directed at Haldir’s brother. He was very handsome, she would admit it. His hair was the pale-gold of finest ale, and his dark blue eyes brimmed with intelligence and good humour. Haldir and Orophin had raised him after their parents died, so she doubted not that he was a fine elf, strong and brave.
But he was an elf, and that fact caused an ache in her heart for her granddaughter. Nothing good could come of a woman falling in love with an elf; she would age and wither, and he would remain hale and beautiful always. She would die, and he would sink into despair.
“Why so grave, meldisamin?” Elrond asked from beside her. “If aught is to your displeasure, I will have the kitchen staff beaten.”
Naurë tried not to laugh, but it was impossible. Elrond was known across middle-earth for his kindness as lord of Rivendell. “Yes,” she said, surprising him. “Have them beaten; I would like to see this.”
He slumped into his chair a little. “I hate when you call my bluff,” he muttered grouchily.
She tossed a grape at him; it pinged off his forehead to land in his lap. “Then do not bluff with me.”
He retrieved the grape and popped it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “You did not answer. Why so grave?”
Naurë’s gaze travelled across the hall to land on her granddaughter and the elves with whom she sat. “Lalaith has that look on her face,” she said at last. “It worries me.”
“What look is that?” Elrond studied Lalaith; the girl looked somewhat baffled by the swift repartee that flew around her, but that was not unusual. His sons were quite a handful even when it was just the two of them; paired with Rûmil, the three could be considerably daunting.
“The look of love,” Naurë whispered, drawing her friend’s attention back to her.
“Love?” he asked, surprised. “Surely not. She has only known them a day…”
“Not for your handsome boys,” she told him, a wry smile on her lips. “For Rûmil.”
And he looked again, and saw she was right. While Lalaith’s eyes were bright and curious when fixed upon his sons, when they turned to Haldir’s brother, they changed… a light came into them, a softness. Celebrian, Elrond’s wife, had long been gone to Valinor, but still he could remember that same light in her eyes when she looked at him.
“Can it be possible?” he said at last. “He only arrived this morning; she can’t have known him more than an hour.”
“That is all it needs, sometimes,” Naurë replied, eyes locked on her granddaughter. She smiled then, a smile of such aching sadness that Elrond felt embarrassed, as if he were intruding on some private moment. “Just the one look.”