The Fall of Night, Part 8
A week later
“Naurë, I introduce you to Legolas Thranduilion of Mirkwood.” Elrond’s gaze was keen as he watched the tall, handsome prince bow over the old woman’s hand.
The two eyed each other a long moment, a world of unspoken communication flowing between the two, and then Legolas spoke. “My father has warned me about you.”
The indrawn breaths of horror at this unprecedented rudeness were heard throughout the room; with so many visitors in Rivendell, Elrond had taken to gathering his family and close friends in his private chambers after the evening meal, the better to converse and while the hours with chat, songs, and gaming. Consequently, his parlour was quite full this uncharacteristically chill November night, and most were huddled close round the massive fireplace. Naurë, thanks to her advanced age and frailty, was given place of honour directly beside it, basking in the warmth blazing from its depths.
She watched Legolas closely; she had immediately recognized a kindred love of mischief and dry humour in this gentle soul. “Has he, little Greenleaf?” she drawled, sounded supremely disinterested in that king’s opinion. “I need no warning to be wary of one of Thranduil’s get.” Another gasp, this one louder. Naurë barely suppressed a cackle of glee; even old and nearing the end of her days, she hadn’t lost it. She tilted her head consideringly to one side and studied his flawless face. “I see you are his very image; is your nature as well a chip off the inhospitable old miser?”
A third gasp; Naurë had to pretend to cough to hide her smile behind her hand. Elrond looked quite as if he’d like to clap his hand over her mouth, to prevent her from further speech; Estel, Arwen and Lalaith were watching in stunned silence; Elladan, Elrohir, and Rûmil grinned broadly, trying valiantly not to laugh. And Legolas was apparently not at all bothered that this common human was insulting his esteemed and most royal father in a horrible fashion. He said nothing, but kissed her hand a second time before dropping to sit at her feet. She rumpled his silken hair with a quavery hand as he smiled fondly at her, and Rûmil could no longer restrain himself.
“Ai, that Haldir should miss this!” he declared happily, whisking a tear of laughter from his eye. “Always has he been proud how quickly you became his friend, and now Legolas has quite surpassed his speed. How he will be jealous, for he thinks himself the elf closest to your heart!”
Elrond frowned at this; Naurë only raised a brow. “Think you there is room in my heart for only one elf?” She graced her mentor with a fond smile before turning back to Rûmil. “I find as time passes, that organ is capable of endless expansion.” She patted Legolas’ head not unlike one might stoke a favoured pet dog. “And I believe it has just grown once more.”
The shock of the introduction having worn off, the others settled into the comfortable seats ranged round the room and fell into conversation. Elrond sat in his carved chair, head leant toward his son as Elrohir told yet another off-colour joke (“A dwarf, an orc, and a balrog walk into a bar…”), and Estel and Rûmil conversed about their respective recent journeys to Rivendell. Rûmil looked quite put out that the Ranger had ‘enjoyed’ vastly more adventure than he himself had.
Lalaith divided her time between the embroidery in her hands and glaring at Rûmil—really, Naurë would have to speak to the girl about that, it was quite obvious and if a half-blind old human could notice, then certainly the elves were all smiling behind their hands about it— and Elladan bragged about some hunting trip or another while Legolas listened patiently, an amused smile hovering about his lips.
And Arwen… Arwen merely watched Estel. Her eyes were gentle, and yet ravenous at the same time, as if starving for the sight of him, hale and whole. She was part lover, part friend, part mother, part she-beast wanting to suck the life out of him. Naurë sighed. Love could be a brutal thing. She knew Elrond was beyond puzzled at his daughter’s choice of mortality, but then he had not understood his brother’s decision, either. Arwen, loving Estel as she did… there was no other choice for her. None other could be made.
Naurë was sad to say that she did not have great knowledge of Elrond’s youngest child and only daughter. Much of the time she had known her mentor, the Evenstar had been either away with her grandparents in distant Lorien, or else closeted with Estel—the devotion those two bore each other was breathtaking. And so, Naurë had never become closer to the exquisite she-elf than warm acquaintances.
Watching Arwen’s face as she gazed upon her human betrothed, seeing the anguish there at the danger in which he would soon place himself, she felt deep sympathy. Well did Naurë understand the pain of having to sit helplessly whilst one’s love went to possible death and certain injury. Arwen looked up then, noticing the old woman’s eyes upon her, and nodded in recognition of the other’s understanding of her plight, a faint smile on her lovely mouth. Naurë smiled in return, and leant her head back against the chair, surveying with half-lidded eyes those who surrounded her. She counted herself and Lalaith privileged to be of their number, and hoped her granddaughter too realized the honour granted her.
“Good lady,” Estel said to her, touching her lightly on the arm, and she gazed at him lazily, feeling drowsy from the warmth and wine.
He held in his hand a small canvas sack that she recognized at once; she’d had Lalaith give it to him a month ago with a request he bless the athelas within at his leisure. “My apologies for their delay,” he said, giving the sack to her. “Will you need more than this?”
Naurë took it with a nod of gratitude. “I thank you,” she told him. “You have indeed been a great help to this old woman. Fret not for your tardiness, as you have worries upon your head of much greater import than whispering a few words over my herbs.” She handed the bag over to Lalaith. “And no, this quantity will be quite sufficient for my purposes. The remedy will be very powerful, and I would not have much of it to hand. If it were acquired by the wrong people, there is no telling what could occur.”
Estel inclined his head. “Honoured am I to be able to contribute to it.” He returned to his conversation with Rûmil and surreptitious exchange of lustful glances with Arwen that he thought no one noticed, and Naurë allowed her eyes to close, listening with only one ear to the muted talk, the crackling of the fire…
“Perhaps you would be more comfortable sleeping in your bed, instead of that chair,” suggested a quiet voice from the vicinity of the floor, and she opened her eyes to find Legolas looking kindly up at her. “Will you allow me to escort you?”
“I will,” she agreed ruefully, and tried to extract herself from the robes and shawls draped across her. Honestly, these elves, so afraid of her catching a chill… one of these days they would bury her in an avalanche of blankets. Legolas laughed softly and helped pull her free of her soft cocoon. “Lalaith, will you come?”
Her granddaughter looked only too happy to be away; with a last narrow glance at Rûmil, who blithely laughed in her face, she lifted her chin to a truly impressive altitude as Naurë bid good eve to the others, dropping a fond kiss on Elrond’s forehead, and followed Lalaith out the door on Legolas’ strong arm.
“So, how long has she pined for him?” he whispered, bending close to her ear so Lalaith could not hear him.
Naurë dimpled up at him. “Far longer than she is comfortable with.” She tugged on a lock of ale-gold hair that fell down his shoulder. “Did Thranduil truly warn you about me?”
Legolas laughed, the sound pure and clear, like water trickling over the falls. “Actually, yes,” he admitted. “He said you have an uncanny talent for befriending elves, and it made him very suspicious indeed.” He paused a moment. “If I recall correctly, he said you were a witch, and employed powerful spells to make Elrond and Haldir trust you.”
Her raspy laugh echoed off the hallway; ahead of them, Lalaith stopped and turned to regard them with curiosity.
“What have you said to make her carry on so?” Lalaith asked mildly, her eyes soft as her grandmother leaned her forehead wearily against Legolas’ arm and hiccupped.
But Naurë gave him no time to answer. “Spellcraft? Oh, you poor child, to lose your father to insanity…” And she was off on another peal of laughter.
Legolas chuckled as well. “He could think of no other explanation for the two most canny and wary elves in Arda to be so devoted to you.”
“I suppose he did not notice that I am equally devoted to them?” Naurë asked sourly, and smirked when he shook his head to the negative. “Hmph. Always do they think the worst of humanity. As if elves are beyond corruption…” They had arrived at her room, and Lalaith opened the door. Naurë sighed. “It is of no consequence, anyway, fair Greenleaf. I will not see him again.”
“But you shall see me again,” he promised, and she smiled sadly at him a long moment before cupping his smooth ivory cheek in her gnarled hand.
“That is my fond hope, as well,” she told him. “I will pray for you when you leave tomorrow, Thranduilion. Be safe, and guard Estel. Arwen would not survive his demise.” Legolas nodded gravely, and with a final nod to Lalaith, left them.
By the light of a single candle, the young one helped the old one to undress. Supple fingers unlaced and unbuttoned, tugged off and pulled on. Naurë allowed her limbs to be moved not unlike a doll’s, then her hair to be released from its pins and combed, and noted that Lalaith was humming.
“My beloved child,” she said once her nightdress was in place and her granddaughter was tucking the covers round her frail body. Lalaith looked down at her, eyebrows lifted in enquiry. “Sit, I would speak with you before I sleep.” She patted the bed beside her.
Obediently, Lalaith sat. “Yes, Nana?”
Naurë lifted the fresh young hand, studied it with rheumy eyes before raising her gaze to the other’s. “I would know why you are so hostile to Rûmil. Your manners are usually impeccable, but never have I seen you behave with such a lack of decorum. It shames me, but moreso, it shames you.” Fatigue was quickly overcoming her; her voice dropped to a whisper. “They will be your family when I am gone, Lalaith. I would not have you uncomfortable here with them.”
The girl’s eyes rounded in alarm. “What? No! I do not wish to live here! Nana!” she exclaimed, but there was no answer. She reached out to shake her grandmother awake, but drew back, ashamed of her selfishness. Naurë had had a long and tiring day; she would not wake her only to continue a futile discussion.
Lalaith spent a few moments tidying Naurë’s room, folding her clothing, gathering piles of notes and diagrams, trying to delay her return to Elrond’s parlour, but finally it could be postponed no longer. She blew out the candle and left the room, the door shutting with a soft click behind her.
She took a step forward, but was brought up short by the figure of Legolas, leaning against the wall opposite Naurë’s door. “Y—your highness,” Lalaith stammered, eyes lowered in what she hoped was a properly respectful way. She’d never met royalty, and was unsure what to do.
“My lady,” he replied smoothly, and fell into step beside her as she began to walk. “You do not wish to live in Rivendell? It is a most pleasant city.” He smiled sideways at her. “There are no spiders; believe me when I tell you, that is a very positive point, indeed.”
She flicked a glance sideways at him, suspicious of his interest. Should she trust him? Seeing no malice or guile in his expression, she relaxed a fraction. Nana was an excellent judge of character; if she would befriend Legolas so instantly, then Lalaith could as well. “I am not comfortable here. It is not my place; these are not my people.”
“Then perhaps in Caras Galadhon you would find a home?” he suggested.
Her eyes flashed before she forced them to calm. “Indeed not,” she said as neutrally as she could manage.
“Because of Rûmil,” he finished.
Lalaith nodded and turned her head away, focusing on the fingers she trailed on the wall, feeling the irregular bumps and hollows of the plaster.
“What can he have done to make you hate him so?” Legolas looked truly perplexed. “I have known him for many years, and ever has he been a delightful companion.”
They were just outside the door to Elrond’s parlour; within could be heard the musical sound of elven laughter and talk. “I hate him because I cannot stop loving him, though constantly do I try.” She closed her eyes in a moment of agony. “He cares nothing for me, pays no attention but to mock me.”
Legolas knew the truth of what she was saying; all evening had he watched the sly wit and barbs directed at the young woman from Rûmil. Between elves, it would have been of no consequence; perhaps even considered an overture of friendship or courtship. But she was no elf, and in fact seemed uncommonly serious. She had not smiled or laughed all night, a puzzling contrast to the cheerful nature of her name. Lalaith could not appreciate Rûmil’s personal brand of charm as it was meant, and instead took offense at it.
“I am sorry for your pain,” he said at last, and she knew he meant it. She lowered her eyes in gratitude, her head bending on her neck like a flower drooping upon its stem, and Legolas was struck with the poignancy of the action.
“Thank you,” she whispered, and squared her shoulders as if going into battle. No shortage of courage with this one, Legolas thought, and pushed open the door for her, following her in and watching as she resumed her seat, confirming to Elrond that her grandmother slept comfortably, exchanging comments with Arwen and Estel when they could be pulled from their mutual admiration of each other, and resolutely ignoring the fact that Rûmil even breathed.