Author’s Note: This is it, folks. The last chapter. I am not sure when the sequel will start coming out, but I’m going to devote some attention to my other, sadly neglected, ongoing fics: Picture and The Gift of Death and Lonely Reign. Also, I’ve had some groovy ideas for a vignette starring Narcissa Malfoy as well an entire epic revolving around the concept of “Beautiful” (which is the idea I changed the name of this here fic, so I could use it for something else).
This is not to say I won’t be doing ANYthing with the sequel, but… it’s not going to be coming as fast n’ furious as this one. Therefore and to wit, it could very well be a while. Why not join my yahoo group, reached at groups dot yahoo dot com slash group slash cinnamongrrl. so you can be informed of when I update?
I can’t be sure I’ll continue at ff.net, because it’s constantly buggering up the formatting and posting of my chapters. Your best bet is to join the yahoo group and mark that you only want to receive ‘special notices’, and you’ll get an email telling you when I’ve started on the sequel.
Thanks so much x a million, to everyone who reviewed and answered my questions and gave advice. Y’all have been a delight to write for. Knowing there’s an appreciative audience out there makes all the difference in the world, and makes me strive harder to create a better story. I hope The Fall of Night has met your expectations for a LOTR fanfic; please let me know if I’ve failed in any way.
And now, for the conclusion. Explanation of the name-change from Beautiful to The Fall of Night to be found on the yahoo group.
The Fall of Night, Part 18
Lalaith thought it strange that Imladris should look identical to how it had at their departure over a month before. Not a thing had changed—the trees blanketing the hills cradling the valley, in which reposed that ancient city, were still glazed with ice and sparkling like lengths of pure diamond. The Last Homely House’s gables and terraces were still frosted liberally with snow, making the structure look more like a confection than a building. Everything was of silver and blue and grey, and yet looked more welcoming than any ice-encrusted house should have.
The elves’ faces brightened, and they nudged their horses to a brisker step. Lalaith only sighed, and let her mount plod along as it would. Though she would be glad to be rid of this journey, with its endless travel and rough living and lustful monarchs with frisky hands, there had been a certain freedom to it she had never before experienced, and she found herself reluctant to leave it behind.
It was the first time in her life she could recall venturing so far from her Nana, she realized, and had been forced to rely upon herself exclusively. There had been no one to soothe and comfort her, and yet daily had more stress been piled upon her. And yet, she had not succumbed to despair. A fine glow of pride filled her at this knowledge—her secret fear that she would not be able to function without Naurë directing her had been disproven, dispelled.
I do not need her any more, Lalaith thought with a pang of sadness, knowing she was finally an adult. She loved Nana, and always would, but the blind terror that had driven her to the extreme actions that had precipitated the journey in the first place was gone. Squaring her shoulders resolutely, she clucked to her horse, urging it to greater speed.
She did not remember her mother, except for a flash of pale hair and green eyes. Papa had said Mama had a bad temper and itchy foot—Lalaith now knew that to mean, wanderlust—but refused to speak of her beyond that. She wondered what had spurred Mama to wed with her father, if her foot had itched so—Lacho had been a merchant when Mama had met him, married him, bore his child. What had made her decide, one day, that the life of a vagrant’s mistress was preferable to that of a respectable, comfortable merchant’s wife?
Papa had not been the same since that day, Nana told her. Always a quiet man, he became taciturn, and it had fallen increasingly upon Naurë to both raise Lalaith and run his business as well as her own healing practice, as he did not want to deal with any customers or suppliers. It came as little surprise to anyone when he simply did not get out of bed one morning.
Naurë had not wept at his burial, for he had died long before in all but body. Her daughter had passed seven years earlier, leaving a bereaved husband who swiftly drank himself to death, and Coru. Ah, Coru. With his ruddy hair and dark, flashing eyes he had charmed enough maidens to earn for himself the sobriquet of “Virgin’s Bane.”
“It is nothing to be proud of,” Nana had scolded him, but ever had he just shot her an engaging grin and sauntered out to cure some other hapless girl of her chastity. Lalaith was still amazed it had taken her so long to realize what was her cousin’s occupation… after a youth spent in dissolution, what else could he have become, but a pirate?
The shades of twilight were drooping upon them when their mounts’ hooves clattered upon the cobblestones in Imladris’ courtyard, and elves began to pour from every doorway. Lalaith found herself scanning them with apprehension, and the sight of dark hair made her heart pound until she realized it was only Elrohir and Elladan. Each clasped Rûmil’s arm and laughed with him, and she felt herself relax slightly that she had not to confront he who had shown her such scorn but weeks earlier.
“You are welcome, Lalaith,” said a voice from behind her, and Lalaith somehow managed to both jump and spin at the same time, all while emitting a loud ‘eep’ of shock. Rûmil and Brethil laughed, and Lalaith started the unholy hell out of Elrond and his sons when she smiled too, swatting at her love and his friend.
“Be you careful, else I will force more soup into you,” she said in playful warning before turning from them. Visibly steeling herself for what was to come, she faced Elrond.
“Am I truly welcome, my lord?” she asked quietly. “For if I am not, I will give you the athelas, and be gone from here this night.”
“As will I,” added Rûmil, coming to stand by her. If his proximity to her had not told the story clearly enough, then Lalaith’s gaze as it feasted upon him would have done. Her eyes were lit with hope and love, and he was no less joyful as he looked down into her face, turned up as it was to him like a flower to the sun.
Elrond studied them a long moment before enfolding Lalaith into a warm embrace. “Truly, you are welcome, daughter,” he said at last. “I rue my harshness when I sent you from here, and daily have I regretted my words and actions.” There was a wry twist to his lips. “Will you forgive me?” Lalaith could only nod as tears flooded her eyes. “I am pleased,” he told her, squeezing her hands in his before pulling away. “Let us go inside, for it is cold and your nose is quite red.”
Lalaith frowned at that, and jogged a little to keep up with his long-legged stride. “But, do you not want the athelas? How fares Nana?”
At the mention, all around them fell silent and still. Even the horses ceased their snuffling of nostrils and swishing of tails, as if they sensed a great unrest among the two-legged of them.
“Do not tell me all is for naught,” Lalaith whispered as Rûmil came to wrap an arm around her waist. “Do not tell me she is dead.”
Elrond’s face was very grave, and the light dimmed in his eyes for a moment. “No,” he said finally. “She is not dead. But she does not live, either. She-” His words broke off then, as if they could not bear to be spoken. “I do not know what has happened. Never has something like this occurred, never,” he forced out. “If these athelas cannot help her, then…” Elrond’s voice trailed away, and he could only shrug, his shoulders slumping under his brocade tunic in defeat.
His words frightened her more than anything she could have imagined, apart from Rûmil’s injury. Something so dire and puzzling that even Elrond, the finest healer of Middle-Earth, was concerned? With a wordless cry of alarm, she pulled away from Rûmil and, snatching up her skirts, began to run to her grandmother’s room. But when she got there, it was empty. The bed was neatly made, and all of Naurë’s possessions were in orderly array around the chamber. She turned to run toward the healing wing of the house, but was blocked by Rûmil in the corridor.
“Hûn nîn,” he said in what he hoped were soothing tones. “Calm yourself, becoming upset will not help Naurë.”
She sagged into his embrace, allowing his arms to band around her and support her. “I cannot bear the thought of her suffering because of me, Rûmil,” she whispered.
“She does not suffer,” Elrond said from behind Rûmil, who gently put Lalaith back and stepped away. “Come, I will take you to her.” He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and patted it comfortingly. “You should know, however, that great changes have come about since last you saw your grandmother.”
“Great changes?” Her voice was thin with alarm, and her face was peaked and drawn, bleached to the shade of milk. The smattering of freckles across her nose stood out in high relief and made her look much younger than her score-and-three years. She imagined all the rigours of illness, and what ravages they could take on an elderly woman, and the tears that had only just stopped flowing began afresh.
He nodded. “She is still unconscious. I hope these,” he gestured to the small bundle of athelas in his hand, “will help awaken her.” And he pushed open the door. The figure on the bed was covered to the throat with the blankets, and its head was turned away to the wall. The room was lit only by the light of a single candle, and Lalaith could not see clearly. “Brighter light than this seems to hurt her, even with closed eyes,” Elrond explained.
As they came closer, Lalaith noticed that her grandmother’s head seemed… different. Squinting, she peered closer, and found that the wispy white locks of hair had a full two inches of dark roots. “What is this?” she asked, her voice low and shocked, as she pointed with a trembling finger.
Elrond’s lips pressed tightly together. “That is not all,” he said, not really replying, and grasped Naurë’s chin with gentle fingers. Turning his friend’s face, Lalaith felt a wave of weakness wash over her, and slumped back against Rûmil’s strong body to keep from collapsing to the ground.
For Naurë’s face was not that of a woman in her ninth decade of life, sunken and lined, but of a woman of two score years—experience and pain writ upon it, the freshness of youth fleeing but not yet gone entirely. Eyebrows that had been bushy and grey were sleek and dark, and lips no longer withered were the pale pink of healthy middle-age. When Lalaith peeled back the blankets, it was to reveal straight, firm-fleshed limbs and smooth skin boasting not age-spots, but freckles. Naurë’s hands and feet lacked the crumpled arthritic twisting they had suffered in her last years, for which Lalaith was thankful—she remembered long nights of massaging soothing salves into her grandmother’s pain-riddled joints when the rains came.
Elrond stared down at Naurë, his face inscrutable. “She looks as she did when your grandfather died,” he told Lalaith. ‘I judge her to be in her fortieth year, or near to it.”
Lalaith felt like her stomach had plummeted to her feet, and was intensely grateful when Rûmil pushed her gently into a chair by the bedside. Elrond had covered Naurë again, tucking the blankets under her arms, and Lalaith took up her grandmother’s hand, marveling at the straight fingers and soft skin.
“Perhaps if you talk to her, she will awaken,” Elrond suggested softly. “She seems to stir when she hears my voice, perhaps hearing yours will speed her recovery.”
She nodded and fastened her gaze on Naurë’s newly-youthful face. “Nana,” she began uncertainly, “it’s me, it’s Lalaith. I’m here with Elrond and Rûmil. We’ve just returned, Rûmil and I, from a great adventure.” Rûmil snorted skeptically behind her, but she ignored him. “We fought orcs, many orcs, Nana, and had a wild midnight escape from them.” Naurë’s placid countenance did not change, and Lalaith felt her spirits flag even lower.
“We went to Minhiriath, Nana, and a more dismal place you have never seen. Its king, Heleg, is a wretched fellow, and tried many times to bed me.” Now it was Elrond’s turn to make a noise—he choked in surprise, more at Rûmil’s stony expression of displeasure than at Lalaith’s words. “But ever did I thwart him, for I am canny, much like she who raised me.” Tears clogged her throat, but she forged on regardless, her careful scrutiny not missing how Naurë’s eyelids had begun to flutter more often.
“I think I am beginning to understand humour, Nana, for I have laughed twice, and am making myself smile at least once a day, whether I want to or not. Rûmil tickles me daily, which helps.” She was almost holding her breath; there, was Naurë frowning? Lalaith was sure her grandmother’s mouth had turned down, and her forehead creased a little…
“I must tell you about Rûmil, Nana,” she continued. “I know you remember how things were between he and I when the Fellowship left; ever were you warning me about him.” She glanced back at her love, and smirked at his raised brow. “And you were right, as always. He is a very bad boy.” Now he crossed his arms over his chest and began tapping his foot impatiently. Lalaith sighed dramatically. “But it would seem that I like bad boys, Nana, for I am helpless to resist his charms.”
Behind them, Elrond whispered, “Was that a joke?”
And Rûmil replied, just as quietly, “Maybe. It is ever hard to tell with her.”
Lalaith was ignoring them. “I love him, Nana,” she said, and pressed Naurë’s hand to her cheek as the tears came. “Never did I think he would care for me in return, but he does. My heart feels like it would burst from me, so filled with joy is it.” Rûmil’s hand slipped under the heavy curtain of her hair to cup the back of her neck at those words, squeezing tenderly. “I would have you here with us, to share in our happiness, Nana. Please come back to us. We miss you, Elrond and Haldir and I. Our lives are much diminished without you.”
“And what if Legolas returns soon? Would you have me tell him you will not leave your bed to see him?” She bowed her head over Naurë’s hand, and sobbed. “Please come back to us, Nana.” Rûmil and Elrond also bowed their heads, almost embarrassed to witness such a private moment of pain and despair.
“Why do you call me that? Who are you?” asked a raspy voice, and all three heads immediately snapped up, and three gazes locked on the figure in the bed. Naurë had turned her head to look at the girl crouched beside her, weeping on her, before her clear, dark eyes moved to the tall elves close behind. She cleared her throat, and when she spoke again, her words were strong. “Where is this?” And then, most alarming of all: “Who am I?”