"There, that's it." Narwen the Healer lowered Míranna gently to her freshly plumped pillows once more, having carefully administered her measured dose of hawthorn essence. "And – yes, I thought so, see – drowsing again already! 'Tis the best thing for her now, to rest and get well."
"She's been awake for an hour or two, this afternoon," Rowanna admitted. Aragorn had come, after tending to Faramir and to Éowyn, to see how Míranna fared, and finding her waking had stayed nearly an hour, talking softly of Rowanna's father and of days gone by in the Riddermark. Míranna had insisted on being raised a little on her pillows to receive the Chieftain, and Aragorn had left her with sparkling eyes and colour in her cheeks. Two days after the battle for the Pelennor, the worst of the demands on the Houses had eased, as the more lightly wounded were billeted in barracks or in requisitioned houses around the City. Míranna had been offered a more spacious and comfortable room, with a smaller one adjoining it for her daughter which looked out over the gardens, and had been expertly moved there on a stretcher by the Healers' skilled assistants. They were now closer to Merry, and Pippin had spent much of the intervening day trotting back and forth between them to bring news.
"The lower Circles are a mass of soldiery everywhere," he reported, "Rohirrim and Men of the City and others from I don't know where, all over Gondor; every smith and armourer that can be found has been working since before dawn. Legolas has been trying for hours to get a new bowstring, and enough feathers for fletching; and Iorhael says his father's been besieged all day in the stables on the Sixth with horsemen wanting tack and shoeing. Most of the Riders that are fit have gone north with Elfhelm, into Anórien, to try to drive back another army of orcs that the scouts say is lurking further up the West-Road; but Éomer's taking his own éored with Aragorn, along with the Swan Knights." He sighed. "Aragorn told Merry that he's to stay here – he's quite right, of course, the poor old thing is nothing like fit for another battle; but Merry is pretty downhearted about it, and - " he gulped a little - "if I'm honest, I wish he could be with me. It doesn't feel right, going without him to – well, to what might be the last battle of all. I don't want to let him down, to let Sam and Frodo down –"
"Oh, Pippin." Rowanna swallowed the lump in her throat. "You and Merry are each at least as valiant as a Man of Gondor twice your size! You'll do your part, I'm certain of that." She knelt to hug him, wishing she felt half as cheerful as she was trying to sound. "Now off with you – that was the last day-bell just striking, and you'll miss supper in the buttery if you don't hurry –"
"I almost forgot!" Pippin turned in the doorway. "A message from Legolas; Gimli asked me to let you know that he is coming, as soon as ever he can get all the gear he needs for tomorrow. I was told to tell you, he will not fail of his promise. So you'll see him later, I'm sure." And with that he pattered away down the corridor, and did not see Rowanna sink on to a stool beside her sleeping mother, pressing her fists to her mouth and drawing a deep and shaking breath.
'He will not fail of his promise.' When he left us yestereve… he promised to say goodbye.
Almost an hour later, with the sun beginning to sink, Rowanna found she could no longer bear to pace the room and worry. What if Ioreth has said something foolish and sent him away again? She bent over Míranna and carefully checked her breathing and pulse; her mother slept soundly. I'm going to look for him, at least find out if any of the Healers have seen him. Any activity seemed preferable to her helpless, caged fretting. Drawing the door gently to behind her, she set off impatiently along the passageway.
She drew a frustrating blank; no-one had seen the Elven-prince who was the King's companion, not even Ioreth whose circumlocutions Rowanna for once cut brusquely short, and she began to feel panic rising within her. I have to find him! Legolas, where are you? There was nothing for it, she decided, but to go down to the lower Circles, or even on to the field; perhaps he was detained with Aragorn, or Gimli might know which armouries he had been to. I'll ask Narwen if she will watch over Mother for me. She was about to make for the door of the Houses when a thought struck her; have some sense, woman, you're only wearing a borrowed gown. At least fetch that woollen shawl Bergil brought you from Adramir's house! Twisting her unruly hair roughly back into its leather tie as she ran back up the stairs, she ducked through Míranna's room into her own, glancing automatically towards the bed as she passed. She grabbed for the shawl on its hook without pushing her door open fully, turned away again –
She whirled back; how did I not see? But the room she had come from was dim, and he stood in the window silhouetted against the blinding red-gold of the setting sun, his face in shadow. He was holding out his hands to her as he spoke; she flew across the little room to him and in two paces was clasping them tightly in hers.
"How – I was looking for you everywhere! How did I not pass you as you came up? - " Then, as her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw his raised eyebrow and the curl at the corner of his mouth, and gasped. "The window?.." Of course, there's a silver birch not six feet from it! "Legolas, you - "
"You said it yourself, I am a Wood-elf in my heart!" he protested, laughing. "Fortunately, I had heard from Gimli that you had been given a new room, else I might have climbed in to the wrong one! I hoped thanks to my friend the birch to evade the good offices of Mistress Ioreth. And besides, I did not wish to disturb the lady Míranna, so it seemed entirely unfitting to invade her chamber. How fares she?"
"A little stronger, today; she talked with Aragorn this afternoon awhile, and though it tired her, I think it cheered them both. She's deep asleep."
"I am glad," Legolas said softly. "Does she need you now? Can you come down to the garden with me for a little? I would not be within doors, not tonight..."
"I'll come," Rowanna agreed at once. "Though not by the window and that birch tree; you will just have to brave the possibility of Ioreth on the way!"
As they made their way around the corner of the Houses and stepped into the garden, Legolas took a deep, relieved breath, and Rowanna felt his tight grip on her hand relax a little.
"Better?" she asked. He nodded.
"If I lived as long as Ingwë himself I should never grow tired of the smell of green grass at dew-fall. Come - " He drew her after him through the gap in the evergreen hedge that led to the lower part of the garden, and as they emerged from the shadow of the trees, Rowanna looked up and gasped aloud. Before them a great swathe of scattered clouds glowed vivid rose across half the sky. Away to their right the sun was sinking behind Mindolluin's shoulder in a blaze of gold which almost dazzled them, sliced in half by a great band of cloud dyed purple and red. All the Pelennor and the Rammas were gilded by its dying light.
"Now you see why I would not keep to the Houses," said Legolas quietly. They reached the wall which bounded the long green lawn, and leant against it side by side, both gazing at the glorious sky. "Not if this is to be the last - " He did not go on, and Rowanna spun round to face him, gripping his shoulder.
"The last sunset you see before you march out to face the Dark Lord?" His eyes were still fixed on the sky's great sweep of golden cloud as though he could not bear to look away. "Legolas – Pippin has been bringing news to and fro all day; we have all heard the numbers bandied about. Six thousand men on foot, and a thousand horse? Against all the hosts of Mordor?" He nodded. "Do - do you truly think you can prevail?"
"Truly?" he said softly. "Truly, rohiril, there is more than one way to win a battle. Remember what we go to do: to draw Sauron's gaze, and all his forces, to the gates of his domain, that he may be less vigilant of his hinterlands. So that the Ringbearer may yet succeed; and on that hangs the fate of all Middle-earth. Regardless of whether we ever come back..."
All Rowanna's worst fears rose up into her throat. "So... either you go, and are all slaughtered, and all in vain: or you go, and are all slaughtered, and the Ringbearer succeeds, and the world is saved?"
"So it may well be," he agreed sombrely. "And let us hope it may be the second ending and not the first which fits our tale..."
"Hope?" Suddenly all the day's suppressed anxiety, all her rage and despair against what was to come, flared up together. "Do you dare tell me, Legolas, you who always told me that friendship and love were stronger even than the Shadow, to hope for the deaths of those I hold most dear? I will not! I - " A sob choked her to a standstill.
"Oh, hush, hush..." Now he turned to her, and even as her eyes brimmed over Rowanna saw him reaching out, stricken. "Avo nallo, mellonen...melethen..." He moved to brush her tears away.
Afterwards neither could have said how it began; her arms went about him fiercely, his hands tangled in her hair as its hasty braiding came loose, their mouths met, they clung together. A kiss that began in desperation, full of longing, and fear, and grief for what might now never be; and deepened in discovery, and ended in a wondrous, slow dawning of joy.
They broke apart at last, breathing hard as two who have narrowly escaped drowning, gazing at one another with shocked eyes.
"I didn't - "
"You - "
"I did not know!" they whispered together.
"I never thought - " Legolas broke off. "No, you go on - "
"I – I could feel ..." Rowanna struggled for words. "What you thought, what you felt, in my head! – you were there, as though - " Amazed, she reached tentatively up to touch his cheek. "Did you - "
He nodded, still as stunned as she. "Among the Firstborn, it is always so; we can feel the thoughts and cares of those dear to us almost as we can our own. And I had wondered long that it seemed not to be so among Men. But now..." He traced with a fingertip the track a tear had left down her face. "Now perhaps I understand, a little! Mortal faer and rhaw so closely interwoven that they are inseparable; so that in closeness of body comes closeness of soul, and in a simple kiss we found each other's mind and heart..." He kissed her mouth again gently, testing, tasting. "Thus."
A few minutes later, Rowanna murmured, "Legolas?..."
"What is it, melethen?" he enquired softly into her hair.
"If... if what you said about the weaving of faer and rhaw is true – if we found all that in a kiss, then -"
"Then how much closer yet might be made the interweaving?" She felt him smile against the flushed skin of her throat. "Among the Eldar, to be joined in body is to make a bond of souls so strongly knit that it lasts for all eternity."
"Between an Elf and a mortal..."
"That I know not. Except for Lúthien and Beren, of course, and theirs was somewhat a special case... And sadly, melethen," he sighed, stroking back the dark glossy hair which tumbled about them both, "I am not sure we shall have the opportunity to find out."
They were sitting curled together on the wall now, watching the last of the glory of crimson and gold fade from the sky and the first stars emerging into the deep blue of evening. Legolas reached for his cloak where it had fallen unregarded to the ground, and wrapped it round them both. "Are you warm?"
Rowanna nodded, burrowing into his shoulder. "But I must go back up to the Houses soon; I can't leave Mother too long, lest she wake and need me..."
"I would not ask it of you," he agreed. "But let me come up with you, and watch with you? You're so weary, you should rest; and I will not sleep in any case, not tonight."
An hour or two later, he sat cross-legged on the small pallet bed in Rowanna's room, its window open to let him breathe the night-air, and the door set wide for a clear view of Míranna's chamber. Rowanna lay with her head in his lap, her hair spilling over his fingers, fallen asleep to a murmured Elvish lullaby of trees and starlight. Stranger yet grows the Song! For tomorrow I march, most likely, to my death, and yet... had I the choice of my path among all the powers and chances of this world, I would be nowhere else in Arda but now, and here.
Rowanna awoke to faint grey light, and gentle fingers stroking back her hair. Legolas was propped on one elbow, smiling as he watched her.
"I wish I could let you sleep," he murmured. "But dawn comes, and I would not have you wake and find me gone."
"I'm glad you woke me. Is it time?"
"It is. I must go down to the muster." He moved deftly around the small room, gathering his bow and quiver, as Rowanna went into the next room to check on Míranna. She looked back at him anxiously.
"Have you slept at all?"
"I dreamed a little. But mostly I wanted to look at you." He turned to her with a smile that tore at her heart. "I need my hope to carry into the darkness! I can rest in dreams on the road; it will be at least a day before we reach lands where we must watch for the Enemy."
He slung his bow across his back, and reached for her hands. "Can you come down to the Gate with me?"
"I'll come. I'll ask the Healer doing the dawn round to see if Mother wakes." They descended the great staircase of the sleeping Houses and worked their way down through the City, the Circles growing busier with men and horses the lower they went. As they reached the ruin of the Gate, Rowanna stopped, drawing Legolas aside, out of the stream of soldiery going out onto the Pelennor; a detachment of Riders passed them on the way to mount up, glancing curiously at the Elf and the mortal woman as the Rohirrim swept out talking and laughing on to the field.
"Is Arod ready for you?"
"I left him last night well-fed and watered, tethered close by Aragorn's tent with Roheryn for company. He must carry both Gimli and me once again; 'tis well he's a compliant beast."
"Go then, find him, and get you all three to Aragorn. I will go up to the wall, and watch you ride." Rowanna gazed at him steadily. "Legolas: Elbereth guide you, guard and protect you..." - she bestowed the three kisses of the Elven blessing upon his left cheek, right cheek, and his brow - "to the end of the world."
"And you, melethen; to the end of the world," he echoed, tilting her head gently to kiss her in return. For a moment his hand went to the leaf-brooch of Lothlorien where it once again fastened his grey cloak at her throat. Then he turned on his heel and broke into a swift, graceful run, out onto the field and away towards Aragorn's tent, and did not look back.
Rowanna took a deep breath, and set off up the stairs leading to the parapet atop the wall. There she found Merry and Bergil alongside a little knot of other folk of the City: an old man, boys, two women from the Houses, the remnant who must wait and watch while their troops gathered around the Captains. Rowanna's heart swelled at the sight of Éomer, the rising sun making his blond mane gleam, a host of Rohirrim gathered about his proudly tattered standard with its white horse shining on the green. Across from him the Swan Knights mustered, their magnificent greys prancing with excitement, caparisoned in blue and white, with Prince Imrahil immaculate at their head. Bergil nudged Merry and pointed out the company led by his father, in which Pippin made a small but doughty Guard. Furthest from the gate, ready to lead the host away, flew the White Tree on its black standard. Aragorn waited ready beside it on Roheryn, and - yes - there Arod moved up behind him, a tall figure and a stockier one both astride.
"To the end of the world," Rowanna whispered, as the trumpets rang out. Company by company the army moved out and turned down the great road to the eastward Causeway with an endless tramping of feet and ringing of hooves, sun glinting on spears and helms, until at last even the rearguard was lost from sight, marching toward Mordor.
Ingwë: High King of all the Elves and Lord of the Vanyar, who was born in the Time of the Trees before the Great Journey to Aman.
avo nallo = do not cry
mellonen = my friend
melethen = my love
faer = spirit, soul
"Among the Eldar, to be joined in body is to make a bond of souls so strongly knit that it lasts for all eternity." – Legolas has clearly read his LaCE… ;-)