They found Alathiel in the garden behind the Houses of Healing. Aragorn gestured to Gimli and Legolas to walk softly, for he did not want to frighten her unnecessarily. She sat upon a marble bench, her face buried in her hands. Her shawl lay forgotten on the ground and this he picked up and placed gently across her shoulders. As she looked up at him, clearly startled, Aragorn saw that her eyes were red-rimmed and swam with still more unshed tears.
"My lady, I share your grief," he said softly. "I wish I had more than this brief moment to offer you comfort. But there are those who need my aid more desperately." He glanced at the elf and dwarf then continued, "Perhaps my companions will stay with you until I can return, so that you might not be alone with your sorrow." He touched his forehead, then his heart in tribute then turned towards the Houses of Healing.
Alathiel huddled into her shawl and looked at the two visitors with much apprehension. Touched as she was by Aragorn's kindness, she wanted nothing more than to be left alone. She did not know what to say to the strangers or where to begin. The dwarf spared her the need.
"Lady, forgive me," he said in a voice gruff as gravel. "Aragorn had no time for introductions so it seems I must do it myself." This he said with the long-suffering tone of one much used to correcting the mistakes of others. 'I am Gimli, son of Gloin, at your service, and that of your people."
"I would say it is a pleasure to meet you, Master Dwarf, but you know well that it is not." Alathiel's mother would have beaten her for such insolence to guests, but she was quite beyond caring.
"Gimli, can you not see that the lady is weary with sorrow, and wishes not to be disturbed?" spoke the elf. His voice, though softly respectful, carried the music of sighing boughs and singing brooks. He beckoned to the dwarf and moved as if to leave the garden.
"Nay, fair one. Please do not leave," Alathiel said contritely. "Neither you, nor your companion. I was unforgivably rude. It is kind of you to keep company with me in my sorrow. I would hear from you of my husband and of h-how he fell." She shivered, her light shawl insufficient to warm the chill of grief.
Before she even knew what had passed, the elf had unfastened his worn cloak and placed it around her shoulders. "Now you shall be warm while we tell you our story," he said. Without asking permission, as a man of Gondor would have instinctively done, he sat by her side on the bench.
"I would know your name and titles, fair one," she said, feeling shy and awkward in the face of his graceful beauty. "I have not seen any elves before this, and I know not what to call you."
"You may call me Legolas. As for my titles, there are many, but none mean more to me than companion of Boromir." His dark eyes were liquid with sorrow.
"It would please me if you both would call me Alathiel. You were my husband's friends and formality is not necessary between us." She pulled the warm cloak more tightly about her, drawing in its scent of ferns and fields, wood smoke and rainwater. "Please, Master Dwarf, sit beside me also and tell me all you know of my Lord."
The dwarf sat on her other side, somewhat stiffly, as though sitting next to ladies in gardens was something to which he was much unaccustomed. Alathiel looked from the dwarf's kind brown eyes to the fathomless eyes of the elf and nodded encouragement for them to begin.
Again without asking her permission, the elf--Legolas, she reminded herself--took her chilled hand in both of his warm ones. There was nothing in his eyes save sorrow for her grief and a wish to comfort it, so she made no protest as he began to speak.
"It began with a great council in Imladris, the house of Elrond..."
When, between them, they had told her all they knew, it was late into the night. "Friends, I thank you for your words. It is of great comfort to me to know that my husband's companions loved him so well," Alathiel said. "But now I must seek my bed before I go to sleep where I sit. I am weary from many hours of nursing the wounded." She stood and was dismayed when her knees would not seem to support her.
Legolas rose and steadied her. "My lady, please let me see you to your rest. I fear you might fall, you are so exhausted."
"You are kind to me, fair one, for I know there is much you would rather be doing than tending to a weakling like me." She was grateful, for truly she did not have the strength to climb the stairs.
"Weakling? When you remain in this city while most other women have long since fled? When those in the Houses of Healing tell us that you are their most tireless nurse? All the while bearing your own burden of worry and sorrow?" Gimli snorted, rising to support her other side. "A woman of the dwarves should be so strong."
This, Alathiel knew, was the highest compliment he could bestow upon her. She tried to thank him properly, but knew that she babbled with exhaustion. "Come, my lady," she head Legolas saying as they led her up the stairs. "Lean on me. It won't be long now before you are tucked away, safe and warm..." The warm, comforting caress of his voice was the last thing she heard before sleep finally claimed her.
After they left the Lady Alathiel at her door, Legolas and Gimli went back to the gardens to await Aragorn. Gimli seated himself wearily on the bench and watched Legolas pace restlessly around the garden. Every now and then the elf glanced up at the tower room where they had left the lady. Finally he spoke aloud. "It is an ill thing indeed, that a young maid should suffer such great sorrow."
The dwarf snorted impatiently. "She may seem young, master elf, but she is old enough to have been married...and widowed. To her people she is a woman grown." Then he added slyly, "Or had you not noticed? You were regarding her closely enough."
Legolas flushed, but ignored the dwarf's teasing. Though relatively young by his people's standards, he'd had encountered more strange things recently than most elves would in their long lifetimes. He had met dwarfs and hobbits, fought orcs, wolves and even seen a Balrog. But nothing seemed so exotic to him as humans. Their honor and passion, their daring and tenacity, their impatience and rashness set humans forever apart from the languid grace of his people.
He had been staring at the Lady, he admitted to himself, but only because he had never been so close to a human female before. Sitting so close to her, he had discovered some fascinating differences between them.
She was but a little thing, coming only to the bottom of his chin when they stood. Even elven children were taller. She was never still. Her hands seemed always in motion, like the wings of a little bird. Her breathing was faster than his. He was sure that if he had felt her heartbeat it would have fluttered along like a butterfly in a willow cage.
Most of all, he had noticed her warmth. Though she was shivering, still her body radiated a fierce heat that he had never felt from any elf. It seemed as though there was as a bright flame within her consuming her from the inside out. He thought fancifully that it must her life energy, burning all the brighter for its brief span on the earth.
He glanced up at the window again, never noticing that Gimli regarded him with brightly amused eyes.