Care for Her

Aragorn stood on the stone steps leading to Théoden's hall. As he has been for several days and nights now, he watched the horizon. The wind caused his dark hair to whip around his face, but he merely blinked his gray eyes and continued to watch. Lost within his thoughts, he did not acknowledge those passing him by with business with the king of Rohan. He did not notice Legolas had joined him on his watch, and he did not notice when the elf had left.

The day waned into the early hints of evening, and Aragorn remained at his vigil. With a start, he lifted his head. His gaze swung towards the city's gate and the plains and hills beyond it. Gimli, who had come out to sit on a step and smoke his pipe, looked up at his friend. "What?"

"A horn - of Mirkwood," Aragorn answered. He hurried to down the steps without another word to the dwarf and ran to the gates. Weaving through the few people that crowded in the streets at the late hour, Aragorn reached the gate and climbed a wooden ladder to the parapets.

The man on watch turned from his position to stare in surprise at the ranger. Aragorn leaned over the wall to aid his sight and hearing. Sure enough, he saw a figure on a steed of a sort fast approaching. The blare of the horn was more distinct now.

Aragorn turned to the man and ordered, "Open the gate."

"But -"

"The rider is friendly and brings us news. We must open the gates to her."

"Her?"

"Do as I say!" Aragorn slid down the ladder and looked around for one of his companions. Gimli came puffing and huffing toward him. At the sight of the dwarf, Aragorn questioned, "Where is Legolas?"

"Last I knew -" the fellow panted, "he was - speaking - with Gandalf."

"Send for him. Tell him it is urgent."

"No need." The pair looked up to see the calm elf fast approaching. "I am here," Legolas answered.

Gimli glared at the elf that appeared to have just walked and didn't even look out of breath at all. "Would someone please tell me what is going on?"

"A friend and messenger is coming," Legolas answered. His eyebrows dipped in confusion. "But I do not know who or why someone would venture from Mirkwood."

Shouts from the parapet caught the small group's attention. The gates opened in time to allow a figure in a green cloak to ride in on her dapple-gray steed. Aragorn smiled at the sight of the messenger and approached with surety while Legolas and Gimli followed slowly. "What news do you bring, friend?"

The rider dismounted and turned. Her face, mostly hidden by her hood, revealed nothing more than a pair of rose-pink lips, a tip of a nose, and a softly rounded chin. "News for my prince, Estel."

Legolas's head lifted and he pressed past Aragorn to stand a few feet before the messenger. "Elidë?"

A smile lifted the corners of her lips and leather-glove-clad hands rose to brush the cloak's hood back from her face. Sky-blue eyes appeared, crinkled with happiness. "My prince," she answered.

An imperceptible smile rose on the male elf's lips. "It is good to see you, my friend." Turning he nodded to Aragorn and Gimli. "Here with me is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and Gimli, son of Glòin. My other companions are in the hall."

Elidë nodded to the pair, her smile gone. "Pleased to meet you Gimli and to see you again, Estel."

"Shall we go to the hall?" Aragorn questioned. "If you have news to tell, it would be best to do so with everyone in the same place at one time."

"That would be best," Elidë agreed solemnly. She looked to her horse and murmured quietly to it. A boy shuffled toward her, his hands clasped together in uncertainty. He cleared his throat, gaining her attention.

"I'll see to your horse, m'lady."

Elidë nodded. "My Nonoic will be good for you. Thank you for your kindness."

"You're welcome, m'lady!" The boy's eyes widened as he took the reins she offered to him.

Grabbing a pack from the saddle, Elidë turned to the men. The group made their way through the streets and toward the stairs. There, waiting to meet them was Gandalf and Théoden. Elidë instantly smiled at the sight of the wizard.

"Mithrandir!" She exclaimed. She spoke rapidly in elvish and rushed to embrace him. The elderly wizard chuckled and accepted her embrace. His reply was warm and encouraging. They pulled apart from the embrace while he added words that seemed to sooth away the trembling of her lips. With a nod, she answered him and stepped away again.

Regaining composure, Elidë bowed to Théoden. "King of Rohan, I am Elidë, messenger of the royal house of Mirkwood. I bring news to you and the Fellowship, whom you have graciously housed."

Théoden observed the elven woman standing before him with a questioning air. Her hair was the same blond that was characteristic of the wood elves, but, unlike her kinsmen, her hair fell about her face in waves. Blue eyes searched his own when he met her gaze. Within the depths he saw that she was waiting patiently and respectfully for his verdict. If he believed his eyes, he would have said there was a hint of fear in her eyes - like that of an animal that had been trapped and tormented but was now free, yet still feared the harsh hand of man. However, that glimpse was gone again when he blinked. A flight of fancy he could not recall again. Her oval face was open and waiting, her pointed ears pointing upwards between strands of hair.

"Then we must hear these tidings. Come, we shall adjourn to my hall." Théoden glanced to Gandalf and then to Aragorn. He expected an explanation of her presence, either from her lips or theirs.

~*/**\*~

Later that evening, a meal was prepared for those in Théoden's hall. The news brought by Elidë had been ill news, and, as the old adage goes, ill news travels fast. The meals was by and large silent as men thought over what must be done.

The messenger sat by herself at a small table, hidden away from others. Her gaze swept over those in attendance, assessing those still there. She had noted the Halflings - introduced to her as Merry and Pippin - and their ever questioning glances and hushed whispers. As she supposed, the one known as Pippin slipped off the bench he had been occupying and walked towards her.

Once he was close enough, he voiced his question. "Aren't you lonely over here?"

Elidë shrugged and shook her head. "Not in the least, Master Hobbit. I enjoy watching the crowds."

"Oh. Well - you could just as easily watch from our table. That is if you want to I mean."

A smile tugged at her lips. "Yes, I suppose I could, but it is easier to watch when everyone cannot watch me watching them. Besides," her voice dipped sadly, "I am afraid my presence has lowered the spirits of men enough tonight."

"I don't know about that," Pippin stated in an attempt to ease her sorrowful words. "I mean - I don't think your presence has made everyone worry. Just - well the news, I suppose."

"Yes, but my presence is the symbol of the bad tidings and fears."

"But surely they knew that any news - during these times - would be bad?" Pippin argued. "They can hardly blame you."

Elidë chuckled softly. The noble little Hobbit. "I suppose you are correct. Dark days indeed breed dark news. However, I enjoy my vantage point just fine." She felt a pang of remorse when his smiling face appeared crestfallen at her rejection. "But," she began again, "I would not be opposed to company."

Pippin grinned instantly spread across his face. "Thank you, my lady!"

"Please, Elidë," she insisted kindly.

"And I'll be Pippin," the Hobbit answered in kind. "None of this - Peregrin nonsense." He wrinkled his nose. "I wish Gandalf wouldn't use it."

Elidë chuckled again. "But that is your name."

"Yes, but it's so - aloof."

"I suppose, but Mithrandir would not use it if he did not see its uses."

Pippin frowned in thought. "Why do you call him that? I thought his name was Gandalf. Did his name change when he became a white wizard?"

The elven woman shook her head. "No, the elves call him Mithrandir because that was his name first - before he became known as Gandalf. Of course - these are only two of his names."

"He has more?" Pippin asked incredulously. "Why would he need more than two?"

Elidë shook her head. "You would too if you met so many people and your name was unknown to them. The more people he met, the more names he was given. That is what he told me once a very long time ago."

"Another thing - how well do you know him? I've never seen anyone except maybe Frodo or Bilbo or maybe young Hobbits hug him." Pippin shook his head. "You must be very brave."

"You believe me to be brave because I was overjoyed to see a close friend alive after news had reached us that he had perished?" Elidë queried. "No, I do know Mithrandir very well - but I would not count myself as brave."

"It would be an act of bravery for me to hug Gandalf," Pippin grumbled as he glanced over to the wizard.

Elidë sighed wearily, gaining the Hobbit's attention. He looked up at her face and saw an expression of absolute weariness there. "Bravery," she spoke quietly, "is hard to come by, Pippin. It comes is in many forms. Believe me - I am not a brave person." Her shaking hand lifted the wooden cup set before her. Pippin watched quietly and in awe and confusion at the elf's unsteady hand until a new question popped into his head.

"Why are you still wearing those gloves?"

Elidë froze, the cup poised at her lips. The shaking ceased.

"I mean," Pippin ventured cautiously, "we're inside. You don't need them."

"I believe Merry was asking for you, Pippin." The Hobbit looked up to see Legolas standing a short distance away. Glancing from one elf to the other, Pippin sensed he would be intruding if he stayed longer.

"Right. I'll just - go find him." Pippin moved to leave.

"Pippin?" He turned at the sound of Elidë's questioning call. Although her gaze did not meet his but remained on a fixed point above his head, she said, "Thank you for keeping me company." Pippin smiled and left with a nod of his head.

Legolas approached the table and sat down across from her. His gaze searched her expressionless face as she finally took a sip from her cup and set it down again. He noted her eyes were still staring - unseeing - ahead of her. He waited several moments more in silence and watched. Elidë blinked three times before straightening her posture, breathing out a long sigh, and relaxing once more.

Her head turned so she could meet his gaze and nodded. "Thank you, my prince."

"Elidë -"

"No," she shook her head. "You remember your father's words. I must be Elidë, messenger of the royal house of Mirkwood and you must be my prince."

"Elidë, my father is not here," Legolas insisted in their elvish tongue.

"Just because your father is not here does not mean we cannot abide by his words." Her gaze lowered to the wood of the table upon her answering words. "I must retire. I believe the Lady Eowyn has offered to show me to a room that I may occupy for the night." She stood and bowed. "I will be returning to Mirkwood upon the morrow. Good evening, my prince."

"Please, Elidë." Legolas stood. He searched her face and watched as she lowered her head, unable to meet his pleading eyes. With a soft, remorseful sigh, Legolas bade her good evening and moved toward the table where Aragorn sat.

~*/**\*~

The night was quiet. Many went to bed that night with a sense of unease, but the fear - although the news was present - the actual fear was still far off and enabled some to fall into uneasy sleep.

A heartbreaking shriek shattered the quiet.

Eowyn bolted upright from lying perfectly still and from deep sleep. Alarmed and alert, she looked to the door. The unearthly sounds - shrieks, cries, and animalistic whimpers were coming from close by. Jumping from her bed, Eowyn rushed out of her room and toward the sounds. Pausing outside the already opened door, she watched the pale-faced men she knew to be fearless warriors of Rohan tremble. None moved into the room. They were either pressed back against the wall opposite of the door or stood gaping in the doorway.

Despite the heart-freezing sounds, Eowyn pressed her way through the cowering bunch to the room she knew to be the one she had shown the elvish woman to earlier. She entered the door and abruptly stopped. Elidë lay horizontal on the bed but her whole body was so tensed that she was arching - almost hovering - on the bed. A grimace contorted her features into a horrific expression that was not human. Beads of sweat had drenched her hair. With a toss of her head Elidë writhed to the side with a cry.

Hurrying forward, Eowyn tried to reach out to the woman. "Lady Elidë!" She touched the skin of the elf's arm - like a cold splash on burning steel. Elidë hissed and jerked away from the comfort offered. A stream of strained and broken Elvish flowed from Elidë's mouth. The elf's movements revealed skin criss-crossed with scars. Some looked superficial while others appeared the tool used to put them there had been pressed in deep. Eowyn shuddered to think who or what had put them there.

"Please, Lady Elidë! You are dreaming!" Eowyn shouted over the constant moans, groans, and shouts coming from the distraught woman. Unable to touch or rouse the woman from whatever horrors her mind was conjuring, she turned to the door. By this time, a larger crowd had formed. Eowyn thought to send someone for the wizard or maybe the elf prince. No sooner had she thought it before the group of travelers appeared.

"Out of my way, fools!" Gandalf bellowed as he used his staff to knock knees and shins. He rushed to the bedside and tried to rest a calming hand on Elidë's forehead. He spoke swiftly in a language that Eowyn did not recognize.

"Is it a spell?" Aragorn demanded from the foot of the bed.

"Saruman?" Merry shuddered as he spoke the name of the traitorous wizard.

Gandalf pulled his hand back from the still writhing and distraught woman. His eyes swept over the group and finally landed on Legolas. "She needs you," he murmured. "Everyone, out," he said as his stern gaze swept the room once more.

Words of protest arose from some, but many knew not to cross or question the wizard. Eowyn reluctantly made her way to the door, following Aragorn out. She paused to look back with curiosity as the elvish prince stepped to the side of the bed. He was already whispering something in quiet, soothing tones, and already Elidë was quieting. A gentle tug at her elbow brought Eowyn's attention to the ranger who was giving her a meaningful look. She was not allowed to stay and observe the moment.

~*/**\*~

"Elidë," Legolas took one of her hands in both of his once he knew her subconscious had acknowledged his presence. He ran a thumb over a scar that marked her hand. He remembered when it was still healing - an angry red that he could never forget. "Elidë, they are gone. They cannot hurt you anymore."

"Still here. Won't go away." She answered with a shudder. "Stop! No! I won't!" She twisted away from him and sobbed.

Legolas pressed a hand to her shoulder - scars there too - and spoke urgently, "Mithrandir came for you! Remember, Elidë! He found you in the dark pit they kept you! He burned them with the brightness of his magic! He brought you back from the brink of the darkness of the mind. He saved you from becoming one of them. He brought you to the lady Galadriel. You are healed in mind and body."

Elidë's breathing calmed and her body began to tremble from the aftershock and strain her body had been through. Legolas waited and felt her starting to roll over. She was facing him, her sky-blue eyes glazed over but she was blinking in an attempt to gain some clarity. Her eyes met his and she murmured, "Not in my soul."

Legolas pulled her into his arms and cradled her. "I would heal your soul." He did not know if she would remember his words. He knew that she would push him away if she remembered his father's words right at that moment. Elidë's hands, clenched closely to her chest quickly wrapped around his torso and held onto him for her very life. A song of comfort and familiar places came to Legolas's lips. As he cradled and rocked her as a parent would a child, he felt Elidë relax.

"Don't leave me, my love."

His heart clenched painfully at the words he wanted to hear from her. He knew she would not repeat them again unless he could convince his father she was a suitable spouse. Legolas pressed a kiss to the top of Elidë's head and brushed her hair away from her face. Bending his head so that his mouth was next to her ear, he whispered, "I will never leave you, my love."

~*/**\*~

Unable to return to sleep, Eowyn sat in her room listening for any sounds or movements from Elidë's room. She did not know how much longer until the sun would rise. Rising from her bed, she walked to the door of her room and peered out into the hallway once more. She had done so throughout the night only to see a grave faced wizard and a solemn expression on Aragorn. The hobbits had been the first to retire with uneasy glances. Gimli left sometime in the night, but Gandalf and Aragorn had remained vigilant all night long.

Now, however, both man and wizard were absent from the hallway.

Eowyn looked up and down the hallway but did not see either one of them. She stepped cautiously out of her room and quietly walked toward Elidë's room. The door was slightly ajar. Peering through the door, she saw Elidë sleeping quietly and peacefully.

"You may come in, Lady Eowyn."

She jumped back from the door, startled at being discovered. The door swung open to reveal Aragorn. Eowyn blushed and lowered her head in embarrassment. He stepped back to allow her entrance. Eowyn came in and looked to the bed once more.

Elidë was still sound asleep. Gandalf sat in a chair on the one side of the bed, but, while Legolas was on the opposite side of the bed, the elf was actually sitting on the bed. His gaze was fixed on Elidë as if he were watching for the moment she was struck by whatever horror had attacked her that night.

"I wanted to know that she was well," Eowyn explained to the men in the room.

"Doing well?" Gandalf questioned. "Elidë is never truly well."

"Gandalf," Aragorn cautioned as he moved to lean against the wall farthest from the bed.

"He is right, Aragorn," Legolas stated. "She will not be well until -" He shook his head and muttered something in Elvish.

"What happened to her?" Eowyn questioned sympathetically.

"It would be best to not bring up that topic," Gandalf declared quietly. "She may be asleep, but she can still hear. We do not wish to send her into a state of terror again."

"Do not be too harsh to Pippin when you see him next," Aragorn insisted. "He did not know such a small comment would bring this about."

Legolas shook his head. "It was not just Pippin's question. Something else is on her mind that she has not told us."

Gandalf hummed irritably. Turning his gaze to their silent audience, he smiled, "Thank you for your concern, my lady, but I believe the best act of kindness you can show Elidë is to let her sleep."

Eowyn nodded in agreement before departing. She paused once more to look back at Legolas and took note that his hand had drifted from his lap to entangle his fingers in strands of Elidë's hair. With a fleeting glance at Aragorn, Eowyn left.

~*/**\*~

The next morning, Eowyn learned that Elidë had departed before the occupants of the hall had risen. Curious and thoughtful of the events from the night before, she sought out the elf prince. Eventually she found him sitting in that same room Elidë had slept in the night before.

Entering slowly, she watched him as he stared at a spot on the bed. He made no sound or move to acknowledge Eowyn's presence, but she knew better to assume he had not heard her.

Without hesitation or question, she said, "You care for her."