"But why must you leave? You're welcome here always," Aragorn said again. He was getting desperate. For the past two months Legolas had been hinting at leaving. He'd been trying to plead his case to the elf for just as long. "Arwen, can't you talk some sense into him?"
"Estel, he's the Prince of Mirkwood. Of course he needs to visit there," she replied.
Legolas didn't bother to say anything. He simply left the room during the distraction.
"I thought you knew! He's Thranduil's son. He's the heir," Arwen said evenly.
"I only knew that he was a ward of Thranduil's court. I assumed his parents were Thranduil's courtiers, but I never. . . Why didn't anyone tell me?" Aragorn pinned Sadorlien with his best glare. He'd noted Legolas' disappearance, and knew that the elf was likely sulking on the upper tiers already.
"Because my prince has never seen fit to say anything. Anyone who would be in a position to go against him, has never been in contact with you. Mithrandir and Lord Elrond agreed to keep the secret because it has caused so much pain to him over the years. Of all people, Aragorn, I should think you would be the last to wish him pain."
"I would never wish pain upon him." Aragorn shook his head. "Enough. I'll talk to him later. For now, we have people we must see."
Sadorlien followed Aragorn and Arwen to the main hall. Aragorn settled in the steward's chair at the base of the thrown. He'd had a second chair installed there for Arwen. She settled gracefully into it. He stood guard for them. He could hear the minor stir of Legolas' absence, but all thought that he was merely going to check Osgilith again. Sadorlien sent up a prayer for Legolas' safety on the road. Knowing his prince, he'd need all the help he could get.
"Strider!" the elf that dashed into the room cried, launching himself at the human. Strider caught him with a laugh. The hug sent a ripple of laughter through the crowd.
"Prince Gailduil, how fares Mirkwood?"
"It's brighter, yet duller than it's ever been. Congratulations." Gailduil kissed Arwen's cheek. "Hi, Arwen. Hi, Sady."
Sadorlien winced. He'd managed to banish that nickname from his mind somehow. "My lord."
"And where is my brother? Oh, wait, before I forget, this is for you from Daddy." Gailduil handed over a sheaf of scrolls. "I took the liberty of looking at them on the way when I got bored."
"And where is your guard?" Sadorlien asked.
Gailduil rolled his eyes. "Who do you think I am? Legolas? Daddy let me come all alone. Isn't that great? I finally get to travel. You wouldn't believe what I've seen. I just followed the river down. I got to see the Dale and the vineyards. So, where is he?"
"He's either in his room, or sulking on a parapet."
"I should have guessed. Can I see him?"
"Of course. Sadorlien, would you?"
Sadorlien considered. "Guard Henry, will you take the prince to see Legolas please."
"Yes, sir. If you'll come with me, sir."
The buzz in the court was now about Legolas' rank. Arwen shook her head. "A whirlwind named Gailduil just told us that King Thranduil let him out on his own, correct?"
"Yes, Lady Arwen," Sadorlien answered.
"And you just over-rode my orders like Legolas?" Strider growled in Elvish.
"Of course, sir. They are counter to my primary duty of guarding you." Sadorlien just smiled politely as Aragorn tamed his temper. One ill-humored king was much like another to him.
Gailduil opened the door without knocking. "I'll wait for him here. Thank you."
"Is there anything you need, sir?"
"No, I'm fine." Gailduil dismissed the guard. He looked around the room. There was one of Legolas' weavings on the wall, but that was all. There was no bow, no glass, nothing else that would indicate his brother's presence. He found the note on the bed. "What?" He swallowed hard. He didn't have Thranduil's temper, but this made his pulse race. He stormed into the King's Hall. "He's gone! What did you do to him!"
Aragorn stared at Thranduil's son. "I have done nothing to Legolas."
"You must have done something. He wouldn't leave his pet human all alone."
"I have done nothing but offer him a place here for as long as he wishes it," the human king soothed. The courtiers were beginning to get nervous. There was an obviously distraught elf in their midst. That was never a good sign. Aragorn approached the elf carefully. Despite the fact that he was the youngest elf he really knew, Gailduil still had several centuries on him. He gently folded his hands over the parchment and took it to read for himself.
"To whomever finds this note, please conduct it to King Elassar immediately. Strider, I must go. If I do not return, it is not by my own choice. -L"
Aragorn folded the parchment carefully and put it in his pocket. Gimli stepped into the room with an entourage of dwarves. "Greetings, Gimli son of Gloin."
"Hello, Aragorn son of Arathorn. We have come to repair the damage."
Aragorn blinked, stunned. Then, he smiled. "You and your people have my heart-felt thanks."
Gimli snorted. "We'll get to work. When you see that irritating elf-spawn, tell him I'm back."
Strider nodded, then paused. "It seems our friend the elf has left for Mirkwood."
The dwarf snorted. "He'll be back. I don't think a Balrog would be able to keep him from you for too long."
"Well, my father can be about as charming as a balrog in a temper when he's got a mind to be." Gailduil had calmed. "Well, introduce me, Strider."
Sadorlien cleared his throat. "As Strider is now the King of Men, perhaps you should address him as such?"
Aragorn shook his head. "If Gailduil were to treat me with respect I might die of the shock."
"He's still Legolas' pet human, no matter what rank." Gailduil sighed. "Well, I suppose I could treat you more like a king. Are you the elf-friend dwarf then?"
"And who might you be, lad?"
"Prince Gailduil of Mirkwood." The young elf shrugged. "I'm Legolas' brother."
Gimli stared. "You're Thranduil's then. And Legolas was from the Queen's first husband or perhaps a lover?"
"No, Legolas is Thranduil's eldest. He's my half-brother. His mother was the Queen before my mother. He's a lot older than I am." Gailduil looked at the dwarf as if he were mad. "Did you not know?"
"No, he's never mentioned being a prince."
Legolas' brother froze at that. "What? He's denying his heritage outside of the woods as well?"
Gimli nodded. "I see. He and his father must have had ill-words. It happens in the best of families. Not that I don't have harsh words for your father, lad."
"Legolas has never said a harsh word to my father. At least not in my presence." Gailduil frowned. "I'd be interested to know what he was thinking. Is Mithrandir about?"
"He comes and goes," Aragorn stated. He settled back onto his throne.
"May I come with you to see the city, Master Dwarf? You can tell me more of what Legolas has been doing over the past year. We never get the good rumors up North."
"Aye, lad. King Aragorn."
Aragorn nodded his dismissal. It seemed strange that Gimli had retreated into formality, but then, it was in his nature. Strider'd still get smacked down by the dwarf or elf if he did something stupid. It would do the court good to meet an elf even less like Arwen than Legolas was. Gailduil had little care for court formality despite the fact that he'd never left Thranduil's palace before. To the best of Aragorn's knowledge, Gailduil had never even gone to live in the trees for a season. He turned his mind back to the more important parts of internal politics and let Legolas retreat to the back of his mind.
Legolas' horse slowed to a canter. He surveyed the damage to the forest with dismay. He could sense the new growth beneath the ashes, but it fairly gutted him to see such wanton destruction. The tower at Dul Goldur had been destroyed as well. It was likely what had caused the destruction. "Who goes there?" a voice demanded.
Legolas glared at the elf in the trees. "Legolas of Mirkwood, who challenges me?"
"I'm sorry." The female elf dropped to the floor of the forest. "I didn't realize, sir."
"What call have you to keep any elf from Mirkwood?"
She was started at the sharpness of the tone. She'd never met the prince of Mirkwood. "Lord Celeborn instructed full vigilance."
"What is Celeborn doing here? He didn't bring Galadriel did he? And where is he?"
"He's at the Palace with King Thranduil. He's working out an accord. A colony of Lorien is coming to clean up the lower part of the Greenwood."
Legolas froze. "When did they change the name?"
"After Sauron fell."
He sighed. "I take it the spiders are gone?"
"Yes. And the trolls as well. I'll let them know you're coming."
"No, don't. I don't want my lord Thranduil to hear before the trees tell him."
She blinked. "Of course." She smiled. "Is there anything you need?"
"The patrol, is it large? Are they armed?"
"Yes and yes."
"Just my luck. But if I go through the woods rather than following the river up I'll have a better chance of getting to the palace before the rumors do," he mused mostly to himself.
"You make things too complicated. I'll just tell everyone that the prince wants to have a grand entrance and not to spoil the surprise."
Legolas laughed. "You are indeed from Lorien." He rode on up the side of the trees. He spotted the new growth blooming as he drew closer to Mirkwood proper. The horse would need to stop soon. He should be just about at his favorite underground spring. He brightened. What difference could a few more hours make? At this point he was likely so deeply in trouble that he wouldn't see daylight until after Aragorn's grandchild was on the throne. His lips twitched into an amused smile. I wonder how many children they'll have? I can't see Arwen wanting only one. He set his horse grazing and then settled himself into the water. He closed his eyes and relaxed, bone handled knives easily in reach.
"Legolas is coming," Thranduil said absently. "Steward, make sure there's fresh wine in his room."
Celeborn raised a brow. "How do you know?"
"The trees a more cheerful. Besides, the guards think me deaf."
Celeborn laughed. "I had best get going. I know he doesn't want to see me."
"Then you have seen him more recently than you have said." Thranduil's voice was acridly bitter. Celeborn sighed at the anger. Some things never changed.
"I have. I gave him my word that you would hear his adventures from his lips and not mine."
Thranduil's eyes narrowed. "Was he hurt when you saw him?"
"By no one's hand but yours," Celeborn snapped back. "The light is shuttered in his eyes. His soul weeps for you, but his will is just as strong as yours. You've trained him to your jessies, but he is not some pet to be kept locked up."
"I have never locked him up."
"He is so wild that I fear for his safety."
"Strange. You don't want anything else to do with Aewlos." Celeborn and Thranduil stood eye to eye for a long moment.
"Get out and take your papers with you. You are in these woods on my sufferance."
"You really haven't changed much have you, you stubborn old goat." Celeborn's voice was cheerfully affectionate. "I warned Aewlos away from you, but she wouldn't listen." He shook his head. "Perhaps if she'd continued her wandering ways she wouldn't have died."
"How dare you. Get out. Sail west with your wife. Leave me and mine alone."
"I can't leave him any more alone that you already have." Thranduil reached for his short sword. Celeborn held up a hand and turned to leave. "When we sail west, we will offer your son a seat with us. I think he's suffered long enough, donít you?"
The sword imbedded itself in the door next to Celeborn's head as he left. Thranduil didn't bother to remove it. He retired to his main room and found Cariel there with fresh sweetbreads. "I'm assuming Celeborn won't be joining us for dinner?"
Thranduil shook his head. He gave her a small smile. "I take it you heard our discussion?"
"Dearest, you have the loudest voice in the castle. I'm surprised that they didn't hear you in Minis Tirith."
Gimli was surprised at the young prince's knowledge of building, even moreso at his talent for metalwork. "I didn't think elves indulged in such pursuits."
"And who else would supply my brother with his coronets? He's endlessly losing them, or breaking them. I know that arrows are more important to him than policy, but honestly, one would think he does it on purpose."
Gimli considered. He was watching the construction crew. His Elven companion was lounging on the ground. "Perhaps he does, lad."
"So that he has reason to seek you out."
Gailduil paused. "No, he always reads to me, or does things with me, when he comes to the palace that is. Father would string us both up if he were to take me hunting with him. Do you think there are any histories that I haven't seen here? Is there an official document about the fight?"
"Of course, lad, in the library. Gandalf can take you there, I'm sure," Gimli said loudly enough for the wizard to hear as he came over to see what the front gate looked like now. Gandalf raised one furry brow.
"And where do you need to be taken, my boy."
Gailduil smiled his most beatific smile. The smile that meant that he was up to something. "I wanted to see the official histories. Can you show them to me?"
"Of course." Gandalf smiled in amusement. He could see Legolas' influence lurking in the younger prince's actions.
"Great! Do you think I could look at the records of human-elf alliance too? I want to see what the differences are."
Gimli chortled as the two left his sight. "No, no, not there, you fool." He bustled into the activity.
Gailduil looked at the page in front of him in utter shock. "Legolas of Mirkwood, son of Aewlos of Lorien." There as no other appellation on the page. He checked the front page again to see who had written the history. That was Legolas' signature. There was no doubt of that. The tiny imbedded leaves confirmed it. A single tear ran down the soft cheek. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. He reached for a pen and changed the listing to read: "Legolas ^ Prince of Mirkwood, son of Aewlos ^ and Thranduil, brother of Gailduil."
The keeper of the library snarled and came forward. He stopped at the sight of the silvery tears on Gailduil's cheeks. He backed out of the room. There was no way his stipend covered having to deal with an upset elf. He'd have to fetch one of the other Elves. That was all he could do. Maybe that wizard could help.
Legolas looked up at the doors of the palace. His hand rested absently on the back of his horse's neck. He let the stable-hand lead the poor dear away. He was struck by a painful vertigo. He couldn't smell Mother Ravenclaw's sweets. He didn't hear the children playing. Of course not, he chided himself. The children were in the palace. It wasn't safe yet. And Mother Ravenclaw is dead, he told himself firmly. He yearned for Sadorlien or Deluiel's presence to steady him. Then, he walked into the open doorway and the silent court. All eyes were on his passing form. There was a lighter air than usual, but there was tension there too. Well, I'm not sure what to expect either. He stepped into the King's chambers.
He bowed formally to King Thranduil. Thranduil smiled. He stepped down. He hugged the startled Legolas. "Welcome home, my son."
"I'm sorry, sir," Legolas said twisting out of the grip, "you must have me confused with Gailduil. I'm told we look much alike."
Thranduil hid the sting of that remark. "You must be tired from your journey."
"I am, sir. It has been a long journey." Legolas looked over Thranduil's shoulder in the politely fixed way that kept him from wanting to yell at the king. Thranduil frowned.
"Then, please join me for a meal once you have rested and been refreshed."
"Yes, my lord." Legolas inclined his head and left the room. Thranduil closed his eyes.
"He does take after me doesn't her?"
"Yes, my love." Cariel's voice was full of smug knowledge.
Legolas looked down at the crib quilt that was spread across his bed. The small note made him want to curl up and cry. "Thought you might need this. -G" He shed his bow and knives, pulled off his outer tunic and boots. He curled up on the bed, hugging the blanket close to him. It was all that was left of his mother after all. He relaxed fully for the first time since Gollum had disappeared. He'd find Deluiel in the morning.
"I hear you've been editing Legolas' histories," Elrond said, smiling over dinner. "Quite ambitious. You weren't even there."
"Some mistakes are just slips of the tongue. He forgot to put his title in, you see. That's not as big of a mistake as forgetting to mention that Sauron was afraid of my father."
All the eyes on the table fixed on him. Gailduil basked in being the center of attention for a moment. Gandalf's brows were very high on his head. "And why do you think that, little prince?"
Gailduil carefully tore apart a roll. The table held Aragorn, Arwen, with Sadorlien behind them of course, Gandalf, Elrond, Eowyn, Faramir, and Gimli. Sadorlien probably already knew, but he wasn't about to spoil the young prince's pleasure at telling it. "Well, Legolas and I were minding the palace. And I swear to you, Legolas was actually really wearing his crown, on his forehead like it's supposed to be. I remember that clearly because it was the first time I'd ever seen it there. Father was off fighting the dragon, which according to what I understand from Sadorlien is cruel because Legolas liked the old beast. Anyway, we were in charge of the place, despite the fact that Ada told us not to contradict any of his recent orders. So, Legolas immediately found his way into the scrolls Ada didn't want us to look at. We found a whole sheaf of letters from Sauron protesting this and that. He was trying to negotiate with Thranduil. He wanted Ada to take a ring. From what we read between the lines Ada told him to throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom or swallow it because he wasn't going to touch the thing. The letters just kept getting madder and madder. I'm sure Ada must have said some poisonous things. Sauron didn't like Ada's refusal at all. He threatened him with all sorts of things. But I don't think he dared. The Queen would have probably chewed him to bits if Ada hadn't gotten him. We found Ada's diaries from the time as well. They helped fill in some of the details. No one else seems to have known anything about it."
Elrond's face had gone very still. He was trying to imagine his best rival with a ring of power. He shivered slightly. It could have gone either way. At least Thranduil was willful enough to refuse power. He didn't think much of human magic. He was much too independent. Gimli snorted. "I wondered where Legolas got his disregard of the bloody ring."
"Disregard?" Aragorn echoed. He considered. He nodded slowly. "He would have been the perfect one to tempt wouldn't he?"
Gailduil frowned, no one was thinking about his story. But this would probably be even more interesting. He listened intently, blending back into the background of the room like Legolas had taught him. Sadorlien raised a brow, but didn't interrupt.
"You can't tempt Legolas. He doesn't want anything," Arwen said. She didn't like the way this seemed to be heading.
"But the ring didn't even try. He never tried to get near it. He never even reacted to it."
"You don't know that," Aragorn's wife contradicted him. "He's very good at not showing his emotions. He could have been enraged and contained it."
"No," Gimli said. His voice was flat. "He didn't want the damned thing. He said as much to me."
"And you?" Gandalf asked softly.
"Oh, Aye, I wanted it. I didn't want any damned elf-spawn to touch it. That was just at the council meeting. Are you saying it chose who went on the journey?"
Elrond nodded. "That makes sense. Logically, I would never have chosen Legolas for the trip. Besides the fact that his father would have tried to kill me, his temper is too volatile."
"He has a temper?" Eowyn said in surprise. He'd seemed very patient to her. Too patient perhaps. Faramir had barely known Legolas. He knew only what his rangers had reported back to him.
"He was a soldier though," Faramir said. "Why not send him just for that?"
"The ring chose Frodo," Gandalf said firmly. "The rest chose their own fate."
"Did they?" Sadorlien said suddenly. "Did they really? Legolas went for Strider, any fool with eyes knows that. There was no question Strider would protect the Halfling. But the others, did they know what they were choosing?"
"Why did you go, Gimli?" Aragorn asked.
"I wasn't going to let any elf show me up." Gimli smiled mostly to himself. "Who would have guessed?"
"He let you win one contest."
Gimli snorted. "Why did you go with Frodo, Aragorn?"
"He needed to be protected."
Could any other member of the court seen the tableau they would have been shocked at the intimacy of the group. Gailduil looked at Strider as if for the first time. His eyes widened. He looked to Sadorlien. The older elf winked. Gailduil turned his attention to his roll, hoping to avoid the rest of the conversation. His brother was in love with a human. What the Hell was he going to do now?
Legolas woke, refreshed. He found his way to the dining hall. Thranduil nodded a greeting and went back to listening to whatever Cariel was telling him. Legolas settled into his normal chair and the cook's assistant hurried to feed him. She smiled coyly at him. He nodded a gentle thanks and started to eat. He was suddenly ravenous. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. "Legolas, you must tell us what you've been up to," Cariel said lightly. He didn't like the fact that there was just the three of them at dinner. He missed Sadorlien and Deluiel madly.
"I will, my lady, as soon as I ask the only question that's been nagging at me for nearly a year, how fares Deluiel?"
Thranduil considered his eldest for a long moment. Sometimes, the temptation to protect his son from all that would hurt him was so strong that it frightened him. "She is not well, Legolas," he said quietly.
"What has happened, my lord?"
"She was wounded. She still lingers in the healer's chambers. She must choose her path, but she insists she has too much to keep her here. They worry that she's trying to push herself too hard. She wants to take command again from her bed."
"How was she hurt?"
"That's something you'll need to discuss with her." Legolas inclined his head.
"Now, tell me, how did you get Elrond to agree to let you go on such a foolish mission?"
"Elrond had nothing to do with it. It was my decision." Legolas was firm on that point at least. There were plenty of other items he'd need to verbally dance. "The ring had to be destroyed."
"I won't deny that, but why did you have to go?"
"Because it had to be done."
"By someone else, not by my eldest prince!" Thranduil's voice was eerily calm and icy despite the vehemence of his words. "How could Sadorlien and Deluiel let you get yourself into that much danger?"
"Deluiel was given the charge to return to Mirkwood for its protection. Sadorlien was given charge of Arwen. It was my choice to join the Fellowship, no one else's."
Cariel didn't care for the locked eyes. She was about to interrupt when the cook's assistant touched her arm. "Would you come with me, Lady?" she asked.
"Of course. What is the matter, child?"
"They must have this out on their own. Interrupting it will only go ill for all of us." The old elf looked back. "I wish he were free," she sighed.
"Legolas, of course. He's always been a lovely thing. But I'm only in it for a small fling. That poor dear has already misplaced his heart." She shook her head. "Come, my lady. I do need help making the sweetbreads now that Mother Ravenclaw can't help me any longer."
Cariel bowed to the force of knowledge. She'd learned as a young elf that the servants in her household were masters of discretion. She was still a newcomer to this family. She shook her head and turned her mind to the steady work of baking and chatting with the cooks.
Legolas wouldn't have looked away from his father's eyes even if he could have. "A choice you should not have made. You were to remain here in these woods."
"Then you should have thrown me in the dungeon as you threatened."
"Don't tempt me, boy." Thranduil held onto his temper with iron will.
Legolas snorted. "My actions have never mattered except when you dislike them. Why should I bother to try to please you?"
"I am your king."
"Funny, sir, you only remark upon that when I've displeased you in some way."
"I don't remember you pleasing me any time recently."
"Then why have you kept me this long, sir? Why not destroy me with everything else that was the queen's? I'm of no use to you. You've an heir better suited to Mirkwood, why keep me?"
Thranduil reached across the table and backhanded his son across the mouth. "Don't ever speak that way again. You are more than some pet here on sufferance."
"Funny. Strider didn't even know I was the prince here. I'm nothing to you but an archer, something to be ignored until he acts up. I've still got the scars from the last time you cared enough to deal with me."
"How dare you!"
"How dare you try to stab me, sir! I've got the cut across my body. It's never healed anymore than the wound in my arm. Bitter memories are hard to kill. Perhaps it would have been best for both of us for me to have died in the Mines of Moria, or on the battlements of Helm's Deep or in the roads of the Dead. Perhaps I should have remained in Minis Tirith as Aragorn asked of me. Then you wouldn't have to worry about what a stain I am on your consciousness."
"Legolas, silence. Let me speak." When Legolas had subsided into a silent attentiveness, he started. "I have never hated you. I have never wanted you dead. The only thing I have ever wanted was for you to be protected from all ills. All of my strictures have been with that end in mind. I know that you have found them chaffing, but they have always been for your safety. Even Rivendell or Lorien I would allow you to visit. But for you to forget your duty to me and run away with your pet human is beyond my understanding or forgiveness."
"I did my duty to the world first, my lord, then I returned to you. Only my duty returned me to these halls. For, the Valar know, that my love has long been stifled by the ice of grief. I lost my parents more than a thousand turnings ago. Would that by staying I could regain them, I would still have followed Frodo and Strider on this desperate quest. It needed to be done and my death would have been no great loss to anyone except Strider and Arwen." Legolas stood.
"Sit. I am not done with you."
"As you wish, my lord."
They both ignored the tiny trickle of blood that ran from Legolas' lip and dripped softly onto his tunic. They stared at each other for a long time. "I have always loved you, son."
"What son do you speak of, sir?"
"Call me 'father' once more, Legolas. Perhaps there is yet something we can salvage."
"No, sir, as you said, 'father and son' will never be spoken in reference to us ever again. The borders of that rule are far too strict for me to over-come."
"Legolas, my son, don't be stubborn."
"What else can you do to me, my lord? What would you ask of me?"
"That you be my son. That you be my heir."
"You have Gailduil. He is better suited to court politics. Let me fly, my dearest lord. Set me free, while my wings are not yet irreparably broken."
"Stay in the Greenwood, Legolas. It needs you. I need you."
"You need me no more than you need the plate on your table or the weaving on your wall. I am nothing here, just a painful memory. Banish me like the rest of the memories. Destroy me like the Queen's loom. Smash me like her carvings. Don't force me to fade away like fog, or die of sadness like a caged song-bird." There were tears in Legolas' eyes, but he tried not to let them fall.
"You have always been my most treasured, Legolas. This land was reborn when you were born, and without your spirit, I fear that it will die out."
"It is not the only land that needs reclaiming in this world. The fire here was cleansing. Already the shoots of new trees are growing through the ashes. I have seen much, much worse. Would that I could reclaim that land for beauty." Legolas shook his head. "The woods will not die with one less elf. Perhaps my ashes would merely help it grow more freely."
"Why do you speak of death?"
"Because if I am kept here I will surely die."
Thranduil shook his head. "No, my dearest son, you will not die. You'll get used to the working of the palace again in time." He smiled. "Go see Deluiel. Perhaps she will help ease your soul, or at the least smooth your ruffled feathers."
Legolas looked at his father for a long moment, the pain in his heart swelling with angry sharpness. He inclined his head. "Of course, my lord." He was the captain of the guard when he was at the palace. It was his duty to tend to the wounded. He left the room. Half-way down the hall, he pressed a hand to the pain in his chest, willing it down and away with ice. He couldn't surrender to the pain now anymore than he could have done in the month after his mother's death. He looked up and saw a single carved bird hiding in the rafters. The tears he didn't want to shed filled his eyes. He fled to the ramparts and looked out over his forest through a veil of misty tears.
Thranduil looked at his hands for a long moment, letting the table be cleared and the pleasant sounds of after dinner merriment pass without notice. He fisted his hands. "What have I done to him?" he asked his fists. He retired to his office and looked up at the weaving on his wall. It was precious to him. More precious than Legolas would believe. It was the last gift his son had ever given him. It was a dancing glitter of starlight created by shards of diamonds and crystal set in silver threads. "Aewlos, what can I do to bring him back to me? He speaks only of death now. How do I reach him, my love?"
Aragorn found Gailduil studying him from his sprawled position on the stairs that lead to the King of Gondor's throne. He raised a brow. The elf-prince shook his head, blond hair falling free and wild as he did. He wore his coronet properly -- the tendrils of silver woven into his hair, unlike his brother. "Just wondering what my brother sees in you," he said in absent Elvish.
Aragorn tried to glare, but couldn't pull it off. The courtiers didn't know how to react to this elf. He wasn't quiet and deadly like his brother. He was light-hearted and mischievous. Aragorn was of half-a-mind to tell the lot of them that they just didn't know Legolas well enough. Gailduil didnít stand over him like a body-guard. He didn't act quiet and respectful to everyone in the room. In fact, he seemed to find human politics rather like a spectator sport. He was rooting for Aragorn, but he wouldn't mind seeing him routed once and awhile, just to keep him honest. "Perhaps you should ask him." Aragorn turned his attention back to the matter at hand. Gailduil rolled his eyes.
Aragorn was cute enough, the elf-prince supposed, though not his type. He was loyal to his friends and he was honorable to his enemies. He was far too serious, but the weight of a kingdom rested on his shoulders now, so that could be forgiven. But still, Gailduil didn't know why Legolas had fallen for a human. It was better than having fallen for a dwarf, he supposed. Gimli was nice enough, but far too rough around the edges. Something caught his attention across the room. Sadorlien was focused on the man in front of the throne. The man across the room was lifting up something and moving forward, it shined silver. Gailduil never consciously realized what he was doing, but when he was done his knife was buried to the hilt in the man's chest and the man's sword was on the ground next to him.
Aragorn walked over to the body. He looked down at the sword. "Gailduil," he growled, "what is the meaning of this?"
"He wanted to kill you. It's not the first assassination attempt I've seen. People are always trying to kill Legolas or Daddy." The elf shrugged and returned to his place. Arwen had paled, but she stood bravely and went to see the body in more detail. Sadorlien opened up the man's tunic and revealed the Eastern symbol.
"Sauron's allies, no doubt," he commented. "There's going to be more of them I'm sure."
Aragorn nodded. In that moment he was a ranger and not a king. "I want you to set up the guard, Sadorlien. I want to know all of the whispers."
"Of course you do," Sadorlien muttered under his breath. Espionage was Legolas' specialty not his. He was just a bodyguard. Perhaps the young prince might know more.
"Don't set Saddy to doing it," Gailduil said. "I'm bored. I'll do it."
"If you get killed your father will do his level best to kill me."
Gailduil rolled his eyes. "It's not like I'm Legolas. Daddy won't kill you if something happens to me. *My* mother's still alive. Besides, I enjoy gossip."
Arwen smiled and her lady-in-waiting and right hand Eowyn bit down her laughter. She glanced at Faramir who wasn't amused. He disliked any talk of Aragorn dying. She tried to get him to smile, but he refused to be tempted. Sadorlien nodded at Gailduil. The blonde elf winked. He kissed Aragorn on the cheek and wandered out of the room. Aragorn shook his head.
"King Ellesar!" the messenger said as he ran into the room. "Word from the East." Aragorn took the papers and sent the bedraggled man off for food and rest.
Legolas touched the quilt blanket that laid across his bed with reverence. Gailduil had left it for him, thinking he might need it. His little brother knew him better than most. The soft fabrics from Aewlos' hands comforted him. He held it close to his chest as he drifted off into dreams. Deluiel wasn't well, but she was as snippy as ever and that was a comfort. He didn't notice when Cariel looked in on him with a smile. It warmed her heart to have him back where he belonged.
He woke to the change in sounds. There were children running in the halls. He didn't remember them doing that in years. Then he tried to identify them from their voices. He counted twenty-one which meant that they'd gained one child while he was away. Gained one child and lost many more elves. The pain tried to swallow him. He would not cry for the dead. Not until he knew how many had been lost. It was time to visit his archery master.
"Hello, my prince."
"Hello, teacher. And how does the wood-gaurd fair?"
"We've done well, all things considred. There are few things to worry about, Legolas. The orcs are mostly routed, the trolls and spiders are gone. The animals are returning to their rightful colors. Your gaurd will be ready to protect the forest soon enough. It is good to have you back, Legolas. Has our lord assigned you as captain now? Deluiel is still ordering us about from her sick-bed, but it would be good for her to rest with no trouble."
"She would have my head were I to deny her her fun. And I still would put my odds on her winning the fight from her bed. I doubt I could dodge her knife quickly enough."
The archery master laughed. His hands were busy fletching arrows as he spoke. "Will you hunt with us, Prince? Or has your father once again jessied you to the throne?"
"We have not spoken of it. When did he become my father once again? I have heard it from his lips and yours."
"He has always refered to you as son to me. He is not foolish enough to pretend a different alliegance to me of all people. I taught him when he was young."
Legolas shook his head. "And the children? We haven't lost any?"
"No, they have been well-protected in these walls. Cariel gave orders for them to be brought in well before the fires started. She could smell change in the wind and thought we might be in for an especially harsh winter."
"I have missed her sweet-breads. The fire, did we lose anyone to that or only to the battles?"
"We lost a few to the fire. Those who were sending the messages back to the castle from Necromancer's fort were caught by the flash flames that started the fire. It was a dry season and there was much to catch fire. But already the new blooms are up and new children will be arriving within the year."
Legolas nodded. "He wishes me to call him Ada once more."
"He is attempting to bridge the gulf that has grown between you. He has wanted to do so for years, but he has never been able to see the path he should take."
The younger elf snorted. "You, sir, have more faith in that than I. My pet human didn't know I was his son. How strange it is to realize that. He thought me a favored courtier, an assistant, an archer. And I admit, those are the roles I am most comfortable in. How do I now become his son once more?"
"Were the two of you that far apart? It has never seemed that way to me. You grasp terribly at one another with the same words you use to distance yourselves." The archery master squeezed the prince's shoulder. "Is it pride that keeps you from him? Or anger?"
"Pain, sir, bitter, sharp pain with an icy chill that seems to reach into the center of my being and destroy all love that was once there. There must be ice in my heart or I will die from it."
"Then you deny yourself the best the world offers. You love your human well enough? Why not your father?" Something in the younger elf's eyes stopped him. "You do love Strider?"
"Very well, sir." Legolas' voice was soft. "Too well sometimes I fear. I will not long survive his death unless I can banish his love from my chest."
The elder elf stopped, suspended in time like a dew drop. "You have Chosen him?" he whispered finally.
"To my joy and my shame. I don't know what to do and you have always advised me fairly. I hope that some distance will save me, but I fear I am truly caught in the net of his love. Were he to ask it flatly I would return to him tomorrow. But he has never sought to cage me and I am thankful for that. Still, he is wed and I call him now brother."
"Your Strider has wed? That is hard news, but not impossible. I'm sure you could convince her to share him with you, were your words as sweet as Cariel's breads."
Legolas blinked. "Strider is wed to more than a woman. He is wed to a country and a people."
"He's sworn vassal to Ellesar then?"
"Something like that." Legolas smiled. He shook his head. "There is no easy solution to this matter and I do not expect that an hour will make much progress on it. Let me help you with arrows, then you can see the Lorien bow Galadriel gave me."
"A sound plan. Perhaps the work will keep you occupied long enough to hear the answer in the trees."
Deluiel looked up at the ceiling. It was beautifully carved and intricately painted and she was absolutely sick of it. The healer's apprentices were hurrying around in etherial silence as they'd been taught and she was tempted to throw things at them to make them talk or sing or at least acknowledge her presence. It was an uncharitable thought, born of frustration, but she wasn't above thinking it. She sighed. She couldn't move from her legs down, and couldn't sit up without the mother healer bitching at her to stay flat so that she could heal. There was little pain from the actual wounds, but that was likely due to the copious amounts of wine she'd injested with lunch. Legolas was good for that if nothing else right now. She sighed. She took a breath. Aewlos, I wish I could help him more. He is in love and I would see him mated before I join you in the halls. Forgive me, my queen, for not protecting him from himself.
"Prince Gailduil, don't you think you ought to head back to Mirkwood?" Sadorlien said as the younger elf pulled out his braid once again and redid it.
"No, Sady. I'm not going back to the Greenwood just yet. There's things to watch for here. I've got an network of spies working in the East and I'll see them safely home. Well, as many of them as possible home. Even if I were to stay ten turnings, Father would not mind it. He's much less protective of me. Besides, you're here. What could possibly go wrong?"
"Thank you for your vote of confidence, my lord, but I think it would suit this court better were you to convince Legolas to come back with you."
"That is not my job. It is Strider's. He's more than capable of writing a long, pleading letter. I wouldn't stay in a place where I knew my love wasn't wanted."
"Strange, Strider said he would not force anything on Greenleaf, but he did fear that our king might."
"Ada? No, he's a lot nicer than Legolas thinks. He just doesn't like Strider. He thinks that humans are a waste of time."
"And you disagree?"
"Don't you? I think humans are just the right things to focus on. If we can't become more than just trading partners, it'll fall apart. There's Osgilith out there and that's the only defense left against what was once Sauron's stronghold? Brilliant, Sady. Really. I mean it. Have you seen the place? It's a ruin! And they wonder why there are assassins able to get through."
"You feel security is that lax here?"
"You're watching me, not the king."
"Arwen threatened me with bodily harm if I were to watch over them tonight. She said it was a job best left to a ranger." Sadorlien shook his head. "And I have checked in on them several times. Who else am I to talk with at this time of night? The humans have all retired."
"How sad it must be to need to retire so early every night. How hard sleep must be for them when they cannot just fall into the dreams."
"They are noble creatures with many limitations. I for one, am glad they sleep. It gives me time to contemplate."
"The fair Evenstar you mean?" Gailduil's smile was wicked. "I think she likes you well enough too."
"She does. But humans do not understand our kind as well as Aragorn does."
"And what cause do they have to say anything? She is the queen after all."
"They have odd ideas that love is restricted to one chosen only."
Gailduil considered that for a long moment."How very sad for them. Now, Gimli was telling me that there's a forge around here?"
"Yes, sir. I'll take you to it."
Sadorlien hid a sigh. He wished with painful clarity that he could see a smile that like grace Legolas' face once more. He hadn't seen such a smile on his charge since they were children. Gailduil was studying him.
"Don't worry about Legolas, Sady. He'll be fine. Arwen will see to it."
"That is a frightening thought. I pity whoever comes between her and her goals."
"None would be so foolish."
Eowyn stretched, her golden hair falling to the side. "Now, tell me again why you don't want me to go to Osgilith with you?"
Faramir rolled his eyes heavenward. "It's not proper."
"I am a shield madien, not some pathetic lady who has never seen battle. I will ride with your knowledge or without. I will fight.I will not be left home to sulk around the palace like one of the queen's little lady-lights."
"Eowyn, please, don't endanger yourself right now."
"Then give me a better reason than you have."
"Because I love you!" Faramir snapped after a moment of furious staring.
She smiled."Is that it?"
"Is it enough?"
"For now. Because I love you. Even though I think you're as much a fool as my brother and uncle ever were. Women can fight."
"I know. And maybe when I am content in my own strength I will be willing to let you fight next to me. But for now, please, stay in the castle and help them train the children to fight. Let us repair the damage of the war before we go seeking new battles. Please, my lady fair?"
"You are quite eloquent today," Eowyn told him. "And for that, at least, I will ease your mind and remain here."
Legolas settled his chin on his hands on Deluiel's bed, just out of her reach. He sighed. "What am I going to do?"
"About what, my sweet prince?"
"My lord Thranduil. I don't know him at all."
"He is no different than he ever was."
"He is very different, Deluiel. I don't know who he is anymore. He wishes a reconciliation between us, but I cannot see my way. It's darker than the trees were."
"That's not all that troubles you, Legolas. Tell me all of it."
"I'm in love with Strider, but you likely knew that years ago like everyone else seems to."
"No, I knew you had a Chosen now, but not who it was. That is not an impossible mating. Humans and elves can enjoy unions, you know."
"He is a king now. We can't just up and wander the forest together any longer. I cannot become between him and Arwen either. I can't seem to figure out what my lord wants of me and I cannot swear myself to Aragorn for I've always sworn feality to my father first."
"I'm glad to hear that word from your lips again, little leaf."
"I thought we had left the 'sprout' and 'little leaf' appealations in the past."
"Never, my little prince." He shifted to lean against her hand and she laughed. "Poor Legolas, teased by his nurse."
"Is that what you are to me? I have always considered you my hunting partner."
"I am your shadow, your nurse, and whatever else you need. I am loyal to your mother first, Thanduil second. Celeborn offered me a berth on a ship sailing west, but I don't wish it. I will join you mother in Manwe first. You'll always have me to look after you."
"What has the healer said about your back?"
"If I stay still and let her do her work, I'll heal, but it will take time. She's offered several times to give me a drought to make me sleep.I don't wish it. I'd rather throw things at her apprentices."
Legolas laughed at that. "Sadorlien is watching over Arwen and Aragorn for me. He looks after Arwen for himself now too. I still find myself turning to speak to him in the hall. I don't know what I'll do when it becomes clear to my lord that I'm not attended by anyone. It's an unusal freedom. I find myself getting lonely."
"Which is why you come to lurk by my bed like a spider."
"I beg to differ. I'm much more like a human's dog than a spider."
"True. You're just don't smell as badly as they do. The poor things."
"Would you like me to read you something?"
"Anything. Poetry perhaps."
"I'll fetch some then. Don't run away on me."
Aragorn looked out the window and down into the courtyard. Gailduil was tending the tree with patience that seemed out of character. Still, he was a tree elf, no matter what else and the white tree was important. Aragorn sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose attempting to ward off the headache that was growning there.
Eowyn cleared her throat from the doorway. He turned to greet her. "Yes?"
"My lord," she said with a smile, "it seems to me that there is a solution for the ache in your head. And it would do a double service."
"Oh. And what is that?"
"Fetch Legolas back from wherever he's wandered. He can witness my wedding to Faramir and ease the ache in your head. At least a visit to know that he is well. And Arwen could tell him the news in person."
Aragorn snorted. "So who is left to tell in this court?"
"Everyone who isn't female. Themen of Gondor seem to stubborn to believe the truth even if it is before their eyes. Women can see the difference in her clearly. But from what I understand it's not more than a week or two's ride to Legolas' lands."
Aragorn sighed. "No, the weather will be fair. It's spring and I should ride up to see the Dale anyway." He smiled at her. "Thank you for speaking your mind. Faramir seems rather reluctant to do so."
"That is because he fears that his actions will lose him his place as Steward."
"Then he is a fool. But diplomacy is never ill-placed."
Eowyn shook her head. "There are times when plain-speaking is much more useful. So you'll be going to Mirkwood then?"
"Yes, it seems I shall. Perhaps I should sound Gailduil out about the mind of his father."
"Perhaps you should take a sharp stick and poke it into your ear instead."
Aragorn's brows rose. "You don't like Gailduil?"
"I would rather spend a night drinking with his brother than suffer through another speech on the proper way for a woman to carry her sword. He's like a wild animal. Pretty to look at, but not something to be touched."
Aragorn shook his head. "I much have known him longer. He seems no more wild than Legolas."
"Perhaps he isn't to you, then, Ellessar, but he is wild indeed compared to Arwen and her attendants."
"Better you should compare him to Sadorlien."
"I don't see much of him. He's too busy tracking you and your queen through the house."
"You'll be staying on with Faramir?"
"Yes. I'll likely marry the fool."
"I trust I'm invited to the wedding?"
"As soon as I convince him to ask me." She smiled. "Good journey, King Ellessar."
"Deluiel, please, try not to scare off the apprentices. At this rate the only one brave enough to tend you will be me," Legolas said.
Deluiel rolled her eyes. "Then do something useful, like making me a target for the ceiling. I don't want my eye to go bad because I'm forced to lay here."
"And what would you shoot into the rock with, might I ask?"
"Don't be a brat. Find something for me to do before I go mad."
"Come over here so I can smack you," she ordered. Legolas smirked at her. "Don't make me throw breads at you."
"Deluiel, please, you need to heal quickly so that I can escape my responsibilities once again and hide in the woods until I am no more than a memory to this place."
"Then run to your Strider and leave me in charge. I can manage the gaurd from this rom as well as from the front line and you know it well."
"Yes, I know. And I'm not going to run to Strider. Have you gone mad?"
"You're in love with him aren't you?"
"And he is married to Arwen. Our love for one another is of no concern."
Legolas sighed. He settled down on the edge of Deluiel's bed. He crossed his arms, letting one hand rest over the orc wound. "I love him truely and that is the problem. I will not survive if I love him. He will die and I will follow. I want to live. How foolish and petty right? But I want to travel, to sail to see the parts of this world that have been nothing but a fable to me. I had best start traveling because I will not long outlive Aragorn."
"Does your father know yet?"
"That I'm in love with a human? Of course not. I'm not an idiot. My lord would never accept that from me."
"I think you would be surprised what your father will accept. He loves you, Legolas. He has difficulty showing it, but he does. Believe me."
"I don't know who this elf is. He's so different from the one I've known. How can I suddenly accept that he cares for me as anything but a painful reminder of the past. He would lock me in this castle were I to intimate that I wish to leave it again. He wants me to forget what came before and forget his rulings. He doesn't seem to remember smashing the queen's loom and burning the scraps of her fabrics. He doesn't see that there is no trace of my lineage in this castle. He has taken everything that was once hers and destroyed it. I cannot fathom why he didn't destroy me as well." Legolas wiped angrily at the silvery tears on his cheeks.
"Come here." Deluiel opened her arms and he let her hold him as she did when he was much younger. "I miss your mother terribly. And you are very much like her in temperment, but also very like your father. I wish you could see that he has been trying desperately to protect you from the world these last thousands of turnings. I would protect you as he has, but it has never been my way. I promised your mother once that I would protect you unto my grave and I shall. But I cannot protect you from your own heart. You love your father and always have. You have always abided by his decisions and never questioned his rulings even when they were counter to your own benefits. He believed that by banishing the memories of your mother he could heal the pain in his heart and in yours. He has never seen what agony his laws created because you have been ever the dutiful son. He could no more destroy you than his own heart."
"Pretty words, but I cannot understand them."
"In time, my little leaf. In time." She stroked his hair and was pleased when he stilled and went deeply into dreams.
Thranduil paced his office. Cariel sat reading on the couch there. It was the history that Legolas had written and she thought it was a fitting read for the wet spring morning. She hummed softly as she read. Thranduil sighed. "How do I reach him, Cariel?"
"Let him reach you. Don't argue, don't yell. Wait, that will never work, he'll think you possessed."
He looked sourly down his nose at her. She smile and batted her lashes at him. "Sometimes I fear that his humor has rubbed off on you, my dear," he told her.
"What makes you think it is *his* humor? More likely it is yours. You are very similar to your son, though you both seem loathe to admit to it. Be kind to him Thranduil. Let him cry the tears that he has hidden for so long."
"Cariel, I fear you will never understand us." Thranduil smiled. "He cannot cry those tears, not without losing what hope he still holds. The pain will swallow us whole."
His wife glared at him. "You are a fool."
"That has been said before." The elf-king sighed. "Very well. I will seek him out and speak to him of his mother."
Thranduil admired the handiwork on his son's new quiver. It was his mother's device. Legolas paused at the threshold of his room. "My lord?" he questioned softly.
"This is beautiful. Who made it?"
"Galadriel had it made. And the bow as well. Both are things of beauty."
"They are. Do you find the bow much different?"
"I get more distance on it."
"That seems hard to believe. You have always been most skilled with your bow."
"Thank you, sir."
"I would speak with you for awhile, if you'll walk with me."
"Of course, my lord." They fell into step easily. Legolas had often paced by his father's side over the years. He had been a favored counselor and as such often walked with the king. "What disturbs your rest this evening?" Legolas asked when the silence had grown over-long.
Thranduil sighed. "I would heal the gap between us, Legolas. If I knew how, I would have done it before you left the last time."
Legolas bent his head. "My lord?" he prompted quietly. "Why now, my lord? Why after all we have been through? Why not before you destroyed all that was the Queen's? Before you tried to destroy me?"
"I have never meant to hurt you. I meant only to avoid the pain. I thought I would die when they carried her in. If you had died, I would have."
"Why destroy all my memories? Why destroy all I knew? Why make me question my own sanity? And now, why not let me go and be rid of the pain? You've Gailduil. You've Cariel. Why do you keep me here?"
"Because I love you, my son. I have always and will always love you." Thranduil heard his voice shaking and cursed the weakness he heard there. Their walk had led them to the throne room. They entered and passed through it, not speaking until they reached the small office beside it. Legolas went immediately to the window. He looked up at the stars.
"Who are you? You are not the elf I've known."
Thranduil didn't bother to hide his wince. "I am your father. I always have been. I will admit that I have been blinded by grief for so long that I scarcely remember the joy we once shared."
"I cannot remember it. I cannot remember calling you 'Ada' except in the silence of my heart. I have been the Queen's son for so long that I have forgotten whether Naneth was ever called else." The word had just slipped out and Legolas turned quickly to judge his father's mood. Thranduil bent his head.
"I am sorry for that. More sorry than you will ever know. You remember her?"
"How could I forget her? She is my mother. Her spirit still lives in the songs of the birds and the memory of the forest. Now, you will likely sweep the woods to be rid of even that," Legolas spat, anger spilling free of it's cage. "And with luck I'll be able to throw myself on the pyre you build of what's left of her weavings or cut myself to the quick with the shards of her carvings. Then we'll be free of each other and the pain will end. And I'll be with her and no longer a strain on your good will!"
"Do not speak of death so, Legolas," Thranduil said softly. "Don't leave me thus."
"Why not? Why should I not throw myself from the window right now? Ai! I should have let the Oliphant kill me at Minis Tirith. Then all the troubles would be solved." Legolas pressed a hand to his chest as the pain swelled again. He closed his eyes to bar the tears.
"No, little sprout, no." Thranduil's arms were gentle as they gathered up his son. Legolas buried his face in the soft fabric of his mantle. How long had it been since he'd heard his father's voice speak with such tenderness to him? Too long ago to remember. "Cry, little sprout, it will harm no one."
Legolas sobbed into his father's coat and let himself be rocked like a child. Grief, anger, pain and fear threatened to choke him with the intensity of long-suppressed emotion. He didn't notice when he stopped crying, just that his father was singing softly a hymn of comfort and love. He hadn't heard that song since he was a child and had woken from a nightmare vision of the future. That vision had come true, which was worse. He'd seen the woods turn black and the orcs attack their borders. He'd heard the trees screaming as they were cut down around Dol Goldur. He shivered. The Valar had been kind enough to dampen down that talent. He couldn't stand to see that much. He shivered in his father's embrace, tired and scared. He felt soft fabric envelope him. He was laid down. He did not open his eyes. "Sleep, Legolas," his father whispered. "Sleep." Legolas fell into sleep and did not wake for a very long time.
Arwen watched Aragorn pacing back and forth with a laughing smile. She rubbed her stomach, feeling the child within it, though no human would be able to. "Dearest," she murmured, "let us go and fetch Legolas back to us."
"What makes you believe I'm pacing because of him?" Aragorn raised his brows in surprise.
"Because no one else drives you this mad. It is a special talent of his, aggrivating kings."
"And you would have me ride to Mirkwood and steal him from under his father's gaze? It's not even been a year. I cannot call for him so soon. Gailduil says there is discontent still in the East and that the lands are ravaged. People are going hungry from the lack of land to plow."
Arwen's smile grew. "I can think of no better task for a tree-elf," she stated, "than to bring life back to a land."
Aragorn stared at her. "You would have me call him like a common vassal?"
"Why not?" she countered. "He would die for you. He loves you dearly."
"I know. That is why I cannot call him. I will not use his love against him."
"His love jessied him to the throne of a king who has not looked kindly on him in millenia. He has spent thousands of turnings at his king's side. He would give you no less, and with less anger and regret. He would give you freely what his lord has compelled."
"I will not cage him, Arwen. I will not let him be used."
"Then call him back. Write to him. Tell him of what you have seen and what you wish of him. Ask nothing of him, merely send him news. And perhaps I can convince you to accompany me to Mirkwood as my time draws near. There are needs that can only be met in Elven lands to deliver our child."
"Child?" Aragorn smiled. "You're with child?"
"I am." He swept her into a tight hug.
"Then we shall have to have Legolas attend the naming ceremony. Even his father is not so cold as to deny him that. Thanduil has always indulged him when it comes to me."
Arwen looked up at her husband as he released her. "Really?"
"Yes, didn't you hear? Thranduil considers me Legolas' pet and therefore I have some leeway in my actions while in his lands. I have run of the castle when I wish it." Aragorn shrugged. "Legolas has never been pampered, but Thranduil has always treated him with high favor."
"Which is why you thought him the ward of the king from a courtier." Arwen realized.
"Yes. I assumed one of his parents was highly favored by Thranduil and at their death the king took charge of him. When I met him, Legolas and his guards were patrolling the forest's edge for orcs. I thought him an archer, a gaurd, not a prince."
"And he thought you a ranger, until I told him all that you were." Arwen shook her head. "I knew before he did that you were his Chosen, Aragorn." She smiled sadly. "I have always wished that he were aware of his love for you."
"He is, my love. But there are things in this world that are not meant to be and our love is one of them. He would die for me. I would die for him. He calls me 'brother' and no matter how much more I would have, that will suffice."
"Males," Arwen said rolling her eyes. "Have you offered him more? Have you shown him more?"
"He will not accept it, Arwen. He feels that he is being disloyal to you if he does."
Arwen stared. "He is an idiot and I will tell him so when we go to visit. I'll begin the preparations. Will you write first?"
"No. I want no one aware of our movements to that level."
"You are the king. Someone must be made aware."
"Faramir and Eowyn then, but no one else. We'll travel quietly."
"No, Aragorn. The kingdom must know that I'm going to have the child there. Let that be the reason for our trip."
"I dislike doing that. I think we would become larger targets for it."
"We will still be targets. We'll go quietly, but the people must know that it is a joyous reason. We can visit King Brand of the Dale as well."
Aragorn sighed. "Why did I take up the crown?"
"Becuase if you had not, Legolas and I would have beaten you."
He stared at her. She smiled and batted her lashes at him.
"Visitors!" The page's cry echoed through the palace. Legolas looked up from the history he was re-reading. He looked out over the courtyard. The palace was humming with activity. He retreated to his room and shut the door. He didn't want to be part of anything just yet. His heart was heavy. The healing between himself and his father had started, but progressed as slowly. The glaciers that had filled their hearts to numb the pain were not easily melted. Their tempers were too similar to allow it. Legolas smiled ruefully. Cariel was right, they were too much alike to make this an easy solution.
Cariel shifted the curtain from his window. She looked down her nose at him. "And why do you hide in your room, Legolas. We have visitors. Where on Earth has your circlet gone this time?"
"I don't know. It was on my desk that last I remember seeing it."
"Then move away the inks and parchement and perhaps you'll find it again. If you haven't used it as an inkstand, that is. The one with the little leaves maybe? I think that one's in my office."
"Possible. I think there might be one in the library. The librarian tends to gather anything I leave there into a box."
"And to think I thought the infant was the one who'd need care."
"Word runs that one of our guests is pregnant and comes to us for protection while she gives birth."
"Ah, I see. And you want me to play the baby-sitter?"
"No, no. I'd fear that you would set it down and forget where you've put it. If it were a bow, I'd allow it. *That* I've no doubt you could find blindfolded."
Legolas smiled at her. "How else am I to get out of work but to be incompetent at it?"
"Legolas, like it or not, you are the prince of this land and work will find you no matter how you hide your talents."
He rolled his eyes at her and went back to his reading.
He looked up at his name.
"Get your circlet and be ready for the guests when they arrive. Now, Legolas," she ordered.
He sighed. "Yes, my lady."
"Evenstar, Strider," Thranduil greeted them. "And Ellesar has allowed you to ride with only a ranger to protect you?"
"No, I have a few more gaurds," Strider said with a smile.
"Strider," Thranduil said with a faintly patronizing smile, "I don't mean to question your abilities, but surely the Queen should be better protected."
Strider met Thranduil's gaze evenly and the king was glad of it. Legolas' pet had often been to the castle and not even met with him. "She is well protected. And what have you done with Legolas?"
Thranduil's brows rose. He did smile with a glint of dangerous humor. "Now, Strider, you know I have never called you on rank, but you should respect your queen."
"Aragorn," Arwen said after a moment, "I think we should have traveled with a bit more pomp."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I don't think Gailduil's been writing home."
Aragorn stared at his wife. "What are you talking about, Arwen?"
"I don't think King Thranduil has been told that you are Elessar."
Thandruil chuckled. "Arwen, my dear, you are always welcome. And Legolas' pet is always welcome. There is no need for any games."
"This is no mischief. Ask Legolas," Arwen told him.
"Am I to believe Legolas wouldn't lie to me just to further your joke?"
"I haven't spoken with him since he left Minis Tirith," Arwen stated.
"Go fetch, Legolas," Thranduil instructed the steward by the door.
"No need, my lord."
"No! I will not wear it. Cariel!" Legolas' voice carried down the hall. "It's Arwen and Aragorn, why should I?"
"Because I said you should."
"My dear Lady Cariel, I will not wear it. And stay away from my braid. My lord," Legolas said coming through the door, "please call off your wife." He smiled at his friends. "She insists that I should dress up for my siblings here."
"Siblings? Have I gained children?" Thranduil inquired delicately.
"Arwen, who you will remember has declared herself my sister, has married Aragorn. You remember Strider, don't you sir? Aragorn, son of Arathorn? Elrond's ward, Estel? King of Men? We did have this discussion once, I'm sure. Though perhaps we were both screaming to bring the hall crashing down around us." Legolas hugged Arwen. He smiled at Aragorn. "Ignore my lord, he is in a mood today."
"He's been in a mood my entire life then," Aragorn muttered softly in his elf's ear as he hugged him. Legolas stifled a laugh. He stepped back. Cariel caught Legolas' braid in one hand and dropped a circlet onto his head with the other. She released him.
"Now, let me straighten that." She reached to adjust the crown. Legolas tried to get away. Arwen laughed as Thranduil shook his head.
"Legolas," he said quietly, "stop teasing your step-mother."
Legolas stilled. He looked to Thranduil, as wary as a dog expecting a smack. Cariel used the distraction to place the younger elf's circlet into its proper place. Legolas scowled at her and pushed it off of his forehead. Thranduil reached over and pushed it back down with a finger. The two stared at each other for a moment. "As you wish, my lord," Legolas said quietly.
"King Ellesar, hmm?" Thranduil evaluated the human in front of him. "And still you carry yourself like a ranger."
"We wanted to be sure that Arwen would be protected. Most will not cross a ranger, if they can help it." Aragorn smiled. He straightened himself up. "King Thranduil, I'm an Elessar, king of men. This is my Queen, Arwen of Imladris. We request shelter, and assistance. Arwen is with child and wished to come to an Elven healer to assist with its birth."
"My congratulations, Arwen, Aragorn. Of course you are welcome. I wonder though, why did you not go to Lorien?"
"Galadriel and her elves have sailed west," Aragorn informed him. This was not the Thranduil he knew. There was an easier smile and an gentler tone to him. Perhaps it was just that Arwen was pregnant. Legolas rubbed at his circlet. Thranduil smacked his hand without looking. Legolas shook out the sting with a sulky glare.
"Explaining, of course, why Celeborn was in no hurry to leave my forest. I wouldn't want to hurry home to Galadriel's ship either." Thranduil's smile was wry. "She always was a bit of a firebrand."
Legolas stared at his father. Cariel giggled. "Oh, I can just imagine what fights the two of you must have gotten into," she said. "Now, Arwen, come with me to visit the healer." Cariel offered her arm in motherly escort. "And you can always ask me questions," she said on the way out. "Be good," she warned Thranduil over her shoulder.
Aragorn cocked his head to the side and spoke to his beloved elf. "I had thought you were planning to return after you checked in with your king," he said.
Legolas' smile grew wry. "That was the plan, but things come up as they often times do. Deluiel is in the healer's chambers and has frightened away several of the apprentices. They don't know how to deal with her."
"She was injured recently?"
"No, the wound lingers from the war. She will heal, but slowly."
"And you will remain with her." Aragorn nodded. "Sadorlien came with us."
"I should hope so. I would so hate to have to take Sady to task for leaving his duty undone." Legolas' laughing smile was a welcome sight.
"Go on then, children," Thranduil said with a wave. "And Legolas, I meant what I said. Don't leave the palace or I'll keep a full contingent of gaurds on you this time."
Legolas sighed. "Yes, my lord." He lead Aragorn out of the chamber and to the library where they could talk.
Thranduil watched his son leave with a heavy heart. Legolas was in love with a human. "Ai! It would be so much easier were you just a ranger, Strider. I would merely have a room set up for the two of you to share and keep you both tamed in until you were secure in your love." He sighed. "Steward, sweet wine. And send some to wherever Legolas and his ranger have hidden themselves."
"Yes, my lord." The steward smiled.
Thranduil sat heavily on his throne. "We'll have to have a party." He looked around the room. He rang for a page to get the preparations started.
"So, Thranduil seems much more relaxed than I remember," Aragorn said, sipping his wine appreciatively.
Legolas sighed. "He is not so shrarp with his words, but his temper is still thin and I still know how to press it. My lord is not going to change in that regard. He is easier of mind because I'm in the palace rather than without. My freedom of the woods is restricted until Deluiel is either well enough to be with me or she finds a suitable replacement." The elf rolled his eyes. "Which she will not do because it implies that she may not be able to take up the role again. I sneak out on occasion, but my lord's temper has been so even of late that I don't want to set him off again."
"Why do you not say 'my father' instead of 'my lord'?"
Legolas froze. "My lord did not with the word spoken and I have had much trouble accomidating his new request that I call him 'Ada' again. So, tell me of yourself. How does the crown set on your head? I hear that your kingdom has an elf as well? A young one with a more mischievious nature than I?"
"Gailduil has decided to take over my intelligence operations in the East. He's decided that he likes Minis Tirith. And he likes Gimli, even if he is a dwarf. And he was very upset that you had left without seeing him. He thought I had driven you away. Did I?"
Legolas stared at his human for a long moment. "No, you never could. You know that."
"Then why have you not returned? It is more than Deluiel being ill and more than Thranduil ordering you to remain in the palace. You never listened to him before on that score."
"I always listened to him unless the pain was too great to bear. I don't contradict him often. I did sneak away only to end up on a quest last time. He would keep me locked in here forever for that." The elf sighed. He stared into his wine. "And Cariel has gotten into her head that I should be a proper pince and wear my blasted crown as Gailduil does. I don't know how to leave him again. He seems so pleased that I'm here. When I left he was still cold. Now he wants to bridge the walls he set between us and I don't know how to do that."
"Time and trust," Aragorn said quietly. "Come sit by me, Legolas." The ranger patted the sofa. Legolas curled up next to him, allowing a warm arm around his shoulders. He laid his head on Aragorn's shoulder. "I've missed you, old friend."
"Has no one been telling you to eat your lunch? Or done your correspondence recently? I shall have to send word to Gailduil that he's missing the pleasure of pestering you." He yelped as Aragorn pinched him. "Human brat."
"Arwen thinks you should be at home with us."
Legolas sighed. "Arwen is always so sure of getting what she wants that she forgets that the rest of us have our own ideas."
"I would not call you from Deluiel's side when she is ill. Nor would I ask you to disobey your king. I would ask you to remember me. Write to me, Legolas. I know you can. Come to visit as soon as you're able. I would have you at the naming ceremony."
"I'm sure my father will allow it. In fact, I'm sure he'd like to be there. He has always been fond of Arwen. And of young children." Legolas' eyes closed. "And where would you like me?"
"In my castle, in my bed, at my side." Aragorn shrugged. "Wherever you would fly, so long as I do get to see you and speak with you often."
"What is it, my elf?"
"It seems to me that Arwen must have hatched a plan to steal me away. I wonder what it is."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because Arwen has no love lost for my father and would have stolen me to Imladris were she able."
"For herself? How selfish of her."
"And her brothers wanted a playmate."
"And you? What did you want?"
"To be allowed to travel where I will." Legolas sighed. "Were it possible, I'd like to bring some life back to Mordor. Those fields need care, but they could be green once more. There is a forest in Ithilian that needs aid. I promised Gimli to accompany him back to the mines of Rohan."
Aragorn laughed. "You'd willingly go underground with a dwarf, what will people say?"
"That I am a very kind being," the elf replied. "Why did you come, truly, Strider? If Arwen wanted a healer, we would have sent one to her. She has always been able to call on our community for anything."
"I wanted to see you. To make sure you were not in the dungeon as Arwen suggested."
"It's not so secure as all that. Even dwarves got free of it. My lord has often threatened it, but this room suits him well enough. Or my bedroom. He will not have me leave the palace though, which makes it as much a prison as anything else. He has changed the enchantment on the gate. It will let me in, but not out. If I want to leave, I must climb from the nursery window."
"Then we shall have to prevail upon him to set you free with us as guide. The woods are much changed."
"They are green once more. I remember them this way, Aragorn. The blackness crept in while I was still young. But the spiders and trolls are gone. The orcs are mostly routed. There has been some clean-up left, but I can hunt from the castle walls." Legolas pulled off his circlet and tossed it onto the table next to their sofa, ringing the wine bottle with negligent ease. There were elves moving around the room, but they didn't bother the two friends on the couch. Privacy was not something that either of them expected or valued.
"Let me straighten your braid."
"Why does everyone insist that my braid needs to be straight?" Legolas asked, sulking just a bit.
Aragorn unraveled it anyway and rebraided it carefully. "Because you should look your best." He threaded both side-braids through the circlet. "And you should wear your circlet. It suits you." The circlet of leaves was made to weave into his braids and look as natural as real leaves might. It was also impossible to shake loose when properlly braided in. Legolas lay across Aragorn's lap, letting the human stroke his hair as they continued to talk late into the evening.
Arwen smiled at her husband. "And why are you not in Legolas' bed this night?" She cuddled next to him. "Not that I mind, of course, but I had thought you wanted more than just his love."
"He is wise in many things, but physical attraction is not one of them. He doesn't discuss it and does not care about it. We discussed all manner of things, including politics, then he went to the roof to watch the borders and I returned to you. We must visit Deluiel."
"I saw her ealier. She is very much herself, though unable to move her legs. An arrow pierced her spine. The healer is sure that she will heal, but less sure when. She is in terrible pain most days, unless she has taken strong wine with lunch."
"She refuses all else, doesn't she?"
"Yes." Arwen sighed. "It is sad to see her so restricted. I had gotten used to her creeping silently behind Legolas and speaking not so quietly when he'd done something foolish. She was always so vibrant. Now, she seems a pale reflection of that. It must break Legolas' heart to see her thus. He did not lie, she has frightened away many of the apprentices. They are too young to know how to deal with her sharp tongue. So many of the elves I knew here are gone, Aragorn. They've been killed. I am surprised that the songs that fill the hall are so light."
"The darkness that lived in the woods has left. And I think they are glad to have their prince home. I heard talk of a party in our honor."
"You did indeed. Cariel was quite taken with the idea. They don't have many visitors in Mirkwood. There will be even less now. King Brand does come up to the palace. I gather he is one of the few humans allowed in."
"Brand is a good man. The humans here have been trading with the elves for centuries. Legolas even knows the woodsmen and their families to a child. Or he did. I don't know what happened in the fire. I heard they lost two in the fire and the rest were lost to the fighting. The war hit this land hard."
"And the humans? How many did they lose here?"
"The elves cleared the woods. Legolas sent them word with his mother's messengers. There were no humans lost in the wood. They were sent back to the Dale to prepare for war. Mirkwood was more prepared than Rohan or Gondor."
"What do you mean? Does someone here have sight like Elrond or did Galadriel send word?"
"I told you. Legolas sent word and the gaurd did as he bid without question. They cleared the humans from the forest and kept watch on the Necromancer's home. When the fires came, the humans were safe and the elves were ready to fight when the orcs came. War has been in Mirkwood for years. I just never saw it."
"Legolas?" Arwen closed her eyes. "Which is why he can find things out from my father when no one else can. His mother was from Lorien. Did you know that?"
"No, I did not. I never thought of him as being from anywhere but here. Did he travel there, do you know?"
"Never. He was never in Lorien, though he and Haldir were teased unmercifully that they would be wed when Legolas was of an age. I remember that much. They cannot abide each other for long spans of time. Haldir thinks Legolas Thranduil's spoiled pet. And Legolas thinks Haldir a preening popinjay."
"Oh, dear heart, did no one tell you that Haldir is dead? He brought forces to Helm's Deep. None survived."
Arwen closed her eyes and rested her head on Aragorn's shoulder. "War is such a cruel time." She sighed. "Listen, do you hear that? I've not heard that song in ages."
Aragorn lifted his head to listen to the tune. He smiled. "It's beautiful."
Legolas stared out his father's window at the sky. There were birds filling the sky with song. Thranduil put a hand in the small of his son's back. "And why do you tarry here as opposed to being with your pet?"
The younger elf shook his head. His circlet glinted with emerald enamel in the sun. It was woven into his braids. "He is with Arwen and the healer learning what they need to know about raising a half-human child. There are things in this world I have no curiosity about. Child-rearing is one of them."
"Who did your braids?"
"My pet. He felt it necessary to occupy his hands as we talked." Legolas shook his head. "It's too much trouble to take off at the moment."
"Good. I shall have to thank him for it."
"Why will you not even allow me to the village? I haven't seen the folk there since my return."
"Most of them have been inside since your return, so I will not accept that. In fact, they were all here for your feast." Thranduil watched as Legolas put out a hand and one of the sparrows landed on it. He looked so much like his mother that the elf-king wanted to scream.
"What is it, my lord?"
"You look very much like Awelos."
"I'll leave then, sir. I know reminders hurt you."
"No, Legolas, no, let us not start this again. I do not want you gone. It is something I'm attempting to make you understand. I have never meant to hurt you. I have never meant to drive you away. You are more dear to me than anything."
"Do not lie to me, my lord. I know I fall below Gailduil on your list. And I likely reside lower than your wife as well." Legolas sighed. "I'm sorry, my lord, I know my words are as bitter as unripe berries, but I cannot stop the feeling that spurs them on. I don't want to hurt you. I feel that my presence hurts you more than words. More than orc arrows, or dragon's fire. You look at me and you see her and your heart turns to cold ash from the flame that was snuffed out by her death and I am shamed by that pain I have caused."
Thranduil could think of no words to bring comfort. He merely wrapped his arms around his eldest son and held him tightly. "I can wish with all my might that the slights we have dealt each other over the years might disappear, but I know it cannot be so. I beg you, my son, let me at least try to reach you."
"Ada," Legolas said softly, "why do you feel you must cage me?"
"Because you will run and not return. I could not abide never seeing you again. I will not lose you to foolishness or wildness. I will not lose you."
"You will not lose me. For those turnings I lived in the trees you did not lose me. I never left the forest except to ride to Imladris and then only with others. I would not just leave, my lord. Just to the village. Make the doors let me out again."
"No, not just yet."
"It's been almost a year, Ada. Please, just to the woods?"
Thranduil stroked the soft, smooth locks. "Very well, just to the forest. But only if you are accompanied by two gaurds."
"My lord," Legolas' tone was full of frustration.
"If Deluiel Dead-Eye was not enough to keep you caged in, how can I trust any gaurd alone with you? Two gaurds, Legolas. Heed me."
"Yes, my lord."
"Will you stay awhile?"
"Yes, sir." Legolas turned once more to the window as his father turned to his papers.
Aragorn looked down at the bound parchments. He leafed through them carefully. He stared at the pages with their delicate calligraphy and bright red, gold, and green illuminations. He knew the hand that had written these words. This testimonial of a future that the author had hoped to never see. As he read the tale of woe, he understood. He knew how Legolas could turn his back on everything he held dear and risk his king's wrath for the greater good. He knew why his elf looked always to the North when they traveled, seeking news he couldn't possibly glean from the stars. He closed his eyes. A great gift and a great burden had been compounded by not having the safety necessary to indulge it. These pages wept with the pain of lost families and burning trees. They spoke of the branches of the future as the branches of a tree. They dripped with the agony of a prince who could not save what he reverenced most. Aragorn bent his head and whispered a small prayer of healing.
"Deluiel, he will not let me out without two gaurds and he does not consider Aragorn a proper gaurd. What am I to do with him?"
"Do as he says, Legolas," the older elf said with a half-smile. "I understand his fear. I would rather you not be alone in the woods, no matter how far the dangers truly are." She blinked. "You're wearing your circlet."
Legolas shrugged. "Strider braided it into place again last night, much to my lord's amusement, I might add. He wants me to wear the blasted thing all the time. Strider seems to have an inordinate fondness for it. More than likely he likes it only because it bothers me."
"And why have you not brought your pet to see me?"
"Why should I subject him to your tongue? Last time you saw him, you threatened him."
"Legolas, bring me your human pet. He and I have things to discuss."
"Do it, my prince, or I shall have Arwen do it."
"Very well. You are bossy, old lady."
"And you are a brat. Go." She shooed him away from her bed with one hand.
"Arwen, I really should protect Aragorn from Deluiel."
"No, you'll come with me. We need to talk, brother. And we need to talk now."
Legolas held his hands up in defeat. He hadn't done anything he thought she'd be angry about, but perhaps she just needed to yell about Aragorn's stubborness. "Come up to Cariel's sitting room. She's in the kitchens preparing for the party." Arwen put her arm through his and they made their way through the confusion of a palace being transformed. Legolas shook his head as a group of children ran past them, laughing, with sweet-breads in their hands. Cariel's sitting room was quieter. The clothes on the walls held the sound down to a reasonable level. "They sound like hobbits." Arwen laughed. Legolas relaxed. Perhaps he was being overly-sensitive and she merely wanted to talk to him.
Arwen settled on the couch and settled next to her. "Now, did Strider tell you that you must come back with us?"
"No, he did not. He said you wished me to return with you."
Arwen rolled her eyes. "He is more stubborn than anyone I know! Eowyn and Faramir are to be wed and they wish you to attend. We want you in Minis Tirith for the naming ceremony. And there is land that could do with your attention. I would have set Samwise on it, but he's gone back to the Shire with his Mr. Frodo. Gandalf is going to take Frodo and Bilbo to the Gray Havens."
"I'm sure Ada will give leave for a naming ceremony. Especially of your child. And why did Eowyn not write to tell me that she and Faramir were engaged? I shall have to take her to task for it. As for the land, I have seen it, but there is little I can do when my father will not loose me from my cage here."
"Then I shall have to speak with Thranduil. Now, on to more important matters."
"More?" the elf-prince was surprised.
"Yes. Why have you and Strider not confessed your love?"
"Arwen, it seems many believe me to be in love with your husband. And I confess that it is true. I do love him. But I call him brother not lover. I will not be dragged back to Minis Tirith because you believe me to be self-sacrificing."
Arwen's eyes narrowed and Legolas felt a quail of terror. She only got that look in her eye when she was preparing to cause him embarassment. "But you love Strider, don't you?" she asked sweetly.
"And he loves you."
"He has said so, yes."
"But you've not even kissed him."
"Arwen, he is your husband and human to boot. I don't care if I never kiss him. That has never been a concern of mine and you well know it."
"But Legolas, why? There is no need for this. You love him dearly. I dare to say you have Chosen him. And I understand that truly. There were those that hoped you and I would wed once, but we are not cut out for that, my brother. But truly, I would share Aragorn with you. There is nothing I would deny you. Why do you still stand away?"
"I cannot give over to my heart, Arwen. It will kill me to lose him if I've had him."
Arwen frowned. "Better to die having loved than to live feeling nothing but ice. You have always had pain and often you have been as cold and remote as the ice-fields of the north. I would not see you retreat into that ice again. Legolas, it will destroy you as the frosts often kill new growth. Do not let your heart turn cold."
"Ai! Arwen, leave me be. You don't know, you just don't know." He paced in front of her. "He fell from a cliff into the river and all thought him lost. I begged the Valar to bring him back to me, but if they had not, I would have died in Helm's Deep happily. I would rather have died than felt that pain eat through me. I would be buried with Haldir and the rest. I cannot face that future and stay sane, sister," he ended more quietly.
"Oh, Legolas," she whispered. "Come here." She offered her arms. He shook his head. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, gripping the orc-wound on his arm. He closed his eyes, willing away the pain and fear that had just crashed into him. Closing his eyes was worse. He could see Arwen withering before him and turning into the brittle cold twig she would be when Aragorn at last lay down his life. He shook his head to drive the thought away. She smiled at him when he opened his eyes. "Come here," she said again and he went to her. She kissed his cheek.
"Please, Arwen, there is nothing I can do about this. I feel the cracks that run through my heart and I fear that one more will shatter me like Naneth's carvings crashing to the floor. And please, do not try to thrust us together."
"You will still come home to Minis Tirith with us. I'll see to that. You must come see what Gimili has done with the repairs."
"As my lord wishes, so shall I do. Last word I had from him was that I was allowed into the village so long as I had two gaurds with me and if I attempt to go any further than that I will have half a unit following me."
Arwen shook her head. "I'll arrange it. I have connections."
Deluiel looked Strider up and down. "So why have you and Legolas been so circumspect. Surely Arwen doesn't disapprove?"
"No, of course she approves. But I will not push Legolas into something he doesn't want. And I fear that sex is something he does not want."
"Have you ever offered it?"
The human stared at her for a startled moment. "No."
"Then how do you know that he doesn't want it? You and he would be perfect together."
"Deluiel, we have known each other for a long while, and I have always appreciated your candor, but we both know that if Legolas were hurt by my advances in any way, it would cause more harm than this quiet status quo we've established. We have spoken our love for one another, leave it at that."
"Aragorn, you are a stubborn, human fool, but I knew that. Strider, you may be able to heal him. Try to accomplish what no one else has been able to do. I know that Sadorlien is in love with your wife."
"Yes, I know. And I assume they will do what any other elves might in the same situation. And they will be discrete enough that my court will not be overly vexed, but what does that matter?"
"She would share you with him."
"Deluiel, please, leave this topic be."
Deluiel snorted. "You must not allow him to cut himself off like he has before. I allowed the wounds that his father created to fester too long and he has suffered greatly for it. I hear that they have been attempting to finally heal those slights, but Thranduil was never so cruel as many thought him. Even Legolas never thought him such. But he has taken too much of his father's pain as his own. Don't allow him to sacrifice himself for you as well."
Aragorn's mouth pinched a bit at that. "I will speak with him, if only to ease your mind."
"I will content myself with that. But I will have to have the discussion I thought Sadorlien had given him about what two people in love might do."
"I do hope it's not as bald as the one that Elrond gave me when I entered my middle years."
Deluiel laughed. "We shall see. We shall see. Send him to me please?"
"Of course. I may have to slip in to watch though. It should prove quite a show."
"Deluiel?" Legolas queried softly.
"Oh, I'm awake. Come, sit on the bed, little sprout. We need to talk."
"What is it with being given talks today? First Arwen, now you."
"Don't sulk." Legolas settled on the bed and took her hand. There was a sadness in his eyes that she felt compelled to answer. "No, I'm not planning to leave you yet." She cocked her head to the side. "Unless the healer has told you something different than she's told me?"
"No, only that you stay because your will is so strong. Others have succumed to similar wounds, but you show no sign of that."
"But that's not what you see when you look at me, is it? Ah, little leaf, I have no regrets. And even if I were to die, I would meet up again with your mother and the others to tell old war-stories and laugh over our childhood foolishness. We took up the fight against evil years ago. Even Thranduil chose to fight evil rather than watch it. We took our punishment from the gods we upset, but we would not stand by. And I will not stand by and watch the pain swallow you, Legolas. There is more for you to do and more for you to experience. What you see here, you know is just a shell, a convienient form for the spirits within." She clasped his hand between two of hers. "Legolas, I know you love Strider. And before you even think a word, let me speak. You love him. He is your Chosen. You've never been foolish enough to lie about that to me. I would see you happy, Legolas. I would see you and Strider share all the joys of love. Arwen would not deny you that."
"No, she has said as much."
"Then what holds you back, Legolas?"
His hand tensed. "I fear my heart will break and swallow me with black pain when he dies. I thought him lost in the middle of the battle and my heart grew so weak I could barely feel it and I prayed to die in battle rather than to wither away on the vine, a summer flower that dies when faced with winter. I could not bear to lose him after having him."
"If you have the memories, perhaps it would not be so bad," Deluiel whispered. Her grip was firm and familiar. Legolas tried to find his smile for her. "I remember when you were young and had such nightmares your mother would tell you that the future is not yet written, do you remember."
"It grows like a tree in infite vairety and ever changing configuations. Yes, I remember."
"Then you cannot know what will happen if you love Aragorn completely. I know you have given him your heart. Will you not also give him the comfort of your body through the night? Can you deny him that?"
"I find I am unable to deny him anything unless it is contrary to my lord's wishes. It has never come up between us."
"And if it did?"
"I would not deny him." Legolas shrugged. "I think that you and Arwen are more interested in us consumating the relationship than we are."
"You should ask me, my prince," Sadorlien said from the foot of Deluiel's bed. "I have been given strict orders not to let you run away from the party. Hello, old lady."
"Come to steal him away? Well, talk some sense into him for me, then."
"I will. Come, my prince, we're late."
Legolas kissed Deluiel's cheek. "I will think on what you've said. And I'll send you a bottle of wine."
"You do that. Sadorlien, you owe me a report later."
"Yes, Captain." Sadorlien winked at her. He tugged on Legolas' braid. "Come, my prince, the party will be starting soon and the king wishes you to be in the throne room with him."
Legolas sighed. They walked easily together. "So when will you add your chime to the two lectures I've gotten today on the state of my heart?"
Sadolrien laughed. "I see, the old lady wants to make sure you'll know what to do with your human if you get him."
"I'm sure I'll figure it out. I've only been listening to you for millenia on the subject."
"Yes, my prince. Now, who on earth actually got you to wear that thing?"
"Strider. I think Arwen put him up to it. He braided it in and that means it's too much trouble to take off if I'm on a time-limit."
"And you are. You look properly princely with it on. Though, you should probably change from your hunting clothes."
"No one will know me if I dress well," Legolas protested.
Legolas sighed. "Why do I never seem to be the one giving orders?"
"Because I make more sense than you do."
Elessar for once looked the part of a king as he made his way across the floor to Arwen. Legolas watched him with a fond smile. He wondered idly if Arwen had lectured him as well. The elf was doing his best to remain unobtrusive, though not in the shadows which would get him a lecture from Cariel. He half-listened to the story-teller who had claimed an audience nearby. It was a familiar story, but one he hadn't heard in years. Of course, they hadn't had a real party in years. Not since Gailduil had made his majority. That was a depressing thought and Legolas banished it. There was much cause for celebration. Arwen was pregnant, the orcs were routed, the trees were green once more, and he was in love. Did he really just think that last piece? No, I will not turn into Sadorlien and moon over Stride like a half-century babe. There is nothing more irritating than a love-struck elf, he told himself firmly. Though he does look... stop it. He turned his eyes away from Aragorn and to the story-teller.
Arwen watched her heart-brother from across the room with a small smile. Her words must have had some effect because he wasn't hiding his appraisal of Aragorn in his robes. "Your drink, my sweet."
"Thank you, love. Now, beloved, I believe there is someone who would love to see you."
"Legolas has been watching you all night, though he would deny it to his dying breath, I feel sure. He's over by the story-teller in the corner, hiding."
"He doesn't like parties. They make him nervous."
"Then go ease his nerves. And for your heart's sake, talk to him truly. Ask him to return to Minis Tirith with us."
"His father has already killed that idea. He will not even allow him so far as the edge of the forest."
"Then we shall have to work on Thranduil," Arwen stated firmly. "Go to him. For tonight at least. Make him want to come home where he belongs."
Aragorn gave his wife a deep bow and left her with the other expecting mothers to discuss matters he was sure he didn't want to understand. He heard their laughter following him as he stalked his elf. Legolas glanced at the group, then back at the story-teller. Aragorn stopped beside him, not saying a word, just listening to the familiar tale that was being woven anew by the story-teller. There was a soft smile on his elf's lips that he'd never seen. "Has Arwen started discussing mothering techniques with the ladies then?"
"Yes," Aragorn said. "There are some things I have no need of knowing." Legolas laughed at his consternation and the human felt something loosen in his chest. No, there was no difference in his elf except that his smile was easier tonight.
"No, I'm fine."
"I promised Deluiel I'd have a bottle sent to her. I'd best find the steward. Or perhaps I could find a bottle and take it down myself."
"And deprive me of your company?"
"Never that. You could come with me."
"I don't think your father would be pleased if we slipped away. He's been watching you."
"He often watches me. I don't know why. My appearance has never pleased him."
Aragorn blinked. "I think you're wrong. He has always favored you."
"Tonight is not the time to discuss such things. Come, let's see what music is on offer on the other end of the courtyard."
"Where the little coves are?"
"Yes, and perhaps we can steal away into one until no one remembers I'm supposed to be at the party."
"You cannot avoid the party, Legolas, Thranduil would have both our heads."
"No, just mine. He wouldn't harm my pet." Legolas winked. His eyes were blue tonight, showing the elf-light that had rarely infused them when they were on the road. Aragorn threaded his fingers into his love's and they stood that way for a moment. "Come quickly before they start a dance that we shall be required to attend." They found a low couch, out of the stream of traffic where they could still watch the proceedings. "It has been a long time since we've had a party. I scarcely remembered the sounds of it." Aragorn slipped a hand around his elf's waist and pulled him to his side with gentle pressure.
"You look happy tonight. I don't think I've ever seen you this cheerful."
"Gods, you are agreeably blunt. Thank you. No one else seems to be able to speak plainly except my guards."
"You would despise me if I retreated into pretty words? Why should you, when you inspire poetry?"
"I am not as graceful as some. I am not a renound beauty like your wife. I am merely a hunter, an archer. . ."
"A prince with a smile that is either as beautiful and remote as the stars, or as hot and sharp as a knife."
"And do I cut you with my smiles often, my ranger?"
"No, you have never turned that angry smile onto me, only my enemies." They sat for a moment, just watching, content to be safe and together. There would be no assassination attempts in the borders of Thranduil's castle, simply because there was no way in if you were not of cheerful intent tonight. Legolas rested his cheek on his ranger's shoulder. "I know that Arwen spoke with you this morning."
"She did. She was most particular in her speech. She would have me return to Minis Tirith just to have me away from Thranduil."
"And I would have you there for myself," Aragorn said quietly.
"Oh, my human, you know I cannot come with you. The Naming, yes, of course. Eowyn's wedding, yes. But to stay? No, my lord would hunt me down and drag me back by my braids."
"Arwen has set her sights on changing his mind."
Legolas laughed. "She'd best set aside a few centuries, not few weeks."
"She has given up her immortality for me," Aragorn said quietly. "There will be no more centuries for her."
Legolas pulled his human into a tight hug. "Oh, Beloved," he whispered softly, "no tears for her. It is a choice she has freely made. She would have had to make the choice at any rate after the ring was destroyed. That is why her brothers have left this shore. They cannot remain in Middle Earth unless they remain as humans. I would not have been able to leave you either."
"It is because of her human blood?"
"Yes. All of Elrond's children made their choices. You will someday make yours. For while she has given up her immortality, she will also have extended your life. You will choose when it is time to lay down that gift and pass the from the world."
"How do you know all these things?"
"I ask questions. Arwen and I chose to be siblings years ago and Elrond has considered me one of his children since then. I have been granted much more leeway with my questions that I might otherwise have. Besides, the Queen was Celebrian's cousin on Galadriel's side. I asked all manner of impertinent questions of Galadriel because of that."
"And why did you never tell me?"
"It would have not given you strength on our journey. You thought Arwen would sail West, even though she told you she would bind her life to yours. You would not have believed me where I to have told you the things I know."
"I found your book in the library."
"What book? The history I wrote in Minis Tirith?"
"No, one I found here. A book of nightmares and dreams."
"Oh, that. I was much younger then."
"Do you still get visions of that sort?"
"No, the Valar have removed that level of clarity. I get smaller sights now and less frequently. Unlike Elrond, I have never developed a full talent for prophecy. The future is not written in any case, my Strider. We can only see possibilities."
"And did you never once forsee the ring not falling into Mt. Doom?"
"Oh, I did see that once before Naneth died. I knew many things before the orc-fever clouded my sight and my memories. I never thought of them as anything but a child's fancy though. And I knew that you would strike me down before letting me become and orc. I had no fear of that. Or that Gimli might do it if I had lost you. But then, losing you might well have done the trick anyway." Aragorn sighed and Legolas rested against him more fully, trying to comfort him with touch where words would not do the trick. "I'm sorry, my friend, I seem to have lost the politic tongue that I've had for so long. Don't let my words worry you. I've merely taken too much sweet wine and forgone my dinner."
"Legolas, there is no need for secrets between us. I would give you everything I am, were it enough to steal you away."
"Oh, my beloved idiot, there is nothing I would take from you or compell from you. You are my Strider as you have always been. Say that we shall hunt orcs, or explore Mordor and I would follow you to save you from yourself. But I will not cross my lord's wishes again. Never doubt that I love you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, my own true hope, but do not ask me to follow you when you leave next. My heart would not bear the strain of having to refuse you."
"I would not ask you to come without your father's leave." Aragorn turned to gather Legolas into his arms. "I would ask you for one night of memories."
"Anything I have to give is yours to take, Beloved," Legolas said softly.
"Then let us find a quiet room where we can spend our time together. I think no one would begrudge you now. The hour grows late and the party will continue for some time."
"Some days, Strider. Some days. We may not do it often, but we do it right when we do." Legolas laughed. He led the human up to his room. It was quieter there. The jeweled curtain was down, scattering colored light through the room. Legolas set it swinging just to see the lights move around.
Strider looked around. He had never been there before. Legolas and he had normally used the main rooms of the castle or slept out in the forest. The room was a contrast to the rest of the castle which was filled with sparkle and color. There was a carved headboard, a small desk covered with manuscripts and ink, a small table by the bed with a sturdy metal candle-stick, and a small carved trunk. Legolas' bow, quiver, and knives were propped in the corner. The door closed quietly behind them. There was a book propped open on the bed. Aragorn smiled. "It suits you."
"Does it? Arwen hates it."
"No, if you had walked me by several rooms and asked me to choose yours, this is the one I'd have picked. And not just because your bow is in the corner."
Legolas beamed at that. "It doesn't seem much after so many turnings, but it is mine to sleep in and mine to hide away in when the world seems too much present." He tugged at his circlet. "Now, to get this bloody thing off my head."
"Legolas, please, it looks perfect. And I'll just braid it in again if you take it out."
The elf sighed. "You are a brat. I hate wearing it."
"I know. Did Arwen tell you to dress appropriately?"
"No, Sadorlien. He has this insane idea that I'm supposed to act like a prince in the palace."
"Yes, truly an insane idea." Aragorn crossed the short distance between them and kissed Legolas gently on the lips. "But you do it well."
Legolas blinked rapidly, eyes wide. "I never thought that you'd really want to kiss me."
"Oh, my love, there is much more that I would do to you, if you'll allow it." Aragorn stroked the smooth cheek with the back of his hand.
"Anything or everything. Anything you want from me tonight, Strider, you need only ask."
The human kissed his elf again, this time more completely. He didn't stop until he needed to breath. Legolas' fingers tangled in the shoulder-length black hair. His eyes were half-closed, his smile faintly wicked. "All thoughts to the contrary, Strider, I shant break from a kiss." He leaned forward and caught Aragorn in a demanding kiss. Strider melted into the contact.
"You've been hiding things from me, my elf," Strider chided.
"What fun would I be if you knew all of me?"
"I would know who, since the gossips have missed it."
"And you are clever enough to know that it wasn't Haldir, it wasn't Arwen, it wasn't that petty maid that Mother Ravenclaw teased me with, and it wasn't you. Now, who could it have been? But it has only ever been but a kiss here and there. Hush, and kiss me again, my ranger before I fill your head with images of anyone else. I will have you as mine alone tonight, Strider. Mine alone." Legolas' eyes shone like the softly colored jewels that painted the room with light. His quick fingers removed Strider's belt and loosened the ties of his gauntlets.
"Of course, I am yours. Time or distance will never change that." Strider tugged at Legolas' shirt. "Come now, let me see you without fabric in the way."
"You have seen me before, Strider. In the springs. In the river."
"But never like this. Never here." The ranger stripped Legolas with neat efficiency. Legolas waited with an amused smile for Strider to look his full.
"Now, Strider, this is not fair, you see me, but you hide yourself away from me."
"I am not so lovely to look at."
"Let me be the judge of that." Legolas removed the circlet that Aragorn wore carefully, then lifted his clothes from him gently. He took care with each garment, folding them with reverence, much to Aragorn's amusment. There was nothing that wasn't beautiful on Legolas' body. The only scar he bore from their battles was the wound on his arm that would never fully heal.
"Arwen said that you had a scar on your chest."
"It has faded. It was a bitter memory, one best set free." Legolas smiled. His fingers were gentle as they explored Aragorn's cheek, lips, shoulder and beyond. "Show me, my beautiful ranger, show me what you want of me tonight."
Aragorn settled on the bed. He set the book aside. He pulled Legolas to settle next to him. He stroked the smooth, pale skin, watching it color slightly under his touch. His elf's eyes closed and he settled back, content to let Aragorn do as he pleased. Aragorn's heart swelled being given such freedom. They had been friends for so long, yet Legolas had never before even hinted that he would welcome such intimacy.
"I have patience, my love, but are you now regretting taking this opportunity?"
Legolas smiled. He reached to stroke Aragorn's cheek. "My ranger. My human. My beloved." His voice was a low murmur, no more than a babbling brook that echoed the pounding of the blood in Aragorn's ears. He pulled his human down for a soft, sweet kiss and their bodies were in full contact for the first time. The heat of skin against skin shocked Aragorn for a breath of time, then he wrapped his arms around the one he thought he'd never have. They kissed for a long span until Aragorn could stand it no longer. He broke the kiss to move down his lover's body with soft, exploratory kisses, scrapes of teeth and lingering swipes of his tongue. Legolas' fingers twined through his lover's soft black hair until the rhythmic motion was enough to make Aragorn catch the delicate hunter's hands and lavish the fingers and palms with more attention. The elf made a small sound in the back of the throat as Aragorn's hard shaft brushed against the growing hardness at his groin.
Aragorn grinned down at his lover. There was less passivity in the half-closed blue eyes than the still body below him betrayed. Suddenly, he found himself on his back, with Legolas smiling down at him, as wild as any creature from the forest. The kiss they shared was less gentle than before. Legolas moved his hips delicately and Aragorn felt their shafts meet and part again. He groaned. "Gods above, you'll kill me if you take up teasing."
"Turnabout, my sweet." Legolas nipped, licked and sucked his way across Aragorn's body, kissing his scars gently as he went. Strider knew that scars represented strong memories to most elves, since they were so rare, so the care did not come as a great surprise. Legolas would never harm him, even in jest. The ranger twined his fingers into the long, blond silk and pulled Legolas' mouth to his own.
"I want you inside of me," Aragorn said bluntly. "Is there anything to ease the way?"
Legolas laughed. He kissed Aragorn lightly, then opened the messenger's bag that he dragged out from under the bed. He fished out a small bottle. The scent of nuts filled the air as he opened it. "Massage oil. It's especially good for muscle strain," he lectured with a wink.
"Oh, really?" Aragorn asked, ignoring the fact that he was beginning to get desperate.
"Now, I wonder, what differences are there between our bodies, hmm?" Those clever fingers were stroking Aragorn's thighs now. "Perhaps I should sing you to sleep now."
"Do so and I swear I will beat you black and blue," the ranger snarled. "Ai!" The fingers the probed him gently surprised him into a quiet yelp.
"Is that better, my sweet?" Legolas asked with obviously false sincerity. His fingers were stretching, but also exploring the tight clench of his lover's body. Aragorn moaned again as the fingers disappeared. They were replaced with hot, hard, stiffness and he pressed down to ease the way. The filling was exquisite. The hint of pain he was expecting was missing. Part of his mind decided that there must be more to the oil Legolas had used to relax him than just pressed nuts. Then, the elf's mouth was covering his own and Aragorn stopped thinking and started reacting. The moved together in perfect concert, the brush-strike of Legolas' member driving the human wild. He rubbed his cock against his lover's body. He moaned into the kiss as Legolas' clever fingers wrapped around his cock and stroked him in a counter-point rhythm. He came shortly, body clenching around his lover's cock. Legolas froze for a moment, eye open, recording the moment. He came shortly after, body glowing like a small star for a moment before sinking into Aragorn's embrace with boneless grace. Aragorn wrapped his arms around his lover and held him close. He slipped into sleep and didn't know anything more for several hours.
Thranduil shifted the curtain to look into his son's room. He shook his head with a smile. He wondered if that wasn't where the two had disappeared. He let the curtain fall down again. He turned to find his wife at his side. She raised her brows. "Is Legolas sulking already?" she asked with an amused smile.
"Not exactly. He was merely greeting his pet with a little more enthusiasm."
"Ah, I see. Now, come, my love, I would speak with you about our sons."
"I have let Gailduil run free as you wished. He ran directly to the humans and stayed there," the elf-king said dryly as they left the hall. He knew Legolas would have precious little time with his human during this trip. He didn't want to disturb them. He brushed a kiss to Cariel's cheek. "I will call him back after Arwen's child has been named. And yes, Cariel, we shall go to Minis Tirith to see it with Legolas. And yes, I will have him return with me."
"Am I so transparent?"
"To me, my llove." Thranduil shook his head. "I cannot give him leave to go, for if he goes, he will not return."
"You have said that every time he leaves these woods, yet he has always returned."
Song Quoted: Papa Can You Hear Me? From "Yentl"