5. Chapter Four: Dol Guldur
Considering what lay between her and Legolas, it was probably for the best.
Legolas rode on silently, looking ahead because it was far safer than facing her. If he did, he would only be revisited by the images of the previous night, when his need for her had been so fierce he would have done and said anything to touch her. After she had left him and retired for the night, he had found himself talking solace by walking through the wood, trying to understand why she was so afraid of anything between them. Of course, he knew what obstacles lay before them if they chose to pursue any relationship. He wondered if she knew that he was just as frightened of the consequences as she, that for him it would be worse though she could not see it. He would remain with her all her life if she allowed him even if he knew that someday he would have to watch her die and then go on without her for an eternity.
Did she not think he knew the risks?
For a long time, he had thought how sad it was for Arwen that she would give up her immortality and her place among her people. She would never know what it was like to answer the call of the sea when she chose to bind herself to a mortal man. He knew many who were angered that the Evenstar, the fairest of her day, should squander her existence on a man, to die with him when his time had come. Until now, Legolas had not understood how easy it was for her to make that decision, once her heart was given to Aragorn or how fortunate she was to be able to make that choice. For at this moment, he would have given anything to have the same privilege.
Melia had sought to save him by pushing him away, not understanding that it was too late. He loved her as he had loved no one in three millennia. There had been women who captured his heart, he would not delude himself by thinking that this was the first time his passion had been stirred in this manner but he did not love them, not like he loved her. He knew that if he had Arwen’s choice he would have done the same and given up his mortality in a heartbeat but that was not to be. It was a hard thing knowing that he had lost her before she was his and understood that she had good reason for her actions the night before. Melia said she loved him but she would not sit by, knowing that he returned that love at great emotional risk to himself.
Three thousand years old and he had no idea what to do.
Legolas might have taken comfort in knowing that Melia felt just as miserable as he was about their situation. The Ranger was furious for allowing herself to fall in love with an elf of all people. She knew the heart seldom permitted one to choose whom it decided to bestow its affection upon but even Melia did not think she would be insane enough to have feelings for the First Born, not to mention the Prince of Mirkwood! She could not have made a more complicated choice if she had tried. Yet against her will, she had become drawn to this handsome elf beside her, who by his nature and his good humor claimed her heart as if it had become his to own. Melia knew that it was entirely possible that she would love him for the rest of her days but for her that time did not seem terribly long when compared to his.
As they rode through the wood in silence, Melia wished more than anything that what transpired between them had not happened because she could not force the memory of his kisses from her mind. She found herself studying his profile as he rode by her side, secretly examining the contours of his face and imagining how soft his lips were to the touch. This would not do, she told herself. Out here in the wilderness, her mind needed to be sharp not lost in daydreams like she was a virginal maid. She was far too experienced and seasoned in life to be this way and this silence between them was not aiding matters much. Despite how much Melia loathed the notion, she and Legolas needed to clear the air if they were going to continue their journey together.
"Prince," Melia let out a heavy sigh. "We need to talk."
She saw his posture slacken a little in the saddle as if he had been waiting for her to say those words before he himself could broach the subject. "Yes," he agreed somberly. "We do."
"I am sorry for last night," Melia apologised, feeling like the wanton for leading him on and then pulling away so abruptly. It was not fair to him. "I was swept away in the moment and allowed myself to forget how things are with us."
"How things are with us?" He turned his eyes towards her. "How things are with us, is that I love you."
"If it were that simple," she sighed wearily.
"It would be simple if you were not so afraid," he replied. "Do you not trust me to know my own heart and decide how I should choose to bestow my love?"
"I am afraid of nothing," she said hotly. "I just know that tragedy can only be the outcome of anything between us. I do not wish to watch you stay young and beautiful while the years turn me into an old woman who resembles nothing like the Melia you care for. I cannot bear to watch the love for me diminish in your eyes as the years pass. I would spare myself that pain and you the sorrow of loss when you realize you lost me long before I died."
"It would not be that way," he tried to argue desperately, wanting her above all else to know that could never happened.
"Can you say so for certain?" Melia returned tautly. "I cannot and I will turn from this path before it becomes irrevocable to both of us."
"You do not walk the path alone," Legolas replied just as sharply. "I am there with you and I do not wish to abandon what I feel for you in the fear of what may happen tomorrow."
Legolas had wrestled all night with her words after she left him. Yes, it was true, they were not Beren or Luthien and she was probably just as right that their love would only succeed in breaking both their hearts some day. However, it was better to know a few years of bliss together rather than a lifetime of feeling nothing at all. For so long, Legolas had been chained by duty, bound to his responsibilities as Prince of Mirkwood but this one thing he would have, no matter what the consequences to himself. He loved her and though they had not lain with each other to complete their binding, he knew he was lost and it was already too late for him.
"You hardly know me, or anything of me. All you know is how you feel," Melia shook her head wishing that she did not feel this way lightly. "We have not known nearly enough each other long enough to be able to say that we will stand the test of time. All you are to me is an elven prince whose life I know nothing of save to say that you have lived through far greater times than I."
"Do you love me?" He asked her pointedly.
Melia hesitated in her answer. She knew that she did but she did not see why it was necessary to say it. However, he awaited an answer, his eyes full of hope that what she spoke of last night was no figment of his imagination borne of their passion for one another. It was also the first time that the question had been put to her so starkly.
"Yes," Melia nodded, "I do love you."
She saw Legolas’ chest swell with happiness for a brief instance before his expression hardened again. "If you love me then that is all you need to know. I know nothing really of who you were before I met you other than what you have deigned to tell me and I know without doubt or hesitation that I love you. That I will until the day all things are done between us. If we know this about each other, cannot we take a gamble upon a future together, however short that time is?"
"No," she replied and faced front again.
"Why not?" He insisted, unable to believe she could be so stubborn about this.
"Because I will not end like my father," she said finally and dug her heels into her horse, leaving him behind to contemplate her words.
For a thousand years the fortress of Dol Guldur had stood southwest of Mirkwood, the singularity to which all evil in the great forest was drawn. It was once the bastion of Sauron before the dark lord had shifted his attention Baradur, leaving his Nazgul to rule in his stead. Before Dol Guldur had been built, the site of its erection was covered in living trees that were brutally cut down in order to accommodate the Necromancer, the name by which Sauron was known when he inhabited the fortress. Even after the War of the Ring, when the elves of Mirkwood or Eryn Lasgalen as they now preferred to call it, had torn down its walls and cleansed its dungeons, the lands still remained barren where it once stood.
As Melia and Legolas approached the ancient fortress, the Ranger saw that the prince was right, there was little left of Dol Guldur that was of use to anyone. The land upon which it was built was devoid of vegetation or any other living thing. Bare foundations stared at them defiantly, refusing to allow the forest to claim the last vestiges of its former dark glory. The pits housing the dungeons that had caused so much pain and torture were exposed holes in the earth; their cells flung open and empty. No trace of the suffering they had caused lingered, other than the faint smell of sinister air clinging to its bricks and mortar.
She shuddered as she swept her gaze about the place. Though the sun was out and the lack of trees had robbed them of shade, she felt a cold chill run through her. It sent tendrils of ice down her spine, though she could not explain why. She had no special senses that came with her river daughter heritage, at least none that she knew of. In all honestly, she preferred to remain that way but she could nevertheless feel the terrible things that had taken place here. Nearing it, Melia tried to hide her discomfort because they were here at her insistence and she was not going to falter now that she was so close to her answers.
What was left of Dol Guldur after the elves were done with it was little more than a mound of large stones where the fortress had been. Large, ragged holes in the dirt with steps leading to the bottom that used to be the infamous dungeons where so many were tortured and abused, were exposed to the elements. Melia did not like this place and outwardly, it appeared that there was little Dol Guldur could tell her that she did not already know. The horses became anxious when they found themselves where the castle wall would be if the were still standing and it was decided that it was best to continue their investigation on foot.
Melia was shaking but she was doing her level best to hide it as she moved across the gravel, frightened of making a sound. Even though she was sensible enough to know there was nothing here capable of harming them; she felt the need to be silent as if she would wake something up if she were not careful. Her heart was pounding inside her chest for she could feel as if she was close to something, thought what she was not certain. She did not like having this perception because it was an awful feeling to know that danger was coming before you could see it.
Legolas who was blessed with such heightened awareness could feel the evil of Dol Guldur but to him, it was what remained of its ominous past. Great evil often lingered in the places it once inhabited, even when it was supposed to be vanquished forever. That is why nothing grew where the fortress used to be. It was as if the very presence of Sauron and the Nazgul had salted the earth forever. He glanced at Melia and saw that her eyes were fixed on the path ahead and cursed himself for not realizing how frightened she was. He could sense no immediate danger around them other than the terrible resonance of what had taken place at Dol Guldur and yet her eyes were like a frightened animal.
"What is it?" He asked her alarmed.
"I do not know," she shook her head as she forced her feet to keep moving. "I feel cold."
It disturbed her because the feeling intensified as she rounded the ruins of the castle itself and made her way towards the dungeons. She should have run away from the unpleasant sensations coursing through her skin but she was compelled to keep going. She ignored the walls that had crumbled to a pile and the hard gravel under her boot where there should have been grass and fertile soil. As much as she loathed continuing, she knew that at the heart of all the brutality that was committed here was the answer she needed to find her mother.
"There is nothing here," Legolas explained, as he kept pace with her, unwilling to allow her to endure this odyssey alone despite what difficulties lay between them. She was so afraid and he could not imagine what would frighten her for she was one of the bravest women he had ever known. "We cleansed it as much as we could after all the evil that had been allowed to fester here for nearly a thousand years."
Legolas remembered how the Nazgul had launched their attack upon the kingdoms of the Mirkwood using Dol Guldur as their beachhead. Never had the lands of Lothlorien and the Woodland Realm faced such peril on their own soil and it was only sheer determination that had driven the enemy back to its fortress where the combined strength of both elven kingdoms had destroyed it forever. He remembered the cost of that victory, the dead he had helped to bury and the friends who had died as he and Thranduil led them into battle. It was their finest moment and perhaps their saddest as well.
They reached the dungeons and even Legolas had to confess feeling some trepidation at descending into the pit where the Nazgul had done their worst to elves, men and dwarf alike. They say the Nazgul tortured and murdered thousands within this walls throughout the course of their rule. Who knew what other evils Sauron had committed while he occupied the place as the Necromancer until Gandalf exposed him for who he was? Melia paused at the stairs and stared into the pit. In the light of day, it appeared harmless enough and she took the crumbling steps to the floor of the pit. Legolas followed her, wondering what it was she sought so desperately. There was no way of knowing whether or not her mother had been here. Nazgul did not keep records and if there had been any, they would have been destroyed when the elves razed Dol Guldur to the ground.
"Melia, she is not here," Legolas replied, hoping that would help her in some way.
"I know that," Melia hissed, wondering if he thought her for a fool. She knew her mother was no longer here but had she been in Dol Guldur once?
That was a question Melia was not able to answer.
She reached the floor of the pit and was grateful that she could see the sun above her head for its brilliance gave her some comfort despite the fear she felt in her heart. The memory of death was like thick smoke, choking her. She could feel it against her skin and in her lungs when she drew breath. Legolas was staring at her in confusion, not understanding. In all truth, she did not understand either. She had never had any sort of mental ability common to elves or wizards. She had always been blissfully human relying on senses of sight, sound and mind.
"What frightens you so?" He asked, coming up behind her so that she could draw strength from his presence.
"I do not know," Melia shook her head, grateful that she was not alone. She saw a cell, its bars still in place even though its door was wide open. Inside its confines there was only emptiness. Melia walked towards it with a power that was not quite her own. She could feel her stomach starting to knot, clenching with a decidedly unpleasant sensation. The feeling of death as she neared the cell was so strong that she started to tremble a little and would faltered if not for Legolas’ hand taking her own, in order to help her complete her journey there. She passed through the cell, her fingers grazing the cold steel when suddenly the entire world went mad.
It was like a blinding flash of light inside her head.
Its intensity was so powerful that it felt as if she were being blinded from inside her skull. She let out a short cry as she landed on her hands and knees gravel biting into her palms as she fell. The pain was like a spear through her head and she screamed out loud.
The woman was weeping.
She was crouched in the corner of her cell, weeping terrible tears.
The creature standing before her was once a man. What it was now, no one save Sauron himself and the shadow dwellers could explain for certain. Her voice was not the only one in such torment. Echoes of other voices, men and women, weeping elsewhere created a windstorm of pain swirling around the creature who had caused it. He was not alone though. There was someone else with him. The old man dressed entirely in blue who was not as dispassionate to the woman’s tears as his unholy companion. There was sadness in his eyes, the look of someone who was damned for all time and knew it.
"This will not work," he implored the creature before him, the one who wore black like an endless chasm of darkness. "I cannot do this."
"You have begun," the creature answered and his voice had the will to drain the life from anyone who heard it. It was all things hidden in the night of terrors that lurked in dark places waiting for prey to emerge.
"I cannot finish," he replied. "They will die before I am done and what good will they be to your Master, unformed?"
The woman continued to weep, heeding nothing of them both.
"He is your Master," the creature reminded. "You chose to serve him in this place. We have been good to you. You have had your fill of unwilling subjects to work your magic. Now it is time to pay the price for that."
"I never intended this!" The old man cried out. "I only wished to make something greater than elves or men combined. Your master had no right to twist my work into this abomination!"
"My master has right to do anything he pleases!" The creature shouted and though his voice was not loud, its menace sent fear through the old man.
The old man started to touch the woman, to ask forgiveness before his courage left him, but she did not look at him and there was no forgiveness when he had not even done his worst. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I never meant for this to happen Ninuie."
At the sound of her name, she turned her head and looked at him with tear filled eyes. "Not as sorry as we are Istar, not as sorry as we."
Legolas shook her again. She lay in his arms, blood running a red stream from her nose, her eyes wide open and seeing nothing. He had no choice but to take her out of the cell after she had fallen into her seizure. He had no idea what she was seeing but her scream had been enough to force him into action. He swept her into his arms and carried her out of the pit. Her state was such that she barely noticed that he had brought her away from the fortress. For a terrible moment, he thought she had died and the pain that course through him was so agonizing that he might have crumbled in despair if he had allowed himself to believe it.
When they had reached the horses, he lay her down on the ground once more, cursing the shadow that Dol Guldur still cast upon them. She did not move and continued to stare into nothingness until he shook her again, this time harder than before. His heart was beating so loudly in his chest he was surprised the sound alone did not wake her. There were tears running down her cheeks from terrified eyes that saw straight past him into what he could not say but knew for certain must be terrible to reduce her to this. She was being treated to a sending of some sort and Legolas cursed that Gandalf was not here because the wizard would know how to treat this malaise.
"Melia! Wake up I beg you!" Legolas implored, suddenly understanding that this was what she was so afraid of, this horrible feeling that gripped his heart knowing that she might die at any time. This was what she had been trying to spare him.
She gasped out loud, her body arching on his grip, trying to draw as much air into her lungs as possible. When the need for air subsided, she crumpled in his arms again and started to cough as if she could not breathe. The sound broke the still calm of the forest and sent birds in their nests flying in search of quieter surroundings. Melia’s coughing soon descended into weeping and she cried in loud sobs as she clung to him as if he were all that stood between her and complete madness.
"Melia, are you alright? Are you hurt?" He demanded, panicked by the sight of her blood when there was no wound.
"I saw it!" She wept bitterly. "I saw what happened there! What happened to my mother!"
"How could you see?" He asked bewildered. Celeborn had said nothing of her having any special abilities because of her father’s mortal heritage.
"I do not know," Melia shook her head, confused and frightened as she continue to cling to him. "As long as I can remember, I have dreamt of my mother. I cannot say for certain what those dreams mean because they were always vague and uncertain but in them, she was always in pain."
"In pain?" He stared at her, understanding the reasons for those terrible dreams that plagued her during their journey here.
"Yes," she nodded, releasing her hold of him now that she felt a little stronger and sat up on her own. She noticed the dampness on her cheek and touched her skin experimentally to be rewarded with the sight of blood. "In them, she was always screaming as if something terrible was happening to her. It never seemed clear and I never told my father. He was devastated when she left him and in the years since our return to Far Harad, I learnt not to speak of her to him."
"You saw something in the Pit," Legolas declared in understanding. "Something that made you able to unravel the mystery?"
"She was here Prince," Melia met his eyes with sorrow. "She was in the pit with others, I think they were all the same. They were all weeping. There was so much fear and suffering. I think what I saw was always inside me but it required being here at Dol Guldur to open the door. I do not think she is dead, I do not feel that she is dead."
"But you saw her in torment," Legolas reminded. "If she was here, the Nazgul would have killed her, all of them if she was not alone."
"Something was being done to her," Melia replied, trying to recollect every aspect of the tortured vision she had been forced to see. "She was weeping and there was an old man, she called him Istar."
Legolas’ eyes widened with shock. "Did you say Istar?"
"Yes," Melia nodded. "Istar. Does that mean something to you?"
Legolas stood up and walked away disturbed beyond all reasoning. Melia realised that he knew something and stood up shakily. "Legolas, you know something. Tell me."
"It is impossible," he turned to her after a moment, not knowing what to say. "Saruman is dead, Gandalf has gone to the Undying Lands and Radagast cares only for Kelvar and Olvar of Middle earth. He has never been to Dol Guldur."
"Gandalf the Grey?" Melia stared at him in shock, recalling the wizard that come to rescue them at Nargothrond with the rest of the Fellowship. "That is an Istar?"
"Gandalf was an Istar," Legolas met her eyes nodding. "Five Istari came from the Undying Lands to save us from the dark powers of Sauron. Of the three, I have already spoken but two, two were unaccounted for. We know nothing of what became of them. I do not believe even Gandalf knew."
"He was wearing blue," she whispered. "He was an old man wearing blue."
"We encountered no Istari when we destroyed Dol Guldur," he answered. "Only Nazgul."
"He was there!" Melia insisted. "If you say you love me, if you believe that I am all that you will ever want in this life, I swear to you I know what I saw. It was real! He was there in that dungeon doing something terrible to my mother and all her people! I have searched for years to find some trace of a River Woman and I have found nothing. What if they were all somehow brought here to Dol Guldur? Sauron had more than enough power to see that was possible, even when he had no body! What if it was his will to destroy them all? Would that not explain why no one has seen or heard of a River Woman?"
"Melia," he took her shoulders in his hand and made her look into his eyes. "I believe what you saw, but we do not know that your mother and the others like her were not killed by the Nazgul."
"She’s alive!" Melia exclaimed. "I know it! If the Istar is alive then so must she be! I have to find him!"
"Melia," Legolas stared at her in exasperation, wanting to help but what she wanted to do was next to impossible. "If you saw an Istar, he could be anywhere in Middle Earth. He has remained hidden for centuries without any of us, even members of his own Order, having any idea of him. How do you expect to find him?"
Melia sunk to her knees in defeat because he was right. She had no idea how to find her mother, not one at all. She raised her eyes to him, brimming with tears. "This cannot be all there is. I cannot have come so far to learn what I have and be powerless to stop any of it. I saw what I saw for a reason."
Legolas dropped to the ground with her and took her up in his arms. She did not resist as he held her in his embrace. "Come home with me to the Woodland Realm and we will find your answers," he whispered softly. "I promise you, we will find out the truth about your mother."
On horseback, it took almost three days to cross Mirkwood and enter the Woodland Realm, kingdom of King Thranduil. As much as Legolas would have preferred this homecoming to be a happy one, he felt only somberness upon entering the familiar ground of his childhood. It raised his spirits to see the trees he had climbed as a boy or the glades where he sat and listened to the sounds of the forest, when the noise at court became too much for him. As a youth, he had hunted many things in Mirkwood’s depths and returning home gave him some sense of order that though the world might change so much that he barely recognised it at times, Mirkwood at least was one constant in his universe.
Of course, what he intended to do here would change his existence as he knew it and would most likely bring grief to his father. Although Legolas loved Thranduil dearly, he knew he could not stop the events he had set in motion the day he had left Gondor. He had no wish to break his father’s heart but Aragorn was right. He would never feel fulfilled ruling a kingdom he would always believe was his father’s alone. He could live with being the Prince of Mirkwood but not with being its king. If he was to wear that title, Legolas would prefer to earn it instead of have it come to him at the expense of his father.
If that did not trouble the Prince enough as he closed in on the wood surrounding his home, expecting at any time to be waylaid by his father’s guard, Melia’s demeanor since their departure from Dol Guldur was worrying to say the least. The spark in her eyes seemed to have faded and the sadness he saw in place of it was enough to break Legolas’ heart. Although she tried to maintain a brave face as she always did, he could tell that it was hurting her to be so stymied in her search. He wished he could give her some hope but in truth, he did not have the slightest clue as to where they should begin to search for a missing Istar. He hoped that perhaps his father might have some idea for if an Istar did reside in Mirkwood for a time, even if it was at Dol Guldur, Legolas was certain that Thranduil would have heard something of it.
Legolas knew he was not far from home even though he had yet to encounter any of his father’s men. The only reason he had managed to slip through their defenses undetected was mostly because he knew more about moving stealthily then they ever did. Since his youth, he had been an accomplished hunter who was capable of stalking prey without their slightest inkling of his presence until he had moved in for the kill. In Mirkwood, with the evil things that moved about the darkness of its uncharted woods, such a skill was necessary for their continued survival.
"How far are we from your home?" Melia asked as their horses moved through a well-traveled path.
"An hour," Legolas looked around the trees and smiled faintly.
"An hour from Thranduil’s court and not one guard?" She rose her brow in question. "That is hardly a safe situation for an elf king."
"You think so," his smile seemed to grow wider.
"What do you know that I do not?" She looked at him suspiciously. He had that look of mischief about him again, the one which meant he knew something that she did not and was enjoying every second of it.
"Shall we tell her, my friends?" Legolas called out. "Or do you plan to hide forever and forego the courtesy of greeting your prince?"
A ripple of laughter moved through the wood around them in tandem with rustling foliage and suddenly, Melia saw bodies dropping out the canopy of trees, like drifting leaves to surround them. Legolas grinned widely as elven warriors appeared out of the wood, obviously aware of their existence for some time now. Melia frowned at the prince, feeling somewhat ineffectual that she had not noticed their presence. As a Ranger, she prided herself in being able to detect the enemy before an ambush although elves were often the exception to such rules for they were the masters of stealth.
"I should have known better than to hide from you Prince Legolas," the leader of the group declared happily as he approached Legolas’ horse. Like all elves, he wore his golden hair long but his appearance indicated that he was a little older than Legolas.
"Nunaur," Legolas greeted the captain of his father’s guard. "It is good to see you. How do things fare here?"
"They are better since Lord Celeborn and his lot chose to civilise the southern forest," Nunaur replied. "Your father will be pleased to see your return, Prince. Only today, he spoke of how much you were missed."
"Then we will both be happy," Legolas smiled faintly before turning his eye to Melia who was being held under deep scrutiny by Nanaur’s men. "Nanuar, I would like you to meet Melia, she is a Ranger of Angmar and my travelling companion."
Melia expected the same reaction from Nanaur that she had received from Haldir at East Lorien but nothing of the like occurred. Instead he bowed politely in greeting, as if he was uncertain of what to make of her yet and regarded his prince once more. It did not take her long to realize that his respect for Legolas prevented his making assumptions about her relationship with the Prince of Mirkwood. Melia did not know whether or not that was a compliment or an insult.
It did concern her however, what sort of reception she would receive when she was presented to King Thranduil by his son.
King Thranduil looked nothing like his son.
Although he was handsome and appeared far too young to have a son who was three thousand years old, his physical appearance bore little resemblance to Legolas. Legolas had told her much about his father but of his mother she knew little, except that she had journeyed to the Undying Lands shortly after his birth. Melia suspected that Legolas’ looks must come from his mother for Thranduil’s hair was dark like Arwen’s and his eyes were the color of emerald pools instead of the sea like his son. He appeared a less serious man then Legolas who only seemed to show his boyish mischief around her and maintained his wise manner around the rest of the Fellowship. If this was because he believed they needed his years as counsel, Melia could not say. However his father had no such inhibitions and expressed his happiness to see his son without restraining his emotions for the benefit of his court.
Legolas seemed happy enough to see his father but Melia could tell the shadow that was in his eyes as they made their greetings. Despite the present difficulties in the search for her mother, Melia was not so absorbed in her own defeat to not see that Legolas was enduring trials of his own. She felt badly for her manner since leaving Dol Guldur because it could not have been easy for him to come home to tell his father what was needed without having to worry about her as well. Melia resolved herself to be of better disposition at least for her stay in Mirkwood. Legolas had promised to help her find the missing Istar and though she doubted very much that he might be able to provide her the answers she needed, it was good to have his company in the search.
No matter how dangerous being around him could be.
Besides, she had something of a plan and Melia preferred that Legolas be at Mirkwood before she attempted it. If he knew what she had planned there was no way he would let her go through with it and she needed to do so if there was going to be any chance to find her mother. She only hoped that if she failed in her task, he would understand why she had left him to accomplish it. It was very possible that she could die in carrying out this foolhardy plan if past experience was anything to gauge. However, Melia had no choice. She had to try.
After the happy reunion between father and son, Thranduil immediately called for a feast to celebrate the return of his son. Although Legolas wished he did not make such a big fuss, there was little the prince could do to avoid it. Thranduil’s reaction to her was silent and contemplative, accepting his son’s explanation for her presence with little more than a smile and a nod. Melia immediately felt uncomfortable for she could tell the king was not usually so sedate. Unfortunately there was little she could do because leaving Mirkwood after its Prince and King had extended her their hospitality for the evening was extremely rude. Despite the urgency of her search and her misguided feelings for him, Melia believed Legolas needed her there at least for tonight. . He had made good on his promise to guide her to Dol Guldur and the least she could do was repay his kindness.
This time, Melia relented and borrowed from one of the elven ladies at Mirkwood a gown so that she could attend the gathering at Thranduil’s court in something other than the blue dress that Legolas had seen her wear twice before. When it was presented to her, Melia could not help but gasped at the beauty of it. It was the color of the amber sunset and the silken fabric against her skin seemed to make her glow with radiance. Melia was certain that there were ladies in Gondor who would pay their eyeteeth for such a work of art and she could not help but think that she was not good enough for such a gown.
When she dressed, she discovered something else in the room she had been assigned and could not imagine how he could have slipped it in there without her seeing him leave it. In a small box, was a single strand of gold, broken every few links by a single bead of sapphire. It was the loveliest thing she had ever seen and for a moment, Melia thought it must have been a mistake until she saw the note from the prince, asking her to wear it. She would have refused if not for the fact that she knew it would hurt him and threw caution to the winds by indulging him in this one thing.
Upon dressing, she went to join him in the hall where the feast was taking place. When she journeyed there, she noticed that her presence was raising eyebrows. Melia frowned unhappily, deciding the gossipmongers were already hard at work, speculating at their relationship. She supposed she could not blame them for this because Legolas was the crown prince and unattached princes such as he, would cause a stir even if they paid special attention to a scullery maid. However, it did not aid matters much when Melia was placed next to Legolas and his father, in a position that was clearly provocative as far as royal protocol was concerned.
"I am glad you wore it," Legolas remarked as he glanced briefly at the chain around her neck.
"It is lovely," Melia smiled and traced her finger along the smooth gold. "Though I think a little much for the likes of me."
"It is only for you," he replied meeting her gaze intently. "It was my mother’s."
"Your mother’s?" Melia exclaimed shocked and understood now, why she was observed with such scrutiny earlier on. No doubt, everyone who passed her recognised the trinket she wore and its significance. "I cannot take this."
"I wish you to have it," he insisted.
"Prince," Melia sucked in her breath. "Please do not make this any harder between us then it has to be. I will be your friend but I cannot be your lover. You know why."
"I know that I love you," he hissed quietly, ignoring the entertainment provided for the guests. "I wish no other woman to wear what is my right to give."
He did not care who heard him say that, he was unashamed of his feelings for her.
Melia argued with him further but Legolas was adamant and she knew that he would not change his mind and take the gift from her. In some ways, she loved him more dearly for his determination and his indifference to what anyone thought about his feelings for her but she knew that his father had noted the exchange and he was not happy.
When King Thranduil asked her to dance, Melia could not refuse but she sensed he had purpose in his request and so she had no choice but to join him with the other dancers on the floor as Legolas looked on with concern. Throughout the course of the night, he had been polite but she suspected that he was paying close attention to her effect upon his son. As they took a turn around the room, Melia waited for him to speak, prepared to agree with everything he said if his desires for Legolas were what she expected.
"He loves you," Thranduil broke his silence as his deep gaze bore into her.
Melia saw no reason to lie. "Yes he does," she nodded somberly. "I cannot change his mind on that no matter what I say to him."
"Do you love him?" The king asked in turn.
Melia hesitated before she answered. "Yes, I do but unlike him, I am not so idealistic to believe that any future can come of this thing between us."
"I am glad," Thranduil said softly. "I have nothing against you Melia, daughter of Hezare but I will not see my son’s heart broken. I lost my wife far sooner than I should have and it is a pain I carry with me always. I will not see him endure the same fate if he were to bind himself to a mortal. Your life will be short but his suffering is eternal."
"I know that," Melia’s voice lowered to a whisper. "Do you think I have not told him that?"
"Then perhaps you need to break his heart for him to understand," the king replied coldly.
"Break his heart?" She stared at him, trying to comprehend what he was saying. She had intended to leave certainly. In fact, after Legolas had revealed to her the necklace she wore around her neck was his mother’s she became more determined to go. However, Thranduil’s words had a cruelty to it she did not intend.
"Yes, show him that he means little to you no matter what he believes and leave him," Thranduil declared.
"No," Melia shook her head and met his eyes firmly. "I will not do that to him. I will say goodbye in my own way and then I shall go."
When the dance was finished and she returned to his side, Legolas questioned Melia about Thranduil’s words to her as they danced but she had no wish to tell him the truth. Already, a rift was going to take place between father and son when Legolas told his father that he would not be remaining in Mirkwood. There was no need for Melia to worsen the situation by telling him how much Thranduil disapproved of the possibility that he might have feelings for her not when she was leaving with the coming dawn.
"Well that was not so terrible was it?" Legolas asked as he walked her to her room when she was ready to retire for the night.
The revelry was still taking place beyond the walls of the corridor and Legolas had informed her that such celebrations often lasted until the small hours of the night. Apparently, it was traditional for such celebrations to last until the sunrise and while it might be entertaining to linger and watched elven debauchery at its best, Melia intended to continue with her plan to return to Dol Guldur with the coming of the new day. However, only one duty was left to her now and it was not one she relished at all.
"What?" Melia looked at him as they approached her door.
"Being with me?" He smiled.
"Being with you is easy," Melia replied as she paused at her room. "Staying with you is hard."
"I wish you would trust me," he stared at her longingly. "I would never hurt you Melia."
Melia sucked in her breath, wishing he would not do this. "I know you would never hurt me Prince but by my death, I would hurt you and I cannot bear that."
"You take the choice away from me," he swallowed thickly, trying to hide his disappointment at her refusal again.
"You need to take this back," she reached for the chain around her neck. "It is not for me to have."
"I wish you to have it," he declared in exasperation. "Can you not let me have my way in this one thing?"
"Why can’t you see I am not trying to hurt you?" She cried, opening the door so that she could escape him.
However, Legolas was not about to let the matter rest and followed her inside. "You are a coward Melia."
Melia froze in her steps and swung around, facing him. Her eyes full of fury as he stood before her, proudly defiant. "You call me a coward for trying to spare your feelings? I fear nothing! Least of all you."
"You are afraid," he took a step closer, determined to have her understand that he was not going to give up on her. "You are so afraid you cannot bear it! I know you love me but you are so terrified of taking a chance that we might survive those odds you think are so insurmountable that you would say anything!
"How dare you!" She strode towards him. "I am thinking of you!"
"Think less of me and of what you wish, not what you fear." He retaliated sharply.
"Get out!" She ordered, hearing as much as she was going to.
"No," he shook his head and closed the distance between them.
Within seconds, he was before her and then suddenly he was against her. Legolas slid his arms around her waist and pulled her to him, capturing her mouth as soon as she opened it in protest and delivering his most searing kiss. She tried to push away but he was determined and he passionate, his lips torturing her with brutal demand and she felt herself visited by the torrid encounter in East Lorien when she had almost given herself to him freely. His mouth upon hers was dizzying and though she knew it was folly, though there was a thousand reasons in her mind why this was wrong, Melia could not at the moment think of one as he kissed her. As the last of her resistance melted away by the incredible touch of him against her lips, Melia decided that folly or not, she was his.
At least for tonight.
Legolas continued to press his mouth against hers as she finally relented and began kissing him back. He cared not any more that he would have her for only a splinter of time, only that that she was his right this moment. His lips were brutal with need, plundering as his tongue forced its way past her teeth and invaded the moist cavern of her mouth. He forced her against the wall with the fire of his desire, driving her back against it as far as possible so that there would be no more place for her to run. When she could retreat no further, Legolas was greeted with the pleasure of her pressed against his body.
Melia no longer cared what would happen tomorrow. She felt his hands running along the side of her body, exploring each curve with delight as his mouth continued to ravage her own with such fierce desire she could hardly breathe. Every since that night in Lorien, she had dreamed of him touching her this way again, even with all the consequences she still feared would take place when this night between them was done. She felt his hard chest pressed against her own as he pushed himself closer to her, until the air itself was driven from her lungs. There was nothing gentle or romantic about what was about to happen and Melia was grateful for it. At the moment, their sanity would only allow for her a hard, driven coupling. Tenderness could come later.
They made love like two suns burning each other with heat. A battle of body and soul that had finally come to a stalemate of sorts. Tomorrow, things would remain as they stood before they knew each other in the most intimate of ways but tonight belonged to them and for a few hours at least, they were together and it was it all that each had dreamed it would be and so much better.
"I love you," he whispered when they had reached the pinnacle of their pleasure and he now lay against her, knowing in his heart that while nothing had been resolved between them, everything else had changed.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.