3. Morning in Imladris
The sky was beginning to glow with the coming dawn, and birds stirred in the vales of Rivendell, preparing to start a new day. The mountains loomed tall in the east, their silhouettes breaking the line of the sky and bewildering the eyes with jagged peaks. Caps of snow glistened as thousands of white diamonds and a slight breeze drifted down into Imladris from higher valleys, bringing with it the chill of the receding winter and the freshness of the coming spring. Life began to wake within the forests as the darkness was driven back by the dawn and night fled into the west, leaving promises that it would return when the sun finished its journey. Even in Rivendell, the darkness could never be denied forever.
But darkness was last on the thoughts of those who wandered Imladris this morning, for the air was clean and crisp and the music of dawn was as a balm to any that could hear its melody. The mountain shadows seemed a remote threat, and the elves awake at this early hour gave them no heed, choosing instead to walk beneath the trees, listen to the soothing sound of fountains and waterfalls, or, in the case of one elven prince, practice at archery.
Alone in a clearing, Legolas sighted along the shaft of a long arrow, gauging the distance between himself and the target. He adjusted his aim slightly when a breeze ruffled his golden hair and stirred the grass beneath his feet. Then the arrow was released, sailing through the morning air and implanting itself firmly on the tiny target he had selected more than one hundred yards away. With a nod of satisfaction, the elf drew another arrow and began searching for a different, more difficult target.
While he searched, his sharp ears caught the sound of light footsteps. They were not the footsteps of one who sought to walk by stealth but rather of one who was naturally quiet. Another elf, the archer decided, spotting a small, hanging leaf about two hundred yards away and choosing that as his next target. Drawing an arrow, he set it to the string and pulled it back, feeling the latent energy build as he bent the strong wood of Lothlórien. At the same time, his elven hearing informed him that the intruding elf was entering the clearing. Pushing this to the back of his mind, the archer focused on the target and released, watching the arrow as it flew straight and true, passing through the leaf and lodging in the tree behind it. With that out of the way, he turned around to see who had sought his presence.
"Your skill with the bow is impressive, Legolas."
The prince bowed deeply. "My thanks, father. Your praise means much to me."
"Long hours of practice deserve great praise," King Thranduil of Mirkwood answered with a smile. "And your bow has been of much use to others on your journeys. My praise is perhaps overdue, but naught could remedy that since you are scarce in the kingdom these days."
"Duty takes one where one must go, sire," the prince answered quietly, wondering if that last statement was a reproach of sorts. It probably was since he rarely received positive attention from his father without qualifications. "I govern my own people now," Legolas continued, "and as such my time is limited. But I need not speak of such things to you, father, who have ruled far longer than I have lived."
"Nay, you do not. I understand well the constraints on a lord’s time and energy. But come, Legolas. Let us retrieve your arrows and visit during the quiet hours of the morning." He moved forward and Legolas joined him, easily falling into step with his father’s long strides. "I apologize for not meeting your company when you rode in last night. I had retired early and did not expect you to arrive until today."
"That was our original plan, sire," Legolas answered. "But the horses were fresh and Queen Arwen was anxious to reunite with her brothers. I fear we startled the sentries by arriving so late at the night, but they lost no time in seeing that Elladan and Elrohir were informed of our arrival."
"Well, at least we have a brief time together now," Thranduil said, resting a hand upon his son’s shoulder. "Come, tell me of Ithilien. How goes your work and how fare our people there?"
"Ithilien blooms as a rose in the summer, father," Legolas answered, a note of pride and accomplishment entering his voice. "Birds and friendly beasts have returned to its woods and we have such dwellings as are needed. There is but one shadow upon us, and that lies to the east where the Ephel Duath stands strong as a barrier between Ithilien and Mordor. Alas, those mountains are still filled with darkness and fell creatures. I fear that many lifetimes of men shall pass ere they can be cured of the shadow." They’d reached one of his arrows now, and Legolas quickly drew the bolt from the bark of the tree and slid it into his quiver.
"In Greenwood the Great, darkness still hovers over Dol Guldur," Thranduil said regretfully, turning as they strode in search of another arrow. "During the War of the Ring, Galadriel laid low its foundations, but where its remains lie buried, shadows still roam. The evil of Sauron will endure for many a year, and ultimately it will rise again in new form. But this is ill talk on so fine a morning," he continued with a shake of his head. "Tell me more of Ithilien. With whom do you trade and how do you deal with the many kingdoms of men that surround you?"
"As for trade, sire, we deal primarily with Gondor," Legolas answered, feeling a touch of annoyance for his father’s implication that surrounding kingdoms of men might be a hindrance. "The Pelennor fields yield much in the way of crops, and we trade them such things as wine and fabric for their wares. We also have dealings in Lebennin, Belfalas, and Dol Amroth. Prince Imrahil, in particular, has been a valuable ally." Legolas did not mention the fact that they were also heavily involved in a joint excavation project in Aglarond with Gimli’s dwarves, exchanging aid for metals. His father would not approve of such an arrangement.
"Imrahil is of the blood of Nimrodel, is he not?" Thranduil asked.
"He is, father."
"Good. I would not see you completely encumbered by mortals. They can be wearisome at times and occasionally must be reminded of who is the superior race," Thranduil said.
Legolas forced his face into a blank, non-committal expression, something that the long years in Thranduil’s court had taught him to do. His father was an elf of strong opinions and strong prejudices. Even though Mirkwood maintained good relations with the kingdom of Dale, Thranduil was usually wont to speak of its men with disparaging remarks, and that was if he spoke of them at all. Isildur’s choice to keep the Ring after the overthrow of Sauron had soured Thranduil toward mortals beyond any reasonable hope of reconciliation. Legolas’s grandfather Oropher, ruler of the Sindarin elves, had been killed in that conflict during the first assault on Mordor, and in the end, Thranduil had led home only one third of the elves who had traveled beneath his command. The fact that evil had not been wholly destroyed despite the great sacrifice of the elves still gnawed at Thranduil, and it was his custom to blame all mortals for the mistakes of Isildur, mistakes that would be forever emblazoned in his memory. He had been horrified to hear that Elrond was permitting Arwen to marry Isildur’s heir, something Legolas had tried hard to keep from reaching Aragorn’s ears though he suspected that his friend knew anyway. There was very little that Aragorn did not know.
"It was well that I trained you to seek out the weaknesses of your opponents. This will aid you greatly in your dealings with men," Thranduil continued. "I suspect you will be able to trust Prince Imrahil as the blood of the elves is slow to thin, but remember to exercise caution always. Men are known for nothing if not their treachery."
Legolas’s original annoyance was beginning to grow. Aside from insulting a Race that the prince had come to respect, Mirkwood’s king was close to encroaching on Ithilien’s sovereignty. It was true that Thranduil offered only advice, but Legolas was slightly irritated all the same. Ithilien was his realm, not his father’s, and he would decide where caution was needed. "I think, father, that perhaps you do not know the men of Gondor well enough. In them lies the blood of Numenor, and they are honorable men in both their dealings and their actions."
Thranduil snorted at this. "Númenor, you say. What good did that blood do Isildur when he took the Ring from Sauron’s hand?"
"The weakness of one is not a reflection on an entire Race," Legolas protested, stopping their walk and turning to face his father with rapidly growing displeasure.
"Speak not of things you do not understand," the king said curtly, and Legolas bristled at his authoritative tone. "You were not yet born when my father Oropher led us beside the standards of Gil-galad. You were not alive when the hand of man allowed evil to endure."
"Perhaps not, sire, but I was alive when man aided in the Ring’s ultimate destruction. The elves had little to do with that battle and the weight fell to the men of Gondor in keeping the Enemy occupied while the hobbits crept into Mordor."
"And yet they would have fallen had not you, Elladan, and Elrohir intervened. Galadriel and Elrond also played crucial roles, to say nothing of Mithrandir, whom your men, dwarves, and hobbits lost in Moria!"
Legolas felt his anger begin to creep out of his control, but he curbed his tongue and tried to come up with a safe response to that. He could remind his father that he had also been in Moria. He could tell his father that it was he who had first recognized the Balrog for what it was and that it was also he who had shamefully dropped his bow at very the sight of the horrible creature. Not that arrows would have done them any good, but he was perhaps the only member of the Fellowship with even a hope of aiding Gandalf. At the very least, he could have distracted the Balrog, yet Legolas, like the rest of his companions, had been frozen by fear. The prince opened his mouth, intending to tell his father all these things, but then he stopped. He had never been able to share his weaknesses with Thranduil, and the dropped bow in Moria still made him cringe with guilt. It would not do to admit such a lapse in courage to the king of Mirkwood. "I think you do them a discredit, sire," he murmured, slightly angry with himself for not being able to tell Thranduil the full story of what happened. "My own role in the War of the Ring was small, and Elladan and Elrohir did not join us until late in the journey."
"Which is exactly why things remained so dark for so long. Had the sons of Elrond not ridden south with the Rangers, I fear that all would have been lost."
The conversation was going nowhere constructive, and partially because of his own upbringing, Legolas couldn’t supply the information necessary to debate his father. Yet even if he could confess his own weaknesses, the chances were that it would do no good. Shaking his head with the realization that his father’s mind was unalterable on the subject, Legolas decided to drop the issue for now. "So tell me of the affairs in Greenwood, sire," he said, moving toward both another arrow and a safer topic. "I would hear of my kinsmen."
"Life continues much as it has save that our realm is now expanded and Dol Guldur is no more," Thranduil answered. "There is change in the forest, though. Many of our people now look westward as if to the sea. But the sea-longing has not claimed them yet. Still, it is a strange thing." The king cast a shrewd glance at his son, having seen him flinch at the mention of the sea. "When Galadriel and I met at the destruction of Dol Guldur, she spoke of you. I learned that you had journeyed through her realm and taken refuge with the Galadhrim."
"What of it?" Legolas asked, having a fairly good idea of where this would lead and wishing there were some way of sidetracking his father’s thoughts. It seems a change in topics was not the best choice. The prince hid his feelings by turning away from his father and pulling an arrow from the tree in which it had lodged.
"She warned me that your journey would take you nigh unto the sea and that the sea-longing might be stirred in your heart. I feared her words for a time, but you linger still in Middle Earth and make no effort to leave these shores. Was the Lady Galadriel mistaken? What think you, Legolas?"
"I think she knew my heart better than I did," the king’s son answered quietly, starting back for the original clearing. He did not want to speak of this.
"And what mean you by those words?"
Legolas sighed and looked away from his father’s piercing eyes, turning his gaze instead toward the cloudy peaks of the Misty Mountains. "The sea-longing does stir in me, sire. It is a steady yearning and a fiery pain that cannot be doused. I wish it were not so, but what I wish seems to be of little consequence."
"So you do seek to pass the Havens."
"Nay," Legolas murmured, his eyes distant. "Nay, not yet."
Thranduil arched an elegant eyebrow and studied the youngest prince of Mirkwood with thoughtful scrutiny. "Legolas, two of your brothers felt this longing and nothing could bar their way once their hearts were set. What holds you here?"
Legolas hesitated. His father would never understand his true reasons for staying, but he had never lied outright to the king and did not think he could start now. Diversion and misinformation were tactics he used often enough, but bold-faced lie in answer to a direct question… "I do not ask you to understand, father," Legolas said at length, "for I fear you would not."
Legolas cringed slightly upon hearing the sharp indignation in Thranduil’s voice, but at the same time, he felt a flash of anger. He was no longer a child, and his father was overstepping his boundaries. It was true that Thranduil outranked him in elven hierarchy, but protocol and tradition did not give a more powerful elven ruler the right to demand things of another elven ruler. And since Legolas was now technically Lord of Ithilien and had been recognized as such by both Celeborn and Aragorn, his father no longer held direct authority over his actions.
"You have never felt this," Legolas eventually answered, quelling his temper but making his tone slightly more forceful. "You cannot know what might bind an elf to Middle Earth to the extent that even the sea-longing can be endured."
"Then indulge my curiosity," Thranduil said coolly. They were back in the clearing now and the king of Mirkwood stopped, turning and confronting his youngest son through narrowing eyes. "What binds you here?"
"Personal matters," Legolas answered, his own eyes darkening and his voice containing a note of finality that could not be mistaken.
"Passing years do not affect my mind as they might affect the minds of your mortal friends," Thranduil warned. "You have not the ability to hide things from me, son. I raised you and taught you despite my wife’s death at your birth. Your training comes from me, and a student shall not defeat the master."
"But I am a student no longer," Legolas hissed, stepping closer to his father. "And my mother’s death was no fault of mine. Ever have you sought to blame me for that, but if there is a fault, it lies with you. Had you listened to the healer, my mother might have lived."
"You tread dangerous ground, elfling," Thranduil warned, his voice cold and forbidding. "It is as I feared. The mortals have affected your mind."
"If they have, it has been to my good fortune," Legolas shot back, his voice rising in anger. "I no longer see the world as your twisted vision would have me see it. To you, men are but toys while hobbits and dwarves are completely beneath your notice. But I have lived among these Races, father. I have traveled with them, fought with them, laughed with them, and cried with them. Men are valiant, perhaps more so than elves, for shortened years push them to progress quickly and change what they can in their lifetime. Hobbits are stubborn, loyal, and as drawn to nature as any of the Eldar. And as for the dwarves, I have never seen a Race more devoted, more passionate, or more courageous, and I thank the Valar that your veil of prejudice was lifted from me so that I might name one elvellon."
"You have taken a complete leave of your senses! I had hoped that the matter of this dwarf was but a rumor of the minstrels, yet I see now that madness grips you. Not only do you associate with the heir of a man who was corrupted by the Enemy despite the death of his father and the sacrifice of the elves, but you have bestowed the rights of an elf-friend upon one of the grasping children of Aulë!"
"Speak no evil of Aragorn or Gimli!" Legolas commanded, elven anger now in full flow. "By sword and axe they fought the minions of Mordor and overcame enemies that would cause one such as you to swoon at their very sight!"
"How dare you dishonor me!" Thranduil’s anger rose to match his son’s and their voices carried loud in the morning air. "And not only do you dishonor me but you dishonor your kindred."
"If we speak of dishonor, dear father, then let us remember your march on Dale and the Lonely Mountain. How did that bring the elves of Mirkwood honor? Well do I remember the Battle of Five Armies, and because of your stubborn pride, hundreds of brave warriors were lost to us that day. And for what? For the emeralds of Girion! Explain to me how such trinkets could justify the slaughter of our kindred!"
"If you think to—"
King and prince froze as their names were called. As one, they turned and discovered that at some point during their argument they had acquired an audience. A growing crowd of elves was gathering on the edge of the clearing. Most of them had risen in the early morning to partake of the day ere duties required their minds to look elsewhere, but now they watched the royal blood of Mirkwood closely, fearing a physical confrontation was only moments away. Separating himself from the other elves, Celeborn walked forward and favored both father and son with a look that would curl a troll’s hide.
"We gathered to Rivendell for celebrations and rejoicing. We did not gather to fight amongst ourselves," Lothlórien’s ruler informed them tersely. "If you have more to say to one another, I suggest you do it behind closed doors."
There was a moment of awkward silence during which the tension in the air became a palpable, grasping thing. Then Legolas stepped away, taking the initiative and wishing to be far from his father at the moment. "I have nothing more to discuss, Lord Celeborn. My apologies," the prince said smoothly, bowing gracefully to the other elf. "And as I am the younger, I shall take myself elsewhere so that no trouble comes of this." Straightening, he cast a final, dark glare in his father’s direction and walked out of the clearing, ignoring the hushed murmurs that rose up behind him. His mind burned with anger and he was wondering how his father had ever come to be trusted with the rule of a kingdom when a painfully familiar voice interrupted his thoughts.
The elf froze, hoping against all reason that the owner of that particular voice had not heard the argument in the clearing. Turning slowly, he swallowed hard and summoned a weak smile. "Good morning, Gimli."
The dwarf leaned against a pillar and folded his arms, deep-set eyes watching Legolas carefully. "Is it? Judging from your expression, the morning has been less than good." A strangely predatory smile crept over his face and he chuckled slightly. "And despite the fact that I am a grasping child of Aulë, your father might agree with me in this. What think you? Should we ask him?
"Gimli, I…" Legolas trailed off, unsure of how he could possibly explain his father’s actions. "What you heard…I know how you—"
"Legolas." Gimli’s soft tone stopped the elf in the midst of his stammered attempt at an apology, and the dwarf smiled again, this time a genuine smile with a touch of sadness. "Don’t." He sighed and pushed off the pillar, walking toward his best friend. "You are no more your father than Aragorn is Isildur or Elendil. His actions are not your own. Do not take responsibility for them."
"I am sorry you had to hear that," Legolas said quietly, looking back toward the clearing where elves were still gathered.
"Why?" Gimli followed his gaze and shrugged. "My kind has never been overly fond of your kind, and that feeling is more than reciprocated. You and I carried those prejudices once. Why should it bother me to hear them? Is that not in the past as far as we are concerned?"
"I fear that elves are more bound to the past than are dwarves," Legolas said sadly. His bright eyes closed and he shook his head. "My father remembers only the failures of men and the grief that has come to our kind because of it. He sees nothing for the future and so our people diminish. They have no hope for tomorrow as they are locked in yesterday." The prince sighed and then started walking toward the house, slowing a bit when Gimli began walking with him. "I must confess, though, that I am surprised by your reaction. You are usually quick to defend yourself."
Gimli laughed slightly. "I am equally surprised. I did not think to see the day when I would listen to ill talk and stand idle, especially if such ill talk involved elves and dwarves. But then, neither did I think to see the day when you would openly confront your father. Perhaps he spoke truly in one case. Perhaps I have affected your mind, and in turn, perhaps you have affected mine. I find I am more patient than other dwarves now, whereas I perceive that you have become bolder than other elves. But whatever the reason, I did not think I should give your father yet another excuse for hating dwarves by barging in where I was unwelcome. It would not have aided your cause and might have done more harm than good."
"Your thoughts are clearer than mine today," Legolas said, glancing back at the clearing. The elves were dispersing now, but the feeling of tension and anger still lingered. The prince sighed with the knowledge that he had in part caused such a mood to fall in fair Rivendell. And yet how else could I have acted? For I will be an Orc’s willing servant before I allow my father to restrict my rule in Ithilien. Legolas sighed again and shook his head. "Gimli, by your leave, I would take some time for thought alone."
The dwarf studied the elf’s bright eyes for a moment and then nodded reluctantly. "If you think that best."
"I know not if it is best, but it is necessary. My mind is in turmoil, and I must sort through my feelings."
"Then I will see you at the midday meal. But if you desire to speak with me, Legolas, you have but to call," Gimli said, concern coloring his voice. "Two may find counsel where one is lost, and I am more than willing to aid you."
"I know, my friend," Legolas answered, his voice soft and reflective. "And I am grateful. Thank you." And with that, he vanished into the house.
* * * *
Aragorn leaned over one of Rivendell’s many balconies and sighed. For his childhood and much of his youth, this had been his home. He had grown here, learned here, loved here, and grieved here. There was no room he had not explored, no tree he had not climbed, and no rock he had not overturned. This was home in ways that Minas Tirith could never equal. As much as he loved the White City, Rivendell would forever be closest to his heart. Returning here always held so many memories…
It was in this protected valley that Aragorn had first met Gandalf. The king smiled slightly, remembering that day. Newly returned from the Wild, he’d been only twenty-four at the time and still struggling to comprehend the awesome responsibility of the lineage that had been revealed to him just four years earlier. Aragorn’s meeting with Gandalf had been more a chance encounter than anything else—actually it had been a rather violent encounter as it involved a race against Elrohir cut short by a painful surprise collision—but despite the inauspicious circumstances, it had marked the beginnings of a long and fruitful friendship. Gandalf had immediately sensed the burden Aragorn felt beneath the weight of his heritage—as well as the burden he was upon the old wizard’s chest—and for his part, Aragorn had sensed a much greater burden upon the back of Gandalf—in addition to Elrohir on his own back.
"Ah Gandalf," Aragorn murmured with a sad smile, his whispered words hanging in the air as the morning mists lingered still in the valley. "Whither now do you wander? I wonder if you have at last found peace. And I wonder if you know just how much your presence is missed."
If anyone deserved a rest, it was Gandalf. For long, thankless years, he had labored on behalf of Middle Earth, rallying the elves, aiding the dwarves, defending the hobbits, and advising the men. His assistance had proved invaluable and Sauron could not have been defeated were it not for Gandalf’s efforts. He was certainly justified in departing over the sea with Elrond and Galadriel. And yet…Aragorn was just selfish enough to wish that the wizard had lingered in Middle Earth a while longer. Great had been their friendship, and now that Gandalf was gone, Aragorn felt as though an emptiness had come upon the land.
"It has changed much," a soft voice whispered beside the king.
Aragorn looked up as Arwen joined him on the balcony. For her sake, he had actually hesitated before making the long journey from Gondor. One does not refuse an invitation from the sons of Elrond or the lord of Lothlórien, but in spite of this, he had still paused. Arwen had looked forward to and rejoiced in meeting with her brothers again, but she also sorrowed over the departure of her father. Returning to Rivendell was bittersweet to her. She had spent generations uncounted in its peaceful solace, and coming back stirred memories of past years. She could recall the might and splendor of Rivendell when the elves still held great power in the eyes of all Middle Earth. Imladris was fading now, diminishing to a rustic colony of lingering Sindarin and Silvan elves.
Aragorn also noted the changes within Rivendell, but his senses were not elven senses and he did not doubt but that Arwen saw and felt a great deal more. Still, even a mortal could feel the dimming of elven laughter and the fading of elven song. In losing Elrond, Rivendell had lost the protective power of Vilya. Elladan and Elrohir remained as did some of the other elves, but the First-born had departed with the bearers of the Three and their grace and power had been taken from Middle Earth. Though still great and still seen as an elven sanctuary, Rivendell was no longer as it was. The outside world was changing, and Rivendell had begun to change with it.
"I fear that time has caught Imladris," a new voice said. Celeborn stepped out from the house and sighed slightly. In the years Aragorn had known him, he had never seen him show visible signs of weariness until now. The king of Lothlórien seemed old in a way that no elf should ever seem. His silver hair still shone bright as the stars, his face was still flawless in elven beauty, his eyes still sparkled with mirth, but there was something about him…something different. Aragorn narrowed his eyes, trying to define exactly what had changed. After a moment’s scrutiny, Aragorn decided that Celeborn was tired. It could not be discerned by sight, but Aragorn was convinced that this was the case. The elf was exhausted. Weary. Perhaps his loneliness in the wake of Galadriel’s departure was too much for him, for he had elected to stay in Lothlórien while she sought the Havens. His land had held him back, and bitter had been their parting. Aragorn wondered if Celeborn now regretted his decision to stay.
"You seem troubled," Gondor’s king eventually said, watching the elf closely in order to gauge his reaction.
"Troubled?" Celeborn frowned and looked out over Rivendell, turning so that the spring breezes swept his hair out of his face. "Perhaps. If I am, I am troubled for the passing of the land. These trees, these stones…they were laid down by the elves. We depart, but they remain. And they sorrow as we leave them, for we cannot take them with us."
"But I deem the sorrow is not as great here as it is in Lothlórien," Arwen said quietly, running sharp eyes over her grandfather. "I hear in your voice that you are more than troubled. You despair."
"Despair is a strong term, young one," Celeborn said quietly. "Take care in how you use it."
Arwen ignored the implied rebuke and continued to examine the full elf. "But it is true, is it not? You despair. You weary of Lothlórien, but you did not think to weary of it."
Aragorn slid a hand around Arwen’s waist, cautioning her against saying too much. But his fears proved groundless as Celeborn reluctantly nodded, confirming Arwen’s words. "You see what cannot be hid from keen eyes and trained minds," Celeborn said, his voice soft as the wind drifting over grass. "I do weary of Lothlórien. I have something of an announcement to make during the festivities three days from now."
Aragorn frowned and studied Celeborn intently. "And to what does this announcement pertain?"
"I would be announcing it now if I speak of it to you," Celeborn replied, a hint of mirth reappearing in his bright eyes. "And did I not just say that I intend to announce it during the celebration of Sauron’s destruction and the New Year’s birth?"
Aragorn ruefully shook his head and smiled slightly. "I should know better by now that coaxing a mystery from an elf is as profitable as pressing water from a rock. Keep your secrets then, but if you have need of anything, I am at your disposal."
"I thank you for that," Celeborn said, his voice sincere and grateful. "But at the moment, I believe we have other matters that demand our attention." He turned away and looked back into the house. "You may come forth now, Legolas."
Aragorn blinked and turned. Even Arwen seemed startled. Stepping out of the shadows and looking rather embarrassed at having been caught, Legolas moved forward and bowed low. "My apologies. I did not mean to disturb you, my lieges, but—"
Aragorn waved his hand. "Skip the formalities, Legolas. We have endured too much together to be troubled with them."
The prince’s eyes sparkled with hidden amusement. "Was not the attainment of Gondor’s crown the greatest goal and quest in your life? How is it that you seek to hide from the privileges it brings?"
"Perhaps I understand more fully why you could never be bothered to spend much time at your father’s court in Mirkwood," Aragorn answered. He was about to go on, but he stopped when something strange flashed through Legolas’s eyes. Aragorn’s brow furrowed. His first instinct was to call it resentment, yet how would that relate to the court of Mirkwood? But he was not allowed to question the elf as Legolas quickly changed the subject.
"I have come to beg a request of you," he said, his manner becoming stately and royal.
"And what would be this request?" Celeborn asked, changing his tone and demeanor to match the younger elf. To Aragorn’s eyes, it appeared that Celeborn knew or guessed something of this request, but for the life of him, the king could not fathom what.
"The hobbits are due to arrive this afternoon, but we are all well aware of their propensity for losing their way," Legolas said. "I would ask that Gimli and I be sent to guide them past the Ford of Bruinen and into Rivendell."
Arwen entwined her hand in Aragorn’s, signaling him that something was amiss. Aragorn squeezed her hand slightly in response, acknowledging the message. "We had planned to send out an honor guard from Gondor within the hour," he told Legolas, watching the elf closely. "Pippin is a knight in my realm and it would be a fitting greeting."
"Yes, it would be a grand gesture for Pippin," Legolas allowed, speaking slowly and deliberately. "But hobbits have not the appetite for finery and ceremony that men do. I think they would be better served if they were met by old friends. Such an act might be more to the liking of a hobbit and would better include Merry, Sam, and his family. An honor guard is an honor primarily for Pippin."
Aragorn frowned. Legolas’s wisdom could not be refuted, but Arwen was right. Something was definitely amiss. Today did not seem to be a good day for the elves. First Arwen, then Celeborn, and now Legolas. "We could send Gimli alone or with a small escort," Aragorn answered, choosing his words with care. "You could then stay and spend more time with your father and your kinsmen from Mirkwood."
There it was again. Aragorn was certain of it this time. Legolas’s eyes darkened with anger and distaste, but this time Aragorn could identify from whence this came. It was at the mention of the prince’s father. Yet before Aragorn could speak of it, the anger was gone, concealed quickly with elvish skill and driven back into the depths of Legolas’s mind. "It would be foolish to send only Gimli," the elven prince said with a smile that did not ring completely true. "He knows the way little better than the hobbits do. He would only aid them in companionship as they all became hopelessly lost together."
"You speak truly, Legolas," Arwen said, her rich voice breaking through the tension that Aragorn had not even realized was building. "I see no reason why plans cannot be altered. What say you, King Elessar?"
Aragorn nodded, reading much in his wife’s gaze. "It shall be so. Legolas, you and Gimli are tasked with finding our hobbit friends and getting them safely here. I wish you luck on this endeavor. It may not be the most dangerous mission you have undertaken, but doubtless it will be difficult to keep the wandering, hungry hobbits from straying."
"Thank you, my liege," Legolas said with a low bow. Nodding respectfully to Celeborn, he turned and left the balcony, vanishing into the shadows of the house.
"He desires to be away from his father," Arwen said quietly.
"And he desires to take Gimli with him," Celeborn added, his shrewd eyes following the departing figure of the elf through the house’s shadows until the prince turned a corner down a hallway. "Did you hear the of the confrontation this morning?"
"I did not," Aragorn said, his eyes narrowing. "I have heard nothing of such things."
"Nor have I," Arwen seconded.
"I cannot say that surprises me," Celeborn murmured. "It was quite early and few were up and about, but I fear Gimli heard much of it, for I saw him shortly afterwards. Doubtless they thought they were alone, but…" Celeborn trailed off and shook his head. "If Gimli did not hear it then, someone will have told him of it by now. Either way, he knows what happened."
"But I do not," Aragorn said, feeling as though Celeborn was speaking in endless circles. "Nor does Arwen. Would you care to inform us since it seems to be enough to drive Legolas from Rivendell?"
"I do not know if it is my place to say," the elf answered slowly, pausing to consider the matter.
"You have already said much," Arwen observed.
"I have said only enough to alert you to the situation," Celeborn replied.
"And yet we still do not know what that situation is," Aragorn pressed.
The elven lord of Lothlórien looked out over Rivendell and shook his head. "I fear it is not for me to tell you. If you truly seek answers, speak with Thranduil or Legolas. Or perhaps even Gimli. They can tell you better than I." And with that, Celeborn turned and vanished swiftly into the house, leaving a confused Aragorn and Arwen to ponder over his mysterious words.
* * * *
Shouldering his bow and a full quiver of arrows, Legolas stormed out of the main entry hall, hoping to find solace in the outside world. His walk was swift, and before the fury of his eyes, many elves blanched and turned away.
Checking his belt to see that his long, white knife was near at hand should it be required on the journey—or in the immediate future—Legolas quickened his pace. Footsteps hastened behind him and the elf gritted his teeth. He had hoped to vanish quietly this day, but it seemed that would not be possible and he had yet to find Gimli. Still, he continued on, pointedly ignoring the voice that called him. Perhaps he could elude pursuit and circle back to collect the dwarf…
"As your king, young prince, I command you to stay!"
Closing his eyes, Legolas stopped and cursed loudly in the dwarven tongue. It was a calculated slap in the face as well as a means of venting frustration. Under Gimli’s instructive tutelage during the occasional campfire disaster or boating mishap, Legolas had learned that the dwarves were masters of imaginative curses. And right now, the elf could think of no better way to express his anger than to cry for a large dragon to arise, steal his father’s gold, and then roast his liver on a spit for its offspring.
"You will turn and face me, Legolas," Thranduil commanded harshly with barely restrained anger, apparently somewhat familiar with this particular dwarven curse.
Narrowing his eyes to slits, Legolas turned and folded his arms across his chest, the picture of defiance. "And what do you have to say, sire, that you did not say earlier this morning. For unless your mind has altered, I see no purpose in speaking to you."
"That is not for you to decide, boy!" Thranduil fumed, his dark eyes flashing with fire. "Your actions this morning were unacceptable, and you continue to act as a mere child. If things do not change, you will be returning to Mirkwood with me."
Hot rage boiled through the prince’s blood, and before he knew quite what he was doing, he was advancing on Thranduil. So sudden were his actions that the king actually found himself backing away in a bizarre and discomfiting role reversal. "Listen well, father," Legolas said, his voice low, tight, and dangerous. "You may be a king and I may be a prince beneath you in the realm of Mirkwood, but I am no longer under your command. I lead the elves of Ithilien and you have neither the right nor the authority to order my actions. I am no longer a youth, sire. I have not been a youth since my days as a member of the Fellowship, and you would be wise to remember that."
"Your words are madness!" Thranduil hissed, furious that his youngest son was speaking to him in such a manner. "Control yourself quickly or I will be forced to summon the guards and restrain you."
"You would restrain me?" Despite the situation, Legolas found himself laughing. "If you wish a contest, I will summon the men of Gondor, for under Aragorn I am able to command them."
"You would not dare oppose me!"
"Will you chance that? Come, the choice is yours, oh king," Legolas challenged, making the title akin to an insult. "Shall we have blood spilt upon Rivendell’s fair grounds?"
Once again caught, the two elves froze and slowly turned to see a dwarf standing casually off to the side, the haft of his axe resting easily between his folded arms. Thranduil stiffened in anger, and Legolas felt himself grow pale with the knowledge that Gimli had overheard them for the second time that morning.
"If we are to heed Aragorn’s orders, we must leave now," Gimli said, his voice quiet and calming. "I have already found Arod and he waits near the Ford for us. I trust you are ready and have no further business in Rivendell?"
"How dare you—"
"I have no important business here," Legolas said, interrupting his father quickly and walking toward the dwarf. "Let us depart."
"A good day to you, great King of Mirkwood," Gimli said pleasantly enough to the older elf. He bowed and then turned away, falling easily into step with Legolas. Out of unconscious habit, Legolas shortened his stride slightly while the dwarf lengthened his. To even the most casual of observers, it was clear that the two had traveled together often and were completely at ease with one another’s pace and manner of walk. And Thranduil was far more than a casual observer.
"Legolas, if you—"
"I fear we must continue this another time, dear father," Legolas called back, and in his voice was a maddening calm that only served to further enrage the other elf. "Gimli and I have been ordered to provide escort for the hobbits who will arrive this evening." And having said this, the two vanished into the dense forest surrounding Rivendell, leaving Thranduil alone with his anger.
Author’s Notes: Okay, I know some of you are waiting for the hobbits and I PROMISE that they’re in the next chapter. It’s just taking a little longer to work them in, but once they arrive, they’ll be playing a big role. And "man who is not quite a man" shall be returning shortly, too. Anyway, huge thanks go out to everyone’s who reviewed, because it really means a lot to me. Thank you VERY much!
Oh, and thanks go out to Donna for reminding us that the Ash Mountains were the Ephel Lithui and on the north side of Mordor whereas the Ephel Duath are on the west. I discovered that on a map, actually, just after I posted the chapter. Ah well. Kudos for the sharp eyes!
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.