The strain on Elrohir's face did not clear that night, and King Elessar had sought him aside before the main feast and enquired after him. He was met with a livid response.
"Do not seek to interfere in my affairs, Estel," Elrohir had said in the calmest voice possible as the pair ducked behind a large pillar in the great hall.
Hearing Elrohir's accusation caused ire to rise in Aragorn. What was he doing? It was plain to him that Elrohir had taken on too much for himself, and his relationship with Legolas was suffering as a result. While Legolas had not spoke of it to anyway, Aragorn was no fool, and had noticed the way his eyes were cast down, and the frequent, glancing looks he kept throwing at Elrohir, even now. While it was true that Legolas, as a lord of his own realm, was up to his neck too in affairs of the state, he was at least willing to find the time to spend with Elrohir, a favour which was not returned.
"I was only trying to point out something to one who is too blind to see what he is doing. Who he is hurting," Aragorn said, keeping his voice neutral.
Elrohir flashed a charming smile at Lady Winarwin, who had been in the vicinity, eyeing him with more than passing interest, and trying to eavesdrop on their conversation in spite of not understanding a word of Sindarin.
She blushed and pretended to avert his gaze with coy grace, and hurried over to a friend.
"I know what I am doing," Elrohir said.
"For Legolas's sake, I hope you do."
Elrohir's heated reply was cut short by Arwen's arrival.
"Elrohir, Haleigh has been pestering me to introduce you to his younger daughter," Arwen said, fixing her steely gaze, so reminiscent of Elrond's at times like this, on her brother.
Elrohir let out a curse.
"He has yet to give up?" Elrohir snarled, resisting the urge to slump against the pillar. Hardly a week went by without some courtier or official presenting their daughters to him, hoping for a marriage of convenience that would secure their place in court. All had been turned away with firmness, but Haleigh had been persistent. Already, Elrohir's selectivity and disinterested behaviour was starting to be the topic of much speculation.
"Must I?" Elrohir's eyes flew across the great hall, and felt his blood pressure increase as he saw Legolas walking with a fawning girl of twenty hanging off his arm. Her hair was immaculate and swept into a bun, while her dress dipped down in front to offer a few tantalising glimpses to any who sought to look. She was chattering away, aware of the admiring glances of other Lords and Squires, but giving her full attention to Legolas.
"At least Legolas is attempting to put on a show tonight," Arwen said, following his gaze.
"I do not think he had a choice, for Rhasserin is a determined character. She has been after him for a few months, as it were," Aragorn said, wrapping an arm around Arwen's waist. There was no mistaking the amusement in his voice.
"It gladdens my heart that at least one of us finds it funny," Elrohir said, a sudden urge overcoming him to stride up to Legolas and take his lips in front of all Gondor's elite. That would put an end to the endless propositions.
Arwen's face softened, and empathy crept into her voice. She knew that both Elrohir and Legolas resented having to keep up appearances of living in separate chambers and being discreet about their relationship, and only did so to ease Aragorn's rule. The good Men of Gondor, while more tolerant of other races in recent years, would still find the concept of Elven duality something to balk at.
"I am sorry, Roh. It must be difficult for you, having to hide your love."
"It is not your fault that they are too pig-headed to see through their own prejudices."
Aragorn and Arwen exchanged a glance. Elrohir's mood was black indeed for him to use such strong terms to describe their subjects. Perhaps an enforced rest was in order.
"You have --" Elrohir's sentence was cut short as Rhasserin reached up and brushed Legolas's lips with her fingers.
Even from a distance, Elrohir could see the shocked expression that came onto Legolas's face, as he took a step away from Rhasserin. She was not to be deterred, however, and moved in so that they were even closer than before.
Elrohir's jaw twitched, and Arwen grasped his arm in warning. His narrowed eyes did nothing to deter Rhasserin, who reached out and placed a palm to Legolas's chest. The laugh she gave caused Elrohir to lost his composure, and he started striding across the room, worming free of Arwen's grip.
Exposed to the public eye without the shelter of the pillar, he had not taken three steps when Haleigh was upon him.
"Lord Elrohir!" Haleigh said, the insincere beam making Elrohir wish he could wipe it off his face.
"Haleigh," Elrohir said, still staring at where Legolas was trying his best to extricate himself from Rhasserin's vice-like clutches without being too rude. If looks could kill -
Haleigh's jaw shifted at Elrohir's contemptuous tone, but he kept his smile plastered on.
"I believe you have yet to meet my daughter."
By this time, Legolas was scanning the room and searching for an excuse to be rid of the girl. His eyes were fixed upon Elrohir, and the pleading in them was plain to see.
"I see Lord Legolas is here too," Haleigh said, unable to keep the disdain out of his voice. Elrohir's mixed heritage, while undesirable, was something he could put up with, but the Royal Court of Gondor was no place for a full-blooded Elf. That this unrelated Elf was regarded, some say worshipped, by the King, was something Haleigh could not accept.
"By invitation of King Elessar," Elrohir said, smirking. "He is a much-cherished ally of Gondor."
"Of course," Haleigh said, knowing that Elrohir had made a deliberate jibe at him. It was no secret that Elrohir and Legolas were -- close.
Elrohir was about to make his excuse when Faramir and Éowyn descended upon the hapless Legolas, and Faramir took Rhasserin away with some excuse before she could grab Legolas's hand, and Éowyn slipped her arm into Legolas's as they walked in the opposite direction.
Making a mental note to thank Faramir later, Elrohir turned back to Haleigh and allowed himself to be presented to Haleigh's very young daughter, Gilinn. While her older sister had been plain, Gilinn radiated an innocent charm and blossoming beauty that was starting to be talked about in Court.
Elrohir stifled a sigh, knowing that he had been imprudent with his insult earlier on, and so decided to contend himself with another dull and dreary session of attempted matchmaking. It was clear that Haleigh knew the charms his daughter possessed, and it sickened Elrohir to see the way he was so sure that even His Majesty's fickle brother would be unable to resist her allure.
When a glance at Legolas confirmed that he was safe from further advances, Éowyn at his side, a streak of mischief rose in Elrohir. Since he could not reject Haleigh's overtures outright, he might as well make full use of the situation and turn the joke on Haleigh.
Offering Gilinn his arm, Elrohir thanked Haleigh for the introduction with the most charismatic smile he could muster, and led Gilinn away from her satisfied father.
In the meantime, Legolas was offering his profuse thanks to Éowyn.
Laughing, Éowyn swept aside the gratitude. "Faramir spotted your predicament, and insisted we do something. When I saw the way Elrohir was charging towards you, I knew we had to act to prevent a calamity!"
"You would think they would be used to seeing a first-born in flesh by now," Legolas said, sighing.
"I hardly believe that the reason Rhasserin is clamouring for your attentions," Éowyn said.
"At least among our people I am able to turn such overtures to one side by telling them the real reason."
Éowyn laughed. "Even being married is no guarantee that one is free from propositions."
"Why they cannot see past status and power in an age like this is beyond me," Legolas said, frowning as he was greeted by another breathless girl.
"Faramir is right; you are oblivious to the obvious, even after many years of being praised by so many admirers.
Legolas scowled, and flushed at the reminder of his beauty. It was not something he thought about unless reminded, and he did not take any of the reminders well, seeing it as a hindrance that belied his true nature. Not unless the reminder came from Elrohir, that is. A sudden mental image came to his mind, which he attempted to chase away, for it could hardly be said to be appropriate for an occasion like this.
In doing so, his thoughts turned to his frustrations, as he saw Elrohir walking with a young, pretty girl hanging off his arm. The nervous feeling returned with a vengeance, as he realised the paucity of intimacy the pair had shared in the past year. Even then, they were always initiated by Legolas. While Elrohir was still enthusiastic in his bed-play, a more than eager participant, Legolas found that he was often distracted and exhausted.
Éowyn tightened her grip on Legolas's arm.
"Elrohir has been very busy with affairs of the court in the past year."
"Busy is not the word for it," Legolas said, the bitterness in his tone surprising himself.
Éowyn did not raise an eyebrow. "He has been neglecting you."
When Legolas did not respond, she pressed on, "Legolas, there is nothing wrong with your asking him to take a break."
"Do you think I have not tried? There is also the strain of us both having to endure endless propositions by every lady in these lands!"
"Does that strain your faith for one another?"
"No, But 'tis tiring. Already there is talk of Roh's selectivity, which is at odds with --"
"His wild trysts with whores?"
Legolas did not blush. They thought letting loose rumours of Elrohir's trafficking with whores, a cover story for their relationship, would discourage the endless ladies that sought to win his heart and favour. But no, it only seemed to make them more intrigued. If anything, the servant's gossip about ruined sheets and shredded garments seemed to stroke them into a greater state of frenzy.
"I rue that we can't tell them the truth," Éowyn said. "When Faramir and I learnt of it, we were filled only with joy. How could any not see that your love is as powerful and pure as that experienced between any man and woman?"
"Millennia of societal decorum is not so easily rid of. If everyone were as enlightened as you and Faramir, I doubt Roh would be standing there, his arm grasped by that petrified-looking girl." It would be me standing by his side -- as his chosen partner and spouse.
Éowyn's eyes widened. "She looks as if the whole of Sauron's army had been sent after her."
A laugh escaped Legolas as he spotted the way Elrohir's eyes were sparkling as he spoke, more animated than he had been in a long while. It was clear to Legolas that Elrohir had some mischief planned.
"Shall we head over to impinge on their intriguing conversation, then?"
Legolas and Éowyn hurried over to Elrohir and the poor girl, who was trying hard not to edge away from him.
"Greetings, Elrohir," Legolas said, sliding up to Elrohir with a wide grin.
"Legolas! Lady Éowyn!" Elrohir said, beaming. "How kind of you both to join us!"
"The two of you seem to be deep in conversation," Legolas said, handing him a glass of wine.
Elrohir accepted it and smiled again. "I was just telling Gilinn about what transgressed during Cerinair's last visit."
Legolas chortled, and Éowyn hid her laugh behind her hand, while Gilinn blanched again.
"I wonder how long it took the servants to get the custard cleaned up," Legolas said. "If I recall correctly, even the tapestries were not spared?"
"No," Elrohir said. "But one can hardly be careful, or even discreet given the circumstances."
"Very sticky," Legolas said. The glance he gave Elrohir out of the corner of his eye was smouldering and seductive.
"Indeed," Éowyn said, ignoring Elrohir's spluttering into his wine glass, before taking pity on Gilinn and turning to her. "I have not seen you at Court before."
Gilinn gave a scared curtsy, clearly wishing she was anywhere but next to a frightening creature like Elrohir.
"No, Lady Éowyn. I have only just turned fourteen; my father thought tonight an appropriate time to introduce me to the Lords and Ladies of the Court."
Éowyn tried hard to not show her surprise, while Elrohir let out another fit of coughing. Seeing Legolas start rubbing Elrohir's back in what surely was mock concern, Éowyn decided to take Gilinn away from Elrohir before he or Legolas did or said something they would regret later.
"Then I shall introduce you. Lord Elrohir?"
"Please," Elrohir said, regaining his composure. "It was nice to make your acquaintance, my Lady."
Left alone with Elrohir, Legolas dragged him into the shadow of a large pillar, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.
"Fourteen?" he said.
"Haleigh is vile!"
"I meant you, meleth. Regaling a girl that age with sordid tales --"
"I did not know! Besides, it was the only way I could get her to stay away from me! Why are you looking at me like that?"
Legolas's lips curled, and Elrohir stifled a groan. "One word: custard."
Elrohir took a short breath of air as an unbidden image sprung to mind. Legolas raised an eyebrow, while his eyes dropped to fixate on exactly where Elrohir would have preferred him not to.
"You have objections, my love?" Legolas said, voice almost a purr.
Elrohir tried to regain a hold on his shaky resolve.
"Lass, what do you think you are doing? The feast is about to start."
"Their feast is not about to begin for another thirty minutes, so why do we not have one before?"
"Besides, Estel and Arwen are so busy attending to their guests that they would be appreciative if we could fetch Eldarion from the nursery for them."
Meleth -- lover