5. A Walk In The Gardens
Cellinn felt strangely calm as Legolas led her onto the floor and turned her towards him as the music began. His eyes met hers as he gently pulled her into his arms, and she could not take her gaze from his as he began to lead them in the slow dance. Unsure of what to say, she just gazed at him, waiting for him to speak.
"I could not say anything until the king made the announcement," Legolas explained his silence on the tradition. "I was unsure how you would respond to it. I felt you would dislike the custom. I hope I did the right thing." His eyes questioned her, and she smiled to reassure him.
"You did. If you had not asked…" She closed her eyes, wincing at the horror as she realized what she would have done. "Dúrion asked me shortly after you did. If I had not already promised you the dance," she opened her eyes to look at him. "I would have disgraced myself by fleeing. I think I almost did anyway, until I saw you. Thank you," she breathed.
He inclined his head with a gentle smile. Then he chuckled. "It is a silly tradition. I do not think many make it to their coming of age unkissed."
Cellinn looked at him suspiciously, a mischievous smile tugging at her lips. "Are you saying you attended your coming of age having already been kissed?"
His eyes widened, and to her amazement, a faint blush crept across his cheeks, and he dropped his eyes. "I said not many. I was not including myself in that declaration."
She snorted, holding in a giggle. "So the prince was surprised and received his first kiss in front of everyone?" He nodded keeping his eyes averted. She found his sudden bashfulness to be quite adorable. "Who was the lady to receive such an honor?" she inquired, pressing him while trying to ignore the strange twist in her chest as she suddenly needed to know the answer. She found it surprising that Legolas had not told her of the tradition after his coming of age. They had kept little from each other over the years. But now she could not stop herself from wondering what other secrets he harbored, such as kisses...
He cleared his throat and raised his eyes, a sheepish look on his face. "I-I chose Minuialwen. She seemed safe enough, since she was soon to be my sister; and she was kind to not embarrass me more than necessary." He grinned. "Arandur nearly choked!"
Relief poured through her for reasons she did not understand, and she laughed with him, imagining the look on his brother's face. Arandur had always been very jealous of anyone paying attention to his chosen lady, often to his detriment when it came to wooing Minuialwen. Cellinn's laughter died, however, when she realized the music was ending. The last dance was only a short one, and now, she faced something she had never before considered — kissing her best friend.
As soon as the last note played, she found herself still standing within the circle of Legolas's arms. Silence filled the large hall. It seemed as if all were holding their breath along with her as she looked up, very nervously, into Legolas's eyes. His face wobbled in her vision, and she realized she was trembling.
He smiled and reached a hand to her face, cupping her chin in his palm, his thumb gently stroking her cheek. Dipping his head, Legolas placed a light, quick kiss upon her lips, then pulled back, dropping his hand with a wink as he smiled at her.
"See, no pain involved, my lady."
When the last note had played, Legolas had been sure his heart would beat nearly out of his chest. He had longed to kiss Cellinn and hold her in his arms, but this was not the way he had wanted it to be — forced by a rather silly tradition. So, he had done the only honorable thing he could: he was gentle, kept it light and quick, despite the fact his lips longed to remain upon hers, and he made a jest to ease her discomfort.
Then he forced himself to step back, but kept his eyes upon hers, trying to read her reaction to what had just happened as the people applauded and cheered. To his horror, Cellinn's eyes filled with tears.
"Oh Legolas," she whispered. Her eyes closed, and two tears slipped down her cheeks. Distressed by her emotional response, he reached up to wipe the tears away, only to be enfolded in an embrace as her arms wrapped around his neck and her head rested against his shoulder. "Thank you," she murmured, followed by a sniff.
He completed the hug, feeling her sigh against him. If it were not for the eyes of so many upon them he would kiss her again. Instead, he disentangled himself from her. "I believe you have the power to order me, my lady. To where shall I escort you, now that the celebration has come to an end?"
Her smile caused flutters in his chest, and her words reached all the way into his heart. "I think a walk in the gardens would be lovely."
Tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow, Legolas led her from the hall, ignoring the jeers and laughter as they slipped out the door. The sounds faded behind them. Neither spoke as they walked. Legolas felt drained from the emotions he had experienced over the course of the celebration. It seemed he had swung from low to high and back several times. No doubt, he would sleep well this night — he smiled to himself — once he found his bed. For the moment, he felt he could soar as the weight of her hand on his arm seemed to burn through his sleeve to the skin beneath.
Nodding as they passed a guard, Legolas opened the door leading outside to the Queen's Garden, the most beautiful in his estimation of the many gracing the Halls. His mother had planted and tended it with her own hands; and kissed by the rains and warmed by the sun, the plants thrived. Her hand fell from his arm as they entered, and he took it in his own, lacing their fingers. Then he led her down the moonlit path.
They walked hand in hand for a time, until Legolas broke the comfortable silence between them. "Minuialwen told me you are learning tapestry weaving. Do you enjoy it?" He glanced down, noting her soft smile.
"I do enjoy it very much, though it is proving more daunting than I originally thought it would be. But Minuialwen is a good teacher, and your mother has given me some instruction as well. For now, I am only making very simple patterns; it is much harder than it looks! On the larger loom —"
He listened to all she had to say, commenting from time to time as she told him about her life over the past months. Their conversation turned to him after a while, and he imparted to her all his preparations for entering training for the Home Guard. She expressed the same interest in his activities as he had shown in hers. As they rounded a bend in the path, his eyes came to rest upon a stone bench backed by a high wall covered with climbing wild roses that filled the air with their heady scent. Legolas noticed Cellinn's eyes strayed to the wall of flowers, and asked, "Would you like to sit for awhile, my lady?" He glanced down to see her response.
"Legolas," she laughed, "since when do you call me lady?" Cellinn took a seat and looked up at him expectantly.
"Since tonight," he answered, sitting down beside her but with his legs on the opposite side, so that he could easily see her eyes when they turned in towards the other. They had sat thus many times when they were children, but only now did Legolas see the advantages such a position held. It would be easy to lean in and place his lips —
Remembering Arandur's advice to take things very slowly, he held himself in check. They had only just renewed their friendship! There would be time for courting. He must be patient. "You are now an adult and, therefore, must bear your proper title. I used it earlier, but perhaps you were unaware…" He winked at her.
She smacked him on the arm. "Stop it! You need not remind me that I was not in my right mind at that moment." Even in the faint light, he detected a blush spreading across her cheeks.
"Forgive me, my lady, I meant not to cause you embarrassment," he apologized with a grin, enjoying her discomfiture immensely.
Cellinn glared at him, or attempted to do so. It was hard to accomplish when she could not seem to stop smiling. Yet, she was sure he didmean to remind her of how silly she must have been, staring up at him, breathless and all fluttery.
Wishing he would kiss me again…
She dropped her eyes to her hands folded in her lap. I cannot believe I just thought that. He was her friend. He was only being kind. He was not interested in her in that way. She glanced back up at him and noticed he was watching her with unveiled interest. But am I interested in him that way?
What a question! Oh course not!
To her surprise, Legolas smiled at her and did not bring it up again, though it was obvious that he was wondering about where her thoughts had strayed. She had always been able to read him well and, right now, he was curious about what she was thinking. And he looked a little nervous. Why would he be nervous? He had already kissed her — not that she really counted that peck a kiss — so what could he be worried about.
"Cellinn." The soft tone of his voice caused strange fluttery feelings in her chest as he cocked his head at her, all traces of teasing vanished. "I wish to give you something."
A gift? "For me? Why?" she looked at him in puzzlement, her head tilted slightly to the side, as she pondered the sudden change in conversation.
He chuckled, one long fingered hand reaching into his tunic, removing something from a pocket sewn inside. "It is your begetting day, remember? I always get you something for your begetting day." She blanched, and he laughed. "I promise it is nothing slimy! You will like it," he sobered, "I hope."
He opened his fist and a necklace dropped to dangle from his fingers. The finely wrought chain, sparkling in the moonlight, supported a knotted silver pendant, bearing at its center what appeared to be a bright sapphire. Even in the dim light of the moon and starlight, it was beautiful, and she had to drag her gaze from it back to the giver.
"The stone is the same color as your eyes," he explained. "Turn around that I might put it on you."
Cellinn did so, lifting her hair as he placed the necklace around her neck and fastened the clasp. His hand brushed against the nape of her neck, and she shivered, dropping her hair and bringing her hand up to touch the pendant lying in the hollow of her throat. Her fingers still upon the cool metal, she turned to look at him.
"Oh, Legolas, it is beautiful. Thank you." Her eyes met his and she could not resist their pull. Leaning in, she wrapped her arms around him and laid her head against his shoulder, her face almost against his neck. His arms came up to hold her against him, and he ducked his head to place a soft kiss on her cheek. With a sigh, he leaned his face against her hair. Another shiver ran down her spine. It felt right to be here, and that strange flutter was back in her stomach and chest again. Pulling back to look up at him, Cellinn found herself drowning in his silvery-grey eyes. "Legolas?"
"About that kiss…" When he raised an eyebrow she continued. "Tonight I was to receive my first kiss, but that was not a real ki…" Soft lips covered her own before she could complete her sentence and a warm hand slid up her back, fingers burying in her hair. His lips moved lightly over hers in a gentle, yet moving kiss. It was perfect.
Until he stiffened and pulled back, dropping his hand, a look of dismay upon his face. "Cellinn, I - I should not have done that! Forgive me, please?"
She stared at him in complete shock as he continued, unable to comprehend how one minute he could be kissing her and everything could be so perfect and the next —
"Please, Cellinn. I was not thinking. Please, let us just pretend this did not happen? I do not wish to lose your friendship again," he finished in almost a whisper.
Oh, how his words hurt! And hurt terribly. He regretted kissing her! He did not care for her in such a manner. He did not even understand their friendship! "You think I would end our friendship because of a kiss I all but asked you to give me?" she asked incredulously, pulling away from him and standing. Her hands reached up and unfastened the chain he had placed around her neck only minutes before.
"Cellinn, please do not do this?" he pleaded as he came to stand in front of her, his eyes begging her to stop. She held the pendant out to him and placed it in his unwilling hand, ignoring the look of distress upon his face as his fingers closed around it. She did not allow him time to speak further. "I do not think I can accept this now. Good night, Legolas."
"Cellinn!" He reached for her, but she slipped past him. "Please, you do not understand!"
She forced herself to walk away from him, her heart screaming that she must have misunderstood him, for truly, why would he kiss her so and then beg her forgiveness for it? She felt so confused. One thing she knew for certain, however; their friendship would never be the same again. And so she walked away, head held high, her shoulders straight, while tears streamed down her cheeks. She did not allow herself to look back.
"Arandur!" Minuialwen chastised her husband, tugging at his hand to hold him back. "We should not spy on them! Give them some peace!" Arandur paused and glanced down at her, a look of chagrin on his face. Oh, she would not like what he was going to say! She just knew it!
"Father charged me with keeping an eye on them. While technically adults, they still must be chaperoned." He shook his head, his disgust quite clear as reached for her. "You know how certain members of the court can be."
Indeed, she did. She still felt the occasional bite of disapproval, though the teeth did not reach as deep as they once had, not like when she had first been presented as their princess. Oh, how horrified she had been to realize then the differences in their cultures! She had considered her king and his council the same as her own people, for Arandur had seemed just as wild, just as passionate as her simple Silvan kin.
She went willingly into his embrace, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder. She had learned too late that the Sindar were far more formal, steeped in longstanding tradition. While her marriage had never been questioned, their marrying without ceremony had been frowned upon. A 'lack of decorum' it was deemed. And yet the king himself had wed in the same manner!
Minuialwen made a face. Hidden in her husband's arms, she let her displeasure show to none but herself. Thranduil's disdain for custom was in all likelihood what had the stuffy nobles so irate when Arandur presented her. They had looked forward to their lord's heir marrying properly. After all, Thranduil had not been king when he had taken his Silvan bride to his bed without anyone's knowledge or consent. He had been naught but the youngest prince of three.
But the War had changed that, making him king in a day. And those surviving from Doriath held certain expectations. Foolish expectations! Love should not be hindered by such frippery!
But disdaining the old traditions did not change the fact there were certain biases in the king's court. She thought of Lammaeg and his selfish, conniving daughter, Ninglorwen. She would do anything to help spare Legolas and Cellinn the biting tongues, the frigid stares, the glances of disapproval! So she nodded and allowed Arandur to lead her up the remaining steps to the hidden balcony overlooking the Queen's garden.
Below them, Legolas and Cellinn stopped and sat at a familiar bench, and she smiled, watching the fragile romance blossom. The two of them were so young, so naïve…
And so stupid!
She blinked at the sudden change in mood, Cellinn's return of the necklace and her subsequent quitting of the garden. Minuialwen felt she could scream as all of Legolas's efforts came crashing down around him.
She watched him sink to his knees on the garden path, the pendant clutched tightly in his fist to his heart. Then his fist hit the earth so hard, she could hear the dull thud from where they stood.
Arandur's arms tightened around her, and she glanced up, tears spilling down her cheeks. He shook his head, "We should not have seen this," he whispered, his voice hoarse.
But out of the corner of her eye, she witnessed a brief shadow on another balcony, and Minuialwen knew they had been right to come. She could not quite make out the identity of the person, but she would swear it was Lammaeg. Only he, Angalar or the king's family would have access to that balcony, and her instincts screamed it was not any of the latter. No, the king had been right to insist on a chaperone this night. But she kept that information to herself for the time being.
"He will need a listening ear, husband." Minuialwen reached up and kissed his tense cheek. "Go to him."
Arandur glanced back into the garden and inclined his head. He used a small stair down from balcony, the sound of his booted feet fading away when he reached the lawn. When Minuialwen peeked back at the higher balcony further down, the shadowy figure had gone.
To Be Continued…