Building Ithilien

Love Mingled with Grief

Author's note:  These characters and settings have been borrowed from Tolkien.

Sorry this chapter took so long.  I had a lot I wanted to do with the story, so I did it! It just took longer than expected. But I hope that you'll like the results!

Chapter Nineteen:  Love Mingled with Grief

All Legolas could think of was how her hand fit perfectly in his own, and how he feared to look away from her soft dark eyes as if all that had come to pass might fade from him like a dream upon waking.  And if this was a dream, Legolas did not want to wake up.  Before him sat a girlish slip of an elf who had shown courage in the face of dragons, who would gladly risk his anger if it meant speaking her mind, and who spoke to him now as a friend, and Legolas longed for that closeness, to have her smile or even laugh with him the way she would with her brother or the twins.  He had known many elvish beauties before the War and had treasured them all, but the prince had never found true friendship with any of them; he supposed that was why none of those relationships ever lasted very long.  Of course, he had always counted Celeril as one of his greatest allies and confidantes, but she was his sister and did not really count. 

Legolas wanted to prove to himself that he could do this—that he could find friendship in the unlikeliest of places, that mysterious creature before him, who had openly scorned his every advance.  If he could find friendship with a dwarf, he could find it with her.  She intrigued him.  Even now her eyes glowed with a warmth that had not before been there, and he thought her more lovely than when they first met under the stars in Lothlorien.

He sensed that she felt nervous but debated the cause.  Were his actions at fault? Had he been too hard on her?  Legolas admitted to himself that he had looked upon her as an adversary, someone to be conquered, and this afternoon, when her first tear fell, he knew that he had won.  He had defeated her.  Only this victory made him feel rather pathetic and disgusting.  To win her affection would prove a much more glorious pursuit, and he would endure the worst throes of battle to claim it.  Tonight was a start, for both Miredhel and Legolas had put forth a concerted effort at being pleasant to the other.  Legolas decided that if he wanted to win her friendship, he must first develop her trust.  Simply put, he wanted her to trust him, and at the moment, she looked as if she were very uncomfortable.  She had something she wanted to confess, or tell him, but 'Whatever Miredhel had been planning to say,' Legolas silently decided, 'could wait,' and before she could begin her tale, he stopped her.

"Lady Miredhel," he said. "You are shaking.  What troubles you so?  Tell me so I may help."

"I must speak with you about a matter most personal.  I should have told you when first we met, but I did not…for foolish reasons.  Now I know I must."

Legolas blinked.  "Oh," he said.  "I thought you might be, you know, afraid of orc attacks, or sleeping out in the wilderness, or the dragon…"  he jokingly added, "or having to put medicine on my back!"  Miredhel looked horrified.  Legolas quickly added, "but I told you, I have no need of it, for I am practically well."

"No, no," she said, "if I look upset, it is only because I am angry with myself for being so preoccupied that I completely forgot about your injuries.  We will tend to it right away."

"But… you were going to tell me something? Legolas reminded her.

She nodded as she pulled open her small bag.  "And I do still want to tell you, but if I want your full attention, I cannot have you passing out from the pain for those burns," she said and crushed more leaves.

"I have never 'passed out,' just so you know," Legolas protested.

"I am sure you have not," Miredhel replied with a glimmer in her eyes.

"I have never…to my knowledge," he said and turned so his back faced her.  With his assistance, she gingerly peeled the fabric away from his miserable skin.

"How dreadful!" she gasped when she saw his back exposed, with red whelps and blisters riddling the length of his torso.

"Ah, that is not the response I had hoped for," he said, feigning sadness. 

"No, I only said that because these burns are quite nasty.   Your back is fine…" she said and peeked around his shoulder.  He grinned at her, and Miredhel quickly corrected herself, "I mean, that your back will be fine, once these blisters heal."  With that said, she began to work the salve gently onto the elf's back in small circular motions.  She could not help but notice that his years of training and archery had perfectly toned and defined the muscles in his back and concluded that any other female to see him disrobed probably had a much different response than her own.  Miredhel bit her lip and forced herself to concentrate on the salve, on being gentle, on helping the prince to heal.  She smoothed the cool substance across his skin, hating the way her fingertips tingled when she touched him, and the way her heart quickened at seeing him smile.  'He is not for you,' she reminded herself with a frown.

Legolas had turned his head in time to see the lady's displeasure written across her face, and he wondered out loud what bothered her so. 

Miredhel looked up toward the sky, mentally chiding herself for allowing him to see her frustration.  Of course, she would not tell him what really bothered her, so she put on a sad sort of expression and with a certain degree of seriousness, said, "It pains me to see you suffering so."

"Lady Miredhel, I have sustained far graver injuries than a few minor burns.  They are unpleasant, but hardly unbearable," Legolas assured her.  "Your injuries are worse than mine by far."

"Hmm."  Miredhel considered his words for a moment and then continued, all the while working the salve carefully toward his shoulder blades.  "Well, the good news is," she said, "I do not believe any of these burns will scar, my lord."

"That is glad tidings, I suppose," he said thoughtfully.  "When do you think they will heal?"

"Oh, I suspect that you will be back in rare form by five days time at the most, if you are careful not to rub or scratch any of the sores."

He nodded and faced forward, and she continued her ministrations, carefully rolling up his shirt as she progressed toward his shoulders.  For him, her gentle touch soothed almost as much as it excited.  She was so close to him, he could feel her light breath as she leaned towards him, and all over, his body burned anew, only now for the quiet rebuke of her hands.   They were as two flames consuming all between them, slowly devouring his will to resist.  Miredhel hummed softly as she worked, completely unaware of her power over him, so busy she was, waging a battle of her own. 

She knew she should not dwell on such thoughts, such as the way a single look from him could make her feel.  Not just because he was temporarily her patient, but for his identity, his position, who he was and who she was not, and the sum of their common history together.  At times, he had infuriated her with his high-handed ways and arrogance, and she had disliked, if not hated him, with a vengeance.  Yet the last few days had revealed in him a quiet strength, a will to lead and protect, that she had not seen before, and he had shown her kindness unlooked for, accompanied by a sense of grace not unlike that of the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. 

Now this prince sat before her, vulnerable and exposed, trusting her to heal him, and the elf maiden with the cool touch and heart colder still, could not deny that she was impervious to all of his charms.  Everything that she knew or thought she had known, all that she counted true and had convinced herself of, melted as did her heart, and for the first time, in a very long time, Miredhel did not know what to believe or what to feel anymore.   When she reached his shoulder blades, she gathered his hair to drape it over his shoulder, and her mind rushed back to that night in the garden when she had kissed him and had wrapped her arms around his neck.  She reluctantly remembered the way his hair had felt against her skin, cool and warm all at the same time when he had held her tight.   Miredhel closed her eyes and bit her lip, willing the memories to fade and for her heart to slow its pace.  She had stopped smoothing the salve on, and Legolas noticed. 

"Is anything wrong?" he asked her.

"Err… no.  No, no.  I am fine… No, I mean, yes!  Yes, for you that is. Not for me.  Nothing is wrong with me." Miredhel stammered, blushing furiously.  She felt exceedingly thankful that Legolas had not turned around to see her pathetic moment of daydreaming.  She told herself to focus, and cleared her throat.  "It seems you have a particularly nasty bruise on your shoulder here."  She pressed around the area with her fingertips to ascertain that nothing was broken.  "How did you ever manage to get a bruise there?"

"I am not really sure.  I think I hit something when I fell into the ravine," Legolas said.

Miredhel finished rubbing in the salve and lightly pulled his shirt over his worried skin.  She teased him, "Perhaps you fainted and that is why you do not recall the details."

"I told you I have never fainted or passed out!  Not do I intend to," Legolas insisted, and his eyes were merry as he turned to face her.  Then he grew solemn and thanked her for her help.  In turn, she told him that it was the least she could do, and that she would check his progress in the morning.  Then both elves fell silent.  Miredhel nervously hummed a little for she knew that she must speak to the prince of the matter that had gripped her heart for so very long.  It concerned him as much as it concerned her.  He should know.  He deserved to know. 

Miredhel squeezed her hands in her lap, and then quietly addressed the elf beside her, "My lord?"

"You do not have to say that, you know," Legolas said, a bit tiredly.

Miredhel mistook his meaning, and she wondered if Legolas already knew of her tale.  'But how could he possibly?' she asked herself.  Who could have told?  No one knew the truth now, save for her.  "What do you speak of?  What do I not need to say?" Miredhel replied with alarm. 

"You know what," he said.

Still not comprehending the prince's words, she gasped, and her skin grew pale.  "You already know…about Annariel?" she asked quietly.

 "Yes, Sulindal told me about her, but that is not what I meant," Legolas said, a little confused as well.  "I only meant that you did not have to address me so formally.  'My lord'-- I would rather you not say it."  Now Miredhel was the one to look confused.  So Legolas joked, "You know, proper Elvish etiquette dictates that after two people fight a dragon together, they must address each other by first names only."

Miredhel blinked.  She was not entirely sure what had just happened.  She said slowly, "Oh, you spoke not of my friend, but wished for me to call you…oh, I do not think that I could be so bold, my lord."

Legolas smiled and returned, "Of course you could, you have already said much more caustic things to my face than my own name." 

She blushed.  "Again, please do not remind me."

The elf insisted, "Lady Miredhel, you would do me great honor if you would address me as Legolas."  She shook her head.  "Why not?" he asked.  "You speak to Belegil and Sulindal, using their personal names."

"Yes, but I am friends with them." she replied, and then hastily clapped her hand over mouth when she realized what she had said.  "I am sorry, my lord.  I did not mean to imply that you and I are enemies."

He shrugged with downcast eyes.  When he looked up, his steady blue gaze betrayed the sorrow of his years and the enduring loneliness bought of immortality.  He spoke with a low voice, saying, "Haven't we been, though? From our first meeting, we have hardly been cordial."

Miredhel nodded miserably.  "I know, but the fault is all mine."

            "No, my lady.  I am equally to blame.  I let my own sense of worth and selfish pride guide my behavior in all of our moments shared.  I deserved your disdain."

"I suppose we are both at fault, but the lion's share of the blame is mine alone."  She took a deep breath.  "I had said earlier that I had something to tell you."

"Yes, but you did not wish to speak of it in front of your brother."

"I know.  I did not want him to hear, not just yet.  It concerns you, and me…and Annariel.  I do not know exactly how to say this.  I have thought of telling you this tale many times.  Even when I first heard that you would visit Lothlorien again, I planned on meeting and telling you, so you would know.  It was no accident when I met you on the balcony that first night we met.  I had planned to tell you then, but…"

"Why did you not?  We were alone.  I would have listened."

"Would you have really?  I did not think so at the time.  Pardon my observation, but you seemed much more interested in romancing the first maiden to cross your path."

Legolas bristled a little before he realized that she was quite correct.  "You are right on that count," he agreed sheepishly.  "I would have happily swept you off your feet had you let me."

The tips of Miredhel's ears burned at his suggestion, and she raised her eyes toward the black blue vault above and the crescent moon wreathed in ethereal light lost of stars.   She wondered the impossible, if Fate had been kinder, if things had been different.  She and Legolas might have met under better circumstances, perhaps even to fall in love.  A lone tear slid down her cheek, for what might have been.  Miredhel silently shook her head and twisted a golden curl betwixt her fingers. 

She said, "In the light of what I had come to tell you, your behavior seemed like a slap in the face."

"For that, you cannot fault me.  I did not know.  I still do not know," he protested.

Miredhel's eyes were wet and distant as she began her tale.  "What has happened between us, especially concerning my behavior to you, oddly enough concerns my best friend.  Annariel was truly a sister to me.  We did everything together.  We had even pledged long ago that she should wed Eledhel so we could truly be sisters.  Then one day last winter, January 17, I believe it was—"

"The fellowship arrived in Caras Galadhon," finished Legolas.

"Yes, and you among them.  Annariel found me on the practice fields that evening.  I had rarely seen her so excited.  Her cheeks were flushed, and she was quite out of breath, for she had ran all the way there to tell me about the most bizarre company that had come to our city: two men, perians, a dwarf, and an elf."  Miredhel paused and raised her eyebrows.  "From the way she described you, I knew she was smitten."

"With me?" Legolas asked incredulously.

"Do not act so surprised," Miredhel advised him.  "I dare say I know you well enough not to be fooled by feigned modesty.  Anyway, she wanted me to accompany her to see you for myself."

"And what did you think?" Legolas prompted her.

"I did not go with her." Miredhel replied. "I told Annariel that she was being foolish, that the strange elf she had seen might be a criminal, a vagrant, a servant of the Dark Lord."

"But I was none of those things," Legolas reminded her.

"I know.  Eledhel returned from the forest guard the next day and told me that one of our Mirkwood kin, the son of Thranduil, had arrived in the strangest of company.  When I went to visit Annariel, she positively glowed.  She told me that she had seen you in the company of the dwarf in the gardens, and went on and on about how strong and beautiful you were and how blue your eyes were… I knew then that my friend had passed beyond the limits of infatuation and fancied herself completely in love with you."

"And I never even met her.  Why did she not find a way to meet me?" Legolas murmured sadly.

Miredhel looked knowingly at the elf and continued, "She was very shy and much too timid to introduce herself, especially in the presence of a dwarf.  After that, all she spoke of was you.  She tried to find ways to meet you, but you were always with a flock of people or wandering around with the dwarf.  She asked for my help, and I refused."

"Why would you not help her?" Legolas wanted to know.

"I am not proud of it, but I suppose I was jealous.  After all, she had promised me that she would marry my brother.  And for the month that you were in Lorien, she completely forgot about everything and anybody but you."

"My heart aches for the loss of someone I have never even met," he said slowly, wishing that somehow time could unravel so that he could find this love he had never known.  What if she had been his soul mate, and he had lost her before he found her?

Miredhel reached for his hand to comfort him, and perhaps gain a little for herself as well.  Her gesture surprised him, but her next words surprised him even more.  Her voice full of grief, she whispered, "You did meet her.  She had begged and begged for me to help her.  Finally I gave in.  Eledhel told me that the Fellowship would be leaving in the next few days, so I could not see the harm in it.  Once you left, I figured she would forget about you, and everything could go back to normal.  I let Annariel take my place as one of Galadriel's maidens when the Lord and Lady met your company on the river.  She was the one who presented you with your bow."

"So full of admiration I was for my new weapon that I did not even notice her," he said and hung his head.  "Why did you tell me this story?" he asked bitterly.  "So my dreams can be haunted by a new sort of phantom?"

"No, and I beg your forgiveness if that shall indeed be the outcome of this conversation."  Miredhel said in earnest.  "I wanted you to know, to understand, why I was so horrible to you when we first met."

"Because your friend fell in love with me?"

"If it were only that simple!" she exclaimed.  After you left Lothlorien, Annariel had changed.  She never sang.  She never laughed.  We rarely talked, because she knew I did not approve of her interest in you.  She grieved and worried for you.  When she heard of Celeborn's plans for the siege of Dol Guldur and the battle for Mirkwood, she was one among the first to enlist in Eledhel's group of archers.  She did not tell me.  I found out from my brother."  Miredhel took a deep breath.  Legolas brushed the curls away from her face to find the busy tracks of many tears racing across her cheeks. 

"When I confronted her about it, I lost my temper.  I told her she was being irrational, and she told me that she planned on staying in Mirkwood after the battle to wait for you.  We fought.  I said so many dreadful things.  You know me well enough to believe me capable of it.  She begged me to release her from our pledge that she should marry Eledhel, saying she could never love him now that her heart had fallen for you.  I called her an oathbreaker and refused.  She pleaded with me, and I said that I would never speak to her again as long as we lived if she went back on her word."

"And you did not relent?" he asked, lifting her chin with his fingers so he could look into her eyes. 

Miredhel turned her head away and looked down.  Beyond the strain of normal hearing, she whispered, "No," but Legolas had heard and had understood.   He kneeled in front of her, still holding her hand, and cupped her face in his other hand.

"It is not your fault that she died, Lady Miredhel.  She chose to go to that battle of her own volition.  You had no way of knowing the future," he said gently.

"That was the last time I saw her," she sniffed.  "When I heard that she had been killed in battle, I could not find it within me to grieve.  I traded my sorrow for anger, and blamed everyone for her death, including her, myself, my brother, her brothers, the Lord and Lady…and you.  I never shed a tear for her until now. I felt that I had lost her to you.  And then you returned to my city, with plans to take a great many elves to a new land, and my brother wanted to go.  I hated you.  I am sorry to say it, but I did."

"Shhh," he calmed her.  "You do not feel that way now though, do you?"  He studied her face for any sign of feeling she might have for him, both fearing and longing for her response.

"No," she answered honestly, and Legolas sighed in relief.  Miredhel gingerly brought her hand that held his to rest above her heart.  She looked at him unwaveringly and said, "You have outmatched me in both words and deeds.  I discovered that I could not stay angry with you for long.  My gratitude and admiration prevent me from doing so.   But when you arrived, you were to me as a thief who had stolen or was going steal everything precious."

"Then why did you agree to a wager with me in the archery contest, if I was so horrible to you?"

"I had hoped that I could win, of course, and secure my brother's future with me in the Golden Wood."

"But I won," he said slowly, "and forced you to kiss me in that infernal garden.  By these accounts, my crimes are severe indeed." 

Miredhel shook her head in disagreement.   "No, my lord.  In one fell swoop, I had lost my brother to you and Ithilien.  I was angry with you, but furious with myself.  Everything felt so out of control and beyond my grasp.  Then I met you in the Lovers' Ring, and I kissed you as per our agreement…you did not 'force' me," Miredhel hesitated, and her eyes, full of self-doubt, met his. 

Legolas considered himself a fine judge of expressions and emotions, but as he looked in her eyes, he was lost as to what she felt—sorrow, to be sure, and guilt, but perhaps fear lingered there also.  He could not understand what she could possibly dread so much.

Miredhel's voice broke down and she repeated herself, "I felt that I was losing everything dear to me—to you!  I had lost Annariel—to you!  I was going to lose Eledhel—to you!  I was going to lose my home—because of you!  Then we kissed, and I knew that I was in danger of losing myself as well."  

Legolas did not know what to say.  He was dumbfounded by her revelation at best.  He sat stupefied, dully watching her cry into her sleeves.  Then he reached for her, and she slid into his arms like it was the completely natural thing for her to do, or she had done so a thousand times over.  He held her there by the hearth of their fire and fiercely kissed the top of head as she leaned into his shoulder. Neither spoke, and both mourned.

He held her thus until the moon began to wane, and Earandil had made a lazy path across the night sky.  She had shed tears uncounted, his shoulder felt damp, and Legolas still struggled to find peace within the tumult of her story.  He grieved for the loss of never meeting Annariel, and even more for the way Miredhel felt about him.  Legolas thought he would have rejoiced to discover she even cared for him the smallest bit, but now that the moment had arrived, he just felt sick.  Miredhel might have feelings for him, yes, but would she follow her heart?  Legolas hoped so.  He sighed and pulled her in even closer. 

She had stopped crying more than an hour ago and now slept.  As much as the elf would have loved to hold her until the first morning light, her brother would certainly not approve.  Legolas whispered in her ear, "Miredhel, Miredhel.  You must awake."  She stirred in his arms, and light returned to her eyes as she looked up at him.  Legolas helped her to his bedroll, for he knew he would not sleep tonight. 

Before she settled in, Miredhel took one long glance at this elf who had single-handedly wreaked such havoc in her life.  She knew she could no longer hate him, but struggled to discern her true feelings for him now.  Such things were better left unthought of until the easiness of daylight.  She pulled the light blanket over her shoulders, and before nodding dreamily off to sleep, whispered, "Goodnight…Legolas."

The prince was undone.  She had called him by his name.  Surely that meant something.  He wandered through the grove of sleepy trees, softly singing, thinking about her, of all that she had told him, and Annariel.   The more he debated the situation, the more Legolas felt sure that Miredhel would not pursue anything greater than friendship with him.  He wondered what Gimli would say if the dwarf knew his predicament now.  'He would say, "Elf, stop over-analyzing everything!"' Legolas thought, 'but I cannot help but do so.  It was far easier when she disliked me.' 

He stopped walking back at the campsite, and sat down on the fallen log across from where she slept.  Legolas pulled his pack to him, thinking he would eat something to take his mind off his pathetic love-life.   As he reached into his pack, his hand met his tinderbox, and he pulled it into view. 

Gimli had done his finest on the carvings.  The sea!  She beckoned to him.  Legolas wondered if his heart would only know peace on her shores, near the waves…and the gulls.  As he turned the box in his hands, the waves seemed to swell and crash, the sea-birds frolicked, and the sun sank low like a yawning door to the west.  He hastily stuffed the tinder-box into his pack, but he could still hear the gulls' cries.  The elf tried looking at Miredhel and thinking only of her, but the sound of falling waves rumbled in his mind.  Legolas stood and clamped his hands over his ears, but still he could hear her call…the sea, the sea!  His mind forsook all thoughts, save the salty taste of a midsummer's breeze, grey ships with white sails cutting through wind and water, and the phantom cry of gulls and waves, and the elf began to sing: 

Neither elm, mallorn, oak, or beech; no forests wide or small;

Nor shady paths through moonlit groves can dim her plaintive call.

Softly now she haunts each dream, and every moment waking,

I hear her cries, her murmured song, the will within me breaking.

With deepest blue and brightest gold, she tempts immortal elves,

To bid farewell to love and kin and slowly lose themselves,

Amidst curled waves, sheer glimmering stars, and countenance divine.

She lures me to my elvenhome to claim my soul and mind;

Yet I pledged these years to my friends, mortal though, and aging,

I cannot leave, I cannot stay, the land and woods are changing.

The seasons spiral, red drifting down, like a windblown leaf,

Bidding me to leave these shores, where love bleeds into grief.

And as he sang, Legolas glimpsed Eledhel with his arms folded behind his head, sleeping above on a sturdy branch.  He saw Miredhel's slender form resting peacefully with the blanket pulled high so only a tuft of her curls could be seen.  He thought of Gimli, Aragorn, Merry and Pippin, who had begged him to stay.

These were his friends, and he would not leave them.  He did not have to wonder how much longer he could withstand the call of sea.  The answer already lay before him—he would stay as long as need be.

*           *           *

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