Chapter 20: Building Trust
Miredhel stirred restlessly in the dark. Legolas thought her asleep but her heart weighed too heavily for the light dreams of the elvenkind. She had repeatedly told herself to stop thinking of all the things she had said, that no good could come of worrying, or that such thoughts were futile. When he had held her in his arms, she was sure she had done the right thing in telling him about Annariel. The entire world could have slipped into oblivion, and Miredhel would not have minded. Only now she faced the darkness alone. She worried that she had said too much, revealed too much. Miredhel felt so exposed and foolish. What must he think of her? She twisted miserably in his bedroll, yanking the blanket up over her head. The fresh, piney scent of the blanket reminded her of him. Miredhel clenched her fists in the dark, knowing fully well that she would not sleep tonight.
She heard Legolas' light footfalls draw near. For the entire time that she had lain awake, the prince had wandered the grove in sleeplessness. Part of her very much wanted to call to him, confide that she too could not sleep, but the sound of his soft singing stopped her. Instead, she listened to his fair elven voice. At first she could barely make sense of his quiet words until his voice rose like a crown above the dark trees, wrenching in its beauty, thickened in a tangle of emotions—desire, regret, sorrow…love.
Miredhel squeezed her eyes shut. She had heard enough to conclude bitterly one honest truth—Legolas was very much in love. She dared not hope that he sang of her, for his song favored someone with deepest blue and brightest gold. She might have the golden part covered, but her hazel eyes were anything but blue. Apparently, Legolas could hardly wait to be reunited with this love of his; so great was his need and desire for her. His voice faded away with his footsteps, leaving Miredhel with more questions than answers. Why did he show interest in her when he already loved another? Why did he pretend to care about their kiss? Miredhel felt used and confused. She did not find rest until the wee hours of dawn.
* * *
Legolas did not sleep that night. When the first pinkish rays slipped over the horizon, he woke Eledhel to tell him that he would be taking the two horses down to water. As he passed Miredhel, he paused to see that even in rest, worry and grief strove to spoil the beauty of her sweet face. He stole a glance toward Eledhel. He still lay as though sleeping. Legolas knelt down beside her. She had bravely suffered through grief and loss, and Legolas thought with a pang to his heart, that he had unwittingly been the primary cause of her pain.
"Would that I could take your cares as my own burden," he whispered and smoothed his hand across her cheek before he stood. He did not linger long at her side, for he decided that he was not quite ready to explain anything to Eledhel.
When he returned to their makeshift camp, Legolas was pleased to see that Miredhel was awake and folding up his bedroll blankets. She bid him good morning and reminded him that she should check those burns before they left.
"Allow me to help you with that," he offered and strode over toward her.
"That is very kind, my lord," she answered stiffly, not noticing the hurt look in his eyes when she omitted using his name, "but as you can see I'm practically finished." Miredhel stuffed the blankets into the slim little sack from whence they came. Half of the bedroll still hung out. She gave a determined look at Legolas who now smiled knowingly at her. "I am sure I can make it all fit," she insisted.
"I will be more than happy to help."
"I can do it," she replied stubbornly, refolding the blankets and squeezing them in with all her might. Still, success eluded her. She yanked the blankets back out and began again. "These must be enchanted," she muttered.
He walked closer and picked up the opposite end of the bedroll. "Sometimes, you just have to let someone help you," he told her and brought his end to meet hers, so that they now stood face to face.
"I know," she said. "And I appreciate you sharing your bedroll with me last night. Thank you. If I can ever return the favor, I will."
Legolas raised an eyebrow at this last statement. Miredhel glanced off to the side as she rethought her words, and then she turned a violent shade of crimson.
"That is not what I meant!" she protested and looked helplessly at her brother who pretended to be shocked. "My apologies, prince. I did not mean it that way."
"Of course, you did not," he said with a grin and then, taking the bedroll from her, folded and fit it with ease inside the cloth sack.
"My lord, how did you…" she mumbled as he handed it to her.
"I thought we had agreed on less formality between us," he said, a bit disappointed. "Legolas. Say it," he encouraged her.
In her heart, she wondered at his interest in her. Confusion bound every thought she had of him. Her own feelings for the prince betrayed her past friendship with Annariel. She had tried ignoring him, even hating him, but failed at both attempts. He knew the truth, and still sought friendship with her. She inwardly sighed and said, "All right, Legolas, but it feels awkward. What will the others say?"
"They will say that we are friends," he answered blithely.
Eledhel, who had been watching the exchange, joined them, smiling. "I, for one, am glad to see it, and I rejoice to see you smiling again, my sister. It has been too long. If battling a dragon is what it takes to procure such a blessed event, then I would do so any number of times.
"As would I," Legolas agreed.
"I am fortunate to have a brother such as you, Eledhel," Miredhel said and added rather shyly, "and a friend like you, Legolas."
Miredhel and Legolas then sat down so she could check the burns on his back while Eledhel busied himself with clearing any trace or reminder of their presence from the small grove. Legolas lifted up the back of his tunic. His burns already showed considerable improvement from the night before. Miredhel prodded the skin on his back, not quite as gently as before, and Legolas found himself wincing.
"Everything all right back there?" he asked her.
"Your back heals nicely. I suspect that you will be back in glorious form in plenty of time to give all of the ladies of your forest reason to swoon."
"But not you, of course," he teased her.
"Of course not," she returned loftily, "Being your healer, I am above such things." She finished applying the helialid, and he turned to face her.
"How about you?" he asked. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Not wonderful, but better," she admitted and then lowered her voice to say "Thank you," she said quietly.
"For listening to me last night. It felt good…to be able to say those things. I had kept it in for so long. And I am sorry if what I said caused you pain. That was not my intent."
Legolas nodded. "I know, he said, "and I am glad you told me." With that said, both elves fell into silence. Legolas did not know what else to say. At the same time, Miredhel felt more than embarrassed. Last night she had admitted that she had feelings for him, only later to hear him singing about his love for someone else, and she had cried on his shoulder like an elfling.
Legolas finally asked of her injuries and she rolled up the sleeves of the tunic he had lent her and peeled back one of her bandages. The cuts and scratches seemed a little more red and swollen than either Legolas or Miredhel would have preferred.
"The dragon's claws were filthy," she explained. "I cleaned the wounds to the best of my ability, but I am sure all of the remaining grime hinders my ability to heal quickly." Miredhel looked up to see panic spreading over the prince's face. "I fear it will be a while before I feel the urge to wear sleeveless gowns," she joked.
"Our first stop once we reach the borders of my forest will be to take you to the healers," he said and then yelled to Eledhel. "Eledhel, did you see this? Come over here!"
"Stop it!" Miredhel hissed. "I am perfectly well, and you know it. It is just a couple of scratches." She slapped the bandage back across her arm and hastily pulled down her sleeve. Miredhel carefully made her way toward the horses. Legolas fell into step beside her, lifting her pack from her hands.
"It is well that we are all on the mend then," he said, "for I am sure that my father has plans for merriment 'ere we go," he said and helped her onto Arod's back.
"Then it is just as well that I can plead weariness to avoid such tiresome activities." Miredhel said.
"Did you not just say that you were 'perfectly well?'" asked Legolas as he swung up behind her.
"Well…" she began.
Eledhel joined them. "My sister, whatever the king may have planned, I am sure it will prove the perfect remedy for whatever ails you."
Miredhel groaned. The last thing she wanted to see was Legolas fawning over the elf maiden in his song. There had to be a way out. "But it might be better for me to rest, you know…" she tried.
"Nonsense! My sister? Rest? I am surprised you even know the meaning of the word." Eledhel interjected.
"Besides, all will want to meet the dragon-slayer. You will be the guest of honor." Legolas said proudly.
"Let us ride for Mirkwood then. I feel like nothing should stop us today," Eledhel said, and the elves set forth toward Eryn Lasgalen. Miredhel shook her head. She had sworn that her shadow would never darken the borders of that infernal forest, and now here she was hastening toward it with the prince of Mirkwood, no less. She feared seeing it, but also longed for the day when she might put it behind her forever.
* * *
They reached the southern edge of the wood by midday, and a sense of dread settled over Miredhel as they entered the shadows of the wood where the arching boughs of the trees carved a black forest path. Legolas, however, felt nothing but joy at seeing his homeland once more. They had ridden safely to its borders without seeing any sign of orc or dragon.
"Soon, my friends, you will enjoy the hospitality of the wood elves," he said ecstatically.
"Great…" grumbled Miredhel as she shifted in front of him. Her eyes scanned the trees and the ivy clinging from branches. She remembered Legolas telling her about those spiders and had a strong inclination to reach for her bow.
"What is wrong?" Legolas whispered in her ear.
"Could I not stay outside of the forest?" she pleaded. "No offense, but I do not want to go any further."
"Oh, Miredhel. You are my guest here. I will not allow anything to happen to you."
"How far are we from the pits of Dol Guldur?" she asked, her throat tightening. Her mind raced. The woods before her were quiet and empty, save for the occasional black squirrel, yet all she could picture in her mind was Annariel falling to legions of orcs as they swarmed the trees.
Now Legolas understood her discomfort. "Dol Guldur is not what it once was, Miredhel. The forest has been cleansed," he said gently.
Eledhel rode closer. "If you can kill a dragon, sis, you can beat this. We are perfectly safe. Annariel would not want you to be afraid."
"I am not afraid!" Miredhel said, her eyes flashing. Eledhel and Legolas exchanged knowing looks with one another. "I am not," she insisted, "only I do not want to be here."
"I understand, Miredhel, but cannot let you stay outside the forest by yourself. Besides, we have almost reached our destination. The forest guards will not let any harm come to you."
"What guards?" she asked.
"We have already passed three pairs of them," Legolas told her and laughed. "Everything will be fine. You have my word as a prince…as your friend, that no harm will come to you."
Miredhel was not easily convinced. She had considered jumping off Arod's back and running for the borders. Instead, she turned and looked at Legolas. He seemed puzzled, but genuinely concerned for her. "It is not that I am afraid something will happen to me personally," she explained, "but these woods have haunted my dreams. I just…" and she shivered, "do not want to see them in real life."
"I am sorry, Miredhel. Believe it or not, I understand what you are saying," Legolas told her. He thought to himself that he would definitely never want to step foot in Moria again after all the wretched dreams he had of that place. "Close your eyes and think of something peaceful," he suggested.
"Close my eyes?" Miredhel scoffed. "And fall right off the horse?"
"I would not let you fall," Legolas answered and protectively circled his arm around her slender waist.
She looked down at his arm and then turned toward him with unsure eyes. She wanted to trust him, but part of her screamed that she had already let her guard down too much. That same part of her instructed her to push Legolas away, that he was using her. Slowly she brought her hand over his arm, sliding it down to his hand that held her. She hesitated.
"Legolas?" Miredhel asked and slipped her fingers through his. "How much longer until we arrive?"
"We are nearly there," he said and both elves urged their horses to quicken their pace so that they would reach the king's pavilions before lunch. Soon five members of the forest guard, dressed in green and brown, joined them on horseback, saluting the prince and welcoming his safe return. Miredhel opened her eyes to look at them and the mighty beeches that framed the path. This part of the forest seemed more like the Golden Wood and a lot less…murky than the first part they had entered. She could see beyond the trees a great canopy of sheer white with green awnings, surrounded by many smaller tents.
Legolas felt his heart rise to his throat, so happy he was to reach his father's camp and reunite with his family. A great many elves had journeyed from his father's halls to wish him and his company off to Ithilien. He had told his father before he left that he wished his final parting to be a small, family affair, knowing fully well that his father as king would settle for nothing less than a big send-off.
Legolas, Miredhel, and Eledhel dismounted to walk their horses, and one of the five guards dismounted to lead Arod and Eledhel's horse away. He bowed before Legolas, saying: "I believe the king awaits your presence in the main tent, my lord."
"We had better not keep him waiting then, shall we?" Legolas asked his friends, and they walked together toward the large canopy.
The king sat in a large chair at the end of his make-shift throne room, wearing a crown of bright berries and red leaves and holding an oak staff carved with the elven runes of his people. He stood at the sight of his son and bid all three elves to enter. Legolas rushed forward while his friends hung back. Thranduil elatedly embraced his son and then chided him for not returning sooner.
"We ran into some trouble along the way, my father," Legolas said seriously.
"The dragon? Your captains from Lothlorien, Belegil and Sulindal, met with me when they first arrived," Thranduil responded rather sharply, and his eyes narrowed. Legolas got the distinct impression that the elf speaking to him did so from the perspective of king, not father. He did not want his friends to see him get lectured. His shoulders sagged, and he pleaded with his eyes for his father to wait until later. Thranduil was no fool, and he caught the fatigue written in his youngest son's eyes. He stepped down from the dais and put his arm around Legolas. "I understand you have had a trying journey. I will let you rest."
The prince nodded and then brightened, "Father, please let me introduce my friends to you. This is Eledhel of Lothlorien." Eledhel bowed.
Thranduil smiled, stole a glance at Miredhel, and then looked at his son. "And who is this lovely young lady?"
Miredhel curtseyed but found herself blushing under the king's inquisitive gaze. Not to mention the fact that she still wore Legolas' old tunic, she knew she must look frightful, unkempt, and decidedly un-lovely despite whatever compliments the king decided to pay.
"This is Lady Miredhel, Eledhel's sister," Legolas paused and beamed at her. "She saved both our lives with a single shot, felling the dragon from the sky."
"Now that will be a tale worth the telling," the king replied. "We shall feast tonight, my son, and all shall hear this story of brave deeds." He returned to his chair. "I know you all must be weary. I have prepared accommodations for you, and will send a servant to bring you victuals."
Legolas decided to stay a few moments longer with his father while both Miredhel and Eledhel went their separate ways to the tents awaiting them. Legolas braced himself for the worst of speeches. He wished he might have left with his friends, but he knew he could not avoid his father forever and preferred to have any unpleasantness behind them. When he looked into his ada's eyes, the prince read the disappointment lingering there. Disappointment and something he could not place…concern, perhaps? Legolas' heart sank deep into his chest, and he closed his eyes and sighed.
"Legolas," his father began slowly.
"Father?" he heard himself say.
"Come closer, my son," he said and beckoned him to approach.
Legolas walked timidly toward Thranduil's chair. His father brought his hand to forehead and shook his head. "What were you thinking, Legolas?" he asked. "To throw yourself recklessly into danger when so many depended on you? Any elf could have stayed behind to wait. You do not always have to play the hero!"
"I chose to wait. He was my friend. It was my decision," Legolas said firmly.
"No. Unacceptable. The integrity of your company depends on you. You were their leader, and you abandoned them!" Thranduil retorted, and the kingly tone returned to his voice.
"I did not abandon them. I put their safety above my own," Legolas insisted.
"Sometimes, my son, to lead means that you have to trust others. You cannot expect to do everything by yourself. You must allow others to do it for you. You must allow your company to protect you. If you wish Ithilien to succeed, you must trust in the strength of your people."
Legolas hung his head. His father was right in so many ways. Suddenly he felt very tired and weak. "You are right, ada," he choked out, "as always."
"No, Legolas…just a good many times." He smiled softly at his son who had grown from such an adorable elfling to such a capable warrior, and now a leader among his people. He reached for his son's hand and squeezed it. "What you did was very brave and your people already love you. And that is what really builds a realm, whether it be large or small." He stood back up and stretched, and then taking Legolas' arm, said, "How about I escort you to your tent, and you can tell your old father all about your adventures…and this Miredhel. I want to hear about her…"
* * *
Meanwhile, Miredhel followed an elf maiden along a forest path between tall beeches and the occasional open tent. All of the tents were made from the same light fabric, which on most, had been gathered back with green silken ties to reveal four straight poles. They were spacious and airy, and on the inside, one could see green cushions and low soft bed with plush pillows. Finally the king's servant stopped at the tent, which was to be hers, and Miredhel sighed with relief. All of a sudden she felt dreadfully weary, probably due to the fact that she had hardly slept the night before. Her stomach growled and she also realized that she was hungry. All she wanted to do was eat and then sleep and then perhaps bathe. She began to ask the maiden to bring her something to eat, when Lady Limaer appeared from within her tent.
"Of course, she will want something to eat!" Limaer gushed. "Lady Miredhel has had a very difficult trip. Luckily, I am here to take care of her." With that said, she pulled Miredhel inside the tent and made her sit down on one of the beds. "I suspected that you would need assistance, so I asked the wood elves if I could share a tent with you."
"You really should not have…you are too kind," Miredhel murmured, too pitiful to protest.
"Nonsense!" Limaer laughed, and her busy eyes took in every detail of Miredhel's appearance. "Why, my dear! What ever happened to your dress?"
"It got some blood on it, Limaer. So we burned it," she answered flatly. "Are any of my dresses here?"
"Of course they are! I had Captain Sulindal bring them over for you. Would you like to change into one? Or perhaps bathe first?" she asked eyeing Miredhel.
"I think that I would really just like to rest, Limaer. We rode pretty hard."
Limaer nodded, but she just could not help herself. "I heard that you rode in with the prince. What was that like? How is he?"
"It was fine, Limaer. I am fine. Legolas is fine. We are all fine." She fell back onto the pillows behind her and folded her arms across her chest.
"Hmm. You called him by his first name," she observed. "I thought you said earlier that there was nothing between the two of you."
Miredhel stifled the urge to hurl one of the pillows at Limaer. She was never going to stop asking questions about the prince. Miredhel decided a new tactic was in order. "Limaer?" she asked sweetly. "I think I would like a bath. Would you be a dear and draw me some water?"
"Of course, I would," Limaer answered with enthusiasm. "I will be right back."
"Oh, but I would not want you to feel rushed at my expense," Miredhel said gravely. "Please take your time."
As soon as Limaer left, Miredhel pulled off her shoes and leaned back against her pillow. She just began to feel sleepy when she heard footsteps approaching. "Not already…" she grumbled and sat up. She looked toward the doorway and saw not Limaer like she had expected, but Legolas standing outside.
"Oh!" she said, a little startled and began to stand up. "I was expecting Limaer, not you."
"You do not have to stand on my account. Can I come in?"
"You are always welcome," Miredhel said.
"I did not believe that you would ever say that to me," he said and grinned at her. "What is this about Lady Limaer?"
"Oh, Legolas. It is the most vexing thing. She is my tent-mate. She especially asked to share it with me." She looked at him despairingly. "Would you stop grinning like that? It is not funny!"
"It is, and you know it, Miredhel. She just wants to be nice to you," Legolas said, a bit too gleefully for Miredhel's liking.
"I am not sure that is all there is to it," she said darkly.
"Well, in any case, I did not come to see you to talk about Limaer."
"Why did you come? I thought you would still be talking to your father."
"The king…and I, of course, would like for you to attend the feast tonight as my special guest."
Miredhel had not been expecting him to say that. She was so stunned she found herself saying that she would be delighted.
"Wonderful, then. I will come by before sunset to escort you. Oh, and Miredhel?" he added wickedly, "you might want to take a bath!"
"Ha, ha, Legolas! She laughed sarcastically and threw a pillow at him as dodged out of the tent. 'Perhaps it was a good thing after all that she had sent Limaer to draw water for the bath,' she thought as she leaned back and tried to go to sleep once more. She would need her wits about her for the evening's festivities to come.
* * *
Thank you for reading!