So the Night Begins
Author's note: My vision of the wood-elves' party feast comes from "Flies and Spiders" in The Hobbit:
The feast that they now saw was greater and more magnificent than the one before; and at the head of a long line of feasters sat a woodland king with a crown of leaves upon his golden hair…The elvish folk were passing bowls from hand to hand and across the fires, and some were harping and many were singing. Their gleaming hair was twined with flowers; green and white gems glinted on their collars and their belts; and their faces and their songs were filled with mirth. Loud and clear and fair were those songs…
Thank you all of my fantastic readers!
Chapter Twenty-one: So Begins the Night
Legolas quickly dressed in the solitude of his tent. All the servants had gone to prepare for the evening's feast, and the prince welcomed the chance to be alone. He had fallen asleep upon his return from asking Miredhel to dinner. The elf counted his good fortune that his dreams had been pleasant, not of Moria, not of the sea, and whatever had been the content of his slumber, he did not feel like divulging this secret to anyone. Legolas smiled to himself and deftly began to braid the sides of his hair in accordance to the house of Oropher, as was the custom for the sons of Thranduil. One look outside to the forest told him that the sun neared the horizon. He should hurry, or he would arrive late to escort Miredhel, and he did not want to keep her waiting. He turned to pick up his prince's crown and was surprised to see that his father had joined him.
Thranduil smiled at his son. He had rarely seen Legolas in such high spirits since his son had returned from the War. The king could tell by only looking in Legolas' eyes that his presence in the War, his role in the Fellowship, had altered him irrevocably, but as to what had forced the change in him, the king was uncertain. Thranduil had never pressed the matter, hoping that his son would confide in him in his own time. Only now he was leaving for a realm of his own. Thranduil hoped that Legolas would find peace there, if not in the woods of his old home. He spoke to him gently now, "My son, the evening finds you much improved. How do you feel?"
Legolas answered as he sat down to put on his boots, "Much better, I assure you. I slept better this afternoon than I have for the past month."
Thranduil raised an eyebrow. His son was not sleeping well? "Perhaps, because you are in the borders of your old home."
Legolas grinned. "Perhaps." He stood again and ran a brush through his hair one last time.
"Would it have anything to do with the forest feast tonight? Or a certain young lady that might be in attendance?" Thranduil looked quizzically at his son.
"I am going to be late to escort that certain young lady," Legolas said as he looked outside to see the sun begin to dip behind the trees, "if I do not leave soon."
"I thought you might wait and greet the rest of your family before the dinner tonight," Thranduil said.
"When were they supposed to arrive?" Legolas asked and glanced outside again.
"Your brother--" Thranduil started.
"Is here!" finished Oromer, pausing dramatically in the doorway before greeting Legolas with a gigantic hug.
Legolas pulled away from his brother's grasp and surveyed the tent, the forest path, with an old fear tugging at his heart. He asked, looking to his father, "Just Oromer? What of Idrian and Celeril? The twins are coming as well, are they not?"
Oromer and Thranduil exchanged glances. Oromer spoke up, "What do you mean, just Oromer?"
Legolas blinked. He squinted at his father, as if trying very hard to remember something, and then turned to face his brother. "I thought they were coming. Celeril and I had spoken of it." He sank onto the low bed next to his father and confusedly repeated, "I thought they would come…to say goodbye, at least." Legolas could not believe that his sisters had dismissed him so. True, he had not allowed them to accompany him to Lothlorien, but he had not thought that they would hold a grudge to the extent of not saying goodbye—not when they would be parted from him for years, decades, centuries to come, until meeting once again on the white shores of Valinor.
And for the first time since many long years, since his own mother's departure to the havens, Legolas felt the full meaning of separation, losing his family to his dream of building Ithilien. Thranduil reached his arm around his son's shoulder and gave a panicked look toward Oromer before he spoke. "Legolas," he said, "you have always been tender-hearted. Much like your mother, I fear. I see it in Celeril as well. Both of you suffer from the weight of your emotions, which is why…" Thranduil's voice trailed off. He had faced battle and grim steel, the many dark years of the Necromancer's shadow upon his wood, yet in this moment, fear ruled his heart like never before. He would lose Legolas. He could not keep him at home forever, but he would not lose him to grief.
Thanduil's throat tightened as he finished his statement, "which is why I decided to leave the girls at home. It was my choice. They are not coming."
Legolas' complexion, which had faded to a grim white, now flushed, mottled pink. The prince reached behind his back and brushed off his Thranduil's arm from his shoulders. His eyes burned with a cold, blue flame, and neither brother nor father had ever seen him so upset, so…angry. "Why?" he asked quietly.
Oromer spoke up, "Legolas, we thought it best for both you and Celeril."
Legolas hollowly laughed and said, "You thought it best! I suppose my opinion matters not."
Oromer's voice sharpened as he spoke, "Do not be so selfish, little brother. The pain of your leaving during the war nearly consumed Celeril! When you announced your plans for Ithilien, we feared the worst. Do not subject her to another parting, to another farewell."
"Why was I not told of this?" He said and despaired, 'Have they so little faith in me?'
"We feared as much for you, my son."
This was not to be borne. Utter disappointment fueled the prince's anger. Thranduil still thought him a child. He would always be the kid-brother to Oromer.
"I am not an elfling anymore, Father. Neither are my sisters. You have said that you were proud of me, even to the point of blessing my decision to forge my own realm in Ithilien…" Legolas' voice trailed away, and he frowned at his father and brother.
"Legolas—" Oromer began and took a step toward his brother.
"—and for what?" Legolas said chokingly as he turned away from Oromer, "you do not even believe that I have the strength within me to say goodbye." He took one last glance at his father and brother. The sky had deepened into a deep violet. Miredhel still waited for him. She believed in him.
"I am late," Legolas said plainly, "with your permission my king, I would leave now." And without waiting for his father's response, he left his tent and turned down the trail. The steely blue flame still burned in his eyes and deterred all would-be supplicants in his path, most remarking to themselves that they had never seen the young prince look so much like his father.
Legolas slowed his pace as he reached her tent. The sky had grown dark; he was indeed late, and he could see her silhouette through the gauzy awnings, moving from one end of the tent to another in a repeated fashion. He felt horrible and really no longer cared about attending the feast. Legolas would have almost considered sending his apologies to Miredhel, if at that moment she had not stepped into the dim evening light herself.
She had pulled the fabric of the door to the side and tied it with a long green sash. Holding a small candlestick in one hand, she peered into the night as if she searched for someone. 'Probably me,' Legolas thought ruefully, and he pulled himself into the shadows so he might not be seen. The wavering flame of her small candle flickered in the darkness, and the trailing beadwork of her white gown danced in its light. Her hair was a cascade of sheer gold and curls, and her eyes were wide and bright, and perhaps a little fearful too, as she searched the shadows of the trees. With disappointment written on her face, she turned to re-enter her tent.
Whether it was the regret in her eyes or her pure loveliness in the rising moon's light, the sight of her softened his heart. She waited for him. She trusted him. She missed him, and he found that he could not leave her so. She deserved much more than a servant's message of his excuses. He glanced at the small cluster of violet blooms he still held in his hand, which he had brought for her. He took a deep breath and then walked to her tent.
"Miredhel?" he called to her softly, "It is I, Legolas," and she pulled open the loose fabric of the door and beckoned him to step inside.
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," he said, not offering any explanations to his late arrival.
Well, it was rather difficult to turn away all of my would-be suitors in your absence," she returned with an easy smile.
Legolas smiled broadly, unwilling to reveal that he was, in fact, still very upset. Yet Miredhel was no fool; she knew something must have happened to keep the prince tonight, for he was never late. And though he dearly tried to hide it, she could read the pain lingering in his eyes.
Part of Legolas wanted to share with her all that had come to pass, of his family—his father, brother, and sisters. He was sure she would understand his disappointment. He felt that the two of them had reached a level of trust and confidence; however, the more sensible side prevailed. He knew better than to air his grievances about his father, the king.
"What troubles you?" she asked quietly.
"I would tell you," he began, "but alas, I cannot."
Miredhel spoke up. "But I know something is wrong," she said, "I would not count myself as your friend if I did not try to ease your pain."
Legolas looked at her with smoldering eyes, and the flames within had died away. "It is too personal…" he said uncomfortably.
She considered that for a moment, weighing the meaning of his words. "Is it any more 'personal' than what I told you last night?"
He shook his head ruefully, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Thinking it high time to change the subject, he produced the petite bouquet of flowers he had brought for her, which until now had been forgotten.
"I brought you these," he said, almost shyly.
Her eyes lit up. "Thank you. I have never before seen flowers such as these," Miredhel said, taking the blossoms from him and breathing in their soft fragrance.
Legolas smiled at her obvious pleasure in this small gift. "They are called 'purple crown,' and to my knowledge, grow only in this realm."
"They are lovely. I was just telling Limaer this afternoon how much I missed my favorite garden in Caras Galadhon," she said and looked about for a container to hold them.
While she searched, a thought came to Legolas, and he just could not help himself. "You miss your favorite garden?" he asked, with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Would that be the 'Lovers' Ring' garden?"
"Yes, but only because the flowers and trees were so pretty, Legolas," she said with an amused look. Finally, she found a smallish water pitcher, still half full, and triumphantly placed the flowers within.
Legolas raised an eyebrow at her arrangement. "I fear you misunderstand," he said. "It has long been a custom in this forest for ladies to wear flowers in their hair, especially to events such as tonight.
"Oh," she murmured in surprise, "I did not know." She plucked the flowers from the pitcher and shook off the water. Miredhel pick up a hand mirror from among Limaer's finery and contrived to arrange the small violet blossoms against the halo of curls across the top of her head. "Like this?" she asked.
Legolas shook his head. Part of the custom, which he had failed to mention, was that the suitor who brought the flowers would take great delight in arranging them in his lover's hair, but Legolas was neither suitor nor lover, only friend. He would not claim intimacy when there was none.
So instead, he watched amusedly while Miredhel rearranged the flowers carefully, weaving the stems through the braids circling the crown of her head. His original resistance to helping her faded with each moment's passing. It was just that her eyes were so inviting under those tangled lashes of hers, and her skin, so creamy against her white filmy dress. He had always thought her pretty, but she surpassed all of his preconceived ideas tonight.
Miredhel noticed his staring. "I do not suppose you could bring it upon yourself to lend a little assistance," she asked after placing another tiny blossom in her hair. The whole thing looked lopsided.
"Are you sure you want me to?" Legolas asked hesitantly.
"Please," Miredhel insisted. "The more I do, the more dreadful it looks. It could not possibly look any worse." She handed him the flowers, sat down on the edge of her bed, and looked up at him expectantly.
Legolas bit his lip. At first he had thought the flowers had been such a good idea, but now he was not so certain. He had done this before, many times over. On more than one occasion, the lady in question had found herself in his arms. Yet at he leaned over Miredhel, his fingers felt clumsy and dull; his mouth, dry. To be so close to her, to feel her hair beneath his fingers in such a way, to breathe in her soft scent mixed with the maddening fragrance of the flowers—it was too much for the prince, and at the same time, not enough. Legolas could feel his heart race in the same way it had before the archery tournament. Only this was no contest, and he saw little chance for a favorable outcome. Whatever his feelings might be, he could not act on them. He had vowed never to renew his advances toward her after seeing her displeasure when they had first kissed, and Legolas held any vow or promise with the utmost seriousness. Only a word from her, only she, could break his resolution.
He tucked the final flower into her hair, and she held up the mirror and smiled in approval. "It is a tremendous improvement," she said and stood.
"Then allow me to escort you, Miredhel of Lorien, to this feast tonight," he said and offered his arm. She took it, and they left the warmth of the tent and stepped into the cool forest air. The dark of night had settled among the woods, and the soft chirping of crickets blended with elven song and laughter, drifting away from the forest clearing where the feast was to be held. Miredhel pulled in closer next to Legolas as they walked through the trees. She knew better than to be afraid, but still, these woods…who knew what lurked in the shadows?
Miredhel squeezed Legolas' arm a little tighter.
"Is everything all right?" he asked her.
"I was just thinking that this dress should have a belt for a knife," she said, "at the very least, a pocket."
"I think it is perfectly charming the way it is," he said, his voice full of admiration.
"Well, I suppose if we get attacked by orcs or spiders, then I will just 'charm' them to death," she said and met his gaze.
"Besides, you are with me, and I always carry a knife," he said.
"Oh, a knife. That is comforting," she said drolly.
"I can do quite a bit with a knife," he told her.
"I never said you could not."
"Hmm. Well, you will not have a chance to find out tonight, for we have reached the feast intact," Legolas said and brought her into the clearing.
Many Mirkwood elves were gathered there, dressed in green and brown, sitting on logs and stumps of the felled trees in a wide circle. A great fire roared at the center of the ring, and Legolas swept Miredhel to the front of the throng where his father and brother sat. Miredhel thought Legolas resembled them both, but perhaps looked the most like his father who wore a crown of leaves upon his golden hair. The Lorien elves laughed and sang with those from Mirkwood, and Miredhel saw that a great many of the maidens wore flowers in their hair, of all different shades, though none were so lovely as her own.
Both Thranduil and Oromer saw the purple flowers in her hair and exchanged knowing smiles. With the pretence that nothing had happened between himself and his family, Legolas greeted them cheerfully and introduced Miredhel to his brother. He then showed her wear to sit and smoothly took his place next to her.
Thranduil rose from his seat, and called to his people, "Here me, elves of Middle Earth! May we celebrate tonight the forging of a new elvendom, under the leadership of my son, Prince Legolas." He raised his glass. "To Ithilien!"
The rest of the crowd followed suit and toasted.
"And may I also give pause to recognize bravery in the face of evil. To the Lady Miredhel who felled the dragon Anglachur with a single shot." A quick murmur ran among the elves, and they raised their glasses to her. Thranduil bid her to approach his chair, and he gave her a small silver knife hafted with green and white gems in the hilt. She bowed her head to the king, but he lifted her chin and kissed her cheek. "Thank you for saving my son," he whispered to her.
She returned to her seat blushing. She could see her brother, Belegil, and Sulindal, among the host, and all of them looked incredibly proud and pleased. She had only seen them for the briefest moment since her return and longed to recount her tale to them, as well as hear of their journey since their separation. She turned to Legolas as she placed her knife before him on the table.
He grinned at her and said seriously, "Now you should no longer fear the shadows, my lady."
"No?" she said and looked at him inquisitively.
"No," he answered and unsheathed her knife with a certain relish, "the shadows should fear you!"
She laughed at this and took the knife from his hand. Its bright blade gleamed in the torchlight. "How perfect that your father gave me a knife, when I lost my old one in the dragon's claws." She paused and admired it. "Only my old one was not half so lovely as this."
"My father was going to give you a bracelet," Legolas admitted, "but I thought a warrior such as yourself would infinitely prefer a blade."
"Was it a very pretty bracelet?" Miredhel asked, pretending to be a little sad.
"Gorgeous!" Legolas replied. "White mithril, delicate white gems all over it." He winked at her. "You would have hated it!"
"Sounds horrible," Miredhel said dryly.
But Legolas only caught up her hand in his own. "Miredhel, with the way you look tonight, I am sure there will be no end to the elves who would wish to give you such jewelry," he said with a laugh, and as he spoke, the food began to be passed around in silver platters and bowls. Many elves began singing and harping again, the merriest of music, and though his words caused wonder in her heart, she could not help but laugh with him.
* * *
So the feast begins… Thank you for reading!!
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