Into the Darkness
Chapter Twenty-two: Into the Darkness
The feast truly met and surpassed all of the Lorien elves' expectations, and after everyone had their fill and felt that they could not possibly consumes anymore, the music began anew. Quick, merry, light, and loud, the wood elves' music swirled and eddied in the night air and on into the darkness against the crackling fire; more potent than a heady wine, the songs captured and occupied the elves' minds and hearts. Truly magical it was, with the power to enchant even the most stalwart of persons.
One by one, more elves joined the harps and singing, and then the dancing began. The world in its entirety seemed to shrink beneath the stars, and old troubles were forgotten; their cares slipped away like curls of smoke from the heat of many flames, and the whole of Middle Earth faded, save the night's milky array, the music, and the turn of dancers flushed with fire's glow.
With bright eyes, Miredhel and Legolas both watched the festivities from their table as they visited, speaking of old lives and new friends. Legolas told Miredhel of his visit to Fanghorn forest with Gimli after the war, highlighting how much the dwarf loved the woods.
"Every time a twig snapped or the leaves rustled, he jumped! And at one point, I just had to laugh. And I told him, Miredhel, that he should not worry because I would not let the big, scary trees get him…well, he said, 'the day I need an elf's protection is the day I am too old to carry my own axe.' Right as he said that, one of the ents came out of the wood, and Gimli all but dropped his axe and jumped behind me!"
Miredhel laughed and voiced how she would very much like to meet him and, in turn, recounted a very silly tale of how Eledhel had scared her and Annariel with a creepy story of an elven spirit that wandered in the Golden Wood, searching the shadows for his lover.
"We were afraid for weeks, " she said rolling her eyes at the memory. "Neither of us would even go outside after dark. When we finally found out that he had made it all up, I knew we would have to get even somehow."
"So what did you do?"
"Oh, I told Eledhel that someone had told me that Finduilwen, this maiden he had been courting, was the spirit's lover, and Annariel innocently asked him, 'would that not make the ghost very angry at you for trying to steal his love?'"
"What did Eledhel say?" Legolas asked, with a wry smile.
"He blanched and said that it was just a silly story, and it could not possibly be true. I told him that I had asked Finduilwen, and she had not denied it. A bit later on, he jumped up and said that he had to go see her." Miredhel smiled at the memory and continued, "It was a dark night, for the moon was hidden. We had gotten Belegil to paint his face white and hide behind a tree... I had never seen my brother leap so high as he did that night! But he never did tell us any more scary stories…" she concluded and pointed to her brother who danced with one of the wood elves.
"Look at him, Legolas," she said. "He seems to have completely embraced the culture of your people.
The prince studied her brother, dancing amidst the trees with a lovely maiden, for a moment and tucked away a smile playing at the corners of his mouth before saying, "He seems to embrace much more than just the culture right now, Miredhel."
Miredhel looked toward the couples dancing and then back to Legolas with a tilt of her head. "You have an uncanny gift for taking the things I say and giving them the worst possible meaning," she said with a snort.
Legolas smiled slyly and leaned back in his chair. "Ah, but that is the very least of my talents, Miredhel."
With that said, both fell into thoughtful silence, wondering if perhaps the other would wish to dance, and Legolas promised himself that on the next song, he would ask her to stand up with him. Yet fate had decided that the prince was not to have that chance. Just as Legolas had drummed up enough courage and willpower to dance with her and only dance, Eledhel approached the table. He took a precursory bow before the king and then greeted his friend and sister.
"Miredhel, you look completely lovely. I believe something about these woods suits you," he said, eyeing Legolas curiously, and picked up her gift knife lying before him. "A beautiful weapon," he observed, "and a very handsome gift from the king. Such silver and jewels I have not, my sister, yet you saved my life as well." He placed the knife back on the table and picked up her hand as he asked, "Could I have the honor of giving you a dance tonight instead?"
Miredhel could not help but smile at her brother's formal invitation, and she turned to Legolas. He nodded, but something in his eyes flickered, disappointment, perhaps? Eledhel pulled her away from the table, and together they joined the swirl of dancers in the middle of the clearing. Legolas watched them as they danced and berated himself for not asking her sooner, although he really did not begrudge Eledhel a dance with his own sister. If Celeril and Idrian had been here, he would have wanted to dance with them as well. They were not here, however, and Legolas flashed a disappointed look in his brother and father's direction as he stood.
He decided to move toward the dancing, so when the next song began, he could easily ask Miredhel to be his partner. As the end of the first song neared, however, one of the young captains from the Mirkwood forest guard cut-in on Eledhel and began the next dance with Miredhel. Legolas' jaw tightened with determination. That young captain, his name was Adrendil , notoriously pursued any maiden in which Legolas ever showed the slightest interest. He really thought himself quite the charmer and frequently boasted on his ability to steal the affections of elleth.
At that very moment, Adrendil and Miredhel swung by the prince, and he gave Legolas a roguish smile. The prince began to walk quickly toward them and might have even pulled them apart right then, if the thought had not occurred to him that his actions would only encourage the young captain even more. He frowned and turned away. He had, after all, subjected himself to this evening with the plan of showing Miredhel a good time, and at the moment, she hardly seemed to be suffering. Legolas considered for the briefest of moments returning to the table and being content merely to watch her dance with other fellows, but in the same amount of time, he dismissed that thought and began to think of a way to steal her away from his competition. After all, those were his flowers in her hair, and he was not the type of elf who took to losing easily. He decided that the best possible course of action would be to provide Adrendil with a distraction; his eyes busily scanned the groups of mingling elves when Limaer appeared at his side.
"Your highness, good evening," she said coyly. "How is it that you stand alone?" she inquired and stressed, "without a dance partner?"
He smiled softly at her. 'This is going to be too simple,' he thought happily and said aloud, "Limaer, would you give me the pleasure of this dance?"
She turned to face him in great smoothness and took his arm. "I would consider it an honor, my prince," she said with an almost predatory gleam in her eyes.
Legolas swallowed hard. He had not missed the hungry look Limaer had given him. This plan had to work. If it failed, he would most certainly be entertaining Limaer indefinitely.
"Then let us not waste another moment," he said, sneaking a glance at Miredhel as she cheerfully turned in the arms of Adrendil. Legolas steered Limaer through the dancing couples. She talked incessantly over the music, and Legolas wondered if she talked this much to Miredhel in their tent. If so, Miredhel had his full admiration. Occasionally, Limaer asked him a question, but she mostly chattered on about how exciting it must be to live in Eryn Lasgalen, and how beautiful the woods were, and not scary in the least, although she felt quite sure that not everyone from Lorien felt the same way.
Legolas gave her a confused look. Did she mean Miredhel? He did not have time to inquire, however, because at that moment Miredhel and the captain swung by them. From that point on, Legolas practiced extreme care to keep himself and Limaer in Adrendil's line of sight, and when the music finally wound down, Legolas had conveniently stopped dancing right behind the other couple.
Miredhel spotted them immediately. "Prince Legolas," she said with certain amount of surprise, "I am delighted to see you out dancing." Her eyes moved from Legolas to his partner, and she quickly added, "and with Limaer, no less. You two really are quite charming together."
Limaer beamed and tightened her hold on Legolas' arm. "Of course, Miredhel," she purred, "you have not yet introduced me to your partner."
"As host, please allow me the honor," Legolas said. "Lady Limaer, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to Captain Adrendil, of the Forest Guard in Eryn Lasgalen."
Limaer curtsied, and then Legolas offered his arm to her again as another song began. "Let us all dance, shall we?" he asked, noticing with a building amount of hope how Adrendil's gaze drifted from Miredhel back to Limaer. Legolas acted as though he meant to lead Limaer away, and he dared not let his eyes linger on Miredhel. If only Adrendil would take the bait, then she would be his for the rest of the evening.
The captain took a step forward. "Prince Legolas," he called after him, "do you really think it fair to monopolize all of the most enchanting ladies of Lorien?" Legolas and Limaer both turned in their paths, and she smiled and batted her eyelashes at this most obvious compliment. Relief rushed through the prince. He dreaded the thought that he might have to share another dance with Limaer. His little scheme might actually work, but Legolas shoved these thoughts aside and regarded the captain coolly. He must not seem too eager, or Adrendil would be suspicious.
Legolas hesitated for a moment and then spoke slowly, "I would not want to be thought of as an ungracious host…" He stepped forward with Limaer toward the captain.
"Of course, you would not," said Adrendil. And he neatly slid between the prince and Lady Limaer, took her arm, and led her away.
Legolas hoped that he would not see the captain or his former dance partner again for the rest of the evening. Now he turned his full attention to Miredhel who, at the very least, looked rather confused.
"What just happened?" she asked.
Legolas simply smiled and shook his head. "Would you dance with me, Lady Miredhel of Lorien?"
She curtsied formally, but then gave him the slightest of winks as she answered, "Nothing would give me more pleasure, Prince Legolas."
So he took her hand in his own, again marveling at how perfectly her fingers fit against his own, and slid his arm around her waist. Surely dancing was one of the finest inventions of the Eldar yet, he concluded happily.
As they danced under the light of many fair stars, Legolas looked down to meet her gaze, to see if she enjoyed herself as much as he, but quite the opposite seemed true. Miredhel looked as if she were in pain. He stopped dancing and pulled her to the side.
"Miredhel, do you feel well? Does your ankle still hurt?" Legolas asked with alarm rising in his voice, and he silently cursed his own selfishness. He had been so preoccupied with the thought of dancing with her; he had not even given pause to wonder if she should…
Miredhel's eyes met his, and they brightened at his show of concern for her. "Legolas," she said gently, "before you arrived, I was prepared to make my excuses to that young captain and tell him that my ankle troubled me too much for dancing. How glad I was that you arrived when you did! For now I may freely dance with you. And I promise that my ankle feels perfectly well."
Legolas was still not entirely convinced.
I feel fine," she insisted. "If I frowned, it was because I was concentrating on not bungling the steps." Miredhel smiled slyly and added, "Although I am sure I could dance circles around you."
"Do you think so?" Legolas asked and peered down at the ankle in debate. It did appear to be in perfectly normal health.
"I know I could," retorted Miredhel. "We elves of Lorien are natural dancers."
Legolas freed a curl that had become tangled in the flowers in her hair and then took her hand back in his. "Would you care to make a wager based on that belief?" he asked as they began to dance again.
She could only laugh. "Oh, no. I have heard what happens when unfortunate young ladies make bets with the likes of you."
Legolas pretended to be shocked, then hurt. "I hardly know what you could mean by that, Miredhel," he said.
Miredhel arched an eyebrow and replied, "Oh, I think we both know fully well what I meant by that. My days of making any foolhardy bets are over."
"Well, I for one am very sorry to hear it, " Legolas said as he pulled her near and rested their hands together over his heart.
The music slowed, and Miredhel's thoughts drifted to bittersweet memories. So much had changed in her heart since that fateful wager in the garden. She could not help but remember how drearily time had passed since Annariel's death, and even the hours of the day had become a burden, an obstacle to overcome. She grieved for the loss of her friend, but even more so for the loss of the closest, sweetest friendship she had ever known; Miredhel despaired that she would never again know that joy—to have someone who understood her dreams, secret hopes, and weaknesses, and would love her all the same for them. Yet in the darkest hours of her grief, she had found friendship in Legolas; he, who knew her heart, even with all its flaws, still sought her companionship.
Miredhel leaned her head on his shoulder. Legolas thought perhaps they should sit down, that she might not be fully recovered, but his will-power to suggest that very thing diminished by the second. He could feel her breath on his neck and the warmth of her cheek through his tunic. He might have stayed with her like that all night, if not for the strong tap on his shoulder.
Legolas turned to see his brother standing behind him.
"I must have a word with you," he said, his face grave, and motioned for the prince to follow him.
Legolas reluctantly withdrew his hand from Miredhel's, and she gave him a sympathetic look. He turned to trail his brother to the edge of the clearing, and then on into the shadows of the trees.
"Legolas," Oromer began, "Father left the feast a few moments ago."
"Please tell me that you did not bring me out here to tell me just that," Legolas said sharply. He should have stayed with her. He could still feel the warmth of their dance. His eyes drifted back to the feast, but he did not see her. He hoped she did not already dance with another fellow.
"Legolas," Oromer repeated his brother's name. "He is very upset about your behavior."
"My behavior?" Legolas asked incredulously. "If anyone should be upset, it should be me."
"You scarcely spoke to him," Oromer pointed out, his grey-green eyes flashing.
"This is not to be borne, Oromer. I refuse to listen to this," Legolas said and began to turn away to return to the feast.
"Fine, my little brother," Oromer said smoothly. "Run away like you always do, from all your problems. Just like you are running away to Ithilien."
Legolas turned back around, and his brilliant blue gaze met that of his brother's. He strode to within an inch's space from Oromer. "I am not running away," he hissed, "and I am sick of you making me feel guilty for my decisions.
"It is your own selfishness that makes you feel guilty, not me, little brother," Oromer said and gripped him by the cuff of his arm.
Legolas jerked away. He had endured much on the battlefield. He had faced danger, even unto death, and had overcome great peril. Yet his older brother still saw him as a child, would always see him as such.
He spoke, and his voice was low. "What right did he have to do this to me, to her? He should not have separated us!"
"As our father and our king, he had every right," Oromer said, his eyes narrowing. "You really do not care about the people you leave behind, do you? Would you let her just waste away?"
"She is stronger than you give her credit for," Legolas insisted.
"You did not see her during the war, during your absence. You did not have to watch her slip away into almost a shadow as she faded…" Oromer's voice died away. "If you loved her half as much as she cares for you, you would not make her suffer so."
"I do love her! Your faithlessness will bend her to grief before my absence does," Legolas said stubbornly.
"What would you know of grief, Legolas?"
Legolas swallowed, and said, "I have seen much in the last year that has wrought my heart." He closed his eyes. For a moment, he could hear the sea's cry, calling him away to leave his cares on the shores of the havens.
Oromer's voice softened. "You are still very young, and so is she. Why will you not trust in our father's judgement?"
"Neither of you trust in mine." He looked toward the moon, which began to sink beyond the trees. He did not want to argue with Oromer, or his father for that matter. He wondered what Celeril felt right now. Was she fading, in grief? He knew his brother would not lie to him. He never wanted to cause his family pain, but he would not stay in Mirkwood.
Legolas' voice was hollow when he spoke, "My desires have outgrown these woods. I cannot stay here. And if that makes me selfish, so be it."
Oromer looked impassive. "You are a prince of Mirkwood, of Eryn Lasgalen." He frowned at his brother. "Have you no sense of duty?"
Legolas did not answer his question. Instead he clasped his brother on the shoulder and pointedly said, "You know she feels the same way. You cannot ;keep her here forever. She will want to leave these woods to see other lands, and when she comes seeking refuge in my realm, I will not refuse her."
Legolas left his brother and ventured into the darkness of the wood. His conversation with Oromer had left him feeling unsettled, and he wanted to clear his mind before rejoining the feast. Had he actually turned right then to reenter the forest clearing, he would have seen that Miredhel waited patiently for him by the edge, her face drawn and white because she had overheard part of their discussion; she had seen him retreat into the shadows.
* * *
Miredhel had not meant to overhear Legolas' conversation with his brother. Well in truth, she had mostly not meant to overhear what they said. She had originally moved to the side of the clearing to wait for Legolas without being in the way of anybody. Then she started to hear snatches of their conversation when Oromer and Legolas raised their voices at each other. They spoke of a female; who she was, Miredhel did not know. Apparently she was of great importance to Legolas; he had told his brother that he loved her. Miredhel did not know why that admission bothered her so. Could this maiden elf be the one Legolas sang of the night before? Her perfect memory recalled his silvery words, the heartbreak in his voice when he sang:
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 bit her lip. She decided that the king must have separated them for some reason, putting an end to their love affair, but obviously that did not change Legolas' feelings for this mystery elf.
Miredhel returned to the table, feeling more than just a little rejected. Apparently her friendship was merely a distraction for the prince. She drooped down in her chair, where before she had been so happy—talking with Legolas and joking with him. She picked up her knife, the gift from Thranduil, and played with the hilt in her hand, feeling its impressive weight, familiarizing herself with flipping it in her palm. Torchlight ricocheted from its green jewels and silver engravings. She swung the knife, still sheathed, in her hand. Legolas had shown her kindness. She tossed the knife to her left hand. When she had told him Annariel's story, he had mourned with her, their sorrow binding their hearts in a way neither really understood. Miredhel flipped the knife back to her right hand and unsheathed it. The fire's flames danced in reflection from the blade. She heard steps behind her and set the knife back on the table. It was Limaer.
"Miredhel, where is Prince Legolas?" she asked, surprised to see her friend alone.
"Attending to royal business, something or other," Miredhel replied curtly.
"Perhaps it is well that he is not with you at the moment," Limaer said.
Miredhel did not acknowledge Limaer's comment with a response. She knew that Limaer was probably bursting with some gossip about Legolas. She had heard enough.
However, Limaer was not put off though by Miredhel's silence. She blithely continued on, "Adrendil told me that Prince Legolas had been courting one of his advisor's daughters, a maiden by the name of Lierwen, that they had been very amorous before he left for Lothlorien. Can you believe it?"
Miredhel looked to the woods where she had seen Legolas and Prince Oromer talking. "Yes," she whispered, really more to herself than to Limaer.
"I am sorry, Miredhel, that I teased you so about the prince. When all along he has probably been engaged to that other maiden!" Limaer said in a huff. She looked closely at Miredhel. She sat so quietly with her hands folded in her lap; her eyes, downcast. "Miredhel? Are you well?"
Miredhel snapped her head up and pasted a smile on her face. "I am quite well, Limaer. Thank you."
"Hmm. Well, Adrendil offered to escort me back to our tent, so I suppose I will see you later." Limaer looked suspiciously at Miredhel and then left.
Miredhel watched her leave and then picked up the knife. Legolas had not returned. Perhaps this 'Lierwen' had been the maiden that Legolas and his brother discussed; perhaps the king did not approve of their relationship; perhaps they were not allowed to see each other. Miredhel was sick of 'perhaps.' She would find out the truth for herself. She would confront the prince with the facts. If he were truly her friend, then he would unburden himself. She looked dubiously at the dark woods. How many times had this wood been the subject of her dreams? Miredhel squeezed her eyes shut. She had barely been able to walk through it during the day. It was foolhardy to go now, in the dead of night.
"Coward," she said to herself. Those were only dreams. Legolas was there. She would start on his path and find him easily. She picked up her knife and headed into the forest.
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