Author's note: Thank You so MUCH for the generous reviews and praise. I hope that you enjoy this chapter.Building Ithilien
Chapter 26: Until Now
An exquisite mixture of anger and guilt tinged both Miredhel and Legolas' sentiments as they unflinchingly gazed at one another. Neither knew how to react. Finally, the lady spoke first.
She heard herself whisper in a voice not quite her own, "You are leaving?" It was more of a statement than a question, for she knew now with unparalleled certainty that he was indeed leaving.
He answered anyway, nodding miserably. "Miredhel, I was going to tell you myself…"
"When?" she interrupted flatly. "Tomorrow? As you rode away?" She shook her head. "I am fortunate to have a brother that informs me of these minor details."
"I do not see why you would be so affected by my leaving. Since we are in your words, 'merely friends,'" he said plainly.
"You mean much more than any friend, Legolas."
"That is not what you would have you brother believe," he said.
"I am sorry that my words pained you. 'Twas not my intent."
"Regardless of your intent," Legolas broke in, "why not simply speak the truth?"
"How dare…" Miredhel exclaimed, but then stopped, squeezing her fingers into a fist until she could feel her nails digging into her palm. She took a deep breath and tore her eyes away from him, toward the blue-fringed treetops. Legolas crossed his arms in front of his chest, awaiting her reply. She exhaled slowly and then lowered her eyes to his visage, her lips drawing into a thin line.
"I hardly think that you are the one, dear prince, to extol the virtue of speaking the truth. Her even tone turned acidic, and her eyes challenged him to speak—to apologize or vindicate himself. Let him try.
"I never lied to you," he said carefully. He returned her fiery gaze with one so cool, so calm and expressionless, like a woodland lake first kissed by winter's frost.
Miredhel shivered despite herself, and though she would not look away, her pride was far too great for that, her anger sagged in the face of his melancholy. "But you," her voice wavered, "you were not honest with me."
"No," he agreed. "I should have told you."
"Why did you not?" she asked simply.
Why indeed did he not tell her? What did he fear in the revelation of the truth? Legolas knew there were far too many subjects he would rather not speak of, too many topics he did not care to address. His gaze faltered, and for the first time, his proud, youthful facade slipped, and he seemed to Miredhel as one who had seen too much of death and toil; her question drained his vitality from him, as blood that seeps from a wound, and he felt the full measure of his long years, his relationship with his father, the war, and the calling of the sea pressing upon him as he pondered his response. The sea! Legolas closed his eyes, and he could hear the gulls again. The gulls, their plaintive screams amidst the pulling crash of waves, and he wondered that the very maiden who had helped him to forget could also force him to remember them. He sighed and turned away from her. She should not bear witness to his pain, to his weakness.
He rubbed his forehead and then quietly said, "I am sorry, my lady. I should have told you these things. I cannot give you any reason to justify my actions, to excuse my behavior." He felt so ashamed, so incredibly selfish that he had not told her the news this morning merely out of his desire to hide his feelings away. Like a warrior who cases his blades in velvet, hiding them from sight, hoping to ease the pain of bloodied memories and the dark dreams that steal all peace, Legolas had avoided all thought or mention of the council's circumstances. He had hoped to forget, but now he knew that he could not. His silence had been a wish to smooth away the frightening edges of his own discontent. How insufferable he must seem to her. His heart burned with abhorrence, and surely she must see that now—the shame radiating from him, filling and oozing from every pore.
But instead of turning in disgust, she kindly reached for his shoulder. "Legolas, can you tell me now? I would still rather hear of this from you."
His hand drifted to hers where it lay and lingered there for the briefest of moments. "There is nothing I can say that you have not already heard from Eledhel."
From behind him, he could hear her murmur, "Legolas, please. That I should hear this news from others. Will you not tell me yourself?"
He eased away from her touch, quickly glancing back. Though longing consumed his heart, he felt incapable of deserving her. It was simply too much, he thought, for them to be together. Duty called him to focus solely on the protection of Gondor and the consequent success of Ithilien. The sea-longing called him to leave these shores. His father called him to stay in faithfulness to Eryn Lasgalen. Now Miredhel had put a claim on his heart as well. Legolas felt pulled in every direction, but he had promised the dream of Ithilien to his people and allegiance to Gondor and Aragorn. He could not forget them.
He grimly said, "I leave tomorrow, Miredhel. I must do this. Such is my will."
"What of your will for us, Legolas?" she asked.
"According to you, there is no us," he replied blankly, keeping the emotion from his voice. Every fiber within him cried out in protest, that he should not leave her, that this was wrong, a horrible mistake!
Miredhel's eyes narrowed in disbelief at his words. Somehow, she had done this. Only hours ago, they had been so happy together. He had tried to give her his ring. Now he meant to leave her behind. Perhaps Limaer had been right in all her comments concerning Legolas and his ladies. Now Miredhel could add her name to the ever-growing list of maidenhood fallen prey to his charm. She despised his actions and herself for trusting him. Then another part of her really just wanted to be held in those arms again, but that could not be. Nothing could be done now, if he wanted to leave, then Miredhel would let him. She felt dangerously near to crumbling before him, and she would not allow the prince the satisfaction of seeing his affect on her. Her eyes flashed in resolve, and she forced herself to speak in clear, ringing tones.
"Namarie, Legolas, and may the Valar grant you peace on this journey."
Legolas watched her face and heard her words, and the elf swallowed dryly. His reasonable side urged him now to walk away, to leave her. He could find another later. He never had any problems doing so in the past. The prince had ever followed this creed, and he had not questioned its value. Until now.
For when he mistakenly turned for a last glance to commit her to memory, Legolas saw Miredhel with her sleeve pressed to her eyes, which she then hastily jerked away. 'Leave now!' Reason cried to him, 'There will be others! There always has been!' Yet Legolas' feet betrayed him, he could not find strength within him to walk away, and the prince breathed to himself, '…others, but not like her.' Only then in his need for her did he find the power to move again. He abruptly turned in his tracks and stepped toward her.
"Miredhel, I am sorry. Again. I should not have spoken so. I cannot leave you, not like this…not at all," he said, his eyes penitent. He feared her response. "Forgive me," he whispered, desperately longing to fold her in his arms again and soundly kiss her, kiss and hold her until he found forgiveness. Legolas' elvish intuition, however, warned him off this action, and so instead he stood humbly and silent before her.
Miredhel thought of all the things she might say to him. His friendship gave her such joy, and his affection brought even more. He wielded a terrible power over her, and even in this moment she felt the full measure of it. She needed him.
She knew grief. Miredhel had tasted the pain of separation with the first word of Annariel's death. Since then, she had strived to ensure that she possessed no bond deep enough, strong enough to tear her heart away. Until now.
She reached toward him and traced a finger across his flawless cheek. Her caress gave him reason to hope in the face of his despair. His eyes brightened, and he looked at her eagerly, tilting his head in toward her touch.
"All I want is to know more about you, to understand you better. Open your heart to me, and you shall have mine. Please."
He recoiled from her words, her touch, and shook his head. "Miredhel, I hear my own thoughts and find them repulsive. I dare not utter them to you."
"You do not trust me then," she accused.
"No, my lady, but I would not burden you with my pain…my weakness," he said.
She began to understand, for his words sounded so familiar to those whispered in her own heart. "I foolishly believed that once," she acknowledged. "I kept my grief to myself, locked away inside the darkness of my own thoughts. It is a safer road, no doubt..."
Remembrance darkened her eyes, and Legolas thought back to evenings before when she had confided the tale of her lost friend to him.
"…but a lonelier one, Legolas," she finished.
"I was never one to prattle on about my own woes," he countered. "Silence is strength." He proudly lifted his head and looked every inch of Thranduil's son that he was, but Miredhel was not impressed. Instead, she tilted her head with a wounded expression written across her face.
"Then you must think me very weak indeed," she said disappointedly.
Legolas' eyes widened, and he earnestly reached for her hand. "No, no. I would not have you believe that at all." He leaned in toward her and picked up her other hand. "I never thought you more strong than when you confided in me that night, Miredhel."
Her cheeks faintly flushed, and he firmly squeezed her hands. "Do you really believe that, Legolas?" she asked.
"Then will you not talk to me? Join me on this lonely road," she said, rubbing her thumbs across the tops of his hands reassuringly.
Legolas shook his head. "This is different, Miredhel. You believe certain things about me. I would—"
"Little could change my regard for you, Legolas. Know that," Miredhel said and pulled him into a tight embrace. She kissed him on the cheek and then the chin, and then he met her lips with his own, in a kiss that spoke of trust, reassurance, and desire.
Legolas pulled away first and hungrily stared at her. "I never needed anything before, or anybody…" he said weakly. His eyes deepened to a shade bought of midnight, while the light and hope within his gaze could strive against Earandil and be the brighter. He took a breath, his heart rampaging hectically, only the faith in her eyes gave him strength to continue.
"…Until now. And I will not let you go, Miredhel, not even at the highest cost." He wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace. Then he took her by the hand and led her to the path cutting through the woods. "Walk with me, Miredhel, and I will tell you what you want to know."
He led her to a glade thick with mossy roots and grey green lichens. Within this coven of trees stretching from earth with limb and leaf thrown clear to the sky, Legolas began to speak of the council meeting. He described Eledhel's attempted attack on Captain Adrendil, and they both laughed, but when it came to speaking of his father, Legolas was much more reluctant. Miredhel noticed this, of course.
"I hardly know anything of your family, Legolas, but you obviously care for them a great deal. Why do you not speak of them more often?"
"I talk about them, Miredhel," Legolas protested.
Miredhel arched a single eyebrow. "Believe that, if you want to, but I am not even sure how many brothers or sisters you have!"
"Two sisters, one brother," he answered. He gave her a little smile just to show that he did not mind talking about them.
Miredhel returned his smile, but then frowned. "Prince Oromer I have met, but where are your sisters?"
"They are at home," Legolas answered shortly. His smile faded. He did not want to think about the discussion he had with his father. He did not want to remember why they were at home. Or the fact that his father thought that he was too weak to say goodbye to them! Legolas closed his eyes and swallowed. Perhaps this idea of talking was not such a good idea.
Miredhel pursed her lips at her friend's reaction. His sisters were obviously a painful subject to him, and guilt washed over her for bringing up the topic. She started to apologize, but Legolas shook his head.
"No, Miredhel. You are not to blame. Know that I want to tell you these things. I just…" and he sighed, "I cannot. Not now." Weariness settled across his spirit, and he sat down on an over-turned log. His father's words played through his mind, that he 'suffered from the weight of emotions,' and Legolas dug his fingers into the damp wood beside him, feeling the prick and tear of splinters against his flesh. He cared not.
"I am sorry," she repeated. "I cannot help but want to know more of you."
"No, Miredhel. I am glad that you do. But even from the beginning of my education, my father instructed my brother Oromer and I to be silent on the matters of our household, that we should never speak of our family concerns to anyone. My father is a good king and a wise ruler, far better than I could ever hope to be. He told me a long time ago that 'once the house of Oropher becomes divided in the eyes of our people, then also will it fall." Legolas' eyes dimmed, and he murmured, almost inaudibly, "And this I have done, to my father, to my people."
In an instant, she was at his side, "Legolas, no. You did what you thought necessary. Your father must know this as well." She wrapped her arm around the back of his waist, and with her other hand guided his chin so that she could see his eyes. "And Ithilien's subjects will count themselves the most fortunate of elves to have you as their lord. I know of at least one, who will."
The semblance of a tiny smile played across his lips, wavered, and was gone before he spoke. "And I am most blessed to have such a subject." His eyes brightened considerably, and he continued, "especially one who is so beautiful and kind," and he paused to kiss her, "and kissable."
"Kissable, my lord? I was speaking of Eledhel!" Miredhel laughed, and Legolas snorted and then laughed with her.
After that, he continued to tell her of what happened in the meeting, but when he told of his decision to ride and warn Gondor, her eyes widened and she reached for his hand.
"Who goes with you?" she asked with an edge in her voice.
"Your brother, Belegil and Sulindal, some of the forest guards from my father's realm." He stopped in the midst of the path they had been traveling and looked at her very carefully. "Miredhel. I cannot find it within me to leave you behind," he said, and even as the words had been spoken he knew of their veracity. "Ride with me."
"If you had asked such a thing of me even only a day ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly, but now…" Her voice trailed away, and she bit her lip in dismay.
"I would never ask this of you if I thought you were incapable of meeting the demands of this journey," Legolas said, and his voice softened, "or if I did not truly desire your company."
"I had never even killed, much less seen an orc until last night, Legolas," she protested.
"I know," he said. "I debated all morning if I should ask you to go with me or ask you to stay. You are a good rider and a fine shot. I know it will not prove an easy trip. We will have to ride hard and fast to reach the first towns and warn them, and even then we may have to fight."
"So it is merely my skill with the bow that recommends me?" Miredhel asked slyly.
Legolas laughed and shook his head, before becoming serious again. "When I left this morning, I had decided that you should stay. The risk was too great, and you are far too precious. But now I know that I cannot willfully leave your side. I possess neither the strength, nor the heart, for such a task." He pulled her in close and locked eyes with her in a penetrating gaze. "Ride with me, Miredhel. For Ithilien. For me."
"No easy decision is this, Legolas," Miredhel agreed, "but I have never been one to shrink from danger, no matter how great my fear. I will go with you."
Legolas' arms engulfed her in an enormous hug, nearly lifting her from the ground. "I will ever be at your side, Miredhel. You have nothing to fear," he said ecstatically.
She only smiled back at him and returned his embrace, laughing at the kisses he planted across her cheek. "But that is when I will be in the most jeopardy," Miredhel said, half-jokingly, half-serious.
"You doubt my ability to protect you?" Legolas asked, in mock-sadness.
"But who will protect me from you?" She tossed her head, and the merriness in her eyes burned low into embers. "I will not deny that I fear this—" she waved her hand between them, "us, Legolas. But mostly you."
"Is that why you denied our relationship to your brother?" he carefully asked.
Miredhel looked to the ground. She knew that her actions had caused Legolas pain, but she did not regret keeping the truth from Eledhel. Trying desperately to make him understand, she approached the matter from a different angle: "Do you not realize how much people talk? Speculate? Wonder about you? Legolas, I want what is happening between us, just to be, well, between us. Not between you and me and the rest of Ithilien." Her eyes pleaded with him. "Is that so very wrong of me?"
Legolas felt his resolve slip away with one look at her eyes. "No, it is not wrong, Miredhel, but—" and he took her hand and gently kissed her from upturned palm to the soft skin of her wrist, "I want to shout it from the tree tops. They are our friends, Miredhel. They would only be happy for us."
"I know, Legolas, but…" Her voice trailed away. She did not want to admit that their affair would be easier to forget later, especially if she as the only one who knew of it. There was always less shame in secrecy, less embarrassment, less questions.
"Sooner or later, people will figure it out, and I would rather your brother hear it from us than from the mouths of gossips."
Miredhel knew he was right on that count and nodded.
"Eledhel is your brother, Miredhel, but he is my also friend. I would have him stay that way. He is too valuable an ally to lose. I really do not want him to think that I am having an underhanded affair with his sister. If you do not tell him about us, then I will."
Miredhel sighed. "Please, Legolas. Let it be our secret for one more night."
"It is not within me to hide something like this, the way I feel for you," Legolas declared stubbornly.
"Please?" Miredhel pouted with those irresistible eyes and a tiny smile tugging at her lips, and Legolas knew he would give into her.
"I want everyone to know…but if you promise to tell Eledhel today, then I suppose I can wait one more day." He grinned at her. "I might forget myself and accidentally kiss you in front of everyone tomorrow."
Her eyebrows arched in surprise. "Legolas!" She exclaimed and then laughed to add, "I might let you."
Legolas pulled her in for another long embrace. He kissed her ear, then her cheek several times, before bringing his lips to rest lightly against hers. He could feel the soft, warmth of her hair, her arms wrapped around his neck, the gentle curve of her body against his, and he tightened his arms around her, deepening the kiss, tilting his head another way. He felt as though he might drown in her sweetness and taste, but the natural sounds of the forest hushed, and the bright of day darkened like the coming of a storm. Legolas quickly pulled away, but even as he did so, the woods began to hum again, and the darkness had lifted. His keen eyes searched the sky for any tell-tale clouds, but to his surprise and ever-growing fear, there were none.
He glanced around the secluded spot in which they had been talking before he placed a chaste kiss across her lips.
"I have to go now," he said, squeezing her hand. "We were in a meeting and I left for those maps. The captains will think that I have gotten lost."
"Have you not?" Miredhel said playfully.
"No, I know that I am on the right path…if you are there with me," Legolas answered. "Meet me tonight?"
She nodded. "I will."
Legolas returned to his meeting after instructing his lady to return to her tent and stay there. He was not entirely sure what had happened there in the forest clearing, and whatever strange occurrences these were, he did not want Miredhel involved.
She had different plans, however. Miredhel most certainly did not want to return directly to her tent, where she would no doubt be subjected to Limaer for many long, uninterrupted hours. Neither did she wish to disobey Legolas' instructions, so ultimately she decided that she would return after a leisurely, very leisurely, stroll through the encampment. Miredhel began to wander the perimeter of the camp in her own time, taking in the strange and different trees and fauna.
Although she tried her best not to dwell on him, her ever other thought returned to Legolas. So much of what happened had seemed but a dream. Had he really held her? She could still feel the hot track of his kisses on her mouth, down her neck, on her hand, her wrist. From the moment he had caught her fall in the dragon's attack, perhaps even sooner than that, her very existence had been caught up in a warm haze induced by his presence, comforting, intoxicating. And when he was not with her, she longed to be with him again. She would see him later tonight, for dinner and then remembered in dismay that they would leave early the next morning to ride to Gondor. Their travels would begin anew, only this time in great haste, to save a city and people of which Miredhel had only ever heard.
* * *
And somewhere, Fate smiled with a nod to the swift turn of events to come as time unreeled to slip by even more quickly, dangerously. The options had been weighed, the path chosen, and now the journey would begin.
* * *
Well, that's it for now. I am hoping that I can get another chapter off by next week, before I go out of town for the holidays. I had it all written, but alas I am thinking that I am going to have to make some changes. I got a NEW idea when I was writing this last bit, so I think a dramatic rewrite is in order before I post again.
Please review with any questions, comment, criticism.