Building Ithilien

Different and Better

At last the glad day ended; and when the Sun was gone and the round Moon rode slowly above the mists of Anduin and flickered through the fluttering leaves, Frodo and Sam sat under the whispering trees amid the fragrance of fair Ithilien; and they talked deep into the night with Merry and Pippin and Gandalf, and after a while Legolas and Gimli joined them (LOTR, 934).

When moonlight and merry conversation faded with the stars, the elf spoke softly to the wizard at his side.

"Will you stay, Mithrandir?"

"I think you know that I cannot, Legolas," the wizard replied, pausing to send a quizzical smoke ring up toward the overhanging branches. "My task here is finished, and so I must go."

Legolas nodded. The wizard's leaving would be but one drop before the storm. "So much will change," he replied wistfully to the old man robed in white at his side.

"Yes, but now come the days of peace, and you will find that though they are different, they are infinitely better," said Gandalf.

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Building Ithilien

Chapter 36: Different and Better

Wind whipped around the walls of the White City, blowing long, fair strands of hair across the prince's eyes. He hastily pushed them away, fearing that in the few seconds in which he could not see her, that she might have disappeared, like a much-desired dream or mirage. How his heart had longed for her! He looked again, and there she still stood.

In seconds, no, even less than that—in a moment—both elves had closed the gap between them. Miredhel stretched out her hands, but Legolas caught her in his arms instead.

His arms swallowed her, and he pulled her even closer, burying his face into her hair. Valar, she smelled good. His hands ran the length of her back, and he placed hasty kisses on her curls, her shoulder, her neck. She was there, really there, safe and whole. He did not pull away but held her close, held her in his arms as he had dreamed of doing for many nights, and he knew that he did not want to let go. She was under his protection again, and he would make sure that she stayed that way. Finally, he could rest easy.

"I thought I'd lost you," he whispered in between kisses, pulling away just enough so her eyes were even with his.

"I'm right here," she said soothingly, smoothing her fingers across his cheek.

He took an almost ragged breath, as if he had not breathed for days. "Do you have any notion of how frightened we were for you—and my sister? Do you?" he asked, and an uneasy edge replaced the tenderness in his voice.

"But Legolas, I am fine, and so is Celeril. Nothing happened to us," Miredhel answered lamely, shrinking in the scrutiny of his eyes.

"Is that excuse supposed to comfort me?" he demanded. "You left without notice, without a word," Legolas added witheringly. "How could I have known you would arrive safely? Especially with what happened to Farothin—I mean, there was a reason I did not want you taking that trip!"

Miredhel's eyes flashed. "Why couldn't you trust to hope that I would arrive safely? –Like you trust Adrendil?"

"We are NOT talking about Adrendil, right now. He had permission," the prince said, taking her by the shoulders. "You did not." His eyes were fierce now, and the lines of his face hardened as he stared at her.

Miredhel softly swallowed. She had seen him upset before, furious even, but never so directed towards her.

"And speaking of trust, my lady," he continued accusingly, "you are a fine one to speak such a word. You don't trust me."

"Legolas, of course I do," she objected. "It's just that—"

"No. You don't," Legolas contradicted her. "You just went ahead and did what you wanted, either because: first, you do not trust me to make a good decision; or secondly, perhaps you must think I am incredibly foolish, and my commands should be ignored. Which is it?" He tightened his grip on her shoulders. "Which is it, Miredhel?"

"Neither is true," she stammered and attempting to wrench away from his grip, found that she could not. She had rarely seen him so angered before, and on those occurrences his opinion had mattered little to her. In those days she had not cared what he thought of her, but she did now. As she glanced up into his dark eyes and read there the pain and hurt which must have only been a shadow of what he really felt, guilt consumed her. What had she done?

"My lord, I did not leave for the reasons you have stated. I do trust you, I would with my life, and I could never think you foolish. Please know that I hold you only in the highest regard," she said, biting her lip.

"You would say so, Miredhel, but your actions speak otherwise," Legolas told her sternly, though he loosened his hold on her shoulders.

To the untrained eye, the prince may have looked tired, even travel worn, but he was every inch the elf lord and prince that his ancestry proclaimed him to be. His regal bearing, the arch of his chin and the strength in his shoulders, the way he stood, but most of all his eyes, those deep blue orbs and the light and wisdom reflecting within, would always proclaim him to be more, a warrior and a prince, a brave heart that met with darkness and death, and came away not unscathed, but stronger. Once again Miredhel felt like a dull, lackluster maid before him, and that old familiar feeling bred resentment.

"I am sorry for the pain I've caused you, my prince," she said, attempting to explain herself, "but I cannot regret leaving."

"How can you say that?" he exclaimed. "Can't you see how irresponsible and selfish your actions were?"

"It was selfish of you to make me stay," she countered, easing away from him, "just to secure your own peace of mind."

"I made you stay for your own protection, Miredhel, and I will stand by that decision."

"Well, I won't be fettered to anybody's side, Legolas. Not my brother's—and not yours," she snapped, turning away from him.

"Don't forget to whom you speak," Legolas warned her. He did not appreciate the tone of her voice.

She turned toward him and brought her hand to her forehead, pushing the hair away with a pained expression spoiling her delicate features. "How can I, Legolas? How can I when it's the one reason why I left Rilmost in the first place? I can never forget just forget exactly who you are."

"I have never treated you like anything less than an equal, Miredhel," he bristled. "But I have seen more of this world than you. I do have more experience than you, and I don't think that it's wrong of me to want to protect you if I can!"

"See?" she retorted, "You say that, but then you go and point out all the ways that you think that you're better than me!"

"I am better!!" he exploded, his face darkening crimson. "Is that what you want me to admit? I am better, Miredhel. I—am—better—than—you. There, I've said it!! I am stronger. I'm a better warrior, hunter, and woodsman. I have more experience, skills, and rank, and pretty much more everything than you."

"I knew it," she said and narrowed her eyes. "Why did you even ask me to come with you from Mirkwood in the first place?"

"Believe me, I'm asking myself the exact same question, my lady," he returned angrily.

Her brave facade slipped for a moment, and the hurt in her eyes nearly made Legolas repent of his haughty words.

"You disappoint me, Miredhel. I trusted you. You had told me that you would come with me from Rilmost, and I believed you." His eyes met hers, stormy blue to dark hazel, and neither held the promise of any apologies.

"You say that you want to be as an equal to me? Then start by keeping your word and being where you're supposed to be," he said disgustedly and left her alone in the garden.

In the previous days when she was lost to him, he imagined that nothing could be worse than the panic that gnawed his gut; but now, after having quarreled with her and seeing the hurt in her eyes inflicted by his own harsh words, he knew that it was indeed possible to feel worse. As angry as he was, he could not stop loving her.

Fuming, Legolas stormed away from the garden. That was not what he had exactly planned on happening at their reunion. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself for losing his temper in such a way. Miredhel probably despised him. He did not blame her. He despised himself. So mired he was in his own ugly thoughts, Legolas did not even notice the approach of a tall, dark figure until the man spoke.

"It has been too long, mellonin," he said, with a twinkle to his steady grey eyes.

Legolas' eyes snapped up at the familiar voice and grinned despite himself. "Well met, Aragorn!"

The two embraced and then studied each other for a minute. "You look terrible," the king teased him.

"It is good to see you too, my friend," Legolas quipped.

"I wondered when you would return to my city," the king said carefully. One glance told him that his friend was obviously upset. "I must say, Legolas, that you do not have the look of an elf well-pleased."

Legolas sighed. Aragorn did not miss much. "Will you take me to see Farothin?" he asked quietly. "I need to know that he fares better."

"Of course," the man reassured him. "We shall walk there together. I know you must be concerned for him. I heard rumors of a distempered elf being rather abrupt with one of my valets." He eyed his friend questioningly. "Legolas, that's not like you. What has happened?"

The prince only shook his head. "Everything, Aragorn...everything..." He followed the king from the open courtyard down a series of stony streets toward the Houses of Healing. As they walked Legolas briefly recounted the elves' leaving Lothlorien and their encounter with the dragon, closing with:

"I tell you this much Aragorn-- the short of it is that there is a host of orcs probably en route to the fort at Calenfen and maybe a dragon as well."

The king did not look astonished, as Legolas supposed he might, informing the prince that rangers had spotted the orcs' movement, though not the dragon.

"Only two weeks ago, I gave orders to send a thousand hands to Calenfen to fortify the walls and replenish the number of its guard," Aragorn said thankfully. "That in itself will be a great help, if the orcs are so foolish to attack."

"The best of walls and men will be to no avail if the dragon leads their ranks," Legolas warned him.

Aragorn stopped mid-stride and left his intended path to lean against one of the outer walls overlooking the rest of the city. He wore a simple vest of deep crimson over a dark wine-colored tunic, and his head was bare. When Legolas joined his side, the elf fondly observed that his friend could still look every bit of the old ranger from his former existence. The determined glint in his eyes was ever present, and his dark brown locks were still unruly in the afternoon wind. Aragorn gripped the smooth white edge of the stone wall before him, running his hands steadily along its weathered top.

"I own that the dragon is a most unwelcome development," Aragorn said grimly, slowly turning his head to catch Legolas' eye, with the understatement of that sentence almost causing the prince to smile again.

"I know," said Legolas. "Imagine how I must feel. I watched it fall from the sky, Aragorn. I saw Miredhel's arrow pierce its breast."

"Lady Miredhel shot the dragon?" exclaimed Aragorn. "Remarkable!"

"She is, isn't she?" said Legolas beaming, his argument with her in the garden quite forgotten. His enthusiasm did not go unnoticed by the king.

"Well, actually I was referring to the shooting of the dragon, Legolas, not the maiden...but each to his own, I suppose." Aragorn covered a sly grin and teased, "I see that you are on a first-name basis with her. I have to admit that I was surprised at your choice of delegation to the city. Sending two inexperienced she-elves? Adrendil's capable enough, but your sister and Eledhel's sister? I cannot believe that either you or he allowed it."

Legolas was not quite ready to divulge the fact that they had left without his permission. He would hear no end of it from Aragorn, who was sure to find it hilarious. There are, after all, some things elves do not tell mortals. Instead he covered for them.

"Lady Miredhel is quite capable," Legolas said stiffly, being extremely careful not to omit the Lady this time. "She is quite skilled with the bow. We had an open competition before we left Lothlorien, and she took third place, you know. And I did not find a single track of theirs on the way here, and THAT should please even you well enough, Aragorn."

A small smile tugged at the corners of Aragorn's mouth. "She's rather pretty too. But Lady Miredhel's not at all your type though, Legolas."

"And what would you know of 'my type,' Aragorn?" the elf replied rather huffily.

"Well, do not take this the wrong way, mellon, but—"the king adopted a grave expression, "It always seemed to me that Eledhel's sister was—well, grounded, sensitive, intelligent."

"And you don't think that I appreciate those sorts of qualities as much as you?"

"From what I've seen, you never have before," Aragorn pointed out. "That's all I'm saying, my friend. You always seemed to gravitate toward the more showy, social...ahem, mindless... females--like that one you had in Mirkwood last time I was there. What was her name...Lierwen?"

"Hmmph..." was the elf's elegant reply. He leaned into the wall in imitation of his friend beside him, and discomfort clouded his fair features. Aragorn's words, though unintentionally, had stung. His friend had been right, after all. Miredhel was a far cry from his former lovers. He pursed his lips as memories of their recent argument found surface in his mind. He had acted horridly. There were some things, as he thought of his angry words, that he doubted she could forgive him for saying.

Aragorn carefully observed his friend. Something he had said obviously bothered him. "Legolas? Forgive me, did I--?"

"—No, it is nothing, Aragorn," Legolas said quickly. He was not quite ready to disclose his relationship with Miredhel to his friend at the moment. For one thing, he was not entirely sure that he still even possessed a relationship with the elleth anymore.

Legolas inaudibly sighed and decided to redirect their conversation. "Aragorn, when Farothin returned to us, it confirmed my suspicion that the dragon still lived. It is my belief that the dragon allies himself with the large orc host or is even leading them, though it makes little sense."

"You think that such a beast could control legions of orcs?" he asked, mildly surprised.

"I do, Aragorn, and the more I think about the problem, the more certain I become. There is a strange power in his voice that gives him dominion over minds."

"Like Saruman, perhaps?" guessed Aragorn, looking for something in comparison.

"The wizard's power lay in his voice. The dragon's is in his eyes. To look at them is to feel death to one's self. The whole world slips away, Aragorn, and suddenly you are conscious only to the gaze of his eyes and his words inside your mind."

"Did Farothin tell you this?" asked Aragorn.

"No, I felt it for myself, on the banks of the Anduin on the way to Mirkwood. That was the first time I saw him, and I learned what I was up against—and I only had a knife with me at the time," he said with a short, bitter laugh.

"You are fortunate to have escaped with your life, Legolas," the king said, frowning his concern. He had seen the elf face incredible odds before and come out on top, but sometimes he really went too far.

Legolas read his friend's disapproval, but Aragorn was hardly one to scold him for taking unnecessary risks, especially when the king himself had practically mastered the art during his ranger days as Strider.

"Escaped with my life?" the elf scoffed. "Nonsense, he let me go," Legolas said, with a shake of his long blonde hair. "Anglachur was very..." the prince's brows furrowed as he searched for the right word "...very confident. He told me I was weak, that he desired a much more formidable opponent."

"A more formidable opponent?" echoed Aragorn. "Who do you think he meant?"

"How should I know, Aragorn?" Legolas asked perplexedly. "My father, perhaps? There is no loss of love between dragons and elves, you know."

"But if Anglachur sought your father's halls, then he would not have turned south for Gondor, if that's what he was indeed doing."

The elf paused for a moment and pulled his signet ring from his inside pocket to examine it. "He surely knew who I was, though, Aragorn," he said, his cool blue eyes catching the light and glinting in the sun like the ring in his hand. "Make no mistake about it. And it bothers me...that he knew who I was, what I looked like...

"He must have had spies watching the roads," suggested Aragorn, fully noting the oddity of the prince keeping his father's ring in his pocket. He must have newly acquired it, for the prince had no such ring during the War. Such a piece of jewelry was obviously a family heirloom, so why would Legolas not proudly display it?

Legolas hesitantly put the ring on his finger, only to remove it minutes later and return it to his pocket. He caught Aragorn's inquisitive gaze, and stared blankly ahead at the open fields of Gondor, and in the distance, the Anduin.

Legolas did not wish to speak of his father or what had happened back in Mirkwood at the midnight council meeting where he had renounced his title. He knew eventually that his friend would drag the truth from him. The man had an uncanny way of ferreting out the truth, and when he failed, he would not hesitate to involve his wife in the process.

Legolas crossed his arms, pausing briefly to rub the sore spot on his shoulder where he had been stabbed by the orc. "Aragorn, let us be practical. Yes, I am Thranduil's younger son, but I have no real power to speak of. If Anglachur wished to know of my father's caves, any wood elf could have led him there. I am no one!

"Maybe so, when you put it that way, Legolas. But you will always be one of the Fellowship, and you'll always be one of my closest friends."

The two friends' eyes met, and they both smiled thankfully at each other. The man's words, though simple, spoke volumes to the very inner core of Legolas' trodden spirit. If anything, the elf was fiercely loyal to his friends, and there were few dearer than the man at his side. Gondor was in trouble; there was no doubt about that. Any kingdom, even the most mighty, should rightfully tremble in the shadow of a dragon. The elf had heard too many horror stories of what one dragon could do, the destruction one beast could deliver. The king knew this as well as he, and Legolas could not guess what was in Aragorn's heart at the moment—fear for his people perhaps, indecision, the overwhelming weight of responsibility, or even anger. But even so, this magnificent king of men had willingly pushed his own troubles aside to comfort him. The elf would not now abandon his friend in his time of need, nor would he till the end of his days.

"I will help you win this fight, Aragorn," Legolas said. "I pledge myself and my people to your cause, but I fear your soldiers at Calenfen will not be enough, not even with my own warriors there to supplement their numbers."

Aragorn nodded. "Then I will call up my reserves among Minas Tirith, and we will lead the way to Calenfen together. We shall be two hunters again, mellonin."

"That we shall, Aragorn," agreed Legolas heartily, "and it is a tremendous shame that Gimli is away at the Glittering Caves, for I know that he and his kin have no special love for dragons these days."

Aragorn's lips curled into a reluctant smile. He pushed himself away from the wall, and beckoning to his friend, continued their walk to the House of Healing.

Legolas entered the Houses of Healing with more than a little hesitation. He honestly did not relish the thought of going there at all. Wounds in battle made sense to him, for he had seen such injuries many times before in his long years. Illness, however, was foreign to the prince, and the sight of the weary and fevered pained him. They were met at the door by a shrewd old midwife who casually looked the elf up and down and then ushered him and the king to Farothin's side.

"Farothin," he called, his voice barely audible, and his spoken words were more to himself than to his friend. "I am here, mellon. I am here."

The swelling around Farothin's face and eyes had lessened, although a briar patch of cuts still darkly laced his pale skin. The soft linen bed clothing concealed the real damage, and the prince carefully took the young elf's hand in his own.

"Has he woken up at all?" he asked hopefully, his eyes running the length of the bed, fully measuring Farothin's pallid state, the slow rise and fall of his chest, and the way his eyes were still firmly squeezed shut.

Aragorn wished he had better news to give his friend, that he could give him some hope. "No, not really," he told Legolas. "When we first moved him from outside the gates to the healers, his lashes fluttered, and he groaned a little, but..."

"I understand," the elf said slowly, but disappointment bound his voice.

"His body heals, Legolas," Aragorn reassured him. "Farothin is strong. He may yet survive this."

"He should never have had to endure it in the first place," Legolas said bitterly.

"Do not blame yourself for this, Legolas," the man answered sternly, looking his friend in the eye.

The elf noncommittally shrugged. No elf enjoys being upbraided by a man, even if the two are best of friends. "I think I will stay with him for a while, if you do not mind, Aragorn."

"I think it will do the both of you some good! But if we are to leave soon, and I would prefer by dawn tomorrow, then I shall have to go and make arrangements with my officers," Aragorn said. "I know I said that we would visit Farothin together—"

"—and you have done just that, Aragorn. I know you are needed else where," Legolas excused him. "I will look for you at dinner then."

The two friends said farewell and parted, each facing equally arduous tasks, each feeling a little sorry for what the other had to endure.

Legolas found a chair and pulled it bedside. It was one of the first times he had actually been still for days. Now in repose, many of those nagging thoughts that he had pushed away with persistent activity and fellowship resurfaced—unpleasant things, memories best left in the dungeons of his mind—his father's reproachful eyes; the dragon's slick, perfect scales; the frightening reality of Miredhel in her blood-soaked dress; the sickeningly sweet smell of blood and battle; the feel of a cold blade plunging into his flesh; Farothin's ruined body; and the sea... the crashing waves and crying gulls promising him a life free from this sorrow on distant white shores. All of these images circled in his mind as Legolas wordlessly stared at his sleeping friend, and he stayed there at Farothin's side until the shadows in the room deepened with the setting of the sun.

At times, he spoke softy to his sleeping friend, telling him stories of places the young elf had only dreamed of visiting, like Fangorn or Imladris. Farothin had always wanted to visit Imladris and had asked the prince questions about it on more than one occasion. He had also pestered Legolas with many questions about the White City of men.

"And now here you are, mellon, and I wonder if you even know it! It is worth waking up for," Legolas teasingly whispered and bit his lip in consternation. Sighing, he squeezed and then released the elf's hand, and gently placing it atop the coverlet on the bed.

And these were supposed to be the 'days of peace!' With a dragon on the loose, hordes of orcs sweeping the countryside, a dear friend bruised and battered, his love life in the shambles, and the prospect of riding toward more death and battle in the morning, Legolas knew no peace. For an elf who used to pride himself on his orderly ways, Legolas' life had quickly descended into a series of chaotic madness over the past couple of weeks. He leaned back into his chair pushed his palms up across his face, driving his fingers into his hair.

At one point, he heard a light rap on the door frame, but Legolas did not gratify the visitor by stirring from his current miserable position, supposing that it was the midwife checking up on him. Let her stare.

It was not the midwife. Instead, Adrendil tapped the prince on the shoulder.

"You do not look well, your lordship," said the Captain courteously. "Join me outside for a spell of fresh air."

The idea had merit, and Legolas had been waiting for an opportunity to discuss Adrendil's journey with him, especially concerning the details of his sister and Miredhel's accompaniment. He pried himself from the chair and Farothin's side, and together the captain and the prince quitted the infirmary.

As they strolled along the terrace outside the House of Healing, Adrendil spoke quite plainly about the journey, pausing every so often to compliment Princess Celeril or Lady Miredhel for their assistance or contributions along the way.

"When did they join you, Adrendil?" Legolas asked.

"On the Anduin, well past midday."

Legolas pensively nodded; he did not know whether to blame the Captain or to feel grateful toward him. The former felt like a more comfortable idea.

"Adrendil," he said, "tell me something. When I left Miredhel's side that day, she was committed to going to Calenfen with me. Somehow in less than half an hour, she completely reversed her decision and left without warning to follow you and Farothin down the river. Did she tell you why she left?"

The Captain did not answer immediately. He folded his arms behind his back and looked a little smug, commenting on the fine weather as if the prince's question mattered little to him.

Legolas stopped him mid-sentence with a commanding look of pure insistence. "Tell me what she said."

"Though she feels mild affection for you, she believes you to be 'over-bearing, haughty, and self-important,' my lord. She could see no favorable outcome of having a relationship with you," he said bluntly. "Those were her words."

Legolas nodded, his face a vacant mask against what he felt inside. The last part hurt the most. No favorable outcome? She simply did not want to be with him. Utter defeat and sorrow rolled over him. He had lost his chance with her before their courtship had really even begun, but the elf swiftly pushed those thoughts away. Long ago he had vowed to win her heart, and he was not about to relinquish his pursuit so easily.

Almost as if Adrendil had read his thoughts or perhaps he noticed the determined gleam in the prince's eyes, he said, "I asked Lady Miredhel if I might escort her to dinner tonight." He averted his eyes toward a black and silver pennant curling in the wind. "You do not mind, do you?"

"Would it make a difference if I did?" Legolas demanded, and his fingers involuntarily tightened into a fist.

The captain pushed his sandy hair over his shoulder as he deliberated on Legolas' question. "No, I suppose it would not, unless you share some special understanding with her."

Legolas swallowed and his eyes darkened. "No, I do not."

The corners of Adrendil's mouth twitched. "You are not lovers then?"

Legolas could not lie. "No," he answered stonily, and his eyes bore into Adrendil, daring him to make some gesture, the tiniest of movements or facial expression, that would indicate the captain's willingness to fulfill that post in Miredhel's life. He suppressed an overwhelming urge to heave the captain over the wall to the lower rings of the city below.

Adrendil, however, was not entirely a fool and knew better than to show his true emotions to the prince. He certainly was not about to look overly ecstatic about Legolas' admission. The House of Oropher was famous for volatile tempers among its sons.

Legolas dismissed Adrendil from his side with a careless wave of his hand. He would not see the Captain or Miredhel again until that evening when Aragorn hosted dinner. He wound his way back toward the House of Healing and gained admittance with the same midwife who had appraised him earlier when he had come with Aragorn. She ushered him into Farothin's room on the western side of the building, and there in the last golden pools of daylight by the sick elf's side, sat Celeril.

She clasped his hand in her own, very much like Legolas had done not long ago. Her cheeks were wet and glistened in the dying light. She looked up at her brother, and it pained Legolas to see fear in the depths of her eyes.

"Celeril," he exclaimed and was instantaneously hushed by the midwife passing by the door. "Celeril," he said and softened his voice, "you don't know how much I needed to see you right now."

"Is that in a good way, Legolas?" she asked hopefully and then crinkled her nose, "or in a bad way?"

"In the best sense, my sister," Legolas said and stooped down to hug her. "I missed you, and I'm glad you're safe."

"You're not angry?" Celeril said cautiously and focused her attention on smoothing out the gathers in her skirt while she waited for his answer.

"I was," he admitted and pulled another chair to the bed to sit down. "I was furious."

Celeril looked up, and her judgment on the matter was written clearly in her disappointed eyes. "Did you take it out on Miredhel?" she asked without hesitation.

Legolas leaned his head back in his chair. "So I see you've spoken with her then," he said. "We met earlier this afternoon, but of course, you probably already knew that. Did she tell you what happened?"

"Well, no," Celeril confessed, "but she was very upset and did not want to talk about it. What did you do to her?"

"I was angry. We argued," Legolas said reluctantly.

Please tell me that you did not try and pull rank to prove your point, Legolas," Celeril said and flashed a bothered look at him.

He shrugged, albeit rather sheepishly.

"Legolas, you didn't! I hate it when you do that, and it's not going to endear you to Miredhel who's not too comfortable your title anyway."

"I did, Celeril. What can I say? Your brother is hideous." He crossed his arms and stared at her stonily.

Celeril rose from the chair and crossed the small space between them, where she lowered herself down to sit at her brother's feet, the way she did when she was still an elfling and he would read her stories or comfort her she was scared. She propped her elbow atop his leg and looked up at him.

"You're not hideous, Legolas," she said and then playfully added, "disgusting maybe, but not hideous."

He smirked at her and decided to change the subject. "Have you come to see Farothin many times?"

Celeril shifted to look at the elf lying in the bed beside her. "A few times, yes."

"You barely know him," her brother pointed out. "What made you want to help Captain Adrendil take him to Minas Tirith?"

"I wanted to go with Miredhel," she corrected him.

"Ahh, back to Miredhel," Legolas sighed uncomfortably. Why could he not simply get back to the part where he was supposed to scold his sister for leaving?

"I admire her," Celeril defiantly informed Legolas.

"Great, so do I," he said sardonically.

His sister rolled her eyes. "I am being serious, Legolas!"

"So was I!"

"She stands up for her self." Celeril pointed out.

"I, of all elves, would definitely know about that by now," he proclaimed exasperatedly.

Celeril straightened up and looked her brother in the eye. "Do you love her, Legolas?"

The room hushed as Celeril stared up at her brother, and the last beams of daylight faded into shadow. Only Farothin's wispy breathing permeated the silence.

"Yes," he said at last, dropping his eyes for a moment. "Yes, I love her."

"Oh, Legolas," Celeril said, and gladness shone in her eyes and voice. She flung her arms around his neck in an excited hug, and then decorously sat back down beside him. "Does she know that you feel this way?" she asked, growing serious once more.

"Not in so many ways, but..." Legolas hedged.

"She deserves your honesty," she advised him. "You should tell her—the sooner, the better—tonight!"

Her brother shook his head noncommittally.

"Why not? If I were in her place, I would want to know," she persuaded him, glancing at the sickbed beside her.

"Someone told me that 'she could see no favorable outcome of having a relationship with me;'" he said stiffly, "and that's hardly an incentive for heart-wrenching honesty."

Celeril shook her head disappointedly. "You should tell her," she said simply.

Legolas stood and pulled his sister to her feet. "I'm going to go and prepare for dinner. I'll walk you back to your room if you like," he offered.

"No, I think I will stay for a little while longer," she answered and then put her arm around his shoulder as they walked toward the door. "Think about what I said, my brother."

"I will," he assured her and squeezed her hand. "I will."

He stepped outside and a gust of wind sailed into him, catching his hair and blowing it into his eyes. He absently brushed it away, remembering how he had done that very thing earlier in the day when he had first seen Miredhel. At the time he feared that she would disappear before he had a second chance to look at her. It had been silly, but he had not wanted to let her out of his sight. Acute longing washed over the prince as he pictured her there in his mind, her hazel eyes and the light freckles on her nose, the soft kissable dent above her lip, and he realized he still wanted to be with her, now more than ever.

Legolas determinedly made his way back to his room to prepare for the dinner to come. Unfortunately, Adrendil would be escorting Miredhel. The prince pursed his lips at the thought of that smug Captain taking her to dinner. He increased his pace down the city street. He would clean up (it certainly would not hurt to look his best) and then spend the rest of his time thinking of what he should say to her. Tonight, everything that had come to pass in their relationship would hang in the balance. He would either succeed or fail. And no matter what happened, he would leave with Aragorn in the morning on a fool's errand to fight a battle that they probably could not win.

What had ever happened to those 'days of peace' Gandalf described? Again, Legolas thought of the wizard's words and frowned. Sure, his days following the war had been different, but were they really better?

With that uncomfortable thought, the prince stuffed his hands into his pockets, and his fingers collided with something papery and fragile. He pulled it out and smiled to himself. It was one of the purple flowers he had given Miredhel back in Mirkwood, Prince's love. Different and better? Perhaps the old wizard had been right after all.

Author's note: First, to everyone who replied on the last chapter, it made me feel loads better and not so alone!!! I really appreciate all the kind words and comments. I got 20 reviews for the last chapter, and wow it really made me feel special. It really did! I treasure every single thing that you guys say, so thank you!

QueenieB: okay, so I took another month to update, even though I said I was going to go for shorter, more frequent updates. ARrgghh! I just couldn't split up this chapter—I kept thinking...I'm almost done. Just a little more. And then before you know it, October was gone! But hey, I'm thrilled that you're still reading "Building Ithilien" and that you print it out to read on the train! How cool is that?! Thanks!

A Monkey's Harp: I liked your insight on Legolas' upbringing. Like you said, he probably has been sort of 'programmed' to think that way. And no, 'dragon bait' doesn't sound good! Your take on Adrendil made me laugh. I think 'slimy' is the general consensus on the review board! LOL!

Thanks!

Faerlain: Hey, if yours count for '50,' then I'm doing great over here! And generally I try and not think about the numbers when it comes to how I feel about my story's general value...but it's hard sometimes. But I got a really good reception last time, so I feel loved. Thanks for reviewing and being so faithful!

Verpoort: I liked what you wrote about Legolas and his upcoming scene with Miredhel, and I hope you enjoyed how it played out. And yeah, I agree with you that his response (yelling AND shouting) probably didn't help. He's usually so calm and collected, too... I think his blow up was the result of sort of a snowball effect.

You were one of the few to mention Renmot, though I had a lot of fun writing him. Geez, doesn't the guy know how to recognize a prince?!

Lil Lego: I think it's totally awesome that you printed out the entire thing!! And I know that it takes a TON of paper, because I did it myself this summer (like up to ch. 30) and I couldn't believe how freaking huge it was! It kind of blew me away that I'd actually written THAT much! But I am glad that you think it was worth it. So you want the dragon to make a return appearance? I might be able to arrange that... ;)

Shilly: Hey, you're not a stupidly hopeless romantic!! I like to think of it as a "hopeful romantic!" lol! But hey, those 3 billion cherries on top sound pretty good. I can tell you right now, that you're really going to like the next chapter... Thanks for reviewing! Hope to hear from you again!

Hobbit Ivy: Your review made me laugh! You answered all my cheesy questions with both dignity and style! So, you mentioned you wouldn't mind killing some one off.. any thoughts on that? Any suggestions?

And you know what? I'm pretty sure that Legolas thinks he deserves a prize too. He probably wouldn't mind it being what you suggested either!

Archers of Avalon: Thank you so much. I really appreciate what you said. Maybe all that work on this story is paying off!

Perdu Dans Paris: don't hide your face in shame! I'm just glad to hear from you. Now that we've met, you can't be a stranger anymore! I'm thrilled to hear that this story made it on your favorites list, and I will keep in mind what you said about Legolas and Miredhel getting TOGETHER! Lol!

Elven star 5: Thank you for reviewing. I really appreciate it. And hey, that feisty dragon will be coming to a chapter near you!

Emjo: Thank you! You know, you wrote that you were "enjoying the story" and that really meant a lot to me. We're all along together on this crazy ride (and you weren't the only one who wanted the characters to get TOGETHER). And hey, I wouldn't want you to be too sad, so keep reading! ;)

K'lara: Hey, don't feel bad. I DEFINITELY understand how that 'real life' works. Happens all the time to me! And like you, I think I'm about two chapters behind on all my fav stories too. But don't worry, I'm not going to stop on this story until it's finished!

Daphne: Your 'fly off the handle' comment tickled me, because I think that reaction's been a long time coming for the prince. I think Legolas must have a slow-burning fuse, and he gets to the end of it with Miredhel in the garden this chapter. I hope this chapter delivered for you, and thanks for reviewing! I really appreciate it.

Legyviel007: I know, I know. I'm a slow updater!! But I just can't rush the chapter along if its not where it needs to be. I guess I'm sacrificing frequency for quality, I dunno. But I hope that won't keep you from reviewing again, I really enjoyed hearing from you!

Panterastar: Thank you! And how cool is it that you read this thing in three days?! I love reading stories in big chunks like that. The only downside is when you come to the last chapter and can't read anymore (like with my story!) but don't worry, I'm going to keep updating! And I liked what you said about Legolas needing to 'vent' to an old friend. That is exactly what he needed to do!

Amber butterfly: thank you so much! I'm really glad to hear from you. And 'freaking awesome?' All right!! Your review was really energetic and it just really lifted me up, so thank you!

Shivvers: Thank you! I loved how you responded to each one of my geeky lines!! I laughed so hard. (but it made me feel really special) Legolas wants me to take you up on the offer to slap Adrendil around. But he may get around to doing that himself, so we'll just have to wait and see. Your review was super encouraging and I really REALLY needed that. I really appreciate your awesome support for this story. Thanks again!

Blue haired loon: Welcome! Thanks for your review. I feel really flattered, by the way.

I agree with you about LOTR. I always wanted more elves involved (they're so cool, who wouldn't?), which of course led me to write this story about Legolas after the War.

Cee: Thanks for your review. I feel touched that mine is the first you've ever reviewed. wow and now that we've met, I hope you'll keep reviewing and letting me know what you think about the story. It really does make a difference in the direction of my writing, believe me. Looking forward to hearing from you again!

Again, thanks for reviewing the last chapter. I hope that you liked this chapter, and I'd love to hear from you, so please PLEASE review!

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