Chapter 51: Without Reserve
Later that evening when he knocked on Miredhel's chamber door to escort her to Aragorn's infernal banquet, Legolas certainly held no illusions about what sort of greeting he might receive. A boot hurled at his visage, perhaps? A well-aimed fist? Legolas had already admitted to himself that he probably deserved her worst. He had been suppressing their bond, keeping her out. He tightened his jaw and knocked again.
Hmm. No answer. "Miredhel, I am sorry about earlier," Legolas said stoically. He rapped again on the door, this time a bit more impatiently. "Miredhel?" Stubborn elleth.
Legolas tried the door knob and found it unlocked. He peered tentatively down the hall and eased inside her room. The candles were unlit, and the wax, still cooling. She must have left only moments earlier. The smell of soap and Miredhel's own scent still lingered, and Legolas swallowed hard.
He loved her, needed her, and had foolishly tried to protect her from himself. If her reaction this afternoon was any measure, she apparently did not appreciate his efforts on her behalf. She misunderstood his intentions. He heard what she had said on the other side of the door after he made her leave. She thought he was denying their bond, and that was not what he wanted at all. He wanted nothing more than to lose himself in her, with her, under a field of stars with nothing between them. Legolas reached a hand out to the nearest obliging arm chair to steady himself. Valar, her perfume was getting to him.
"Looking for Miredhel?"
A voice from the doorway made him straighten up. He did not need to look over there to know who it belonged to—it was his sister. He glared at her anyway. She had a decidedly smug expression on her face.
"What?" he all but growled at her.
"I was over here before she left," Celeril informed him and added in a small voice. "She told me about Adrendil."
A credit to his upbringing, Legolas did not flinch when she said the name…but he wanted to. Restraint had ever been his fortitude. It was only later, behind closed doors that his famed elven nerves failed him, and he threw up like a wretch. Twice.
"Celeril, I—" Legolas hardly knew what to say to his young, idealistic sister. He had slain an elf that had served in their father's halls since childhood.
"You did what had to be done, Legolas," she finished for him. She joined his side and placed her hand on his shoulder. "I must say it shocked me—on both counts—to find Adrendil a murderer and that you were forced to kill him."
"I don't know anymore, Celeril," he supplied honestly. "I spent the rest of this afternoon thinking about what Father would have done, how he would have handled it." Legolas met his sister's eyes and took her hand in his. "Aragorn seems to believe this banquet tonight will help somehow."
"Then it shall," Celeril confirmed optimistically, and with great aplomb, led her brother to the banquet.
The staff of Minas Tirith, under Queen Arwen's patient guidance, had outdone themselves tonight. To throw such a gala together on such short notice, the outcome was splendid. Every silver candlestick, every silver serving piece down to the cutlery, twinkled atop long white linens and black table runners. In the middle of everything, as glorious and bright as the evening star, was Queen Arwen, smiling and pleasant, setting a friendly, easy example as she mingled among men and elves alike. Aragorn moved beside her, greeting his kinsmen and ladies with charm and grace, and flanking the king and queen, were an unlooked for boon of the evening—Faramir and Eowyn had arrived from Ithilien; their attendance tonight would do much to assuage any remaining doubts that the Gondorian court might have.
All eyes shifted toward the entrance of the main hall at the announcement of Prince Legolas and Princess Celeril's arrival. For many, that one moment completely won them over and nullified any previous considerations that the elven prince was a lethal killer who had only hours earlier stalked the city streets drenched in gore.
For in that moment when his name was announced, and he stepped into the soft glow of the candelabras, Legolas looked every inch the prince he was, so very elven and incomparable. His straight silken hair shone like fine white gold, and his skin was luminous and fair against the black and silver of his tunic—an homage to Gondor. His piercing blue eyes which had seemed so wild and unworldly after he slew his captain, were now loving and soft as he whispered something in his sister's ear to make her smile.
He was truly beautiful—magnificent even, and the crowds' brief reverence at the sight of him was only broken by the announcement that dinner was to be served.
With no slight dismay, Legolas saw that Arwen had arranged for the head table to be situated at the very front of the hall on a raised dais, but Celeril cheerfully urged him forward, hinting in his ear not very subtly that she longed for an introduction to Lady Eowyn of whom she had heard so much. Her delight increased ten-fold when Faramir and Eowyn gladly intercepted Legolas on the way to the head table.
"Prince Legolas," Faramir greeted him, "I cannot express to you how genuinely pleased Eowyn and I were to hear the news that you would be joining us in Ithilien."
Eowyn's eyes shone, and Legolas was heartened to see the young woman in the bloom of such excellent health and so obviously with child.
"Thank you, Faramir, and am I correct in guessing that congratulations are in order?" he asked with a small grin, and Celeril punched him lightly in the shoulder.
"Of course they are!" his sister exclaimed, "Not that you would be bothered with courtly etiquette."
"My sister, Celeril," Legolas introduced her with a grimace. "I tried to leave her at home, but she insists on tagging along."
Eowyn laughed, a clear lovely peal, and leaned toward Celeril. "From another little sister who always insisted on 'tagging along,' I am delighted to make your acquaintance."
Celeril beamed at Legolas.
"And you must meet Miredhel," Celeril said excitedly, once again smiling magnificently at her brother of whom her adoration and pride had no limit at the moment. "She's Legolas' intended." Celeril pointed her out from amongst the crowd.
With that delightful delivery, both Eowyn and Faramir's curious gaze swiveled from sister to brother to the prince's betrothed.
Of course, Legolas looked on with them and let out a breath that he did not even realize he'd been holding. Across the distance of the hall, he glimpsed Miredhel's long shock of golden curls and the slender, tempting line of her neck. Legolas' ears grew warm, and just at that moment, she turned from her conversation to glance over her shoulder. Their eyes met, and even with the crowded goings on of the banquet scene stretched between them, Legolas felt their bond pulse from deep within his chest. He drew a staggered breath as he held her gaze, and then it seemed as though the great hall and its banquet were swept away and replaced by a much more tender, intimate scene:
Miredhel, Legolas, both entwined and oblivious. A blush raced up her neck to her cheek as he ran his fingers down through her hair to whisper in her ear, his lips brushing the delicate tip.
Miredhel turned back around to rejoin the neighboring conversation, and the vision faded to the buzz of the surrounding crowds. Legolas swallowed hard and readjusted his tunic.
So this was how it was going to be, was it?
She had thrust that memory upon him on purpose as surely as she had left her scent in the room to torment him. Miredhel understood all too easily what had taken him the past week to figure out. He had been shielding himself from their bond. Not even deliberately at first, Legolas had merely been trying to reign in his feelings as to not encroach on her grief. He was so terrified of hurting her further that he abstained from what might have given her the most comfort. His presence, their bond, the warmth of his spirit coupled with the touch of his body knew no equal in terms of what it could do to heal.
He knew that this could happen, did happen to most elves who bonded their feas. The bond was a connection of spirits, and at its most elemental, a connection of feelings, whether it be of joy or despair, or desire. He had been shielding his deepest feelings from their bond, from Miredhel, since the battle. Earlier that evening outside his door, Miredhel had accused him of 'denying' their bond, and he had realized with a pang, that she had been aware of what he had been trying to do. If that weren't bad enough, he was beginning to discover that his efforts in trying to protect her from the darkest side of his nature had harmed their bond, resulted in an excess of pent-up emotion that should have been allowed to flow freely between the two of them. If the…
"Legolas," Celeril's voice interrupted his internal debate. "Legolas," she chided, "we should take our seats. Eowyn and Faramir offered their congratulations on your betrothal, and you just stood there, staring at Miredhel."
The elf in question simply shook his head and looked apologetically at his sister. Legolas knew better than to tell his sister what he had been thinking. He would never hear the end of it, and when one is of the Eldar, never is a very long time to be teased by a little sister.
Instead, Legolas cleared his throat and politely inquired, "What remarks did you make on my behalf?"
"Oh, I didn't even need to," Celeril assured her older brother, "because your friend Faramir just laughed it off, saying he used to get caught looking at Eowyn that way."
Legolas followed his sister the rest of the way to the long head table, noting the way that his friends, now Aragorn included, smirked at him.
Aragorn stood, framed by the backdrop of two enormous black and silver banners hanging from ceiling to floor, emblazoned by the White Tree. The Elfstone winked upon his brow, and his voice was kingly as he spoke:
"Tonight we gather here as friends to celebrate our recent victory at Calenfen and the defeat of a foe who would have surely attacked our own city, had he not been stopped," Aragorn paused as his eyes scanned the crowd. "But the Black Dragon was stopped—slain by one of our own, who placed himself in considerable danger to do so. Indeed, we owe him much, my friend, my brother-in-arms, Prince Legolas Thranduillion," Aragorn announced proudly and gestured for Legolas to rise.
The elf stood, to the modest applause of the king's guests, and hoped his pseudo-pleased expression would not give away the fact that he wished for nothing more than to crawl under the banquet table. To say that Legolas was mortified might be a touch strong, but not by much.
Then something changed unexpectedly. The court's faces shifted from pleasant sycophantry to genuine astonishment, for one of the elves rose from his seat in the middle of the hall and with a cursory glance around the room, left his place at the table to kneel before the dais in front of Legolas. Peerless and fey, with sharp grey eyes, the elf crossed his chest with his right arm and bowed his head before all.
"That is Sulindal from Lothlorien—he offers Legolas Vesta Tua Oira," Arwen whispered to Eowyn who knew little of elven customs, "an eternal pledge of fealty, loyalty in service—not something given lightly. In all my years, I have only seen it offered once. He honors Legolas greatly."
Another elf stood, almost the mirror image of the first, and Belegil solemnly joined his brother at the front of the room to the curious murmur of the crowd. That murmur faded to dead silence as the nobility of Minas Tirith watched, open-mouthed, as all of the other elves quit their tables and made their way to kneel before the dais, freely offering Legolas one of Mandos' most revered trusts.
The prince listened in equal parts awe and disbelief while so many of his friends and followers swore oaths to him, and he felt proud and deeply humbled all at the same time by their faith in him, by their apparent forgiveness and trust. And just a very small part of him whispered that he wished his father could be here to see it.
Then, as was tradition, Legolas gravely took their pledges with one of his own, spoken in elvish softly, "By the Valar before whom this pledge is sacred, I will to these elves be true and faithful, holding their service and oaths, that I might, in turn, honor and serve them."
He stepped down from the head table with an approving nod from the king and queen who were both smiling broadly and greeted his friends with a dazzling smile of his own. And for the first time the people of Minas Tirith glimpsed the king's dearest friend for what he was—not just a noble elf, nor a warrior, deadly and ancient—but a being of joy and unchecked radiance. His people accepted him so openly, and the first elf to offer the oath, Sulindal, quickly drew him into an embrace.
"Sulindal, you do me great honor," Legolas said, his voice thick with emotion.
"My friend, none that is not undeserved," Sulindal said kindly, his eyes shining. "You cannot now, in good conscience, doubt the esteem in which your brethren hold you. Put your old cares away, Legolas, and think of naught but the days ahead and the goodness they shall bring." His eyes flicked to Miredhel standing a few feet away.
Legolas followed his gaze and his brilliant smile returned. "Well said, Sulindal, and thank you…for everything."
Taking leave of Sulindal and after several more greetings from friends and well-wishers, Legolas found his way to Miredhel's side.
"My lady," the prince said gallantly, "'tis a soft night that begs for companionship."
He offered her his hand, and she, with a knowing smile, placed her hand in his.
Legolas brought it to his lips for a kiss, watching her all the while and exulting as her smile deepened into dimples.
"Hmmm, where have I heard that before?" Miredhel asked coyly, quiet laughter lining her voice.
"It's a proven favorite for when I desperately need to impress a beautiful elf maiden," Legolas confided cheekily, but as he met the dark green of her eyes, he gently squeezed her hand in his.
"Miredhel," he whispered. "Forgive me?" It was more of a question than a command, and her eyes softened.
"I already have, Legolas."
"Will you join me at the head table? There is an open seat beside me, which I believe was meant for you."
"I know—I just did not feel comfortable among all that royalty and dignitaries."
"You'll get used to it," Legolas promised, "and I really want you beside me tonight. Actually I want nothing more than to pull you away from this banquet into some dark corner, but…"
"Being the guest of honor, that might be frowned upon?" Miredhel guessed.
"That it might," Legolas agreed amiably. He offered his arm, and thrilled at the warmth coursing straight to his heart as her hand sought his. If merely catching her eye across the great hall was almost enough to undo him, then the feel of her skin against his own nearly finished the job.
Legolas smothered a grin at the fine pink blush spreading down Miredhel's cheek. He was not the only one feeling thus affected. They took their seats together, much to Celeril's delight, and she was not the only one to notice that the elven prince's gaze never left his beloved for the rest of the evening.
As the night wore on, the bright flames of the great candle centerpieces sank lower and lower across the king's long tables, and Legolas stood and pulled Miredhel to her feet beside him. Lifting her hand to his lips he placed a chaste kiss upon it, and quietly led her from the hall. If either of the couple had eyes for anyone or anything besides each other, they would have noticed Aragorn and Arwen exchange the immensely self-satisfied look of one who has newly discovered that he or she has been right all along.
Away from the prying eyes of the banquet hall, Legolas pulled Miredhel into the first available darkened corner and then up against him, hungrily bringing his lips to her own. Usually so self-controlled, so restrained, Legolas felt his will power and inhibitions slip. Need fired through his veins, and when he pulled her briefly away from him, his voice was low, rough even— "What is it that you want, Miredhel?"
He needed to hear her say it.
"You, Legolas—just you," she replied, and his mouth slanted over her own again. She leaned into his embrace, tilting her head back to give him better access, and her taste and scent flooded his senses, happily tumbling over and demolishing that dam of restraint and control that he had held onto for so long. This time, Legolas did not fight it. He did not even try. He just let it go, let all of his reasons, all the insecurities, wash away, and held tightly to Miredhel as a drowning man might a rope.
He ran his lips down her jaw and then up to caress the sensitive tip of her ear, then down her neck, and when he still couldn't find purchase enough, found that he had backed her up against the stone wall.
"Miredhel," his mouth teased her ear, "you were right about our bond—I was wrong. I had been holding back. I—I feared letting go, letting you see the worst parts of me."
She turned to face him, and even through the dark, read certainty in his eyes.
"Miredhel, I want this—I want you—so badly. I want to complete our bond," Legolas confessed.
"Now?" she squeaked, casting a glance at dark enclave.
"I can't think of a better time, but I can think of a better place," he said and led her away from the darkened hallway and into the open night air.
A few more steps and turns, and the couple arrived at the sheltered wall of the queen's garden with its open stone window overlooking the rest of the city—a thousand lights like stars upon the water.
Legolas let go of a breath he hadn't even known he had been holding.
"Yes—here, now, under the stars—as it should be," Legolas declared, and as he said it, he knew he was right, that this decision was the right one. He swept the ancient iron gate to the garden on its rusty hinges, pulling the latch tight so they would not be disturbed.
Then Legolas drew Miredhel toward him again, so gently, wrapping his arms around her lithe frame and pressing his cheek against the soft gold of her hair. "I love you, Miredhel, so much."
"Legolas," she murmured with a contented sigh, "I love you—all of who you are, not just your charming, handsome facade."
"Well, I am charming and handsome." Legolas teased.
"Yes, but that is not the sum of who you are," Miredhel said and looked into his eyes directly. "You bring me joy, Legolas, time and again, when my grief would have me believe that life held nothing but sorrow." She took his hand and placed it over her heart, and he could feel its strong rhythmic beat as surely as his own. He looked down at their hands intertwined before their eyes met again, and Legolas nodded.
Oira yanwien en fear, the joining of souls, the two elves had sparked the beginnings of this most intimate of bonds from the very first night that Legolas had made love to Miredhel, and at last the prince dissembled his final defenses to unburden his heart to his beloved in the same way that she had already shared with him during the grief and loss of her brother. Even now with as much as he trusted her, loved her, he feared letting go; he dreaded that she should see this darker side of himself.
"Forgive me, Miredhel," Legolas asked quietly. He pulled her free hand to his own heart and focused on the green of her eyes, reaching out for her fea with his own, their bond thrumming between them to the steady tempo of their own heartbeat. With great reluctance, his mind fell back to a memory long since pushed away and hidden. Legolas' breath hitched for a moment, and then he let go of it all, all of his secret misery.
The sky was dark. Night had fallen, and the Hall of Fire in Rivendell chimed with the songs of elven tales and legends. Earendil glowed luminously above the shadowed silhouette of the forest, but Legolas wandered alone, his heart heavy from the task lying before him. Mordor. The Ring. He wanted none of it. None.
A sudden movement through the trees caught his eye, and Legolas stopped, cautiously training his eyes on the figures in the darkness.
Arwen and Aragorn were locked in an embrace both passionate and tender, and Legolas found that he could not look away. The choking loneliness he felt earlier tripled at the sight of them like that, but still he looked on, as if invisible fingers wrapped around and clenched his heart mercilessly, leaving him powerless to resist the onslaught of all his pent-up despair. It pumped through his entire body, burning and whispering every malice thinkable—jealousy, fear, anger. All of his discontent accompanied by a steep self-loathing.
Legolas felt so alone and such the failure. He headed off with the Fellowship the very next morning, to Mordor and certain death, never having had what he now witnessed in Aragorn and Arwen's embrace. Tears stung his eyes, and he hated himself for it. He hated that seeing his friends' happiness should be the cause of so much bitterness, the jagged edge of a despised blade that hacked at his heart again, and again, and again, until it was utterly raw and useless.
The night darkened in his memory to a consuming void—the forge of all his nightmares during the war and since—Moria. The heavy stone walls of the mountain closed oppressively over him. No fresh air, no starlight, only torment and the shriekish cries of goblins from the deep, and the darkness buried every hope, every fond memory. Darkness, darkness, darkness…so heavy, so still and enveloping, choking…
Then it all stopped, and the crushing weight flew from his chest, and he could feel Miredhel's hand in his, her lips against his. He could feel the thrumming power of their bond, and the darkness no longer held sway over his heart.
Legolas pulled away and searched Miredhel's eyes anxiously. He had never wanted to share those memories, those dark dreams with her, for he had feared her grief, and most of all, that seeing him thus would lessen her opinion of him, that she might think him weak, a coward. Miredhel met his gaze again and shook her head ever so slightly. She then reached up with her hand and wiped a threatening tear from the corner of her eye before smoothing away similar tracks from his face and deepening their kiss.
A bird trilled in a nearby tree as Legolas took Miredhel into his arms that night in the seclusion of the Queen's garden and loved her without reserve.
Author's note: Probably only one, possibly two more chapters left… Thank you for taking this journey with me. And I just read that the character of Legolas (played by OB) will be in the new Hobbit movie! Thank you, Peter Jackson!