Building Ithilien

Different Paths You Might Take

Author's note: Again, thank you for the reviews. I am glad that you are enjoying the story. I promise Legolas and gang will leave Lothlorien one of these days! (but right now, they're having way too much fun there.)

Chapter Six: Different Paths You Might Take

Legolas soon took his leave of the Lady Miredhel. The day was still early, and he had promised to meet Celeborn and some of the other elves for council. Nearing Celeborn's chamber, he could already see a great many elves gathered through the open doors. Some he recognized; many he did not. Celeborn called the meeting to order, and Legolas let his eyes roam. Gilgafier and Gilfier sat next to Celeborn near the center of the room under a trio of arched windows. Lady Galadriel illuminated Celeborn's left side. Even in the warm afternoon sun, she seemed to emit light completely unto herself. Legolas could not help but get lost in her eyes, a darker blue than his own, deepened by the tonnage of years. Haldir stood protectively off to the left, behind the Lord and Lady. Farothin was there as well as the brothers Belegil and Sulindal. Legolas spied Eledhel who lifted his hand from his lap in a subtle 'what happened?' gesture.

'We'll talk later,' Legolas mouthed silently but smiled to assure him everything was all right.

Celeborn began the meeting and stood before the elves. "We have gathered you here to discuss the fate of our people. No longer does our fair wood have the protection of the Lady's ring. Its ability to protect and sustain our city diminishes since the destruction of the One Ring." Many of his people exchanged worried glances or murmured softly with their neighbors. Celeborn wearily sat back down and reached for Galadriel's hand.

"Fear not, my children," she said, "for even this moment in our history has been appointed by the Valar." Her voice, low and resonant, soothed the council, dispelling insecurities. "You have a choice before you now," she continued. "There lies before you three paths you might choose. The first is to take passage to the Havens and sail to Valinor. This is the road of my choosing." She turned toward her husband.

"I have chosen to stay here," said Celeborn. "If your heart is not yet weary of Middle Earth, then you may elect to stay in the Golden Wood with me; alas, that its beauty should lessen in our absence."

"There is one more path open to all," said the Lady. "Beware, it is not for the weary or timid. Much peril lies in store for those who would travel the roads to Ithilien. I have foreseen it." She looked in Legolas' direction and bade him to stand.

"Members of the council," Legolas addressed the crowd, "I have traveled these roads to Ithilien. Even though Sauron has been destroyed, the threat of his minions still darkens fair lands. I cannot guarantee your safety in good faith, nor I do know what dangers we might encounter. I can only call upon you now, the strongest and bravest of hearts, to join me in forging a new beginning."

"We will not advise any to go or to stay. I will only say to trust in your heart's desire as you meet your fates." Galadriel said and rose from her seat. "All are here as representatives of their houses and loved ones. Go to them, and lay open the knowledge of this council so they might choose as well."

The council meeting broke up. Many elves lingered in discussions, debating which fate awaited them. Legolas sought counsel from Celeborn. He easily discerned his silvery head in the throng.

"Lord Celeborn, could I have a moment with you?" Legolas asked.

"Of course, Legolas," he replied. "You showed much insight in your address to my people. I thought it well that you advised them of the eminent dangers." Celeborn's eyes were full of wisdom. He had seen the rise and fall of many great houses of elves in Middle Earth, holding witness to tragedy, destruction, love, and hope. He smiled wistfully. "I see much of myself in you, young Prince—a love for Middle Earth and ambition enough to want to make it better. Only I had the great love and faith of a beautiful elf to give me strength." Celeborn's eyes rested upon Galadriel and dimmed. "There will never be anyone like her again."

Celeborn and Legolas left the large chamber and walked together to Celeborn's study. It was a small, cluttered but pleasant room full of parchments, scrolls neatly stacked, sketches of fauna, and the occasional mounted weapon graced the walls. "I would not presume to guess that this is about the scrolls of Belthuin," commented Celeborn as he and the prince sat down.

"My lord, I was finalizing my plans for travel and wished to consult you. Originally, I had hoped to return to Mirkwood, gather my people in the halls of my father, and then make way to Ithilien."

"Yes, go on," prompted Celeborn.

"But now I feel that the added mileage through the forest would put the journey into additional risks. Instead, I would ask your permission to send messengers to the green wood, letting my people know that we will meet them on the southern edge of Eryn Lasgalen."

"I think it a good plan. The Lady will be departing for Rivendell soon. She and Elrond wished to reach the Havens in the last days of autumn. I am loathe to see so many leave at once, but perhaps it will be best that way. Legolas, you would do well to be on your journey before the first frost."

"I agree," said Legolas. He noticed a collection of sketches on a cluttered table. Some of the drawings featured magnificent mallorns, intricate studies of plants, and vignettes of Caras Galadhon. "Oh," said Legolas, as he recognized something familiar, "is this the garden in the center of the city?"

Celeborn peered at the drawing. "Ah, yes. The people call it 'lovers' ring.' I enjoy the botany there immensely, although most of the Galadhrim find it endearing for other reasons…" He smiled, perhaps savoring old memories.

Legolas, on the other hand, felt uncomfortable. 'Lovers' Ring!' he thought, quite miserably. What if someone had seen him there with Miredhel? The last thing he wanted was to stir up gossip. He could feel his ears burning and looked suspiciously at Celeborn. Did he know anything of his meeting there with her? 'Of course not,' Legolas told himself, 'don't be foolish. Nothing happened anyways.' Now was the time to leave.

"Well, my lord, thank you for your advice. It is most appreciated. I hope to see you at the archery contest tomorrow?" Legolas said and walked to the doorway.

With a gleam in his eye, Celeborn scrutinized the young elf. "Of course, Prince Legolas. We look forward to it." The prince relaxed and started to leave. "Just a moment now…" Celeborn said, and Legolas stopped, his shoulders tensing. "Before you take leave, young sire, I really must know—what is her name?"

"Whose name?" Legolas innocently said, wincing.

"The young lady you must have gone to see in that garden. The same one you thought of and blushed as I called it 'the lovers' ring.' Who is she?" Celeborn tried to look serious, but his eyes had a rare, unreserved light.

"Keeping secrets from the Lady OR you seems an impossible task," Legolas observed. "I knew not of the garden's romantic history. Besides, she is only a friend. Not even a friend really, an acquaintance."

"I see," Celeborn said, "but you still have not told me her name. Do not feel embarrassed, Legolas. I am merely interested in seeing which of our young ladies so captured your attention."

Legolas walked back inside the study, for he did not wish his or Celeborn's words to be overheard. He lowered his voice. "In truth, Lord Celeborn, I feel that perhaps I should not become involved with anyone right now. My heart is ready, but my mind is not. I should not neglect my present duty to Ithilien. I do not desire to lose focus."

"You are dedicated, Legolas, and a fine ruler you shall be. Do not lose sight of your needs as well. Love will make you stronger, not weaker, if that is what your mindset is."

"Again, I thank you, Lord Celeborn…for all of your kindness." Legolas bowed and left.

He walked down the corridor, tracing the steps and hanging corridors that moved from one giant mallorn to the next. He searched for Eledhel to let him know what had transpired in his meeting with Miredhel. He had just began to climb another spiraling set of stairs when he heard a call from down below.

"My lord! Prince Legolas!" It was Belegil and Sulindal. They waved their arms, hoping to attract his notice. Legolas waved back, motioning that he would join them.

"What did you think of the council," he asked.

"I was surprised to hear that the Lady was planning on leaving so soon," Belegil said. "Truly, I did not believe that she would depart for several more years."

"Aye, brother," Sulindal joined in. "She made your trip seem fairly bleak, my lord. Lady Galadriel has the ability of sight you know."

Legolas nodded. "I know it well, Sulindal, but I do not think that she would encourage a mission that she has foreseen to be disastrous."

"Yes, but it will be dangerous. There is no denying it," said Belegil and continued, "The roads are open for adventure, Prince, and we will meet danger together."

"More have joined our party, my lord. I have spoken with some warriors who have promised themselves as well as some ladies."

"That is good," Belegil said, his eyes smiling. "The more ladies, the better."

"Speaking of ladies," Sulindal added, "we heard that you and the Lady Miredhel seen in 'lovers' ring.'"

Legolas groaned and brought his hand to his face. "Don't two accomplished elven warriors have more important things to worry about? Where did you hear of this?"

Belegil and Sulindal exchanged looks. "It must be true then, brother."

"He did not deny it."

"Of course, she is a fiery one."

"Yes, what a temper she has."

"Her temper is worse than Eledhel's.

"Ah, but he is not half so lovely as she!"

The brothers would have kept on, if Legolas had not thrown up his hands. "Quiet!" he hissed. "I do not wish all of the Golden Wood to know. I did meet her there, but it was only to apologize for some hasty words. Oh, I was right to fear this as fodder for gossips. Now, where did you hear of this?"

"Fear not, Prince. We heard it from Eledhel himself! He is looking for you, by the way."

Legolas looked stunned. His face, which had been rather red, drained to an unpleasant mottled complexion. "You really had me going, did you not?" He looked at the brothers. They avoided eye contact and feared that they might have taken their joke too far with the prince. An uneasy silence passed between the elves. Yet, Legolas could not help but laugh and put his hand on Belegil's shoulder. "Do not fear, my brothers! From now on, you must not call me 'sir' or 'my lord,' but only Legolas, for I know that we will become the closest of friends."

Both Belegil and Sulindal were visibly relieved. Sulindal spoke first, saying, "Then let us escort you, Legolas, to lunch with us. Eledhel will meet us there. He has been finalizing the plans for the tournament tomorrow."

The three met Eledhel in the warriors' mess hall. The mess hall served a myriad of elves all the way from the youngest undergoing training to the most battle-hardened veterans. Legolas delighted in seeing elflings with their practice tunics and wrist guards, their feet dangling off the low benches, and their novice weapons—little training swords, bows, and quivers. Some of the elflings stopped from their meals to look up at him, mouths agape. They had heard of this Prince among elves that had stood for their kindred in the Fellowship. Legolas had never really enjoyed being singled out when he was younger for his nobility or deeds accomplished, and this sentiment had continued into adulthood. Despite these feelings, Legolas stooped down to eye-level with the children.

"Who are these great warriors?" he asked the elflings.

"We…we are not warriors, my lord. This only my first year of training in the sword," stammered a curly-topped elfling boy.

"I am learning the bow," another little elfling girl said and shyly added, "and I hope to be as good as you…some day."

"Well then, you must work very hard and listen to your masters. In a few years' time, you will be winning all of the tournaments." Legolas stood and ruffled the little elflings curls.

"Some of those elflings will more than likely be joining our party to Ithilien." Sulindal said. "Eledhel will know of which ones for sure. He has a memory like a dwarf's coffer. There he is now. Let us join him."

Eledhel sat at one of the long tables in the back of the hall. He had already finished with his lunch and was busy looking at a scroll, hardly bothering to look up until his friends were nearly upon him. "So you found him, eh? Good!" Eledhel looked back down at the parchment, so Legolas, Belegil, and Sulindal sat down and began eating. The meal was in keeping with standard Mirkwood rations, Legolas noted—side of meat, bread, greens, a little cheese, wine.

"So, Eledhel," Legolas said between mouthfuls, "are you not interested in what happened with your sister?"

"Oh." Eledhel looked up. "I am sorry, Legolas. I meant to ask you about it, but I just wanted to check this list to make sure I had not forgotten any names." He scanned the list again and then set it aside. "Actually, my sister told me everything that happened. I saw her after the council meeting. She was quite herself again." Eledhel lifted his glass in Legolas' direction. "I must say—you impress me."

"Did she tell you about our wager?" Legolas asked.

"Yes, and I made a counter-bet with her. If I place first, then she must go with us to Ithilien." He looked at his friends thoughtfully. "You must let me win tomorrow."

"Throw the tournament?" Belegil whispered. "I know she is your sister and everything, but do you think that everyone is going to let you win?"

"Haldir certainly will not," advised Sulindal. "I heard that he has been at the range for most of the morning, honing his skills."

"Eledhel, you are more than capable of winning this tournament. Relax, my friend." Legolas coated a roll with butter while he spoke. "Extra advantage will be unnecessary, if you really want to win."

"Easy for you to say, Legolas! Every elf favors you to place first. What wager did you make with my sister, anyway? She would not say."

Legolas arched his eyebrows. "Then it is not for me to reveal." Belegil elbowed Sulindal in the ribs, and the brothers exchanged knowing looks. "Besides, when I win the tournament tomorrow, then the matter shall be common knowledge. Until then," Legolas rose from the table, "I suggest you join Haldir at the range."

Leaving the table, Legolas smiled to himself. Could he really throw the game for Eledhel? He hated to lose. Of course, he did not want to be the reason for a family's separation… but perhaps it would be better if Miredhel stayed in Lothlorien. She openly admitted that she possessed no desire to live in Ithilien. She possessed no skills that recommended her as a vital member of the party. Legolas was at a loss to decide. Only if he and Eledhel were close for first would he think about missing a shot on purpose. He would let tomorrow's tournament tell the tale.

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