Midsummer's Eve, 3019
"We knew this day would come, Aragorn," Legolas said, trying to keep his voice steady. A fist of pain had formed in his chest. He would be strong, he told himself.
They stood in an antechamber to the throne room of Minas Tirith. The guards had just dismissed the long line of supplicants waiting to see the king. Wearing his robes of state and his high-winged crown, Elessar did indeed look the King of Men, fair and noble, although his eyes were muted, distant. Legolas wasn't sure if this was the man he'd come to know so intimately during the past eight months.
"You remember what I said I would do," Legolas continued.
"Yes," Elessar sounded defeated. "You said you'd bow to your king and fade away. That seems an age ago." He rubbed his eyes, then took off his crown, and set it down on the table.
"I keep my promises, Aragorn."
A small figure dressed in the silver and black livery of the Tower Guard entered the chamber and bowed deeply. "My lord, messengers have arrived. The party that you told us to watch for has been sighted about an hour's travel from here." He paused and then said brightly, "They tell me they're elves, sir, from Rivendell. The Lord Elrond and the Lady Arwen are with them." He stopped uncertainly, his eyes flicking to Legolas.
Legolas bent in a bow to the king and then turned to leave. The elf felt stricken to his core, the desire to embrace the man he loved above all others almost overpowering him. Ah gods, he thought, I can't do this. I love him. How can I just walk away?
"Legolas," King Elessar called, "Stay a while. Our business is not yet concluded." He turned to the guard. "Thank you, Pippin. You bring good tidings. Could you give us leave for a few moments?"
"Yes, Strid . . . I mean, King Elessar, my lord." Pippin bent his head, cast a worried glance at Legolas, then left, his soft footsteps sounding brittle on the stone floor.
The elf hovered by the door, grateful that Aragorn had stopped him, that he could linger a few minutes more. He hated himself for being so weak.
"Legolas," the king said again. He paused, moving restlessly about the room. "I summoned you here and now I find I haven't courage to speak."
"Haven't we said all that needs saying?" the elf said softly. "You have a destiny that is no longer in my keeping. I have served my purpose as your Ohtarnil, your companion in war. Now, the Lady Arwen Evenstar will be your companion in peace. This is the way it was ordained, my king. It is the way we knew it would come to pass."
"The foreknowledge doesn't make it any easier, now that the moment has come," said Aragorn. His eyes brimmed suddenly and he turned away to look out the window. "I so little understand my own heart. There is a part of me that longs to summon two of my fastest steeds to bear us away to some far place. I have faced the temptation of the Ring, the armed might of Mordor, and yet I fear I am not strong enough for this, my friend."
"Then I shall be strong for us both," Legolas said. He stepped forward and lifted a hand intending to clap it on the king's shoulder as if he were merely a friend and companion, not a lover. Instead, he let it fall back awkwardly by his side. Aragorn's eyes followed the movement.
"My last act of devotion to you, my love," the elven prince said even more softly, "will be to keep that promise made barely four months ago in Lothlorien. If it makes it easier, I shall leave tonight."
"No, I do not want that," the king said. "I wish my friends to be with me for this occasion and you are certainly my greatest friend. I want you to stand by me for the ceremony, though I know it will be hard for you."
"So be it," said Legolas. He turned to go and heard an anguished groan from the king. The next instant Aragorn had crossed the distance between them and crushed the elf in his arms, taking his mouth in a passionate kiss.
"Estel!" cried the elf, trying to push him away. "Don't, oh gods, don't make this any harder!" Then the dam on his self-control burst and he met the king's kisses fervently, at the same time throwing his whole body against him, wrapping his arms around his back and clasping the man as if he would draw him into himself.
"I will always love you, you must know that," Aragorn whispered, pressing kisses all over his face.
The elf took a deep breath. "I know, meleth nîn, but your life is no longer your own. It belongs to your people, your heirs . . . and your future queen. This does neither of us any good. It is over. You must let me go."
Slowly Aragorn relaxed his grip and let Legolas slide out of his arms. The elf forced himself to move backwards one step as he looked into the king's haunted eyes. He felt a single tear burn down his cheek. Quickly, he turned and left the room.
Legolas sat in a chair in his room facing the double doors that opened out onto a terrace. He rolled a glass of wine between his palms; the bottle stood by his elbow. The doors were flung wide onto one of the most beautiful nights ever made on Middle Earth. A balmy breeze gently blew the curtains aside and carried the heady smell of honeysuckle from a vine outside. His gaze leapt down the many tiered walls of the magnificent city alight with torches. A large silver moon had just risen and hovered on the rim of the eastern sky. The elf could hear singing and laughter from passing guests and occasionally the sky burst with iridescent light accompanied by a deep boom and smaller crackles. The elf smiled grimly. Fireworks, Gandalf's wedding present.
He thought that he must be the only person in the city tonight who was not rejoicing. He tried to put the images from his mind, of standing next to his Estel and watching him take Arwen's hand and kneel with her for their vows. Arwen had looked stunningly beautiful in a deep blue dress sewn with tiny crystals that glittered as she moved like the evening star that was her namesake. Her face had been more radiant than her garment.
Only once that evening had Aragorn's gaze fastened on his, but the expression was unreadable. Legolas had tried, really tried to feel happy for both of them. But he could not. As soon as was reasonable, he made an excuse to the other members of the Fellowship and returned to his room with a bottle of potent wine. The elf was not one for drinking, but he desperately needed to ease the pain in his chest.
Now he picked up the bottle and shook it, watching the red liquid slosh within. He poured the rest into his glass and drained it. Why was it his fate to lose his lovers? Elwin had been killed by orcs and now Aragorn was gone to another. In some ways this was worse than death. To see his lover, to stand next to him, and yet be forced to deny his affection.
Suddenly consumed with fury and frustration, the elf threw the glass into the cold fireplace. The shattering of the crystal reverberated violently about the room.
Now what should he do? Stay here to serve his king, hoping against hope for a brief glance, a soft word? A stolen tumble in some backroom? He felt disgusted with himself. Aragorn was pledged to another now and lost to him forever. He must not allow himself to think otherwise. To stay would only be torture for all of them. Go back to Mirkwood? To do what? Wait on his father's pleasure? Marry some elfmaid?
His immortality seemed a curse. How could he go on living for eternity with this pain in his heart? A black cloud enveloped him, smothering him into its clinging folds, whispering of ways he could be released from pain.
The elf pulled his knife from its sheath and moved it in the moonlight, contemplating the beauty of the liquid gleam sliding up and down the well-kept blade. How well and often he had used this very blade to deal out death to his foes. It felt natural, an extension of his hand. The prince threw the knife high into the air, watched it arc and tumble as in slow motion, then caught it smoothly by the handle.
He turned his other hand over, clenching a fist, and making the veins pop up on his wrist. Elves could die of a broken heart. He had known it to happen. A terrible wasting death. It could be quicker.
He stared at the knife, then as if watching someone else, turned it around toward himself. Holding the hilt in both hands, he pressed the tip to his chest.
The prince paused like that for many long moments, wondering how quickly the pain would pass and what the journey beyond would be like. Would he spend the rest of eternity in the Halls of Mandos to pay for this crime? At least there he would be free of this agony. He pressed harder, feeling a sharp pain as the point entered his flesh and a thin, warm line tickled down his chest.
Legolas heard laughter in the distance. A strong emotion akin to relief surged through him, ringing in his ears like the haunting cry of a gull. No, he could not. That was a coward's way. He sighed, lowered the knife to his lap, and passed a hand over his hot brow. Clutching the shirt over his chest, he felt his heart pounding out its terrible rhythm, the pain within as persistent as before.
There was a knock at the door. Legolas didn't move or answer. The black mood roiled and fluttered about him leaving no room for others. The knock came louder.
"It's open!" Legolas snarled.
He didn't turn around to see who had entered. He didn't care, though he could sense, not one, but two similarly-crafted spirits enter the room.
"I thought I taught you never to sit with your back to a door," said a smooth, melodious voice.
"You never know who or what might be coming through it," said another voice, a close match to the first, but slightly higher and more amused-sounding, as if speaking through a smile.
Legolas turned and flung the dagger at the last speaker. With a loud thwack, it buried itself in the wall barely to the left of his head. The speaker didn't flinch, only showed that he was startled with a flicker of his eyes.
"I can take care of myself, Elrohir," Legolas said.
"Hmm. I doubt that. You've disarmed yourself and you didn't hit your target," said Elrohir. He reached over and pulled the knife from the wall.
"I did hit it," Legolas turned back to face the terrace door. "You know full well that if I had wanted you dead, you would be."
"Fey mood, cousin," said Elladan. "I think Gimli was right to send us."
"Gimli should keep his nose in his beard. I have no wish for company tonight."
Elrond's twin sons walked into the room with the spare, graceful glide of panthers until they stood on either side of Legolas's chair. As they moved, there was a faint ring of chain-mail and a squeak of leather.
The prince looked up at them. As well as he knew them, he always found it unsettling at first to look upon these mirror images. Their long, shiny dark hair was bound back from their high foreheads by silver filets, their large wolf-like eyes, pale-grey in color, the irises ringed in black. Those riveting eyes were framed by black eyebrows that slanted upward. The twins had the high angular cheekbones of the elves, but the strong, straight noses of the men of Gondor. Both were very tall and lithe, and a light shone about their faces.
In a word, they were breathtakingly beautiful, but at the same time fell. Dangerous. They projected an aura that promised efficient death. Legolas had often seen orcs run screaming at the very sight of them.
They wore their silver-grey cloaks over one shoulder, fastened under the other arm, to allow greater freedom to wield a sword. Their hands were encased in fingerless black leather gloves. Even at their sister's wedding, they were dressed for battle.
"Your knife, Elf of Mirkwood," said Elrohir presenting the hilt with a slight bow.
"Shouldn't you two be out celebrating?" Legolas said, taking the knife and resheathing it.
"We have mingled with the crowds all we care to," said Elrohir. "We were never ones for merry-making."
"We've moved the celebration here," said Elladan. He brandished a large black bottle.
"You'll forgive me if I don't join in," Legolas said, staring out the door.
Elrohir raised an eyebrow. "Do you have more glasses around here?"
"Over there," Legolas waved vaguely at a cupboard.
Elrohir knelt to rummage through the shelves, while Elladan dragged two chairs from the table over to where Legolas sat. He swung one leg over the seat and sat with a heavy metallic sound.
"Rather hard on your glass, weren't you," Elrohir said, picking up a sharp shard from the floor. He returned with three ceramic tumblers.
Uncorking the bottle, he poured some clear liquid in each, then he raised his cup. Elladan followed suit. Legolas stubbornly sat, unmoving.
Elladan picked up Legolas's cup and pressed it into his hand. "You can't refuse a toast, cousin. A chuil! To life."
He tilted his tumbler toward Legolas's and the prince moved his hand slowly towards him. With a quick flick of his wrist, Elladan clicked Legolas's cup with the bottom of his and Elrohir did likewise. They both took a gulp.
Legolas sipped and felt the warm, honeyed glow of miruvor spread down his throat into his stomach.
"I'm afraid I have appropriated one of several bottles brought by Father as a wedding gift," Elrohir smiled. "Thought it might be more needed here."
The room lit up in a burst of light, followed by another boom. They heard distant squeals of delight.
"Beautiful night," said Elladan.
"I've rarely seen a better," Elrohir said. He strode toward the door, and pulled the curtain back, inhaling deeply. "Such sweet air," he said, his tenor voice gentle. "You'd think we were in Valinor." He turned and the silver moonlight lit one side of his face. "I think every one I love is gathered in this city tonight, rejoicing. I, too, am happy to see my foster brother and sister joined at long last. It is a triumph of love over the darkness."
"Yes," said Elladan, "and why shouldn't we be joyful? It is the beginning of a new Age. We are victorious! The Dark Lord is overthrown and the King has returned."
"A hard-earned peace. A time for healing," added Elrohir.
"And yet . . ." said Elladan.
"And yet, something is amiss, is it not, brother?" Elrohir said, then looked at Legolas who sat with unseeing eyes. He poured more miruvor into the prince's glass.
"When there is a beginning, there is also always an ending," remarked Elladan, "and that which we love passes on. The bittersweet conclusion of history. It brings us a dilemma, to hold on to the past or . . ."
"Venture into new territory, perhaps to find there new delights for the soul," said Elrohir.
"We will soon have a choice to make, brethren," said Elladan, "whether to stay on these fair shores or seek a ship for the crossing."
"I am not ready for the decision," said Elrohir.
"Not ready, indeed. What role for us, Legolas, in peace time?" said Elladan.
"I know not," the prince replied. "My heart feels heavy and I am useless. I had a role during the war. I was necessary, needed. To what do I turn my hand now?"
Elrohir came back and sat down on his other side. "You feel it as well?" he said softly. "The doom of soldiers when the war is over. It seems all my brother and I know is death. For five hundred years, we have been pursuing the enemy, avenging our mother's pain. I have slain more orcs than there are stars in the sky." He shifted, the chain mail chinking as he moved. "At first I took pleasure in every death. Then, I felt despair. Now, I feel nothing. It is simply what I do. This hand," he held it out, encased in its leather glove, "is the hand of an assassin. Nothing more."
Elladan nodded. "I remember a former time when we were something other than assassins, brother, when I thought of things besides stratagems, and sharp blades, and visits to the armorer. Like a tiny, bright image seen through a glass, I know that there was such a being as Elladan, scholar, Elladan, healer, Elladan, poet. I no longer know that creature."
"Aye, and I was Elrohir, healer, horse-tamer, forester," said Elrohir. "I do remember. It was an Age ago."
"You echo my thoughts, exactly," said Legolas. "Who am I when not killing orcs? I rode with you over fifty years on the same quest for revenge. Like you, all I tasted was despair, until . . ." He took another gulp of the sweet fluid and could feel the pain easing in his chest.
"You found love again," ventured Elrohir.
Legolas's eyes widened and flew to meet those of the dark-haired twin.
"Do you think we are blind?" Elrohir laughed. "We know you and we know our brother. We could feel your eyes upon each other while we rode to the Stone of Erech and through the fields of Lebennin. I know what you and he did when you disappeared for a brief time down in the hold of the Corsair ship that bore us up Anduin. The pleasure you both radiated upon returning to the deck told the tale. And your face betrayed you throughout the binding tonight."
"So is all the city discussing the king's indiscretion with the elf prince, then?" Legolas said fiercely.
"No, I doubt anyone else has noticed and neither of us will say a word. We are the very essence of discretion. We've had to be." Elladan looked at Elrohir meaningfully.
Legolas saw desire in their beautiful faces. He had long known that their affection for each other ran deep, deeper perhaps than was permitted.
"Indeed, time for all of us to find new roles," said Elrohir. "On the way back from Imladris, I thought long on this. I will be an assassin no longer."
He threw his sword on the table, it landed with sharp ring, sliding to a stop. Then he unpinned his cloak, unbuckled, and slid off his heavy leather shoulder pads, followed by his metal belt. He drew his chain mail over his head, dropping it on the floor with a heavy chink.
"And I will follow your lead, brother," said Elladan, also removing his armor. "It's time to devote ourselves once again to love, and beauty, and the joy of living things."
Legolas sighed and took another gulp of the liquor, then sat up, his jerkin opening slightly.
Elrohir's forehead wrinkled. "What's this?" He crossed the room in two strides. Kneeling, he pulled open Legolas's jerkin, revealing the crimson stain on the tunic beneath. "What have you been doing, cousin?"
"Nothing," Legolas said. "An accident."
Elladan leaned over to look as Elrohir began rapidly undoing the laces at Legolas's chest.
"Leave me alone," snarled the golden-haired prince, pushing at his hand.
"Nothing would persuade me to do that," said Elrohir. He pulled aside the cloth and examined the narrow strip of dried blood over the prince's heart. "A strange place for your knife to slip, pen vain," he said.
"You contemplated death, did you not?" Elladan accused.
Legolas said nothing.
"I think he is perhaps more fey than we'd thought." Elladan looked at Elrohir.
"Leave me," cried Legolas. "I wish for oblivion." Pushing Elrohir away, he stood up abruptly and leaned against the mantel, his chest heaving.
Elrohir and Elladan both rose and advanced on him, one against each side.
"Elrohir, meleth, I remember an earlier time when our prince lost the will to live." Elladan reached across Legolas and ran his forefinger down Elrohir's cheek.
"Yes, after Elwin died, you wouldn't eat. We feared we would lose you. Father gave you a potion that causes forgetfulness and a deep sleep. Do you remember, Legolas?" Elrohir put two gentle fingers under his chin and made him look into the twin's strange, lovely eyes.
"I remember waking up with a desire to see every orc ever spawned dead upon my sword," Legolas said.
"The potion was strong. Father feared too strong," Elladan murmured. "You were not reviving on schedule. He sent us to wake you. He said, ‘Use whatever means necessary.'" The warrior picked up a strand of Legolas's hair and rolled it between his fingers. "We came to you that night, and nothing I tried worked, herbs, smoke, even a thrashing." He gave a sharp laugh. "In desperation, I climbed in bed with you, hoping to warm you with my body."
"At first, I stood looking on," said Elrohir, "until I could bear it no longer. Do you remember?"
"No," said Legolas.
"We sealed his memory, brother," Elladan said.
Elrohir took the Mirkwood prince's face in both hands and stared into his eyes. "The feelings are still there," he said. "Let me see if I can unlock the memory."
Legolas felt Elrohir's strong presence, a word of command, then he was swimming from the bottom of a dark lake up toward the sun. His head broke the surface. Lips brushed his ear, whispering words of light and hope. A smooth, warm chest pressed against his back. Four hands caressed over every inch of him, turning his skin to fire. Soft lips enveloped his. A long hand groped between his legs, wrapping around him, stroking him slowly, relentlessly into hardness. Slick fingers pushed into him as a velvety hot mouth pulsed on his cock. A sudden awakening into a shattering lust as a thick shaft pierced him from behind. Moans and cries in the darkness. His hips thrusting into that mouth as he spent himself. His voice crying out.
"You two!" he groaned, "I should have known. You woke me! I do remember, now."
Elladan's lips curled into a wicked smile. "It took all our skill, which is, I might note, considerable."
"Yes, I remember," Legolas smiled, "from our first encounters, long ago in Mirkwood."
"Do you need our healing skills again, Legolas?" Elrohir whispered into his ear and then licked the tip lightly. "Do you need us to bring you back?"
Legolas felt himself trembling as a prickling heat rushed to his loins. He looked from one set of wolf-grey eyes to the other. "I don't know . . ." he began.
Elrohir bent forward, slowly tilting his head and then opening his mouth. He stopped just short of Legolas's lips. Mesmerized, the prince watched the approach of those shapely lips. Legolas's mouth parted of its own accord and Elrohir inhaled the elf's breath.
Legolas sighed and moved toward him, ever so slightly, feeling the energy humming between them. Just before their lips touched, the twin withdrew. He cocked his head to one side.
"What was that?" asked Legolas. For a moment, he felt disappointed. He could still feel the lingering heat from Elrohir's lips, the sweetness of his breath.
"Assessing your mood."
"And what have you determined?"
"You need the night wind in your face," Elrohir said. He turned and winked at his brother. "Don't you think so, Elladan?"
"Most assuredly. Just the thing," said Elladan. The twins each took Legolas by an arm.
"What are you doing?"
"We're going for a ride, cousin. Come with us."
Legolas tried to pull away. "Why? What purpose would it serve?" he said.
Elrohir laughed. "Do we need a purpose? We are much stronger than you, meleth. Useless for you to resist us. Come, a gallop will clear your mind."
Each of them took hold of one of Legolas's elbows and steered him out the door. The prince found himself walking rapidly between them alongside the high wall that enclosed the Citadel toward the tunnel drilled through the living rock sparred from Mount Mindolluin. They threaded their way through crowds of merry makers as a bright forest of sparkling green and gold burst high overhead, followed by a deep, thrumming boom, and silver streamers that screamed and whirled into the black sky.