Part One: What Might Have Been
~ "I will go, father. There is time."
Thranduil regarded his son for a moment. "I would have suggested it, but you leave soon for Imladris."
"I know the folk of Lake Town, and for this...I think the news should come from one of us, it is more courteous."
"I agree." The King sat back in his chair. "That town is so vulnerable, and they know it. If an attack comes we will have no aid to spare them. It could be afire within half a morning." He rubbed his temples, then leaned forward, dripped hot wax onto the vellum and sealed it. "I have given assurance that any refugees will be helped - if we are in the position to give help."
Legolas took the proferred letter. "I will remain one night, father."
On his way from the king's chambers he stopped before a door and knocked. It was opened by Elgalad, his fair face troubled. His one pack was already buckled for travel.
"I am taking a message to Lake Town for my father." Legolas told him. "I will not be gone long, and we leave when I return." At the uncertain nod, he murmured. "This must be done, Meluion."
"I k-know, but..." The grey eyes were dilated, distant. "I w-want to be with h-him but I feel a c-craven to leave...!"
"You are no craven, it is better for Mirkwood if your lord does not lead the attack against it," Legolas touched the pale cheek. "You know that is true. As for what follows - the time has not yet come to think of it. While I am gone, speak to my father, He will miss you."
"And I him - both of thee." Elgalad had never lost the antique manner of speech taught him long ago, perhaps he held to it because it reminded him of his guardian, although things learned in childhood remained with one always, Legolas knew that well.
Elgalad was torn. He loved Mirkwood, had fought for it, bled for it, his loyalty was absolute, yet his love for his lord also lay in his heart like a little flame which would not go out and he would follow that light into Mordor itself, Legolas had no doubt. And that too, he understood.
Night over Lake-Town. The day had been a rough, with a warm, wild wind out of the south, ruffling the cool waters, throwing high, piled clouds across the autumn skies. At dusk it strengthened and the flames leaped in the fire, the candles quivered, as Legolas sat in the room of the house where such deputations to the town lodged.
"What advice would you give me, Prince Legolas?" the master had asked that evening, his face grave.
"Perhaps the women and children, the elderly could go to Erebor. It is a refuge, not easy to take."
"I will think on it, we trade with the dwarves, but many will not go. Would you leave those you loved to go to a place of safety?"
Legolas had shaken his head. His reply had been a quiet: "No I would not."
"There have been other rumors, coming up the trade road from Dorwinion. They say vast armies are on the move in the east. And where can any-one go to be safe if the Black Land goes to war?"
Now, Legolas tossed a pine-cone into the fire. It burned up with a sharp, resinous scent. The heat flared over his eyes, his face and he drew away from it, restless, walking to the window casement and pushing it open. The wind smelled of darkness and woodsmoke and the ending of summer.
Where can any-one go to be safe?
The Elves could leave, but he knew Thranduil would not. His father would rather die defending his realm than turn his face to the western shores. He was born of Middle-earth, rooted and intertwined deeply with his forest, it was his place more surely than the beeches and oaks which had grown from saplings to ancient giants around him. It was Legolas' home too, although it was as if his roots had been put down in two places, the land of his birth and the high, hidden valley of Imladris. Thranduil seemed to accept that now. But both Mirkwood and Imladris likewise bound Legolas to Middle-earth and there were others in Imladris who were not willing to leave, who would remain to defend their home and people and die at the last...
The thought could not be borne. He shook his head hard, as if throwing the images of death from him, unraveling the braids, let the wind run soft fingers through his hair. It had been wet when he bound it and he knew that now it would show soft waves, which thought brought a smile to his lips. Once, a long time ago, it would not have pleased him at all, would have caused him humiliation.
The thoughts which proceeded from that, as if carried on the night from the west, brought with them the familiar, yet always intense thrill which never palled. Many years ago, he had asked why this should be. "I always believed such things passed after some time," he had said, puzzled. And the one he asked had laughed, a little mocking, perhaps with a touch of anger and answered: "So we came to believe. It is not so, why should it be?
The vividness of memory stirred him to arousal. It needed no more than that for him to re-live countless times of possession, rapture. And that lead his thoughts back to the one who was supposed to leave Middle-earth, be escorted to the Havens and to take ship, to leave behind some-one he loved and desired and could not have. To the depths of his heart, Legolas pitied Elgalad. He could see himself so clearly in the younger Elf and yet Elgalad had no such memories of his strange guardian to comfort him. He never would have, only a dream that could not be fulfilled. He knew those expressions of yearning, of hunger that he sometimes saw in Elgalad. The rain-grey eyes would become distant until something brought him back, and only the wound remained in them.
They could not make me go, Legolas thought. And I have grave doubts Elgalad will ever set foot on one of the white ships.
Lost in thoughts which balanced between desire and gravity, he started as two hands appeared over wooden sill of the window. Thief. was the first word that came to mind and he was astounded that any would have the gall to attempt to rob the guest-house of the Elves when some-one was in the room. The thief was either over-bold or foolish, but one good push with his foot would send the hapless man to the ground below, bruised but wiser. Legolas raised his foot, prepared to kick out and froze as a face appeared over the sill, the *thief* pulling himself up in effortless silence. He paused, holding himself, his breathing even as he murmured. "May I come in, Legolas Thranduilion?"
Elgalad's former guardian climbed into the room noiselessly. He wore a long dark cloak, perhaps to pass unnoticed in the streets, but as he let it fall, Legolas saw drops of water stream from his long hair. The black doeskin breeches and vest were wet.
"Did you swim from the shore?" It was the only thing he could think to say and he realized he was peculiarly unsurprised, as if he had expected this meeting.
"They have posted guards on the bridge. I did not wish to be questioned, after all, am I not the enemy?" One brow rose wryly.
"The enemy who told Elgalad that you would be ordered to lead an attack upon our kingdom." Legolas' eyes narrowed. "You knew he would tell us."
"Elgalad said he would give his life for his kingdom, of course I knew. He has...very deep loyalties."
The other man moved closer to the fire, and his hands rose to unloose the wet hair which was drawn up high on his head, reminding Legolas of the tail of a hot-blooded stallion. A spatter of water hissed in the flames as long white fingers drew through it. The light traced the barbaric tattoos which sliced and curved up his arms, vanishing into under the soft leather of the tunic. He looked relaxed, but there was nothing negligent about the hard muscle under the skin, the sword harness from which jutted two hilts, the thigh sheath in which rested a dagger. The twin blades looked somewhat longer than the knives Legolas used, but shorter than the Noldoli greatswords he had seen wielded in Imladris.
Questions knocked imperatively at his lips. He was, after all, the son of Thranduil, it behooved him to learn as much as he could from this enigmatic servant of the Dark. That thought brought an incongruous choke of laughter into his mind. He was entertaining some-one who was a slave and warrior of Sauron and he was not concerned? But he did owe his life to this one, as did Elgalad and possibly even Mirkwood and other realms, if what he had told Elgalad were true.
He realized that he had not been answered. He poured wine into a copper pan and pushed the crane over the fire to heat, wet black hair showered over his arm and was drawn back. With what he knew was foolhardy trust he did not turn until the wine was hot and served in two goblets.
The Golodh was watching him with a look of elusive self mockery, moonlight and shadow, black hair tossed back in a wild mane which cloaked him to his knees, skin white as hoarfrost.
"What dost thou wish to know?" He took the wine and drank.
Vanimórë watched Legolas, as the wood-Elf watched him, sensing the turmoil of questions in his mind. His own trod the paths of memory back to years long ago, when he had been on a very different mission in these parts, tracking a band of orcs into the forest.* In those years, when he ruled Sud Sicanna, deathless and permanent as the desert sand, such journeys had been for himself alone. He had been as free then as he had ever been, or ever would be. And that freedom had allowed him to come upon a young, intrepid and foolish (for the young are always foolish) Elf in the hands of orcs who would have raped him to death and then devoured his still warm flesh. Such a temptation that had been...even poisoned with spider-venom the young wood-Elf had been pearl and gold beauty. Thus Vanimórë had pleased himself in killing the orcs and served the realm of Mirkwood in carrying one of the blood-royal to a safe place.
He had seen the wood-Elves in the battle of the Dagorlad, lightly armed and deadly, dying in multitudes with fierce fatalism, and he had recognized the insignia embroidered upon the tunic of the young Elf. But prince or the lowest servant, Vanimórë would not have seen any Elf taken by orcs for their savage pleasures. He knew what they would do, it was a punishment he had experienced himself, but he could not afford the luxury of dying of it.
And yet for a time, as he carried the wounded prince from the dark places towards the clean, wholesome regions where the Elves dwelled, he had imagined turning, retracing his steps. The potion he had used would negate the effects of the poison, the Elf would recover and for so long as Sauron was absent he would have a golden pet, an Elf, beautiful and willing.
And that was where his imaginings came up against the iron wall of his pragmatism. Certainly he could coerce this young beauty south, a long, long journey into regions of heat and sand, to his city of spice and gold and incense and the Elf would try and escape, would hate his captor. He was not made for gilded palaces, and the stone lace of screens and whispered secrets, his soul would rebel. In the end, perhaps it had been that consideration which stayed Vanimórë's hand. He had enjoyed Elves twice, but both had been utterly different to this lithe, fair youth, and very much older, Valinor-born Eldar who had been tempered by life and loss and grief. This one was not, it would make him easy to train, but in his heart he would yearn for his freedom, his people, and come to loathe the one who had reft him of liberty. He was a child of the deep forests, how could Vanimórë, himself a slave, force that upon another?
So he had left the young prince Elf with a stolen, rueful kiss and many years after had watched while an orphaned Elfling grew up under his care to look very much as Legolas had, the same high boned faced and haunting eyes. Vanimórë had turned from Elgalad too, placing him in the care of Legolas, believing that he would be well looked after.
Both were grown now, fulfilling their promise, tall and slender and beautiful, with the shoulders of archers, the poise of warriors, yet something in their expressions, perhaps a kindness which had it's roots in a deep wellspring of the soul, remained untouched by the years. The fire, or perhaps his unblinking stare touched colour into Legolas' milk-white cheeks and he said, "Did you tell Elgalad the truth?"
"Yes." The reply was flat. "The only way to protect him, or any of thee, is for him to be gone from Mirkwood." He put the goblet down, unbuckled his harness and began to unlace his tunic. "I can hide nothing from Sauron. He knows I care for Elgalad. It would please him to bring Elgalad to Mordor, to kill him before my eyes. Or force me to harm him."
"You could not hurt him." Legolas sounded certain, but his eyes flicked, with some bewilderment, to the loosened vest that Vanimórë pulled off.
"I have fought it," he agreed. "Therefore I believe that Sauron would like to kill Elgalad himself. I would lead the attack on your people, but those commanders under me would have orders to take him alive. Perhaps I could kill them all, perhaps they would have orders to slay him if I attempted it. And I would probably let them, in that event. Dost thou mind," he added, "if I dry my clothes? So very uncomfortable."
"Please." Legolas gestured and Vanimórë nodded thanks and sat down to pull of his boots.
The boots were superbly tailored, which seemed an odd thing to notice or see in this strange Golodh, although perhaps no odder than he himself was. They fitted so tightly that his breeches reached only to mid-calf and Legolas found himself offering his services to pull them off and set them beside the fire. The room began to fill with the hot-horse scent of damp leather, mingled with something else, a richer perfume. It took a moment for Legolas to place it, for it was a rare scent in the north, but sometimes came up the trade roads to Lake Town: Sandalwood. It made him think, although he had never seen such things, of brassy skies, Anor leaching scent from walled gardens of heavy roses, and bodies intertwined in lust. He felt himself flush and harden as the warrior rose to unbutton the stamped-steel buttons of his wet breeches. He turned away as he did so, and as he peeled them off, the black hair effectively curtained him. He undressed without embarrassment, as if he had disrobed before others so many times that he was unconscious of it. But Legolas was uncomfortable, the lingering visions, rich as Dorwinion wine, of one not so dissimilar to this, were still a weight within him, stiffening him.
Not dissimilar? The thought might have seemed ludicrous, but here was the pride and power of the Noldor seen through smoky glass, half tamed by servitude or long self control, but only tame as a wolf is tame when chained and behind bars.
"Is it true you will not lead an attack on Mirkwood now?" Legolas heard the catch of his own breath. The room seemed too small, to have somehow been taken over by the stranger, who shook out his breeches briskly, without turning.
"He will use me for some other task." The reply sounded indifferent. "Mordor is not just Mordor, He sits at the heart of a web spun across the south and east of the world. The call has gone out, the armies move in answer. That is where my work has been, in those far regions."
"The spring..." Legolas imagined legions of orcs, of Men marching on Mirkwood, on Dale and Erebor, advancing inexorably as a landslide.
"The war has already begun. Gondor and Mirkwood were both attacked. Now it must be played out, to the end."
"He will punish you for what you have done." The prince thought of what Elgalad had told him.
The black head turned, the purple eyes held an ironic half-smile.
"Yes. He will capture those Elves he can, bear them in shackles to Mordor and one by one, he will tear them apart, before my eyes. Dost thou not think that would be punishment enough, Legolas? He will close the last chink of light out of my soul and there will only be him and darkness. Forever."
The words were spoken matter-of-factly, without self-pity, but they chilled Legolas to the core, banishing arousal. It was too final. There were those he loved who might die, his own people, of Mirkwood, the Elves of Imladris, Lothlórien, Men who had never served the Dark but fought quietly, stubbornly against it for many generations.
"That cannot happen." He spoke as if to himself, hatred of Sauron deepening his voice. "Damn you, Slave of Sauron, do not tell us we are doomed before that doom falls!"
"What wouldst thou have me say?" The warrior whipped around suddenly, coils of black hair patterning him like living tattoos, tumbling over his shoulders. There were none of the strange designs on his chest or stomach, only toned muscle, rigid with long training, the flat belly, the dark hair at his groin where the narrow hips swept to long legs. Firelight painted the taut sinews, so that he looked like a white statue, but his breast rose and fell with sudden quick breaths and he was hard, proud at his loins where his shaft rose, engorged and dark against the white skin. Legolas jerked his eyes from it, feeling the heat in his cheeks. The violet eyes were hard and cold, seeming to deny his body's flaunting demands.
"Elgalad must go to the Haven's. He must leave Middle-earth, and thou shouldst go with him - it would be a pity," his voice softened, became richer, deeper, a brush of velvet. "to see thee dead, Legolas." The name was lingered over, savored before it left the lips.
"I will not flee!" Legolas felt himself grow warm all over, the chill of the Golodh's stark words of defeat and death submerged under the sensuality of his tone, the eyes, which lost their unfathomable glitter, yet became somehow more personally dangerous. The black crowned head tipped a little to one side, a thoughtful cast to the hard features.
"Then I wish thee a clean, swift death and were I less of a coward I would give it to thee now."
Legolas knew he challenged, did not know why, only that he felt at the root of his soul that this one would not harm him and he wondered why. What terrible and ancient spell had the Dark Lord woven to so bind this Golodh, so unknowable and so dangerous? Legolas felt a threat here, but not of harm.
Not so dissimilar at all, he thought, remembering a summer long ago, the scent of crushed flowers, grass, the feeling of newborn, alien desire which became helpless terror...He shook his head, and blinked, finding the other suddenly close to him. His expression had changed again, as if he were reading the thoughts, the memories behind Legolas' eyes.
"No." Something which felt like a soft breeze seemed to touch those ancient images, feelings, which were yet so sharp in the wood-Elf's mind.
The lucent eyes caught a flash of red in their center for a moment, then the thick rill of lashes dropped.
"I wonder," he mused, "If I should have taken thee? And yet - from that has come so much. Love, fulfillment...pleasure...Peace, I only saw -- enough. So very discourteous to plunder the memories of another, is it not?"
"Yes, it is discourteous, there are things not for sharing!"
Vanimórë looked up again, amused. "Thou dost intrigue me immensely. I wonder if Meluion would have been as thee had I the leisure and freedom to have kept him? Hush." His voice gentled. "I know the curse of memory, Prince of the Greenwood, the best we can do is to overlay the unbearable with the balm of...better ones." He reached out, slowly, passed his palm over the high cheekbone, fingers smoothing down to cup the back of his neck, a gesture of sympathy, gentleness. "Perhaps I would have taken thee like that, molded thee like that." And perhaps not. He had been raped, been used as a plaything, a pleasure toy, for him to force those indignities on another would make him no better than Sauron, Morgoth before him. Yet he understood too, the perpetrator.
How our lives score us like clay, even in the brightest light there is darkness. Could I have resisted? I fear I am not that controlled. There would be too much temptation...
"You did not - and I have come to believe that it was destined to be as it has been." The prince's soft voice was husky, he leaned back a little into the hand which cradled his neck, trusting, as Elgalad was trusting of him. Ironic, Vanimórë thought, was he himself so easy to read? How very...disappointing.
"I like to think I make my own destiny, insofar as I can," he murmured. "Tell him," he whispered into the delicate ear. "that he is fortunate that I showed more compunction that he."
Legolas jerked away, a fine, high colour mantling his face, eyes flashing. "You do not know him, do not dare to traduce him, have you ever done as he did?"
"Serving the Dark Lords does tend to negate one's chances of effecting heroic deeds." Vanimórë's eyes briefly danced. "I know of him - and our paths have crossed."
He stepped behind the prince. "But I think thou wert fortunate, he did give thee pleasure, it is not always thus."
He felt the Elf go still, refusing to move as he lifted the silken sheaves of hair and let them run like water through his fingers. It bore a faint sweet scent which reminded him of Elgalad, hawthorn after spring rain. His eyes closed as he inhaled, lowered his face into the coolness for a moment.
"It is so easy to take and give nothing, to see a body as something to use, leaving them used and bleeding. Yet who could do that, looking at thee?"
"What did he do to you?"
Vanimórë lifted his head at the question. His hands came to rest on the straight shoulders, feeling the tenseness, the brief shivers.
"I am only a slave," he said dryly. "Slaves have no feelings, no purpose but the whims of their masters. No doubt that is what thou didst feel for a time, no? A nothing, a whore, fit only to bed. But thy master is a skilled lover, Legolas, and in the end, too fine to merely use thee. I wager he felt, just as I did on seeing thee, wanted to claim thee, to own thee."
"He did claim me. And, if you like, he does own me. And I him!"
"And that was said with pride."
"I am proud of it!" Legolas enunciated with a thrill in his voice. "Once I was ashamed, but that was long ago. I was a child, I knew nothing of what I wanted or needed, and nothing of myself, what I was..."
"Even the thought of him has the power to rouse thee." Vanimórë locked his arms about the slender waist and jerked Legolas back against him, felt the other's indrawn breath as his hand moved down to rest upon the groin, hidden by breeches and tunic, but hard, straining against the constraints, and his own pressed against the princes taut buttocks, rigid, pulsing.
The Elf fought against the vise-like lock which held him and Vanimórë murmured, "Peace. Thou doth know I will not hurt thee. How much of thee did I see in Meluion, how much of him is in thee? Strange to see him grow to adulthood and almost to see thee, as if the One had given me back the chance I had let slip through my fingers." His palm rubbed against the hidden erection and he felt the shudder, the gasp the flush of heat which rose into the elegant throat. "Ai, I envy Glorfindel! Beautiful, and so wanton, thou art. In Sud Sicanna I would have chained thee to my couch with chains of silver steel and gold, for that is what thou art is it not?"
"Let me go!" It was a breathless command and behind him, Vanimórë smiled, one hand still on the hard erection, the other moving up, fingers trailing over the butter-soft doeskin of his chest. They paused, one black brow rose and unseen, he smiled as he traced a circle about the Elf's nipple which bore something hard and round: a ring. He felt the quick shudder.
" Truly interesting." He moved to the other nipple and dropped his lips to the white throat as he laughed and through it said, "Wanton, thou art, and more responsive than a virgin maid. I could bring thee to pleasure full clothed, I wager. Thy mind is a storm of such...heated thoughts, Legolas. What if I were he? What would thou do for me?"
"I would do anything!" There was desire in the words, love, a proud sense of ownership. Elgalad had sounded as passionate when he declared he was Vanimórë's, belonged to him, and it was sweet beyond life, but no-one could belong to him. Slaves own nothing. Sauron had told him long ago.
And Elgalad had no inkling of what such a thing would mean. Legolas did.
"Doth thou dance, beauty, with a collar about thy neck? Or a slender chain through these, so he may drawn thee to him when thou dost drive him beyond what he can bear and he has to take then, then and there?" He tugged gently at the hidden ring, feeling the staccato gasps his touch evoked.
"N-not for thee." The breathless stumble reminded Vanimórë of Elgalad's sweet stammer.
"Then I will dance for thee, Prince Legolas."
He drew away, walked to the center of the chamber and turned, seeing the Elf flushed and wild-eyed and confused, relieved that he was no longer importuned, yet left yearning for the erotic possession he knew so well. Little wonder, seeing him so hungry and eager, that his lord wanted him with such passion. The eyes were brilliant under their thick lashes, the beautiful mouth slightly parted, rosy with blood, the thick hair haloing him, backlit by firelight, tousled by the night wind and Vanimórë's hands, his face bright and wild. ~