Elrohir gazed at the figure by the bonfire, a smile on his lips. He’d meant to obey his father and not involve himself in any scandal while in the Greenwood, but by Elbereth, the Wood-elves tempted him beyond forbearance. One in particular.
A hand on his shoulder made him start and look behind him. It was Elladan.
‘You shouldn’t look at the young prince in that manner,’ said Elladan. ‘Remember what Father said. We should be fostering diplomatic relations with the Greenwood. Our treaty is fragile, and Thranduil keeps his son closer than a dragon to his hoard. We mustn’t do anything that would displease him.’
‘Can you blame me?’ asked Elrohir, turning back to regard Legolas Thranduilion. He hadn’t yet spoken to him, having only arrived an hour before the feast started. He and Elladan had only had time for a hasty wash and to don robes suitable for the celebration of the forest prince’s one hundredth begetting day. A pity, for the more he saw of Legolas, the more he wished to learn of him.
As he watched, a drum beat started up that Elrohir felt more than heard. It was accompanied by a whispered song that brought to mind leaves sighing in the wind. Try as he might, he couldn’t catch the words or see who was singing.
Legolas started to dance, leaping and whirling around the fire, the flickering glow bathing him in gold. During the feast he had worn green robes, but now he had on nothing more than a leather kilt. His body was daubed in silvery blue woad in swirls and runes that shimmered as Legolas moved. Outside the firelight they reflected the starlight; within, he was wreathed in flame. His long golden hair was interwoven with leaves of beech and oak. A true wood-sprite.
He heard Elladan swallow. ‘He’s a beauty, I’ll grant you. But that changes nothing.’
Elrohir couldn’t agree. As far as he was concerned, this night had changed everything. More dangerous, less wise. That’s what his father had said, warning them to take care. To Elrohir, danger meant the slash of a knife, or a swift arrow, shot from the trees. He hadn’t thought to guard his heart, had been unprepared for the enchantment that Thranduil’s son had woven around it. He would never recover. He didn’t want to.
No one else joined the dance. He wondered why. How could anyone resist the lure of the drums that made his heart beat in this strange, new rhythm? It was intoxicating. His feet began to move of their own accord.
Before he knew it, he was inside the circle of firelight, following a dance that he had never seen before, yet felt as though he had known all his life. Legolas’ eyes opened wide when he saw him, then his face was transformed with a smile that outblazed the fire. Then they were dancing, spinning around each other, never apart, yet never quite touching.
Elrohir’s vision was filled with gleaming skin, golden hair and blue-green eyes. The rhythm quickened and they moved in perfect synchrony, closer and closer. Now, with every move, Legolas’ hair brushed against Elrohir’s chest.
He looked down in wonder. When had he removed his tunic and shirt? Then their hands met and he forgot everything except that he was standing chest-to-chest with the source of his intoxication, their faces so close that he could feel Legolas’ breath on his cheek. Their lips met. Legolas’ mouth tasted of wine and honey. Although he had never seen Legolas until that night, he knew he had found his soul-mate.
The music stopped. The lovers parted, although didn’t unclasp their hands.
‘The Forest has chosen.’
Elrohir turned to see that Thranduil now stood beside them, his face stern. Glancing round, he was stunned to see that they were now in the centre of a large crowd of onlookers. As his daze wore off, he wondered how long the dance had lasted.
A sudden movement caught his eye; it was Elladan, pushing his way through the crowd. It was only then that his memory flooded back. The treaty! His father had urged him to do nothing to endanger it. Did dancing half-naked with Thranduil’s precious only son count? He shuddered. If Thranduil didn’t kill him, his father would ensure he spent the next century patrolling the Midgewater Marshes.
‘My lord King!’ Elladan forced his way to Elrohir’s side and faced Thranduil. ‘Please forgive my brother for this display. He didn’t know what he was doing.’
Thranduil frowned at Elladan. ‘And what was he doing?’
‘Well, he…’ Elladan made a sweeping gesture that took in the discarded clothes and Elrohir’s dishevelled state.
Any satisfaction Elrohir felt at Elladan’s discomfort died when the king’s gaze bored into him. ‘And what about you, Elrohir. Can you explain what just happened?’
The warm press of Legolas’ hand gave him the courage to stand tall and speak out. ‘I…I can’t say why. All I know is that when the drums started, I couldn’t help myself.’
A murmur ran through the crowd and a slight smile softened Thranduil’s face. ‘As I said, the Forest has chosen.’
Elladan shook his head. ‘I still don’t understand. And what drums? I didn’t hear any drums.’ He turned to Elrohir. ‘You just started dancing for no apparent reason. I thought you’d gone mad. I tried to catch you, but the people held me back.’
‘That’s because no one may interfere once the ceremony has started,’ said Thranduil.
A chill shiver ran down Elrohir’s spine. ‘What ceremony?’ he asked. What had he just got into?
‘Our Choosing ritual,’ Thranduil replied.
Elladan made an impatient gesture. Scowling at Thranduil, he said, ‘Are you saying my brother has been chosen for something? If so, what? And speak plainly. I’ve had my fill of fey, Wood-elven mysticism for one night.’
Elrohir choked. So much for diplomacy.
He was even more stunned when Thranduil chuckled. ‘Well said, Elrondion! Let me see if I can explain in terms that a Noldo would understand.’ The glint in the king’s eye removed the sting from his words.
‘Perhaps I should explain, before we start a war with Imladris, Father.’
Elrohir’s heart sped up at the sound of that voice, for it was Legolas who had spoken. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard, musical and clear, with an exotic lilt. Elrohir wanted to drown in its music.
Legolas turned to Elrohir. ‘Were you told the significance of this feast before you arrived?’
‘I thought it was to celebrate your first century,’ replied Elrohir, puzzled.
‘And so it is. But among my people, when we reach that age it’s also the custom to invoke the Forest’s blessing and ask it to seek out our mate.’
A surge of joy struck Elrohir in the chest. ‘You mean, we’re…’
‘Soul-mates, yes. And mates, if you’ll have me.’
Elrohir couldn’t drag his eyes from Legolas’. It was like looking at spring leaves, reflected in azure pools. ‘There’s nothing in this world I want more,’ he said. As far as he was concerned, he needed no more explanation. He had already known Legolas was his soul-mate. He didn’t care how the Forest had brought them together, he was just overjoyed that it had.
Elladan, however, was not so easily satisfied. ‘This is madness! You’ve ensnared my brother with some kind of enchantment. Release him now!’
Poor Elladan, thought Elrohir. He couldn’t blame him. He’d be just as concerned if Elladan had suddenly proclaimed himself soul-mate to a complete stranger. Letting go of Legolas’ hand, feeling bereft at the loss of contact, he laid both hands on Elladan’s shoulders and opened his mind to him. Search my soul, Elladan. Know the truth.
He felt Elladan probe his mind. It didn’t take long. Elladan staggered back. ‘Blessed Elbereth!’ he said. ‘It’s true. But how?’
‘The Forest hears the Song of each and every one of us,’ replied Legolas, slipping his hand back into Elrohir’s. ‘When we invoked the Choosing, it sang my heart-song. Only I and my soul-mate can hear it.’ He smiled at Elrohir, sending a warm glow through Elrohir’s chest. ‘Only Elrohir.’
Entranced, Elrohir wanted to sweep Legolas into his arms and kiss him senseless. The urge wasn’t helped by Legolas’ nearness, the sight of his sculpted bare chest and, Elbereth preserve him, was that a gold ring through his left nipple? How would Legolas react if he twisted it? Images of the woodland prince, lying naked on a bed of leaves, his back arched in ecstasy, flooded his mind. The heat in his chest spread to his groin. He knew that if they didn’t get time alone before long, he was going to give the whole of the Greenwood something to talk about for the next thousand years.
Soon, beloved. The thought brushed his mind and he dragged his eyes up from Legolas’ body to see a suggestive smile tugging at those glorious lips. Had Legolas planted those images in his head? His mouth went dry.
Evidently Thranduil sensed his impatience, for through the sensual haze that assaulted him, Elrohir heard the king proclaim, ‘It’s time for the couple to complete the bonding ritual.’
In a daze, he found himself arm-in-arm with Legolas, being escorted along a blossom-strewn path by what seemed to be all the folk of the Greenwood. They sang a hymn in a language he didn’t recognise. Young beeches lined either side, their branches arching overhead, forming a green tunnel.
‘Where are we going?’ Elrohir whispered to Legolas.
‘To the bonding enclosure.’
He had more questions, but at that point the tunnel opened out onto a huge clearing. At one end there was a fire from which the smell of roasting venison drifted, but the procession carried them to the centre, to a ring of tall yew trees. They formed a hedge so thick that Elrohir couldn’t see inside. The only gap was a waist-high archway that was draped in a curtain of ivy. Thranduil led them to this entrance and beckoned Legolas and Elrohir to approach.
To Elrohir’s surprise, there was no ceremony. Thranduil simply laid his hands on their heads and wished them joy. ‘Now go, and may the Valar bless this night,’ he said.
Confused, Elrohir followed Legolas through the small gap. This was nothing like any binding ceremony he had ever seen before. ‘Was that it?’ he asked. Then he straightened up and gaped when he saw where they were.
This could only be the bonding enclosure that Legolas had spoken of. The yews sealed them off from the outer glade, yet left them open to the sky. A crescent moon was just peeking over the top of the green wall, casting a pale silver glow upon the scene. The ground was strewn with animal skins and cushions, but Elrohir did not pay them much attention. His eyes went straight to the bed.
It lay in the centre of the enclosure and was identical to the one in the vision Legolas had shown him. It was a basic affair, made from a simple wooden frame filled with freshly-plucked leaves. In a single glance he picked out beech, oak, sycamore and horse chestnut.
‘What do we do now?’ he asked.
Legolas cocked his head towards the bed. ‘Do you have to ask?’ He unfastened the ties of his kilt and walked over to the bed in slow, graceful strides, letting the kilt fall to the ground. He wore nothing underneath. Elrohir’s gaze was pinned to him, drinking in the play of muscle on his back, thighs and buttocks as he moved. When Legolas sprawled across the bed, Elrohir thought his heart was going to pound a hole in his chest.
‘There…there isn’t going to be a binding ceremony?’ he asked, although he was already flinging off his remaining clothes.
‘This is the ceremony,’ replied Legolas. ‘Here, in the sight of these ancient yews and the Valar, we will become one. What could be more holy?’
Elrohir needed no more persuasion. He sank onto the bed and drew Legolas into his arms, gazing upon him with reverence. Legolas wrapped his arms and legs around him and sealed their mouths together. All thought disappeared in the slide of flesh upon flesh and the taste of Legolas’ lips.
All night, they loved with abandon. They didn’t sleep at all, but in the quiet moments between their bouts of passion they held each other close and shared their thoughts and secrets. With each caress, each explosion of ecstasy, each murmured endearment, Elrohir felt his love grow deeper. He had never imagined that he could feel this way about a person he had never met until that day, but now he couldn’t conceive of life without Legolas.
Finally, as the stars faded, they drifted towards slumber, locked in a close embrace. The last thing Elrohir heard before sleep claimed him was Legolas’ murmured, ‘I love you, Elrohir.’
The sun was high in the sky by the time they awoke. Dressing themselves in the clean clothes they found just inside the entrance, they emerged to be greeted by those who had kept vigil in the outer glade. They were handed dishes filled to the brim with berries and cream and took them over to where Thranduil and Elladan sat, under the spreading branches of an oak.
Once they had endured their good-natured teasing, Legolas said, ‘Thank the Valar you invited Elrohir and Elladan to the feast, Father. Otherwise I’d have been dancing to my heart-song alone last night.’
Thranduil gave a bark of laughter. ‘Thank the Valar indeed! If they hadn’t sent me a dream that showed you with one of Elrond’s sons - I could never work out which one - then I wouldn’t have known to send Elrond a letter threatening dire consequences if he didn’t send them.’
At the mention of Elrond, Elladan gave a groan. ‘I just hope the Valar help me explain to our father and mother why I’m arriving home alone.’ He cocked an eyebrow at Elrohir. ‘I take it you intend to remain here for some time?’
Elrohir smiled at Legolas as he answered. ‘If the king permits, I’d like to stay until the autumn. There is so much for me to learn here. But then I hope Legolas will do me the honour of accompanying me to Imladris.’ At Legolas’ nod, he thought his heart would burst with joy.
‘But what shall I tell Father and Mother?’ asked Elladan.
‘Father insisted we pursue diplomatic relations with the Greenwood, didn’t he?’ said Elrohir with a laugh. ‘Just tell them I’m doing my duty.’
He never heard Elladan’s reply, for Legolas tugged his arm and led him back into the sanctuary of the bonding enclosure. Once inside, he growled and pulled Legolas down onto the bed. There he showed his spouse just how grateful he was to have been chosen as his eternal mate.