12. World Enough And Time
"The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, there do embrace . . ."
Andrew Marvell, 'To His Coy Mistress'
"Well, Aragorn, I'm back."
Legolas suppressed a smile as Aragorn jumped like a spooked cat and jerked his gaze up from the pile of official documents he had been studying. Aragorn the Ranger could move silently when he wanted to, but Legolas the Wood-elf could move more quietly still, and he enjoyed reminding Estel of this from time to time. He supposed the game would have to end someday, for with the advancing years, a sudden shock could stop an aging mortal heart. But for now, he enjoyed the look of surprise on his friend's face.
"Legolas . . . ? Legolas!" said Aragorn, as if he could not believe his eyes. Then he paused and peered closer. "Is that kohl you're wearing?"
Legolas immediately licked his forefinger and gave his lashes a quick swipe. "It comes in very handy for cutting the glare off the water on a sea journey," he explained, hoping that the colored salve he had applied to his lips as protection against the salt air had worn off.
"I must say, it looks very fetching on you," Aragorn said with a grin. "When did you get in?"
"Just now. I came straight from the docks. I thought you would wish to have this as soon as possible." He pulled out Khorlai's letter and tossed it onto Aragorn's desk.
Aragorn broke the seal and read hastily. "Elbereth be praised!" he exclaimed. "You did it!"
Legolas stood quietly as a cloud came over Aragorn's face. "And you, you are . . . ah, well?" Aragorn asked, in the unmistakable tone of a man skirting his most pressing question.
"Never better," Legolas said brightly, and left it at that.
"You, ah, had no trouble obtaining King Khorlai's agreement?"
'Poor Aragorn,' thought Legolas, touched by his friend's concern, but not quite willing to put him out of his misery. "It was a challenging task, to be sure, but nothing I could not handle in the end." He favored Aragorn with his most princely-serene smile and a look in his eye that said, 'That is all you are getting out of me, my friend.'
Aragorn stared at him long and hard. "Thank you, Legolas," he said at last.
Legolas shrugged. "Don't mention it. Such is my job, after all. So, tell me Aragorn, has Gondor fared well in my absence?"
A smile brighter than Anor at high noon suffused Aragorn's face. "It has, and on that score, there is someone you must meet . . ."
The newborn princess lay asleep in her mother's arms as Aragorn and Legolas entered the king's private apartments.
Arwen looked up with a joyful smile at her husband and his friend. "Legolas. You are home safe!"
"Was there any doubt of that?" Legolas said, flashing her his warmest smile.
"Of course not," Aragorn chimed in heartily.
"So my dear husband has assured me, repeatedly over these past months," Arwen said, giving Aragorn a look. She paused and peered at Legolas keenly. "Legolas -- have you colored your lips?"
"Nuath!" Legolas muttered, rubbing his mouth with the heel of his hand.
Legolas had known Elrond's daughter for all the long years of his immortal life, and she had always been beautiful, yet never had he seen her more lovely than now, in the fulfillment of motherhood. The Lady Undomiel glowed with a light that surpassed that of the First Born or even the Maiar of whom she was descended. 'If ever I have cause to doubt my decisions in life or the wisdom of my counsel,' Legolas told himself, 'I shall remember this moment, when Arwen held her first child in her arms.'
"Her name is Araniel. Would you like to hold her, Legolas?" Arwen said.
Among the Elves, babies were a rare and precious thing. Legolas had little experience with them, and he almost feared to handle the child, lest he crush the fragile life entrusted to him. Yet, as he took the baby he felt the durable strength of her, the power of her young spirit. The child was warm and soft, and comfortingly solid against his chest.
This was how grandparents must feel, he told himself as he cuddled Aragorn's firstborn. He saw the look of young Estel in the fringe of dark hair, and he gasped as grey eyes looked up into his own. "Rodyn!" he exclaimed. "She will grow up to take after her grandmother!"
"My mother had silver hair," Arwen said with a soft laugh.
"No," said Legolas. "I meant her other grandmother."
Aragorn smiled sadly back at him. "I think you are right, my friend."
As he looked down at this tiny scrap of girl child, it seemed to Legolas that he stood outside of time and could see all the moments of her life, strung together like beads on a necklace; the chubby infant, the laughing little girl, dark pigtails flying, the lovely young woman discovering love for the first time and soon cuddling her own babies, the crone that she would be when age and time took her as it must with all mortal things. Blinking back the sudden tears that prickled his eyes, he thought, 'Will you break my heart too, just as did your granddame?'
As if to answer, young Araniel turned her head to nuzzle Legolas's chest and began to make soft fussing noises. "Oh dear," he laughed. "I think this is something that only Nana can provide."
"It is indeed time for her to be fed," said Arwen, holding out her arms. "Let me have her."
Legolas shot her a saucy grin. "I don't suppose you would allow me to stay and watch?"
Arwen blinked in momentary surprise and then gave Legolas what he was coming to think of as her Elrond look. "You've changed," she said.
"For the better, I hope," chuckled Legolas, handing the baby over. "Did not you yourself say that I was always far too serious for my own good?"
"That remains to be seen," she said, casting Aragorn a look that made the mighty king of Gondor fidget like a small boy caught stealing jam from the kitchen.
"Peace, Arwen," said Legolas. "Thranduil's little boy had to grow up eventually."
"I knew it could only be a matter of time," Arwen said, continuing to fix him in her piercing gaze. "But mind you do not take after your father too much."
"There is little chance of that," Legolas laughed. "Adar is one of a kind." He bent to lay a gentle kiss on her brow. "Arwen, dearest, believe me when I say this. Aragorn is a very lucky man."
"Yes, indeed," she said; "a very lucky man who will learn to listen more to the counsel of his wife in the future. If he knows what is good for him. Now, shoo, you two. My daughter is hungry."
"Curse it, she had just let me out of the dressing room, too," Aragorn said, as the two of them left the private royal apartments. "What has gotten into you? I swear, Legolas, if I did not trust you like a brother . . ."
"Given that I have known your foster brothers for longer than you have and they are both all talk when flirting with the ladies, I shall not take that amiss," Legolas laughed.
Aragorn smiled back. "Do you plan to stay with us a while or return to Ithilien immediately?"
"Neither, for I think Glavras has things well in hand and my realm can do without me for a while longer," Legolas said, thinking sadly that the day would come all too soon when Ithilien would have to do without him altogether. "I will take a day or two to rest myself and then journey on to Aglarond. Gimli and I are long overdue for a talk."
"You will take it easy on the dwarf, I hope," Aragorn said. "He is very fond of you, you know, and he was correct about you being the right one for this job. I doubt anyone else could have pulled it off successfully."
'More correct than you know,' Legolas thought wryly. "Have no fears, Aragorn. I shall be gentle with the poor fellow. I plan to teach him to play chess, among other things. And it will be good to drink ale and pass time underground again." Legolas sighed. "Gimli has managed to teach me that the years flow by rapidly, and if you will not when you may . . ."
"You shall not when you will," finished Aragorn, smiling at the familiar tavern song.
"Quite so, my friend," said Legolas. "And believe me, I shall . . ."
On the eve of his departure for Rohan, Legolas stood, bare to the waist, staring into the gilded looking glass of Aragorn's guest chamber. The tattoo of the Elessar on his chest, the final vestige of his life among the bêthnari, reflected back at him.
The Haradrim had seen the mark as a symbol of fealty -- indeed, as a sign of ownership, and that was distasteful enough. Legolas could hear his father's voice speaking sternly in his mind: 'You are a prince of the Grey-elves. You are no Adan's vassal!'
Truly, Legolas was not Aragorn's vassal, nor his property, and Estel did not see him that way. Yet, the mark meant something far more.
Aragorn could not have understood what he asked when the plan had been made to put it there, nor could he have guessed at the meaning. For Aragorn had seen Thranduil's marks, so studiously ignored by the other elves of the Woodland Realm should they be spied by accident on the practice field or in the bath, and he had thought them no more than decoration. But Legolas knew that they meant far more; should he take the time to learn and study the strange Avorren runes, he might learn the secret spirit-name of his own mother.
'Oh, Estel, little did you know, raised as you were among the Golodhrim,' Legolas thought. For among the Silvan folk, a tattoo on the left breast signified the heart's desire, reserved for the name of a beloved spouse or bonded lover. To bear such a mark was a private thing, a sacred thing.
'Why does it frighten you so, to wear the mark of the Elessar?' said a small voice in his head. 'Do you fear it hits too close to a truth you dare not admit, even to yourself?'
"I fear nothing," Legolas muttered. He had faced demons in Harad, and he had come through the fire, while not entirely unscathed, stronger and wiser for it. No matter what fate might send his way in the future, Legolas knew that he would endure. And yet, should he set his mind to the conundrum until the very end of all things, Legolas doubted that he would ever sort out his confused feelings for Aragorn.
Legolas picked up his sharp hunting knife, watching the blade glint in the candlelight as he brought it to his chest. In the glass, he beheld his own flawless elven skin, the scars of all his old wounds having disappeared without a trace, leaving no mark and no memory. A brief moment of pain, some blood shed, and Aragorn's mark would be gone as well. Within a few years it would be as if it had never existed. "Forgive me, Estel," he sighed.
And yet, as he pressed the sharp point of the blade against his skin, he could not bring himself to it. Thranduil's marks, set in magic and protected by ancient spell, did not fade. Already, Legolas could see that the Gondorian ink, so bright when first applied and pricked into his skin, had begun to pale and blur. Most likely, it would not outlast the man himself. Such a short time . . .
"I am no man's vassal," he whispered softly. But as he said the words, he knew that there were many kinds of love and many different ways of expressing it. "I am Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of the House of Oropher, lord of my own realm, friend and protector to the House of Elessar Telcontar and all in it. And this is my bond."
Smiling sadly, Legolas put down his knife. Tomorrow, he would ride to Aglarond.
Rodyn: Valar, the gods
Avorren : Avarin
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.