Thank you to Azalais whose comment made me look at HASA again. I have stopped posting because so few people were reading but when I looked at the page view, thought I should post the rest here. And I have been able to post Mienpies' illustrations that she keeps sending me - some lovely ones coming up!
Beta: Lovely Anarithilen, who is always right!!
Warnings for this chapter: slash. m/m
Chapter 6: Imladris
24th October (Day before the Council of Elrond)
Even over the heavy rain, Legolas could hear the sound of water growing louder the further he descended into the valley. He came over the last rise, and through the downpour he saw waterfalls amongst the pine trees, cascading into the rushing river. He thought it must be the Bruinen for it carved its way through the gorge. Everything was wet, water in the sky, the air, rushing through the valley. It did not cheer him or gladden his heart as it should. He too was wet. Soaked. Drenched. He may as well have cast himself in the river and swum the last few miles, he thought glumly.
There must have been a break in the clouds somewhere for there was a pool of sunshine on a south-facing cliff and there, like some delicate stone froth of filigree and lace with its elegant towers, spires and balconies, terraces and arches, was the House of Elrond; Imladris. The rain seemed to have been pushed away from it, and it did not seem real but floated on mists and clouds like a picture of a palace in a child's old book.
Legolas stood in the downpour, throughly soaked, his hair plastered to his head, cloak and tunic and breeches soaked through and stared at the spires and towers that soared elegantly upwards as if made of light, and there were long pennants streaming on a breeze. Balconies laced the facade of the House and graceful arches seemed draped delicately like silk rather than stone, over slender columns and elegant terraces.
With relief, he saw that the pennants that fluttered and streamed were of the star of Earendil.
Suddenly Legolas felt overwhelmed and intimidated. Surely the Elves would all be as elegant as the House, and tall and impossibly beautiful and noble? Glorfindel lived there, and Elrond Half-elven, and Arwen Undómiel, who was said to be the likeness of Luthien herself. And too, the Sons of Thunder, Elladan and Elrohir. Their deeds of errantry filled every young Woodelf's head with 'stuff and nonsense' as Belerian had said, the ancient and doughty sword-master who had no time for anyone who lived beyond the Wood.
Suddenly Legolas wished he could somehow delay his arrival. His message would be unwelcome, he thought, and he would be seen as he was, a mere Woodelf, untutored, unlettered and definitely less wise*. Had not Galion warned him of this? Had not Alagos told him of the strange ways of the Noldor? He was bound to do something to embarrass himself. Not for the first time, or the last, he wished Alagos and Galadhon were with him, or even better that Thalos or Laersul had been sent instead. He felt hot at the thought of all that might go wrong.
But it was too late to go back, or to stop now.
Through the rain, he thought he heard the rhythmic thud of heavy booted feet; an echo of Earth's song like a glimpse, or a gleam of forgotten gold...the chanting of deep voices in the cold dark of the mountains, deep below the sounds of the world, breath like the bellows of a forge.
He turned and peered through the rain but there was nothing; surely the Dwarves were still far up in the mountains? They could not possibly have caught up with him after the blizzard, or made their way so quickly along the narrow ledge? He could see nothing in this driving rain but grey fog, grey cliffs, grey mountains, rain, and higher up, snow.
He turned back towards sun-lit Imladris and trudged as Elves rarely do, and squelched as they never do, up the road where it wound suddenly steeply over the arching bridge which spanned the Bruinen that rushed, white-foamed, through the valley. The rain seemed determined to follow him for as he trudged towards Imladris itself, which had been, until now, standing in a pool of sunshine and he in a pool of water. Now the rain came and fell over Imladris, just enough to make everything shine and gleam and to keep Legolas soaked and wet.
He trudged upwards through a delicate stone archway that led to the courtyard that the light rain somehow made even more graceful and somehow sophisticated; there was a fountain that seemed even more elegant in the rain. The columns of the colonnaded porch were strong but slender enough to make you wonder how they kept the roof up, and ahead of him a great oak door beautifully carved with Elrond's sigil. The door was closed. Firmly. Even though he had been told by his father, by Alagos, by everyone that it always stood open. He tried the heavy iron handle. Turned it and pushed. Nothing. It would not budge he pushed harder and shook it a little. And could not open it. He pushed harder and grunted, but still it did not budge. He almost screamed in frustration and embarrassment and looked about, the rain plastering his hair to his skull and his breeches stuck to his skin. Surely someone was about? But the light rain seemed to have driven everyone inside.
Behind him then, he heard the steady clump of many booted feet and he turned in horror to see a group of cheerful Dwarves marching over the bridge behind him, talking and laughing and slapping each other on the backs as if congratulating each other upon their arrival and the rain seemed not to bother them in the least. They nodded cheerfully to him, and the foremost, a white-haired Dwarf with a white hood, blue cloak and an impressive gold chain around his neck, stepped in front of Legolas, and if he did not exactly shoulder him out of the way there was no doubt that this impressive Dwarf felt he was in charge. Legolas simply stepped back instinctively, but as he watched, he thought that at least he would not be alone and if the Dwarves knew some secret ,at least he could get in.
It seemed the Dwarf did indeed know something but it was hardly a secret. He reached up to the heavy iron handle set into the door that Legolas had struggled with only moments ago, turned it, as Legolas had, and pulled, as he had not.
The door swung open smoothly, momentously as if it were announcing them and it seemed to Legolas that he looked into a hall filled with light and music and merry voices. Warmth bathed the room like sunlight, and fragrance like roses stole through the air.
Suddenly the hall was full of Elves, and the Dwarves were bowing and shrugging out of their wet cloaks and the Elves were taking their packs from the Dwarves and laughing and calling out merrily to each other.
Legolas stood looking and feeling as stupid as Galadhon had told him he was, for this could never happen to Thalos or Laersul; he cursed himself inwardly in Silvan, Sindarin and the few words of Khuzdul which he had overheard his father use once and Galion, catching Legolas listening, had washed his ears out. Pull the door, he muttered to himself, pull. Until finally his wits recovered and he stepped inside.
A younger Dwarf with a glossy chestnut beard and wiry hair thrust his cloak at Legolas with a cheery nod and a slight bow, and the next thing he knew any number of good-humoured Dwarves dumped their wet and soggy cloaks upon him and he stood there, buried in damp dwarven cloaks and hoods and feeling as Bilbo Baggins did when Thorin and Co. descended on Bag End, although Legolas did not know this at the time.
'Come along, fellow,' said an Elf in passing and pushed him towards a door. 'I have not seen you around before. You must be one of the new household Elves. Take the Dwarves' cloaks and hang them by the fire in the scullery. And then quickly, get them beer and cake. They like that best. Follow Berensul. He'll show you where everything is.'
Berensul seemed to be the Elf in front of Legolas, and before he could say anything, Legolas found himself being bundled along and down towards the kitchens. 'Quick, follow Elemé. That way,' Berensul said, pushing Legolas after a smiling Elf-maiden, presumably Elemé.
'But I have only just got here myself,' Legolas protested.
'Well never mind, make yourself useful,' Berensul said sympathetically, pushing Legolas into a passageway. 'You'll soon learn.' Berensul looked at Legolas over the top of the huge pile of soggy cloaks Legolas was still holding and smiled. He had a wide cheerful smile, long dark hair and green twinkly eyes. 'Here, dump those cloaks and take this.' Berensul seemed to conjure from nothing platters of cakes, seed-cakes in particular, and balanced the tray on top of the cloaks in Legolas' arms, where the plates wobbled precariously. 'Take these up to the Hall of Fire. That's where the wet visitors will be. There's a Man there as well, just come in. Almost drowned by the look of him. Why are you still holding those cloaks? Don't you want to put them down somewhere? Here, put them down here.' He waved towards a small scullery just off the kitchen and then peered at him curiously and said, 'You look pretty damp yourself. Don't you want to get into some dry clothes? Never mind,' he said, not waiting for Legolas' answer but turning Legolas around by his elbow and pointing him towards the kitchen door. 'I'll sort you out in a moment but be a good fellow, dump the cloaks and just take these up to the Hall of Fire like I said.'
Legolas opened his mouth but found he really did not know what to say except, 'I have just arrived...with the Dwarves. I have come from over the Mountains too and I do not know where the Hall of Fire is.'
Berensul stared at him for a moment. 'You came with them? How strange! Are you their servant then? I wondered why you had their cloaks!' He laughed loudly, slapped his own thigh and looked up at Legolas with delight and merriment. 'Well I'm blessed! Here you are a visitor, a servant of the Dwarves, and I am ordering you about thinking you are our new scullery boy! You will want to take them their ale. In here.' He gently pushed Legolas towards a small scullery.
Legolas opened and closed his mouth like a fish. He was actually speechless. Which was worse? To be mistaken for a servant of the Dwarves or thought the new scullery boy? He decided it was far worse to be a servant of the Dwarves.
'I am not the Dwarves' servant!' he said in outrage and Berensul stared at him. 'I only arrived at the same time as they did. I happened to be standing there when they gave me all their cloaks! I have come from the Woodland Realm.'
'The Woodland Realm...um....' Berensul stared at him for a moment blankly and then understanding dawned on his face. 'Aaaaah.... You mean Mirkwood! Well why didn't you say so!'
Legolas opened his mouth to protest further but Berensul had already grabbed him by the elbow and pushed him into a huge kitchen with no fewer than three fireplaces. It was filled with Elves bustling about and calling to each other, some whistling, some singing. It seemed a merry place. Much like the kitchen at home, although much bigger, and more elegant, he thought, feeling out of place and a bit intimidated.
'We have a visitor from Mirkwood!' Berensul bellowed over the noise, and there was a moment of startled silence and faces turned towards him in astonishment and curiosity. Then the Elves smiled and nodded, and resumed their work and Berensul laughed and drew Legolas to one side.
'Well, they have all had a good look at you now. You'll be swamped with questions in a moment. But first they must look after the Dwarves and we must look after you.' He swept his merry green eyes quickly over Legolas, who realised he was standing now in a small puddle. Berensul laughed again as he saw Legolas' chagrin.
'Sit down there and get out of those wet clothes. I'll get someone else to take these up.' Berensul looked at him again and laughed some more. He had a generous, open face and Legolas found himself liking him and smiling himself at the ridiculousness of it. 'And there was I dumping cakes on top of all those wet cloaks and telling you to look sharpish! You'll be telling me next you are a messenger from Thranduil!'
Legolas bit his lip and did not dare say more but Berensul saw and stared at him aghast. 'Oh my lord Manwë! Of course you are. Look, here is his sigil!' He pointed to the oak leaves embroidered on Legolas' cuff. 'I do apologise, emissary.' His green eyes twinkled and Legolas shook his head and laughed along with him.
'No emissary indeed! Just with messages from my lord Thranduil,' he said. And after all, was he not just a messenger? He felt a smile tug the corners of his mouth. 'I am Legolas,' he added with a wry smile. Anyone from the Woods would recognise his familiar name but oh, no one here would know. 'Um. Is Mithrandir here?' he thought he had better ask, but Berensul had already stacked up trays of seed-cakes and balanced another platter with cheese and a ham. There were other Elves too, looking curiously at Legolas but smiling and nodding,and gathering up vittles for the Dwarves and holding great tankards in their strong hands, three or four at a time.
'He has been with my Lord Elrond, but he may have ridden out with Glorfindel or maybe into the Wilds with Elrohir and Elladan. I will find out for you. Stay here and get out of those wet clothes. I will find something dry for you.'
Suddenly the Elves emptied out of the kitchen, each carrying either tankards of ale or piles of plates loaded with cakes and cheese and bread. Legolas was alone in the kitchens and sitting on a stool. He felt overwhelmed; names from history, from legends, were bandied about as if they were normal everyday folk, not the stuff of tales, and suddenly Legolas did not want to meet any of them. At least, not like this. Not drenched and like a half drowned rat and with such news. He let his shoulders slump.
But then he caught sight of the embroidered oak leaves on his sleeve again. His father would be really disappointed if he saw him so despondent. And his brothers. He was here to bear witness to the price paid by the Woodelves, to Naurion and Anglach and Celdir.
So he squelched into the scullery that Berensul had shown him earlier and gave a sigh and then stood and lifted first one foot, then the other to tug off his soggy boots, and held them over the drain. Water dripped out.
He lay his cloak over a chair that stood nearby and unbuckled his belt, lying it next to his cloak. He stripped off his sodden tunic and looked about the scullery to see what was obviously some sort of clothesline for linen so he slung his tunic over it and watched the water drip slowly onto the floor and into a runnel in the middle of the floor clearly to collect drips. He stripped off his shirt too so he stood half-naked, but stopped at his breeches. They were soaked too but this was, after all, a kitchen, and the thin leather was slick against his skin and he would have to peel them off. He glanced around but there were no dry cloaks or blankets or anything he could cover himself with.
He grappled around his pack and pulled out one soaking wet item after another and slung them over the line strung along the length of the scullery until he had nothing left in his light pack and then he began to wick the water from his breeches, by sliding his hands down his thighs, then bending over and sliding his hands down his calves and wicking off the water from the leather that clung tightly, uncomfortably to his legs, skin-tight. He was aware too that his hair was wet and wrung it out so water pooled around him and ran down the runnel.
It was a while before he realised he was not alone.
He looked up to see an Elf, broad-shouldered, well muscled, older and much heavier than he. Long black hair was pulled back in a severe and businesslike horsetail. Dressed in a simple tunic and hose, he was watching with a smile on his lips of wry amusement.
Legolas bristled but before he could speak, the other Elf held up his hand in peace and spoke.
'I mean no harm.' His voice was rich, mellow, but above all, kindly. 'I am merely amused that you have chosen to strip off and use the wine cellar for a linen press.'
Legolas' mouth formed a round O and he looked about, mentally smacking himself on the forehead for a fool. Around him were shelves of dusty bottles and the runnel of course was for dregs and spills. The clothesline was...well, he did not know what that was for. But it was a cellar. And now he remembered that Berensul had shoved him in here when he was getting the ale for the Dwarves. Great oaken casks and barrels lay on their sides. The Dwarves' cloaks were nowhere in sight.
'I thought it was a scullery. I am sorry.' He sighed and hung his head and then started reaching up to drag his horrible wet clothes off the line. As he pulled them towards him, they slapped against his bare, wet skin.
'No,' the Elf and reached out his hand and stopped Legolas. 'Leave them. No one will mind, I am sure,' he said and laughed. He had a rich laugh. It rolled around his mouth like the fine wine had had clearly come to fetch, for he held an elegant wine jug in one hand. 'Is Berensul elsewhere?' He did not take his hand from Legolas' arm and the warmth seemed to suffuse his skin and muscle and flesh and spread down his arm and into his body.
'He has gone to look after the Dwarves.' Legolas felt awkward and looked down at his wet naked chest. The yarë-carmé* gleamed and swirled on his half-naked body in the firelight and his wet leather breeches were tight as his own skin. He felt suddenly self-conscious and wanted to pull his cloak around him but it would surely be discourteous, implying he wanted to hide from the Elf...which he did, but he did not want to be rude either.
It was only then that the Elf took his hand away and when he did, Legolas shivered.
'Here, you are cold surely?' The Elf disappeared into another small room off the kitchen for a moment and then reappeared with a woolen tunic. It looked very fine. Legolas looked at it doubtfully. 'The owner will not mind, I am certain. He is away from home for the moment,' said the Elf again and his warm eyes came to rest on Legolas, drifting down to his naked chest and torso and one eyebrow raised.
Legolas felt suddenly self-conscious and pulled the tunic over his head. It was warm and soft, the finest wool certainly, and it was edged with the star of Earendil, Elrond's sigil. He looked up. 'Thank you,' he said and looked down at the small puddle about his bare feet. 'I am not making a very good impression,' he added sadly.
The other Elf said nothing for a moment, and Legolas looked up to meet warmth in the grey eyes. 'I would not say that at all,' he smiled and Legolas felt like a balm had been poured over him, a peace that crept over his limbs, and he felt suddenly weary but safe.
'Here,' the Elf tossed him a pair of dark blue hose, not breeches. 'These will be warmer than the leather you wear. Though not as well fitting,' he commented, turning away as Legolas bent to peel away the leather breeches that really did feel and look now, like a second skin. Only now did he realise how he must have looked to the Elf...the wet leather breeches clinging like a second skin, the wild painting over his bare chest and his long hair plastered down his back, over his shoulders. His naked feet. A wild Woodelf indeed, he grimaced uncomfortably.
As if the Elf realised how he was feeling , he smiled and bowed slightly. 'Please forgive me. I was here to collect some wine for the high table. I will leave you to make yourself more comfortable.'
'Thank you, my lord,' he felt compelled to add, for the man was lordly and kind, and old, his ancient wisdom shone. And his grey eyes were full of a sadness that Legolas had seen often in the forest...a loss borne deeply in his heart, and Legolas, because he was a kind and generous soul, leaned slightly towards him and listened to his Song to give him comfort. A low humming rose in the back of his throat and he half closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the wind, the air swirling around the world, rushing between Sea and Stars, the metallic chime of the stars more intense, brighter, and merged with the sorrowful cry of a lonely bird Legolas had never heard before, and it stirred something deep in his breast...
...There was the sound of horses galloping, a banner snapping in the wind...And something else, a great power...blue, swirling power that leapt up to meet Legolas' own song. And he felt suddenly overwhelmed, like he had been snatched up by the wind, and he staggered back a step. His lips parted and he raised his eyes to look into the lord's face, which was also startled and concerned. He took a step back as if Legolas made him feel...not fear, but something else. He caught up a bottle without looking at it and sketched another bow and turned and hurried out.
Legolas was left standing there, feeling as if he had done something wrong. He cursed himself roundly. Perhaps it was an intrusion for the Noldor, although the Elf had not been wholly Noldor. Too late now, he thought, looking to where the Elf had strode away.
Legolas pulled his clothes off the slender line that crossed the wine cellar and stood looking hopelessly for a moment.
It was then that Berensul returned, with the other maids and manservants. They were laughing and Berensul was doing an impression of a Dwarf, tucking his chin against his chest and booming.
'Here! Legolas?' Berensul pulled Legolas out into the warmth of the kitchen. 'This is the one I told you of,' he called to the others. 'He has crossed the Mountains on an errand for Thranduil and I dumped the Dwarves' wet cloaks on him and sent him off to get seed-cakes!' There was much merriment and then Berensul fingered the tunic he wore. He screwed up his face a moment.
'That is not one I would have chosen for you. It is the Lord Elrohir's. Don't let him catch you wearing it- he will mind!' Berensul snagged another from the warming cupboard where the Dwarves' cloaks had been hung. Inside, the laundry hung on wooden racks and hooks and lines and the dry laundry was carefully folded and in huge baskets. Everything smelled clean and warm. Berensul took Legolas' wet clothes from him and dumped them in a basket. 'Elemé, will you see to Legolas' wet clothes?' A girl giggled and blushed and Legolas smiled at her so she giggled and blushed even more. She was pretty, he decided.
'Put this on, it is not so fine. What taste you have!'
'A man, a lord, came in. He gave it to me, said the owner would not mind.' Legolas stripped off the tunic that was Elrohir's and, aware of the small gasps and giggles behind him, quickly pulled the new tunic over his head.
'The hose you can keep. I know not whose they are,' Berensul said carelessly and then frowned. 'Who did he say he was?'
'He did not, but he came for wine.'
'Ah, that will likely be Lord Erestor. Tall, dark, a bit forbidding?'
'A little,' said Legolas, thinking the man had not been forbidding but very, very sad. He did not feel it would be right to tell Berensul though. 'He said the owner would not mind.'
'Definitely Erestor. He thinks Elrohir too proud and away from home too often. He thinks it grieves our Lord, which it does. But that will make no difference.' Berensul stopped and sighed and Legolas felt there was something he was expected to know but he did not. He thrust a tunic at Legolas that was like his own, brown with the small stars of the House embroidered on the collar but very homely.
'Here,' Berensul threw a towel at Legolas. 'Dry yourself off a bit more and come and eat something. We are having our supper before the main House sits, so make the most of it. You will be fit to present yourself to Erestor then for your message.'
'My message is for Mithrandir, not Erestor,' said Legolas unhappily. He did not want anyone else to know of the news, that the creature Smeagol had slipped away while the guards had been attacked, slaughtered, slain, captured. He looked down, remembering the horror of that brief battle...and suddenly felt unbearably weary.
Berensul caught his elbow as he wobbled and gently sat him down on a bench.
'Eat, then sleep. You are exhausted. I will let Erestor know and you can present yourself to him tomorrow.'
One of the maids pushed past and said something quietly to Berensul and he snapped back a quick remark that left her laughing. He drew Legolas to a bench at a long table and suddenly all the kitchen servants were sitting around him and chattering and talking and helping themselves to the food put carelessly on the table.
'We have some hours before I am needed,' Berensul told Legolas. 'And I intend to find you a chamber and then see where Mithrandir is so you can give him your message.'
'That will be a relief,' Legolas said. He took rolls of hot bread when Berensul offered and a chunk of cheese and yellow butter, slices of the ham and piled his plate, so glad it was proper food and not lembas. He was starving.
The maids watched him laughing.
'Did they not feed you in Mirkwood?' one girl asked lightly and Legolas forgave her her rudeness because it was not intended and she was the pretty girl who had blushed at him earlier.
'I am hungry,' he said smiling and then said gently, 'And it is not Mirkwood. It is very beautiful though there is much that is overrun with Shadow.'
The little gathering became quieter then and there were some uncomfortable glances.
'It comes closer, does it not?' a serious girl asked. 'Lord Elrond has spent all his time with the Hobbit....'
'And the Lords are out hunting for signs....'
'Glorfindel has ridden out again...'
'And Lords Elrohir and Elladan have gone down river...and Estel...'
Legolas was very hungry but he tried to listen attentively so he could take information back to his father, but one of the other maids who had not yet spoken and was sitting next to him had let her hand drop, as if by accident, onto his thigh and he liked the warmth of it there. He swallowed his food and wiped his mouth, then turned his face towards her and gave her a blazing smile that left her open-mouthed and bedazzled.
'Legolas is it?' a large Elf with his hair severely tied back and the look of someone who is king of his own world called his attention. Legolas thought he must be the cook. 'Tell us the news from Mirkwood. Has the King Under the Mountain really a river of gold?' He thought too that the look the Elf gave the girl was enough to send her attention scurrying back to her food, and Legolas turned regretfully to the cook and bowed slightly, for it was always politic to give obedience to Kings, he knew, wherever they may be, and whatever their kingdom.
Even so. 'We do not call it Mirkwood, master,' he said but smiled so as not to earn the wrath of this Elf. 'But news? Well, the towns of Dale and Esgaroth are restored and the Dwarves of the Mountain have some trade with us. Dain is, we think, a good King and the river flows, but not with gold I think.'
It was easier then, and there was no more mention of darkness or shadow and that suited Legolas too, for he had not forgotten the touch of the Nazgûl upon the mountains and he wanted to tell Mithrandir all sorts of things in the morning. If not, he would have to tell this Erestor or demand to speak to Elrond himself. He sighed. He did not look forward to any of this.
There was good hot bread and cold beef, and all sorts of good wholesome food. And the kitchen was filled with other smells of delicacies and cooking for the nobles and their families. Legolas knew he should declare himself. He would do so tomorrow if need be, he thought, but he much preferred the warm friendliness of the kitchen over the cool reception he would get from the Noldor. All would want to know why he was here, why he was on his own, what was the message, and so on. And he preferred they did not know his shame. It would be bad enough to have to tell Mithrandir, let alone anyone else.
Berensul showed him a chamber high up beneath the eaves of the house where the servants and messengers slept when they visited. Legolas did not mind; it was better than a barracks and like everything in Imladris, it was elegant and had a bed in it as well as a wash stand and a chest of drawers. Berensul lingered in the doorway, lounged against the doorpost as Legolas looked about. 'Elemé likes you,' he told Legolas.
Legolas turned and smiling said, 'She is very pretty. Does she not have a suitor?'
'Yes. He is a guard, out with the Lords Elrohir and Elladan.'
Legolas shrugged, trying not to appear too impressed that the guard was riding with the Sons of Thunder, but he was disappointed that the maid had a suitor. 'Never mind. I am only here one maybe two nights.' He leaned his bow carefully against the wall and his knives beside them. 'Once I have told Mithrandir my message I must leave.'
'Surely not straight away?' Legolas turned at the disappointment in Berensul's voice and saw that the Elf had pushed himself away from the post and had taken a step towards him. 'You have not seen anything of Imladris yet...' Berensul said, standing closer. 'There is the Hall of Fire, and the gardens are very lovely. The shards of Narsil are here too. Surely it is worth delaying one or two more days? There will be parties leaving soon over the mountains. Would you not rather travel with others?'
Legolas admitted he would and let himself drop and stretch out on the bed. It was soft but not grand, fit for a messenger rather than one of the great lords who might visit.
'I suppose I could stay a day or two,' he smiled up at Berensul who was coming towards him now. 'But I will have to return then,' he added more soberly, looking round the room.
'I have heard there is to be a scouting party going over the Mountains in a couple of days. You could join them,' Berensul said lightly, sitting on the bed next to Legolas and looking down.
'That would be a great relief,' Legolas admitted. His hands were behind his head and his long body stretched out. There was warmth on his thigh where Berensul sat close and he looked up, held Berensul's green eyes with his own. He shifted slightly to make room for Berensul.
There was a moment and then Berensul threw himself down next to Legolas and mirrored his position, long lean body stretched out, hands behind his head. Legolas was very tired and wanted nothing more than sleep...but tomorrow would be different and once he had delivered his message, he would give himself two days of rest and then return perhaps with one of these scouting parties of which Berensul had spoken.
'There is hot water in that jug on the stand,' Berensul turned his head slightly and looked at Legolas. 'I would use it before it gets cold.'
'Am I that bad?' he asked, chagrinned. 'I have been travelling for weeks so I should not be surprised. And usually I am amongst other warriors and we do not care if we smell like orcs!'
'It is not the worst thing I have ever smelled,' Berensul responded lightly. 'There are baths if you prefer. You could even sneak into the family's bathing chambers.'
Legolas laughed softly. 'Surely not!'
'They will not know. The Lords Elrohir and Elladan are away. Arwen has her own quarters and anyway, is with her betrothed and my Lord Elrond will be welcoming the Dwarves this evening, as will Glorfindel and Erestor so there is no question of your being disturbed.'
'That does sound very appealing,' Legolas yawned suddenly and Berensul nudged him. 'But I do not think I should impose on my hosts. Am I so smelly that it can it not wait until morning? I can always stand outside in the rain again,' he added, smiling and yawning.
Berensul laughed and thumped him lightly. 'It certainly cannot wait and that is no solution! It will attract even more attention!' he said. 'You'll have everyone staring.'
Legolas grimaced. 'I suppose you are right,' he said sighing.'They will have enough to mock me for soon enough,' he added miserably thinking of the messages he was to deliver.
'Mock you? I do not think they would mock you,' Berensul raised an eyebrow. He sighed and pushed himself up on his elbow, looking down at Legolas. 'You are a stranger come from Mirkwood, and they will be intrigued, curious. And you are certainly no messenger. You do not look like a messenger and you do not have the build of a servant but that of a warrior. You just walk wrong, like you should be running through a forest hunting goblins.'
Legolas thought about this, and found himself a little flattered, but also a little embarrassed at being seen in this way.
Berensul pushed himself to his feet and walked over to the washstand where there was a jug of hot water and soap and towels. 'You can stay here if you wish. There is hot water here for the pipes do not reach as far as these rooms although we can use the shared baths of course. But the Dwarves may be using them and have probably used most of the hot water so it may not be enough.'
'I will stay here and use this,' Legolas decided, 'I would definitely never want to share bath water with a Dwarf!' he declared and Berensul laughed and agreed.
'Although they are very clean. They always want oils for their beards and hair, and they like scented soaps and they are very fussy about the softness of the towels,' Berensul complained, fussing himself over the soap and towels that someone had kindly put out for Legolas' use. 'I have to go and help in the kitchen but I will come back later if you wish?' he said with a quick glance towards Legolas.
Legolas rolled to his feet and went over to the washstand, tugging his borrowed tunic over his head as he did. He dropped it on the floor and Berensul laughed.
'You see? Definitely a warrior.' But his eyes lingered on the yarë-carmé and Legolas thought perhaps others would have stared too. He found he did not mind Berensul staring.
'I have to go,' Berensul said quite suddenly and he pulled open the door. Then he turned and paused and said, looking at Legolas again, 'Shall I come back later?'
Legolas was already pouring hot water into the china bowl provided. It would do. 'Of course, if I am still awake.' But he felt the tiredness of his limbs and the need for rest, but he had been on his own in the mountains for so long so he added, knowing it would sound ridiculous, 'Will you come and wake me even if I sleep?' He sniffed the soap gingerly. It had a strange scent, musky.
Berensul flashed him a bright smile and Legolas looked at him and stayed looking even after the door had closed. He thought of Alagos' warnings about Imladris, and their Laws and wondered if Alagos and the book had quite got everything right. He was lonely after all that time in the mountains and when he slipped into dreams, it was not the mountains he thought of, but long dark hair and merry green eyes.
True to his word, Berensul did wake Legolas, with a bottle of wine on one hand and a cheeky grin on his face. 'You have set them all astir,' he said as Legolas blinked himself awake and rubbed his face. 'The maids are all hoping you will stay for a week and you are the talk of the kitchen.' He plonked himself on the bed and looked down at Legolas. Legolas slowly remembered where he was, and pushed himself up onto his elbows, blinking and pushing his long hair out of his eyes, away from his face.
'Are you going to stay there all night or are you coming down to the Hall of Fire?' Berensul asked. The blanket had been shucked down over Legolas' naked abdomen by Berensul sitting on the bed, and he was aware that Berensul stole a sly glance. 'There are Hobbits and Dwarves and a Man from Gondor. He traveled all the way on his own. Imagine.'
Legolas covered his mouth as he yawned and then stretched, put his hands under his head and leaned back. He had left his borrowed tunic and hose on the chair and saw Berensul's eyes dart towards them. He did not think it would matter to Berensul and if he did, well, he would just have to close his eyes.
'I just hope Aragorn does not start singing the Lay of Luthien,' Berensul was saying but he was staring at the painted swirls and geometric patterns on Legolas' skin. 'It really upsets everyone.'
Legolas' good feeling vanished. Aragorn. That was the Man who had brought Gollum to the Wood. He felt a little pit of misery open up in his belly. He was not sure if it was worse to be telling Mithrandir that Gollum had escaped, or telling Aragorn, who had fought Gollum all the way to the Wood and been so relieved to be rid of him. So there would be no escape. 'Is Aragorn in the Hall of Fire?' he asked, thinking that Aragorn would want to know what had brought Legolas to Imladris, and he would have to tell the Man the news of Gollum's escape. He thought Aragorn might be a harder judge than Mithrandir,and strangely, for he had spent little time with Aragorn, he wanted the Man to think well of him. Now the idea of the Man's disapproval, his disappointment, made a little patter of anxiety start up in his belly. He rubbed his hand over his eyes.
'Yes, he has been here since he brought the Hobbits here. Oh, and I have found Mithrandir. I know you were anxious to see him. He seems to know the Dwarves very well.'
Legolas sighed. It just got worse and worse. He certainly did not wish to tell his terrible news in front of Dwarves and Hobbits, although he would have liked to have spoken with any Hobbits. It would have to wait until the morning, he decided, when he could see Mithrandir on his own. His news would get around soon enough he was sure and then he would have to stand his ground and do as his father required; to bear witness to the price they had paid. And he needed to be strong for that.
'He is in the Hall of Fire too I think.' Berensul leaned back on the bed alongside Legolas, rested his head on his arm like Legolas did. He glanced at Legolas with concern. 'If it will ease you, let us find him now. Glorfindel was there too, and Elrohir. He returned this evening.'
It got worse and worse. Now it was not only giving the news of the failure to keep Gollum, but to give it now in front of Dwarves, Aragorn, AND these great legends. How they would despise him. Not for the first time, or the last, he wished he might somehow avoid all this.
He rolled onto his belly and propped himself up on his elbows, worried. 'I think it can wait,' he said pensively.
Berensul laughed gently. 'You get used to it. Glorfindel is the hardest one to treat. He is glorious.' He sighed and Legolas gave an anxious little smile back. 'Now. Are we drinking that wine or is it mere decoration?' Berensul held up the bottle in invitation. 'We will have to drink it from the bottle,' Berensul swung his legs back to the ground and sat up. He produced a thin knife which he wedged beneath the wax seal on the top of the bottle and lifted it. Then he wiped it round with a cloth he had tucked into his belt.
Legolas had only half a mind on what Berensul did. He did not want to give news that would disappoint Mithrandir, but he wanted them to understand too the cost, as his father bid, and he suddenly wondered if he had the words to convey the truth, the flight through the forest after the Orcs, the screaming as they tormented Nauriel, Anglach's eyes as they glazed in slow death...
Berensul nudged his arm and he suddenly became aware that his companion was talking, was looking at him. 'Of course you Woodelves drink from the barrel so this will be positively sophisticated.' Berensul grinned and his green eyes twinkled. He tucked the cloth into his belt, and the knife into his boot, and held the bottle in one hand, took a swig from it.
Legolas glanced up at Berensul, tried to smile. 'A barrel? That's better than usual,' he responded, knowing it was weak, struggling to push away the dark thoughts. He felt a warmth at his side and glanced down. Berensul's free hand was close, not quite touching.
There was a moment of silence, each intensely aware of the other's heat.
Berensul glanced down at his hand, where it was so close to Legolas. Then he looked up again.'Is it true too, that you lie with both men and maids?' he asked slowly his eyes on Legolas' face, his mouth.
'Do you mean me, or Woodelves generally?' Legolas asked surprised, and saw that Berensul's eyes gleamed and he moved his hand a little closer to Legolas, but still did not touch him. The silence stretched a little longer.
Berensul quirked an eyebrow. 'You. Both.' He took another swig from the bottle. His lips were red from the wine.
Legolas blinked and looked down for a moment; this was certainly not what he had expected, not that it was unwelcome. Indeed, the long and lonely journey had exhausted him and he wanted physical closeness, comfort now. He considered for a moment what Alagos had told him, warned him and concluded that perhaps Alagos had just not met the right Elves in Imladris. He also thought that perhaps the book he had read in Thranduil's library could simply be wrong.
So he took the bottle from Berensul, took a swig himself and let the wine soak his mouth. He nodded approvingly and gave it back to Berensul.
'Yes. Both, mostly,' he replied, keeping his eyes on Berensul's. 'But some only ever lie with their beloved,' he added in a very serious voice, and then, feigning a shock, he added. 'And some even wed and beget little Woodelves. And some bond with the trees and some with the spiders.'
Berensul gave a laugh and thumped him lightly on the shoulder. Taking a long drink from from the bottle, Berensul wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and gave it back to Legolas.
Legolas drank then, and looked appreciatively at the half empty bottle now. 'Is it true that you Noldor think that you will be damned and thrown into the Void if you do not bond with any that you lie with?' he asked in return.
Berensul shifted slightly and his green eyes met Legolas'. 'Many of the Noldor still think that.' He paused. 'The Laws and Customs are that we wed and stay with that one woman and desire fades... But there are not only Noldor here.' And he tilted his head slightly then.
Legolas smiled at the gesture, understanding the acceptance, permission in that gesture. 'And you are not entirely Noldor,' he said.
Berensul met his gaze. 'My mother is from Lothlorien. My father is Noldor.'
'Ah.' Legolas nodded, then he rolled onto his back and shuffled closer to Berensul, the thin blanket wrapped around his lean hips. Berensul smiled and toed off his shoes and let them clatter to the floor. Then he propped himself up on his elbow and leaned over Legolas, looked into his eyes and Legolas felt his heart thump in his chest and smiled, tilted his head slightly. There was a moment of silence and then Berensul leaned closer, and slowly, deliberately pressed his mouth against Legolas. He tasted of wine. Then Berensul broke away slowly and kept his eyes on Legolas', and he tasted his own lips, red with wine.
Legolas smiled. 'That was nice,' he said and he took Berensul's hand then, wound his fingers into his. 'Shall we try another?' he asked and could not suppress the smile.
This time, Berensul was more demanding and when he pressed his mouth to Legolas', he forced his tongue into Legolas' mouth and let his hand stroke down Legolas' naked shoulder. The blanket tangled around Legolas' legs and he kicked it off the bed onto the floor and pressed himself against Berensul's long body.
'You must be hot in all those clothes,' Legolas murmured and plucked at the ties of Berensul's tunic. Next he sat up so he could more easily slide the tunic and shirt over the dark Elf's head and cast it to the floor. He looked at the unmarked, unblemished body before him and ran his hand over the flat chest and belly, slid his fingers beneath the waistband of his hose to the smooth skin of his engorged flesh. He slid the palm of his hand over the silky skin of Berensul's cock and cupped his balls.
Suddenly Berensul's hand stopped him. Legolas looked up into his face; he was looking at him strangely. 'Is this a bonding in Mirkwood?' he asked sounding strained.
Legolas pulled back quickly. 'No,' he said alarmed. 'Do you wish to bond?'
'No,' Berensul laughed with him, both realising the other felt the same relief.
Legolas shook his head in relief. 'Good. Not that you are not a worthy spouse but in the Wood, like here, a bond is mainly between a man and woman for children. Although there are those who bond with another man or another woman. It does not seem to matter to anyone.' Legolas turned his hand to twine his fingers with Berensul's, and lifted his head to kiss Berensul deeply. He felt a surge of lust and desire and when Berensul touched the swirls around his nipple, Legolas caught his breath for the shock of lust it always sent through him. He leaned back on his elbows and looked up at Berensul.
'What are these markings?' Berensul asked.
'These are the signs of my House,' Legolas said, looking down and pointing out the oak and ash and thorn of Oropher, the green-gold that was his own. 'And this is Smaug,' he said running a finger over the swirls and geometric patterns over his shoulder.
Berensul peered at it for a moment and then his face cleared. 'Ah. I see it now.' He traced the sinuous line of the dragon as it coiled around Legolas' torso, his hips, his thigh.
'We do not have to...' Legolas began, thinking he sensed a hesitation, but Berensul shushed him and leaned in again for another kiss and this time, his hand grasped Legolas firmly. Legolas sighed and pushed against the hold, shoved his hand beneath Berensul's hose and stroked him too so the kiss deepened and their tongues met and pushed and swirled around each other.
'Have you ever...?' Legolas began but Berensul nodded impatiently and pushed Legolas down onto his back.
Legolas laughed slightly breathless. 'This is not what I expected.'
'No?' Berensul placed the palm of his hand firmly on Legolas' flat belly and moved between Legolas' thighs. Legolas looked up at him, into the lustful green eyes and reached up to slide his hands through the dark silk hair. Berensul licked his lips then and pushed his hands beneath Legolas' hips, pulled him close. Legolas felt the stiff heat nudge against his buttocks and his lips parted slightly in surprise at Berensul's confidence, his forthrightness.
'No...I did not,' Legolas said and laughed breathlessly again. 'I thought...'
'You thought there would be none of this sharing between men,' Berensul said smiling, but his eyes were half closed with desire and lust. 'But when I saw you in the wine cellar, I wanted you.' He leaned forwards and kissed Legolas deeply and when he pulled back, they stopped speaking for it was all sensation and panting, breathless desire and heat and then liquid pooling deep in Legolas' belly, he rode the waves of desire until both exploded.
* This is what the Noldor believed of the Woodelves- source, Silmarillion and Hobbit.
*yäré-carmé - the tattoos the Woodelves use- they mark each limb with an identification of their House and name. A necessity in the Wood in case they are caught by Orcs and dismembered. They also use this as rites of passage and initiation into various cults. One day I'll get round to writing the story of the dragon.
Hope you liked that little snippet. It will be a while before I update now as none of the next chapter is written but reviews really encourage me to get my act together!
This gorgeous picture is by Mienpies, who also did the fab pics that are posted with Sons of Thunder- there's a really gorgeous one coming uo of a very knowing Legolas I'm saving for the next chapter.