She awoke a little while later to find him gone, as she expected: the bed of hay was imprinted slightly by the lines of his body.
A sad, sweet satisfaction filled her as she forced herself to keep still. She didn't try to push his image out of her mind, she'd realized by now how useless that was; it was like a reflection in water, for a little while the turbulence destroys the image but the water always calmed and he always came back clear as day.
Leia came in quietly and moved toward her, "They're gone" she whispered.
They remained silent for a while, each in their own thoughts when Leia said suddenly, "Do you think he will be back?"
"Yes. But he won't find us."
"You mean he won't find you," Leia specified.
Leia shook her head in the silence amused at the surety of her younger companion.
"You've always been your own torturer Raveyn, you burn yourself over coals for past actions and roast yourself at the prospect of future ones," Leia said, a sad note in her voice.
"Well you know what they say about the unexamined life not being worth living," Raveyn quipped laxly.
"Oh by all means examine your life. Just don't pick it apart till even the crows can't find enough to survive on."
"Now Leia you know I would never do that, let scavengers starve? Perish the thought!" She said with mock dismay.
"Such a do-gooder" Leia said smiling.
And so they continued for a little while, their banter easy and amiable. And all thoughts of tomorrow were pushed out of their heads as they savored the sweetness of that leisurely moment.
And tomorrow… well tomorrow would come tomorrow.
The Next morning
She rose and dressed quickly; they had all gathered at the town square awaiting her arrival. She had after all been the one to call the meeting. Already the sun was beating heavily on the square and the little brown buildings surrounding it, their facades cracked with white, and their foundations trembled with every heavy wind that blew through. It was a desolate setting she thought and one would believe that the people inhabiting this sleepy settlement would be reflections of the tired buildings that stood like dead, dried, desert tree trunks. But vibrancy and life reflected brilliantly off everyone of them, off the russet brown of their skin, off the beady glints in their eyes, and she had to smile at that. She had to laugh at that. Old, young it didn't matter, they each had a yearning for life, a desire to plunder its pleasures and drink the frothy wines from its shores. They were men who wouldn't grow old and wrinkled by a hearth but would die drowning in the dregs of life's tankard. And when asked about regrets, they would give a cracked smile showing rotting teeth and yellow bleary eyes. "I lived," they would say. Their eyes followed her now, as she made her way to stand at the top of the well, energy pulsating from her small frame.
She regarded each of them in turn, her eyes warm as she fondly grinned at them.
"We've had a good two years haven't we? We've plundered, wined, dined, and wenched, better than rest. We've been the terror of the countrysides, and had our pick of caravans. Even elves have fallen to us," she said, smiling widely.
"And do you know why my friends?"
Her voice dropped to a hush as they strained to hear, "Because we were the best. The best," And she laughed triumphantly as they cheered. It was a rough laugh scarred with the harshness of life but rich with its simple joys.
"Its been a pleasure, and an honor to have led the finest band of liars and cutthroats, life doesn't bring you much better than this. I have lived richly with you, perhaps too richly some would argue," she said smiling demurely as somebody shouted, "You could out drink the fat bastard himself!"
"But sadly, as with all times, this too must come to an end," a quiet fell as the import of her words sank in. They stared at her confused. "I will be leaving you. I have spent two of the most enjoyable years of my life in your company. I have tasted the sweet, salt and bitter of every encounter with you. But my sand's run out, and the furies have come to collect," she said quietly. Whispering started like fire as they frowned mutinously.
"Liar," Donor said coolly as everyone turned to stare at him in shock.
"What," he said innocently meeting Raveyn's glare, "Sauron would have thrown his hands up and given up if he'd ever met you, you would have argued him into the ground. The whole war could have been avoided if they'd sent you in. I'd have given him half an hour." That effectively broke the ice as the boys jumped on to the bandwagon.
"Half an hour?," Rinthor said guffawing, "the old boy would 'a pissed himself at the mere sight of her."
"Raveyn the terrible" another yelled madly.
"Raveyn the frightful," somebody small at the far corner screamed hysterically.
"Raveyn the-" somebody else began when Raveyn cut him off.
"I get it," she said drily, "Ha ha. And here I was thinking you would be devastated," she muttered pouting.
"Why" Tivaer asked suddenly, "Why now. Is it because of him? He of the golden hair and fair eyes?" He said his voice sweet and pointed.
The crowd immediately hushed and waited; a gauntlet had been thrown.
She held his gaze for a long time, she saw the hurt there. She had told him this morning and he hadn't taken it well. Not at all. She didn't know if it was because she was leaving, or because he thought Leia would be leaving.
Her eyes were piercing as she said softly, "Do you think that one man can rule me Tivaer?"
He didn't answer and the silence was drawn out painfully in that small square.
"You presume much Tivaer," she said fiercely her voice hawkish in the thin air
"Aye because I've had much to respect," he clipped.
"Had?" she asked.
He didn't answer and she stepped down and went up to him and whispered briefly into his ear, as the others strained to hear. Leia looked on curiously and the rest strained to here her hushed words.
And then Tivaer's laughter broke like hot water on ice and he gathered her up and spun her around as he laughed and laughed.
"Vagabonds, wretches and villains thrice give cheer to your new captain," she said her arms thrown wide.
A thunderous cheer rose up like the tides of some great battle and broke over the crowd their raucous cries heard above the vale.
Leia came up behind her amidst the cheers and said, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Never been more sure in my life love," and with that she quickly slipped away, ignoring the slight pain in her chest. She was leaving behind another family again, to find another life, again.
"For blood's sake its not like I'll never visit," she said to herself crossly wiping away the tears that had traitorously spilled over her cheeks.
She quickly gathered her few belongings along with several sacks of gold, and saddled her horse. She wanted to make it clean and fast, leave without the necessary mourning and wailing. She went to the stall at the far end, where sitting fat and happy with big round silly eyes was Stubborn. He was surrounded with carrots
"Darling I've got to go again, but this time I can't take you with me," she said, running her hands through his mane. He snorted and kept eating.
"I see where I stand compared with the carrots," she said softly as she stood up and mounted her dark thoroughbred.
"So I see we are running away again without saying goodbye," Leia said softly leaning against the barn door.
Raveyn looked at her, surprised.
"No no, don't explain. Heaven only knows what reasoning you've convinced yourself of this time little one," Leia said shaking her head, "Sometimes I forget how young you are. It's so easy to forget," she said sighing.
"You do what you must, but you come back you hear me. You had better come back." Leia said pressing her lips together tightly trying to still the trembling.
"Now leave, go," she said.
Raveyn hesitated and turned toward her.
"I will tell Tivaer to clean out soon in case your fair haired love should come. Now go."
Raveyn still hesitated looking at her, her hands lying limply across the reins.
"Go, get! Stubborn foolish girl," Leia said tears now running down her face.
"I'll be back," she said simply and turned her horse toward the open desert.
"And how will you find us pray tell," Leia couldn't help shouting.
Raveyn turned toward her with one eyebrow lifted, her mouth curving slowly into a full amused smile, "Love didn't you know? You can always find your shadow, all you have to do is look back."
With the last of those words flung behind her, her figure grew smaller as the black demon beneath her chewed up the ground, leaving only small ghost puffs behind that blew away into the vast desert waste. The sun hung suspended above like a shining coin tossed into the sky, mercilessly cracking the ground and the people beneath it.
Leia watched until she could see no more, and then left. She had to tell Tivaer that they would be having company soon.
I walked numbly back to the square where the men had quieted somewhat, realizing that the erstwhile leader had disappeared. Ex-Leader now. I looked at Tivaer who stood happily watching them. His men now. Will you lead well Tivaer? Will you be just? Good?
I sat down wearily in the shade; the exertions of the past week had taken their toll at last. I sighed. I hadn't felt my age in a long while.
Raveyn my dearest darling friend, why does life feel heavier without you?
If only we had met sooner what strength we could have harnessed. What compassion and forgiveness we could have learned.
I sat in contemplation of past thoughts and regrets that had too late been buried, and future hopes and dreams that had too early been born. Or maybe not…it no longer rested in my hands or even hers at least. It was up to him now. She would have enough trouble trying to elude him. People were so foolish sometimes. She was no exception, but she would have to learn the truth for herself. She was still running.
I swiped at the flies that had settled around me, looking for life in this dry plain. The desert consumed everything that crossed its path, even death held no dominion over these white sprawling waste lands. Perhaps that was why Raveyn had settled in so easily. She had just slipped in as if she belonged; the desert recognized its own. Or maybe that was the reason she had left. To claim whatever life she had left. Did it matter now?
"I would give all the gold I possess to free your face forever from those frowns" Tivaer said as I turned to look at him, startled.
His good humor had been tempered somewhat and I was sorry for it. Tivaer happy was truly a sight to behold, he lit everyone up with that huge smile that remained undaunted no matter what miseries he'd witnessed. I envied his cheer.
"All the gold of Gondor wouldn't be dear enough to purchase my troubles" I said sadly braving a smile for him.
We sat quietly in the pregnant silence each having things to say but neither finding the words. I was suddenly fascinated by the rotting wood post next to me.
And then I remembered what I had to tell him, turning I smiled whimsically as I said,
" 'He of the golden hair and fair eyes' will be coming soon so we should-" I wasn't allowed to finish as he shushed me, shaking his head.
He looked at me. Really looked at me. He turned my face to him, and as those brilliant moss eyes bored into mine he asked "Will you stay?"
My eyes fell to our hands which were now clasped together. His was rough and calloused, heavily browned from the sun. I ran my fingertips across the hard ridges of his palm and felt him shiver at my touch.
Would I stay?
I turned away dashing the tears that had sprung to my eyes, and feeling all too acutely that pain in my chest. My breath hitched as I shook, trembling as if from the inside out.
"Leia?" he asked uncertainly as he touched my damp cheek.
I remembered the first time, when everything had seemed perfect. I knew better now: I knew better not to believe promises of forever. That didn't ease the pain any less.
When I looked at him again my voice quavered as I spoke haltingly, "Do not give me hope if you are going to take it away. Do not give me …give me love if you are going to leave. I couldn't stand that. I couldn't take it Tivaer. I can't go through that again."
He was taken back and I realized that perhaps I had pushed away. One should never reveal weakness I thought as I tried to still the trembling of my lips. Raveyn had taught me that. I dropped his hand and stood up sharply.
"Well then it is-" I began harshly my voice hoarse as I tried to pull myself together.
And then as sudden and furious as desert rain his laughter boomed around me. He dropped to one knee and pulled my hand to his, stilling my efforts to pull it back.
"Dearest beautiful lady, have I ever given you reason to doubt my sincerity?" he asked pointedly, the humor had again receded, with only snatches floating in his eyes.
"Were I the poorest woodcutter who survived only on his trade I would cut off my right arm if you asked. Were I a king among kings with treasure and beds piled with silk I would sleep on the cold earth stripped of title and privilege if you were to ask. Madam I am yours body heart mind and soul," he said. She looked at him awed, the tears finally spilling over.
"Especially," he added seriously, "body."
I looked at him, the wideness of my smile hurting my lips as I said, "Well what are you waiting for? An invitation?"
He stood up slowly and looked down at me with such tenderness, "This is it Leia. I am giving you a chance to turn back because if you cross this line there is no turning back. I can have a beastly temper sometimes, and god knows I'm a tyrant at heart. I am also extremely jealous and if I so much as catch another man eyeing I wont be held responsible for how many of his bones I'll break. I have many faults, and the only surety I can offer you in this life of mine is love. The love of a bandit who has found late in life the most precious treasure in the world," he said, his voice thick with emotion, as his hands sweetly caught my face.
"Till the end," I said brushing my lips across his face.
It had been so very long, that I had almost forgotten what it felt like; that blend of pleasure and dizzying happiness. He kissed me as if his life depended on it, as if his whole being centered on the opening of my lips under his, in the dancing of our tongues, in the mingling of our breath. His arms lifted me up as easily as if I was feather down and as we made our way to his room, I could hear the fierce staccato pulse of his heart.
Legolas remembered little of that cold night ride to Bree; his mind lay else where as he and Cassandra pounded a hard pace across the desert ground. She was uncharacteristically quiet, her eyes glittering like riverbed stones. She had glanced at him once questioningly with a look he didn't even try to discern. They didn't say a word.
When they arrived, dawn's fingers had already brushed rose light across the sky, illuminating faintly the uniformed ranks of the elves gathered at the edges of town. One gave a shout at the sight of them and the Captain rode swiftly toward him, consternation evident in his smooth features.
"Majesty" he began, swiftly taking in Legolas' disheveled appearance.
Legolas waved him off and dismounted nimbly, turning to help Cassandra down.
"Highness why - er..-um.. where have you been?" the flustered Captain said, clutching his helmet tightly at his side.
Legolas merely gazed at him and said, "Make sure her ladyship is comfortably housed."
Those who knew him well saw the faint tension across his brow, and they quietly followed his orders as he walked wearily to the inn.
She had not forgotten however.
"Legolas!" Cassandra said sharply a warning in her tone.
He turned to her then, and calmly perused her face, as he stood languidly his arms lying still at his side. He expected anger, and humiliation. He did not expect such a blatant rage, or thirst for retribution. She watched him closely, her hands clawing at her sides as if trying to reach for something tangible. She pressed her lips tightly together, fighting his gaze: he merely stood with a disquieting calm, his pose deceptively lazy. He saw the rage rise like lava in her eyes, an outpouring of raw emotion. He was neither shocked nor surprised.
Finally her reserve crumbled and she turned furious, her skirts pushing around her as she stalked off.
He turned toward the inn and retired to his room. Quickly shedding his clothes he stepped into the hot bath that had been prepared. He had much to think about, and much to plan. He thought about sending a contingent force to search the Downs, but she was far too clever to remain there. The risk was too great, she would have already moved on.
As the steam gradually faded and the calming heat dissipated his mind took a similar turn toward colder matters. He had let things spin too far out of control at home. That would not be tolerated, that could not be tolerated. It was time to go back and see to things. Honor had to be satisfied.
"Captain," he said as the man slipped through the door, "We leave for Mirkwood in the morning."
The man nodded and was about to leave when Legolas asked him one more question, "Do you know of any caravans passing on the East West Road in the coming months?"
TIVAER AND LEIA
A week later, at some dry dusty place…
Tivaer sat, suffocating from heat and boredom in a small hole in the middle of nowhere. His mood had turned black at around noon, as he contemplated the lack of prospects ahead of him. The men hadn't begun to grumble yet, but they would want action soon. He couldn't complain though. He'd been made a happy man. A happy married man. His smile grew as he watched his wife run across the courtyard, scattering the chickens.
"Tivaer. Tivaer look!" Leia said happily clutching a letter in her lap as she ran toward him, clutching her skirts in a harried manner.
"Its from Raveyn!" Leia said beaming, completely unaware of the mean looking hawk perched precariously on her arm. He watched it suspiciously as he warily took the letter from his wife. He didn't like the way it was looking at her hand.
"Be careful with that thing Leia, go find a stand for it or something," he said as he opened the letter.
She completely disregarded him, "Read it, read it"
He opened it and began to read:
Dearest Leia and Tivaer,
I am sorry I missed the nuptials, I've heard reports that the celebrating caused consternation in Bree, rumor says that a troop of orcs is heading for the city. Didn't I tell you to keep Donor away from the kegs?
As for me, I've been moving about quite a bit. I never figured myself for a traveler until now. Who knew there was so much world to be seen?
Leia. I've searched my heart for words to say to you and I could find none poignant enough. My friend, I miss you. I miss you.
Give my best to the men,
Tivaer finished it and turned his eyes to the other packet enclosed with the letter.
Leia silently sniffled by his side, "She didn't have to leave so soon. Travel! She could have traveled with us. We could have traveled," she said sullenly.
Tivaer didn't hear her, he was too busy looking at a series of sketches and diagrams- his smile grew wider as he realized what they were. Pinned to them was a small note,
Consider this a belated wedding gift
"What is it?" Leia asked over his shoulder uncomprehendingly.
"Plans my love, plans. For a caravan," he said with gleaming eyes.
When he arrived nearly the whole kingdom of Mirkwood had turned out for his return; the people cheering for their favorite heir. He was dressed crisply, in a tunic of deep black, his vest embroidered with braids of twisted silver. Waving to the populace, he gave a humorless smile, before dismounting quickly and disappearing into the palace. The Captain hastened to follow him as Legolas made his was swiftly toward his own rooms, "Bring me Ellivir," Legolas said curtly and as the Captain silently departed Legolas entered his chambers. His nostrils flared as he breathed deeply. He dominated that cold ancient room, as his forefathers had done before him, and as his sons would do after. He sat in the ornately carved chair surrounded by emblems of wealth and prestige, and thus was the image that met Ellivir, as he stepped cautiously into the room. Elves had been granted not only keenness of sight and sound, but also a keenness in sensing feelings. Fear for example was one. How else could elves unerringly find their target in the black of night, if not for the stink of their fear? But the most acrid emotion, the most bitter and foreign to elves was rage. And that was what brought Ellivir to his knees, what froze his blood as he prostrated himself before his only liege and lord. The rage that pulsed like a living thing throughout that room.
"Highness" he choked out in a pitifully small voice.
There was just an uneasy silence that stretched taut like a thread.
"You lied to me," Legolas said simply, turning his head slightly to the side, ice blond hair freezing his eyes. He'd gone cold, sucking warmth from the room, sucking it from Ellivir who stood there, with knees knocking as he saw Death come that much closer to him and breathe warmly down his neck.
"Highness I-I-I" He choked on his words and gagged.
Legolas just watched him with the curious detachment of a hunter regarding its prey. That calm surety that the prey was in its reach and as good as dead unless he stilled his hand and said, 'Mercy.'
"It was her highness, it wasn't me-she did everything, everything from beginning to end" and he rambled and drew out his story, jagged pieces quickly coming together. As if a valve inside him had been turned he told everything.
"I-I-I- had nothing to do with it," he implored, drawing to a close his confused narrative.
"But you did" Legolas remarked calmly completely unfazed and statue still.
"You. Lied. To me," He said blankly
Those simple four words fell like a death sentence.
Ellivir stood quivering, the muscles beginning a slow trembling that spread across his body. Gradually the stink of urine pervaded the spacious room and still Legolas remained seated imperturbably dispassionate.
It was that essence of 'not' passion, that lack of life that slipped salt water down Ellivir's face; it wasn't pain or even fear - it was terror. Complete utter abject terror because that nothingness echoed the wastes of Sauron's plains; it called up images of fields upon fields of sprawled dead, lying awkwardly like broken dolls. A negation, a stopping, an end. Empty beautiful cornflower blue. The person that rose toward Ellivir, that walked with steady steps toward him was not Legolas
His prince stood before him, and said so quietly he could hardly hear, "One hour."
He almost dropped to his knees in relief then; he could feel his limbs again. He was alive. Still alive. Exiled. But alive.
"Thank you thank you highness," he said trippingly, "Thank you."
"Ellivir," he said quietly, "make sure we do not cross paths again."
"Yes highness thank you highness than-" he said mindlessly his mouth flapping up and down.
He was suddenly seized and lifted, dangling off the floor, his throat slowly being crushed as Legolas tightened his grip.
"Make very sure we do not cross paths again," and with those last words Ellivir found himself tossed through the air and landing hard against the unyielding wall behind him. He stared dazed at his prince who stood regally in the middle of the room, dressed in drowning black, his hands clasped behind him, his hair falling like a waterfall of gold across his shoulders. Not a word crossed his lips, nor emotion his eyes. And then suddenly, impossibly, the two heavy oak doors slammed shut with neither human nor elfish hand having touched them. Ellivir tried to stand and found he couldn't, and so he crawled- away from the scent of magic and the cold.
Back in the room Legolas had crossed lithely to his desk and steepled long elegant hands under his chin as he turned his mind to another. How very clever she'd been. How very very clever. She'd wanted a throne and she'd come so very close…
She knew an endgame when she saw one; she had taken many chances in her life, but she never thought it would end so soon. Not like this. Not like this. She dressed quickly and left the door open as she left the palace grounds. At least it would finish on her terms. At least that.
She stepped quickly into the forest following a straight path, making no effort to hide her movements, when finally at last, she heard him behind her. She turned proudly her chin up as she faced him. This would be the final reckoning.
His cloak whipped about him in a fury in the icy wind, wrapping him in a shifting cocoon of black. His presence grew, dominating the forest, swallowing it in his silent wrath.
"You played me for a fool" he said, his tone as clipped as his manner.
But if he had expected to intimidate, if he had sought perhaps to scare, he was very much mistaken.
She glanced at him, those beautiful lips curved wide, a vicious slash of red against her pallid skin. Her eyes were mad in their intensity, burning violet fire.
"Yes I did. Foolish little crown prince," She said fiercely, each word an unsheathed challenge, "you would have been mine too, if it hadn't been for that bitch's meddling," she said proudly, she didn't need to see the truth in his eyes. Her head was thrown back in defiance as she faced him with hands clenched at her sides, trembling like a fine wire. She was Cassandra, and her father's blood ran through her veins. His lineage was impeccable. Her mother's….
"A human," she spat at him her face twisting, "you fool. A human, you tainted yourself with one of them."
She circled him, noting his strength, his bearing. He had focused his entire being into a point, as indomitable as it was unbreakable. Wind whistled angrily through the trees, trilling its keening cry.
"I hope she serves you well in the few years she has left…" She said giving a full bodied jagged laugh that fell like broken glass.
"She didn't deserve your anger," he said.
"Oh but she did little prince she did she did," Cassandra replied in sing song, her head tilting back and forth, as her eyes grew wide with feigned innocence, "She was in my way. Nobody gets in my way," her voice was chilling in its sincerity. Her lips twisted bitterly, "My mother learned that too. My whore of a mother," she swept her skirts back angrily as she turned, "deserved what she got."
He shook his head uncomprehendingly as he stared at her, at such innocence; she just looked at him, with that childlike smile on her face, and those very unchildlike eyes empty hollows, like knots carved in twisted trees.
Just the chill of wind as it shivered the leaves at his feet, and the stark trembling of spindly branches.
She stood slim and glorious against the stark majesty of a frozen forest, with a wry smile on her lips. "No words highness? I've left you speechless," she said with a happy laugh her face lifted to the sky, as her clenched hands dripped blood on the pristine ground.
"I would have made a great queen," she said suddenly, her voice exultant in its choked emotion as she regarded him, waiting.
He stepped forward to brush one onyx lock from that pale face, "Yes," he said softly, "You would have been great. You have keenness," he said tracing the vein at her temple, "beauty our race would die for," he followed with the tip of his finger the curve of that sharp cheekbone, "and a charm as enchanting as it is enthralling," he placed a soft kiss on those blood red lips.
When he looked at her, tears filled her vision and slipped warm trails down her face.
"But you would have burned our skies with a rage you feed off as if-" he began, trying to break through to her, to make her understand.
But he didn't understand that she understood all to well; that she had understood at too tender an age.
"No!" she said viciously, her lips snarling "I feed off it as if it were life." She pushed away from him bitterly.
"I don't need your pity little prince, nor do I need your help. That was what you were going to do wasn't it? Offer help? Honorable Legolas. Good Legolas. Kind Legolas. You disgust me. Go help somebody that needs it piddling prattling little prince," she said, firing her words like stinging darts.
He stepped toward her but she moved back, hunched like a cornered animal the skin of her face tightening over sharp cheekbones.
He didn't see her slip a slim poniard from its sheath at her thigh.
"So what will it be highness? Trial? Execution? Or did you come up with something creative for me," she said her eyes over bright as she spoke.
He shook his head sadly, his whole manner one of regret.
She bit the insides of her cheek as she regarded him; he had let go of his anger. He had let it go. After all she'd done to him, he had let it go.
"You don't even know the full extent of my crimes. At the very least there's treason," she said angrily her heart bleeding.
"Come home Cassandra," he said gently, stretching out his hand as one would to a frightened child.
And for a slight second, for a moment sleeker than a silk thread, the world stood still and there was hope, shivering like a newborn in the naked air. A frail sickly thing, but still- hope.
She took a step forward to him, her eyes confused as she reached unconsciously for his hand. The moment swelled and grew bigger and then ….shattered.
"I told you I didn't want nor need your pity," she said hissing at him as she hit his arm away. She crouched, her eyes frenetic in their wildness. She seemed to shiver from the inside out, a frantic energy boiling just under her skin. And when she looked at him he knew that it was not he she saw. Her eyes had widened and dilated as if parting some unearthly veil.
"FATHER! Look at me," she yelled the lines of her neck standing out starkly against her skin. She screamed again, the note animal in its rage; it was a terrible sound that carried a pain born of ages. "Father," she said, her head bobbing slowly, "see the courage of your only child."
He realized too late what she was going to do; as he quickly sprang forward, he saw that slim twist of steel rise and just as quickly fall, buried to the hilt in her chest.
He caught her before she fell, and blood dribbled quietly from her lips.
That silence that always falls when death arrives; as if the world recognizes that quiet surety of its only lord and master.
She looked at him, those violet eyes glazed and already chased by grey; she gave a little smile and raised a small finger to his lips, her breath came in short white puffs as she looked at him her frail body wracked with spasms. Regret filled him bitterly as he held her; this woman who had been so strong and capable. So full of…life. She had burned so very brightly.
Her limbs had already begun to grow cool; hot blood pooled on the cold ground, melting the ice.
She looked at him, with a slight unrepentant smile on her lips, and a glint in her eyes.
"One..last kiss highness" she said, her voice a small whisper, as she pressed her lips to his. A kiss and then just coldness and wind and quiet and those wide empty violet eyes.
He held her for a long time in those woods.
She died as she had lived all her life he thought sadly. Alone. And for that she deserved pity. She had never known love. Not even from him.
He carried her limp form back to the palace grounds. Ignoring the astonished shouts of the guards. He laid her along the garden floor, her skirts and hair spilling around her, in shocking contrast to the pallidness of her skin. Even in death she'd been granted grace.
He offered no explanations, but simply said, "See that she is buried with all the royalty of her station."
At the curt nods of the guards he left her, surrounded by the immortal beauty of the Gardens of Mirkwood.
LEIA AND TIVAER
"Its been two weeks, two weeks and not a word since her last letter," Leia said worriedly as she sat on the bed. She didn't expect a response from Tivaer, but still she couldn't help frowning at his recalcitrant back, the strong muscle lines clearly delineated under the thin cambric shirt. He was hunched over the rickety table eating the last of his dinner.
"Your frowning again Leia," he said without turning around, and she could feel more than see the smile that played on his lips.
She crossed over to him and peered at his features in the dim light. He's face was aglow and more alive than she'd seen it in a good while. She knew the reason and that was partly the source of her discomfort. This would be the first time the group set out without Raveyn and although she was confident in her husband's abilities, she couldn't dispel the niggling doubts at the back of her head.
"Love look at me," he said softly, "Look at me. There now, stop that silly worrying of yours, there's nothing to be frightened of. We'll be fine, most of the guards were traveling on the Thrist caravan, which was far more heavily laden than this one. There have already been attacks on it. That makes this one perfect. It is not big enough to warrant a large escort, but just right to nicely line our pockets this winter," he said self-satisfied.
She glared at him, "We need to have a talk about career motivations" she said frostily. She was not reassured.
He merely grinned and crossed to the table where his arms were laid out. Two knives were quickly swallowed in the folds of his black boots, and a long and short sword hooked around his slim waist.
"All you need do is be a lookout love. Sit in the tavern, sip a little beer, and suss out the situation," Tivaer said gently.
She sighed her acquiescence. He was right she supposed. They had done this dozens of times before and this one should be no different. No different. There was nothing she had to worry about, absolutely nothing.
The team quickly mounted and took off separating into their various divisions as they neared the town enclosure. She saw that Donor and three others separate smoothly to take their posts at the south end.
She knew her own role and with a fierce kiss, Tivaer sent her off toward the tavern. She entered quietly and sat down in the darkest corner where she could easily see the whole room. She ordered a beer and warmed her feet by the fire as she waited.
It was around midnight when she began to feel a curious prickling around her spine. The whole bar had gone rather quiet and been emptied which was unusual. She sat up straighter and looked harder at the remaining patrons. There was nothing about them to suspect anything amiss. They all were perfect- loud drunken sots. They were too perfect. And that was when she began to notice the oddities. Notice that each only had one tankard of beer at his side and no more. Notice that they had spilled more beer than they'd drunk. A loud buzzing noise filled her head as she struggled not to panic. It could all be a mistake, one huge silly mistake. There was one way to find out-
She went up to the bartender, "Barkeep, I'm looking for a bottle of your finest red wine for my husband; I hear that Mezzir is renowned for them."
He responded with a beguiling smile, "Terribly sorry miss but we're out."
She smiled and walked away stiffly her blood freezing. Trap. It was a trap, gods help them they'd been trapped. Any barkeep worth his salt would have known that Mezzir was known for its barley wines. Her face was a frozen mask of calm as she struggled not to run through the doorway and scream. As she felt the cool air hit her face she broke out into a run. Or at least she would have, if an arm hadn't snaked around her waist, or a hard hand clap over her mouth. She struggled fiercely as she was bodily carried into the darkness and unceremoniously bound and gagged.
"Be gentle with her," a disembodied voice said in the darkness. And as she turned startled toward it her eyes met clear unforgettable blue. Legolas smiled at her as he crouched down and gently loosened the severe ties. She stared at him in unabashed shock. She'd never expected this. He smiled at her as he crouched down, "And so we meet again madam. I apologize for this treatment," he said regretfully, gesturing at the ropes, "But it was necessary. I couldn't have you warning them."
She shook her head furiously, tears coming to her eyes as she tried to untangle herself- they would die she thought despairingly.
He must have read the concern on her face because he then said, "None will be hurt, there is no need to worry. I only want her."
Dawning realization hit her and she looked at him with wide eyes and shook her head as she tried to communicate to him his error.
He smiled at her and stood up gracefully and tied a cloak around his shoulders hooding his hair.
"I'll be back" he said softly and then he walked away, disappearing into the darkness seamlessly.
He made his way swiftly to the fringes of the Mezzir where the bandit corps had already been subdued. They lay tied and limp on the ground and Legolas frowned as he looked over the men. He recognized only one at the very end.
He walked toward Tivaer, and and assessed this proud man who was looking at him so murderously.
"Where is Raveyn?" Legolas asked.
And then the man's face broke into harsh lines of laughter- Legolas studied him dispassionately, wondering. There was something besides defeat that plagued this one. Concern. It was concern.
"You missed, her highness," Tivaer said fiercely, his eyes glad, "she left our company ages ago. So much for the foresight of elves," He spat glaring at him mutinously.
He almost smiled; this was going to be slightly more challenging than he'd previously thought. As he stood up, the folds of his cloak fell cleanly around the lines of his body.
He looked at the man and said quietly, "She is not harmed."
The relief in the man's eyes was almost audible, and Legolas envied him that.
"You and your men will be kept unharmed, but under confinement until Raveyn is found. Then we will have to discuss a new arrangement," Legolas said.
Tivaer looked at him, blood still dripping from his split lip, "You'll never find her.," he said gleefully, "You'll find yourself chasing naught but the dark, and when you open your hands, you'll find only wisps of air."
"No, that's only what she's made you believe she is- mist and shadows," Legolas said nonplussed. He turned to Lieviniel, who stood at his side, "Captain, make sure they are made comfortable on the way to Mirkwood. I will see you there shortly," and with several other curt orders he left.
He walked back to Leia, removed the ropes binding her, and ungagged her. She rubbed harshly at the rope burns, refusing to look at him.
"I apologize again my lady. I never intended you or your companions harm; they are all safely incapacitated. Including the captain," he said kindly. She didn't respond for a few moments, her heart was pounding so fiercely from relief that she could barely answer. When she looked at him she said sincerely, "Thank you, I know they didn't deserve your charity, considering their reputations, so thank you."
He inclined his head in a respectful nod.
"I have one more favor to ask of you, and then I will leave you be. Do you know where she is?" Legolas asked.
Leia sat quietly for a long while thinking it over. She looked at him hard, and when she spoke to him her tone was flinty, "Before I answer I need to know for what reason. I will not give her up, only to have you destroy her with your callousness- because if you harm her- if you hurt one hair on her bonny head I personally promise you that all the archers in Mirkwood will be unable to save you from me."
He said something soft in response- she didn't know of what he spoke but his eyes closed and the words floated like music on the air. It was like listening to water running languidly over stones; this was poetry not of man, but of earth - of timelessness and beauty. And when he stopped she almost wanted to cry out; she could still hear the haunting notes in the air. She hadn't realized her eyes too had closed until she opened them tears falling down her face.
"Thank you," she said and she didn't know why she said it.
"I don't know where she is," she answered him, "But I might be able to help you," and she pulled out the letter that she'd kept in the pocket of her dress. It was wrinkled and worn, but the writing was still clear and sharp against the parchment.
As he looked at running his hands over the letters and paper, he suddenly smiled.
"Thank you," he said as he quickly stood up.
She only smiled in response- he walked away and she was left alone with her thoughts.
She didn't know whether she'd done the right thing. It was a risk, but one worth taking.
"Give her happiness," she said, releasing a soft sigh.
She stood up and brushed herself off - she had to go see to Tivaer - his pride would be in need of mending.
"That's what you need- silk. That is the answer to all your troubles- just feel this material slide down your body- no don't go look at this one the red would go perfectly no no wait how about gold - blue? I have green - greeeeen" screamed the silk trader, wailing in the twilight, as I walked away. The material had caught my eyes as I passed, and the halt in my step honed his attentions on me. Unfortunately.
I blended back into the bustling crowds - it was market day at Sarrin, and the overwhelming number of bodies pushing at me, and people hawking their various goods was oddly comforting at times. This was not one of those times.
I arrived at the small backwoods inn I'd been staying at just as night fell - it was simple, stout, and wooden. Other than its remarkable appearance, it had a clean bed, and decent food, which was worth its weight in gold. I walked to the back where they were just pouring the hot baths, and slipping the attendant a few coins, I grabbed a stall eagerly stepped into the hot, soothing water.
It had been one hell of a month. I'd never realized how difficult it was for a woman traveling alone. After the first ugly encounter I wore my cloak about me the whole time. Only the edge of my sword could be seen - I wasn't attacked again.
I nodded wearily at the fresh faced girl at the doorway. She placed it warily by my weapons and hurried away. The landlord hadn't wanted to take me at first- insisted that he ran a good respectable inn. My attire hadn't reassured him but my money had and thus I found myself holed up in this little nowhere for three days now. I rubbed my eyes tiredly and let my head loll back.
I was so bloody tired- he'd sapped all my energy. I'd been running for weeks now - town to town - staying little more than a few hours before I had to pack up and leave.
With each passing day he came a little closer till sometimes I could almost feel him at my back - those calm blue eyes watching me, crinkled with amusement.
I'd been such a fool. I should have known he'd head straight for them- he didn't know I'd left, why would he assume otherwise. And I'd thought I was being so wise giving them the smaller caravan. Foolish foolish. The only wise man is the one who knows he is ignorant. I'd played tactics with pawns and I'd thought I was grand enough to cross swords with kings.
And even I knew when the game was up. He was just toying with me now - letting the chase drag out longer. I didn't like to have my abilities so belittled. And so here I found myself, three days and counting, waiting for him. I'd expected him a day ago and the delay was beginning to grow tiresome.
I pulled myself out of the tub, and dressed swiftly - it was dinner time.
I took my usual spot, close to the fire. I'd wanted my freedom hadn't I? I'd wanted to be left alone, and roam alone, but I had never expected this curious emptiness. For the first couple of weeks I'd felt as if part of me had been severed and I'd become a mere wisp of a person - a shadow in fact and name. I shook my head wanting to laugh and cry. What a whorish wanton Fate was. I turned my mind to happier matters; I basked in the warmth and thought about Leia - she'd worried about me too much - out of friendship or gratitude I didn't know. But at least now, with me gone, she would take a chance with Tivaer. They were good together.
I pushed my plates away and rose, leaving to my rooms. The stairs held firm under my step as did the boards in the hallway. When I opened the door I found the lamp already lit, splashing the room brightly with light, and haloing the black hooded figure seated calmly by the bed. My stomach clenched fiercely as I shut the door and tried to still the pounding of blood in my ears.
"What took you so long," I said harshly, clenching my teeth. Tears had sprung to my eyes for some absurd reason, and I blinked them away.
He had stood up and let the cloak pool at his feet as he stepped toward me. I hadn't forgotten a single feature; they'd been burned into the back of my eyes; the curve of his lips, the eyelashes framing his eyes like kohl, his hair like liquid silk and his hands - strong and lean, they were a man's hands - and a prince's. And every time I saw him I forgot just how blindingly brilliant he was. Light radiated from every pore, from every inch of his skin tell it seemed as if he was its source.
He'd come so close and my eyes shut as he moved his hand along the line of my jaw, tilting my head as he brought his lips down to meet mine, in a fierce sweeping kiss that trembled with suppressed anger and desire. His hands dug into my hair pulling it back as he bit down hard on my lip and sucked on it with a pressure that matched the moving of our hips. His legs had come to rest between mine and they pushed my knees apart. One of his hands crept down to grip my thigh, pulling it up and into him.
"Stop," I said, my mouth barely making out the word. It was weak and feeble but he complied, and let me go, his breath hitching.
I stepped around him, my manner still shaky as I tried to still the trembling of my own hands.
I was upset. I had to remember I was upset.
I turned toward him, "What do you want, your majesty," I asked with false grandeur.
His lips turned up at that, and he crossed his arms as he leaned against the wall. His eyes were an almost volcanic blue, fire smoldering in their depths as he watched me leaving no doubt about his answer.
I didn't want him to look at me like that; I didn't want him to make me feel like that. Didn't he understand the hopelessness of our situation?
"You bastard, I hate you" I said suddenly, vehemently, wiping away my tears, "You've ruined my life. You've captured and locked up my friends. You've hounded me to the end of my strength. You've brought me nothing but misery," I said hotly.
He nodded sagely, his eyes still the color of tempered steel.
"And you? What have you done to me?" he asked suddenly frowning, "Why is it that your image alone haunts my nights? Why did I happen to fall impossibly in love with you, a woman who earns her keep thieving," he said finally angry, "But I can't seem to help it: to see you smile erases the memory of a thousand faces. To hear you laugh is hearing happiness race along the wind. To see you soothes the pain of countless aches, and brings a peace I haven't felt for ages," he said a wistful look on his face. And in a soft lullaby, in the rounded syllables of elvish, he began to speak, "Within you I lose myself, not knowing where I begin or you end. But without you I find myself, in the dark and cold, only wanting to be lost again."
I closed my eyes and felt hot tears burn cold trails down my face. My hands were clenched tightly in my lap as I tried to focus the pain on something else.
"Why do you do this?" I asked, opening my eyes I found him kneeling at my chair, concerned.
I lost myself in that face: I traced the corners of his eyes, and ran my fingers down his face, and around his lips. I wanted to consume him, I wanted to suck him in through my fingertips, so that his life could reside in mine. I leaned down and brushed my lips across his, savoring that touch.
"Why?" I whispered sadly, "It can never be. Maybe we would have a few years of happiness, but then gradually my age would begin to show. Bit by bit my face will fold and my joints will go - and as I die you will hold me tenderly, your face unlined, still as tall as you were a century ago. What a picture we would make," I said bitterly.
He understood at last, I saw the comprehension flare in his eyes, his head dropped and we stayed in silence for a little while.
When he looked up he had a look I had never before seen on his face, "Answer me one question as a parting request then. Do you love me?"
I laughed then, I had to laugh at the foolishness of the most insightful individual I had ever met. Did I love him?
I held his face between my hands, "Look at me, look very hard Legolas. You asked do I love you? That's a fool's question - if I didn't would such agony and pain ever have been mine? Rather ask how I love you," I said allowing myself this moment of tenderness, this only truth, " I love you dearer than the breath in my body, than my heart that beats caged. I love you in ways that defy rationality and reason- because you are my reason. My only reason, my only love" I said softly.
"Then it is settled," he said with visible relief, "I only have one more serious question- do you want a fall or winter wedding?"
I could only gape at him. Did what I just say about time completely pass him by?
"How can you ask me that? What-why would you ask me that? Especially after what I just said," I said incensed.
Ahhh. And that was what it came down to. Two words. Trust me. You could have trust without love- but never love without trust.
"Trust me," he said again, more insistently.
Trust me. Trust me trust me trust me. Sweat beaded on my forehead as past memories came to the fore- trust me. Trust.
"Trust me," he said, smiling now as he lifted me into his arms and walked over to the bed.
My mind was going in too many directions at once and I was confused as I tried to handle every emotion that surfaced- there had been anger, and tenderness, desire, and love, hesitation, and sadness and above all hope. Hope. HOPE. I almost wanted to scream because it wasn't despair or depression that killed the soul- it was hope. Blighted hope.
"Don't-" I began before I found myself being tossed in the air to land hard on the mattress.
I brought my hand up determined to shove him off as he slid his body over mine- a sure smile on his face now.
As he imprisoned my hands on either side of my head, he whispered across my ear his breath blowing puff of warmth, "Trust me:" the words sent shivers down my spine.
"I won't take no for an answer. Since you can't be depended on to make decisions for your own well being, I will have to make them for you," he said amused as he busied himself with unlacing my shirt. His nimble fingers making short work of the sturdy tunic.
I snorted in response: "If this is what our marriage is going to be like, you can forget it."
"Oh so there will be a marriage after all?"
I snapped my mouth shut as I belatedly realized my mistake, but it was too late; he saw his opening and pounced.
"Please," he said. His tone, his voice, his manner, his eyes. Please- and I could feel my heart bend some more.
"Please. Trust me."
I could hear the sand run through the hourglass. And I made a decision. For the first time in my life I ignored the voices in my head. The one that calculated consequences, the one that dripped sarcasm, the one that destroyed fantasies, the one that spoke of reality. I only left one- one that I had refused to hear for so very long. The one that sung of dreams.
I felt buoyed up suddenly, as if floating on a cloud; I lifted my arms up and wrapped them around him.
"Yes," I said my smiling stretching so wide it hurt and I could feel that bubble of happiness pushing its way to my throat- that irresistible rush of fire that spread under my skin like a burning sea.
He looked at me with such tenderness and awe. As if he'd never seen me before.
And dropping his head down to me, he looked at me and said seriously, his eyes glinting mischievously, "Fall or winter?"
Shadow Dancer - begun 12/28/02 - finished 12/28/03
And finally it all draws to a close. Make up whatever happens next if you want - but Raveyn and Legolas journey has finished. I hope you've enjoyed the story, and particularly this chapter, which was by far the longest of the lot. I left a few loose ends, but they are easily tied by you able readers. Thank you, thank you thank you. It was mainly you who pushed me and kept me going, I can't tell you the number of times I was ready to pitch the story into the bin. It has been a pleasure writing this, and you, as the readers, are the ones to thank for it being finished.
PS. Somewhere I took a line from one of Michael Jackson's lyrics - 'I've tasted the sweet salt and bitter' or something to that effect.
PSS. Grace of Tace thanks for the heads up- I tried to look up the author but couldn't find them- go figure ; )