CB: Heh, seeing ROTK again at the cinema really makes me itch to write, so I sat down and did.
Warnings: Probably a lot of confusion…even I'm confused… @_@
Special Thanks: I especially wanted to thank Cherry Lee, who very kindly translated 'Green Leaf' into Chinese. Wow, my first piece of translated work! Now I'm scared… ^_^ Anyway, thanks, Cherry Lee! *Hugs*
Dante frowned as he stood behind the throne, his expression betraying only a hint of impatience as he watched Aragorn lean over and whisper something in Arwen's ear. The lady in question giggled quietly and tapped him lightly on the shoulder – a small reprimand for misbehaving.
They behaved like a pair of newlyweds, those two; the apprentice wizard thought irritably, brushing a strand of his shocking white hair back from his face. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn they were in love. Blue eyes thoughtfully stared at Aragorn, a slight air of puzzlement weaving around him as he folded his arms across his chest. But he did know better…didn't he?
It had been five years since Legolas of Mirkwood had departed from the shores of Middle Earth, and three years previously, Arwen Undomniel had officially been proclaimed Aragorn's betrothed. The pair made a striking couple, both dark with pale, grave faces, but nearly every courtier commented under his or her breath that it was like magic the way the king responded to his queen's presence, and vice versa.
Dante, on the other hand, had been sure that there was something in that prophecy his master had told him. Lúthien had returned five years previously to right the wrongs she herself had brought about during her own lifetime. This in its self should have signified that the marriage of the new king of Gondor and the Evenstar of the elves should not have taken place, but lo and behold, no less than six months after the betrothal, it had.
When Gandalf was questioned about it, the old wizard simply clamped his lips shut tight around his pipe and puffed so much thick blue smoke out of it, that the questioner was forced to retreat or choke to death. Likewise, Elrond remained studiously silent and if Galadriel knew anything, she was keeping it to herself.
Dante's attention snapped back to the present as Boromir approached the throne, closely followed by Eówyn, who was struggling to keep a straight face at the sight of Aragorn's chief tactical advisor wearing the surcoat and crest (a lovely yellow, olive green and grey combination) of his family. Boromir himself clearly knew how ridiculous he looked in the family colours, but was obviously determined to continue the tradition of wearing them at court gatherings.
"Approach, Lord of the Citadel." Aragorn inclined his head, but Dante caught a glimpse of the small smile of amusement that had flitted briefly across Aragorn's lips as well. "What is it, most noble cousin?"
"My lord," Boromir returned, bowing before the throne then straightening, "The Lady Eówyn and I have been having a disagreement."
"A disagreement?" Aragorn's eyebrows rose and he turned puzzled grey eyes on the lady in question. "About what?"
"She claims, my Lord, that she is capable of felling a wild boar with one blow from a lance." Boromir scowled as Arwen smothered a giggle behind her hand, before looking at Aragorn once more. "I therefore propose, my lord, that since the lady Eówyn is such a fine warrior, we should put her boast to the test, as I disagree with her."
Aragorn, used to these squabbles, clearly fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Very well." Standing, he smoothed his tunic before holding out his hand to help Arwen rise as well. "Tomorrow, at dawn, we shall begin the Royal Hunt of the season, and the Lady Eówyn may accompany us."
There were a few mutters from among the court men, but they knew better than to openly question their king and his motives. Instead, the court was dismissed and Dante was allowed to flee to the relative sanctuary and quiet of his room.
Shutting the door behind him, he leant heavily against it with a sigh of half relief, half weariness, and shut his eyes, letting his head fall back against the thick wood.
"Oh my, tired of doing nothing all day?"
The voice was as clear as crystal and as sharp as shards of glass. It was one Dante knew well, so he didn't even bother to open his eyes as he replied: "That tongue of yours will get you into trouble one of these days. It's not politically correct to go around insulting the king's wizard."
A snort. "King's conjurer, more like. You hardly ever do any real magic any more, you're simply becoming lazy, white haired one."
"And you, beautiful one, are becoming more irritable by the hour." At last Dante opened his eyes and focused on the elf that was lounging on the sill of his window, full lips pursed in disapproval, and blond hair shimmering in the late evening sunlight.
"Nonsense, I'm simply pointing out what you should already know." The elf slid off the sill and stretched, arms high over his head, affording the young man a view of his lithe body. "Admit it, you're as bored as I am." Padding across the room, he placed a hand either side of the wizard's head, frowning – face only inches from Dante's. "We're both bored. This…this court life," and he spat the last words out in disgust, "is suffocating you. It's turning you placid and it's turning me into nothing more than an ornament. Pretty to look at, and utterly useless."
"Sauron, you're exaggerating again."
"Am I?" The elf turned away in disgust and shot the man an arch look over his shoulder. "Tell me then; when was the last time your blood thrilled at the sight and sound of battle? When was the last time your heart sang for the joy of being alive and whole?"
The wizard made no reply.
"As I thought. Suffocated." The elf leant against the opposite wall, crossing his arms as he did so.
"Well what do you propose I do then?" Dante threw his arms up in a gesture of defeat. "Aragorn insists on keeping me here in case something occurs – I am his only link to Gandalf!"
"Aragorn, Aragorn, Aragorn," Sauron sneered, not bothering to hide his distaste for the king, "That's all you ever think about. Your precious king." Behind his harsh words, however, Dante caught a flash of jealousy and fear. "He's entirely too selfish for his own good. One day I might…" He turned abruptly, cutting off his own words and staring out of the window, his lips hardening into a thin line.
"You might what?" Dante frowned and took a cautious step towards the elf.
"No, really, you might…"
"I said it's nothing!" Sauron snapped, not looking at the wizard. "Leave it, will you? I said it in the heat of the moment."
The wizard sighed and shrugged his shoulders, before turning away. Rubbing his temples, he could feel the beginnings of a headache so he opted to ignore the elf who was still standing rigidly in one corner of the room and instead lay down on the bed, shutting his eyes again as he fought off the growing pressure throbbing in his head.
Suddenly, the bed dipped as a new weight was added to it, and Sauron settled against his back, arms wrapping around him so that cool fingers could reach the man's forehead. "I am sorry, melên nin," The elf murmured, gently soothing the stress of the headache, "I did not mean to be so angry with you – particularly when I know you feel as trapped as I." He sighed and paused in his ministrations, half smiling when Dante made a small, discontented sound. "I am a jealous being, and when I hear you speaking of Aragorn with such respect…well…" He trailed off, letting the wizard draw his own conclusions. "The problem remains," He continued softly after a moment, his fingers resuming their soothing motion on the man's temples, "That I am jealous…and I would kill for you."
Dante shifted on the bed, turning so he could see the elf's face. "You mean that." He said seriously, blue eyes grave in his otherwise youthful face.
"Yes…" The elf stared solemnly at him, green eyes hard, like beautiful emeralds, "Yes, I do…"
"Elladan?" Galadriel swept into the room, making her grandson jump guiltily up from his desk, where he had been reading a heavy tome.
"Yes, my lady?" Tall, dark and slender, Elladan had not changed from the day he had arrived to stay in the white woods of Lórien, despite the five years of both physical and mental training he had received.
"Your father just sent this dispatch back with Haldir." Galadriel seated herself gracefully on the edge of the bed, telling herself it was one of the perks of age that she could be seated whilst the young ones remained standing. "It looks slightly more official than usual, so I assumed it meant either good news or bad." She smiled at him, her expression surprisingly gentle. "Either way, I thought you might want some company whilst reading it."
Elladan laughed. "You just want to know what's in there, grandmother!" He teased, with the easy familiarity that only comes of prolonged acquaintance.
Galadriel made no attempt to hide the humour that sparkled in her ageless eyes, but she nonetheless indicated the sealed parchment with a nod of her head.
Breaking open the seal, Elladan allowed his eyes to travel across the page.
My dearest son,
I trust you are well and heeding the teachings of your grandmother – growing both in wisdom and strength with each passing day. It has been five long years since I saw you last, and I know you must be eager to visit home. I can only offer you my most humble and abject apologies, Elladan, that I have not invited you home before now, but as you know, most of the troops usually stationed at Rivendell have been assisting both Arwen and Aragorn in Gondor, thus, a small party could not be spared to guard you safely upon your journey.
However, your grandmother has kindly agreed to provide an escort for you, and so I would be delighted if you would come for a visit.
Take care, Elladan, and come home to us soon.
Smiling, Elladan looked up and raised an eyebrow. "I'm allowed to go home?"
Galadriel nodded, her expression serene, even as inside she winced – knowing how much the younger elf had missed his home and family, particularly…
Oh yes, she had almost forgotten why her beloved Elladan had been called to Lórien, nearly forgotten the warning Lúthien had given to her by the mirror. Elrond, of course, knew nothing of what she had seen, and so it had been with a great deal of tact that his mother in law had suggested that his son come to stay with her for a couple of years. It had taken some persuading, and even after Elladan had left, the letters between the twins flew thick and fast across the distance between Rivendell and Lórien.
Which reminded her…
Putting a hand inside her robe, Galadriel almost reluctantly drew out another piece of sealed parchment. "Here," She murmured, "This also came for you."
Elladan's eyes lit up, and he half snatched the parchment from her. "Is it from 'Rohir?" He questioned eagerly, and Galadriel nearly winced to hear the hope in his voice.
"Yes, yes." Hiding her discomfort, the lady of the woods stood, smoothing out her dress and moving gracefully towards the door. "I shall leave you alone to peruse your correspondence for an hour, and then we shall meet to discuss how we are to get you to Rivendell safe and in one piece." She paused, her hand hovering over the heavy iron ring of the latch. "Elladan?"
"Hmm?" He was clearly waiting for her to leave.
"…Nothing." Galadriel said, and walked out, shutting the door behind her.
Elladan paused for a moment, savouring the anticipation that always came just before he opened one of his brother's letters, before he tore it open and began to read; a hungry, almost feverish look on his face.
Father informed me this morning that you will be returning home for a visit – at last! These five years have been so utterly dull and worthless without you! I cannot wait to see you again, nor can Elaría (she is quite beside herself because she is insisting that your room be perfect for your arrival, and she only has three days!)
I have been made Captain of the Guard, an honour only accorded to me thanks to an arrow in the leg from an unlucky bandit. I say unlucky, because after I'd finished with him I rather think he wished he had never been born! Of course this proved my worth to father who had before this (I suspect) harboured doubts about my skill with both bow and sword. It feels strange, El, to be the one giving orders for once, and I must confess, I am not entirely used to it. Still, I am sure the moment you are home, you will put me properly in my place again!
Summer has come early this year, and the gardens are beautiful. I cannot wait to show you a clearing I found yesterday – ah! It is amazing! A brook runs through the centre, and the trees ringing it have the freshest, greenest leaves you have ever seen.
But all this can wait until I see you again, my beloved brother.
Take care, and come home safely to me, little scholar.
With all my heart and soul,
Putting the letter down, Elladan savoured the warm glow that came from reading his brother's letter. Yes, it was long due that he should be allowed home – he had missed his father, Elaría and Arwen, but he had missed Elrohir most of all – like a dull ache in his chest that refused to go away – the loss of his brother's presence had haunted him. Smiling, the dark haired elf clutched the letter tightly in his hand for a moment before stowing it safely in a box on his desk.
His fingertips lingered for a moment on the dark wood of the box lid and Elladan's mind flew back five years to the smell of his brother's sleek hair, so much like the polished wood – the feel of it as he smoothed it back from a perfect, pale forehead; the way Elrohir always tugged on a stray strand when he was irritated…
//'Who are you?'//
//'I am you…'//
With a choked cry, Elladan wrenched his mind back to the present as the memories of that particular situation invaded his mind. The dream. That cursed dream that he was sure had been the start of his isolation from Elrohir. It had invaded his thoughts continuously from the moment he had awakened from it, and as the days had progressed, he had imposed a mental barrier between himself and his twin. It haunted him constantly, even now, its meaning remaining unclear and the emotions it provoked only confusing him further. Its presence lingered, darkening even the most innocent of memories, thoughts and sentences.
Balling his hands into fists, Elladan gritted his teeth. He was going home, he could not, would not allow this…this unspeakable thing to taint the joy of his reunion with his beloved brother. He had had five years to deal with it, and he hadn't. Now he would simply have to face the consequences, and suppress it as far in his mind as he could.
He would not speak of it.
'Yes,' he thought firmly, 'It is for the best.'
Aragorn paced the length of his private audience chamber as Boromir reported the outcome of the day's activities.
"Four men were killed in the bandit raid this morning on the eastern trail, but the outlaws were disposed of."
"This raiding problem is getting worse," The king remarked thoughtfully, "Perhaps we should place extra outposts along the trail until we have eradicated all of them."
"It might be wise, majesty, but we have neither the resources, nor the men to build new outposts. It would take a much greater number of troops, and whilst Gondor is by no means poor, the eastern trail stretches for thousands of leagues – to build even half the number of outposts buildings would mean nearly doubling taxes."
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "You have a point – it's been a hard winter already, to raise the taxes now would mean the death of thousands."
"Very well, compose a letter to the First Captain of the Rivendell guard."
"Lord Elrohir, my lord?"
"Elrohir's the Captain of the guard?" Aragorn's eyes widened in panic, "Curses, I didn't send him…"
"A congratulatory gift? Lady Arwen thought it appropriate to send that tapestry you disliked in the Great Hall, majesty."
"Right." Aragorn sighed in relief and rubbed his forehead. "Anyway, where were we?"
"Send a letter to the Captain of the Rivendell Guard…"
"…Asking for a detachment of troops and stone masons in exchange for free trade routes through Gondor."
"A bribe, then."
"Yes." Aragorn smiled, "And it doesn't hurt that I know the family, either."
Boromir shared a smile with his king. "My thinking precisely."
"Right, anything else?"
"Not at the moment, majesty."
Aragorn nodded and Boromir, taking this as his cue to leave, bowed and departed, shutting the door behind him.
The king of Gondor dropped into a chair near the window and rested his chin on his hand as he listened to Boromir's footsteps receding down the corridor. Frowning, Aragorn idly drummed his fingers against his knee as he stared unthinkingly out of the window and down into the small private garden reserved for his use only.
He had achieved everything in his life: wealth, kingship and marriage to a good wife…so why did he feel such an utter failure?
Shaking himself, he stood and leant to look out of the window, arms resting on the sill. Perhaps it was the stifling atmosphere of the court, then? He had never liked social functions as it was, and simply having dinner each day had been turned into some sort of social fiasco. Aragorn disliked this – hated it with a passion, even – but had discovered that his new wife thrived upon it and so, to dinner each evening he had gone.
Yes, maybe that was the sour note in his life that set his soul thrumming with disease.
'You're trying exceptionally hard to fool yourself,' a small voice at the back of his head commented dryly. 'You know perfectly well that social functions have absolutely nothing to do with it.'
Aragorn frowned and tried to shut the thought out of his head, but the voice persisted. 'Its been five years since you've felt truly happy, you fool, but you refuse to admit it – even to yourself. Wake up for a moment – stop these self-delusions and really see what you've brought upon yourself thanks to your stubbornness. You've lost the one you loved, and you've been trying to compensate for it ever since.'
"Shut up," Aragorn muttered to himself, but his words lacked conviction.
The waves lapped gently on the shore as the small boat grounded on the beach. There was the brief crunch of shingle as soft-soled boots landed firmly of solid ground and the elf straightened, peering around in the gathering gloom.
Reaching back into the boat, he hauled out a battered leather pack and slung it over one shoulder. Pulling his cloak tighter around himself, he set off up the beach, brown hair glinting in the dying light of the sun…
To Be Continued…
CB: How to confuse everyone in one short chapter… er, any questions, just e-mail me or post on my livejournal. Next chapter will be out much quicker, and thaks to everyone who harassed me for this one! ^_~