Author's Note: This story was written for a friend's birthday (hi Lori!) and kinda got away from me. Many thanks to my "fans" Deb, Tammy, Amanda, Rainee, and Kim.

A low sigh of relief escaped from her lips as the familiar battlements of their home seemingly sprang forth from the earth before them. Not that the journey had been unpleasant. On the contrary, she had greatly enjoyed the company of their new-found friend and for her part was sad that it was ending. Her father shifted awkwardly in his saddle as he rode beside her. Elora was reminded once again as to why they were returning home so unexpectedly. Despite his discomfort, her father has borne the two day journey back from Minas Tirith with good humor. It may have been thanks in large part to the third member of their party, who until five days ago was a stranger, a legend told around the fire on many a cold winter's evening.

A cry echoed from the tower, "The lord, the lord has returned! Open the gates!" A flurry of activity began on the ramparts and men rushed back and forth.

"Let this be a lesson to you, Prince. Never let your wife's idiot nephew be the tower guard. For surely the whole valley now knows of our return," Elora's father grumbled as he shook his head in weary disbelief.

"It is a time of peace," was the reply, barley concealing the mirth at the old man's irritability. "As imprudent as it is to shout from the tower, the danger is long past."

"Thanks to you, my Lord," Elora said pointedly. She felt his eyes upon her and was compelled to meet them.

"I played my part, my lady, true. But I was just one of many who gave so much to make Middle Earth free once more."

As he held her gaze, she felt the heat threatening to once again overtake her, a sensation she had felt many times since being introduced to Prince Legolas of Mirkwood. She would have liked to have said it was the late summer sun that burned her skin so. But she knew; she knew as well as she knew her own name, that this was desire, pure, unbridled desire. Her cheeks pinked with thoughts a lady should never harbor as her father chatted on between them. Finally they were forced to look away from each other as they passed through the massive gates and into the inner ward.

Servants rushed out from the four corners of the yard. Everyone was speaking at once. The stable hands came forward to take their horses.

"What brings you back so soon my lord?" asked his chamberlain, as he descended the staircase from the hall to greet the new arrivals.

"It seems the rich foods of Minas Tirith do not agree with my father as they once did," Elora teased. She tried to make light of a situation that was much direr then people need be aware of at this point.

"Daughter," he father huffed, "for years your mother had me eating food that was so bland, that salt was a welcome diversion."

She watched in painful sadness as he struggled to remove his foot from the stirrup. Before she or any of the grooms could react, Legolas was at her father's side, aiding him. With unseen strength he lifted the aged lord from his saddle and helped him to a proper standing position. Her heart smiled at seeing once more the gentle kindness the Prince bestowed upon her father. Throughout their journey from the capital city, Legolas was a great comfort to him, all the while never letting her father feel infirmed or any less the great man he was. Dismounting, she followed them as they slowly made their way into the castle.

"Well Prince, after I have had a rest, I shall enjoy hearing more of your adventures before I beat you soundly in a game of chess."

"I shall look forward to that my Lord," Legolas smiled warmly at the gentleman leaning on his arm. He looked back at Elora, who was whispering instructions to the chamberlain and the housekeeper. He winked at her, causing her to chuckle. She returned the wink and motioned to him which direction to proceed to her father's chambers.

Chapter 1

It was to be a splendid occasion. The High King's first-born son, Eldarion, was celebrating his thirteenth birthday, the day he becomes a man. The invitation went out to all the well-heeled families of the kingdom. Elora's family was among those requested to attend. They were long standing peers of the realm, having fought at the side of King Elessar at the last battle. It was decided that they would all make the journey to Minas Tirith: her father, her older brother Elorimir, his wife, and Elora.

It had been many years since Elora was last in the White City. Her husband had brought her there to be presented to the King just shortly after they were wed. She remembered the excitement she felt as they entered the great hall. The excitement quickly turned to nausea as they approached the royal couple. Never before had Elora felt the county bumpkin until she was standing before the two most resplendent individuals she had ever laid eyes on. She knew at once her dress was not stylish enough and her hair was all wrong. Panic washed over her as she was summoned to come closer. All she wanted to do was run, but duty and her husband's steely gaze kept her in place.

The Queen motioned for her to join her. Elora swallowed hard as she crossed the dais to stand directly in front of her sovereign. Curtseying low, Elora cast her eyes downward, overthrown by the beauty of the woman before her. A soft voice called to her and she lifted her head. The Queen was smiling warmly, speaking to her in a hushed tone that was to her like birdsong. Suddenly her fears abated and Elora found herself mesmerized, unable to look away. She had heard of how the Queen was an Elf and she foolishly wondered if all Elves were as enchanting and bewitching. But those were all thoughts of a child on an adventure. She was older now, worldlier, and perhaps a bit cynical. This time when she visited the city, she saw it with better eyes.

Elora and her family were among the first to arrive in Minas Tirith. Already the city was awash in banners and colors celebrating the joy of the occasion. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of it all. There were competitions and games during the day and in the cool of the evening, feasts and music to wile away the hours. When it was their turn to offer homage to the royal family, they went together. Elorimir presented his wife to the King. Her father spoke at some length with the Queen, flattering her and making her laugh. Elora was surprised when she felt a hand at her elbow. She looked to see King Elessar standing beside her.

"Your father has the wit of a seasoned courtier," he joked.

Elora smiled wryly. "True my King. I often fear for the young maids in our castle. They do not stand a chance against such talent."

"The last time you were here lady Elora, I feared you would faint from fright," Aragorn teased mercilessly.

"Fright, my lord?" Elora feigned innocence. "Twas not fright that gripped me that day but.the dreadful heat. These halls can become so stuffy. It's a wonder more people don't fall to the ground from heat exhaustion."

The room echoed with the King's laughter, drawing curious eyes. Elora glanced around nervously, not wanting to call too much attention to herself. As she turned back to face her King again, she caught sight of an odd trio, standing just beyond the dais. One was clearly a dwarf, a tankard of ale in his beefy hands. One was a tall older man, garbed all in white, holding a great staff. The third was as tall as the older man and his hair was white gold. Ice blue eyes held hers. He respectfully inclined his head toward her. It wasn't until her father called her name that she was able to break the spell the stranger had on her.

"I'm sorry, what did you say Father?" she shook her head, clearing it of the cobwebs that had gathered there.

"I said let us leave these excellent people to their revelries."

"Of course Father, as you wish," Elora agreed, taking her father's arm. They bowed to the king and queen and as Elora straightened up she risked a look to the blond stranger. He was again watching her, a small smile playing at his lips. She couldn't help but smile in return as she lead her father away.

The same smile accompanied her as tucked her beloved father into his bed, home at last, comfortable at last.

"And what, pray tell, is that smile for, child?" he asked.

Elora chuckled. "Oh nothing, just remembering. Now you get some rest."

"Yes, yes," he growled. "I'll have you remember my fine lady that I was at the great battle, fighting side by side with that King of yours. 50 orcs I slew that day!"

"I know, I know" she nodded, gathering his discarded clothing together. She issued a silent prayer that he would once again have that same strength he had that day on the battlefield. But the hard years had finally caught up with him and he was not long for this world. She quietly pulled the door close and went in search of their honored guest.