Legolas ran as he had not run in years.

With every step he took he felt his body tremble. But he would not let himself stop. There was too much at stake. Even now Gimli lay grasping at the doors of the living, depending on his friend to get help. Blast it all; what had possessed them to decide to cross Ered Nimrais, just the two of them, this time of year? Knowing that the fierce winds of the area were threefold worse in the spring? Because they had done much worse, Legolas decided grimly. But they had not been alone, then. And when both of them had slipped, it was his Dwarven friend who had not caught himself in time. Legolas had watched helplessly as Gimli fell a good 50 feet, landing with a sickening thud on the pass below. He'd clawed himself back up, raced down to him, only to find Gimli bleeding badly. He'd cleansed the wounds, dragging Gimli to an overhang for shelter as the Dwarf wheezed and spat flecks of blood, then looked at him helplessly.

"This is beyond my skills. I must go and get help for you."

"We are five days pass from Gondor," Gimli had said.

"I will be swift. You have food and water and ale. You will be all right."

"Is that what you think, my Elven friend?" Gimli had chuckled.

"Yes." Legolas' violet eyes were dark with determination. "Rest yourself. I shall return soon."

He'd clasped Gimli's hand, briefly but fiercely, and sped away.

That was two days ago.

"I wish we'd brought a horse," Legolas whispered to himself as he ran. It seemed that no matter how quickly he went, time was passing with agonizing slowness. And every minute might mean a minute closer to Gimli's death. "I wish there was somewhere here for me to get help."

"What help do you need, friend?"

Caught utterly off guard, the Elf gasped. He'd heard nothing! He whirled in the direction of the voice, drawing his bow as he did. "Who are you?" He asked, speaking in the common tongue as the voice had. "Where did you come from? Why can I not see you?"

"Perhaps because you are looking in the wrong place," the voice chuckled.

It was behind him! Legolas whirled to see a tall thin man wearing a gray cloak. He had long black hair and dark brown eyes; his skin was fair and unmarked.

"Who are you?" Legolas demanded again.

"I am Q'Nir, of the city of Talinfore."

"I know of no such place!" Legolas exclaimed with a suspicious frown.

"Whether you know of it or not, it exists. It is not quite a half a day's journey from here."

"Half a day." If this was true, it would greatly cut his time to save Gimli!

"You said you are looking for help," Q'Nir said, studying him intently. "What help do you require?"

Legolas debated, but decided to trust the man. "My friend is fallen in Erad Nimrais. He is in desperate need of care."

"Then come with me to Talinfore. I promise you there is help for him there."

Legolas' mind raced. What if it was a trap of some type? Then again, if the man wished him ill, he could have made a move long before now. If he had not even known of his presence, that would have been all the time needed for Q'Nir to kill him. No, Legolas decided, the man meant help, not harm.

"Thank you, Q'Nir," He replied. "I welcome your aid."

"Be warned, however; Talinfore does not give anything to anyone for free. You will have to pay for the help."

"Pay? How so? Do you require gold?" Legolas was puzzled.

"That's for Queen Mairin to decide. I'm just letting you know now."

"Can you find your way in the dark?" Legolas asked eagerly.

"Most certainly."

Legolas shook his head. "I'm certain I can work out an exchange for the assistance. Now, please, let us be off!"

They arrived in Talinfore just as the sun was rising. Legolas still did not understand why he had never heard of nor seen the city. Granted it was not a huge one, but large enough that it should have many travelers to visit it. The homes were built of gray and white stone, simple yet elegant. Vibrant flowers of blue and yellow grew everywhere. In the center there was a huge water fountain carved in the shape of a tree. Water streamed down over the branches into a pool below. The air was sweet with the smell of flowers and food. In other circumstances Legolas would have been delighted to wander about. But not now.

Q'Nir led him to the palace, a creation of crystal and stone carved in such beauty any Elf or dwarf would have been envious. Yet Legolas only had Gimli on his mind. His heart fluttered anxiously. His friend must not perish!

Q'Nir spoke to the guards who left and returned a few minutes later. He spoke with them again, and then turned to Legolas. "She will see you at once. Come."

They entered the throne room, decorated in rich hues of purple and dark green and silver. The Queen's throne sat at the end of the room, and she watched as they approached. Legolas looked at her with interest and surprise. She was rather ordinary looking. She had long straight brown hair. Her eyes were a dark green. She was not sleight of build, nor was she heavyset. She looked to be around 30 years old, as humans measured years. When they reached her Legolas gave a low bow. "Your highness," he said.

"Rise, Legolas the Elf," Mairin said. She, too, spoke the common tongue. Her voice was pleasant, soft. She studied him for a moment, and then turned to Q'Nir and her guards. "Leave us for now," she commanded.

They bowed and left, Legolas feeling uneasy for no reason he could name. She glanced back to him.

"Your friend fell on the mountain and needs help. Correct?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Q'Nir says he has told you of the law of our city. I can give all manner of help to any who require it. But at a price."

"Yes, my lady. I have little gold on me, but I assure you-"

"Legolas." Her voice was rich with amusement. "Do you truly imagine I need the gold of an Elf?"

"No, my lady," he admitted, "Though I am uncertain of how else I would pay you."

"Let me ask you this, Legolas: What are you willing to give?"

"I do not understand."

"What would you do? How far would you go? What would you give to save this friend of yours?

He shook his head. "Anything that I possess. Whatever you may ask of me that is mine to get or give."

Mairin smiled. "Then that answers my question. Guards!" She called.

They entered. "Yes, O queen?"

"Prepare a healing bag. And ready our two swiftest horses. Get our healer to accompany Master Legolas to Ered Nimrais. They will leave at once.

"Yes, my lady."

Legolas bowed. "I thank you, O queen," he began, but she stopped him.

"You may thank me later. Legolas."

"Yes, my lady?"

"Your friend should be healed within a few hours after you reach him. When all of you reach the bottom of the mountains, you will ask him to go to Gondor and wait for you. You will then return to repay me for saving his life."

Legolas was puzzled. "I may not bring him with me?"

"Your. repayment might take more than a few hours, or even a fortnight," she said with a smile. "Please, do as I request."

"As you wish, my lady."

Nearly six days later Legolas returned to Talinfore, and this time his heart was filled with happiness. Gimli was alive and well!

His friend had not been keen on Legolas' request, though. "What kind of queen makes you repay her for saving a life?" He'd grumbled.

"I do not know. But I must do so. Worry not, old friend. I will be only a few days behind you to Gondor."

"Baa! I'd say, repay her by not giving her a piece of your mind!"

"Gimli, you know that is not my way," Legolas had replied with a smile. "Trust in me, and await my return."

Gimli had grumbled more, but had done as Legolas asked. Now the Elf waited, resting on one knee as Mairin entered the throne room and took her seat.

"Legolas. I am glad your friend has recovered." She sounded completely sincere.

He rose. "Thank you, my lady. And now, if you will please tell me what you desire in payment for your help."

"Most certainly." She stepped down from the throne and stood next to him, capturing his chin in her hand and looking into his eyes. "I desire you."

He blinked hard, then shook his head slightly. "I do not understand, my lady."

"O?" She released him and slowly ran her eyes up his lithe body, meeting his violet ones with her green ones. "Do you not?"

Legolas blushed, a golden hue creeping over his cheeks. "Now, my lady, I believe I understand all too well."

She smiled.

"My lady." he faltered. "This is a most. unusual request! Surely you are married."

"No," she answered. "I am not attached. Neither are you, am I correct? I see no mark of betrothal or wedding bond."

"No, my lady, I am not," Legolas replied reluctantly. "Still, what you ask..."

"Do you not remember your words to me?" She queried softly.

He sighed and nodded. "I do. Whatever you may ask of me, I said."

"Indeed. Well, Legolas. What I ask of you is to stay here with me for three weeks and a day as my companion. Will you fulfill your vow? Or are promises as empty as the air to an Elf?"

"No, my lady, they are not." He slowly sank to his knees at her feet. "If that is your desire, so shall it be." His eyes dropped. "I am yours," he whispered.

Mairin gently pulled him to his feet. His eyes remained steadfastly on the floor. "Such an expression, marring that beautiful face," she said softly. "Do you find me so ugly that you prefer staring at the floor to looking at me?"

He raised his gaze to meet hers. "My lady," he began carefully, "your visage is not what displeases me. It is what you are requiring in payment that makes my heart heavy."

"But you agreed to the conditions," she reminded him gently. "Was your desire to save your friend not worth any price?"

An image flashed through his mind of Gimli, battered and gasping, spitting flecks of blood as he spoke. Then another image, this time of his friend smiling and waving farewell as he somewhat reluctantly mounted one of the horses and made his way towards Gondor. Legolas shook his head. No. He'd endured far more unpleasant things than this, risked his life time and again to save those close to him. Three weeks and a day of being a mûl. He could do this.

"You are correct, my lady," Legolas answered. "It was, and I did agree to anything I could give. I shall let it plague me no further." He smiled at her.

She returned his smile, then leaned close to him, pressing her lips to his in a kiss softer than the rain. Legolas opened his mouth and closed his eyes, his body relaxing now that he was at peace with his choice. He did not exactly respond to her, but neither did he reject the kiss, instead simply allowing her to do as she wished. What would happen when she desired more he could not guess at. Though many thought then an unfeeling, aloof race, Elves felt emotions as intensely as any other living creature, perhaps more so. Legolas was not one for casual flesh. He did not love this woman; indeed, he scarcely knew her. Yet somehow if she asked it of him he would have to make himself desire her

"Was that so terrible?" She asked.

He realized with a start that she had ended the kiss and had spoken to him. He opened his eyes to see hers resting on him in amusement.

"No, my lady, it was not terrible," he replied.

"I am pleased to hear you say so." Then she grew serious. "Despite my rights under our bargain, I will not press you. I want us to be as one out of passion, not obligation."

He was startled to hear anyone, man or woman, speak so openly of such things. She must have seen it on his face, for she laughed. "I am very straightforward in my speech, Legolas. I see no reason to be otherwise. Do Elves not appreciate honesty?'

"On the contrary, my lady, we prize it highly. I am simply not accustomed to hearing a queen be quite so."

"Brazen?" She asked with a grin.

He blushed again. "I would have not used such a word to describe a queen."

"Why ever not? An honest description, to be certain. You'll find that despite this title I have very little use for standing on ceremony, Legolas. Therefore, one thing that I will ask of you immediately is that you address me by my name. I grow weary of being called "my lady" and "your highness" day in and day out."

Yet another surprise! She was an unusual person, to be certain. "As you wish. Mairin," he answered. Mairin. The name was lovely, not Elven but pleasing to the ear. "What does it mean?"

A shadow passed over her face. "It means 'bitter.' "

Before he could apologize she summoned Q'Nir. "Master Legolas will be writing a message to be delivered to his friend in Gondor. When he has finished make haste to take it. Further, he will be staying here with me in the palace as my guest for the next few weeks."

"Yes, Mairin," he replied. He glanced at Legolas with what looked to be surprise. "In what wing shall I prepare a guest room for him?"

"No guest room," she replied levelly. "He will be staying in my chambers with me."

"My lady?" Q'Nir's brows shot up, and this time there was no mistaking the look he gave Legolas. It was astonishment.

"You heard me," she answered. "Bring all manner of clothing and toiletries for him, and anything else that he desires." She turned to Legolas. "Do you play an instrument?"

"I play both flute and harp," he replied.

"Bring those as well, the finest we have." She smiled at him. "I shall be honored to hear you play." She glanced back to Q'Nir. "Thank you, Q'Nir, for your assistance."

"Yes, Mairin, at once," he stammered, leaving the throne room.

"Well! I've not seen him look so amazed in forty years," Mairin said with a grin.

"Excuse me, my-Mairin-but did you say forty years?"

She sighed. "Yes. That is a story I will tell you later. For now, let us go. You have a message to write, and we shall get you settled in."

A few hours later Legolas stood on the west balcony watching the setting sun. It blazed a trail of crimson and gold across the sky, a chariot of light driven by horses of flame. Yet even with its splendor the sounds of the sea still whispered to him faintly, beckoning to him. He pushed the thoughts roughly away. He was not ready to depart from Middle Earth yet. Not yet.

He heard Mairin's light footsteps as she closed the gap between them. She wrapped her arms loosely about his waist, leaning gently against his left side to nuzzle her face against his. He moved neither to embrace her nor disengage her, standing still and gazing out into the radiant sky.

"When I was first appointed queen, I did this very thing," she whispered. "I stood until the very last rays of light had vanished, never taking my eyes from the heavens."

"And then what did you do?" Legolas asked.

"Then I got a tankard of warm honeyed ale, came back, and watched the rise of the stars and moon," she grinned.

He laughed. "It sounds very peaceful."

"It was, and still is at times."

"At times?" He questioned.

"It matters not. But come. You must be hungry. We will retire to my chamber and have our evening meal."

He nodded his assent, allowing her to lead him back down into the castle and to her chambers. They were beautifully decorated in shades of silver and green, purple and black. There was an outer room that contained a small dining table and large plush chairs which led into the main bedchamber. From there a private bath was off to one side.

Legolas glanced uneasily at the bed, a huge bed made from iron, hung with green velvet curtains and heaped with pillows. It looked warm and inviting, as it had been long since he had slept in a real bed. But knowing he would share it with Mairin made him uneasy. He recognized the fact that it was part of fulfilling his obligation, but still.

He sighed to himself. She was not ugly, nor had she treated him badly in any manner. If she did decide to ask him for more, would it be such a hardship to fulfill the request? "Whatever you may ask of me," he'd said. Many males of different races, even some Elves, indulged in such play for the sharing of physical pleasure. Surely he could do the same, perhaps drink some wine (a lot of wine) first to help him relax? He thought of her hands upon him, long and cool, and wondered if he could surrender enough to feel pleasure from their touch, give pleasure to her.


Guiltily he jerked his head as her voice pulled him from his thoughts. She stood looking at him, one hand curled into a ball on her hip, and he had no doubt that she had guessed his thoughts.

"Did I not tell you I would not press you in matters of the body?" She asked.

"Yes, Mairin, you did," he answered.

"Then why do you stare at my bed as though Death itself beckoned to you from there? Are you so arrogant you think I will lose all control of myself while lying beside you and ravish you? Perhaps you'd like to sleep outside in the dirt and mud so you will feel safer?"

"No, Lady Mairin," he said hastily, seeing a glint of anger in her eye. He hurried to her side. "I ask forgiveness," he said, taking her hands in his. "I know you were under no obligation to make such an offer to me. I trust your word." He gazed into her eyes, hoping she would see the earnestness in his.

She relaxed. "Good. When I give my word, I keep it. I don't have much, but I have that."

"Don't have much?" He echoed in confusion. "But you are the Queen of Talinfore!"

She laughed, yet it was not a happy sound. "Yes, indeed. I am the queen of nothing."

"I don't understand."

"No, you would not. And I've no desire to discuss it yet. Come, sweet Legolas, let us eat, then we will talk of your adventures!"

". And that is how Sauron came to be defeated," Legolas drew a deep breath. They had spent nearly an hour eating, and then another few hours of him telling her the tale of the Fellowship. "But I do not understand how it is that you do not know any of this! You are so near Gondor! To be honest, I don't understand how it is I've never heard of Talinfore, or visited it before!"

"Much has happened while we were away," she whispered. "Yet I cannot say I am sorry we missed it."

"Away? Where could you have been that you did not know of the threat of Mordor?"

"Everywhere," she replied. "And nowhere."

"My Lady-Mairin-you speak in riddles more than Gandalf himself! Will you not explain this to me?"

"Gandalf." Her eyes grew pensive. "I have not seen him in many years. I am glad he found peace at last."

"You know Gandalf?"

"In a sense."

Legolas shook his head in frustration, blond locks spilling down his shoulders. "Please, Mairin, give me answers!"

"Tomorrow, Legolas, I promise you. Tomorrow I will give you the answers you ask for. Just please give me tonight to be happy and free with you. It has been so long since I have enjoyed the company of a male, especially one as fair and interesting as you."

He could not help but blush. "Thank you, Mairin. As for my answers, if tomorrow is what you wish, tomorrow it shall be. We shall enjoy ourselves tonight!" He laughed to try and dispel the somber mood that seemed to have overcome her from his persistence. "What is your pleasure?"

"Would you play for me?"

"I would be delighted."

"You must tell me when you tire, Legolas, else I would have you play all night!" Mairin teased.

"And so I could, but I fear your voice would give out far sooner than my hands," he answered with a laugh.

"Perhaps," she retorted, but she was grinning.

They had finished their meal long ago. At Mairin's request, Legolas had first played the flute, then the harp, whereupon she joined with her voice, the two of them performing songs they both knew, then they taught each other new ones. Several more hours had passed, and Legolas could tell Mairin was tired when she stifled a yawn. He stopped playing and looked at her. "Perhaps it is time for us to retire."

"O, so you rule here now, eh?" She asked.

"Only in matters of your well being. As your companion it is my duty to look after you."

A shadow darkened her features, and she seemed about to say something grave, then changed her mind just as quickly. "You are right, I am tired," she said instead.

"Then let us go to bed." Odd, those words did not give him quite the upset he would have thought they might. Perhaps having spent some time with her had helped.

She nodded, going to a tall wooden chest in one corner of the room. She pulled out a long, black gauzy nightdress sewn with hundreds of tiny beads. It caught his eye as it shimmered in the light. She took it and walked into the bathing room. "There is clothing for you in those drawers," she said, pointing. Then she disappeared and shut the door behind her.

Legolas sighed, relived that he could change in privacy. He opened the drawers and found among the clothes a silken nightshirt of rich brown that suited him. He undressed and put it on, folding his clothes neatly and putting them on a chair. Then, somewhat nervously, he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Are you finished?" She called.


She emerged, and Legolas caught a soft breath at the sight of her in the nightgown. It made her seem more beautiful somehow. Perhaps it was merely the finery, or that her hair was loose about her shoulders. If she noticed his reaction, she gave no indication of it, only smiled and joined him in sitting on the bed.

The stillness unnerved the Elf, and to give himself something to do he reached up to unfasten his two braids. Mairin stopped him. "Please," she requested.

"As you like," he replied, feeling her long, nimble fingers unbraid first one side, then the other. She then rose and took a silver backed brush from a nearby vanity. "May I?" She inquired, looking at his errant locks.

He inclined his head, and she sat beside him again and began to brush his long golden hair. It was not an unpleasant sensation, and he had no intentions of protesting over a thing as small as this.

"Your hair is more exquisite than spun gold, Legolas," she told him. "The sun must hate to shine upon you, for surely your glow diminishes his."

"You lack not for fair speech, Mairin," he replied with a blush. "All the bees must envy you, for your words are sweeter than any honey they could hope to produce."

She smiled, looking away slightly, and Legolas marveled at the words that had come from his own lips. 'It was only a matter of politeness,' he told himself hastily.

She finished brushing his hair, then bade him brush hers, which he did. When he was finished she rose, put away the brush, then blew out the lamp and opened a window. "I hope you do not mind," she said. "The night is fair and the moonlight beautiful."

"Nay, I do not mind at all," he told her. The sweet air and silver light made Legolas feel calm and sleepy.

She returned to the bed, and together they drew back the covers. Legolas lay down first, and she slid in beside him, drawing the covers over them both. She curled against him, resting her head and one hand on his chest.

He tensed reflexively, and Mairin felt it. "Legolas. You need not do anything, I have told you this. Just to lie beside you and feel you near is a great comfort to me."

He nodded, relaxing again. This he could do. "Good night, Mairin," he whispered, settling himself more comfortably in the bed, careful not to move her.

"Good night, Legolas."

"Aie! No! A'tha'lon! No! NO!"

Legolas shot bolt upright, eyes staring wildly for a second to identify the sounds that had awakened him. Mairin was sitting up in the bed as well, her eyes wide, breathing in heaving gasps, hand clutched to her heart.

"Mairin!" He exclaimed. "What is the matter!"

She shook her head violently. "A dream, Legolas. Only a dream." But she was trembling badly.

"You are shaking as the leaves in a storm. Please tell me what has disturbed you so."

"Tis nothing, Legolas! Nothing that matters anymore."

"Who is A'tha'lon?" He asked.

"No. I cannot, not right now," she whispered. "In the morning. Everything will be made clear to you then." She laid back down and turned away from him, still shaking.

Legolas, however, was having none of that. He gently turned her unresisting form back towards him. "All right, in the morning, then. But I cannot allow you to turn away when you are obviously in need of comfort." So saying, he slipped his arms around her and pulled her to him, resting her head upon his chest as he held her close.

She sighed. "You are a noble creature, Legolas. But I cannot impose upon you this way." She made to leave his embrace, but he only tightened his grasp.

"And *I* have told you that I must look out for your well being for the next few weeks. How would it be for the people of Talinfore to see their queen with bags under her eyes?"

She laughed. "As witty as you are beautiful. It amazes me that women have not thrown themselves at your feet in droves."

"Oh, only a few thousand have done that," he replied. "The others are waiting in line somewhere!"

"Impudent!" She scowled. But she could not maintain it and was soon laughing again.

"Indeed," he replied with a grin. "But now it is time for us to return to sleep. May your dreams be sweet and peaceful."

"Thank you, Legolas," she whispered, closing her eyes. He nestled her to him, wondering at her words, all of the puzzling things she'd said that day. What had she meant, the queen of nothing? And what of the mysterious A'tha'lon? Not to mention the enigma of Talinfore itself!

Well, he would get his answers in the morning. Feeling her breathing soften, Legolas allowed himself to drop back into the vibrant twilight that was Elven sleep.

Legolas awoke to find that she had somehow risen without disturbing his rest. She stood looking out the window at the early morning sun, dressed in a simple green shirt and leggings. No lavish dresses for her, it seemed. She wore no jewelry save one ring, and no paints or berries added color to her face. Yet there was something compelling about her as she stood framed by the light. Compelling was not quite the right word. Haunting. That was it. Something about her haunted him.

"Fair morning to you, Legolas."

"And fair morning to you, Mairin," he replied. "I hope you slept well?"

"Very well, thanks to your gallantry." She turned to look at him. "I have bathed already. I will be waiting for you on the terrace just off the palace doors with breakfast." She left the room.

Legolas rose, stretching. The bed had been soft indeed! He would be spoiled by luxury while he was here. And a bath! His eyes lit up eagerly at the promise of a real bath chamber. He hurriedly chose a tunic and leggings in a dark purple from the clothing that had been brought for him, then went to have his bath. He then dressed and went to join Mairin on the terrace.

The guards bowed to him as he passed. Q'Nir was on the terrace as well, and gave Legolas a not too friendly glance as he departed. Legolas did not understand the reason for this. Had not Q'Nir been the one who had brought him to Talinfore? Did he not know that Legolas was there in order to fulfill his agreement with Mairin? The Elf shook his head with a sigh. So much he did not understand!

Mairin rose as he approached the table, leaning over to kiss him quickly on the lips. "I hope this is to your liking," she said as she moved back.

"I'm certain it shall be," he replied, feeling confusion. The kiss was light and quick, no more than a tiny peck of her mouth upon his. Why, for just a second, had he felt that he did not want her to stop?

Perhaps she was bewitching him! No. He rejected that idea. If that were the case, her enslavement of him would surely have already occurred. It would not be a gradual thing. A love potion, perhaps? No. Again, that would have already made him utterly smitten. But if these feelings were not the result of magik, he reasoned, that would mean they were stemming from his own heart! Not possible, either! He was here under compulsion, oath, not truly of his own choosing save for his vow. Too much was seething in his mind. He forced himself not to dwell further on it.

"Legolas? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he answered. He sat down next to her. "Now, what is to be our breakfast?"

The meal was simple but delicious. Fresh fruits, breads, butter and honey, with cool sweet water. They spoke little as they ate, each preoccupied with their own thoughts. When they had finished Mairin thanked the servants, then turned to him. "You asked me for answers, Legolas. Now you shall have them. And I pray you do not regret your questions."

"I know not what you mean, Mairin, but I am ready," he declared.

"Then come. Let us go for a walk in the gardens of Talinfore. There I will tell you everything."

The gardens were astonishing. Graceful, intricate sculptures adorned corners, and the path was made of tiny stones and lined on both sides with more of the richly-hued flowers Legolas had seen when he first entered the city. The breeze was warm and inviting, water chimed from stone fountains. It was exquisite while not being overdone, and he found himself admiring it as they walked. Mairin's hand was twined in his, but he felt nothing ill towards it. He was beginning to think that when she'd told him it had been a long time since she'd enjoyed a male companion that she was speaking or more than a few months or years. He had made up his mind to accept his obligation to her, and so he was. It was for that reason that he did not object to her taking his hand, he told himself. And anything that would make her feel contentment would hopefully make her more disposed towards conversation, and his promised answers.

They had walked but a short ways before she spoke.

"You wish to know of Talinfore."

"Yes. And of you."

She looked at him in surprise. "Why should you care to know of me?"

"You are the queen, are you not? And my companion for the next three weeks? I seek to understand the entire picture, not merely one or two brushstrokes."

"I should have known with your Elven curiosity that would be the case," she replied.

"I await your story."

"Very well." And she began the tale.

"You know, of course, the Ents are the oldest living things in Middle Earth. You know the Elves are old, too. Elves were an old race when Man walked the grounds for the first time. But where Man is concerned the Elves were not quite as old as you might think."

"I do not understand," Legolas said.

"I mean that this place was once known to the Elves. But not as it is now. Have you ever heard of Inas Oiren?"

He shook his head. "I remember vague stories of it, one of the first cities of Man. But it was destroyed long ago."

"Yes. And no. For it is in Inas Oiren that you now stand. Reborn, and renamed."

"How can that be!" He exclaimed. "How would not all of Middle Earth know this!"

"Perhaps because all of Middle Earth, as you say, cannot see it."


"Hear me out, Legolas," she smiled.

He waited.

"You are correct. This is one of the first cities of Man, built long before Gondor. Few travelers ventured here then, for Middle Earth was still rather young. People who had built a home did not explore as much as they do now. Thoughts of war and destruction were still far away even in the minds of Men. But not all Men."

"You mean A'tha'lon," Legolas said.

"Yes." She stopped walking and shook slightly. Legolas brought her against him, holding her, feeling her heart race like a rabbit caught in a snare. She seemed to draw strength from his embrace, for she continued.

"Before Gandalf, before Sauraman, there was A'tha'lon. He came to Inas Oiren to conquer it, and all places like it, unknown to us. We treated him with honor and all kindness as we did any traveler. When he began to make his intentions known there was a battle. He entranced many of the people, setting son against father, mother against daughter. Many died by the hand of a loved one because of him."

"Finally a group attacked him as one, fatally wounding him. As he lay dying, he cursed our city. "From this moment forth, your city shall be no more as it was. You shall disappear for a hundred years. And then this city shall become unseen to the eyes of all that pass through here. None shall come unless they are brought. And to anyone who seeks so much as a crumb of bread, they must pay a price for it. By my blood and my will I declare this with my final breath."

"Then he died. And soon we knew the curse had come to pass."

"But you can leave! When you leave here, you can be seen by the rest of Middle Earth!"


"Then why do you not all leave?" Legolas cried, his distress over the story evident. "Why do you stay in this phantom city!"

Mairin sighed. "Some people have left, Legolas. Some of them returned after a day, a week: too afraid of the world, once our friend, now so different. Some are afraid to go out at all. Some would rather not take the chance of losing immortality, for here we are essentially immortal. I am older than you are, though I do not look my age any more than you look yours. Some lost all will and caring after the battle. The only way we can be found is if someone goes out and brings someone in, as Q'Nir did with you. We do not seek out people, for why involve them in our sorrow? And sadly, lest some evil force try to turn this city into a secret weapon, those who leave for good do not tell the tale. Nothing can be done. Not even Gandalf could lift the curse. But as long as there are some left to live here, there must be a ruler. That is what I meant when I told you I was the queen of nothing. That is what the name "Talinfore" means."

"There must be something to be done!" He protested.

"No. Nothing we nor anyone else has found."

"Let me go, then! I will find someone who can help you!"

She sighed. "Legolas, it is no use. This is our fate. We have learned to make the best of it."

"And what of me? Why did you ask me to stay?"

She sighed again. "Because I have had no company save that of my people here for over a hundred years. I have been lonely for a long time."

"A hundred years? What are you not telling me?" Legolas demanded.

"You are clever to think there is more."

"Well? Is there?"

"Yes. Once a year, on the day of A'tha'lon's death, this city disappears and goes into the Shadowland. There it remains for twenty years, then reappears again, on the day after his death. We exist in this realm for almost a full year, only to be sent away for a score and then return again."

"That would seem more reason than any for all of you to leave!" The Elf exclaimed.

"You might think that. Then again, you might not. Can you truly say it is such an easy choice, Legolas? Would you leave if you knew it meant you would never see your mother again? Your brothers and sisters? For those who lived here and are gone when the city fades to shadow can never return. We cannot see them once we have come back. They become as invisible to us as we are to them. And only for that time in which Talinfore stands here can we go back and forth freely. Each time we return we are renewed. If your father were sick or dying, but you knew if he stayed here he could be well again, would you force him to go?"

He shook his head. "Perhaps for those who have been here so long it is indeed not an easy choice. But I would have left long ago." He studied her. "You were not always queen. Tell me of that."

"No. The first king and queen died in that battle, killing each other. There were no children. I volunteered to be queen."

"What! Why?"

"Someone had to do it. The people were terrified, lost, they needed someone to soothe and guide them. I was asked, and I accepted."

"Could someone else, then, not rule in your stead?"

"Of course. As I told you before, there is little ceremony here, save what the people enjoy creating. My servants and guards are more like family to me than anything, and I treat them as such. But why would that be needed? I am here."

"Have you never wanted to leave?"

"Sometimes," she said softly. "I yearn to see the rest of Middle Earth, changed though it might be. But I have never had any true reason to go. So I have stayed."

"And what of those few travelers who have been found and come here? What price must they pay for anything they are given?"

"Ah, there is the loophole. I can ask for whatever I wish. I have them give something simple, such as a leaf from a tree or a pebble from a stream."

"Yet you asked me to be your companion. Why?"

"I told you I have been lonely. It was not my intention to ask that of you. But when you arrived, and I saw you with my own eyes. something stirred inside me." She looked away. "It was wrong, I know. And could I change what I did in that one moment of longing, I would. But once decreed, the price must be paid. I can send you away from me, but you will not be able to leave the city until the specified time is over."

Legolas fell silent, trying to absorb and understand all that Mairin had said. "Well, sweet Legolas? Do you regret your questions?" She asked.

"No. Knowledge is not something I have ever regretted. And I do not want to be sent away from you. A promise I made, and a promise I will keep. But I tell you, when I leave here, I will try to find a way to lift this curse."

"As you wish. I admire your determination." She moved out of his hold. "Now, let us continue our walk. The day is long and the sky is bright."

Day followed day, and night followed night. Mairin spoke no more of what she had told him; indeed she refused to speak further of it. Legolas gave up, silently resolving to try and do something once he was gone and the city had went into Shadowland again, which he now knew would be the day after he was to leave. Meanwhile, they spent all their time together, walking, talking, playing songs, and sharing with each other things from their respective worlds. True to her word, she pressed him for nothing, did nothing to which he did not consent. And he managed to suppress the odd feelings that crept upon him from time to time, until one night.

They were outside in the garden, playing hide and seek as though they were children, when a sudden rainstorm came. Legolas found her just as the rain began, and she made him give chase. He caught her a few seconds later, for she was making no real effort to get away, and bore her to the ground. Both of them were laughing, enjoying the feel of the warm rain upon their skin, and as he looked down at her Legolas felt such a pulling in his heart it caused him actual pain. She seemed to sense it, for she reached up a hand, smoothing his wet hair away from his face. "Legolas?" She asked.

With a low moan he bent and crushed his lips to hers, no longer willing or able to stop the wanting that had been building within him over the past two weeks.

For an instant she did not move, frozen in shock. Then she responded, twining her fingers in his hair, meeting his kiss with all the passion she had suppressed for so many years.

The kiss seemed to go on forever, their bodies a tangle of arms, legs and mouths. When it finally ended they gazed at each other in silence, both of them shaken by what had just happened.

Mairin was first to speak, sitting up, visibly pale. "Legolas, I am sorry! I."

"You what?" He asked. "That was as much my doing as it was yours, Mairin. There was nothing forcing my actions. I wanted it, as you did."

"This cannot happen," she whispered. "Damn my lapse of reason!" She rose and began hurrying towards the palace.

Legolas caught her by the arms, stopping her. "Let me go!" She cried.

"I do not understand! You wanted it. I felt it in your body. Why are you turning from me?"

"Because it cannot be! I beg you, leave me in peace!" And she ran away, leaving him stunned, raindrops sliding off his face like tears.

For the next few days she avoided him, sending messages, having him sleep in a guestroom. Legolas was confused and hurt by her actions. Finally, on the day before he was to depart, he stormed to her chambers. Q'Nir was standing outside as though on guard. "You cannot go in there," he said as Legolas approached.

"So say you, but go in there I shall."

Q'Nir caught him by an arm, dark eyes flashing angrily. "Fool! Do you not understand that your very presence breaks her heart? Even a blind man could see that she is in love with you!"

"In love with me?" Legolas echoed.

"Yes. In love with you. How can you be so bright and yet so dull, Elf? Since you do not share her feelings, can you not leave her in peace? Tomorrow you can depart and forget all about her and this city. Please go!"

"Nay, I cannot just go!"

"Why not?"

"Because I love her!" Legolas shouted, and then gasped.

"What?" Q'Nir exclaimed

Legolas swallowed hard. It was true; he'd known it even before he spoke the words. But he had not wanted to admit it to himself. Now that he had, he was about to walk down a path that he could not leave. But Legolas Greenleaf had never run away from anything before, and he had no intentions of starting now!

"But this cannot be!" Q'Nir said.

"That is for us to decide, not you!" And Legolas dodged around the man and pushed open the doors of Mairin's chamber.

Mairin was sitting on the bed, eyes red rimmed and dark with tears. "Legolas!"

He gently but firmly pushed Q'Nir back, then quickly closed and locked the doors. He strode to her, took her face in his hands, and kissed her.

"My lady!" Q'Nir called! "Do you need help?"

Legolas released her, looking into her eyes. "Mairin. Do not turn me away. Mithrandir help me, but I love you."

She said nothing, just stared at him.

"Mairin!" Q'Nir cried again, banging on the door.

"I'm all right, Q'Nir," she called. "Please leave us."

There was a hesitation, then the soft sound of footsteps fading.

Mairin was visibly shaken by his words. "Legolas."

"Shh," he whispered, drawing her against him. "Speak not with words. Let me show you with my body that there is something in the outside world worth having." And he kissed her again.

Sunlight warmed Legolas' face. When he opened his eyes Mairin was dressing.


She didn't look at him.


"Don't Legolas, I beseech you," she said, lacing her tunic with trembling fingers. "You may leave now. Your vow has been fulfilled and you can depart from Talinfore."

He rose, going to her and taking her protesting form in his arms. "I love you. Does that mean nothing to you?"

She moved away, her green eyes troubled.

His lips pressed together. "Very well." He began to dress.

When he had finished she finally spoke again. "Legolas, can you not see that our love could never be? Your place is there, mine is here."

"You could leave!" He objected.

"And you could stay. But how can I ask that of you? To go for so many years without seeing your family or friends?"

"You long to leave here. You told me so yourself. Your heart cries out for the world as mind once cried out for the sea." He looked at her. "You stilled that song in me, Mairin. When I look at you I am deafened by my love to the point where I can hear little else. The only thing keeping you here is fear."

"That isn't true! My subjects-"

"Would be just as taken care of if Q'Nir was their king. But you have been here so long you have grown feeble in spirit."

"How dare you!" Mairin gasped.

"It's true, is it not? You have become so complacent, so used to this easy safe existence that you do not have any idea of what it truly means to take a risk. You are many things, Mairin, but I never thought a coward was one of them until now!"

"Leave me!" She cried.

"Leave I shall," he replied. "But know you this. I will sit outside this city until it disappears. If your love is greater than your fears, you will come to me before then. If you do not, then I shall be filled with grief. But I will know that the woman I fell in love with never truly existed."

Her eyes filled with tears. "Legolas."

He pulled her to him and kissed her with an intensity that left them both shaken.

"I will wait," he whispered. And then he left.

True to his word, he sat all day and night, staring at the city gates. He never stirred, his eyes fixed on that one place. He slept little, his dreams plagued by her; her laugh, her smile, and her voice. Each rustle of the trees or whisper of the wind made him hopeful. But still she did not appear.

The next morning he rose, hearing the distant sound of trumpets, and stood as the city slowly began to fade. His heart was heavy, and tears filled his eyes as he grieved for what had been lost. He turned away, not able to watch the city glide completely into nothingness.


Stunned, he spun about to see Mairin riding her black stallion towards the gates as the city diminished behind her. His breath caught as he saw the guards running to open them, watched her wave goodbye as she seemed to fly out just as the city completely faded from existence.

She rode up to him, looking down at his gaping mouth in amusement. "Well? Are you getting on Moonstorm with me, or are you going to Gondor on foot?" She grinned.

He swung up behind her in one graceful movement, holding her tightly, burying his face in her hair. "I did not think you would come," he whispered huskily.

"Neither did I, for a while," she answered softly. "But I decided you were right. I could choose to exist, or I could choose to live. I chose to live."

"I will do everything I can do make certain that you do not regret that choice!"

"I know," she said, turning to look at him. She brushed her hair away from his face with a smile. "I may now very well be a normal Human, though, with a normal lifespan."

"And I will share that life with you as a Human would."


"You sacrificed your immortality for me," he reminded her. "How could I not do the same for you? What would my life be without you in it, Mairin?"

She kissed him, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "Then let us not waste a single moment of this life, however it may come to pass! To Gondor!"

"Yes, to Gondor!" Legolas echoed, and Moonstorm began to run.

"You realize you'll have some explaining to do," Mairin teased.

"Quite so. But Gimli is reasonable. most of the time!"

And as they rode away to begin anew, somewhere beyond time and space, a city spoke of its former queen and of how she had dared to leave, and love.