AUTHOR'S NOTE FROM LHUNTURIEL: I am so happy that my contributions to this story have been so well-received. I was a long-time faithful reader of Winsome Elf's story, and I was extremely flattered when she asked me to co-write it with her. Thank you all so much for your kind words. Lhunturiel

CHAPTER 31--NOT QUITE A WEDDING NIGHT

Legolas gazed stonily ahead as he trod within Lorien's sylvan splendor, allowing its green canopy to enfold him but, for once, drawing little comfort from it. Indeed, he scarcely noticed the gated gardens and glades and secret copses that he passed in the deepening woods. Nor did he notice that he unconsciously trailed his very footsteps from the night before. So overwhelming was his need to put as much distance between himself and Ellie as possible that he did not even realize how far he had traveled until he came face to face with the mossy green wall that surrounded Caras Galadon.

Legolas stopped, his breath coming fast and shallow as he thought back on what had transpired during his...wedding night. He laughed...a sharp, disdainful bark...an ugly sound so alien to his Elven nature that it startled him. And then he shook his head in disbelief. That was some "wedding night"! His bride had all but admitted that she regretted the entire affair. He leaned back against the trunk of a large mallorn tree and closed his eyes, pain piercing his heart. He could not scorn Ellie. He loved her. And he realized that his derision was born of this pain.

Hearing a twig snap, his body instantly hardened to cold steel, his Elven senses attuned to any possible assault. He held perfectly still as he heard the other being approach. When the intruder was but inches away, Legolas swiftly struck, pinning them to the very trunk against which he himself had moments ago been resting. To the Elf's great surprise, his forearm pressed against the throat of...Nev... Just as he thought this day could not get any worse...

Nev smirked. "I do not recall you having a penchant for roughing up ladies before, Legolas... How intriguing…"

He instantly released her, recoiling as if he had pinned a serpent against the mallorn. "Leave me, Nev," he said curtly, and turned away from her in disgust. This is just what I need now…Nev! the Elf thought viciously, and willed her to disappear.

Nev would not leave. She realized something must be amiss between the newlyweds and pressed her advantage. "Legolas, why are you here in the forests of Caras Galadon, when you should be enjoying your first night of wedded bliss?" Contempt and sarcasm dripped from her words and from her lips. She moved closer until she stood directly behind him as he stared off into the dark depths of the forest. He was so cold, so remote…so hardened against her. And for the briefest of moments she faltered, overcome by the sudden and unwelcome urge to touch his rigid back, to soothe and offer him comfort.

But instead of lifting her hand, Nevladiel allowed thoughts of Ellie to fill her mind, until bitterness and hatred consumed her once again. That slip of a half-breed had not only stolen her chosen lover, she was now being lauded as a heroine all over Lorien after having saved Rumil's life. Not that Nev begrudged her brother his life. The Elf maiden was fond of Rumil, but it galled her to know that he owed his life to her nemesis. Nev was determined to rid Caras Galadhon of that misbegotten waif...

For just a moment longer, Legolas stood as still as a marble statue, while he willed Nev to leave. He needed time alone to think, yet now he was being tasked by this hellion. Frowning, he finally turned and glanced at her, his eyes widening slightly at the level of contempt that he read there.

Nev hissed, "Surely you realize that you are the laughingstock of Lothlorien?" She snickered contemptuously as she continued taunting the warrior who stood before her, his face betraying nothing of his inner turmoil. "Yes, Legolas.... No one can believe that you have been taken in by that...half-blooded urchin!"

If she had been more observant, Nev might have noticed that Legolas' jaw was tightly clenched and his eyes glittered dangerously. She was too caught up in needling him, her pleasure at this game clearly apparent.

"And now what? Has she banished the great Prince Legolas from his own bedchamber?!" She laughed, the sound brittle and sharp, reminding the proud Elf who stood before her of breaking glass. "Well, Legolas...who knows what might befall the little wench after you have gone off on this...mission...of yours...."

Nev's words were cut short and her eyes widened in fear as Legolas' hand struck at her as swift as a snake, his fingers tightening around her throat as he shoved her back against a mallorn tree. Nev's hands scrabbled at his fingers, panic rising inside her as she saw a look in his eyes that she had never seen before.

"You...will not...touch...her!" The intensity in Legolas' eyes struck fear in Nev's heart. In that instant, she knew he loved Ellie...and that he would kill for her without a moment's hesitation.

Another twig snapped behind him and still keeping Nev pinned against the tree, Legolas turned to face this new foe… Aragorn. The Mirkwood prince quickly released Nevladiel and turned to face his friend as he assumed his usual stoic mask, but Aragorn was not fooled. The man had meant to counsel Legolas when he saw him storm from his wedding talan, but had concealed his presence when he saw the female Elf follow Legolas into the depths of Caras Galadhon.

"Aragorn..," Legolas began as Nev cast an angry look at the ranger and slipped into the woods. The Prince glanced over his shoulder and was relieved to see Nev retreat. He wondered how much of that angry exchange the future king of Gondor had actually witnessed.

In truth, Aragorn had witnessed it all and was deeply troubled. "Mellon-nin," the man replied as he placed his hand on Legolas' shoulder. "Why are you here in the woods of Lorien and not with your bride?" His piercing eyes searched Legolas' impassive countenance. Aragorn retreated slightly, "I do not mean to pry or to intrude..." But he did mean to do just that. Knowing that the fellowship was due to depart in two short days and realizing that any or all of them could meet death on this quest, the ranger could not, would not allow his friend to squander his remaining hours away from his new wife, no matter what the reason for Legolas' upset.

Legolas' chagrin was clearly apparent, his eyes fixed on the forest floor. "Legolas, I know that this is none of my affair, but I have had my own tribulations in my pact with Arwen, and if there is aught I can do for you.... I hope you know that I am willing to help, if I am able." Aragorn felt awkward and intrusive in the very private Elf's presence, yet he had great empathy for him and his struggle to come to terms with his bride's talents and the seeming curse it brought with it.

Legolas sighed deeply and looked at his friend. "Ah, Aragorn...but if there were aught that you could do. I fear that Ellie and I are at a standoff of sorts. I can understand her desire to maintain the Ilissan line and beliefs. But, I expected her to put us...ahead of this desire."

"And, she will not?" the ranger inquired.

"I do not know yet," Legolas responded, "but I fear that she will not. Do not get me wrong," he looked intently at his friend, "I do not wish to deny her the practice of her faith. But...she claims to be with child now. I thought that she would think first of the child, before attempting to heal another and possibly risk...everything."

"In addition, you have the added pressure of our leaving in two days," Aragorn observed.

The Elf nodded, "I do not want to depart without having these issues settled between us. Well," Legolas muttered morosely, "I should probably go back to the Fellowship's talan and pack up my things. At least that will be out of the way, then."

Aragorn smiled. "There is no need. Gimli is seeing to that himself. Be glad that he is doing so; he was ready to come to your wedding suite to see if you needed any help, instead!" Legolas managed a halfhearted laugh at that thought, but still appeared somber to the ranger.

"Legolas, the night is young still, and the Fellowship will soon gather in Lady Galadriel's garden to discuss our plans and the task that is before us. Why don't you accompany me and join us? You and Ellie both might view your situation differently after a bit of time has passed."

The Elf regarded his friend, and saw compassion and understanding in his warm gaze. "Hannad, mellon-nin," he responded, "You are most wise..."

§

Ellie paced around her wedding suite for a long while after Legolas had made his stormy exit. Her heart was filled with conflicting emotions, her mind with tumultuous thoughts. She was angry that Legolas had not understood her need to heal, and terribly afraid that she would lose him forever as a consequence. She felt deep regret that they had fought on this of all nights, and deeper sorrow that they were not together now in each other's arms, as befitted a newly wedded couple.

Had she made a mistake in marrying him? Perhaps, but as the emotions roiled inside of her and threatened to tear her heart asunder, Ellie realized that her love for the Mirkwood Prince was an all-abiding force. A living, breathing force that could not be quelled or undone, a force that was as much a part of her as her Ilissan gift. She would not, could not take it back.

Instead, Ellie wished she could take back the harsh words that had driven Legolas away.

"Oh gods, what have I done?" she moaned, as she slumped down on the edge of the bed. Conflicted and defeated, she almost gave in to despair. And then she noticed her once-lovely gown for the first time since the healing of her uncle. Rumil's drying blood rained down in splotches almost to the hem. Rumil…My family…

She was not alone. She would never be alone again…ever.

"I will go see how Rumil is doing!" she announced to the empty room and jumped to her feet. "At least I will be among family and friends and give my own worries a rest."

With these uplifting words, she went to the mirror and wiped her tears away in an attempt to look more presentable. Taking a deep breath and putting a half-hearted smile on her face, Ellie set off for her family's talan.

A short while later, she entered Rumil's dwelling to find a small cluster of Elves gathered around him. Azziel, of course, was there, kneeling at the head of the bed that held her betrothed. The beautiful Elf gently caressed his brow while tears of joy coursed down her fair face. Ellie's father, Haldir, was also present, and his brother Orophin, as well. All three Elves looked up when Ellie entered, and their warm smiles welcomed her.

I was right to come here, the girl thought, as the dark, turbulent mood that had plagued her this past hour instantly lifted.

Azziel leaped to her feet and ran to embrace Ellie, then she thanked the girl over and over again in Elvish, the intense emotion in her heart causing her to lapse into her mother tongue. Over the Elf's slender shoulder, Ellie saw her father and uncle Orophin also approach her.

"You are quite the young lady," Orophin remarked as he reached a hand out to caress his cheek. The Elf's chiseled face--so like her father's they could have been twins-- and his deep voice were filled with genuine affection and something akin to awe. His fingers on her face were feather-soft, almost reverent. Why, he is treating me as if I was some exalted being! Ellie thought, bemused. For a brief moment, the girl gaped at her uncle, then she glanced at her father, and noticed how he stood with his head held high in quiet pride--pride for what she was, for what she had done. And Ellie finally understood: her family venerated her healing gift. Legolas might be reluctant to do so, but her family always would.

"Ellie…" Rumil spoke softly from the bed.

At the sound of his voice, Azziel released Ellie and hurried back to her beloved's bedside, quickly followed by Ellie herself. The girl took her uncle's hand and kneeled at his bedside. Rumil's features were finer than those of his brothers--his gray eyes large and fringed with long sooty lashes, his nose and mouth delicate, almost childlike in appearance, his lean cheeks gently rounded rather than angular. Even though he was more than a thousand years older than she was, Ellie thought he looked no older. Indeed, if it weren't for his sculpted warrior's body, he could have easily been mistaken for a maiden, and not just an innocent youth.

Rumil looked into his niece's eyes and smiled benevolently. "Hannen lle.. " Ellie beamed at him, and started to pat his arm affectionately as she so often did with Jamie…until she recognized the knowing look in his eyes. She colored slightly and quickly removed her hand.

Rumil's smile deepened. He was still weak, but there was a light of mischief sparkling in his eyes. "So... My niece and that scoundrel from Mirkwood...." Haldir and Orophin studiously avoided looking at each other in order to stave off their laughter. Ellie's eyes opened wide and her mouth fell open at the way Rumil referred to her new husband.

"Scoundrel?" she repeated. Rumil's smile didn't waver. Ellie remembered when Haldir had told her about an altercation between Rumil and Legolas long ago. Now she knew the truth of it…all of it…gathered straight from her uncle's memory during the healing. Haldir, Rumil, and Orophin first visited Mirkwood when they were quite young. Seeing this scene through her uncle's adolescent eyes at the time of the occurrence was very enlightening. Legolas, it seems, being older and more than a little cocky, challenged the young Lorien Elves to an archery match. Haldir and Orophin, knowing what was to follow, did not accept the Prince's challenge. Rumil, however, did...

"You shot him... You shot Legolas..." Ellie muttered.

Haldir and Orophin, no longer able to contain themselves, burst into laughter, while Azziel looked nothing less than confused and as if she had serious doubts about the sanity of her two brother-in-laws to be.

"What…happened?" Azziel managed to ask.

Haldir sighed in a belabored manner, as if it pained him to simply recall the incident, but his brothers grinned in amusement, waiting for his inevitable rendition. "We," Haldir gestured to include himself, Rumil and Orophin, "visited Mirkwood when they..." he looked pointedly at his brothers, "were very young and impulsive. Legolas was much older and quite full of himself." Azziel's eyes widened and she looked at her beloved who was obviously, even in his weakened state, enjoying this tale. "I turned down Legolas' challenge for an archery match, as did 'Phin... Even though that caused much laughter and derision.... But, Azziel, your Elf rose to the challenge."

"And bested Legolas, I might say," Rumil interjected to the renewed peals of laughter from his brothers.

"Yes, you wish you had!" Orophin added.

Haldir cleared his throat dramatically and went on. "Legolas beat Rumil soundly and my baby brother was becoming a bit...irritated by this. Legolas, of course, was reveling in his triumph and rather rubbed Rumil's nose in it, so to speak. When the Mirkwood Prince went to retrieve the arrows from the target, your dear fiancé then had the nerve to let another arrow fly, which grazed Legolas' ear…"

Azziel's mouth fell open at this and she looked at Rumil, only to see him chuckling, clearly savoring the reminiscence. Haldir continued. "Legolas turned, a look of astonishment on his face. He simply could not believe that Rumil could be so cheeky as to fire at him, much less while his back was turned."

Azziel looked from Haldir to Rumil, and saw that there was truth in this tale.... "Rumil! You....surely you did not!" This caused another round of laughter from the male Elves.

"Oh, the tale gets better," added Orophin, who was elbowed in the ribs by Haldir, almost immediately. "What?!" Orophin exclaimed. "It is true....." Azziel stared at 'Phin, willing him to tell her, as Rumil continued to chuckle softly.

Haldir loudly cleared his throat, and all eyes were again on him, as he had well intended. "Legolas gave Rumil a deadly glare, and then dared to turn his back on my brother again..." He paused for dramatic effect, and then went on. "The next arrow that Rumil let fly...met its target..."

Rumil laughed so loudly at this that it brought on a coughing fit, which upset Azziel even more than she had already been by what Haldir just revealed.

"His...bum... I shot the 'Prince of Mirkwood' square in his royal bum!"

Rumil's brothers uproariously laughed along with him as Azziel and Ellie looked on, their mouths hanging open in shock. Of course, Ellie knew that this was true. During her healing of Rumil, they had melded their very souls for a moment, and they had each passed on their knowledge and experience to the other. But, still, she was flabbergasted, to say the least, that her uncle had actually shot her...husband! She thought of that tiny scar that marred Legolas' otherwise sheer perfection...on his left...cheek. Her face turned pink, thinking of his handsome face and flawless body. I will rid him of that scar next time we are together, she vowed.

Then Ellie realized that she should seek him out…now. I was wrong to let him go, she thought. I should have followed him and made him understand. Oh gods, I hope I have not ruined everything.

Ellie kissed her uncle, embraced Azziel and turned to her father and Orophin. "Father, I think I should get back to..." She broke off, slightly embarrassed, but Haldir and her uncle Orophin seemed amused at her discomfort.

"You go on now, Ellie," Haldir said. "There will be plenty of time for you to get to know your uncles. Your husband, however..."

Ellie interrupted him, "Yes, yes, I know! He leaves in two days…" She quickly made her farewells, all but tripped down the winding stairs in her haste, and ran up the leaf-strewn paths of Caras Galadhon. She was breathless by the time she climbed the wedding talan, crossed the narrow branch bridge, and flung open the door to find...no one. "He still has not returned..." she said despondently. Ellie closed the door and leaned back against it, wondering what she should do…

§

While Legolas and Aragorn made their way back to the heart of Caras Galadhon, the remaining members of the Fellowship were in the guest pavilion, gathering their things for departure and preparing to meet in Galadriel's garden. Jamie was with them, still in high spirits after the wedding, for he had not witnessed the drama that followed. The boy chattered away animatedly, recounting Ellie's earlier preparations in Naia's room to a fascinated Merry and Pippin.

Gimli, having packed up his own belongings, began to do the same for his friend, Legolas. It still surprised the dwarf to call an Elf a "friend," but a friend Legolas was to him…and a very dear one. He shook his head as he lifted one of Legolas' garments--a pale silvery blue shirt with intricate clasps down the front and an unseemly tear at the hem. Sheer frippery! the Dwarf thought before he packed it away.

He looked up as he overheard Jamie announce "I will be Ellie's protector now!" The boy had snatched up one of the lighter swords and was brandishing it wildly. Boromir stepped up behind him and deftly took it from the boy's grasp.

"You must be careful, little one.... This is a real blade...." Boromir affectionately chided the boy.

Gimli walked to the edge of the talan and gazed toward Ellie and Legolas' wedding suite. "I think I shall go see if she is all right. After all, the Elf has gone off who knows where, and she was in quite the delicate condition after her ordeal with Rumil....."

"Not to worry, Gimli.... I shall go see how she is doing," Boromir replied.

Frodo, Pippin and Merry suddenly scrambled forward, each one vying to be Ellie's benefactor for the evening. Boromir and Gimli frowned and opened their mouths to protest, but before either could say anything, Sam quietly spoke up from where he sat on his bedroll.

"I think Jamie should go check on Ellie." The others turned as one to stare at him. "I think that would be best," he continued, "After all, they are very close…"

"Let's all go, then!" Gimli declared.

§

Legolas and Aragorn reached Galadriel's garden and looked around silently, both discomfited by the fact that the garden was entirely devoid of any of the other Fellowship members.

"I don't understand it, "Aragorn muttered. "They have had more than enough time..."

Legolas interjected, "Perhaps they are not being hasty." He smiled his first true smile in over an hour. Aragorn shrugged and returned the smile and with that, they set off for the guest pavilion at the center of Caras Galadhon.

§

Gimli, Boromir, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, and Jamie made haste to Legolas and Ellie's wedding bower, high in the boughs of one of the stateliest mallorn trees in Caras Galadhon. Gimli became increasingly annoyed, certain that the length of Boromir's legs gave him an unfair advantage in arriving first at the talan.

"Wait a minute there, laddie! This was all my idea, you know! I should be the first to comfort her!"

Boromir paid him no mind and barreled on toward the wedding talan…

§

Lost in thought and feeling dejected, Ellie did not know how long she stood with her back against the door. Suddenly there was a loud banging on the other side and she jumped, her heart leaping in the hope that it was Legolas. She pulled the door open to see...the entire Fellowship, less...one. The very one she most wanted to see. Her face fell.

The others did not seem to notice Ellie's crestfallen countenance as they crowded into the small talan, everyone speaking at once. But Jamie was looking at Ellie strangely. His plaintive voice cut through the babble. "Ellie…why are you so sad?"

The remaining members of the Fellowship froze at that. They had intended to distract Ellie from her falling out with Legolas, but the boy immediately cut to the heart of the matter, as youngsters are often wont to do.

Ellie knelt down, holding her arms out to the boy, who ran into her familiar embrace. Over Jamie's shoulder, she offered a slight, understanding smile to the others, and they visibly relaxed. Pulling back, she gazed into Jamie's troubled eyes putting on her best, happiest expression.

"I was just feeling a little sad that Legolas and...all of our friends... " she glanced up at the others, " will be leaving shortly. That is all!" She stood and ruffled his hair affectionately.

§

When Legolas and Aragorn reached the pavilion where the Fellowship had been residing while in Caras Galadhon, they were puzzled to find it as empty as Galadriel's garden had been.

"Well..." Aragorn remarked dryly," I doubt that they have set off for Mordor without us."

"Perhaps they have located a tavern," Legolas mused, the corners of his mouth tugging upward in suppressed amusement. Aragorn laughed out loud at that remark, relieved that the Elf was in a joking mood, and clapped Legolas on the back.

"Wherever our comrades have gone, I doubt it is far. But, I think it is time that you took care of a particular bit of business...don't you?" The future king of Gondor gave Legolas a meaningful look, which was not lost on the Elf. Legolas's face reflected the friendship that had only just begun to kindle between the two, as well as gratitude. He nodded slightly and Aragorn added, "Well, then be off! Or I might change my mind and schedule another meeting of the Fellowship that...no one will attend!" They shared brief, sincere laughter, then the Elf disappeared into the wood.

Legolas made his way back to the talan that he now shared with Ellie since their marriage earlier that day. As he began to climb the winding stairs, he was determined to set things right with her, for she was the one his heart had chosen, the one he loved more than his very life. Long before the first joining of their bodies and the public speaking of their vows, Ellie had belonged to him. Long before Haldir entrusted him with his daughter's keeping--in truth before the Fellowship ever set foot in Lothlorien--she had already belonged to him. Always it would be so, no matter how much Ellie might balk. Or regret. But Legolas did not think she would regret for long. Once he set things right, they would have their wedding night, and the Valar willing, endless nights together.

And yet Legolas had no intentions of giving in to her folly. As her husband and keeper, he was bound to protect her--even if it meant protecting her against her very self. This time he would not falter. He would try to reason with her first, he was willing to cajole if necessary, but if that failed, he meant to impose his will upon her. After all, he was the Prince of Mirkwood. And Ellie was now a Prince's wife. She would yield to him, and she would not regret for long. He would make certain of it.

When he reached the landing, he noticed that the door to their small dwelling was ajar. This puzzled Legolas. Had he not slammed it shut when he left? Had Ellie tried to follow? The Elf stealthily crossed the branch bridge drawing nearer to the entrance while he searched for any clues that something might be amiss. Suddenly, his ears discerned the laughter of many voices and his brow furrowed as he stepped into the open doorway to see...his wedding bower...filled with males of several species! Legolas' mouth fell open in surprise when he saw Ellie in their midst…