Maenon accepted the glass of wine from his King. He was not particularly comfortable with the familiarity or with the idea that his King was serving him, but neither was he about to tell Thranduil to stop. Thranduil had a peculiar way of looking at him, which made even Maenon fall silent.
Maenon was old – old by even Elven standards – and he recognised power when he saw it. Power that could not be resisted, power that nurtured when accepted and destroyed when opposed. For a moment, Maenon almost felt sorry for the little Princess. It was a brief moment, but Maenon had seen through the long years what happened to those who opposed his King. It was not pleasant, and it would be such a waste. The girl had potential – she would make a good Queen – and wife. Already she brought such passion into the Prince's life. To lose that now – yes, waste it would be.
Maenon took a small sip of his wine, his face hardening into its usual ironic smile. If the Princess thought that the Wood-elves were easy targets, then she was a fool. If she thought that she could betray them with impunity, then it was best that Thranduil deal with her. Maenon was certain that whatever he did would be well deserved.
The moment had passed.
*~ I wish you luck in whatever you plot, little Princess, for it will not be enough. ~*
"What do you smile about, Captain?"
"Nothing in particular, my Lord. I was thinking about the Princess."
"What were you thinking about her in general? I would be greatly interested in learning what thoughts bring that exacting smile on your face."
"I was thinking how well you had handled her, my Lord. Giving her the illusion of independence when in truth she has none."
Thranduil raised a sardonic eyebrow as he looked at his Captain, spymaster and many things more. "And how do you know that she needs 'handling'?"
"Would you have me spying on her if she did not?"
"Perhaps I would. Perhaps I would have you watch her just for the sheer spite of it."
"I doubt that, my King. If you watch her, then she needs watching."
"Such confidence in me, Maenon. I would not have thought you capable of such blindness."
"It is not blindness, my Lord. It is an instinct born of experience. I have not seen any of King Oropher's scions do anything for spite and doubt that I ever will."
"And you do not think it is spite to spy on one's own daughter?"
"Not if the daughter is hiding something. And the Princess is, is she not?"
"Yes." Thranduil's face hardened. "And I would know what it is."
"As my Lord commands. It shall be done." Maenon tossed back the rest of the wine in his glass and rose from his seat, only to freeze when Thranduil called his name.
"You will be careful." It was not an expression of concern but one of command. "I know you think her to be young but do not sell her short. She might not have your experience but she has others around her who do. Alone she is dangerous, together they are formidable."
"You speak of the elf who rode with her today."
"The one they call Cothion."
"I do not want him alone with Legolas."
"Should you not be telling Herenion this, my Lord?"
"Herenion already knows. He does not need to be told. But I do not want Legolas to know that I am keeping this Cothion away from him."
Thranduil paused, wondering whether to continue or not. But in the end his less noble impulses won out. "Encourage it that Lady Rhinure and her Heir are left alone as much as possible. Engineer it if you have too. I do not have to tell you that I should be told of whatever they say."
"Of course not, my King."
"And Maenon," Thranduil paused to make sure that the older Elf was giving him his undivided attention. "If Legolas finds out about this, it will not be well for you."
"I understand, my Lord. But I do hope you appreciate that it might be difficult to separate the Prince from the Princess without the Prince's cooperation."
"I appreciate the difficulty, but trust that you will be creative in finding the solution."
x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x
Thranduil twirled the wineglass; not really watching the way the light from the fire hit the red liquid. Lost in his thoughts, replaying the report Maenon had just made, going over each and every line again and then just once more, Thranduil absentmindedly noted the way the red colour stained his hand.
*~ Almost like blood. ~*
Thranduil watched with a morbid fascination as a tilt of the glass painted his entire palm red. In his long and often violent life, it had become a familiar sight – his hand covered in blood – blood of his enemies, willingly spilt for the protection of his people, blood of his friends, bitterly surrendered for the good of his people, blood of his own, readily offered for his Realm, blood of his son, given despite all his struggles. So much and in the end, never enough.
How much more would be spilt before the elves would finally have peace? How much of it would be Avari blood?
Now that Thranduil was alone, he allowed himself the luxury of worrying about his new daughter. Despite all the mistrust and secrecy that still existed between them, Thranduil had genuinely become fond of Rhinure. He was too much his father's son not to feel regret for what he was about to do. Oropher would not have approved of his decision to spy on her. He would not have condoned these lies or let these games of state continue.
No, he would have been courageous and confronted Rhinure. He was have been honest and accepted the consequences, whatever they might have been. He would have had the strength to do what was right instead of what was expedient.
But Thranduil was not Oropher. He lacked the courage and the conviction of his father. Where his father would have blazed through the situation, burning a clear path for his people by the sheer force of his will, Thranduil waited and manipulated. He was not Oropher, who picked up everything and started anew because he would not submit to something he believed was wrong.
Many had thought Oropher lacking in subtlety and the ability to wield power with any finesse. But Thranduil thought his father had always had a greater power – the power to change those around him without giving up what was important. How Thranduil wished he had that skill. Then he would be able to change Rhinure instead of having to force her into the position he needed.
Oropher would be disappointed in his son today. Setting Maenon after Rhinure, as if she was a piece of choice meat to be hunted. Having her watched so that she could be exploited in a moment of weakness. All so that Thranduil would have what he wanted, that elusive piece of information she seemed so determined to hide from him.
*~ I wish you were here, Adar. You won a Kingdom for us. I wish you were here to save it now. ~*
Thranduil set the glass down on the table beside him. He hated what he had to do, but he would see it through. What he did, he did for the good of the Realm, and given no choice he would use ever trick, every ounce of will he had learned in these long years of war to make sure his plans succeeded. The time of the elves was ending, and Thranduil would make sure that it would be a good end for his people.
But still, he did not have to like what he did. He would at least keep faith with those principles of honesty and decency that his father had taught him and deplore what necessity made him do.
Games of state made him scheme, but they could not rob him of his aversion for such games.
*~ I hope that is enough for you, my King – my father. ~*
x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x
From his post in the shadows, Arandur watched Maenon leave Thranduil's rooms. The older elf paused near Arandur and almost sniffed the air like the hound he was – Thranduil's hound – loosed on the King's commands to wreck havoc on his enemies. Arandur had seen what the older elf could do, and it was not a pleasant memory. The Wood-elves had survived not only through strength of arms and courage but also through trickery and conspiracy. Maenon was that mysterious face of the elves, that arm of Thranduil that the King wielded but did not admit to.
And now that hound had been loosed again – Arandur could tell as much from the way Maenon walked. There was a freedom in the Captain's stride, a relish that came from doing what one was best at. The hound hunted this day and his prey was Avari.
Arandur was no spymaster, familiar in the games of intrigue and espionage, but neither was he a fool, too blind to see what was in front of his eyes. Thranduil plotted; as his bodyguard Arandur had seen that look in his King's eyes before. It was accompanied by a stillness that stirred every instinct of danger that Arandur possessed. It was the stillness of the great hunting cat before it brought down its victim.
He had been too distracted by the sight of his brother to have recognised that look, but now, in retrospect, Arandur knew it. Thranduil was planning something, and the targets were his people. Or at the very least, his Mistress.
Maenon's absence from the normal patrols, the time spent alone with Thranduil, his very walk now – all were sure signs that he had been given a task. Thranduil's insistence that Arandur not be present for Maenon's report had confirmed the Captain's suspicion that it had something to do with the Avari.
Thranduil watched the Avari, Arandur was certain of it and he was certain Mistress Rhinure was as well. But to send Maenon after her, if indeed that was what Thranduil had done, was an escalation in the security surrounding her. It was a sign that Thranduil had upped the stakes in this game they played. And he played the game to win, if his confidence was any indication. In not hiding his conference with Maenon from his Captain, Thranduil had thrown down the gauntlet.
Arandur wondered if Mistress was aware of these developments. She had seemed distracted by the Prince today, perhaps she had not noticed that others had been less sincere in their enthusiasm about her return.
If she was not, then should she be told?
As Arandur watched Maenon walk away, seemingly unaware of the Avari's presence, that question revolved round and round in his head.
Should he tell her of what he had seen?
Arandur knew how the conversation would play out. Mistress would note his concerns but she would ask him if he knew anything more concrete than a subject leaving his King's chambers. Arandur would be forced to answer that he did not have any proof, and Mistress would reasonably ask why she should be concerned.
And in the end, the only answer Arandur would be able to make was that this entire incident just felt wrong. It felt important, like a harbinger of change.
Arandur smiled wryly, he could hear Mistress reaction clearly – with all its admonishing intonations. Feelings are not proof, they are not concrete, they are not something to base ones actions on.
Mistress would be obliged to remind him of that, leaving him disgraced in her sight. In Cothion's sight as well.
*~ Cothion. ~*
The Heir would be less benign in his caution. He would not only note Arandur's warning but also see it as evidence of how much his brother had changed in the King's service. How little like an Avari he remained.
At the end of it, Arandur would be asked to provide more concrete evidence. He would be asked to keep an eye on the King and find out what his intentions towards the Avari were. He would be asked to spy on his King, asked to redeem the vows he had sworn to the Avari in betrayal of the vows he had sworn to Thranduil.
He would be asked, and he would be forced to refuse. The weight of those Three Rings outweighed all others, and so he would have to answer – proving to his brother, that he was no Avari, for an Avari would have found a way to do his duty to the Clan.
Not only would Arandur be disgraced, he would be so without any hope of redemption.
Arandur had so ruthlessly suppressed his feelings, that it came as a bit of a shock how much he had been longing to make Cothion proud. Through these long, lonely years the idea had sustained him that one day Cothion would turn to him, clasp him on the shoulder and say,
"Chotay, mujhe tum par naz he." (Little brother, I take pride in you).
So insidious that yearning for that little phrase, for Arandur knew that if he gave what Cothion wanted, he would hear those words. All he had to do was deceive his King. It would not be hard, all Arandur would be doing was repeating whatever he heard or saw.
Would that be so different from going to Mistress in the first place? Would that be so dissimilar to warning his people? He was Avari and in the end, would always remain so. If he used his position as Captain of the Home Guard to help his people, was that not what Cothion had intended him to do in the first place?
Arandur gripped his Blade until his knuckles turned white.
*~ Brother, I cannot do this. ~*
'Do not let emotions lead your actions for they will only lead to ruin.' So the Avari correctly taught.
No matter what Arandur felt, the craving of an exile for his family, he would not be swayed from his duty.
But in ignoring what he felt, he also had no reason to speak to Mistress or Cothion. And he was back where he started – standing guard outside the Elven King's room – alone.
x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x
Though Anor still shone in the sky, there were shadows aplenty for elves to watch unnoticed from. As Arandur watched Maenon walking away, Cothion watched his younger brother.
When the Prince had led Mistress Rhinure away, Cothion had made sure that the rest of the Avari were properly housed. He had noted the quarters given to the Princess' Company, and their close proximity to the Prince's Company's. He had also been intrigued at the solicitude that the Silvan Lieutenant, Faelon, had shown Agorion – insisting on helping the Avari put up his tack and brush his horse.
Cothion would have almost believed that concern to be genuine if he had not seen Faelon look over the tack a little too carefully. The young elf looked for evidence, that much was obvious. What was not so obvious was whether the friendly seeming jibes thrown at Agorion were sincere or not. Faelon seemed to like the Avari, but might not that be as much of an act as well?
Still, the two together had brought a smile on Cothion's face – though he made sure no one else saw it. Youth had a way of getting under one's defences. As he watched the two elves disappear somewhere, Faelon almost dragging his reticent Avari counterpart, Cothion was struck anew by that fact.
Left to his own devices, Cothion had wondered what to do. Mistress would be occupied for sometime to come, for the Prince's demeanour did not indicate that he was about to let his wife go anytime soon. Fair enough, Cothion supposed, but did he have to be so obvious about it all?
With Mistress engaged, Cothion would have to wait to be formally introduced to the formidable looking King. He had had only a glimpse of him before being distracted by his son, but it had been enough for him to be wary of the King. He did not know what Mistress Rhinure thought of him, or even if she did – she was a little too engrossed in the Prince for Cothion to be certain that she was observing her surroundings clearly. He would have to ask, for in the brief glimpse, as their eyes locked over the distance, Cothion saw a feral intelligence that took his breath away.
What an Avari this elf would have made! What potential he still had, despite that the fact that he was a little too obvious in some things. Cothion could read the distrust clearly when Thranduil looked at him. The King did not welcome his presence in the Realm and he was not subtle about it. Perhaps, he did not have to be. With such power, power that had held the Enemy at bay for over three thousand years, subtlety would become unnecessary. With such strength, perhaps the King could afford weakness. For weakness Cothion saw, and it was his son – Legolas.
Something about this elf brought down even the mighty. Cothion did not understand why it should be so, but he recognised danger when he saw it. And this Prince was dangerous though Mistress did not see it. She was like a moth to Legolas' flame – and fire he was, pure and destructive.
And he was the only hope that the Avari had left. For when Thranduil looked at his son and his face softened with love and devotion, Cothion knew that the Avari had made the correct decision. The only way to bind the King was through his son.
But could the son be controlled? Could Mistress bind him to her without losing herself? In this week, Cothion had to answer whether Legolas would be a candle, lighting this dark time or a forest blaze, destroying all in front of it.
But this fire might be directed for Avari use yet. Cothion believed so, with good reason. For as unsettled as Rhinure was, she affected Legolas as well. At least, Mistress had that to her credit. Her husband was fascinated by her, and highly possessive of her. Cothion had noted with great interest, the conversation between Thranduil and Legolas. He had noted the hand on Mistress, the arm gathering her close, the tension in his body when Mistress caressed him. If the tie between them was tighter than Cothion would have liked, it still ensnared both. Better that then no connection at all.
So many variations, so many possibilities that could still change the entire game. Just thinking about it made Cothion's head spin. He did not envy Mistress and even after such a short time in the Woodland Realm, he could once again feel some sympathy for her. One thing was clear, Mistress' position was not to be envied. At least, this journey had given him back that comfort, a private one though it was. Now it remained to be seen whether this trip would give anything else back or not?
Anything like his brother?
Though Cothion told himself that he was just taking a walk, familiarizing himself with Mistress Rhinure's new home, now that he had found Arandur he could not find the strength to walk away. Cothion knew that his baby brother would not be happy to see him, if anything he would be displeased. When Cothion had sent him to Thranduil, he had done so with the full knowledge that he was destroying the life Arandur had built for himself.
But what choice did he have? Barion's death had ripped through the Clan, leaving the Avari bitter and even more mistrustful of the Wood-elves. Many had openly questioned the wisdom of maintaining ties with such elves. When the Sacrifice, Sarniel, had slowly and with agonizing nakedness succumbed to her grief, the Clan floundered rudderless.
Cothion found himself put in a position he had been trained for but never wanted to fill. Till the Trial, he was responsible for the Avari. It would not be long before Rhinure would take that burden away from him, but even that short time was enough to show him that he never wanted to be Sacrifice. Which was most unfortunate since he was next in line, should anything happen to Rhinure. And here he was trying to ascertain if something should happen to her or not?
Sometimes, Cothion wondered about his own sanity.
And more often, he wondered if given his life to live again, he would make the same mistakes over again?
Looking at his brother, going over those familiar features that he had not seen in almost 1500 years, he wondered whether given another chance at life he would have the courage to make those painful but needed decisions again.
Arandur had been, and still was, the only elf that Cothion had trusted unconditionally. He also knew that his brother would do what he asked, without having to be asked, since that trust was reciprocal – or once had been. Cothion knew that he did not have to speak the words to make Arandur obey, and he had used that fact ruthlessly. No Avari would have given over their lives to duty – obedience did not have such a claim. The Two oaths could not be used to force the Third. And the Third had been necessary to serve Thranduil. The King demanded nothing but complete service, nothing less than the life of the Avari who served him.
Barion had sworn that oath, because Sarniel has asked it of him. That sort of devotion, which transcended the wisdom of convention, was not often found. Sacrifices had it, but with Barion's death, Cothion despaired of finding it in time. Plus, that devotion must be combined with a rationality that such madness often precluded. Cothion had been sure that he would never find anyone suitable and Thranduil would ask the Avari to leave. That is, until he looked at his brother and realised that Arandur was perfect – he would do anything for his brother and he was sensible enough to hate the fact that his brother used him. That hate would protect him, keep him safe and whole. Keep him from feeling his exile or at least, feeling it too much.
And so it had been Arandur who had left for the Woodland Realm to replace Barion – and Cothion had never seen him again.
Arandur had not changed much, his face was unlined and blank, his back was as straight as ever. Except now it was not pride that kept it erect, but steel placed by experience. No, his little brother had not changed much, except that today he was Avari.
As Cothion stepped out of the shadows to face Arandur and found that very same steel in those unforgiving black eyes, he realised that his brother was more Avari than Cothion could have hoped for.
*~ I cannot do this. I am not ready ~*
x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x
Even for elves, who watched cities rise brick by little brick only to fall again, who watched great mountains fall and whither into dust, there was some comfort in knowing that some things never changed. Or at the very least, never changed for them. For Arandur, that thing had always been his brother – that unchanging, unforgiving constant in his life, which, by its presence alone, brought security and normalcy with it.
Therefore, it was surprising for the Avari Captain that he did not sense Cothion's presence immediately. One tended to notice when something large, so unmoving loomed, so why did he not know that his brother stood so near? Something that dangerous should have alerted his senses.
Or perhaps it was that even after such a betrayal and long separation, Cothion still knew how to fool him?
Cothion was Commander and Avari. If he wanted to remain hidden and unnoticed, then Arandur supposed that he would. Still, the Captain did not have to like the ease with which his brother managed to sneak up behind him.
"Are you going to speak to me, chotay? Or will I have to wait even longer?" (Little one)
Arandur restrained himself from shuddering at that endearment. It had been so long, almost an entire Age, that he had heard that word and from Cothion's lips no less. When he had left Tirnen for the Woodland Realm, he had resigned himself to the fact that he would not hear the sweet rhythms of his language spoken by his people. Rhinure's arrival had eased some of that ache, but still, it was not the same.
And now Cothion was here, speaking to him as if nothing had changed, calling him by names he no longer had the right to use. Names which brought up a childish petulance that Arandur had thought he had put aside.
*~ It was not fair. ~*
When Arandur was more rational he knew he would be amused by his thoughts, but now anger simmered in his veins, heating him and giving him the courage to reply instead of breaking down in front of his Commander. "What would you have me say, my Lord?"
Cothion raised an eyebrow but did not comment on Arandur's use of the title. It seemed as if his brother had not forgiven him. But then, it was as he had expected. He had told Rhinure as much but this time he took no pleasure in being correct. "Have you no words of welcome for your brother?"
There, he had said it. He had insinuated a relationship with the younger elf, coming as close as he dared to begging. If Arandur so chose, the rift between them would be sealed. All he had to do was acknowledge him as family.
And Arandur knew it.
"I have no brother, Commander. You, of all people, should know that."
"You have not come to accept what I did, have you?"
"Accept perhaps. But not forgiven."
"I will not ask for forgiveness."
"I did not expect that you would," Arandur said a little sadly.
"Then, the question remains – what would you have me say, my Lord?"
There was really nothing more to be said, but Cothion did not want to leave just yet. "Will you introduce me to the King?"
"It is not my place to do so, my Lord. You will have to wait for Mistress to do that. After all, you are her Heir."
*~ And the reason why I am here. ~*
Both heard that unspoken thought as clearly as if Arandur had yelled it out. But Cothion could not change what he had done, even if he wanted to – which was something he would have to debate with himself later.
Arandur remained silent, hoping against all sense, that Cothion would remain just a little longer. He almost wished that he had offered to take him to the King. Thranduil would have understood if he had brought the Avari Commander to meet him. He might even appreciate it – Arandur had not been that shaken that he did not notice the King's interest in his brother.
"One last thing, Captain. Who was the elf who just left the King's chambers?"
It was fortunate that Arandur had not spoken further, or offered to take Cothion to the King. The older elf's tone was a little too speculative for the Captain's liking. It seemed as if the Commander had finally decided to put aside the pleasantries since they were getting him nowhere. This was the elf Arandur knew so well, the gleam in his eyes as he looked in the direction Maenon had gone, was so familiar that his chest tightened painfully and made him wary all at the same time.
"What would you do with his name?"
Cothion turned back to his brother. "The fact that you do not answer makes me think that he is someone important."
"He is important in that he is one of Mirkwood's Captains. No more, no less," Arandur answered a little hastily.
Cothion crossed his arms. "His name?"
Arandur had grown up hearing that tone of command and obedience was too ingrained in him to disobey Cothion now. Before he knew it, he heard himself say, "Maenon."
Cothion titled his head in thanks. So this was Maenon – Cothion had heard of the elf from Agorion. Nothing definite, more rumours than anything else – but all spoke of the secrecy surrounding the old elf. No one really knew what this elf did but all said that he did something for the king. Something beyond his normal duties as Captain of one of the patrols. Cothion had dealt with spymasters for too long not to recognise the nebulous cover of one. This Maenon was a spy, Cothion would wager his life and honour on that.
Which would lead to the next question – what did Thranduil want with him at this point in time?
"Why did the King want to see him?" Arandur immediately stiffened and Cothion realised that he probably should not have asked his brother such a question. Arandur might have been his brother – once – but he was also Thranduil's Captain. Cothion glanced down at the three rings on Arandur's karha – he should have remembered.
"That is the King's business. What he does with one of his subjects is none of your concern, Commander," Arandur said coldly.
Cothion bowed his head slightly, acknowledging the merit in the remark as well as the caution that he would get nothing from Arandur. Would he tell Mistress Rhinure what he knew about Thranduil's plans? Maybe. He still owed Mistress allegiance even if there was no such bond between the two elves.
As he walked away, leaving Arandur at his post, he wondered if Thranduil knew of Arandur's dilemma and whether in some way this entire situation was a test? The King could have met his spymaster at a more opportune time, when the Captain was not around. It would not have put the Avari in such a compromising position. For if Thranduil was plotting something against the Clan, and Cothion would not put it past him, then duty obligated Arandur to inform Mistress. However, duty also forced him to be true to his King.
It was not an enviable position and one that could have been easily avoided. Cothion knew instinctively that Thranduil was too intelligent not to have accounted for Arandur's presence outside his door. Which only meant that the King not only tested the Avari he also tested his Captain? Would he uphold his oaths? And which oaths would those be? Avari or Eldar?
Cothion was not certain which Arandur would choose. He was not even sure if he knew which he wanted Arandur to choose. He knew he was more proud of his brother when he had refused to answer than ever before. Even more than when he first chose to come to serve the King. Even more than when he had first taken up a Blade and proved that he was Avari.
But Cothion also knew that when it came down to it, the Clan came before everything else. Would Arandur realise that in time?
Either way, Cothion knew that he had to warn Mistress. This King was dangerous.
Cothion walked on, wondering if this trip would prove to be worth the trouble it was already turning out to be.
x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x
When Legolas regained awareness, he found that Anor was starting to set and soon it would be time for the feast. Legolas buried his face in his pillow; he was not looking forward to this. It was not that he did not find such gatherings amusing, after a fashion – watching the gaiety, sometimes forced, sometime beautifully genuine, had its own entertainment value, and Legolas had the ability to relax even in such circumstances and enjoy the evening with grace and dignity. It helped that he enjoyed dancing and, like his father, had a fine eye for the ladies. It was expected that the Prince paid court to the ellyth at these functions; in fact, the ellyth would be most put out if he did not.
But now, it was different. Legolas had no interest in making small talk or playing charming host to a host of giggling ellyth. He had doubts whether he would be able to wring any enjoyment out of this evening, if only because all he wanted was a quiet dinner with his wife, to hold her close in his arms and then make love to her through the night. How he wanted that! Even now, remembering their reunion, Legolas felt a familiar ache rise in him. Perhaps it was due to their long separation – a whole month, a prodigious amount indeed for newlyweds – or perhaps it was the uninhibited pleasure Rhinure took from his touch, or perhaps it was the delight Legolas took from making her lose control.
She was magnificent as she writhed under him, hands clutching at his shoulders, pulling him to her, demanding what he so willingly gave. The softness of her mouth against his, the silken touch of her skin next to his, the delicate caress of her hair clinging to him. Yes, she was magnificent.
And he wanted her – now, while they had time, just once more before they had to rejoin the rest of the world.
Face still resting on his pillow Legolas put out his arm to draw Rhinure to him, only to find that the bed next to him was empty. Alarmed, Legolas raised himself onto his forearms to look at where Rhinure should have been, but was not.
*~ Please, Rhinure, not again. ~*
The sheets were cold, indicating that Rhinure had been away from the bed for some time. Legolas knew that he had could not have been asleep for long, which meant that she had not slept at all. She must have waited for him to fall asleep before leaving.
Legolas felt his chest contract. She had left him again, despite all that she had promised, despite all that they had just shared. It seemed as if nothing had really changed between them. All Legolas' hopes had just been that – hopes and not reality.
Rhinure whirled around when she heard a low cry from the bed. The sound scraped her sensitive hearing, all elves no matter who they were recognised pain when they heard it and Rhinure had grown up with pain around her. She knew that sound like the beating of her heart. Legolas was in pain.
"Are you well, my Lord?"
Legolas stiffened at the low, obviously concerned question. He did not have to turn around to know that Rhinure stood at the balcony. She had probably been there all along. Relief mixed with the anger still coursing through him, leaving him wanting to shout at her and haul her back to bed – preferably at the same time. Both reactions were unacceptable and he knew it. He would never allow himself to behave so crassly, so uncaring of her station and his. Until he found a more satisfactory method of dealing with her, one that preserved his dignity but still managed to convey his disappointment – only disappointment, nothing more – he would take the safest alternative. He would wait and do nothing.
Rhinure grew concerned at Legolas' silence. This was not like him at all. He was generally such a gracious and voluble person – no matter how unsuitable the occasion. Why then did he rebuff her question now?
In the face of the growing silence, Rhinure decided to do something she had done on only scant occasions – she repeated her question. "My Lord, are you ill?"
Rhinure watched as Legolas studiously avoided answering her question. Worried, she moved away from the window she had been looking out of, coming to stand near his averted head. Why did he not look at her? What had she done wrong?
Rhinure studied her husband's profile, clear enough even in this dying light. With his gaze determinedly fixed on the centre of room, away from where she stood, she took the liberty to study him, something she would not have done if he had been looking at her. Even with the faint frown on his lips and the displeasure on his face, Rhinure could not stop her heart speeding up as she took in his fair hair falling over one shoulder, muscled arms by his sides, hands resting palm-down on the sheets – he was beautiful there was no doubt of it, but that was not the reason why she was anxious. Others may not have seen beyond his beauty, mistaking his stillness for serenity, but she saw the faint quivering in his muscles as he kept his arms absolutely still and the white shade of his knuckles as he pressed his palms into the sheets.
Rhinure frowned, not knowing what she had done wrong but wanting to make amends for it. She crouched next to him, so close that her breath stroked his arm, causing Legolas to close his eyes momentarily, but not enough to make him turn his head.
She had not slept next to him, leaving the bed as soon as their lovemaking finished. It was not like the last time but too similar for Legolas not to feel slighted. Once she had what she had so obviously wanted, she left him at the first opportunity, denying him the comfort that was as much a part of making love as the physical release. Legolas admitted that he was not being particularly rational or particularly considerate, after all she was still here in his room, unlike last time, but he was tired of being the one to understand, the one to compromise. Now, he wanted Rhinure to bow to his wishes and just … give in.
But he would not make her.
Rhinure placed her palms on the side on the bed, crouching next to him, hoping that he would finally look at her, but he did not. She bent forward and lightly kissed his bicep, working her way up to his shoulder – until she was on her knees.
"Legolas – please." Rhinure did not know what exactly she was pleading for, but a plea it was.
For all of Legolas' fine thoughts and firm resolve, he was disgusted to find that all Rhinure had to do was speak his name in that tone of voice and he just crumbled. He wondered if she did it deliberately – probably.
Finally turning to look at her, ready to reprimand her for not respecting him enough to hold to her promise, Legolas found that Rhinure was able to make more than his resolution totter, she was able to rob him of his very words. Looking at the kneeling elleth next to him, wrapped up in a borrowed robe – his, from the looks of it – Legolas decided that reprimands could wait a little longer. At this very moment, Legolas was more concerned with just staring at his wife, something that he had not been able to do since they had moved on to the bedchamber and more distracting activities had held his attention.
His robe was too big for her, Legolas noticed irrelevantly, not sure why that observation mattered except that his mind did not seem to be moving past it. Or it could be the observation that she did not seem to be wearing anything under it that distracted him. The robe had slipped off one of her shoulders, showing soft, white skin he wanted to sink his teeth into. From the angle she was leaning at, he could see an enticing amount of her cleavage, making him groan again.
Rhinure rested her chin on his arm, looking up at him, presenting him with an unintentional and false picture of submission. "Tell me what is wrong, my Lord."
Legolas looked at her for a minute longer before sweeping her into his arms. He settled her onto his lap, one arm holding her to him and the other caressing her sensitive ears, making her shudder with pleasure.
"You were too far away," Legolas whispered plaintively, burying his face in her hair.
"Then hold me close," Rhinure said softly, tilting her head back so that he could kiss her.
And kiss her he did, pulling her up so close that she was crushed against his chest, holding her enclosed in his arms as he temporarily set his hurt aside for the relief that his wife could provide. He kissed her until both were dizzy from arousal and lack of air and even then he broke it off with reluctance.
Reluctance that Rhinure shared. Even though Legolas was not kissing her anymore, and his arms afforded only token restraint she made no move to pull away from him. Instead, she placed her head over his heart, content to rest there for a moment as she caught her breath and sorted out her befuddled thoughts. She still did not understand why Legolas had been so reticent, but at least whatever she had done had not been that dire. He would not kiss her so ardently if it were. Would he?
Once she was calm enough to talk, she asked, "Am I still too far away, my Lord?"
*~ Yes. ~*
Legolas shook his head and smiled at his wife, still cradled in his arms like a child, but there must have been something unconvincing in it because she frowned.
"You are not pleased with me?"
Legolas raised an eyebrow at the question, surprised and not a little mocking at the obviousness of the question. He did not answer, letting the silence linger until she was forced to ask, "Why?"
"You broke your word," Legolas replied, looking significantly at the empty space beside him.
Rhinure stiffened at the accusation and answered more heatedly than she would have liked or thought appropriate, "I did not leave. I am still here, as you can see, my Lord."
"You did not come to bed, my Lady."
"Where do you think I am at the moment?" This time Rhinure looked at meaningfully at the arms still holding her close. Neither had moved away from the other – yet.
"Did you get any sleep, my Lady?" Legolas asked pointedly, ignoring her question for one of his own.
"No," Rhinure answered reluctantly.
"Did you leave my bed as soon as I feel asleep?"
"Did you intend to leave even when we were making love?"
"Then you broke your word."
"I most certainly did not! You made me promise that I would not leave without telling you. I did not leave. I was by the balcony, instead of resting in my own chambers. My promise did not concern my sharing your bed or not."
Legolas' lips thinned in displeasure as he countered, "A wife is duty bound to share her husband's bed."
Perhaps those were not the right words to use, for Rhinure went absolutely still and slightly pale. She tried to move out of the circle of his arms but he would not let her. After a minute of futile resistance, she gave up, lying rigidly across his lap.
Finally – "That is your definition of my duty – not mine. I am not obliged to share anyone's bed unless I choose to."
"You did not seem to complain earlier."
"Which I am now regretting," Rhinure shot back.
Legolas' eyes glittered dangerously and she knew she had gone too far. His hands slipped inside her robe, stroking her skin with a sensuousness belied by the meaning in his eyes. Rhinure could not help the way she arched into his touch, giving him easier access to her, making a farce of her supposed unwillingness.
Legolas watched Rhinure's flushed face and ruthlessly crushed his inclination to forgive her words if only she would always look at him like she was right now, with a passion mingled with vulnerability that was breathtaking.
Legolas smiled in triumph when she moaned, his wicked fingers making her writhe with desire.
That soft word slammed into Rhinure with almost physical violence, shattering the haze Legolas had induced, leaving her trembling and ashamed. This is what happened others had power over you – you got hurt.
"Let me go, my Lord."
Legolas paused his exploration to say, "You do not mean that. You enjoy this as much as I do."
Rhinure caught one of his wrists before he could move. Her grip was tight and when Legolas tried to free his wrist, she tightened it even further until it became painful. "I do not enjoy it at this moment."
The words were so cold that Legolas knew that he had succeeded in illustrating how much she desired him, and how little resistance she had against his advances. He had also managed to humiliate her in the process. That had not been his intent, he had just wanted to … Legolas frowned when he realised he was not sure what he wanted to do, just make her understand some measure of the hurt her words and actions had caused him. Somehow that original purpose had gotten lost and all he had managed to do was hurt her in petty retaliation.
In wretched defeat, Legolas removed his arms form her, not surprised when she quickly put some distance between them. But she did not leave the bed, only shifting to the edge, giving him hope that she would forgive him yet.
"Do I have your permission to retire, my Lord?"
Or maybe not. Legolas winced at the frigid tone Rhinure used. He moved forward until he was close enough to touch her, even though he was careful not to. The stiff set of her shoulders told him it would not be a good idea to even attempt as much.
Rhinure waited for the inevitable apologies and meaningless words that Legolas would now spout – none changing the injury he had caused her. She would leave as soon as he gave her permission, waiting only because she did not want to be accused again of not doing her duty and obeying her husband.
"Rhinure," Legolas leant forward until he was whispering in her ear, "stay."
Rhinure shook her head, causing some her hair to brush his arm, which was placed ever so close to her back, ready to stop her if she moved off the bed. But she did not; instead she glanced at Legolas from the corner of her eyes. "Is that an order, my Lord?"
"No that is a plea."
Those few, simple words spoken were enough to make Rhinure reconsider her decision to leave. She was appalled to realise that perhaps Cothion had been correct when he had said that the Prince had too much power over her and that she was incapable of maintaining the proper distance from him. Even though she knew she wanted some time to herself, privacy in which to prepare for the feast tonight, she could not make herself ignore Legolas' request. She was not comfortable remaining but neither was she able to leave now that he had asked her not to.
Legolas taking her silence as hesitation, pressed his suit , "Do not leave, hervess nín. Stay with me." (My wife)
Slowly, giving Rhinure enough time and warning to pull away, he gently lifted her hair away, leaving her neck exposed. Then tenderly he kissed her nape, only lightly brushing her skin with his mouth. "Let me make amends."
Rhinure shut her eyes, even that light touch was unbearable. "How so, my Lord? By using my own body against me?"
Legolas stopped, giving her enough time to move even further away, feet now resting on the ground.
"I would not do that intentionally. You must believe that."
"And unintentionally?" Rhinure asked, still not turning around.
Legolas sighed, "I cannot promise that, my Lady."
The sheer honesty of the words gave Rhinure pause. The question had been unfair and she knew it, no one could prevent accidents from happening and it was all too easy for Legolas to use her since she could not deny him in the first place. But she had needed to know how Legolas would answer, whether he would have lied to her to make her stay or whether he would be sincere even if it meant that she would leave.
"But I will promise that I would never willingly try to hurt or humiliate you." Legolas watched Rhinure's back, wondering what she was thinking. Perhaps one day, when the bond between them was stronger he would be able to gauge the mood behind that mask of hers, but now watching her cool profile he was ignorant as to whether she had forgiven him or not.
"Do you believe me, Rhinure?"
Rhinure finally turned to him, crawling back to where he lay. "I think so."
Legolas smiled up at her, "What can I do to convince you?"
Rhinure smiled back, making his heart skip a beat. "Give me time, my Lord," she said softly, hoping to put their problems on hold for the moment. Legolas nodded, wanting to reach out for her but still not daring to.
Rhinure kissed him lightly on the cheek and slipped off the bed, heading for her room.
"Will you not stay?"
"I cannot. I need to get some rest before the feast tonight."
"You can rest here."
"And will you let me rest?" Rhinure asked archly, deflecting the statement with humour. She did not want to explain that she was just not comfortable with the idea of sleeping with him. Even when making love she retained some measure of awareness – precious little, but enough to know that she had some control over what happened. To sleep in his bed, be that vulnerable, required her to give up too much power. It was a trust that she was not willing to surrender – not even to her beautiful husband.
"Probably not," Legolas grinned sheepishly.
"Then it best I go to my own room."
Rhinure paused at the balcony that led to her own room, waiting to hear what Legolas had to say.
"Why did you wear my robe?"
"Because it smells like you."
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