Chapter Sixteen – Epilogue
Legolas surveyed the hall with satisfaction. It was all but empty now, save for a few servants placing the final touches to one of the tables. A group of musicians stood in one corner, inspecting their instruments and talking softly – presumably discussing the evening's entertainment. Tantalising aromas drifted into the great hall – spices, roasting meats, freshly baked bread. Candles flickered gently on the tables, and light flared from torches placed along the walls.
The hall was rarely dressed like this – usually only at mid-winter. The mid-summer festival, perhaps Lasgalen's greatest celebration, was always held outside in the forest beneath the sky and stars; and the weekly feasts were nothing like as grand as this. Tonight, though, in recognition of Elrond's departure, Thranduil and Legolas had decided to honour him and his family with high ceremony, in gratitude for everything they had done during their much-extended visit.
Tonight, the hall was decorated in shades of green, pale blue, and yellow – the colours of springtime. Tapestries hanging from the walls depicted woodland glades; the trees blushed with the pale green of new growth, the forest floor beneath carpeted with a haze of bluebells, primroses or celandines. Legolas had collected similar woodland flowers earlier that day for his father's springtime crown, and for the smaller circlet of flowers he himself would wear.
As well as the feasting and ceremony, there would be dancing – some stately and formal, some reserved strictly for married or betrothed couples. There would be chain dances, where partners changed with dizzying speed. Other dances would be even wilder and livelier, more a test of endurance than grace, and a matter of who could keep their feet the longest
With a final glance at the hall, Legolas turned. All was ready. Now he merely needed to ready himself.
During the course of the meal the musicians played quietly, and a minstrel sang songs and ancient lays of legends and heroes. Then, to lighten to mood for dancing, the tone changed, and others sang fantastical tales of daring and errantry, and songs of humour and sly wit.
As the feast ended, tables and benches were pushed back against the walls of the hall, leaving room for sitting, and room for dancing.
Tradition demanded that Thranduil himself should lead the first dance. With the familiar pang in his heart that it was not Telparian at his side, he bowed to Celebrían, and extended his arm to her. "Lady Celebrían, may I have the pleasure of this dance?" he asked very formally.
Her eyes sparkling with mirth, she rose, inclining her head graciously. "It would be my honour, your majesty."
Thranduil glanced to her side. "Elrond, may I borrow your wife?"
Elrond waved a hand dismissively. "Of course."
As they began the first measures of the dance, Thranduil looked around his hall. Events like this were a useful indication of the state of affairs in his realm; the small, personal interests and relationships that official reports neglected – matters that Telparian had always kept him informed about before. Watching the shifting patterns of dancers, he could see who was courting who; could observe fluctuating friendship groups; and by listening to snippets of conversation here and there could tell the small, day-to-day worries and concerns that never usually reached his ears. He saw one of Elrond's sons – it had to be Elrohir – dancing with Taniquel. Then his gaze strayed to where Legolas stood facing Arwen. Arwen looked up, laughing as she said something, her eyes bright with happiness. Legolas smiled as he glanced down, murmuring something in reply. Thranduil nudged Celebrían. "Look," he nodded.
She glanced towards them, then looked away quickly. "Good," she murmured. "If they find themselves growing closer without any influence from us, so much the better."
Thranduil nodded in agreement. Watching Legolas and Arwen, he was suddenly struck by his son's maturity. He was no longer a child. He had faced the trials of the last few weeks with a courage and determination that would put many older, more experienced elves to shame. He felt an immense pride in Legolas, and harboured a fierce hope that his son could find the same sort of happiness and joy with Arwen that he himself had found with Telparian – without ever experiencing the terrible grief of loss.
Legolas glanced his way, and Thranduil turned quickly. He did not wish to intrude. But then, as the dance wound to a close, and the dancers bowed or curtsied to each other, applauding the musicians, he saw Legolas move away with Arwen, a hand placed lightly on her waist.
They sat at a small, quiet table, and Legolas poured two goblets of wine. Arwen turned towards him, murmuring something, and Legolas leaned closer, his head bent towards her. Thranduil tried not to watch the intense conversation – they deserved privacy in this first, intimate stage of their courtship – but it was hard. And then Legolas moved closer still, lowering his head towards Arwen's upturned face as they exchanged a first, gentle kiss.
Thranduil looked swiftly away, catching Celebrían's eye briefly. Her small, fierce smile of joy matched his own. Then Legolas and Arwen broke apart quickly as first Elladan, then Elrohir joined them, and the moment was gone.
As a matter of courtesy, Legolas turned to Arwen for the first dance. As the daughter of their guests, it was his duty to escort her – but it was no penance, he always enjoyed time spent with her. During the visit to Lasgalen she had become a very dear friend, and more than ever like a sister to him.
The floor was crowded with couples for this first dance. Thranduil swirled past with Celebrían, while Elrohir danced – predictably – with Taniquel. As Legolas linked his arm through Arwen's and swung her around, he glanced at her flushed, laughing face, and smiled. "Having fun?" he asked with a grin.
She nodded, pushing a strand of hair back from her face. "Oh, yes! Thank you – you and your father – for arranging this. It will be a wonderful memory to take home."
Feeling sharp eyes on him, he turned, but there was no-one behind him apart from his father, deep in conversation with Celebrían as they danced. With a shrug, he turned back to Arwen. "I will miss you when you leave – all of you. Especially you and Ellahir."
Arwen giggled. "I like it when you call them Ellahir. I know they get so fed up when people keep getting their names mixed up – even mother and father get it wrong sometimes, though I think that is just absent-mindedness. Ellahir is a good compromise."
"And you? Do you ever get them confused?"
She shook her head. "No. Never. They just …" – she hesitated – "they just feel different. I can't explain it any better than that.
Legolas turned as he felt eyes watching him again, but again there was no-one there. The first dance ended, and the music became livelier; the dancing more energetic. At last, when the musicians played a final chord – to applause and laughter – he guided Arwen to a small table and poured them both some wine. The dancing had been fast and vigorous, and he was thirsty. The circlet of spring flowers he wore had slipped, and he removed it carefully, placing it on the table at his side.
"Legolas?" Arwen murmured. "Why does your father, and my mother, keep looking this way? I've been watching. They've been doing it all evening."
He watched from the corner of his eye. Sure enough, every time he said anything to Arwen, they both came under intense scrutiny. Yet when he glanced in Thranduil's direction, his father appeared absorbed in something else. His mind ranged back over the conversation he had had with his father the previous day, and Thranduil's odd exclamation, 'Good,' when he had mentioned his friendship with Arwen. "Oh, no," he breathed.
"Oh no?" Arwen repeated. "Why? What is wrong?"
"Do you remember the conversation we had at the last feast? About the sort of maiden my father would ideally wish me to bond with?"
She nodded, with a faintly puzzled expression. "Yes. Someone from Lórien, or Imladris, because of alliances …" she broke off suddenly, staring at Legolas in disbelief. "You can't be serious!" she exclaimed.
"No, but I think they are," he admitted, with a nod towards their parents. He moved a little closer to Arwen, watching his father from the corner of his eye. To his amusement, Thranduil looked immensely pleased with himself.
Legolas sighed. "Very well. Now watch," he instructed. "Tell me what happens." He leaned very close, his face an inch from hers. "Now what?" he breathed into her ear.
"They are looking – and smiling!" she hissed in indignation.
Legolas slid another sideways glance in their direction. His father wore an expression that could only be described as smug. He groaned. "So what do we do now?" he whispered.
Arwen considered. "Well," she began slowly, a grin spreading across her face. "Why not play their game?"
Legolas matched her smile. "Let them think their plan is working? Yes. It will give us both a respite from the attentions of ambitious parents – especially our own!" He grimaced. "We will have to tell Elladan and Elrohir, though. Your brothers will tear me limb from limb if they think I am playing with your affections!"
Arwen gave a most unladylike snort. "They think I need protecting. They would soon realise the truth, anyway – they know us both too well! But yes, we tell them – I think my brothers will enjoy this game as well."
She looked up with a smile as Elladan appeared suddenly from the throng. "Tell us what, little sister?" he asked as he perched, cat-like, on the edge of the table. "What game?"
"Wait for Elrohir," Arwen said firmly. "We do not want to have to explain this twice. Where is he?"
Elladan nodded towards the dancers. "Need you ask? He's doing it again."
They watched in amusement as the chains of dancers met, swung each other around arm-in-arm, then side-stepped to greet a new partner. Elrohir still partnered Taniquel. With an adroit step sideways and backwards, they stayed together, while their potential partners found themselves dancing together, without even realising anything was amiss.
"He does it very subtly," Legolas commented. "Is he serious about her?"
Elladan regarded his twin. "More serious that he realises, I think," he said at last, rather slowly. "There are small things I have noticed. Usually, when he thinks he is in love, he writes terrible poetry. But not now. And he usually talks non-stop about his latest conquest – but not now. El insists that Taniquel is just a friend – but I wonder. There is another thing, too – she always calls me Elladan."
"Well? It is your name," Legolas reminded him.
Elladan sighed. "Yes, but what I mean is that she knows I am not Elrohir. She can tell us apart. Even people at home, who have known us all our lives, cannot always do that!" He gave a shrug. "But tomorrow we go back home – who knows what will happen then? We shall see. I think he will miss her, though."
As the dance ended, Elrohir drew Taniquel to him, gave her a light kiss on the cheek, and finally released her to return to his brother and sister.
"Legolas and Arwen have something to tell us, little brother," Elladan began. "But they are being very secretive.
"Well?" Elrohir demanded.
Legolas hesitated. This was going to be rather more difficult than he realised. "Well," he began. "My father – and your parents – seem to think it would be a good idea if – if – that is, if …"
"They think it would be a good idea if Legolas and I were betrothed!" Arwen stated bluntly.
"You?" echoed Elladan.
"And Legolas?" Elrohir added.
Inevitably, the next word was spoken simultaneously. "Bethrothed?" they asked.
Arwen kicked Elrohir, who was nearest. "Oh, stop it!" she snapped in exasperation. "It's not funny!"
The twins exchanged a glance that showed they thought otherwise.
"What did you say when they announced this?" Elrohir asked.
"Oh, they have not announced it – not to us," Legolas explained. "But there have been comments made, and sly hints, and knowing looks. And from their point of view, it makes perfect sense."
Elladan nodded sagely. "It does make sense – apart from one thing they seem to have overlooked. You do not love one another." Then he looked startled. "Do you?" he questioned warily.
Legolas shook his head. "Not like that. However, we have a plan."
"We are going to let them think that their match-making is working," Arwen explained. "That way, Legolas and I will both be free from unwanted attentions from anyone else."
"You are going to tell mother and father that you are – shall we say 'interested' – in Legolas?" Elrohir asked incredulously.
Arwen shook her head quickly. "I am not going to tell them anything! Certainly nothing untrue. Neither is Legolas. But," – she paused for emphasis – "if they are already thinking in that direction - and they make assumptions – or they jump to certain conclusions - it will not be our fault!"
Elladan nodded again. "Very subtle and cunning," he said approvingly. "An excellent idea."
Legolas picked up the discarded circlet of flowers, carefully untangling one of the blooms from the weave. "So if you see a few romantic gestures," he began, offering the flower to Arwen, then tucking it into her hair, "it means nothing. It is just an act."
Elrohir glanced around the hall, and grinned. "A most convincing one," he observed. "I think you have just broken several hearts. Speaking of which …"
"If you ever hurt Arwen through this 'game' …" Elladan told him,
"You will answer to us," Elrohir finished. He smiled, but there was an underlying hint of steel in his voice.
Legolas glanced at them both. He had forgotten quite how protective the twins could be of their sister; or indeed anyone they loved. Just for a second, he saw not the friends he had known for so long, but the fierce and formidable warriors they would one day become, guardians of the borders of Imladris. "I will never hurt her," he vowed fervently. "You know that. You have my word – but who will protect me from her?" he added with a grin.
"A good point," Elladan agreed. "Arwen? Be nice to him."
"I will try," she assured them sweetly.
At dawn the next day, Elrond's party left Lasgalen. Many elves had gathered to bid them farewell, and the forest rang with voices, laughter and the stamping of restless horses, drowning out the early morning birdsong.
Legolas noticed Elrohir standing beneath one of the beeches, bidding a lingering farewell to Taniquel. He recalled Elladan's words the night before, and wondered again if anything would ever come of their friendship. He could not imagine that Elrohir would never leave Imladris – or Elladan – but would Taniquel one day leave Lasgalen to be with Elrohir? Somehow, she seemed too deeply rooted to the forest.
For the sake of appearances, he drew Arwen to one side. "Are you quite sure about this?" he asked softly. "Do you want to continue with this pretence? If you want to stop, just say."
"We are neither of us bound by anything," she pointed out. "And until you, or I, decide otherwise, this will work well enough. I will write to you, as well."
"Love letters?" Legolas asked, recalling her brothers' first visit to Lasgalen. "Scented love letters, like the one Athela sent to Elrohir once?"
Arwen laughed. "That might seem a little … excessive. Scented letters are not like either of us – I think our parents would begin to suspect something."
"That they are being misled? You could be right. Though my father would be far too discreet to ask outright what is in the letters. But yes, please write. It is true what I told him the other day – I will miss you." His gaze swept the glade before the main gate. Elrond and Celebrían were already astride their horses, the last of the baggage had been loaded, and the rest of the company was waiting for them. "I will miss all of you," he added.
Legolas took Arwen's hand as she mounted, then stepped back. "Farewell!" he called. "May we meet again soon." He bowed, hand on heart, then raised one hand in a final farewell as the party rode beneath the trees.
Watching their departure, he reflected on the visit by Elrond and his family. It had been a most eventful time – the storm at Esgaroth, the collapse of the caves and his long recovery, the discoveries he had made about himself – and now his 'courtship' of Arwen. He smiled, wondering what the reactions would be when others eventually learned the truth of that.
When the last of the horses had vanished, Legolas turned back towards the doors of Lasgalen. Behind him, the silence surged softly backward when the plunging hooves were gone.