Chapter 11

After meeting with Galadriel, Athelas went to her bed with hope blossoming within her. She felt secure in herself, her mind and heart in agreement. Her fatigued body cried out for sleep that she was more than willing to give.

Legolas spent the night in quiet contemplation. After holding his tunic for a few moments, he sighed and packed it away with his belongings. Silently he dressed for travel, arranged his things and placed the package containing his father's gift on top of his pack. Finished, he climbed into the tree and sat near the top, looking at the stars and thinking.

Aragorn did not sleep at all. He spent the night smoking, pledging with each puff to never allow Arwen to send him off on such a fool's errand again. He listened for Legolas, who never made a sound, and waited for the dawn.

When Athelas awoke, she was surprised to see how high the sun was. For an instant she thought she might have overslept, and then laughed at herself. She dressed with care, brushed out her long black hair, but neglected to put it up. She smiled, as she pushed it behind her shoulders, knowing that this was how he liked it best. A throbbing in her foot told her she had overreached herself the night before, but it had been fun. And today, well today would be it's own reward.

Legolas met her by a small stream near Haldir's home. She smiled when she saw him, delighted that he looked so well. There was tension in his eyes, but she believed she knew the cause of it. It would not take long to remove it, to see the look she knew was for her alone. He was dressed for travel, but she was sure that he would not be leaving that night!

In complete control of herself, she crossed to him and held out her hand in greeting. He took it, gently, and she shivered with pleasure. He gave her a small tight smile.

"My Lady Athelas," he said formally.

"My Lord Prince." she replied, making him a low curtsey.

"I hope you are well rested?" he asked politely.

"I thank you, my lord. I have slept long and deeply. Did you pass your night in comfort?"

"The trees of Lorien are not to be passed over lightly. I lost myself in the branches, and spent the night in meditation."

"Would you care to see more of the forest? I cannot walk far, I am afraid the exercise last night was too much for me. But the wood is pleasant in this direction." He nodded and offered her his arm. They walked a ways in companionable quietude, she occasionally pointing out a particular tree or stream. He was silent, too silent, she realized. When they had gone as far as she felt she could, far away from any habitation, she stopped him.

"Forgive me, my lord, but I fear I cannot go on without some rest." He stopped, instantly contrite, and helped her to a seat on a large rock. She perched there, looking at him.

"Lorien is very beautiful." he told her, looking away. "I trust you have been comfortable here? You are quite recovered?"

"Yes, thank you for your concern. Haldir's home is lovely, and I have been very well looked after." She smiled. "Although last night may not have been the best example." She saw the muscles tighten in his jaw. So she was right! She decided to give her explanation. Before she could, he began speaking.

"My father asked me to give this to you." he said, thrusting the package at her. "I am sorry I did not have it with me yesterday, to not have to take you from your family today."

"My lord Legolas," she began, but he held up his hand.

"Please, just open it." he said softly. She unwrapped the bundle in her hands.

The sunlight glinted off the diamonds and onyx set among the silver leaves. She held it up to admire it. It was a coronet of athelas. "This," she said, breathlessly, "is wonderful." She set it in her hair. "How does it look?" she asked him.

"Beautiful" he breathed. The he straightened. "Is there any message you would have me take back to Arwen or my father?" he asked. He looked away from her again.

"My best love and thanks to both, as always. Will you return to the house with me, that I may write a note to them both?"

"As you wish." he said, offering her his hand to help her down from the rock. "Are you refreshed enough, my lady?"

"I believe so. Is there no other message, my Lord Prince?" she asked him. "A message from you, perhaps?"

"Only that I wish you great happiness in your life." He turned his face away from her.

"And that is all?" She looked at him thoughtfully. "You would leave again with no other word for me?"

"What do you want me to say?" he said, teeth clenched. "You are happy here. That is all I have ever wanted for you. Don't make this harder for me than it already is."

"But you don't understand..." she began, but he cut her off again.

"I understand enough, Athelas! Let it go." He began to pace. "I'm not blind, I know what I saw."

"I have to explain to you..."

"You owe me no explanations. There was nothing between us. You have found happiness with your March Warden. I wish you both joy." He turned on her savagely. "Although I am disappointed that my friends and I have all been misled by your behavior!"

"My behavior?" she snapped. "You're being foolish, Legolas! Nothing between us? Why did you come, if it wasn't to see me?"

"It certainly wasn't to see you frolicking in the arms of another elf! You are right, I am a fool! Fool enough to believe it was me you were longing for. You couldn't wait to get back here, to him!"

"What I have been trying to tell you..." she started, taking a deep breath and fighting for calm. "Is that I am overjoyed to see you, and you don't understand about Haldir."

"You love him. That's all I need to know. I'll be heading back to Mirkwood directly. I'll send Aragorn for the letters." He turned and stormed away from her. She put her hands on her hips and yelled in frustration.

"He's my cousin, you thick headed, wooly witted thing, you!" She covered her mouth with her hands when she realized what she had said. He stopped, and looked over his shoulder.

"What?" he asked, stunned.

"I'm sorry." she said, remorsefully. "I didn't mean that."

"No, I meant that other thing. Your cousin?" He turned back towards her. "And you left out mutton headed."

She giggled, from sheer nerves. "Yes. He's my cousin. I've been staying with his family."

"Then you're not..." he left the question hanging.

"No." She shook her head. "His wife wouldn't like it." She reached her hands out to him. He crossed the distance in an instant and took them.

"But then, why..." She raised one hand and placed it gently on his lips.

"Shh." she said. "Just listen for a moment. I was so very wrong in what I did when we were last together. I should have been honest with you, with myself. But I was confused, and that must be my only excuse. I hope you can forgive me." She looked up at him imploringly. He nodded, his blue eyes alight with love.

"I have thought long and hard about my actions while I have been here. I have learned things about myself that I did not like, and I am trying to correct them. But most of all, I have learned that it is you who have my heart, Legolas. If you still want it." She dropped her eyes, and blushed.

"Then your eyes...?" he asked softly.

"Are for you, my Prince," she told him, raising them to him. They shone like obsidian in the sunlight. He crushed her to him, kissing her hungrily. She returned his kiss with all the passion in her. After a long moment he pulled away, picked her up and set her back on the rock.

"What I don't understand," he began, "is why you ran from me. You looked so frightened. That has obsessed me night and day. Were you afraid of me? I must know." Unaccountably, she blushed a deep red.

"Then Arwen, pardon me, Aragorn, for I am sure Arwen kept her word and did not tell you, only gave you half the tale?" He nodded, and took a seat beside her on the rock, wrapping his arms around her and resting his cheek on her hair.

"And quite a tale it was, with beads and clothes and plans. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear it. I would have left Mirkwood to find you that second, if I could have. But you still haven't answered my question."

She took a deep breath. "I fled because if I had not, you and I would be married already, my lord." She felt him tighten up beside her. "And I had convinced myself that my path lay with Arwen."

"And now?" he asked her quietly. She slid off the rock and stood, facing him.

"I do not know what Arwen's destiny will be. She will always be my dearest friend, and I will try to help her in any way I can. But my way lies with you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I am yours. I make you this vow, my Prince. I will always be honest with you, I will never again try to hide my feelings from you. I will stand beside you in all you do for all eternity." Her eyes glistened with tears.

He stood up in front of her and took her hands. "And I make this vow to you, my Lady." he said, in a voice thick with emotion. "I will cherish you through all my days. I will be open with you in all things. I give my heart and my life to you. I will never again disregard your feelings." He pulled her to him and held her as though he could never let her go. "I love you, Athelas."

"And I love you, Legolas." she said, turning her face to him. He kissed her gently. And there, with the sunlight glinting through the trees, the diamonds sparkling in her hair, Legolas made her his forever.

Aragorn was pacing near Haldir's house. Legolas had been gone for hours, and he wasn't sure if he should go looking for him or not. The sun was setting when Haldir found him.

"They have not returned?" he asked him. Aragorn, mindful of Legolas' revelation about Haldir and Athelas, looked at him.

"Not yet." he replied carefully. "I understand that I have you to thank for our Lady Athelas' wonderful recovery. The last time I saw her, she was quite different."

Haldir shrugged. "Not much to it. She only needed some time. I am glad to have her back in Lorien."

Aragorn was silent. He didn't know what to say to Haldir. What if Legolas was right, and Athelas was his wife? Did he know the history between them? Haldir settled in on a bench and prepared to wait with Aragorn. Neither said anything.

After a long while, he heard Legolas' laugh ringing from the trees. Now he began to worry in earnest. What was going on? Why had he come? When they appeared, Athelas was in Legolas' arms, smiling at him, and lovingly caressing his cheek. He carried her gently, as if she was the most precious thing in Middle-Earth. Haldir cleared his throat and rose from his seat. Aragorn muttered under his breath.

Legolas brought her over to the bench and carefully seated her. Her hair was tangled about the silver coronet on her head, and her eyes were gleaming.

"I'm sorry we are so late returning, Haldir," she said. "My foot would not permit me to walk." Haldir looked at her and laughed, throwing his head back.

Legolas reached out his hand to Haldir and said simply "My apologies for my rudeness last evening, kinsman. I was under a false impression, please forgive me." His braids were loose, and he looked happier than Aragorn had ever seen him.

"Not at all, cousin." Haldir said easily, shaking Legolas by the shoulder, then pulling him into an embrace. "Welcome to the family."

Aragorn sat in confused silence. Haldir noticed him and smiled. "I believe some explanations are in order. Aragorn, congratulate them. Better yet, come into the house, and we'll have some of that excellent wine to celebrate." He gripped the Ranger's shoulder, pulling him to his feet.

Legolas embraced his friend roughly, emotion choking his voice. "I can never thank you enough, Aragorn. You have proved a true friend, and my loyalty is yours." Aragorn nodded absently, his mind trying to catch up with this latest development. Athelas reached her hand to him, tears in her eyes.

"Were it not for you and my dear Arwen, this great happiness might not be ours. I thank you, Aragorn, for everything." She reached up and pulled his head down to her, kissing him fondly on the cheek.

Haldir caught her up in a hug, and then helped her into the house. Aragorn shook his head, sighed and said quietly, "Elves." He followed them into the dwelling, grateful beyond all measure that Arwen had no more intimate friends with romantic troubles.