Somehow he always knew, though she never said anything. He always knew when she needed him, when she needed to see there was something more to the world than her petty little problems.
She could still recall with extraordinary ease the day they met. She had been but a child, and playing in the trees near the village she had always called home. Her joy to be away from chores for a while had boosted her spirits so she was laughing for no reason as she climbed higher and higher until she could go no farther, and then she threw her arms out to embrace the world, for she felt everything was good in that moment.
She couldn't even remember why she was in such spirits—perhaps her father was to come home that day or the next. Such times had always been cause for celebration, even if silently, and away from her mother and her mother's brother.
She watched some of the squirrels for a while, laughing delightedly at their squabbles, and then realized how high she was… when the branch she was on broke.
By some miracle she hit the ground in one of the few ways that wouldn't have instantly killed her, but her breath was quite gone. What remained was turned instantly into a sob as her body protested its treatment, her legs and left arm throbbing painfully.
Perhaps that was why she could remember him so clearly that day—she could remember the color of his tunic, remembered it matched the leaves that had fallen with her to the ground. But mostly she remembered her utter shock at seeing an elf appear from the woods where she would have sworn up and down no one else was.
Her shock was replaced by awe—she had always been fascinated by the stories her father told her of the elves he traded with, of the elven king and his court, of the songs and dances and feasts they held, of their warriors… And here was one of those elves, kneeling down beside her, his eyes the twilight of storms as his long fingered hands searched her limbs quickly with a gentle touch that didn't increase the pain as she had braced herself for it to. He was able to move her onto her side, easing her around in such a way that her breath came more easily without so much as a whimper of pain or protest from her—she was so enraptured by the idea of meeting an elf that she was unaware of her pain.
He watched her silently for a time, then suddenly a smile turned his lips up. "Better?" he asked.
Somehow the common tongue didn't sound right coming from him, but the word shocked her back into reality. She winced, feeling the pain again. "Bearable," she managed after a moment.
He was smiling again, and helped her sit up with her back to a tree before he sat close enough to her she could have turned her ankle and hit his hip. If her ankle didn't hurt so badly, anyway. "How old are you?" he asked after she had found a way to settle comfortably against the tree.
"Eight," she replied, a bit surprised. "How old are you?"
"How old do I look?" he returned, smiling again.
He looked about her favorite uncle's age… so she guessed it. "Twenty five."
With a light laugh, he shook his head. "No… though you are closer than most."
"How much closer?"
"Only about seven years, which is hardly close."
"Seven years?" Her eyes widened. "So how old are you?" If seven years was nothing much to him, how old was he? Seven years was an entire lifetime!
He smiled yet again, and for a moment she wondered if she should be insulted he found her so amusing… but the thought was banished by her natural curiosity when he spoke again. "A little over two thousand years," he answered, and she stared at him. He reached out and closed her mouth by putting two fingers under her chin.
"You must be one of the oldest elves on Middle-Earth!"
He laughed again, and she thought for a moment if she could only keep that sound with her, surely the world would never seem bad again. "Actually, I am one of the youngest," he confided. "Which means I am often viewed by elves around me as I imagine you are viewed by humans around you—as a child."
"A child at two thousand years?" she asked, astounded. Her mother was ancient to her mind… and this elf was much, much older than her mother.
Laughing again, he nodded and got to his feet, reaching down to gently pull her up. He bent slightly and offered her his arm, steadying her as she limped for a while as they walked through the wood.
"Have you any siblings?"
"Alas, I have not."
"It's not something to be upset about," she grumbled, thinking of her sister.
"I take it you have this blessing?"
"If it's a blessing, someone needs to sneeze."
He stopped walking, and when she glanced up to see what the matter was, she found him watching her with his head tilted slightly to one side, blinking a bit too often, as if unsure he was really seeing what he was looking at. She blinked back at him. Finally he shook himself with a soft laugh, shaking his head and continuing on. "Humans have such an odd way of speaking," he stated after a while.
"Says an elf who speaks the common tongue."
"I did not expect you knew any other languages known to the elves."
"I don't," she shrugged, looking up at him again. "But it still seems odd to hear you speak it."
He looked at her again, smiled faintly, and said something in a beautiful, flowing language that was more fitting to his musical voice. Of course, she didn't understand a word. His smile grew as he saw her confusion. "So children see without blame what their elders have forgotten," he translated. Then he looked ahead, and once again stopped walking. He bowed his head to her. "The night approaches, and we must both return home."
She looked around, about to say she had no idea where they were… when she saw he had led her within eyesight of her village. She turned back to see he had vanished into the trees as silently as he had appeared. Opening her mouth, she stopped and frowned. She sighed softly and looked longingly in the direction of the elven king's home, then began her final walk home, wondering at the magic of elves which was so strong it could draw away her pain merely by being near.
Though she had thought she would likely never see him again, he proved her wrong, showing up often from then on through her life. If she managed time in the wood every day, it was likely she would see him at least once in a week, sometimes more often.
He told her stories about the elves, taught her games and sang her songs—sometimes translating, sometimes not… he climbed trees with her and taught her how to swim, which was something she had always envied her uncle being able to do, but her mother didn't think it was proper for her to learn.
So the years passed, her mother not believing her when she said she was with Greenleaf—as he had introduced himself on their second meeting—but not bothering about it until one day she came back with her hair braided rather intricately.
Greenleaf had been very solemn that day, his eyes more shadowed than by birth alone. He had let her find him, had allowed her to come, but he said nothing, seeming so sad she had nearly wept for it—if it could affect her normally cheerful friend, it must be something horrible indeed. She sat beside him and studied his face and eyes for a long moment, wishing not for the first time that elves were easier to read than they were.
Impulsively she reached out and hugged him, hanging on even when she felt him stiffen in surprise. He sighed and slowly hugged her back, drawing her around so she was resting between his knees, facing the world, her back against his chest, his arms around her waist. Another sigh was released into her hair, before she felt a light kiss to her crown as his arms eased, releasing her. She stayed where she was, knowing that he could still use the contact. His hands lifted and began smoothing through her hair, and soon she felt bits being separated, some hairs being cast aside and into her face.
She blew at the strands, shifting them about until he retrieved them, a soft chuckle moving the body she rested against. When the time came that she had to go, he settled his hands on her shoulders and leaned his head against hers. "Thank you," he whispered before letting her go.
She turned, lifted her hand to his cheek, and frowned to see he was still troubled. She let out her breath in a sigh as she got on her knees, leaning up to kiss his forehead. "Whatever it is will pass in time," she offered finally, giving him back some of the advice he had given her over the years. Unlike her, he couldn't argue that it was unlikely to pass in her lifetime.
He smiled faintly at her choice of words, but nodded slightly. He bowed his head to her without getting to his feet, and was there when she looked back in concern when her eyes could barely make out his form in the twilight.
Those braids—which had taken her a good while to work loose when she finally had a chance—had convinced her mother that she was seeing someone in the wood… and spending far too much time there with whoever it was.
Still, she refused to believe it was an elf, and informed her indignant daughter that she would be kept too busy to visit anyone until she would tell the truth of her companion. For the next months she was busy from the moment she woke to the moment she cast herself into sleep in the evenings, each day wishing for her father to return so that her uncle would have little rule in the house once more.
She didn't mind her father's brother—he wasn't too much older than she was, and had been nearly as good a playmate as Greenleaf—but her mother's brother was another story altogether. He seemed to pleasure in tormenting her, claiming elves were all heartless immortals who cared nothing for humans—that part didn't bother her, because Greenleaf was enough on his own to convince her her uncle knew nothing of elves—but he stood behind her mother and took it a step farther, shorting her food as long as she insisted she knew an elf. Because her mother wished to know who she did spend her time with, she didn't stop him as she might otherwise have done.
So every night, she went to bed praying for her father to return home soon from his trading travels, remembering times in the wood to help ignore the pain in her empty stomach.
To her surprise, it was not her father who arrived one evening to rescue her from her mother and uncle, but Greenleaf himself. She was washing some of their clothing in the stream, with several other girls around her age and older also washing, more hauling water for their homes and cooking, when she noticed the usual banter and laughing had fallen away into complete silence.
Alarm skittered along her nerve endings—the only other time she could remember it happening a band of orcs had been spotted nearby—and she snapped upright to see what was going on. He smiled, affection in his eyes as he effortlessly walked soundlessly across a very thin log to join her on her side of the banks.
Even with his hood on it was obviously him, and she couldn't help but smile in return, leaving her laundry to race and hug him. He laughed lightly and gently returned her hug. "If this is the welcome I receive, I may have to leave the wood more often," he teased lightly before he stepped back. His smile faded as he searched her face. "What has happened?" he asked, a suddenly hard note in his voice she had not heard before, save once—when he was retelling a particularly gruesome spider hunt where one of his friends had been gravely injured. He tilted her head up, a long finger brushing lightly at the faint hollow to her cheeks. "You have not been eating well," he murmured, frowning as his head tilted to the side. He reached into a pouch at his hip and withdrew a piece of waybread. He broke it and handed her a fairly large bit, considering how filling it was.
She looked up at him, letting her thanks shine in her eyes before she devoured it, closing her eyes in pleasure as her stomach felt full for the first time in months. When she opened her eyes, it was to find his eyes were darker than usual, utter fury flashing in them.
"What has happened?" he repeated, even as he passed her the rest of the elven food he had carried, as he usually did—he also usually shared with her, since she never thought to bring anything for lunch. After the recent turn of events, she might never be caught without food when she could get it to carry.
She sighed and lowered her eyes from his, slowly remembering her work. She returned to it with him following, waiting silently as she gathered the clothing up to carry home. He caught the bundle when she dropped it, running ahead in utter joy—her father and his partners had returned home! "Father!"
"Hello, sweetie!" he grinned, catching her and spinning her around. "I swear you get bigger every time I see you! Quite a young woman now," he teased.
Normally she would have rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh, but this time she frowned, biting her lips. "Mother seems to think so," she answered at last, coming back to her senses to see Greenleaf set the clothing she had washed down on the crude bench sitting outside her home, which her father had made years ago. "Oh! Thank you!"
Her mother came out then, and greeted her father with a peck on the cheek. "Your daughter's been persistently telling wild stories while you've been gone," she stated.
With a sigh, she shook her head. "That's not true! I've told you time and again I was with Greenleaf!"
"There is no such man!"
"ELF!" she yelped, her hands balling into fists. "Mother, I was with him—he's my friend."
"You see what I've been saying?" her mother said to her father as if she was no longer there.
"Why couldn't she have been with an elf?" he asked, coming to her defense, though his tone was much more reasonable than either female's had been. "We are near the elven king's home, after all. Very easy walking distance, for an elf. Safe for their kind, as well, as they don't get lost."
Her eyes widened, and she turned to her father. "You saw the King?"
He laughed softly. "You are insatiable. Yes, I saw the King. He held a great feast and there was singing, and dancing, and…" he trailed off, aware of the silent watcher who stood just beyond them. "And who is this?"
She had forgotten about him, silly as it seemed. "Greenleaf!" she declared proudly, her nose lifting as she looked at her mother.
Her mother rolled her eyes. "There is no such being—man or elf!"
"I would have to disagree," Greenleaf stated finally. Her mother stared at his hood-shaded face in shock—for his voice gave him away in an instant as one of the fair folk.
On the other hand, she could hear the flatness to his tones, and winced slightly. "Why did you come?" she asked, frowning. He had never ventured beyond the wood before.
He looked at her, his head tilting slightly though his hood kept her from seeing the features she knew were there. "I wondered what could have kept such a woodland creature as you from the trees for so long."
He'd been worried about her after her prolonged absence. A warm feeling fluttered through her as it always had when she knew that she was loved. She smiled at him, letting her own affection for him shine in her eyes before her father cleared his throat.
"Indeed, that hardly sounds like my youngest daughter," he murmured, his tone fishing for more information.
She sighed softly. "I was busy… because I wasn't telling the truth about my companion in the wood."
"And your lack of food?" Greenleaf asked sharply when it seemed that conversation had—by silent agreement—been put off until the family was alone and not out in the street.
"Lack of food?" her father asked, his voice lowering dangerously as he turned to her mother.
She quailed at his look and shrank back into the doorway. Her father let out a sigh, before bowing to their unexpected guest. "You are welcome to join us for lunch, of course, though it will be a few minutes, as my wife and I must discuss what to serve, if you would be so kind as to distract our daughter with your company for a few minutes."
"It would be a pleasure," Greenleaf returned, bowing his head slightly before offering her his arm. When they were out of earshot, he pulled his arm slightly closer to his side, holding her securely without appearing to do so. "How long?"
"Since that day you were so troubled," she sighed, knowing he wouldn't be put off now that they were alone.
He muttered under his voice in such a way she would swear he was cursing—but he had changed to one of his own languages to do so. "There was never a moment you could have come to me?"
"None," she agreed, frowning slightly.
He shook his head. "If it ever happens again, promise me something."
"What?" she asked quietly.
He smiled faintly, knowing it wasn't an agreement. "That you will go to the elves for aide. They would not turn aside an elf-friend who is in need of something so basic."
"I have survived—the garden is doing well, so I was able to sneak some of the vegetables away without being caught."
He shook his head. "I did not mean merely for food. Your soul needs nurturing as desperately as your body—and I do not feel she has been providing it."
"Father is home," she said after an uncomfortable moment.
He sighed, his head bowed slightly. "Yes," he agreed heavily. "And perhaps his words now will make things better in the future." With an impatient move he cast his hood back, oblivious to the gasps and wide-eyed looks he was given at once from the villagers. "Promise me," he demanded again, turning to face her.
Slowly she nodded.
He nodded in return and slowly led her nearer her home. "It is silent now," he murmured, his head tilted slightly. "I hear dishes. It may be safe to venture within," he added, some slight amusement in his eyes as he glanced down at her.
With a smile she led him inside, seeing that things had been cleaned a bit, and the table was set for four once more. She nodded at the seat he would take, but before he could move her father came in, about to say something when he simply stopped with his mouth hanging open. "Father?" she asked in confusion.
He closed his eyes and slowly bowed.
"Father?" she asked once more, seeing her mother stare at him in confusion as she came in with their food.
He rose from his bow. "Though to have any of your people would be an honor, this is one beyond words," he finally murmured, speaking only to Greenleaf, who bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.
She looked between the two with a blink. "What is going on?" she asked the air, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
A flicker of a smile lit her friend's face, but it was her father to speak. "You should feel deeply honored, my daughter. I doubt many mortals have ever called the crowned prince of Mirkwood their friend."
"The…" she fell into her chair. "Is… are…"
He did smile then, slowly seating himself where she had indicated originally. "I am King Thranduil's only child," he agreed after a moment. "Does it matter?"
She saw the caution slowly blanking his eyes, and tilted her head at him. "You could have been telling me all about the palace, all these years… and you haven't." But then, as she saw a faint flicker of something that was close to worry, she smiled. "But it doesn't matter."
His eyes closed for an instant, and then opened with wry humor. "Good. In truth, you are the first mortal I have called a friend—you are very different beings. I fear doing something to insult you beyond repair without being aware of what I've done until it's too late."
She laughed. "I sincerely doubt that could ever happen… wait a minute!" she looked between the two males. "You didn't recognize him until you saw his face!"
"I saw him just a few days ago, sweetie. Why wouldn't I recognize him?"
That paused her for a moment, but she would let herself be distracted later. "Why didn't he know your name?" she asked, her voice lowering as her father's had in his anger. She saw Greenleaf squirm slightly and hid her amusement.
"Because the one you call me is a rendering of my name into the common tongue?" he asked, sounding oddly nervous for him.
For him—what of for a prince? "Then what is your name?" she asked softly.
"Legolas," he murmured, his eyes narrowing slightly as he tilted his head, seeming surprised she hadn't yet shown any emotion.
"Prince Legolas of Mirkwood… yes, that does sound familiar. I've heard stories of you since I knew of elves." Of his talent for archery, his deadly grace and lethal speed, of travelers who had heard elves singing his praises—as a warrior, though the word prince accompanied his name. She felt very out of depth in that moment… but then she looked at him, and recalled all the times they had played together, the times he had sang her a lullaby when she grew tired in the afternoons, his gentle touch as he taught her to swim, his laughter as he told her stories of his kin. She tilted her head, unconsciously imitating him. "Can any mortal ever truly know a firstborn?" she asked quietly.
He frowned slightly and blew out a breath heavily. "I have wondered that myself… and I fail to come up with an answer. You have known me only in fair times in the wood. There are other times, other places—which you will never know. If a mortal were to be surrounded by what we are… then perhaps one could begin to fully understand… but it would be but a beginning, and the end would come before either were ready for it." His eyes lifted to hers, reminding her of a conversation they had once had about death.
"I still think it's rather odd that elves prepare for death when it is much more likely they shall never die," she murmured, before the smell of food entered her senses. Unfortunately, the waybread she had eaten was still sitting happily in her stomach, refusing to make room. So she had settled back and listened as Legolas as her father discussed some of the elven king's policies, Legolas's eyes darkening slightly as he heard what he said he had expected to hear—that the humans his father dealt with were not happy with his dealings, and considered him as he really was—not as she had always assumed… And she still felt she knew him, foolish or not.
So the elves had known him for two thousand years, and her father had known him on sight longer than she'd been living… She would bet there were few if any that he played with as he played with her, she doubted he'd taught others to swim, sung lullabies to them… She thought that it was possible she knew something of him no one else did, and it comforted her when she considered everything she didn't know.
Though the other girls in the village often did their best to follow her for the first weeks after that lunch, she avoided them and life went back to normal… Or as close to it as it could be. Legolas was more often gone, his eyes dark and weary too much of the time when he could come, and she understood a little better that it was the trials of the entire wood which lay upon him, instead of some simple folly of his own days.
She grew up. Less often did they play as they had, their time turning instead to walks and tales of ancient times or complete silence, which was enough for both, as they found comfort in the familiarity of being together.
Many times the village girls who had seen him that day teased or taunted her about 'her elf', insinuating things that seemed absurd to her. To love him that way was foolishness on her part, for she was looked upon as a niece by him, and saw him more or less as a beloved uncle, though always aware there was no blood between them.
The wood grew darker, and their chances to meet less frequent still, until it was a pleasure to be found by the elf, who now always wore weapons conspicuously. He graced her with a sadly joyful smile—a feat she had only ever seen him accomplish—when she told him she was engaged. He wished her happiness and health… and seemed to vanish from her life entirely for the next months.
Her husband kept her busy even after the wedding for a long while, so long passing since she had been to the woods that she found her heart crying out against the separation—she was human, yes, but had grown up with an elf as a playmate, all her joyful moments coming in the wood, and she missed them both.
Finally she could stand it no longer, leaving a scrawled note for her husband and wrapping a shawl about her as she headed into the forest. After a while her back began to hurt, then her sides, and she grew annoyed again with her body for betraying her like this. Her only consolation was the baby would be born soon enough, and then she would be able to move normally again.
Slowly she eased herself down to the ground, one hand on her protruding abdomen as she willed the pain to ease… but it kept coming. And coming. And coming.
Aware something was wrong, she struggled to get up, but found it impossible. She let out a sharp cry as she fell back to the ground, and then heard someone crashing through the wood, calling for her. She called back, and her sister—with whom she had made peace years before—rushed to her, helping her up, supporting her as they returned to the village. She was not spared a single moment of the journey for silence, being berated for leaving the village at all. She was in too much pain to argue that she had needed the peace of the wood like she needed air to breathe—because it was difficult to gather even that, just then.
Her husband was fit to be tied when they came, and picked her up, running quickly to their small house, sending her sister to fetch the midwife and a healer, just in case.
Something settled cold in her stomach when they arrived, and drew her husband away. Whatever was wrong, was very wrong indeed. She choked back a sob in favor of a cry as her body began tormenting her again, the sob finishing as she lost the rest of her breath.
The candle beside her flickered out as the door swept open, a hooded figure stepping in before shutting the door. Even before the hood was pushed back, she knew who it was. No human would ever have such power and grace apparent even in something so mundane as standing, nor would they have such weapons upon their backs.
As she thought of those weapons they were shrugged aside, the hood sweeping back to tell the rest of the room why she was smiling at this interloper. He came to her side, sitting on the bed as he took her hand, his right resting lightly on her forehead. As always seemed to happen when he was near, she forgot the pain for a time, lost in the exquisite creature she called a friend.
"You have been neglecting the wood again, my friend," he murmured quietly, smiling faintly even as he scanned her eyes, sending a quick glance down her body before returning to search her eyes deeply. Though she had never seen an elf heal before, she believed him when he said they could tell a lot about ailments by the look in their patient's eyes. She'd just never guessed she would feel it—it felt like he somehow stepped into her very soul when he looked at her like that.
"Horribly busy," she managed. "I missed it."
"And they missed you," he answered, a faint frown flickering on his brow before he rummaged through a bag she'd never seen him carry before. "How are you?"
She took a deep breath, trying to fight back tears. "I'm not yet ready," she whispered.
He nodded slightly. "That is the problem with you humans," he lectured softly, working quickly with his hands, though she was in too much pain to turn to see what he did. "You forever put off for tomorrow what should be done today."
"I suppose our races are rather backwards. We rush through what should be taken slowly and savored, and put off what we cannot. Your people take everything slowly except that which could be cast aside as not worth doing."
"And we live all the more happily for having done so," he answered softly, not looking up from his work. He sighed softly. "Yet we must watch as those around us fail to follow our example."
"It's impossible for us to ever be as perfect as you—we know not in which way we could succeed, so find it ultimately less troubling to simply go our own way." She let out a panting breath as the pain refused to be ignored any longer.
Legolas turned his head, finding her husband where he shifted uncomfortably. "Take her other hand," he instructed, as if he shouldn't have to say such. "Now, my friend," he murmured, smoothing her sweaty hair back from her brow, "you shall have to endure a terrible taste."
She laughed softly, and accepted the concoction he pressed against her lips. When she had taken as much as he wished, he set it aside. "That wasn't terrible," she protested thoughtfully. "It was reprehensibly horrid!"
He laughed softly, a small smile gracing his lips as he continued to lightly stroke her hair. "There are worse things."
"I've never tasted any," she countered, feeling sleepy. "Legolas?" she asked, feeling her body grow heavy.
"What does it do?"
"You will soon fall deep asleep," he murmured, "and will know nothing else until morning." Indeed, even as he spoke she felt he was far away and going farther, a warm insulating layer seeming to press down on her, trying to force her away. "Let it take you," he murmured, and though she could hear her husband protest in alarm, she obeyed.
She woke in the morning and was instantly given a relieved kiss from her surprisingly attentive husband. She smiled at him, and then looked at a faint sound to see Legolas holding a small bundle in the crook of one arm. He glanced up and smiled slightly, getting to his feet to bring the bundle to her. "A daughter," he explained, resting the child at her side before placing one hand on her abdomen. "She is perfectly fine."
She looked up at him for a long moment, and considered asking what the healer and midwife had expected would happen, but didn't. It didn't matter—her child was well, and she felt her own strength returning rapidly. "Thank you, my friend," she said instead, turning to look at her husband. She smiled slightly. "Has a name been given?" He shook his head. When she turned back to ask Legolas what he thought would be appropriate, she found he had left. She sighed. "I hate it when he does that." Still, it assured her she would be fine.
"He left some stuff for you to drink in tea," her husband murmured with a faint frown. He looked thoughtfully at the door. "Are all elves like him?"
She laughed softly. "He's special," she confided. "He is, after all, my friend."
Her husband sighed. "Your friend whom you haven't seen at all since the wedding, have you?"
"I was busy," she defended.
"Because I was uncertain about you running off to the wood to play with elves," he sighed.
She looked up at him, and smiled slightly. After that, she was able to go when she had the time—which admittedly wasn't all that often, with a new baby. After their first daughter came two sons and a second, and then third daughter. Only when they were taking care of chores of their own was she able to really spend any time in the wood, though it seemed whenever she entered, Legolas knew, for he soon appeared soundlessly to join her enjoyment of the forest.
As ever, time passed, years taking them along whether they wished to go or not. It was Legolas who found her when she escaped to the wood when first her father and then her husband died, Legolas to console her, but her time with him was ever rare as her children grew and married, having children of their own who required her time and attention. Though she missed her friend, she did not regret her family for so much as an instant.
Finally, the day came when he came into her village for the third time.
"You always know," she murmured softly as he sat down on the bed beside her, his hip at her waist. "Magic of the elves?" she asked with a faint smile.
He shook his head. "I always know—because the trees tell me. They have enjoyed watching you grow… watching us together."
"They know more of you than I, then?"
"They have heard things you have not, have heard from those who have been reabsorbed into the ground tales of my childhood… when it was I who fell from them." He reached out and lightly brushed her hair back from her forehead, fingering the silver strands almost curiously. "But they are trees," he dismissed them with a faint shrug.
She lowered her eyes from his and took a careful breath. "How many more friends shall you be forced to part with?"
He sighed, returning his gaze to hers. His years shown on him then, making him seem so ancient that somehow, though she had lived through them, her memories of him as a playfully laughing creature seemed impossible. "I do not know… but I doubt the number will be satisfied lingering at that which it now is… My curiosity seems determined I shall find others…"
Her deep breath was painful. "No," she tried to protest, tears welling in her eyes.
He smiled faintly, wisdom and pain looking out at her from storm colored eyes. "Yes, my friend. For even your life is important."
"In a hundred years I will not even be remembered as someone's ancestor," she protested.
"You will be remembered. In a hundred, in a thousand—for all the ages of this earth, for you are loved by an elf, and elves are cursed with memories that never fade."
Her throat grew tight, pains settling in her chest as her vision blurred. "I—"
"I know," he murmured, cutting into her apology. He quirked a half-smile and placed one hand over her chest, the other resting on her forehead, his eyes searching hers deeply. "Are you prepared now?" he asked quietly.
She looked around at her children, her older grandchildren, and then back at her unusual visitor. A prince, a warrior, a playmate, a guardian, a healer, and the greatest friend she had ever had. "I am."
He nodded slightly, and spoke softly in his own tongue.
She listened to the melody, enjoying it as she had always enjoyed hearing him speak or sing such words, so beautiful and flowingly graceful, fitting the race perfectly. As she looked at him, at the face which had not changed since their first meeting, she felt the pain slip away as it often did when she was near him. This time, though, she was aware of it and everything else—her grandchildren sniffing and clinging to their parents, her children staring at Legolas in awe and respect—they had grown on the tale of her eldest's birth, of Legolas saving both their lives when the healer and midwife had said neither would last the night. She was aware of everything, and still the pain was absent. "What did you do?" she asked faintly, feeling the world begin to grow faint as her body grew heavy.
"It shall not last long," he murmured by way of answering. His voice seemed odd to her, and she focused all her fading energy on his face. "It shall not need to," he added as if unaware he did so, a single silver drop gliding down to caress his cheek. She watched it fall from his chin, the world contained in that salty orb as everything else disappeared, vanished into a place devoid of sound or image yet filled with peace and everlastingly embracing love.