Alright, as of this moment, this is the last chapter. I may eventually have some one-shot off-shoots, but this is the end of the story as a whole. Hopefully it's enough to keep the pitchforks housed.
A few questions asked a lot, and the internet here is acting patchy, so I'm putting them here. 1) Why did Legolas hide behind Zairil? The last he saw of his mother, she was nearly dead & he was injured while having fought not only for her life, but his own. Seeing her again kind of takes him back to those days, where he was young, small, scared, unskilled and about to be motherless. Zairil's his link to everything that now is. Where he is a warrior of renown, a being of legends, and a crowned prince.With time, perhaps a few days, he'll be alright, but he hadn't even considered seeing his mother again shortly before he does. Zairil forces his hand by going in alone. 2) The poem at the beginning of the last chapter was written by Enseir, and long-ago memorized by Legolas.
Chapter 63: A beautiful night
It was a beautiful night, even for Valinor. The stars shown brilliantly, no distant jewels so much as infinite torches, burning readily and near. The sun had set just long enough before that it no longer cast more than the faintest purple hint on the western horizon.
A quiet valley stretched undisturbed for many leagues, with but slight scamperings from small furry animals and the occasional bird of prey's call to be heard.
Until a silver head popped out of the ground.
The head looked around, blinked for a moment, and then grinned, before twisting until the head was followed by an arm, then a shoulder, another arm, and finally a torso and legs, booted feet making ground at last, a rope tied to the right ankle, a bag and long tied lump attached. The body shook, dust and dirt falling from the silver mane, being picked out of a pointed ear.
"Aregin?" a voice called from the earth.
"Alright," the elf grumbled, dropping to the ground, dipping his hand beneath the grasses. He soon pushed his weight up again, but a hand was clasped around his forearm, and with some wiggling the hand became an arm, a body, and a female elf, her silvery hair glowing as brightly as his in the starlight.
She let out a grunt when he dropped her to her rear to return to the small hole so he could grab the hand that was waving futilely around.
After a while, four smallish elves were clustered together, dusting themselves off.
The youngest looked at the sky and bit her lip nervously. "We are in so much trouble!" she groaned.
Aregin shook his head. "Because we're going to be late?" he asked, frowning.
"Um, yeah!" She frowned at him. "We're going to be in trouble, at least. What, your parents don't care?"
"We'll be home long before they take rest. They won't worry until they are ready to rest and we haven't returned."
"Your parents are weird," Turial declared, tossing her gold braid over her shoulder. "Marotie, do you think they'd believe we got lost?"
"Yes. I don't think it will make a difference," her brother told her gloomily.
"But… I thought you were Angolar's children," Aregin protested, looking between them. "You look enough like he and Sanieth."
"We are," Marotie said, frowning back. "So?"
"So… Do you know nothing about your father?" Aregin asked, bending to untie the rope from his ankle. The bag he shouldered, then nimbly untied the cloth from his bow and quiver, shifting to place them on his back, offering the cloak to his sister, who fastened it quickly against the chill wind.
"I know my father!" Marotie snapped, turning abruptly to march away.
Aregin quirked a brow. "If you're planning to make the halls before Mandos' doors open, I'd suggest walking south," he called, turning to the indicated direction himself.
Marotie hesitated for a long moment, before rejoining his sister and the odd elves they'd joined for a day of 'playing'. Silence fell for a while as they walked, but he couldn't help himself for long. "What do you think you know about him?"
Aregin half-smiled. "Enough to be surprised he's upset if you're out late."
"He's not," Turial chirped, watching an owl. "Well, he acts like he is, because Mother is always so very upset, and it just upsets her more when he isn't."
"How do you know about him?" Marotie asked after a time.
"Have you heard of his cousin, Zairil?"
"Of course. He speaks with Tinuviel and Minyae about her often. They're all quite fond of her, though Mother seems a bit less so."
"Unsurprising, as Sanieth blamed Zairil for Angolar's lost arm."
Marotie looked at him sharply, as Turial gasped and stopped walking. "You know the story of how his arm was lost?"
"Of course," Veritane answered for her brother. "Why wouldn't we? Our parents were there." She yawned and drew the cloak more tightly about her. "Though neither actually saw it happen, both being a bit preoccupied with other things."
"To put it mildly," Aregin snorted, shaking his head.
Veritane hugged him.
"What was that for?" he asked, a brow quirked at her when she stepped back.
"Your eyes were sad," she replied quietly, before beginning the path back to the halls.
Aregin closed his eyes for a moment, before shaking his head once more and following her.
"Tell us," Turial asked after a moment. "Tell us the story of his arm."
Aregin frowned at her. "Do you really not know?"
"Mother always says he lost it in battle."
"And what does he say?"
"We… don't ask."
"Mother says it's… sensitive."
Aregin snorted. "I doubt it, having seen what I have of him joking with others, being joked with. You should ask him."
"So you won't tell?"
"I shall," he sighed, "if you wish it."
She nodded eagerly, Marotie inclining his head slowly.
Aregin shrugged. "Once upon a time there were four princes. The eldest was known as Enseir, and he was brave, a good warrior and leader, but rather blunt and hasty, always living as if he was unsure there would be a tomorrow. The second son was Legolas, a more relaxed elf than his brother, though just as good a warrior, who had two of the best friends an elf could want, cousins by the names Angolar and Zairil. Together they went on many adventures, got into much mischief and a bit of trouble in two of the elven realms, and no doubt would have found trouble in the third, had they ever ventured there together. The third son was Kithlan, well loved by his brothers and many fair friends, including one whom he competed with for the love of another, and though he lost her hand, the three remained good friends. The fourth son was Carith, born early when his mother was attacked by spiders, defended only by her two elder sons."
"You're going back a bit far, don't you think?"
"Only if I want to tell it properly," he retorted, lifting his chin as Veritane rolled her eyes.
"Please go on," Turial asked quickly.
"The wood darkened, as we all know, but what wasn't known was Kithlan was in the hold of those shadows. On a hunting trip Legolas and Zairil were taking for fun, Legolas was shot—by one of Enseir's arrows. A suspicion grew in their minds, as Zairil had sensed the one who shot Legolas, and had felt that odd mix of darkness and light before… in Kithlan. Their return to the hall confirmed it, as Kithlan was so surprised to see Legolas alive and well that he gave himself away. He escaped the dungeons and ran south, where he soon commanded an army that marched upon the king. Enseir and Legolas had established places in the army by then, Captains both, but Zairil, though not officially of any rank, was usually involved in the planning. She and Legolas decided they could best fight in the mountains, for they knew the hidden paths better than any before or since. Angolar, having been through most of that exploration with them before he set aside his adventures to appease his mate, was convinced easily enough to help lead a third of the army on those paths."
"You can see the light Elrond keeps in the tower!" Veritane cried, pointing to a faint light before them.
Aregin glared at her.
"What? Keep going, keep going," she sighed, watching the path disinterestedly.
He sighed, knowing the momentum was lost. "As they faced the army, they had no small advantage in the mountain paths, reducing greatly the injuries and deaths they would have otherwise incurred had they simply met the enemy in the woods. Still, the time came when there was an all out battle, weapons flying everywhere and troops in complete disarray. Zairil and Enseir fought back to back, while Angolar stayed closer to the Commander he'd been assigned to for the war's duration. Legolas tried to find Kithlan. When he did, Kithlan had Enseir shot, then tried to kill his other brother, but his friend, the one he'd been in competition with, got in the way. Seeing his blade red with his friend's blood enraged him, broke him free. He threw himself on Legolas' blade, regaining some small bit of honor in that way."
In the silence that befell them, they could faintly hear songs on the air.
"It is a good story," Marotie said at length. "It was in that final battle his arm was lost?"
"Yes. Zairil was also injured, but she was protecting Enseir as long as she could, long enough for Legolas to say goodbye to the second brother to die that day."
"You know the story from Zairil?"
"Yes… and Legolas."
Marotie blinked. "You know the Prince?"
"You really should listen to what your parents tell you," Aregin sighed. "Legolas and Zairil fell in love, or maybe were always in love. I don't think even they know which it is. Anyway, they were bound long ago, mere weeks from their return to Mirkwood after Legolas fought in the War of the Ring with his friends. So, anyone who knows one knows the other, and it's Princess Zairil, if you must use titles. We'd rather you didn't."
"They're cumbersome," Aregin explained, as they came into sight of the buildings. "Would you like to stay over? It might ease the pressure some if they thought you simply forgot to tell them you were staying with friends. I doubt Angolar would mind, anyway."
Marotie eyed him warily. "Alright," he agreed at length.
Turial skipped a few paces happily.
"Aregin? Is that you under all that dirt?" an elf called, before jumping from a second story balcony to land before them.
"You know it is, Elladan," he countered, rolling his eyes at the elder's antics as he pretended difficulty to see through the grime.
"Those weird senses of yours," Elladan grumbled, shaking his head.
"That, and you jumped from the balcony. Elrohir has more sense," Veritane proclaimed. "He would at least have used the tree," she inclined her head at a convenient tree that had a large, broad branch about halfway between the balcony and the ground.
Elladan smiled crookedly at her, before looking at the other set of siblings. "Who are these other mud-covered creatures?"
"Marotie and Turial."
"Mm-hmm," Aregin agreed. "Would you send a messenger to tell him they'll be staying over? And allow a slight delay, if you would."
Elladan chuckled. "Sure. It'll be just like old times. The trouble we escaped," he mused, wistfully.
"You still escape, brother dear," a voice stated from the shadows of the door. Elrohir emerged, yawning slightly.
"And you as well, so no complaints."
"Just don't involve Da, alright?"
The twins looked at him, to each other, and back to him.
He grinned at their confusion. "At least, not without Mum as well."
The twins chuckled, Elladan mussing his already mussed hair before shooing him along.
"I'm hungry," Veritane declared.
"We're almost home," Aregin soothed, sounding irritated himself.
"I know. But I'm still hungry."
"Eru," he muttered, shaking his head.
They broke out in grins before running forward, only to pull themselves backwards before they impacted the legs of the elf they'd nearly attacked.
"Oh, I don't mind some dirt!"
With returning grins, they wrapped her in tight hugs. "You're back!"
"Yes, I'm back. I was only gone a week, silly things! Did you miss me so?"
"Of course, Grandmother," Veritane cried, grinning up at the elf. "As did Grandfather. He's been an absolute troll."
The elf laughed brightly. "Aye, you're your mother's daughter, you are."
"Well, naturally," Veritane declared. "You'll be at breakfast?"
"That I will. You'd best be off before you have your poor Da pacing the floors."
The siblings laughed, knowing full well he wasn't, and never would. If he were truly worried, he'd be riding a horse around until he found them.
"Are you coming, or not?" Aregin asked when the two behind them hadn't made up the distance.
"I'm beginning to wonder," Marotie grumbled. With a sigh, he caught up with them, though he took his time about it, shaking his head as Turial ran.
"Father would like to see you two in the morning," a young elf told them almost the instant they stepped into a building.
Marotie jumped at the sudden appearance.
Aregin nodded. "Do you know what about? And before, or after breakfast?"
"I'd imagine any time you can avoid being missed," was the reply, before the lad smirked. "And I'd imagine it has something to do with the… surprise… your parents planned for his birthday. As it is nearly Uncle's turn, he no doubt would like to enlist your help, as you've inherited the cunning for schemes he never had."
"And a good thing. Can you imagine Mirkwood with two of them?"
The lad laughed. "Until tomorrow," he tipped his head slightly, half-way to turning before he turned back, his eyes narrowing on Veritane. "Cousin," he said slowly. "Are those my boots?"
Veritane looked innocently at the wall.
He sighed. "Get yours fixed or replaced or found before next Thursday, alright? I'll need mine back by then."
She smiled with a slight nod. "Good night, Torith," she called softly.
He held up the hand with a book, two fingers lifting in a wave.
The two familiar with the building set out again, confidently turning in the near darkness until they were before a large door. They smiled at the elf sitting beside it, and entered quickly.
Veritane pounced on a bowl of fruit, biting into an apple ravenously before moving over to a cabinet that held 'trail food', digging out what she wanted before moving aside for Aregin, who then motioned for the others to help themselves. He ate a few mouthfuls before tilting his head, letting his senses stretch. He half-smiled and slipped soundlessly into the study. He studied the two elves there for a moment, before frowning. "Bad day?" he asked, taking a bite of his own apple as Veritane came in chomping hers noisily.
His mother smiled faintly, setting aside the book she had been reading, though her fingers didn't stop the gentle petting of his father's hair. "Let us just say things in court—"
His father groaned, pulling a pillow over his head. "The horror, oh, the horror!" he cried theatrically.
Veritane giggled and moved to her favorite chair.
Aregin and his mother's eyes sparkled, but neither paid him any other mind.
Marotie and Turial blinked from their place just inside the door in stunned shock to see Princess Zairil, the Zairil of legends in their home, with a whining Prince Legolas laying with his head in her lap. Whining. Prince Legolas. Lord of Ithilien. Elf of the Fellowship…
What, in Eru's name…?
"Did not go according to the usual, boring standard," Zairil finished. "Do your parents know you're here?" she asked.
Legolas pushed the pillow away and sat abruptly at seeing they had company. The act discarded, he stretched, before studying his children quickly head to toe for any sign of injury, as Zairil already had.
"Elladan said he would let them know."
"Marotie and Turial?" Zairil asked, frowning.
Aregin grinned. "Yup."
Zairil chuckled. "At long last. I warned Angolar I was soon to believe he hadn't had two more children if I never got to meet them. How are your parents? Your elder siblings?"
"They're all fine. Tinuviel's got a few chasing after her all the time."
"Turial!" Marotie scolded sharply.
"You shouldn't say such!"
"Why not? It's true."
Zairil laughed brightly. "I'm sure your mother adores you," she crooned, grinning wickedly.
Legolas elbowed her gently. "Orc-ling," he scolded.
She projected innocence. "Yes?"
Legolas rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Looks like you had fun."
Veritane nodded enthusiastically. "Yup!"
"You were right, Mum, that cave was amazing. Of course," he added slyly, "the cave behind a stalagmite…" he trailed off at a glitter in her eye. "You knew about it, didn't you?"
Zairil laughed. "Yes. But it's so much more fun to explore the unknown."
"Yeah," he agreed, half-heartedly, wishing to have found something before they did. "They'll keep us busy for a few weeks."
Legolas nodded, before his eyes darkened. "There is a path from that second chamber roughly twice my height from the ground. It goes deep into the mountain, and quickly. Do not take that path, and find us if you think there has been a recent disturbance. There is bad air trapped in the depths."
Aregin nodded. "Alright." He took a seat, watching his mother as she fondly brushed his father's hair back. Suddenly he blinked, watching her more closely. She felt his eyes, met them with her own, and when he quirked a brow curiously, reddened slightly before nodding very slightly. He grinned, then quickly forced it to fade. "So," he asked slowly. "What did happen today?"
Legolas grimaced, prompting a laugh from Zairil. "A few of the Galadhrim visited today."
"So?" Veritane asked, tossing the stem of her apple at a waste bin.
"So, they've been in their own area for so long, they've forgotten any news they ever heard of the outside—"
"Prince-ling!" Zairil's bright laughter interrupted him. "They were merely trying to rile you."
"What did they do, Da?" Aregin asked, as Veritane scooted closer to the edge of her chair.
"They were…" his lips curled in disgust as his eyes burned, "flirting with your mother."
Veritane made a funny face as she tried to understand such a bizarre concept as that. Marotie, too, looked a little disturbed. Turial didn't seem to know what they were talking about, and Aregin… was trying very hard to keep from laughing aloud.
As it was, his grin was matching the wicked light in his mother's eyes. "Well, Mom's right, Da," he declared, once he had some control over both the laughter and the grin.
Legolas blinked, sapphire eyes focusing sharply on his son. "What?"
"They were just playing with you," he explained lazily, shifting his gaze to his mother. He could tell she was trying hard not to laugh. "Is cousin Juril visiting for a while, then?"
"I would assume so. The Prince-ling didn't really give me a chance to speak with him—much less my friends!"
A low growling noise escaped Legolas.
Aregin could no longer help it—he burst out laughing.
Zairil shook her head at him with mock sadness, but he didn't mind. He would learn in time. He was still quite young, and already a great accomplice in their tricks, though he loved hers the best. Eventually he would be able to endure the torturous length of her mischievous moments without laughing prematurely.
Legolas frowned at him, then glanced at Zairil. "Your son is laughing at me."
A small smile turned her lips. "Isn't he," she agreed.
He exhaled in irritation. "I don't suppose you'd be kind enough to explain why he is laughing at me?" He leaned over a bit as she kept her eyes on Aregin, trying to use them as a hint.
She kept them lowered. "Because they were merely playing with you—poking gentle fun at your possessive jealousy."
"'Gentle fun'?" he echoed, frowning. He looked between her profile and their son before sighing, bringing a hand up to rub his temples. Almost instantly Zairil's fingers were on his neck, soothing tense muscles with knowing fingers. "You've had your fun, orc-ling. What have your high-born friends and son seen that I have not?"
With that question, her eyes met his.
At once he frowned, focusing all of his attention on her, on what odd little change he was now sensing, but not seeing.
Then, he saw it. A tiny flicker of blue crossed part of her eye before vanishing again. With direction, he narrowed his focus, soon confirming what had been astounded uncertainty.
He blinked, trying to reconnect to a changed reality. A reverent hand lifted, fingers gently smoothing down her cheek. Questions crowded his mind, fighting his tongue into knots.
She, the one who knew him best, took pity on him. "I didn't know until this morning. Ilianthe blinked at me—oh, children? Your grandmother is back."
"We saw her," Aregin told her softly.
She nodded. "Anyway, she blinked at me as if she'd caught herself daydreaming, and I wandered into my own… I felt it there. Juril came in just when I realized, so he knew as well. After they had their fun with you, I had to calm you down—which took, as you well know, until Aregin and Veritane returned home."
Slowly he nodded. He now had but one question left. "Your hair, my eyes?" Before the question settled in, he darted forward, catching her for a ravenous kiss, ignoring the noises of the children behind him.
Aregin smiled, mussed Veritane's hair as she asked what was going on, and led them all out into his own room. "They'll be at that for a while," he explained quietly. "What?" he asked, seeing Marotie focused intently on him.
"So there will be another prince or princess soon… Prince Aregin."
"Yes, another sibling," he agreed. "Why are you angry?"
"You didn't tell us who you were. You're the prince."
"Yes," Aregin agreed, frowning slightly. "And you're a cousin."
Marotie blinked, confusion dulling the anger until it was killed entirely. "Son of your mother's cousin."
"A relative, all the same," Aregin shrugged. "I don't suppose Sanieth likes you to see the old pictures?"
"Oh," Veritane exclaimed, clasping her hands together. "Carith is really quite good at drawing. He filled sketchbooks of his family and their friends before he met Tolina… then, there were several just of her, but he didn't like us looking through them. He gave us one of Ang, Mum and Da. Want to see?"
Marotie looked at these near strangers, who knew so much more about who he was than he did. He smiled wearily, and nodded. He would have a thousand questions for his father tomorrow.
But now he had a few answers for those he'd already had, but never asked.