I'm told I dropped this story rather abruptly so, to make amends, I'm adding this epilogue to give it a more graceful ending. Well, such is my intent anyway.
Quickly the elf roused from elven dreams of sea and stars to gaze confusedly below him. There, standing at the foot of his tree, hands on hips, was Lord Faramir whom, it would appear, had been looking for him for no little time. Several rangers stood nearby holding sweaty horses.
Before the war, an elf, treed and alone, surround by a troop of armed men, would be cause for alarm (on the part of the elf anyway). Men feared the Firstborn for they did not know them. Elves feared Men for their great capacity to be swayed by evil. Dunedain and Eldar, both allies of old, long desired to rekindle the warm spark of trust and friendship between their peoples, yet time and isolation had rendered them distant to each other.
No longer. At least within the boundaries of Ithilien, the voices of Iluvatar's children rang with a harmony not heard in an Age. Elflings and little boys and girls played in the trees and meadows of the various settlements; men and elves broke bread together and took counsel of each other (although men soon learned the pitfalls of asking counsel of an elf!). Not since the Last Alliance had the fortunes of each race been so closely intertwined.
And it was all credited to the courage and open-mindedness of their leaders. Many men knew the woodland prince had proved himself in some way to their lord, and many elves guessed the ties that bound their liege to Gondor's steward were not trivial, but few truly knew what happened that night in the caves of Henneth Annun. Those present never spoke of it.
Legolas remembered the darkness, the pain, the great leap of faith, with a profound sense of wonder. After placing his life into Faramir's keeping and accepting whatever consequences would follow, he had found himself waking beneath the midnight canopy of ancient forest outside the narrow cleft that lead to the underground complex. Night birds and a gentle breeze teased his senses to awareness as he focused on Faramir's concerned gaze bending over him.
Aragorn had excused himself before Legolas awoke. His part in the ritual would not be known to the elf for many years.
Faramir's smile, his happiness in this new phase of their relationship, shone clearly from his face. Legolas had smiled somewhat shakily in return and slowly sat up to gaze into the satisfied faces of the men surrounding him in the moonlight. There was no question now of belonging, no implied rejection; every face reflected interest, admiration, and gratitude. Few men could claim brotherhood with the firstborn of this world and they were awed.
And now they looked up at him again, fond exasperation on their faces. A Wood-elf is not so easy a quarry to track and it amused Legolas to think of them even trying. He found much to admire in Aragorn's people, but stealth and woodcraft were not chief amongst them.
Faramir watched with fascination the picture of strength and beauty swinging down with fluid grace from his lofty perch to land softly before him, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. It needled Faramir slightly to know he was being gently mocked for not being able to do the same, but since he also knew the elf did not hold it against him nor judge him as less for his lack, he took it for the sign of affection it was. Aragorn had told him to ignore such displays lest it merely feed the young prince's smugness. Legolas knew Aragorn had told Faramir thus, and now went to considerable effort to make his "displays" as spectacular as possible, challenging Faramir to turn a blind eye to such posturing. It was something of a contest between them.
"Legolas," Faramir tried again, wrenching his attention back to his purpose. "Have you forgotten the day or merely the time?"
The picture of strength and beauty lost his smugness with a puzzled frown. "Both, it would seem. I have erred?"
"Unless you have changed your mind about this joint venture between your people and mine?"
At Legolas' continued blank look, Faramir shook his head sadly. "The planting?"
Elven eyes flew wide as they scanned the accusatory faces before him. "Tomorrow! You told me it was tomorrow!"
"I told you yesterday it was tomorrow."
"Yesterday…?" Yesterday? Did he lose a day? Confusedly Legolas searched his memory for answers.
Last night, at the royal reception which always marked Aragorn and Arwen's summer retreat to Emyn Arnen, he did remember Faramir mentioning the ceremony which would open the beginning of a new economic chapter in Ithilien. Some time ago visiting envoys from Lake Rhun had mentioned what fine, well-drained, sun-facing hillsides they had here for growing grapes. Both Faramir and Legolas had realized the possibilities immediately and set about making such speculation a reality. And now, after the last frost but before the sun's rays began to bake the ground, was the time to plant the first vineyard. They had planned to make a grand ceremony of it, both leaders would turn the earth together and inter the first seedling, only… that was today?
"You told me this morning it was tomorrow."
"I told you last night it was tomorrow."
Both males eyed each other stubbornly.
The rangers looked on in amusement.
"Perhaps you drank so much you forget the time?"
"I drank less than you!"
"I am an elf. I can drink a dwarf under the table, much less an undernourished man such as yourself."
"Wonderful. I rule with an alcoholic elf who knows not the hours of the night. Do you not remember the moonlight as we spoke?"
"Do you not remember the thinning stars, the pre-dawn chorus? Or perhaps you were too close to the bottom of your cup to attend such detail?"
Several rangers' eyes were watering with the effort of keeping a straight face. The answer was obvious to everyone except the combatants now.
Faramir frowned as he began to realize the truth. "Pre-dawn chorus…? You count time in the middle of the night?! It was dark! 'Tomorrow' is next light! Does every elf own a timepiece that he might mark such hours?"
"And what do men do when they drink from light to light? Does sleep end the day that just begins for all others? What of their tomorrow which is now everyone else's today?" Legolas paused, having just confused himself. Disregarding the pointless circle of his argument, he tried again. "Light or dark, it is of little difference to us. Thus do we mark the beginning of each new day in the smallest hours of the night, when we are most likely to rest. Indeed, many elves wake just before dawn that they may sing to Arien as she rises."
Defeated, Faramir dropped his head, shaking it tiredly. How to explain to a creature of starlight that men were far more bound to the cycles of day and night? That without a period of sleep, it is difficult to separate one day from the next. And now several hundred elves and men, not to mention the King and Queen of Gondor, were waiting on the hillside above them, probably getting somewhat hungry as it was late afternoon, while the two princes of Ithilien argued about "tomorrow."
He sighed as he raised his eyes to see the growing comprehension in the elf. The challenge was gone and he smiled ruefully.
"Well, child of sun and stars who cannot tell time, how quickly can you run up the hill and stick a grape vine in the ground?"
Legolas smiled in return and gave a superior look down his nose. "More quickly than you can get there on that tired horse."
And the race was on.
END (really, this time)