Finally! The last Chapter. I want to thank all of you for reading and for those reviewers out there, you made this whole experience an absolute pleasure - thank you!!!! The title of this pretty much says it all - I was thinking of a sequel and some of this chapter sets that up. If I've left too many loose ends though, please let me know and I'll try and do a better wrap up. As always - thank you to Sarah who has been a fantastic and patient beta reader - one of the greatest joys of writing this story has been the opportunity to get to know her - I can't think of a better way to make a friend!
The End and the Beginning
Aragorn crouched before the fireplace in the sitting room, feeding the dying embers with fresh wood. Arwen observed him with great care. She noted the stiffness in his movements, the way he listed to one side, favouring his left leg, and the sigh that escaped his lips while he thought her engrossed in her reading. It wasn't physical aches or pains, however, that caused her husband's uncharacteristic display, she knew. Trials had begun this week for those who had taken part in the rebellion with many of the traitors choosing to take their own lives rather than face the King's justice. He closed the grate and stood, dusting his hands before him over the hearth, but did not return to his place at her side on the divan, choosing instead to bow his head before the fire and gaze sightlessly at the now roaring flames. Arwen's heart constricted as she felt the burdens he carried as if they were her own.
She rose from her seat and crossed the room to his side, wrapping her arms around him and resting her cheek against his back. She hugged him tightly for a moment then stood back, turning him gently with her hands so that he faced her, cupping his cheek with her hand. "They still follow you, my love," she said. "These few that have worked against you are but a single drop of rain in a storm when compared to those that remain loyal to you."
"I know," he answered, softly. "Just as I know that Ingold had much to do with their success. I know this in my head yet still, it pains my heart. There is much for me to do here; much that must still be done before my people truly accept me as their king. My duty becomes ever more clear to me as I realize the problems that allowed this evil to spread." His brow creased and she knew his mind was flicking through that endless list of tasks that called for his attention.
"But you will accomplish naught this evening," she insisted. "There is one lesson that you will learn, my king, and I will help you learn it. You already know how to dedicate yourself to duty. My job will be to teach you to take those few moments that are yours and be in them, wholly. To let go of your worries and enjoy the time that is yours. The time that is ours."
Without taking his eyes from her's, Aragorn took her hand from his cheek and pressed his lips to her palm. "I love you," he said simply.
"And I you. With all of my heart. And for that reason, I will not allow what has occurred to drag you down or to make you feel that you must work yourself into an early grave to 'fix' everything that is broken. You owe yourself time as well."
"I think that I can learn that which you desire to teach me. Some of what has happened could have been avoided if I had only taken time to spend with my friends, to listen more closely to those around me. And, at what I thought at the time was Legolas' deathbed, I experienced such a feeling of being in the moment I have never known before. I thought nothing of work or what was happening around me. I thought only of the precious moments we shared then, at that time, even if it was just my listening to the sound of him breathing. I just need to learn to apply that same thinking to our time together for it is more precious to me than breathing." He pressed his lips to her palm again and smiled.
"Come," she said, grasping his hand and tugging him back to the divan that stretched along most of one wall of their comfortable sitting room. "We will begin practicing, now. You are exhausted." She pushed him down onto the cushions, before taking a seat beside him. She drew him back against her and began massaging his shoulders. "At dinner this evening," she continued, "you will eat heartily and excuse yourself at a decent hour and find your way to your bed for a good night's sleep. No if's, and's, or but's about it."
"Are you ordering the king?" Aragorn said in mock anger, attempting to rise up from where he rested against her chest. "Who exactly do you think you are?"
"Nay, I am not ordering the king," she answered as she pulled him firmly against her, again. "I am ordering my husband and as your wife, I have all of the authority I need to do said ordering, I deem. And besides," she leaned close, her lips brushing his ear as she whispered, "I do not intend for you to go directly to bed." She felt him shudder.
"Oh. Oh!" He said, allowing himself to relax in her hold. Arwen began her careful massage once more and could feel the knots in the muscles she worked begin to ease beneath her fingers. After awhile, just as she had begun to think he might even have fallen asleep, he began to speak, his voice soft and lethargic. "How did you fail to recognize that Linea was Legolas' daughter? You of all people, so perceptive in all matters that pertain to someone else, how did you not notice this?"
Arwen stopped her gentle massage of his shoulders and tilted her head to the side in order to see his face. "Pardon me? I missed nothing." His lips twitched in a half smile and he rolled his shoulders.
"Don't stop, please. I will be quiet if necessary, but please, do not stop."
"No, no you can talk as long as you don't say silly things like that." She began to rub his shoulders again and thought back to her reaction to Éowyn 's confession and description of how Linea came to be. She had landed upon Haldir as the culprit while watching Éowyn 's reaction to her questioning, but realized, not long after, that it had been confusion that shadowed Éowyn 's face, rather than guilt or recognition. Once the offer of a possible name had been made, Arwen felt certain that Éowyn agreed, only to buy herself more time to think. It had not taken Arwen long, though, to begin to harbour doubt. Legolas, ill, distracted and bent on avoiding his dear, perceptive friend, drew her attention immediately as a more likely candidate and fuelled her initial suspicion, once he began falling out of trees and pacing about, as tense and nervous as a wild cat.
"Do you not remember how Legolas acted on our trip to Edoras?" she remarked. "How quickly he and Gimli escaped? And he stayed away from us so long, Estel, not something that he would normally have done, for he knew how much you would have benefited from his presence. He would never have forgone a need of yours to satisfy his own wanderlust. I know that for a fact, my love. There had to be something else at work. And of course, you have only to look at that child and the truth is obvious."
"Yes, so everyone keeps telling me," Aragorn grumbled. "But I have only poor human powers of observation and I missed it entirely. Until, that is, I saw the two of them together. Then obvious is indeed the word I would have chosen. Gandalf had only to look out of the window and see Linea at play in the garden and he knew, or so he says. The only one still in the dark it seems is Thranduil, no doubt because he would never even consider such a thing possible. I was happy to oblige Legolas in his request to remain silent on the subject – I'm certain that his father would not have gone if he had known and Legolas was anxious to have a chance to recuperate without Thranduil's hovering. I'm sure too he needed the time to come up with exactly how he is going to relay this little bit of information while managing to keep his head connected to his body."
"I must admit," Arwen, mused, "I had hoped that I was wrong, even faced with the obvious. It is impossible that Legolas would have done what he did because of a promise. I know him well and it is only love that would lead him to act as he acted, love for a woman who does not love him in return."
"You think that he loves her?"
"I fear that he loves her. It is the only plausible explanation. But he is an Elf and an eternity of unrequited love is not something that I think he can overcome. I am - worried for him. Very worried. I have wondered if that is not part of this affliction that he continues to battle. Between this strange "love" - for I will call it that until you can give me another explanation for his behaviour - the sea longing he struggles against and this poison, I fear he will not be himself for a very, very long time - if ever again."
Aragorn shook his head solemnly. "Ai! Would that I could take back that part of his suffering that I am responsible for!"
Arwen stopped her massage and grasped him gently by the chin, turning his face, not so gently around so she could look him directly in the eye. "My love, why do you insist upon torturing yourself in such a manner! Legolas is not a child."
"I did not say that he was; though there are times when he and Gimli are baiting each other, I seriously question whether either of them are adults." Aragorn's jest was an obvious and vain attempt to smooth away the frown his outburst had brought to her face. But she would have her say and would not be so easily dissuaded. This guilt her husband felt had shadowed his mood since Gimli had told of Legolas' suffering, and before, once he began to suspect that his friend had been afflicted more severely than he admitted.
"Then why can you not see that he made a decision to follow you," she insisted, "even understanding what could very well happen to him? It was his decision. You did not command him. You could never command him, though you might think you could, for you are not his liege lord. You, my love, are his dearest friend. He obeys you because he chooses to obey you. He follows you because he chooses to follow you. He loves you, as is his choice to love."
Silence greeted her words. Aragorn furrowed his brow while searching her face, settling on her eyes. He would find assurance there, absolute assurance that she spoke the truth. Again, the sigh, this time deep and cleansing. "You are right. As always. I – I stand awed and humbled by such a blessing. I cannot think of a way that I could possibly repay him for that which he gives freely."
"Of course you can. You need only love and respect in return. That is all he would ever ask of you."
"He has both, in kind." Aragorn reached a hand up and stroked his fingers lightly through her hair. "And together, you and I will help him to be whatever he will be, given these circumstances. We will stand behind him."
"That we will."
Aragorn smiled and relaxed once again against her chest. She began her gentle kneading of his shoulders and when he sighed again, it was with pleasure. "Beyond anything I could have ever hoped for," she continued, "Faramir seems willing to do the same. I do not know what the world will say about this strange relationship among them all, but I can only hope that they will find a way to cope with it all.
"I agree. I do not believe that Faramir will allow anything to interfere with his relationship with his wife and his daughter. He believes that banishing Legolas from their lives would do just that. It will be very difficult for all of them, I am sure. But it is a decision that he has made and if I know the man at all, a decision made is one that will be adhered to. Now, my question to you is - oh perceptive wife of mine! - What does Éowyn feel? If it is not love, you say, then what, if anything does she feel? Why would she have ever done such a thing, if not for love?"
Arwen paused for a moment, ordering her thoughts. She had spent much time on just this very question and was still without a clear answer. "I cannot say what drove her actions. She tried to explain what went through her mind but it hardly seemed reason enough to throw away everything you have ever been taught, just on a whim. It is fact that people under great stress act in ways not normal to them. She truly believed that she would die. I cannot sit in judgement of someone, given those circumstances. I will not. And she has paid, and will continue to pay, a high price for her actions. I do not know if she loved or thought she loved Legolas then, but I do not think she loves him now; not a romantic love, that is. She cares for him, deeply. She would be devastated if anything were to happen to him. She desperately wants him to be a part of Linea's life. That will have to be enough for us to know, I think."
"It will be difficult for them. Everyone who sees them all together will have to know that Legolas is Linea's father."
"Yes, they look so much alike it amazes me that I could have spent even a moment not knowing the truth. And she looks so much like Legolas' mother, it gives me chills."
"You knew Legolas' mother? I didn't think your father and King Thranduil spent any time together."
"Thranduil was different before Alfirin died. Travel and trade between our two homelands was quite commonplace then. We visited regularly and gathered for celebrations as often as we could. It was a wonderful time, before the shadow settled once again so heavily on all of our lands. And our lives. Alfirin was so beautiful, the most beautiful Elleth I have ever seen. It is no wonder that Thranduil fell in love with her."
"More beautiful than the Lady Galadriel? Better not let Gimli hear you say that!"
Arwen chuckled. "No, I would not say that around him, you are right. But Alfirin possessed more than physical beauty, which I'm certain colours, my opinion. She had an inner peace, a love of life and of this earth that I have seen only in her son. It was her loss that changed Thranduil; forever, I fear."
"Perhaps not. Maybe all of what has happened here will give her back to him again, in his son and granddaughter. It is possible."
"I hope you are right. Alfirin is the reason why Thranduil has acted as he has toward Legolas all of these years. She made him swear to protect their son, with her dying breath. And he could see her reborn in Legolas. He could not chance losing her twice or letting her down again. He felt responsible for her death, you see. He had been warned by a Seer who had journeyed a great distance and fought for entrance to the palace to see the king. He allowed her in and then laughed at her words. They were so ridiculous, so absurd even, that he thought that she must have some nefarious reason for saying them."
"What did she say to him?"
"She said that he would have a golden haired son with eyes the colour of the sea. His son would give his heart to a mortal and would suffer eternal sorrow because of it…" Again Arwen's hands paused and she rested them heavily on Aragorn's shoulders. "I had not thought of those words for years." She placed her cheek against the top of Aragorn's head and breathed a deep, shuddering breath. "The Seer is correct again, it seems. Oh, my dear Legolas!" Aragorn sat up abruptly and turned, pulling her into his arms. He held her close, stroking his hand up and down her back.
"What do you mean, again?" he whispered, into her hair.
"She also predicted that Thranduil's wife would die a horrible death."
"And she did?"
"Yes. She was killed."
"I knew that."
She felt him flinch and his arms tightened about her. "How awful! In all of the years I have known Legolas, he has never told me this."
"It's not something that is ever spoken of. I'm not sure what Legolas has been told and since no one dare speak of it, it is possible that he is not even aware of the facts. Perhaps he knows only that she was killed." Aragorn pulled away and looked at her directly.
"So why were the Seer's predictions seen to be, how did you say, 'ridiculous'? 'Absurd'? 'Led by some nefarious purpose'? I can see how Thranduil might not want them to come true but perhaps he might have been able to keep them from coming true if he had listened."
"Perhaps. But you see - you really know nothing of Legolas' history then, do you? No, of course not. If he hasn't said anything to you of his mother then he most certainly would not share anything else, if, once again, he even knows the story himself. It isn't something that is discussed even among the gossips and I wouldn't be surprised if Thranduil or Legolas' brothers have said anything of it to him either. It is just so…sad, so strange…to the point that one would almost think it was fated, every bit of it. Even what is happening to him now."
"What? Tell me." Arwen settled back against the cushions of the divan, folded her arms across her chest and regarded him frankly.
"I do not think this story will bring you the relaxation that you are so in need of."
"But if you think I can relax if you leave me in my current uninformed state," he protested, "you are the one who is at risk of being called absurd." She breathed a heavy sigh, recognizing the truth of those words.
"Very well. I will tell you." Her eyes narrowed. "But then, you will rest." He nodded. She settled back more comfortably and began to organize her memories. It had been many years since any thought of Thranduil or Legolas' past had troubled her mind. "Times were very bad, for the realm of Orophor, for the Greenwood had slowly fallen into shadow and, in fact, many had regrettably taken to calling it Mirkwood, instead. "Thranduil had little time to do anything but fight or prepare to fight or think about preparing to fight. He had no time to concern himself with matters of the heart but between you and me, it is my own belief that it wouldn't have mattered if he had. He simply had not met the right Elleth. And so he remained single.
"His father was concerned, for Thranduil was his only child, and Thranduil himself was also concerned. What if something were to happen to both himself and Orophor? Who would care for the kingdom then? Who would lead Mirkwood against the darkening shadow that strengthened its grasp on the forest each day? The death of his father sealed Thranduil's decision. He went in search of a wife; someone who would understand what he faced and his reasons for seeking a bride. She would understand that the crown would be all he would offer her and would make no further demands upon him. She would not expect him to love her. He searched among his own people and found just whom he was seeking. She was beautiful but unexceptional, wise and understanding, someone who was attracted to the trappings and luxury of royalty. She gave him three sons, one right after the other." Aragorn's brow furrowed in confusion.
"I thought you said she was more beautiful than the Lady Galadriel. Now she is 'unexceptional'. You are not making this up as you go, are you?" he accused.
"No, of course not," she answered, chuckling. "You must learn to have patience, my lord and let me finish the story. You remind me of a child waiting for a treat."
He folded his arms across his chest. "Very well. I will be patient if you will recall that we do not have all day for this story of yours and I will not go to dinner until I've had it."
"Very well," she laughed. "Then I suggest you stop interrupting me." Aragorn waved a hand at her, motioning her to continue but said no more, drawing his lips into a thin, tight line to make his point. She stifled another laugh before saying, "Let's see, where was I? Yes, Thranduil had three sons. Years passed and the danger in Mirkwood grew. It was not a pleasant place to be at all. The Elves of Mirkwood led a life of constant danger, struggling to maintain an ever-shrinking haven of safety in their forest. There came a time when Thranduil's wife tired of her duties as queen and tired, as well, of the constant danger and death that surrounded them daily. She decided to sail."
Aragorn's eyebrow quirked a question but he said nothing. "Thranduil was not distraught at her leaving, as you see, they were never truly married in the sense of two Elves who have formed a life-long bond of body and soul. Theirs was the most extraordinary of Elven relationships, one I don't believe I have ever seen before or since; a marriage of pure convenience. Thranduil bid his wife farewell and carried on with his life; he had his heir and he was satisfied. So when the Seer told him that he would have a golden-haired son, he believed that she spoke a falsehood. He assumed that she did not know his wife had left, for it was not something that was widely disseminated and many in the outer-reaches of the kingdom had no idea that their Queen was no longer among them. He assumed that the Seer had some reason of her own for telling such a lie – perhaps she thought to frighten him with these dire predictions? At first he laughed at her and then he grew angry and had her cast out beyond the borders of his realm. Such an extreme reaction was perhaps unwarranted, but Thranduil has a tendency to be a little, shall we say, impulsive, in many things he says and does."
"But she was right? The Seer? How?"
"Yes. She was right. Many, many years passed, so many that Thranduil completely forgot of the Seer and her predictions. And then one day he was travelling to Lórien when, for no reason that he could explain then or later, he chose to take a path that was seldom trodden. And at the end of that path, nestled near the banks of the Andúin, was a cottage. He stopped at the cottage to ask permission to rest nearby – he did not wish to frighten the occupants since he had a fair troop of Elves with him. A beautiful Elleth greeted him at the door. She lived alone there in that hidden place. I heard from his own lips that he fell in love with her the instant she opened her mouth and spoke. He said that her voice was the one he had waited his entire life to hear. He asked her to return with him to Mirkwood, to be his wife. And she said that she would. He never made it to Lórien.
"He married some unknown Elf living in a shanty in the woods? I would not think that of Thranduil, not at all. Or that the Elves of Mirkwood would have been so accepting of this perfect stranger."
"Ah, but Alfirin was the love of Thranduil's life. It mattered not to him who she was, what she was, only that she loved him and he loved her. And the Elves of Mirkwood fell in love with her too, the moment they were introduced to their future queen. I have told you that she was special. From that moment on, everything about Thranduil changed. Mirkwood still struggled, times were still difficult, but there was a new light about everything. Elves began to visit back and forth between our cities. We feasted together and danced and oh, times were glorious! Thranduil's sons became close friends with Elrohir and Elladden and there was even talk at one point that I would marry one of them. Relax!" She laughed when she saw Aragorn's face tighten and his brow furrow once more. "You are supposed to be relaxing, remember? It never came to anything. I did not love any of them. I was meant for you." She leaned over and placed a quick kiss against his cheek, which he deigned to ignore, more captured by her story telling than thoughts of romance, for the time being.
"Time passed and even with the burden of the ever-growing shadow, there was still a lightness and happiness to Mirkwood that had never been before or since. After many years of marriage between them, I heard that Alfirin was with child. I wonder that Thranduil did not remember the cursed prediction - perhaps he was so ecstatic that he would have a child by the Elleth who made his heart sing that he thought of nothing else but that. He did not recall the Seer's words, until it was too late. I travelled with Father to Mirkwood after Alfirin's death. We rode day and night, so afraid he was that Thranduil's grief might cause him to do something dangerous or that he would at once fall into despair and fade before we could arrive to offer aid. On the way there, he told me what had happened.
"There had been several Elves born in a village not far from the palace. Alfirin asked for permission to go and visit the mothers, to take them gifts and have a chance to talk with them; this was of course her first child – she was rightfully curious and a little nervous and wanted someone to talk with. She was not due to deliver for several months so there was no danger to her health. She went with Thranduil's blessing. But after she had gone, something rang in his memory. He became unusually concerned and the feeling only grew with each passing moment. He gathered a contingent and went after his wife. They came upon Alfirin not far from the village she had been heading for. Wolves, hundreds of them, had attacked her troop. She lay, mortally wounded and in early labour. She was able to birth and hold her infant son, her blue-eyed son, just before she drew her final breath. And with that final breath she made Thranduil promise to protect their child at all cost. Of course, Thranduil saw those blue eyes and wisps of golden hair and knew that once again, the Seer's premonition would come true if he did not.
"At first, my father offered to take Legolas away, so concerned was he that Thranduil would forsake the child in his grief. But then he saw how Thranduil clung to the babe and knew that the opposite would be true, that Legolas would keep Thranduil in this world if only because of the promise he had made to Alfirin as she lay dying in his arms. He tried! Oh, how he tried to hold to that promise. But he could not keep Legolas from leaving home, from finding danger. From finding you. I thought at first that you would be the mortal that he would give his heart to and would thus cause him to suffer eternally. He has followed you into peril without question and is willing to brave all of the pain of the sea longing to stay here and keep his promise to you. But now - Éowyn. I think perhaps she is his heartbreak, unless…" Arwen drew a small, sharp breath as a sudden thought consumed her.
"Unless what?" Aragorn lifted her chin with a finger and cupped her cheek with his strong hand, his face full of concern. He had heard the tremor to her voice, the fear that had rocked her. "Unless, what?" he repeated, gently, his thumb stroking along the line of her jaw.
"Linea," she whispered. "What if Linea chooses to stay in Middle Earth? What if - she chooses a mortal life?"
The Prince of Eryn Lasgalen had dirt on his face. In fact, he was downright dirty all over, Éowyn thought, as she surveyed the sight of the Elf and their daughter splashing merrily in the shallows of a stream. "What are you doing?" she asked, a hand on her mouth to hide her smile. It had only been a few weeks hence that the terrible snake that had made Legolas so ill had been discovered and destroyed in this very spot, making it possible for all to at last enjoy the beauty that summer had brought to the garden. For Legolas too, it had only been little more than a few short weeks that he had the strength to be mobile for long. This time spent in the garden would be taxing but the excitement and pleasure in his face was refreshing – and relieving, at the same time.
"Linea and I are learning about soil," he grinned.
"Yes, all good Elves must understand soil and the best kinds for planting - that sort of thing." Éowyn could not stifle a giggle and that drew the Prince's full attention.
"Must you learn by bathing in it? Is there no other way?" she giggled again as she drew her finger across Legolas' cheek, exposing a gleaming white line of glowing Elf skin beneath the mud. "I guess I should be happy you haven't been eating it."
"Well, you see, we tried that first…"
"Legolas! You aren't serious!" He captured her hand in his and spun her around laughing at her alarm.
"Relax. She is part Elf, you know. It won't hurt her." She had to laugh in turn, not only because his pleasure was infectious but also at the silliness of her own reaction. It would take her quite awhile to become accustomed to the differences between raising an Elf and raising a human. His smile turned suddenly sheepish and he tightened his grip on her hand, bringing her fingers gently to his lips. "I am sorry," he said, before letting go and stepping away, dropping his head and gazing mournfully at the tops of his boots.
"Yes. I haven't found the right time to say it to you, since, well, since it happened."
"I'm sorry Legolas, but I fear you've lost me. What do you have to be sorry about?" She worried at once that he might be apologizing yet again for what had transpired between them, the night Linea was conceived. He had until recently been given to sudden spates of intense shame which often led to days where he could not bring himself to even look at her, much less speak to her, even though she had tried to impress upon him that she had been there with him, every step of the way, so that she shared equally in any guilt he harboured – he had hardly forced himself upon her. He had been much better recently and she was not anxious to have him sink once again into depression. But the grin now playing on his lips soon told her that her first thought was incorrect.
"I'm sure that vomiting in your mouth was not one of my better displays of good manners." She laughed then with abandon, remembering the shock of it, especially given the first taste she had had of his kisses. She schooled her smile, taking on a mock seriousness as she answered, "That is quite alright Legolas. I have come to expect nothing but surprises from you. Most of them pleasant but the occasional not so pleasant is certainly excusable."
Linea's nurse appeared suddenly at her side and Éowyn bent down to pick up the little girl who immediately began to squirm in protest. Legolas leaned close, whispering something Elvish in her ear. Linea had never heard the language before Legolas came into her life and yet she seemed to understand exactly what he was saying from the very first word. She calmed at once, raised her cheek so that he could plant a kiss on it then waved goodbye, turning to reach her arms out to the waiting nurse.
The nurse quickly covered her surprise at the sudden change in her charge but did not attempt to hide her disgust as the front of her white smock was instantly covered in mud. Éowyn 's smile was bright as she turned back to Legolas who was already making an attempt to tidy his own appearance, swabbing at his face with the hem of his tunic.
"Here, let me," she said, taking a handkerchief from her sleeve and dipping it in the stream before taking a turn at scrubbing the mud from his face, not a difficult task at all; the dirt seemed to fall off of him as if released by some magic spell. The skin beneath the mud was pale, she noted, reminding her that this babysitting adventure would surely have consumed much of Legolas' strength, even if he would never have admitted it to her, or anyone for that matter, save perhaps Gimli or Aragorn. As she touched the cloth to his brow, she was struck once again by the intensity of the vibrant blue eyes beneath her hand and by how much they looked like Linea's, how much the two looked alike in every way. And it was not only in looks that they were so alike, but also in temperament and attitude. How could she not have seen the resemblance and known the truth sooner? She paused in her efforts to remark, "Your daughter is you made over, Legolas. And she is Elven. I am so glad she has you to teach her."
"She is also half human."
"Mmm, but the Elf in her is very strong. I can see it in her spirit, her strength and commitment."
"Those are human qualities too, that she bears, Éowyn. Do not force her to be something that she might not want to be. She will have a choice and we should make it her choice, not ours." Éowyn observed him frankly for a moment before stepping away and settling herself on the low retaining wall that followed along the streambed.
"Yes, she will have a choice, I will agree to that. But you, Legolas, do not. You are an Elf." He stood where she left him, the sunlight filtering through the young saplings he had recently planted, dappling his face with light and shadow that played across his features, mirroring the emotions, light and dark, that also passed quite vividly there. Of all of the Elves in Middle Earth, Legolas Greenleaf was the most attached to this world of mortal creatures; she had heard Gandalf say. And it was no doubt this great love of his that even now tore at his soul - Gimli had told her of Legolas' suffering.
"You can't stay here forever, you know. And I would be most pleased if you and our daughter, would take a ship together, one day." He turned to look at her then and she could see a tension about his jaw that hadn't been there before. Linea had the power to ease his suffering, she realized, if only for a while. It might be enough also to ease him slowly, carefully on his way to where he needed to be going.
"I will not force her, Éowyn", he replied. "I seem to recall that choice played an important part in your life, that you wanted the freedom to make your own. Let our daughter have her own freedom too."
Éowyn relented and patted the wall beside her, thinking of a night not so long ago when she had made the same gesture and this same fair creature had stood before her, skittish and nervous as a wild stallion. He wasn't skittish or nervous anymore she thought as he sat beside her, but instead seemed to have found some ease with her that hadn't been between them, ever before. She felt it too. He had been her lover once, strange and exotic and captivating, but now she felt that he could be her friend, and that meant more to her than anything.
"Would you have wished that I had chosen differently?" she asked honestly, wondering if she would bring a blush to his cheeks as she had the night she had voiced her request to him on the balcony of her quarters at Helms Deep, but interested, more than she would admit, to hear his response. He did not blush but instead gazed off thoughtfully, unseeingly, into the distance. At last he turned and faced her, taking one of her hands gently, into his own.
"I have often thought of what transpired between us. I have felt," he paused as if choosing his words carefully, "I have felt great sorrow and shame because of it. Yet, to say that I regret what happened – no, neither do I regret it. I have often thought that I would have wanted to have had more than we had; to have had you in my life." He dropped his eyes and although he did not blush she knew that these were difficult words for him to say and were perhaps more honest than he had intended.
"I live forever," he said, absently stroking his thumb back and forth across the palm of her hand. "And I can tell you that if things had been different between us, there would still come a time when we would be parted and on that day, the loss would still ache more than my heart could bear. I will cherish what we had, for it has given me Linea. And no matter what her choice will be, she will remain with me, in my heart, forever. And I will cherish what we have now, you and I; a friendship that I hold dear and that also will remain with me forever." He raised his eyes to gaze at her and she felt as if she looked into the depths of the sea itself. "You asked me once if I cared for you, loved you. What we have together, what I feel for you - call it what you want, it doesn't matter. It is enough, Éowyn. It is enough for me."
"Yes," she said softly, "yes, it is enough." She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek.
There. He had said the words that he had practiced countless times. And they were true! He told himself again that they were true. Most times they were. But every now and again, like a wind blowing across the plains in the deepest part of summer, he felt a heat sear through him, stealing his firm hold on his senses. It was these times, coming upon him without warning that made him question his decision to follow Faramir's suggestion and move to Southern Ithilien. What was he doing? But the chaste kiss she had just given him had done nothing more than seal a friendship. He felt no heat sear him at her closeness, no desire cloud his senses or cause him to question his resolve. All was well. What they had between them was indeed enough. He told himself again that his words were true. And this time, he almost believed it.
Epilogue – one year later
"We won't be gone long, I promise." Legolas sat on the edge of the balcony, one leg slung casually over the side as if the 40-foot drop to the stone floor below concerned him not. Gimli, on the other hand, stood resolutely, his back to the balcony wall just beside the door, probably planning his escape. He was no fool, that dwarf, Éowyn knew. He understood what Legolas did not. The dwarf cleared his throat, delicately.
"Yes, Gimli, have you something to add to the discussion?" she asked.
"Ah, no, my lady. I only wanted to point out that the presentation of young Eldarion to the Court will begin within the hour. We had best be getting downstairs." No fool indeed.
"Yes, I think that is most wise," she answered.
Legolas, however, was presently defining the word fool. "It is one floor down. I hardly think it will take us an hour to find our way there," he quipped.
"I'm sure," Gimli warned, "that Aragorn may have a word or two to say to his closest friend at a time like this." Legolas raised an elegant eyebrow at the dwarf.
"In case you have forgotten Gimli, I was closeted with the father of said son for hours last evening, discussing everything there is to know about fatherhood and all of the amazing feats already accomplished by the young Prince at the ripe old age of four weeks. I cannot imagine that Eldarion has had a chance to do anything else amazing between then and now. Do not fear, my friend. If I am ever blessed myself with a child of my own, I now know exactly what to say to you, and will be able to entertain you, in a like manner, for hours on end. I am certain, as well, that Aragorn has many more important things to do to get ready for the event. I would only be in his way.
"Now, Éowyn…" She felt his keen gaze on the back of her head and she turned to him once more, taking up the conversation that she had hoped so much that Gimli had managed to distract him from. Well, she would just have to put her foot down. "As I said, we won't be gone long, a month or two at most..."
"No. Legolas. No. No. No! You will not be taking her anywhere. She is but two years old!" Legolas' fair brow crinkled as he mulled this bit of information over. Gimli, having failed at his attempts to keep the peace, slid carefully for the balcony doors. The frown cleared from the Elf's face and his look brightened.
"Alright, alright, I understand, of course, she is still too young. I will wait a month or two, certainly."
"A month or two!" Éowyn cried. "Maybe in a decade or two. Maybe," she muttered. When next she looked, the dwarf had vanished.
"Now Éowyn …" She whirled back around to face the father of her daughter, prepared to do battle. No way was he taking her child anywhere - she was Linea's mother after all. He was smiling at her, a smile that could melt iron or maybe stone, most certainly her heart. But he didn't ask again, to her utter surprise.
"You are her mother," he said instead. "And I will defer to you as one who knows best." And it was then she knew that her darling little girl would soon be going on a trip with her rogue father. She feared mightily for her future when the two of them would work together against her. She would never be able to say no to that smile, nor to the identical one that flashed just as beautifully across her daughter's precious lips. She would never want to.
The windows of the library were lit periodically with flashes of light from the fireworks that were exploding across the dark skies in celebration of the birth of the King's heir. There had been no need for candles, thus ensuring that the dark figure could find what it sought without risking discovery. The book slid from its place on the shelf, soundlessly. In a moment, it was secreted in a plain fabric sack and tied securely. A few steps more and the search would, at last, be over. The door opened.
Galeanus lit a candle as he entered, closing the door part of the way to ensure that the flame was not put out by the wind that blew in behind him. He set the candle on the nearest table and hobbled toward his desk and the book that he had left behind. He had no desire to stay at the celebration for the birth of the King's son. It had nothing to do with the rheumatism that ached at his joints or the cloying tiredness that shadowed his every waking moment – he would have wanted to go, even if he had been a young man; the call of his book was of much greater interest to him than dancing or feasting or searching for a mate among the seemingly endless stream of single maidens and widows. The only difference between being younger and older to his eyes was that he now had an excuse to say an early good eve and retire to his room.
He found the book, right where he had left it, on the corner of his desk, and turned at once to go. But his eye was caught by a thing so simple that if he were even a fraction less compulsive he would most certainly have passed it by; the stack of books on the edge of one table was shifted, oh, so slightly, as if a hand had brushed them in passing.
His eyes searched the dark recesses of the library, taking advantage of the explosions of light created by the fireworks to search even deeper. His heart was beating fast in his chest, so fast that it caused his breath to come in short painful gasps. When his eyes lighted on the dark figure flattened against one of the stands of books, his heart beat even faster, his breath hurt even more as it pushed through his lungs. He took a step back towards the door, clutching at his now aching chest. Why was this person here? What did they want that they would come into the library in the dark and hide?
The figure moved, skirting the feeble light cast by the candle Galeanus had brought, innocently, confidently only moments before. He would not be able to outrun the darkness that the figure might wish to inflict. He was too old and too tired. Suddenly, the pain in his chest intensified, flaring through his arm so sharply that he had to gasp. And gasp again when he could not catch his breath. Everything was pain then, his chest, his right arm; even his head felt like it would explode. He took another step in the direction of the door; desperate to find someone, something that might ease this horrible pain in his chest, wondering, perhaps for the first time in his life, why he had held himself apart from others. No one would miss him until the morrow. No wife would note his absence at her side this eve; no child would wonder why their father had not come home. He would die here in his library, alone with his books, just as he had spent his living days. Books were wonderful, he thought as his head hit the hard stone floor, but they were just books, and they would not mourn his passing.
The old man landed hard on the flagstones, the book he held in his hand striking the ground with a loud thud and sliding across the floor to land against the archive master's desk. The figure stepped over the book and then the man, hurrying quickly toward the door. With one last look at the man, the figure exited the room, closing the door tightly behind.