Vengeance Is Mine
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JRR Tolkien, various publishers including but not limited to Houghton Mifflin Co, Mariner Books, Ballantine Books, and New Line Cinemas. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Rated R for same-sex relationships and violence/angst.
Lots of gratitude to my wonderful beta, Kenaz!
WARNING: This story is a slash piece and also contains a later character death.
The sun beat down on the aquamarine mass with an intensity that was rare for the time of the year, even as the trees were bracing themselves for the dry, cold season that was starting to sneak up on them. In just a few weeks, the last of the holiday-makers -- mostly from the ruling nobility -- would make their ways back as the water got too cold for all but the bravest of swimmers. Autumn was upon the coast, bringing with it that desolate feel of shortening days and the necessity for nighttime fires.
A low moan filled the air from an isolated spot high upon the cliffs which overhung the miles of golden beach below. Stifled by long grass and vegetation, a gasp joined it as the pair continued their tumble.
A faint sniggering filled the air, and the sounds of pleasure were replaced by a frustrated growl.
Elessiel was hauled to her feet before she could grasp her brother for help, and she found herself staring in the livid -- albeit flushed -- face of her formidable uncle.
"Pray tell what might you be doing here?" Elrohir snarled, his grip upon the wrists of Elessiel and Eldarion just firm enough to evince winces.
Behind him, Legolas stood up, having hastily managed to tuck half his tunic in and to lace up his breeches.
"It is a little high on this cliff to be scouting for sea-shells or hunting for crabs," Legolas said, tugging at his collar to cover marks he knew had just been impressed upon him.
Initially scared, Eldarion and Elessiel were assuaged to hear the amusement in Legolas's voice. While Elrohir seemed angry, they knew they were safe as long as Legolas saw the lighter side of things. It was no secret that Elrohir would do anything Legolas wanted, including letting them get away with this latest round of spying. But then again, they ought not to have worried, for neither had ever seen Legolas lose his temper.
"We decided to collect berries instead," Elessiel said.
"I do not see a basket," Elrohir said, wondering how much his niece and nephew had -- or had not -- seen.
"We were planning to put them in our pockets," Elessiel said.
"And I do not see any picnic basket," Eldarion said. "I seem to recall you both saying that you wish to lunch on your own this afternoon."
"Not all feasts can be put in a basket, Eldarion, and not --"
"Lass!" Elrohir cried with disapproval. While Aragorn and Arwen were no prudes with their children, they were still yet to pass into majority, and it was inappropriate for them to be subjected to such bawdy humour.
"Yes, Roh?" Legolas said, flashing a charming smile.
"Later," Elrohir said, aware of his spouse's smirk as he turned back to Eldarion and Elessiel.
"Alright, Uncle Roh, we admit to spying on you, but who can blame us if the pair of you always disappear without any explanation!" Elessiel said, grinning. While still not fully aware of the exact nature of bed-play, she and Eldarion knew enough to understand that certain things passed between Legolas and Elrohir which Elrohir found embarrassing to talk of in front of others.
"Mayhap the reason we disappear is because we do not wish to have you spying on us?" Legolas said.
Seeing there was no way he could chastise his niece and nephew with any effect given that Legolas was humouring them, Elrohir decided to let the matter go.
"Where are your parents?" he said. "Should they not be watching after you?"
Eldarion's face changed, and a black cloud passed over it. Just the previous night he had had a huge row with Arwen about her excessive mollycoddling. While Elrohir and Legolas had been forced to maintain an outward stance of neutrality, they secretly thought Eldarion had a case, for Arwen's sometimes smothering protectiveness over even what Eldarion should and should not eat seemed only to be increasing rather than diminishing with the years. Not able to overtly give their support, Legolas and Elrohir had taken to teasing Eldarion about it as a means of expressing their agreement that she was taking things too far.
"We escaped while she was tending to Finadel," Elessiel said, grinning, for she had not been subject to the same degree of fussing as her brother. "Also, we thought we saw Faramir arriving. I cannot be sure it was him from a distance, but Eldarion swears it was him."
"I recognise the way he walks."
"About time too," Legolas said. "He works almost as hard as your Uncle Roh!"
"Uncle Roh cannot be working hard if he is here with you," Elessiel said, giggling.
"Uncle Lass would prefer it still if Uncle Roh spent more time with him," Eldarion said, and it was difficult to tell whether he was joking.
Legolas tried to smile. Eldarion's words were to the point, and Legolas often found himself questioning Elrohir's dedication to Aragorn's court as his chief councillor. The lack of time to devote to each other had indeed strained the boundaries of their bonds a good few years ago, and Legolas did not think he could again stomach it were it to happen again.
"It appears we have no choice but to abandon this sojourn and instead return to your parents," Elrohir said, squeezing Legolas's hand, for he had caught a glimpse of his lover's unease. "They will undoubtedly be missing you."
"Very well," Elessiel said, while Eldarion grimaced.
The quartet strolled slowly back to the house, exchanging the light banter and frequent teasing which marked their daily interaction. Elrohir and Legolas had always taken a relaxed, non-paternalistic attitude with their nephew and nieces, and as such were treated more as playmates and confidantes rather than elders.
Stepping into the hallway through the oak doors, a palpable tension descended upon Elrohir and Legolas. Something felt wrong, and try as they might, they failed to nail its source.
"Mayhap you should ready yourselves for dinner," Elrohir said.
"When has it been your turn to urge us to wash your hands and clean our faces before the meal?" Elessiel said, giggling.
Eldarion, however, seemed to catch the gravity which underlay Elrohir and Legolas's jocularity, and dragged his sister away with a last, puzzled glance.
"No, I must return immediately!" Aragorn's raised voice floated down the corridor as Elrohir and Legolas approached his study.
Arwen stood framed in the doorway, about to close the door for privacy as Legolas and Elrohir reached it. Seeing it was them, she let out a sigh and motioned for them to enter.
"What could have rendered you so agitated, sister-dear?" Elrohir said, kissing her in greeting.
"We have hardly arrived for two days and you plan to return within the hour! May I remind you remind you that your duty to your family supersedes you duty to Gondor?"
Elrohir and Legolas exchanged looks. This was familiar territory to them, for their own relationship was often rocked by the need to balance family and state. Arwen was usually tolerant and understanding of Aragorn's commitments to affairs of the state, but the birth of her latest child had left her cantankerous and even unreasonable at a level that had never been seen previously.
"Ind-nîn - My heart --" Aragorn said, but was cut off by a wave of the hand.
"Come to me when you have seen some sense!" she cried, leaving the room with her head held stiffly.
"Your turn," Legolas said, for he had been the one who had calmed Arwen down the previous night when she had lost her temper with Eldarion while Aragorn had been caught in a meeting with one of his subjects.
"Valar," Aragorn said, sinking into a chair as Elrohir left the room. "That she would recover form Finadel's birth soonest!"
Pouring Aragorn a drink, Legolas nodded in sympathy and sat beside him.
"What requires your urgent attention in Gondor? Can it not wait?"
Aragorn leapt to his feet as he recalled what had caused the row in the first instance.
"There has been an attack on the city!" Aragorn cried.
Alarmed, Legolas picked up the fallen goblet and set it right, ignoring the spill while he waited for an elaboration.
"Faramir just arrived to report an explosion which took place in the main thoroughfare of the third level! I must return!"
"Could it not have been an accident?" Legolas said. "It is not unheard of for some miscreant's ill-conceived fireworks to explode without intent."
"This explosion took out the entire street! There now lies a gaping hole of rubble; tens, even a hundred, are feared dead!"
Shocked, Legolas took Aragorn's hand.
"What are you saying, Estel?"
"It was a deliberate attack, and they leave us no choice but to fight back. Do you understand now why I have to return to Minas Tirith? I must lead my people in a time like this, and they must not see me to be a shrinking lily-livered fool hiding on the coast. They will look to me for their strength."
Flushed from his speech, Aragorn looked up to see Legolas looking at him with a vague smile on his face.
"What is it, Legolas?"
The smile widened, and Aragorn was gratified to see affection contained within those blue eyes. "The Ranger has truly left you, Estel."
Clasping Legolas's grip tighter, Aragorn managed a grim nod.
"We cannot always run from our responsibilities."
"You, as my spouse, have understood that far better than any," Elrohir said, having just entered the room.
Unfazed by the ribald humour as Aragorn groaned, Legolas turned to Elrohir.
"I hope you cherish last night, meleth - lover - ."
Elrohir was about to reply with a rakish jibe when he caught the subtle caution in Legolas's eyes. Then did he realise that Aragorn's shoulders were still squeezed in a tense ball.
"Why, Estel, do not fear. Arwen will calm down by the morn. In fact, she told me that she feels an apology is in order."
"A good apology is always enjoyable -- Roh knows of what I speak," Legolas said.
This time, Aragorn laughed out loud as Elrohir started to flush a shade of crimson.
"Speak again and you shall have to make an apology ere I endeavour to address you again!"
Legolas grinned, turned back to Aragorn, and said, "At least wait till Faramir returns before deciding what to do."
"Faramir?" Elrohir said, confused.
Legolas grabbed Elrohir's waist, bringing him to the window, leaving Aragorn sitting by the fireplace, poking at the dying, neglected flames.
There, he filled Elrohir in with the details Aragorn had earlier revealed. Elrohir sobered up immediately when he realised that Legolas's jokes were an attempt -- and a partially successful one -- to ease Aragorn's mind.
"You surprise me with your reaction, Elmaethor - Star-warrior - ."
"Previously I might have jumped to arms, but you forget that Gondor is not mine to run. I will not seek to impose my will upon Estel, for he should know well-enough what decisions to make for his people."
Legolas looked even more surprised. It was no secret hat Elrohir was prone to getting himself over-involved with Gondor, sometimes at the expense of his own well-being, and yet now he had decided to take a step back from the front-line.
"I saw Arwen's distress and was reminded again of how much you bear for my sake."
Legolas leaned forward to give him a quick kiss.
"It is a gesture I appreciate, Roh, but Estel needs you -- and me -- by his side. I believe Faramir has left to summon the other members of the Court and the Grand Council. I believe an emergency meeting is to be held the day after."
"It would be possible for them to hold counsel here," Elrohir said, for many of Aragorn's courtiers and officials would be vacationing with their families on the coast near Dol Amroth in a bid to catch the last warm winds blowing in from the sea.
"Promise me one thing, Roh," Legolas said, feeling a surge of worry rising in him.
Legolas held a side of Elrohir's face with his palm so that their eyes met.
"I would that you be completely open about this to me. Do not strive to protect me or hide anything from me again."
Elrohir stared at Legolas for an age, before leaning forward to kiss an arched eyebrow.
"Whatever did I do to deserve such a sweet, tolerant spouse as you, Lass?" he murmured as he drew Legolas closer to him. "I promised there would no longer be secrets between us.
Legolas felt a trickle of worry ease away.
"Promise me one more thing, Roh? Do not let this consume you like the incident with Haleigh did. I cannot bear to see you suffering, for it would break my heart."
Pressing the sides of their heads together, Elrohir agreed, unable to deny the love he held above everything else his heart's desire.
Neither of the pair caught the pained look that flashed across Aragorn's face as he stared at them, heads bowed together in silent conversation. Neither saw the longing that crept into his face as Elrohir and Legolas embraced each other, faint smiles on their faces as they held each other near. Arwen had been so cold and so distant of late, rendering Legolas and Elrohir's intimacy grating.
"My apologies, Your Majesty," Rhonon, one of the Lords who sat on the Grand Council entered the room. In his reverie, Aragorn had admitted him without realising what he was doing.
Elrohir had crossed the room and stood by Aragorn's table upon the entry of the servant, breaking away from Legolas then to maintain the illusion of their mere friendship.
"Faramir told me you wished to see me," Rhonon said, taking a seat as indicated by Aragorn.
Aragorn filled Rhonon in while Elrohir and Legolas stood to a side, listening intently.
Rhonon had listened with no reaction, although it became clear that he was trying his best to keep his emotions in check.
"With your permissions, my Lords?"
"Yes," Aragorn said, casting a quick glance at the door as Faramir slipped in, unnoticed by Rhonon.
"What worries me is the suddenness of this attack. We had not warning, nor reports; what were our spies doing all this while? How could they not have at least learnt of the existence of such a hostile faction?"
"Because they have failed," Faramir said, stepping forward.
"Lord Faramir, I apologise; I did not intend to question you --"
"On the contrary, it is my men who have failed Gondor."
Elrohir, who had been observing the exchange all this while, decided it was time to intervene.
"We ask questions later. Now, let us concentrate on healing the people and restoring faith in our lands. They will be questioning our security failings only after they have buried their dead and rebuilt that which was destroyed."
"Well spoken, Lord Elrohir," Rhonon said. He was one of the few lords in Aragorn's court who had genuine respect for Elrohir's diplomatic skills and talents in the political arena, the rest simply unable to see past Elrohir's differing physical characteristics and kinship with Aragorn.
"I must return to Minas Tirith soonest," Aragorn said, starting to pace the room.
"We do not know if it is safe," Faramir said, his tone indicating that this was not the first time they were having this discussion.
"I will not hide in this retreat while my people live under threat!"
"What about your family?" Legolas said, his quiet voice breaking the heated atmosphere.
Aragorn found that words failed him.
"Will they return with you?" Legolas said, his voice rising a notch.
Elrohir placed a warning hand on Legolas's arm. He knew Legolas was not provoking Aragorn, and was only concerned about Aragorn's family, but perhaps now was not the time to discuss this.
"My Lord, I feel that you should return to Minas Tirith without your family. Princess Finadel is young, and unsuited to such upheaval," Rhonon said when no one else spoke.
"'Tis true," Aragorn said.
"Is that your decision then, my Lord?"
"Yes, it is."
"Very well then, I shall follow your lead and return to Minas Tirith myself. I beg your leave now to make the necessary arrangements."
"Thank you, Rhonon."
"My duty is to you, my Lord."
Aragorn turned to Legolas the minute Rhonon left, his gaze hard.
"Think in Arwen's place, Estel," Legolas said, pre-empting him. "Can you fault her for transferring her worry into anger? Tolerance wears thin in circumstances as these."
Elrohir felt his insides knot. It had been ten years since the events that had nearly torn apart the bonds that held him to Legolas, and Elrohir's over-involvement in affairs of the state was still a source of much tension between the pair. While Aragorn was not as overwhelmed now as Elrohir had been then, there was still much that cried for his attention of late, and he had devoted much of his time and effort into them instead of being by his wife and newborn daughter.
Aragorn too knew of what Legolas spoke, and he bit back his acrid rebuttal.
"I urge you to consider how much power you have over their happiness," Legolas said.
Seeing Faramir trying to interrupt, he pressed on, "And you too, Faramir. It is easy to forget their needs when they try their best to forgive you."
Elrohir stirred, but Legolas pushed his touch away gently.
Shaking his head to clear it, Legolas gave a small smile. "But I tattle on too much. Should we turn our thoughts to this attack instead?"
"Will you stay here?" Aragorn said, after he had taken some time to digest what Legolas was saying.
Remembering Legolas's rebuke, Elrohir bit back his first reaction and turned to his spouse instead. "I will stay behind if you wish, meleth - lover - ."
Legolas turned the matter over in his head a few times, then said, "No, Roh, you must return with Estel. I will follow in a matter of days."
"No, Lass," Elrohir said.
"You swore fealty to Gondor, and she now needs your service," Legolas said, giving Elrohir one of his radiant smiles that never failed to send stirrings of warmth down his spine. "I do not think less of you for responding to this call.
Aragorn and Faramir flashed grateful looks at Legolas. Elrohir was sharp and a born statesman, an invaluable ally and leader.
"When do we leave?" Elrohir said, setting aside his misgivings.
"Now, if possible," Aragorn said.
"Would that be too hasty?" Elrohir said.
"I believe Arwen will understand better come morning," Legolas said. "There will be little use arriving in Gondor past midnight."
The cloud across Aragorn's face grew darker. Indeed he had all but forgotten about Arwen's unhappiness in light of all the other things that called for his attention.
"Aragorn, please, do not concern yourself with things we can do nothing about 'till tomorrow," Faramir said. "If it would ease your mind, I will ride back to Minas Tirith now and await your arrival --"
"No, Faramir. This cannot wait. Elrohir and I will leave now. If you would be so kind as to speak to Arwen for me, Legolas," Aragorn said, feeling suddenly irritated with Arwen. Surely it was obvious that he did not wish for this anymore than she did! "I do not wish to upset her further tonight."
"If you ask it of me, I will see it done, Estel. Yet, that is not an indication of what I feel about your pig-headed decision."
"Just do it, Legolas!"
"Hold your tongue, Estel, or I shall do it for you," Elrohir snarled, finding it difficult to keep calm when Aragorn was attacking his beloved.
"Roh," Legolas said.
"Lass, stop being so patient!"
"I apologise for causing offence, but my mind has been made up, and I wish for no further intercourse on this manner," Aragorn said.
An equally surly look appeared on Elrohir's face, but he allowed Aragorn to issue his last instructions to Faramir before striding out of the room.
"If there is one thing Estel has learnt from you, meleth -- lover --, 'tis sheer doggedness!" Legolas said, pursing his lips in faint amusement.
"Do not jest of it, Lass. There remains still enough reason in me to recognise the harm such behaviour brings about."
"But now, let us focus our attention on your return to Minas Tirith. Promise to keep a good eye on Estel, both of you, and I shall see that Arwen and the children enjoy whatever is left of their time here. I feel a detour to Ithilien on the way back to Minas Tirith might be in order."
"You will go to Ithilien?" Elrohir said, surprised.
"May I remind you that I do have a kingdom and household to run as well, Elmaethor."
Elrohir smiled. While he and Legolas had been forced to keep their relationship a secret in Gondor, they lived as spouses in the fair realm of Ithilien in the large dwelling-house which Legolas had constructed from living plant-matter. And living under the same eaves undisturbed had its distinct advantages.
"Mayhap Arwen and the children might stay in Ithilien until it is safe?" Elrohir said.
"If it would ease your worries, yes. Although you cannot take Estel's place in deciding what is best for his family, Roh, and I hope you do not try."
"They enjoy being in Ithilien --"
"Very well, Roh. Now, you must have a light supper before you ride out. I can scarcely remember the last time you had something to eat."
"I remember too well when my last feast was, Lass, even if you do not."
Faramir let out a great groan as Elrohir stepped closer to Legolas.
"Would my heart never stop bursting with love for you?" Elrohir murmured, ignoring Faramir.
The smile Legolas gave him continued to be seared in his mind as he left for their set of rooms and Legolas hurried down to the kitchens in search of sustenance.
A/N: Hullo and welcome back to this 4th Age tale. I realise that some of it might be uncomfortably topical, but I really want to explore the nature of loss and statesmanship and the separation of private from public life. Coming from a city which has been through this first-hand, all I hope is that I have done it justice.