Author's Note: This chapter was an absolute monster to write. I am so sorry that it's taken me this long to update - I seem to be having such a hard time letting this story go! The good news is that the next (and final) chapter is nearly done, and the first bit of the sequel is well underway. So there will be lots happening soon!
Super brief recap: Legolas and Meghan have just gotten engaged, and Aragorn's coronation is about to happen.
CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR – Oh, I Just Can't Wait to be King
Meghan smoothed out the front of her dress, even though it was already neatly pressed. It made been made in the style of Gondor's court with a softly curved collar and deep pleats in the long skirt, all in green tones. She traced the embroidery across the high neckline and wondered if the silvery leaf pattern had been accidental, or a wink and a nudge prompted by Ioreth.
"You look very fair, my friend," Éowyn said from the other side of the small room, where she was braiding back the crown of her hair.
"Thank you," Meghan replied with a smile. She plopped down on her bed and touched the deep blue cloak that Éowyn had draped across the foot of it. "This is beautiful. Is it new?"
"A gift from Faramir." Éowyn made eye contact with her through the mirror and grinned.
"Oooo!" Meghan crowed. "Éowyn, I'm—" She choked a bit as tears welled into her eyes. "You deserve so much happiness, and I'm just really glad for you. I'm so grateful that you're my friend."
Éowyn came to sit next to her on the bed and put a hand on her shoulder. "And I you, Meghan. How strange that I could call an Elf a friend! Yet I have learned to consider all the races of Middle earth with greater understanding. I hope that we will remain friends all the years of my life."
"I am quite sure we will," Meghan smiled even as the realization struck her that she would long outlive Éowyn. She swallowed the sudden thickness in her throat, determined not to let sad thoughts darken the day. "Is Faramir coming here before the ceremony?"
"No, I will go to him in the upper levels. He takes his duties as Steward very seriously, and did not want to be absent should there be need of him."
"He is so not who I would have pictured you with, and yet he suits you so well."
"The world has changed, and I have changed with it," Éowyn said with a soft smile. "A king at last on Gondor's throne, my own good brother the Lord of the Mark, and I to wed a man who esteems learning above war. Who could have guessed that such darkness would give way to this?"
"It almost seems to good to be true."
"But it is true," Éowyn firmly said. "And you and I shall reap the rewards of it. Would you like to walk with me up to the first level? Faramir and I would welcome your company." She stood and picked up the blue mantle, considering its weight.
"Thanks, but Legolas is meeting me here."
Éowyn cast the cloak around her shoulders, and it fell in dark folds around her, the silver embroidery catching the light. "Then I will see you at the coronation."
"Alright. You look so great, Éowyn!" Meghan called after her as she swept out the door. The blonde cast a grin over her shoulder on her way out, and Meghan smiled to see her friend so happy.
She puttered around the room for a few minutes, fussing with her hair and straightening the trinkets on her bedside table. She would have just gone out to find Legolas if she hadn't been so rubbish at finding her way in the city – every level looked nearly identical, and she knew it would just make her late to the coronation. She didn't have to wait long, though, because after a moment there came a knock at the door.
"Coming!" she called, and threw open the door.
She went absolutely stock-still.
"What is it?" Legolas asked, immediately looking concerned.
A horrible, horrible urge to giggle was taking hold in Meghan's stomach, and she clenched her jaw to restrain it. "Nothing," she choked out, afraid to say more lest she start laughing.
His brows furrowed, which somehow only made the situation funnier to her. A tiny giggle escaped – except it came out more like a strangled grunt, and of course that was even funnier. Realizing that she was at a critical point in a downward spiral, Meghan sucked in a deep breath and fanned her face in an attempt to compose herself.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I'm fine. It's nothing. I'm fine. I am fine." Talking seemed to help, and if she didn't quite look at him directly, she could keep it under control.
"Are you sure?" He didn't seem convinced.
"I am so sure that I'm alright," she replied, masterfully swallowing the last of her giggles.
Legolas still shot her a skeptical look, but it melted into a smile. "You look very pretty."
"So do you," she whispered, and any pretense of keeping a straight face ended as she dissolved into the kind of belly-laughter that is almost silent and makes your eyes water. She had to clutch the doorframe for support. "I'm so sorry," she gasped even as the traitorous laughter overwhelmed her. "This is so mean—I'm sorry—" Breathless, she couldn't get the words out.
He had crossed his arms across his chest, quirking one eyebrow at her as the giggles subsided. "Are you quite finished?" he asked dryly, which was enough to send her back into hysterics.
"I'm so sorry," she repeated as she finally got herself under control and wiped the tears from her lashes. "I shouldn't have laughed. I just did not expect you to be wearing something like that."
He glanced down at the long silver robe he wore. "Truth be told, I do not care for these formal clothes, either. I prefer my hunting greens."
"You look very… stately," Meghan said, now absolutely determined to maintain whatever shred of restraint she had left. "Is that, ah – is that a tiara?"
"I believe the proper term is circlet," Legolas replied with a pained expression, "and I like it least of all."
"It makes your hair look very shiny," she offered.
"My brother was thoughtful enough to bring my formal attire from home. I am certain that my father would not appreciate his sons attending an official coronation in anything less."
Meghan didn't say anything in the moment, but she took note of his comment about Thranduil. She had begun to suspect that there was a long and complicated history between them, and wondered how she might go about unraveling it. And without knowing Legolas' father yet, it almost seemed pointless to try.
"Where is Gwaethir?" She changed the subject in the hope that she wouldn't get another giggle-fit at his outfit.
"With a friend," he said, brightening. "Will you join me? There is someone I would have you to meet."
Intrigued, Meghan took his arm. "This is very mysterious. Do we have far to go?"
"Just down the hall. Did you not hear us last night?"
"No," Meghan replied.
"I thought to wake you, but it seemed unkind given the lateness of the hour."
"What on earth were you doing?"
They had made their way past several doors by now, and Meghan expected each one to be their destination. Legolas quirked a mischievous smile at her as he gently slowed them down at the last one. "My brother and I smuggled a vagabond and her father into the city long after moonrise. Would you care to meet her?"
"You don't mean...?" Meghan asked in the same moment that he opened the door.
"I am hardly a vagabond, mellon," a musical voice spoke from inside the room.
"Are you—?" Meghan gasped, rushing inside to see a tall Elf lady in a pale dress the colour of spring. "You're her! I'm so glad you're here! I didn't think you were coming!"
"You must be Lady Meghan," the brunette laughed, although it was so lovely and deep that it almost seemed more wonderful than laughter. "I am Arwen Undómiel."
"What happened? What do you mean you smuggled her in? Why is it a secret?" Now that the initial surprise was over, Meghan couldn't get the words out fast enough. She realized that Gwaethir was there too, lounging easily in the open window frame with one leg swinging outside. Apparently Legolas isn't the only Elf comfortable with sheer drops, she thought.
"Aragorn does not know she is here," Gwaethir explained, "so you must play innocent if you speak to him this morning."
"We mean to surprise him at the coronation," Legolas said.
"That's so exciting! This is the most wonderful thing that could have happened today. He's missed you so much, Arwen, even though he didn't like to talk about it often. I think that maybe he has started to lose hope that you would come."
"There is always hope," Arwen replied quietly. "He bid me sail West and remain with my kin, but I shall not go now to the Havens. Mine is the choice of Lúthien, as she chose so have I, both the sweet and the bitter."
"I think you're very brave," Meghan said, swallowing around the lump in her throat.
Arwen laughed again, the sudden sound dispelling any melancholy in the air. "I am too impatient to wait for the coronation. Perhaps I will slip away from you and go to my beloved now!"
"It would not do for the King of Gondor and the reunited realms to miss his own coronation," Gwaethir said with an impish grin, swinging down from the windowsill to give Arwen a kiss on the cheek. "Let the poor man get through the rites undistracted. There will be ample time for a reunion after."
"This is how I know you are not in love," Arwen teased. "If you were, then you would understand the length of an hour!"
Gwaethir glanced around the room as a look of stricken horror dawned across his face. "I did not realize until this moment that I am solely in the company of lovers," he exclaimed. "I hope this sickness is not catching, for I have no wish to pine after a lady. Save me from the madness of love!"
"It is a sweet madness, brother," Legolas said.
"Still, I would have no part in it," Gwaethir smiled in return. "But look! The sun is already well in the sky. Our father could hardly countenance his sons being late to a royal coronation, though it is a mortal's. Away with you two, and I will deliver our Lady Evenstar to her noble swain at the proper time."
"I look forward to making your better acquaintance, Lady Meghan," Arwen said.
"Oh, just Meghan, please. I've had enough of Lady Meghan to last me a lifetime." She twinkled innocently at Legolas.
"I meant it as a courtesy," he said, equally – if not more – innocent.
"It sounded like you were intentionally reminding me that you wanted to just be friends," Meghan smiled back.
"See how they already quarrel," Gwaethir stage-whispered to Arwen. "This fate awaits you also, mellon. Now do you see why I hesitate to be bound by any troth?"
"There must be no bickering on this happiest of days," Arwen said. "I will see both of you later. Gwaethir, I thank you for your kind offer to escort me, but I think I will go up with my father, for I would speak with him as we walk."
"As you wish, my lady." Gwaethir inclined his head graciously.
"Would you like to go with us?" Meghan asked.
He put a hand over his heart with an offended look. "And be seen trailing in the footsteps of my little brother and his beautiful betrothed? I think not. No, I will find my woodland kin and join the party with them." He perched easily up onto the windowsill and shot a deliberate wink at Meghan before disappearing out into the morning air. She knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, that he knew about Legolas coming to her two nights ago.
Arwen was watching the two of them with a twinkle in her eyes. "Can you both be trusted to walk together without quarreling?"
"This is hardly our first disagreement, mellon," Legolas said as he pressed a quick kiss to Arwen's cheek. "Had you only seen us when first we came to Rohan…"
"Or when I drugged Haldir!" Meghan piped in, then wilted a bit. "Um… Rohan was a difficult time for us in general."
"I see there is much to tell in your story," Arwen said, smiling. "But for the present, your brother was right. It is time for the coronation!"
"Of course," Legolas said. "We will see you at the feast."
They left Arwen and made their way from the guest wing out to the open air. The sun felt warm on Meghan's face after the coolness of being inside, and the air had that indefinable smell of summertime. She breathed in deeply as they walked and thought of what Éowyn had said earlier – that the world had changed, and they would live in peace and happiness.
"Did I really offend you when I persisted in calling you lady for so long?" Legolas asked after a moment.
The question surprised her, because she had already forgotten about their exchange earlier. She thought about it for a moment. "No. It just confused me."
"If it is of any solace to you, I was confused too."
"Maybe Gwaethir was right, and this whole love business is just too much work." She used her elbow to nudge him in the ribs where he was most ticklish.
He shuddered away with a barely suppressed laugh – always her favourite response. "Had I known how often you would tickle me like an Elfling, I would have called you lady for another age!"
"It's my only advantage over you," she said, flexing her index finger at him threateningly.
"That is hardly your only advantage," he said. "Why, you could undo me more easily than you may guess."
"If you sent me away from you, and bid me not return."
She poked him in the stomach again, earning another ridiculous giggle. "I'll stick to tickling you. I like you too much to send you away. Although… that robe might mysteriously disappear from your wardrobe at some point."
"And three more would appear in its place. The seamstresses of Nídhrond are very vigilant."
"Nídhrond?" She hadn't heard that word before.
"It is the name of my father's city. The forest is called Mirkwood by most, though we still use the name Eryn Lasgalen in memory of its green boughs before its corruption. But the city in which my people dwell is called Nídhrond, after the river that runs beneath our halls."
"Oh," Meghan said. She loved hearing about his home, but he seemed reluctant to talk about it very much. She had learned enough to know that Mirkwood had fallen into darkness and it grieved him to speak of it. But she also knew that Galadriel and Celeborn had joined King Thranduil to effect some kind of change in the forest, and she suspected that Legolas wanted to see what that meant before he told her more. I will just have to be patient, she reminded herself. I'll be there before I know it, anyway.
By then, they had walked up to the uppermost level, and entered the throngs of people in the open courtyard. They were ushered to a place of honour close to the steps leading to the Great Hall, and after a moment Gwaethir and the rest of the Mirkwood Elves joined them.
"This is so exciting!" Meghan whispered to Legolas, but quickly quieted because Aragorn and Gandalf stepped out of the huge double doors and onto the dais at the top of the steps.
Most of what Meghan remembered from the coronation was the atmosphere of solemn, irresistible joy. She didn't know most of the history of Gondor's rulers, but she could sense the deep relief and wonder in the people around her when Gandalf placed the winged crown on Aragorn's head. Once he finished the old song of Númenor, he stepped down from the dais and began to walk down the aisle in the courtyard, bowing to those he knew as he went.
As he drew closer to them, Meghan leaned close to Legolas and whispered, "When can we tell him? Can it be soon?"
"Very soon," he murmured back, then smiled to his friend.
Aragorn put his hand to Legolas' shoulder in a friendly greeting, which he returned. "Hannon le," Aragorn said.
Meanwhile, Meghan was practically vibrating with excitement. She bounced up on her toes and grinned so hard that she probably looked unwell. Aragorn turned to her with a quizzical smile. "What is it?" he asked.
"I can't tell you," she squeaked.
"See with your own eyes, my friend," Legolas said, tugging Meghan out of Aragorn's line of vision. She hadn't meant to cry, but the look of wonderstuck disbelief on Aragorn's face as he saw Arwen made Meghan's eyes sting with emotion. She gripped Legolas' hand tight and struggled not to let out a whoop of pure elation as the King and Queen of Gondor swept into each other's arms.
A few moments later, once Aragorn and Arwen had subsided into whispers, they made their way over to where the Hobbits had been waiting. Meghan was too far away to understand the words they were saying, but she was more than happy to drop to one knee in what could only be in honour of Frodo and Sam.
When Aragorn rose to his feet again, some unspoken weight was lifted and the crowd erupted into cheers. The wonderful chaos reminded Meghan of when the army returned from the Black Gates. She turned to see if Legolas remembered too, only to discover that he was already speaking with Faramir. They had been talking more lately, discussing Faramir's plans to relocate to Ithilien in a year or two. Meghan smiled at their earnest conversation in the midst of the noise and bustle of the packed courtyard, and decided to look for Éowyn.
She hadn't gotten far when she started in surprise at Gwaethir's sudden appearance at her elbow. By then she had realized that Elves moved much more quietly than humans, but someday she hoped that she could hear them coming first.
"May I speak with you for a moment?" he asked, all courtly politeness in contrast to his teasing earlier.
"Sure," she replied. "What's up?"
He quirked an odd look at her. "I fail to see how that is relevant."
"No, it's just– it means what's happening or what do you need." She had nearly forgotten what it was like to explain her modern slang, since everyone had grown accustomed to it.
"Hmm. A strange phrase. Well, I will tell you what is up." Gwaethir smiled a little at the words. "I hope this is not an indelicate question to ask of you, but I like to believe that we have become friends already."
"Friends don't let friends wonder about indelicate questions," Meghan prompted.
"A fair point. My brother is loath to ask this of you, for he fears to hurry you before you are ready. But he and I are both needed at home and our company must depart this city soon. Are you willing to join us on our journey in a week's time?"
A week! That was much sooner than Meghan had thought. "But you've only just arrived! I assumed you would rest for longer before starting the return trip."
"Elves are a hardy folk," Gwaethir replied wryly. "A little more than a week's respite is ample for us, especially since we are all eager for home."
"Then of course I am willing. How long does it take to get from here to Mirkwood?" I should call it Eryn Lasgalen, she thought with an internal wince, hoping that she hadn't given offense.
"Six weeks to the borders of the forest, and another four days from there to Nídhrond if all goes well. We will travel light, so do not pack overmuch."
"I don't have much to pack," Meghan said.
Gwaethir smiled kindly in understanding. "All will be provided for you in Nídhrond. You will want for nothing."
"Thank you," she replied, returning the smile. "Honestly, I'm excited to meet your family. Your sister sounds wonderful."
"Alassëa will be so pleased to meet you, as well," Gwaethir said. "She has quite despaired of having a sister. What a surprise you will be to her!"
"You and Legolas must be the most eligible bachelors in the entire kingdom. How could she possibly think you both wouldn't marry?"
"Legolas has ever been wed to his duty as Lord Commander of the Guard, and he is rubbish with ladies anyway. So stilted and formal, and hardly able to speak of what he feels. I pity you, Meghan, for you have promised yourself to a very boring ellon."
"Sooo boring," Meghan nodded. "In fact, I better go to make sure that he hasn't bored someone to death."
Gwaethir waved her away with a look of feigned exasperation. "Away with you, lovebird. Your happiness disgusts me."
"You better get used to it. We're about to travel together for six whole weeks." She grinned at him.
His face crumpled into a very un-Elflike grimace. "It will be a long six weeks, then."
"I'll see you at the feast," Meghan laughed before turning away to find Legolas. The crowd was so thick that it was difficult to see through it, but after a moment she spotted his blond hair not far away. As she got closer she saw that he was facing away from her, speaking to Gimli.
Once she was just beside him, she slipped a hand into his and was delighted when he startled a bit at the touch. "Did I sneak up on you?" she asked.
"There is so much noise in this courtyard that I can hardly hear my own thoughts," he replied.
"Ho, Laddie, she most certainly gave you a fright," Gimli rumbled with laughter.
Legolas cleared his throat. "Gimli was just explaining to me that his kin from Erebor are only a few days from the city."
"Oh?" Meghan said, going along with his obvious attempt to change the topic. "How do you know?"
"They sent word by ravens this morning," Gimli replied. "Two score of good stonemasons and miners. Minas Tirith will be fit for a king soon enough."
"I'm sure that Aragorn is enormously grateful," she said.
"And I will be grateful for some food. Will you join me inside?"
"We'll catch up in a minute," Meghan said. "I would rather wait until the crowd thins out a little bit before trying to get anywhere."
"As you like, lassie," Gimli said, then bowed and moved away.
Meghan swiveled around to face Legolas. It really was quite loud in the courtyard, with hundreds of people slowly milling around and talking all the while. Still, the air was bright and tasted of summer, and Meghan smiled up at him despite his ridiculous silver circlet.
"So I hear we're leaving in a week," she said.
His brows drew together in surprise. "I intended to ask you about that later. How did you know?"
"Gwaethir beat you to it."
"He was concerned that you didn't want to ask me," Meghan said. "He wanted to be the bad guy making me decide, instead of you."
"Ever the elder brother." Legolas' voice was tinged with dry humour. "I cannot fault him for acting in kindness, but I did not fear to ask this of you. Mithrandir and the hobbits will also be leaving when we do."
"Then it sounds like perfect timing." She used the density of the crowd as an excuse to sidle closer to him and wrap her arms around his midsection. He softly cupped her face between his hands, his eyes dark and warm.
"Thank you, my Meghan," he said before pressing the lightest of kisses on her lips.
"So indecent for a proper Elf Prince," she grinned up at him. "Kissing in public! I blush to think of what might be next."
He laughed, and this time kissed her more fully. She tried to follow him up onto her tiptoes as he pulled away, but he was too tall. "We should join the feast before we are missed," he said.
"Okay," she said, breathless. "But just one more thing before we do."
"What is that?"
She reached up and carefully pulled the circlet off his head. "No more tiara for tonight."
"It is strange how easily such a thing can be lost," he said, taking it from her hands to let it fall to the ground between them.
"I mean, you must have just forgotten to put it in your saddlebags when you were packing for home—"He interrupted her with another kiss, and this one was the kind that felt like laughter and made her stomach flutter with anticipation. His breath felt warm on her lips as he lingered close to her for a moment.
"I'm going to marry you someday," she said, half a threat and half a promise.
"I depend on it." He smiled and took her hand, and together they went into the Great Hall to join their friends.
As always, thanks to MusicalSoul for keeping me sane post-chapter-finish. So much love to Amelia, who should probably get cowriter status at this point for all the ideas and brainstorming she shares with me. And a thousand millions thanks to all y'all that have stuck with this story for so long. One more chapter to go!