DISCLAIMER: All of it belongs to the Professor.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, this is finally the end... Many, many thanks to all the people who've read this fic, especially those who reviewed or added it to Favourite/Alert lists. You kept me going, mellyn nîn.
Many thanks to Calenlass Greenleaf1, XoLikeWoahxO, PeppyPower, Silivren Tinu, invisigoth3, Calathiel of Mirkwood, Lady Ambreanna, ArwenGranger and Elfinabottle for reviewing.
Onward to the end!
Lord Elrond and Lady Gilraen were summoned at once when the riders were sighted. They went to the courtyard to await the arrivals, Gilraen displaying an unwonted restlessness that was at odds with her normal calm demeanour.
"Be at ease, my lady," Elrond said, smiling. "Estel must be fine. We would have been told if it were otherwise."
Just then one of the guards ran up to them and murmured something to Elrond. Lady Gilraen looked at them curiously, but, lacking elven hearing, she could not tell what was being said. At last Elrond nodded, thanked the guard, and asked him to go back to his post.
"It appears things are about to become interesting, my lady," Elrond said, smiling slightly. "Apparently Legolas is with the riders... I should have expected that my sons would talk him into a visit."
"Aye. I do not know whether to be glad or terrified. It is always a pleasure when Legolas is here, but he is insatiably curious about everything. It has caused trouble more than once, usually for him. But I must admit that he has improved in recent years... He was well-nigh impossible to contain when he was an elfling."
"If he is coming here... Does that mean Estel made a good impression on Thranduil?"
Elrond laughed. "Legolas and my sons have been friends nearly all their lives, so I do not know that Thranduil's reaction to Estel can be deduced from his presence in Imladris. But I am perfectly sure Estel made a good impression on Legolas, which is enough. Thranduil can never bring himself to deny his son anything."
"Claiming the throne of Men will be difficult enough, but holding it will be far harder. Estel will need the support of all the elven realms if he is to have any measure of success."
"Thranduil seldom interferes in the affairs of Men."
"All the same, being in his bad graces would not help Estel in the least." Gilraen stopped speaking as the gates opened and the riders entered. Glorfindel was leading, as he always did. The others followed in twos and threes, with one of the sons of Elrond – Gilraen thought it was Elladan, but could not be sure – taking the rearguard, along with a strange elf who had to be Thranduil's son.
Gilraen eyed the elf with unconcealed curiosity. She did not know many elves; she had little interaction with those outside Elrond's household. He seemed merry and outgoing – far too merry and outgoing to be a warrior of the woodland realm, as she had been told he was.
Then Estel saw her, dismounted, and ran to her with a glad cry. Gilraen forgot all her speculation about Sindarin princes and Mirkwood warriors in the joy of greeting her son.
Elrond, meanwhile, formally welcomed Erestor, Glorfindel and the rest of the warriors before turning his attention to his sons and their friend.
"Mae govannen, hîr nîn," Legolas said, inclining his head politely.
"Welcome, Legolas." Elrond finally permitted himself to smile. "Your room is ready for you, as always. Might I hope that this time you will endeavour not to visit the healing wards? I do not believe Thranduil has entirely forgiven me for that last incident."
"He doesn't blame you for it, Ada," Elladan said.
"He blames us," Elrohir supplied. "And the elfling. And the idiot Archery Master who taught the elfling to shoot."
"And the seneschal of Imladris, who encouraged him to go riding with us."
Before Elrond could say anything, Estel interrupted, seizing Legolas by the hand and pulling him away from the twins. Legolas, too startled to react, found himself being presented to Lady Gilraen in what his father would have termed a most inappropriate fashion.
"Legolas, this is Nana," Estel said, smiling brightly. "Nana, this is my friend Legolas. He's going to teach me archery. King Thranduil said I could return to Mirkwood for the winter to learn."
Legolas recovered himself enough to bow formally. "Mae govannen, Híril Gilraen."
For a moment Gilraen was not certain how to respond. Finally she managed to say, "It is an honour to meet you, Thranduilion. Estel, are you so displeased to be home that you speak of leaving as soon as you have returned?"
Estel flushed, but managed a scapegrace grin for his mother.
"I am pleased to be home, Nana, but Glorfindel told me Thorontur is the best archery teacher this side of the Sea."
"That is no idle praise, my lady," Elrohir offered. "After all, Thorontur managed to teach even Legolas not to shoot too wide."
"Glorfindel, on the other hand, had absolute no success with you and Elladan," Legolas said, easily ducking the blow Elrohir aimed at him, but not managing to avoid Elladan's. Gilraen looked slightly bemused as Legolas fixed the older twin with an accusing stare that fazed the dark-haired elf not in the least.
Gilraen, glancing at her son, was surprised to find him standing next to Legolas, offering to adjudicate if the prince wanted to settle the question on the archery fields. She forced herself not to frown; she had agreed to let him go to Mirkwood because it was always prudent to be on good terms with other rulers and because he truly did need to see the world outside Imladris, but she was not sure that it would be the best thing for him to develop too close a friendship with the prince.
She had nothing against Legolas, of whom she had heard only good reports from both Elrond and Glorfindel, but as she watched Estel laughing with the three young elves, she was suddenly worried that her son would be a stranger to his own people.
Then Legolas, glancing up at her, smiled brightly. Gilraen, her worries disappearing, could not help smiling back. How much her son would be able to relate to his people was a problem for another day. For now, it was enough that he was happy in the company of friends. She made a mental note to try to get to know Legolas better over the next few weeks. She had never been particularly fond of the young elven warriors who were always in and out of the Last Homely House, but then Estel had never taken to any of them as thoroughly as he seemed to have taken to the prince of Mirkwood.
"Well, my lady," the Master of Imladris said, with an affectionate glance in the direction of the four figures now bickering cheerfully as they led their horses to the stable, "at any rate the next few weeks will not be tedious."
Mae govannen – Well met
Hîr nîn – My lord
Híril Gilraen – Lady Gilraen
There is a prequel planned for this, although I probably won't start posting it for a few weeks, and perhaps a sequel chronicling Estel's winter in Mirkwood – although that, even if it does get written, will probably be a series of one-shots rather than a multi-chapter fic.
Many thanks to all my wonderful reviewers, and I hope you liked this story.