Disclaimer: All characters, objects and locations belong to somebody who is not me. There. I've said it. *sob*
Thanks to Dinelleth, Princess Arimae, Xenia!, CAH, Ohtar Vicky, Firefly-Maj, Ninna, AiedailWing, mikinyet, Estelle Nimmire, FluffyFluff, snlover10, Silivren Tinu and Lady Ambreanna for reviewing the last chapter. *g*
Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Calenlass, for comments, suggestions, and patience with questions.
Warning: Not a warning, really, but the tone of this chapter has refused to stay as light as the others. *Looks pleadingly at Thranduil* I hope that doesn't spoil it for anyone!
In case anyone was wondering, the incident Aragorn mentioned in the last chapter will be explained in full as a one-shot later. ;-) Also, I don't think this is the last I've seen of this particular plot bunny… There will most likely be a follow-up posted as a second chapter to An Elf-Lord in Peril. Neither will be done at once, though.
And now, to conclude… the third Hunter!
Part III: Two Kings
"How much have you told him?"
"Nothing," Legolas replied, his gaze unwavering on the door to his father's study. "I thought it would be best if we told him together."
"You mean you want him to be too busy shouting at me to waste anger on you."
"I would not describe it quite like that."
"I do not know why we put up with you, Elfling." He glanced at his brothers. "Dan, Ro, why do we put up with him?"
"You did say Thranduil has given you leave to push him off a cliff. I say we do it as soon as we can, this very night, if possible. Are there any handy cliffs nearby, Elfling?"
Legolas scowled at the older Elf, but before he could say anything the door to Thranduil's study opened and Gimli came out. He looked shaken, but he was unhurt. As soon as he emerged he shut the door and leaned on it, closing his eyes and breathing deeply.
"How bad was it?" Aragorn asked sympathetically.
"Oh, not bad," Gimli said, opening his eyes. "Not bad at all. The Elven-king and I have come to an agreement. He even invited me to stay while he interviewed the four of you, but I need my sleep. I am no flighty Elf to spend the day in the saddle and the night on mischief." He straightened and gripped his axe more tightly. "And now... He wants to see you. All of you."
The four companions slipped through the door. All of them, even the King of Gondor, felt uncomfortably like Elflings caught out in misbehaviour. Almost unconsciously, they placed themselves in a row, Elrohir and Aragorn flanking Legolas while Elladan, on Elrohir's other side, tried to conceal himself in the shadows.
"I can see you perfectly well, Elrondion," Thranduil said. "Stop fidgeting, Legolas. Now that you are all here, who is going to be the one to explain?"
"It was entirely their doing, my king," Elrohir said, before anyone else could speak. "I would have advised you never to let the Elfling leave your stronghold in the first place. I tried to dissuade him from joining the Fellowship –"
"You did nothing of the kind!" Elladan cut in furiously. "You said, 'Are you sure that is wise, tithen pen?' and then spent the rest of your time helping him fletch arrows!"
"What else could I have done?" Elrohir demanded. "Let him go inadequately armed? At least I tried to stop him. You and Estel, on the other hand –"
"Leave Estel out of this!" Aragorn protested. "Estel is only a humble mortal and would not presume to interfere with the decisions of young Elf-lords, even when said decisions seem to Estel ridiculous, wrongheaded, and completely ill-advised –"
"Ill-advised? You said you would be happy to have my company!"
"Do you expect me to repeat that in your father's presence? Take no note of what he says, my king. I did not say anything to make him believe I wanted his company. At no point in my life have I actually wanted his company; it has always been forced upon me and –"
"That will do," Thranduil said.
The three Elves and the Man stopped short and turned to him, all feeling very relieved to hear the mild amusement in his voice.
"Before I begin – and, believe me, I have a great deal to say to the four of you – is there anything else I should know about?"
"Any-anything else, my king?" Aragorn quavered, wondering if it would have done his confidence any good if he had come wearing the crown of Gondor instead of light travelling clothes. He doubted it. It would take more than royal regalia to be able to stare down Thranduil in a temper.
"I would like to state that I did all in my power to prevent the Elfling from going," Elladan said. "If he had listened to me –"
"You were willing enough once I had persuaded your father!" Legolas protested.
"That was because I thought my father would take the blame. Had I known he would abandon me to the fury of the Elven-king – righteous fury, my king! – I would never have condoned your madness. You are far too young."
"I was older than everyone except Mithrandir!"
"Well, that depends on how you define older," Aragorn said thoughtfully. "Think about it. I am older than most ordinary Men, and certainly past my first youth by the standards of Númenor. The same may be said of Gimli. You, on the other hand... Perhaps you can think of yourself as older than Pippin."
Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but Thranduil cleared his throat. At once all argument ceased, the three Elves and the Man turning to the Elven-king.
"So far, the four of you have been making a clever, if misjudged, attempt to distract me," Thranduil observed. "I am perfectly willing to sit here all night if that is what it takes, but it will be easier for all of us if you will just tell me whatever you are trying to conceal, I can berate you all for stupidity, and we can then find our beds."
"Just tell him," Elrohir urged. "The longer you two dither the worse it will be."
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged a long glance, and finally the Man said, "I have persuaded Legolas to relocate to Ithilien, my king. If you will give your consent, of course. I hoped that some of the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen would be willing to spend some years there undoing the damage Sauron wrought to the forest."
Thranduil frowned, but he did not look surprised.
"I will not pretend I am pleased, but I had expected some such thing. I will give my consent, Estel, both to Legolas going to Ithilien and to any following him who wish to do so. But should any harm come to my son in your realm..."
Aragorn opened his mouth, but instead of the reassurance he had intended, what came out was, "But, my king, you just gave me leave to push him off a cliff."
"You may do so in Eryn Lasgalen. Not in Gondor."
"Ah," Aragorn said, wishing he could prevent himself from flushing furiously. "Of course, my king. In Eryn Lasgalen only."
Thranduil leaned back in his chair, surveying the four figures before him grimly.
"All right, out with it. What else have you not told me?"
Hesitantly, Legolas stepped forward. Without word or gesture passing between them, Aragorn came with him. They seated themselves on either side of Thranduil, Aragorn pouring out and handing him a cup of wine while Legolas took his father's free hand in both of his.
"If you are going to this much trouble it must be something terrible," the Elven-king said dryly. "Out with it. What have you done, Legolas?" He looked up at the twin sons of Elrond, who had not moved. "What has he done?"
It was Legolas who answered.
"Ada, I..." He paused and glanced at Aragorn, who reached across Thranduil to pat his friend's shoulder. Legolas seemed to gain strength from the gesture. He turned back to Thranduil with renewed determination. "Ada, I went to Pelargir. I have heard the gulls."
"The gulls?" Thranduil's eyes narrowed and then widened with realization. "The Sea-longing?"
Legolas nodded. Thranduil was barely aware of Aragorn seizing his wine cup before he could drop it. He looked at his son for a moment, feeling the warmth of the hands that rested in his.
"You seem to be handling it well enough," he said at last.
"I am well, Ada."
"And you are determined to go to Gondor?"
"If you will give me leave."
Thranduil looked away from his son for a moment, to Elladan and Elrohir, who had moved closer, to Aragorn, whose grey eyes were on Legolas, before, reluctantly, he said, "You have my leave, Legolas. If I ordered you to stay here you would be pining for your friends' company and riding off to Gondor at every opportunity. At least this way I will know where you are."
Legolas bowed his head in acknowledgement, although he did not try to hide his smile.
"Go to bed now, penneth," Thranduil said, releasing his son's hands. "I will see you in the morning." He looked at Elladan and Elrohir. "The two of you can go as well. Estel, I wish to speak to you further."
Casting sympathetic, commiserating looks at the terrified-looking King of Gondor, the three young Elves left the room.
"I am not going to kill you, Estel. You can relax."
"You are not going to kill me?" Aragorn asked suspiciously.
"Yet," Thranduil qualified.
"My king –"
Thranduil waved him to silence.
"First, you have my congratulations on becoming King of Gondor."
"Thank you, my king," Aragorn said, still not relaxing.
Thranduil smiled suddenly. Aragorn did not feel comforted.
"I was going to ask you how you could possibly have let Legolas befriend that Dwarf, but having spoken to him I have been forced to come to the conclusion that he means no harm."
"What did you say to him, my king?"
"We were engaging in... what do mortals call it? Small talk."
"Small talk?" Aragorn gasped, unable to associate idle chatter with a Dwarf with the proud Elven-king he knew. "Truly?"
"Aye." A contemplative look came into the Elven-king's eye. "I do not know if I drove home my point plainly enough. The Dwarf seemed interested in my sword... Perhaps tomorrow I shall invite him to the sparring fields for a demonstration of the main duelling positions."
"The main duelling positions," Aragorn repeated faintly. "I see."
He very much feared that he did see. Gimli had seen Elves fight – at least, he had seen Legolas and the sons of Elrond – but nothing could prepare anybody for the sight of Thranduil when he decided to put some healthy fear into someone.
Aragorn hoped Thranduil did not intend to put some healthy fear into him.
"I believe he understands now," the Elven-king went on. "In any case, I do not want to discuss the Dwarf with you." He paused. "You cannot know the pain Legolas risks by staying in Middle-earth now that he has felt the Sea-longing."
"I... I had planned to persuade him to leave, my king," Aragorn said softly. "But I could not bring myself to do it. I cannot imagine life in Middle-earth without him."
"I doubt he would have agreed to leave in any case," Thranduil said. "I do not blame you, Estel. You have given my son friendship and the love of a brother, and if he considers it worthwhile to stay in Middle-earth while you are King of Gondor, I will not question his judgement. I am only worried that..."
"I will not leave Middle-earth while Legolas is here, but all the same... I will be here, your brothers will be in Imladris, and you and Arwen will be in Minas Tirith. Oh, yes, and the Dwarf. The Dwarf will be in Aglarond. I know most of my son's friends here will probably follow him to Ithilien, but he will not tell them if he is suffering – most of the time he does not even tell us if he is suffering. I..."
Thranduil trailed off helplessly.
"My king, do you truly think I persuaded Legolas to move to Ithilien so that he could sit there singing to the trees and I could sit in Minas Tirith administering a kingdom? What good would that do anybody?" Aragorn grinned. "I know we will no longer be able to go riding or camping as often as we used, but I can promise you that I will not let him pine in Ithilien without any of us realizing. I will be spending as much time as I can manage in Ithilien. I do not doubt that Arwen will do the same. I am hoping to coax Legolas into visiting Gondor often, as well, his opinion of stone cities notwithstanding." Aragorn paused. "I will keep an eye on him, my king."
Aragorn paused at the door to his room. After a moment's hesitation, he opened the door opposite and stole through an airy sitting-room to the closed door on the other side. He opened that as well, slipping through it to a familiar bedroom.
Legolas was not there.
Knowing perfectly well where his friend would be, Aragorn went to the balcony. Sure enough, the Elf-prince was perched precariously on the parapet, looking out over the forest.
"I know you are there, Estel."
"I outgrew trying to sneak up on you a very long time ago, Elfling," Aragorn responded, going out to join his friend. He slid an arm around Legolas' shoulders. "What are you looking at?"
"The trees are happy," Legolas whispered, joyful wonder in his voice. "They sense the absence of the evil that has oppressed the forest for centuries. They are free, free as they have never been before." Abruptly he broke off and twisted around, balancing on the very edge of the parapet, ignoring Aragorn's exclamation of horror, to look his friend in the eye. "What did Ada want?"
"Either get down and face me or turn around and sit!" Aragorn said. "Your father has not killed me yet, but if you fall –"
"I have fallen from this balcony before. I did not die."
"That is no reason to make a habit of it. Get down, Legolas."
With a loud sigh, Legolas swung his legs over the parapet and pushed himself off.
"There, are you happy now? You are starting to sound like my father," he complained when he was standing in front of Aragorn. "Now tell me what Ada wanted."
"He wanted to know if I would look after you," Aragorn said solemnly, prompting an indignant exclamation from Legolas. "You have never been left unsupervised for very long before, after all... I assured him that I would make sure I kept an eye on you in Ithilien."
"You will keep an eye on me?" Legolas demanded furiously. "You would not be able to take care of yourself if I did not watch over you every single moment –"
"Sîdh, tithen pen," Aragorn said, laughing and raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I did not mean it in that way... I had to say something to satisfy your father. I would never dream of saying I could take care of you."
"Good," Legolas grunted, crossing his arms.
"No," Aragorn went on, smirking. "You need a whole army of nursemaids. One man is not enough."
Then, with a most un-kingly chortle, Aragorn ran into the bedroom with Legolas following close on his heels.
Tithen pen – Little one
Ada – Dad/Daddy
Penneth – Young one
Sîdh – Peace
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