Here's the next chapter.
It was late at night when Keldarion finally returned to the cabin.
He moved on silent feet as he walked in, quietly closing the door behind him. Aislinn was lying on her side on a pallet in front of the small hearth, deeply asleep. A blanket covered her from chin to toe, while her left arm served as a pillow. She even had a small smile on her face, and that caused him to feel like a great bully for speaking so harsh to her earlier in the day.
Keldarion's feet moved on their own accord, and he soon found himself kneeling beside her. He made a move to touch her shiny golden hair, but quickly retracted his hand with a shake of his head.
No. He rose. She is not for me to touch.
He stepped back, but his eyes never left her sleeping form.
She is also not for me to love, he told himself. She is a mortal. Even more, she is the enemy's spawn. I must not have any feelings for her.
But as he turned, more thoughts hit him.
Then why are you so upset for causing her hurt? Why do you even care how she feels? Why do you keep coming back to see her?
And why do you always delay killing her father?
He closed his eyes briefly and willed the thoughts to vanish from his mind. Tamping down his frustration, he then entered the small room to check on his brother. Much to his surprise, though, Legolas was wide awake, sitting up in his sickbed with a scowl on his face.
The younger elf blinked back at him, his silver eyes brilliantly bright against the gloomy darkness. With his arms folded across his chest, Legolas gazed intently back at his brother. "Where have you been?"
Keldarion frowned as he noticed the note of disapproval in his brother's voice. "Riding," he shortly replied.
"Riding, hmm?" Legolas didn't look convinced. "That was more like running away to me."
"I did not run away!" Keldarion hissed with a glare.
"Oh, really?" His brother arched one eyebrow. "Then tell me why you pick such a strange hour to return? While you were gone, Aislinn was so beside herself with worry."
"She was?" Startled and oddly pleased, Keldarion was quick to ask, but he quickly recovered his senses. "Of course, she was. I've just dumped my annoying little brother on her lap and she is very anxious to get rid of you!"
Legolas chuckled. "Oh, right. She has…uh…very nice lap, in fact. Comfortable, I would say."
Keldarion's frown grew darker at the double meaning, and Legolas swore his elder brother looked green with jealousy.
"She gave me another bath today," the younger prince glibly added, staring at his fingertips. "She was very gentle with me, running the damp cloth all over my heated flesh. Of course, she had to undress me first and…"
"Oh, for Valar's sake, Legolas!" Keldarion exploded. "You are married!"
"Hush down, will you? You might wake her up," Legolas cautioned his brother.
But other than giving out a low moan, Aislinn didn't even stir. Relief that the woman kept on sleeping peacefully outside, he continued, "I know I'm a happily married elf, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a nice pampering from a kind, lovely lady."
"Appreciate, my ass!" Keldarion growled low in his throat as he closed the door so that Aislinn wouldn't hear them. "You were enjoying it!"
Legolas, damn his eyes, laughed gaily at that. "All right, I admit. It was quite enjoyable, after I stopped feeling embarrassed, that is. Just don't tell Nara I said that or she'll—"
"—tear your hide, I know," Keldarion finished the words. "In fact, I will gladly help her by holding you down."
Instead of feeling threatened, Legolas grinned in amusement. "Fine. Do what you want with me later. Just answer one question. Are you jealous?"
"Jealous?" Keldarion snorted as he crossed his arms, suddenly feeling defensive. "Of what?"
Legolas shrugged, still grinning. "Oh, you know what I'm talking about."
"Believe me, I don't."
"Sure you do."
"I'm not jealous! And why would I be?" Keldarion quickly put up a hand. "No. Don't answer that. And drop all this nonsense right now."
"I only asked you a simple question. Just answer me yes or no, that's all."
"Drop it, Legolas, or I will—"
"Or you will what?" Legolas bravely taunted. "Rip open my shirt again?"
Silence reigned as the brothers exchanged glares, their hands clenching into fists. Both of them were actually looking forward to another round of fisticuffs, so high strung their tempers were.
Legolas was the first to relax and break eye contact. "Sorry, Kel. I guess I'm being too nosy. What you feel is your privacy and I shouldn't pry."
Keldarion loosened his fists. With a heavy sigh, he sat down on the bed.
"I'm sorry, too," he said, not meeting his brother's eyes. "I don't know why, but I am quick to lose my temper these days, just like—"
"—me?" Legolas pointed at himself with a grin.
The elder prince had to smile at that. "Yes. Exactly like you, little brother. I think some of your hotheadedness has rubbed off onto me."
"Now, I wonder what father will say about that," Legolas said as he tapped his chin, mockingly thoughtful.
"I don't know what he will say, but I'm very sure he will conk our heads together!"
The two brothers glanced at each other, and broke into a fit of muffled laughter.
When their mirth died down, Keldarion looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling highly ashamed and guilt-ridden.
"Forgive me, Legolas, about what happened this afternoon. I wasn't thinking when I tried to forcefully strip you down. I completely forgot that you have been violated yourself. I'm sorry for bringing back such horror onto you."
Legolas was struck speechless for a moment.
"Oh, Kel," he then managed to say as he scooted forward and pulled his brother into his arms. "I didn't even feel that way. It's all right, really. My past still hurts—sometimes—but I am able to forget about it most of the time."
"I'm sorry if I frightened you," Keldarion said, returning the hug.
"Nah. I do not frighten that easily," Legolas boasted. "I'm scared of no one."
"Except for Nara, of course. Especially after she finds out about this latest…uh…escapade of yours."
Legolas instantly pulled away and glared at his brother. "You wouldn't dare tell her!"
Keldarion cocked his eyebrows as he tried to keep a straight face. "Tell her what, brat?"
"Tell her that I…that Aislinn…the bath…" Legolas sputtered indignantly. "Oh, you know what I mean!"
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
"Fine, fine." Keldarion laughed and nudged his brother down. "Stop worrying and go to sleep. You still have some mending to do."
"I'm feeling better already," Legolas fibbed, even when he still felt slightly nauseated and feverish. "And by tomorrow I'll be completely healed."
"Oh, joy," Keldarion muttered, tugging the sheet over his brother. "I just can't wait."
"Very funny." Legolas scowled. But then he closed his eyes in contented bliss when his brother combed down his long hair with a hairbrush he just found atop the dresser. It was Aislinn's, most likely.
"Your hair is a mess," Keldarion complained as he gently worked at the stubborn tangles of Legolas' golden tresses before plaiting a tiny braid. "It looks as if a flock of birds has made it their dwelling."
"No wonder I can hear birds chirping so loudly all day long. I have new tenants." Legolas chuckled. "Speaking of hair, did you take a look at Aislinn's? Her hair is very beautiful, so long and shiny like burning gold—just like mine, I think. And so soft."
Keldarion stiffened, and tugged none too gently at his brother's braid. "How did you know that?"
Legolas winced, glancing over his shoulder at his brother. "Careful there, brother. You are pulling at my scalp."
"Sorry." Keldarion eased his hold and continued plaiting.
With a cunning smile, Legolas said, "Like I said, her hair is so soft. You need to touch it to believe me."
"I don't want to touch her hair," Keldarion snapped. "Why should I touch her hair? And when did you touch her hair? Hot blast! Why are we having this ridiculous discussion anyway?"
Legolas' shoulders shook with his laughter. Oh, he just loved to rile his brother up!
Keldarion is jealous, all right.
And then he quickly sobered when he realized what the situation really meant. Keldarion was falling hard for a mortal (even if he still didn't know it), and that mortal was none other than his greatest enemy's daughter. If given different situation, Legolas might have been jumping up and down with joy. He had been waiting in anticipation for his brother to find a true love of his own, but Morat's daughter?
It was either a curse or a blessing, and only the Valar truly knew.
"I just found out who she really is," Legolas said quietly.
Keldarion didn't reply for a long time. He rose and put the hairbrush back at its place. Then he walked to the window and pushed it open. Night breeze immediately streamed inside, playing at his long, raven hair. He stood there in the moonlight, looking out at the scenery outside.
"She told you?"
Legolas nodded as he raised himself back to a sitting position, gazing at his elder brother's remarkable profile all the while. "You have had many chances to kill Morat before this, I believe. So why didn't you?"
Keldarion didn't answer, but continued to stare at the star-filled sky.
"Tell me, Kel, is this the real reason you brought her here? As a decoy to lure her father?"
Keldarion instantly whirled around to glare at his brother. "She is not a decoy!"
"Then what exactly is she to you?" Legolas asked, his voice still soft with understanding.
Growling in disgust, Keldarion refused to answer. He turned back to the window once more. But Legolas was still determined to get to the heart of the matter.
"Aislinn told me that her father sometimes comes to visit her. And I bet you knew this, but I wonder why you did nothing about it."
"Surely I can't kill Morat in front of his daughter, can I?" Keldarion bit the words out.
"Why not? He's your enemy."
"But not his daughter! In fact, she helped me escape. I can't let her see me kill her father. She doesn't deserve such horror and pain. I need to wait for the right moment until I can kill him with great pleasure."
"You are lying to yourself, Kel," Legolas said, his eyes looking wise and thoughtful. "And you are not even listening to me. I said, you have had many chances to kill him, far away from this place, out of his daughter's eyes. You are a skillful tracker and you can always find him whenever you want. You killed the other men easily, but why is it so hard to kill this one?"
"Enough with your bloody questions, Legolas!" Keldarion snapped as he strode angrily towards the door. "Go to sleep. I'm going out for another blasted ride."
He wrenched open the door.
Only to find Aislinn standing there with tears streaming down her face.
The brothers gulped and glanced guiltily back at each other, cringing inwardly as they recalled having their argument in elvish mixed with Westron here and there.
Aislinn was not stupid. She was bright enough to put two and two together to understand that the brothers had been quarrelling about her father.
"Um…" Legolas cleared his throat uneasily. "Aislinn…"
"You still want to kill my father?" she directly asked Keldarion.
"Aislinn, please…" he started, reaching up to touch her cheek. "I know this pains you in some way, but your father must die by my hands. I'm sorry."
"Then I'm sorry too." She pulled away from his touch. "Because, guess what? You can't kill him!"
Keldarion frowned. "What?"
"How can you kill him when he is already dead?"
The brothers were shocked. "Dead?!"
Keldarion grabbed the woman's shoulders and gave her a rough shake. "What do you mean he is dead? How did he die?"
Aislinn swallowed hard before answering, "I killed him."
I killed him, Aislinn had said. And those words seemed to echo inside the room, over and over.
Keldarion staggered several steps backward as he stared at the woman in horror, his blue eyes widened in shock.
"You? You killed him? Your own father?" he managed to ask despite his sudden numbness.
Her tears still flowing, Aislinn nodded. She stared beseechingly at the elven prince, her eyes begging for his forgiveness, begging him to understand.
Keldarion slowly shook his head in bewilderment. "But why?"
Before answering, Aislinn walked dejectedly into the room and took a seat on the bed, facing the equally bewildered Legolas. Wiping at her tears, she took a deep breath and started to explain, "It was self-defense. I had to protect myself."
Now Keldarion was frowning. He knelt by the bed and gazed sharply at the woman. He opened his mouth to ask, but his younger brother beat him to it.
"Protect yourself from what?" Legolas wanted to know.
"From him! I had to protect myself from my own father!" Aislinn cried out in anguish. "He came here quite drunk a week ago. He told me he had lost heavily on a gambling table, and some men were looking for him to collect their winnings. My father asked me for money, but I don't have any! I told him that, but he didn't believe me."
Aislinn's breath hitched amid her sorrowful sobs, but she resolutely continued, "He started to get very angry, saying that he knew Keldarion was looking after my welfare. He thought Keldarion was a rich Haradrim warrior, keeping me here as his mistress. My father accused me of hiding the money that Keldarion gave me as payment for my 'service'. That was when I snapped. That was when I told him who Keldarion really was."
Her tearful eyes sad and forlorn, Aislinn turned to look straight at Keldarion. "When I told him that I was the one who released you from that camp, my father completely lost his mind. He was so furious. He grabbed my throat and tried to choke me to death."
Keldarion flinched as if he had been slapped. He sat down hard on the floor, staring dazedly at Aislinn's dainty feet peeking out from under the hem of her nightgown. He could barely register the comforting hand that was squeezing his shoulder—Legolas' hand, no doubt.
"I had to do it, Kel." Aislinn was wringing her hands as Keldarion avoided looking at her. "He was about to kill me, so I had no other choice but to protect myself. Remember the small dirk that you gave me? I always kept it tied to the knot on my hair. I stabbed my father's neck with it."
Keldarion looked up then. He stared hard at the white column of Aislinn's throat, and saw the fading bruises there, the imprints of her own father's hands.
Valar. Why haven't I noticed them before?
"He bled heavily. I tried to stop it, I really did. But it was too late. I can still remember the gurgling sound he made as he drowned in his own blood." Aislinn bit her lips to keep herself from crying all over again. "I didn't know how I did it, but somehow I was able to dig up a hole and bury him. And then I knew I am totally alone in this world. My father had looked after me ever since my mother died. He was not a good man, and I didn't really love him, but he was still my father. Now I'm really alone."
Nobody spoke for a long moment afterwards. Nobody even dared to move.
Aislinn's last words were so poignant that it tore at Legolas' heart. He felt deep empathy towards the woman. He understood her dilemma. He could sense her sorrow. Behind those cheery smiles and jolly chattering, she had been hiding a lot of pain and grief. Her world had come crashing down on her, only because she had been kind enough to free a slave in her father's camp.
Legolas turned to his brother. Keldarion's face was impassive, unreadable. There were shock, fury and distress there a while ago, but now it stood empty. Legolas could not tell what Keldarion was really thinking, but he hoped his brother would say something to sooth Aislinn's tears.
"Where did you bury him?"
Legolas winced at Keldarion's sober tone of voice that suddenly broke the silence.
Wrong thing to ask, brother.
Aislinn practically jumped at the question. But she squared her shoulders and met Keldarion's gaze head on. "Under the small cherry tree, behind the barn."
To Legolas' great disbelief, his elder brother simply rose and rushed out of the room without another word to Aslinn. The sound of the front door slamming shut in Keldarion's wake was like a thunder, reverberating loudly throughout the small cabin.
Burying her face in her hands, Aislinn burst into tears once more. "Now, he hates me. He really, truly hates me…"
Legolas was speechless, his mind blank. He had no idea of what to do. He could take on deadly poison, ferocious orcs, evil men—and even his fretful twin boys—any time, any day. But a woman's tears?
Ai Elbereth! I wished Nara were here. She might know how to handle this situation.
Awkwardly, Legolas reached over and pulled the woman into his arms. "There, there. All will be well, Aislinn."
"But your brother hates me!" Aislinn was almost hysterical, almost crushing Legolas with her embrace. "He thinks I've robbed him off his need for vengeance."
"He doesn't hate you," Legolas tried to sooth her. "He loves…err…likes you, very much."
Aislinn didn't seem to notice his blunder. "Then why did he leave like that, looking so angry?"
"I believe he wants to check the body in your father's grave. Maybe he wants to make sure that your father is really dead. If the corpse still breaths, why, Keldarion would snap its neck so it stay dead!" Legolas chuckled as he made a small joke to try to make her smile.
Aislinn only cried harder.
"Errr…" Now Legolas began to panic. "Aislinn, forgive me. That was cruel of me to say such things. Don't worry, all right? Trust me, Kel will not do that. He just needs to be alone for a while. He doesn't want you to see him so upset."
"I know. He's very upset with me." Her sobs dying down, Aislinn looked up at Legolas. "And now that my father is dead, Keldarion no longer has any reasons to see me after this."
Legolas reached down to gently wipe the tears off her cheeks. "Oh, there is still one reason, Aislinn. Keldarion is not upset with you. I think he is upset with his past and the world in general, but never you. He has not admitted it yet, but he deeply cares for you. I know my brother. He can be as stubborn as I am, but his heart is not as hard as his head. You'll see."
"Really?" Aislinn brightened, smiling through her tears.
"Really." Legolas nodded. He then raised one hand. "I hereby pledge my oath to you, my lady, to bring my brother to his senses, or to beat the senses into him if he is being too stubborn for his own good."
Aislinn chuckled. "You wouldn't!"
"What? Beat my brother?" Legolas grinned. "For your information, the day before we came here, we got into the most bloodied and gruesome fight we've ever had in our life. He nearly broke my nose, and I plan to return the favor."
Rising from the bed, Aislin shook his head at the elf. "Are brothers always like this? Fighting all the time?"
"How about if you come home with us and find out?"
The moment the words came out of his mouth, Legolas knew he had no rights to say them. Looking at Aislinn's crestfallen face also told him that she wished the words had come from Keldarion himself.
But, ever the strong woman, Aislinn pasted a smile on her lips and leaned over to kiss Legolas' cheek. "Thank you, Legolas. You are a good brother, and a good friend. Now go to sleep for dawn is still hours away. Besides, you are still healing and we can't have you falling into a relapse."
As Legolas settled himself comfortably in the bed, Aislinn walked to the door, saying, "I'll prepare a pallet beside your bed for Keldarion. He might return later in the night after he has finished with…with whatever he's doing."
But, to Legolas' disappointment, his brother's sleeping pallet lay cold and empty when he woke up the next morning.