The hall was dark except for the reflected light from the great hearth. The fireplace held logs longer than a man and blazed with an intense heat that barely touched the chill that filled the room. Part of the chill was from the coldness of winter, but only the physical portion.

Aragorn, King of Gondor slouched on his throne and stared absently into the flames and fiddled with something in his right hand. His privy counsel stood before him and waited, each one hesitant to fill the silence of the room with more than the deceptively merry popping of the burning wood.

After what seemed to be an eternity the king brought his hand up and displayed what he held. Suspended from a silver chain wrapped around callused and scarred fingers hung the Evenstar. The firelight danced upon the silver and gems, giving it almost bloody sheen.

"My Queen", said Aragorn in a low voice, "is gone. She departed Middle- Earth a fortnight ago from the Grey Havens. She has gone to join her family in the Undying Lands." His eyes never left the pendant as he spoke. "She wrote a letter explaining her reasons, the contents of which will remain known only to me. Suffice it to say she was not happy here and is not returning."

He caught the pendant again in his hand, brought it slowly to his lips and then held it to his heart. Straightening his back, he raised his grey eyes first to his chancellor, Arnlaug.

The old man bowed slightly to his king, and stroked his neatly trimmed beard for a moment. It was obvious that he had much to say.

"Out with it, wise one", Aragorn sighed, "Although I can already guess what you will say."

Arnlaug took a step forward and bowed again to his king. "Let me be the first to express my sorrow, my liege." There was a slight pause as Aragorn acknowledged this with a nod. "And as much as you do not wish to hear this, I am bound as your adviser to tell you. You must find another wife. And quickly. Your hold on the throne of Gondor is not as secure as you or I might wish."

Aragorn studied his chancellor closely. The man was almost sixty years of age, but looked not a day over forty. The blood of Numenor still ran in his veins as it did in many of the noble houses of Gondor. Arnlaug's hair shone as a steely grey in the firelight, his stature was tall and noble and his body was still strong and muscled. The man was as valiant in battle as he was wise and honest in counsel, and that made him the most valued of all Aragorn's advisers.

The king raised his eyebrows and looked at his chancellor inquisitively. "But I am Isildur's heir, descended directly from him. No one has a clearer claim to the throne than I." This discussion had been played out many times between the two of them, and they knew each other's arguments and moves intimately.

"Yes. But you have no heir. And with no heir, your throne is not secure." Arnlaug bowed again, this time in apology for what he was about to say. "My Lord, while your lady wife was certainly beautiful to look upon, she refused to provide you with what was most needed. Your people have waited for the past three years, watching for some indication that she was going to produce an heir. The people of Gondor lived in stability for many years under the stewards. If you die without issue, the stability that the stewards and you have brought will be gone. The people of Gondor cannot allow that to happen." The chancellor then shook his head sadly. "And now she is gone, My Lord. And while my heart breaks for you and your sorrow, my head tells me that we must act quickly before your throne is lost to some upstart rival with a house full of brats."

Not responding immediately, Aragorn moved his gaze to the tall, thin, and colorless man at Arnlaug's left. "What say you, Lord Gilby? Do you also feel that I have been remiss in my duties to Gondor?"

Gilby stiffened slightly at the question, but met Aragorn's eyes steadily. "I feel you have carried out your duties to Gondor with distinction and honor in all but this matter, my liege. But I agree that you must have heirs and you must have them soon." Gilby reached a pale hand inside his voluminous sleeve and pulled out a small roll of parchment. "I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of all the eligible maidens of noble birth and legal age in Gondor for your perusal." His bloodless lips compressed themselves into a mirthless smile as he bowed in apology. Lank blond hair flopped over his face and then back. "I fear that we suspected that the Queen would not return from her visit to Ithilien."

Aragorn winced for a moment, but then schooled his face to neutrality and addressed his entire counsel. "I have also put much thought into this, My Lords. I have already decided as well that I must take another wife as quickly as possible. I have also determined that while the blood of Numenor runs in our veins, it also begins to thin. I therefore will take to wife another elf, one of impeccable bloodline and breeding. The addition of one of the fair race into my bloodline will not only strengthen my claim and the claim of my sons to this throne, it will also add to the stability and renown of our fair land."

Eyebrows raised, Gilby bowed and nervously clasped his hands. "My Lord, I am glad that you appreciate the urgency of what must be done, but I feel that this may be impossible to do. I am told that the elves have been leaving Middle-Earth in such great numbers that there are few left at all, and only a handful of those of noble descent. Those that remain are all male. There are no elvish princesses left in Middle-Earth."

The other members of the counsel nodded in agreement. Regin, portmaster of Gondor stepped forward and touched his forelock in reverence. He was of common stock, but his honesty and wisdom could be always counted upon. Aragorn appreciated such things. "It's true, Milord. The elves have left in droves since the war ended. I'm told that Mirkwood, Rivendell and Lothlorian are deserted, and even our elves from Ithilien are leaving. In fact," he leaned forward to give his words more impact, "I understand that in many places up north, the humans think that elves are legends and never existed." He shook his head sadly as he spoke.

Arnlaug spoke up, "Lord Kelsig has a lovely daughter, and just the right age. And that family is well known for being prolific. With proper time for courtship, we could have an heir by harvest."

With steely eyes, the King of Gondor shook his head. "No. I will not wed a human girl."

The chancellor took a deep breath and tried again. "Of the elves that are left in Middle Earth, I can think of only three of noble birth. Two are your foster brothers, Elladan and Elrohir. And the other is Legolas, son of Thranduil. I sincerely doubt that any on them can fulfill your needs."

It was then that Davyn stepped forward. The mage had only recently been admitted to Aragorn's counsel but had proved to be resourceful and wise. With a nod of his head to the chancellor, he spoke. "The question is not whether they can fulfill your needs, my liege. With the application of enough power, any creature can fulfill any need." His sleeves fell back from tattooed arms. The snakes there seemed to writhe in the firelight with a life of their own. "The question is if you're willing to expend the power and make the sacrifices necessary to get your desired results."

Aragorn looked quietly at the mage for a long moment, and then down at the pendant in his hand. Lifting his eyes again to the tattooed man, he spoke but one word. "Explain."


:: This wind could cut through even the stoutest walls,:: thought Legolas as he rode through the gates of Minas Tirith. ::It is a good thing that I do not feel the cold as a Man would. I would be frozen to my mount otherwise.::

He wrapped his cloak more tightly about himself out of habit more than need, and then patted the letter that rested against his chest. :: Arwen came to visit me in Ithilien, and then she left Middle-Earth. Naturally, there would be questions. Aragorn would want to know what happened. :: A sigh escaped his lips as he urged his mount to the higher levels of the city. The summons to attend his old friend had not been completely unexpected.

The cold had kept most of the populace indoors, and his horse's hooves echoed and rang through the streets. The cold seemed to intensify the sounds. He could see a few people in windows peeking out at him as he rode by, their faces filled with honest curiosity and wonder. Elves were a rare and wonderful thing to behold in this Age of Man. Their regard caused him to sit a little straighter and prouder. :: I may well be the last of my kind that they ever see. I should be sure that they remember my race for their nobility as well as their beauty. :: He could feel his long hair flowing behind him in the bitter wind. :: I must make quite a sight for them indeed, so completely different than Arwen and her gentle sadness. ::

The wind snapped the pennants upon the highest turrets of Aragorn's city, making them sound like small explosions. Legolas patted his mount gently when a particularly loud pop caused the horse to spook a little. "Arod, soon you will be in a nice warm stable, your belly full of warm mash. I will be the one in the fire. Perhaps we should trade places for the night, you and I." The horse said nothing, but swiveled his ears with a complete lack of sympathy that made the elf smile.

The men at the gates to the palace recognized the elf and bowed stiffly in their layers of heavy clothing. Legolas nodded to them as he rode past and into the courtyard. The wind blew even more fiercely in what should have been a protected area. In deference to the mortals waiting to greet him in the inadequate shelter of the hall doorway, Legolas quickly jumped down from Arod's back and turned him over to the waiting grooms.

The horse walked away with a swish of his tail and snort of seeming equine laughter. Legolas quirked his eyebrow, and shook his head slightly before taking a deep breath and turning to face his friend.

With a few fluid steps, the elf was at the top of the steps. Aragorn's grey eyes bored into his blue as they clasped forearms in greeting. "Welcome back to Minas Tirith, Son of Thranduil."

"I bring you greetings from Ithilien and also from the Glittering Caves, Your Majesty." Legolas responded with equal formality.

Aragorn nodded curtly and then gestured to the door. It was much too cold for mortals, even mortals such as he.

Together they walked into the great hall of Minas Tirith. It was not much warmer inside the hall, but at least they were out of the wind. It still howled forlornly across the windows, almost as if it were angered that it could not be in the hall as well.

Legolas looked across the hall, noting the banners and tapestries that covered every wall. Arwen had done that to beautify the otherwise bare hall. She had tried so hard to bring a piece of her elvish home to this cold castle, but the bare stone still lay beneath the trappings of culture. Her absence was palpable.

His attention returned to Aragorn. The king was watching him with an intensity that was almost disturbing. :: He wants to know of Arwen, :: thought the elf. He then glanced at the others with the King. Most of them he knew as members of the Privy Council. The two he did not know were a richly dressed older woman, and a younger man robed in dark blue. He looked expectantly towards his friend for introductions.

"You have yet to meet the newest member of my Council, Legolas. This is Mage Davyn. He has been with us since this past summer."

Legolas turned to the mage. He appeared young, but with mages appearances could be deceiving. Curly brown hair covered a high forehead, and brown eyes gleamed with a sharp intelligence. With a deliberate movement the mage extended his hand and the elf took it without hesitation.

The grip was strong, and unrelenting. Blue sleeves fell back and showed tattoos in mystic symbols and animals that crawled up the mage's arm. His eyes met the elf's blue with a measuring gaze, searching for something. There was a split second of disorientation but it felt like an eternity. Legolas blinked for a moment as he withdrew his hand.

Shaking his head slightly, he then turned to the woman that Aragorn was introducing. "And this is Countess Valda, Head Lady of the Queen's Chamber." The woman had been beautiful in her youth. Her eyes shone with intelligence, and her smile was stunning.

The elf took the proffered hand and kissed it. "It is always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of such a lovely creature, My Lady."

The woman smiled and raised an eyebrow as she curtseyed. "My Lord, I must say the same of you."

Aragorn dismissed his Counsel with a glance and they obediently dispersed. He then took the elf's elbow and guided him to a small table set by the fire. "The hour is late, and the household has already eaten. I have taken the liberty of having a private meal laid for the two of us so that we may talk."

They sat and Aragorn gestured. A servant brought over wine. Legolas drank deeply, for he had been riding hard to reach Minas Tirith before nightfall. "Is this a new vintage? It's very sweet."

The king nodded dismissively. "It's something that Davyn's been experimenting with." He then leaned forward. "You know of which I wish to speak."

Legolas sighed and looked towards the fire. "I know." He looked back at his friend. Aragorn's face was painted red by the firelight, and his grey eyes could pierce to the soul.

"What did she say to you, Legolas? I have a letter she wrote, but I know that it does not say the whole truth. Why did she leave?"

The elf shifted in his chair and took another drink of the wine to buy a moment. He wrinkled his nose at the near overwhelming sweetness but then turned his attention back to the man who gazed at him with an unidentifiable look in his eye.

"Why, Legolas? Tell me why she went to visit you and then left forever."

"Aragorn, Arwen did not come to Ithilien to visit me as much as she came to escape Gondor." There, it was said.

The king simply waited for the elf to continue.

"She had decided long before that she was leaving, Aragorn. She simply used the excuse to visit my realm as an opportunity to get away."

Aragorn regarded the elf with half lidded eyes. "Continue."

Legolas shook his head sadly. "Understand this. She loved you. She still loves you. She thought she loved you enough to renounce all that she was and all that she knew to be with you. But she found that she could not make herself what you wanted her to be."

"I loved her with all my heart, Legolas. I gave her everything she asked for. I didn't pressure her or try to change her."

"I know this, Aragorn, and so did she. But she was unable to change herself for you. She was the Evenstar, the fairest, and blessed with immortality. The romantic dream of giving up eternity to be with you lost appeal when she came to live with you in a cold castle with cold people who treated her as though her sole purpose was to be your broodmare."

"It is the duty of a Queen to bear sons, as it is my duty to father them. I've had that lesson preached to me entirely too many times." Aragorn turned his gaze back to the fire.

"I know this, and you know this. It is the way of Men. Elves are different, and I don't think she realized how different our people could be. I don't think she understood what she agreed to, and when she realized, it was too late." Legolas paused and drank again. "I'm sorry. That's all I can say."

Aragorn nodded as he watched the fire. "I know." He shifted his attention back to his guest. "I will be taking a new wife immediately. I have no choice in the matter. I must have heirs to consolidate my claim to the throne."

The elf nodded. "I understand. As I said, it is the way of Men. You have so little time on this world that you must achieve your goals through your children."

"Do you think I am a cruel man, Legolas? Do you think that I drove her away? Would I do the same to the next maiden I will take to wife?"

Legolas furrowed his brow and then leaned forward. "No. Do not think such things. You are a kind man, and a gentle man. Any maiden would be honored and proud to have a man such as you for a husband. She will be blessed for all her days because of you."

A strange look passed over the King's face as he regarded the elf across the table from him. "Thank you, Legolas. I will remember those words. I will keep them close." He then gestured to the shape that had been lingering in the shadows behind the table. "Yes, Davyn?"

"My Leige." The mage glided up soundlessly, bearing a jeweled collar upon a cushion. "It is done. I have brought it for your approval."

"Ah…" Aragorn picked up the collar and inspected it closely. It was an inch wide, made of the finest gold. It was not solid but made of a single piece of gold that had been woven and tied in a fierce knotwork that had no beginning or end. The back had been left open but was made to fit together seamlessly on both ends. Suspended from the front of the collar was a large blue gem the size of a robin's egg. "Do you see, Legolas? Davyn is also a smith, and has made this gift for my future wife." Aragorn passed it to the elf.

Legolas looked closely at the collar. "It is lovely, but…" His eyes became unfocused as he ran his finger over the gold, tracing the design. His voice sounded remote. "Each knot is a spell, a binding. Very powerful spells and bindings. What would you do with such a thing? Who would you bind and to what?" He looked up at the mage with large eyes and quickly returned the collar as though it burned him.

Aragorn laughed quietly. "Have you now turned Mage on me, my friend? I thought you were a simple archer and warrior and sometime Prince?"

"No, My King" answered the mage before the elf could answer. "Elves are by their very nature magical creatures. That is what makes them so resistant to all but the most powerful magics. He merely feels the energies that I have put into your gift."

Legolas suddenly felt very tired, fatigue coursing through him, and to his bones. His head drooped despite his best efforts, and the room began to slowly blur and spin. He watched distantly as Aragorn stood up and walked around the table to stand next to him. "Drink your wine, Legolas." said the King, his voice sounding as if he were standing leagues away instead of right next to him. The goblet was held to his lips and the sickly sweet concoction was poured past his unresisting lips and down his throat.

"All is ready, My King." The mage's voice was even more distant, almost drowned out by the sound of his own heart that echoed in his ears.


"Will this hurt him?" It seemed a strange time for Aragorn to express concern, thought Davyn. The elf had been brought to the tower room and was even now kneeling with an easy grace in the center of the mystic circle. Blue eyes were alternating between blankness and stunned amazement as he tried to grasp what was happening around the effects of the drugged wine. His outer tunic had been removed, and his wrists were now captured in short chains that were attached to the floor next to his knees. He could go nowhere, even if he somehow found the strength to fight. Which was highly unlikely.

"Answer me, Davyn." The King's voice was strained. He had not liked the thought of a betrayal of a friend.

"Yes, My Lord. This will hurt him." The mage continued with his preparations as he spoke. Salt fell from his fingers as he outlined the circle and traced symbols on the floor. "The actual change itself is very easy. Every being chooses to be male or female in the womb. What I will do is simply take him back to that time of choice in his body and compel his body to the other choice. The hard part will be the binding. I will have to bind him to that body, and then bind the body to you, and away from the sea. Elves are notoriously hard to bind, and that will be very painful." He finished the last rune and wiped his hands on his robe. "I need your help now."

Aragorn walked slowly over to the elf, careful to not touch any of the mystical symbols on the floor. "What would you have me do?"

The mage walked over with the collar. "Hold his hair up and his head still when I put this on him. I would not harm him more than I have to."

Lowering himself slowly to his knees, Aragorn peered into the blue eyes. They fixed on him in a moment of clarity, and then went blank again. With hands that were far gentler than they looked he carefully lifted the long hair and rested his hands firmly on either side of the blonde head.

Legolas could feel the collar as it was passed around his neck. He whimpered as the gold touched his skin, burning into him with an icy heat. It clicked audibly when the ends met and melted seamlessly together, a perfect, near-choking fit. The gem rested squarely at the hollow of his throat. His eyes cleared for a moment and found Aragorn kneeling in front of him. "Why?" His voice was barely audible, but the King heard it.

The man let the golden hair fall and then touched the pale cheek gently. "For the good of Gondor, Legolas. Everything I've done is for the good of Gondor." But the eyes had already lost their focus and the words fell upon deaf ears.

"Give me your hand." Davyn's voice cut through Aragorn's thoughts. The king automatically obeyed and winced when his thumb was sliced with a dagger. Drops of royal blood were applied to the back of the gemstone and it was firmly pressed onto the fair skin.

"Why did you do that?" hissed the king.

The mage stood up, and gestured for his king to leave the circle. "Elven women choose when they conceive and with whom. That is why your previous wife never quickened with child. I have just removed that choice." Stepping over the salt again, he turned to the door. "It is time. Let them in."

Aragorn walked to the door and opened it slowly, and allowed the members of his council and the Countess to enter. They silently filed in, and stood around the perimeter of the room, looking at the kneeling figure in the center of the room. The Countess frowned, and then shook her head sadly, but otherwise all were emotionless.

"I ask for the final time, King Ellessar of Gondor. Is this the course of action that you choose? I cannot undo what is going to be done after this point." Davyn intoned the words solemnly, already knowing the answer.

The King drew himself straight and tall and his voice boomed forth. "I do so choose this course of action, for the good of Gondor."

"So be it." The words were said with a tone of sad finality, but the mage was nothing but obedient to his king.

Davyn began to chant in some unknown language, his voice sonorous and deep. With each syllable the salt on the floor began to glow, at first softly and then more brightly until the room was filled with a blinding light.

The chanting became louder and more strained, as if there were a struggle ensuing behind the curtain of bright light. A hot wind blew through the room, causing hair and clothing to whip cruelly, and the chanting continued. The wind began to howl, and the chanting turned into a scream, until there was sudden silence and darkness.

With a tired wave of his hand, Davyn reignited the torches and candles that the wind had snuffed. He then walked the circle counterclockwise, and with deliberate swipes of his foot, smudged the symbols and then the circle. It was only when he had done this that he knelt before the blonde figure that was collapsed in the middle of the circle.

"Majesty, My Lords, My Lady. If you please?" His voice was so soft with exhaustion that he could barely be heard.

Aragorn stepped first to his side and looked at what lay before him and smiled. The silk shirt now concealed the swell of breasts, and there was a pronounced curve of the hip. He watched, still smiling, as his mage gently rolled the unconscious body to its back and lifted the chin to show all there that the collar was now part of the soft skin, as if it had been there upon birth. The blue gem flashed with an internal light as it rested in its most natural spot, permanently at the base of a pale, soft throat.

The other councilors stepped forward and stared at the body. Arnlaug, as was his wont, spoke first. "Majesty. We must be sure before we give our approval to this."

Aragorn frowned for a moment, and then nodded. "I understand."

He reached down and his hands shook. He forced himself to be still for a moment and then continued. With now steady hands he ripped open the front of the silk shirt and exposed a pair of womanly breasts with nipples of the palest pink. His hands hovered over this and then moved down to the leggings and ripped open the front of those. There was a woman's cleft, complete with a small, slight coating of golden blonde hair.

The king straightened up and smiled. "Countess, I give into your keeping my future bride." His face then went dark. "Davyn, how long can we keep Legolas drugged?"

The mage's voice was drawn and tired. "I would advise as long as possible. She will be most unhappy with you when she awakes."