RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMER: The characters from Lord of the Rings and their wonderful world are borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien. The plotline and all other characters are copyright 2002 Emily (emi_kins@yahoo.com)

1.

It had been dreary and raining the day that Isabella's mother drowned in the raging floods that were the Forest River. Beneath the shadow of the Grey Mountains Liriliel had perished as her young daughter looked on. Isabella was only sixteen at that time, a mere baby by Elven standards, yet she stood bravely as her mother's passing was mourned by all who knew her, and she helped her grieving father to have the strength to go on. She never had the luxury of her own grief, for she had neither the time nor the energy to devote to it. So it was that the pain of her mother's death haunted the Elf-maiden even five hundred years later on a day when the rain poured down and thunder rattled the windows of the cottage she shared with her father.

Their cottage was one of many nestled snuggly at the base of the Grey Mountains amid the luxurious dwellings occupied by Lords and Ladies of King Thranduil's court. They were three days' ride from Mirkwood's capitol. Though the sons and daughters of these Lords and Ladies had never seen the king or his palace, they all gave their allegiance to him unquestionably for their parents loved him with a strength of heart unequal to anything they had ever seen.

Lightning flashed, further illuminating the torrential rain that fell in sheets from the sky. Isabella was terrified of water. So terrified that she had forced herself to learn how to swim and swim well, and then had avoided using that skill like the plague. She imagined the Forest River, now swollen and foaming as it had been on the day it had devoured her mother, and she tried not to tremble as she saw it all happen again in her mind. A tear formed in the corner of her eye and threatened to spill over until thunder clapped and rolled over the Grey Mountains, startling her from her recollections.

"Isabella," called her father, "Come away from the window, Child. Stay warm here with me by the fire."

She obeyed him, sitting near the hearth and gazing into the orange and yellow flames. "Father," she said softly, "Tell me about my mother again."

Narulas left his chair and wrapped his daughter in a warm embrace. "You've heard the story many times, Lovely One…"

"Tell me again," she requested, "please. When you speak of her, she does not seem so far away."

"It is true," he replied. "And she does seem especially far on days like today, does she not?"

Isabella nodded and leaned her head on her father's shoulder.

"Liriliel, your mother, came to the kingdom of Mirkwood long ago from a distant realm where she lived by the sea," he began the story the same way every time. "And I loved her from the first moment I saw her. She had blue- green eyes and golden-red hair just like yours, and delicate features. You look very much like her, Isabella."

"And where did you meet?" she asked, though she already knew the answer.

"She was an honored guest at the court of King Thranduil and I was the captain of the King's guard." He smiled. "Liriliel was lonesome and longed for the sea, so the king encouraged me to spend time with her. We were wed in a grand ceremony not many years later at the palace amid cheering crowds of courtiers. Oh, how I loved her, Isabella. She was everything to me. The sun rose and set with her and my heart forever seemed to whisper her name. When she learned that she was with child, we left the courts of King Thranduil and settled here so that we could raise you far away from the politics and pressures of the palace. When the time came for your birth, your mother had a difficult time and no one knew what to do, as Elven childbirth is usually quite painless. So riders were sent to the village of Man that used to lie five miles to the west of here. They returned with a midwife named Isabella who saved both your mother's life and your own. When we tried to pay her, she refused, saying that she would gladly be of service to any noble of Thranduil's court."

Isabella sighed. She had known for most of her life that she was a noble. Lady Isabella of Forest River was her proper title, and someday she would have to be presented alongside her peers to the prince as a prospective wife. The stubborn heir to Mirkwood's throne had still not chosen after two hundred years of looking, and his father was becoming impatient. The prince had not yet ventured to this remote corner of his kingdom, but Narulas' hopes were high for his daughter. She, however, only laughed at the possibility. What would a prince see in her? She lacked the refinement and riches of her peers, and she would be more likely to inadvertently offend the prince than to marry him. Besides, she had never even seen this Legolas. Why would she want to have anything to do with him?

At just that moment, she was startled by a loud crash coming from the direction of their barn. Leaping to her feet, she ran to the window to see the door swinging wildly in the wind. "The latch on the barn door has broken again."

"Come," said Narulas removing a heavy overcoat from a hook by the door. "The horses will be frightened."

"No, Father. You stay here and I will go. It will only take a moment." With that, she fought her way out into howling tempest, her cloak whipping about her in the wind and the cold rain pummeling her mercilessly. She was breathless when she finally reached the shelter of the barn, ducking inside and peering out to hold the door so that she could fix the latch.

How strange she thought to herself, It is not broken. She stepped backwards into the barn as she looked curiously at the doors. "Oh well, I shall check on the horses-." She stopped short when she turned to see eight male Elves in various stages of undress, their clothing and hair sopping wet. Their horses – giant noble beasts of royal bearing - stood nearby as well, having already been dried and tended. Two more Elves stood with arrows nocked and pointed right at her, and she shrieked before she could stop herself. Never mind that they bore the insignia of the king and wore the braids of the Royal House. She closed her eyes quickly, not daring to move, but not wanting to gaze upon unclad royal guards either, no matter how beautiful the brief glimpse she caught had been. "Please do not shoot, for we are friends of the king."

"Do not move," said one of the guards, "and we will not shoot."

Isabella gasped as she felt the hands of one of the Elves removing her shadowing hood and reaching for her weapons. Her eyes flew open in rage and she stamped her foot. "Remove your hands from me, vile pig. I may not look like a Lady, but I will be treated as one!"

The guard's eyes widened and he stepped back at once, bowing his head. "Lady Liriliel? We had word many years ago that you had passed from this world!"

His outburst drew the attention of the nine others who quickly dressed and drew near, led by one who gazed directly into her eyes as if waiting for something.

Her eyes were full of questions as she looked first at him and then the others. "Lady Liriliel was my mother. She has been dead these five hundred years. I am," She had never spoken the words out loud, and she knew they would sound strange. "I am Lady Isabella of Forest River."

"And I," said the one who still gazed into her eyes, "am Prince Legolas of Mirkwood."

Mortified, she sank into a low curtsy. "Your Highness, forgive me. I did not recognize you."