Title: The Prince and the Nightingale
Warnings: romance; fluff; mild romantic angst; first love; first time
Disclaimer: LOTR belongs to Tolkien's heirs. I'm just playing with the characters.
Summary: He was a prince of Mirkwood; she was the daughter of his father's captain. He's known her all her life, but can he stop seeing her as a child and recognize what was always meant to be?
Mirkwood, 2778, T.A.
The summer day was a quiet one in the great northern forest that had once been known as Greenwood. Yet there was a tremor of excitement in the air. The trees rustled with it, and the birds chirped gladly where they were perched in their nests in the branches. From the ground below, murmurs rose to meet them. One of these belonged to an Elfling, who stood with her mother alongside the other families gathered at the end of the trail where it came to a stop at the edge of the clearing. The young one curled her bare toes in the springy grass, and then, because it was so very hard to stand still when anticipating anything, she began to bounce back and forth on the balls of her feet.
"Will they be here soon, Nana?"
"Yes, dear. Soon. Now stop jumping around. You'll dirty your dress."
Dulinneth halted mid-hop and glanced up at her mother before peering anxiously through the tall trees that stretched upward toward the sky. They stood like sentinels as far as she could see along the faint path that led towards the south. The ones farthest away, however, were dipped in shadow, and to the nine year old they looked like the largest of Orcs, and she shivered, even though it was daylight.
She was afraid of Orcs. In the stillness of night when the tree branches scraped against her bedroom walls, she would hide beneath her blankets until she remembered they were trees and not evil creatures seeking to fill their bellies with her flesh, as the older children in the settlement whispered they did when they thought the younger ones were not around, or even sometimes when they knew they were.
But Dulinneth knew they were safe here in the northern stretches of Mirkwood, in King Thranduil's domain, thanks to the tall warriors who guarded the borders. Warriors like her father, who was coming home today.
She looked up at her dark-haired mother and tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowing. She pulled on her mother's hand until warm blue eyes met her own. "How do you know?"
"I feel it inside, through the connection that your father and I share. And the woods tell me also," Galuves answered. "You will see your ada very soon."
Dulinneth nodded, but she did not understand, not truly. Perhaps it was some secret grown-up knowledge and she would know the same things one day. For now all she knew was that when her father was away her mother often went very still and seemed to be listening to something only she could hear.
"I wish they were here now." She stood up on tiptoe in an effort to see more, but everyone was so tall.
"You must be patient."
But Dulinneth did not want to be patient and wait; she wanted to go and watch for her father. She backed up slowly until she thought she must be out of her mother's vision and then turned and began to run, the folds of her blue skirts gathered above her knees.
There was a beech she knew of, some distance further on from where the others were gathered. She heard Galuves calling to her to come back, but she pretended not to hear as she made her way to it.
She stood, panting, at the base of the tree. It was tall enough to watch and wait from, but the lowest branches were just within her reach. She stood on tiptoe and caught the first one and hauled herself up. The bark dug into her hands and legs, and she felt her dress rip as she moved slowly upward. How she wished she could wear leggings. Climbing would be so much easier then.
At last she reached a branch that hung over the path they would come by, her legs dangling beneath. She was excited not only to see her ada, of course, but he rode with the prince, and that meant seeing him as well. She liked Prince Legolas, for he was always kind to her.
From below and to her left she heard the sound of horses and the low murmur of male voices. Her heart thrummed quickly, and she thought, perhaps, she could move a little more directly over the road for an even better look.
"A good patrol, I think, my Lord."
Legolas glanced over at Belegur, his father's friend and senior captain and then back at the line of warriors following behind. One or two of the newer recruits had bandaged limbs, and the prince frowned in concern. "You don't think some need more training?"
"They're young and raw. More experience in the field is what they need," Belegur said. He looked back at the men as well. "And more training, aye. We'll take care of that."
They rode on, the king's captain and the prince discussing what new techniques might be useful to add to their regimen. They were just talking of more hand to hand combat when abruptly, Legolas straightened on his horse, his sharp eyes catching a flash of blue among the branches of a tree ahead where it dipped low over the road.
There were no birds in the forest of that color. It could only be a person, most likely one who should not be there-a child. Swearing, Legolas dug his heels into Suldal's flanks, urging her into a gallop.
Later he would not be able to recall how he had reached her in time, but she had only just lost her balance when he was below her. He caught her, his hands shaking as much as the child was, and held her close.
"Shh, 'tis all right. You're safe now," Legolas murmured, rubbing her back.
A small voice came from the face pressed into his tunic. "Legolas?"
"Dulinneth?" Legolas asked, pushing her from him slightly. Large moss green eyes peered back at him from a pale face, and he felt his own lose even more color. "Ai, Valar, haven't you been told not to climb so high?"
"It wasn't very high at all," she contradicted, shaking her head. "Not really."
"What in Arda? Dulinneth?"
They both looked to find Belegur had caught up with them. The blond captain's braids bounced one last time as he settled his horse into a walk beside them. Dulinneth took one look at his narrowed green eyes, darker than her own, before burying her head against Legolas' chest once again. Her father was angry; he would scold her as well, she knew.
"She fell, lost her balance, I think. She's unharmed," Legolas explained, trying to keep his voice casual about the near accident. He felt far from it, however. His heartbeat still hadn't slowed and he kept picturing her hitting the ground. It was true she had not been very high above the road-for an adult.
"Thank the Valar you saw her."
"Thank them I caught her." He looked down at the child where she was still holding onto his shirt front. She had scratches on her arms, her light brown hair was tangled, and her dress was torn in places, but perhaps that was from her climb up the tree. He released another breath.
"Dulinneth, come over here. Let the prince ride alone," Belegur said, nudging his horse closer.
"Please, Ada, may I ride with Legolas?"
" 'Tis all right. I do not mind," Legolas told him.
Belegur nodded. "Very well. You may ride with the prince, but mind your manners."
"Yes, Ada. Thank you."
Dulinneth waited as the prince helped her settle comfortably in front of him on Suldal's back, before catching a bundle of the mare's mane in her hands.
A soft, dreamy smile grew on her face as she rode. She knew that she would likely be punished for being disobedient and climbing where she was not supposed to, alone, but for right now it mattered not-she was with her prince, and all was right with her world.
The night had turned slightly cooler but Dulinneth lay with her arms resting atop her blanket. She said nothing as her mother applied salve to the scratches from her climb earlier that day. She had already treated the cuts on Dulinneth's legs and they were feeling better. The medicine felt good where it touched her wounds; it relieved the sting caused by the hot water and soap from her bath just a bit ago. Slowly the threat of tears passed.
Her mother smiled gently. "There, now that should help."
"Thank you, Nana," Dulinneth said, her voice subdued. "I am sorry for running off."
"I know, dear. But your father and I want you to remember that every action has a consequence. You disobeyed us, and you could have been badly hurt. It was very lucky that the prince was there to catch you when he did. You understand, then, why you are confined to our talan this week?"
"Yes, Nana. I understand." She ran her hands over the soft wool blanket before glancing at her mother and chewing on her lower lip. "Do you—do you think Prince Legolas is angry with me for falling on him?"
"I do not think so," Galuves answered, smiling. She pulled the blanket more snugly around Dulinneth. "He seemed more worried than anything when he came by earlier."
"I'm glad he is not angry." Dulinneth tilted her head up for her mother's kiss. "I'm going to marry him one day, you see."
"Of course you are, dear. But first you should get some sleep so you can grow up properly." Galuves kissed her again and then blew out the candle that stood glowing brightly on the bedside table. "Good night, little one."
"Good night, Nana."
Dulinneth pressed her lips together to stop from crying out as the needle pierced her finger yet again. She raised the digit to her lips and put it into her mouth to suck the blood away, wincing. It was the fifth time already this afternoon.
She sighed and began the next stitch. Careful, small, not too tight or too loose, she thought to herself as she slid the needle through the fabric and pulled the thread snug.
It was the third day of her punishment. It was also her tenth begetting day.
She was to be more careful, she had been told, and next time someone might not be there to catch her if she fell. She must behave like a young lady. She must learn to sew, to weave cloth, to do things fitting for a female.
Well, as to that, she did not mind being a girl, and she did not mind learning the things she would need to know one day when she was married and running her own household. There was much to learn, after all, and she wanted to be a good wife to her future mate. She imagined sewing her husband's shirts for him, and Prince Legolas would smile and tell her what a wonderful wife she was, and how kind, to do this for him.
No, if she minded learning these things today it was only because it was so beautiful outside. It had been raining the last two days, which had made her being confined to her parents' talan easier to bear, but the downpour had stopped at last and now the air smelled fresh and clean, the birds sang, and she could hear the sounds of the other children outside. They would be playing tag or running races under the watchful eyes of the guards, or hurrying to retrieve their arrows on the archery range. She longed to be out there with them, to be anywhere other than where she was.
She let her legs swing back and forth, back and forth where they hung down over the chair seat. The skirts of the linen dress she wore swished softly around her legs, stirring the air and cooling her feet. She looked out the window and sighed again.
Even worse than not being able to play outside was the fact that she had not even been allowed to taste the batter of the honey cakes her mother was baking for tonight. She tried not to sniff the air, but of course she could smell them anyway. Their rich aroma curled around her where she sat, teasing her cruelly.
It was not fair, she decided. She had only wanted to see her father and the prince as quickly as possible. They had been gone for three cycles of Ithil after all. She had missed her father, as she always did when he was away, for he was tall and strong and brave and gentle. Her mother had missed him too, she said, and Dulinneth had seen her watching outdoors, listening to things only she could hear.
And Legolas was all the things her father was, and more, like the sun coming out on a cloudy day, or rising in the morning and chasing away the darkness, and she liked being with him. She had not meant to fall on him.
The scent of honey and spices drifted closer, and she raised her head at the soft approach of her mother. Her eyes rounded at the small, sugar crusted cake centered upon a plate, and her mouth watered.
"Now then, you have been a good girl and not complained these last two days. But have you learned your lesson?"
Dulinneth nodded solemnly. "Yes, Nana."
Her mother smiled warmly. "Then you may have a cake and you may go outside and play."
Dulinneth ran first thing to find her friend Merileth. She was returning from the meadow with the other children. Several of the older ones carried picnic baskets between them, and Dulinneth swallowed back her envy that she had not been able to join them for the fun. She spied Merileth at the same time the blonde elleth saw her. She waved enthusiastically when she saw Dulinneth and ran forward ahead of the group. The two friends embraced as if they had been apart for a fortnight.
"I heard you were being punished," Merileth said softly, regarding her with solemn hazel eyes. "But what are you doing outside?"
"Nana said I had learned my lesson, so it is over. I wish she had said so yesterday." Dulinneth made a face and sighed.
"I am glad," Merileth replied. "It was no fun without you there."
"What did you do?"
"We had a picnic and races. And I made you something. Here, hold out your arm." Merileth reached into the pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt and produced a length of woven threads in red and blue. " 'Tis a friendship bracelet," she said, tying it around Dulinneth's right wrist.
Dulinneth held up her wrist to admire the braided design. " 'Tis very pretty," she said, smiling. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now then, what would you like to do?"
Dulinneth thought. "Well, we could go over to the archery range, to see if there's anything to do there. If that is all right with you," she added hastily.
"Of course it is," Merileth assured her. "Anyway, it is your day and you get to decide."
They clasped hands and hurried toward the range, past a ring where Dulinneth's father was teaching close knife combat. She waved to him as they ran by, and he smiled and waved back before returning his attention to a pair of younger warriors who were circling each other warily. The ellith reached the range and settled upon the ground, cross-legged, to watch.
Legolas moved from recruit to recruit, correcting stances and aims. They were none of them novices, but they were still young and had not honed their skills as well as they should, or would, when they were older. He saw the two young ellith arrive out of the corner of his eye and jogged over to them.
They both stood as he approached, and bowed. He nodded to them and smiled. "Good day, Merileth. Dulinneth, Happy Begetting Day," he said. "Would you two like to retrieve arrows for us?"
"Yes, Your Highness," they replied.
They spent some time running back and forth, picking up arrows and returning them to the warriors. After the last time up the field and back, Dulinneth shook her dark green skirts out and frowned.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we could wear leggings, like an ellon?" she said to Merileth. "I am so tired of picking my skirts up to run all the time."
"Don't be silly, of course we can't," Merileth answered. "Oh, there's Nana. I must go. Good-bye, Dulinneth."
"Good-bye, Merileth," Dulinneth replied, hugging her. "I will see you on the morrow."
The warriors began to leave the field also after their own dismissals. Legolas helped Dulinneth place the remaining training arrows back into their wooden container.
"Why do you wish to wear leggings?" Legolas asked softly. "You are an elleth."
"I know, but sometimes these skirts get in the way. I cannot run or climb. . ." Her voice trailed off in embarrassment.
Legolas pretended not to hear the last words. "But you will not always want to do such things. You will also want to learn special, feminine skills."
"I know," Dulinneth answered. "See, Nana is teaching me to sew." She held up her left hand to show the tiny pricks in her fingers where she had jammed the needle through.
Legolas knelt beside her and took her hand, raising it to his lips, kissing each injured finger with due care. "Sewing is a worthy skill. If something of mine is torn or cut while I am in the wild, I must repair it." He let go of her to point to a seam worked in dark brown thread on the left sleeve of his light green tunic. It was already pulling apart in places and would have to be re-done. "But alas, I am not very good at it," he admitted.
Dulinneth looked up at him. "When I am grown up, I will mend your shirts for you."
"That would be kindly appreciated, but you will have a husband of your own to sew for one day, and then what would I do?" he said, teasing slightly.
"But I am going to marry you."
Legolas started at the determined little voice, at the solemn gaze she fixed upon him, but then she smiled, her little lips curving upward. He decided to play along, for of course he could not take her seriously. After all, she was only a child, and children often said outlandish things.
"Then I would be a very lucky ellon indeed."
Her smile broadened, revealing her dimples, and he ruffled her chin-length hair playfully. She was going to be a beauty one day, he thought. Belegur would have his hands, and his talan, full with suitors when she came of age. "There is your father now, pen neth," Legolas said, noticing the older warrior approaching. He stood back up and nodded a greeting to his mentor before looking down at the young elleth. "So I must bid you good-bye."
"Good-bye, Legolas. And thank you again for catching me."
She was still smiling when she ran to her father. She took his hand and skipped merrily along beside him all the way home, happier than she could say that Prince Legolas thought her marrying him was a good idea.
Galuves—Good Fortune Wife