The elves were greeted with fanfare as they passed the gates of Gondor. The white tower was still in disarray from the recent war, but it stood solid in the sunlight, a beacon of hope for all those wayward souls to come home to.
Home, Legolas thought, this was his new home. It felt very strange to say that, and though his body and mind were here, his heart remained in Mirkwood. He dwelled on it for only a brief moment, and then crossed beneath the great gateway into the city. A celebration was taking place at the Citadel, in the King's house. Aragorn, of course, would be there, but so would Gimli, and Legolas was anxious to see his friend again. Home, Legolas thought once more, and this time he meant it.
"The Court of the Fountain," Legolas said to himself as he entered the topmost level of Minas Tirith. He breathed deep the fresh air of the mountains. The courtyard had remained untouched during the war, and now it was in full bloom. Green grass, flowerbeds, and small decorative trees enriched the area. In the center was the fountain, which once held the remains of White Tree of Gondor, dead for many years. Now, the dead tree was gone, replaced by a sapling in full bloom … new life, new hope, and a new King to lead the people.
Legolas approached the tree and delicately touched one of the white petals, soft as a lamb's ear, "From the line of Galathilion, I had hoped to see it living before I sailed." He closed his eyes and smiled contentedly, his heart beginning to heal.
"Just how I expected to find you, ye young rascal!" exclaimed a gruff voice from the entrance of the King's home, "Talking to trees again, are you?"
Legolas spun around to see the dwarf approaching him, "Gimli, my heart shines to see you again."
The friends embraced, but quickly, as Gimli wouldn't want someone seeing him hugging the elf. Then he stepped back and gave Legolas a thorough examination from head to toe, "Took you long enough to come back. I was beginning to wonder if you had abandoned us."
"Never, Gimli. I said I'd be back, and I never break a promise."
"No, you never do, do you?" Gimli said humbly, "It is good to see you, Legolas, but I must say you seem a little stretched. Is all well in Mirkwood?"
"Everything is fine. Father sends his blessings."
Gimli knitted his brows and regarded Legolas with a serious eye. Thranduil never sent blessings, least of all to a dwarf, "No, there is something else. Out with it, Elf."
Legolas still wore a smile, but it did not reach is eyes anymore, "It is alright, my friend. I have had the journey from Mirkwood to get my mind settled and my heart mending. The important thing is that I am back with my friends, with my Fellowship."
"So, things did not work out with the girl then?" Gimli asked.
"No, I'm afraid not."
Gimli reached up and patted Legolas' shoulder, "I am sorry to hear this, truly, but you are here amongst your friends, and there is much work to be done."
"I suppose you are right," said Legolas unconvincingly.
"Come along then, Aragorn will be anxious to see you, and he wishes to speak to us before the celebration tonight."
"A celebration? I don't know, Gimli. It has been a long journey and we are all very tired and—"
"Oh no you don't," Gimli complained, "A lot of preparations have been made in your honor. It has been almost unbearable around here lately, what with the announcement of your return and the other elves and all. The Queen herself has seen to most of it. She even got Aragorn involved in some of the decision making. Tried to recruit me also, but I put my foot down, and said I was no party planner."
Legolas looked surprised, "You would turn down the granddaughter of Galadriel?"
The name alone made Gimli's eyes glaze over as a vision of the Lady of the Golden Wood appeared in his mind. The dwarf reached up and patted his chest. Beneath was a pocket that contained three strands of her magical golden hair, a gift that he treasured. Only Legolas knew where Gimli kept them, and smiled to know he still had them on his person.
Gimli shook his head to break the trance, and cleared his throat, "Arwen is her granddaughter, mind you, not the Lady herself. Besides, I have more important things to tend to. These hands carve stone and cleave heads. They do not string delicate flowers." Gimli huffed a short breath, and turned to the building in front of them, "We better go inside and meet Aragorn, and pray that Arwen is not there. Luckily, you've just arrived, and she will likely give you time to rest up, but she'll probably still be looking for something for me to do."
They entered the building, and Legolas was amazed at the care that had been taken. The main room of the King's home had been transformed into a gathering hall with streamers of silk and flowery garland draped here and there. Tables were covered with white linen and lanterns centered on each one. A stage was erected at the opposite end of the hall where the musicians would set up later. Everything was done with such expertise and care, and Legolas already felt very welcomed.
Aragorn emerged from a doorway at the far end. Legolas hardly recognized him, dressed in his regal robes with the symbol of Gondor embroidered across the chest. Never had anyone looked more the part. Aragorn had accepted his title well.
The King smiled genuinely and approached Legolas with open arms, "My friend, it is so good to see you again. I have had temporary quarters set up for your people. They are being escorted there as we speak. You can stay here as long as you like, though I know you will be anxious to start your work in Ithilien."
"Your kindness is overwhelming, Aragorn … or should I call you King Elessar now," Legolas suggested.
"You can call me Wingfoot, if it pleases you," Aragorn laughed. This was a name that Eomer gave him after learning about the Fellowship's pursuit of the Uruk-hai through the Eastemnet, and something Legolas used to tease him about.
They grasped forearms as warriors often do, and searched for that fire in each other's eyes, finding the brotherhood of fighters still strong within them.
"How are you Legolas, and how fairs Mirkwood?"
"Mirkwood will mend. My people are strong, and they anticipate the new age. Evil has been vanquished from the Rhovanion, and light returns to the forest."
Aragorn noticed that Legolas did not talk about himself, but all in good time. He smiled and released his friend, then looked to the dwarf, "Gimli has been a bear to be around without you here."
"Alright, enough of that," Gimli complained, putting a stop to the teasing.
Aragorn and Legolas spared a laugh at Gimli's expense. Then Aragorn turned to Legolas, "I know your travels have been lengthy, but if you don't mind, there are a few things I'd like to discuss while I have you both here." Legolas and Gimli agreed, and Aragorn led them to one of the tables where they had a seat.
They discussed a few plans already put in place for the rebuilding. Aragorn asked that Legolas help rebuild the gardens of Minas Tirith as well as Ithilien. Gimli had already volunteered his talents to the beautification of the city, by constructing fountains in the gardens.
Talk of business turned to a more relaxed conversation about their personal lives, and reminiscing about their recent journeys. Legolas was glad to talk about some of his experiences. No one else could understand the things that he'd seen or done. Only one like himself—a warrior—could relate, and especially someone who had walked at his side during those trying days.
As the mood turned somber, Arwen entered the room, and took a seat by her husband. Gimli seemed to slink down in his chair, and Legolas laughed to himself. She smiled warmly and welcomed Legolas back to the city. The atmosphere lightened immediately with her presence. After they were all reacquainted, Arwen stood from her chair and addressed Legolas.
Legolas stood, as well as Aragorn and Gimli, but she gestured to the others to sit. Then she took Legolas by the hand and led him away from his friends. Glancing back over her shoulder, she smiled at Aragorn, "Just a word in private."
Aragorn bowed, and Gimli's eyes lit up with a spark of humor, Legolas noticed. He remembered what Gimli said about Arwen recruiting them to help with the celebration, and wondered what she had in mind for him too.
They walked the length of the aisle, and exited out into the courtyard. Arwen made small talk until they came to a stop at the edge of the fountain. She rested her hand on his arm, and captured his eyes with her own, "You are troubled, Legolas. Where is the light I saw when you came to Rivendell? A fire burned within you then, but it has all but extinguished."
Legolas tore his gaze from her, and looked to the blossoming tree. Arwen had the gift of sensing a disquieted soul, and she had obviously become aware of his. "I expected to … reunite with someone upon returning to my home, but . . ." His words trailed off. "I assumed I would not come back alone."
"She must have been very special to have captured the heart of Mirkwood." Arwen smiled at him as his face flushed.
"We met just before I came to Rivendell. I had known her for no longer than the length of a passing spring storm, but she made an impression upon my soul. I hoped she had felt the same, but when I went home, she was not there."
"I am sorry you have had to experience this pain. Love is a very powerful thing, especially when it happens so suddenly and unexpectedly. Will you tell me about her? Sometimes it helps heal the heart," Arwen suggested.
Legolas told her briefly of the fair maiden of the glade, and of the magical moment that they shared. "I never knew her name, but she had the most beautiful voice. I hear her every time I close my eyes. She sang of the Great Greenwood, and filled my heart with the joy I had from those wondrous days." He
closed his eyes and recited a few of the words from her song. The elleth's melody echoed in his mind, "Even now I can hear her."
Arwen squeezed his arm, and he opened his eyes, "Perhaps tomorrow you should go to Ithilien. Go and see the place that you will call home. I must warn you though, there has been much devastation, but there are still areas that have been untouched. Some of the forest has grown lush and wild. May you find some peace amongst the trees, and begin your task with a fresh mind."
Legolas covered his heart with the palm of his hand and bowed to the new Queen, "Yes, Lady Arwen, I believe I will do just that."
The next morning at sunrise, despite Gimli's protests that he should not go alone, Legolas set out for Ithilien. He arrived at the city of Osgiliath first, which had been utterly destroyed. The dwarf had his work cut out for him, Legolas thought as he carefully led his horse, Arod, through the rubble. Across the river, where the gardens once stood, was complete devastation. The areas were littered with splintered trees, the ground blackened from fire. Legolas went on, searching for the untouched forests that Arwen spoke of.
He ascended a hill, barren of any plant life, and expected to find more destruction once he reached the top. To his surprise, the backside of the hill was thick with tall trees and lush undergrowth. He dismounted, leaving Arod to wander on his own, and entered the forest. It felt good to walk beneath the trees again, but it wasn't home, not yet … perhaps never. The sea called to him now, though it was a faint pang in his heart. Ithilien was close to the Anduin River, a main vein that ran to the sea. It could carry him away from here, away from this ache in his soul. It would be so easy, and the thought crossed his mind time and again. He had a promise to fulfill though, and he would not leave the Fellowship. If it wasn't for them though . . .
Legolas spent the day wandering the forest, learning the land, and imagining how it would look once the elves had manicured it. He knew there were waterfalls not far from here, he could hear the running water, and smell the wet shore of a lake. They could make a path that led to the water, build a dock, make it a place of relaxation and meditation. Legolas closed his eyes, and drew a vision to mind of the finished project.
Would she have like it here? He wondered. Would she have come with him, if he had had the chance to ask her? He would never know.
Legolas made his way back to the place where he left Arod. When he did not see his horse, he called and whistled, but Arod was nowhere.
"Tolo! Tolo enni!" he called, "Where has he gotten to?"
Legolas walked along the tree line. Arod would not have wandered into the woods, the growth was too close … unless—
The light coming from the trees indicated a clearing. Legolas listened carefully and heard the light whickering of his horse. He smiled. Of course, Arod was fond of the tender grass that grew in such areas. He cut between the trees. "Arod," he called before seeing his horse, "You gave me a bit of a scare. Come, we must be—"
Legolas' heart staggered a few beats, and then felt as though it stopped all together. There, in the center of the clearing, was Arod, but he was not alone.
A vision in blue silk stood before him. The rays of the sun washed down on her gilded hair, and she glowed like a flame. Her hand caressed Arod's mane, and she smiled and kissed his nose. Arod, sensing Legolas, whinnied and nodded with excitement. She looked to see what drew the horse's attention, and spotted Legolas standing at the edge of the clearing.
Legolas wanted to run to her, grab her hand, pull her to him, and never let her go, but he was afraid that the slightest movement would make her apparition disappear. He was still unconvinced that she was living flesh.
"Are you real?" he asked. So many dreams had begun like this.
Confused, she laughed nervously, "Y-yes."
"How did you come to be here?" He could not believe that she was standing before him. Surely, he would wake up any moment.
She whispered something to Arod and patted his nose. Then she took a few steps towards Legolas, "Word spread of your victory, and then of your decision to stay in Gondor. I did not think you were coming back to Mirkwood, and I … I thought you had forgotten me."
"Forget my lady of the glade? Nothing could be farther from the truth. You have been with me, in my mind, in my thoughts, from the first moment I gazed upon you dancing on the grass. You wore a pale yellow dress with blue ribbons on the sleeves. The grass beneath your toes was hardly touched as you danced in the glade, for you seemed to float." Legolas closed the distance between them, but stopped before he got too close. He remembered their first meeting, when she threatened to dash away.
She took another step closer, "And you were standing by a tree, watching me in silence. I was startled, until I realized it was you."
"I thought you would run from me, you seemed so shocked," Legolas continued the story, "But instead, you danced with me. And then the thunder—"
"Yes," she giggled, "I hadn't even noticed the sky growing dark. I hadn't noticed much of anything besides you."
"You jumped into my arms, shivering, and all I wanted to do was make you feel safe and sound."
"And you did, my Prince." She finished walking towards him. Now they stood before each other. She studied his face, and looked deep into his eyes. Her countenance switched from joy to empathy, "You have changed since we met."
Legolas looked away, "I was afraid of this. Yes, I have changed, my lady. I have seen things that have blinded my vision from the world around me. I have heard things that still scream out in my ears. I have smelled the stench of death and fear, and felt the blood of my brothers upon my own hands. There are things I cannot release from my memory. They are with me for always. I am not the elf I once was, and I feared you would not recognize me any longer."
The elleth lifted her hand to his face, hesitating to touch him, but Legolas pressed her hand to his cheek, and reveled in the feel of her warm palm. Then she spoke compassionately, "I see the change. I feel your pain. You are right, my Prince, you are not the same." She smiled sweetly, "You are … more than you were. You have a deeper understanding for the world, now that you have experienced life beyond the Rhovanion. But you have not changed so much that I do not know you. I still see the light, that glow about you that I witnessed in the glade. The ellon I met, the ellon who took me into his arms, who danced with me on that fine spring morning, he is still here, and my feelings for him have not altered in the least."
"And what might those feelings be?" Legolas asked.
"Respect … honor … complete awe … love," she said carefully.
"Love … that is a very strong feeling for someone you barely know."
"What are your feelings, then," she asked.
"Admiration … salvation … deep yearning … love." He lowered her hand from his face and held it between his own hands, "I looked for you when I returned home. I thought you had gone … sailed, or maybe you had found another which to give your heart. I thought you had forgotten me."
"Never, my Prince," she answered.
Legolas shook his head, "Please, call me by my name."
He closed his eyes, and let the sound of her voice saying his name burn into his memory. She said it again, this time slowly in an airy whisper, "It is just as I imagined it would sound," he said, "So many nights during my travels, in those rare moments when all was calm and peaceful, I would envision your voice saying my name, but I could not call back to you, for I never knew yours."
"Aníriel," she said, "My name is Aníriel."
"Aníriel," he said, slowly drawing out all the syllables, and savoring the first taste of her name on his tongue. He said it a few more times, making her giggle with delight. "Tell me, Aníriel, who knows you are here?"
"No one, I have no family. My parents have sailed, and I have no siblings. Why?"
"We met so briefly, but you instilled yourself upon my soul, and I swore that when we met again, I would ask only one thing of you."
Aníriel took his hand, lifting it as she spun on her toes, "A dance perhaps? Or maybe a song?" she guessed delightedly.
Legolas stopped her, grabbed her by the waist, and pulled her to him. In his hand, he held a small velvet pouch. He handed it to her. She gave him a puzzled look and cocked her head to one side. Legolas nodded, gesturing for her to open it. Aníriel emptied the contents into her hand. Two silver rings slid out of the pouch, clinking together as they rolled into her palm. She stared at them in bewilderment, and then slowly lifted her head to find Legolas' handsome face watching every move she made.
"These are betrothal rings," she said for a lack of anything better to say.
"Aníriel, I have had an earth cycle to think about this, and I am certain that you are the one I want to spend eternity with. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife, to bind your soul to mine?"
The elleth was dumbfounded, "Legolas, as you said, we met so briefly. I wasn't expecting anything like—"
"Do you love me?" he interjected.
She gazed up into his handsome face, "I do. I always have, but—"
"Then, please say yes. Say you will have me," he pleaded.
She searched the depths of his eyes, "Your mission is not yet complete, though. You have made a promise to others. It is why you are here now, and not settled back in Mirkwood carrying out your duties as Prince."
"The Rhovanion brings no peace to me now. The gull calls to me, and I am more content here where I am closer to the sea. A bond, too, I have made with the King … a promise that I swore to uphold until he passes his throne on to an heir. The only thing missing is you."
Aníriel stepped away from him, and he was afraid she would go. He held his hand out to her, but she merely looked at it, and did not accept it. "I fear I would be a distraction to you, just as I feared it the first time we met. There are others who need you more … the King, your people … especially your people. They look to you for guidance and leadership. I would not want to be the cause of disruption when you so clearly have a lot to accomplish."
"Aníriel, you have been a distraction from the first time I laid eyes upon you. What you don't know is that it was a diversion I needed in order to survive the long darkness of Moria, and the visions of the balrog. It was you whom I fought for at Helm's Deep and Pelennor Field. And it was for you that I marched to the Black Gates of Mordor, and stood surrounded by my enemy. When all seemed lost, you were a beam of light impaling my heart, giving me strength and hope. That brief encounter in a glade in Mirkwood was just the distraction I needed, and I swore that when I found you again, I would never let you go." He lowered himself to his knees on the soft grass, and gazed up at her with pleading blue eyes, "Please, Aníriel, be my betrothed. I love you."
She looked at the rings that she still held in her palm, and then back to Legolas kneeling vulnerably before her. She reached out, took his hand and lifted it, gesturing for him to stand. When he was on his feet, she gave him the smaller of the two rings and offered him her hand, smiling, and said, "I would be honored to be your wife. Yes, Legolas, a million times yes … I will marry you."
He put the ring on her finger, and stared longingly into her eyes as she did the same for him. Overwhelmed with joy, Legolas picked Aníriel up by her waist and spun her around, making her squeal from surprise. He set her back on her feet, and she swooned with dizziness. Legolas had a hold of her still, and pulled her to him, lifting her chin. He bent his head towards her, lips almost touching, and stopped. Aníriel watched him look up at the sky.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Checking the sky," he smiled, "Not a cloud, no thunder to chase my lady away."
"Oh, I'm not going anywhere," she said, wrapping her hand around the back of his neck. She pulled him down to her, "Now, kiss me."
Their lips touched, and a charge coursed through their bodies. For so long, Legolas had wondered how she would feel, how she would taste. Nothing he had ever imagined could have prepared him for the rush of emotion that flowed through him now. His mind cleared of all the bad memories. The gull's song quieted. The smells of the forest enhanced, and his senses were heightened. It was the most wonderful thing he'd ever experienced.
Legolas released her and stood back, "I have never felt so … existent." He breathed deep and looked around at their surroundings, smiling, and said, "This shall be my first order of business. The elves will live here, in this forest while we rejuvenate the barren sections of this land. We will build our homes here, and I will make our home right on the edge of this glade."
"And I shall dance and sing for you every morning," Aníriel added.
"And I will join you when a storm rolls in, just to have you jump into my arms." Legolas captured her with another long and passionate kiss, feeling as though his heart might burst. He pulled her to him and melted as she nestled her head against his firm chest. "Those who did not know Greenwood the Great will understand how glorious it once was. Ithilien will be made in its likeness, and no one shall live in fear again, so long as the elves walk upon these lands."
"Your mother would be so proud of you, of the man you have become, and I am just as proud," Aníriel assured him, "Your people will agree, too, and call you their lord, for that will be your new title, but to me, you will always be my Prince."
Legolas wrapped his arms around her, relishing the feel of her closeness, "And you will always be my lady of the glade."
*Author's note: Inspiration for this story came from the song, The Widow of Loch Lemond by Jeff Victor (Lifescapes-Scottish Moors). If you would like to listen to this song, you can find it on youtube.