I must thank Ziggy3, an absolute dear and a fabulous writer too, for her suggestions for this part and for her continued encouragement. Thank you!
Note: This follows Longing in the Nightingale series of stories, and is from Dulinneth's pov, though Legolas shows up a wee bit.
Warnings: There is a scene in the healing chambers, barely graphic, and a brief flashback of f/m sex near the end.
". . . Now why did we not wish for some of our own kinsfolk, Legolas?"
Legolas stood before the gate and turned his bright eyes away north and east, and his fair face was troubled. "I do not think that any would come," he answered. "They have no need to ride to war; war already marches on their own lands."
Return of the King, The Passing of the Grey Company.
Her chest tight, Dulinneth slowly pulled her hands free from the grasp of the dead warrior's. She blinked back tears as she dipped them, slick with his blood, into the wash basin, her motions automatic as she washed. One of the women helping in the great cavern's healing chamber came and took the basin away, replacing it a moment later with a new one. Dulinneth offered her a tight smile of thanks.
She watched her a moment longer as she moved away then turned back to the bed. Her faint smile faded completely and her shoulders sagged. So young. She had been in attendance at his birthing. Gently she lowered the fallen warrior's eyelids, smoothed back his hair. She wanted to mourn, to weep, but now was not the time. There were others, living, who needed aid.
The attack from their foes at Dol Guldur had come in the night. But they had been prepared since mid-winter when the King had ordered all in the settlement to take refuge in the caves and the guard in the trees had been doubled. Their enemy was great in number, however, and they fought with terrible weapons. It had been a long battle, back and forth, beneath the trees. But in the end, Thranduil and his warriors had sent the creatures scurrying back to that vile place. It was a great victory.
But there had been a price. Ai, a terrible price. Many had been killed in battle, many wounded. And now there was another gone.
"I'll move him."
The quiet offer drew her out of herself, and she turned to the one who had spoken. She nodded once, and the man, another warrior, easily lifted his comrade in arms and carried him away. He would be taken to the chamber next door, where his family could cleanse and prepare him for burial. She swallowed back a painful lump and lowered her eyes again to the bed. It seemed wrong to take him away so soon after his passing, but they had need of every bed this day.
Dulinneth stepped back to let another strip the fouled sheets and replace them with fresh ones. The scent of lavender mingled with the iron-copper odor lingering in the air, a sickly-sweet combination that assaulted her nostrils in the closed room.
"I need antiseptic . . . No, no, the smaller scalpel."
The Master Healer's clipped voice drew Dulinneth's attention. She looked over at him where he worked, his newest apprentice by his side, cutting an arrow from another man's shoulder. It looked deeply embedded, even from where she stood, and she winced inwardly as Haerelon probed the flesh and bone around it as he sought to draw it free. She should go and help him . . .
Outside the room a sharp wail of grief rose in the air, and there was a crash just to her left. Something warm and wet splashed against her ankle, and she glanced down. Blood and water ran across the uneven stone floor, pooling around her feet before it flowed further on. For a moment she stared, uncomprehending, then started to raise the hem of her skirt. She dropped it. The dress was old anyway, and already stained.
"I'm sorry, Highness," someone choked.
Dulinneth raised her eyes and looked to the girl who had dropped the basin. She was young too, like the warrior who had just died, and no doubt overwhelmed by the sights and sounds here. She should be helping with the children. Dulinneth breathed in deeply, ignoring the scents of the healing room as she had always managed to do before now. She patted the girl's arm. " 'Tis no matter. Just . . . clean it up before someone steps on the shards," she murmured.
She stepped around her, moving to the aid of yet another injured man as he was helped onto a bed by his comrade. He had a deep gash in his thigh, another cut on his forehead. He grimaced as she drew near and began to inspect his wound, but he held still. She raised her head and met his eyes.
"I'll take care of you," she told him. And with grim determination she set about to do just that.
She passed no one as she trudged through the corridors, and she was grateful for the silence. It was deep in the night, the battle had been over for some time, and they had treated all the wounded. And they, along with the King and the rest of Legolas' family, had offered consolation to those who had lost loved ones. Afterwards she had watched over the injured as the Master Healer had taken his rest. Now it was her turn, but she did not think she could find any at all this night.
She paused at a door to collect herself before she knocked quietly. It opened without a sound, and a woman with black hair and blue eyes peeked out. When she saw who it was she curtsied and ushered her into the room, then gazed at her worriedly.
Dulinneth quickly answered the unspoken question. "No, your betrothed wasn't among the injured, or the dead."
The maid smiled her relief. "Thank you."
Dulinneth nodded. "And how is Belon?" she asked.
"He finally fell asleep a little while ago," the other woman answered. "Shall I fetch him for you?"
"No, I'll get him."
There were only a few other children in the room when Dulinneth entered and she assumed most of them had already gone home with their families. She found Belon quickly. He was indeed asleep, his thumb tucked in his mouth, his blue eyes unfocused, and she smiled her first real smile of the day as she looked down at him. Carefully she bent and lifted him into her arms. He stirred as she settled him against her shoulder.
"Yes, darling, Nana's here," she murmured. "Time to go home."
He snuggled close at her softly-voiced reassurance, and she carried him from the room, bidding farewell to the maid as she went. She made her way to the royal wing and pushed open the door to her and Legolas' chambers. A fire glowed in the hearth and several candles lit the otherwise dark rooms. She would have to remember to thank Galion in the morning.
One handed, she shut the door and bolted it behind them before she took Belon into the smaller of the rooms and pressed a kiss to his soft cheek before placing him in his cradle. He would need a real bed soon, for his head and feet nearly touched the ends of it. But she had been loath to remove him from his baby bed, even if he did sleep in his own chamber now, for Legolas had built it himself, polishing the wood until it gleamed and there was not the tiniest splinter to be found. Kneeling beside it, she gently removed Belon's thumb from his mouth and stroked his light brown hair.
"You look so like your father, Tithendir," she whispered, "no matter what he might say otherwise." Her voice caught a little, and Belon stirred again and turned toward the sound of her voice. Dulinneth swallowed and went on. "He's such a brave, fine man, your father. And he loves you, so very much . . ."
Her throat tight, her voice trailed off, and instead of telling him stories about his father, she began to hum a lullaby, one Legolas had sung to Belon every night, when he had been home. Their son slept on, though he seemed to smile.
At last Dulinneth rose and made for her bedchamber, leaving the doors ajar between the rooms. Moonlight spilled through the far window, and for a moment she did not want to go further into the too empty room with its too large bed. She had promised to be strong, brave, but it was so hard, now that she was alone, and all the day's events came crashing down on her. She had seen so much blood, so much death, heard too many agonizing cries of pain, and of grief.
"Legolas," she whispered, but of course he was not there, could not hear her, and oh, how she wanted him. Needed him. Needed his strong arms around her and his deep voice telling her everything would be all right. And she needed his kisses and his loving to make her forget, just for a little while.
Once again tears threatened and she closed her eyes and hugged herself, willing them away. But no matter how much she pretended her husband held her, it was no use-the loneliness would not leave her. And she needed to be close to him, needed more than the feelings that sometimes flooded through their binding channel, precious as those moments were. It was not the same.
But even as she thought this, Dulinneth shook herself. No. She must be strong for Legolas. She must. Yet she needed to be close to him too. Somehow.
Her gaze fell on the large wardrobe standing along the wall to her left. Slowly she moved to it and pulled the door open. Legolas' clothing . . . Yes, perhaps . . . She began to search through his shirts until she found what she wanted. There, on the end, was the first one she had ever made for him, not long after they were wed. It was light blue, linen, for everyday, and he had worn it so often that the sleeves had holes in them from his elbows and the cuffs and collar were frayed. She drew it out now and buried her face the soft material, letting the aromas of oak, sun, leather, and his musk, seep into her lungs, and the memory of the day she had given it to him rose in her mind, clear and sharp as yesterday.
Legolas had just emerged from their bathing chamber, his hair falling damp and sleek around his shoulders. Dulinneth stared at him, her eyes following a bead of water as it traveled downward across his wide pectorals, meandered past his taut abdomen. His leggings, not yet cinched tight by the laces, barely clung to his lean waist and hips.
"If you keep looking at me like that neither of us will leave these rooms today."
She looked back up at his face, at the tender yet lustful expression he regarded her with, and the heat that had begun to curl in her belly grew. "It would not be a bad thing, surely," she said.
"It would be the best of things," he replied, moving closer, drawing her against him. "But tell me, dearest, what are you hiding behind your back?" he asked, when she did not immediately return his embrace.
"What?" she murmured, blinking at the question. "Oh." She eased from his arms and shifted the bundle she had been hiding so that it was in front of her. " 'Tis a shirt. For you."
"Indeed?" He took it from her hands and held it up to admire before he slipped it on, smiling as he fastened the clasps. "And it fits so well too. How does it look?"
It fit him perfectly, emphasizing his wide shoulders, but not so snug as to restrict movement. And the color almost matched his eyes. Dulinneth sighed. He was so handsome, her husband. She cleared her throat and finally said, "You look magnificent."
He smiled. "I thank you for the gift, dulind nin," he said, stepping forward again and cupping her face in his palm, caressing it. His voice dropped an octave, and he bent his head toward hers. "Now, where were we?"
"You were about to leave for the archery field, my lord," she teased.
"It can wait," he whispered.
His mouth covered hers, and Dulinneth met him eagerly, desire igniting between them as if they had not made love only a short while before. Dulinneth's hands worked the clasps of his shirt apart and he shrugged it off, throwing it onto the bed. Legolas urged her against the nearest wall, and there, held up by his strong hands, her gown bunched up around her waist, his leggings shoved down, he entered her. Dulinneth gasped, nearly undone by the sheer bliss of him filling her. From the look on his face Legolas felt the same way. And when he began to move it did not take long for her to shatter, for his voice break on her name.
Sated, neither of them moved for long moments afterwards, until Legolas raised his head, and he gazed at her with adoring eyes. "I love you."
"I love you too," she whispered back. "Always."
"Always," she echoed now, her voice seeming loud in the quiet room. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, the other clutching the shirt against her. But the tears were of remembrance of happier times, not of grief and despair, and so they were welcome.
She stirred, started toward the bed, but then she stopped, considering. She had meant to keep the shirt with her as she slept, but now she undressed instead and drew it on. The sleeves hung past her wrists and it billowed out about her smaller frame, but it was perfect. She quickly buttoned it up and hugged herself again. Surrounded by his scent, if felt that he was there with her. That he held her close against him as he had then.
Comforted, and her strength renewed, she knew she would get through the waiting, as she had all the times before. And someday Legolas would return and hold her again in his arms, for he had promised.
And with that thought in mind, Dulinneth slipped into bed and reached for his pillow, holding it tight, as peace flooded her soul.
Dulind nin—my nightingale