Author's Note: A thousand apologies for the horrendous delay in posting this: real life seems to hate me these days, and a spate of illnesses and - more recently - an Internet crash have conspired against me. Hopefully, this makes up for the horrid gap between postings. A thousand thanks to all my wonderful readers, and your gorgeous and supportive reviews! I am very, very glad that so many people are enjoying this: I hope this next installment is as good.

A note to my darling Hobgoblin: Hello, my lovely fellow CF author! Decided to branch out a bit from Author's Hell, eh? As always, it is sheer delight to hear from you. Fear not, I shall never desert the land of Erna: Gerald is, after all, my first and truest villainous love. Still, variety is the spice of life, and to keep my creative juices flowing for CF I must write for other series as well. Thanks a ton for the heaping helping of compliments, I squeed for delight when I got you review! Legolas/Aragorn forever!

A.N.2: Chapter title is from the song "Mirror Mirror" by Blind Guardian, on the album Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Yes, an entire album about the Lord of the Rings - the events of the Silmarillion, in fact. The song contained in this chapter is 'Maiden And The Selkie' by the inimitable Heather Dale.


Chapter Two: The Storm Gets Closer...

The first stretch of the Fellowship's journey was relatively uneventful. Legolas was glad for the peace: he feared that, only too soon, they would find precious few moments in which they might relax and let their guard down.

He could see why Aragorn had spoken fondly of the Hobbits. They seemed never to stop smiling, always joking and laughing, more joyous even than Legolas's own people. Merry the Mirkwood elves might have been, but they could have learned much of cheerfulness from the people of the Shire. They knew little of the world beyond the Shire, but they were hardly timid about learning: many times throughout the day, Legolas found himself queried by the Little Folk, who seemed fascinated by everything from the mere fact that he was an elf to the tales of the Valar. Legolas was happy to talk with them: it lightened his sense of approaching doom to speak to such happy folk, and it gave him an excuse to avoid Boromir.

The man of Gondor most definitely rubbed the elf Prince's instincts the wrong way. He was too arrogant, too cocky, and far too boastful of Gondor's pride. More like Boromir's pride, Legolas thought viciously. In fairness to Boromir, Legolas would have been a bit irritated anyway: Gimli was almost as infuriating as the Gondorian. He was far more openly belligerent, at least - the dwarf had been voicing thinly veiled insults about 'pointy-eared elves' all day. Legolas had seen Aragorn giving Gimli disapproving looks, and it was that which made the elf hold his tongue: if he showed offence then Aragorn would feel compelled to defend him, which might give away too much of their relationship.

Already is was clear that keeping their love hidden would be a difficult task indeed. Wary of giving away their secret, Aragorn and Legolas did not dare to spend too much time in each other's company: they forced themselves to remain more distant than would be expected even of old friends, afraid that if they were too close they might forget themselves and reveal their hidden relationship. The enforced distance between them only added to their growing tension, making Elf and Man alike short-tempered and touchy.

A few nights out from Rivendell, as they made their way through the vale of Hollin, the travelers seemed to reach a mutual understanding: they were stuck with each other for the rest of this journey, so they might as well attempt to get along. This led to a long, rambling conversation involving nearly the entire Company reciting their entire life stories in a sort of bonding experience. Only Gandalf and Aragorn were absent from the discussion: Gandalf because he was simply too mysterious and cryptic to give away his secrets, and Aragorn because he was checking the perimeter of their camp area for threats. Somehow, during this conversation, the subject had worked its way around to lovers, both past and present. Sam had waxed lyrical about his beloved Rosie Cotton, prompting some good-natured teasing from the other Hobbits, and Boromir had reminisced about an auburn-haired beauty waiting for him in Minas Tirith. It was Merry who brought Legolas into the conversation.

"What about you, Prince Legolas? Do you have a woman waiting for you in Mirkwood?"

Legolas smiled at the cheerful little Hobbit, suddenly rather glad that Aragorn was away scouting, if only because he might have blushed if the Ranger were present. "Not exactly, Merry. My tastes lie in a different direction."

Gimli snorted. "That's a fancy damn way of putting it."

Pippin looked confused. "What?"

Frodo chuckled. "I think he means his lover isn't a woman, Pippin."

The Hobbit blushed slightly as comprehension dawned, and Legolas laughed softly, the almost musical sound shimmering in the evening air. "Quite right, Frodo."

Sam was gazing at him curiously, his eyes wide and bright with interest. "I heard that elves only fall in love once in their whole lives. Is that true?"

Legolas tilted his head slightly as he considered the question, unconsciously tucking a stray lock of blond hair behind his pointed ear. "Yes, in a way, but also no. My people have only one true soulmate - a single person that completes us, that we truly love with all our hearts. However, it is possible for us to feel deep affection for someone that is not our soulmate, providing our soulmate is at ease with the relationship."

Merry looked puzzled. "How does that work?"

Legolas cast his mind about for a good example. "Well, Merry - it is possible for an elf to be involved with someone who is not their soulmate even after they have met their soulmate, though rare. Lord Elrond's soulmate is Lord Glorfindel. However, Elrond needed an heir to carry on his line as Guardian of Rivendell, so he married Celebrían - Lady Arwen's mother. They all coexisted peacefully until Lady Celebrían was injured by orcs. She sailed to the Grey Havens, and Elrond returned to Glorfindel. Such situations are rare, but not unheard of. More frequently, an elf will never find their soulmate, and is free to pursue any relationships they see fit."

"What if an elf's soulmate dies?" Frodo asked softly, his dark eyes questioning. "What happens then?"

Legolas's blue eyes darkened ever so slightly. "Elves rarely survive their soulmate's deaths. Many sail to the Havens, unable to remain in Middle-Earth when their mate is gone: some simply waste away from grief, until they are no more than shadows."

Boromir was gazing at him thoughtfully. "It seems a terrible burden, to be so dependent on another." he said bluntly. Legolas would have dearly loved to scowl at the Man, but settled for a cool glance.

"We consider it well worth the risk." he said, his tone polite but chill. "Finding one's soulmate is a blessing from the Valar, and the joy of knowing such love far outweighs the future pain of grief. After all, all things of value in the world must come with a price."

Gandalf shifted where he sat slightly back from the firelight, nodding to Legolas. "Wise words indeed, my friend. Enough of this seriousness, now - we are on a quest of hope, after all. Why doesn't someone sing?"

Boromir quickly volunteered, but was met with a chorus of groans. The Man had serenaded them all several times now, each time more dreadfully than the last. Gimli was out of the question, of course. Merry once again dragged the elf into the thick of things. "Why doesn't Legolas sing? Didn't Bilbo say that all elves are wonderful minstrels?"

Legolas would have gracefully declined, but Aragorn chose that moment to reappear out of the darkness and settle next to the fire, smiling at Legolas with a mischevious gleam in his grey eyes. "Yes, why don't you sing, Legolas?"

The elven Prince sighed ruefully. "I might have known you would side with them, Aragorn, they've got you wrapped around their little fingers." As the Hobbits laughed, Legolas considered what song to sing. Something moving, yet not too intense: something lighter and more adventurous...

The idea came to him in a flash. Why not sing something that, while entertaining the company, would also teach his lover a lesson? Just because their relationship was constrained to secrecy did not mean that he was helpless to retaliate, after all. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is going to backfire, Legolas thought dryly, but the idea of secretly getting revenge on his lover in addition to singing a rousing, enjoyable tune was too much to resist. He began to sing, his voice ringing clearly through the darkness.

"Once a fair and handsome seal Lord lay his foot upon the sand

For to woo the fisher's daughter and to claim her marriage hand

'I have come in from the ocean, I have come in from the sea

And I'll not go to the waves, love, unless you come along with me'..."

Aragorn's eyes had widened, and he looked torn between delight and dismay. The ballad that Legolas was singing was one of the Ranger's favorites, and happened to provide an excellent showcase for Legolas's voice. Legolas had deliberately chosen it as payback for his lover: to be forced to sit and listen, unable to so much as kiss Legolas, would be sheer torture for Aragorn. Feeling suddenly mischevious, Legolas raised a hand to casually smooth back his blond hair, tilting his head coyly as he sang.

"'Lord, long have I loved you, as a selkie on the foam

I would gladly go and wed ye, and be Lady of your home

But I cannot go into the ocean, I cannot go into the sea

I would drown beneath the waves, love, if I went along with ye'..."

The Hobbits looked fascinated with the strange song, one that they had never heard before. It was an old romantic ballad from Númenor, preserved amongst the elves as one of the finer examples of a human's lyrical efforts: it told the tale of a selkie, a magical shapeshifting seal, who fell in love with a human woman and was willing to die to spend a single night with her. The crackling fire provided a perfect counterpoint as Legolas sang, drawing them all into his weaving.

"'Lady long have I loved you: I would have you for my wife

I will stay upon your shoreland, though it robs me of my life

I will stay one night beside you, never go back to the sea

I will stay and be thy husband though it be the death of me'

'Lord I cannot go and wed thee, all to watch my lover die

Since I'll not be left a widow, I have a plan for us to try

Let us speak with my grandmother, who's ever dwelt beside the sea:

She may know of some trick or treasure that I may wed my fair selkie.'..."

Aragorn seemed to be the only one picking up on Legolas's admittedly subtle cues, the playful tilt of his head and the coy gleam in his eyes. This song held a special meaning for both of them: the forbidden love between a selkie and a human maid, and the helpless devotion and longing on both sides, was strikingly reminiscent of how Aragorn and Legolas's relationship had begun. Much like the selkie and his love, they had discovered the answer to their quandary, but their solution was far more difficult to fulfill.

"So they've gone to her grandmother's little cottage by the sea

To inquire how a maiden can be wed to her selkie

For the selkie's watery kingdom would surely rob her of her breath

But to stay on land past midnight - it would surely be his death

'Lord I know not how to aid you: you may never live on shore

For your kind to live 'till dawning, has ne'er been seen before

But my mother had a seal-coat, that she buried 'neath a tree

And she told me that it's wearer would become a fair selkie'..."

Legolas had known, from the moment that he first laid eyes on Aragorn, that the young Dúnedain would change his life forever. Aragorn was only twelve when they met for the first time, still living in Imladris under the name of Estel. The grave young boy with the dazzling smile and the cool grey eyes had entranced the elven Prince from the start, and that fascination had grown stronger with every moment that they passed in each other's company, eventually transforming from simple interest to desire. They had fought it at first, believing that they were too different for a relationship to work - in the end it was Elrond who had intervened. Having seen Arwen's growing infatuation Aragorn, but recognizing that Legolas and Aragorn were true soulmates, the wise Lord had told them that they needed to decide swiftly whether they wanted to be together or if they would spend the rest of their lives apart, in pain.

There was no contest when it was considered in that manner. Legolas and Aragorn had pledged themselves to each other that very night, in a shadowy glade in Rivendell. Aragorn explained the situation to Arwen, who conceded with the utmost grace, understanding that Legolas had far more to offer Aragorn than she did. The three had become good friends, and when Arwen fell in love with Haldir of Lothlorien, any remaining traces of awkwardness evaporated like the morning dew.

Still, Legolas and Aragorn could not afford to reveal their relationship yet: if that was ever to happen, Sauron would first have to be defeated. It would be a long and hard quest, and it was entirely possible that they would not both survive - but it was their only chance, and the only chance for Middle-Earth, so they would persevere.

"So they've journeyed farther inland, though the seal Lord's getting weak

And she's shouldering the shovel to unearth the thing they seek

At the rising of the full moon, underneath the elfin oak

She's unearthed that very treasure of which her grandmother spoke

Just before the stroke of midnight, they have made it back to sea

And she's donned that magic seal-coat and become a maid selkie

Now they've gone into the ocean, hand-in-hand into the sea

She has gone along: a fair seal-bride for her selkie!"

As Legolas finished, the Hobbits burst into applause. "That was magnificent, Prince Legolas!" Pippin exclaimed happily. "I've never heard that song before. It was quite beautiful."

"It is an old Númenorean ballad." Legolas explained, smiling. "I thought that you might enjoy it: I have rarely heard it sung amongst Men in recent times."

Gandalf chuckled softly, having understood the subtle game Legolas was playing - and, in the true manner of wizards, saying nothing but that which was conveyed in his twinkling gaze. "A fine diversion, Prince Legolas. Now, we had best retire for the night: 'twill be a long day tomorrow, for son we shall reach the mountain foothills. Rest, and dream of joyous times."

The company dispersed to their bedrolls, some still murmuring amongst themselves. Legolas settled down to rest with a smile on his face, inwardly laughing at the look Aragorn had given him before the Ranger turned to his own bed. That look had promised payback, but the warmth in his silver eyes had been undeniable. He knew that Legolas's actions had been spurred more by love than by mischief.

It was the first time since they had left Rivendell that Legolas rested peacefully, his eyes open to the stars above and a soft smile on his lips.