Crossbow Wedding
by Bailey

Crossbow Wedding by Bailey
Rating: PG13
Pairing: A/L Summary: King Thranduil requests a meeting with Lord Elrond, and Elrond’s sons.
Beta: Piper
WARNING: MPREG

Chapter 1

“Ha! You owe a forfeit, Ro,” Aragorn called out merrily.

Elrohir looked up indignantly, his lapse in concentration allowing his twin to pin him to the grass. Elladan bore down on his brother, seeing victory literally within his grasp.

“Do you yield?” the Man asked his foster-brother.

“Never,” Elrohir grunted as Elladan dispassionately applied leverage.

“Ah, for the Valar’s sake! Yield!” Elladan said. “Why must you be so stubborn?”

“He is his father’s son,” Aragorn quipped.

“Indeed.” A dry voice spoke almost in Aragorn’s ear.

The young Ranger spun and faced Lord Elrond. So intent had Aragorn been on mediating the wrestling match that he had not heard his foster-father approach. Elves are stealthy by nature, but Aragorn should have had some intimation of the powerful Lord’s presence.

“Ada!” the twins chorused as they rose and brushed off their clothing.

Elrond cocked an eyebrow at his natural sons. “It is good to see you back at Rivendell,” the magisterial Elf said. “When were you planning on informing me of your arrival?”

“Sorry, ada,” Elladan said sincerely. “A quarrel arose on our way from the stables and Estel offered to help us settle it.”

Elrond’s eyebrows climbed farther toward his hairline. “I might have known. A Man would choose a physical solution to a problem.”

Aragorn looked away from his foster-father’s gaze. The young Man’s cheeks grew warm, as he perceived the reprimand in Lord Elrond’s words.

“Arwen will be arriving home any day,” Elrond continued. “Would you wish her to be witness to such unseemly behavior?”

Aragorn’s humiliation was complete. He’d been looking forward to meeting his foster-sister since he’d first seen her likeness portrayed in alabaster. Arwen had been living in Lorien since long before a fleeing Woman had come to Elrond begging sanctuary for her child. Aragorn was devastated by the thought that the Lady Evenstar might have seen him for the first time while he was belly-down on the sward, encouraging his foster-brothers to fight.

“Please accept my apology,” Aragorn said.

Elrond sighed. “You are a good Man, Estel,” the Lord said. “Sometimes, however, you are impetuous. If you would but think a thing through before you act, I would never have cause to speak to you thus and do not think I do not see your smirks, my sons.”

Elladan and Elrohir’s faces sobered as Elrond’s hawk eyes fastened on them.

“You would also do well to have a care for your dignity,” Lord Elrond told the two tall young Elves. “I expect all of you to conduct yourselves as befits princes when you accompany me to meet with King Thranduil.”

“The King of Mirkwood?” the twins exclaimed simultaneously.

“Do you know of another Thranduil?” Elrond asked dryly.

“He never leaves Mirkwood,” Elrohir said. “Everyone knows that.”

“Are we going to Mirkwood?” Elladan asked.

Elrond held up a hand. “I received a message from Thranduil requesting that I meet him on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains where his kingdom begins. I discerned his mind from afar, but could only surmise that a great worry occupied his thought. His message requested that I bring my sons with me. I saw no reason to refuse him.”

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged an excited look. “When do we leave?” Elrohir asked.

“At first light tomorrow,” Elrond said. “See you are garbed to do honor to Rivendell.”

Just after midday, the troop of Rivendell Elves arrived at the eaves of Mirkwood. Several pavilions of silk in turquoise, white and scarlet were set up at the edge of the ancient forest. Servants moved about, placing food and drink on the low tables. As Lord Elrond and his companions drew rein, a muscular Elf wearing a circlet of royal rank approached them. In all their long years, Elrond and Thranduil had never laid eyes on one another and both took this opportunity to satisfy curiosity.

As Elrond dismounted, Thranduil marked the severe elegance of the Lord’s tall, thin frame and the unconscious majesty revealed in each small gesture. Thranduil saw also the unyielding nature of Elrond’s personality in the set of the Lord’s jaw and mouth. Rivendell’s ruler was not one to be trifled with it seemed. That was well for it was no trifle that brought Mirkwood’s king here today.

Elrond viewed Thranduil’s bare chest and heavy, ornate jewelry with a skeptical eye. The Woodland Realm was as far removed from Rivendell in time as it was in space. The fact that Thranduil still styled himself King, instead of Lord, told Elrond much about the other Elf.

Though he deplored the display, Elrond could not deny that Thranduil’s appearance was impressive. Beautiful, even by Elvish standards, the king had the vivid coloring typical of Wood-Elves. Thranduil’s eyes were green as milky jade; his skin was pale as ivory and his hair was a rippling dragon’s horde of rich red-gold. His muscular frame clad in little more than his regalia and a length of violet silk wound about his loins, Thranduil no doubt overwhelmed most visitors to his court. Lord Elrond was not one of them.

“Hail, Thranduil of Mirkwood,” Elrond said. “I have come as you requested.”

“Hail, Elrond of Rivendell, Herald of Gil-galad,” Thranduil answered. “Thank you for coming.” The king’s bright eyes strayed over Elrond’s shoulder. “Are these your sons?” he asked.

Elrond gestured and the twins stepped forward. “Elladan and Elrohir,” the Lord said proudly, “and I see Estel is hanging back. Come, Estel and stand with your brothers.”

“A Man,” Thranduil said in an ambiguous tone.

“My foster-son,” Elrond said. “As dear to me as my own blood.”

Thranduil cocked an eyebrow at Rivendell’s Lord. “Is he?” the king said. “Intriguing. I must hear more of him later. Will you sit and share the midday meal with me?”

Elrond inclined his head in polite acceptance. Whatever Thranduil wanted to say, the king obviously thought it would go more smoothly in a social setting. Elrond did not mind in the least; he was, quite frankly, hungry and the food smelled delicious.

Not until everyone had a chance to refresh themselves did Thranduil speak again. The king spoke a single word.

“Archers.”

Elrond and his companions found themselves at the center of a ring of sharp points. A party of Mirkwood Trackers in green and brown had appeared from nowhere and now took aim on the Rivendell Elves. Elrond’s eyes went to the king.

“What is behind this treachery?” Elrond asked calmly.

“The Trackers are here to ensure that no one leaves before we’ve finished our business,” Thranduil said. “I regret the necessity, but as a father, I think you will understand.”

“Explain,” Elrond said curtly.

Thranduil signed the archers to lower their bows and step back before he spoke. “Some time ago, one of your sons made the acquaintance of a Mirkwood Tracker who was far afield hunting wild Orc. I use a euphemism for it would be more honest to say that your son assaulted the Tracker. I have called you here to see justice done.”

Elrond’s eyes narrowed. “What evidence do you have?” he asked.

“I have the Tracker’s word, which I extracted with much difficulty,” Thranduil replied.

“Let this Tracker be brought forward that my sons might face the accuser.”

“That is my intention,” the king said. “On your feet.”

Elrond rose and gestured to his companions to do likewise. With icy dignity, Rivendell’s Lord gazed at the King of Mirkwood as though he were prepared to wait until the stars burned out for Thranduil to produce his witness.

“No! I will not! You cannot force me!”

Heads turned toward the entrance at the sound of a desperate voice outside the pavilion. Two strapping Elves in the livery of Thranduil’s house dragged a struggling prisoner into the big tent. The captive was long and lithe with an eye-snaring spill of moon-colored that fell to his waist. Though his wrists were bound in front of him, the pale-haired Elf managed to jab his elbow into the stomach of the guard on his left, as he drove his heel into the shin of the one on his right. The prisoner lunged forward, but his legs became entangled in the folds of the long gown he wore. He staggered and would have gone to his knees had Aragorn not darted forward. The Man caught the falling Elf and set him on his feet. Looking up, Aragorn met the captive’s cobalt blue eyes and was lost.

“Lasse,” the Man said warmly.

The young Elf looked stricken as the human took his bound hands. “I hope you can forgive me,” he said, “but I lied to you. My name is not Lassegalen; it is Legolas. I am not a free Tracker but a prince of Mirkwood. I have no excuse for deceiving you. Please believe that I did not do it with the intent to harm you.”

“I do not care what your name is,” Aragorn said. “I love you.”

“Well,” Thranduil said. “I guess that mystery is solved, but now I have another quandary.”

“Indeed,” Elrond agreed, eyeing Prince Legolas’ fecund form.

“I am sorry, Aragorn,” Legolas said softly. “I did not tell father your name, but his spies garnered enough information to point to a prince of Rivendell. I did not wish this to happen. Can you forgive me?”

“Of course, I forgive you. I am happy to find you again.”

“Even like this?” Legolas asked looking downward.

Aragorn finally pulled his gaze from the fascinating blue eyes. His mouth fell open and he took a big step back. The heir to Gondor’s throne gaped in disbelief at the Elf’s ripe belly.

“You are . . . with . . . child!” Aragorn gasped.

“And you are not the simple Ranger you pretended to be. Estel,” Legolas said.

Aragorn had the grace to look sheepish. “I imagine my reasons were much the same as yours, your highness,” he said, “but how is it you are pregnant?”

Legolas gave the Man a disbelieving look. “Surely you know the way of it; you seemed quite practiced to me.”

Two spots of red appeared on Aragorn’s high cheekbones. “I mean, how could you be pregnant when you are male?”

Elrond sighed. “Estel, do you never listen when I am speaking? I warned you about Wood-Elves when you took it into your head that you must be a Ranger or die. I knew you might encounter our Woodland brethren on your travels and be enchanted into an error in judgment. It would seem that my fears were founded on bedrock.”

“Error in judgment?” Thranduil repeated. “An odd choice of words to describe the defilement of my son.”

“Defilement!” Elrond said. “I doubt Estel forced himself on Prince Legolas.”

“How else would Legolas come to be in this condition?” Thranduil countered.

“I would imagine it came about in the traditional fashion when your son opened his legs,” Elrond said somewhat stiffly.

“Do you dare insinuate that my child is a wanton?” Thranduil shouted in outrage.

“You dared imply that mine was a rapist!” Elrond returned.

Elladan looked at Elrohir in shock. Never in their lives had the twins heard their father raise his voice whatever the provocation. Of course, Lord Elrond had never been faced with a situation quite like this one.

“Aragorn did not force me!” Legolas burst out, drawing everyone’s eyes again.

“You lay willingly with this . . . Man?” Thranduil sputtered.

“Yes, ada,” Legolas said defiantly. “Willingly and more than once. For a glorious season I knew what it was to be loved unreservedly for who I am and not what I am.”

“And was it worth it?” Thranduil asked. “Now you find yourself heavy with child and no fit mate to raise the Elfling.”

“I will not hear Aragorn spoken of this way,” Legolas said.

Elrond put a hand on Thranduil’s forearm above the golden wrist cuff. “Wait,” Elrond said, forestalling the king’s wrath. “Aragorn, Legolas, do you claim to love one another?”

“I do not wish you to think I am trying to trap Aragorn into marriage,” Legolas said. “I loved him when my eyes first beheld him and when he touched me; I found I could deny him nothing. What I gave to him, I gave with my whole heart.”

“Legolas has taken the words from my mouth,” Aragorn said. “Except to say that once I had seen him, I knew I would never find peace unless it be in his arms. I was bereft of it soon enough, when I woke one dawn to find my love gone.”

“You are a Ranger,” Thranduil pointed out. “Why did you not track Legolas to his home?”

“I left a letter forbidding him to follow me,” Legolas answered. “I knew what your reaction would be to my human lover and did not wish to cause so much pain to so many. Of course, my noble silence was set at naught in few months.”

Aragorn echoed Legolas’ smile as the Elven prince put a hand on the swell of his stomach. The Man’s hand covered the Elf’s in a tender, protective gesture. Elladan nudged Elrohir and pointed with his chin. Elrohir nodded and spoke softly in Elrond’s ear.

“King Thranduil,” Elrond said. “What justice do you wish?”

“Were Estel an Elf and your natural son, I would demand that he marry Legolas,” Thranduil answered. “However, thanks to my son’s lapse in good taste, that is not possible.”

“You find my foster-son . . . unsuitable?” Elrond said with an edge to his rich voice.

“He is a Man,” Thranduil rested his case.

“He is the last scion of Elendil’s bloodline,” Elrond countered. “His given name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to the ancient kingdom of Gondor.”

“And I suppose that in the short annals of Men on Middle-Earth that pedigree might have some meaning, but my son is descended from Oropher who fought with Gil-galad.”

“I knew Oropher,” Elrond said. “He was . . . enthusiastic in battle. His spear and sword rid the Second Age of many foul things. However . . .”

“Ada,” Aragorn said softly. “May I speak?”

“Of course,” Elrond said, calming himself. What sort of example was he setting for the young Man? “It must be very frustrating for you to hear your future decided for you.”

Aragorn inclined his head in respect. “I do not know if my lineage is worthy of Legolas’, but I do know that I love him and the child that grows beneath his heart. If he will have me, I will plight my troth to him and be the happiest Man under the Sun.”

“You need not do this,” Legolas told the Ranger.

“It is my fondest wish to be with you, melme nin,” Aragorn said.

“Have a thought for the future,” Elrond said quietly. “Gondor may not accept an Elven consort.”

“That will never be an issue,” Aragorn said. “I have rejected that path. I will stay in Rivendell and defend the northern borders.”

“Then I will make no bar to this union,” Elrond said, stepping back.

Thranduil’s beautiful face was a study in conflicting emotions. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to get the fight he was hoping for and could not assuage his anger with violence. There would be no opportune moment to signal an archer to shoot the Man from hiding. Worse than that, Thranduil’s beloved youngest child was looking at the scruffy Ranger as if the human had set the Stars in the sky.

The King of Mirkwood fetched a deep sigh. “Is this Man truly what you want?” he asked his son. When Legolas nodded, Thranduil sighed again. “Then I suppose all we must decide is whether you will go to Rivendell or Estel will come to the Woodland Realm.”

“The bride should come with the husband,” Elrond said, and added, “traditionally.”

“There is nothing traditional about this,” Thranduil said. “I will not send Legolas to be cared for by Elves with only two sexes. You would not know how to attend to him.”

“His majesty is right,” Aragorn said. “I will return to Mirkwood with Legolas until the child is born. When my betrothed is ready, we will come to Rivendell for the wedding.”

Elrond and Thranduil exchanged a speculative glance and nodded graciously. Legolas looked at Aragorn as their fathers drew aside to nail down the particulars of this merger. This was only the beginning of negotiations, but some things needed to be decided now. Legolas held up his hands and Aragorn quickly drew his knife to cut the silken bonds.

The Wood-Elf threw his arms around the Ranger’s neck. “Are you really pleased by this?” Legolas whispered.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” Aragorn said in a monumental understatement, “but once the shock wore off, my heart rose up like a soaring Eagle. My heart that was broken when you left without a word, save for your letter, which ground the pieces to powder.”

“Forgive me,” Legolas said, touching his lips to the hollow at the hinge of the Man’s jaw.

“You are forgiven,” Aragorn said in an elegantly upswept ear.

“We are betrothed now,” Legolas prompted, drawing a blank look from the Man. “You may kiss me,” the Elf elaborated.

Elladan and Elrohir grinned at the expression on Thranduil’s face as their little brother took the lovely prince’s sweet lips in an ardent kiss. Elrond was more circumspect, hiding his smile with the trailing sleeve of his robe. When Aragorn and Legolas’ lips parted, the Elf looked breathlessly up at the man, his love shining in his chatoyant eyes. Aragorn gazed back at his beloved, silently pledging his life, his heart and his soul.

When King Thranduil’s entourage took the road that ran beneath the branches of Mirkwood, they numbered one more in their company. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to the throne of Gondor rode with them. The young man kept close to the side of the young prince and Legolas’ laughter was heard to ring out more often than it had of late.

At the front of the procession, Thranduil could not help but smile at the merry sound. The king was still opposed to this match, but more than anything, he wanted Legolas to be happy. For the sake of his love for his son, Thranduil would suffer this mortal and all under Thranduil’s sway would suffer him as well.

As for Legolas leaving Mirkwood for Rivendell . . . Who knew how things would stand when that time came?

Chapter 2

After a year in Greenwood the Great, and in the realm of Mirkwood to be more exact, To mark this anniversary, Aragorn felt no more welcome than on the day he had arrived. Fortunately, he did not require the good will of the Wood-Elves for his happiness. All he needed was his beloved Prince.

. The Man stiffened at the cry of agony from the next room. Clutching the cloths he’d been sent for, Aragorn ran back to the bedchamber. When he reached the arched doorway, he dropped the load of linen he carrying.

Legolas sat wide-legged on the very edge of the snowy bedding, his feet braced against the birthing stool. With the Prince’s Elfhood and jewels bound up out of the way, his altered anatomy was clear to see. Aragorn marveled anew at the ingenuity of nature as he watched the moist pink slit above Legolas’ lower entrance unfurl.

“Very good, my Prince,” said Orithil, the Elvish midwife. “You are opening nicely and in a few hours, the Valar willing, your child will emerge into the outer light.”

“A few . . . hours,” Legolas gasped. “Why is my child so reluctant to come forth?”

Aragorn knelt beside the bed and took his mate’s hand. “Because our child is in the sweetest place on Middle Earth,” he smiled. “When I am there, I do not wish to leave.”

“Is this the sort of talk that is appropriate for a birthing chamber?”

Aragorn’s head swiveled to look up at the imposing figure of King Thranduil.

“It is what brought us to the birthing chamber,” Legolas panted.

Thranduil focused on his son’s pale, sweat-dewed face and his anger melted like snow in the sun. “How do you fare, Lasse?” the King asked, calling Legolas by his family nickname.

“Your grandchild does not seem keen to meet you,” the Prince said between clenched teeth as another ripple of pain cramped his lower half.

“Orithil,” Thranduil prompted, aiming his potent glare at the healer Elf.

“All is well, your majesty,” Orithil assured the King. “The Prince is young, but younger than he have given birth.”

“To full-blooded Elflings,” Thranduil added.

“The infant’s blood has no bearing on the manner of his birth,” Orithil said firmly.

“I see,” Thranduil said. “And how many half-human babies have you delivered?”

Orithil pursed his lips, but had no answer for his liege. Turning away, the healer began picking up the clean cloths Aragorn had dropped. Thranduil lost interest in browbeating the midwife when Legolas cried out again.

“Help him,” the King commanded.

Orithil sighed. It was always the same with fathers and husbands. Though Legolas was a strong, young Wood-Elf, his loved ones seemed to think the Prince was now made of glass and would shatter if breathed upon.

“All is proceeding normally for a first birth,” Orithil reassured the King.

“There is nothing normal about this,” Thranduil countered, working himself up to a royal rage. “My son carries a Man’s get. How can you call this normal?”

“Ada,” Legolas said softly, and the King turned to his son.

“What is it, my heart?” Thranduil asked.

“It does not make this easier for you to criticize my husband,” Legolas said gently.

“Husband!” Thranduil exclaimed. “The Man has not had the grace to wed you. He was quick enough to take advantage of your naiveté but . . .”

Legolas’s wail of pain stopped his father in mid-tirade. Orithil went to the floor on the other side of Aragorn and put a soothing hand on the Prince’s thigh.

“Breathe, your highness,” Orithil said. “Slow steady breaths, remember?”

“Forgive me,” Legolas said, tears standing in his cobalt eyes. “I do not mean to cause such trouble for everyone.”

“Hush, my beloved,” Aragorn said, holding his lover’s hand tightly. “Let Orithil tend you.”

Thranduil stood uncertainly as his youngest child trembled through a strong contraction. There was naught the King could do to help. He could only stand in useless anxiety and watch as Orithil and Aragorn comforted Legolas.

Orithil touched a fingertip lightly to the opening of the slowly expanding birth canal and the rosy flesh sprang back resiliently. “I know you feel as though your insides are being crushed,” the healer said, “but it will last only a little while. Once the child is born, all will return to normal.”

Legolas nodded. He had spoken long with the midwives and studied all the available lore on giving birth. Aragorn had been at Legolas’ side for all of it, as interested as his mate.

“You are a miracle, my love,” the Ranger said in wonder. “Look how your body adapts so that we may have a child. No greater gift will I ever receive.”

Legolas smiled faintly and then his face crumpled as another cramp squeezed him in a mailed fist. The Prince’s body doubled over in a paroxysm of pain and Aragorn saw the blood drop from Orithil’ face. The healer knelt on the birthing stool and examined Legolas closely. When he turned, his hands were covered in blood.

“Bring me the birthing knife and sterile water,” Orithil shouted at his assistants. “I need more linen and athelas paste. Now!”

“What is it? What is happening?” Thranduil demanded anxiously.

“Your Majesty, perhaps you should wait somewhere else,” Orithil said distractedly as he pressed a square of white cloth between the Prince’s thighs.

“Tell me what is wrong!” Thranduil thundered.

Orithil glanced aside at Aragorn’s fearful gaze and softened his tone. “Legolas is trying a bit too hard, your majesty,” he said. “Naught more. Perhaps you could convince your son to let the Elfling come in his own time.”

“Legolas,” Thranduil said immediately. “This is not a competition. I will meet my grandchild when he quite ready.”

“Ada,” the Prince called out and Thranduil hurried to the bedside.

“What is it, my beautiful child?” the King asked tenderly, stroking his son’s tumbled hair.

“Ada, do not leave me,” Legolas appealed, taking hold of Thranduil’s wrist.

“No one is leaving you,” Thranduil said. “You are well beloved, Lasse, and I am most proud of you. Do not listen when I belittle your choice of lovers; that is your choice to make. Your happiness is paramount. If I only want the finest for you, you must forgive me for it.”

Legolas gave his father a tremulous smile and Thranduil leaned to kiss the Prince’s damp forehead. The young Elf’s grip on his father’s arm tightened until the King nearly gave voice to his discomfort. Instead, he murmured soothingly in Legolas’ right ear, as Aragorn was doing on the left.

“Do not push, my Prince,” Orithil said sharply, as he prepared to wield the small knife.

Legolas’ teeth dug into his lower lip as he bore another wave of excruciating agony. A small whine escaped his throat as his flesh was cloven to facilitate the delivery.

“Scream, if you wish,” Orithil said. “Let out the pain.”

When Legolas continued to suffer silently, Orithil tried another tack. “If you keep the distress inside, it will transfer to the Elfling,” the healer said.

Aragorn and Thranduil flinched as Legolas let out a cry that echoed in the high ceiling. The Prince drew a deep, sobbing breath and cried out again, clutching at the hands of his lover and his father.

“Very good, your highness,” Orithil said. “You are nearly there. The birth canal has opened up, I can see the crown and there is a large enough slit for the child to leave your body. The most difficult and dangerous part is over. When I ask you to push, do not forget to brace your feet.”

Legolas nodded shakily, tears running down his pale cheeks. “Why did I ever open my legs to you?” he whispered to Aragorn.

“You seemed eager enough at the time,” the Ranger teased gently.

“Had I but known,” Legolas began, when a bolt of agony speared his lower belly.

The pain was so intense that the Prince could not draw breath to scream. He went as white as the linen except for the blood that poured from between his thighs. Orithil frantically packed the hemorrhaging opening, but the flood of red did not cease.

“This is not right,” Aragorn said to no one in particular.

Orithil barked orders at his assistants interspersed with calm directions to Legolas. The Prince clenched his jaw and gave a push that sapped his remaining strength and collapsed backward. Thranduil and Aragorn supported Legolas’ limp body as the healer pulled the Elfling the rest of the way into the world.

The assistants swarmed about with sterile water and clean swaddling cloths until the child was clean. Aragorn and Thranduil wore matching stunned looks as Orithil held up the bundle for them to see. The perfect little girl blinked and rubbed her tiny nose with her fist and King and Ranger lost their hearts. Orithil smiled at their expressions as he moved to hand the baby to Legolas.

“Master!” one of the assistants gasped.

Orithil looked down and immediately thrust the Elfling into Aragorn’s arms. The Ranger looked dumbfounded until the infant moved and then he tightened his hold on the little girl. The healers were moving quickly, ignoring Thranduil and Aragorn, until Orithil bumped the King’s arm.

“Out,” the healer ordered peremptorily as though he ruled Mirkwood.

Such was Orithil’s air of authority that King and Man obeyed without question. As they passed from the chamber, Aragorn looked back. Legolas lay in a spreading stain of scarlet that soaked the bandages and the sheets beneath as the healers worked frantically to staunch the flow. The Prince’s eyes met his beloved’s and he tried to reach out. Legolas’ hand fell back to the bed as more healers entered, pushing the Ranger aside.

Numbly, Aragorn walked to the open door that led outside and stared into the distance. After a moment, he became aware of a presence at his back. Turning his head, he saw Thranduil standing diffidently behind him.

“May I?” the King said, as the Ranger turned to him.

Aragorn looked puzzled and then realized what the monarch wanted. Looking down, the Ranger met his daughter’s violet eyes and a wave of wonder crashed through him, so strong it nearly sent him to his eyes. Tears ran unheeded down his cheeks as he gazed at the tiny flawless face of the Elfling.

Thranduil started to clear his throat impatiently, but something stopped him. He noted the Man’s demeanor, great fear warring with great joy, and a simple truth humbled the great Sindarin King. This Man loved Legolas as much as Thranduil did.

“Orithil is a clever man and a skilled healer,” the King said softly.

Aragorn looked up gratefully and held out the child. “Would you like to hold her?” he asked.

Thranduil took the Elfling, cradling her close to his breast and gazing adoringly at her. “She is so beautiful,” the King said touching a forefinger to her upswept ear. “Little peredhel.”

Aragorn saw a healer from the corner of his eye and turned to catch the Elf. The assistant’s silvery robe was dappled with crimson blotches and her jade eyes were wide with alarm. She started past the Man, but Aragorn took her arm.

“How is Legolas?” he asked.

“He will be better if you let me go and fetch help,” she answered.

“I will go,” the Ranger said.

The Elf looked over the Man’s shoulder at her liege and Thranduil nodded. “Very well,” she said. “It will allow me to stay and that is to the good. Orithil believes that Tarion may be able to save the Prince.”

Gil-glorion knew she had chosen her words poorly as soon as they left her lips, but it was too late to call them back now. When the Ranger started toward the bedchamber, she held him back with Elven strength.

“No, my lord,” Gil-glorion said fiercely. “You cannot help him here. You can help by fetching Tarion. Will you go?”

Aragorn turned, blinded by tears and lurched toward the door. Thranduil touched the Man’s shoulder as he passed.

“Be swift, Ranger,” the King said.

Aragorn’s head came up and he hastened away with resolve. As soon as the Man had sped from sight, Thranduil called out to the healer.

“Gil-glorion! How is my son?”

The Elfess’ eyes were grave as she looked at the King over her shoulder. “He fades, sire,” she said. “Do you wish to see him?”

Thranduil reminded himself that a King does not break down in front of his subjects and moved forward. “Legolas deserves to hold his child,” he said.

Aragorn sped through the underground palace and emerged into the sun-dappled green of Mirkwood’s heart. Those he passed stared after the Man that moved with such purpose in the direction of the spell-singer’s dwelling.

Tarion was outside when the Ranger ran up and briefly explained the emergency. The tall spell-singer did not hesitate, but sprang away with the Man on his heels. When they reached the palace, Tarion went directly to the royal quarters.

Orithil looked up with a complicated expression on his face when the spell-singer hurried in. The healer had done all in his power and he had halted the flow of blood, but still the Prince failed. Legolas was waning like the moon and no herb or potion could help him now.

Tarion knelt beside the bed and took one of Legolas’ cold hands in both of his. The spell-singer’s hair, as red as the turning leaves in Lasse-lanta, fell forward to veil his face as he bowed his head. Softly at first, but growing in strength and volume, Tarion sang.

Aragorn saw nothing but Legolas’ waxen face against the pillow. The Prince’s eyes were closed, his eyelids purple with shadows in an otherwise colorless mask.

“If anyone can help Legolas now, it is Tarion,” Thranduil said at Aragorn’s elbow.

The Ranger had not noted the King’s approach and he did not look up when the Elf spoke. He felt as though Legolas would simply disappear if he did not hold him in his gaze.

“Tarion is calling to Legolas’ feo to turn back from the Halls of Mandos and stay here with us in Arda,” Thranduil said in the Man’s ear.

At last Aragorn dragged his eyes from the sight of his beloved drowning in death. Thranduil held out the child and the Man took her in his arms.

“Add your plea to Tarion’s,” Thranduil said.

Aragorn stared at the King for a moment, surprised that Thranduil would give way to the Man’s claim on his son. His daughter made a mewling sound as he clutched her tighter and inclined his head respectfully to Legolas’ father. Sitting carefully on the side of the bed opposite the spell-singer, Aragorn took his Elf’s other hand and silently called to him.

Chapter 3

Thranduil held the child and watched the Ranger sleep. The Man looked exhausted beyond the power of sleep to cure. For hours uncounted, Aragorn had sat with Legolas, calling to the spirit of his beloved until he had collapsed.

The King’s gaze went to the assistant, asleep as well, with her hand still wrapped about the empty bladder of mother’s milk. Gil-glorion’s peaceful face, the Man’s soft snores and the warmth of the peredhel in his arms, lulled Thranduil into a half trance. His eyelids drooped and he was dozing when Orithil emerged from the bedchamber.

Thranduil shook the Ranger’s shoulder and Aragorn sat up instantly, his hand going to his waist for a weapon. Remembering where he was, Aragorn settled back beside the King and look expectantly at the healer. Orithil sat wearily and faced the two fathers.

“He lives,” Orithil said, seeing joy flare in their eyes and knowing he would douse it with his next words. “However, he does not wake.”

“What is holding him in the spirit world?” Thranduil asked.

“That is a question for the singer,” Orithil said. “When Tarion wakes, he will no doubt reveal to you all he knows of the Prince’s malady of the spirit.”

“Then tell me what happened during the birth,” Thranduil commanded.

Orithil dropped his eyes. “The Prince’s pelvis is much too narrow to permit the passage of an Elfling carried to a one-year term. I urged him to let me induce birth at seven months, and then at eight, and every day thereafter, but he refused most adamantly.”

“Yes, my son can be quite headstrong,” Thranduil agreed softly and then his voice rose to a roar. “Why then did you not come to me with this information?”

Orithil answered calmly, obviously having foreseen his liege’s wrath. “He would not let me,” the healer said.

“Who is your King? Legolas, or Thranduil?” Mirkwood’s ruler thundered.

“You are my King, Sire,” Orithil said. “But the Prince was a pregnant young Elf that needed peace of mind above all else. If he thought I was going to reveal the danger to you, he would probably have miscarried out of sheer stress.”

“Why did he fear telling me?”

“He thought you would order him to terminate the pregnancy, Sire.”

Thranduil looked as though he’d been struck by a Dwarven ax. “Legolas believed I would order his child slain?”

“Your Majesty,” Orithil said. “You made it quite plain how you felt about a peredhel grandchild. You took no pains to conceal your disgust.”

“I . . .” Thranduil sat back, at a loss for words.

“Why would he not deliver the child before term?” Aragorn asked in the silence.

Orithil mustered a tired smile. “The Prince wanted the child to have all the benefits of a full term pregnancy,” the healer said. “He will be a very good parent if I am any judge.”

“May I see him without doing harm?” the Ranger asked.

“You may look in,” Orithil said. “Shall I take charge of . . . Have you given her a name?”

A flame kindled in Aragorn’s eyes and the healer recoiled slightly. “We will wait for Legolas,” the Man said.

Thranduil put a hand on the Ranger’s arm. “You should give her a name, if only a temporary one,” the King said. “Give her feo an anchor.”

Aragorn ran his fingers through his tangled leaf brown hair. “Anna,” he said. “It means gift, does it not?”

Thranduil nodded.

“Then call her Annafeo,” the Man said. “I will go and tell Legolas that our child has a name.”

Tarion stirred as Aragorn entered, but the Ranger ignored the spell-singer. Taking one of Legolas’ cold hands in his, the Man spoke softly.

“We have a beautiful daughter, my love,” Aragorn said. “I have called her Annafeo until you wake and give her a name of your choosing. Please let it be soon.”

“He hears you,” Tarion murmured.

Aragorn’s gaze flicked to the flame-haired Elf and back to Legolas’ pallid face. “I am here, my love,” the Man said. “When you open your eyes, I will be the first thing that you see.”

“Aragorn,” Tarion said. “I know you wish to stay with the Prince, but you can do nothing for him now. His spirit needs to rest. Come and I will explain why he tarries in Mandos’ Halls.”

Reluctantly, Aragorn laid Legolas’ hand on the richly embroidered coverlet and followed the spell-singer into the sitting room. Thranduil was gazing tenderly at the sleeping Elfling, but looked up when Tarion and the Ranger entered.

“Why does my son still wander the spirit road?” Thranduil demanded to know and then lowered his voice in deference to the sleeping healers.

Tarion sighed heavily. “The Prince’s spirit is suffering,” he said in his mellow voice. “I am only stating the very obvious when I say that the feo is often reluctant to rejoin its fleshly shell. However, in this instance, it is more than the absolute freedom of being without mass that is keeping the Prince’s spirit from returning completely.”

“Explain,” Thranduil said curtly.

Tarion looked sidelong at Aragorn before he continued. “It appears that the Prince was experiencing some form of strife before giving birth. His spirit behaves as though it was daily battered by self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. I cannot see precisely what made a Prince of such high blood fall prey to guilt, shame or despair, but I will continue to delve until I know what caused him to lose heart.”

“My hall is yours for as long as necessary,” the King said. “Only restore my son to me and you shall have whatever you ask.”

Tarion’s lids dropped slightly, his only reaction to this magnanimous pronouncement. “I thank you, Sire,” he said. “I need no reward. Prince Legolas is well-beloved among your folk and sorrow would darken the Greenwood if he should fade.”

“My thanks, Tarion,” Thranduil said. “Take some rest and resume your efforts refreshed.”

Tarion rose. “I find I am quite hungry. If you will excuse me?”

Thranduil gave permission with a regal nod and watched the spell-singer leave. “I do not know what to do now,” the King said.

Aragorn held out his arms and Thranduil gave Annafeo over to her father. The Ranger held the child high on his chest and laid his cheek against the soft cloth she was swaddled in. He breathed deeply of her unique scent, closing his eyes for a long moment.

“Your daughter is . . . very special,” Thranduil said softly. “I find I love her more than I thought I could love anything. I fancy I can see Legolas in her small . . .”

Aragorn’s eyes flew open at the sound of a small sob. In shock, the Ranger watched a tear roll down the King’s stern, lovely features. Silently, the Man held out his hand and the King took it. For a long moment, the two gripped hands in wordless commiseration before Thranduil let go and blinked away his tears.

“There are things that must be attended to,” the King said. “I will return soon. If aught happens while I . . .”

“I will send someone for you,” Aragorn interrupted. “Go, your majesty. I will look after Legolas and your grand-daughter.”

“I know you will,” Mirkwood’s ruler said.

Aragorn accepted these words as the tribute that they were. “Hannon le,” the Man said.

Thranduil inclined his head and walked away with an unaccustomed heaviness in his steps.

“I can take the child for a while,” Gil-glorion said from behind Aragorn.

“It is not necessary,” the Man said.

“Let me take care of her for a while so you may rest,” the healer restated. “I can feed her and clean her again and return her to you before you wake.”

“What of him?” Aragorn indicated Orithil, sprawled on a couch.

“Leave him. He is quite used to sleeping in odd places,” Gil-glorion said with a smile.

After a moment’s thought, Aragorn gave Annafeo into the healer’s arms. “Thank you,” he said. “I have much to learn about caring for an infant. I would be pleased if you would care for Annafeo now, and even more pleased if you will instruct me at your leisure.”

The healer met the Man’s eyes, impressed as by his humility. “It will be my pleasure,” she said. “You should rest while you may. You have a baby now.”

“If that is your advice, I will take it.”

With a bow, Aragorn escorted her from the chamber. As soon as the healer had left, the Ranger felt uneasy and realized that he did not like having his daughter out of his sight. Quelling the impulse to run after Gil-glorion, Aragon went into the bedchamber.

At some point, cat-quiet Elven servants had cleaned up the room, changed the bedding and taken away all evidence of the harrowing events that had transpired such a short time ago. Legolas lay unmoving against the pillows, his skin ghostly pale against the deep green of the embroidered satin.

Aragorn sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and gazed down at his mate. The malady had not stolen the Prince’s beauty; Legolas was as lovely as a skein of swans flying across a winter sky. It did not seem possible that he would not wake and look up at Aragorn.

“Why, my love?” the Man murmured. “Why did you not tell me of the danger? I would have …”

Aragorn’s words trailed off. What would he have done had he known? What *could* he have done? He understood now why Legolas had not told him, but he still wished his beloved had felt he could share anything, everything with him.

“I am sorry,” the Ranger said. “I am sorry that I lured you to my bed, and lure you I did, though you thought it was all your idea, my haughty Elf. I am even more sorry that I did nothing to prevent you conceiving, though you will tell me that was your responsibility. I forgot what Lord Elrond had told me of Wood-Elves and their differences. Once I saw you bare as you were born, I had to have you. Little did I know, or perhaps I did, that I would fall so deeply in love with an arrogant, bloodthirsty Tracker.”

Carefully, Aragorn climbed onto his side of the big bed and lay on his side as close to Legolas as he could manage. Putting an arm gently around the slender Elf, the Ranger closed his eyes. In another moment, sleep mercifully wrapped him in folds of black velvet.

Aragorn crouched behind a boulder and prepared to release an arrow at the leader of the Orc raiding party. He flinched at a cold touch on the skin just below his right ear. It felt remarkably like the point of an arrow.

“That Orc is mine,” a voice as cool and silvery as Ithil’s light spoke in Sindarinv. “I see no brand on him,” Aragorn answered in the same language.

The arrow point dug in hard enough to make the Ranger worry and then withdrew. With an angry whine, the shaft flew straight and true, thumping home between the bull Orc’s tiny red eyes. The monster reeled back and struck the ground throwing the rest of the mob into bellowing, stamping panic.

“There you see my mark, Man.”

Aragorn twisted to look up at his accoster and the breath froze in his throat. He was foster-brother to Arwen Undomiel and the brethren, Elladan and Elrohir and was raised at the court of Lord Elrond in Rivendell. Great beauty was a commonplace sight to the young Man, but never had he seen this Elf’s equal.

The slender figure in blood-spattered green and brown was lithe and lissome as a young birch and he moved like a tyger of Far Harad. His fine, pale hair lifted and flowed as the Elf spun to meet an attack, reaching deftly behind him to draw his knives.

Telling the story to Halbarad later, Aragorn had chuckled over the fact that he, a seasoned Ranger had remained where he was while the Elf had carved three Orcs into bacon in less time than it took to utter the sentence. At the time, all Aragorn could do was marvel at the speed and grace of the whirling dance of death, and he had never told anyone about the way the lovely, delicate-seeming creature had turned from his most recent kill and locked his smoldering gaze on the Man.

Blood lust heated to another sort and Aragorn did not argue when the Tracker seized the front of his tunic and claimed his mouth. The Ranger returned the kiss, lacing his callused fingers in the silk of the Elf’s long hair. Abruptly, the Tracker broke the kiss and pulled away from the Man.

“Forgive me,” the Elf said stiffly. “I should not have done that.”

“True,” the Ranger answered, “but I am glad that you did. Now I can boast that I have kissed the most beautiful being in Arda.”

“Do not mock me, Man,” the Elf said. “Give me your pardon.”

“Only because you beg so prettily,” Aragorn said.

“Beg! I will never beg a Man for aught,” the Tracker said hotly.

Legolas had been wrong about that. The fire still sang in his blood and it was actually but a short time later that he was pleading with Aragorn, albeit in the most presumptuous manner.

“Why will you not join with me?” the Sindar asked vexedly, shocked by the first refusal he had ever received.

“I do not know you,” the Ranger said, hiding a smug smile. “It would be unseemly.”

“Men,” the Tracker said in a tone of supreme disgust, neglecting to introduce himself at the Man’s hint. “I am only asking you to lay with me.”

“And I am considering it,” Aragorn answered. It was getting terribly difficult to keep from smiling at the frustrated Sindar.

“How long will this considering take?” Legolas asked. “I am ready to couple now.”

“Please,” the Ranger said. “I am only a Man, as you pointed out. I need time to think.”

The Elf’s alluring lower lip protruded in an incipient pout and Aragorn’s Manhood hardened a bit more. The Ranger decided to end the game. This Tracker was charming when he sulked, but Aragorn needed to get back to camp eventually. If he was going to take advantage of this miraculous opportunity, he must cease amusing himself.

“Tell me what you want,” Aragorn said.

Legolas’ pellucid eyes studied the Ranger. It was almost as though the Man was toying with him, but Men were inferior to Elves, slaves to their bodies and emotions. Surely a Man would not have the wit or inclination for this sort of play.

“Very well,” the Prince of Mirkwood said slowly, as though the Man were simple. “I wish to share my body with you.”

Aragorn smiled. “To be sure, Tracker, you have made that clear. However, we must settle the question of . . .”

“Take me,” Legolas interrupted.

The Ranger’s eyebrows rose as the Elf opened his outer tunic and pushed down his leggings revealing a body as exquisite as his face.

“Only because you beg so prettily,” Aragorn repeated.

“Irksome mortal,” the Prince hissed. “If the heat were not on me, or my companions were near, I would not need you.”

“I am sure that is true,” Aragorn said. “However, things being as they are, you do need me.”

Legolas could not argue. “Come then,” he said. “Show me how a Man makes love.”

“Come here,” Aragorn said. “I would taste your sweetness again.”

The Elf’s eyes widened in surprise. “That was gracious,” he said, moving close to the Ranger.

“Your eyes are brighter and more beautiful than the stars that guided my people to these shores,” the Man said. “The curves of your lips are like the wings of a seabird in flight.”

The lust roused by battle and the Ranger’s sweet words conspired against the Elf’s ragged self-control. Holding out his arms, the Tracker offered himself to the Man. Aragorn could no longer pretend that he didn’t want this Sindar warrior more than anything in the wide world. Embracing the strong, supple body, Aragorn took the Elf’s mouth.

Legolas tried to draw back when the Man’s tongue slid past his lips, but the Ranger held him fast. The Elf soon grew used to the strange sensation and joined the dance of sliding tongues. To his surprise, the odd, slightly disgusting caress aroused him immeasurably. His sexual experiences were not that numerous, and this Man’s touch overwhelmed his senses.

Aragorn felt the Elf melt in his arms and lowered the willowy body to the grass. Digging into his pouch, the Ranger found his honing oil and thumbed out the cork. Pouring the small supply of oil onto his fingers, the Man gently eased a slippery digit into the Tracker’s lower opening. The Elf obligingly spread his legs wider as the finger probed deeper.

“Ancalima elenos!” Legolas exclaimed as the Man found his most sensitive flesh. “I am ready for you, Ranger. Take me now.”

Aragorn fumbled his Manhood from his leggings and eagerly pulled the Elf’s buttocks onto his thighs. Pouring what remained of the honing oil onto the tip of his shaft, the Ranger took the hard length in hand. Stroking the Tracker’s impressive Elfhood with his other hand, Aragorn touched the head of his rod to the small opening.

As Aragorn was about the cross the Elf’s threshold, the Tracker’s fathomless eyes opened and locked onto the Ranger’s. The Man leaned forward, forcing his shaft past the guardian ring and the Sindar’s lovely features tightened in pain. Aragorn pressed on, dragging the tip of the curved rod across the Elf’s sweet spot, watching the lovely eyes turn molten.

The Ranger lifted one of the Tracker’s long legs to his shoulder and began to thrust shallowly. Gently, patiently the Man rocked into the tight sheath as he firmly stroked the Elf’s yearning arousal. The Sindar moaned and lifted his pelvis, providing solid resistance for the Man to push against.

Moving as one, Man and Elf raced in tandem toward the conclusion of this sweet ride. Neither had ever felt a pleasure so intense as their release built to a peak that was nearly unbearable. With a cry of joy, the Tracker climaxed, his shaft spilling creamy seed over the Ranger’s fingers. Aragorn achieved release a heartbeat after, holding on to the Elf’s thigh like a drowning man clinging to a spar.

“By Nimloth,” the Ranger said. “I have never felt the like.”

“Nor I,” the Sindar panted. “I did not know Men possessed such skill in this art.”

Aragorn smiled, remembering his *education* at the hands, and mouths, of the peredhil twins. “Well, now you know,” he said.

Legolas bit back a retort about insufferable humans and moved his hips. Aragorn groaned as his sated length began to slide from the narrow sheath.

“Over there!”

Elf and Man froze at the sound of the bright, clear voice.

“It is Gil-andros,” Legolas whispered. “My companions have found me, Man.”

“What do you wish to do?” the Ranger asked.

“Stay, I will draw them away.”

“You are ashamed of me,” Aragorn said in mock-reproach.

“Of course I am,” Legolas said with a lifted brow to indicate he was teasing.

“Will you come to me again?”

“Of a surety, unless an Orc cuts off your jewels, in which case, you would be of no use to me, Man,” the lovely Elf smirked.

Aragorn could not forebear to steal a kiss as the Tracker gathered himself. “May our meeting be soon,” the Ranger prayed fervently.

“That is as the Valar will it,” the Elf said and vanished into the trees.

Aragorn peered into the shadows, and fancied he saw the glimmer of silvery hair disappearing into the gloom like a ghost that fades at dawn.

*Wait!* the Ranger’s heart cried out. *Come back. I cannot live without you.*

But he remained silent and the party of Trackers passed by following the fair Elf’s trail signs farther and farther from where Aragorn lay.

“Aragorn?” The Ranger opened his eyes. After a moment, he realized that Legolas had spoken. Rising onto one elbow, he looked down into the Elf’s panicked stare. “Where is my child?” Legolas demanded, pressing his palms to his flat belly.

Chapter 4

“Here is your child, your highness,” Tarion said as he entered the bedchamber with the Elfling in his arms.

Aragorn’s brows drew down in a slight frown, but the rapturous expression on Legolas’ face swept away the Man’s misgivings. After all, what had Tarion done other than save the Prince’s life and appear in a timely manner with the child? Legolas held out his arms and Aragorn helped his beloved to sit up against the pillows.

“For now we are calling her . . . “ Aragorn began.

“Annafeo, I heard you in my dreams,” Legolas said softly. “She is perfect.”

Aragorn felt uncharitable, but he wished the spell-singer would go and leave the new family alone. The Man longed to hold Legolas close, embracing both his love and his child together. However, he felt inhibited in the presence of the enigmatic, unfamiliar Elf. Tarion seemed to feel the Ranger’s discomfort and spoke graciously.

“I shall return another time,” the spell-singer said.

“Stay!” Legolas said quickly. “I have not thanked you for bringing me back.”

Tarion bowed his head, the lamplight picking copper splinters from his braided hair. “I am grateful that the Valar gifted me with the skill and strength to perform my task,” he said.

“It seems they made you humble as well,” Aragorn said.

Legolas glanced up at the Man and then looked to Tarion. “Yes, I’ve a feeling you will ask no reward for your service, but surely you will accept a gift of gratitude?”

Tarion raised his velvet black eyes to meet the Prince’s sincere gaze. “If Your Highness sees fit, I will of course accept your gift.”

“I must think on it,” Legolas said. “What would be fitting for the one who brought me back to be with my child?”

“Perhaps . . .” Aragorn started to say when Legolas interrupted.

“It will not be easy to match the reward to the deed,” the Prince said. “However, know that I would yield to you anything in my power to give.”

“I am overwhelmed,” the spell-singer said. “I will go now, my Prince.”

As soon as the tall Elf had left, Aragorn put his arms around Legolas and Annafeo. The feeling that swelled his heart brought tears springing to his eyes as he held the two most precious lives in Middle Earth close to his breast. He would be perfectly content to stay like this until the stars burned out.

Legolas moved restlessly. “Annafeo is hungry,” the Elf said.

Aragorn released the Prince. “Would you like me to call someone?” he asked.

Legolas looked at the Man oddly. “Thank you, but I think I would prefer to conduct the first feeding without an audience.”

Aragorn’s brows rose. “I thought . . .”

Legolas sighed. “I know it is rare for a male to lactate, but I swear by the light of Earendil that my nipples feel as though they would burst.”

The Ranger’s Manhood stirred against his thigh, but he ignored it for now. Legolas was not attempting to rouse his mate; the Elf was but stating a fact.

Tenderly, Aragorn unlaced the Prince’s pale blue bedgown and pulled it down the smooth shoulders. Legolas’ nipples, so startlingly dark against his fair skin, were indeed swollen and leaking a small amount of fluid.

Legolas lifted Annafeo to his chest and the Elfling instantly latched on to a brown nub and sucked strongly. The Prince winced, but cradled his baby closer, lightly stroking her fine pale hair. Annafeo’s eyelids began to droop over her vivid violet eyes and the only sound in the room was her noisy suckling.

“She is beautiful, my love,” Aragorn said. “I only wish it had not cost you so much pain.”

“I would have suffered a hundred times a hundred worse for her,” Legolas said.

“Yes, so Orithil informed us,” the Ranger said with just a touch of disapproval.

Legolas looked up from the Elfling’s tiny face. “I could not tell you,” he said.

Aragorn’s features softened at once. “I did not mean to upset you,” he said. “I love you so much, Ondo-Aryon.”

“You call me prince of your heart,” Legolas said, “but why did you choose Qenya?”

“I do not know,” Aragorn said, a bit baffled. “Does it matter? You speak Qenya.”

“On very formal occasions,” the Prince said as he pulled the sleeping baby from his nipple.

“This occasion is not formal, true,” the Ranger said. “However, it is momentous.”

“I am tired,” Legolas said, as though Aragorn had not spoken.

“Your Highness?” Gil-glorion called from the doorway. “Orithil sent me to check on you. Is it convenient now?”

“Do what you must,” the Prince said so wearily that Aragorn’s heart ached for him.

Gil-glorion nodded respectfully to the Man. “My lord,” she said. “Would you take Annafeo to the nursery?”

“Why?” Legolas asked anxiously. “Why can she not stay here?”

“You need to rest, my prince,” Gil-glorion said. “The damage done by the . . .”

“Aragorn,” Legolas said suddenly. “Would you also seek out Tarion and ask him to attend me as soon as he may?”

Aragorn answered after only a brief hesitation. “Of course,” he said, and left the room with Annafeo held securely in his arms.

Gil-glorion finished her examination. Her jade eyes were grave as she gave the Prince her opinion. “There was much damage to your pelvis, but the bones will mend and the tears will heal. In time. Much time. In the meanwhile, you must do nothing to risk further injury. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“You need not be so delicate,” Legolas said. “You are telling me I may not join with my lover. I understand and there are other pleasures to be taken in the bedchamber.”

“Indeed there are,” she said. “Would you like me, or perhaps Orithil, to speak with the Man? I know that coupling means more to them than . . .”

“I will speak to Aragorn,” the Prince said. “When it is appropriate.”

“Very well, your highness. Orithil will come to see you before long. I do not think he trusts anyone but himself to care for you,” she said with a gentle smile.

“Lasse.”

Legolas looked up at the sound of his father’s voice and his eyes darkened. “I am here, Sire,” the Prince said stiffly.

“You are still so pale,” Thranduil said.

“I shall endeavor to have more color when next you visit,” Legolas said.

“Recover your strength and I shall be content,” the King said. “Is the child here?”

“Aragorn has taken her the nursery so that I may rest,” the Prince replied.

“I will not tire you further,” Thranduil said quickly. “Do as the healers tell you.”

“Aye, Sire,” Legolas said.

The King stood in the arched doorway for a long moment before turning to go. It was not until Legolas and Gil-glorion began a discussion about breast-feeding that the ruler of Mirkwood took his leave. At the entrance to the Prince’s quarter, the King met Tarion.

“Your Majesty,” the spell-singer said, bowing slightly in the Elvish manner.

“How fares my son?” Thranduil got right to the point.

“His child will anchor him here, Sire,” Tarion assured the King. “I will do all I may to heal his troubled spirit.”

“He did not welcome me,” Thranduil said. “I fear the fault is mine for my son’s malady.”

“Perhaps,” Tarion said candidly, “but perhaps not. There are other sources of turmoil in the Prince’s life, your majesty.”

The King’s red-gold brows drew down over ultramarine eyes. “Of what do you speak?”

“I must attend the Prince just now,” Tarion said. “May I come to you later?”

“Of a surety. I will leave orders that you are to be escorted into my presence immediately when you arrive.”

Tarion inclined his head. “Until then, Sire,” he said and went into the bedchamber.

Thranduil made his way swiftly to the communal nursery in the Royal Quarters. He saw Aragorn immediately and went to the Man. Without being asked, the Ranger offered the sleeping Elfling to the King. Thranduil took the child with a doting smile.

“Little Perdhel Princess,” the King cooed.

Aragorn’s lips twitched, but in truth, he had been saying many more fond and foolish things to the slumbering Elfling before the King had arrived. “Such tiny hands to hold so many hearts,” the Ranger said softly.

“Truth,” Thranduil said. “I remember holding Lasse like this soon after his birth. His mother’s eyes were the color of the first irises of Ethuil, but his were the sky’s last blue at twilight when the stars are opening. So long ago, and now I hold her granddaughter.”

“Someday they will meet beyond the sea,” Aragorn said.

The Elf King looked up at the Ranger, meeting the Man’s eyes squarely. “Either you have changed much in the last days, or I was blind to your true nature until now.”

Thranduil waited, but Aragorn did not reply. “You are quiet,” the King said. “This is your chance to tell me what a blind, arrogant fool I have been about this entire matter.”

“You are a father,” Aragorn said simply.

“And you are a most unusual Man,” Thranduil said. “If I thought that you were typical of your Race . . .”

“There is still much nobility in Men,” the Ranger said. “It takes a time of great evil to bring out what is best in us.”

“I thought you a brute,” the King confessed. “The thought of your seed growing in my child was like to make me run mad. Had I only taken time to speak with you, much grief might have been saved.”

“All Men, and Elves, and even Dwarves, I should imagine, have said the same at one time or another. The shame would be in repeating the mistake.”

Thranduil inclined his head to the hidden majesty in the Ranger. “Well said,” he murmured as he handed the infant back to her father. “I must go now, but it would please me if you would visit me from time to time. Orithil tells me that Legolas will be long in recovering from his injuries and you will not be able to travel for some time. I am certain you will choose to stay here, rather than journey to Rivendell alone and I hope this will give me the chance to become better acquainted with you.”

Aragorn bowed to the King. “I would be honored,” he said.

“Very well then,” Thranduil said a trifle hoarsely. “I have made no announcements of Annafeo’s birth save to Lasse’s family. If you wish, I will have your message delivered to Lord Elrond.”

“That would please me greatly,” Aragorn said. “Sire?”

“What is it, my other son?”

Aragorn’s eyelids stung with a sudden rush of tears. “I do not wish to wait until we can travel to Rivendell to wed Legolas,” he said.

“Then perhaps we should include an invitation for Lord Elrond to journey to Mirkwood,” Thranduil ventured.

“That would make my happiness complete,” the Man answered.

The King of Mirkwood laid a hand briefly on the Ranger’s shoulder and left. His last sight of the Man was an upright figure on whom the Elven garments hung just a bit oddly, his head bent over the sleeping child. Golden lamplight powdered the tangled hair, the shoulders of the worn velvet robe and the baby’s round cheek like the pollen of some mythical blossom.

Smiling contentedly, King Thranduil went to take up his duties once more.

“Tarion, why do I feel so tired?” Legolas asked.

“Your feo was a great distance into the Halls,” Tarion said, stroking the Prince’s limp hand.

“I feel as though not all of it came back.”

“Do not say such unchancy things, my Prince,” the spell-singer said.

“I am not superstitious,” Legolas said. “Why do I . . . drift?”

“It has only been one day since your ordeal, your highness,” Tarion reminded. “And I have a suspicion that you have not been resting as you should.”

“All I have done is feed Annafeo,” Legolas said. “And I had a visit from my father.”

“I saw the King in the outer hall,” the spell-singer said. “He is most concerned for your welfare. I did not know you were going to breast-feed, my prince.”

“I am capable,” Legolas said. “Why should I not?”

Tarion’s face was carefully neutral. “Feeding the child takes energy from you, energy that you need to heal yourself. The baby can be fed in the nursery without taking any hurt.”

“I wish to feed her myself,” the Prince said in a tone that did not encourage argument.

“You will do as pleases you,” Tarion said. “You are a Prince. However, Orithil would tell you that I speak the truth. You must make a decision, your highness. Though you have the noblest of reasons for wanting to suckle the child, is it not in truth a selfish wish? Should you not regain your strength as quickly as possible so you may be a good parent and mate?”

Legolas’ gaze widened, first in shock at the way this near servant had spoken to him in his father’s palace and then again when he saw it from Tarion’s perspective. “I will think on your words,” the Prince said. “It is possible that I am being willful as my father often complains. Thank you for having the courage to speak so plainly.”

“Are you sure you do not mean *nerve*, my prince?”

Legolas smiled at the spell-singer. “I am not likely to chide you for that since I possess it in abundance. If you would please me, always speak your mind to me.”

“I shall,” Tarion said. “And you must do the same. Now, shall we try and do something about that drifting?”

Legolas smiled again and gave the spell-singer his other hand. Tarion clasped both the Prince’s hands and closed his eyes. After a moment, Legolas did the same. Soon the Prince’s breathing evened out and deepened as he entered a light trance.

Tarion’s dark eyes opened and focused on the flawless face so close that he could reach out and touch it if he but dared. He knew that the Prince’s cheek would be like velvet against the back of his hand and the moon-colored hair would slide through his fingers like silk.

But he did not dare.

This Prince of the blood, heir to Oropher, was as far above Tarion as the stars were above the treetops. No, Tarion dared not caress Legolas as he wished, but he could do what might be done to heal the other Elf’s spirit. Sinking back into rapport, the spell-singer set about weaving anew the frayed threads of Legolas’ essence.

Chapter 5

Ethuil had come and gone, the roses of Laer were blown and Iavis stood upon the doorstep ready to paint the green leaves with scarlet and gold. Aragorn walked alone along the path that led to the bathing pools, his brow furrowed in reverie. The splendor of Mirkwood might have been a dark cave for all the notice the Man gave to the lush ferns and soaring tree trunks with their canopies of green lace.

The Ranger’s thoughts dwelt on his most recent conversation with Legolas. Though it might be termed an argument, to call the exchange heated would be misleading. Throughout the difficult discussion, the Prince had remained as cool as the spring water he sipped from a wrought-mithril goblet.

Aragorn continued to recount the words in his memory, seeking some new configuration that did not end with him stalking angrily from the room. It had begun so innocuously. The Man had come in to the bedchamber while Annafeo was feeding and the sight of his beloved half-clothed had roused him pleasantly. He had spoken without thought.

“I wish I might suckle there again soon,” the Ranger said warmly.

Legolas looked up from the Elfling’s small face. The Prince’s eyes were soft and vague, as though he looked upon a vision of the Far West. However, when Legolas’ gaze focused on Aragorn, the Elf’s features sharpened to cameo hardness.

“I did not hear you clearly,” Legolas said.

Aragorn came closer; hiding behind his back the single, perfect niphredil blossom he had searched out to present to the one who had borne his heir. “I was wishing that I might lay sated in your arms again soon, my love.”

“You will forgive me if coupling is not uppermost in my thoughts just now,” Legolas said. “Perhaps it will be soon, as you wish.”

*As I wish* Aragorn thought uneasily. “Orithil tells me you are healed,” the Ranger said, “and I wanted to give . . .”

“Can you not understand?” Legolas interrupted. “I am healed in body only. I am sure there is something you wish to give me, but though I am physically able to join with you, I am not ready to . . .”

Aragorn broke in on the Prince’s speech. “I do not ask you to join with me now. I am glad that you have healed so well and I brought you this because it nearly matches your beauty.”

For a long moment, Legolas stared blankly at lily-like flower in the Ranger’s calloused hand. “You may well make the comparison,” he said. “You have plucked me like this blossom, and like it, I will now wither and fade some day.”

Aragorn’s shock stole his breath and the ivory flower fell from his nerveless fingers.

“I am very weary,” the Elf said. “My mood is unchancy and my words go awry. It were best if I were alone.”

The Man found his voice again. “I will take Annafeo to the nursery,” he offered.

“There is no need,” Legolas answered. “Tarion will be here soon.”

Aragorn had not pointed out that Legolas would hardly be alone with Tarion there, but then again, the spell-singer had a gift for becoming a piece of the landscape. The Ranger had left quietly, the pale blossom marking the spot where he had stood. Now he wandered blindly, trying to make sense of what was happening to his life.

“He is no better woodsman than he was when he left us, Ro.”

Aragorn’s head came up at the sound of the merry, well-loved voice. It was answered by another just as merry, but with a cooler edge.

“No he is not, Dan, and I would think that fatherhood would give him at least a touch of maturity, but here he is moping like an Elfling with a broken toy bow.”

“Elrohir! Elladan!” the Man cried joyfully as he sprang to embrace his foster-brothers.

The Peredhil Princes endured Aragorn’s enthusiastic hug with affectionate indulgence. When all three were younger, the Twain had often treated the Man as a highly intelligent pet. Though they had come to love him as an equal, they still felt an innate responsibility to protect their mortal sibling. This trait came to the fore now.

“You are happy to see us, as are all whom we grace with our presence,” Elrohir said. “However, I discern a trace of melancholy in those so-blue eyes.”

“More than a trace,” Elladan said, as Elrohir leaned upon his shoulder. “What is amiss, little brother? Surely you are the happiest of Men.”

“Where is the Lord Elrond?” Aragorn answered with a question of his own.

“The cavalcade could not keep up with us,” Elrohir said. “They are half a day behind us, I would judge.”

Elladan nodded. “You must make do with our counsel, Estel.”

“When you are wived and have children of your own, I will seek your advice,” Aragorn said with a smile. “Come, my brothers, and meet Annafeo whom I call Elentari in my heart.”

“Star-queen!” Elrohir said. “Why then, she must be as lovely as Earendil.”

Aragorn pulled a face. “Faint praise,” he said. “My child is much lovelier than any star.”

Elladan smiled. “I must see this marvel,” he said. “She is like us, after all, a very unique being: part Galadrim, part Numenorean.”

“We shall be devoted uncles,” Elrohir vowed.

Aragorn looked at the Elven twins, lean and sleek as coursing hounds, with their untamed masses of sable hair and the fierce, bright gazes of predators. “Why does that thought not reassure me?” he asked drolly.

“You lack perception,” Elrohir said.

“And vision,” Elladan added. “But you are only a Man, after all.”

“However, he is the Man that will wed the much sought after Prince of Mirkwood,” Elrohir reminded his twin.

“That is true,” Elladan conceded. “How did you manage that, Estel? The Wood-Elves whisked you off so quickly, we never had the opportunity to speak of this.”

“I think we knew when we met that we were destined to be together,” Aragorn said.

Elrohir snorted. “Aye and the Valar sang when first you beheld him; that is not what we wish to hear of, is it, Dan?”

“Ro speaks for himself,” Elladan said. “But how did you catch and hold the interest of the beauteous Legolas of the Woodland Realm?”

“Surely it was not your charm, Estel,” Elrohir teased. “For in truth you have none.”

Elladan grinned. “You are being too hard on our little brother,” he said. “And do not forget that he has the skills we taught him.”

“Yes,” Elrohir drawled. “I am certain a rustic Elf like Legolas would be overwhelmed.”

“Enough,” Aragorn said. “Your speech grows unseemly. Come, muindyr, and greet my beloved and our child.”

“I am glad to hear we are still your dear brothers,” Elladan said. “Forgive our teasing. Take us to the lovely Prince of Mirkwood and the most beautiful Elfling ever birthed.”

“Right gladly,” Aragorn said, leading the way.

:::^: :::^: :::^:

When the brethren came to the quarters Aragorn and Legolas shared, they found no one and went thence to the nursery. Gil-glorion greeted them, and affirmed that Annafeo was with her, but could tell Aragorn nothing of Legolas’ whereabouts.

The Twain made a fuss over the little girl, good-naturedly arguing over whom would have the honor of holding her first. Annafeo seemed as taken with the twins as they were with her, grinning and cooing ecstatically in their arms until she began to yawn.

Gil-glorion took charge of the sleepy peredhel and bade her admirers leave quietly. The healer’s jade eyes were fixed on the twins when she uttered the caution and they felt the weight of her stare to judge by the lightness of their steps on the way out.

Aragorn elected to stay and watch Annafeo sleep while the sons of Elrond went to pay their respects to King Thranduil. The Twain promised to return to take evenmeal with their foster brother and left him in the temporarily serene precincts of the nursery.

After meeting with Mirkwood’s King and giving him the salutations of Lord Elrond, Elrohir and Elladan betook themselves to the baths. Unknowing, the twins followed the same path Aragorn had trod before they had met at the crossways. Drinking in the sights, sounds and smells of a new place in the manner of the Galadrim, the peredhil let down their guard a trifle in this secure haven.

Elrohir slipped an arm about his brother’s slim waist and pulled him until their hips touched. Elladan put his arm around Elrohir’s upper back, letting his palm rest on the back of his brother’s neck. As one, their supple bodies moving in tandem, the Twain ambled down the fern hedged track to the pools. Though the sun dappled their path like carelessly strewn coins of gold and the air smelled of the industry of bees, the visitors were not soothed.

“Ro?”

“What troubles you, Dan?”

“The same thing that troubles you.”

“Aye,” Elrohir sighed.

The twins had reached the banks of the river that cascaded in gentle steps to a series of crystalline pools. Blue-gray boulders, wearing lacy shawls of foam, waded in the shallows and Elrohir stopped in the shadow of one. Elladan turned to face his brother, his winged brows raised inquiringly. Elrohir jerked his chin in the direction of the river and Elladan peered warily around the rock.

“Elbereth!” Elladan swore mildly as he jerked back out of sight.

Elrohir put a finger to his brother’s lips and murmured. “I think we have discovered what troubles our little brother.”

Though the peredhil brethren had seen Prince Legolas but once, they were not likely to forget what the Wood-Elf looked like. There was no chance they could have mistaken the fair Elf bathing in stream for any other than the celebrated beauty. They did not, however, recognize the Elf that stood so close behind the Prince, holding him in fond embrace.

Elladan grasped his brother’s sleeve as Elrohir began to move from behind the boulder. “No,” Elladan hissed.

Elrohir looked at his twin over his shoulder. “Why not?” he mouthed.

The Twain’s eyes locked for a long moment and then Elrohir shrugged. “As you wish,” Elrohir said quietly. “However, you will not talk me out of discussing this with Estel.”

“I would not try,” Elladan said and waited until they were some distance upstream before speaking again. “Did you mark the expression on Legolas’ face?”

“I saw that he is indeed as lovely as Ithil’s light on fresh-fallen snow as rumor would have it,” Elrohir replied.

“Aye, a veritable Ernil i Isil as the Men of Gondor would say.”

“This is not the time to display your vast knowledge of the tongues of other Races,” Elrohir said. “I will admire your intellect when it is more convenient. Estel needs our help now.”

Elladan ignored his twin’s effort at humor. “It were best if we solved this problem before Ada arrives,” Elladan said gravely.

Elrohir sobered immediately. “Truth,” he said in agreement.

“We still need to bathe,” Elladan said. “After that, we will ask Estel if there is anything he would like to talk about.”

“And if he says no?”

“We will not hear him,” Elladan said grimly. “Willing or not, Estel will tell us what is wrong.”

Elrhoir grasped the back of his twin’s neck and touched their foreheads together. “Together,” Elrohir said softly.

“Together,” Elladan echoed.

:::^: :::^: :::^:

Tarion lifted his head, casting about like a hound that has lost a scent, but whatever had alerted him was gone. The flame-haired Elf shook off the grogginess that was the legacy of deep trance and focused on the Prince. Alarm quickened the pace of the spell-singer’s pulse when he realized his circumstances. This had gone much too far.

Tarion pulled Legolas to the bank and drew the Prince’s discarded robe around the smooth shoulders. Yanking his own garment over his head, the spell-singer thanked the Valar that they had been undiscovered. If by chance, another bather had witnessed the indiscretion, Tarion would explain that they were combining the cleansing of body and spirit.

The spell-singer looked into the Prince’s opaque eyes, seeking the glimmer of Legolas’ feo. Catching hold of the radiant strands, Tarion braided them into a rope of pearls to draw the Prince back to the waking world. Legolas’ essence resisted returning to its earthbound shell, but Tarion was practiced now at bending the recalcitrant spirit to his will.

Soon a cobalt spark flared in the Prince’s eyes and Legolas blinked dazedly at the spell-singer. Tarion took Legolas’ elbow to steady him when the Prince swayed on his fee, and Legolas leaned for a moment against the other Elf’s chest before pushing away.

“I have been too long away,” the Prince said, looking up at Anor through the trees. “I must go to Annafeo.”

“You will be in good time, your highness,” Tarion said. “Your recovery is of utmost priority and you did very well today. Soon you will be whole again.”

Legolas felt his anxiety lessen as Tarion’s soothing tones continued. The spell-singer was right. Under Tarion’s care Legolas was steadily improving. The Prince was so strong that he had even gotten approval to breast-feed again. Legolas decided to be wise instead of willful for once. Letting Tarion guide him, the Prince proceeded home at a dignified pace.

:::^::: :::^:: :::^:

“No,” Aragorn told the Twain. “I appreciate your concern, muindyr, but that is not the way of it, if I understand your insinuations aright. Legolas is loyal.”

“You will not even listen to what we have to say?” Elladan tried again.

“Why should I? I trust Legolas.”

“Blindly,” Elrohir agreed.

“If you continue in this wise, you will begin to make me angry,” Aragorn said slowly. “Please, my brothers, let this be my concern.”

“So you admit there is cause for concern,” Elrohir said quickly.

Elladan put a hand on his twin’s forearm. “We love you, Estel,” Elladan said. “And we would not see you hurt, if speaking out might prevent it.”

“I thank you,” Aragorn said. “You also have my love, but there is naught to concern you. Now go and take some rest. I will seek you out on the morrow.”

As Aragorn turned toward the door, Legolas entered. The Prince stopped when he saw the Man and the two strange Elves that were mirror images of one another.

Legolas’ long hair hung in wet strands, clinging to his neck and shoulders like albino seaweed. The Prince’s garments were molded to his elegant lines, revealing every hollow and contour of his willowy frame. Two hectic patches of rose bloomed in the Wood-Elf’s lofty cheekbones and his delicate lips were bruised-looking against his suddenly ashen face.

Aragorn turned uneasily from his beloved and saw a look pass between the peredhil. The Man swung his gaze back to Legolas just as the Prince fled down the hall. Casting another anxious glance at his foster-kin, Aragorn followed Legolas.

“I told you,” Elrohir said to Elladan.

Chapter 6

“Please speak to me,” Aragorn implored the Elf.

Legolas continued to move about the bedchamber, changing his clothing and combing out his hair as though the Man were not there. At last, the Prince sat and began rebraiding his damp tresses. When Aragorn moved behind the Elf and made as if to help, Legolas frowned.

“Can I not have a moment’s peace from your pawing?” the Prince asked sharply.

Aragorn sank to his knees in front of the glacial beauty and reached for Legolas’ hands. The Elf suffered the Man to touch him, but his aversion was plain. Nothing in Aragorn’s life had ever hurt him more than Legolas’ tacit rejection.

“I love you,” the Man said simply.

For a heartbeat, the Prince seemed to soften, but then the steel returned to his eyes. “Of what do you accuse me?” Legolas asked in a seeming non sequitur.

Aragorn’s confusion was writ across his face. “I accuse you of nothing,” he said. “What have I said or done that would make you believe such?”

“Your brothers,” Legolas said. “Their eyes follow me.”

“All eyes follow you,” the Ranger said. “You are fairer than any other and it is no wonder that folk will gape at you.”

“Their glances were hardly admiring,” the Prince said.

“I am sure you are wrong, my love,” Aragorn said. “Elladan and Elrohir bear you no ill will. They have traveled far to witness our bonding.”

Legolas’ eyes glazed over and he stared at something only he could see over the Man’s shoulder. “The wedding,” the Elf said slowly.

“Aye,” Aragorn said. “A day I am looking forward to with all my heart.”

“And why should that be?” the Prince said, still speaking haltingly. “You already have me in your bed and have gotten your heir on me. Why so eager to solemnize our union?”

“Why are you saying this?” Aragorn rose to his feet. “You were as impatient as I before Annafeo was born. Now you seem to have no interest in anything save the spell-singer.”

“Now we come to it at last,” Legolas said, rising as well. “You have never cared for Tarion. You are jealous because he helps me where you cannot.”

“I am glad that Tarion is a comfort to you,” Aragorn said. “Of what do you accuse me?”

“Now you use my own words against me?” the Prince said. “I suppose I should not have expected any better from a . . .” Legolas’ words ended abruptly

“I do not know what you mean,” the Man said. “Help me understand what is happening.”

“You are not an Elf,” Legolas said coldly. “You would not understand.”

Cut to the bone by his beloved’s words and the icy tone in which they were delivered, Aragorn stood frozen as the Elf swept from the room. The Ranger heard the door to their quarters open and close again. There were no angry stomping footsteps or slamming doors; that was not the way of the Galadrim, but there was no mistaking the Prince’s mood.

Aragorn sat on a corner of the bed and dropped his face into his hands. Everything he said to Legolas went awry. The young Man decided that the twins were right when they urged him to seek counsel. Aragorn would speak to Elrond as soon as possible.

“Our little brother is a very fortunate Man,” Elrohir said.

“Are you remembering our glimpse of Legolas’ charms in the bathing pool yesterday?” Elladan asked.

“How could I forget? Mirkwood’s fair Prince is perfect from crown to soles.”

“Physically, he is flawless,” Elladan agreed.

“He certainly is from here,” Elrohir commented.

“What are you looking at?” Elladan was finally goaded into asking.

“The White Prince, of course. He is sitting upon the grass listening to the spell singer.”

Elladan peered through the leaves and then climbed lightly down the trunk of the ancient tree.

“Where are you going?” Elrohir inquired.

“To speak with them. There is nothing wrong in that, surely.”

“It is rather impetuous of you. I would rather speak with Legolas alone, would not you?”

“How shall we accomplish that?

“Easily,” Elrohir snorted. “This Tarion is ready to jump from his skin. We need only let them know they are not alone and you shall see how quickly the spell-singer departs.”

A few moments later, Tarion leapt to his feet and hurried away as voices intruded on the silence. Legolas remained sitting among the fallen leaves and late blooming flowers in the dappled shade as the Peredhil came into view.

“Why, well met, fair Prince,” Elrohir called out.

Like a flower turning to the sun, Legolas raised his head and focused on the twins.

“Good day,” Elladan said cordially. “May we join you?”

When Legolas did not respond, the twins sat down facing Mirkwood’s Prince. They noted the disheveled braids and the loose robe pushed off the ivory shoulders. Exchanging a glance rife with misgiving, the Twain made a decision without a single word spoken.

“You look cold, Legolas,” Elladan said gently.

“Aye, let us escort you home,” Elrohir said.

“Home?” Legolas echoed.

“Home to your husband and your child,” Elladan coaxed.

“I have no husband.”

“Well you do have a child,” Elrohir said reasonably.

“A half-breed,” the lovely Prince of Mirkwood said flatly.

The Peredhil looked at one another in shock at the loathsome term on the Wood-Elf’s delicate lips. Elrohir’s beautiful features sharpened with resolve and his brother’s face mirrored his. They would find out the cause of Legolas’ bitterness and amend it.

“Come, Light of the Forest,” Elrohir said, extending a hand to Legolas. “Let us care for you.”

Without hesitation, Legolas gave Rivendell’s Prince his hand. Leaning forward, the Wood-Elf submissively offered his mouth. Elrohir swallowed hard as his throat went dry as dust on the instant. The wanton light in Legolas’ eyes was a beacon difficult to resist.

“Ro?”

Elrohir shook his head. “I am with you, Dan, though I was very nearly lost in deep blue shadows. Look at him, brother.”

Elladan turned an objective eye on the Wood-Elf and his brows rose. If ever an Elf looked ready for coupling, it was Mirkwood’s youngest Prince. Legolas’ cobalt eyes glowed with an inner heat that reddened his cheeks and lips. Every elegant line of the Prince’s supple body was an open invitation to enter and find joy.

“Ro!” Elladan said sharply as his twin edged ever closer to the aroused Wood-Elf. “You are in imminent danger of falling under this spell yourself. What has Tarion done?”

Elrohir flinched, dropping Legolas’ hot, dry fingers. Elladan caught his twin as Elrohir reeled back. The instant their flesh touched, the Twain went up in flames.

With a need that bordered on desperation, Elrohir fastened his mouth on Elladan’s and pushed his tongue between his brother’s lips. Elladan whimpered, reciprocating the sinuous caress as he threaded his fingers through Elrohir’s long hair. Elrohir wrapped his arms around Elladan’s back and pulled him close, letting his twin feel his arousal.

A touch on Elladan’s shoulder jarred him from his sensual haze. He relinquished Elrohir’s questing mouth and saw Legolas staring, hot-eyed at them. Swept under again, Elladan drew the Wood-Elf into the circle of the Twain’s embrace.

Slim fingers stroked hair like silk floss and slid over skin as smooth as satin as the three Elves mapped new territory. Elrohir’s hand drifted down to nestle in Legolas’ crotch as Elladan cupped the Wood-Elf’s firm buttocks. Leaning over Legolas’ shoulder, the twins kissed in a breathless collision of lips, teeth and tongues as they fondled the Elf pressed between their lithe bodies.

Tarion drew back behind a massive tree trunk and willed his racing heart to a more normal pace. Things were definitely beyond his control now. The simple herbalist’s quickening spell that he had modified had become something else: something Tarion did not know how to halt. And now it had spread with consequences Tarion could not begin to calculate.

With King Thranduil’s reaction uppermost in his mind, Tarion left off his spying and fled. Running blindly, he fetched up against an immovable object and stumbled backward.

“Steady there,” Elrond said. “What is amiss?”

Tarion blanched and dodged around the tall Elf Lord. Elrond turned to watch the odd Elf’s progress as Tarion scrambled up the slope. Quirking a quizzical eyebrow, Elrond continued down the path that had been pointed out to him.

“If you cannot tell me what troubles you, how can I advise you?” Thranduil said a trifle testily.

“Forgive me,” Aragorn said. “I should not have come. I have taken up enough of your time and you have many more pressing duties.”

“Yes, I do,” Thranduil said. “There is a contingent from the Lonely Mountain in my audience chamber right now. They wish to procure mining rights along the north border of Mirkwood. If they are there much longer, my chamberlain will insist on cleansing the entire hall after they are gone. Have you any idea what an undertaking that is?”

“I will take my leave, my lord,” Aragorn said.

Thranduil beckoned to a courier and gave instructions. When the King looked up the Ranger was nearly at the door. Something in the drooping set of the Man’s shoulders gave the monarch pause. Why would Aragorn seek out Thranduil’s advice unless it had to do with Legolas or Annafeo? And Thranduil had called Aragorn his other son and bade the Ranger come and speak with him betimes.

The King gave a heavy sigh. “Aragorn!” he called out. “Stay a moment.”

His surprise patent, Aragorn returned to where the King sat at a long table covered with scrolls and parchments. Thranduil gestured to the Man to sit as the King gave orders to a Tracker captain and signed several documents. Pushing his pen away, Thranduil poured two cups from a decanter at his elbow.

Aragorn accepted and took a small sip of the clear drink. “Thank you,” he said politely.

“I am not a patient Elf,” Thranduil said, by way of apology. “Please take your time and tell me what is troubling you. Perhaps it has to do with my contrary child?”

To the King’s astonishment, a tear rolled down the Man’s cheek to be lost in his close-trimmed beard. Thranduil was not sure what should be said or done to a crying mortal, but his dilemma was short-lived. Aragorn dragged his sleeve across his face and spoke as though nothing had happened.

“Legolas is . . . distant,” Aragorn said.

“Well, caring for an Elfling takes up much time,” Thranduil said.

“It is more than that,” the Man said. “I have spoken with Orithil and Gil-glorion and they have explained to me about the melancholy that sometimes attends a birth, but I do not think this is what steals Legolas’ spirit.”

“Ah, perhaps I should call for Tarion,” Thranduil said. “He is Legolas’ spiritual advisor, is he not? Maybe he can explain.”

“Legolas believes that I am jealous of Tarion,” Aragorn said. “I am not; at least not in the way that he supposes. I wish to spend more time with Legolas and I cannot help resenting how much time he spends with the spell-singer.”

Thranduil nodded. “I would feel the same.”

“Believe me, your majesty,” Aragorn said. “I would do nothing to interfere with Legolas’ recovery, but I think he should have been healed long ago.”

Thranduil thought for a moment before he spoke again. “It has been some time since our Elena-orentari was born to grace Mirkwood and brighten a grandfather’s days, some time indeed. Why it is nearly Yavannie!”

“Tis the first day of Yavannie,” Aragorn said.

A crease appeared between Thranduil’s eyebrows. “After my son took you back into his bed were your relations the same?” the King inquired.

Aragorn looked down into his cup. “We have not lain together since Annafeo was conceived,” the Ranger said.

“That does not sound like Legolas,” Thranduil said, absently refilling his cup.

“He cannot bear my touch,” Aragorn said.

“I will speak with him,” the King said.

“Right glad I am to hear it,” pronounced the rich, magisterial tones of the Lord of Rivendell. “Is it not convenient that I have the Prince with me now?”

Chapter 7

Aragorn and Thranduil looked up to see Elrond, flanked by the Twain, holding Legolas by one arm. It was plain that the Wood-Elf would have slid to the floor were it not for the Lord’s hand under his elbow. The Prince clung to the tall Elf like a vining plant about a noble oak.

“Breath of the Valar!” Elrond swore irritably as Legolas pressed close, stroking the Lord’s hair. “Aragorn, come and take him.”

When Aragorn did not move right away, Elrond pushed Legolas toward the Man. Aragorn caught the Prince and Legolas immediately twined his arms around the Ranger’s neck. The Man pushed damp tendrils back from Legolas’ face, alarmed by the heat radiating from his beloved’s restless body.

“Will someone call for a healer?” Aragorn said. “I fear Legolas is unwell.”

“Cure him yourself,” Elrond said shortly. “There is naught wrong with that Elf that your touch will not set to rights. Why have you neglected him so?”

Aragorn quailed before the disapproval in Elrond’s voice, but concern for Legolas gave him courage to face his foster-father. “He has a fever,” the Ranger said. “He needs a healer.”

“You are his healer,” Elrond said. “Legolas is plainly a healthy young Wood-Elf with the normal appetites of an . . . able-bodied Elf. You have just as plainly not been doing your husbandly duties in the bedchamber.”

Aragorn’s cheeks went pink above his beard. “Not from lack of desire,” he said. “But it does not seem right to lay with him, as you seem to suggest I do, while he is not himself.”

“What nonsense is this?” Thranduil joined the conversation. “Take him, Aragorn.”

The Man gave the King a startled look and Thranduil smiled.

“It would really be the best thing you could do for him,” Legolas’ father said.

Legolas rubbed his groin against Aragorn’s with a hungry whimper.

“How can you let him continue to suffer like this?” Elrond inquired.

That was too much for Aragorn. Half-carrying Legolas, the Ranger left the chamber. He got no farther than the next room.

“Now that your son is well-disposed, let us see to mine,” Lord Elrond said grimly. Elladan covertly touched Elrohir’s hand behind their father’s back. The twins exchanged a quick heartening glance and braced themselves to face the wrath of the Lord of Rivendell. When Elrond turned his glare on the Twain, the Peredhil presented a united front.

“It appears to me that Prince Legolas is under the subtle influence of a spell-weaver,” Elrond said. “Do you concur?”

The twins dared not look at one another with their sire’s hawkish gaze upon them, but their surprise at the question was patent in their demeanor. Two sleek heads, bowed in guilt, rose up and two pairs of velvet dark fastened quizzically on Elrond.

“We will come to your transgressions in time,” the Elf-Lord said. “For now, if you would please me, you will answer my questions as truthfully and in as much detail as possible.

” Thranduil looked on, impressed by the way Elrond handled his sons. The Lord of Rivendell did not fly into a rage, but his displeasure was nonetheless made quite clear. Why, Elrond did not even raise his voice! Thranduil began taking note of his fellow ruler’s bearing and the way he let his voice deepen when he wanted to make a point. It was so … refined.

Elrohir took a deep breath, but Elladan spoke first.

“A spell-singer, ada,” Elladan said. “His name is Tarion and we think he’s been,” Elladan’s gaze automatically flicked to Elrohir.

“The son of a she-Warg was using his arts to seduce Estel’s bonded,” Elrohir burst out.

Elrond pursed his lips, but did not reprimand his son’s choice of words. Even had he spoken, it is doubtful he would have been heard over Thranduil’s roar of outrage.

“You speak of seduction?” the King said, rising and coming toward the twins. “I may not have approved of my son’s match, but by the Valar, I have never doubted his love for the Man. Legolas would never be unfaithful!”

“Not by choice,” Elrond said dryly.

Thranduil stopped in his tracks and reined in his temper. Tossing a lock of his unbound hair over his shoulder, the King paced regally forward.

“Not by choice, your majesty,” Elladan said quickly. “It was plain to us that Legolas was in Tarion’s thrall.”

“How?” Thranduil asked simply.

“As to that, we must ask Tarion, I think,” Elrond said.

Thranduil stalked to the door and shouted orders. When he turned, his fair visage was set in grim lines.

“Tarion will be found and brought before me,” the King said with supreme confidence. “And then he shall answer all our questions.”

Thranduil’s bright turquoise eyes strayed to the door through which Legolas and Aragorn had disappeared, a complicated expression on his face. Elrond touched his brother monarch’s arm and Thranduil looked up at the tall Lord of Rivendell.

“We will discover with what foul enchantments this Tarion has sullied the Prince’s spirit and we will sweep them away,” Elrond said.

Thranduil nodded his gratitude for these words. “Come, my Lord Elrond,” the King said. “You have had a long journey and have not had a chance to rest. Please sit and let me pour you a refreshing drink.”

“I thank you for your courtesy,” Elrond said. “Elrohir, Elladon, please sit with us and tell me exactly what it was that you were doing to aid Prince Legolas when I happened upon you.”

The eyes of both twins went guiltily to Thranduil and then down to their goblets.

“I — that is, we,” Elrohir began before his brother interrupted.

“We were enmeshed in the same spell,” Elladan said.

“Interesting,” Elrond said. “You touched Legolas?”

“To help him from the ground,” Elrohir said defensively. “However, when my flesh touched his, I felt such desire …”

“It was the same for me,” Elladan said. “I could not resist the urge to couple.”

“A quickening spell,” Elrond said. “Similar to a fertility spell, but less specific and therefore more easily adapted or modified. This spell-singer took an awful chance.”

“How so?” Thranduil asked humbly, impressed by the Lord of Rivendell’s learning.

“It is obvious that he set the spell to infect the person closest, effectively making a loop that would increase in intensity each time it rebounded. In this way, Tarion made a weak, essentially harmless, charm into a weapon of seduction. The danger of course is that others will become linked and the process would spiral out of control.”

Thranduil narrowed his eyes, attempting to picture the consequences. “The compulsion would continue to grow with each cycle? And with each additional person?”

“Indeed,” Elrond said heavily. “Until mere flesh could not endure it.”

“Madness!” Thranduil said.

“Indeed,” the Elf-Lord repeated. “Why would Tarion risk it?”

The Twain looked at one another and Elrohir raised an eyebrow at his brother. Elladan shook his head, but his twin spoke anyway.

“Are you blind, ada?” Elrohir asked. “Tarion wanted to possess Legolas.”

“To go to such lengths merely to lay with him,” Elrond mused. “We must consider the possibility that Tarion has been touched by the Shadow.”

Silence descended in the chamber until a guard requested entry. Thranduil gestured the Elf to come in and give his report. When the King heard that Tarion had not yet been found, his bellow of anger echoed against the ceiling.

Elrohir touched Elladan’s shoulder and rose from his seat. “Let us hunt him,” he said.

Elladan lifted his head, and looked Thranduil in the eyes. “Yes, your majesty, give us leave to bring this scoundrel to your justice and thereby assuage our offense against Legolas.”

Thranduil frowned. “What offense?”

Elrond cleared his throat. “Did you not hear Elladan say that he and his brother were under the sway of the same spell?”

The King was silent for a long moment before he spoke again. “I see,” he said. “Well, you cannot be blamed for your actions while bespelled. Go and bring this traitor to me.”

The Twain bowed as one to the King and again to their sire. Elrond held up his hand in blessing, and the Peredhil marched purposefully from the room.

“They will bring back enough of Tarion to face justice, will they not?” Thranduil asked Elrond.

The twins’ father lifted his brows. “That is an excellent question,” Elrond said.

Aragorn lowered Legolas onto his back on the padded bench. Tenderly, the Man blazed a trail of burning kisses up the white throat until he reached the sweet mouth. Legolas whimpered against the Ranger’s lips as Aragorn traced the curves of his. The Elf submitted instantly, surrendering his mouth to the Man’s invading tongue.

Eagerly, Aragorn delved the soft chamber, as his hands reacquainted themselves with once familiar territory. Legolas moaned, moving restlessly against the velvet upholstery, pulling the Man closer. Aragorn rose from his kneeling position and let his weight rest on the Elf.

“Yes-s-s,” Legolas slurred, his breath warm against the Ranger’s ear. “Take me.”

Aragorn buried his face in the Elf’s fragrant neck and let his sword hand drift down to Legolas’ crotch. Nuzzling and nipping at sensitive skin, the Ranger fondled his beloved’s arousal through the thin silk of Legolas’ informal robe. The Elf arched into the caress, his hand grasping the Man’s buttock to draw him closer.

Aragorn drew back for a moment to catch his breath and was stunned once again by the raw, wild beauty of a roused Elf. “You are a flame to kindle the very stars, melethron,” he said.

Legolas whined at the cessation of activity and pressed against the Man.

“Very well,” Aragorn said with a fond smile. “I will woo you later.”

The Ranger took the Elf’s mouth in an ardent kiss, his tongue giving promise of what his Manhood would do in Legolas’ sheath. The Prince pulled at his robe until it tore, leaving his torso bare. Aragorn took immediate advantage, caressing the hot silk of the Elf’s arousal.

“Ai, I cannot wait!” Legolas cried out. “Take me, Man!”

Aragorn grunted as the Elf yanked down his leggings and drew forth his Manhood. Pushing the Ranger up, Legolas bent and took the long rod into his mouth. The Man groaned and laced his fingers through the Prince’s wealth of pale hair as Legolas lavished the attention of lips, teeth and tongue on the upstanding rod. When the Elf relinquished the rosy length of hard flesh it glistened with saliva.

“Now,” the Prince said. “You are ready.”

Aragorn agreed whole-heartedly. He was ready. However, Legolas was not, whatever the Prince might think. Retrieving his pouch, the Man turned it upside down. Snatching a vial from the spilled contents, the Ranger thumbed the cork out.

“For Annafeo’s bottom,” Aragorn explained. “I do not think she would begrudge us.”

Legolas lifted one leg to the Man’s shoulder and braced the other against the floor as Aragorn anointed the Elf’s entrance. Carefully, but firmly, the Man eased the tip of his shaft through the tight ring that guarded the passage beyond. Legolas clamped down on the hard rod, drawing a moan of pleasure from Aragorn.

“Claim me,” the Elf hissed fiercely.

Seeing what was wanted, Aragorn thrust strongly. Legolas lifted his buttocks, meeting the next stroke half way with a soft slap of flesh on flesh. The Man wrapped a muscular arm around the Elf’s supple thigh and took hold of the Prince’s lolling Elfhood with the other hand. Steadily, forcefully, the Ranger filled the velvet sheath and withdrew.

“San mi, Anduril!” Legolas cried out. “Take me, Flame of the West!”

Spurred by his beloved’s passionate words, Aragorn thrust mightily. Legolas tossed his head from side to side, his masses of winter wheat tresses sweeping the floor as his release came upon him. Aragorn sighed when the Prince’s shaft swelled against his palm and gave up its load of seed. Leaning in, the Man muffled the Elf’s cry of rapture with a soft kiss.

Legolas whimpered as the Ranger’s long rod sank into to him to the hilt. Aragorn shuddered, gasping for breath, as his climax rolled through him. The Elf moaned softly as Aragorn’s Manhood jerked and filled his sheath hot seed. The Prince’s eyes opened and looked up at his beloved with unclouded sight.

Thranduil lifted his head abruptly, as though hearing a strange noise. “Elrond,” he said. “I have bethought me. If this spell increases with each touch exchanged, what is happening to Legolas and Aragorn right now?” Elrond smiled faintly. “Do you believe I would allow my foster-son or the Prince to come to harm? They will be safe for the same reason that my sons were. The souls of Aragorn and Legolas are bonded even as their physical shells.”

“Ah,” Thranduil said sagely and picked up his goblet.

“Tarion had to change the charm so it would compel Legolas to lay with one he did not love,” Elrond continued. “As I am sure you know, this rendered those whom the Prince loves immune the spell.”

“Without a doubt,” Thranduil nodded. “How could it be otherwise?”

Elrond sipped his wine to hide a smile. Beyond all expectation, Rivendell’s Lord acknowledged a growing affection for the King of Mirkwood. His majesty was so blithely and innocently imperious that it was charming, much like Thranduil’s youngest son. Elrond began to see what, besides staggering physical beauty, had drawn steady, sensible Estel to the wild and wayward Prince of Mirkwood.

Chapter 8

“You must help me,” Tarion said, striving to keep the desperation from his voice. “I have done all that you bid me do.”

“And how do you propose that I aid you from so far away?”

Elladan’s blood went as chill as the waters of the Nimrodel at the sound of the sweet voice that issued from the air itself. Elrohir felt his twin’s apprehension and put a warm hand between Elladan’s shoulder blades. With a slight pressure of his fingertips, Elrohir urged his brother farther around the bole of the giant oak.

The spell-singer was so intent on his arcane communication that he did not sense the presence of the Twain and they were able to move around to a better vantage point. Now they could see the amulet that Tarion wore around his neck.

The dark jewel flickered with an eldritch light, tiny green lightnings shooting from the dark, irregularly shaped gem. Tarion touched the trinket as though for comfort and his unseen visitor spoke again.

“You have failed me, Tarion Istalindir. I have no further use for you.”

The greenish light of the jewel died out and Tarion gasped in horror.

“No,” the spell-singer cried out. “You cannot abandon me to King Thranduil’s mercy. He has none. Come back!”

Elladan frowned and looked sidewise at his twin. Elrohir shrugged and drew one of his knives. Before Elladan could stop him, Elrohir walked from behind the tree. Tarion started, and his face went pale as bone.

“What do you want here?” the spell-singer asked sharply.

“What do any want here?” Elrohir countered. “Why should my presence alarm you so?”

“I,” Tarion realized that he had given himself away and turned to flee.

Elladan blocked the spell-singer’s path with an arrow poised to fly. Tarion looked from one stern lovely face to the other, seeing no softness in either.

“Please,” Tarion said. “I could not help myself.”

“Are you then a beast with no self-control?” Elladan asked.

“If so, we will slay you like a beast run mad,” Elrohir promised.

Tarion shuddered, but drew together the tattered rags of his pride and faced the Twain. “I demand to be given a hearing,” he said.

“Before the King?” Elrohir said. “Are you certain you would not rather we kill you now?”

“Ro,” Elladan reproved. “The spell-singer has a right to explain his actions to those he has harmed by them. We will take him to the court of Mirkwood.”

Elrohir looked regretfully at the gleaming edge of his knife. “Seems a waste of time,” he said, “but as you wish. Should we not strip him of that bauble though?”

Elladan slung his bow over his shoulder and took hold of Tarion’s upper arm. The spell-singer attempted to pull away and Elrohir took his other arm. Panicking, Tarion grasped for the amulet and clenched it tightly in his fist.

“Tarion, I told you I was through with . . . Who is there?” The wild honey voice that had commanded Tarion spoke from the jewel. “More Elves?”

Elladan’s wide eyes met his brother’s. Elrohir grabbed the amulet’s chain to rip it from the spell-singer’s neck. The instant his fingers touched the mithril links a purple-white light flared around the three Elves.

Elrohir looked at the flame-haired Elf in his arms and saw that Tarion was beautiful and desirable. Elladan had apparently just decided the same for he lifted a hand to stroke the bright waves of Tarion’s hair.

“Pretty ones,” the voice crooned. “Mate for me that I might watch your joy and take joy of it myself.”

“No,” Tarion protested as Elrohir’s hand slipped into his robe, palming his nipple. “I do not want this.”

Neither twin answered or gave any sign they had heard the spell-singer. Aggressively, the Twain rubbed against Tarion’s length, their hands fondling, squeezing and stroking. The spell-singer’s terror reached a new level as it became clear to him that these two meant to take him at the same time.

Desperately, Tarion pulled his head back from the twins’ seeking mouths and brought their lips together. Elrohir eagerly thrust his tongue into Elladan’s mouth with a hungry sound. Elladan sucked his Elrohir’s tongue deeper as Tarion slipped from between them. Abruptly, Elrohir broke the kiss, his hand whipping out to seize the spell-singer’s wrist.

“What is your haste?” Elrohir asked.

Elladan cleared his head with an effort of will and shifted his weight to alleviate a certain pressure. “Very clever, spell-singer,” he said.

“You might have escaped had you known the compulsion does not work on us,” Elrohir added.

“He does know, Ro,” Elladan said softly. “He brought us out of the trance on purpose.”

“Why have you stopped?” The voice issued from the amulet again.

“Take it off,” Elladan said.

“My feo is bound to it,” Tarion whispered. “I cannot remove it.”

“Istalindir!” The seductive tones seemed to vibrate in the thin bones of the spell-singer’s skull. “Arouse them, Tarion, or you will look back with fondness on your previous ordeal.”

Dispassionately, Elrohir raised the hand that held the knife. Reversing it, the Peredhel brought the pommel down on Tarion’s temple. The spell-singer was knocked unconscious and the light of the jewel waned and flickered out. Elladan caught the Wood-Elf’s sagging body and bore him up

. “It is gone,” Elladan said. “Clever Ro.”

Elrohir smiled at his twin’s approval. “He was getting on my nerves,” Elrohir said. “I acted without thought to silence him.”

“Perhaps you should think less often,” Elladan smiled back.

“According to our sire, that would not be possible,” Elrohir said as he pulled one of Tarion’s arms over his shoulder.

“Well, this should please him,” Elladan said, as they started off.

“You are only right, my brother,” Elrohir said merrily. “We will be in his good graces again.”

“Let us just hope that this will excuse the insult to Aragorn’s beloved,” Elladan said soberly.

Elrohir’s mood changed with almost comic rapidity. “Aye,” he said. “Though we were bespelled, and the King has pardoned us, I feel ashamed nonetheless.”

“I too, brother,” Elladan said. “We will feel better once we have offered Legolas our apologies, and not incidentally, deliver this tool of the Shadow for the King’s justice.”

Elrohir nodded fiercely. “Let us make haste,” he said.

Legolas returned to the throne much refreshed after a bath and change of clothing. He entered the chamber with head held high, his fingers resting lightly on the forearm of his Man. In the crook of his other arm, he cradled his sleeping child. None present was proof against the power of the Prince’s sheer physical beauty or his alluring charisma.

Legolas had always been pleasing to the eye, but his loveliness had a new depth. His indigo eyes shone with a light that was no less bright, but gave off more warmth. The marmoreal perfection of his features was enhanced by a rosy glow like dawn light on a marble temple to the gods of love. The mercurial Prince’s bearing was still proud, but it lacked his customary brittleness.

Elrond dragged his eyes from the radiant Wood-Elf and met Aragorn’s gaze. The young Man’s eyes glowed like the calma of the tower of the Haven in Eressea. The beaming look of contented joy infused the Elf-Lord with empathetic delight. Confident that his foster-son had built a bridge to his estranged lover, Elrond turned to Thranduil.

“I am content that the Prince’s enthrallment has ended,” the Lord of Rivendell said.

“Yes,” Thranduil said, rising from his throne-like chair. “You look happy, my son.”

“I have no cause for sorrow,” Legolas answered, looking down at his daughter’s tiny face.

“Do you … Are there any lingering …” King Thranduil stopped when he realized he was not sure what he was asking.

“Would you give Annafeo to Aragorn and come here for a moment?” Elrond asked Legolas.

The Prince’s eyes went to Aragorn’s and the Man nodded reassuringly. Legolas went to Elrond and the Elf-Lord lifted his hand. The blue stone of Vilya, mightiest of the Three, sparked with cold fire, as Elrond cupped his palm to the Prince’s cheek.

“What do you remember, child?” Elrond asked compassionately.

“Morgoth’s Servant!” Legolas swore, shockingly.

“Lasse!” Thranduil exclaimed.

Legolas dropped his eyes. “Forgive me,” he said. “I was taken aback.”

Aragorn’s heart clenched as he wondered what sort of memories could elicit such a dark curse from his beloved’s lips. Legolas was no prude and swore like a Tracker in the Wilds most of the time, but to utter such an oath in his father’s throne room was excessive, even for him. The Man cradled his daughter closer to his chest and waited apprehensively for Legolas to speak.

“Tarion …” Legolas began and had to pause to regain his composure. “The spell-singer used his ingress to my spirit to influence my behavior. He … He said he had desired me for many years and seeing me with child,” the Prince took a deep breath. “Seeing me with child broke his dreams of winning my love some day. Instead of accepting it, however, he looked for a way to change it.”

“And found it,” Thranduil said hotly. “May Tarion be unearthed soon and brought before me. I will wring his secrets from him like dirty water from a rag.”

Legolas shied slightly as the bristling King approached, and Elrond’s hand slid down to rest on the Prince’s shoulder. Legolas settled and remained still as Thranduil questioned him.

“What did the thrice-damned spawn of a Balrog do to you?”

“He did not … There was never a complete joining. It was his bane to be always interrupted on the verge of … attaining me,” Legolas said, mindful that he spoke to his father, his lover and his lover’s father.

“He tried,” Thranduil condemned the spell-singer. “But for happenstance, the depraved one would have slain my son with his lust.”

Aragorn’s eyes widened and went to Elrond. “Ada?” the Man said like the boy that had woken up in the night long ago calling for the only father he knew.

“I do not know for sure,” Elrond said. “Perhaps the spell would have prevented the Prince’s feo from fleeing his defiled body, but we may never know and I am content that it be so.”

“Tarion’s sullying of my body was not the worst of it,” Legolas spoke up. “He was always whispering in my mind, belittling Aragorn, pointing out the weaknesses of Men, planting awful Racist thoughts about the fickleness and uncontrollable lust of mortals. He made me despise the touch of one I love more than life. For that, I cannot forgive him.”

“Nor should you,” Elrohir said, as he flung Tarion ahead of him into the chamber.

Elladan followed his twin a bit less precipitously. “We knew you would wish to question him immediately, Sire,” the Peredhel said.

“Make what peace you can and quickly, uldor neithane,” Thranduil addressed the spell-singer. “For I shall separate your feo from your hroa for what you have done.”

Tarion’s eyes were fastened on Legolas with a terrible hunger, and he did not see the King approaching. Elrond’s forearm blocked Thranduil’s blow just before it fell. For a long moment the two monarchs locked eyes, contending both physically and mentally.

“With your permission,” Elrond said smoothly. “I would like to ask the spell-singer some questions before his demise. It is so difficult to do afterward.”

The hard gleam dimmed in Thranduil’s aquamarine eyes and the hot blood drained from his face. “As you wish,” he said mildly.

Elrond nodded, keeping a hand on the King’s gem-crusted cuff. “Tarion,” the Elf-Lord said. “Attend me.”

Like a horse with a bit in its mouth, Tarion’s head dragged around toward Elrond. The Lord of Rivendell focused his raptor’s stare on the spell-singer, but could not hold the other Elf’s eyes. Frowning, Elrond addressed Legolas.

“Your highness, please come stand at my side,” he said. Legolas complied, drawing Tarion’s gaze with him.

“Ask Tarion about the amulet, ada,” Elladan suggested.

Elrond’s hand darted out and pulled the chain from beneath Tarion’s robes. Vilya’s gem flared to life. With a hiss, the Elf-Lord dropped the evil charm to lay smoking against the spell-singer’s breast. Tarion cried out and wrapped his fist around the jewel.

“No!” Elladan said. “Do not let him call forth the spirit of the talisman.”

Elrond raised his hand, palm out, and placed it against Tarion’s forehead. Quickly the Elf-Lord dove through the layers of the spell-singer’s mind, not stopping to ask permission. He recoiled as from a nest of serpents and swiftly withdrew.

“Do not fear the evil that has warped this Elf,” Elrond said. “Tarion cannot call it up. It, or more likely, he, comes in his own time.”

“Who is *he*?” Thranduil asked sharply.

“That I cannot tell you for certain without delving deeper into Tarion’s memories and to do so without his leave would break his mind. I am not willing to subject any living being to such a fate.”

“It would be better than he deserved,” was Thranduil’s opinion.

“Ada, you must,” Elladan said. “Suppose this … lokia left his filthy compulsions behind when he slithered away?”

Elrond passed a hand across his brow. “You are right,” he admitted. “Istalindir Tarion, tell me truly, have you left any spells to mar the Prince’s spirit?”

Tarion paled as he tried to resist the force of Elrond’s will. Like a gull prying at a slimy mussel shell, the Elf-Lord persisted.

“No!” Tarion screamed. “I will not tell. I promise. I will not tell your name. No! Please! Do not! I cannot bear it!”

Tarion’s shrieks reached a pinnacle and died. His eyes fixed on Legolas’ and the spell-singer reached out a hand in supplication. “Gil-lindir,” he said brokenly, as he was enveloped in searing silvery-purple light.

Elrond leaped back, pulling Legolas with him. Thranduil clasped his youngest child, turning his back, so that he shielded the Prince from the inimical radiance. In seconds, all that was left of the spell-singer was a small pile of ash and polished bone. Tangled with the remains was the mithril chain and dull, cracked jewel of the amulet.

“Aegnor a Udun!” Elrond exclaimed.

The Twain moved from in front of Aragorn and Annafeo, so the Man could go to his beloved. Legolas embraced them both fiercely; cognizant of what he might have lost. When the Prince looked up, the Peredhil were standing in front of him.

“Forgive us,” Elladan said. “However, we have an apology to make to you.”

Elrohir felt Aragorn’s eyes on him and blurted out his next words. “It was not our fault that we made so free with your body.”

“You are freely and fully pardoned,” Legolas said graciously.

“Thank you,” Elladan and Elrohir chorused gratefully.

“You have not asked my pardon,” Aragorn said sternly.

As the twins looked at their little brother in surprise, Elrond turned to Thranduil. “Perhaps it would be best to leave the younger folk to their own devices for a time.”

The King of Mirkwood nodded. “I have a multitude of questions for you,” he said. “Perhaps you would join me in my private quarters?”

“That would be my pleasure,” Elrond said.

Chapter 9

Legolas smiled indulgently and resisted rolling his eyes as he listened to Aragorn chastise the twins. Annafeo was wakeful, gurgling and cooing ecstatically in her mother’s arms, and the Prince could not be aught but joyful. Lowering his face, he rubbed his nose against its miniature copy. A tiny fist grabbed Legolas’ nose and his heart melted completely.

“Everyone else seems prepared to blithely dismiss your offenses, as has always been so,” Aragorn said. “I will not wink at this, my brothers. I will have an accounting.”

Elrohir drew breath to speak, but Elladan’s pinch to his posterior cut off his words. With a swift, reproachful look at his twin, Elrohir rubbed his left butt cheek surreptitiously.

“We most heartily and humbly beg your pardon, Estel,” Elladan said prettily.

“You are beautiful and swift and strong and winsome,” Aragorn told the Twain. “You were everything I wanted to be while I grew to Manhood in Rivendell. How I longed to ride out with you to the borders of Mirkwood and even beyond the edges of the Woodland Realm.”

“But no more?” Elladan said perceptively.

“I have been in the Wilds and seen the Cities of Men as a Ranger,” Aragorn said. “Rivendell is better. As for my hero worship of you, my dear brothers, I am no longer a child and the things that I deem high and excellent have changed.”

Aragorn turned to Legolas and smiled down at the soft bundle in his beloved’s arms. “No adventure that the two of you will ever have can equal the one I have begun,” he said. “Spend your lives as knights-errant, Elvendom has need of such fierce defenders as you, but I will be content to protect what I can hold in the circle of my arms.”

Elrohir leaned close to whisper in his brother’s ear. “When is he going to yell at us?”

“I do not think Estel is going to upbraid us in a bellow, Ro,” Elladan answered. “His way is more subtle. And more painful withal. Our little brother has learned much from our sire.”

Elrohir grimaced. “I would sooner take a spear thrust,” he said. “Come, fral-laito,” he told Aragorn. “Be merciful.”

“What mercy do you deserve of me?” Aragorn said sternly, suppressing a smile. “You have trespassed in a most sacred sanctuary. How shall you make amends for defiling this temple, my brothers? Are words enough to assuage my Prince’s degradation?”

Legolas looked dubiously at his mate. “Degradation?” he echoed.

The Peredhil became aware that their human brother was taking gentle revenge for the times they had teased him while he was growing up. Elrohir started to grin, but Elladan’s elbow in his side dissuaded him.

“Let me assure you,” Elladan began. “Neither Ro nor I wishes to encroach on the hallowed bond you share with Legolas. As for our misconduct, I will say that we were under a spell, but I will also say that had we gone for help, instead of thinking we could solve the problem ourselves, this unfortunate series of events would have been over sooner.”

“And your heartache would have been eased sooner,” Elrohir added. “Forgive us, Estel?”

“We are often too impetuous,” Elladan seconded his twin.

Aragorn unleashed his smile at last. “That was most meekly and modestly done, Sons of the Wilds. As you seem to have learned a lesson, you have my forgiveness.”

“Could it be that little Estel is all grown up, brother?” Elrohir said.

“He has surpassed us, Ro,” Elladan said. “He is now a father while we are still children.”

Elrohir made another face. “He is welcome to it, Dan,” the Peredhel said. “I am not ready to stay at home and tend a garden.”

“Nor I,” Elladan admitted. “And I have a notion to find the sorcerer that enslaved Tarion.”

“That is speech for another time,” Aragorn said. “Tonight you feast with us and there will be no talk of dark sorcerers or spells of compulsion. We shall be a family eating together and naught else.”

Elrohir touched a forefinger to Annafeo’s pale curls. “Do you hear him, little Peredhel princess? He thinks we can be ordinary. Your father is very foolish, is he not?”

Annafeo crowed with delight, and favored her uncle with a toothless grin.

Elladan put an arm around Elrohir’s shoulders and smiled down at the Elfling. “Yes, I quite agree, your highness,” he told the infant. “And we do make allowances for his human-ness.”

“I can see that I am outnumbered and would be wise to retreat,” Aragorn said good-naturedly.

“Nay,” Legolas murmured, putting a hand to his love’s cheek. “You will surrender or be over-run. Either way, you shall be our prisoner-of-love and we shall never ransom you, but keep you hostage until all wars are done.”

Aragorn kissed his beloved’s fingers and took them in his. “May I hope to be fed on more than bread and water?”

“You shall not lack for aught you desire,” Legolas vowed with a smoking stare.

“Ah …” Elladan cleared his throat. “Perhaps you would prefer to guest us another time?”

“Why would you ask that?” Legolas raised an eyebrow. “Have you suddenly turned shy?”

The Twain exchanged a glance of consternation.

“Come,” Legolas said to the twins. “You were bold enough beside the river. After what we have shared, surely it will be no challenge for such bold ones to sit across a table from me and take refreshment.”

“Now you see why I need not rebuke you,” Aragorn told the speechless Peredhil. “Legolas may have forgiven you, but I do not think he will let you forget.”

With a smug look, the Ranger took the Prince of Mirkwood’s arm and escorted him from the chamber. After a long moment, the twins followed with a newfound respect for their little brother’s beauteous chosen. Perhaps there was more to Legolas Greenleaf than a flawless face and perfect body.

“These bottles were put by when Oropher went to war for the last time,” Thranduil said. “They were meant to celebrate his victory.” The King cocked an eye at Lord Elrond. “You were there,” Thranduil said.

“As Herald to Gil-galad,” Elrond said needlessly.

Thranduil was well aware of Elrond Half-Elven’s role in the war that ended the Second Age. The King seemed to be stalling for some reason. In his wisdom and for his own selfish reasons, Elrond made an opening for the sovereign of Mirkwood.

“Would it be beyond courtesy to ask for a taste of the vintage?” Elrond asked.

“Nay,” Thranduil said, happily snatching up a dusty bottle of fanciful shape. “I would be pleased to share a drink with you. Come and sit on the terrace.”

Instead of calling for servants, as Elrond expected, Thranduil himself opened the swan-shaped flacon and poured two glasses to the brim. The Lord of Rivendell accepted and took a dainty sip. Elrond’s eyebrows climbed high at the superb taste of the wine.

“This is excellent,” Elrond said. “I have not tasted such since …”

“You miss her,” Thranduil guessed. “Celebrian was her name, was it not?”

Elrond tilted his head, regarding the King shrewdly. “You are a most perceptive Elf,” the Peredhel Lord said. “Why do you allow others to believe you are thick?”

Thranduil tucked his chin and smiled up at Elrond and the Elf-Lord felt the deep places of his heart begin to thaw. “Because I like having my own way,” the King answered. “If folk deem one to be dim, short-sighted or hot-tempered, they let down their guard somewhat. One who is in a position of authority can benefit from a glimpse of hidden motives.”

“That is certainly so,” Elrond agreed. “Would that all folk were honest as my Estel about their intentions, but alas, it is not so.”

“Do you not find it odd that it is a Man that shows the truest heart that I have ever seen?”

“I would find it passing odd, but that I know the Man,” Elrond said. “No mortal that now lives is his equal. In him is reborn the likeness of the Numenoreans of old.”

“And you have neatly led me away from the subject of your long sorrow,” Thranduil noted.

“I would prefer not to speak of it,” Elrond said, finishing his wine.

Thranduil refilled the Lord’s goblet and his own. “Then we shall not,” he said. “let us drink this splendid wine with the light of Anor on our skin.”

“Anor is leaving for the West,” Elrond observed.

“If annun comes, we must trust that anorin will also,” Thranduil said.

“For every sunset, a sunrise?” Elrond paraphrased. “You are a poet also.”

“If I am, it is because you make me feel like one,” the King said lightly.

Elrond did not speak again until the sun was balanced on the horizon, netted by the branches of the ancient oaks. “It has been many lives of Men since I have felt a stirring such as that which moves me now to speak.”

Thranduil sipped his wine with a nonchalance he did not feel and waited for his fellow monarch to go on.

“You would seem to court me,” Elrond stated.

Thranduil brushed a burnished wave of hair back from his face. “Seem?” he repeated. “It would *seem* that I must be clearer.”

The King of Mirkwood leaned forward, catching, and holding Elrond’s gaze. Setting down his glass, Thranduil took one of Elrond’s hands in his.

“We are a bit more direct about our desires here,” the King said. “I wish to lay with you. I wish to see that reserve in shambles as you take your pleasure. I wish to hold you in my body and I wish to sheath myself in your warmth. Is any of this possible, do you think?”

Elrond’s eyebrows crept toward his hairline at this frankness, but he kept his aplomb. For now. “I desire you also,” the Lord of Rivendell said.

That was as much as the hot-blooded King of Mirkwood needed to hear. Rising swiftly, Thranduil came around the table and drew Elrond to his feet. Giving the Lord no time to think about it, the Wood-Elf took Elrond’s mouth.

After an initial moment of surprise, Elrond’s instincts rallied and came to the fore. Grasping Thranduil’s muscular arms above the golden bands, the Elf-Lord took control of the kiss, pulling the King closer. Thranduil wrapped his arms around the tall Peredhel and allowed Elrond to dictate the pace. This time.

When Elrond broke the kiss, Thranduil smiled smugly at him.

“Do you feel better?” the King asked, pressing his groin against the other Elf’s.

“You remind me of your father,” Elrond replied in a seeming non sequitur. “Oropher was thought impulsive by Gil-galad and Celeborn, but Oropher’s actions seldom went awry. I think he was just more perceptive than the other Lords, feeling in his heart what it took them long hours of deliberation to decide.”

“That would seem a compliment,” Thranduil said.

“Seem?” Elrond said gravely. “It would *seem* I must be clearer.”

Thranduil’s knees went watery and he trembled like a young birch in a high wind, as Elrond stooped upon him like a hawk, claiming the King’s mouth in no uncertain manner. The Lord of Rivendell spread a large hand over the small of Thranduil’s back and tangled the other in the King’s dragon-horde of rippling ruddy gold.

“There is witchcraft in Oropher’s line,” Elrond gasped as he relinquished Thranduil’s avid mouth. “I think the other Lords sneered at him because in their hearts they each desired him, but he would have none of them.”

“Who did he have?” Thrandil murmured against the Elf-Lord’s neck. “Who did he share joy with on the eve of the world’s ending?”

“Isildur, of course,” Elrond said. “Oropher was ever lured by the strange and exotic. He was in the tent of the King of Gondor’s son until nearly dawn. I saw him steal back to our lines as Anoron touched the sky with the only light we saw on that day.”

“Did he look happy?” Thranduil asked, nipping at Elrond’s earlobe.

Elrond cast his mind back to that grim battlefield and beheld flame-haired Oropher in mithril armor pulling his tabard over his head as he passed. “Yes,” Elrond said musingly. “Oropher looked very happy indeed. In fact, he was smiling.”

“Let me give you the same smile,” Thranduil said.

Elrond did not protest as the King reached up and carefully lifted the circlet of his rank from the Elf-Lord’s brow. Setting the filigree coronet on the table, Thranduil drew his fingers through Elrond’s dark hair, carding it like silk floss until it hung loose to the Lord’s waist. Elrond pulled the King into a warm embrace, resting their foreheads together, their hair mingling like the rays of the westering sun and the shadows of twilight.

“Will you stay this night?” Thranduil persisted.

“I will stay,” Elrond said. “And in the morning, I shall steal back to my room with a smile.”

“Nidranoste,” Elladan said, inclining his head to the shining Prince that had captured his heart as surely as Aragorn’s. “I bid you goodnight and thank you for your most gracious hospitality, Ernil i Isilme.”

“Prince of Moonlight?” Legolas laughed. “I fear you will find me not so soft nor so bright.v” “No, you are not soft,” Elrohir agreed. “Save in those places where one might crave a bit of softness under one’s hand while ow! Fires! Why’d you do that, Dan?”

“To save Estel the trouble of thrashing you,” Elladan replied as smoothly as his sire.

“I am glad your distrust of me is gone and we can be friends now,” Legolas said.

“Aye,” Elrohir seconded. “Come hunting with us when you have leisure, cousin,” he said.

Legolas smiled at the easy way Elrohir included him in the family. “I would like that very much,” the Prince of Mirkwood said. “But for now, I will say namarie.”

The twins kissed each of Legolas’ cheeks and turned to gaze on Annafeo, sleeping in Aragorn’s arms.

“Namarie, kaima tariena,” Elladan said.

“Valin kaimelea,” Elrohir said.

“Why are you wishing her farewell and happy dreams?” Legolas said. “You are taking Annafeo tonight, dear uncles.”

“Now is your revenge sweetly taken, my love,” Aragorn murmured in admiration.

Legolas was gazing contentedly at the thunderstruck expressions on the faces of the Twain. “Did they not promise to watch over Annafeo?” he asked innocently.

Elladan bravely held out his arms. With visible reluctance, Aragorn gave Annafeo into his foster-brother’s keeping. Elrohir squared his shoulders as if feeling the sudden weight of a great burden.

“Be of good heart,” Legolas relented. “You only have charge of her until you reach the royal nursery. Gil-glorion is waiting to put Annafeo to bed.”

“That I am certain we can accomplish,” Elladan said. “And I will keep on your good side, Prince of Mirkwood.”

“If he can find it,” Elrohir muttered as they took their leave.

“What shall we do now?” Aragorn mused as the twins’ footsteps faded away. “What we do best, Lord of My Heart,” Legolas said, and then added. “And of all the rest of me, besides.”

“Do you tell me I am the master of all this?” Aragorn circled the Elf with his arms, not quite touching Legolas.

“Even so,” the Prince affirmed.

“This?” Aragorn put a hand on Legolas’ nape.

“That,” the Elf verified.

“And these?” the Man’s lips hovered a breath from his mate’s.

“Most assuredly those.”

“Even this?” the Ranger spread his palm over a round buttock.

“Especially that,” Legolas purred as his cheek was squeezed. “Enough teasing; love me now.”

Aragorn pushed the thin silk robe from Legolas’ shoulders. The flimsy fabric wafted down to pool at the Prince’s elbows, baring him to the waist. The Ranger bent his head and licked delicately at one of the Elf’s swollen nipples. Legolas gasped and clutched a handful of the Man’s perpetually tangled locks.

“Are you too sensitive from the feeding?” Aragorn asked solicitously, though Legolas would never know what the considerate words cost the randy Ranger.

“I am sensitive,” Legolas moaned as the Man swirled his fingertip around the other nipple.

“Then I shall not touch you here,” Aragorn said, with a wistful kiss to one of the alluring brown buds.

“Then I shall slay you out of sheer frustration,” Legolas said. “Touch me, Man.”

“You wish me to …” Aragorn’s words were cut off when the Elf pulled the Man’s face to his smooth chest, muffling Aragorn’s mouth.

Taking the hint, the Ranger sucked, lapped and nibbled daintily at Legolas’ nipples. The Elf groaned and panted, grinding wantonly against his lover, as eager to join as in the first days of their love. Aragorn slid a hand down the Prince’s flat belly, under the loosened sash, and cupped Legolas’ arousal.

Impatiently, Legolas took hold of the Ranger’s Manhood and stroked it firmly.

“Softly, my most precious,” Aragorn groaned. “Or I shall spurt untimely.”

“And I shall coax you back to life, as once you coaxed me.”

“What mean you?” the Man panted, as his arousal strained against the Elf’s palm.

“Surely you do not believe it was Tarion that called me from the very gates of the Halls of Mandos.”

Aragorn grasped the Elf’s wrist and met Legolas’ eyes. “Truly,” the Man asked gravely.

“Truly,” Legolas said softly, kissing Aragorn’s chin. “I could not leave my child to be raised by a mere Man.”

The Prince of Mirkwood shrieked with laughter as the mere Man bore him to his back on the nearest horizontal surface. The Elf’s merriment turned to moans of bliss as his lover suckled at his tender nipples while teasing his lower opening with a blunt fingertip. If the moistness Aragorn found there puzzled him, he supposed only that Legolas had prepared earlier in anticipation.

Legolas sucked in a great breath and arched his back as the Man’s finger slid into him. Carefully, Aragorn eased the digit deeper until he found what he sought. The Prince reacted violently, bucking his hips and nearly throwing his lover to the floor. The Ranger was accustomed to Elvish strength and continued his intimate caress unperturbed.

Aragorn gazed at the bounty before him like a field of elanor in the rising sun. What right did he have to gather this blossom and bring it home for his selfish enjoyment? Legolas made a small sound, opening his arms and all his being to his lover and the Man’s doubts were put aside for the nonce. He would plant this flower in his garden and tend it well.

Legolas groaned his disappointment when the Ranger rose, but Aragorn went only as far as the dinner table. Taking up a cruet of oil, he anointed his ready rod. When the Prince saw the glistening length of hard flesh, he gestured imperiously to the Man to return. Aragorn complied with alacrity, pausing only to marvel briefly at the tableau of profligate sensuality.

Legolas lay supine, propped on his elbows, one foot on the couch, the other on the floor, his moon-colored hair spread against the dark green velvet like molten mithril. With no trace of self-consciousness, the Elf opened his legs wider, fully exposing his pink rosette. Aragorn nearly stumbled over his own feet in his haste to get back.

As the Man trembled at the threshold, his arousal snug against the Elf’s port, Legolas spoke. “You know that I wish to do this with no other, do you not?” he asked solemnly.

Aragorn blinked away sudden tears. “Nor do I,” he answered, as he leaned forward.

Legolas sighed as the Scepter of Annuminas slid into his sheath. Aragorn lifted the Elf’s foot from the couch and put it over his shoulder. Maintaining eye contact with his beloved, the Ranger thrust delicately, rocking the Prince gently against the upholstery. With his free hand, the Man took hold of Legolas’ hard length and stroked it to the same rhythm.

In perfect union, Man and Elf raced in tandem toward the sweet conclusion of their ride. Bodies and spirits in harmonious accord, the bonded pair reached release together in an ever-rising spiral of bliss. The joyous explosion engulfed both, consuming all but their immortal souls in a heat storm of nearly unendurable pleasure. Shaking and panting, the lovers clung to one another as their entwined essences sank back to their shells of flesh.

Aragorn withdrew and arranged himself carefully on his side, his arm under Legolas’ head, one leg thrown over the Elf’s hip. They just fit on the couch, if neither moved. The Prince made a contented noise and hugged the Man tightly, kissing the pink nipple level with his nose. Aragorn sighed and kissed the top of the Elf’s head.

“Peace at last,” the Heir to Gondor’s throne murmured.

Legolas’ eyes sprang open, gleaming impishly, and the fleeting peace was shattered by the yell of a Man falling to the floor with an armful of playful Prince atop him.

And there let us leave them for the night to take what rest they will for the morrow brings its own troubles.

End and Beginning

 

 

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