Gift For: lady elina
The King of Arnor and Gondor took off his crown, dropping it with less caution than its antiquity deserved on the seat of his throne, and ran his hands through his carefully smoothed hair. The last petitioner of the day had just been escorted from the throne room, leaving him alone for the first time since rising from his bed before the first light of dawn. The crack of his spine as he stretched echoed in the bare stone of the cavernous hall, and he allowed himself a short groan of relief, quickly cut off at the sound of footsteps.
The King spun about, his hand reaching instinctively to the back of his belted tunic, where an elven dagger no longer rested in the small of his back. His defensive stance eased as he recognized the aged figure clad in white who approached, his staff clattering on the polished floor.
The wizard’s keen glance flickered from the King to the throne and back again. To his surprise, the tall Man felt his cheeks coloring; the Istari’s knowing gaze still had the power to make him feel like the awkward six-year-old he had been when they had first met, over eighty years earlier.
“It is surprisingly heavy,” Aragorn said by way of explanation.
“Need you wear it, then?” the wizard asked.
“Not daily for much longer, I hope; but the people of the City need the reassurance that their King has returned, and the Haradrim and Easterlings need to be reminded of the strength of a renewed Gondor.”
“And how does the King’s strength fare?” Gandalf privately thought the Man had been pushing himself far too hard, and not just for the good of the people of Gondor.
“I am weary,” Aragorn admitted, rubbing his thumbs over the pulse that beat in his temples. He could scarcely remember a day since his coronation which had not ended with his head aching. “It shall become easier in time, I hope, but now it seems as if everyone has a petition, for aid in rebuilding or assistance in protecting their borders, or simply for the royal patronage. And that is beside the treaties yet to be negotiated with the kingdoms to the South and East.”
“You should delegate more to your Steward.”
“I suspect Faramir already screens all who would ask for aid and allows me to see only those whose need is greatest.” Aragorn sighed and ran his hands again through his hair. “I have not the resources to grant every request, at least not immediately; and if I name one armourer ‘purveyor to the King,’ there are a dozen more I must say nay.”
“You will find your way in this, as you have in all things,” Gandalf affirmed.
“May it be so, but I confess I would sooner face a pack of Orcs,” Aragorn declared. “At least then the course of action was clear.” He strode to the windows that lined one wall of the chamber, opening a casement to allow in the cool breeze of evening.
“This is not a battle you need fight alone,” the Istari reminded his pupil. “Have you not yet spoken to him?”
The King’s expression hardened, as he was struck with a wave of longing so fierce that his hands curled into fists at his side to keep from shaking the wizard for his words. It was hard enough to see Legolas daily at meals or at court and not reach for him, not to sink his fingers through the smooth silk of his hair, not to ache for the touch of his lips. He swallowed his need with the practice of long years of self-denial, forcing his voice to steadiness. “Is not the price to be paid for my weakness high enough already?”
Long talks with the young boy raised to an Elven standard he could never quite attain had made Gandalf well aware of his propensity toward self-doubt. “You still see it as a weakness, then?”
Stepping out onto the balcony, Aragorn’s eyes fixed on Eärendil’s light breaking over the distant horizon. “For myself, I have long come to accept the Doom of Men,” he asserted. His worst nightmares had never been of his own death, but rather visions of Legolas falling in battle, of Arwen’s slow wasting into mortality. “But the Eldar were never meant to be touched by the depredations of time.”
Gandalf looked at the King with affection, then stretched out his hand to beckon him forward. “Come with me… there is something I would show you.”
Aragorn followed willingly as the wizard led him down the long terrace to where the Citadel met the great mass of Mount Mindolluin. Opening a gate nearly overgrown with trailing vines, Gandalf led him up a narrow path that climbed the steep side of the mountain. Despite his aged appearance, the Istari negotiated the twisting trail as easily as the Man he led. Reaching at last a widened space of level ground, the wizard stopped, allowing them both to gaze over the landscape spread before them.
To their left, the fields of Anorien stretched between the forests of Ithilien and the foothills of the White Mountains, the grasslands just beginning to ripen from the pale green of the first spring shoots, rippling in unbroken verdant waves all the way to the southernmost borders of Rohan. Before them, the ribbon of Anduin glimmered in the gathering twilight, the lamps of the city kindling below as the barren lands reclaimed from Sauron faded in the growing dusk. Turning to follow the path of the river, they beheld the farmlands and orchards of Lossarnach and Lebennin, and the widening sweep of water as it neared the port of Pelargir and beyond, past the reach of their vision, until it opened onto the shores of the Sea.
“This is your Kingdom,” the Istari told Aragorn. “To you shall fall the task of ordering its growth and its future. Now is come the Age of Man, when the Elder races shall fade, or return to their distant homeland.”
“Yet I would still have your guidance,” Aragorn admitted.
“Not for much longer now,” Gandalf replied. “My task was to succor those opposing Sauron, and now that he is defeated I will not tarry much longer. When the Elves depart these shores, I shall accompany them.”
Hearing Aragorn sigh, the wizard added, “Yet you need not shoulder the entire burden alone. There are others who would remain, if you would but ask it.” But Aragorn thought only of the doom he had laid on Arwen by her choice; saw only the pain in Legolas’ face when he heard the gulls calling over the wharves of Pelargir, and the slump of the always-graceful Elf’s shoulders as he stood high on the walls of Minas Tirith, staring longingly in the direction of the Sea.
The King made no response, so Gandalf clasped him by the shoulders, distracting him from his contemplation of the southern course of the river. “Turn your face from the green world, and look to where all seems barren and cold,” he counseled.
The two turned to face the bones of the mountain, where despite the coming of spring the slopes were still covered with a deep rime of snow. A little way up the slope, the darkness of nightfall was broken by a faint glow, an almost imperceptible glimmer beneath the whiteness to one side of the stony trail. Aragorn strode toward it, the snow reaching above his knees when he left the path to brush away the concealing blanket of frost. His breath caught as he recognized what he had uncovered.
“How is this possible?” the King whispered in reverence. Beneath his hand the snow fell away from the branches of a small tree that reached to about his waist, already budding with long, waxy leaves, dark above and silver below, from which a diffuse radiance shone. “Surely this is a scion of the Eldest of trees! But the Tree in the Citadel has been dead for almost two hundred years, and this sapling cannot be more than ten years old.”
“This is indeed the offspring of Nimloth the fair, which was a seedling of Galathilion, which itself descended from Telperion the White, Eldest of Trees,” the Istari confirmed. “Long ago must a fruit have been set in this hollow, to shelter in slumber until the time was right for it to awaken to new life.” He smiled at the Man whose own life he had watched and guided in preparation for this moment. “Take it as the sign of hope for which it is given, Elessar. Arwen will come, and the line of Elendil shall continue.”
“At what price?” Aragorn answered, his voice sorrowful. “Is the line of Elendil worth the life of the fairest bloom of Elvendom?”
“The responsibilities you bear are heavy enough,” Gandalf replied. “Do not take on the weight of those for which you are in no way culpable. You are not to blame that the time of the Elves is ending, nor for the choice that faces all the children of Eärendil.”
“But for me, Arwen’s choice at least might have been otherwise, and my joy must always be mingled with knowledge of the cost at which it is bought. Do not ask me to condemn another to such a fate.”
“The cases are hardly the same,” the wizard objected.
“Before Pelargir, your arguments might have swayed me, but I see how the Sea calls to him. He will take the White Ships with his people, and I will not hinder him.” Setting his hand to the base of the sapling, Aragorn lifted it easily from the ground, protecting its roots in a loose fold of his tunic. “The old Tree will be removed with all honour from the courtyard of the Citadel, and this shall be planted in its place. A watch shall be set upon the walls,” he declared softly, turning to start back down the trail, leaving the Istari to contemplate Eärendil’s star alone.
Gandalf found Legolas in what had once been a large public garden on the fifth level of the city. The flower beds were brown and barren, the walls overgrown with a tough, woody vine, the withered shade trees alone clinging to a remnant of life. The Elf was on his knees clearing away the dead foliage, his hands buried deep in the dark earth.
“There is good soil here, but it has been sorely neglected,” Legolas observed when he noticed the wizard’s presence. “I will send to my father for trees that do not die and birds to sing among them, that the King’s gardens may be restored ere I depart.”
Concern shadowed the Istari’s ageless eyes. “You still mean to take the Ship, then? Have you not yet spoken to Aragorn?”
“There has been little chance since his coronation,” Legolas answered, his melodious voice tinged with sorrow. “He meets with his ministers and holds audience each day, and come evening he has always some correspondence to deal with, some tome or report he must study…” While he had been proud to see Aragorn come into his own and receive the honour his heritage and his nobility deserved, Legolas could not help but mourn the loss of the Ranger in the return of the King. The days of the Fellowship, despite their perilousness, had been the happiest in his long life, because he and Aragorn had faced them side by side, sharing the danger and the all-too-brief moments of joy. He shook his head at the wizard’s continued regard. “Do not give me that look, Mithrandir. If he wished me to stay, he would ask me.”
“He will not ask, and yet he needs you, Legolas.”
The Elf rose gracefully to his feet, brushing the earth from his hands. “The White Tree flourishes once again in the Courtyard. He has been victorious in fulfilling all the conditions Elrond placed upon him, and the sign he has waited for has been given. Arwen will come. He needs me no longer.”
Not for the first time, the Istari reflected how much easier it would be if he could simply cast a spell to compel obedience to his counsel. “The Tree in the Citadel is the last descendent of the Two Trees of Valinor. It will blossom and set fruit only in the evening, beneath moon and starlight; yet it needs the light of the sun to grow and flourish.”
Legolas turned toward the Istari, hope rekindling in his eyes. “Can it be that you condone this, Mithrandir?”
“The Valar have placed heavy demands on you both, not all of which ended with Sauron’s downfall; and long may it be ere you receive the reward for your labours. Yet they are not needlessly cruel, for all that their ways may seem hard to those who cannot know their part in the great Song. Do not reject such comfort as is offered, my dear Elf.”
“I have never before known your advice to fall in so with my own desires,” Legolas said, “but if you agree it is right, I shall speak with the King. Yet I know not how you expect me to sway him when you yourself could not convince him.”
“You have inducements which I do not,“ the wizard answered with a warm smile.
Despite his resolve, Legolas still found it difficult to arrange any time alone with Aragorn. Though he did not speak of it, the King now had preparations to make ready for Arwen’s arrival in addition to his already onerous duties. The few occasions at which he did see Aragorn were court functions where it would be impossible to hold private conversation or draw him away from the others without notice.
Finally, Legolas was driven to climbing over the balcony of Aragorn’s chambers after the King had retired for the night. The Ranger’s awareness had not been wholly deadened by his months of Kingship, for no sooner had Legolas vaulted over the stone balustrade and taken his first step into the royal chamber when a strong arm seized him, holding him immobile as a dagger met his throat.
Though he had not expected his arrival to be undetected, Legolas’ pulse still raced at Aragorn’s grasp, his body reacting as it always had to the adán’s touch from the first time they had kissed. “You should better protect that approach, it leaves you vulnerable,” the Elf observed as the King lowered his weapon, easing his grip.
“None but an Elf could scale that cliff or cross the rooftops without being heard,” Aragorn retorted. He had hoped to avoid this confrontation, but having long become accustomed to the stubbornness of Elves, he knew Legolas would not be easy to dissuade. “Has peacetime become so wearisome that you must take up such pastimes? You could simply have knocked upon my door.”
“To be told you were busy with some urgent duty which could not be put off?” Legolas asked. “Almost it seems you do not wish to meet with me, Aragorn.” The Man dropped his eyes in silence. “Do not push me away, melethen.”
A flicker of pain crossed Aragorn’s face and he turned away, his voice stern. Could Legolas think he wanted to push him away?. “I thought to make it easier so, on both of us.”
“Easier?” Legolas echoed in disbelief. “Make what easier?”
“Your departure,” Aragorn answered, still looking away.
“That was rather presumptuous of you, was it not?” The Elf circled the Man to stand before him, reaching out to touch the bearded cheek, the roughness against his palm feeding both his desire and his resolve. “I am not leaving.”
“I heard the words of Galadriel’s prophecy, and I saw how the cry of the gulls haunted you as we sailed to Minas Tirith,” Aragorn said softly. “And since, I have watched you stand alone at the prow of the Citadel, gazing with sorrowful eyes down the southerly path of the River, and I knew the sea-longing had awoken in you. Even Merry told me how you spoke of it – ‘No peace shall I have again under beech or under elm’.” He looked away, hoping the depth of his own longing was not betrayed in his voice. “When Elrond and the others depart into the West, will you not accompany them?”
“The call of the Sea is a powerful one for my people, but it is as naught to the call of my fëa to yours,” Legolas answered, moving closer to take the Man in his arms. “The sorrow you sensed was not because I long to sail, but because I feared that I had lost you, that you were closing yourself off because the King had no further need of me.” He raised his hand to Aragorn’s lips to stop his words of protest. “Mournful is the cry of the gulls, and sweet the voices on the Last Shore singing, but stronger still is my love for the Lord of the White Tree.” Reaching up to brush back the dark hair that fell across Aragorn’s brow, he held the Man’s gaze. “I will not leave you, not unless you command me to do so.”
A welling of joy, as of a great wave sweeping over the land, filled Aragorn’s soul. He had been willing to sacrifice his own happiness, his own love for Legolas, but he could not force himself to lie when meeting his lover’s eyes, shining with love and trust in him. “I do not wish you to leave, but I am not selfish enough to ask you to stay if the longing for Valinor becomes too great,” Aragorn answered, closing his arms around the Elf’s slender hips.
“It is my longing for you that becomes too great to bear,” Legolas confessed, bringing Aragorn’s head down to his for a passionate kiss. The King returned it in equal measure, his hands threading into his lover’s golden braids to hold him close. The connection which neither distance nor absence could completely diminish flared between them, and when he lifted his head at last it was Legolas’ turn to hold the King’s head still, studying his eyes.
“Tell me what troubles you,” he urged.
Aragorn’s voice was low, as if he confessed some dire weakness. “The Crown is heavier even than I thought it would be, meleth. The people need the formal ceremonies and rituals now, to restore their confidence in Gondor’s strength, yet even when I am not wearing the circlet I feel its weight. I must need be Elessar Envinyatar for them, not Strider the Ranger, or even Aragorn son of Arathorn, and I fear as the long years wear on I will forget that I was ever anyone else.”
“I will not allow you to forget,“ Legolas vowed, gladdened that his love perceived the same danger he did. They would fight this battle together, and so defeat it. “When the weight of your responsibilities becomes too great, I will take you away to the woods where you may cast Kingship aside and become once more but a Ranger, if you will. And know that you have my love always, whether as Elessar or Aragorn or merely Estel.” His laughing voice became somber as he held Aragorn’s gaze. “So long as you live, mell-nín, Middle Earth is more blissful to me than the Blessed Realm.”
“Yet it eases my heart to know you will find peace and comfort in Valinor after I pass,” Aragorn admitted, though his voice was grim. Legolas knew where his thoughts strayed, and his own fear slipped out before he could stop it.
“But what of Arwen?” he asked.
“She knows and accepts our bond as she always has,” Aragorn assured him. “Before we departed from Imladris, she told me she had urged Elrond to name you to the Fellowship, knowing your strength would support me in ways she could not. You are the two halves of my fëa, and in my heart there is no division between you. As well might you ask Elrond whether he loves Elladan better than Elrohir.” He smoothed a tendril of hair behind the Elf’s graceful ear, his breath warm against it as he spoke. “Never doubt my love for you, cuil-nín.”
Raising his hands to Aragorn’s head, Legolas buried his fingers in the dark locks as he brought their lips together. Hungry for the taste of each other after long fasting, the kiss was not gentle. Tongues thrust and parried for dominance, teeth clashed and nipped, hands grasped and angled heads to allow them to meld their mouths even deeper, harder, longer. Bow-calloused hands slid beneath the soft linen of the King’s under-tunic, tracing sword-defined muscles. Aragorn’s hands were not idle, working apart fastenings so that when they finally broke apart to draw gasping breaths, he stripped both over- and under-tunics from the Elf with a single tug, tossing them aside with little care where they fell. Legolas groaned sinuously when the King knelt before him and paid homage to the flawless flesh of his lover’s torso, biting playfully at ribs before tugging at each rosy nipple in turn.
When he could no longer bear to be without Aragorn’s taste, Legolas grasped his lord’s shoulders and urged him upward, sliding his hands beneath the waist of the King’s leggings and cupping the strong flanks as he reclaimed his lips. Aragorn shuddered and pressed their bodies closer, letting each feel the other’s need. “Share your strength with me,” he implored, leading them back to the wide bed, pulling away the last of their garments on the way.
“Forget the cares of Kingship for a time,” Legolas exhorted, pressing Aragorn down and kneeling over him. Aragorn pulled the Elf’s head down to his, taking his mouth but otherwise ceding control to his lover, craving the forcefulness of the slender body covering his. Legolas for his part reveled in the freedom to touch and explore and position the King’s powerful frame at his will, offering the one gift Arwen could never give. Their passion spiraled as they moved together, knowing without words how best to give each other pleasure, stripping away all rank and roles and joining as equals, hröa and fëa, until in the intensity of their release it seemed the limits of their beings melted and they merged together into a single spirit, only slowly and reluctantly returning to their separate bodies.
Afterward, as the King settled into much-needed repose, Legolas watched his steady breathing and marveled at the strength contained in this mortal vessel – not physical strength alone, but a strength of spirit as secure in yielding as in command, strength enough to confront the Dark Lord himself. How could such strength be cut off after such a brief span? For though Aragorn’s years might be thrice those of lesser Men, they were still but a brief flicker of days to an Elf. An arrow of pain quivered in Legolas’ heart and he plucked it out, determined not to mar such time as they had together anticipating sorrow. Still, he knew that resisting the call of the Sea was as nothing compared to the longing he would always feel for the Man in his arms.
The next morning, Gandalf watched with satisfaction as the King of Arnor and Gondor and his trusted companion, Prince Legolas Thranduilion, broke their fast together in the great dining hall. Dark and fair heads bent together as they debated the day’s schedule, the Elf insisting that the King should cut short his public audience by an hour to allow time to go riding. The King’s Steward was quick to add his assent to the proposal, declaring he had long felt the King needed to take more time for himself. Faced with dissension from both Faramir and Legolas, Elessar yielded with good grace and laughing countenance. Smiling to himself, the wizard puffed on his pipe, knowing that now he could leave with a serene heart, the last of his tasks accomplished.