P.S. PLEASE SCROLL ALL THE WAY DOWN TO SEE THE MANIP I DID FOR THIS STORY...thanx! - LadyAna(...Cactuskim did the _great_ improvements)
Email: itsonlypaint AT gmail.com
Aragorn paces. The wrens nesting in a crook in the turret provide him with melodious company, but his thoughts deafen him to their song.
Elessar, he scoffs. He wonders if he will ever become used to that name.
The Shadow has been defeated. Middle-earth is at peace. He is King.
Though he'd run from the specter of this burden at first, he's finally accepted his destiny. Now the injured have been healed, when possible. The task of rebuilding homes, cities, and lives is well underway. He is settling in to the throne, learning what is expected of him.
He has thrown himself into his new duties, both in eagerness to ease the misery wrought on the land by the long struggle, and in a vain attempt to dispel the empty ache inside him now, at being without his fellow Walkers.
For one luxurious moment, he allows the beautiful face to fill his mind.
He does not know how to let go his sorrow.
And arrive they have, more and greater gifts than Aragorn knows what to do with. The peoples of Middle-earth wish to honor the new hero King, each sending to Gondor a sampling of its greatest treasures.
The Dwarves presented him with the finest of their mines: gold, mithril, and silver. In an unprecedented gesture, the Rohirrim accorded Elessar a pair of mearas, like their kin, Shadowfax, among the fastest and strongest horses in Middle-earth. A company of particularly euphoric hobbits arrived only last week, escorting several cartloads of Old Toby, Southern Star, and Longbottom Leaf. Even the Ents extended an offering: a promise of protected travel through their forests.
A well-placed sense of trepidation marked Faramir's face when he brought Aragorn this news a few weeks ago: A proclamation had arrived from Eryn Lasgalen. Thranduil’s Elves wish to honor Aragorn with a great treasure of their own.
They are gifting him with a concubine.
Aragorn will own this Elf for the rest of his life.
This latest test of his new reign has Aragorn squirming uncomfortably on two fronts.
Yes, he was raised by Elves, and in his time as a Ranger, he had much exposure to the varied cultures of Middle-earth. He understands that each race holds to its own beliefs, each values its own traditions. He greatly respects these differences. Still, the idea of owning another being is repugnant to him.
More, he has no want for companionship. There is one he loves, though in secret, in silent anguish. That one is all his heart has room for.
The pronouncement from Greenwood makes plain that the offering is not made lightly. Such arrangements are exceedingly rare in Elven history, it states. The Elf has been specially chosen for this calling, and has been raised to fulfill it. The King is expected to regard his new concubine accordingly.
Mortified, Aragorn had blustered his protests to the Steward. He would own another? As a slave? He could not!
Faramir had deflected the diatribe point by point, spouting advice he'd no doubt been fed all his life: for Aragorn to refuse this gift would be unthinkable. He must accept graciously, in the spirit in which the endowment is made. Certainly Aragorn realizes that to reject the offering would bring great shame to the Elf; she has likely been preparing for this honor for longer than Aragorn has lived. Aragorn is King now; he must learn to set aside trivial personal concerns for the good of the realm….
Having beaten back Aragorn's every objection, Faramir had not quite been able to resist a teasing grin at the King's discomfort, earning himself a cross glare from the King.
The Elven delegation is due to arrive today.
"Truly, I did not," Faramir manages to reply calmly, though he is himself still quite shaken.
Aragorn can barely grasp what has just occurred. The Elven delegation arrived, banners flying over an elegant parade of ceremonial garb. A brief, eloquent declamation was offered before the banners were parted, and the King's living tribute was revealed.
Standing there, golden head bowed in deference to his new master, was Legolas.
It could not possibly have been. Aragorn must have a fever. A dream! Yes, it's all a dream….
But no. There his anxious Steward stands. This is no dream.
Aragorn scrabbles. "You said 'SHE!'"
Faramir splutters inarticulately.
"You told me I could not refuse this gift, else ‘SHE’ would be greatly shamed! What about that?!" the King fumes in triumph. Perhaps if he can somehow assign blame for the oversight, the last hour will never have happened….
The Steward considers his options before wisely surrendering. "I suppose I did make that assumption when I read the proclamation. I did expect the concubine would be a She-Elf. Obviously, though, I was quite mistaken. Sire." A petulant tone colors his last word.
Aragorn scowls at Faramir's rare use of the formality. "Why would Legolas not tell me of this… arrangement? How long has he known about it? How can he allow himself to be gifted like this?"
"All good questions, my lord," Faramir acknowledges, having no other answer to offer.
This discussion is pointless, Aragorn realizes. His tantrum withers and he sinks into the nearest chair, suddenly weary with overwhelm. Faramir goes to the man, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Talk to me, my friend," the Steward soothes.
What is left of Aragorn's temper evaporates. "Ah, Faramir!" The King allows himself a deep breath. "I am so astonished that I can hardly begin to unravel my thoughts. I never imagined that it would be him. How - - how can this be?"
Aragorn has known the Elf most of his life. He has been in love with him for nearly as long. For decades, he has been blessed to have Legolas as his most loyal companion, blessed to have the Elf beside him in battle and in brotherhood. And cursed, as well, for Legolas has never shown him anything more than the affection of friendship.
And why would he, Aragorn thinks bitterly, for he is Firstborn, and I am but a man.
Faramir bends to one knee and speaks quietly. "I would consider myself a poor friend indeed if I did not recognize that your heart holds the Elf above all others."
Aragorn blinks in astonishment. Faramir continues unabated.
"No, you have not made your feelings obvious. But I have memories, faint though they are, of the time when you cared for me in the Healing Houses. As I lay near death, you sat at my bed for hours. You talked to me, bidding me to get well. You spoke of many things, no doubt in part to keep from succumbing to your own exhaustion. It was then that you betrayed your feelings for Legolas.
Aragorn struggles to recall his words. "I said nothing about such things."
"No, not as such. But I recognize love when I hear it."
Aragorn closes his eyes and rests his forehead in his hand.
"You should speak with him," Faramir urges softly.
When he leaves the man a few minutes later, he carries a message to Legolas. The King wishes to speak with him, privately, this evening in the Elf's newly assigned quarters.
"My lord." Legolas does not overlook the flash of discomfiture that passes over the King's countenance. He steps aside, and Aragorn enters the sitting room. A few moments of awkward silence pass. Though he'd thought on this meeting all afternoon, the man is still unsure where to begin.
"How do you fare?" Aragorn's voice sounds strange to his own ear.
"I am well.” Legolas smiles. “It is good to see you again. I have missed your company in the weeks since your coronation."
Aragorn's heart quickens as the velvet of the Elf's voice caresses his ear. "Are your quarters acceptable?" he manages.
"More than. Hannon le," Legolas replies. "Shall we sit? You must have questions to ask of me."
Aragorn moves to the pair of chairs in front of the fire that wards off the chill of the spring evening. It does not occur to him that the Elf has no need of its warmth. He sits and leans over his knees, clenching his hands together. "My Steward seems to be of the impression that this… gifting… is immutable," he begins. "Is this true?"
"Yes, it is true," Legolas says, carefully watching the man’s face as he gazes into the flames.
The King is not resigned. "You must know that I am not agreeable to the idea of owning anyone."
"The Prophecy is clear: the concubine must be given," the Elf says. After a moment, he continues. "May I ask you a question, Aragorn?"
The man nods, still stiff with unease, but glad to hear the familiar address from his friend.
"Are you unhappy because there is not a She-Elf in my place?"
No!" Aragorn asserts, surprised. "No - - it is not…. I have known the company of both females and males." He flushes, dropping his eyes again. "I just did not expect - - this. You."
Legolas is silent, patient to wait until Aragorn speaks again.
"How long have you known of this… fate?"
"My destiny has been foretold since before I was born. It was never hidden from me.” Legolas sets a comforting hand on the man’s arm. “Do not be distraught, my lord. I am quite content."
Aragorn’s eyes fall upon the Elf’s wrist. Legolas smiles at the unspoken question. He lifts the sleeves of his tunic slightly, baring a simple strip of tanned brown leather, no wider than a warrior braid, tied around each wrist. “I choose to wear these. They comfort me, and remind me of my commitment to this path."
Aragorn cannot hide his distaste at the symbol of Legolas' servitude. "How can you allow this, mellon-nin? You are no concubine! You are the most free being I have ever known, bound only by your sense of honor and your willingness to sacrifice for others." Aragorn reaches for understanding. "Is that why you are doing this? You feel that you cannot refuse to serve your people's expectations in this way?"
"Nay, Aragorn," the Elf responds, his voice gentle but firm. "I accepted this purpose for myself long before your birth, and I have never strayed from my resolve. This is what I was born for."
"No." Aragorn looks away, a flash of anger crossing his face. This is not the Elf he knows. At the moment, nothing about him seems familiar. "You have been influenced in some way. I cannot accept that you would give yourself over as a slave, not to anyone."
"And yet, I have," Legolas replies softly. "I have prepared for this all of my life. To be yours is my destiny. I am for you, Estel."
Despite the hope that surges through his veins at hearing his beloved's words, a bitter realization is slowly dawning. "All these years…," he starts slowly, "You have known what would be. We have hunted, fought, lived side by side all this time… and you said nothing!"
Legolas pains at the look on Aragorn's face. "I am sorry, Estel. I was forbidden to speak of it. I wished to tell you; a thousand times I wanted to. When you arrived at Helm's Deep after you fell over the cliff… I nearly told you then. So many times I wanted to share this with you. At the Black Gate – when I saw the troll advance upon you – I thought all was lost…."
"Perhaps it would have been better had the troll completed his task." Aragorn abruptly rises. "Then you would be free of this bondage you seem so eager to defend!"
He turns and strides from the room.
The one he has loved in futility for so long is near; so near Aragorn can almost smell him, sense him. He can go right now, go to the Elf’s rooms and claim him. He has the right – indeed, he is expected – to do so.
His hand strays to his aching cock with the knowledge that the one he desires above all others is mere steps away, lying on soft linens, willing to accept Aragorn into his bed and his body even tonight.
He could rise this moment, slip into his robe, and go to him. He knows he will not be refused. He could caress the pale skin, feel the sleek muscle beneath him, kiss the delicate mouth. He could rock into him, driving the Elf's desire until the sweet voice cried out for release. He could finally have what he has wanted for so long.
And Legolas would welcome him.
But he cannot allow himself to indulge his desires. Legolas has given himself over to fulfill a Prophecy. He does not love Aragorn; the chance for them to love each other freely was destroyed before either of them were born. Aragorn will not exploit the cruel good fortune of the Elf’s presence here.
Destiny be damned! The Ring is destroyed, and Estel is doing his duty by his people. That will have to be enough to satisfy Fate's greedy appetite! He will not soil Legolas’ honor – or his own – in this way.
The trees rarely speak to him behind thick stone walls such as these, but here in this room, their voices are strangled to complete silence. Rather, echoes of obscenity assault him, faint but vile. Two maids are busy nearby, apparently unaware of the wicked whispers in the air. Legolas shudders at the vague aura of evil in the place.
A somber Aragorn finds him in a passageway soon after. He asks the Elf to walk with him.
They fall into step beside each other, as they have so often before, needing no words between them. Their path takes them out of the fortress and meandering through the gardens. The flowering plants are still recovering from the neglect they suffered under the previous Steward, but Legolas can breathe freely here.
In a private corner, they break their silence, speaking at the same moment. Legolas is heartened to see the corners of Aragorn's mouth quirk a bit at the awkward moment before he starts again. "I wish to apologize for my abrupt departure last night. I should not have accused you of deception."
"But you were deceived, Estel - if only out of necessity.” Legolas soothes him. “It was decided long ago that the revelation of the Prophecy might pose a dangerous distraction to you during your most difficult hours. Sauron's defeat required your full attention, all your strength."
Aragorn considers this. "I will admit, I find myself overwhelmed at these events even now, when the Kingdom is at peace."
"I know the kind of man you are," the Elf agrees. "I would be surprised if you were not troubled. I did not expect that this arrangement would sit easily with you."
"Then you will understand my concern that you do this out of a misplaced sense of duty, a wish to serve your people, and not of your own will,” the King speaks gently. “I fear that you have agreed to fulfill this Prophecy at great expense to yourself."
Legolas openly meets Aragorn's gaze. "I want to stay here, with you, Estel. I wish to be yours, in body and in spirit. Even if you refuse me, I would not take the ship with my kinsmen. I would remain in Middle-earth, and I would bond with no other. My home is here, until you pass from this life. However… I will not force this on you. If you ask me to leave, I will honor your wishes." The Elf's voice pauses, then wavers. "Do you wish to send me away?"
"Mellon-nin!” Aragorn grasps his friend's shoulder. “I could never send you away. You have meant too much to me. I cannot imagine a life without your gentle friendship, your fierce loyalty."
Legolas’ face softens; he smiles widely in relief. His hand clasps Aragorn's shoulder in return, closing the warrior embrace. Words cease, and only the trills of the birds are heard for a long moment.
The Elf lifts his hand from Aragorn's shoulder and tenderly cups the side of the bearded face.
Aragorn cannot move, cannot think except to marvel at the blue of the beloved eyes, the cool silk of the hand on his cheek. He leans slightly into the touch. Legolas unconsciously mirrors the tilt of his head.
"Aragorn," Legolas breathes, stepping closer. The King feels sweet breath ghost over his closed eyes, and then sublime lips touch his and beckon to his soul.
Estel knows that all the jewels and steeds and pipeweed in Middle-earth are worthless in comparison with that one kiss from the Elf before him.
He would prefer that Legolas had not been fated to be his servant, that he might have loved him. But the Elf is here – they are together – and that blessing is itself more than Aragorn had ever hoped for.
He will never lay with Legolas. The Elf did not choose this end for himself, and Aragorn refuses to exploit this Prophecy for his own pleasure. But he is happy.
He vows to himself to make Legolas happy as well.
He smiles and throws off the bedclothes. There will be no matters of state today.
As he'd hoped, Legolas is eager to accompany him on a ride. The stableman brings out the horses. Aragorn's eye is drawn to the lithe physique as Legolas gracefully mounts. Countless times, he has secretly appreciated the Elf's beauty… but everything is different now that Legolas is under his authority. He chastises himself, pushing away the lust stirring in his groin.
The sun is high in the sky when they stop to rest the horses and enjoy the meal the kitchen prepared for them. They linger, sprawling on the soft ground, savoring food and conversation under the spring green canopy of the trees. Legolas relates his unsettling experience in the House of Stewards. Aragorn sobers at his unspoken question, and relates the gruesome tale of Denethor’s demise shared with him by Gandalf. Though the worst of the mess has been cleared, the man relates, much remains to be done to restore the mausoleum to its former state.
The Elf remains silent for some time. “May I offer a suggestion?"
Aragorn nods encouragingly.
"It would do well to rid the place of those events of its past and cleanse away the tragic memories it holds. I would be honored if you would allow me to enlist Faramir’s aid in making some adjustments," the Elf appeals.
Aragorn smiles. “I had not thought of it. For Faramir, especially… It's a fine idea, mellon-nin. Thank you." An errant curl falls into his face with the passing breeze. Legolas hesitates, then reaches to smooth it back, allowing himself a feather-light stroke of the man's temple.
"I am reminded of the day the Council met at Rivendell, when the Fellowship was decided,” the Elf says. “Despite the grave nature of our discussions, I could not keep my eyes from you. Your strength was newly born that day. You were quite beautiful.”
Aragorn’s heart drums in his chest; he is sure he will never breathe again. He shakes back to himself. “Shall we return? The guards will be wondering where we are so long.” He rises to untie the horses.
The Man doesn’t realize he is again watching Legolas mount to begin the ride home until the Elf turns to catch his eyes.
He is smiling. There is invitation in his gaze.
They ride home in silence, and Aragorn burns.
“I have an idea,” the Elf suggests. “Perhaps we might work together to chase away the bitter mist that lingers in the place.”
The weeks since have been busy for the Court, and Elessar is needed every afternoon for business pertaining to the realm. He finds himself smiling more than usual, and concentrating on matters of state perhaps a bit less.
Each evening finds the King and the Elf sharing company. Now that the War is over and the veil of constant apprehension is lifted, they learn again the art of being carefree.
They speak of everything and nothing. They stroll in the gardens; Legolas suggests improvements in their care and reminisces warmly of his homeland. A laugh erupts from the man when he recalls Boromir’s attempt to school the halflings in swordplay; he does not hide the tear that comes to his eye at the memory of their fallen brother. They visit the kitchen for snacks – and mischief making, according to the old cook – and find themselves giggling after they gravely inform her that they’d missed both second breakfast and elevenses.
Legolas and Faramir busy themselves with plans for the reconstruction of the mausoleum. The King is content to make due with less of his Steward’s time, given the cheerful cause of his distraction. On the one occasion Elessar attempts to listen in on their scheming, he is politely but firmly ushered out of the area.
Aragorn must repeatedly force his attention to the page and away from the Elf’s ardent gaze. After long minutes enthralled by the deep, gentle rasp, Legolas approaches the King and bends his face close.
“Saes, Estel…,” he implores. “I want you….”
Aragorn’s craving for the flawless mouth overcomes his resolution to safeguard his battered honor, and he allows himself one chaste press of their lips together. When he withdraws, Legolas follows him, refusing to allow the man leave. His pulse pounds when his concubine tastes him, a soft lick of promise that makes the King gasp. The Elf deepens the kiss; his deceptively strong arms reach out to twine around Aragorn’s neck.
Abruptly, the King separates himself from the embrace and rises shakily. “No more,” he growls, putting a few steps between them. He attempts to regain control of himself, to slow his thundering heart.
The Elf reluctantly accepts the rejection. He walks to the door, then turns. “All things change, mellon-nin. Middle-earth has changed. You have changed. You were an heir, an orphan, a Ranger, a healer, a warrior - - and now you are a King. What is between us can change as well.”
Then the man is alone, disconcerted, unbearably aroused.
“Ah, there you are,” the Steward exclaims when he comes upon Aragorn a few minutes later. “And where is your companion? Surely you have not already tired of….” His jesting mood fades when he sees the King’s face.
Aragorn flares in frustration. “What do you need?”
Faramir bristles at the attack. “Respectfully, my lord, the better question might be, ‘What do you need?’” The Steward folds his arms defiantly. “Are you still determined to deny yourself regarding the Elf? If so, I would perhaps do better to seek a Stewardship elsewhere, under a less surly monarch. I’m sure I could convince Eowyn to relinquish her home and….”
“I am not surly!” The man snaps. He pauses, aware of the irony of the statement, but not in the mood to appreciate it.”
“I know the depth of your feelings for him, Aragorn. Why do you refuse what you have been offered? Who will it harm if you claim him? Take hold of the happiness that is within your grasp!” Faramir demands.
The King stalks from the library.
Elven steps retreat unheard in the opposite direction.
He has not seen Legolas since last evening. His breeches tighten uncomfortably as he remembers silken lips caressing his own. He enters his quarters and passes through the sitting room, wanting – needing – some time in private to ease his frustration. He bolts shut the door to his sleeping chambers and turns, completely unprepared for the sight that greets him.
Legolas is standing at the window in the darkened room, his countenance serene as he watches dusk seduce the city. He is naked.
His braids are loosed; his hair flows liquid silver over his shoulders. The firelight polishes his pale skin as it smoothes across the lean back, languishes over perfect buttocks, glistens down long, lightly muscled legs.
He is glorious.
The concubine turns to meet the King’s stunned gaze. He steps silently to the center of the room, and kneels. He bows his head, presenting himself utterly to his master.
Aragorn is speechless, mindless. There has never been a sight more lovely in all of Arda. His eyes sweep over every perfect detail: the tumble of flaxen hair, the glossy expanse of broad chest, the elegant length of sinewed arms, palms forward –
– the strips of soft leather imprisoning each slender wrist.
Aragorn comes back to himself.
He remembers who is in front of him. He knows what he must do.
He stoops to take the Elf’s hand and wordlessly bids Legolas to stand. The man plays roughened fingers gently over the leather, the simple barrier that keeps him from accepting the bliss he is offered. The Elf’s breathing quickens at the caress on his skin.
Aragorn unpins the long cloak from around his own neck and reverently places the garment over the Elf’s bare shoulders. He fastens it, then allows himself one luxurious stroke over the blond mane. He takes the beautiful face between his hands.
“I love you, Legolas Thranduilion,” the man declares. “I have loved you from nigh first we met.”
Legolas beams, his eyes shining like the new moon. He moves to close the small distance between them, but halts when Aragorn drops his hands and steps back.
“I have dreamed of holding you in my arms, of stroking your skin. My ears would rejoice to hear your passionate whispers under the stars. I lie awake in torment each night, aching to touch you,” the man grimaces.
“Then let us be together,” Legolas beseeches, breathless.
The King gathers the little resolve he has left to him in the presence of the exquisite creature. “I thank the Valar that you are here with me, mellon-nin. I am richly blessed to have your companionship for the rest of my years. But I will not act on my feelings for you. Despite your protests, you have not chosen to be mine. No choice has ever been given you. I will not indulge my desire for you, however willing you may claim to be. I have resigned myself to this path. I will ask friendship of you, but no more.”
The Elf’s fervent protest is cut off.
“You tell me that I am your master now. I do not wish this title. But if, as you say, Fate has decreed that you must be subservient to me, then I would command of you only one thing: Be happy. Ask me for anything – any treasure, great or small – and you will receive it. I will do all in my power to make sure you want for nothing.
“Only please, mellon-nin, I beg of you. Do not ask me to lay with you. I cannot do it.”
Legolas looks away, silent. Finally, he gives a solemn nod of his head and slips out of the King’s bedchamber. The misery on Estel’s face haunts him with each step he takes.
Lost in private turmoil, he nearly collides with Faramir, come to inform him that Legolas has asked the Steward to carry a message. The Elf is waiting to speak with Aragorn in the House of Stewards.
He arrives at the meeting place and finds himself gaping at the changes around him. The process of renewal is only just underway, but already the dreary space is transformed. The misty rays of dawn spill in through grand apertures newly opened in the stone walls. Great planters are being assembled for the trees that will soon be residents. Legolas and Faramir are building an arboretum, a memorial garden.
The Elf is there. His face is closed, fixed in an expression Aragorn has never seen before.
The man approaches him almost tentatively. “Are you… are you well?” he asks.
“Nay, I am not,” Legolas replies, confirming the King’s fears.
Aragorn hesitates, unsure.
“You told me last night, my lord, that you would offer me whatever I asked. Were you sincere?” Legolas asks.
He shivers at the distance between them, the dispassion in the Elf’s voice. “If it is within my power to give, you shall have it,” the King avers.
A flash of anguish mars the Elf’s face and just as quickly disappears.
“Then,” Legolas looks at the floor. “I would request my freedom.”
Aragorn blinks in confusion.
“I cannot stay here with you like this,” the Elf states. His voice is quiet but firm.
Seconds of terrible silence pass.
“Legolas… you are my dearest friend. Please….” Cold despair is already settling over the man.
The Elf does not speak, does not look at him.
A spinning, sickening void opens beneath the man’s feet, threatening to swallow him.
“Can you not find some way to be happy here, despite my failure as your master?” Aragorn’s voice is failing him. His eyes fill with the tears of decades of longing, and now, long years of loneliness stretching before him.
“I must go, Estel. If you wish me to be happy, there is no other way.” The Elf’s voice has fallen to a bare whisper.
The man nods miserably. His throat has closed; no words will pass.
He unsheathes his knife. He lifts his beloved’s wrists and severs the leather ties there. Wordlessly, he offers them to the Elf. Through the blur of his tears, he does not see Legolas’ stunned expression.
The Prophecy is broken.
Legolas crosses the room and is gone.
But then, at least, he had a glimmer of hope. Perhaps someday the Valar might grant him all he desires as a man. Perhaps.
Then he learned that Destiny had enslaved one to another, making it impossible for them to be lovers. Still, Estel took comfort in the prospect of a life spent with his beloved near him.
Now, he has lost hope. He has lost everything.
He wanders the Citadel, finding no respite from his anguish. The place is rife with painful reminders of the Elf’s shy smile, his brilliant cobalt eyes, the curious tilt of his head when he is confused…. Memories assail the King at every turn.
He sits on a bench in the garden, near where Legolas first kissed him. He wonders idly that he can still feel pain, when he is dead inside.
It is very late. His tortured mind conspires to delude him.
He can feel the warmth of his beloved’s hand on his shoulder, smell the fragrance of his skin in the air. The comely face appears in front of him, an expression of tender concern on the ghostly countenance.
The man blinks to clear the hallucination, but the face, the hand, the scent – they do not disappear.
“Aragorn? Saes, speak to me, a'maelamin!” Legolas’ voice is urgent, worried.
The King gasps, a cry of uncertain discovery escaping him. The Elf takes Estel’s hands in his own, searching the man’s face in concern.
Aragorn struggles to shake himself from his trance. “I am well,” the man stammers, barely believing his senses. “Why… why have you….?”
Legolas squeezes the King’s hands. “I have come to claim you, my love.”
Aragorn is dumbstruck.
The Elf reaches to take the shocked face between his hands. “I love you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I have loved you from nigh first we met.”
The man flinches – his heart leaps at the words, though he knows they cannot be true – but Legolas does not allow him to pull away.
“Hear me, Estel,” he pleads. The King struggles to take in Legolas’ presence, his words.
“You are a wise and good man, my love. You know me well. Ai, I had given myself over to Fate’s decree. It was prophesied before my birth that I would be concubine to the King of Men, should the Shadow be defeated. As I told you, I have never wavered in my resolve to do my duty to my people.”
Legolas fights to regain Aragorn’s despairing gaze. “As you suspected, I had accepted my destiny regardless.” He smiles broadly. “Imagine then, my surprise, my rapture!, when we met and I knew then that you were also the master of my heart.”
The Elf’s face glows with elation.
“But it was forbidden to tell you of what would be,” he continues. “Ah, Estel! All the days I wished to share my heart with you! All the nights we spent in the wild, when you were so near…. I could not reach out to you, touch you, feel your arms around me! You have not been the only one to suffer, melamin!”
Aragorn is astounded. He both welcomes and fears the trickle of life returning to him. “But why then did you leave?” he croaks.
The Elf’s beautiful face twists at the agony in his beloved’s voice. “I am so very sorry, a'maelamin! I could see no other way to prove my love to you. As long as I was your concubine, bound to you by decree, you could not believe that I love you, freely, of my own will. I was loathe to cause you pain, even for this one terrible day. But I could not avoid it!”
Legolas moves from the bench and kneels before the confounded man.
He bares his left arm. The leather band has been remade; again the Elf’s wrist is encircled. Aragorn’s heart sinks; he seeks the Elf’s face in desperate confusion.
“Only after you cut these ties this morning did I finally understand what they represent to you. To you, they are symbols of my servitude. Oh, my love! Let me tell you about them.”
“Early in our journey with the Fellowship, we camped along the Anduin,” the Elf continues. “You slept near me, but I could not rest. My thoughts were of the future we might have together, of nights to be spent in your strong embrace. And I did not know then that you loved me! How I ached for you, Estel!” Legolas flushed.
“Perhaps it was foolish, but one night, I cut away a bit of the leather of your saddlebag, and fashioned these. They seemed… to bring you closer to me. These bands represent comfort and love, Aragorn – not servitude.”
Legolas takes hold of Aragorn’s own left wrist. “The Prophecy is broken. You have freed me. Now I can offer myself to you, both my body and my heart.”
He produces the mate of his own, and secures the strip hesitantly around the King’s arm. He keeps his hopeful gaze on the man’s face as he lifts the bound wrist to his lips.
“Will you allow me to claim you in return, Aragorn? Will you be my own, in body and heart, for the rest of your days?”
Aragorn’s heart surges with the joy of new understanding. The ties he has thought were heartless symbols of bondage are actually treasured reminders of the Elf’s commitment, of his love for the King.
The barriers of age, of culture, of perception are transcended.
They’ve loved each other all along.
In the dark garden, the King of Gondor joins the Prince of Greenwood on his knees. Over clasped hands, the lovers whisper pledges of devotion, then join their lips to seal their sacred pact.
Legolas’ silver hair spreads out on the pillow behind him as he lies curled alongside the King’s warm body. His fingers trail through the dusting of curls covering the man’s chest; he plays with the unfamiliar, pleasing texture.
Aragorn wonders if he has lost use of the muscles in his face, for despite his most stern command, his mouth will not relinquish its smile.
The scent of their passion is sweet in the air. Truly, the man thinks, he has not known the meaning of happiness until this day.
“I am most pleased to discover that you are as mighty in lovemaking as you are on the battlefield, rwalaer,” the Elf purrs contentedly.
“Ah, but I sense that you might have some remaining doubt, mela en' coiamin,” Aragorn teases, rolling atop his beloved Elf once again. “Let me offer you more evidence on which to base your decision.”