Legolas watched her sleep and knew that she did not dream well.
For the second night of their journey, he turned his gaze upon her, wondering if she would experience a more restful repose then the night before.
Following their encounter with the Olog Hai, Melia had directed them further down river and upon finding a safe place to camp had moored their vessel in order to tend to his wounds. She was in no way the healer that Aragorn was but she knew enough to relieve some of the pain he had endured battling the foul creatures. Once she had ensured that he was comfortable for the night and he could not deny enjoying it immensely when she fussed over him, she took some rest herself.
He had awoken to the scraping friction of fabric against the ground. By nature, elves did not require sleep in the manner of men and were known to be able to direct their minds to a kind of sleep while their bodies continued to function as if they were awake. However, in light of his injuries, Legolas had allowed himself to indulge in the satisfaction of complete slumber and had dozed off once they had settled into a new encampment.
The sound that brought him out of this humanlike repose had a certain urgency to it that forced his unconscious mind to seek it out. It did not take him long to discern, upon awakening, that it had come from Melia who seemed to be tossing restlessly under her blanket. She rolled onto her side towards him when a gleam of moonlight illuminated her face and he saw that there was real anxiety in her expression. Whatever she was witnessing in her dreams was clearly disturbing and he debated whether or not he should intrude upon her slumber by awaking her from its unpleasantness.
Fortunately, he had only a brief moment to debate this when suddenly she sat upright with a small gasp. For a few seconds, she sat in place, panting hard as her mind came to grips that she was free of the torture that had left her in such a state and unaware that he was awake and watching. If things between them were the way he desired, Legolas would have gone to her and offer his shoulder in comfort but he knew that they were far from that point in their relationship, if there even was one for that matter to make so intimate a gesture. It alarmed him to see this fear she felt because its power was strong enough for him to feel in his own heart. What did she see in her dreams that frightened her so much? She was not a woman who scared easily and yet as he watched her, wide eyed and almost on the verge of tears, he wished she would confide in him so that he could help her.
“Melia,” Legolas called out urgently. “Are you alright?”
Melia jumped at the sound of his voice and she stared at him for a moment as she realised that he had seen everything and quickly, she wiped the tears that glistened in her eyes. It broke his heart to see the tears he could not wipe away. However, his inability to comfort her was not as worrying as what she actually saw in her nightmare that could reduce one of the strongest women he had ever encountered in his life to this. For an instant, he saw beneath the veneer of the Ranger, past all the insecurities and inhibitions to the woman. The woman who felt more profoundly than she would have anyone believe.
“Yes,” she nodded slowly, wishing he had not seen what he had and felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment at being caught in such a vulnerable state. “I am fine.”
“You do not sound it,” he replied, genuinely concerned. “That must have been a terrible nightmare.”
“It is nothing that I have not dealt with before,” she whispered softly not intending to be heard but his elven senses were too sharp for that.
“Do you often have such fearful dreams?” He asked gently, guessing accurately that she would be reluctant to speak of them.
“Of course not,” she shrugged and he could tell immediately that she was lying. “Everyone has nightmares. Do elves not have such dreams?”
“Yes, we do,” Legolas nodded, recalling a few terrors in the dark that had awakened him the way she had a short time ago. He wondered if perhaps he could help her by displaying some empathy of her situation.
“There are times when I dream of the balrog that we encountered in Moria,” he confessed.
It was true. He did dream of the balrog that had pursued them through Moria and met its untimely demise at the hands of Gandalf at Khazadum.
“Balrog?” Melia looked at him, her eyes round with wonder.
“During the quest to destroy the Ring,” Legolas explained, seeing he had her attention. “The Fellowship journeyed through the Mines of Moria and found that the dwarf city had been overwhelmed by a balrog they had awakened in the depths of the earth. The creature soon destroyed them all with the aid of goblins and we were to face its full wrath when we attempted to cross the bridge at Khazadum. If not for Gandalf, we would have shared the dwarves fate.”
Legolas’ voice became soft as his mind drifted back to days when their purpose had been so clear and the enemy well defined. There was something inviting about knowing one’s course with such absolute certainty that nothing else seemed to matter and all he had to concern himself with was the fate of the other members of the Fellowship. Until they had scattered to the winds to follow their own destines, Legolas had no idea how dearly he missed the time when he was one of the nine walkers. The Fellowship of the Ring was the dying gasp in the final age of heroes and he was certain that once they was gone from this world, they would take with them a time of wonder and glory that would never be again.
Melia saw the sadness in his eyes and felt her heart grow heavy for him. It made her own nightmare seem less terrible hearing him speak. “This was when it was thought that Gandalf was dead?” She asked having heard something of the tale during her quest with Arwen and Eowyn.
“He placed himself before the beast to allow our escape,” Legolas replied, remembering the crushing blow to all their hearts as they watched the balrog’s fiery lash take Gandalf over the edge of the crumbling bridge. Later on they would find out that he had been reborn in a manner of speaking but until then, they were all struck with a grief as real as any that might be suffered when a loved one was taken from them forever. Unfortunately, it was only a prelude to even greater loss during that journey.
“We thought we would die for sorrow of his death but we had no idea it was but the first. We did not know that we would soon lose Boromir too. He died bravely, riddled with arrows and I am told it was not until the last, did he finally succumb to the inevitable and stopped fighting.” Legolas spoke softly, his eyes staring at the stars as he spoke reverently about the man of Gondor.
“I like to think my father met a similar end,” she offered, understanding his grief all too well in the loss of a comrade and a fellow warrior. “The last I saw of him was a month before I learnt of his death. He had ridden away from our tribe, leading our warriors on yet another battle. He had fought so many in my life that I had never considered he would not return. One becomes complacent with repetition I think, but this time he met his fate. I suspect he probably fought as valiantly as your Boromir though I think that when it came, he was happy to meet death.”
Neither spoke for a few minutes as they thought about the loved ones gone from this world and the sadness they shared in silence was nonetheless strengthening the bond between them. Since her father had died, she had shared nothing about him to anyone because no one had cared enough to ask. After being alone for so long, it was difficult to reach into one’s soul and find again the things buried so deeply. She had not spoken to anyone about her father since his death and the years of loneliness that followed after it had afforded little opportunity to confide in anyone at how much she truly missed him.
“How are you feeling?” She asked in hopes of dispelling the silence between them.
“As if I have battled Olog Hai,” he retorted easing back into his sleeping place once more in order to draw slumber upon him again.
“We will rest tomorrow,” she spoke gently but there was force enough in her words to indicate that she would broke no argument on this matter.
“I am hardly in the position to argue,” he replied as he saw her nestle into her bedroll as well.
“Well,” Melia said with a little smile as she closed her eyes to sleep, “perhaps there is some use for the Olog Hai after all.”
She was still tossing and turning in her bed, the demons plaguing her refusing to release their torment of her slumber. Legolas rose from his sleeping place and crossed the circle of amber light between them. Stretching out next to her, he brushed his hand against her dark hair and began to sing an elven song the mother he remembered so vaguely except for her voice, used to sing to him as a child. He continued to sing softly into her ear as he stroked the strands of jet against his palm and drew a little smile across his face when he saw that she had stopped her restless tossing and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
Melia appeared to remember nothing of his efforts on her behalf the next morning although she was in possession of a curiously sunny mood, claiming that it was due to the restful nights sleep she had been afforded. The day of rest had aided Legolas’ recovery from his wounds considerably and though he still ached, he was well enough for them to resume their journey. In truth, he had no wish to linger on the Eastern or the Western shore indefinitely. After battling the Olog Hai savages, Legolas did not wish to see what other remnants of Sauron’s army they might encounter on the banks of the Anduin and was eager to continue their journey down the river.
Almost five days after Legolas had faced the Olog Hai; the Prince of Mirkwood and the Ranger found themselves at the edge of East Lorien.
Since the fall of Sauron and the destruction of Dol Goldur, the great forest of Mirkwood, now renamed Eryn Lasgalen in the elvish tongue, had been divided by the elves of Lothlorien and Woodland Realm. The northern part of Mirkwood was the realm of his father; King Thranduil while recently, Celeborn the former Lord of Lothlorien had taken up residence in the southern lands of the great wood, which also included Dol Goldur. Celeborn’s kingdom was new and Legolas knew that his father had been neighborly enough to lend the Lord of Lorien some of his elves to boost Celeborn’s guard.
Upon entering the wood of East Lorien, Legolas could feel his spirits rising as he took a deep breath of the forest scent because its effect upon him was like a spark igniting within cold embers of his heart. He felt light as a feather as the home that he had known all his life for three millennia began singing its siren song straight into his soul. For a moment, he almost forgot that he had come home with a purpose that would most likely see him severe all ties with Mirkwood because it was like he was boy again, thrilling in the simple joy of who he was and being happily content by that alone.
Melia did nothing to dampen his mood because she was rather amused by his demeanor once they breached the trees of Mirkwood and wandered into its forested heart. It was difficult not to be swept up by the euphoria he felt in returning to his native lands and it surprised her how much she enjoyed seeing him happy. Legolas had not lied when he claimed he knew Mirkwood intimately, for he did. He seemed to be familiar with every tree, every path, where there might be danger and which way was safest to travel. Melia supposed she could have found her way through this maze had she attempted this journey alone but seeing the complexity of Mirkwood’s forests, she decided that choosing to travel with him had been a wise decision.
It was with a sudden start that Melia realised that enjoying his company so much, she had forgotten why she was going to Dol Goldur.
“How long until we reach Dol Goldur?” Melia asked shortly as they continued through the woods.
“Two days from here,” Legolas replied, noticing that her manner was devoid of the enjoyment he had witnessed since they had entered Mirkwood. He wondered what it was that had caused this sudden shift and wished he could be assured of an answer instead of a sharp rebuke if he dared to ask. “We have yet to reach Lorien.”
“Must we go there?” She asked with a little more sharpness than she had intended.
She knew it was wrong to be so abrasive with him but she could not help feeling a little resentment at his being able to make her forget her goal. For so long had she searched for her mother, driven when most would have faltered and forsaken the search in frustration. Now that she was in reach of an answer, she was allowing herself to be distracted by an elf of all things! The absurdity of it was beyond her ability to describe. What fool chose to become lost in the eyes of an elf? There was no future with the First Born, nothing but years where he remained the same while her body disintegrated before his eyes. It was folly!
And yet each moment, she lingered with him, she found herself pulled towards a catastrophe she was powerless to avoid because her heart had betrayed her.
“This is the realm of Lorien,” Legolas stared at her, unable to understand why her mood had become so dark. They had been together for almost a week and in that time their arguments though well frequent were laced with good humor and gentle mischief, not this cold edge that he could feel piercing his skin. “We have been travelling within it for more than a day, we must pay our respects for our passage.”
“I suppose,” she muttered sourly. “I have delayed enough in my journey, I wish only to get to Dol Guldur so that I can have my answers.”
“What answers would those be?” He demanded. Until now he had not asked why she was so determined to reach that misbegotten place because he respected her need for privacy. However, her manner had inspired his own wrath and it frothed to the surface when she spoke so heartlessly to him.
“I told you,” she paused in her step and stared at him. “That is none of your concern.”
“Lady,” Legolas started to say and then paused as he restrained his anger from overwhelming him. “I told you before, your presence in this wood is my concern and if you desire passage through here, you will observe the proper customs!”
“I am not an elf,” she barked. “I do not have to observe anything!” With that she stormed past him.
“Melia!” Legolas called after her.
However, Melia was not listening and in his anger he had failed to notice that something about them had change though he sensed it was not danger. It did not take Legolas long before he discerned what it was and he hastened his pace to catch up to her because he knew they were no longer alone.
Melia ignored him, having every intention of continuing doing so until she reached Dol Goldur if possible. However, she had taken little more than a few steps away from him when suddenly, stepping out of the trees like phantoms in the dark were an entire contingent of elven warriors. As a Ranger, she knew how to move stealthily but even she was startled by how flawlessly they stepped out of their hiding places, as if they had torn through the fabric of the forest and simply slipped through. She found herself surrounded. The leader, a haughty looking blond elf that was a little more brutish in his features then Legolas, stared at her as if she was something of an oddity.
“I am surprised at you Legolas,” the elf said as Legolas hurried next to her. “You are now travelling with barbarians?”
Melia stiffened and immediately retorted, “Better a barbarian than an elf who hides in the trees like a fawn.”
Legolas stifled a smile as he saw Haldir’s expression tighten in anger at her insult. “Haldir, be still. The lady is with me.” He said coolly.
“Lady?” Haldir’s brow rose as he regarded Melia with undisguised contempt. “She hardly looks like a lady to me.” His eyes traveled up and down her form. “In those clothes, I would say she looks like a man.”
“At least one of us does,” Melia responded icily and immediately elicited a snigger throughout the company of elves present.
“Melia,” Legolas gave her a look that silenced her further from any such remarks, though he enjoyed immensely the dark expression that marred Haldir’s usually smug countenance. “The lady is a Ranger and we are travelling companions.”
“Really?” Haldir turned his eyes upon her and seemed to study her in a new light. A little smile curled his lips and at first Melia did not understand why he looked at her that way. The other elves too seemed to study her with renewed intensity and Melia began to feel a little self-conscious by their scrutiny.
“I would have thought that you would have selected an elven woman to be your ‘travelling companion’ not a barbarian whose people were known allies of Mordor.” Haldir concluded.
“Enough,” Legolas said sharply and gripped Melia’s elbow to keep her from crossing the space between herself and Haldir and expressing physically her outrage at his inference that she was whore to the Prince of Mirkwood. “Haldir, the Ranger Melia is my guest and I will have you treat her accordingly. My father has allowed the Lord of Lothlorien a kingdom in this woods, I should not like to return home and inform Thranduil how rudely you treat his son’s companions.”
Haldir stiffened and for a moment, Melia saw that both elves had a history and did not appear to like each other very much. For once, she decided that whatever the quarrel between the two, she would take Legolas’ side because Haldir was as arrogant as he was rude.
“Come then,” Haldir turned on his heels, “you will pay your respects to Lord Celeborn.”
Although nowhere as grand as Lothlorien, the newly formed kingdom of East Lorien had its own emerging beauty. When Galadriel had chosen to depart Lothlorien for the Undying Lands, her husband Lord Celeborn had decided to stay in Middle earth longer. Lothlorien had been abandoned with both going their separate ways. Galadriel had departed across the sea and Celeborn, along with Haldir and some of the elves that chose to remain with the former Lord of Lothlorien, found themselves a new home in Mirkwood.
In the months since Celeborn had decided to establish his new kingdom in these woods, his smiths had been hard at work fashioning a small city interlaced within the great forest. Though none of the natural beauty of Mirkwood had been disturbed, Legolas was impressed by the work that Celeborn had undertaken prior to Galadrie’s departure in anticipation of his permanent occupation here. Lorien reminded him of Imladris in a way, cradled within the bosom of the forest rather than within a valley. Legolas could not deny that despite the grandeur of the White City, it did not have the aged magnificence of an elven city.
As Haldir led he and Melia through the city, Legolas noted that she was silent as her eyes took in the sight of East Lorien and its resplendent beauty. Even Haldir’s insulting inference seemed to be forgotten as she stared in wonder at the settlement that seemed to have sprung forth from the land like the great trees within it. Legolas reminded himself that when the opportunity arose, he would clarify the nature of their relationship with Haldir. The last thing he wished was for the entire court of Lorien believing that she was his lover, particularly when she was not. She had behaved like a lady throughout their entire journey and he would not have her virtue slandered as Haldir was likely to do after she insulted him so properly.
It appeared that work on the city was not quite completed for they arrived when Celeborn was in discussion with his builders about the manner in which the palace’s construction was progressing. Though mostly built, it seemed as if there were some segments of it that required work still. However, though uncompleted, the home of Celeborn was still a breathtaking exercise in elven architecture with its construction twining around the great trees. Upon seeing their arrival, the Lord of Lorien immediately dismissed his workers and came down the steps to greet Haldir and the new arrivals.
“Prince of Mirkwood,” Celeborn greeted politely, “it has been too long.”
“Likewise, Lord Celeborn,” Legolas bowed in respect for this was Celeborn’s realm and he was a visitor. Melia, taking his lead, did the same, saying little and allowing him to address one of his own. Legolas had not seen Celeborn sine the War of the Ring for it was known that the Lord of Lothlorien did not desire travel as much as his wife and was more accustomed to concerning himself with the welfare of his elves and little else.
“We found him and this ‘Ranger,'” Haldir announced making no effort to hide his dislike of Melia, “in the eastern quadrant.”
“Ranger?” Celeborn turned to Melia who immediately wished she was anywhere but here for his gaze was just like Legolas’, rather disconcerting and piercing to the skin.
“Yes,” Legolas replied. “This is the Ranger Melia, she aided the Evenstar in her quest to battle Glaurung.”
“I know of you,” Celeborn nodded in recognition. “The Evenstar has made inquiries on your behalf from the Lady of the Wood before she departed for the Undying Lands. Is that why you are here? To see Dol Goldur?”
Legolas turned to Melia in question and wondered how much did Celeborn know that he, who was her travelling companion and guide, was not privy too. Melia met his eyes and knew what he was thinking. Her expression melted into some semblance of guilt but she was not about to offer any more revelation than what Celeborn had inadvertently disclosed.
“Yes,” she swallowed thickly, aware of the Prince’s eyes upon her as she answered. She would have some explaining to do once this audience with Celeborn was done.
“There is nothing there,” Haldir remarked before Celeborn could. “It has been completely destroyed.”
“I have to go there nonetheless,” she replied, directing her answer at Celeborn instead of him. “I have to see it for myself.”
“Your mother will not be found there,” the Lord of Lorien declared.
“Your mother?” Legolas found himself exclaiming in shock. “This has been a search for your mother?”
“I told you,” Melia met his gaze. “That it was a personal matter.”
“Melia, no human survived Dol Guldur,” Legolas stared at her, feeling pain at the loss she was refusing to accept. “The Nazgul were very thorough.”
Melia wished she did not have quite so much of an audience when answering him but she felt badly that Celeborn should know more than he, especially since he had guided her this far. He had earned the right to know. “My mother was not human, Legolas.”
“Not human?” His eyes widened in shock. “You do not look elvish.”
“She is not elvish,” Celeborn answered for her, seeing Melia’s difficulty in explaining. “She is a River daughter.”
“Like Goldberry of the Old Wood?” Legolas asked.
“No, not like Goldberry,” Celeborn replied. “Her father is mortal so like him, she is mortal.”
Legolas felt disappointment course through him as that explanation because for a faint instant he had hoped that she was an immortal like himself. If she were a true River daughter then she would have a life span that would ensure that he would never lose her to death like he would lose Aragorn and all his mortal friends one day. However, her father being a mortal ended that hope. It did not change how he felt about Melia but it ensured that tragedy would be the outcome of any attachment between them.
“Why could you not tell me?” He looked at her.
“I did not want anyone to know,” Melia answered softly, deciding that he deserved an honest answer. “For so long I was not even certain that the River Women were real. I did not want to appear foolish for believing so much in what could be a fantasy and perhaps I feared of what I would learn about myself in discovering what they truly were.”
Legolas could understand her reluctance to reveal that truth in light of her explanation. Even to the elves, the River Women were something of a mystery. It was said that they were Maiar spirits beholding to Utumo, the Lord of the Sea but few had ever been seen by others and to many, they were believed to be myth, not fact. If she had made her parentage known, she would have brought undue attention to herself or worse yet, been the object of ridicule or disbelief. Melia was too solitary a person to suffer either indignity. Nonetheless, knowing the truth explained much as to why she was so determined to see Dol Goldur for herself.
“As you can see,” Legolas turned away from her and faced Celeborn, still absorbing what he had just learnt. “We have some ways to travel before we arrive at our journey. We ask for passage through your realm.”
“You shall have it tomorrow,” Celeborn answered. “Tonight, you will rest here and enjoy our hospitality. I am eager to hear what progresses beyond Mirkwood in the Reunified Kingdoms.”
It was an offer that could not be refused and in truth, Legolas had no wish to do so. Not only would it offend the Lord of Lorien but it was a long day and the comforts of a bed were not unwelcome when they had more travelling before them until their arrived at Dol Goldur. He had no idea what would happen once they reached that desolate place for he knew that there was nothing there to find. Legolas had been a part of the force that had annihilated Dol Goldur following Sauron’s fall and he had seen for himself that its dungeons were emptied during that destruction.
However, the Evenstar was right about one thing; Melia should not be alone when she arrived at Dol Goldur and found nothing.
It became apparent after their arrival that Celeborn had not much opportunity to entertain guests since his arrival in Lorien for much pomp and ceremony went into the feast he ordered to commemorate their presence in his court. For the second time in as many weeks, Melia found herself needing more formal wear than the breeches she had become accustomed to wearing as a Ranger. However, this situation was even more nerve wracking than the gathering at Minas Tirith because there at least, friends surrounded her. In Lorien, the only person she knew was Legolas and all others knew of her was the fact that she was an Easterling.
Once again, Melia was forced to wear the same gown and felt self conscious that Legolas would know it when he saw her in it again. She supposed she could have accepted the offer of the elven maids to borrow one of their gowns but Melia preferred to wear something of her own, even if it was the only one she had. She gazed at herself in the mirror and was pleased by her decision to wear her hair loose for it seemed in keeping with elvish fashion. There had been some pretty white flowers in her room and she used one in her hair, deciding that was all the embellishment her dark locks needed.
Still, if it were possible, she would have been content to remain in her room all night for she did not relish emerging from its safety into the company of people she did not know. It had been too long since she was required to be in the presence of so many and Melia knew that much of her social skills had been eroded by years of living alone in the wilderness. In the wilds, there was no need of airs and graces, of being polite and diplomatic, there was only the understanding of where one was because more often then not, this was the skill that kept her alive.
Unfortunately, the knocking at her door ensured that there would be no escape from this ordeal and after sucking a deep breath to brace herself for the rest of the evening, Melia went to answer it.
She expected to find Legolas standing before her but instead it was Haldir waiting in the hall beyond her doorway. Melia immediately stiffened with distaste at his presence, recalling the insult he had offered her earlier at their first meeting. She wondered why Legolas was never about when he was needed, since she would have preferred his company to that of Haldir, whose arrogance seemed to know no bounds. The captain of Celeborn’s guard eyes widened by her appearance in the dress and Melia steeled herself for another biting remark at her expense.
“Lord Celeborn requests that I escort you to the hall,” Haldir said stiffly although his eyes were stealing furtive looks over her. “He believes that I behaved harshly to you at our earlier meeting and should make suitable amends for my conduct.” It was obvious that he was ordered rather than simply requested to make the gesture.
“Fine,” Melia declared sweeping past him, deciding the only way to end this ordeal was to begin it as quickly as possible. “Let us be off then.”
“I must confess,” Haldir remarked as he fell into stride with her, “you do not look so much like a barbarian when you are properly attired. I can see the Prince’s attraction.”
Melia stopped short and turned around to face him with smoldering fire in her eyes. “The Prince of Mirkwood and I are traveling companions,” she glared at him. “Nothing more.”
Haldir returned her fierce gaze just as intently, “That is a pity. You are in your way beautiful, for an Easterling.” His hand reached for a strand of her hair, causing Melia to flinch slightly. However she did not retreat and held her ground.
“Come now,” he replied doing the same, seeing her ambivalence at his touch. “We are not children. Surely you would have enjoyed the comforts of a warm body in your travels? You are a Ranger. There cannot be much opportunity to make attachments in your chosen vocation?”
His voice was no longer arrogant but husky and try as Melia might; she was affected by his closeness. She had paid little attention to Haldir physically during their first meeting because he had been so repulsive, however now that she had mind to notice, she decided he was handsome though the beauty of his face was different to that of Legolas.
“There are not,” Melia said neutrally, aware of what uncharted territory he was steering her towards and wondered if he would dare make such assumptions about her sexuality if she were noble born instead of a mere Easterling. “I have taken lovers when I have met someone I liked enough.”
“That is all I seek to offer you, a night of pleasure satisfying your needs and my curiosity. I have never had a woman of the Haradrim,” his eyes filled with suggestion.
Melia smiled faintly. She should have been offended by his offer but she was not. If she were, she would have never consented to travel with Legolas alone. She was not a maiden untouched. She considered herself virtuous still even though she had known physical love and did not bind herself in marriage because of it. In the years since her departure from the Sunlands, she had known only two men intimately. One was a Ranger who had died at the hands of an orc raiding party; the other was a member of the Rohirrim.
She had not loved them but she had mourned their deaths.
“I thank you for your offer,” Melia said politely, feeling less intimidated by him now that she knew what he was about. However, consenting to bed him was another issue entirely. As pleasing as Haldir might be to look at, she did not like him enough to share so intimate and exchange with him and she was certain that his entire reason for suddenly wanting her had to do with satisfying his curiosity for Easterling women. She was no one’s curiosity. “But I should have to decline.”
“Because of the Prince?” Haldir returned automatically. His reaction was that of indifference to her decision. He would like to have bedded her but was not overly distressed that she had refused him. After all, if she did not oblige him, there were plenty of others who would.
“No,” Melia answered perhaps a little more hastily than she should have. His eyes narrow in response as if he did not believe that she was quite as dispassionate to Legolas’ feelings as she would have him believe.
She paused a moment, gathering her thoughts before answering him, “I have no desire to bed an elf. It is dangerous.”
“Only if you love him,” Haldir retorted, giving her a hard stare.
Melia did not know how to answer that so she remained silent, for that was a matter she would discuss with no one, not even Haldir who had been so forward about other things. They resumed walking towards the hall, two antagonists side by side finding an odd sort of neutrality. This was the understanding reached by two who suddenly discovered that in their mutual dislike, they had more in common then expected.
“Has anyone ever told you that you are an exceedingly arrogant elf,” Melia asked as they neared the entrance to the hall.
“A surprising number actually,” Haldir gave her a sidelong glance as he answered. “I try not to heed their words.”
“No wonder,” she retorted and they both entered the hall together, chuckling softly.
It disturbed the Prince of Mirkwood to see Melia in Haldir’s company when she entered the hall, even more so when she appeared to be laughing. It was such a far cry from the antagonism she had shown him earlier that Legolas bristled in annoyance to see Haldir showing her similar regard. As Legolas fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair, waiting for Haldir to bring the lady to his side, he rebuked himself for allowing Celeborn to convince him that Haldir should escort Melia to the hall in order to make apologies for his earlier discourtesy. Legolas had seen no harm in it. After all, Haldir did deserve to show some contrition for his behavior. However, Legolas did not like the look the elven captain was giving the Ranger. It was more familiar than he would have liked.
The celebration was modest in comparison to some of the feasts that Legolas had the privilege to attend in his lifetime but the atmosphere was warm and entertaining. Celeborn was always an amiable host and though it was clear that he missed Lothlorien and Galadriel, Legolas was pleased to see that he would remain in Middle earth for some time before he chose to depart to the Undying Lands like the rest of their race. It was good to know that he was not the only elf in Middle earth whose plans did not include leaving behind all they knew for the sea. While he could feel its call like every elf, there was too much binding the Prince of Mirkwood to the mortals and their existence for him to leave just yet. Someday he would make that crossing but like Celeborn, he was simply not ready.
When she was brought to his side, Legolas noticed the buzz of speculation it caused among those at court. No doubt, there would be much gossip and rumor about what the Prince of Mirkwood was doing in the company of a mortal female, particularly an unattached female. He knew that for many years, especially in the court of Thranduil, there had been much speculation as to why he had not selected a wife. He was, after all, three millennia old no matter how young he might appear to others. However, Legolas had met no one he had truly wanted to bind himself too and the advantage of being immortal, allowed him to be exceptionally choosy in making his choice.
If Melia noticed the stir her presence by him had created, she did not show it. Instead, she remained silent during the first hours of the feast, adding to the conversation only when addressed directly. Legolas suspected that she was somewhat overwhelmed by the company of so many elves when it was very possible that Arwen was the first of the Eldar she had ever encountered. This was within the realm of possibility since in the Third Age, presence of the First Born had diminished to a shadow of their former strength in Middle Earth.
However, despite her desire to remain a silent observer in the proceedings, she was undoubtedly the center of attraction. As strange as the elves might seem to Melia, she was as much a curiosity to them because of her Easterling heritage. For many years, the race of elves and men had fought the Haradrim and the Wainriders. During the last battle in the War of the Ring, the Easterlings had rallied under Sauron’s banner but little was known about the race themselves. Melia was most likely the only Easterling female that any of them had even seen for though men were encountered in battle often enough, the women of the Haradrim were sequestered beyond their seeing.
Unfortunately, it was clear to Legolas that the court of Lorien was also deeply curious as to the nature of his personal relationship with the Ranger. After all, there had to be something between them for her to be travelling with him alone. Legolas supposed it did not aid matters that he paid such close attention to Melia while she sat next to him during the feast. He had wanted her seated close to him because he knew her trepidation in such vaunted company. She was by nature a solitary creature, slowly becoming accustomed to having people in her life again. Legolas would be lying to himself and to anyone who asked if he denied that he enjoyed having her at his side.
When the meal was done and they were waiting for the rest of the evening’s entertainment to proceed, one of the elven maidens whose name Legolas had learnt throughout the course of the nigh, was called Miriel, directed her attention at Melia.
“Tell us of Far Harad Melia,” the girl asked and the question drew a general rumble of interest from those present.
Melia swallowed thickly, wishing she had not been singled out in such a manner. She was still trying to accustom herself to their ways and she had no wish to be the focus of everyone in the room. However, there was little she could do to avoid it since Miriel was waiting for an answer. Meeting Legolas’ gaze, she saw his encouraging smile and supposed that if she was capable of fighting orcs and dragons from Angband, she could face answering a simple question about her homeland. Besides she sensed no malice in Miriel’s question, mere curiosity.
“Well,” she spoke after thinking up a suitable answer. “My father’s tribe were descendants of Bor, the hero who fought with the Eldar against Morgoth in the First Age. After the battle in which Bor and his sons were killed, what was left of his kinsmen decided that they would no longer stand in battle with the forces of evil. They broke with the Haradrim and traveled deep into the Sunlands, beyond what you consider the known world. Unfortunately, the rest of the Haradrim did not accept the break and so since that first age, we have constantly been at war. The others believed that we betrayed Morgoth and later by our refusal to fight in the Second Age, Sauron as well.”
“That is a terrible fate,” Celeborn declared with clear distress on his face because two millennia of constant battle without end was an ordeal he could not even begin to imagine for his people or any other for that matter, especially in the desire to maintain an ideal. “It is a wonder your tribe was able to survive.”
“Our survival came at a price,” Melia said sadly and continued her explanations. “When the Haradrim were allied to Sauron, it is said that we were forced to endure the presence of Orcs and Goblins in our lands. Some of our women were taken and despoiled so it was decided that to protect us, we should remain hidden always.”
“How primitive!” Miriel gasped, unable to imagine such a life where she would remain cloistered away from the eyes of all. “Was it this way for you?”
“Yes,” Melia nodded slowly, remembering those days when she would only be allowed out of her home in the company of her father, who was more tolerant than most regarding the conduct of women in the Tribe. “Fortunately, my father had spent some time in this part of Middle earth so he saw that it was possible to raise daughters differently, which is why he taught me how to defend myself. In our lands, women may not fight or use weapons.”
“That is a shame for I have seen enough women in combat to know they can carry themselves in battle as well as men,” Legolas replied.
It was true. Eowyn was a shinning testament of this. The Shield Maiden of Rohan had killed the Witch King at Pelennor Fields, a thing that prophecy indicated no man was able to do.
“It was for our protection to begin with,” Melia explained, having never really considered the traditions of her homeland so deeply until now. “However, as time went by it became simpler for men to choose their brides and conduct their household by having absolute command over the destinies of women.”
“If we were to attempt such practices here, I do not think we would survive the night,” Celeborn replied with a smile and receiving resounding agreement from those at court by the chorus of nods and soft replies. “I think it would grieve me if I did not have the counsel of my lady during the times of ages past.”
Celeborn tried to hide the sadness in his eyes and it was opportune when the elven musicians began to play their instruments for the entertainment of those present. When the sweet melody of their song filled the air, it distracted everyone from the Lord of Lorien’s sorrow over the absence of his wife. With usual good humor, Celeborn hastened his people to enjoy the music and very soon some maids were invited to the floor by their suitors in order to dance. Only when this celebration of life bloomed around him, did Legolas see Celeborn’s somber mood dissipate. The Prince was glad for he liked the Lord of Lorien whose manner and disposition was not unlike his own and hoped someday Celeborn would be reunited with Galadriel again.
However, when he turned to Melia again, he found to his surprise that she was no longer by his side. What was even worse than this discovery was she had been borne away to join the other dancers by none other than Haldir! Legolas felt himself seething with annoyance as he saw Melia in Haldir’s arms, moving to the music and appearing as if she enjoyed his company.
Was it only this morning that Haldir’s had called her his plaything?
Legolas could not believe that she would forget that slander so quickly and deign to dance with the elf who had delivered such a stain upon her virtue. However, no signs of this slight appeared on her face as she danced merrily with Haldir, a radiant smile across her lips. Legolas watched Melia as she moved across the floor with Haldir, gliding in perfect synchronicity with the captain of Celeborn’s guard. Even Haldir’s typical arrogant manner seemed to have dissipated and there was real warmth when he gazed upon the Ranger. He seemed enchanted by her and Legolas bristled at the hold the Lorien elf had around Melia’s waist.
It did not take long before Legolas found himself striding across the floor and tapping Haldir’s shoulder so that the captain of Lorien would allow him a dance with the Ranger. Haldir did not appear surprised to see him and was actually rather gracious when he relinquished his hold upon Melia and stepped aside for Legolas.
“Why are you dancing with him?” Legolas hissed softly when Haldir was out of earshot and they had resumed dancing. This was no easy thing to do considering the sharpness of elven hearing. Despite himself, Legolas could not help but slide his hand possessively around her waist when he saw Haldir watching them together.
Melia raised a brow at the question and the sharpness behind it. “Because as you reminded me earlier today,” she stared at him trying to grasp what was running through his mind. “We are guests in Lorien and should return our host’s hospitality with some measure of courtesy.”
“Haldir is not your host,” Legolas retorted stiffly, not meeting her in the eyes and searching the floor for Haldir to see if he was lurking about like a spider in wait for its next meal.
“He is the captain of Celeborn’s guard,” Melia declared bewildered by his tone. “He asked me to dance and I saw no harm in it.”
“He insulted your honor,” he reminded. “Did you forget that when you chose to dance with him?”
“I did not,” Melia said hotly for it was starting to dawn upon her what might have angered him this way. In understanding his motivations, she was able to force away her own ire once she knew what fire was coursing through him to engender this behavior. Melia did not know whether to smile or throttle him. She chose a third less confrontational alternative. “We have reached an understanding of sorts,” she responded calmly. “Haldir is quite tolerable once one learns how to deal with him.”
This did not please Legolas in the slightest. He did not like the idea of Melia tolerating Haldir on any level. “Haldir is an elitist snob. He uses women for pleasure as if they were trophies he might hunt. He would use you in the same fashion.”
“I know,” Melia agreed readily enough. “He already asked to bed me.”
Legolas stopped dancing in mid step and stared at her.
“What? He would ask that of you while you were with…..” he stopped speaking before he said too much.
“I said no,” Melia declared, uncertain whether or not she should be flattered by this display or furious that he would think her so incapable of managing the affections of an unwanted lover. Around them, others present in the hall were staring at them questioningly, wondering why the guests of honor had so abruptly stopped dancing. Of course, no one could have possibly missed the daggers Legolas had been flinging in Haldir’s direction when the captain was dancing with the Ranger.
“You said no,” he swallowed.
“I said no,” she shook her head at him before she broke into a little smile. “You are very sweet when you are jealous,” she replied as she took his hand in hers and pulled him away from the dance floor, onto the balcony outside. Melia had no desire to continue this conversation before the entire court of Lorien. Already too much was being made of their arrival together and Melia did not wish to inspire any more rumors about their non-existent relationship.
“I was not jealous,” Legolas defended himself feebly once they were standing on the balcony overlooking Lorien. The sight beneath them was breathtaking with fireflies dancing through the tall trees, which in turn cradled the stars above them. “I have known Haldir for longer than you have been alive. He has always been a favorite of the ladies,” he pointed out trying to explain himself and unable to deny that he felt terribly foolish for succumbing to such childish behavior. He was three thousand years and should be above such petty behavior. Jealousy was a condition of men not elves.
“I do not doubt that,” Melia replied but she knew he was jealous, no matter what his higher evolved sensibilities might have her believe. “His only interest in me was to satisfy his curiosity about Easterling women. When I declined his offer he was hardly crushed by rejection.”
Now that the moment had passed, Melia found his jealousy more touching then she found it amusing. She noticed that he still could not meet her eyes and his hand remained entwined in hers as if he feared letting go might allow someone else to stake their claim upon her. “Are you going to sulk all evening?”
“I am not sulking,” he said petulantly, appearing like a little boy who was refused his own way.
“I do not see why you are jealous,” Melia replied as she stared into his eyes and saw how easy it would be to lose herself in them if she were to succumb to the unthinkable. She swore that when she gazed into their depths, she could almost feel the sea. “I have enough difficulty trying to tolerate you. Why should I wish to vex myself with the company of another? One I might add who is even more arrogant than you?”
“True,” Legolas answered, seeing that she was teasing him but with the music in his ears and with her hand in his, he did not care. He would be her fool tonight even if the cold light of day brought with it their senses. “Not to mention that I have claimed you as mine.”
“Of course,” she nodded with a smile, glad that he had overcome his little snit. “I forgot that. I should have told Haldir.”
“I would have loved to have seen his face when you did,” Legolas replied before his tone because serious. “I am sorry for doubting you. You deserve better than my suspicion.”
“Do not trouble yourself,” she said sincerely. “It was flattering and Haldir means nothing to me, just as I mean nothing to him. Even though you drive me to distraction, you and I are friends.”
“Friends,” he looked at her.
“Yes,” Melia nodded.
“I do not wish to be friends,” he said finally, caving into the feelings he could no longer deny.
Allowing her no chance at escape, he slid his arms around her waist and pulled her to him in one swift moment. As their bodies crushed against each other, he sensed Melia trying to break free but he had finally summed up the courage to seize the moment and he would not yield until he had what he desired. His mouth captured hers in a soft but insistent kiss. She stiffened against him as if panicked but as he encircled her back, drawing her closer to him, Legolas felt her resistance crumble and her lips parted to give his questing tongue permission to continue.
Almost dizzy from the taste of his soft lips against hers, Melia could think of nothing when he explored her mouth with ruthless abandon. He was not unskilled at the art she soon discovered as his lips plundered hers, tasting her like she was something precious and brief.
Legolas could tell that she was afraid, even when she had allowed him the kiss. She was filled with the same inhibitions as he but he doubted even she knew the effect she was having upon him. His mouth devoured hers, he tasted her lips and felt his whole world shrink into sensation when she began to kiss him back once her senses had returned to her.
There had been other women to say for certain, however, there had always been some restraint that kept him in control, that always ensured that no matter what, he was the Prince of Mirkwood and they were there for his pleasure. The encounters had always been enjoyable for both parties but secretly, Legolas knew they lacked the emotional substance that would have made the experience truly special. Like it could be now. For days, they had flirted with each other, skirting on the edge of possibility because to admit the true nature of their feelings was to open the floodgates to a tidal wave that could never be closed.
All of her was much better than he imagined. Her scent, her taste and her touch brought out in him a raw craving for her he never dreamed could exist in a being who had lived as long as he.
“No!” She suddenly pulled away from him, leaving him shocked that she had actually retreated.
For a few seconds, Legolas could do nothing but come to grips with the realization that the pleasure they had afforded each other had come to an abrupt end.
“I’m sorry!” She gasped, mortified that she had let things get so far. “I want you so much that I cannot bear it but we are both doomed, you know that! This thing between us can only end badly.”
“It does not have to,” Legolas tried to convince her but his efforts despite his need for her was half hearted because Legolas knew Melia was right. “I am in love with you. You must know that by now.”
“I do know,” Melia nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I have fought hard how I feel for you but I cannot, I do feel the same but we have no future together.”
“Beren and Luthien had a future,” Legolas pointed out, grasping desperately at any semblance of hope, not merely for her but for himself. He knew of what she spoke, of the obstacles that lay between them but he did love her and he did not know if he could stand to be without her.
“You and I are not Beren and Luthien. She was the daughter of Melian and I am just a woman. I will grow old Prince, I will grow old and one day I will die, perhaps far sooner than either of us know. You will go on and if you bind yourself to me, you will mourn me for eternity and I do not think I can live with that.”
“That is my choice to make,” he argued, anguish in his heart because he knew she was more far sensible than he.
“If you believe that I love you,” she met his eyes firmly. “Believe that I will not sit by and let you make the choice to endure that kind of pain.”
And with that, she turned and walked away.