The Games We Play

by Menel

Part 3. The Consequences

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Legolas was fuming as he walked towards the Guardian’s chamber, though his quick, light steps did not betray his anger. *How dare he?* the Prince wanted to scream. How dare he presume so much? It did not matter that Haldir’s assessment had been correct. The Guardian had always done what he wanted, but this . . . this was unexpected. Legolas was not about to let the March Warden gain the upper hand, not when he had been in control all this time.

He threw open the wooden door and heard it bang against the wall as he stalked inside. He could not stay here. Not anymore. He would pack his things and leave. The thought of returning to the pavilion was not particularly appealing to him, especially since he would have to explain his sudden appearance. Still, that option was better than staying here. He despised himself for running away like a coward. He could imagine his father’s scornful words in such a situation. As he played out one of his father’s lectures in his mind, it occurred to the Prince that he did not hear the door close, as it should have after his forceful handling of it. Rounding the bed to pick up his pack, he saw a figure standing in the doorway. Taking a deep breath, Legolas looked up.

“We are not finished,” Haldir said with his arms crossed, obstinately blocking the entrance.

“I have nothing more to say to you.”

“Very well,” the Guardian said, “then you shall listen to me.”

Anger and annoyance flared in the Prince’s sapphire eyes, but he paid the Guardian no mind as he continued to gather and pack his things. Haldir stepped inside the room and moved to stand on the opposite side of the bed, his arms still crossed.

“You are a selfish and manipulative creature,” he began.

These were hardly the opening words Legolas expected to hear and he almost dropped one of his tunics in surprise.

“You are an enigma that I have been trying to decipher since my return,” Haldir continued, “but thus far, all my attempts have been thwarted. I have often asked myself, how is it possible that one who rivals the light of the sun by day, may be colder than the snow on Caradhras by night? The answer eluded me, that is, until this eve. I had an epiphany, in the form of a conversation with one of your companions, a certain reticent Ranger.”

Haldir paused to gauge the Prince’s reaction, but Legolas remained unperturbed, quietly and efficiently packing his belongings.

“He told me a story,” the Guardian said, “a very touching story about his first love. I believe you know it as well.”

Another pause. The barest hint of tension in the Prince’s fine-boned wrist.

“He learnt so much from you,” Haldir went on. “What it means to love, to trust, to draw strength from while giving yourself to someone completely. What a fine teacher you must have been.”

Laces of anger in the swift actions and the clenching of the younger Elf’s jaw.

“First loves never die, Legolas, though it might have ended badly. He loves you still, even if you refuse to believe it. He never stopped loving you.”

Hesitation. There was something familiar about the Guardian’s words but Legolas could not place them. Where had he heard them before? Then he knew. Had the Lady Galadriel not said the same thing when he stood before her knowing gaze? He looked up at Haldir in surprise.

The Guardian was scrutinizing him, his aura of age and wisdom directed solely at the woodland Prince. It made Legolas feel very young. Uncertain. Was he such an open book that the Guardian could read him at a glance? He dropped his gaze and returned his attention to his small pack, securely strapping it to his back. It was time to leave.

But Haldir was not finished. “Do not think that you can just walk away from me again, Princeling,” he said sternly. “I have not reached the heart of the matter.”

Legolas laughed scornfully. “What more is there to say?” he mocked, moving towards the table to gather his weapons.

“A great deal,” Haldir replied, following the Prince, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Legolas ignored him and picked up his bow, but Haldir swiftly grabbed his wrist in a painful grip, preventing him from strapping the bow onto his back.

“Let me go,” Legolas hissed, blue eyes glinting dangerously.

“Not until you have answered my question.”

“I do not recall being asked anything!” the Prince snapped.

Haldir tightened his grip at the young Elf’s impertinence causing the Prince to grimace, but Legolas would not give in to the pain and looked at the Guardian defiantly.

“On the Fellowship’s first night here in Caras Galadhon,” Haldir continued, “while you, Aragorn and myself conversed over a bottle of wine in that clearing, you said that he and I were similar. What did you mean by that?”

Legolas’ defiance gave way to a look of confusion as he stared at the older Elf. “What are you talking about?” he exclaimed. “Have you gone mad?”

“If I have,” Haldir countered, “it is because you have driven me to it. Now answer the question!”

“What answer do you wish to hear?” Legolas shot back, infuriating the Guardian even more.

“I am familiar with your evasive tactics, young Prince,” Haldir said stonily, not relinquishing the Elf’s wrist. “They will not work tonight. Answer the question!” he repeated.

Legolas pursed his lips together and said nothing. Haldir noticed that the Prince no longer struggled to free his wrist, but neither was he about to indulge the Guardian with an answer. They stood like this for several long moments, neither one about to give in to the other’s demands. Haldir’s hand began to ache from gripping the Prince’s wrist so tightly, and he knew that Legolas must have begun to feel the first signs of numbness creep into his wrist. Finally, Haldir sighed. It was always the same. Why did he feel so defeated around Legolas?

“I am tired of playing games,” he said quietly. “It should not be this way. Can you not see how very wrong it is? What we do . . . how we treat one another . . .” The Guardian trailed off, shaking his head. There was still no response from the Prince. What could he say or do to get through to him?

“You are not the first to be hurt by love and you will not be the last,” Haldir tried again. “You are still so young, Legolas. Already you close yourself off to those who would offer you comfort, love and protection. It is not weakness to rely on the strength of others. You live in isolation, in your own tower of ice. I would change that,” he said, searching the Elf’s eyes for some sort of reaction. “I would show you what it means to trust and love again. I would offer you–”

“What, Haldir?” Legolas taunted, sapphire eyes flaring to life. “What would you offer me?”

“I would offer you my love.”

The Prince laughed then and the sound was cold and cruel to the Guardian’s ears.

“Dear, sweet Haldir,” Legolas said, his normally gentle and melodic voice dripping with pity. The blue eyes were bereft of any kindness and they gleamed like steel in the suddenly chilly room. “You are tired of playing games?” he mocked. “May I remind you that it was none other than yourself who began our little charade when you named me as the price for our company’s passage through Lórien? What have you to say to that?”

The reminder was like a slap to the Guardian’s face. How could Legolas possibly know? He was certain that Aragorn had not told the Prince. Reading the confusion in the other Elf’s eyes, Legolas calmly said, “The Eldar are blessed with the gift of extraordinary hearing.”

Although visibly shaken, Haldir quickly composed himself, automatically tightening his grip on the slender wrist. “I do not deny that our ‘relationship’ began on the basis of a bargain,” he said evenly, “and you have justly punished me for my folly. But nor do I believe,” he added, “that such a childish wager is the sole reason behind your actions. You are far too complicated a being to act so simple-mindedly. No,” he shook his head, “we have moved beyond that. And now that I have answered your question, will you have the grace to answer mine?”

Legolas looked away, but not before Haldir glimpsed the turbulence in his eyes. The Prince was trapped, metaphorically and physically, for he realized that he was standing with his back to the corner of the room. On his left was Haldir’s writing desk; to his right was the small table where he kept his weapons. It was a small chamber. The door could not have been more than twelve paces away. *Escape!* was the thought first and foremost in his mind, but Haldir blocked his path and that cursed question rung in his ears. Why had he said that Aragorn and Haldir were similar? Did he even know the answer anymore? His heart knew, but his mind would not dwell on the matter. It hurt to think about it. Aware that he was reaching his breaking point but refusing to give in, Legolas instinctively unsheathed one of his long white knives from the edge of the table, and in a movement swifter than the mortal eye could follow, drew it against Haldir’s throat, taking the Guardian by surprise.

“Let me go,” he said again, his eyes pleading with the Guardian to take this no further.

Haldir arched a delicate eyebrow and studied the frightened creature in front of him. He believed in his heart that Legolas was attacking out of love and fear, even though the Prince could not admit it.

“You would fight me?” he asked gently.

“If I must,” came the whispered reply, the usually tranquil features etched with sorrow and sadness. His wrist was released and Legolas quickly strapped his bow and quiver onto his back. He looked up just in time to see Haldir draw the two ceremonial long knives from the wall behind the table. The Guardian turned to face him, the finely carved, silver blades held firmly in his hands.

“These are Noldorin knives,” he told the Prince. “A gift from the Lady Galadriel. They are very old measured by our lifetimes. They have seen battle and shed blood. They have fought for all that is good and true, upholding our beliefs in the face of darkness and defeat. They will fight for you.”

Legolas swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as the Guardian spoke. He had played the game badly indeed for it to come to this, but he would see his actions through. With unwavering determination, he slipped off his pack and bow. Then he unsheathed his second knife and moved to stand in front of Haldir. Both warriors had not seen the other fight before, but both were aware of each other’s prowess in battle. As they circled one another in the small room, Haldir thought with an ironic half-smile what a relief it was that Legolas had chosen to draw his knife instead of his bow. His concentration returned to the task at hand as Legolas made the first move, drawing his knife in a slicing arc that Haldir met and parried, bringing his other knife around to deal his own blow. Legolas easily deflected it and soon the two Elves were engaged in combat. The only sound to be heard was the singing of their blades as they met and clashed in the heavy stillness of the room.

Haldir poured all his passion into the fight. For too long had he kept his emotions bottled up inside, this love that he felt that could not be expressed now manifested itself in battle. He knew that he was breaking one of his own tenets, to never let his actions be guided by his emotions in combat. But this case was different. The Guardian believed that only passion would overpower the Prince and raze his foundations of ice.

Legolas could feel his resolving weakening. It was tearing him inside to fight Haldir in this way. The Guardian’s passion was engulfing. He could feel it with each strike, each deflected bow. His own actions appeared mechanical by comparison. He fought out of instinct, not conviction. It would be so easy to just give in, to not be in control, but he had never known surrender before. The fight continued and the two competitors were evenly matched.

As the contest grew more heated, the Guardian’s chamber began to suffer the consequences of their match. A chair was knocked over as Legolas fell against it, holding it up to block Haldir’s next blow. The silver basin was toppled from the chest of drawers as Haldir’s wrist snapped against the carved dresser, forcing the Elf to drop one of his blades. The jug of water clattered after it, spilling its contents onto the wooden floor. Haldir’s free hand connected with the Prince’s jaw, momentarily stunning the younger Elf. The Guardian took this opportunity to dive at the Prince, grabbing Legolas’ right arm and savagely twisting it behind him until he heard Legolas’ white blade fall to the floor. Then he forced Legolas onto the bed that stood opposite the dresser. The Prince no longer struggled, but defiance still burned in his eyes as he sought to regain his breath. Haldir held the tip of his last blade against the Prince’s exposed throat, but he did not pierce the tender flesh. His stormy eyes were filled with confusion and unanswered questions. He had to know.

“Why?” he whispered brokenly. “Why will you not accept my love?”

“Because I do not want it!” Legolas burst out. “I have never wanted it!”

The Prince took a moment to calm himself and school his features to their normal bland indifference, while watching the shock and defeat register on Haldir’s expressive face. He looked the Guardian squarely in the eye and said with utter finality, “I do not need your love.”

Haldir released him without a word. As he stood over the bed looking down at the Prince, coldness began to creep into his heart. For the first time, he understood what had driven Legolas to become this way, why it was easier to remain distant and unaffected rather than give yourself over to such pain. A shroud fell over his eyes. The Mirkwood Prince was a prize indeed, beautiful and unattainable. He shone with the brilliance of the finest jewels, but was as incapable of feeling as those lifeless stones. Neither could he be possessed or owned, merely admired from afar. This was not enough for Haldir. Not when he had touched the possibility that lay beneath that cold veneer. Without saying a word, he turned around and left the room.

Legolas lay on the soft bed and shifted his body to release the arm that had been pinned behind his back. Pain shot through it at the movement, mirroring the acute stab he felt in his heart. *Why do you despair?* a voice asked him. You have won, as you always do.

“If that is the case,” the Prince said aloud to the empty room, “why do I feel so defeated?”

~*~*~*~

Legolas felt as though his world had been turned upside down. He was living in a strange alternative reality where events replayed themselves in reverse. Haldir left again the following morning, this time without good-bye or farewell. The Prince only heard of his departure through the Guardian’s younger brother, Orophin, who had answered Pippin’s inquiring questions as he had passed by the pavilion.

“How strange!” Pippin said. “He must have some terribly important business to attend to if he had to leave so quickly. He didn’t even have time to say good-bye. We will see him again before we leave, won’t we?” he asked Orophin hopefully.

“I am not certain,” the Elf replied. He looked up and met the Prince’s inscrutable gaze. “What do you think, Legolas?”

Legolas gazed back impassively. Finally he stood up without answering the question and said, “Your pardon. I must meet Gimli for our morning walk.”

“He is also acting strangely,” Pippin muttered as he and Orophin watched the Prince disappear into the woods.

After his confrontation with Haldir the previous eve, Legolas did not have the heart to return to the pavilion immediately and face the questions of the others. Instead, he had wandered around Caras Galadhon until the city slept and he became a silent ghost. The Prince had walked and walked, leaving no trace of his passing though his feet felt like lead. Eventually his body had sought rest and he found himself standing at the edge of the pavilion, unaware of when or how he had made his way back. Taking care not to disturb the others, he thread his way through his sleeping companions until he reached his own untouched bed. Then he gently put down his belongings and stretched himself out on the soft folds. He had not slept in the bed since the Fellowship’s arrival at the Elven city.

If his companions were surprised at his sudden appearance the following morning, they did a remarkable job of not showing it. Even Pippin managed to rein in his curiosity after a few well-placed kicks and shoves from Merry, and the occasional warning glance from Frodo. It was clear to all of them that something was amiss, but the Elf’s problems were his own and they each had too much discretion to add to the Prince’s concerns. At least, that was Gimli’s reasoning until he had the chance to confront Legolas when they were alone.

The opportunity came soon enough as the Dwarf watched the Prince approach him, always on time for their daily excursion.

“How fare you this morning, Master Elf?” he asked jovially, knowing that the question would irk the Prince.

“As fair as the day and the morning breeze,” Legolas replied.

“The day is overcast and the breeze is chilly,” Gimli observed.

“Winter approaches and with it the frost,” the Elf answered. “Arien will no longer shine so high in the sky.” He arched an eyebrow at the Dwarf, waiting to see if his companion would continue this little metaphor.

Gimli let out a small grunt. This was as dark a mood as he had ever seen the Elf in, save perhaps for their journey across the mines of Moria. He would have to try a different tactic in order to get through to his hardheaded friend.

“Then where can we go that the breeze may be warmer and the sunshine brighter?” he asked.

“I shall leave our destination to you,” Legolas said with a sweep of his hand, indicating that the Dwarf should lead the way. Gimli eyed him suspiciously before turning around and marching into the wood. “Though I should warn you,” the Elf added as he followed his friend, “that the breeze will remain cool wherever we go, and neither have we any control of the sunlight that falls on our path.”

“We shall see about that,” Gimli muttered under his breath, but not so quietly that the Elf’s keen hearing did not pick up his words.

The two companions walked deeper into an area of the wood that they had never passed through before. Legolas did not believe that Gimli had any clue as to where they were headed, but he followed faithfully, the faintest smile on his lips. As it turned out, the Elf’s assumption was correct but the Dwarf would have been the last to admit it. Besides, he told himself, it wasn’t as if they were lost. No, not at all! They were merely exploring a different part of the wood. If only all these trees didn’t look the same, he thought ruefully with a glance about him.

At last, feeling the ache in his legs and the shortness of breath, Gimli paused in front of a great mallorn, easily eleven feet in diameter and turned to the Elf with a satisfied smile.

“A fine place for a rest and a bit of refreshment,” he declared, sitting down on the forest floor and leaning against one of the large protruding roots.

Legolas agreed and perched on an even larger root opposite the Dwarf, his eyes scanning the surrounding area as his hands absently untied a small pouch that contained fresh berries.

Gimli let out an exasperated sigh.

“Can you at least not make yourself comfortable?” he asked irritably.

“I am quite comfortable,” Legolas replied, delicately picking at his berries.

“Perhaps if you were a bird,” Gimli retorted.

The Prince fixed the Dwarf with a long look before he stretched his legs and gracefully slid down the root to settle onto the forest floor. He crossed his legs, leaned back against the root and arched an eyebrow at the Dwarf as if to say, “Better?”

Gimli grunted again before taking a long draught from his flask and Legolas took this to mean that the Dwarf approved. They ate in silence for a while, the Elf thankful that his friend had chosen the path of discretion and did not question him about Haldir’s noticeable absence.

He was sorely mistaken.

“What have you done to drive Haldir away?”

Legolas choked on a berry.

“I beg your pardon?” he managed to gasp in a rather undignified manner.

“You heard me,” Gimli retorted. “What have you done to drive Haldir away?”

“Consuming ale too early in the morning has gone to your head,” Legolas replied with a shake of his head.

“And you skillfully avoid subjects that you do not wish to discuss,” Gimli said. “That will not work today.”

Legolas sighed. That answer sounded disturbingly familiar as well. However, in the light of day surrounded by the peacefulness of the wood, he felt better equipped to handle the Dwarf’s tough questions than he had the night before, when he had been trapped and confronted by Haldir’s harsh realities.

“We had a disagreement,” he said at last.

“A disagreement?” the Dwarf repeated disbelievingly, giving the Elf a long, hard look.

“A minor confrontation,” Legolas revised.

“I see.”

There was a lengthy pause.

“Will you tell me what this confrontation was about?” Gimli inquired. “Or must I wrench that out of you as well?”

The Prince glared at his pigheaded friend, who returned the look with equal conviction. The Dwarf was surprised when the Elf backed down, understanding for the first time how heavily the issue weighed on his friend’s shoulders. He waited patiently for the Prince to speak.

“Haldir and I are friends,” Legolas said quietly.

Gimli chose not to comment on such a blatantly obvious statement. He dared not open his mouth for fear that a quick retort might slip out.

“But do you know how that friendship began?” the Elf continued.

The Dwarf shook his head.

“When we first entered Lórien and encountered Haldir and his brothers, he was reluctant to grant us sanctuary. In fact, he refused.”

“Perhaps at first,” Gimli interjected, “but Aragorn had a few words with him to change his mind.”

“Yes,” Legolas agreed, looking up at the overcast sky. “Our resourceful leader did have a talk with Haldir.” Then he directed his gaze at his friend, instantly reminding Gimli of the Elf’s long years. “The condition for our safe passage was that Haldir would be allowed to pursue his interest in me without any interference on Aragorn’s part.”

Gimli raised an eyebrow. This was certainly news to him.

“The bargain became irrelevant the following day,” Legolas said offhandedly, “when Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel granted our passage.”

“Somehow I do not think it remained ‘irrelevant’ in your eyes,” the Dwarf commented.

Legolas gave a small smile. “How well you know me,” he said with a slight inclination of his head. “No, such agreements are not easily forgotten, especially by one who is bartered like some petty bauble.” The Prince’s voice had grown hard as he spoke. “I wanted to teach Haldir a lesson, to punish him for thinking that I am nothing more than a prized jewel, another conquest that he may add to others before. What better way to do it, I reasoned, than to beat him at his own game?”

Gimli nodded silently, trying to comprehend this new side of Legolas that he had not glimpsed before. The Elf was far more cunning and scheming than he had given the Prince credit for. He would not like to be on the receiving end of the Elf’s wrath, for Legolas’ skill lay in intrigue and manipulation. These were courtly weapons, which, when used at the appropriate time, were more accurate and deadly than the sharpest blade.

“But my plans went awry,” the Elf confessed. “For during our first night in Caras Galadhon as we conversed under the evening sky, I began to see that there was more to Haldir than met the eye. True kindness and nobility that I had only caught glimpses of during our journey here. Then he left so quickly the following morning.” The Prince shook his head. “I tried to put him out of my mind, but he haunted my thoughts and I found myself patiently waiting for his return. I no longer knew what approach to take when I saw him again, but he solved that dilemma for me, laying the path of friendship before us that I gladly accepted. However, together with friendship, passion grew and I failed, Gimli!” Legolas exclaimed with dismay. “I failed to separate the two.” He shook his head, the familiar feeling of defeat washing over him. “That much is clear to me now.”

“Aye, it is clear to me as well,” the Dwarf agreed. “You love him.”

The Elf sat perfectly still, studying his companion with his implacable gaze.

“I am willing to wager,” Gimli continued, “that this bargain you mentioned was not the basis of your confrontation last night. I believe that you quarreled over love – love freely offered and denied. Why do you fear love, Legolas?”

“How can you speak of love at a time like this?” the Prince asked, his voice devoid of any emotion. “We stand on the edge of a precipice and shadows lengthen around us. As our quest becomes more perilous, our chances of success grow slim. There is nothing but darkness and despair on our path and yet you choose to speak to me about love?”

“Grave are your words, Master Elf,” Gimli said seriously, “and bleak is the truth you speak. That is why there is no better time to discuss love. It is a bottomless well from which we draw our strength to continue. Can you not see this wondrous gift that has been offered to you at your time of greatest need? Love is why we fight, why hope lives on.”

“We fight for all that is good and true,” Legolas countered. “For our families, our kingdoms and our people. We fight so that we may stay free.”

“And is love not the basis for all these things?”

The Elf laughed suddenly, shaking his head. “Who would have guessed that you are such a hopeless romantic?” he exclaimed.

“And you are an incorrigible cynic!” was the Dwarf’s swift reply.

The two friends fell into another silence, but Gimli was not about to let the subject go so easily. He leaned forward and said sternly, “Listen to me, Legolas and do not interrupt! I do not know what happened in your past to make you shy away from love. But I do know that without it you are an empty shell, hollow and incomplete. I would account you, my dear friend, the greatest of fools to reject what Haldir offers. Our time here is ending and you have wasted much of it with childish games and challenges. We both know what toils lay ahead. If we fail and the lands are covered in darkness, then that is all the more reason why you should make the most of what time you have left. I can think of nothing worse than to leave this sacred realm with only the bitter taste of regret in your heart.”

Legolas listened thoughtfully, but did not reply. Gimli sighed. The Elf’s stubbornness could be maddening. A rather Dwarvish trait, he thought with a wry smile. Finally, the Prince stood up.

“We had best be on our way,” he said indifferently. “It shall be time for lunch by the time we return.” He waited while the Dwarf got to his feet and picked up his axe and then proceeded to lead them back the way they had come. He could hear Gimli’s heavy footfalls behind him and the unmistakable feeling of annoyed frustration that emanated from every step. He smiled to himself and said, “The sun is shining brightly now, wouldn’t you say?”

Gimli looked up. The clouds had indeed moved on and his eyes were greeted by a clear blue sky. “Aye,” he agreed gruffly. “The weather has improved, but the breeze is still too cool for my liking, as you said it would remain wherever we went.”

“The breeze is cool,” the Elf admitted, “but it blows with the freshness of spring and not the frost of winter. Come, Gimli,” he encouraged, picking up the pace. “I have things to do.”

The Dwarf did not complain as he hurried to catch up with the Elf’s long strides. Spring was the season for new beginnings. Perhaps he had gotten through to his stubborn friend after all.

~*~*~*~

By the time Gimli returned to the pavilion, the rest of the Fellowship had already begun the midday meal.

“Our apologies Master Dwarf,” Boromir greeted, “for starting without you. We waited for as long as possible. At least, until Pippin’s pleas became more than we could bear.”

The Man gave the youngest Hobbit a conspiratorial wink. Pippin would have given his own retort if his mouth hadn’t been stuffed with Elven sweetmeat.

“Where is Legolas?” Aragorn asked suddenly, noticing the Elf’s conspicuous absence.

“Ah, yes. The Elf,” Gimli said in no hurry to answer the question. He was famished from the long walk and quickly piled his own plate with food, unaware that six pairs of eyes had expectedly turned on him.

“Yes?” Aragorn prodded, watching with minor annoyance as the Dwarf took a hearty bite from his rabbit leg.

“Mmm . . . mmm . . .” Gimli mumbled contentedly while chewing. The Ranger followed the Dwarf’s stocky hand as Gimli washed his rabbit down with a gulp of wine. Brushing the back of his arm across his thick beard, the Dwarf idly wondered why the normally placid Ranger seemed agitated by the Elf’s nonattendance. “Legolas,” he began, “has some business to attend to. I suspect that he shall not be joining us for dinner either,” he added.

“Well,” Pippin finally managed to say. “Everyone seems to be occupied today. First Haldir and now Legolas.”

Aragorn continued his meal, absently bringing a piece of bread to his lips as he pondered Pippin’s words. It did seem strange that both Elves had mysteriously disappeared. Then there was the Dwarf! Gimli sat in his seat with a look of complete self-satisfaction. He was extremely pleased about something and the Man suspected that it was not only the hearty lunch that brought a smile to the Dwarf’s face.

~*~*~*~

Legolas wandered around the lower area of the city searching for a particular Elf. He soon found him sitting under a mallorn tree with three other companions. He approached the group and noticed how the laughter faded as the three companions became aware of his presence. They watched him expectantly, one of them gesturing to the Elf still speaking that they had a guest.

Orophin turned around and was unable to hide his surprise at seeing the Mirkwood Prince before him. “May I help you?” he asked politely.

“Yes,” Legolas answered. “I was hoping to have a word with you.”

Orophin studied the fair creature before him, his surprise quickly covered by an unreadable expression. His brother had chosen well, he thought to himself, but had paid a high price. After a moment, he nodded and stood up, excusing himself from his friends. For a while, the two Elves walked in silence until Orophin was quite certain that they were alone.

“What do you wish to discuss?” he asked the Prince.

“I must speak with your brother,” Legolas answered instantly.

Orophin stiffened slightly. “That will be difficult,” he said evenly, “for my brother has already returned to the northern border.”

“Then you must take me to him!” Legolas said emphatically.

The Lórien Elf stopped abruptly and turned to face the Prince, arching a golden eyebrow at this rare display of emotion. Legolas also stopped walking and took a deep breath before speaking again.

“I have wronged your brother,” he said simply, “and I have hurt him terribly. I must set things right between us. I do not expect Haldir to forgive me, but nor can I leave Lothlórien without voicing my heart’s desires. For too long have I let my actions been governed by my mind and rational thought. Your brother has taught me not to silence my heart, for it is the most powerful voice of all. I am a better person because of him. Please, Orophin,” Legolas pleaded. “Help me do what we both know is right.”

Silence followed the Prince’s confession and with it Legolas’ hopes diminished. He did not know what Haldir had divulged to his brother about their relationship, but it certainly could not have painted him in a favorable light. He sighed, looking at the grass beneath his feet and waited for the inevitable rejection. But it did not happen.

“There is a patrol headed to the northern border later this afternoon,” Orophin began. “It just so happens that I shall be leading them. We will meet at the main gate in two hours.”

Legolas lifted his face and was greeted by Orophin’s kind smile. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.

~*~*~*~

It was well past dusk when the patrol crossed the fair stream of Nimrodel on Lothlórien’s northern border. After a few quiet instructions from their Captain, the rest of the patrol disappeared soundlessly into their usual designated spots, but Orophin motioned for Legolas to follow him and the Prince did so obligingly. They traveled a little way farther before Orophin stopped and pointed at a sturdy mallorn not more than ten feet away from them.

“Haldir is waiting for me there,” he explained. “I will see him first to deliver my report. Should I tell him that you are here?”

“No,” Legolas replied. “He may refuse to see me.”

Orophin did not actually believe that this would be the case. Nevertheless, he nodded in agreement and left the Prince to see his brother. Legolas waited at the foot of the great mallorn, silently pacing in front of the tree. He could not remember the last time he had been this nervous, absently wringing his hands as he walked. Not even the threat of upcoming battle could bring him to such a state of agitated anticipation. All too soon, Orophin descended the gray rope ladder and motioned for the Prince to go up. Legolas grasped the sturdy rope, but did not climb it. An encouraging squeeze on his shoulder from the Guardian’s brother made up his mind. He gave Orophin a grateful smile and then swiftly climbed the ladder. He emerged onto the wide talan and immediately saw Haldir standing on the far side.

The Guardian stood with his back to the Prince, intently watching the area below him. Sensing a presence behind him, he said lightheartedly as he turned around, “Have you forgotten something, dear brother?”

The smile quickly faded from his lips when he saw who greeted him. Legolas inwardly cringed at the stony expression on the Guardian’s face, the hurt and resentment that emanated from his very being. These were feelings that he knew all too well.

“Haldir,” he began and then faltered. He did not know how to make amends. *Speak from your heart,* a voice told him and for the first time, the Prince listened.

“I am sorry,” he tried again. “I am sorry for everything. I could not have been more wrong and I have treated you abominably.” Legolas took a hesitant step forward, trying to gauge the Guardian’s reaction to his words. He marked how Haldir stood, his body tense as though ready for flight, his hands balled into fists at his sides, a sign of retaliation. “I do not expect you to forgive me,” he continued, “but I beg of you to at least hear me out.”

Silence. Only an imperceptible nod from the Guardian let Legolas know that he was given permission to continue. But then Haldir turned his back on the Prince and Legolas was disheartened by the gesture. He steeled himself for what would happen next. He was facing the consequences of his game and he would see his actions through.

“You wanted to know why I said that you and Aragorn were similar,” the Prince said, picking up the final thread of their confrontation from the night before. “On that first night in Caras Galadhon, as we conversed under the boughs of the golden trees, I began to see that I had underestimated you. There is nobility beneath your façade; kindness, goodness and integrity underlie all your actions – the true strength of a warrior and a leader. You managed to touch a part of me that I thought had been sealed by another.” Legolas chuckled softly. “I was instantly attracted to you from the first moment we met,” he admitted, “but I did my best not to show it. I overheard your bargain with Aragorn as snatches of it were carried by the wind, enough for me to piece it together. I was angry that you thought so lowly of me, no more than another conquest for your bed. I wanted to punish you,” he said quietly. “I wanted to punish both of you.”

The Prince stopped and sighed. There was still no reaction from Haldir, no easing of the tension in the Guardian’s shoulders and a sense of futility began to creep over him. He took a few steps closer to the Guardian, as if by bridging the physical distance between them, he would also be able to close the emotional divide. He spoke again, attempting to strengthen the conviction in his voice.

“I knew what I wanted to do,” Legolas said, “but you confused me, Haldir, and led my plans astray. You left so suddenly,” he almost exclaimed, “and all I had was time and memories of that one wondrous night of possibility to dwell on until your return. I waited for you,” the Prince confessed, “uncertain of what I would do when you finally arrived. You solved that problem for me by choosing the path of friendship, and as it deepened with the passing days I tried to forget the bargain that had become the foundation of our relationship. But it was impossible! I craved your touch, your scent, your nearness! I ached for you. And I suspected,” he said quietly, deliberately, “that you felt the same way.”

By the time Legolas had finished speaking, he was standing immediately behind the Guardian, not more than a foot away. He could feel the electricity between them, charging and igniting the night air. He wanted to reach out and place his hand on Haldir’s broad shoulder, but he did not dare.

“I could not bear the thought of being another conquest to you,” he whispered, “but I wanted you nonetheless. And I thought,” Legolas said, dropping his voice so low that Haldir had to strain to hear his words, “that I could have it both ways. I was wrong. I’m sorry, Haldir. I’m so sorry. You did not deserve that. I’m sorry,” he apologized over and over again.

Legolas could feel his chest constricting; it was becoming difficult to breathe. The Prince was afraid that he would faint and his mind balked at the idea. Nevertheless, his knees had grown weak. He needed to sit down, but for some reason he found himself being held up instead of sprawled on the talan floor. It took a moment for him to realize that the Guardian’s strong arms supported him, but when he looked into Haldir’s face, no warmth and kindness greeted him, just the same unreadable expression. Legolas wanted to push him away. It was too painful to see what he had done to this proud and beautiful Elf, but he did not have the strength. This was not the Haldir he knew, he thought bitterly, closing his eyes in resignation.

“You cannot have it both ways.”

The Guardian’s voice cut like steel through the heavy silence. Legolas’ eyes flew open, apprehension apparent on his face.

“Therefore,” Haldir continued in the same monotonous tone, “you must choose. What do you want, Legolas?”

Legolas thought his heart would burst from this single grain of hope as he gazed into Haldir’s gray eyes. “I want you. Only you,” he said softly, hardly daring to breathe. “If you will have me.”

Once again, there was no reaction from Haldir but Legolas could see the turbulence in his eyes. Emotions were warring within the Guardian, and after what felt like an eternity to the young Prince, the Lórien Elf rested his head on the Prince’s forehead, still undecided. Legolas made his mind up for him when the Prince tilted his head upwards and brushed his lips against the Guardian’s. That small touch sent fire through his veins and he was aware of Legolas’ palm against his chest, where only the night before the Prince had pushed him away with a bronze goblet. He covered the Prince’s hand with his own and held it against his heart, while tightening his hold around the Elf’s slender waist with his other arm. Legolas was smiling now, hesitantly, but there was an unmistakable emotion in his eyes that the Guardian had longed to see. The black shroud that had settled over his eyes lifted, and through the remaining haze, he bent down to kiss the Prince.

Legolas returned the kiss eagerly, his free hand snaking up Haldir’s back to pull the Elf closer. The kiss could have lasted forever, but the young Elf was impatient, pulling the Guardian down with him onto the wooden floor. He slipped off his bow and quiver while Haldir assisted him with his long knives. The urgent kisses continued as clothes were shed. Legolas could not get enough of the taste of Haldir. This felt right. He had been such a fool to deny this for so long. Nothing had been gained and so much time had been lost. He spread his legs, inviting the Guardian to lie between them. Haldir did so, settling comfortably in between the Prince’s thighs, laying his body on top of the younger Elf. The urgency faded from their touches. There was no need to rush. The gentle exploration continued filled with tender touches and sweet caresses. It was unlike anything they had done before, Legolas reflected, burying his head in the Guardian’s long mane, kissing and licking the exposed neck. He thought of how he had branded Haldir on that night long ago and he could have wept. He searched for the Guardian’s lips and finding them, kissed Haldir deeply, trying to forever rid himself of that dreadful memory. Their kisses spoke volumes to both Elves, conveying more in their heat and passion than words could have ever done.

“I have nothing to prepare you,” Haldir said regretfully when his desire became too great. He rubbed his hardened member against the Prince’s thigh, then brought their erections together in a sizzling touch. Legolas shifted restlessly beneath him, trying to increase the contact.

“It does not matter,” Legolas said tenderly, wrapping his legs around the Guardian’s waist, preventing him from pulling away. “It will be a good pain.”

Then he reached down in between their bodies and took the Guardian in hand, coaxing some of the pearly essence from the tip with his touch, using the fluid as a lubricant with which to coat Haldir. The Lórien Elf had become fascinated with the Prince’s collarbone, kissing and licking across the smooth flesh until Legolas sighed in contentment. When the Prince was done with his preparations, he guided the shaft to his tight opening, placing it at the entrance before wrapping his arms around the Guardian and pulling him close.

“I am ready,” he whispered.

Legolas waited, his breathing slow and even as Haldir filled him, his body welcoming the invasion as it never had before. Once he was fully sheathed, Haldir paused for a kiss, almost losing himself in its slow tempo until the upward thrust of Legolas’ hips reminded him that further pleasure awaited.

“Impatient Elf!” the Guardian teased.

“The impatience of youth is tempered by our stamina and resilience,” the Prince countered, drawing the Guardian even deeper with his actions, causing Haldir to suck in his breath at the extreme tightness that surrounded him.

“Is that a challenge?” he asked, withdrawing slightly.

“Only if you feel you are up to it,” the Prince replied with a fey smile.

He received his answer when Haldir thrust into him unexpectedly, hitting his pleasure spot with ease. Legolas cried out at the contact, the flash of pleasure obliterating any previous pain.

“The others will know what we are doing,” Haldir chided, purposely stilling again even as Legolas moved restlessly beneath him. “You may even alert the Enemy’s servants to our presence.”

“You will have to find a way to silence me then,” Legolas breathed, indigo eyes lit with the flames of passion.

Haldir smiled, the perfect solution entering his mind. As he bent down to kiss the Prince again, he realized that a new sort of game had begun.

~*~*~*~

Later, as two golden Elves lay wrapped in between the gray blankets that Legolas had insisted on laying out on the talan floor, the Prince found that he could not rest. He was content and sated; Haldir’s arm wrapped protectively around his waist, drawing him against the Guardian’s body, yet an unbidden thought remained at the back of his mind.

“What troubles you?” a soothing voice whispered in his ear.

“Not us,” Legolas replied reassuringly, turning around so that he could look at Haldir.

“You still think of him then?” the Guardian asked, mildly curious.

“Yes,” the Prince admitted, “but that is no cause for jealousy,” he quickly added, placing his hand on Haldir’s chest. Legolas carefully chose his words before speaking again. “When the Fellowship was presented before the Lord and the Lady,” he began, “the Lady Galadriel read each of our hearts in turn. I know not what she said to the others, for we chose not to share this most intimate of secrets, but to me she spoke of strength and weakness. I did not understand her words at the time, but now they have become clear to me.” Legolas looked up as he caressed the Guardian’s face with his fingertips. “You are my strength, Haldir,” he said lovingly, “and I have found you only in my moment of greatest weakness. I understand now that there are times when we must surrender ourselves completely to another and trust in their strength and love.”

“The Lady Galadriel is wise indeed,” Haldir chuckled softly, kissing the Prince on the forehead.

“Yes,” Legolas agreed, “but her words carry a deeper meaning. You are not the only one that I have treated unjustly,” he said seriously. “I have harbored bitterness in my heart since my parting with Aragorn, and though the time has been short measured in the way of Elves, it has been many long seasons to a Man.” He sighed. “I have yet to make my peace with him and I know that he is weary from our quest, burdened by responsibility and the weight of his destiny. I have done nothing to ease his cares. On the contrary, I fear that I have added to them. He will need my strength in the dark days to come.”

Legolas had been absently tracing the contours of the Guardian’s chest and forearm as he spoke, finally resting his hand on Haldir’s hip.

“And yet,” he said hesitantly, a familiar mischievous glint in his eye, “when I reflect on that bargain he made upon entering the Golden Wood, I am still overcome with a desire to punish him for his actions.”

“We return to that cursed bargain yet again,” Haldir groaned.

“And I certainly hope that you have learned your lesson,” the Prince playfully chastised, tapping his fingers on the Guardian’s hip.

“I have learnt it well,” Haldir swiftly replied, capturing Legolas’ hand and bringing it to his lips to kiss it. “However,” he continued, “if the sort of lesson you wish to teach the dear Ranger is anything like the one you have taught me, the Man may be scarred for life. Is it not contradictory to punish Aragorn when you wish to make peace with him?”

“It may appear that way at first,” Legolas conceded, “but I believe that I have thought of a way to do both at the same time without scarring Aragorn for life.” He smiled seductively. “I will however, leave my mark on his heart.”

Haldir shook his head, but he could not help smiling at his lover. “You have already done that, you wicked, wicked Elf,” he whispered, pulling the Prince closer.

“No more wicked than you,” Legolas replied with a gentle kiss, draping his leg over the Guardian’s waist. “Will you help me, Haldir?”

“But of course,” was the Guardian’s sly reply.  

Part 2