In Your Image

by Menel

Chapter 2. The Meeting

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The peaceful morning was interrupted by the sound of thundering hooves as a small group of riders galloped towards the White City. Three men, three elves and a lone dwarf rode along the city's perimeter, towards the city's outer gates. The guards on duty stood aside, saluting them as the company rode past. A cry of trumpets was heard, marking their arrival. A reply came from the distance, signaling that the city's gates were being opened for them.

The first rays of sunlight hit the turrets of Minas Tirith, reflecting their light over the plains. Legolas looked at the approaching city, the knot in his chest growing tighter. It was going to be a glorious day, yet the Elf felt as though he were riding to his doom. He turned to the man on his left.

"Did the summons say why my presence is needed?" he asked.

"No, Legolas," Faramir replied. It was the third time that morning the Elf had asked that question. Although the Prince gave no sign of outward distress, clearly something was amiss. "The summons merely requested that I escort you to Minas Tirith personally."

"Ha! A good thing I decided to pay a visit to Ithilien," the Dwarf spoke up from behind the Elf, "otherwise you may not have been able to accomplish even that!"

Faramir laughed and even Legolas managed a small smile. "Let us ride on then," the Man said, "for my duty is almost done."

~*~*~*~

Aragorn paced the tower room where he preferred to meet personal guests, instead of the overly formal throne room he used for state affairs. He stopped by the arching window, spreading his hands against the sill. He had seen the party pass through the city's gates moments ago. No doubt they had arrived at the courtyard by now. There was a strange feeling of anticipation he couldn't quite put his finger on. Why was this?

Warm arms encircled his waist and a body pressed against his. "[They are on their way up, my love.]"

Arwen led her husband to the table in the middle of the room where they both took a seat. Several minutes later the door opened and the Steward of Gondor walked in. Behind him came Gimli and both bowed before the King. "I have brought someone as you requested," Faramir said, "thanks to the assistance of a certain dwarf," he added with a sidelong glance.

Aragorn rose to greet his friends just as Legolas appeared in the doorway. He drew in his breath at the sight of the Elf. It had been many years since they had been in such close proximity to one another, but he had crystallized the Elf's face in his memory. Truly, Legolas was as beautiful as he remembered, perhaps even more so. Yet the King couldn't help but feel that there was something different about him. As the Elf bowed and then drew up to meet his gaze, he understood what it was. It was pain. Aragorn's heart ached with the knowledge that he was the cause of such suffering.

"I am pleased that you have come," he said, extending his hand.

Legolas accepted it in a firm warrior's handshake, much too formal for Aragorn's liking. "I am sorry for the delay," he replied.

"Legolas, how wonderful it is to see you." Arwen's skirt brushed her husband's leg as she walked past him to embrace the Elf. "Too seldom do my kin visit the White City and you most of all."

"Then I shall have to make amends."

Arwen's dark eyes glinted mischievously. "Elessar has thought of the perfect way for you to do just that." She smiled, turning to the others. "I shall leave you gentlemen now to attend to your affairs."

Faramir stepped aside to allow the Queen to pass, bowing once again as she did so.

"Let us begin." Aragorn moved back to the table. Faramir took the seat to his right while Legolas took the seat to his left, Gimli sitting on the other side of the Elf.

~*~*~*~

Legolas was only dimly aware of the conversation floating around him. Aragorn was inquiring how things fared in Ithilien. Faramir spoke of the exceptionally good harvest this year and how peaceful the border patrols had become. Legolas nodded his acquiescence every now and then when Faramir looked to him for confirmation. The discussion moved to the kingdom of Rohan and Gimli spoke proudly of the continuing work the Dwarves were doing in the Glittering Caves. All was peaceful there as well.

Legolas tried to concentrate as the talk continued. The walk up to the tower room had been sheer torture for him. It was as though his feet were turning into lead with every step he took. Now, sitting so near the man he had not seen in countless moons made his senses impossibly acute. Aragorn had been outside. The fresh scent of morning dew was still upon him, as was the faint scent of honeysuckle. He had taken a walk in the garden. Legolas could hear the slight scrape of his boot against the floor as Aragorn shifted position. Out of the corner of his eye, he observed the bristles on Aragorn's chin. *Even though he is King, he still does not shave,* he thought distractedly.

"Legolas?"

He looked up to see three faces gazing at him expectantly.

"What do you think?"

"It is a splendid idea," he heard himself answer.

Faramir nodded in agreement. "Three months is ample time to make preparations and spread the word. It shall be a magnificent celebration and no doubt the tournament will be graced by the finest warriors in the land."

"Then it is settled."

The discussion appeared to have drawn to a close. Legolas was still at a loss as to why he had been summoned, unless it had already been mentioned and he had completely missed it. His brow furrowed as he tried to replay the conversation in his mind.

"By your leave, I shall return to Ithilien," he heard Faramir say. "And what about you Gimli?"

The Dwarf looked at his friend before replying. "I shall remain here for a few days, if only to ensure that this Elf doesn't get lost in these fair halls. If you don't mind, Aragorn," he added.

Aragorn laughed. "We would be glad to have you." He stood up. Faramir and Gimli followed suit, the man letting the Dwarf go before him. Just as Legolas was about to follow them, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He stopped and turned around. "Will you walk with me? We still have other matters to discuss."

He looked into Aragorn's eyes searchingly. Such deep sea-gray eyes. He could lose himself in their depths.

"Yes, of course."

~*~*~*~

Legolas was glad to be outdoors again. He lifted his face to the sun, enjoying its warmth as he walked. Beside him Aragorn walked silently. He could feel the man observing him and idly wondered what he thought. Legolas did not know where they were headed, nor did he particularly care. He was content for the moment to pretend that fate had not dealt him such a cruel hand, that it was simply a fine, clear day and he was strolling among the gardens of the White City with the man he loved.

"You look well."

The illusion was shattered.

"As do you."

Aragorn appeared to be searching for something else to say and finally settled for, "What have you been doing these many years?"

Legolas proceeded to recount the familiar goings on in Ithilien before Aragorn stopped him. "No, Legolas. I mean, what have *you* been doing?"

The Elf tilted his head thoughtfully before answering. Aragorn could not help but admire how the sun caught the fine, silveren locks as it cascaded down his friend's shoulders. "I have kept myself occupied," he said at last. "When all is calm in Ithilien, I enjoy traveling to other lands."

"With Gimli?"

"Most of the time. He is a great source of strength for me, though I would be loath to admit it to him."

Aragorn smiled. It almost felt as though nothing had changed.

"I journey to Greenwood more often now. Father has mellowed somewhat over the years and our relationship has improved significantly."

"That is good to hear."

"Yes, he is less wary now of the race of Men," Legolas paused, "but he still dislikes the Dwarf."

"That would be putting it mildly."

Both of them laughed and a more comfortable silence followed.

"Often have I visited Ithilien only to discover that you are never there to receive me."

"The timing has been unfortunate."

"Perhaps, but in all your travels not once have you journeyed to Gondor, even though we are your nearest neighbor."

"It is precisely for that reason I prefer to visit more distant lands."

Aragorn stopped suddenly and grasped the Elf's arm, pulling him close. "I once had a friend," he whispered into the tip of a pointed ear, "with whom I shared everything. I gave him my heart and he gave me his wisdom. I would draw my strength from him and he would kiss my uncertainty and troubles away. Do you know where he is for I have missed him terribly." He drew away to look into the Elf's eyes, but did not release him from his grasp.

Legolas gazed back impassively, his flawless face giving away none of the anguish he felt inside. "You speak of another lifetime, Aragorn. Why have you summoned me here?"

A look of frustration crossed the King's face. He was about to say something else, but thought better of it. Instead, he released the Elf's arm and began walking again. Legolas easily fell into step beside him. "I have a favor to ask of you," he said after a short while. "My son has developed a keen interest in archery. He is a competent archer now, but remains unsatisfied with our instructors here. His mother has told him that the greatest archers in Middle Earth are to be found among the Eldar, particularly among her kin in Greenwood the Great, and none more highly skilled than the youngest son of Thranduil himself."

Legolas listened attentively, his curiosity piqued.

"I would be honored therefore," Aragorn continued, "if you would instruct my son in the ways of your craft. He is a swift learner and will no doubt benefit immensely from your tutelage . . . as I once did."

The Elf remained silent. It was an intriguing proposition. He remembered summer days long gone spent in open fields, a time when Aragorn was still Estel and his heritage had not yet laid claim to his destiny.

"Eldarion wishes to enter the archery competition of the upcoming commemorative celebration," the King went on. "That would give you approximately three months to train him. What do you say?"

This time the Elf turned to face him. He had never been able to refuse this Man. "I would be pleased to teach your son."

"Good." The two stood facing each other and for the first time that morning, Legolas felt as though he were truly at peace. Without quite realizing what he was doing, Aragorn lifted his hand to gently stroke the silveren mane. A lover's caress. Legolas closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. "There was never a future for us," the Man murmured sadly.

"My head knows this Aragorn," the Elf whispered, "but my heart cannot accept it."

~*~*~*~

It was much later that afternoon as Prince Eldarion was returning from the stables, tired and streaked with grime from a hard day's ride that he caught sight of a beautiful creature perched high upon a grassy knoll overlooking the city below. His long legs were drawn up to his chest and his arms were wrapped around them. A gentle breeze blew the free-flowing blond mane. Eldarion was entranced by the sight. As though the creature could sense he was being watched, he slowly turned his head and a secretive smile graced the corners of his lips. It was at that moment Eldarion knew that his heart was no longer his.

Author's Notes: Spoken Sindarin is marked by square brackets i.e. [ ].
Special thanks goes to Liadon for the beta.

 

Chapter 1