In Your Image
Chapter 3. The Kiss
--------------------------------------------------------It was the fifth morning of Eldarion's archery lessons and already the young man had shown marked improvement. He was, as his father had said, a competent archer, but Legolas discerned nearly imperceptible flaws in the mortal's technique. He knew Eldarion could be better. Much better. He would see to it that the youth made full use of his potential.
However, the archer felt that the Prince's mind was not entirely focused on the task at hand. There was something distracting him and until the Elf could find out what that was, his teaching would be hampered. Legolas pondered this as he drew another arrow and took aim.
For his part, Eldarion watched the Elf transfixed. Never before had he seen such grace and fluidity wielded through bow and arrow. Legolas moved as though he were one with his bow, as though it were an extension of his very arm. He drew and fired with such a startling economy of movement, not once missing his mark.
Eldarion found his eyes roaming the rest of the lithe figure before him. The Elf seemed so fragile, but he knew enormous strength belied the deceptively slender frame. His father had told him many a bedtime story involving the heroics of the Elven warrior. He had no doubt that the Elf had mastered many other arts aside from those of war. His eyes came to rest on the slim, long-fingered hands. There were more intimate skills those elegant hands had practiced. His gaze moved to the sensuous mouth. Such soft lips. He could almost feel his skin being caressed by tender kisses. *What would the Elf taste like?* he wondered. *What kind of lover would Legolas be?*
The Man felt himself blush slightly at the sound of his name. He drove away the thoughts that filled his mind. Now was not the time. Legolas was waiting for him to take his turn. He picked up his bow and stepped up to the firing line. He drew an arrow, carefully adjusting the position of his arm as Legolas had taught him. He fired. Legolas watched silently as Eldarion released arrow after arrow into the air.
When he was done, he turned towards the Elf expectantly. Legolas held his gaze and Eldarion found himself captivated once more.
"That was better," the Elf finally said, "but you are still dropping the position of your arm in consecutive shots. Here, let me show you."
Eldarion held his breath as Legolas moved behind him. Strong arms covered his own and the Elf's hands began guiding his. Legolas' instructions were lost on him; all he could hear was the drumbeat of his own heart. It was threatening to burst from his chest. Surely, the Elf could feel it. He concentrated on his breathing, allowing Legolas to guide him through the motions.
Legolas could feel the young man's body tense at his touch. It saddened him to think that the Prince was uncomfortable by his nearness. "That will be enough for today," he said at last. "We will continue again tomorrow."
Eldarion felt the loss as the Elf stepped away. He watched as Legolas walked towards the targets to retrieve his arrows.
A messenger approached the practice range and bowed respectfully before the Prince. "Your Highness," he said, "your mother requests your presence in the main drawing room. The Duchess of Alden and the Lady Eleanor have paid a visit."
Eldarion nodded. "I shall join them presently."
The messenger bowed again and then left. Eldarion made his way to where Legolas stood and began removing his own arrows from the targets.
"You have visitors?"
The Prince looked at him surprised. He had forgotten how keen of hearing Elves were. "Yes," he replied. "The Lady Eleanor and her mother have arrived."
"The Lady Eleanor," Legolas inquired, "is someone special to you?"
Eldarion found himself blushing again and studiously concentrated on the arrows before him. "She is from one of the noblest families in Gondor," he explained. "Father thinks it would be a good match."
"But you do not agree."
"Lady Eleanor is a fine, gracious young woman. But I am not interested in her." He hesitated. "I have lost my heart to someone else," he said quietly.
Legolas had finished collecting his arrows and stood facing the Prince. "Does your father know this?"
"Oh, no! No!" the young man cried emphatically. "The one I love does not even know!" He clapped a hand over his mouth, wishing he had not spoken.
"Ah, I see." Legolas smiled understandingly. There was a tinge of sadness as he spoke, "To find true love is an elusive gift. I have known you but a little while, but already I can see you are a good person, with a pure and generous heart. Take the leap, Eldarion," he encouraged. "Tell her what you feel. She would be foolish to reject what you offer."
Eldarion regarded the Elf in shock. He seemed to have lost his voice. If only Legolas knew what he asked, would he still feel the same? "I . . . ah . . . I . . . will you join us, Legolas?" he managed to say at last.
The Elf shook his head. "Sadly, I cannot. Please send my apologies to your mother and your guests. Gimli is departing today and I must see him off."
"Oh, I had forgotten." Eldarion could not hide his disappointment. "Please give him my best as well. Perhaps I shall see you later?"
"Certainly." Legolas was pleased. He was growing quite fond of the young man's company.
Together they walked to the main courtyard of the high tower where they parted ways. Eldarion watched the Prince's departing figure for a moment before he turned inside. Preparing himself to meet his guests, he felt strangely calm. He had reached a decision. He would heed the Elf's advice.
The Dwarf waited with his arms crossed at the far end of the courtyard. He had seen the Man and the Elf part ways and had not missed the mortal's lingering glance. It was one of many the Dwarf had seen during the course of his stay. He shook his head. *Ah, my friend. What a tangled web you weave.*
"You are late!" he bellowed, when the Elf was only a few paces away.
Legolas stopped in front of him and drew himself up to his full height, hands on his hips as he towered over the Dwarf. "You should be grateful that I grace you with my presence at all."
Gimli scoffed. "How typical of an Elf to evade the subject at hand. Has spending too much time with Aragorn's son slowed your wit?"
"On the contrary," Legolas replied, mellowing at the thought of Eldarion, "I find his company stimulating. Far more valuable than yours."
"Pray tell, in what way?" the Dwarf asked mockingly.
The Elf swept his arm before him, indicating that they should make their way to the courtyard's entrance where a messenger from Rohan awaited the Dwarf. "We share much in common, not just a love for archery."
"So, the young Prince loves trees too?" Gimli commented dryly, as they began to walk.
"Eldarion has a love and appreciation for all life."
"The two of you appear to have become quite close in such a short period of time."
"I believe so. He confided in me today that he is in love."
"Oh? I would have thought that rather obvious."
The Elf cast him a strange glance but continued, "To complicate matters, the object of his affection does not even know."
"That much is clear to me."
"Since when do Dwarves speak in riddles?"
"We have our moments. But tell me, Legolas," Gimli said, stopping to get the Elf's attention, "what did *you* say to such a revelation?"
"I told him love is a rare gift. He should pursue his interest and not let this opportunity pass."
At this the Dwarf burst out laughing. He laughed even harder when he saw the perplexed expression on his friend's face. "Really, Legolas," he said in between gasps for air, "for an Elf, you are remarkably blind."
"And too much time spent in dark caves has finally driven you to madness!"
Gimli wiped a tear from his eye as they resumed walking. "Eldarion is in love," he agreed. "He's in love with YOU!"
This time it was the Elf's turn to stop. "You are mistaken," he said, quite seriously.
"I think not."
Legolas' brow creased. He caught sight of the rider from Rohan who was speaking to an off-duty sentry. His magnificent horse pawed the ground restlessly beside him. It was eager to be off. The Elf could suddenly empathize.
The two friends continued their walk in silence. Legolas was deep in thought. Was Eldarion really in love with him? There had been signs he'd refused to acknowledge. He had rationalized it as the young man's inexperience, perhaps even slight awe.
"To love a mortal is folly," he said aloud.
"Ah, but you are already guilty of that," the Dwarf reminded him bluntly.
The Elf did not reply. They had reached the courtyard entrance and the rider gave them a slight bow. He mounted his horse, bending to assist the Dwarf. When Gimli was seated comfortably he spoke again, "Do not be so quick to reject what he offers. Perchance it is the son who can heal the scars the father has left behind."
Legolas shook his head. "Gimli, when did you become so wise?"
"Must be all the time I spend with Elves," he replied, the faintest touch of sarcasm in his voice. Then he smiled to take the sting away from his words. "Come," he said to the rider, with a tap on the man's shoulder. "Let us be off!"
With a nod of his head the rider obligingly spurred his horse on. Legolas lifted his hand in a salute, watching as his friend rode to the city gates.
The Elf was conspicuously absent from the midday meal. Eldarion would glance at Legolas' empty place every so often, a fact that did not escape his father's notice. The King himself was also wondering at the Elf's absence. But he did not wonder long, as the Duchess and her daughter had decided to stay for lunch and he found himself playing the role of a charming host. Thankfully, Arwen was playing the role of a charming hostess even better.
As soon as the meal ended, Eldarion excused himself to escape outside. He preferred the outdoors, his Elvish blood instilling in him the desire for open space and the sounds of nature. His feet began treading a well-known path that led to the Queen's private gardens, where he had spent many hours playing as a child. He caught a flash of blond as he entered and froze.
The Elf's words of encouragement had haunted him the rest of the morning and throughout the noontime meal. Lady Eleanor had even commented chidingly on his unusual lack of attentiveness. It had served to make the Elf's absence more palpable. Now, with the subject of his thoughts mere feet away, Eldarion summoned his courage and bridged the distance the between them.
"Hello Eldarion," the Elf greeted him without so much as turning around.
The young Prince stood beside him, observing the Elf quietly as he caressed a rare flower. "Your company was missed during lunch."
Legolas turned to face him. "I am sorry," he apologized. "I was preoccupied."
There was a moment of silence as Eldarion struggled to find the words to express his feelings. It was proving to be incredibly difficult. However, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a female voice calling his name. Recognizing it as the voice of Lady Eleanor, Eldarion panicked. Without thinking, he grabbed the Elf's hand and pulled him deeper into the garden.
If Legolas was surprised by the speed that the young man exhibited, he did not show it. But when Eldarion leaped into a rather large oak tree and began climbing it as though he were one of the Firstborn, the Elf could not contain his astonishment.
"Quick!" Eldarion hissed from the branches high above, motioning for the Elf to join him. "Climb up before someone sees you!"
Legolas found himself amused by the Prince's unusual behavior and obligingly followed him up the tree. Eldarion was sitting on a broad branch. He moved over to allow the Elf to sit beside him. Legolas tested the strength of the branch before joining him. Together they sat and waited.
Lady Eleanor's voice drifted in their direction. "I thought I saw him here just a moment ago."
"There is no one here now," another female voice replied.
"King Elessar told me that he was heading for these gardens," Lady Eleanor insisted.
"He must have escaped another way," a third voice answered lightheartedly. "Even my son cannot scale these walls."
The three women laughed as the Queen of Gondor led them back towards the main hall. She cast a meaningful glance at a certain oak tree at the back of the garden. Legolas caught the glance and smiled to himself.
"Your mother is your ally in your little escapade," he whispered.
"She is my greatest champion," Eldarion agreed.
"Do you shirk you duty often?" the Elf teased.
"I would hardly call this shirking my 'duty'," the Prince replied hotly. "I have been most courteous and amiable to our guests all morning. I just felt the need to step outside for a little while, for a measure of peace and - "
"[Calm yourself], Eldarion," Legolas said soothingly, placing a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "I was jesting. [Oftentimes in my youth have I been guilty of the same.]"
"[Then we are brothers in that respect.]"
For the second time that day, Legolas found himself looking at Eldarion in slight wonder. "You are truly full of surprises today, young Prince," the Elf told him. "Why did you not tell me that you knew the language of my people?"
Eldarion shrugged. "The subject never arose," he replied. "Mother and father both wanted me to learn Sindarin. They did not want me to lose touch with my Elvish heritage." He paused. "Quenya was another matter."
Legolas laughed. It was a lovely, musical laugh that made Eldarion suddenly feel very tired. He would never be able to tell the Elven Prince his feelings. If only he could show him. But how? "We should go now," he said. He had become aware of their closeness and wished to distance himself immediately. It hurt to be so near and yet so far, his words of love never reaching his lips. He stood up quickly and in his haste did not pay attention to his footing. His boot slipped and just as he feared he was going to fall, a strong arm pulled him to his feet and another wrapped around his waist to ensure his balance.
Eldarion closed his eyes and let his senses wash over him. He was conscious of their intimacy, every inch of his body pressed against the fair Elf. He inhaled Legolas' scent. It was intoxicating. Still the Elf did not release him. He did not know how many moments passed, but he feared that opening his eyes would make the wondrous dream fade away. The hand that held his arm had moved to join the other around his waist. Eldarion wished nothing more than to lay his head upon the Elf's breast and stay in his warm embrace. Instead, he opened his eyes. Legolas was gazing at him with an intensity that stole his breath away. It felt as though the Elf were peering into his very soul.
Legolas had been studying the young Prince in his arms. He had not noticed before how very beautiful Eldarion was. The man's tanned, silveren skin was a sharp contrast to his own. The youth radiated energy and life. Could he share in such promise? When at last Eldarion opened his eyes, he found himself captivated by their familiar sea-gray depths. *Estel*
He found he could think no longer as tender lips covered his own. Legolas welcomed the kiss without hesitation. He could feel the young man melt against him. Boldly, he opened his mouth and was rewarded when a warm tongue came out to meet his own. He gently coaxed it to enter and explore him. He was encouraged by the youth's response and felt Eldarion's hands travel up his back, pressing them more tightly together. When Eldarion's tongue retreated, Legolas followed, taking the time to discover him in turn. It felt strangely familiar to Legolas, as though they were lost lovers rediscovering one another.
When the kiss ended, Eldarion looked into the Elf's eyes once more. The same desire burned there. There was no mistaking it. But before he could open his mouth to speak, the Elf pressed a finger to his lips and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. His voice caressed him like a seduction.
"[That was lovely], Eldarion," he said softly. "[But it must never happen again.]"
Before the shock could register, the Elf had vanished and Eldarion was left standing amidst the branches of the giant oak. A gentle breeze blew and cut him to the bone. He leaned against the tree's trunk for support as the weight of the Elf's words became clear to him. Hot tears began to prick the back of eyes. He did not understand.
In the cool of the evening, the Queen of Gondor sat on her favorite marble bench in her garden. It had been an eventful day. She often came here to rest and collect her thoughts. She had much to think about. Foremost in her mind was her son. How could she help him?
As if on cue, Eldarion appeared. He sought his mother's comfort and knew that she would be here. Wordlessly, he sat down beside her and rested his head on her shoulder. The Queen smiled, wrapping one arm around her son, drawing him closer. She reached over and took one of his hands in her own. They sat together in peaceful silence, listening to the night birds' songs.
"[What troubles you, my son?]" Arwen asked after a while.
"[My heart is troubled,]" the Prince answered.
"[The Lady Eleanor does not return your affection?]"
"[It is not her affection I seek.]"
Arwen phrased her next words carefully before speaking. "We do not choose who we love. Our hearts choose for us. You must give the one you love time for their heart to mend and when they are ready, your love will be returned."
"Time," Eldarion repeated bitterly. "I only have so much."
"And Legolas has an infinite supply."
Eldarion sighed at the sound of the Elf's name. He was not really surprised that his mother had known his heart's desire. She had always been able to read him better than anyone else. At times, he thought she knew him better than he knew himself.
"I do not understand him, Mother. He made me believe that he felt the same way. His kiss told me as much. Why does he close his heart to me?"
"When you know the answer to that question, you shall understand the depth of his sorrow and how much he must overcome before he can return your love."
Eldarion remained silent. His mother's words were a mystery to him, but it was a mystery that he would unravel. Yes, he decided. He would wait for the Elf. He would build and strengthen their friendship until Legolas would no longer look upon him as a pupil, but as a comrade, a companion, and perchance, in time, something more.
The days passed, turning into weeks and then months. All too soon it seemed that the grand celebration was upon them. Legolas found that he spent almost all his time in the Prince's company. When they were not at the practice range, he would partake in the Prince's daily duties as if they were his own. Being with Eldarion brought him peace. Oftentimes, they would commune with the trees or watch the stars at night. He taught the young man many Elvish songs and discovered that Eldarion had a fair voice that made a fine counterpoint to his own. Slowly but surely, Legolas was falling in love with the mortal prince. He recognized the signs. But whenever his feelings threatened to reach the surface, he smothered them. He would not make the same mistake twice.
Author's Notes: Spoken Sindarin is marked by square brackets i.e. [ ].