Chapter 1. Shadows in Lothlórien
The afternoon's fading light went unnoticed by the Prince of Gondor as he stood beneath the silveren eaves amidst a circle of towering mallorn trees.
"Fair Lothlórien," he said aloud, "how I wish the glory of spring bloomed around me. For though the leaves do not fall and the autumn trees remain arrayed in silver, I regret the passing of spring and its wonders which I may only learn of through Elven song."
Eldarion sighed to himself as he stroked the gray bark of a mallorn tree. The bark was smooth to the touch and glowed faintly, like liquid silver in the waning light. The trees themselves seemed to sigh in commiseration. The Prince walked towards the center of the circle, where the greatest of the mallorn trees stood. Beside it hung a gray rope ladder that lead to the gleaming white flet high in its branches. Instinctively, Eldarion grasped the deceptively light rope and quickly climbed to the flet. He knew that Legolas would be arriving soon and thought he would be able to spy the Elf from this high vantage point.
The mound of Cerin Amroth had become a regular meeting place for the two lovers. Ever since Legolas had shown the Prince the place where his parents had pledge their troth to one another, Eldarion could feel the magic present at the heart of the ancient realm. Although it was located outside the bounds of the great Elven city, it was not so far that they would be unable to return before nightfall. It had also proven to be surprisingly conducive to Quenya lessons, which was the Prince's reason for waiting there now.
Voices drifted to him from below and Eldarion looked over the edge of the white flet. Two Elves had arrived at the open space surrounding the mound and had laid their belongings on the green sward of grass. One of the Elves also lay down amid the silveren elanor, while his companion sat beside him. Upon closer inspection, Eldarion recognized them to be Rúmil and Orophin, the brothers of Haldir. The Prince involuntarily crouched low, thankful for the gray Lórien cloak the Elves had given him, which would seamlessly blend into the wood's surroundings. He did not wish to be seen by the brothers.
Eldarion had soon discovered upon his arrival that not all Elves approved of his relationship with one of their kin. Some believed it to be nothing more than a passing fancy on both their parts. Others were merely mystified or thought the two Princes to be irresponsible. Still, others gave it not a second thought. However, Eldarion was a guest of the Guardian of the Wood and Haldir had made it clear that he was to be treated with respect and courtesy at all times. Indeed, most of the Elves had been quite welcoming and non-judgmental in their actions towards him, but some were less welcoming than others and Haldir's own brothers happened to fall into the latter category.
The Prince surreptitiously leaned over the edge of the flet, believing that he was too high up for the Elves to see him unless he was standing. They were laughing and joking with each other and although some distance was between the Prince and his object of interest, his keen hearing could just pick up snatches of their conversation as it was carried by the wind.
"I would have loved to have seen the look on his face!" Orophin said in between laughs.
"Brother, I tell you it was priceless!" Rúmil concurred.
"A devilish trick."
"Perhaps one we could try on another unsuspecting victim? Say, a certain mortal Prince?"
Orophin's smile faded. "Haldir would not approve," he said seriously.
"Haldir does not have to know," Rúmil replied, stretching himself on the grass.
Orophin remained silent for a while. "Why do you dislike him so?" he asked at last. "He has never done anything to you. It is most unlike you to be so unfriendly to an honored guest."
"He may be an honored guest, but we are leaving these lands. I care not what he thinks about my actions."
"Just because we are leaving these lands does not mean that we do not bear the consequences of our actions. They may follow you over Sea, Rúmil," his brother warned.
Rúmil merely scoffed. "Orophin, always attempting to be the mediator." He waggled a slender finger at the other Elf. "I have been civil to the Prince. It is *you* that has not."
Orophin's cheeks flushed at the memory. "*That* was an accident," he defended himself, "which I apologized sincerely for."
"If you say so," Rúmil said casually with a wave of his hand. "That *accident* has put a strain on your relationship with him. He will have nothing to do with you now and in that sense, you are no better off than me!"
Rúmil laughed wickedly at his own analysis, his laughter sounding like tinkling bells to Eldarion's ears. The man leaned further over the flet as Orophin's voice dropped to a whisper. But his efforts to catch the Elf's words were thwarted as the wind blew this crucial part of the conversation in the opposite direction.
"I would make amends for it," Orophin said softly. "I confess that I do not understand his relationship with Legolas," the Elf continued. "But Legolas has always been more open-minded in these matters and Haldir is accepting of it, though it must cause him pain." He paused. "I wish to understand," he said slowly, "and will make every effort to do so before I leave these shores."
Rúmil looked at his brother carefully before standing up. "Do what you believe is right and I shall as well." He reached out a hand to assist his brother. "Evening approaches and the pangs of hunger are calling me. Let us go home."
Orophin accepted the hand proffered to him and allowed himself to be pulled up. The Prince watched as the two Elves picked up their belongings and walked in the direction of the great Elven city. He knew that he would mostly likely see them later that evening during supper. He sat back and released a breath that he did not know he had been holding. His forearms ached slightly from bearing the weight of his crouching position. The Prince pondered what he heard of the brothers' conversation and came to the conclusion that the dislike both groups had for one another was indeed mutual.
Eldarion was still lost in thought when a voice he had been waiting for startled him.
"Admiring the view?"
"It never ceases to amaze me," the Man replied automatically. He waited as the Elf came to stand behind him, though he heard no footsteps.
"Somehow, I think there is something more interesting below than just the view," Legolas said, leaning over his lover to get a better look. "Who are you watching?"
"No one," Eldarion answered quickly. He stood up and turned around, pushing the Elf away from the flet's edge. "There is no one there."
"There is no one there *now*," Legolas corrected. He arched a questioning eyebrow.
The young man sighed. Like his father, he would never be able to lie to the Elf. "Orophin and Rúmil were resting in the field below."
"Ah, so the brothers have returned from East Lórien," Legolas said with a smile. "Haldir will be pleased to see them."
"Yes, I suppose he will," Eldarion said disinterestedly.
"But you are not so pleased?" the Elf prodded.
The Prince shrugged in a non-committal manner. "It matters not to me. I have not seen the brothers since their decision to visit East Lórien. Besides," he added, "we shall all be departing soon. Do you wish to sail with the Elves to the Bay of Belfalas? Or would that not be advisable?" he asked, suddenly remembering the effect the sea- longing had on his lover.
Legolas smiled at the Prince's subtle evasion of the subject. "I shall manage," he answered, "especially with you and Gimli to help me." He paused. "I would like to accompany the Elves to the Bay of Belfalas. I believe Haldir has made plans with Imrahil. The Prince of Dol Amroth will be expecting us."
"I see." Eldarion moved to the center of the flet and sat down cross-legged.
"But returning to Rúmil and Orophin," Legolas said, not wishing to drop the subject as he sat behind the Prince, who naturally enfolded himself in the Elf's embrace, "I sense that you are not at ease with them."
"Perhaps it is they who are not at ease with me," the Man replied. Speaking of the brothers was beginning to agitate him and he did not wish to be agitated. Not when another beautiful day was drawing to a close and the gentle breeze blew the silveren leaves, nor when the larks sang as they flew by the secluded lovers.
Sensing this, Legolas began to nuzzle the young man's neck, gently kissing the tender skin as he spoke in the Elven tongue.
"They do not understand you," he said as the Prince rested his head on the Elf's shoulder, giving Legolas better access to the sensitive area between jaw and collarbone. "They do not understand us. Be more tolerant of them, Eldarion."
"As you wish," the Man sighed. He turned his head to meet the Elf's kiss and Quenya lessons were soon forgotten.
Dinner that night was once again a light affair. As the day for departure drew nearer, more and more belongings were packed, ready to be transported to the great white ships that were anchored at the hythe by the river Anduin. The cooks were starting to complain about their lack of utensils, but Eldarion thought that their cooking had hardly suffered for it. Elven fare was lighter than the meals prepared at the White Tower, but the human found them to be quite filling and delicious.
The city of Caras Galadhon never failed to amaze the young Prince. He saw new marvels wherever he looked, yet he could also feel the immense sadness that washed over it from time to time. He often wondered what it had been like before, when the Galadhrim had populated every tree and bough, and their songs and voices would fill the air like stars falling from heaven.
The Galadhrim were singing now and their sweet voices blended with the wind as the Prince walked on the pathways amidst the great trees. He enjoyed stretching his legs after dinner, believing the slight exercise aided in digestion. Although Gimli thought his idea had merit, the Dwarf abhorred the numerous pathways and staircases one had to climb in Caras Galadhon, believing them to be most unsuitable for one of his stature. "It is no wonder the Elves built their city in the trees," he had told Eldarion one day, "they knew that such a deterrence would keep the Dwarves away!" But despite his harsh words, the Prince knew that the Dwarf loved the Elven city dearly and could feel its fading acutely in his heart.
It was only after many jests and the finalizing of plans for the following day that the Prince had been able to leave his companions, Hrethil and Gimli, in the spacious hall where the Elves liked to gather after dinner for song and merriment, in search of Legolas. Hrethil had taken an instant liking to the human, his admiration for the Prince aided by the young man's mastery of the bow and arrow at the archery competition nearly two months ago at Minas Tirith. The two had been grouped together during the elimination rounds and it had been Eldarion's accurate eye that had prevented the Lórien Elf from becoming one of the finalists. The Prince had gone on to win the competition to the great surprise of nearly all present, besting the Captain of King Thranduil's Royal Guard. Although their friendship had sprung from their mutual love of bow and arrow, the Man and the Elf soon discovered that they shared a great deal in common. For Hrethil, despite far exceeding the Man in years was barely more than an elfling in his people's eyes.
Upon hearing that Eldarion had yet to visit the fair falls of Nimrodel, Hrethil insisted that they go on an outing the following day.
"You must see and hear the falls of Nimrodel before you leave these woods," the Elf had said emphatically. "It is an experience not to be missed. To soothe your feet in its healing waters, while the voice of Nimrodel carries over the falls . . ." he sighed. "You will never experience such peace."
Gimli had concurred, the very idea of walking on solid ground greatly appealing to him.
It had not taken long to persuade the Prince, who never grew tired of exploring the silveren Wood. It was decided that they would leave shortly after breakfast. It was a fairly long trek to Nimrodel, but Hrethil estimated that they would arrive at the falls a little after noon.
"Just in time for lunch," the Elf had laughed. "And I can think of no better place to have it."
Eldarion had excused himself to find Legolas. He did not know the Elf's plans for the next day, but he was hoping that the Elven Prince would be able to join them. An excursion to Nimrodel would not be complete without his lover.
The Man's steps slowed as he reached the end of the delicate hanging bridge. Below him, by the magnificent fountain at the center of the wide lawn, he found Legolas in quiet conversation with Haldir. The Prince's brow furrowed as that unwelcome feeling crept into him again. Though he wished to look away, he could not tear his eyes from the sight in front of him. The Elves seemed to glow faintly in the moonlight, their light silken clothes illuminated by the hanging lamps surrounding the fountain. They were so beautiful, so perfect together.
Finally, the Prince did look away. Confusion clouded his mind when he thought of Legolas' relationship with Haldir. Clearly they shared a bond of the deepest friendship, which they had had millennia to cultivate. The human felt as though he could not even compete. He knew what Legolas would say to such a comment. * You are imagining it, my love. There is no competition going on between you and Haldir,* he would assure the Prince.
But there was. Eldarion could sense it implicitly in every word and every gesture. Haldir shone as bright as the star of Eärendil in his eye, an image of perfection that he could only hope to attain. How odd that he had once feared that he would remain a shadow of his father in Legolas' eyes. He could not have been more wrong. In the King's place, the Guardian's shadow now towered over him. Eldarion was certain that there was more than friendship between the two Elves, though he had not the courage to confront Legolas with his questions. The Guardian and the Elven Prince had been lovers once. Were they lovers still? The evident intimacy between them was there for all to see.
The Prince drove these unpleasant thoughts from his mind. What was wrong with him? He trusted Legolas completely. Jealousy was a most unbecoming trait. He would not fall victim to its clutches. With a deep breath, he descended the narrow staircase to the lawn below and strode across its wide expanse to join the two Elves.
Haldir smiled at him welcomingly as the Prince discreetly slipped his arm around Legolas' slender waist. *A purely possessive gesture,* the Guardian thought to himself. Legolas also gifted his lover with a welcomingly smile as his own arm automatically slipped around the man's waist in return.
Eldarion acknowledged both Elves with a friendly nod, choosing to remain silent and listen to their conversation. They were also discussing their plans for the following day. Apparently the Elves would begin transporting their belongings to the ships tomorrow. The whole process would take several days, but Haldir estimated that they would be ready to sail in about a week.
"What about you, young Prince?" the Guardian asked suddenly, turning his attention to the human. "Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Eldarion replied as casually as he could manage. He could feel Legolas watching him and he turned to look at the Elf. "Hrethil, Gimli and I have decided to visit the falls of Nimrodel. Hrethil insists that I cannot leave Lothlórien without seeing the fair falls."
"He is correct, of course," Haldir agreed.
Eldarion nodded, turning his attention back to Legolas. "I was hoping that you could join us," he said.
"It would be my pleasure," Legolas replied, but then paused and looked at Haldir. "But I fear I have already made a previous commitment. I promised to assist Haldir in directing the transportation of goods tomorrow."
The Guardian was shaking his head. "It is fine, Legolas," he began, "we shall be able to manage without you. Go and see the falls of Nimrodel. I believe it has also been some time since your last visit."
"I have never been one to go back on my word," Legolas replied. "You said my help was required."
"And Haldir shall receive it," the Prince interrupted, somewhat forcefully. Both Elves looked at him in surprise. "Ensuring that all runs smoothly tomorrow is far more important than a little excursion to a falls. Who is to say that Legolas and I shall not return to Nimrodel one day? Our future lies before us, while your time together grows short."
Eldarion smiled at them reassuringly, hardly believing the words that had just left his lips. *How can I be so generous when my heart screams to have him by my side?* the Prince wondered. *Once again I find myself competing with the Guardian, whether I wish to or not.*
Haldir studied the Prince for a moment before turning his gray eyes to Legolas.
"It appears it is settled then," he said in his measured voice. "I will leave you two now. I must still see others about tomorrow's plans."
"Mae govannen, meleth-nin1," Legolas said softly when Haldir took his leave. He pulled the Prince in front of him, wrapping his other arm around the man's waist as the Prince did the same.
Eldarion shrugged slightly. "I would not have you break your word," he said matter-of-factly. "And I said naught but the truth. Who is to say that we will not visit Nimrodel again one day?"
"Who indeed?" the Elf agreed.
"Still," the Prince said deliberately with a mischievous glint in his eye. "I believe I deserve some sort of recompense for my generosity."
"And what sort of recompense did you have in mind?"
"That is easy enough to manage."
A fey smile was on Legolas' face as he leaned in and gave the Prince a chaste kiss on the lips. The scowl that crossed his lover's face was just the reaction the Elf expected when he pulled away.
"That was *not* what I meant," Eldarion told him crossly. "Kiss me," he demanded.
Legolas leaned in once more and pressed his lips against the Man's. Gently at first, then with more pressure. His tongue darted out, coaxing entrance. Eldarion welcomed it without hesitation, seizing control of the kiss as he pulled the Elf closer to him. The kiss was passionate but bruising and it spoke volumes to Legolas. He could detect the undercurrent of urgency behind it and silently wondered at its cause.
When at last they broke for air, Eldarion whispered into a pointed ear, "I shall claim the rest of my recompense behind closed doors," deftly licking the delicate tip to emphasize his point. Legolas shivered faintly at the touch, prying himself loose from the strong arms. With a smile that promised more to come, he took the Prince's hand and led them to their chambers.
Later that night, Legolas watched his sleeping lover with worried eyes. A change had come over Eldarion during their stay in Lothlórien. The Elf did not know what to make of it, nor the root of its cause. The man had become a study in changing mood swings and polar opposites. While completely at ease with the likes of Gimli and Hrethil, he became cool and distant around others whom he was not so comfortable with. Legolas had seen for himself how the defensive walls would rise around the Prince during those occasions, protecting and cushioning him from the events that took place. Dear Gimli had noticed as well, commenting to Legolas that Eldarion was picking up the Elf's more undesirable traits. The Dwarf's exact words had been, "I had hoped that Eldarion would thaw *your* mask of ice, but it appears that your emotional freeze is contagious. I do not like it."
The Elf was inclined to agree. He found these subtle changes in his lover disturbing. They had even crept into the bedroom, where at times, their lovemaking felt like a battle of wills, almost a nightly contest for dominance. While Legolas did not mind rough play - indeed, he rather enjoyed the pain and saw much possibility in this new side to Eldarion - it was still disconcerting, particularly the Man's contrite reaction afterwards, when he would whisper hushed apologies for his roughness, not knowing what had come over him.
While it was true that their relationship had received a mixed response among the Lórien Elves, most of them had been understanding of it. Legolas could not attribute Eldarion's mysterious behavior solely to that reason, for the Man had also made quite a few friends among the Eldar. No, there was a deeper cause and Legolas knew whom he would turn to for advice, one that had supported him for millennia. He would ask Haldir.