"The eagles are coming! The eagles are coming!"
Legolas froze upon hearing the shout, but the tip of his knife had already nicked Alathiel's throat, drawing a small bead of blood. He stared at it, still lost in the throes of passion and unable to comprehend that their deliverance was at hand. Alathiel recovered her wits a bit more quickly.
"Go!" She shook him roughly. "Legolas, go! They will need you." She saw the hope rekindle in his eyes and she was filled with the pure joy of knowing that she would live at least a few more precious moments.
Hesitantly, he touched the trickle of blood that ran down her neck. "I...your neck..." She could sense his instinct to join the battle was at war with his need to care for her.
"'Tis a scratch, nothing more. My love, you must go..." Her eyes were luminous with unshed, joyful tears.
Alathiel grabbed a handful of golden hair in each hand and pulled him down for a kiss sweet with promise. "I would not say so if it was untrue."
Suddenly there was purpose in his eyes and he jumped up, grabbing his bow and quiver. "You will be here when I return?"
"My dearest elf, ever will I be waiting for you when you return, if you will have me."
He kissed her once more. "I love you."
With the destruction of the ring, Sauron's monsters had broken and fled. The Easterlings and Southrons, however, turned and fought with the desperation of the hopeless. All morning and into the afternoon, wounded men flooded into the surgery leaving Alathiel no time to think. It was past midnight when she collapsed on an empty pallet and slept.
When she awoke in the morning, she found that Legolas slept beside her, holding her tightly in his arms. His leg was thrown across both of hers and she was quite immobilized. She tried to extract herself without waking him, but as soon as she moved he stirred.
"Good morning," he said. He stretched, uncurling his lithe frame like a cat, and softly brushed her lips with his. Sudden shyness caused her to stiffen almost imperceptibly. But of course, he felt it. "Alathiel?" he called her by name for the first time. "What is it, meleth?"
She couldn't answer--she didn't know what to say. Slipping out of his embrace, she climbed up stiffly from the pallet and found a basin of clean water to wash her face. As she dried off with a scrap of linen, she felt his arms encircle her waist and his lips whisper in her hair. "Please...tell me what troubles you."
"Nothing troubles me...how could it when our people have gained a victory so hard-won?" she replied softly, unable to meet his eyes. "It is only that I don't know..." she broke off, color flooding into her pale face. "I don't know how I should conduct myself with you, after yesterday," she finished in a rush, frustrated that she, who had been so bold the day before, was feeling so timid now.
He turned her to face him and took both her hands in his. "Please forgive me that your ways are not more familiar to me, but I don't understand." His quizzical expression was so sweet that she almost laughed, but what she had to say was too serious.
"Yesterday was a most...intense...day for everyone, Legolas. We feared for our very lives and...well, perhaps that made us act in ways we did not intend." She forced herself to look directly into his night-black eyes. "If you would rather not speak of it...and act as if it did not happen...I will not be offended."
Realizing what it was she suggested, his eyes narrowed sharply. He pulled her closer, so that the length of her body fitted tightly against his. "It offends me that you would think such things of me," he said. "Do you wish to do what you suggest? Forget the words of desire we spoke to one another?" He punctuated his question with a lingering kiss on her silky throat. "Forget how we made love as the whole world collapsed around us?" His lips traveled to the hollow of her throat, where he traced delicate patterns with the tip of his tongue. "Are you willing to wonder always what it might have been like to lie with me without the clash of steel in our ears and the threat of death at our door?" His tongue traced a path along her neck to her earlobe, which he drew gently into his mouth. "Do you really want to forget, melethen?"
Completely undone by his sensual explorations, all she could do was cling to him and whisper, "No," over and over again.
"That is good, cuanen, for I desire you so deeply that there is no question of acting as if I do not. If every man who rides with this army does not know it by nightfall, I shall be most surprised." He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her deeply and slowly, as he had wanted for so long to do. He could feel her trembling against him and knew that at the slightest provocation from him, she would abandon herself to him completely.
But she deserved better than a tumble on the surgery floor. Much better. Breaking gently away from her, he cupped her chin in his palm, gently forcing her to look up at him. "I told you I loved you, Alathiel, and I spoke the truth. Did you?"
She was silent for so long that his pale eyebrows gathered into a wary frown between his eyes. Perhaps he had judged wrong, after all. But then she spoke. "When word came that my lord was dead, I did not believe that I would ever love another the same way I loved him, and I was correct in that. I will never stop loving him, though I will never see him again." Legolas stiffened and would have turned away, but for the touch of her soft hand upon his cheek. "But neither will I stop loving you, my dearest elf. Not as long as I live."
He let out a ragged breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "As long as you live...I like the sound of that." He sank down on his knees before her, holding her hands tightly in his. "Since you will love me all your life long, would you consent to spend that life with me, melethen? It would be most convenient."
She laughed aloud for the first time in his hearing and he wondered how his heart could contain the joy that silvery sound brought him. Drawing him up from his knees, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him all over his face--on his lips, his cheeks, his chin and ears. She kissed him without a pause for breath, stopping only long enough to whisper, "Yes...yes...yes."
And so it was that the armies of the West defeated Sauron. Before returning to Gondor, the company passed many days in Ithilien and there, on a hill crowned with flowers, the elf-prince took a mortal woman to wife.
After the coronation of King Elessar, Alathiel and Legolas returned to Ithilien and created a home that rivaled even Imladris in its beauty and grace. In the course of time, there came a son who rivaled his father in strength and bravery and a daughter who was as gentle and beautiful as her mother.
Alathiel lived the rest of her days in Ithilien, healing the sick, raising her son and daughter, and loving her husband beyond all other things. Legolas busied himself with tending his small kingdom, teaching his son and daughter of the woods and beasts and flowers, and loving his wife, even when she became old and white-haired.
And when in the course of time, Alathiel died, he built a boat and sailed away into the West with his son, his daughter and his beloved friend, Gimli. Behind him, atop the hill in Ithilien where they had wed, he left a white stone carven with one word in ancient, formal elvish and one in the common tongue:
meleth = love
melethen = my love
cuanen = my dove