The forest was still shrouded in the early morning mist, the damp air and the greyness of the dawn reflecting the sombre mood of the two friends who stood apart from the others as they said their final farewells. When all the words were spoken, the two young friends hugged each other fiercely, and then with smiles that were a mixture of sadness and affection, they had clasped wrists in the fashion of warriors. Sarien and Faramir had then stood side by side and bowed respectfully first to the Elvenking and his son, and then to their Prince who drew his shoulders back and with head held high acknowledged the display of fealty, even as he blinked several times to remove the mist of unshed tears.
When Sarien at last mounted his horse and with a wink for Eldarion, a wave for the others, the young ranger followed Faramir along the path to his new future with a brightness in his eyes that had more to do with the melancholy born from leaving a part of his life behind than with his eager anticipation of what lay ahead.
So lost in thought was he as he watched the path until his friend disappeared from view that Eldarion jumped when a hand was laid lightly on his arm, the touch of a friend who needed no words to conveying compassion for the young man’s sadness.
“It is time for the Prince to return to the city and the duties that await him there, not the least of which is the banquet planned for seven days hence,” Legolas reminded Eldarion who saw the gleam of amusement in the elf’s eyes and sighed with exasperation.
“Aye, and there is nothing more to be feared than Mother’s wrath should I not arrive in time to enjoy the occasion and the company of the many young ladies of marriageable age who she has no doubt invited,” Eldarion replied wrinkling his nose in distaste as he joined Legolas in a chuckle of amusement at his dilemma.
“Aye, not all princely duties are pleasant ones, but there are worse things than having to dance with lovely young maids,” Thranduil laughed as he joined Legolas and Eldarion, placing a hand on each of their shoulders as he ushered them to where the others were already mounted and waiting. “We are ready to leave.”
The journey back to the city was uneventful and several days later, the party of Men and Elves passed through the gates of Minas Tirith and made their way to the courtyard in front of the White Tower, where the King and Queen waited to greet them.
“Is that really our son? He looks so different,” Arwen whispered as the tall, dark haired young man wearing a circlet and an air of royalty approached, striding beside his standard bearer with an unmistakable manner that spoke of his lineage and caused Aragorn’s heart to swell with pride.
“Aye, he has changed much in the short time since I had sent him on his errand,” he replied, noting the grey eyes that shone with a new maturity and the dignified bearing that spoke of acceptance and commitment to his role as heir to the throne. But even more importantly to Aragorn, who was blessed with the almost elvish perception of the descendants of Númenor, it was apparent that his son and heir had also earned the respect and loyalty of the seasoned soldiers of his escort. They were his protectors, who guarded him not only because they were ordered to do so, but because they were his devoted subjects.
When they reached the White Tree, it took only the slightest glance at his captain for Eldarion to call the small procession to a halt while they stopped to pay homage to the cherished symbol of his heritage. Prince and guards alike were surprised to find Thranduil standing before the tree, gazing at it with a mixture of undisguised awe and reverence that Eldarion would never have thought to see from the powerful and majestic elf.
With hand on heart in the elvish manner of greeting, the King respectfully bowed his head and then rested his other hand against the trunk. Legolas and the other elves did likewise and when Thranduil whispered a few words in elvish, a joyous smile graced their fair faces and to the eyes of the onlookers it seemed as if the inner lights of the Firstborn shone just little brighter.
“That was a language I have not heard before. Did you recognise it?” Aragorn asked Arwen, whose eyes were smiling with amusement.
“It was a greeting in the language of the High Elves, if I am not mistaken,” she replied as she recalled having heard the words read to her as a child. Aragorn’s eyes widened in surprise that the Sinda would know such a greeting, let alone utter the language forbidden by his king of long ago.
His curiosity piqued and well aware that it was his place to welcome his guests, Aragorn offered Arwen his arm and they walked the short distance to the small group. After the matter of exchange of formal greetings with the visiting King was addressed, Arwen took it upon herself to escort the elves to the guest wing prepared especially for elvish visitors.
“You have performed your first official duty with honour and I am so very proud of you, Eldarion, although I hardly recognise the regal young Prince who now stands before me,” Aragorn said as he embraced his son affectionately.
“I have learned much in the past few days, both about the responsibilities of a prince, and those of a son, thanks to Legolas and King Thranduil,” Eldarion replied as he tightened his arms about his father and kissed his cheek, surprising and delighting Aragorn with the unexpected and very public display of love from his firstborn.
“For which I will be sure to thank Thranduil when I next speak with him, as I thank you now, mellon nin,” Aragorn said to Legolas as he reluctantly released his son from the too infrequent closeness they shared.
“If you will excuse me, father, Legolas, I think it is well past time I sought the bathing chamber,” the young prince said, leaving his elders to talk in private as he sensed they wished to do.
“Were those words of Quenya that Thranduil said to the Tree?” Aragorn asked incredulously as he and Legolas followed the others at a leisurely pace.
”Aye, but you need not look so surprised. Knowledge of the lore and history of the elves was not solely to be found in the libraries of Imladris and ’tis the only language that the ancient tree understands. Oropher and many others in the Greenwood lived through the ages as did Elrond, and the memories of the Faithful of Númenor before its fall are held in high regard by my kin, as are we by the Tree, according to the warm reply of welcome Adar received,” the elf replied.
“And as you will always be in my realm, and my heart mellon nin,” Aragorn said reaffirming their alliance and friendship with seldom spoken words and an affectionate a clasp on the elf’s shoulder. “Would you care to join me in my study for some wine and quiet conversation before the evening meal?”
“Aye, but first I have a message to convey to Maerrin. From Sarin,” Legolas said in response to the eyebrow raised in query.
“Is this something I should know about?” Aragorn asked his paternal instincts suddenly on alert.
“Nay, ‘tis harmless, but if you wish I will give you the message first and abide by your wishes should you desire me not to pass it on,” Legolas said confident that Aragorn would approve, which he did after hearing what Sarin wished to tell his daughter.
“Be wary when you tell her, Legolas. Maerrin is at the age where tears of joy and sorrow flow freely and with little provocation,” Aragorn warned the smiling elf as they parted to go their separate ways.
After seeing his guards settled in their chambers, Thranduil and Arwen proceeded to the main guest chamber only to find their path blocked by two very lovely young princesses in the company of their elder brother.
“Please forgive the intrusion, you Majesty, but my sweet sisters refuse to allow me the privacy to bathe until I introduce them to Legolas’s father,” Eldarion said, rolling his eyes in exasperation at the barely concealed amusement on his mother’s face.
“By all means I would be pleased to make the acquaintance of my son’s beautiful young friends,” Thranduil said graciously and in a manner that Maerrin, like so many other maids, elf and mortal alike, found exceedingly charming, especially when he gallantly kissed her hand after the introductions were made.
“You do look like Legolas,” Janiel said as she gazed up at the handsome elf.
“Silly child you have it backwards, ‘tis Legolas who wears his father’s beauty,” Maerrin corrected, clasping her hand to her mouth in horror as she realised how forward and inappropriate her misspoken remark was, although it was certainly the truth. “Oh, I do apologise, your Majesty,” she said, her face bright red and her eyes filled with tears of embarrassment.
“There is no need for apology when no offence was given,” Thranduil assured the young maid with nothing but compassion in his voice.
“Perhaps you would care to escort your sisters to their chambers where I will join them shortly,” Arwen said, speaking to Eldarion who nodded to the king, then took Maerrin and Janiel by the hand to do his mother’s bidding.
“I must apologise for such an unseemly display, but in defence of my children all I can say is that they love Legolas dearly and were understandably curious to meet his sire,” Arwen said.
“It pleases me greatly to hear that my son is so well loved by his friend’s children and speaking of beauty, Undomiel, yours has diminished not in the least, in fact I believe you are even more lovely blessed as you are with the contentment of being a wife and mother as well as a Queen,” Thranduil said as he offered Arwen his arm.
“Your words are too kind, King Thranduil,” Arwen replied, blushing prettily at the compliments.
“Please, just call me Thranduil,” the king replied as they entered the chamber.
“As you wish. I hope you will join us for the evening meal in our private chambers,” Arwen said as she watched Thranduil remove a travel pouch from the inside of his tunic.
“Aye, I would be honoured. Your brothers sent written messages, and asked me to remind you of their love for you and your family. From Elladan,” the king said placing a chaste kiss on one cheek. “And from Elrohir,” he added kissing the other as he handed Arwen the worn leather packet she easily recognised as once belonging to Elrond.
“Thank you, Thranduil, if you will excuse me… ” was all Arwen could manage to say as unshed tears choked her voice and threatened to fall as her thoughts turned to Elladan and Elrohir and how much she missed them and her beloved Adar.
“I will see you and your lovely daughters at the evening meal,” Thranduil said as he escorted Arwen to the door, bowing politely as she left the chamber.
Turning back to survey the room, Thranduil was pleased to note that thin curtains hid a large archway that lead out onto a balcony, and he stepped outside to take a deep breath of the fresh air, smiling as he recalled the encounter in the hallway. Aragorn’s daughters were charming, and so full of life and youthful innocence that he found himself thinking how blessed Elrond was to have grandchildren.
Ai, but the Peredhel had never met them, nor would he and with that thought a sharp pain of sorrow stabbed at Thranduil’s heart with the knowledge that his friend had no real idea of the joy he was missing. The king silently thanked the Valar that Legolas had not yet started a family for he doubted he would be able to bear the pain of watching grandchildren he had come to know and love sail out of his life.
In that moment the King of Eryn Lasgalen knew that one day he would leave his forests and sail into the west, for he fervently believed that his son would find love when he finally answered the call of the sea and reached the Undying Lands.