Legolas’s tapped on the door to Maerrin’s chamber, but the sweet sound of innocent girlish laughter mingled with that a more mature voice from within that indicated Arwen and her daughter were inside muffled the sound. After waiting a few moments and receiving no response, he knocked a little louder, this time with more success. The laughter ceased and a smiling Maerrin greeted him with a hug and a chaste kiss on the cheek.
“Welcome back, Legolas, I have missed you,” she said as she bid her friend enter. Legolas smiled his thanks and inclined his head to Arwen who was seated on the bed that was covered with several rolls of fabric.
“Ai Legolas, you are just the one we need to help us,” she said as she held aloft two swatches of material. “I think the pale blue silk would suit Maerrin well, but she prefers the green velvet. What do you think?” Legolas was momentarily lost for words.
Never before had he been asked to make such a personal decision or in fact any decision as far as a lady’s attire was concerned. Legolas felt his cheeks colour slightly as Arwen as Maerrin kept their eyes on him and eagerly awaited his reply.
There was no denying he felt distinctly uncomfortable until the thought occurred that he was in fact being given a rather unique and heart-warming honour. No doubt as both a father and a husband, Aragorn had been asked to make similar decisions in the past, so surely it was a measure of the regard in which Legolas was held as almost a family member that he was now being placed in this position.
Of one thing he was certain, diplomacy was definitely required in this instance and unwilling to favour one over the other Legolas drew on his years of close friendship with Aragorn that allowed him to instinctively know how his friend would respond.
“I admit to having no particular preference, for Maerrin’s beauty needs no enhancement, does it Arwen?” he replied with a gallant bow to the elder maid, followed by an amused wink in the Queen’s direction. Arwen rolled her eyes, her look of exasperation telling the elf she was well aware of his diversionary tactics.
“Indeed not, but nonetheless, the banquet is but a few days away and the seamstress is anxious to complete her task,” she replied, the slightly aggravated tone of voice not directed solely at the elf, who really was not in any way to blame for Maerrin’s indecisiveness.
“Then perhaps the green velvet? That particular shade will complement my finery, should Maerrin agree to be my escort, as Sarien has requested,” Legolas said, voicing the reason for his visit a little more plainly than he would have preferred.
“Why would Sarien do that?” Maerrin asked shyly, her cheeks now a lovely shade of pink. Legolas exchanged a glance with Arwen, who nodded in understanding. This was to be a private conversation.
“I must take this cloth back to the seamstress and inform her of your choice as soon as possible,” she said to her daughter as she lifted the bolt of green velvet from the bed and quickly left the chamber.
“Why did Sarien ask you to be my escort?” Maerrin asked again as soon as she was alone with Legolas.
“As you know, he wanted that privilege for himself, but that is no longer possible since he will be in Ithilien for some time. Sarien spoke to me and voiced his feelings of regret and a touch of jealousy, if I am not mistaken, and requested that since I am no rival for your affections, that I be the one to escort you to the banquet,” Legolas explained, taking her hands in his as he smiled affectionately. “Sarien wishes you to know that you have captured his heart.”
“I have? He loves me?” Maerrin asked, her voice a dreamy whisper, her eyes wide with excitement and her heart beating so wildly with the joy of first love that Legolas could almost feel it through the fingers that were now held in a surprisingly tight grip.
“Aye, as you love him, if my senses do not deceive me,” the elf replied with a contented smile for the tears of happiness his words had evoked in the eyes of the young maid he loved as a sister.
“Nay, they do not. He has indeed captured my heart and I find the solution to his jealousy to be very sweet and most acceptable. However, please believe that although I am following Sarien’s wishes, I consider it a great honour to have you as my escort, dear Legolas,” Maerrin said, reaching up to kiss the elf’s cheek.
“The honour is mine, but I think that Sarien had my interests at heart as well,” Legolas replied with a grin.
“What do you mean?” Maerrin asked as her eyebrow rose in query in a manner that was a fair imitation of the grandfather she had never met.
“Very few maids will dare to approach the escort of the King’s daughter,” the elf replied, joining in Maerrin’s laughter as she nodded her agreement.
Legolas was still chuckling at Sarien’s devious, but not unwelcome, plans as he made his way back to Aragorn’s study.
“Was Maerrin pleased with your offer?” Aragorn asked as he gestured for his friend to take a seat in one of the comfortable armchairs. Legolas ignored the invitation and casually took his customary place on the wide window ledge accepting the cup of wine and the Aragorn brought to him. With a shrug of his shoulders and a smile at the elf’s sometimes strange ways, the King took a seat, reclining back against the soft cushions in a relaxed pose only possible when among friends.
“Aye, but judging by the tears of happiness, I think the knowledge that Sarien cared enough about her to even suggest I take his place warmed her heart,” Legolas said as he sipped his wine, a soft smile curling his lips as he recalled the brief conversation.
“And I see your eyes are filled with mirth, what do you find amusing?” Aragorn asked.
“The realisation that Sarien also had my interests at heart, as well as his own,” Legolas replied seeing no reason to explain further. Fortunately there was no need.
“Ai, I see. I expect that as Maerrin’s escort you will not be invited to dance by many of the ladies who might find you beguiling,” Aragorn replied, correctly guessing his friend’s thoughts.
“I believe that was Sarien’s intention, but let us speak of other matters. Faramir surprised Sarien and Eldarion with his archery skills,” Legolas said with a smile as he recalled the look of astonishment in two pairs of young eyes.
“They know he was once captain of the rangers of Ithilien. How could he not be a skilled archer?” Aragorn asked.
“You and I know he is, but it has been many a year since he did not have cause to use his bow, nor has he been seen in a contest with an elf,” Legolas replied nonchalantly. Aragorn nodded and listened with some amusement as Legolas told of the contest and the other events that had occurred during Eldarion’s visit to Ithilien.
“Judging by the change that has come over Eldarion since they met, I imagine they were both also very impressed with your father,” Aragorn commented with a hint of the bitterness he felt at never having won Thranduil’s approval for his friendship with Legolas. A frown of concern creased the elf’s brow at the bitterness behind his friend’s words.
“Aye, they were, and I admit to being surprised at how quickly Adar took a liking to them both. He offered Eldarion the benefit of his wisdom and experience in coming to terms with his role as the King’s son, but what was more surprising was his understanding and compassion towards the friendship between Sarien and your son,” Legolas said putting his wine aside as he moved to where Aragorn was seated so that he could clasp his friend’s shoulder in a gesture of affection. “I believe he also understands and finally accepts how true and deep our friendship runs as well mellon nin.” Aragorn placed his hand on Legolas’s shoulder in return and laughed mirthlessly.
“I would like to believe that, but I will not hold my breath waiting to hear Thranduil admit he misjudged me where you are concerned, mellon nin,” he said with a rueful smile.
As usually happened when Legolas was visiting, he partook of his evening meal with Aragorn and his family in the King’s private dining room. This night was no different except that Thranduil was also invited and was soon occupied with answering the many questions of the inquisitive young princesses. Arwen had tried to curb their curiosity, especially when the conversation turned to Legolas’s younger days. To the elf’s embarrassment, and Aragorn’s amusement, the Woodland King was more than willing to tell endless stories of his beloved son.
“Ai, so now I know how you came to be so good humoured and mischievous,” Aragorn commented to his friend after hearing another new tale of youthful elvish exploits.
“It was Elladan’s idea to put Arwen’s coloured bathing oil in Elrond’s fountain, not mine. As I recall, she was more than willing to allow us to use it,” he added with a wicked gleam in his eye as he turned to face the Queen.
“Adar was not impressed, but he never believed I had any part it,” Arwen told Aragorn who, like the others, was laughing heartily by this time. The conversation then turned to the pranks Eldarion and Sarien had perpetrated over the years and whilst Thranduil appeared to be listening politely, Legolas could easily sense his Adar’s mind was elsewhere and was not surprised when the elder elf stood to take his leave.
“Aragorn, would you guide me to my chambers?” Thranduil asked, obviously wishing to speak in private.
“Of course, this way,” the King of Men said as he ushered his guest into the hallway. They walked in silence until they reached the King’s chambers where, to Aragorn’s surprise, he was invited inside for a cup of wine.
“Oropher never believed that I helped Elendil replace a bottle of Gil-galad’s wine with coloured water,” Thranduil said, apparently continuing the storytelling whilst looking directly at Aragorn. The man saw a shadow pass over the elder elf’s face and he noted softness in Thranduil’s voice as he spoke with affection of the close friend he had lost so long ago. Aragorn was startled by such an admission, and the emotion he was being allowed to see but wondered where the conversation was heading.
“Then perhaps Legolas inherits his willingness to befriend mortal beings from you,” was all he could think to comment. It was a bold statement, but did not incur Thranduil’s wrath as might have been expected.
“Perhaps,” Thranduil mused. “Adar never approved of my friendship with Elendil and did his best to dissuade me from that path. Meeting your son and his friend made me recall just how much I cherished the bond of friendship between us, and as painful it was when he died, and still is, I must admit, I have never regretted our friendship.”
“Then why do you disapprove so much of the bond your son and I share?” Aragorn asked feeling more confused than ever.
“Because he is my son and I can not bear to see him in pain, whether in the body during battle or in the heart as we both know he will be with your passing. As a father surely you understand this?” Thranduil asked.
“Aye, but do you not know that needlessly denying him your approval of the choice his heart has made also causes him to suffer?” Aragorn asked, recalling how angry and hurt Eldarion had been when he was refused permission to join the rangers. Had it been in Aragorn’s power to do so, he would have allowed his son to go with Sarien.
“So I have come to realise and as much as I resented Oropher’s attitude towards Elendil, I admit that my attitude towards you has been equally unjust. Legolas has found it in his heart to forgive his Adar for his misguided disapproval and I hope that you will be able do so as well.”
“Are you saying you now approve of my friendship with Legolas?” Aragorn asked disbelief evident in his voice and his manner although his eyes sparkled with a flicker of hope that he and Legolas had finally won Thranduil’s approval.
“Aye, I am.”
Thranduil held Aragorn’s gaze unflinchingly as he spoke, unafraid to admit his mistake whilst remaining as majestic and powerful in his humbleness. This was indeed an elf to be admired and respected, like Elrond, Celeborn, Glorfindel and all the ancient elves who had since sailed West and Aragorn found himself wishing for even a single glimpse of the place where such awesome and incredibly beautiful beings dwelt. In that instant Aragorn thought he at last understood the compelling siren song of the sea.
The Undying Lands were where his closest friend belonged, Aragorn realised, the place to where the passing of the crown from Elessar to Eldarion would send Legolas.